|Musical Style: Melodic Rock||Produced By: Michael Voss|
|Record Label: A-Minor||Country Of Origin: Germany|
|Year Released: 2010||Artist Website:|
|Tracks: 11||Rating: 60%|
|Running Time: 42:10|
Germany’s Mad Max has been on quite the comeback trail as of late. The group returned in 1999 after a ten year hiatus by releasing its fifth full length album, Never Say Never, prior to following up with Night Of The White Rock and White Sands in 2006 and 2007 respectively. The three found Mad Max recapturing its glory – NOTWR received an 85% Angelic Warlord review and WS 80% - with its unique brand of Scorpions meets Stryper eighties influenced melodic metal and hard rock.
Mad Max celebrated its twenty-fifth anniversary on Here We Are from 2008 by enlisting the songwriting skills of many of their colleagues in the music business, including Joe Lynn Turner, Michael Schenker, Oz Fox, Jeff Scott Soto, Ken Tamplin, Axel Rudi Pell and David Readman. I found the album a mixed bag musically (75% review) in that its fourteen tracks included a bit too much filler. It must be noted, nevertheless, that the better material to Here We Are was well up to the group’s standards.
Finally, Mad Max got to fulfill its long term dream by performing in America for the first time at the Rocklahoma Festival in the summer of 2009. On a side note: The group was set to establish itself in the USA in its late eighties heyday but broke up before this could be realized. After performing with Night Ranger, Stryper, Ratt, Warrant, LA Guns and Twister Sister, Mad Max, unduly inspired, went directly into the studio upon returning home to record its ninth studio album from July of 2010, the aptly entitled Welcome America.
Perhaps Mad Max got caught up in the emotion of the moment of its first USA appearance, but the decision to perform at Rocklahoma and write and record a new album from scratch within the same month might not have been the best idea. The upshot is a work that comes across rushed with many of the songs having an “incomplete” or “half done” feel as if the guys were hurrying in the studio and did not take the time to adequately polish their new material. Welcome America, as a result, proves inconsistent in that I find myself hitting the skip button a few too many times. That said, not unlike Here We Are, it does feature its share of finer moments that have “classic Mad Max” written all over them- the problem is that there simply are simply not enough of them. So I guess the best way to describe the album would be frustratingly erratic while flirting with the potential the group displayed on NOTWR and WS.
Welcome America does present with some musical changes, backing away from some of the heavier guitar driven elements of the group’s earlier albums and bringing a lighter and more acoustic laced sound hinting at melodic rock or even AOR. The likes of “Someone Not Me” and “All I Ever Want”, with their Stryper-like melodies, showcase this best. But when Mad Max chooses to crank it up – such as on “Welcome America” and “Cherry Red” – it proves it can still compose a quality hard rocker with a solid chorus hook.
Performance wise, Mad Max remains spot on in highlighting Michael Voss and his Michael Sweet (Stryper) influences vocal abilities. Voss continues to join with Juergen Breforth to form quite the capable guitar team. No, the two do not cut loose with as much soloing as on past efforts – although “Cherry Moon” features some cool bluesy leads – but do highlight the material here with accenting amounts of acoustic guitar and just enough rhythm guitar to taste. The rhythm section of bassist Roland Bergmann and drummer Hans Zandt flex their muscles on bottom heavy sluggers “Big Wheel” and “Shape Of Your Heart”.
Production is up to the same high standards of past Mad Max releases.
Lyrics were not included with the packaging but seem to loosely follow a theme based around the group’s experiences at Rocklahoma. The songs that focus on life and relationship do so from a positive standpoint.
Instead of providing a numeric track by track breakdown, I thought it would be best to instead first focus on the songs that work and then move on to those that are hit and miss and others failing to make the grade.
“Welcome America” ranks with the albums finest. An over the top hard rocker, the song showcases everything that makes classic Mad Max special: big chorus hook, big guitar sound and even bigger layered vocal melodies. This one hearkens back to other metal anthems in the group’s repertoire such as “To Hell And Back Again”, “Night Of White Rock” and “We Fight In White”.
