|Musical Style: Hard Rock||Produced By: Kevin Windross & Mark Searle|
|Record Label: Independent||Country Of Origin: Australia|
|Year Released: 2012||Artist Website: Kevin Windross|
|Tracks: 5||Rating: 80%|
|Running Time: 25:11|
What could be better- more appealing, more interesting, and more perfect for metal and hard rock fans than another album from Early Warning System? The answer is a new solo release from the Canberra, Australia based group’s guitarist, Kevin Windross. Windross helped to found EWS following the turn of the century and played a lead songwriting role on the first and only album, Overworld, it released in 2006 (on Soundmass Records). EWS disbanded shortly thereafter, which prompted Windross to pursue a solo career. Standing Outside Circles, his first solo album from 2009, took an instrumental hard rock approach (sort of like Joe Satriani and Steve Vai) while his second, an early 2012 five song EP entitled Loud & Clear, finds the artist adding lead vocal duties to his repertoire.
Musically, Loud & Clear reminds me of EWS, which is not surprising since Windross composed not only all its material but is also joined by former EWS band mates Mark Searle (bass) and Ben Schumann (drums). Those already familiar with EWS will recognize the sound here: And that is guitar driven melodic hard rock with occasional progressive overtones. Where Loud & Clear takes things to the next level (and least in comparison to Overworld) is songwriting in that its material is more instantly accessible while still proving complex but not to the point of distraction.
Best exemplifying this is “Empty House”, a mid-paced hard rocker that is heavy but laid back at the same time, in addition to “Take Myself”, as a result of its heartfelt and bluesy driven touch, and “Broken Bridge”, taking an emotional semi-ballad approach. Those previously referenced progressive elements make their presence felt on “Soul Keeper”, with its variances from the aggressive to the still, and “I’ll Be There”, a mostly upbeat piece that transitions to a slower direction at the end.
What I appreciate about Loud & Clear is how it sidesteps the trappings of predictability. This is reflected in how its material was written with a certain commercial element in mind while also not staying true to any type of “script or formula” either. Several of the albums tracks, for instance, break from the melodic hard rock mold by featuring multiple instrumental sections (listen closely to “I’ll Be There” and “Empty House”) or a heaviness not always associated with the genre (consider the King’s X influenced guitar tones throughout, particularly on “Soul Keeper”).
Vocally, Windross contrasts with the higher end style of EWS front man David McCallum in showcasing a gritty and soulful mid-ranged presence. His lower end register helps lend to the overall heaviness to the Loud & Clear material, but he can also smooth things out with occasional touches of heart and passion.
Lead guitar also finds him breaking from the past, with this time the comparison to Standing Outside Circles. Whereas his playing on SOC was of a virtuoso style with shredding in abundance, Loud & Clear finds him taking a more measured approach and staying true to its material in the process. No, that does not mean his playing is any less able but rather different in that he redirects his energies by focusing on soloing of an emotional quality that lends to a bluesy heavy edge. Standing out are some periodic jam based fusion elements as well.
Solid support can be found in Searle and Schumann. The albums lush and full production allows Searle’s distinct bass lines to stand out in the mix while Schumann proves adept at complementing each song without overplaying.
Lyrics reflect the artist’s faith in focusing on life and relationships from a positive standpoint.
If you remain a fan of Early Warning System and have always wished for new material from the group then by all means check out Loud & Clear- you will not be disappointed. Likewise, those looking for something different - again, a focus on melodic hard rock with a heavy guitar emphasis and occasional progressive touches - would also do themselves a favor by checking Loud & Clear out. No, nothing to complain about, although I wish a few more songs had been included (the quality is such that I would like to hear more material in this direction).
Track By Track
“Empty House” opens things at a mid-paced tempo, smoothly flowing in exuding a relaxed feeling for its verses while underpinning an element of angst for the much harder edged chorus (which seems to lament over a broken relationship or lost love). A rumbling bass line comes to the forefront for the songs instrumental moments, including some fusion based lead guitar at the end.
“Soul Keeper” represents the albums longest at six minutes. This one also maintains the mid-paced leanings but with an even heavier disposition, some of the guitar tones have a King’s X-like quality to them, while allowing the occasional light and airy moment to play out. Instrumentally, the song breaks at the midway point for some poignantly charged soloing while closing the final minute in the same direction.
Some progressive undercurrents can be found on “I’ll Be There”. This is actually one of the albums more commercial pieces, check out the flowing almost pop-based feel to the chorus, but can deliver its share of muscle as well with a staunch upbeat proclivity and bouncing guitar walls. I particularly like how the song closes by slowing to a weightier and darker direction in allowing a tasteful keyboard solo to stand out.
“Broken Bridge” starts slowly to some gently played guitar, gradually building initiative until the rhythm guitar bursts in to shore up its full throttle chorus. Verses, contrastingly, head in the more tranquilly done direction. The bridge at the halfway point hits incredibly hard (more King’s X influenced guitar tones present) only to give way to some amplified soloing played with a great deal of feeling.
“Take Myself” starts to an offbeat keyboard solo prior to abruptly taking off in keyed up fashion. Things every bit as suddenly decelerate to the still and placed feeling that is the songs verses prior to the rhythm guitar rearing its head for a chorus heading in the more stalwart and forthright direction. The instrumental moments here range from all out hard rocking riffs to an animated lead guitar.
Review by Andrew Rockwell
Track Listing: “Empty House” (5:04), “Soul Keeper” (6:00), “I’ll Be There” (4:46), “Broken Bridge” (4:44), “Take Myself” (4:36)
Kevin Windross - Lead Vocals & Guitars
Mark Searle - Bass & Keyboards
Ben Schumann - Drums