|Musical Style: Heavy Metal||Produced By: Robert Sands|
|Record Label: Roxx Records||Country Of Origin: USA|
|Year Released: 2017||Artist Website:|
|Tracks: 10||Rating: 75%|
|Running Time: 69:59|
Every once in a while, a previously unheard of band records an unexpected sleeper, an under-the-radar-album that exceeds all expectation and leaves the listener very pleasantly surprised in the process. The Cross Will Always Prevail, the True Strength spring of 2014 debut full-length, is one such album based upon how it emphasizes ‘power metal with variety- ranging from progressive influenced to melodic based to classic US flavorings to European aspects’ (as taken from the 80% Angelic Warlord review). True Strength formed in 2012 when guitarist and bassist Ryan “The Archangel” Darnell and drummer Chris Clark came together with the common goal of ‘a Christian metal band that honors God, spreads the Word of Jesus Christ and dedicates 100% of their music sales to charity’ (as noted in the True Strength press material). The two proceeded to round out the True Strength line up with lead guitarist Josh Cirbo and vocalist Rus Gib prior to completing the writing and recording process that culminated in The Cross Will Always Prevail.
True Strength sophomore album Steel Evangelist, initially an independent release by the band in the spring of 2016 but re-mastered (courtesy of J. Powell at Steinhaus) and re-issued in February of 2017 by Roxx Records with upgraded cover art (credited to Scott Waters), takes a similar musical stance. To be fair, the group approaches things from more of a traditional metal standpoint while upholding its penchant for branching out into multifarious forms of metal. Consider how True Strength - much to my delight! - continues to specialize in extending songs into the 7 to 8 minute range (or longer) in giving prominence to an understated progressive basis. Yet, a darker borderline Gothic side to the group still reveals itself along with technical and intricate leanings that speak of an affinity for epic metal. All the while slower and trenchant doom metal aspects contrast with the occasional foray into up-tempo power metal territory.
While direct comparison might not be fair due to the True Strength inclining for variety, if you like early Jacobs Dream, Faith Factor, InnerSiege, Veni Domine, Warlord and Saviour Machine - I am sure you get the point in that I could continue to go on and on - then I can see the group being of interest. The fact is I have a strong propensity for any metal act that stretches and branches out from a creative standpoint and that crosses multiple style classification boundaries in the process. The genres attributed to True Strength and the manner in which it combines them only lends (in my eyes) to its allure that much furthers- and helps the group achieves those ‘unexpected sleeper’ and ‘under-the-radar’ designations as a result.
Main change to report in the True Strength line up (outside of Ryan Mey replacing Chris Clark on drums) is Ryan Darnell taking on lead vocal duties subsequent to the departure of Rus Gib. Whereas Gib brought a high-end style with the periodic foray into middle register territory, Darnell represents a classic middle register performer with a delivery that touches upon the rawer and more soulful in comparison. While I have always identified with music of this capacity with a ‘reach for the upper stratosphere’ vocalist along the lines of Rey Parra (Sacred Warrior, Worldview), Ski (Faith Factor), David Taylor (former Jacobs Dream) and Vett Roberts (Recon), Darnell complements the multifaceted musical environs at hand every bit as much. Yes, on occasion he comes across slightly strained when stretching for a high not but otherwise delivers a technically solid and capable performance.
The True Strength traditional metal predisposition reveals itself on albums two opening cuts. “No Cheek Left To Turn” gets things going, a straightforward and no-nonsense mauler in which cacophonies of sledgehammer riffs and bulldozing rhythm section set the vehement tone at hand. Interestingly, upper end vocal melodies back the unflinching refrain. Albums title track ensues with the more elevated tempo. “Steel Evangelist” opens its first minute to compact guitar harmonies prior to settling into quite the expansive groove moving forward, with verses powering to galloping riffs and chorus upholding every bit the gutsy allure.
“Cilician Gates”, first of the albums seven to eight minute numbers, starts slow and creepy to stilly done guitars. The song elevates at once, with assertive rhythm guitars thrusting things ahead as an epic metal environs reveals itself in the form of the sweeping chorus and extended instrumental run carried by catchy riff action. At the mid-point is inspired narration from the Book of Acts detailing the happenings of the Apostle Paul.
“Don’t Take The Mark Of The Beast” is the albums complementary ten minute progressive epic- and a very good one at that! Musically, I like to think of it as apocalyptic Gothic metal, unflinching with its powerful guitar tinctures but every bit candid from the refrain that pleads of the listener “Don’t take the mark of the beast! Don’t take the mark!” Cirbo shines with his scintillating guitar harmonies and fantastic leads during the protracted instrumental interlude.
