|Musical Style: Hard Rock/Metal||Produced By: Graeme Leslie & Stairway|
|Record Label: Independent||Country Of Origin: UK|
|Year Released: 2006||Artist Website: Stairway|
|Tracks: 11||Rating: 90%|
|Running Time: 55:29|
Since releasing its very fine third full length album On Hallowed Ground in 2002, UK based Stairway placed the track “Under The Gun” (from On Hallowed Ground) on the Defenders Of Metal: Volume 1 compilation in 2003 before Retroactive Records re-issued its 1993 sophomore effort No Rest, No Mercy two years later. Originally released in only Japan and Europe, No Rest, No Mercy was now made available for the first time in the USA and included new album artwork in addition to a bonus track in “Anybody There?” (which was previously only found on the Japanese version). Returning in 2006 with perhaps its strongest effort ever in The Other Side Of Midnight, Stairway continues to combine elements of straightforward hard rock and metal to create a first-rate work certain to appeal to fans of Narnia, Whitecross, Shining Star, Audiovision, Impellitteri and Rivera Bomma. What stands out most about the album is not only its consistency but its versatility as well, delivering several upbeat had rockers (“No Mercy” & “Soldiers Of Heaven”), a pair of tracks moving in an epic flavored direction (“Burn” & “Taste The Blood”), a slower blues metal number (“She Calls”), a ballad (“My Life Goes On…) and even an instrumental (“Cantabile”).
The Other Side Of Midnight finds Stairway maintaining the same high level of performance found on its past efforts. Lead vocalist Graeme Leslie, for example, really comes into his own here, continuing to contribute his smooth sounding mid-octave ranged vocal style while adding an element of grit to his delivery on “Pray For The Children” and even reflecting a Dio-like vibe on “Taste The Blood”. Guitarist Pete Jennens, a shredder in the truest sense of the word, is a vastly underrated musician who deserves to rank with the likes of Rex Carroll (Whitecross) or Joshua Perahia (Joshua). If in doubt then check out his work on “No Mercy” and “Soldiers Of Heaven”. Rob Jennens nails a mega tight bass guitar sound and rounds out the rhythm section with drummer Andy Edwards.
Production values are of a very high quality, combining a near perfectly produced rhythm guitar sound with a clean mix of both lead guitar and bass. (I absolutely love how the bass guitar is allowed to stand out on “Soldiers Of Heaven” and “She Calls”!). The drums, on the other hand, represent the only area of improvement worth noting in that they could have projected a bit more punch and power.
“No Mercy” gets underway to a near perfect blend of keyboards and rhythm guitar as Pete Jennens wails away in the background. Abruptly picking up in pace for its first verse, the song rushes ahead in a fast paced manner before evenly flowing to an extensive chorus giving rise to a refined and smooth sounding feel. Pete follows with an abundance of his trademark fluid lead guitar work. Very fine upbeat album opener.
The drum solo introducing “Sea Of Fools” gives way to several seconds of fiery riffing. Once a crescendo of edgy rhythm guitar takes over, however, it helps lead the way at a mid-tempo pace to a chorus accentuated by a forward but complementary mix of backing vocals. Again, Pete is right on target with a nice extensive lead guitar break.
The foreboding keyboard solo at the start of “Burn” is soon replaced by a commanding wall of rhythm guitar. Slowly advancing through its first and second verse as a sharp sounding riff slices its way in and out of the mix, “Burn” culminates as it quickly picks up in pace for a sweeping chorus with a huge catchy hook. A minute long instrumental section is carried by a blend of quickly moving rhythm guitar and gritty lead guitar work. Great song. “Burn” focuses on end time’s themes:
I hear the warning from days of old
The moon shines bitter red and sun lies cold
I saw the Light, it’s shining bright
Before the storm, the earth will burn
The wind blows hard and cold
And men shall surely fall
The mountains crumble to the ground
Believe, the end it has begun
A brief drum solo initiates “Pray For The Children” before a symphonic-like riff takes over. Leslie adds a touch of grit to his vocal delivery at the start of the songs verse portions, the momentum gradually building until each verse culminates in a catchy manner as the songs title is repeated at its end. A fleeting but hook-laden chorus backed by a crunchy rhythm guitar gives way to an instrumental section featuring a perfectly times blues flavored guitar solo. I really enjoy how a second instrumental section carries “Pray For The Children” over its final minute.
