|Musical Style: Melodic Hard Rock||Produced By: Michael Sweet|
|Record Label: Frontiers||Country Of Origin: USA|
|Year Released: 2015||Artist Website:|
|Tracks: 12||Rating: 90%|
|Running Time: 49:28|
History books will tell you much about 1984. Arnold Schwarzenegger introduced the catchphrase “I’ll be back” (from the hit movie The Terminator), Wendy’s had us all asking “Where’s the Beef?”, Michael Jackson’s Thriller was the years top selling album and, more significantly, the hair metal scene was at its apex. Two Southern California based groups stood out in this regard: Dokken and Stryper. Former hit its commercial stride with the September release of its sophomore album Tooth & Nail, which, spurred by hit singles “Just Got Lucky”, “Alone Again” and “Into The Fire”, sold over 2 million copies. Latter, originally known as Roxx Regime but later changing its name to draw upon Isaiah 53:5, got off to a strong start in July with its Enigma Records debut EP The Yellow And Black Attack.
Both bands went on to greater success in the years that followed. Dokken maintained its platinum momentum on Under Lock And Key (1985) and Back For The Attack (1987), while Stryper went gold on sophomore outing Soldiers Under Command (1985) and platinum for signature release To Hell With The Devil (1987). All good things, however, must come to and end. The classic Dokken line up disbanded over ‘creative and personal differences’ at the height of its powers in 1989. Stryper, at the same time, regressed with the overproduced In God We Trust (1988), which only achieved gold status, and controversial Against The Law (1990), that saw it eschew its trademark yellow and black stripes and Christian themed lyrics.
Stryper also broke up in the face of waning popularity, with front man Michael Sweet releasing a trio of solo albums in the nineties. Dokken guitarist George Lynch remained active as well, forming a new band in Lynch Mob (with a three-album output from the decade) in addition to also launching a solo career. Reunions subsequently occurred on both side of the fence, with Dokken’s lasting from 1993 to 1997 and producing a pair of albums with Lynch as part of its roster. Stryper has been more productive, reforming in 2003 and with three studio albums, two covers albums and two live albums to its credit.
With such a distinguished pedigree behind them, it was only inevitable that Michael Sweet and George Lynch would cross paths musically. It should not surprise, as a result, that when Serafino Perugino at Frontiers Records approached Sweet about fronting a ‘super group’ project, Sweet suggested Lynch as the guitar player. Lynch readily agreed, with the decision made that the two would share songwriting duties and Sweet would handle production (In terms of specifics, Lynch composed the base song ideas, while Sweet wrote lyrics and melodies). In keeping with the ‘super group’ theme, James Lomenzo (Megadeth, White Lion) and Brian Tichy (White snake) were recruited to fill the bass and drum positions, respectively.
Hence, Sweet & Lynch was born. Only To Rise, the groups January of 2015 Frontiers Records full length debut, draws upon a heavy eighties influence with a melodic hard rock based sound in which commercial hooks and accessible melodies prevail. You will also notice, however, I use the hard rock designation as opposed to metal in that the guitars on Only To Rise do not quite deliver the edge and bite of the heavier material from main groups in which either artist is best known (observation and in no way a critique). My point being that this is not Stryper meets Dokken (albeit those into either band should find a lot to like here) but rather Michael Sweet meets George Lynch, with the upshot a work set apart from the unique qualities and skill sets the two bring to the table.
This manifests itself on opening track “The Wish” with its prevailing up-tempo momentum and non-stop big hook chorus. A made for radio arena rock feel comes to the forefront accordingly. Playing every bit the defining role is Lynch’s wizardry behind the fret board, with “The Wish” the first in a long line of songs adorned with his identifiable catchy melodies, riffs and guitar harmonies.
Likewise, “Recover” plays up a forthright disposition but in the bolder and more guitar based package. Vocal melodies hinting of Stryper allow a slight pop essence to come to the forefront. Yes, Sweet might sing in a lower register in comparison to his eighties prime, but the falsetto he cuts loose on the towering refrain proves he can still hit a high note with the best of them (sort of like “God” off The Covering).
