|Musical Style: Melodic Metal||Produced By: Bradley S. Hamilton|
|Record Label: Mellinium Eight||Country Of Origin: USA|
|Year Released: 2002||Artist Website:|
|Tracks: 20||Rating: No Quote|
|Running Time: 70:73|
It’s mighty tempting, of course, to pigeonhole Soldier as merely a melodic metal band. That, however, would be only telling part of the story in that while you will hear commercial aspects to the Soldier sound - hair metal, pop metal and melodic hard rock if you will - a heavier side to the group reveals itself with repeat listen. This becomes apparent in the form of the straightforward and traditional metal, nuances of speed to thrash metal and even bluesy proclivities that highlight its songwriting.
Tracing its origin to 1986, Soldier arose out of the Bay Area metal scene when founding member’s vocalist and rhythm guitarist Jimmy Arceneaux (pronounced Are-sen-nah) and bassist Marc Allyn decided to form a new band after exiting a top-40 act they were in at the time by the name Rexx. Initially recruiting guitarist Rick Hunter following an audition, the two later brought on board drummer Al Whalen, who contacted Arceneaux after receiving a referral from Hunter. With its line up solidified, Soldier proceeded to record its first demo, Louder Than Hell from 1986, and critically acclaimed second, the full length and 24-track effort Babylon released in 1988.
Soldier went on to become quite the prolific live act, and not just in its native Bay Area, where it shared the stage with local favorites such as Vicious Rumors, Vain and Y&T, but also Los Angeles from having played at the first His Festival, Metal Mardi Gras and the Metal Midnight Festival. In between, Soldier also performed with some of the better-known bands within the Christian metal scene, including Barren Cross, Bloodgood, Deliverance, Gardian, Holy Soldier and Messiah Prophet.
All good things, nonetheless, must come to an end in that subsequent to placing the tracks “Borderline” and “Tears” on the 1988 California Metal II compilation, Soldier - much to the bemoan of metal fans worldwide - disbanded the following year without having signed a label deal. The group became one of the biggest ‘fish stories’ in that regard (at least in terms of the one that got away!) in ranking alongside Apostle, Paradox, Chariot, Armada, Paragon and a host of others as one of the better Christian metal bands of the era to have never put out a label based release. The good news, however, is that in 2002 M8 Records re-issued Babylon and Louder Than Hell along with the California Metal II tracks as a limited edition release under the title The Definitive Collection: 1985-1989.
Standing out on initial impression with Babylon is production, which shines in light of both its independent release and later eighties period in which the group recorded it. No, it might not challenge a label backed offering in terms of big budget polish but more than holds its own as a ‘demo’ (a term I use lightly when factoring the quality at hand) from an unsigned band.
Albums opening instrumental title track, a minute and a half of acoustic guitar and distorted feedback, gives way to the group’s signature song, “Louder Than Hell”. Playing up many of those speed to thrash metal facets to the Soldier sound, “Louder Than Hell” stands out with its relentless as it gets tempo and all out aggressive riff action. Despite the angst at hand, melody is not forsaken as quite the unyielding chorus assets itself in the process. Rick Hunter debuts his mean and nasty in your face mode of soloing.
“King Of The City” might not be quite as intense but delivers heightened momentum all the same. The song maintains the melodic penchant, chorus is huge in terms of its engaging qualities, while not backing from the surpassing guitar driven fortitude. This one gives Jimmy Arceneaux opportunity to showcase his classic tenor hinted with touches of grit vocal style.
“Deadly Weapons” stands out with its vibrant class and inspiration as perhaps the finest track recorded by Soldier. The song upholds an almost Dokken-ish vibe with the elevated heaviness to put it into straight on metal territory while providing commercial hooks to spare- making it a choice cut for radio play if opportunity presented. Hunter delivers another killer solo.
“Priceless Heart” also stands out as a Babylon favorite. The song allows Soldier to emphasize its bluesy side, driving and mid-paced with lower register guitar signatures and the heartfelt demeanor to match, as can be found in the unfeigned verses that proclaim “But through it all God held you close. He kept you alive”. The moving and emotional refrain ranks with the albums finest. Following best sums up the songs message (also from the verses): “In the love of Jesus you won’t be alone”.
The previously referenced would form the foundation of any great metal album, but also keep in mind Babylon features six additional songs that while not on the same level are still quite good in their own right.
“Borderline” is another Soldier classic (Hunter re-recorded it for his post Soldier project Regime). Musically, it walks a fine line between melodic and traditional heavy metal, with a purposeful front to back momentum and straight on as it gets demeanor to match. Not the groups heaviest or catchiest cut but solid all the same. “Promises” stands out equally in tending similar musical territory. The song starts calmly to an acoustic guitar solo prior to hard charging its remaining distance, as knife-edged guitars (that really hit hard) and Whalen’s tight timekeeping align with an emotional proclivity that has classic Bloodgood written all over it.
In a more melodic vein is “First Time”, maintaining the moving qualities with guitars on the (slightly) lighter side and polished backing vocals lending o the accessible feel at hand. Arceneaux is again spot-on with his melodic to raspy vocal tinctures. “Where Have All The Children Gone” also takes a melodic heading, with its initial verses acoustic based and refrain accelerated by lively rhythm guitar. Soldier revisits its bluesy ways for the songs instrumental moments.