The two minute instrumental passage opening “Taste The Blood” begins to a keyboard solo that transitions to a lengthy stretch of bluesy work on lead guitar. Slowing but quietly proceeding through the beginning of its first verse, “Taste The Blood” suddenly picks up in pace as a hammering rhythm guitar kicks in. The energetic atmosphere is maintained as the song moves on to a near mesmerizing chorus highlighted by a touch of backing vocals (Taste the Blood – Feel the Pain. Taste the Blood – Sacrifice). Several seconds of the albums best lead guitar work carries a well timed instrumental section. Great, great song. “Taste The Blood” talks about Christ’s crucifixion:
Golgotha’s host – the broken three
Remember Dismus hanging on the sinner’s tree
A hopeless case, so raked with pain
“Remember me in Heaven
When You come to reign”
There is a new path we can follow
There is a new song we can sing to end the pain
There is a way from endless sorrow
Today in paradise we…
Taste the Blood – Flee the pain
Taste the Blood – See the Christ!
Introduced to several seconds of open air rhythm guitar, “Lead Us” takes off at a hard rocking upbeat tempo, quickly advancing through its verse portions in catchy fashion before obtaining a chorus delivered with just the right amount of determined impetus. Pete graces a minute long instrumental section with his fluid lead guitar work while adding more of the same as the song fades out.
I like how the album makes a transition from the up-tempo hard rocker “Lead Us” to two tracks in “She Calls” and “Cantabile” that move in a more blues based direction.
“She Calls” is a slow and driving number that begins to a drum solo before plodding through its first and second verse to a metal laced rhythm guitar, the emotionally charged chorus that follows perfectly shored up by a prominently placed bass line. A grit-flavored instrumental section smoothly flows to the songs second chorus in a steadfast and resolute manner. By far the albums heaviest track and certainly one of its best.
An immaculate blend of acoustic guitar and keyboards helps propel the melodic instrumental “Cantabile” through its first two minutes. Once a wall of rhythm guitar crashes to the forefront of the mix, however, Pete steps forward with his bluesy work on lead guitar and takes the song to its close.
“Death & Destruction” reflects a cool Narnia-like vibe (I swear I can hear Christian Rivel in the backing vocals during the songs chorus!). Set in motion by an open air rhythm guitar that segues to a pounding riff, “Death & Destruction” picks up in pace before cruising through its first and second verse to a prevailing mix of rhythm guitar. A hard hitting chorus repeats the songs title three straight times in good ardent fashion.
“Soldiers Of Heaven” is another terrific upbeat hard rocker. Immediately kicking in to an aggressively delivered riff, the song maintains an abundance of energetic momentum during its verse portions prior to transitioning to an anthem-like chorus dealing with the issue of spiritual warfare:
We’re the soldiers of Heaven
We’re the soldiers of Faith
Wear the Armour of Heaven
Speak with the tongues of True Life!
“Soldiers Of Heaven” tapers off at the start of a minute long instrumental passage only to pick up in pace for several seconds of blazing lead guitar work. Rob Jennens lays down a terrific bass line here. As previously mentioned, “Soldiers Of Heaven” talks about spiritual warfare:
We shall inherit the promise of Heaven
Peace on the earth to restore
When in Heaven, see the Light
With our God, we stand and Fight
For the righteous, mercy comes
Fight with us the good fight
The album closes with “My Life Goes On…”, a very well done ballad that reminds me of a heaver version of Stryper’s “Together As One” (from Soldiers Under Command). A blend of piano and acoustic guitar helps to slowly compel the song through its first three verses before the rhythm guitar briefly steps forward. Slowing again for its fourth verse, “My Life Goes On…” picks up in pace as the rhythm guitar returns to fortify a chorus giving rise to a more than ample amount of strong radio friendly appeal.
As with On Hallowed Ground, Stairway proves itself on The Other Side Of Midnight to be an underrated outfit that deserves to rank with other top notch veteran European Christian metal bands such as Narnia, Seventh Avenue and Veni Domine. First rate songwriting prevails throughout: : While “Burn” and “Taste The Blood” are the albums two standout tracks, the bluesy “She Calls” and the energetic “Soldiers Of Heaven” are of equal quality. In the end, there is not a weak track here- which helps to give the album its lasting value. Destined to rank with the best of what is turning out to be a very good year.
Review by: Andrew Rockwell
Track Listing: “No Mercy” (4:15), “Sea Of Fools” (3:37), “Burn” (6:33), “Pray For The Children” (5:45), “Taste The Blood” (7:52), “Lead Us” (4:38), “She Calls” (5:22), “Cantabile” (3:54), “Death & Destruction” (3:40), “Soldiers Of Heaven” (4:59), “My Life Goes On…” (4:48)
Graeme Leslie – Lead Vocals, Guitars & Keyboards
Pete Jennens – Lead Guitar
Rob Jennens – Bass
Andy Edwards - Drums
Also Reviewed: Stairway - On Hallowed Ground