|Musical Style: Melodic Metal||Produced By: Ken Orth & JD Evans|
|Record Label: Independent||Country Of Origin: USA|
|Year Released: 2014||Artist Website: Letter 7|
|Tracks: 11||Rating: 90%|
|Running Time: 44:41|
Peel back the skin of Trust, the February of 2014 third full-length album from Phoenix, Arizona based Letter 7, and you’ll reveal bones of a similar quality to that of its predecessors, Salt Of The Earth (2007) and Follow The Light (2008). The commonality drawing the three albums together is a foundation of eighties influenced melodic metal and hard rock, which lends to a joining of accessible numbers (bringing the needed radio friendly sensibilities but not to a fault) and heavier pieces (more guitar driven but not forsaking hooks in the process). In-between, you will encounter virtuoso guitar work, hi-octane vocals and lyrics of a bold and upfront nature. Yes, the same tried-and-true method but it is also one that, for a lack of better words, works to perfection.
Another constant with Letter 7 is that it remains the project of JD Evans, who continues to provide all songwriting, lyrics and instrumentation, including lead and rhythm guitar, bass, keyboards and drums. Lead vocals, however, were previously handled by Thomas Collett (lending his powerful and expansive style to Salt Of The Earth) and Steve Young (imbuing a soaring and high-end delivery to Follow The Light). Leading up to the release of Trust, fans and critics alike were wondering which of the two would front the project. When factoring the abilities Collett and Young bring to the table, it is sort of like having to decide between Peyton Manning and Tom Brady for your fantasy football team- you cannot go wrong either way, right? Hence, the obviously tough decision to go with Collett but also the right one when factoring how Trust brings a heavier sound more akin to Salt Of The Earth.
That heaviness manifests itself on opener “Tribulation Saints”, a technical power metal influenced track highlighted by its snarling guitar edges, and “Trial By Fire” and “Archangel”, a pair of furious barnburners in which traditional metal forms the basis. “Holy Holy” yields similar results as heavyset backing vocals combine with a curtly done chorus.
From a commercial standpoint, “Don’t Fall Away” proves the albums signature track from its recognizable at once melody and “Trust” a smoothly flowing example of catchy melodic hard rock. “Children Of Light” comes across every bit accessible with its joining of intense guitar riffs and a lighter and lushly done chorus, while “Surrender” hints of a polished AOR sound.
Letter 7 also reveals a bluesy side to its songwriting abilities on “Heartbreak” and “New Creation”, with former giving rise to elements of up-tempo heart and soul, while latter trends towards underpinnings of gritty low-end groove. The upshot either way is an enticing blues based metal proclivity (The Salt Of The Earth track “Reign Comes Down” is a good idea in terms of what is going on with both musically).
Consummate melodic metal is the overall feel produced by Trust, particularly for those into a Stryper meets Dokken meets Guardian meets Loudness type sound. The album, at the same time, proves a bit more varied than its precursors, as can be found in heavier moment that I can see fans of Saint and Judas Priest also embracing. Likewise, the occasional bluesy overtone should appeal to devotees of Sarepta, Red Sea and early nineties Bride.
Evans continues to deliver the goods with his flashy guitar pyrotechnics- to say that he is one of the under-heralded players to hit the scene in recent years would be an understatement. His blazing to the melodic tinged soloing on tracks such as “Trial By Fire” and “Heartbreak” (not to mention open-air guitar instrumental “Treasure In The Field”) is literally jaw dropping and proves he has snatched the Christian metal guitar hero mantra from Rex Carroll (Whitecross) and literally run with it.
Collett aptly demonstrates he can still hit a high note with the best of them. He has not lost anything throughout the years in this capacity, with his performance on Salt Of The Earth as a point of reference. He can also reach down for some lower register grit and gravel (and proves his versatility accordingly) but in a few spots comes across a bit raw and strained in the process. Part of the problem is that vocals are placed a somewhat forward in the mix. Please note that either way this does not distract or take away from the quality of the music- keeping in mind the 90% score at hand. Production, otherwise, is up to the same high standards as Follow The Light.
If Trust had come out two years previous, I would have little choice but to say this is the album that Stryper needs to make (songwriting, guitar work and vocals are of such a high quality). The presence of No More Hell To Pay, obviously, precludes that. Hence, this means I am going to have to find a new target to pick on, namely the aforementioned Rex Carroll. What I would like to encourage Carroll to do is come up with 10 equally good melodic hard rock songs and back them with production of an equal level. At the same time, align himself with a professional vocalist along the lines of James Guest (Eden’s Realm, Millennial Reign) Johnny Bomma (Rivera Bomma), Mark Boals (Joshua Perahia), Rob Rock (Impellitteri) or Germán Pascual (ex Narnia). This is the formula followed by Letter 7 on Trust (not to mention past Letter 7 releases) and it proves one that works exceedingly well. A potential top five album of the year candidate is the result.
