|Musical Style: Heavy Metal||Produced By: Rex Carroll|
|Record Label: Retroactive||Country Of Origin: USA|
|Year Released: 2015||Artist Website:|
|Tracks: 12||Rating: 85%|
In the mid-eighties, Whitecross began an odyssey that transformed it from a relatively unknown independent band with a self-financed cassette demo to its credit to one of the more highly regarded and successful acts to arrive out of the burgeoning ‘white metal’ scene of the time. The group traces its origin to founding member’s guitarist Rex Carroll and vocalist Scott Wenzel, whom met when Carroll started giving Wenzel guitar lessons. Since Carroll was looking for a vocalist and Wenzel a guitarist, the two formed a partnership that remains to this day. With bassist Jon Sproule and drummer Mark Held later rounding out its line up, Whitecross (a moniker drawn from Isaiah 1:18 - “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow”) went on to record said demo, which led to a deal with Pure Metal Records and the five full length albums, one EP, six compilations and one re-record album that followed.
Many hard music fans (this reviewer included) consider the 1987 Whitecross self-titled debut its finest effort musically, at least when factoring consistency in that it includes (in my opinion) only one skip button in ballad “You’re Mine”. Production, on the other hand, reflects the obvious low budget in which the group recorded the album. The 75% Angelic Warlord review of Whitecross described rhythm guitars as “weak and (deserving) to be beefed up”, drums as “hollow and monotonous” and bass “with a few exceptions (not discernable) in the mix”. In revisiting Whitecross when putting together this review, production is not bad as I remember (or describe) it, but I am sure you get the point- it would still benefit from the type of polish and tightening that only a complete makeover might bring.
Enter the summer of 2005 re-recorded version of Whitecross entitled appropriately Nineteen Eighty Seven. The group approached such an undertaking for the same reason Saint re-recorded its 1984 debut EP Warriors Of The Son around the same time: to take advantage of advances in studio technology not available twenty years previous. Initially released on Girder Records but re-issued in 2007 on Retroactive Records, Nineteen Eighty Seven features 9 of the 10 original Whitecross tracks in addition to bonus material in “Love On The Line”, first appearing on both the EP of the same name and Heavy Righteous Metal compilation (both 1988), and instrumental “Re-Animate”. A second Retroactive ‘Gold Edition’ re-issue from the fall of 2015 (noting the revised gold tinted cover art as opposed to the black of the original) includes a new bonus track in “Angel’s Wing”.
After listening to both versions side by side, Nineteen Eighty Seven represents a vast improvement in terms of the bigger and more polished sound overall. Drums come across with greater projection and authority, while bass now plays that much of a substantial and pronounced role. Rhythm guitars dig and bite with an edgier and heavier metal-based feel. Upshot is a higher level of big budget professionalism in which the re-record stands ‘head and shoulders’ above the original as a result.
There is no doubt that Rex Carroll, of the multiple Heaven’s Metal Guitar Hero Awards, has maintained his virtuoso licks and chops over the years. If anything, the re-record gives Carroll that much more opportunity to exhibit said abilities in that present are an abundance of extended leads and fills (at the start and close of several songs) not present on the original. In other words, the opportunity to experience his adept soloing in such a highly upgraded package is worth the price of the album alone!
Finally, there is Scott Wenzel, who continues to contribute his gritty and raw Stephen Pearcy (Ratt) influenced lead vocal style. It has always been my opinion that Wenzel hit his stride on Whitecross follow up efforts Hammer And Nail (1988) and Triumphant Return (1989) in performing - and I am not the only party to reinforce this - the sassy Ratt based mode of singing even better than Pearcy. The years, however, have found him aging somewhat in that he exhibits a bit more of a gravelly presence from a lower register standpoint but otherwise performs up to standard with his immediately recognizable style.
Also, note that for the re-record bassist Antonio Acevedo and drummer Michael Feighan have replaced Sproule and Hedle, respectively.
