|Musical Style: Heavy Metal||Produced By: Leviticus & PO Pettersson|
|Record Label: Ektro||Country Of Origin: Sweden|
|Year Released: 1985/2013||Artist Website: Leviticus|
|Tracks: 10||Rating: 80%|
|Running Time: 41:43|
Really, what can the old, retired dog that is Leviticus teach the current generation of hard music fans? Well, a few things, starting with the longevity that goes hand in hand with creating quality art that has stood the test of time- and not just years but rather decades. Best exemplifying this are the first two Leviticus albums, with I Shall Conquer (1984) and The Strongest Power (1985) interweaving a foundation of melodic metal with tendencies towards the traditional and power metal side of things. Critics and fans alike consider both essential in playing up an ‘old school feel’ and ‘throwback sound’ that remains relevant today despite some slight imperfections.
My favorite is The Strongest Power, keeping in mind I Shall Conquer is not without its share of good moments. I purchased a vinyl copy (with the original Deborah & Barak artwork) back in the day and proceeded to literally wear the grooves off it. My hopes for a legitimate CD release were not realized until the summer of 2013 when The Strongest Power was re-mastered (by guitarist Bjorn Stigsson) and re-issued on the Finnish label Ektro Records. On a side note: The M8 re-issue from 2000 with the altered ‘swordsman with Saturn in the backdrop’ artwork does not count (I found the mastering on most M8 releases to be of such low quality that I passed).
The temptation on first listen is to dismiss The Strongest Power as sounding dated. Well, this should not surprise in that of course the album is going to sound dated: It WAS recorded in 1985. So the relevant question to ask should not be whether or not the music is dated but rather is it any good. I have to answer with a resounding yes!
Begins and ends with the songwriting of Bjorn Stigsson, who when at the top of his game few can compose a better song. Standouts include the doom-like slugfest “Deborah And Barak”, perhaps the heaviest of the Leviticus four album repertoire, and impassioned power metal of “I Got Power” (this one would fit quite well with the current metal scene). A more melodic heading is taken on worship metal anthem “King Of Kings” (as a result of its stately and imposing demeanor) and commercial metal piece “Light For The World” (with its immediately accessible hook).
Everything else is quite good. High energy tracks “Stay With Us” and “I Love You” represent the albums fastest in trending towards speed metal. Another power metal based song can also be found, “The Winner”, along with classy melodic hard rocker “On The Rock”. Tapering things to a mid-paced heading are the time signatures characterizing “Look Around” and semi-ballad touches to “A New Day”.
Leviticus gained renown in its initial form as a power trio, with Stigsson joined by brothers Kjell (drums) and Hakan (vocals and bass) Andersson. Stigsson stands out with his multifaceted guitar abilities, best lending his deft lead guitar work to “The Winner” and “I Love You” (shredding approach on both) and “Light For The World” (more melodic feel to his playing). He lays down some imposing rhythm guitar as well (see his work on “Deborah And Barak”) in addition to near mesmerizing harmonies (such as on “Light For The World”).
Kjell, as always, delivers the goods with his consummate timekeeping skills (he puts on a literal power metal drumming clinic on “I Got Power”). Hakan’s mid-paced and gravelly vocals, however, can be an acquired taste. On one hand, he exudes a ton of enthusiasm with his thick and weighty delivery; on the other, he also lacks somewhat in the upper register side of things. The final verdict being he does a good job- keeping in mind there are better vocalists out there (and that several spins are required in order to get adjusted to his unique style).
Production, as one might imagine, gives rise to some thin elements. Which should not surprise in light of both the period in which the album was recorded and how it, obviously, is a low budget effort. Helping things exponentially is the quality re-mastering.
Packaging shines with a six page mini-booklet made up of several never before seen band photos and an expanded version of the concert shot that graced the back cover of the original vinyl release. No, lyrics are not included, but that is not a problem in that they can be found online (via Google search).
The Strongest Power finds Leviticus taking the next step in comparison to I Shall Conquer.: The more concerted effort all around, with tighter songwriting and firmer production while maintaining the same high standards in terms of band performance. The upshot is the Ektro re-issue, making a hard to find album available for the first time in years, coming strongly recommended for both long term Leviticus fans and those into old school eighties hard rock and metal.
Track By Track
“The Winner” does exactly that, lively in capacity with its pulsating rhythms and rollicking guitar riff action. Chorus maintains the unremitting essence with its driving and focused feel. Stigsson makes an equally bold statement with his brazen lead guitar abilities.
