|Musical Style: Heavy Metal||Produced By:|
|Record Label: Roxx Records||Country Of Origin: USA|
|Year Released: 2014||Artist Website:|
|Tracks: 14||Rating: No Quote|
Whenever fish stories are the topic at hand, discussion inevitably turns towards the ‘one that got way’. This hits particularly close to home with the music industry, which without exception has experienced its share of potential catches ‘slip from its grasp’- and by that I am referring to bands worthy of a label deal that are never signed and release a full-length album. The eighties Christian metal scene immediately comes to mind in this regard, reflected in the multitude of ‘white metal’ bands that came out of the woodwork following the commercial success of Stryper, some which were quite good and others, well, not so good. And as many of you know, quality and talent did not necessarily dictate which of said bands that got signed (remember Tempest, Contagious and Force 3?) and those that did not (read on for further details).
Bay Area based Soldier might have been the most well known of the unsigned lot, bringing a polished Dokken influenced sound on its critically acclaimed demos Louder Than Hell (1987) and Babylon (1988). Equally notable is Jacksonville, Florida’s Apostle and the neo-classically influenced power metal of its well-known tapes Chariots Of Iron (1987) and Hymns (1988). San Antonio, Texas is home to Paradox, who highlighted a high energy joining of traditional metal and melodic metal on its demos Ruler (1987) and Power And Glory (1989). In between, you will find lesser known but no less able groups in Crossforce, Armada, Chosen Stranger, Paragon and Revelation that also failed to sign a deal.
While the best unsigned Christian metal act of the era remains open to debate, another group that deserves to join the ranks of the above is Virginia’s Taker. My first exposure to Taker was the White Throne (issue 3) review of its debut 4-song demo from 1987, as Editor Dave Johnson left a positive impression by describing the band as “totally original to the point I can’t compare them to anyone” but also “the tightest band in white metal today”. Yes, quite the ringing endorsement, particularly when factoring the talent on hand at the time, but it is those referenced abilities in question that led to the re-release of Taker’s backlog of recorded material by Roxx Records in April of 2014 under the title It Is Finished: The Complete Anthology. Included along with the debut demo are the two tracks the group recorded for the 1988 East Coast Metal compilation in addition to three songs from a recording session for Image Records and a live rehearsal track (both 1987) and its final demo from 1989, Blood.
Of note is how Sid ‘Ysidro’ Garcia, who has previously worked with Deliverance, Ultimatum and Crossforce, capably handles mastering duties and brings out the best in the Taker material in the process. No, not a big budget feel but still overall sounding quite good when factoring the era in which the It Is Finished tracks were recorded and independent budget therein.
As for Taker’s musical heading, I will again let Mr. Johnson chime in: “Their music is heavy and challenging to listen to, meaning it is not simplistic… but then again Taker isn’t overly complicated to the point where there is no melody”. He also goes on to state (and accurately I might add), “But this isn’t pop metal, speed metal or power metal, just traditional heavy metal”. Those traditional metal bearings reveal themselves in guitarist PJ Bussey, whose decisive rhythm guitar work helps place the group well within the genre in question (but not to the point of heavy handed). He also brings quite the distinct soloing style, almost jazzy in form with a flowing and fluid feel reminding of unrestrained versions of Tony Palacios (Guardian) or David Zaffiro (Bloodgood) mixed with the artistic flair of Rex Carroll (Whitecross). Johnson sums things up best when he describes Bussey as “the best new original guitarist I’ve heard since Yngwie…”
Many traditional metal groups features a front man with a tough middle-register slant - think Kramer (Saint), Halford (Judas Priest) and Vance (Armageddon) - but what sets Taker apart are the soaring and high-end vocals of Kevin Potter. With significant power and near unlimited range, Potter helps lend a melodic metal element to the Taker sound, which offers creditability to that “original to the point I can’t compare them with anyone” statement. How often do you hear, for instance, a traditional metal band with a vocalist capable of soaring to the stratosphere? Not a common experience if you are like me. Regardless, it helps create a best of both worlds scenario that I can see appealing to fans of both the traditional and melodic metal side of things.
