|Musical Style: Power Metal||Produced By: George Ochoa|
|Record Label: Intense/Roxx Records||Country Of Origin: USA|
|Year Released: 1990/2016||Artist Website:|
|Tracks: 14||Rating: 90%|
|Running Time: 65:27|
Recon pleasantly surprised most critics back in the day with its “classic, polished metal sound, and their unique style in representing that sound” (as noted by Ed “Wordman” Warner in his August 1990 Take A Stand review of the groups 1990 debut Behind Enemy Lines). Dave Mutillo (White Throne issue 7) suggested, “if you ever liked either Queensryche (in its numerous stylistic variations) or Fates Warning, you should enjoy Behind Enemy Lines”, while Larry Martin (Heaven’s Metal issue26) reinforced, “you can’t classify (Recon) into any one category such as thrash or speed metal or melodic metal since they blend these and other in a smooth transition”. Martin goes on to describe Recon as “a very talented and creative band that consists of musicians who are well-seasoned in various musical tastes and training”, noting how the group makes “use of classical guitar, Oberheim-sounding keyboards and traditionally non-heavy metal percussion instruments such as orchestral bells or chimes”.
With its name short for both reconnaissance and reconciliation, Recon arose out of the ashes of defunct Southern California bands De Roque, Prophet and Seventh Thunder when founding members guitarist George Ochoa, vocalist Vett Robers and drummer John Christianson formed a partnership. The three later recruited bassist Mike Grato and second guitarist Eddie Starline prior to recording a pair of custom cassette demos and placing the tracks “Light The Fire” and “Dreams” on the California Metal II compilation from 1988. A deal with Intense Records ensued, which resulted in said Recon full-length debut Behind Enemy Lines. An interview from White Throne issue 5 found Ochoa describing the meaning of the albums title as about, “Going ‘behind enemy lines’ in enemy turf (and) proclaiming the Light of Jesus Christ and set the captives free. We are the soldiers and the Lord wins the battles”.
You can count me among the numerous reviewers pleasantly surprised with both Recon and Behind Enemy Lines. I always identified with the group as performing classic US power metal, albeit the previously noted aspects of melodic metal and thrash or speed metal make their presence felt along with light progressive nuances. High-end vocalist Vett Roberts helps invite comparison to Queensryche and Fates Warning, keeping in mind contemporaries Sacred Warrior deserves every bit as much consideration as does more recent acts Faith Factor, The Sacrificed and David Taylor era Jacobs Dream.
Behind Enemy Lines first saw re-release on Japanese label Teichiku Records in 1994 with bonus material in the form of the two California Metal II tracks, while a second re-release on M8 Records in 2001 featured six demo bonus tracks. The most recent Behind Enemy Lines re-issue from March of 2016 on Roxx Records was re-mastered by Ochoa and includes both songs from California Metal II in addition to two demo bonus tracks.
Album opens to short ‘intro’ piece “In The Beginning” (with corresponding narration from John 1:1) before moving on to what this reviewer considers three as fine a classic US power metal pieces you will find. “Lost Soldier” gets things underway to atmospheric keyboards that segue to acoustic guitar and galloping riffs, heightened by the soaring feel to Roberts’ vocal delivery but accessible in terms of the catchy feel to the bellicose refrain. Some darker and portent overtones rise to the surface in the process.
“Ancient Of Days” slows the tempo and ups the heaviness with its towering feel. The song touches upon the momentous, with riffs of a stark and swarthy nature combining with a churning low end in which Grato and Christianson lock into a formidable groove. Instrumental section runs the gamut from melodic harmonies to Ochoa’s fiery soloing. Prime Sacred Warrior couldn’t do “Ancient Of Days” (and “Lost Soldier”) any better.
“Choose This Day” takes the lighter and more melodic tone. The song upholds a slight progressiveness, maneuvering between verses that drift stoically to reserved guitars and an imposing refrain in which guitars rebound to a position of crucial prominence. I particularly enjoy the songs ethereal ‘outro’ final minute carried by acoustic guitar and soaring guitar feedback.
“Dreams” maintains the melodic basis in playing up one of the albums tighter guitar harmony performances from Ochoa and Starline. Reverberant bass carries the slower and emotionally tinctures verses, while big as it gets choir vocals empower the affluent refrain, with an almost symphonic feel arising as a result.
Keyboards play a profound (but not to a fault) role on melodic metal piece “Take Us Away”, carrying the songs theatrical opening and lightening the backdrop its remaining up-tempo way. The song otherwise manifests inspired energy, as the trademark Recon guitar harmonies make their presence felt along with periodic outbursts of shouted backing vocals.
“Holy Is The Lord” is another favorite, a worship metal piece that stands alongside Sacred Warrior’s “Holy, Holy, Holy” as forerunners within the genre. The song drifts its length to acoustic and lighter guitar flavorings as Roberts lends to the magnificent scene with his warmly tinctured vocal flavorings: “Righteousness and Mercy. Judgment and Grace. Faithfulness and Sovereignty.” Guitars jump to the forefront upon obtaining the awe-inspiring chorus. Acoustic guitars carry things instrumentally.