Soldier plays up a more commercial milieu on “One Of A Kind Romance”, an up-tempo melodic hard rock piece with pop-based hooks galore and Mark Allyn’s lively bass line. I am somewhat reminded of high-octane Stryper tracks “Makes Me Wanna Sing” and “Together Forever”. Likewise, “Angel” delivers a commercial sound but almost to a fault in while far from bad, it also lacks some of the focused energy inherit to the better Babylon material. It translates better live, referencing the YouTube link (at the end of the review) of Soldier live footage from December 1987 at The Omni in Oakland, California.
Louder Than Hell
The Louder Than Hell production might have a few rough edges (in comparison to Babylon) but still does a good job highlighting the early Soldier sound. Interestingly, the tapes ‘first’ side encompasses studio tracks and second ‘side’ those recorded live.
Opener “Heart Of Stone” touches upon the trademark Soldier melodic meets straightforward metal Dokken-ish sound. The song proves up-tempo manifest, with driving riff action, vibrant backing vocals and a fantastic guitar solo that drifts between the left and right channels. Also included is a re-recorded version to “Angel” and third track “Somebody New”, another medium to good commercial hard rocker with a pop metal feel. Of note is how the Louder Than Hell version to “Angel” features the more prominent mix of backing vocals when placed alongside its Babylon counterpart.
Side two features ripping live versions to “King Of The City” and “Priceless Heart”, with latter ending to an exciting run of distorted open air shred lead guitar from Hunter. “Heart Of Stone” is included as well, delivering even more heightened energy live along with a brief message from Arceneaux following the instrumental break in which he shares the bands beliefs with the audience. “Glory & Honor”, a cut never recorded in the studio by Soldier, comes across in the form of a militant metal anthem with intense riffing and unremitting hooks to spare. I wish the group had made room to include it on Babylon (it is that good).
California Metal II
Of the California Metal II tracks, “Tears” is a very good commercial rocker with a similar made for radio disposition along the lines of “Angel” and “Somebody New”. It is my favorite of the three. “Borderline” is included as well but suffers from overproduction in the form of some of the biggest backing vocals you will hear. Production turns it into another commercial based number when it fact I always identified it as straight on heavy metal. White Throne magazine editor Dave Johnson, who always had a wonderful way with words, sums things up best:
“Indeed Soldier was an excellent band but even the best of 'em are no match for the Pachyderm Studios production crew. This crew transformed an energetic heavy metal band into an overproduced, gutless, sickenly sweet, background vocal laden club of jelly. The producer's job is to capture the band's sound and get it down on tape, not to change it to please the ears of the producers. I saw Soldier no less than 15 times live in concert and this is not how Soldier sounds. The studio re-recorded Soldier's background vocals and remixed their songs after the band returned to the Bay Area and boy was Soldier upset.”1
I could not have said it better myself!
In assessing the Soldier legacy, one need consider how Babylon more than holds its own musically and production wise when compared to label based releases from many of its contemporaries of the time. Hence, the disappointment in terms of how Soldier never signed a label deal in follow up; I have often wondered how Soldier might have matured musically and might have sounded four to five albums down the road (my thought is that they would be mentioned in the same sentence with Stryper, Bride, Bloodgood, Guardian and others). In moving forward, the most optimal scenario would be to re-master (from the original master tapes) and re-issue Babylon on a standalone basis with upgraded cover art.
Before closing the review, I would like to offer some post Soldier history:
Following the demise of Soldier, Allyn formed a bluesy roots inspired rock group called Texas Border Radio, while Arceneaux was in Wonderland, a heavier but more modern based act along the lines of Soundgarden and Alice In Chains. Rick Hunter stayed the most true to the Soldier sound with his melodic hard rock project Regime, which produced a high quality demo entitled Straight Through Your Heart (also re-issued on M8), and Walk The Sky, recording a self-titled full length album from 2005 in the melodic metal meets bluesy hard rock mode.
Review by: Andrew Rockwell
Track Listing (Babylon): "Babylon" (1:30), "Louder Than Hell" (3:32), "Deadly Weapons" (2:58), "One Of A Kind" (3:01), "Priceless Heart" (4:11), "Where Have All The Children Gone" (3:04), "King Of The City" (2:59), "Borderline" (3:41), "Angel" (3:52), "First Time" (3:38), "Promises" (4:09)
Track Listing (Songs appearing on Louder Than Hell): "Heart Of Stone" (3:03), "Somebody New" (3:44), "Angel" (4:05), "King Of The City" (live) (3:13), "Glory & Honor" (live) (3:03), "Priceless Heart" (live) (5:23), "Heart Of Stone" (live) (4:03)
Track Listing (Songs appearing on California Metal II): "Borderline" (4:09), "Tears" (3:32)
Jimmy Arceneaux – Lead Vocals & Guitars
Rick Hunter – Guitars
Marc Allyn – Bass
Al Whalen – Drums
Jason Sousa - Drums
Crothers, Kevin. "Soldier." White Throne 4 (1988): 20-21, 25.
"This Soldier Is Holy, But These Are The Other Guys." Heaven's Metal 16 (1988): 11-13.
1. Dave Johnson, “California Metal II review,” White Throne 6 (1990): 16-17.