|Musical Style: Melodic Metal||Produced By:|
|Record Label: Independent||Country Of Origin: Sweden|
|Year Released: 2014||Artist Website: Messenger|
|Tracks: 6||Rating: 85%|
Messenger isn’t a band with one outstanding selling point; instead, it has many highly convincing ones. Starting with musical direction, the Alunda, Sweden based act embodies the best elements of eighties influenced melodic metal and hard rock on its 6-song summer of 2014 sophomore EP Perfect Storm. Released in follow up to the Messenger 2012 debut EP Heart & Mind, Perfect Storm reflects all the qualities one would expect from a band drawing upon the genre at hand: Hooks, hooks and more hooks stand alongside soaring lead vocals, high octane lead guitar work and an adrenaline fueled rhythm section. Stryper is the first that comes to mind in terms of comparison along with (to a lesser degree) Petra but so does a host of others from the time such as Whitecross, Holy Soldier, Guardian, Angelica, Rage of Angels, Barren Cross and Leviticus. More recent acts along the lines of Laudamus, Sarepta, Liberty N’ Justice and Desyre deserve equal consideration.
To perform music of this capacity a top-flight lead vocalist is not an option. Of those acts previously referenced, Stryper features the abundant range of Michael Sweet, while Guardian came into its own upon the procurement of soulful front man Jamie Rowe. Likewise, many are drawn to the Angelica self-titled debut due to the presence of Rob Rock and Leviticus’ Setting Fire To The Earth from including the incomparable Terry H. Messenger, much to its credit, shines every bit as much from the abilities of front man Josef Mineur. With his crystalline smooth and silky vocal abilities, Mineur proves capable of reaching for an upper stratosphere falsetto with the best of them but is also not afraid to reach down for some lower register bite and angst. Otherwise, he is most comfortable staying within heartfelt mid-to-upper range territory in complementing the Messenger eighties based sound like a hand in glove.
Musicianship represents an every bit crucial selling point. Characteristic also to said bands, most (if not all) possess a guitarist or guitar team in which fans most easily identify its sound. Messenger fits the bill with its highly capable guitar combo of Fredrik Elm and Eddie Widell. While I hesitate to place either within the same category of uber-talented players such as Rex Carroll (Whitecross) or Dennis Cameron (Angelica), I find their work to compare favorably to other guitar duos such as Michael Sweet & Oz Fox (Stryper) and Frank DiCostanzo & Greg Kurtsman (Rage Of Angels). Yes, the two can cut loose and shred as well as anyone but also exhibit a more versatile facet reflected in occasional bluesy touches and tightly woven harmonies ranging from the melodic to intricate. Bassist Johnny Sandberg proves every bit crucial in lending to the signature Messenger underpinning groove as does steady timekeeper Simon Levén.
Perhaps the most important factor of all is songwriting. It is all for naught, of course, if a metal band delivers the goods musicianship wise but overlooks the importance of composing memorable material with the hooks that might draw you in with repeat play. Such is not the case with Messenger, whom highlights the near perfect balance of standout musicianship and melodic songwriting. Opener “What I Believe” speaks accurately of this, revealing touches of classic AOR and catchy melodic hard rock in an up-tempo setting and commercially viable package that has prime Stryper written all over it. Mineur, at the same time, gets things going with a falsetto, while Elm and Widell also exhibit their abilities, which reflects in the riveting blues drenched lead guitar and protruding riffs throughout.
“Rockin’ In Faith”, despite the clichéd title, entices every bit much. The song takes the heavier stance, with hammering bass lines establishing the low-end groove and determined guitar structures leaving little doubt as to the Messenger ability to hit hard when need calls for. Yet, the group does not forsake accessibility either, as revealed in the gruff backing vocals stepping forward to propel quite the hook driven chorus. A slight bluesy essence straining for early nineties Bride with a touch of Red Sea groove rears its head in the process.
