|Musical Style: Melodic Metal||Produced By: Neon Cross|
|Record Label: Regency||Country Of Origin: USA|
|Year Released: 1988||Artist Website:|
|Tracks: 10||Rating: 80%|
|Running Time: 42:05|
Few will argue the importance of Stryper on the Christian metal and hard rock landscape. While not necessarily the first Christian metal band but lauded as the first to gain recognition and acceptance in the mainstream music world, Stryper signed to major label Enigma Records in 1983 and following the release of its 1984 debut EP The Yellow And Black Attack, it went on to sell over 10 million records worldwide. Notable is the rough estimate that two-thirds of Stryper’s sales attribute to its mainstream audience. 1986 release To Hell With The Devil represents the apex of Stryper’s popularity, with sales in excess of two million copies and featuring the popular MTV hits "Calling on You", "Free" and "Honestly". “Honestly”, in particular, was the groups highest charting song, peaking at No. 23 on the top 40 charts.
Stryper also kick started the ‘white metal’ movement. Again, Christian hard music acts pre-date Stryper - Barnabas, Daniel Band, Leviticus and Jerusalem to name a few – but once Stryper started to achieve mainstream success the scene exploded with a ton of ‘white metal’ bands that literally came out of the woodwork. No, none matched Stryper in terms of sales and acclaim overall, but many maintained a legacy that has lasted to this day, with Bride, Bloodgood, Sacred Warrior, Deliverance and Saint all remaining productive and with one or more comeback albums released the past several years. Of note is how Barren Cross and Guardian - two more well-known and highly regarded stalwarts - later followed Stryper to Engima Records. Several less prolific though no less able acts stand out as well, including, Messiah Prophet, Rage Of Angels, Armageddon and Neon Cross.
Neon Cross joins a long list of bands that arose out of the Southern California Christian metal scene. Its history dates to friends Don Webster, Mitch Kent and Michael Betts, whom played in the same mainstream band while attending El Segundo High School in the Los Angeles area. Kent was the first of the three to become a Christian and played an influential role in Webster and Betts making decisions of faith. After front man David Raymond Reeves was recruited from an ad in a local classified paper, the new four piece unit decided on the Neon Cross moniker when literally seeing a ‘neon cross’ while driving down the Santa Monica Freeway (just before reaching Sunset Blvd near Brentwood Village Church). Neon Cross proceeded to record a highly regarded five-song demo entitled Frontline Life prior to placing the tracks “Son Of God” and “I Need Your Love” on the 1987 California Metal compilation. Subsequent to Ed Ott replacing Kent on bass, Neon Cross recorded its Regency Records self-titled debut full length from 1988.
Neon Cross might deliver a bit more muscle than much of the ‘hair metal’ popular at the time but also lacks the fortitude and muscle distinctive to traditional metal; the group, rather, falls somewhere in between in presenting with a best of both worlds scenario. Opening track “Heartbreaker” manifests this, a top-notch showstopper in which a punctuated guitar emphasis and commercial hooks converge in equal parts. Aggression asserts itself thick and firm but not to the point of forsaking the accessible either.
Likewise, “Run Into The Light” proves heavy and melodic. Not so much albums best track but potentially one of the better Christian metal cuts of its era, “Run Into The Light” plays up an anthem like mentality with its powerhouse rhythm section and hard charging guitar riffs that cut in and out of the mix. Ascending refrain highlights clear-cut backing vocals, while verses cruise in sinuous fashion.
“Right Time” further plays up the commercial aspects while not backing from the Neon Cross propensity for the guitar driven. Vocal melodies play an even further defined role - chorus has made for radio written all over it - in lending a milieu that almost touches upon a pop basis. Don Webster might not be the flashiest guitarist, but his elevated soloing lends to the metal meets melodic feel at hand.
“I’m Not Alone”, albums lengthiest track at six minutes, touches upon semi ballad territory. The song starts ominous and ethereal to distantly played guitar only to kick in at once, with up-tempo rhythm guitars lending an emotional edge and Reeves exhibiting the full range to his emotional voice. A particularly talented performer, Reeves highlights a versatile style in which he can cut loose with the highest of high-end falsettos but also descend into gritty lower register heart and soul territory. In between, he settles into a mostly soaring and upper end groove that rates him one of the unique talents to have come out of the period.
“Outta The Way” follows similar suite, also beginning in eerie fashion to ringing church bells over placed acoustic guitar and wistful vocal melodies. A heightened tempo ensues, as bludgeoning guitars slam in and provide a contrasting high-energy layering that, when combined with “I’m Not Alone”, finds Neon Cross at its creative best.
Also featured are four of the five Frontline Life demo tracks (lone cut missing is two-minute introductory piece “The Battle”). My favorite is “We Are The Children (Of Our Lord)” with its intense hooks, as Reeves lets loose with a trademark out-of-this-world-how-did-he-do-that falsetto at the start and singing in high pitched fashion moving forward. Energy is impassioned as it gets, with refrain rollicking to Betts’ sturdy underlining timekeeping and verses plowing to more of Webster’s conspicuous riffs.
