|Musical Style: Heavy Metal||Produced By: Graeme Leslie|
|Record Label: Independent||Country Of Origin: UK|
|Year Released: 2016||Artist Website: Stairway|
|Tracks: 11||Rating: 85%|
|Running Time: 60:08|
Like people, metal bands benefit from good genetics. Fortunately, for Staffordshire, England based Stairway, emerging out of the eighties New Wave of British Heavy Metal movement gives it excellent DNA. One need consider how the group comes with all the trimmings distinct to the genre at hand: the muscular flexing guitar riffs and breakneck lead guitar of Pete Jennens not to mention the thickly woven rhythm section furnished by timekeeper Andy Edwards and bassist Rob Jennens. Front man Graeme Leslie puts in every bit the strong showing, with a smooth but mid-ranged vocal style in which he can go for a high note with ease or descend into some gritty and soulful flavorings at a moments notice.
Stairway might have gotten started in 1993 with its debut full length No Rest: No Mercy followed by 1999 sophomore effort Bleeding Heart, but On Hallowed Ground (85% Angelic Warlord) from 2002 remains my favorite of the group’s earlier material. The album (in my opinion) features some of the most inspired Stairway songs to date, including Scorpions influenced power ballad “Justify”, every bit as melodic but heavier “Stop The Pain” and awesome ten minute progressiveness of "Deo Volente (Thy Will Be Done)”. The group even does the blues heavy rock thing (and quite well at that!) in “Foolish Heart”.
2006 release The Other Side Of Midnight (90% review) maintains the musical consistency while delivering an extra element of variety. “No Mercy” and “Soldiers Of Heaven” represent catchy and up-tempo hooks galore and “She Calls” a gritty and bluesy mid-paced hard rocker. Albums finer moments revolve around its epic-metal based tracks, the ominous “Burn” and time signatures to “Taste The Blood”, and Narnia like melodic power metal of “Death And Destruction”. Rounding things out is a customary (and very good) ballad in “My Life Goes On” and instrumental “Cantabile”.
Stairway took a slight step back on Interregnum (75%) from 2010. Not that the album is flawed in any way, but rather it is held back by somewhat thin production and a pair of skip buttons in “Ride The Wind” and “Fear & Lies” (a Stairway first). That said, Interregnum is not without its share of choice moments either, as the mid-paced and riff driven “The Suffering Servant” and “In The Shadow Of The Cross” not to mention sweeping aura of “Born To Die” attest. Classy melodic metal piece “New Life” shines every bit much as does the persuasive traditional metal to “Enter The Light” and “The Battle’s Over”.
On Power And Glory, its sixth full-length offering released in the spring of 2016, Stairway recaptures its prime form. It begins with production, which highlights a full on aggressiveness in which guitars share the centerpiece to the mix alongside an explicit rhythm section. Opener “Lucy Fuhr” manifests this, an emboldened play on words classic metal piece which finds Pete Jennens standing out with his hulking guitar presence and Graeme Leslie defining the backdrop with an arresting bass line (Rob Jennens departed Stairway subsequent to The Other Side Of Midnight). The gist is a band sounding so much more alive and bursting of inspired energy!
Maintaining the spirited demeanor is “1917 - Fatherless Child”. The song begins portent and low key only to kick in at once as guitars impel to the forefront, up-tempo and focused for its verses as Andy Edwards’ technical drumming holds sway only to calmly drift to a near stop as polished vocal melodies uphold the affable refrain. Jennens unabashed soloing leaves little doubt as to why he deserves to rate with the eras more skillful shredders.
“Overture 1418”, a short keyboard interlude number, gives way to “A Mind Insane”. What we have here is a propulsive mid-paced hard rocker, with a cool funk-flavored bass line anchoring the low end while plundering riffs mercilessly plow in and out of the mix. An extended stretch of lead guitar takes a decided bluesy stance.
A lighter and more accessible tone defines “Reason Why”. A first class melodic metal slab, the song delicately weaves through its verses to mesmerizing guitar harmonies only to break out in full force for a stylish refresh in which abundant vocal melodies again hold sway. Effective use of accenting keyboards throughout as well.