“Alive!” is another showstopper. Front to back vibrant power metal, the song launches at once to buoyant rhythm guitars over layers of airy keyboards in playing up a heart stopping if not pensive quality. “It is written. He is alive!” exclaims a chorus that ranks with the albums best. Of note is how “Alive!” plays a defining role on the spring of 2016 Roxx Records compilation A Celebration Of The Death And Resurrection.
The trenchant guitars and toiling bells at the start of “Eternal Destiny” set the swarthy and portent mid-paced tone at hand. When further factoring the storming rhythm section and backing vocals of an ominous capacity, the song approaches classic epic metal territory. Narration at the halfway point from Revelation 20 gives way to some of the albums more creative instrumental moments.
Albums title track touches upon speed metal and thrash, which should not surprise in light of the songwriting credit attributed to Deliverance vocalist/guitarist Jimmy P. Brown. “Behind Enemy Lines” otherwise proves a resounding slugfest, as forwardly pointed guitars and vigorous drumming storm throughout an impetuous as it gets setting. Ochoa tops things off with another stretch of furious lead guitar.
Lone thing missing from the re-issue (and accept this as observation and not critique) is minute long ‘outro’ piece “The End” made up of narration from John 1:14 carried over a keyboard basis.
“Light The Fire” is my favorite of the California Metal II tracks. The song proves vivacious all the way, with Roberts stretching and reaching for the highest of the high notes and Recon putting its catchy energy on full display. Chorus shouts “Light! Light the fire!” in intense fashion. “Dreams” does not stray that far from the smoothly flowing formula to its Behind Enemy Lines counterpart, albeit backing vocals are more straightforward as opposed to the choir like variety.
Demo bonus tracks include “Eternal Destiny” and “Alive”. Former highlights a more forthright momentum in comparison to the Behind Enemy Lines version but also lacks the Revelation 20 narration that played such a dramatic role (the song moves instrumentally in place of the narrative). Latter maintains its overriding fortitude with backing vocals more pronounced, while refrain makes the same distinct statement. Production is surprisingly tight for demo material recorded during the late eighties to early nineties period.
On a side note: After locating the master tapes for the demo tracks, Ochoa baked, digitized and then re-mastered the tapes to bring the levels up to that of the rest of the recording.
Re-mastering beefs things up overall in comparison to the Intense Records release, with low end now coming across that much more conspicuous and guitars lending the edgier and crisper feel. Upshot is the bigger and more polished sound with production cleaned up overall.
Packaging to the Roxx Records re-issue also proves an upgrade. Cover art now features more of a darker orange to light gold tint, while the ‘Behind Enemy Lines’ logo is in gold as opposed to khaki green. The multi page booklet reveals lyrics in an easy to read font in addition to a collage of vintage band photos, promo pictures, concert flyers, etc. Rounding things out are liner notes from Bill Bafford of Roxx Records.
As its Recon moniker suggests, the groups lyrics manifest a spiritual warfare basis, such as on “Lost Soldier” -
Take hold of the Sword
The Word of life
The armor of God to prepare you for the fight
Take time to pray
Come back to stay
Let Jesus Christ complete His work in you
- and “Behind Enemy Lines”:
Soldier, take up your arms and use your weapon well
There's a battle field
A faith waiting to be won
Come and join the soldiers of the light
Be prepared to tread dangerous ground and to fight
Behind enemy lines...
“Ancient Of Days” draws its prose from the Book of Revelation:
The prophet had a dream
Four beast from the sea
Mystery what could this mean
Four mighty nations will rise to conquer and rule the world
In time you'll see
Their powers will die
God's kingdom reigns forever
It shall forever never fall
“Choose This Day” touches upon Joshua 24:15”
He's coming back again
To save us all from this world of sin
Christ the Savior, He'll set you free
Christ died for Sins
Come and receive
It's your decision
Choose this day whom you will serve
The Second Coming is the focus to “Take Us Away”:
Lord take us away, we're looking to be set free
For we believe Your word, that You'll return
Like you said one day
In a blink of an eye
Trumpets will sound
Dead in Christ will arise
I cannot help but rate Behind Enemy Lines among the better heavy metal albums of its day to the strength of its songwriting, with “Lost Soldier”, “Ancient Of Days”, “Choose This Day”, “Eternal Destiny” and “Behind Enemy Lines” standing out among my favorites. Roberts, of course, hits the high notes with ease and helps lend comparison to Recon’s previously noted contemporaries, while Ochoa shreds with the best of them. Already very good to begin with, Behind Enemy Lines shines that much further in terms of production and packaging as a result of the Roxx Records re-issue. Fans of power metal and those looking for an upgraded version to the original would do themselves a favor by checking the Behind Enemy Lines re-release out.
Review by Andrew Rockwell
Track Listing: “In The Beginning” (1:32), “Lost Soldier” (4:54), “Ancient Of Days” (5:34), “Choose This Day” (5:43), “Dreams” (5:14), “Take Us Away” (3:54), “Holy Is The Lord” (6:03), “Alive!” (4:07), “Eternal Destiny” (5:46), “Behind Enemy Lines” (4:20), “Light The Fire” (3:28), “Dreams” (5:01), “Eternal Destiny” (5:36), “Alive” (4:15)
Vett Roberts - Lead Vocals
George Ochoa - Guitars
Eddie Starline - Guitars
Mike Grato - Bass
John Christianson - Drums