|Musical Style: Heavy Metal||Produced By: Bill Menchen|
|Record Label: Retroactive||Country Of Origin: USA|
|Year Released: 2010||Artist Website:|
|Tracks: 10||Rating: 80%|
|Running Time: 32:14|
Ever give an album you did not initially like a second chance and ended up pleasantly surprised? That would be the best way to describe the “love-hate” relationship I have had with Titanic’s full length debut Maiden Voyage.
The origin of Titanic can be traced to the late eighties and the duo of guitarist Bill Menchen and vocalist Keith Miles, who formed Final Axe and released a well received 10 song demo entitled Beyond Hell’s Gate in 1989. A second project (with the working title Burn In Hell) was started but scrapped when Final Axe broke up.
Titanic did not come into being until the mid-nineties when Menchen and Miles (now under the moniker Simon Tyler) reunited and recorded Maiden Voyage in 1996. I immediately purchased a copy as soon as it became available. Now, this is where that “love-hate” relationship in question begins. My first impression on listening to Maiden Voyage is that it was a bunch of boring and repetitious heavy metal characterized by sub par songwriting. As the years passed and I would occasionally listen to the album, my opinion did not waver.
Fast forward to 2010 and Maiden Voyage has been re-issued by Retroactive Records with new album artwork – remixed, re-mastered and partially re-recorded in the process – and Robert Sweet (Stryper) on drums. When I first heard of the re-issue, I got a sinking feeling in my stomach – you know, the kind you get when you enter the dentists office to get a root canal done – knowing I was going to have to put together a review. Needless to say, I decided it would be best to approach the project with an open mind and give it the fair opportunity it deserves.
And you know what? This turned out a good thing in that upon first listen to the re-issue I was blown away. Why? How?
Well, it all starts with the remix and re-mastering. Credit goes to Main Line Riders guitarist Cliffy, who completed the re-mastering, for giving the project a much needed facelift. What was once a distractingly muddy production has turned into a strength in that Maiden Voyage now sports a clean and crisp sound void of the murkiness characteristic to the original. The drums (more on this later) project added punch while the full and abundant rhythm guitar mix is of the type reserved for the most professionally produced releases. After comparing to the original re-issue, it is this reviewers opinion all rhythm guitar tracks were re-recorded from scratch (the difference is that staggering).
The second deciding factor, of course, is Robert Sweet, who literally breathes new life into the material with a performance both powerful and creative (a drum machine was used on the first release). The guy, for a lack of better words, really lets loose throughout the project with the end result an overwhelming difference. I will let Cliffy expand further on the matter:
“If you ever thought drums don't make a difference then I invite you to check this out and prove to yourself how wrong you were. Robert makes such a difference on this album that you'll swear you've never heard it before.”
So how do these improvements impact the songs, which I previously described as “sub par”, “repetitious” and “boring”?
While hindsight is twenty-twenty, in looking back I was misinformed to be critical of the albums material in that the fault did not lie with the songwriting but rather the production and (programmed) drums. And now that these latter two areas have been corrected, the songs can be seen in their proper light: full of energy and oozing with emotion while not forsaking hooks in the process.
Songs I found repetitious on the 1996 release - “Nightmare”, “You’ve Got Nothing On Me”, “Gods Of War”, “And The Dead Shall Rise” and “Freak Show” – now come to life with stronger chorus hooks and meatier riffs you can sink your teeth into. “Ocean Of Blood” and “Hollywood Blvd”, the only two from the original I liked, are that much better. The albums remaining material (“I Don’t Believe”, “Fight Back” and “I Am Watching You”), which I previously considered filler, now provides solid support.
The only constructive comment worth offering is that the albums material (similar to many of Bill Menchen’s earlier efforts) is on the short side of things. Out of the ten tracks here, three come in at under three minutes while six others are three and a half minutes or less. None are over four. My overall feeling is that a couple of songs in the four or five minute range might have added a nedded element of versatility to the album. Still, you cannot complain about the quality of the songwriting- despite the length of each individual track.
Before moving on to the track by track it must be noted that Maiden Voyage was also re-issued in 2000 on Magdalene Records with three bonus tracks. The 2010 re-issue includes the ten original songs but no bonus material.
