|Musical Style: Hard Rock||Produced By: John Lawry|
|Record Label: Madison Line||Country Of Origin: USA|
|Year Released: 2013||Artist Website:|
|Tracks: 13||Rating: 55%|
That’s right, 55%. We know that King James is one special band. So much so that if you threaten to cancel your Angelic Warlord subscription for the third time in as many months (figuratively speaking of course) over this massive metal and hard rock injustice we understand. After all, music fans and critics alike have been captivated by the groups uniting of guitar virtuoso Rex Carroll, of the multiple Heaven’s Metal guitar hero awards, with Jimi Bennett’s smooth and pristine vocal presence. And it would be an understatement to say that Maximus, the groups late spring of 2013 third album and first in over fifteen years, is one of the more highly anticipated releases to hit the scene in some time.
Hence, when it was announced last winter that Carroll and Bennett had reformed King James and signed to Madison Line Records with the promise of a new record, it turned a lot of heads. Expectations, as one might imagine, were high, particularly in light of the better material off the melodic hard rock of the 1994 King James self-titled debut and overall quality that is the darker and heavier elements of the 1997 follow-up The Fall. The problem, however, is that higher the expectations the greater the opportunity for disappointment.
And therein lies the concern, in that similar to much of the music buying public I was looking forward to an album of all new material that would capture the unique chemistry that is Carroll and Bennett. Where Maximus disappoints is by proving to be more of a re-record project instead. Further complicating matters is that the album was not revealed to encompass mostly songs re-recorded from the bands past until just before its release. With the anticipation all along of new material, one might understand how King James fans might feel ‘duped’ or had the ‘wool pulled over their eyes’ as a result.
Imagine if last year when Stryper announced that its next album would be entitled Second Coming it failed to declare it to be a re-record project- and led everyone to believe that it would actually be exclusive to new songs. You might feel similarly let down if at the eleventh hour the group stated, “Oh, and BTW, Second Coming is made up of re-recorded songs off of our first three albums”. No, not good at all.
This is not the entire issue at hand in that there also has to be a substantial reason to do a re-record project. When Carroll made the decision in 2005 to re-record the self-titled Whitecross debut under the new title 1987, the motive was to improve upon the thin production to the original. Likewise, Stryper was every bit vindicated for Second Coming: Murky production to The Yellow And Black Attack; lack of bass on Soldiers Under Command and Tim Gaines not performing on To Hell With The Devil.
With Maximus, however, there is not the same justification for the re-recorded material in that the original versions of songs covered here - “Hard Road To Go”, “Prisoner”, “Desperate” and “Miracles” (off the self-titled debut) and “Waiting For The King” (a track from the debut album of Bennett’s old band Sacred Fire) - have held up well over the years. Adding to the problematic nature of the issue at hand is how the King James debut featured the Stryper rhythm section of Robert Sweet (drums) and Tim Gaines (bass). As you can see, little (if any) room exists when it comes to improving upon the initial renderings of the songs in question (at least in comparison to the older Whitecross and Stryper recordings).
The good news, on the other hand, is that the new songs here are excellent in straining towards a blues heavy rock sound similar to the debut of The Rex Carroll Band, That Was Then, This Is Now. Choice tracks “Blackstone Woman” and “Mississippi Kid” prove that Carroll still knows how to deliver big hook sensibilities, albeit in a blues rock format. “Just As I Am (Lamb Of God)” is every bit as good in taking a more traditional blues rock heading. The quality of the three is such that the project deserves to be rounded out with five or six more new songs taking the same musical heading.
In terms of the re-recorded material, it must be noted that “Desperate” and “Miracles” fit well with the inherit blues heavy nature to Maximus. There is also an acoustic version to “Miracles”, which in my opinion is a throwaway in light of how good portions to its ‘electric’ counterpart are already acoustic. “Hard Rock To Go” and “Prisoner” are very good in staying true to the melodic hard rock leanings of their initial renderings. “Waiting For The King” takes a similar heading in introducing some symphonic elements. The albums remaining tracks consist of three short instrumental interludes and one of Carroll’s awe-inspiring open air guitar solos (“X Maximus”).
Carroll and Bennett perform up to expectations. Bennett, in particular, stands out in showing added range and maturity in terms of his delivery; similar to other vocalist to come out of the eighties such as Rob Rock and Michael Sweet his abilities have refined with age. Of equal note is how his polished style perfectly melds with the bluesy nature of the material at hand (if he were to front the next The Rex Carroll Band album I would not complain).
Carroll, as one might imagine, remains his inspired self. Heavier rocking pieces “Hard Road To Go” and “Prisoner” (not to mention "X Maximus") allow him to showcase his shredding abilities, while he thrives equally on blues driven pieces “Just As I Am (Lamb Of God)” (the extended soloing at the end) and “Mississippi Kid” (throughout the entire song).
One aspect to King James I appreciate is how it gives Carroll the opportunity to work with a vocalist completely different (in terms of range and style) than Whitecross front man Scott Wenzel. Now, do not get me wrong in that I remain a fan of Wenzel’s abilities, but Bennett allows Carroll to branch out and do things stylistically he might not have been able to do otherwise. Hence, the strength to King James in allowing a world class guitarist to explore a side to himself we do not always get to see. Along this line, I am surprised that over the years Carroll has not recorded projects with other vocalists such as the aforementioned Rock and Sweet (Tom Collete, Germán Pascual and Eli Prinsen are other names worth mentioning).
Maximus can best be described as a mish-mash of old and new songs with several shorter instrumentals added to fill things out. One cannot help but get the feeling, as a result, that the group could have put a bit more time, thought and effort into the project. The upbeat is that the new songs are of high quality- I just wish that Carroll had pulled a few more out of his archives to help turn Maximus into the more consummate effort in the process. It also must be fair to point out that the re-recorded older songs are ably performed and sound quite good (production is excellent). If you already own the King James debut then your best bet might be to download just the three new songs (and “Waiting For The King” if not familiar with Sacred Fire). Those that do not have the self-titled debut would be well served to check out Maximus, with my recommendation being downloading only the full length songs (minus the acoustic rendering of “Miracles”) for the best deal.
Due to the length of the review I decided it would be best to forgo one of my standard track by track breakdowns (I felt that a track by track might be a bit redundant at this point). It also does not help matters that I went the download route (I lost patience waiting for the CD version to be released) and all I got was the music files- no artwork, no liner notes and (most important) no lyrics that would help lend to a track by track. Speaking of which, lyrics leave little doubt that King James is a Christian band and Maximus a Christian project.
Track Listing: “The Void” (:43), “Hard Road To Go” (5:51), “Black Stone Woman” (5:38), “Mississippi Kid” (6:00), (“X Maximus” (1:39), “Waiting For The King” (5:56), “A New Beginning” (:42), “Miracles” (4:46), “The Highlander” (:41), “Prisoner” (4:37), “Just As I Am (Lamb Of God)” (6:00), “Miracles (Acoustic)” (5:16)
Jimi Bennett - Lead Vocals
Rex Carroll - Guitars
Benny Ramso - Bass
Michael Feighan - Drums