|Musical Style: Heavy Metal||Produced By:|
|Record Label: Independent||Country Of Origin: USA|
|Year Released: 2014||Artist Website:|
|Tracks: 10||Rating: 85%|
Escape, the spring of 2014 full-length debut from Joplin, Missouri based Sardis, succeeds where other self-financed and independently released projects failed: Production comes across crisp and clean with no muddy elements; musicianship is ably done in that all Sardis members are strong performers; and well thought out and consistent songwriting yields no skip buttons or filler tracks. Sardis, in other words, delivers the type of total package one normally associates with label based releases from veteran acts with several albums already under their belts.
Sardis trends towards a technical brand of traditional heavy metal with hints of classic US power metal. Yes, the group’s songwriting proves intricate and complex, albeit not to the point of crossing the progressive threshold. In other words, you will encounter your share of time signatures - Sardis at the drop of a hat can veer into passages that range from melodic to doom-ish to thrash-like and even jazzy - but not any of the convoluted or long-winded trappings inherit to progressive music. By focusing on detail without overdoing it, the group keeps its material fresh and engaging, with the upshot the understated catchiness and melody in just the right amount characteristic of Escape.
“Night Calls” represents Sardis elaborate but accessible metal at its finest, high energy and galloping from a riff standpoint but not forsaking catchy hooks in the process. Preserving the undaunted momentum are “High Times”, even heavier with its vigorous guitar emphasis and contentious mentality, and “Empty Mirror”, mercurial in form from treading the waters of power metal territory.
“Miracles And Myths” tempers the initiative but not the angst (as represented in its heavy set backing vocals), while “Resuscitation” comes across snarling in capacity (with its strong thrash influenced hints). The albums title track, also mid-paced, reinforces the brawn but not without melodic underpinnings and “Searching For Answers” a lighter and gentler tone in taking a semi-ballad heading.
One of the Sardis strengths is its instrumental sound. This manifests itself from how several songs feature lengthy instrumental openings or multiple instrumental excursions that help extend them into the (satisfying) five to seven minute range. None of this happens, of course, without guitarist Kevin Hasselquist, who displays a creative flair from a soloing standpoint. He proves adept, for instance, at cutting loose in neo-classical fashion, as he does on “High Times”, or exploring hammer-on driven territory, such as on seven minute instrumental “Turbulence Of The Mind”.
Another benefit to Hasselquist’s playing is the manner in which he lends a rhythm guitar sound hinting of early Ozzy. The artist sums things up best (from the Sardis press material): “I was consciously pursuing a Diary Of A Madman feel and sound”. On one hand, he succeeds laudably in this capacity, particularly on “Night Calls” and “Escape”; on the other, Sardis is its own band and by no means can be cast as “Ozzy clones”- keeping in mind if you like Ozzy then I can also see you embracing Sardis.
If anything, Sardis does the better job capturing the Ozzy sound than contemporary David Benson due to avoiding the contrived Ozzy vocals. Credit front man Sean Roycraft in this capacity from his mid-register and gritty vocal style, capable of exuding moving emotion but also able to reach down for some lower-register edge and snarl. When stretching for a high note, he even reflects some baritone qualities. The overall feel is that Sardis draws upon an Ozzy influence but not to a fault, as opposed to Benson who takes a basic metal and hard rock approach but with vocals mirroring those of Ozzy.
Playing every bit the notable role is the albums strong production, crisp and clean in avoiding the muddy trappings that can plague independent releases. Of particular note is the huge drum sound that thunders at the forefront of the mix, with timekeeper Jason St. Clair deserving commendation in this regard.
Constructive comments are few and far between. First, I could have done without the extreme backing vocals on a couple of tracks. No, they are not a distraction due to their placement in the rear of the mix. That said, it is this reviewers opinion that for extreme vocals to work (even if not the centerpiece of the music), a song needs to be written with them in mind. See the symphonic metal of Divinefire in terms of how this works. Otherwise, they can potentially come across awkward or out of place.
Second, I am somewhat divided on cover artwork. Yes, it is of low budget variety but has a cool vintage eighties retro feel as well. The optimal scenario would be for Escape to gain distribution through a reputable label for release with artwork from a professional metal artist such as Felipe Machado Franco, Robert G. Wilson or Jan Yrlund. At the time of this writing Sardis is raising funds via Kickstarter with the goal of putting the album out in the immediate future.
Lyrically, Escape is a concept album about an individual opposed to the idea of God but ultimately finds purpose and meaning in Him. Each song is a snapshot into his mental process done in flashback style. The groups press material offers further detail: “We're not a very preachy band, but I'm of the opinion that evangelism best begins person to person rather than album to person. So my hope is that Escape might cause people to start asking questions and stir their hearts toward God. And for the Christians whose story is similar I hope that it encourages them to remember how far they've come”.
No stone left unturned is the impression left from the Sardis full-length debut Escape. Again, it is refreshing to hear an independent release that presents with the total package of songwriting, production, intelligent lyrics and musicianship. If into straightforward heavy metal or US power metal then the album comes with a strong recommendation. Those into early Ozzy, at the same time, would also do themselves a favor by checking out Sardis. Let’s hope that Sardis sticks around long enough to record a follow up release in that a very bright future lays ahead for the group.
Track By Track
Short (1:56) introductory piece “Memories” opens to grand piano and up-tempo rhythm guitars before settling down to the quietly played guitars that smoothly uphold its first and only verse.
