|Musical Style: Melodic Metal||Produced By: Mad Max|
|Record Label: A-Minor||Country Of Origin: Germany|
|Year Released: 2008||Artist Website:|
|Tracks: 14||Rating: 75%|
|Running Time: 56:11|
Germany’s Mad Max can trace its twenty-five year history to the early eighties when it was founded by guitarist Juergen Breforth. Hitting the scene in 1982 with its full length self-titled debut, Mad Max recruited vocalist Michael Voss in addition to signing with Roadrunner Records and recording its sophomore effort Rollin Thunder two years later. The group proceeded to solidify its classic line up with the additions of bassist Roland Bergmann and drummer Axel Kruse prior to putting out the Roadrunner follow up releases Stormchild (1985) and Night Of Passions (1987). The departure of Voss in 1989, however, put Mad Max on hold indefinitely.
Reuniting after a ten year hiatus with Never Say Never in 1999, Mad Max maintained the momentum by signing to AOR Heaven and releasing Night Of White Rock and EP In White (both 2006) and White Sands (2007). Here We Are, the bands most recent offering from 2008, was recorded to celebrate its twenty-fifth anniversary by enlisting the songwriting skills of many of their colleagues in the music business. The end result is a work in which Joe Lynn Turner, Michael Schenker, Oz Fox, Jeff Scott Soto, Ken Tamplin, Axel Rudi Pell, David Readman and others join forces with Mad Max to compose the majority of its tracks.
Of the albums fourteen songs you will find one all Mad Max composition and thirteen in which the guests in question either write (or co-write) the music. Voss and company help out on lyrics.
Musically, Here We Are presents with the groups trademark joining of melodic metal, hard rock, melodic rock and AOR. The album has its share of good moments (the better material here is great) but is a bit on the inconsistent side of things (you will find a few too many filler tracks).
Mad Max puts its best foot forward on up-tempo pieces “Caravan” and “Love Walks Lonely” (terrific chorus on the former and plenty of polished backing vocals the latter). “Higher And Higher” and “Mad Gone Blind” both stand out with their spirited momentum while the low end muscle of “Down To Babylon”, heavy duty ‘Keep You Alive” and weighty “How Deep” trend towards the heavier side of things. The album even delivers a touch of the blues (“Where The Wind Blows”, traces of the acoustic (“Here We Are”) and elements of groove (“High On Wheels”).
I tend to skip over three songs: the ballad “Stop One Minute”, country western themed “All Of My Heart” and ambient “Say Goodbye To Hollywood”. The three in question contribute greatly to the final score of 75%. That said, do not be turned off by the grade in that when taking into account Here We Are includes fourteen songs we still end up with as much good music as found on Night Of White Rock and White Sands.
The best way to describe lead vocalist Michael Voss would be Michael Sweet (Stryper) but with a touch of grit added to his delivery. Yes, he is a first class vocalist and rates that high. The guitar performance, contributed by Voss and Juergen Breforth, proves every bit as strong. The two combine for an abundance of melodic but heavy riffs and melodies while shining in the soloing department. “Caravan”, “Love Walks Lonely” and “How Deep” reflect a fiery side to their abilities while the bluesy leads on “Where The Wind Blows” are straight from the Glenn Kaiser Band school of soloing.
Production values maintain the same high standards of previous Mad Max releases.
Lyrically, the Christian themes established on Night Of White Rock and White Sands are also found on Here We Are (“Higher And Higher”, “Down To Babylon” and “Love Walks Lonely” reflect this best). “High On Wheels”, a Harley Davidson tribune-based piece, features the following cool line: “I been high on wheels/Jesus knows just how it feels/He’s the only one/Ridin’ Harley Davidson”.
“Caravan” starts the album with a bang, an up-tempo hard rocker showcasing a huge chorus hook and abundance of edge-laden riffs. A blazing guitar solo adds to the intent scene. Put this one on FM radio twenty years ago and it would dominate.
The bluesy “Where The Winds Blow” mellows things out but proves no less noteworthy. Yes, the rhythm guitar plays a slightly reduced role but the tradeoff is the accentuating organ that decorates the songs extent. Near perfect melody as well.
The albums title track brings a joining of the acoustic and electric. An acoustic guitar carries “He We Are” forward from the get go, impetus not picking up until the rhythm guitar steps forward and drives things to a chorus put over the top by its poignant appeal.
