|Musical Style: Melodic Metal/Hard Rock||Produced By: Michael Sweet|
|Record Label: Rat Pak||Country Of Origin: USA|
|Year Released: 2016||Artist Website: Michael Sweet|
|Tracks: 12||Rating: 90%|
|Running Time: 46:50|
Not taken by the idea of obtaining One Sided War, the summer of 2016 seventh solo album of Michael Sweet? Then I suspect you don’t really like eighties influenced melodic metal and hard rock very much. Sweet, obviously, needs no introduction as guitarist and front man of Stryper, the yellow and black spandex decked out four piece that arose out of Orange, County, California in the mid-eighties and went on to become the first Christian metal band to gain acceptance within the mainstream music world. Having sold over ten million albums worldwide and helping kick start the ‘white metal movement’ that resulted in a literal plethora of bands having followed in its wake, Stryper remains an artistic and creative force to be reckoned with to this day. Those in doubt need consider how fans and critics alike regard its two most recent albums, No More Hell To Pay (2013) and Fallen (2015), as ranking alongside its best ever.
Sweet’s beginnings as a solo artist, however, are not as auspicious. Following his departure from Stryper in the early nineties in order to pursue a ‘mellower musical direction’, Sweet, true to form, released the guitar driven pop of his debut solo release Michael Sweet (1994) followed by the AOR and acoustic rock of Real (1995). Starting to flex his muscles again on Truth (2001), with its joining of melodic hard rock and modern leanings, the artist returned to mellower territory with Him (2006), a collection of re-written and re-arranged traditional hymns, and Touched (2007), comprising covers of contemporary pop based songs and Stryper ballads.
Sweet’s solo career was temporarily derailed with the reformation of Stryper, which in addition to No More Hell To Pay and Fallen, includes two more studio albums, a live album and two covers albums. When further factoring Only to Rise (2015), the debut of his Sweet & Lynch project with guitarist George Lynch (Dokken), and sixth solo album I’m Not Your Suicide (2014), one cannot help but admire the artist’s work ethic and productivity. In my opinion, I’m Not Your Suicide was Sweet’s finest solo outing (at least up to that point), with the 85% Angelic Warlord review describing it as “(delivering) the greater heaviness overall while touching upon the stronger musical consistency (when compared to his previous solo releases). In other words, the same quality songwriting one expects from the artist is present even if not falling under the Stryper heading.”
One Sided War represents the next logical step for Sweet due to being that much heavier than I’m Not Your Suicide while maintaining (if not upping) the songwriting quality. He sums things up best in his press material by stating “Musically, (One Sided War is) my heaviest solo album. It's a very guitar-oriented, hard rock/metal album with lots of melodies and hooks." I cannot help but agree in that what I hear on One Sided War is a joining of melodic metal and hard rock not that far removed from what fans have grown to expect from Stryper, but what separates it (again, when placed alongside past solo offerings) is the greater continuity found in a consistently heavier musical basis. Sidestepped in the process are any of the artist’s previous modern elements, pop leanings, acoustic rock and overriding ballad-based proclivities.
Getting things underway is “Bizarre”, a melodic metal showstopper of a kind that would be revered as a classic if recorded by Stryper back in the day. The song starts to a drum solo followed by bluesy riffing, sweeping through its verses to a rumbling bass line (courtesy of John O’Bolye) only to break out for a chorus that has emphatic hooks written all over it. I can see “Bizarre” being easily embraced by FM radio and MTV thirty years ago.
Albums title track is a choice slab of eighties melodic metal. Slowing the tempo but not the energy, “One Sided War” maintains the melodic leanings - curtly driven chorus revels in its engaging aspects - while placing a marked emphasis on pronounced but fitting backing vocals. Of note is the stylish soloing of Ethan Brosh that reminds somewhat of Rex Carroll (Whitecross).
“Cant Take This Life” ups the impetus while lending a gritty blues driven feel to the rhythm guitars. With Will Hunt’s persuasive timekeeping abilities leading the way, the song comes across defiant from boisterously exclaiming “You can take this moment / But you can’t take this life!” Of note is how the album closes to a second version to “Can’t Take This Life” in which teen prodigy Moriah Formica handles lead vocals- and quite well at that!
“Radio” is albums most outside the box from how it combines hard rock guitar riffs with light country western elements. It works to perfection, with stress placed more on the former (once more, bluesy grit highlights the guitars) as opposed the latter (light acoustic guitars twang in the backdrop). This time Joel Hoekstra provides the scintillating lead guitar (credit Sweet for surrounding himself with such a talented group of musicians).
“Golden Age” ranks with “Bizarre” as my favorite One Sided War tracks. Exciting, effectual and resilient are the first words that come to mind when describing a song that elevates the heaviness exponentially (guitars bring to mind Impellitteri) but without doing away with melody (another hook that demands play on FM radio). If prime Stryper had recorded this, it would be a concert staple.