“The Fall Of The Ripest Apple” proves eight minutes of quintessential technical power metal, bold and brazen in maneuvering time signatures that range from the stark and absolute to those outright unmitigated. Again, the group is in top form instrumentally as galloping harmonies and riffs lead the way. In similar fashion, “Woe To The Sons Of Ishmael” approaches eight minutes but from a doom metal standpoint. All the expected ingredients are at hand: a down tuned and swarthy low end intermingled with bass heavy riffing all the while yielding a pervasive sense of melody. Such a low-key setting finds Darnell sounding particularly at home vocally.
“The War We Fight” stands out as quintessential power metal. Albums fastest and most raucous piece, it tromps its reckless six minutes to furious storms of cutting-edge guitars and browbeating bass that ups the energy exponentially. Early Jacobs Dream comes to mind. “Gabriel The Archangel” also kicks up the tempo but with a twist from including some decidedly modern guitar overtones. I am uncertain if this was intended from True Strength or not, but I find the effect flattering as another example of how it successfully merges and crosses multiple style boundaries.
Only a couple songs I am on the fence with. “Blood Waters The Cedars Of Lebanon”, another eight minute technical metal excursion, flexes and muscles with the best of them with a charging riff mentality but also loses me in falling a bit flat from a chorus standpoint. “Twenty-One Martyrs Clothed In Orange” is another powerhouse slugger, slower and trenchant with another unwavering doom-ish disposition but a slight receptiveness rears its head as well (chorus does not grab me in the same manner as some).
The re-mastering improves things overall in that gone is much of the bass heavy muddiness to the low end, while guitars and drums remain the centerpiece to the mix. Vocals, however, remain slightly forward in the mix. Of course, the new cover art is a significant step up when placed alongside the independent equivalent. Lyrics do not come with the 2-panel digi-pak packaging but are available at the following link: www.roxxproductions.com/steel-evangelist-lyrics
Lyrically, True Strength continues to take no prisoners and pull no punches with some of the most bold and forthright prose you will find. The group is one of the few (if only) to address the persecution of Christians on “No Cheek Left To Turn”:
Persecution is rising
They drive us Christians underground
All the atheists trying
To insult us at every turn
They're erasing our freedoms
Passing new laws every day
Our culture is dying
Every vestige is overturned
“The Fall Of The Ripest Apple” deals with the degradation of morals in today’s society:
It's amazing how far we've fallen
In such a short, short time
The greatest nation under God
Is now leading from behind
There has been a great degradation
Since our morals have declined
The last bastion of religious freedoms being forced to get in line
The Apostle Paul is the subject to “Cilician Gates”:
Shortly after Christ had risen; a man was called to serve in His name
Believers had feared him; persecution was part of his fame
But he changed on the road to Damascus; and Saul became Paul from that day
An apostle of the Lord; he set out on the world to proclaim
The Good News of our God spreads from here!
Through Cilician Gates
Traveling from Tarsus to Spain...
The Good News of our God spreads from here!
Others such as “Don’t Take The Mark Of The Beast” are aptly entitled:
A dark time is on the horizon
It's time to wake up and see
The governments are making a chip
To put inside you and me
They want us to bow to them
Submit ourselves to the world
To separate us from Jesus Christ
Their plan's become unfurled
“Woe To The Sons Of Ishmael” focuses on prophecy:
Look at the world and its patterns of violence
And you will see a trend start forming
Prophesy these divisions have been told
By the lips of the Angel of the Lord
Today the Middle East is up in flames
A lot of tyrants and rebels abound
Fighting everyone and everyone fighting them
The sands are stained with the blood of Abraham
Steel Evangelist is a classic example of a traditional-power-epic-Gothic-doom metal hybrid album. It presents with some fantastic material accordingly, with “Don’t Take The Mark Of The Beast”, “The War We Fight”, “The Fall Of The Ripest Apple” and “Woe To The Sons Of Ishmael” standing out among my favorites. Sound performances in the areas of guitar and vocals add to the value at hand. Yes, the group could have potentially cut a song or two to reduced playing time below 70 minutes and production would benefit from some tightening, but Steel Evangelist otherwise proves solid for an independent release. In the end, due to its ability to not only incorporate various forms of metal but the specific styles they incorporate, True Strength ranks among the many bands in which I am waiting with baited breath for a follow up release.
Review by Andrew Rockwell
Track Listing: “No Cheek Left To Turn” (5:04), “Steel Evangelist” (5:28), “Cilician Gates” (7:20), “Don’t Take The Mark Of The Beast” (10:18), “The Fall Of The Ripest Apple” (7:56), “Gabriel The Archangel” (5:44), “Woe To The Sons Of Ishmael” (7:53), “Blood Waters The Cedars Of Lebanon” (8:15), “Twenty-One Martyrs Clothed In Orange” (6:27), “The War We Fight” (5:45)
Ryan "The Archangel" Darnell - Lead Vocals, Rhythm Guitar & Bass
Josh Cirbo - Lead Guitar
Ryan Mey - Drums