|Musical Style: Heavy Metal||Produced By: Bill Menchen|
|Record Label: Wrenchen Menchen||Country Of Origin: USA|
|Year Released: 2011||Artist Website:|
|Tracks: 12||Rating: 80%|
|Running Time: 43:52|
In The Light, the new fall of 2011 solo release from guitarist Bill Menchen, could not have possibly lived up to the quality of its 2008 predecessor, Red Rock. Actually, calling In The Light “new” is a bit of a misnomer in that each of its songs predates Red Rock, with four originally recorded by the artists former groups Rev Seven and Redeemer (two each) and eight others that were written in the early nineties for a Rev Seven album that never got off the ground. This type of penchant for reworking his older material - and heavily revising and/or re-recording it until he gets things right - has developed Bill Menchen quite the reputation.
It starts with Redeemer, one of his first groups from the eighties, which released a hard to find demo in 1986. The artist resurrected Redeemer in 2007 by putting out a pair of CD’s, Double Edge Sword and Anno Domini, made up of former demo tracks and several others never previously recorded. A third Redeemer project from later 2011, One Way, found Bill Menchen joining forces with Robert Sweet (Stryper) to re-record 12 songs from the two 2007 releases.
Final Axe, also from the eighties, put out a custom tape entitled Beyond Hell’s Gate. BHG was re-issued in 2005 after being remixed and re-mastered and again in 2010 but this time partially re-recorded and also featuring Robert Sweet.
The nineties found Bill Menchen releasing four albums with Rev Seven, The Unveiling, Hell And Back, Seven Years Of Good Luck and 747. True to form, he re-recorded the songs from the four in 2007 as part of a two CD set entitled Heavy Laden Volume 1 and Heavy Laden Volume 2.
His other nineties group, Titanic, recorded two albums in Maiden Voyage and Screaming In Silence that were later re-issued in 2010 after having been re-mixed, re-mastered and partially re-recorded (also with Robert Sweet).
So I am sure it comes as no surprise that Bill Menchen would again be revisiting his past on In The Light. But is that a bad thing? By all means no in that it is always good to hear his projects in such highly upgraded and improved formats. In other words, it is to his credit that he is willing to go the extra mile to get a recording up to a quality level in which he is satisfied. The material on the Redeemer One Way CD, for instance, comes to life as a result of vastly improved production and Robert Sweet’s presence on drums.
That being said, it also holds true that at times it might be best for an artist to reflect upon a past project and say “it is what it is” and move on. And perhaps such applies here in that we have not heard a full length album of all new material from Bill Menchen since 2008, when he put out Red Rock and the sophomore release from his The Seventh Power project Dominion & Power. The two in question featured some of the artist’s finest songwriting ever- so I am sure you can understand my lack of patience in saying that an album of unique material from Bill Menchen is long overdue!
It is also the strength of that previously reference songwriting that ultimately prevents In The Light from, as already noted, obtaining the same quality level as Red Rock. Red Rock was a special project in that it also included the contributions of vocalist Ken Redding (His Witness), Robert Sweet and bassist Tony Franklin (Whitesnake & Blue Murder) to produce a creative hard rock sound that mixed occasional groove, blues, metal and funk overtones. Now, do not get me wrong in that In The Light is by no means without its share of good moments (it can actually really shine in places!) but in comparison to Red Rock can come across a bit dated, with the main reason being, obviously, its material was written such a long time ago.
Musically, In The Light trends towards a darker, weightier and all around heavier and more metal influenced sound than that on Red Rock. If anything, the project gives rise to a traditional and/or classic metal feel along the lines of Titanic and Redeemer but with some occasional doom-like moments thrown in. And to invite further comparison, the majority of the In The Light tracks are mid-paced, which contrasts with the decidedly up-tempo and energetic direction taken on One Way.
Crunchers like “Don’t Leave”, “Master Of Destiny” and “King Of Glory” exemplify those mid-paced leanings best with their immediately accessible choruses. “The Day That He Died”, bringing some doom-like qualities, and “Crucified”, as dramatic a piece as you will find, maintain the mid-paced penchant, as does the swirling King’s X influenced “Love” and melodic semi-ballad “Hole In Your Heart”. The project proves equally laudable the few times it strains towards the up-tempo, such as on the driving catchiness characterizing “Remember My Chains” and “Passin’ Through”.
There are only a couple of In The Light songs in which I struggle. Straight on rockers “Man Of Pain” and “You’re Not Alone” are both pretty good, albeit not bringing the same creativity and notable melodies of the albums better material. Likewise, “King Or Liar” features an awesome anthem-like chorus but is otherwise held back by the rap-based feel of the vocal delivery during its verses.
Many of you will notice that “King Of Glory” was included on both In The Light and One Way, but there is a method to the madness here: The basic tracks to In The Light were originally decided upon and recorded in 2010, while Janice Sweet (mother of Robert & Michael) also selected “King Of Glory” when putting together the track listing for One Way (see my One Way review for further details).
Vocalist Ken Redding is the common denominator to the two Menchen projects. In past reviews I described him as showcasing a “deep and rich mid-ranged vocal style” that “sounds like a cross between Jimmy Brown (Deliverance) and Eric Clayton (Saviour Machine) but with a touch of Geoff Tate (Queensryche) thrown in”. The same holds true here keeping in mind his delivery is on the lower-key side of things in comparison to what we have heard from him in the past (which fits the music to a T).
