|Musical Style: Metal/Hard Rock||Produced By: Rex Carroll|
|Record Label: Retroactive||Country Of Origin: USA|
|Year Released: 1997/2010||Artist Website:|
|Tracks: 10||Rating: 90%|
|Running Time: 42:01|
The nineties metal scene can best be described as the best of times and the worst of times. Worse in terms of the “Seattle sound” – and its penchant for the grungy and the alternative – that took over a couple of years into the decade. With no disrespect to the good “grunge bands” that came out of the era, but I was never impressed with the flannel shirts, sludgy guitars and angst-laden lyrics often inherit to the genre. I was equally unimpressed with how the musical landscape changed to the extent that many of my favorite bands from the eighties - Stryper, Sacred Warrior, Bloodgood, Barren Cross and Holy Soldier to name a few – either disbanded or, worse yet, went “modern”.
That said, the nineties did have its share of redeeming musical moments. A legitimate case can be made, for instance, that the decade found Bride (Snakes In The Playground) and Deliverance (Weapons Of Our Warfare) reaching their creative and artistic peaks. The nineties also saw Veni Domine, progressive doom from Sweden, and the neo-classical metal of Narnia, another Swedish band, hit the scene while Impellitteri released several highly acclaimed albums: Answer To The Master (1994), Screaming Symphony (1996) and Eye Of The Hurricane (1998).
And this brings us to King James and its quintessential 1997 sophomore release The Fall. But first a history less. King James had its roots in Whitecross, the eighties metal band of guitarist Rex Carroll, who recorded five albums with vocalist Scott Wenzel. After parting ways with Wenzel in the early nineties, Rex joined forces with vocalist Jimi Bennett (Sacred Fire) and formed King James. The 1994 self-titled debut from King James had a bit of an “all-star” feel to it in that it featured the Stryper rhythm section of Robert Sweet (drums) and Timothy Gaines (bass). It was also a mixed bag musically. Yes, the album had its good moments – such as hard rocking opening tracks “Hard Road To Go” and “Prisoner” – but was otherwise held back by filler track after filler track and way too many ballads.
The Fall, in contrast, represents by far the finest artistic statement ever from Rex Carroll. Without a doubt Rex had his share of success in Whitecross, such as the self-titled debut, arguably the strongest collection of songs from the group, and Triumphant Return, the best combination of songwriting, production and performance. But The Fall tops them all. There are two elements that make them special:
1. Consistency in that there is not a single skip button on the entire album. You will find no filler tracks, no gimmicks and none of the syrupy ballads that plagued each Whitecross album (not to mention the first one from King James). Rex does not even deliver one of his customary open air guitar solos.
2. Musical direction in that the album is based around the trademark metal and hard rock Rex is best known for but underpinned with some slight grunge elements. In terms of the former, The Fall is the heaviest and most aggressive project in which he has participated. It is also chock full of his adeptly done lead guitar work. In terms of the latter, you will find a dark Alice in Chains or Stone Temple Pilots vibe permeating the project. But by no means is this a band thing in that the heavy and down tuned stop and start riffs perfectly complement the musical happenings at hand. The same can be said about Jimi Bennett’s gravelly and at times rough edged vocal presence (he took more of a smoother approach on the debut).
It all adds up to the joining of the metal and modern that is The Fall. Yes, the music here is grungy, sludgy and at times moody but not too a fault; in other words, the bands eighties metal roots are not overridden but allowed to play an every bit as defining role, with King James staying musically relevant in the process.
Now, at this point it must be mentioned that The Fall never received the acclaim or notoriety it deserved, with one of the reasons being that people avoided it due to not liking the debut. It did not help that the album received limited distribution on a small label from Europe, Viva. The good news, however, is that in the summer of 2010 The Fall was re-mastered and re-issued on Retroactive Records with new (greatly improved) album artwork.
The re-mastering cleans and brightens things up. What was once a murky production job now comes to life in featuring the more polished feel without taking away from the bands trademark edge and bite. The drums, which one reviewer back in the day described as “not exuding a whole lot of personality”, show particular improvement.
The albums title track can best be described as hulking and full of substance without trending towards the repetitive. Yes, you will find metal edged riffs in profusion but also a smoothly flowing chorus bringing just the right amount of hooks to pull you in. Trademark shred solo from Rex as well. The theme here is finding direction in a directionless world:
Streetwise, vandalized, lust between the lines
I am compromised, baiting for a bite
Jesus, show me where I need to go
Betrayed, underpaid, will I ever know
Why must I bear this cross, groan under the weight
Down, yes I´m fallen down, is it ever to late
Need to feel your touch, too weak to help myself
Fell so lonely - ease my pain
Fading slowly - down the drain
The pace picks up with “Never Is Forever”, a heavy duty track hitting with all the force of a runaway freight train. The song exudes a touch of groove in the process while letting Bennett shine with his gritty and attitude-laden vocal presence. This one is modern AND metal at the same time.
