|Musical Style: Metal/Hard Rock||Produced By:|
|Record Label: Independent||Country Of Origin: USA|
|Year Released: 2016||Artist Website: Philadelphia|
|Tracks: 10||Rating: 80%|
We were skeptical at first of Warlord, the spring of 2016 comeback album of Philadelphia, but the veteran hard rock act expertly manages to be every bit capable today as it was during its mid-eighties prime. Most identify with Philadelphia for the traditional metal of the two albums it released on independent label Patmos Records, with the first, Tell The Truth, coming out in 1984 and reportedly pre-dating Stryper’s The Yellow And Black Attack from the same year, and second, conceptual work Search And Destroy, following in 1985. With a storyline based around a character named Bobby who goes through abuse, addiction and crime but in the end finds salvation, Search And Destroy might very well be the first concept album from a Christian metal/hard rock band, although I could stand corrected on the matter.
It deserves note that James Griffin, who won a Grammy for his work with the famous disco song “Ring My Bell” (by Anita Ward), produced both albums. Griffin’s lack of experience working with hard rock bands, obviously, correlates with the thin production to Tell The Truth and (to a lesser degree) the more refined sounds of Search And Destroy. Still, I find it ironic how Griffin - and I am speaking figuratively here - traded in his platform shoes for a leather vest while replacing his Bee Gees records with those by Judas Priest!
Before this, Philadelphia traces its history to the late seventies when founding member’s bassist and vocalist Brian Clark and drummer Brian Martini were both part of a mainstream band named Survivor (not the same Survivor with the hit “Eye Of The Tiger”). Clark decided to set aside music for a year after becoming a Christian only to later join forces again with Martini, who had come to the faith as a result of Clark’s influence, and recruit the talented guitar team of Phil Scholling and Ronn Flowers. The new four-piece settled on the Philadelphia moniker, which draws from the sixth of the seven Churches of Asia as presented in Revelation 3: 7-13.
The M8 re-issue of Search And Destroy from 2000 led to Philadelphia reforming for the first time to record a pair of new songs in “Please My Love” and “Kids In America”. Fast forward to 2011, and Clark’s Philadelphia band mates visit him in the hospital while he is awaiting aortic valve replacement and bypass surgery. With a special bond still in place among its members, Philadelphia reunited for the second time in 2014 (at Martini’s Forth, Worth, Texas home) in which an impromptu jam session took place. At that point, the question arose about completing work on Warlord, the tentatively entitled third album that ended up shelved after the group disbanded in the mid-eighties. Philadelphia proceeded to enter the studio with three of its members participating (Flowers had to withdraw due to time constraints) to begin recording the nine new songs it had recently composed and the original Warlord title track.
On a side note: Search And Destroy is of such high quality that it deserves a second re-issue but this time with the Steinhaus re-mastering treatment. At the very least, I encourage that you pick up a copy of the M8 re-issue while still available.
How does Philadelphia circa 2016 measure up? Despite the passing of thirty years, Philadelphia shakes off any rust and does not miss a beat in“(manifesting) a current sound while staying true to their roots as a band delivering hard driving rock” (as taken from the Philadelphia press material). Specifically, I hesitate to label Warlord ‘traditional metal’ due to a bit more going on here musically in that I hear aspects from both sides of the metal and hard rock fence- or more precisely the group is walking a fine line between the two while not wishing to be pigeonholed at the same time.
Note that most bands are going to change and grow musically over a three-decade span (referencing the musical histories of Bride and Deliverance), and Philadelphia proves no exception and even more so in light of how Warlord is its full full-length output since the Reagan administration. Also, do not be daunted by the reference to a ‘current’ sound in that the group has by no means gone ‘modern’; rather it has shifted gears in terms of how it has evolved musically over the years while staying true to its metal and hard rock roots. The point being that those who are long-term fans of Philadelphia are still going to identify with the direction the group has taken Warlord.
Albums title track does the best job staying true to the Philadelphia classic metal sound. “Warlord” divides into two parts, with the first starting to open air guitar feedback before plowing ahead at a resilient mid-paced clip in transitioning between heated verses and brusque chorus that repeats the phrase “He’s a Warlord!” in barbed fashion. Second is instrumental and covers the songs final four minutes in encompassing a very ably done guitar jam from Scholling.
“Way Of The Skull” is another heavier piece that ranks alongside “New Jerusalem” (off Tell The Truth) as my favorite Philadelphia cut. Also at six minutes, the song takes a doom metal stance with the down tuned and bass heavy guitars and plodding momentum to match. Churning and bluesy is the feel as the group (again) puts its technical proclivity on display and proves it has not lost a step in the process. Things again shine instrumentally, with tempo briefly accelerating at the midway point for a riveting lead guitar run and feedback and distortion at the end.
