|Musical Style: Power Metal||Produced By: Josh Cirbo|
|Record Label: Independent||Country Of Origin: USA|
|Year Released: 2014||Artist Website:|
|Tracks: 8||Rating: 80%|
For years, the power metal scene has been cranking out albums ad infinitum using the Taco Bell approach: Same ingredients, different combinations. This reveals itself in the array of questions at hand when inquiring of an individual’s tastes as it pertains to the genre. Do you prefer, for instance, a progressive sound rooted in intricate and lengthy songwriting? What about a slant towards the European side of things with an emphasis on keyboards and epic overtures? Do your tastes instead align with a melodic based heading? Perhaps you rather relish a stripped down and rawer US based mode? If you are like me, however, you cannot help but answer- all of the above!
Those that appreciate such variety when it comes to power metal will be certain to embrace True Strength. The group was formed in October of 2012 by guitarist and bassist Ryan “The Archangel” Darnell and drummer Chris Clark, who shared the common vision of “a Christian metal band that honors God, spreads the Word of Jesus Christ and dedicates 100% of their music sales to charity”. The two proceeded to recruit lead guitarist Josh Cirbo prior to spending 2013 writing and recording the group’s full-length debut The Cross Will Always Prevail. With its line-up rounded out by vocalist Rus Gib, True Strength completed the final mix and mastering of the album in May of 2014, which it released digitally the following month.
Upon first viewing the TCWAP track listing and seeing just eight songs with the first a short intro piece, the initial impression left is that of an EP release. This can be misleading in that closer look reveals the remaining seven tracks to average between six and eight minutes each, with the longest, “Starve The Fires Of Moloch”, a ten and a half minute epic. Hence, a progressive basis imbues the True Strength songwriting, albeit I hesitate to label the group “progressive” in that there is much more going on here musically. “Starve The Fires Of Moloch”, obviously, pushes the progressive boundaries the furthest with its detailed and complex milieu. The song actually proves dark and ominous with a foreboding doom-like presence (a portent bass lines plays a prominent role) in line with the strongly worded anti-abortion lyrical stance.
Another favorite is “Michael The Archangel”, faster and harder hitting with an epic propensity heavily rooted in European aesthetics. A creative joining of Theocracy, Warlord and Lordian Guard is the feel at hand. A heavier US power metal leaning plays every bit the prominent role with True Strength, as can be found in “When We Meet At Armageddon”, a Herculean track with borderline thrash underpinnings and pulverizing riffs galore, and “Key To The Abyss”, every bit the slugfest from its at times astringent and others elevated tempo and churning low end. The intricacies of Zaxas come to mind either way. Regardless, the two leave little doubt as to Chris Clark’s technical timekeeping skills.
In a more accessible vein, “The Cross Will Always Prevail” upholds a melodic touch with its immediately recognizable chorus interwoven with polished vocal melodies. Speaking of which, the True Strength backing vocals almost have a Styx-like quality to them, a particular I have never previously encountered from a power metal act. Conversely, “Christian Battle Cry” and “Under The Scimitar” might not be the catchiest but shine all the same with their driving and no-nonsense riff-focused mentalities, not to mention lyrics dealing with the persecution of Christians in current times. Musically, I am somewhat reminded of Fires Of Babylon (by no means a bad thing).
True Strength leaves little doubt as to its ability to diversify. I find placing a sub-genre label on the group, as a result, problematic; rather, a catchall power metal designation seems most applicable and accurate. Or perhaps the best way to describe True Strength might not necessarily be ‘same ingredients, different combinations’ but, much to its credit, ‘all ingredients’ instead. Does this make sense? Fittingly, True Strength lists Iron Maiden, Barren Cross, Jacobs Dream, Helloween, Stairway, Saint, Dio and others among its musical inspirations. I might also include InnerSiege, The Sacrificed, Oracle, Recon and Faith Factor. No, not direct comparison but if into said bands then I can see True Strength appealing all the same.
