|Musical Style: AOR/Melodic Rock||Produced By:|
|Record Label: Independent||Country Of Origin: US|
|Year Released: 2001||Artist Website: Sweet Crystal|
|Tracks: 11||Rating: 75%|
|Running Time: 50:41|
The Christian AOR and melodic rock scene has been hit and miss over the years. Petra, of course, is the most well known group, having won 4 Grammys and 10 Dove Awards in addition to recording over twenty albums – some good and some, well, not so good – in its four decade existence. Allies and Idle Cure also deserve mention as does Sweet Comfort Band and perhaps even White Heart as well. Mastedon ranks with the genres finest, a studio project of John and Dino Elefante that produced two albums, It’s A Jungle Out There (1989) and Lofcaudio (1990), that critics and fans alike consider classics. One band that has been around for over thirty years – and, unfortunately, not always garnered the attention it deserves in the process – is Canton, Michigan based Sweet Crystal. Debuting in 1985 with a six song EP entitled Power-N-Glory, Sweet Crystal remained on the sidelines until 2001 when it put out its independently released full length sophomore outing Still Standing…
Still Standing… can best be described as melodic rock and AOR certain to appeal to fans of Survivor, Journey and Foreigner. Those into the previously referenced acts should find a lot to like in Sweet Crystal as well. The album, while a bit heavy in the ballad department, proves a consistent effort in showcasing the bands catchy and melodic based songwriting. Up-tempo pieces “In God We Trust” and “Soldiers Of The Crown” deliver solid chorus hooks as do top of the line ballads “Do You Believe In Love” and “This Way Forever”. A semi ballad direction is taken on “No Two Masters” and “In Your Name” while “Messiah Song” represents a tempered and worshipful piece. Rounding things out is a live track (“Stand Up & Shout”) and two instrumental pieces (“Looking Back”) and (“Ominicity”).
Vocalist Marq Andrew Speck, with his gritty and mid-ranged vocal sensibilities, proves a legitimate talent. If I were to invite a comparison it might be to a prime version of John Schlitt (Petra). Marq also handles keyboard duties and skillfully layers things in walls of synthesizers and samplers while occasionally adding highlighting touches of piano. Bill Blatter brings a similar level of ability on guitar. One of the albums highlights is his riveting work on lead guitar, which he best showcases on “Do You Believe In Love”, “Soldiers Of The Crown” and “When I Think Of You”.
Production values trend towards the thin and muddy. The overall feeling I get is that things need to be beefed up, particularly the rhythm guitar and drums.
Things get underway with the ballad “Do You Believe In Love”. A sweeping piece standing out with its notable – almost commercial – melody, the song flows its distance to a highlighting tinge of keyboards and Marq Speck’s emotional vocal flavorings. Occasional hints of vocal harmonies and ardent soloing add to the moving scene.
“Soldiers Of The Crown” heads in up-tempo melodic rock territory. This one proves every bit as catchy – the chorus hook is absolutely huge – while showcasing the all around heavier sound. Guitarist Bill Blatter, for instance, makes his presence felt in the more pronounced sounding manner (check out his lead work adorning the songs final minute).
“When I Think Of You” brings some interesting changes in tempo. The song begins its first minute slowly to a forward mix of keyboards but, at just the moment you think it is going to be a ballad, initiative abruptly picks up as the rhythm guitar steps forward. “When I Think Of You” proceeds to quickly race ahead, progressing through its spirited chorus and instrumental section upheld by an edgy guitar solo.
“This Way Forever”, the albums second ballad, is carried its distance by a lush joining of acoustic guitar and keyboards. Some nice vocal melodies and female backing vocals make their presence felt as well, as does the rhythm guitar during the songs final minute. If I were to invite a comparison, “This Way Forever” might not quite feature the pronounced melody of “Do You Believe In Love” but holds up under repeated play nonetheless.
The laid back “Messiah Song” slowly drifts through its first several minutes textured by abundant vocal melodies, keyboards and traces of acoustic guitar. Picking up in pace at its halfway point, the song maintains the worshipful setting but with an edgy of rhythm guitar in the backdrop while featuring several runs of spicy lead guitar.
Still Standing… hits its stride with “In God We Trust”. No, not a cover of the Stryper song of the same name, but still a very worthwhile melodic rocker featuring a catchy chorus and exhilarating piano-driven tempo- of the kind that will keep you coming back time and again. If anything, I wish there were a few more energetic pieces along this line here.
The catchy hooks continue with “No Two Masters”. A semi-ballad presenting with several changes in tempo, the song slowly maneuvers through its verse portions in a piano driven manner, not gaining momentum until reaching an elegant chorus sustained by female backing vocals. A worshipful setting helps put things over the top.
“In Your Name”, another tempered piece bordering on ballad territory, ranks with the albums best. I enjoy the jazz-flavored instrumental opening to the song and how it continues to calmly waft ahead in ethereal fashion. Impetus does not pick up, however, until a determined chorus driven by a vestige of rhythm guitar is acquired.
The live track “Stand Up & Shout” proves a much needed upbeat rocker. The albums longest piece at just under six minutes, the song brings the finest production here with its mix of crisp rhythm guitar and equally abundant keyboards. This one translates perfectly live with its spirited impetus and instrumental section featuring a tasteful guitar and keyboard trade off.
“Looking Back”, the first of two straight instrumentals, brings a tranquil atmosphere with its use of piano and sweeping keyboards. A rhythm guitar kicks in after several minutes and adds to what I might describe as a stately milieu. Blatter stands out with his bluesy soloing as well.
“Ominicity” moves through its first several minutes in near ambient fashion as a forward mix of keyboards plays a prevailing role. The pace does briefly pick up to a more decisive tempo only to settle back down to the relaxed side of things. All around, the musical backdrop presented by the song almost comes across new age in feel.
Still Standing… proves a solid and consistent effort. Each of its songs is well constructed; not once do I hit the skip button. That said, the album is a bit heavy in ballads- I would have appreciated a few more upbeat rockers. Production values could have also been improved upon. Marq Speck and Bill Blatter, on the other hand, both bring a high level of ability. All in all, if you are a fan of AOR and melodic rock – or hard rock and melodic metal in all its forms – then by all means check out Sweet Crystal. Let’s hope it is not another sixteen years before we hear from these guys again!
Review by: Andrew Rockwell
Track Listing: “Do You Believe In Love” (5:10), “Soldier Of The Crown” (4:10), “When I Think Of You” (5:13), “This Way Forever” (3:55), “Messiah Song” (5:01), “In God We Trust” (3:56), “No Two Masters” (3:55), “In Your Name” (4:48), “Stand Up & Shout” (5:59), “Looking Back” (4:17), “Ominicity” (4:18)
Marq Andrew Speck – Lead Vocals, Keyboards & Bass
Bill Blatter – Vocals
Steve Wieser – Acoustic & Electric Drums