The two in question find Clark standing out with his trademark middle register vocal style that leans towards the earthy and gritty. The passing of time finds him adding a raspy lower register edge to his delivery, which I find flattering from how at times he reminds of Richard Anderson (Warlord, Martiria). Overall, one cannot help but feel that Clark, similar to many of his contemporaries, has grown and matured as a front man over the years.
Albums remaining material walks that noted fine line between metal and hard rock. Opening cut “Brothers In Arms” is a good example of this, mid-paced with its straightforward and driving demeanor but also technical from its melodic to hard hitting guitar signatures, as is “Wasteland”, every bit mid-tempo in upholding a bluesy shuffling bass presence and heightened accessible feel with its catchy refrain. Guitars on both might not have the all out distortion characteristic to metal but also sidestep the bare bones feel of hard rock (at least that is what my ears here- observation and not a critique either way).
I rate “Lady Fortune” as the better of the slower Warlord pieces. The song comes across portent with its acoustic guitar giving way to bluesy guitar opening, upholding the ethereal qualities moving through its moody verses and every bit melancholy of its foreboding refrain. A slight Gothic feel comes to the forefront in the process. As always, Scholling impresses with a run of lead guitar in line with the mood to the song.
Taking an up-tempo slant is “Prophecy”, moving and intrepid with front to back guitar harmonies galore and near mesmerizing catchy vocal melodies throughout, and “Son Of The Morning”, also unwavering in form in marrying crunch heavy guitars with lighter guitar aspects to play up a melodic based scene. Again, Clark is up to the challenge either way with his raspy vocal flavorings.
“Sane Asylum” stands out as the albums fastest and most high-energy piece. The song rollicks from front to back in yielding an unwavering bass line, non-stop hooks in abundance and complementary run of vivacious lead guitar. With its cool play on words, this one also represents one of my choice tracks- not to mention being a welcome outburst of energy in what at times can be a dark and low-key album.
Also up-tempo but straining towards melodic hard rock is “Defender”. The song maneuvers its first minute to stilly done acoustic guitar prior to picking up at once, engaging with its accessible front to back hooks but also reserved from its more even guitar tones throughout. This is commercial as it gets as far as Philadelphia are concerned. “I’m Not Listening” also touches upon melodic hard rock but falls short (in my opinion) due to sharing a melody a bit too similar with that of “Defender” for my taste. It is almost as if the two songs ended up cut from the same mold.
Warlord leaves little doubt that it features the best production of the three Philadelphia releases. Low end is the albums strong point, with a larger than life bass sound (Clark has really come into his own in this capacity) and clear cut drums (Martini proves no slouch either). Guitars, on the other hand, could be beefed up in places, but that might not be a fair observation when factoring how Philadelphia has gone from a two to a single guitar band. I often wonder how Warlord might have turned out if Ronn Flowers had participated in that I miss the dual trade off between him and Scholling- not to mention the extra punch a second guitarist brings to the table.
Song titles such as “Way Of The Skull”, “Son Of The Morning”, “Prophecy” and “Brother In Arms” leave little doubt as to how Philadelphia has not abandoned its faith-based ways. Unfortunately, I had no other option than to go the download route and as a result do not have lyrics to reference (as far as I can tell, Warlord is yet to be issued on CD).
Warlord adds up to a work featuring two great songs in “Warlord” and “Way Of The Skull” with seven others in good to very good territory and one potential filler track. Philadelphia proves it has recaptured its prime form in the process but also plays it a bit too conservative in taking few musical risks while not always unleashing the full potential of its metal licks and chops at the same time. My point being I wish there were a few more all out classic metal cuts in which the group steps outsides its comfort zone and better explores its creative and technical boundaries.
Rather than record the nine new songs it had composed for the album, I wish the group had taken a closer look at some of the material it had put together during the original Warlord demo sessions from back in the day. Perhaps an even stronger album might have resulted if Philadelphia had instead recorded the best combination of its older and newer material. Still, I do not wish to be unfairly critical in that Philadelphia casts all doubts aside in sounding so fresh and vibrant following a thirty- year hiatus- so perhaps it might be better to say it is good to hear the group again following such an extended period-of-time! With this in mind, if a long-term fan of Philadelphia or into any form of eighties based metal and hard rock then give Warlord the time and consideration it deserves.
Review by Andrew Rockwell
Track Listing: “Brothers In Arms” (5:26), “Defender” (4:26), “I’m Not Listening” (3:32), “Prophecy” (4:02), “Wasteland” (4:10), “Sane Asylum” (3:52), “Son Of The Morning” (4:08), “Lady Fortune” (4:49), “Way Of The Skull” (6:25), “Warlord” (6:22)
Brian Clark - Lead Vocals & Bass
Phil Scholling - Guitars
Brian Martini - Drums