Some of the best Taker material presents itself on the 4-song demo. The first two represent the heaviest, with “Open Your Heart” a mid-paced cruncher with a driving tempo and transparent bass line and “He Is The Light” more up-tempo with the galloping riffs and chugging mentality to match. Tying the pair together is a slight accessible element. A classic power ballad can be found in “Yesterday Today And Forever”, six and a half minutes of acoustic guitar, gutsy rhythm guitar and made for radio emotional overtures. Closer "11 O' Clock News" strains towards the heaviness of the first two while hinting of a commercial aspect in its melodic based chorus. Best part to the song is the classical flavored soloing that gradually builds to a fevered pitch. If Taker had come up with 5 or 6 additional tracks of similar quality and released them as a full length package they would have a classic.
Live rehearsal track “Living By Faith” might be a bit rough around the edges (it lacks some of the polish inherit to the demo tracks) but otherwise showcases the groups natural raw energy in its purest form- not to mention also featuring a draw you in at once hook.
The three songs from the Image Records sessions come with the projects best production. “Look Into His Eyes”, originally appearing on the 1988 White Metal Invasion tape, proves up-tempo all the way with an operatic refrain and more exciting lead work. Final two are reworked versions of demo songs “He Is The Light” and “Open Your Heart”. Main difference is how the two now move at the faster tempo while highlighting the beefier low-end.
I am at odds with the East Coast Metal versions to "Living By Faith" and "Yesterday Today And Forever". Yes, both improve from the re-mastering (and I am glad they were included accordingly), but I still prefer the original demo and rehearsal renderings due to better capturing the bands inherit energy. Consider how on East Coast Metal a drum machine supplanted drummer Charlie Osterhoudt, while a studio guitarist was used in place of Bussey. The upshot is a more commercial and watered down Taker that I find a lot less interesting.
The four Blood tracks feature a different vocalist in Rob Kreiner. Kreiner might sing in a lower register than the departed Potter but proves a more than capable replacement, albeit he lacks Potter’s jaw dropping range. The four are good, with “The Measure” an up-tempo boogie style metal piece and “Blood” a catchy five minutes of acoustic laced melodic hard rock. “Overcomers Anthem” showcases a polished and uplifting disposition, while the awesome “Into The Throne Room” hints of the progressive in running the gamut from acoustic guitar to metal riffs to jazzy instrumental interludes.
Lyrics, straightforward and too the point, do not leave you guessing as to Taker’s faith. Johnson again sums things up best: “And where Saint (gets) criticized for having little meat to their lyrics, Taker will never have that problem”. On a side note: This is one area in which I have to disagree with Mr. Johnson in that I followed the eighties metal scene as close as anyone and do not recall reading any complaints regarding Saint’s lyrics. As for the Saint prose, it does not hit you over the head but still communicates the faith in an intelligent and well thought out manner (sort of like Taker). Anyhow, back to our regularly scheduled Taker review…
When I first read the White Throne Taker demo review, I thought the author was guilty of overzealousness, but repeat listen reveals the hype to be real. Hence, the only reason I can think of as to why Taker did not get signed is that most label executives back in the day had mush for brains. The result being a highly talented band with all the potential in the word that, similar to those referenced in the first couple of paragraphs, sadly got lost in the shuffle. In the end, credit Roxx Records for making the Taker material available again in such a thorough and professionally done package.
Review by Andrew Rockwell
Track Listing: “Open Your Heart” (4:46), “He Is The Light” (5:25), “Yesterday Today And Forever” (6:29), “11 O’ Clock News” (5:06), “Living By Faith” (4:02), “Look Into His Eyes” (4:43), “He Is The Light” (4:16), “Living By Faith” (3:57), “Yesterday Today And Forever” (4:20), “The Measure” (3:12), “Blood” (4:45), “Overcomers Anthem” (3:33), “Into The Throne Room” (6:12)
Kevin Potter - Lead Vocals
Rob Kreiner - Lead Vocals
PJ Bussey - Guitars
Danny Wilkinson - Bass
Charlie Osterhoudt - Drums
Johnson, Dave. “Taker Demo Tape Review.” White Throne 3 (1987): 22.