|Musical Style: Melodic Metal||Produced By: Jim Morris|
|Record Label: Intense Millennium||Country Of Origin: USA|
|Year Released: 1991/2011||Artist Website:|
|Tracks: 15||Rating: 75%|
|Running Time: 65:17|
Ransom can trace its history to the mid-eighties and the burgeoning white metal scene that originated following the commercial success of Stryper. Yes, a well known player in what was a literal flood of Christian metal bands at the time, but what set Ransom apart is that it was one of the few to be fronted by a female vocalist. Initially getting its start under the name First Aid, the group formed when bassist Michael Ciado and vocalist Lisa Faxon met through an ad placed in a Los Angeles area music paper. The change to the Ransom moniker did not come about until prior to the recording of a 3 song demo entitled Once And For All and placing the track “Sin Killer” on the California Metal (1988) compilation. The resulting notoriety helped lead to Ransom later sign with Intense Records.
The group’s 1991 self-titled Intense debut brings a joining of commercial metal and hard rock that fans of Crystavox, Shout, Stryper, Guardian, Angelica and Holy Soldier will be certain to appreciate. Female fronted groups of the time such as Arsenal, Scarlet Red and Rosanna’s Raiders also deserve consideration.
There are two things that stand out about Ransom: 1) the groups all around heaviness 2) creativity of its better material. Both factors play a key role in top of the lines pieces “Lasting Love”, “Break Into Darkness” and “Fallen Angel”. If it is muscle you are looking for then check out the double kick drum action on “Break Into Darkness” or the rhythm guitar assaults of “Lasting Love”. “Fallen Angel”, in particular, is a special piece with its variances in time and tempo and exquisite chorus. These three are as good as it gets and represent the pinnacle of Ransom’s songwriting abilities.
Other noteworthy pieces - all very good but not quite on the same level as the previous three - include the bluesy mid-paced sounds of “Fool That I Am” and “I’ll Never Leave You” along with the pop based sensibilities characteristic to “Etched In Stone”. “Memories Of You” delivers the goods as far as ballads are concerned.
At this point the review gets difficult because I want to give the album a grade in the 80% range but cannot pull the trigger. The fact is, over the years I rarely if ever listened to Ransom (the groups 1992 follow up effort Soul Asylum is another story!) in that there is not enough to like here in terms of consistency and continuity. Hence, the final grade of 75%. In looking at the albums remaining songs, we have two that fall into the medium-good category in the ballad “Tonight” and acoustic based “When I Die” and two more, “Rumors” and “Your Broken Heart”, I might describe as average at best (my opinion either way).
It also must be mentioned the quality of the group’s Once And For All material, which, for a lack of better words, cannot help but leave you scratching your head as to why they chose not to re-record it here (more on this later).
Ransom is not lacking in talent. Consider vocalist Lisa Faxon, who brings a ton of heart, passion and attitude to the position. Her gritty and raspy flavorings - she sings in a slightly lower register than contemporaries Christine Steel (Arsenal) and Rosanna Palmer (Rosanna’s Raiders) - help lend to Ransom’s previously referenced heavier sound. I guess you could describe her as the perfect vocalist for what Ransom is attempting to accomplish musically.
Guitarist Tony Ortiz is a first rate player. With his fluid hammer-on driven style, he reminds me somewhat of Jeff Watson (NightRanger), although Tony Palacios (Guardian) and David Zaffiro (Bloodgood) also invite comparison (in terms of style and ability). “Lasting Love” and “Memories Of You” highlight his adept soloing abilities while he lays down some near perfect guitar harmonies on “Break Into Darkness”.
Drummer Randy Kantor is listed in the liner notes but it is actually Joseph Galletta (Shout) who lends his timekeeping skills to the album (the production to In Your Face, the second Shout release, does not do his abilities justice). Bassist Michael Ciado helps solidify the low end.
While out of print for several decades, Ransom was re-mastered and re-issued on Intense Millennium Records in early 2011 with the 3 songs from the Once And For All demo as bonus tracks. The re-mastering cleans up any muddiness inherit to the original release while offering up the all around cleaner, brighter and more polished sound. I always felt the production to Ransom was fine for its era, but the improvements as a result of the re-mastering make the re-issue highly recommended- if not then for the excellent bonus material.
I commend Intense Millennium for choosing to go with the original artwork, but the inclusion of “20th Anniversary Edition” banner in the right hand corner is an unnecessary distraction. Do we need to be reminded? Also, I hate to nit-pik but the track listing to the Once And For All tracks is out of order while Tony Ortiz’s name is misspelled in the liner notes.
The plush keyboard solo at the start of “Lasting Love” gives way to a snarling rhythm guitar. At this point we are off, as the song kicks into high gear and steamrolls through its heavy duty verses and surprisingly melodic based chorus. Ortiz showcases his abilities with a stretch of pristine lead guitar. Lyric snippet:
Ignite the flame within my heart
Don’t hold back give me all you’ve got
The sparks that cause the fire sear in my soul
Quench these old desires – take full control
Shine down Your love on me
The never ending – lasting love
That brings me to my knees
“Rumors” falls a bit flat. Yes, it might be a bit unfair in following the brilliance of “Lasting Love” but the song lacks the punch and flair of the albums more noteworthy material. It also does not help that “Lasting Love” brings an overriding eighties rock feel, which contributes to a slightly dated sound. Still, you cannot deny the crunch heavy guitars and underpinning bass lines.