Dogged momentum characterizes aptly entitled “Frenzy”. The song kicks up a storm of insolence during its hard edged verses while tapering – if only just slightly – for a chorus heading in the more melodic based direction. Rex goes nuts as well with more of his bristling lead work and nasty riffs. “Frenzy” focuses on defining truth in modern society:
What’s up with society
Racist redneck wannabes
Politics can’t find the cure
Can the human race endue
Locked up behind closed doors
Hidden from all view
Media plays in all the mind games
Leaving out all the clues
What is the truth – feed us no lies
Help us to remember – the soul never dies
“Swing Of The Street” delivers more verve. With an aggressive guitar assault leading the way, the song plows its distance in relentless fashion in establishing an environment that can best be described as assailing. The rhythm section performance proves mesmerizing and Rex’s soloing blues driven.
“Spreading Of Love” slows the pace but not the heaviness. What we have here is a song characterized by its edge and snarl, delivering a rollicking chorus and bottom heavy presence that is weighty as it gets. This one ranks with the albums more prodigious. Lyrics are every bit as heavy as the music:
Spreading love ain’t easy
To turn away so easy
Giving up made easy
Don’t turn you fool you need me
Am I a jerk for believing
Life after death, the preacher claims
Am I one receiving
“Pale Beyond The Door” represents one of Rex’s masterpieces. The song proves six and a half minutes of creativity, starting slowly and quietly before morphing into an all out hard hitting riff. “Pale Beyond The Door” proceeds to race ahead incessantly as a hoarse voice shouts “No remorse!” in the background, not slowing until reaching a passage that tapers to a near standstill. The extended Spanish guitar solo that ensues stands out as one of the albums finer moments.
A four minute ardent energy explosion, “The Calling” highlights an up-tempo milieu with its groove driven proclivity and abruptly focuses chorus. Bennett adds some gruff flavorings to his delivery while Rex literally makes his guitar sing, as can be found throughout the songs final minute. “The Calling” reinforces the importance of eternal matters:
Is your number up, roll the dice and play
Count your lucky stars that it’s not today
Fear the judgment call, calling your name
Good intentions made, they’re all the same
Living for a reason, same old way
Tomorrow isn’t promised
So you live for today
I hear you calling, keep me from falling
I rear you calling for me now
“A Vision” comes across a bit disjointed but in a good sense. The song moves its length drifting between passages carried in a low-key and tranquil manner and others in which the pace picks up exponentially to a rollicking blend of guitar and drums. This one features some of the more pronounced grunge flavorings as a result.
An in your face mentality is exhibited on “Borrowed Time”. The song slowly fades in prior to taking off at a forthright tempo, crunching ahead with its brash assertiveness but put over the top with a snarled and distorted chorus. Without a doubt a no-nonsense piece but quite listenable at the same time. “Borrowed Time”, as its title implies, also takes an eternal view of things:
When faith is near
Logic set on fire
Daft people fall
Just ignore it all
I am not pointing a finger
But the shoe fits us all
We live on borrowed time
it’s not ours to own
Think that we’re promised
Yet another day?
“Heaven Is For Everyone”, another quality piece of upbeat metal, does not let up its full length with its straightforward mentality and non-stop hook driven chorus. This one will have you singing along in no time. I particularly enjoy the bluesy edge to the instrumental section at the halfway point.
The best way to sum up would be to mention the well known eighties metal bands that made a move towards the “alternative” in order to stay current with the times but ended up artistically irrelevant in the process: Dokken (Dysfunctional), Def Leppard (Slang), Holy Soldier (Promise Man) and, to a lesser degree, Stryper (Reborn was actually a halfway decent album). King James, in contrast, “bucks the trend” by creating a work in The Fall that incorporates some modern/grungy elements but without forsaking a foundation of eighties based metal in the process. The end result is a work that proves musically relevant to both the past and the present. Give credit to Retroactive Records for making this available again.
Review by Andrew Rockwell
Note: I would like to offer a special word of thanks to Fundy Fundametalist at the Christian Hard Music Forum for his work in transcribing the lyrics to The Fall.
Track Listing: “The Fall” (4:04), “Never Is Forever” (4:11), “Frenzy” (3:49), “Swing Of The Street” (3:38), “Spreading Of Love” (3:57) , “Pale Beyond The Door” (6:34), “The Calling” (3:58), “A Vision” (3:20), “Borrowed Time” (3:53), “Heaven Is For Everyone” (4:33)
Jimi Bennett – Lead Vocals
Rex Carroll – Guitars
Scott Banks – Bass
Dave Greer – Drums
Michael Feighan - Drums