Reviews: A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z
Classic Petra - Back To The Rock
Musical Style: Melodic Rock Produced By: John Lawry & Petra
Record Label: Classic Petra LLC Country Of Origin: USA
Year Released: 2010 Artist Website:
Tracks: 12 Rating: No Quote
Running Time: 51:45

Petra - Back To The Rock

The Christian melodic rock band Petra has experienced its share of ups and downs.  Like most groups that have managed to survive multiple decades, Petra has gone through line-up changes too numerous to adequately detail while recording a host of albums ranging in quality from the good to, well, not so good.  You will find two eras in the group’s history, with the first featuring vocalist Greg X. Volz and second his replacement, John Schlitt.  My favorite includes that of Volz.

Volz got his start with Petra in the late seventies on the albums Come And Join Us (1977) and Washes Whiter Than (1979), acting as a guest vocalist on the former and joining the band full time for the latter.  He remained with Petra throughout the better part of its eighties heyday, lending his four-octave vocal range to the likes of Never Say Die (1981), More Power To Ya (1982), Not Of This World (1983) and Beat The System (1984).

Never Say Die was renown for its “two sided” approach, with the first heading in hard rock territory - songs such as “Chameleon” and “Angel Of Light” are classics - and second reflecting a CCM pop feel (the lone exception being closing track “Praise Ye The Lord”).  Many say More Power To Ya is Petra’s finest hour, and they have a point when considering standout tracks “Second Wind”, “Judas Kiss”, “Rose Colored Stained Glass Windows” and “Let Everything That Hath Breath”.  My favorite, however, is Not Of This World with its tasteful blend of rockers (“Bema Seat” and “Blinded Eyes”) and slower tracks (“Grave Robber” and “Godpleaser”).  Petra might have reached the zenith of its popularity on Beat The System, but I find the album a bit too formula and polished to lend itself to repeated play.

All good things must come to an end, and such is the case in 1985 when Volz departed Petra and pursued a solo career (his first solo release from 1985, The River Is Rising, is an overlooked gem in the Christian melodic hard rock genre).  Petra, nevertheless, pressed on in hiring a new singer, John Schlitt, and releasing a string of hit albums in the years that followed.  But those events are beyond the scope of this review.

Fast forward to the spring of 2010 and Petra has reunited its “classic” line up, including not only Volz but also guitarist Bob Hartman, keyboardist John Lawry, bassist Mark Kelly and drummer Louie Weaver.  Hence, Classic Petra is reborn (by “reborn” I am referring to the fact this is the same roster that also recorded Beat The System).  The group proceeded to return to the studio and record a CD of previous hits from Never Say Day, More Power To Ya, Not Of This World and Beat The System with the goal of revamping them with a modern production edge.

The end result is Back To The Rock, a twelve song compilation featuring 10 re-recorded versions of past Petra classics in addition to two new songs.  The album presents with an even balance of “rockers” (“Bema Seat”, “Second Wind”, “Angel Of Light”, “Let Everything That Hath Breath” and two others) and “mellow” tracks ( “Godpleaser”, “Rose Colored Stained Glass Windows”, “Grave Robber” and one other).  The lone complaint - and I think I am justified here - is that I wish a few more hard rocking songs had been chosen.  It is not that I do not like the mellower side of Petra, but in my opinion the group would have done themselves a favor by re-recording at least one or more of the following: “God Gave Rock And Roll To You”, “Chameleon”, “Judas Kiss”, “Blinded Eyes” and “Praise Ye The Lord”.

I am still scratching my head regarding the decision to skip “Judas Kiss”.  I mean, how can Petra forgo recording what amounts to its signature track?  This is the equivalent of Kiss re-recording its classics hits and not doing “Rock And Roll All Night” or Stryper overlooking “To Hell With The Devil”.

The two new songs?  Classic Petra all the way!  “Back To The Rock”, as its title suggests, is a hard rock anthem with a trademark catchy chorus and “Too Big To Fail” a groove driven piece featuring a pronounced low end.  If the two hint at what Classic Petra is capable, then any new material the group records in the future will be well worth the time and wait.

While I have always liked Petra, I must confess to not always being the biggest fan.  Hence, it sparked my interest when I heard about the reunion but had my doubts about the re-recorded material: Would the production do the originals justice?  How well would Volz perform?  And could the band still pull it off after all these years?

Initially, I thought it would be better if the group instead put together a compilation, but in the end Back To The Rock won me over.  Why?  Well it all starts with production, which is up to today’s standards and proves an upgrade over the original versions: Guitars sound crunchier in being placed more forward in the mix while keyboards play a lesser role.  All around, I commend the group for the heavier interpretation of its older material- the project comes strongly recommended as a result.

One cannot help but be impressed with the performance of Greg X. Volz who - similar to Michael Sweet (Stryper) on The Covering - sounds remarkably refreshed and vibrant after so many years.  Yes, he sings in a slightly lower register in comparison to his work from the eighties, but can still adopt his classic tenor style to both the groups heavier and more mellow material.

I had some concerns over guitarist Bob Hartman prior to hearing the project.  On Petra’s previous outing, Jekyll & Hyde from 2003, Hartman sat on the sidelines from a soloing standpoint.  Not so here in that Back To The Rock is full of is choice lead guitar work.  While not a virtuoso along the lines of Rex Carroll (Whitecross) or Dennis Cameron (Angelica), he puts forth a strong showing soloing wise on “Angel Of Light” and “Clean”.

Keyboardist John Lawry must also be noted for his creativity and versatility in accenting the material here with piano, organ or a well timed keyboard solo whenever needed.