Faith Factor vocalist Norm “Ski” Kiersznowski was actually first slated to front The Cross Will Always Prevail. When that fell through, the group brought in Rus Gib. No, Gib might not have a high-pitched style along the lines of Ski - or David Taylor (former Jacobs Dream) and Vett Roberts (Recon) for that matter - but rather trends towards the high end (but not overdoing it in the process) with periodic forays into the middle register side of things. Jeremy Ray (InnerSiege) and Matt Smith (Theocracy) are not that far removed in terms of what he is doing style wise.
With its emphasis on lengthy material, True Strength, as one might imagine, takes every opportunity to emphasize its instrumental sound. Accordingly, many songs are up to half-instrumental, with extensive instrumental passages at both the start and midway point that allow Darnell and Cirbo to showcase their abilities. The two, for a lack of better words, know what they are doing with galloping Maidenesque riffs galore, harmonies of a near mesmerizing nature and blinding lead work perfectly in step with the musical direction at hand. A lack of talent is not an issue facing True Strength.
Production comes across stripped down and raw without a lot of gloss and luster. This allows rhythm guitar and drums to be the centerpiece of the mix - one cannot understate the True Strength heaviness - with bass finding room to breathe during quieter moments. That said, I would like to have heard a touch more polish, keeping in mind production is overall solid for a self-financed release from an independent band.
The Cross Will Always Prevail is only available as a download (at the time of this writing). Credit the group for its professionalism in this regard, in that in addition to the music files you also receive album artwork, a detailed band biography and lyrics. Let’s hope the album is later picked up by a label (Tate Music Group comes to mind) for a limited edition CD release.
The Cross Will Always Prevails proves a worthy debut from a talented young band I look forward to hearing more from in the future. All songs hold up under repeat play, although some stand out better than others do (at least my opinion). If the group can come up with eight or nine tracks along the lines of “The Fires Of Moloch” and “Michael The Archangel” they will have a near classic on their hands. Adding a bit of polish to production would be icing on the cake in this capacity. If interested in power metal with variety - ranging from progressive influenced to melodic based to classic US flavorings to European aspects - than I cannot help but give True Strength a strong recommendation.
Track By Track
“The Cross Will Always Prevail” jumps out of the gate in upbeat fashion, high energy and spirited its full length but not reckless all the same. Galloping riffs and tight as it gets guitar harmonies stand alongside a recognizable at once refrain in this capacity. Guitar and bass solos carry the albums title track instrumental moments. Lyric snippet:
Alone on the mountain I was doomed to die
I cried out to Jesus to save my life
He told me to "Rise, soldier of God"
He gave me True Strength to carry on
The Cross Will Always Prevail
In this world or in the next you will see
Those who belong to Christ will be set free
The Cross Will Always Prevail
In His Power you had better believe
It is written that we'll have victory!
“Christian Battle Cry” slows the tempo (to a mid-paced romp) and extends the length (out to nearly eight minutes). This one also proves heavier but not quite as accessible in the process, with full force guitars defining the combative scene and unwavering moments adding to the ardent milieu at hand. The song also proves an instrumental showcase, including its driving first minute and brazen guitar leads carrying the second break at the midway point. Lyric snippet:
The Christians of Nigeria have to flee away in fear
The Mar Thoma of Orissa have to hide from their people
The Arabian Christians have been known to disappear
No witnesses around them confessing what they hear
Tyrants and atheists
Rule with an iron fist
Islam, the Middle East
Threatens our fragile peace
Pillaging and conscripting
Killing us in their God's name
Forced conversions bringing fear
Hatred from far and near
“Under The Scimitar” starts to a subterranean bass solo prior to dark and swarthy guitars taking over. The song tempers the pace even further, powering and grinding its length as the groups commanding presence refuses to be denied. Adding to the sublime appeal is the smoothly flowing chorus interwoven with choir-like backing vocals. Lyric snippet:
Under the Scimitar is a heavy price to pay
But the Lord paid a steeper cost when He willingly went to the grave
And now I will gladly die so I can boldly say:
I will never deny my God through Jesus Christ I am saved!