A retro eighties hard rock album would not be complete without at least one customary ballad. Hence, “I Need You Now”, an emotional and enticing heart render that proves more heavy rock ballad as opposed to the keyboards based wave your lighter in the air variety. Yes, keyboards make their presence felt but in a more highlighting role in allowing crisp guitars to enhance the backdrop to a song with the commercial milieu that has play me on the radio written all over it. Mineur showcases the mature range to his voice in this capacity. I can see Liberty N’ Justice doing something along these lines.
Messenger to its credit does not restrict itself to commercial hard rock but can also take its songwriting in a traditional metal direction, a crucial and not to be overlooked side to the eighties metal scene. “Tear Down These Walls” fits this role with its darker and more somber mood in which ominous guitar flavorings and technical leanings run rampant start to finish. A perfectly flowing and near mesmerizing chorus ranks with the albums best. It might be a bit understated, but I detect a faint hint of seventies classic hard rock as well.
Albums title track highlights a similar musical heading but with more of an up to date power metal meets the progressive with its nine-minute length. If I had voted a song of the year for 2014, this would be a strong candidate, with all the expected ingredients accounted for: Profound heaviness but not to the point of squelching the abundant melody (refrain is epic as it gets), while the multiple instrumental moments find the group at the top of its game musicianship wise. The upshot is a song that proves intricate and detailed, but it also does not overdue it in terms of the progressive aspect. The Barren Cross and Iron Maiden crowd should embrace this one.
Lone track not to do it for me is the Swedish cover of the hymn “How Great Thou Art” under the new title “O Store Gud”. A return to a melodic hard rock format, the song is far from bad and I appreciate the upbeat energy, but I also find worship rock somewhat predictable and formula. The albums better material leaves the impression the group could easily have come up with an original track that would better fill out a six song EP. Still, if Messenger insists on going the cover route, why not re-record a song by a contemporary such as Leviticus (“The Suffering Servant” off Setting Fire To The Earth) or Stryper (fill in the name of just about any song you want).
Not unlike albums I recently reviewed from HB (Pääkallonpaikka) and Ancient Prophecy (Pounded By Our Sins), Perfect Storm is a hard to find European CD import, at least domestically. This makes going the download route a necessity. Also akin to HB and Ancient Prophecy, production shines for an independent release as a clean and transparent feel aligns with just enough courser grit to allow the groups natural energy to stand out.
Messenger’s motto of being a ‘heavy metal band that is made up of 5 guys who want to share their faith in Jesus Christ through both music and lifestyle’ leaves little doubt as to where it is coming from lyrically. The group’s signature scripture is 2 Timothy 1:9 accordingly. I do not have a lyric sheet, but “What I Believe” speaks of “God who hears my call” and “how His mercy we can all receive” and “I Need You Now” how “Upon that cross it was me You died for” and “As I fall to my knees and close my eyes. God I need You now”.
“Tear Down These Walls” sums things up succinctly: “Christ He sees the truth inside of me. You see who I am. There is a God who can Help me. Lord I submit myself.” “Perfect Storm” proves aptly entitled: “When the storm has passed away, what will be left to find? And when night unfolds the day, will we still remain?”
Messenger proves unequivocally on Perfect Storm it has many highly convincing selling points. If into eighties metal (and not just the commercial variety but that also in the traditional metal vein) then the albums certainly fits the bill. The group backs the musical direction with high levels of vocal and musicianship expertise and tops things with a knack for composing memorable material. Messenger proves quite becoming in this regard to the extent if “Rockin’ In Faith” and “Tear Down These Walls” had been composed by Stryper back in the day they would be considered classics. In the past, I have graded EP releases on a tighter curve, with the thought it is easier to come up with 5 to 6 good songs as opposed to a full-length albums worth of material. That said, the quality is such the 85% grade is more than warranted.
Review by Andrew Rockwell
Track Listing: “What I Believe” (3:52), “Rockin’ In Faith” (3:50), “I Need You Now” (4:11), “Tear Down These Walls” (6:08), “Perfect Storm” (8:48), “O Store Gud (How Great Thou Art)” (3:27)
Josef Mineur -Lead Vocals
Fredrik Elm - Guitars
Eddie Widell - Guitars
Johnny Sandberg - Bass
Simon Levén - Drums