Track By Track

Things get going with “Bema Seat”, one of my favorite Petra hard rocking tracks.  Sustained by big doses of heavy duty guitars and highlighting keyboards, the song puts in place a forthright setting as it provides discourse on 1 Corinthians 3:12-15:

When it all comes down to rubble
Will it be wood, hay, or stubble
Or precious stones, gold and silver-
Are you really sure?

And we all will stand at the Bema Seat
All will be revealed - it will be complete
Will there be reward in the fiery heat
When we see our lives at the Bema Seat

Upholding the momentum is “Clean”.  This one brings a bit more edge and attitude in comparison to the original but still maintains the same pristine touches, as can be found in the polished flavorings to its chorus.  Nice outburst of lead guitar.

“Angel Of Light” delivers one of the all time great guitar riffs.  Approaching all out metal, the song drives its length in giving rise to the catchy anthem that is its chorus and muscular presence of its low end.  I wish someone like Rob Rock would cover this.  Lyric snippet:

You got the clergy working overtime to widen the narrow way
You've got politicians everywhere listening to what you say
You've got false apostles teaching lies perverting the only way
You've got principalities and powers waiting to obey
You've got philosophies and vain deceits lying to deceive
You've got hate, and greed,
ungodly lusts in the deadly web you weave
Somehow you've got so many thinking you're not even there
One look is all it takes to get them blinded by your glare

The mood lightens with “Rose Colored Stain Glass Windows”.  Petra puts its best foot forward here, reinforcing the same acoustic proclivity while adding some classical touches that hint of Kansas.  Mixed in is some light rhythm guitar and bluesy soloing.

“Godpleaser” also stays true to the acoustic spirit of the original- and by no means is that a bad thing.  The end result is a moving and ethereal piece supported by lyrics every bit as inspiring:

So many voices telling me which way to go
So many choices come from those who think they know
There's a way that seems right to a man
But it only brings him death
I wanna go the way that leads to life
Till I draw my dying breath

Don't wanna be a man pleaser - I wanna be a Godpleaser
I just want to have the wisdom to discern the two apart
Don't wanna be a man pleaser - I wanna be a Godpleaser
I just want to do the things that please the Father's heart

Initiative picks up for hard rocker “Second Wind”.  Melding some Hammond B3 with driving guitars, the song smoothly maneuvers its verses before stepping it up a notch for its rollicking chorus.  A keyboard solo helps add an element of polish.

“More Power To Ya” represents a return to an acoustic direction.  This one brings a ballad based feel while mixing in occasional traces of organ and orchestration.  Volz sounds in fine form here.  No, not a bad effort but I wish the group had chosen one of their heavier pieces instead.  Lyric snippet:

So be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might
Put on all His armor and fight the good fight
In all of our weakness, He becomes so strong
When He gives us the power and the strength to carry on

More power to ya
When you're standing on His word
When you're trusting with your whole heart in the message you have heard
More power to ya
When we're all in one accord
They that wait upon the Lord,
they shall renew, they shall renew their strength

Worship rock at its best, “Let Everything That Hath Breath” stands out with its underpinnings of snarling rhythm guitar and polished vocal melodies.  Hartman stretches with the albums best run of lead guitar.

The graceful keyboard solo opening “Grave Robber” cannot help but leave you impressed with the talents of John Lawry.  The song, otherwise, gives rise to some bluesy touches as it moves its length to a mingling of acoustic guitar, organ and orchestration.  Lyric snippet:

Many still mourn and many still weep
For those that the love who have fallen asleep
But we have this hope though our hearts may still ache
Just one shout from above and they all will awake
And in the reunion of joy we will see
Death will be swallowed in sweet victory

Where is the sting, tell me where is the bite
When the grave robber comes like a thief in the night
Where is the victory, where is the prize
When the grave robber comes
And death finally dies

“Adonai”, the last of the re-recorded material, is a classic hard rocker showcasing an exulted presence and upbeat momentum bordering on the infectious.  Keyboards lend a refining touch to what is my favorite track from Beat The System.

The two new tracks, “Back To The Rock” and “Too Big To Fall”, close things out.

“Back To The Rock” comes across in the form of a melodic rock anthem- and a very good one at that!  The song brings a big hook chorus but is warmed by crunchy rhythm guitars interwoven with a crisp acoustic guitar.  Fantastic song- if Classic Petra can put together 10 more similar this they would have another classic album.  Lyric snippet:

There was a man who built his house
Upon the sinking sand
When the wind and rain came, it washed it away
There was another man who learned to watch and pray
And he built his house upon a rock of Jesus
And it still stands today

“Too Big To Fail” represents more quintessential Petra.  Maintaining the melodic propensity, the song lends itself to a bottom heavy touch of groove and some symphonic elements to create quite the stylish listening experience.  Again, give us several more of this quality and were talking a very solid Classic Petra album.  Lyric snippet:

He is loving and merciful
And His grace is unsearchable
He is Lord over sea and sod
There is none who is like our God

He stretched forth the heavens and He laid
The foundation of the earth
All glory and honor and praise
To the One who lives and reigns

Back To The Rock has a lot to offer both fans of Petra and those that might not have always followed the group.  In other words, if your musical tastes trend towards the heavier side of the things then by all means check this out- you could end up very pleasantly surprised.  I know I was.

Review by Andrew Rockwell

Track Listing: “Bema Seat” (3:58), “Clean” (3:05), “Angel Of Light” (4:28), “Rose Colored Stain Glass Windows” (4:11), “Godpleaser” (4:44), “Second Wind” (4:35), “More Power To Ya” (3:35), “Let Everything That Hath Breath” (4:16), “Grave Robber” (4:52), “Adonai” (4:31), “Back To The Rock” (4:42), “Too Big To Fail” (4:25),

Greg X. Volz – Lead Vocals
Bob Hartman – Guitars
John Lawry – Keyboards
Mark Kelly – Bass
Louie Weaver - Drums


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