A title like “Memories Of You” is the perfect “tell” that what we have here is a ballad. And a very good one at that, slowly maneuvering its way forward in tasteful acoustic laced fashion only to pick up in pace as a bluesy rhythm guitar cuts in to back its moving chorus. Ortiz is again on top of things with his emotional soloing.
“Fool That I Am” highlights a gritty hard rocking mentality. The song stands out with its tough as nail chorus but brings some contrasting elements by making occasional descents into slower passages upheld by a quietly played guitar. Some of the bluesy flavorings of “Memories Of You” come to the forefront in the process. Lyric snippet:
But seems to me right from the start
You were playing games with my heart
I found a love I can’t compare
To what I thought love could be
They sys that love must be tough
But fool that I am
Right before my eyes a love that won’t deny me
“Break Into Darkness”, the albums first up-tempo piece, represents a rousing five minutes. Characterized by its perfect guitar melodies (the playing here is tight as it gets), the song intersperses occasional jam flavorings with a high energy chorus backed by pummeling double bass. What else can you say but Ransom brings it all together on this one. Lyric snippet:
It’s hard to see beyond despair
No matter where you turn there’s nobody there
No one there to ease the pain
Riddles and rhythms, they calm your mind
Imaginary friends they jump from the book
Only they have kind words to say
Break into their darkness…
“Tonight”, ballad number two, takes a more keyboard based approached as opposed to the acoustically driven “Memories Of You”. Am I out of line to suggest a Heart comparison here? No, not a bad thing but when placed side by side I would take “Memories Of You” with its more guitar driven sensibilities.
“Etched In Stone” returns things to an up-tempo heading. The song almost reflects a pop metal feel, as can be found in the melodic sensibilities to its chorus but also in a rhythm guitar mix that is not quite as profound as the albums heavier material. Still, a good effort with a solid hook and more tight guitar harmonies.
By far the albums best is “Fallen Angel”. The song starts slowly in ominous fashion, gradually building until a melodic based guitar takes over. The rest of the way we are treated to some technical time changes, as the song drifts between sublime - almost ethereal - based verses and sublimely executed chorus driven by polished vocal melodies. This is as good as it gets. Lyric snippet:
Once a portrait of beauty and song
Heavenly host of another kingdom
Rolled the dice to make it all your own
To belike the most high
You can’t stand against your enemy
The Prince of Peace
Now you realize His sovereignty
Because of Calvary
“Your Broken Heart”, skip button number two, does not quite cut it. Similar to “Rumors” something is lacking here, such as some added guitar driven momentum to beef things up, but ultimately the inspiration of the albums best is missing here. Listen to this next to “Break Into Darkness” and “Fallen Angel” and there is no comparison. Lyric snippet:
You just can’t let it go
Play it in your mind over and over
There you go again
Your attitude will cost you
You can’t eat of the bitter sweet
And go on living like you do
Your broken heart – does it have to be a cold hearted one?
Your broken heart – does it have to be as hard as stone?
The slow and bluesy “I’ll Never Leave You” approaches semi ballad territory. A good but not quite great deep cut, the song moves its length to some entrancing guitar harmonies and heartfelt vocal approach from Faxon. There are others I like better but not a bad effort.
“When I Die” closes things acoustically. Again, another nice piece that is not the bands best but is solid nonetheless. A bit short at just over two minutes but I will still take it. Lyric snippet:
The storm outside is raging
Yet I feel so calm inside
All around me war is waging
Still I have peace of mind
When I die
And if I find it was all a story
I would not change a thing
Knowing how You changed me
The Once And For All demo tracks are thin production wise but otherwise outstanding. “Sin Killer” is the best of the three, a driving metal slab with its gritty guitar edges and hook driven chorus. “Sticks & Stones”, in contrast, reflects a commercial touch in joining some slickly done guitar work with polished back vocals. “To Be Like You” is a richly done ballad that, not unlike “Sticks & Stones”, highlights a commercial touch that would lend itself to radio play. Once more, I do not know why they were not re-recorded but if included here they would have easily moved the final score into the 80% to 85% range.
Ransom does not quite fall within great album territory. Yes, there potential is there, but it lacks of couple more choice tracks that would prove crucial in ultimately pushing it over the top. Still, it is good to see this re-issued and made available again in that the re-mastering is top notch while the Ransom talent cannot be denied.
Review by Andrew Rockwell
Track Listing (Ransom): “Lasting Love” (4:28), “Rumors” (4:21), “Memories Of You” (4:21), “Fool That I Am” (4:23), “Break Into Darkness” (5:02), “Tonight” (4:14), “Etched In Stone” (3:43), “Fallen Angel” (5:05), “Your Broken Heart” (3:54), “I’ll Never Leave You” (4:28), “When I Die” (2:35)
Track Listing (Once And For All): “Sin Killer (4:03), “Sticks & Stones” (4:59), “To Be Like You” (5:01)
Lisa Faxon – Lead Vocals
Tony Ortiz – Guitars
Michael Ciado – Bass
Keyboards – Jim Morris & Brent Jeffers
Joseph Galletta – Drums