|Musical Style: Melodic Rock||Produced By: John & Dino Elefante|
|Record Label: Star Song||Country Of Origin: USA|
|Year Released: 1988||Artist Website: Petra|
|Tracks: 10||Rating: 70%|
|Running Time: 43:38|
The musical career of vocalist John Schlitt began in 1973 while as a member of Head East, performing on five studio albums and one live album - Flat As A Pancake (1974), Get Yourself Up (1976), Gettin’ Lucky (1977), Head East (1978), Head East Live (1978) and A Different Kind Of Crazy (1979) – before departing the group seven years later. John subsequently dropped out of the music scene after becoming a Christian (through the influence of his wife) but a call from Petra guitarist Bob Hartman in 1985, however, would change all that. Petra, at the time, had lost its long term lead vocalist, Greg X. Volz, and was in search of a replacement. Bob, in turn, responded by contacting John through a mutual friend – a Christian music critic – and inquired if he would be interested in singing in Petra. (Rumor has it that the two first met while sitting next to each other on a plane when John was still in Head East.) John responded by flying out one weekend to meet the band and, after contributing the vocals to a demo version of the track “Alter Ego” (off Back To The Street), the rest, as they say, is history.
The first Petra recording to include John on lead vocals was the gritty melodic rock of the 1986 offering Back To The Street. The more polished This Means War came out a year later and in 1988 the hard rocking On Fire!, a guitar driven effort showcasing some of the heaviest moments of Petra’s four decade career. “All Fired Up”, “Hit You Where You Live”, “Mine Field” and “Defector”, for instance, all head in hard rock territory while “Counsel Of The Holy” and “Stand In The Gap” feature an ample amount of guitar as well. While Petra proves it can compose a very fine ballad in “First Love”, other keyboard based tracks in “Open Book” and “Homeless Few” fall a bit short. The same can be said for the lackluster melodic rock of “Somebody’s Gonna Praise His Name”. Nevertheless, Petra delivers more than enough punch to draw in fans of not only Stryper, Shout, Guardian, Novella and Slav Simanic but also Def Leppard and perhaps even Kiss as well.
On Fire! finds John Schlitt continuing to bring the raspy but full ranged vocal style he is renowned for. Bob Hartman is responsible for the upfront rhythm guitar sound pushing the band into hard rock territory. As a soloist, however, his work comes across on the restrained side of things. Check out "All Fired Up”, “Hit You Where You Live” and “Mine Field” and I am sure you will agree he could have extended his soloing just a bit. John Lawry, at the same time, shines with his exceptional work on keyboards. (I recall first hearing Lawry when his group at the time, The Joe English Band, opened for Servant on their “Great American Album Giveaway Tour”. Does this bring back memories or what? Anyhow, on several songs he would pull out his portable “keytar” and let loose with some of the most incredible keyboard soloing I have ever heard.)
Production values give rise to the trademark refinement characteristic to the production team of John and Dino Elefante.
On Fire! gets underway with three to notch hard rockers in “All Fired Up”, “Hit You Where You Live” and “Mine Field”.
“All Fired Up” ranks with the albums better track, an energetic arena rocker showcasing a hook-laden chorus – an abundance of backing vocals brings out the best in this one – and refreshing guitar driven initiative. Give Petra credit- I do not recall them sounding quite as heavy on any of their previous releases. You have to appreciate the uplifting feel to the lyrics here as well:
When the weight of the world begins to show
When the flames faith begin to die before I know
Time to be rekindled by the everlasting Source
The all Consuming Fire, illuminating Force
Like a blacksmith aim
He fans the embers to a flame
I’m all fired up…
The pounding drums at the start of “Hit You Where You Live” soon join with a choppy rhythm guitar. Advancing through its verse portions as a tinge of keyboards highlight the background, the song moves on to a robust chorus talking about standing firm in the faith:
Hit you where you live, you can’t hold back
When you’re struck by His love, you will always know
Hit you where you live, it’s so close to home
When you’re all sold out, the mark will show
Let Him hit you where you live
Hartman contributes a brief but vibrant stretch of work on lead guitar.