The Egyptian Christians being martyred in the East
Their churches are in flames and burned by the enemy
They are abducted, tortured and put to the blade by lies
They're stolen from their homes but do we hear their cries?!
Ten and a half minute “Starve The Fires Of Moloch” reinforces a doom-like progressive presence. The trenchant instrumental opening carried by a gloomy pass line plays up said doom influences, with a slightly elevated tempo taken the rest of the way as an almost spoken word delivery characterizes the vocals and adds to the songs dramatic essence either way. Yes, of epic length but more than adequate melody - in addition to several tastefully done instrumental excursions - allow things to hold up well regardless. Lyric snippet:
Starving the Fires of Moloch will save you
From the debt you’re incurring from your sacrifice
The devil is real and he lays in waiting
For you to cave in and give in to your vice
Don't live for the moment not thinking or feeling
And you'll spare a life that needs loving and care
Don't live for your pleasures the cost is too great and
Remember that no one has asked to be born!
Your nation will crumble
Your people will perish
Your wicked ways will bury you
So prepare to die
You have worshiped false idols
You've embraced false gods
And you’re serving pure evil
“Michael The Archangel” kicks in at near speed metal fury, roaring and storming with melodic harmonies galore and the full on pomp and splendor to match. Albums best chorus - over the top and of an epic capacity - aligns with a keyed up rhythm section to enhance the sublime environs. Narration from Revelation 12 gives way to a lengthy instrumental section that runs the gamut from slower paced and caustic riffing to the previous speed metal leanings. Lyric snippet:
When war had broke out in the heavens above us
Michael commanded his angels to stand-up and fight!
On that day when the mighty archangels will fly
They will cast out the demons from out of the sky!
On that day when the dragon's angels will rise
Michael will meet them with his blade held so high!
Satan is weak and his army is weaker
The fallen angels had all lost their place in the sky
Sledgehammer guitars buttress the instrumental opening to “When We Meet At Armageddon”. The song maintains a mid-paced demeanor its remaining distance, with the resulting steadfast momentum paving the way through verses of a foreboding natures and catchy refrain laced with the groups trademark refined vocal melodies. In the end, this one presents with an even joining of heaviness and melody. Lyric snippet:
The armies of the Evil One have gathered on the plains
They've come to battle the Lord who's come to end their reign
All the blood of the saints are stained red upon their clothes
And the mark of the beast they bare has stained their very souls
The Heavenly Warrior has come to kill the Beast
An Angel in the sun calls the birds to gather for the feast
In vain the Beast prepares to fight this hopeless fight
But he is no match for Heaven and he's banished from the light
“Keys To The Abyss” closes the album in foreboding fashion. Transitioning between passages of a resonant and dogged variety and others carried at a near frenetic tempo, the song presents its share of variety in playing up a slight progressiveness without forsaking accessibility in the process. A stretch of lightning-like leads ends things in a satisfying manner. Lyric snippet:
A mighty angel’s coming descending from the sky
Holding in his hand
A key to lock them all away, trap them in abyssal fire!
You can scream and curse him it won’t change your fate
You repent too late
Now you will be locked away, burning in a pit of fire!
Demons, can you feel the burning in your throat?
Your thirst is never quenched!
Punishing you night and day, burn you in a pit of fire!
Satan, can you hear Hell calling out your name?
Showing you your fate!
Burn you for a thousand years, burn you in a pit of fire!
Review by Andrew Rockwell
Track Listing: “The Cross Will Always Prevail” (6:56), “Christian Battle Cry” (7:54), “Under The Scimitar” (6:05), “Starve The Fires Of Moloch” (10:35), “Michael The Archangel” (7:20), “When We Meet At Armageddon” (7:45), “Keys To The Abyss” (6:19)
Rus Gib - Lead Vocals
Ryan “The Archangel” Darnell - Guitars & Bass
Josh Cirbo - Guitars
Chris Clark - Drums