|Musical Style: Metal/Hard Rock||Produced By: Wayne Johnson & Ray Kreiner|
|Record Label: Raging Storm||Country Of Origin: USA|
|Year Released: 2009||Artist Website:|
|Tracks: 10||Rating: 80%|
|Running Time: 47:08|
The history of Under Command dates back to the late nineties and the material guitarist Wayne Johnson and drummer Steve Songy put together for the groups 1999 full length debut Secret Place Of Thunder. A partnership with Fight Cloud Records later ensued, resulting in the 2001 project Damage Control (that soon went out of print when Fight Cloud closed its doors), before Under Command followed up with its second album, Seeing Red from 2002, and a twelve song acoustic release entitled The Acoustic Experience. Proceeding to go on a seven year hiatus, Under Command returned by signing with Raging Storm Records and putting out its fourth full length album in early 2009, Back In The Thick.
Back In The Thick proves as aptly entitled work as you will find. Yes, an onslaught of thick (no pun intended) and crunchy guitars permeates the project – a hard hitting combination of straightforward hard rock and all out metal – along with sledgehammer drums and Wayne Johnson’s gravelly mid-ranged vocal presence.
The song titles, at the same time, complement the music at hand with their aggressive feel: “Cut Too Deep”, “Stomp Down” and “Dangerous” move in a mid-paced heading and “Damage”, “Molten” and “Back In The Thick” a more up-tempo direction. The lone hold out – both musically and song title wise – is the semi ballad “Breathe Again”.
Musically, the material here might not be catchy in the commercial sense but still brings enough weighty hooks to sink your teeth into. If anything, the project proves quite consistent in that there are no filler tracks or anything I am tempted to skip over. That said, it did take several listens for Back In The Thick to grow on me – and there is a slight “sameness feel” to some of the songs here – but over the long term the album proved well worth the time and investment.
Wayne Johnson ranks at the top of my list of underrated guitarists. Yes, his rhythm guitar sound is done with the right amount of edge in being placed up front in the mix – a testament to the albums raw but clean production values – but it is as a soloist that he truly shines. A fiery side to his lead guitar abilities can be found on “Cut Too Deep” and the albums title track while “Bone” reflects a more blues driven feel. “Rebuilt” both begins and ends to stretches of screaming guitar feedback.
Supporting Wayne is a solid rhythm section of bassist Julie Johnson (who also provides backing vocals) and precise drummer Johnny Ray Murr.
“Cut Too Deep” can best be described as a powerhouse rocker with its aggressive riffing, heavy duty drum sound and strapping aura. I particularly enjoy how the song briefly tapers just past the three minute mark before taking off to a stretch of fiery soloing. A sharp and too the point chorus is as terse as it gets:
The ultimate sacrifice has been given
And it’s waiting here for you
Cut too deep, cut too deep
Bleeding for me
The pace picks up with “Damage”. Introduced to a stretch of acoustic guitar, the song kicks into high gear as the rhythm guitar steps forward and briskly leads the way to a hook laden chorus underlined by female backing vocals. Wayne again shows his talent with his distorted soloing abilities.
“Stomp Down” returns the album to its aggressive ways. Another big guitar sound and hulking low end play a prevailing role here, upholding its tempered verses and a chorus heading in the more contentious direction. The bass guitar pervades the mix while the lyrical direction proves why this one is aptly entitled:
If trust is the game which direction do I go?
But if I wander off don’t leave me far behind
I’ll realize my mistake and race back to Your side
Nothing comes between me and my God
Stomp down on the neck of the enemy
Stomp down real hard
Under Command flexes its mid-tempo muscles on “Dangerous”. A churning piece, the song brings a sharp sounding chorus along with a plethora of furious momentum that carries its full five minute length. Wayne Johnson stands out with his gritty vocal delivery.
A semi ballad approach is taken on “Breathe Again”. The song starts evenly to tight guitar harmony only to decelerate to a pronounced bass guitar upon obtaining its first verse. Slowly meandering ahead, “Breathe Again” does not regain the initiative until the rhythm guitar rollicks back to fortify its ardent chorus. More female backing vocals make their presence felt. Faith in times of pressure is the subject at hand:
Suffocating, can’t hear the words I speak
Not sure of what’s got ahold of me
But its grip I will break
Held right where You want me
Grounded in Your truth
The only thing You wanted
Was for me to call on You
“Back In The Thick” can best be described as an all out shred fest. Fast paced and up-tempo, the albums title track stirs up quite the storm in racing its distance to sprinting guitar riffs and more blistering lead work (this one finds Wayne really cutting loose). Quite the enticing hook as well.
“Aryumay”, a track with a title that seems to be a play of words on “are you me”, almost reflects a doom-ish tinge as a result of the low key swarthiness of its opening. The pace picks up, however, as the song moves ahead in the more decisive manner in maneuvering its husky verses and near guttural chorus. No, not the albums catchiest but solid nonetheless. “Aryumay” focuses on times of trial:
I want, no I need everything you promised
You came to me, even when times were hardest
You say YOU know the war raging inside me
Never to let go and always go down fighting
Just be still I am here
Your beginning and ending…
“Bone” brings elements of the muscular and the melodic. Muscular in terms of its hard charging verses – driven harshly by an unflappable rhythm guitar – and melodic in terms of a chorus in which the seething environment smoothes itself out. Wayne again stretches with another span of adept soloing.
“Molten” starts to a stretch of funky sounding guitars before taking off in metal edged fashion. Moving forward with the rhythm guitar hammering in and out of the mix, the song establishes a fixed environs for its melodically tinged bridge and the bristling chorus that follows. Great driving riff on this one. “Molten” deals with being refined through life’s circumstances:
Crank up the pressure, turn up the heat
Overload the power, refine me
And it’s all going to go away
I know where this world is going
It can keep spinning on and on
But in the meantime I’ll be molten…
Introduced to several seconds of distorted guitar, “Rebuilt” delivers a wallop with its offensive minded guitar assault and harshly delivered chorus. The song briefly slows at its halfway point at the start of an instrumental section carried by a run of melodic based lead guitar. One of the highlights to “Rebuilt” is the screaming guitar feedback closing out its final seconds.
Review by Andrew Rockwell
Track Listing: “Cut Too Deep” (4:46), “Damage” (4:17), “Stomp Down” (4:51), “Dangerous” (5:03), “Breathe Again” (5:39), “Back In The Thick” (4:09), “Aryumay” (4:43), “Bone” (4:31), “Molten” (4:33), “Rebuilt” (4:36)
Wayne Johnson – Lead Vocals & Guitars
Julie Johnson – Bass & Vocals
Johnny Ray Murr - Drums