|Musical Style: Hard Rock||Produced By: Rudolf Fredly & Sarepta|
|Record Label: Independent||Country Of Origin: Norway|
|Year Released: 2011||Artist Website:|
|Tracks: 10||Rating: 85%|
|Running Time: 41:49|
Like your metal and hard rock on the bluesy side of things? Then check out Sarepta, a Rogaland, Norway based quartet that plays tribute to its influences - comprising Jerusalem, Deep Purple, Thin Lizzy and Rainbow - in no uncertain terms. The group can trace its history to the early 2007 jam sessions between founding members Kristoffer Davidsen (lead guitar), Leif Johan Johannesen (rhythm guitar) and Odd Jarle Hovden (drums). The three did not put together the first Sarepta line-up until the summer of 2008 when it started performing live but later added a full time bassist, Johnny Nilson, and keyboardist, Made Pederson, prior to beginning work on its full length debut Smokin’ Vineyard. Midway through the recording process, however, the group’s vocalist at the time up and quit, leaving Mads Pederson to take on vocal duties- and quite well at that!
Sarepta can best be described as hard rock with touches of what used to be called metal. Some heavy 70’s blues rock influences can be found as well. Just take a foundation of traditional blues based sensibilities - think Darrell Mansfield, Modest Attraction and Glenn Kaiser Band - join them with the heavier rock direction of Whitesnake, early nineties Bride and Resurrection Band, thrown everything in a blender and what you end up with is Sarepta!
Released in the spring of 2011, Smokin’ Vineyard is nothing less a musically stellar release. It starts with the first-rate Sarepta songwriting abilities, combining equal parts grit, heart, edge and emotion while affixing melody in just the right amounts to keep things fresh with repeated listen. Trust me the albums better material is so well constructed that you will find yourself gravitating to the project time and again. The quality, as a matter of fact, and I hate to go out on a limb here, is such that Smokin’ Vineyard has the potential to challenge for album of the year- or at the very least Sarepta being voted best new artist.
The group is at its best on more rousing numbers, including the big anthem hooks of “Gloria Patri” and chugging low-end to “Smokin’ Vineyard Part 2”. “Son Of Man” also hits hard with its unyielding riff action while “Smokin’ Vineyard Part 3” highlights a screaming organ in the backdrop. The quality is maintained on slower numbers, with “Stick To Your Guns” steeped in bluesy slide guitar and “Thirst Of Life” a metal edged guitar base. “Smokin’ Vineyard Part 1” approaches traditional blues rock territory as does the brilliant Julie Miller cover “All My Tears”.
No, nothing I skip over, but “Stop”, as a result of its worship rock flavorings, wears a bit thin while the Petra cover, “God Gave Rock ‘N’ Roll To You” borders on the overdone. The album, otherwise, is right up there.
Mads Pedersen, with his gritty and bluesy mid-ranged vocal approach, brings a perfect hand-in-glove fit to the Sarepta sound. While I hesitate to invite direction comparison, he reminds me somewhat of Peo Petterson (Levicitus) and Darrell Mansfield but with a touch of David Coverdale thrown in. Yes, very good company indeed.
Kristoffer Davidson and Leif Johan Johannessen deliver the goods guitar wise- both rhythm and lead. Again, Sarepta might not be considered metal by today’s standards - at least in comparison to the endless flow of cookie cutter extreme bands populating the scene - but allow for enough guitar driven weight and focus to appeal to those whose tastes trend towards the heavier side of things. Credit, of course, goes to the two for the manner in which they deliver the right riff, hook, lick and chop (whether blues driven or approaching all out metal) to bring out the best in the material here.
It also must be noted Mads Pedersen’s impressive keyboard work, particularly in terms of how he adds accenting touches of organ to several key tracks.
Production stands out equally well with its crisp and refined flavorings. Rhythm guitar is forthright and crunchy while leads receive a clean and distinctive mix.
The lone complaint revolves around packaging, which is on the bare bones side of things. Album artwork, for instance, is a bit plain while lyrics were not included either.
Track By Track
“Gloria Patri” is a hard rock anthem all the way. A big hook monster, the song reinforces a robust vitality and melds it with an underlining crunch heavy edge (sort of like early nineties Bride). An introductory drum solo and searing lead guitar stretch add to the inspired scene.
“Stick To Your Guns” slows the tempo while heading in the more blues inspired direction. Some gritty slide guitar makes its presence felt along with accenting touches of organ in the backdrop. Melody is not forgotten in that a gripping milieu plays every bit as much a forthright role.
Impetus tapers even further for “Thirst Of Life”, a trudging and bottom heavy plodder presided over by a dominant rhythm guitar driven presence. Big backing vocals carry its decisive chorus while a substantial bass line proves the foundation that holds everything together. Lyric snippet:
Lord I’ve fallen again, from you and into sin.