Bill Menchen also performs admirably in that his soloing remains a strong point, as evident on “Don’t Leave” and “Hole In Your Heart” (bluesy side to his playing), “The Day That He Died” and “Man Of Pain” (fiery guitar leads) and “Crucified” (virtuoso direction). My One Way review mentions how it “features some of the finest soloing we have heard from him”; the same standard of quality is maintained on In The Light.
Cousin Bruce Menchen, replacing the talented Tony Frankin, is no slouch either. No, he might not quite be on the same level as Franklin (but who is?) but proves more than capable in helping anchor the low-end with Robert Sweet (the Franklin and Sweet rhythm section on Red Rock was a thing to behold!). Similar to his performance on One Way, Sweet brings that much more energy to the material here - and takes things to the next level in the process - with his creative drum rolls and all around technical approach.
Quality production is always a trademark to Bill Menchen projects and In The Light fails to disappoint, although, as noted earlier, it does reflect a somewhat darker feel when likened to many of his past releases (observation and not critique).
The artist maintains his penchant for upfront lyrics. “Crucified” exemplifies this best - Crowned with thorns. Whipped on the back. Pound the nail. Pound the nail. I am crucified with Him, I am crucified - as does “King Or Liar: Some say a prophet. Some say a teacher Some say a good man. Just another way. You are the Christ. The Son of God. God in the Flesh. The Chosen One. “You’re Not Alone” is straightforward in terms of its message: You’re not alone. When no ones home. You got someone who cares for you. It’s time to prepare. Spiritual warfare. Lost in despair. Nobody cares. You don’t have a prayer out there on your own. You’re not alone. God’s on the throne – while “Master Of Destiny” makes a faith based statement: The trumpet is sounding. The dead arising. Turn and meet Him in the air. No variation. No shadow of turning. Nothing can take me out of Your hands.
Track By Track
“Don’t Leave” hits hard from the get go to an intermingling of driving riffs and bluesy lead guitar. The song delivers its share of variances thereafter, ranging from slower passages reflecting the more tepid touch to others in which a prevailing rhythm guitar plays the dominant role. A catchy chorus proves the glue to hold everything together.
“Remember Chains” takes the consistently heavier approach while upholding an emotional touch. Yes, this one hits hard, with pummeling riffs and drums leading the way, but can still give rise to quite the notable melody despite the angst. Some eerie keyboards at the end accent the poignant scene.
What we have in “Hole In Your Heart” is a classy semi-ballad. The song slowly flows through its verses in delicate fashion but picks up momentum at a moments notice as the rhythm guitar crashes in to drive its distinguished chorus. Rounding things out is added bluesy lead guitar.
Short but heavy hitting, “Master Of Destiny” slowly chugs its distance in melding heavy duty guitars riffs with an uplifting chorus backed by flowing vocal melodies. The overall impression left is powerful but victorious. As a matter of fact, a bit of a Titanic influence can be found here.
“The Day That He Died” proves an exercise in creativity. The song starts to drum and bass solos that segue to a seventies influenced organ, a bottom heavy environs prevailing as keyboards enter the fray prior to a slowly moving and almost doom-laden chorus. This one represents Menchen at its best.
I have mixed feelings over “King Or Liar”. The portions to the song that work are great - consider the anthem-like chorus and outbursts of open air drumming - but others leave somewhat desired, such as the rapid fire vocal passages that almost have a rap feel to them. Yes, the potential is there, but I cannot help but think “King Or Liar” could have been reworked a bit as well.
I am also on the fence with the two that follow, “Man Of Pain” and “You’re Not Alone”. The former is a staunch trudger playing up some doom-ish touches and latter one of the more spirited and upbeat tracks here. No, neither is bad but rather middle of the road average to good; in other words, a notch or two below the albums best.
“Passin’ Through” represents another top of the line piece. This one delivers a ton of energy while giving rise to some eighties influenced guitar riffs. The hooks that were missing from the previous two find there way here in abundance- you will be challenged to keep this one out of your mind. Place “Passin’ Through” on either The Seventh Power albums and it would sound right at home.
An experimental approach can be found on “Love”. The song delivers the trademark Menchen crunch during its verses but breaks out for a palatial chorus accented by swirling backing vocals that have King’s X written all over them. I cannot help but think the artist must have been listening to Gretchen Goes To Nebraska when he wrote this one.
“Crucified” is a classic if there ever was one. The song comes across dramatic in portraying events leading up to and including the crucifixion (sort of like “Crucify” by Bloodgood), with poignantly charges verses featuring a prominent bass line, slower passages carried by a gently played guitar and stately chorus adding to the anointed feel. Lead guitar is expertly done as it gets.
“King Of Glory” closes things strongly. The song still hits like a mid-paced ton of bricks, giving rise to a weighty proclivity but also a hook laden chorus. This is my favorite of the two versions due in no small part to the sublime vocal presence of Redding.
Review by Andrew Rockwell
Track Listing: “Don’t Leave” (3:47), “Remember My Chains” (3:53), “Hole In Your Heart” (3:09), “Master Of Destiny” (2:53), “The Day That He Died” (2:55), “King Or Liar” (3:30), “Man Of Pain” (3:44), “You’re Not Alone” (4:00), “Passin’ Through” (4:05), “Love” (2:50), “Crucified” (5:22), “King Of Glory” (3:38)
Ken Redding - Lead Vocals
Bill Menchen - Guitars
Bruce Menchen - Bass
Robert Sweet - Drums