“Deborah And Barak” is heavy as it gets as far as Leviticus are concerned. The song presents with a hard charging milieu, merging a full on guitar sound with a staunch mentality to make the albums most aggressive statement (and prove a Leviticus live concert staple to boot). Only prime Barren Cross potentially matches the intensity at hand. Lyric snippet:
Hear this you kings,
Listen you rulers,
I will sing to the Lord,
I will make music
Oh, Lord when you went out from Seir.
When you marched from the land of Edom,
The earth shook, the heaven poured,
The mountains quaked, before the Lord.
“On The Rock” returns things to an upbeat heading. With a smooth melodic presence leading the way, the song might temper the tone (at least somewhat) but fails to diminish the quality. Some high end screams from Hakan and fitting double bass from brother Kjell add to the non-stop scene.
Worshipful metal at its best, “King Of Kings” maintains the lighter tone but in the more mid-paced package. The upshot is a distinguished and palatial setting, with emotional backing vocals sustaining its sublime chorus and Stigsson letting loose with another moving stretch of lead guitar. I can see Stryper doing something like this. Lyric snippet:
You give the power I need,
and a place in the sun.
You give healing to my wounds,
I'm saved and free,
You bear me when I'm down,
You forgive my sins,
King of freedom is your holy name.
“Stay With Us” kicks up the high energy tempo and then some. The song has it all: infectious mentality, more ripping leads, accenting keyboards and high-end backing vocals - that almost sound like Sonny Larsson - for its lively chorus. In the end an effective change of pace piece.
Leviticus remains in top form on power metal piece “I Got Power”. The song starts to a drum solo prior to charging out of the gate, dominating from front to back with its dogged focus and Kjell’s pummeling drum performance (quite the low-end statement is made here). Uplifting is the resulting feel, with the upshot a track that would sound at home in today’s metal scene (albeit more of a US power metal focus as opposed to European). Lyric snippet:
Freedom, I want freedom and
I rise up from the dark
Loving really loving
I got true love from His heart
Stand up I say stand up for the
Truth and the light
I'm screaming and
Dancing in the moonlight.
“Look Around” highlights its variances: Gentler and calmer passages (creating an almost ethereal effect) contrast with those in which sturdy guitars play the forthright role (and put in place a heavy hitting scene). No, not quite progressive but creative all the same. Lyric snippet:
Sometimes I think about,
What Jesus has done,
He went the whole way
To the Cross,
And paid the price for freedom,
His blood is given for us,
And He took the sins of the world,
Yes Lucifer was crushed,
When Jesus arose.
“I Love You”, coming in at a short three minutes, rollicks with the best of them. This one moves at a near speed metal tempo, with non-stop energy and relentless drive combining with a distorted lead guitar run to put in place a frenzied setting. This one ranks alongside “Stay With Us” as the albums fastest.
“A New Day” stands out as the albums slowest and most tempered. Giving rise to a semi-ballad feel, the song gracefully glides its distance with periodic atmospheric keyboards and moving vibe that can be found in its smoothly flowing chorus. Enough guitar driven edge is delivered to remind one of Rock In A Hard Place era Bloodgood. Lyric snippet:
The sun is rising and a
New day is coming,
I'm looking outside my window
I see the light from You,
I remember when You came
And ask will you follow me
I got peace inside
When I felt Your Holy Spirit
Melodic metal masterpiece “Light For The World” closes things out. This one cruises flawlessly front to back, with a big hook chorus (of a near commercial capacity) playing the defining role and secure as it gets harmonies setting the stately foundation. I particularly enjoy how the song flows without effort into Stigsson’s run of scintillating lead guitar. Lyric snippet:
Up in the sky,
Up in the heavens
I see the light form you,
You are the master of life,
You are the King of Kings
Your name is righteous,
And your gifts are love and freedom.
You're the man from Nazareth,
You're the King from Galilee,
The word is power and truth,
And the light for the world,
Review by Andrew Rockwell
Track Listing: “The Winner” (4:35), “Deborah And Barak” (3:29), “On The Rock” (2:59), “King Of Kings” (5:19), “Stay With Us” (3:55), “I Got Power” (4:02), “Look Around” (4:28), “I Love You” (3:18), “A New Day” (4:14), “Light For The World” (5:05)
Bjorn Stigsson - Guitars, Synthesizers, Bass Pedal & Organ
Hakan Andersson - Lead Vocals, Bass, Bass Pedal & Synthesizers
Kjell Andersson - Drums & Percussions