“Sun Of Malachi” proves the albums magnum opus as Stairway descends into fifteen-minute progressive territory not unlike "Deo Volente (Thy Will Be Done)”. The song slowly maneuvers its first four minutes light, airy and ethereal to soothing guitars and atmospheric keyboards until staunch rhythm guitars take over for a heavier rocking tone. Impetus hits hard moving forward only to occasionally lighten for the trademark Stairway backing vocals, particularly for the moving refrain. Instrumentally, “Sun Of Malachi” shines as jazz-fusion moments and those with a more forward demeanor interweave with Queen like acapella vocals. Carrying the final minutes are added decided guitars and lush keyboards.
Anthem rocker “Raise Our Hands” proves traditional metal manifest, with a knife-edge disposition propelling its high intensity opening prior to galloping riffs and marauding bass stepping forward and defining the uneasy ambience at hand. Leslie in particular separates himself by highlighting the upper register to his voice, while Jennens again shreds with the best of them.
“Godz” upholds the classic metal aggression with its pointed and curtly done mentality. The song churn remorselessly from the get go, heavy as all get out for the fixed verses only to mollify (even if a bit) prior to the churlish but hook driven chorus. Albums excellent production once more stands out, especially as it pertains to the crisp guitar tones.
One of my favorites is “World In Black”. As its title suggests, this one presents with a dark and swarthy feel with some bluesy lacings, fittingly mid-paced and muscular but not forsaking the engaging as a catchy chorus ranks with the albums finest. One also cannot help but appreciate how Stairway settles into quite the shuffling low-end groove.
Final interlude “Interlude 23” leads the way to the seven minute “Across The Moon”, another choice number with its lighter texturing and melodic proclivities. Interestingly, and I am sure this is coincidental, but the song begins to a guitar melody reminiscent to that of Daniel Band’s “Running Out Of Time”. Otherwise, it comes across relaxed and ethereal with some flattering semi ballad to classic rock nuances in which lush vocal melodies and gossamer keyboards prevail. Guitars might be somewhat reserved in comparison to some here but also help lend to the alluring (and quite engaging) milieu throughout.
Faith continues to play a role in the Stairway prose, such as on “World In Black” -
The heart of the brave
Is the heart of the truth
The power and glory
Is now in our sight
As we stand for the Truth
And the glorious fight
It’s a powerful thing
And we are set to go!
- “Raise Our Hands”:
Raise our hands, we’ll raise our hands
With sword of truth we’ll make a stand
We’ll ride across the burning sky
And fight the kingdom of the lie
Hear we clear the battle call
Armed and ready we will go
Then we’ll make our final stand
And there we’ll find the promised land
As noted, “Lucy Furhr” is a clever play on words:
Lucy Fuhr, I do concur
Is an evil bird, or so I’ve heard
She’ll give a wink and cause a stink
And rise a smile a country mile
She will sing for earthly kings
But a counter plot is what she’s got
And she will bow for a sacred cow
And she’ll take a break if that’s your take
“Sun Of Malachi” deals with Old Testament themes:
He drove me to the darkened day
The beast he pushed me to the edge of dismay
Where the soul and the spirit is filled
With the unholy darkness of a life that is killed
He drove me to a lonely place
Where the darkness all surrounding
Cuts a life like a knife
All around me is the maddening despair
As revealed in the track by track, it also encompasses consistency and continuity in that while I like some songs better than others - with “Sun Of Malachi”, “World In Black” and “Across The Moon” my favorites - there is also not a skip button to be found. Power And Glory stands alongside On Hallowed Ground and The Other Side Of Midnight in this capacity but sets itself apart from featuring the best production on a Stairway album (not that the production on the other two is bad). Cover art shines equally with an excellent portrayal of Revelation 19:16 by renowned artist Rodney Matthews, whose work has previously graced the covers to other Stairway albums. In the end, fans of Stairway and traditional/classic metal would be strongly advised not to think twice about making Power And Glory a priority purchase.
Review by Andrew Rockwell
Track Listing: “Lucy Fuhr” (4:20), “1917 - Fatherless Child” (5:10), “Overture 1418” (:52), “A Mind Insane” (4:19), “Reason Why” (5:34), “Sun Of Malachi” (15:58), “Raise Our Hands” (5:28), “Godz” (4:58), “World In Black” (5:07), “Interlude 23” (1:17), “Across The Moon” (7:05)
Graeme Leslie - Lead Vocals, Bass & Keyboards
Pete Jennens - Guitars
Andy Edwards - Drums