A more upbeat direction is taken on “Higher And Higher”. Quintessential melodic metal, the song showcases the needed hook, riveting lead guitar and soaring vocals to pull you in on first listen. I particularly enjoy how initiative tapers soulfully for a passage upheld by clapping hands.
“Down To Babylon” delivers some guitar interplay not unlike the old Rez Band tune “80,000 Underground” (off Innocent Blood). I would rate this with the albums heavier pieces, combining a muscular low end with a guitar sound on the weighty side of things.
“Love Walks Lonely” reminds me of Stryper (and no wonder since it was penned by Oz Fox!). Polished backing vocals, as one would expect, make their presence felt, opening the song and brining out the best in its refined chorus (similar to “Caravan” the hook here is huge).
On a side note: I wonder if Oz wrote this for Murder By Pride and it did not make the final cut? If so it is Stryper’s loss and Mad Max’s gain. If this is any indicator of Oz’s songwriting abilities then he should be composing more material (or at the very least record a solo album).
I tend to pass on the ballad “Stop One Minute”. Which is surprising since it was co-written by Ken Tamplin but I find the watered down feel to the song prevents it from holding up under continuous play. The female lead vocals do not add a thing.
A metal-laced rhythm guitar propels upbeat hard rocker “How Deep” from front to back. Heavy and melodic, the song brings a hook driven chorus – that actually smoothes things out a bit – and a run of the albums most riveting work on lead guitar.
“Don’t Talk It Over” maintains the hard rocking direction but with a touch of the blues. It almost sounds as if a bit of slide guitar makes its presence felt, particularly during its gritty instrumental section. The chorus is rollicking and pushed at a perfect fast paced tempo.
Slowing things to a near crawl is “All Of My Heart”. With its country western ballad flavorings, this is the albums least appealing track. Some big backing vocals add to the emotional scene but, otherwise, the musical direction forces me to hit the skip button.
Determined, steadfast and driven are the first words that come to mind when listening to “Mad Gone Blind”. By far the fastest composition here, the song races its length giving prominence to a captivating chorus and highlighting traces of keyboards.
Eerie sounding keyboards accentuate “Keep You Alive”, a mid-paced cruncher delivering quite the wallop: a distinct low end amalgamating with a sledgehammer-like rhythm guitar. Impetus briefly picks up for a chorus on the spirited side of things.
More non-stop hooks are found on “High On Wheels”. The organ makes a cameo appearance, joining with a choppy rhythm guitar to help put in place on environment bordering on the groove flavored. The slide guitar returns as well to sustain a spicy instrumental break.
Closing things out is “Say Goodbye To Hollywood”. An ambient piece, the song slowly moves its distance in a keyboard and piano driven manner as an ethereal guitar maneuvers in and out of the mix. I also skip over this one in that some much needed momentum and muscle is missing.
The best way to summarize would be to state not to be turned off by the final grade of 75%. As already reinforced, with fourteen songs Here We Are features as much good music as Night Of White Rock and White Sands (when factoring in what, IMO, are its filler tracks). The albums better material, at the same time, is great and makes for a recommended purchase.
Review by Andrew Rockwell
Track Listing: “Caravan” (4:09), “Where The Wind Blows” (3:29), “Here We Are” (3:41), “Higher And Higher” (3:41), “Down To Babylon” (3:47), “Love Walks Lonely” (4:44), “Stop One Minute” (3:51), “How Deep” (4:02), “Don’t Talk It Over” (3:34), “All Of My Heart” (3:27), “Mad Gone Blind” (4:11), “Keep You Alive” (4:05), “High On Wheels” (3:38), “Say Goodbye To Hollywood” (5:38)
Michael Voss – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Mandolin, Hammond & Piano
Juergen Breforth – Guitars
Roland Bergmann – Bass
Pearl – Lead Vocals
Jan Loechel – Guitars
Martin Huch – Pedal Steel
Mark Schulman – Drums
Joe Lynn Turner (1), Don Airey (2), Jan Loechel (3), Michael Schenker (4), Jeff Scott Soto (5), Oz Fox (6), Ken Tamplin (7), Bernie Torme (8), Axel Rudi Pell (9), Wolf Hoffmann (10), David Readman (11), Sascha Gerstner (12), Marc Storace (13)