I lay it all down. I don’t know where to begin.
And Lord, I am tired of it all
To see myself fall
in temptations every strife
Want to follow your Word,
and all I have heard
and quench the thirst of life
Oh and they call me the sinner
They tear my flesh from bone, I’m a sinner.
They may consider me a winner,
But Lord I know I’m a sinner.
Things return to an up-tempo heading with “Son Of Man”. With its signature guitar riff, the song romps its distance as substantial verses and a high octane chorus align with an accompanying audience track. Put this on Bride’s Kinetic Faith and it would sound right at home. Lyric snippet:
Jesus wasn’t just a prophet or preacher,
He was the God sent Saviour, not a regular teacher.
But this love must be accepted,
Let it in your heart, please don’t reject it.
He’s a miracle performer, puts no one in the corner
Teacher of wrong and right!
Walked the road of Calvary, gave his life in agony
Rose and turned darkness to light
Ref: He died for us!
Will you live for him?
“Smokin’ Vineyard Pt. 1” reflects some traditional blues leanings but mixed with hard rocking guitars and swirling keyboards. The resulting emotional environs reminds me of blues heavy Resurrection Band heavy tracks such as “Someone Sleeps” or “Rain Dance”. Gentle but heavy hitting at the same time is the overall feel at hand. Lyric snipett:
It all happened that day
In the year of the fox
When trouble turned to silence
Lost in time and put aside
Screaming into nowhere
No place to hide
No place to breathe
What have I done to myself?
Could this be real?
Am I really dying?
Two that lived, one that fell
“Smokin’ Vineyard Pt. 2” kicks up quite the storm with its metal based guitar riffs and chugging low end. Ranking with the albums heaviest, the song highlights a keyed-up momentum approaching the impassioned in capacity. Complementing things further is Pedersen’s emotional tinged vocal delivery.
“All My Tears”, the first of the two covers, almost takes a semi ballad approach. The song features a relaxed and laid back feel, with a piano decorating the backdrop as a gritty rhythm guitar and staying melody carry things from front to back. Lyric snippet:
Sun and moon will be replaced
With the light of Jesus' face
And I will not be ashamed
For my savior knows my name
It don't matter where you bury me
I'll be home and I'll be free
It don't matter where I lay
All my tears be washed away
“Stop” comes across a bit trite. No, far from bad but not on the same level as the better material here either. The song does a good job amalgamating guitars and organ during its verses but falls somewhat flat for a chorus that has too much of a worship rock emphasis for my taste. Other will be certain to like it but it failed to grow on me. Lyric snippet:
How much further can you go before your faith fades into ashes?
How much more will it take?
To tear your mind apart from your hear
So stop, in the name of the Lord
You better think before He's back
Get your life back on track.
So stop in the name of the Lord
Can't you see that things are wrong?
Can't you see that you are going backwards?
Jesus is calling out your name
He's calling you to come back home.
“Smokin’ Vineyard Pt. 3” represents the better effort. The song dives at once into a militant riff backed by an organ, driven forward by the bands decisive energy and Davidson’s lengthy stretch of blues drenched soloing. Another enduring melody helps put things over the top.
I struggle with the “God Gave Rock ‘N’ Roll To You Cover”. How many times does the song need to be done? First by Argent in 1973 and then twice by Petra (on Come And Join Us from 1977 and Beat The System seven years later). Kiss re-did it again in 1991. It is not that the song is sub par (which it isn’t), but the Sarepta rendering is a bit too formula for my taste. Pedersen, for instance, sings in a higher register than usual, almost as if he were straining to match the upper range of Petra vocalist Greg X. Volz. But that is not the point: Rather, if you are a bluesy hard rock band dead set on recording a cover then wouldn’t it better fit your style to do something from early nineties Bride or Rez Band instead?
I cannot help but think the future looks very bright for this talented quartet from Norway. The gritty Sarepta sound translates perfectly to the bluesy hard rock genre while its top of the line songwriting, again, potentially pushes Smokin’ Vineyard into album of the year category. The excellent production only adds to the albums appeal.
Review by Andrew Rockwell
Track Listing: “Gloria Patri” (4:59), “Stick To Your Guns” (3:31), “Thirst Of Life” (4:36), “Son Of Life” (4:49), “Smokin’ Vineyard Pt. 1” (3:52), “Smokin’ Vineyard Pt. 2” (3:53), “All My Tears” (4:23), “Stop” (4:19), “Smokin’ Vineyard Pt. 3” (4:01), “God Gave Rock ‘N” Roll To You” (3:32)
Mads Pederson - Lead Vocals & Keyboards
Kristoffer Davidsen - Guitars
Leif Johan Johannesen - Guitars
Johnny Nilson – Bass
Odd Jarle Hovden – Drums