Track By Track
Opener “Tribulation Saints” proves as assertive a track as you will find. The song stomps and storms its way, relentlessly pouring through its verses on the way to a curtly done chorus aligning with the staunchly driven scene. Guitar harmonies start in instrumental break culminating with a radiant stretch of lead guitar.
“Don’t Fall Away” delivers the more melodic sound. The song comes across inspired and uplifting, with a big melody emphasis (I can see this one garnering radio play if offered the opportunity) but not overlooking heaviness either (guitars delivers the needed edge and bite). More guitar harmonies lead the way through an extended instrumental run. Lyric snippet:
Down, feeling so lonely in this world
Everything around you seems to move against the wind
Don’t be afraid, remember the One who holds you
He will lift you up and carry you through it all
Don’t fall away
Don’t let anyone steal your crown
Stay in the faith no matter what they say
Don’t let anyone bring you down
“Holy Holy” maintains the upbeat proclivity but in the more aggressive format. With razor edged guitars leading the way, the song kicks up a storm of angst with its churning focus and use of heavy set backing vocals (I am reminded of the Follow The Light track “Nail In The Cross” as a result). A bit short at three and a half minutes but stout all the same.
Albums title track delivers big doses of classy melodic hard rock with its smooth and pristine essence. A pulsating bass line adds to the accessible scene, aligning with the abundant guitar harmonies and immaculate bearing throughout. Yes, “Trust” is very catchy but brings the needed guitar driven edge as well. Am I out of line to suggest a hint of Guardian? Lyric snippet:
I am Creator, I’m the first and I’m the last
I am the Alpha, Omega, the future and the past
I am a fortress in an evil wicked land
I’m redeemer, protector, a rock on which to stand
I keep my promises, I guard my reputation
I died and came alive to offer all salvation
My Word lives on and on
“Children Of Light” delivers a joining of the heavy and melodic. Formers stands out in the form of an aggressive as you will find riff (non-stop and catchy in the process), while latter represents itself in the melodic based chorus (flowing and clean and of the engaging variety). An effective use of keyboards stands out as well. In the end, one of the finer songs produced by Letter 7. Lyric snippet:
Children of light
Foreigners to evil
Separated from the night
Children of light
Following the Lamb of God
Keeping Him in sight
Children of light
Longing to see the return of their King
Soon He will take them away
Destruction and darkness will come unforeseen
But Children of light wont’ be here on that day
Album takes a more aggressive stance with “Trial By Fire”. One cannot help but notice a heft dose of traditional metal intermingled with speed metal intensity, as verses come across bulldozing with non-stop intensity and chorus every bit fiery in allowing Collett to exhibit the full range to his voice. Added shredding leads align with the radiant scene.
Further heaviness on “Archangel”, with the traditional metal guitar riffs maintained as is the unrelenting tempo, albeit bypassing the speed metal proclivities of “Trial By Fire”. Impetus flows and grooves with the stalwart impetus, while a more even breakdown at the halfway point gives way to more blazing lead guitar. Lyric snippet:
This former life is passing
Into the air we climb
Taken to everlasting
Beyond all space and time
Set us free
Take us to eternity
Archangel – shout from above
Archangel – calling us home
Laid back and polished, “Surrender” maintains the eighties proclivity with its up-tempo demeanor and AOR flavorings. Yes, commercial in form but not backing from the trademark Letter 7 muscle either- think in terms of a heartfelt blending of Stryper and Joshua Perahia. In other words, what we have is a good change to a commercial form following two barnburners.
The commercial trending continues on “New Creation” but laced with hints of the blues. The song starts slowly only to abruptly pickup initiative as guitars crash in, maintaining a forthright but mid-paced focus with tons of grit and heart playing lead roles. This one perfectly aligns with Collett’s middle-register vocals- and cannot help but bring to mind Sarepta as a result. Lyric snippet:
I’m not the same as I used to be
I have become something else
Someone replaced all that empty space
With Something better than myself
The change I see can’t be denied
I have been rescued from the lie
By the Grace of God I’m justified
Old man don’t’ be hangin’ round
I’m a new creation now
Big doses of low end groove can be found on “Heartbreak”, another rawer and courser track (blues continues to make its presence felt) but also playing up the added guitar driven edge (soloing is played with a great deal of feeling and emotion). Plenty of technical drum rolls and punctuating bass lines bring the album to its satisfying close.
Review by Andrew Rockwell
Track Listing: “Tribulation Saints” (4:35), “Don’t Fall Away” (4:52), “Holy Holy” (3:37), “Treasure In The Field” (:54), “Trust” (4:46), “Children Of Light” (4:38), “Trial By Fire” (3:54), “Archangel” (4:13), “Surrender” (4:31), “New Creation” (4:31), “Heartbreak” (3:58)
Thomas Collett - Lead Vocals
JD Evans - Guitars, Bass, Drums & Keyboards