After opening to five good as it gets tracks, it would be unrealistic for the album to run the table at the same high level- so a bit of a drop off is expected, even though it is a minor one as opposed to an abrupt fall from a cliff. In other words, everything else is quite good, including melodic hard rocker “Only You”. What we have here is a song that pays tribute to Stryper with its polished vocal melodies and front to back commercial essence (airy keyboards gently dance in the backdrop). I might place “Only You” in a similar category as “Reach Out” and “Free”, which you can accept as very high praise.
“I Am” returns things to gritty melodic metal to hard rock territory. With guitars punching their way to the front of the mix, the song shines with its merging of the laid back (albums every present bluesy sentiments find their way here) and hook driven (chorus is brilliant as it exclaims ‘I Am, the beginning and the end’). Sweet exhibits the full range to his voice in the process and proves that vocally he has not lost anything over the years.
Albums lone ballad, “Who Am I”, is a solid one. Of note is that it is a hard rock ballad, with guitars playing a lighter role for the tempered verses only to gradually build as the song drifts towards its effortless chorus in which a polished essence plays an adulatory role. If I were to invite comparison, I prefer “Who Am I” over recently recorded Stryper ballads “The One” and “All Over Again” (even if just slightly in that they are all good).
“You Make Me Wanna” roars out of the gate to a driving rhythm section at a snarling mid-paced gallop, almost easy going for its verses with the ever-present Stryper-like vocal melodies making a cameo appearance, but stepping up the energy for the candid refrain that gives rise to the more decided tempo. Neither Hoekstra nor Brosh received credit for lead guitar, so I am assuming it is Sweet that handles soloing and (as always) proves quite underrated in this capacity.
“Comfort Zone” is a short but fast-paced rocker reminiscent to classic Stryper tracks “Saved By Love” and “The Reign”. No, not speed metal but delivering a forthright blow all the same, with plenty of accelerated riff action and decisive bass to garner your full attention. Ultimately, “Comfort Zone” is another number on an album inherent to material that runs the gamut from very good to great.
“One Way Up” upholds some soulful, blues based leanings that would not sound out of place on Against The Law. Guitars are somewhat lighter than some cuts here - this one skirts hard rock territory as opposed to metal - with the upshot decisive heart and soul in abundance. Refrain plays up some youthful exuberance as it shouts “One way up, one way down / One way through and one way around!”
Production is up to the standard one expects from any project in which Sweet participates. Specifically, I appreciate the crisp edge to the guitars and punctual feel of the bass. A few packaging misgivings include the track listing on the back of the CD not following the order in which the songs play back in addition to lyrics printed in a font that can be a bit difficult to read.
Lyrics do prove positive in speaking of the artist’s faith, with some songs more so than others do. Consider “Bizarre” in this capacity:
We have the heart and soul of a king
If only we knew who we are
We could move mountains and do anything
But we just stand back from afar- bizarre
There was a time we cared for each other
Grapes of a vine and life to discover
Now were immune to the gifts that we own
This moment in time is only on load
As well as “Golden Age”:
Like lightning and thunder He’ll part the sky
The wind and the waves He controls
He owns the power to live or die
He is the collector of souls
With just one breath He’ll blow away
The lies and deceit formed below
He holds the earth and the milky way
In the palm of His hands do you know
“I Am” speaks of creation:
I’m the Light, the Shining Star
I’m the force to be
I’m the power that you’ve never seen
I am, the beginning and the end
The measurer of all things
Impossible to comprehend
I’m the great creator
I’m the warrior
The sunrise and sunset that you need
“Radio” deals with rock musicians that move to Nashville to try their shot at country music:
I’ll get a five gallon black hat
And a big belt buckle
A shotgun and gun rack
And some scars on my knuckles
I’m gonna write a country song
And it won’t be long ‘til I’m on the radio
And when it goes to number one
Gonna fake the fun like a clown in the rodeo
If the goal of Michael Sweet on One Sided War was to record a Stryper style metal and hard rock album but with a different set of musicians, then he has succeeded laudably in this capacity. Place the Stryper label on the album, for instance, and release it in between the time of No More Hell To Pay and Fallen and one would not think twice in light of the musical direction and quality at hand. Stryper comparisons aside, musicianship is top notch when factoring the work of guitarists Joel Hoekstra and Ethan Brosh not to mention how well Sweet’s voice has held up over the years. Those into all forms of melodic metal and hard rock are certain to find a home in One Sided War.
Review by Andrew Rockwell
Track Listing: “Bizarre” (3:29), “One Sided War” (3:29), “Can’t Take This Life” (3:37), “Radio” (4:02), “Golden Age” (3:58), “Only You” (4:09), “I Am” (4:16), “Who Am I” (4:55), “You Make Me Wanna” (3:51), “Comfort Zone” (3:10), “One Way Up” (4:16), “Can’t Take This Life” (3:37)
Michael Sweet - Lead Vocals & Guitars
Joel Hoekstra - Guitars
Ethen Brosh - Guitars
Paul McNamara - Keyboards & Moog
John O’Bolye - Bass
Will Hunt - Drums