“Frontline Life” similarly begins to one of Reeves’ trademark upper register screams. The rest of the way it proves every bit keyed up, with backing vocals (that almost lend a punk-like quality) shouting the songs title and decisive rhythm section that makes every bit the decisive statement. Quintessential high-energy melodic metal is the upshot.
“Far Cry (From Eden)” touches upon bluesy mid-tempo metal territory. Down-tuned and low key are the guitar tones during the songs tempered opening moments, as impetus gradually builds until things explode for the ‘Cause it’s a far cry from Eden. And what were seeing is wasting away’ refrain. Hats off to Webster for albums best stretch of elevated lead guitar.
“Victory” also plays up a bluesy riff mentality, maintaining the mid-paced impetus with a full on low-end aligning with Reeves’ soulful and gritty vocal performance. Similar to much of the material here, “Victory” gives rise to a steadfast heaviness while not backing from the commercial emphasis. Some cool cowbell helps round things out.
Lone track to potentially fall short (in my opinion) is “On The Rock” and that is due to its all too brief two and a half minute length. Musically, it is not bad as an up-tempo hard rocker, but I find songs of such short length often fail to grow and build as they should and such is the case here.
Production is solid when factoring the era and independent label in which Neon Cross saw release. Abundant rhythm guitar is the focal point to the mix as is the ever-present tightly woven drum signatures of Betts. Despite the occasional high-end leanings, vocals do not end up relegated to a too far forward position.
Lyrics leave little doubt as to the faith of the Neon Cross members. Consider how “Victory” touches upon spiritual warfare:
Out of the dark and into the light,
We're called to fight
With immortal strength
We serve our King
Demons hide and howl
Fearing our Light, fearing His power
Commissioned by our King,
To conquer the spiritual realm
Pushing hard all the way running on to victory...
“Frontline Life” deals with holding on to the faith:
You’ve got to keep on trying
But to hold on to the Word
And the Word’s name
And the name is Christ
It’s Jesus Christ, Try and try...
Hold tight, Hold on
Won’t be long before the Son
Frontline life takes its toll…
"Run Into The Light" points the way to salvation:
Dark of night has fallen!
There's no time to run!
You've got to stop pretending!
You're under the gun!
It's your own decision.
Will you live or die?
Give your life to Jesus
Or hold onto a lie
Run into the Light...
"I'm Not Alone" invites its listeners to experience eternal life:
When the veil was lifted
Tears ran down my face
Joy and sorrow mixed as one
As there it had begun
I was covered by the grace of God!
Our eyes they see, but only that you'll allow
You gotta open up your hear, and let Him there inside
You gotta turn from selfish pride
I'm not alone! I'm not alone!
Before summing up, a few Neon Cross historical tidbits:
* In 1994, the group placed the songs “Buy My Record” and “Mystery Of Love” on the Premium Cuts compilation.
*Neon Cross released its sophomore album Torn in 1995 (on Rugged Records)
* A 2001 re-issue of Neon Cross (on Magdalene Records) including bonus material in the form of “I Need Your Love” and “Son Of God” from the California Metal compilation and four of the five original Frontline Life demo tracks.
* A February 5, 2007 press release from Neon Cross offered the following:
“NEON CROSS has been rocking the world with a message of love and redemption since the early 80s. Not since the release of Torn has any other Neon Cross CD been so highly anticipated and will prove to be their best release yet. The album, although not official named as of yet, has an expected release date of Spring 2007 and promises to have something for everyone. Thrown in will be traditional hymns covered metal style and live recordings as well as many tracks never released or even heard outside of their live audience. Neon Cross wants the fans to be included in the experience and to reach them on a deeper level than simply just entertainment which has always been the goal.”
Said highly anticipated and unnamed third album, obviously, has yet to see the light of day; we can only hope it is still in the works and will see release in the near future despite the nine year delay.
Neon Cross might not have matched the productivity levels attributed to many of its ‘white metal’ contemporaries, but it certainly is not lacking the talent and acumen to rank alongside them therein. The group’s self-titled debut proves a sound work accordingly, with both its newer and older demo material holding up under repeat play and highlighting its adept compositional abilities. If into a joining of straight on metal heaviness and melodic metal hooks then Neon Cross comes strongly recommended.
Review by Andrew Rockwell
Track Listing: "Heartbreaker" (3:45), "Frontline Life" (3:31), "We Are The Children (Of Our Lord)", "On The Rock" (2:41), "I’m Not Alone" (5:57), "Right Time" (4:09), "Run Into The Light" (4:30), "Far Cry (From Eden)" (4:33), "Outta The Way" (3:50), "Victory" (4:04)
David Raymond Reeves - Lead Vocals
Don Webster - Guitars
Ed Ott - Bass
Michael Betts - Drums