“Big Wheel” represents another solid effort. The song moves its distance transitioning between acoustically driven verses and a prodigious chorus in which a weighty rhythm guitar establishes itself fixed and firm. All the while an overriding low end proves the glue that holds things together.
“Shape Of Your Heart” is also a heavy hitter. With an every bit as pronounced low end leading the way, the song stands out with its driving rhythm guitar sound – particularly during its hard charging chorus – and occasional lacings of acoustic guitar. What we wind up with is another classic track that represents Mad Max at its best.
A more commercial direction is taken on “Cherry Moon”. Yes, this one is without a doubt radio friendly in capacity, found in a very gripping chorus you will be challenged to rid of your mind, but showcases some stretches of scratchy blues based guitar work as well. It makes for an interesting combination. Such a significant hook is delivered in the process this one could easily be a hit in another era.
“Someone Not Me” and “All I Every Want” are two songs I remain on the fence with. “Someone Not Me” is the more upbeat of the two, taking a melodic rock based approach – the rhythm guitar does not play the same upfront role as the heavier tracks here – with highlighting traces of acoustic guitar. “All I Ever Wanted”, a more mid-paced piece, maintains the melodic rock heading in that, once more, the rhythm guitar does not make a dominant statement.
The final verdict? Good but not quite on the same level as the better material here. There are times I listen to the two and appreciate what the group is attempting – I can see Stryper doing something along the lines of either – but often they come across bland as if “something is missing” or they have not been fully worked up and deserve another re-write or two.
“Pinky Promise” is a pretty solid composition. It features a bit more rhythm guitar than the previous two while – like much of the albums material – includes some pleasing acoustic lacings. The chorus proves quite good and, as a result, I can understand why the band chose it as a singe (although I would have gone with “Cherry Red”). This one gets a tentative thumbs up, although if not in the mood skip over it.
Closing out Welcome America are four pure filler tracks.
“Signs” is an uninspired piece lacking the remotest hint of energy. The overall insipid feeling leaves one the impression the band showed up to the studio in “no doze” mode. Someone needs to start a fire under these guys!
“Awesome” has to be the least aptly entitled number in rock history. “Awesome” it is not. Musically, it sounds like a rocked up pop diva song, something that Britney Spears might do if she decided to record a hard rock album. The worst part is its infectiously catchy chorus (and no, I do not say that in a positive sense). You know it is going to be a long day when you cannot get the quirky rhythm “Absolutely awesome/Baby how you blow my mind/You’re so awesome/Ain’t no better words to find” out of your head.
“My Heart’s Been Waiting”, a boring semi ballad, and “This Means Nothin’”, another lackluster effort, bring the album to its merciful close. Similar to “Signs” these two prove meandering pieces leaving one wondering whatever happed to the bands trademark energy and passion. Perhaps they left it at Rocklahoma? Here’s hoping Mad Max recaptures its form on its next studio release…
And therein lies the challenge facing Mad Max: After two hit and miss, if not sub par (at least in comparison to what we know the band is capable of), albums in a row, Mad Max needs to get back to the basics. And by that I mean putting together ten good melodic hard rock songs and then enter the studio with some fire in their bellies. With that in mind, we know Mad Max has retained its trademark abilities; hence, at this point the challenge is to re-load and re-focus and create the quality album the metal community knows they are capable of.
Review by Andrew Rockwell
Track Listing: “Welcome America” (3:37), “Big Wheel” (3:32), “Someone Not Me” (3:14), “All I Ever Want” (3:53), “Cherry Moon” (4:26), “Pinky Promise” (3:36), “Shape Of Your Heart” (4:12), “Signs” (3:30), “Awesome” (3:35), “My Heart’s Been Waiting” (4:16), “This Means Nothin’” (4:27)
Michael Voss – Lead Vocals & Guitars
Juergen Breforth (Guitars)
Roland Bergmann – Bass