“Mine Field” kicks in to a forward swell of rhythm guitar, the grit-laden impetus maintained as the way is paved for a sweeping chorus giving rise to an abundance of commercial appeal. A melodic based guitar solo brings out the best in a song focusing on trusting in God:
It’s a mine field – you’d better follow Him through
God knows the way – you’d better stick like glue
It’s a mine field – better stay on His heels
‘Cause the enemy kills and the enemy steals
So keep your head down and keep your eyes peeled
‘Cause life is …
Like a mine field
The ballad “First Love”, penned by John Elefante, is carried its full extent by a blend of piano and keyboards. Putting forth quite the copious melody, the song proves a stylish piece with its emotional vocal performance from John Schlitt and heartfelt lyrics:
It’s not that I don’t know the way
It’s just a heart that’s prone to stray
But with my weaknesses admitted
You will keep all that I’ve committed
So I commit my heart to You
My first Love
While I wish “First Love” had been touched up by a bit of rhythm guitar – or even a guitars solo – it is quite good nonetheless.
“Defector”, on the other hand, commands your attentions with its metal edged rhythm guitar sound. The song jumps out of the gate in energized fashion, rollicking through its first verse only to taper off for a deep and resounding chorus shored up by low key backing vocals. Great hook here guaranteed to have you singing along in no time.
The commanding “Counsel Of The Holy” starts to an amalgamation of rhythm guitar and organ only to slow to a piano upon reaching its first verse. The rhythm guitar does not return to its previous place of authority, however, until the song picks up in pace for the poignantly charged chorus that follows. “Counsel Of The Holy” is a song about the Word of God:
Counsel of the Holy
The written Word of God
Wisdom cries for all to read
Counsel of the Holy
The greatest book of all
Is the path of victory
On Fire! goes on a bit of a hiatus over its final half.
Things start to go downhill with “Somebody’s Gonna Praise His Name”, a track coming across on the trite side of things with its watered down musical direction – keyboards end up placed a bit forward in the mix – and lack of a memorable chorus hook. Nice praised based lyrical direction, though:
Lord I lift my voice to You
And I magnify Your name
You are Alpha and Omega
You are everyday the same
As long as I draw breath my lips will praise You
As long as I have strength I want to praise Your name
Ironically, “Somebody’s Gonna Praise His Name” features one of the albums better stretches of lead guitar.
“Open Book” represents another track I tend to skip over. The keyboards are even more pronounced here, helping to lend to the overtly pop flavored CCM-ish environment the song puts in place. The rhythm guitar, as a matter of fact, does not even so much as makes its presence felt.
“Stand In The Gap” returns the album to its hard rocking ways. The song smoothly flows through its first verse in a keyboard driven manner, not picking up in pace until the rhythm guitar steps forward to lead the way to a chorus guaranteed to draw you in with its anthem-like ardor. “Stand In The Gap” touches upon the issue of prayer and spiritual warfare:
Stand in the gap
He will hear you when you seek His face
Put your weapon to its use
And believe it will produce
Stand in the gap
Until all hell…
Until all hell breaks loose
On Fire! closes to “Homeless Few”, another mid-tempo keyboard based number that might have benefited from a bit more energy and, if I might say, “fire” from the band. No, the song does not posses a bad melody and I can see how others might get into it, but “Homeless Few” comes across a bit too laid back for my taste. “Homeless Few” is aptly named:
Some sleep in doorways waiting for the day
Some sleep in boxes we have thrown away
Under the red, white and blue
Right down the street in our view
We’re not doing we can do
To shelter the homeless few
Review by: Andrew Rockwell
Track Listing: “All Fired Up” (4:30), “Hit You Where You Live” (4:20), “Mine Field” (4:28), “First Love” (4:10), “Defector” (4:30), “Counsel Of The Holy” (3:37), “Somebody’s Gonna Praise His Name” (4:02), “Open Book” (4:28), “Stand In The Gap” (4:10), “Homeless Few” (4:33)
John Schlitt – Lead Vocals
Bob Hartman – Guitarist
John Lawry – Keyboards
Ronny Cates – Bass
Louie Weaver – Drums
John Andrew Schreiner – Keyboards
Also Reviewed: Petra – Jekyll & Hyde