Album opener “Nightmare” proves a three minute assault of powering drums, sledgehammer riffs and Simon Tyler’s trademark heavy duty vocals. Despite the tumultuous scene, the song brings a subtle but persuasive catchiness and joins it with the bands penchant for the all out energetic. “Nightmare” is a synonym for dealing with the struggles of life:
They break me down and take me down
And they keep coming back for more
I’m all alone and far from home
And I’m fighting to the core
Wake me up and shake me up
Don’t let me drift away
Help me out, scream and shout
Or there’s gonna’ be hell to pay
The pace picks up exponentially with “You’ve Got Nothing On Me”. What we have here is an attitude laden piece, a non-stop barn burner that charges through its verses to rapid fire vocal delivery prior to decelerating – even if only just slightly – for a brazen as it gets chorus. What we wind up with is one of the albums finer outings.
“Gods Of War” brings a no-nonsense mentality. This one delivers a wallop – the guitar mix is right up front and in your face – while giving rise to a slightly ominous if not bottom heavy feel. The shouted chorus - “Gods Of War! Gods Of War!” – is done brilliantly and aligns with the songs aggressive milieu. The lyrics here bring some interesting contrasts:
Hold tight/Black knight
Full speed/Turn back
Blind trust/Cold steel
Torn flesh/You kneel
Full moon/dark skies
Realize it’s time to die
Wake up/Bright light
Blood red/White night
End times/will start
Stand tall/take heart
Dream state/I can’t run
Young boy/Don’t cry
Only one can die
“And The Dead Shall Arise” proves a riff driven monster. A high energy piece with a mesmerizing feel, the song charges its distance at an upbeat tempo as Robert Sweet’s precision drumming aligns with some tight as it gets riffing from Menchen. A dramatic chorus finds Simon adding a gritty edge to his delivery.
“Ocean Of Blood” starts to a few seconds of quietly played guitar before kicking into high gear. Short but concise at two and a half minutes, the song proves one of the albums catchiest with its hook driven chorus but still gives rise to the all out energy prevalent here. Faith in times of trial is the subject at hand:
Oh, don’t you know, you’ll never drown
Just grab a hold on to me
The storm will pass, I swear to you
We will survive & make it through
Ocean of blood, takes me to see
Fighting for life/Covering me
Ocean of blood/Carries me home
Flows through my veins/When I’m alone
Hard charging, assertive and unrelenting, “Hollywood Blvd” kicks up a storm of insolence during its strapping verses only to smooth out for a chorus giving rise to a surprisingly melodic feel. Robert Sweet adds to the tempestuous scene with occasional outbursts of double bass.
“I Don’t Believe” can best be described as straightforward and no-frills hard rock. With its steadfast but weighty backbone, the song might not deliver the most abundant of hooks but holds up under its stalwart impetus and lyrical direction in which the band provides a discourse on all that it does not believe:
I don’t believe in Hollywood
I don’t believe everything I should
I don’t believe in the KKK
I don’t believe your born gay
I don’t believe in gun control
I don’t believe in selling your soul
I don’t believe that nothing is free
I don’t believe you know me
“Fight Back” brings to mind Barren Cross at its most aggressive. The song starts to a drum solo before taking off to some tenacious riff action, pummeling its length at a forceful tempo while allowing for a stretch of Menchen’s bristling lead work (the kind which he is best known for). The chorus, while well carried out, might have had the more dramatic impact if reinforced by some heavy duty backing vocals.
An eerie bass solo gets “I Am Watching You” underway, a diverse piece that can best be described as equal parts crunch and equal parts melodic. Those “crunch” elements come into play during the songs rollicking verses while the “melodic” aspect can be found in a sublime chorus backed by smoothly done vocal harmonies. Robert Sweet stretches and shows off his technical prowess on this one.
“Freak Show” ends the albums in creative fashion. The voice of a circus ringleader gets things underway. A distorted guitar cuts in after a minute, pushing things ahead at a mid-paced tempo – this is one of the albums slowest and heaviest – until a chorus driven by pounding drums is obtained. The circus ringleader makes a cameo appearance, who stands in support of the songs message about accepting others and their differences:
Why can’t you see that people are people
No matter what has made them that way
Can you tell me whose really human
Don’t tell me you have nothing to say!
Your’e living in a freak show
Well look at what you found
Just stare into a mirror
You’ll find were all around
Track Listing: “Nightmare” (3:06), “You’ve Got Nothing On Me” (3:07), “Gods Of War” (3:29), “And The Dead Shall Arise” (3:15), “Ocean Of Blood” (2:30), “Hollywood Blvd” (2:33), “I Don’t Believe” (3:20), “Fight Back” (2:50), “I Am Watching You” (3:32), “Freak Show” (3:57)
Simon Tyler – Lead Vocals
Bill Menchen – Guitars
Ray Kilsdonk – Bass
Robert Sweet – Drums