“Night Calls” comes across as a rousing slab of traditional metal. Spirited momentum prevails, as galloping riffs and Roycraft’s emotional vocal delivery lead the way to the darkly tinged but engaging chorus (one of the albums stronger hooks comes to the forefront here). Piano returns at the start of an instrumental section carried by guitar harmonies. Lyric snippet:
Another day in the city, the rain falls to the ground.
And I've got no time to fool around.
Took a look out the window, a dismal scene before my eyes.
No words left to offer, on the edge of apathy.
Won't someone please set me free.
In a distant sunrise, somewhere beyond my sight
Lies the end of a life entombed
Hitting harder with the more pronounced low-end, “High Times” bulls its way to the same forthright riff emphasis but this time decelerating to a battering chorus aligned with the astringent nature of the music at hand. Impetus picks up as Hasselquist lets loose with a run of classically influenced lead guitar. Lyric snippet:
I am the life of the party yeah I'm ready to go
The only time I come alive and it ain't just for show
Sick and tired of losing this game we call life
So drink it up, another round you'll forget all your strife
Take a ride on the freeway cool wind in my hair
In a flash I'll be gone and you'll be standing there
I don't ever slow down it's do or die
I'll tear to shreds all who might defy
“Miracles And Myths” starts its first minute acoustically prior to kicking into high gear. The song proves aggressive as it gets the rest of the way, as can be found in its assailing guitars and contentious chorus underpinned by heavy set backing vocals. Lead guitar takes a turn towards the swiftly moving side of things. Lyric snippet:
You just won't drop it so this is the end
I can not take this anymore
I'm doing fine and I'm taking what's mine
So I bid you farewell
‘Cause In your delusion your superstitious fear
You follow rules made to control
And all those stories, your miracles and myths
They don't do a bit of good at all
The albums title track moves in the more melodic heading. Churning its six-minute length, “Escape” approaches things from a mid-paced standpoint with its thick as all get out verses and sweeping chorus of a more tempered form. Momentum slows at the halfway point for a stilly done passage that gives way to a scaling lead guitar run. Lyric snippet:
The last drop of rain falls from the sky
And now my hope begins to die
What is left if not the pain
that gives me reason to remain
It seems I've come undone with nowhere left to run
I cannot seem to find my place in space and time
And everything I am is searching for
Something worth living for
The gently done guitars at the start to “Empty Mirror” soon give way to mercurial guitars, initiative all out seething the remaining distance in touching upon power metal territory (double kick drum action adorns the backdrop). Chorus, conversely, slows in giving rise to a substantial stop and start feel. Several lead guitar runs adorn things instrumentally. Lyric snippet:
Why won't you answer me
I don't know if you're there
I don't know how to ask
If you even care
I can't be alone here, surely others too
Must have wondered all these things that I do
I need someone to tell me, things I don't know
Tell the devil to take a rain-check on my soul
Significant portions to the eight minute “Searching For Answers” are instrumental. The song opens to a minute long blend of airy keyboards and piano, while a second instrumental passage closing out the final minutes features an intensely span of lead guitar. In between “Searching For Answers” presents with some of the albums lighter moments, including even guitar tones in abundance and copious melody of a lush capacity. Lyric snippet:
There must be more to life than I can see
But what does it mean to me
Searching for answers
It's getting stronger now and I can't take it anymore
I've got to open up my mind to the possibility
Perhaps I gave into a lie
I'm starting to see that life is fleeting
The emptiness I feel inside when I'm all alone
Seems to force me into thought
What if there's a God who weeps at the state of mankind
Knowing it's their choice to remain in their bitter, empty ways
Instrumental “Turbulence Of The Mind” start to a richly done melding of classical guitars and piano. Metal edges guitars take over the remaining distance, with tight as it gets harmonies and dazzling lead guitar carrying things in upright fashion. I cannot help but be reminded of Jacobs Dream instrumentals such as “Black Watch” and “Hands Of Doom”. Interestingly, over the final minute a short but pointed verse presents itself, which helps lend to the creativity at hand:
My thoughts collected I've self reflected heard all I need to hear
I've weighed the cost and now I know for sure
I'm ready to believe
“Resuscitation” gets underway as heavy as it gets (almost of a doom-ish thrash form), but at a moments notice descends into a verse that brings a laid back and jazzy flair. The resounding metal guitar assault, however, returns in full fury and carries things to a concisely done but catchy chorus. The angst maintains itself for a gut wrenching instrumental accented by grand piano. Of note is the technical drum aptitude of Jason St. Clair. Lyric snippet:
I never knew that all my vanities were lost
That they would fall to rust and ruin
But as they crumble I now see that it was I
Who caused this ignorance of wisdom
I never knew that this would come at such a cost
Blood was the currency for freedom
So as the light of this last memory fades away
Let it remind all those who lose their way
And now I know
This heart that's beating was dead as stone
Til You breathed healing
Review by Andrew Rockwell
Track Listing: “Memories” (1:56), “Night Calls” (5:45), “High Times” (5:10), “Miracles And Myths” (4:43), “Escape” (6:18), “Empty Mirror” (5:20), “Searching For Answers” (7:50), “Turbulence Of The Mind” (7:03), “Resuscitation” (5:35)
Sean Roycraft - Lead Vocals
Kevin Hasselquist - Guitar & Piano
Mark Robertson - Bass
Jason St.Clair - Drums