|Musical Style: Hard Rock/Metal||Produced By: Graeme Leslie & Stairway|
|Record Label: Stairway Music||Country Of Origin: UK|
|Year Released: 2002||Artist Website: Stairway|
|Tracks: 9||Rating: 85%|
|Running Time: 51:03|
The UK hard rock band Stairway debuted in 1991 when it placed the tracks "Anybody There" and "Walk Away" on the White Metal Warriors/Last Ship Home compilation. After releasing its full length debut No Rest, No Mercy in 1993, the band followed up with its sophomore effort Bleeding Heart six years later. Stairway, however, has put together its finest project to date with its 2002 offering On Hallowed Ground. Moving in a straightforward hard rock direction with power metal tendencies, the album gives prominence to an abundance of creative and melodic based songwriting backed by the bands top notch musicianship. Guitarist Pete Jennens, a shredder in the truest sense of the word, contributes a fast fingered but slightly bluesy style that brings to mind Rex Carroll (Whitecross), Tony Palacios (Guardian) and Joshua Perahia (Joshua). With a very fine smooth sounding mid-octave ranged voice, lead vocalist Graeme Leslie at times reminds me of Phil St. Vincent (Eternal Ryte). Bassist Rob Jennens and drummer Andy Edwards round out a rock solid rhythm section.
On Hallowed Ground features a superlative refined and clean sounding production job. A more than sufficient amount of rhythm guitar infuses a mix of crystal clear lead guitar work, steady bass lines and tight sounding drums.
After a church organ introduces "Under The Gun", a driving guitar riff steps forward and evenly pushes the song ahead until it culminates for a sweeping melodic flavored chorus. Jennens follows with a blistering guitar solo. "Under The Gun" points its listeners to the source of eternal life:
We, we cannot find an answer
When we're living under the gun
Life comes in the Way and Truth of the Lamb
Getting underway to a bluesy guitar solo, "Liar" advances at a steady mid-tempo pace before it gains impetus for a hard hitting chorus backed by a punchy bass line. Jennens contributes a fast paced guitar solo in addition to closing out the songs last minute with more fiery lead guitar work. "Liar" exposes the deceptions of the evil one:
Takes our minds
And he tears our souls away
He'll lie and defy
What burns on judgment day?
What cheat, defeat
What tears our souls away
We'll burn on judgment day
"Justify" is a Scorpions influenced hard rock power ballad with a superlative melody line. An immaculate combination of slowly played lead guitar, piano and bass opens the song before the guitar drops from the mix at the start of its first verse. As "Justify" incrementally gains momentum, the rhythm guitar moves to the front of the mix at the end of the second. Following a minute of emotionally charged lead guitar work, the piano returns to carry "Justify" through its third and final verse.
The ten minute progressive hard rock masterpiece "Deo Volente (Thy Will be Done)" is by far the albums strongest track. Taking off to a heavy duty guitar riff, the song slows as a quietly played guitar line carries its first and second verse. Once the rhythm guitar takes over at the end of the second, it drives "Deo..." through its fifth verse in an incredibly catchy and powerful manner. The extensive instrumental passage that follows progresses to a minute and a half of quietly played guitar that gives way to a pounding riff and a killer fast paced solo. Jennens’ lead guitar continues to accentuate the song over its final minute.
It does not get much better than the creative combination of keyboards and bluesy lead guitar underscored by a pounding metal-laced rhythm guitar at the start of "Stop The Pain". Just prior to the onset of its first verse, a catchy riff kicks in and propels the song in energetic fashion to a chorus with a huge infectious hook. Jennens follows with a minute of intense lead guitar work. Brilliant. "Stop The Pain" talks about the healing God can bring in our lives:
You my love can stop the pain
Walk the path of Light again
Seek the Truth and stop the pain
Take the Power and live again
The semi-ballad "Silent Dreams" also stands out with a first-rate melody line. Opening to an acoustic guitar solo that gives way to several seconds of slowly played lead guitar, "Silent Dreams" tapers off to a quietly played guitar line for its first verse. Jennens ensues with just under a minute of bluesy lead guitar work. After the song again slows to a quietly played guitar line for its second and final verse, Jennens closes out its last minute with another bluesy solo.
The melodic rhythm guitar harmony initiating "Savior" gives way to an extended grit flavored guitar solo. After a crunchy rhythm guitar enters the mix, it proceeds to swiftly drive the song to a smoothly flowing non-stop hook filled chorus. Jennens bolsters "Savior" with more of his trademark fast paced lead guitar work. The songs subject matter is self-explanatory:
Saviour, show me a Saviour
I've found a healing for the pain
I've found heavenly Splendor
I'm now eternally saved
Introduced to several seconds of open air rhythm guitar, a driving riff conveys "The Sky Is Beautiful" with a plethora of energy to a catchy chorus delivered at an upbeat tempo. Several seconds of fiery lead guitar work helps bring out the best in one of the albums fastest but shortest songs.
If you enjoy blues based hard rock not unlike Glenn Kaiser Band then "Foolish Heart" should be your cup of tea. Recorded live in the studio, "Foolish Heart" is carried through each of its three verses in an emotionally charged manner by an abundance of terrific blues flavored lead guitar work. An instrumental passage highlighting a gritty guitar solo helps carry out past six minutes a song talking about the salvation experience:
And now I sit
With salvation deep in my bones
Knowing that I, with a once so foolish heart
Can now see the Light and the Life
Am I out of line to suggest that over the years Stairway has been vastly overlooked? With On Hallowed Ground, however, Stairway proves itself an underrated outfit that deserves to rank with other veteran top notch European Christian metal/hard rock acts such as Veni Domine, Seventh Avenue and Narnia . While "Deo Volente (Thy Will be Done)", "Stop The Pain" and “Justify” are by far the albums two best tracks, every song on On Hallowed Ground easily holds up under repeated play. When combining the albums top notch production job and Pete Jennens’ standout lead guitar work, I cannot help but give it a high recommendation.
Review by: Andrew Rockwell
Track Listing: "Under The Gun" (4:31), "Liar" (4:58), "Justify" (4:49), "Deo Volente (Thy Will Be Done)" (10:38), "Stop The Pain" (6:28), "Silent Dreams" (4:26), "Saviour" (5:19), "The Sky Is Beautiful" (3:22), "Foolish Heart" (6:28)
Graeme Leslie – Lead Vocals, Guitars & Keyboards
Pete Jennens – Guitars
Rob Jennens – Bass
Andy Edwards – Drums
Sarah Burford - Piano
Also Reviewed: Stairway - The Other Side Of Midnight