Sustaining the upbeat leaning is “Dying Rose”, every bit commercial in terms of its over the top melody but also reflecting a gritty feel from its bluesy guitar penchant. This one has FM radio hit written all over it. “September” impresses equally with another engaging milieu, slightly slower in tempo and coming across darker from its larger than life backing vocals. Again, radio friendly is the thought at hand.
“Strength In Numbers" shines as well, hard charging and decisive but not backing from the hook driven commercial sensibilities. The presence of keyboards helps lend an anthem-like aspect. Steady as it gets “Hero-Zero” ups the heaviness further with its churning low end (credit Tichy in this regard) and muscular mid-paced leanings, while albums title track comes across as a riff driven monster as guitars reach for the skies and initiative borders on prevailing. Characteristic of the two is how soloing wise Lynch plays to the song and does not overdue it in the process (in other words, you can exhibit your musicianship without turning things into a self-indulgent shred fest).
Impetus tapers further for “Divine”, a bluesy and infectious groove driven hard rocker that decelerates to a near crawl for its scintillating refrain. Vocally, Sweet highlights a soulful performance that reminds of Against The Law. “Time Will Tell” delivers its variances, as Lomenzo’s marked bass presence sustains the easygoing verses and decisive guitars a non-stop and initiative filled chorus. Musically, this one helps bridge the gap between the albums heavier and lighter material.
Speaking of which, “Love Stays” is on the relaxed and laid-back side of things with its gentler guitar tinctures and hints of organ throughout. “Rescue Me” takes a similar reserved heading, with organ also in the backdrop but playing up the more pronounced initiative and heavier guitar tinges. The Sweet & Lynch melody based penchant continues to makes its presence felt on the two. Lone ballad “Me Without You” is a good one, coming across reticent and atmospheric as lush guitars and arresting bass define the ethereal scene. I can see early nineties Guardian doing something like this.
Obviously, it would be misleading to label Sweet & Lynch a Christian project. That being said any album in which Michael Sweet contributes lyrics is going to reflect his faith and such is the case here. “Love Stays” proves aptly entitled in this capacity:
When we can build, a bridge that lets the wounded cross
We will be found, within the darkness where we’re lost
Love - Stays, so it never runs away
Games – Played, lead to nowhere
Hearts – Swayed, Break and go their separate ways
Love – Stays, love stays
As does “Divine”:
Don’t give in and don’t give out
To all the pressure
Keep the Faith cause you’re the lock
That fits the key
Sunshine is divine
It lights up the way
“Strength In Numbers” draws upon Matthew 18:20:
There’s strength in numbers
Where two or more are gathered
Pride only encumbers
The strength in numbers
“Dying Rose” speaks of faith during tough times:
No there ain’t no feeling
Like the one you get when you succeed
If it feeds your spirit and shows you that faith
Is all that you need
I’m not falling through the open floors
I won’t fade like a dying rose
“September” was written in tribute to 9/11:
We woke to find the sky was turning black
Our frozen minds could not comprehend
On that bitter day there’d be no turning back
The wound never heals the scar doesn’t mend- No
It is to the benefit of us all that the eighties produced two of the metal scenes top talents in Michael Sweet and George Lynch. The ingenious chemistry between the two - not to mention Brian Tichy and James Lomenzo - has resulted in a work that comes across as melodic hard rock paradise. Only To Rise proves musically impeccable in this regard with twelve choice tracks certain to keep you coming back with repeat listen. Quality is such that I hope that not only Sweet & Lynch tour the Only To Rise material but return with a sophomore outing.
Review by Andrew Rockwell
Track Listing: “The Wish” (3:39), “Dying Rose” (3:41), “Love Stays” (4:35), “Time Will Tell” (3:51), “Rescue Me” (4:13), “Me Without You” (4:02), “Recover” (3:43), “Divine” (4:18), “September” (4:17), “Strength In Numbers” (3:18), “Hero-Zero” (4:12), “Only To Rise” (3:43)
Michael Sweet - Lead Vocals & Additional Guitars
George Lynch - Guitars
James Lomenzo - Bass
Brian Tichy - Drums