The Carroll and Wenzel legacy begins with opening track “Who Will You Follow”, a classic in which Carroll blazes away with his skillful leads and riffs throughout an upbeat and freight train momentum driven environment. Hooks galore prevail along with an anchoring bass line of the intrepid variety. The bass driven fortitude spills over onto “Enough is Enough”, another Whitecross staples in which equal parts grainy and scratchy align with a laid back heaviness that has metal laced blues written all over it. This one ranks among my favorites from the group.
Likewise with “He Is The Rock”, a metal anthem powerhouse in which rhythm guitars stand out thick and crunchy and the big as it gets hooks of the clamoring chorus dominate an unflagging landscape. Lone different is that the re-record does not make use of the gang shouted backing vocals, which I kind of miss from the original. “No Way I’m Goin’ Down” represents every bit the showstopper. The song still starts to the trademark drum solo that gives away to slashing guitars, with the resulting manifest aggression ranking among the all time heavy Whitecross moments. Carroll slays on lead guitar.
“Lookin’ For A Reason” remains melodic metal paradise. Albums most commercial, “Lookin’ For A Reason” reaches for the accessible (catchy chorus maintains its engaging essence) while upholding the signature Whitecross decisiveness (verses revel in melodic guitar harmonies and powering drums). Similar to the original, a tasteful extended lead guitar break carries the instrumental moments.
Nineteen Eighty Seven maintains the continuity throughout its deep cuts that, while not on the same par as those preceding, are quite good nonetheless. “Seein’ Is Believin’” touches upon mid-paced traditional metal, riff driven with its implacable front to back guitar aspects but staunch in upholding the same bottom heavy mentality. “All I Need” yields every bit the guitar based focus but in the more up-tempo package with backing vocals now heavier and energy levels upped overall.
Each Whitecross album features a Rex Carroll open-air guitar solo and Whitecross started the tradition with “Nagasake”, a minute and a half journey of blistering pyrotechnics and classical influenced guitar wizardry that will literally leave your jaw dropping. Closer “Signs Of The End” takes over as “Nagasake” fades out. Another driving slab of straight on metal, “Signs Of The End” proves keyed up in capacity as Michael Feighan’s persuasive drum presence and another churning bass line set the decisive tone at hand. Satisfyingly, the song still ends to the same extended stretch of shred lead guitar.
Many will notice “You’re Mine” missing from the track listing, which makes sense in light of how Wenzel’s raspy vocals do not always mesh with ballads heavy in keyboards and orchestration- I like to think of it as a square peg in a round hole scenario. This in no way implies Wenzel cannot handle ballads, as he does a very fine job on hard rock ballad “My Love” (High Gear from 1992) and acoustic basis of “Behold” (Triumphant Return from 1989).
In place of “You’re Mine” is my all time favorite Whitecross song, “Love On The Line”. Six minutes of trenchant bluesy heaviness, “Love On The Line” plays up sledgehammer guitar riffs and the catchy proclivity that is its dramatic “Jesus carried your sorrows and grief He has known” chorus. Carroll lets loose with some of his best-ever lead work, both at the songs halfway and end-points.
Of the bonus material, “Re:Animate” is a cool Satriani style fusion instrumental in which Carroll, as one might imagine, takes opportunity to show off his licks and chops in abundance. A catchy melody leads the way along with some relaxed and low-key groove based flavorings. Which leads to the question at hand: Why hasn’t he recorded an entire album of instrumental cuts in such direction? “Angel’s Wing” is another open air guitar solo of the type we have come to expect (and appreciate) from the artist.
It deserves note the quality to the ‘Gold Edition’ Retroactive packaging, which comes in a 6-panel digi-pack with scans of the original artwork, line notes that go into detail about the albums background and several vintage band photos. Lyrics are not included but they are available at the Firestream Music Vault.
Said lyrics reflect unequivocally the faith of Carroll and Wenzel. “Who Will You Follow” manifests this with its straightforward salvation message:
Who will you follow
Satan or The Author of Life
Jesus paid the price
God made the sacrifice for you
Do you feel like you're losing the war
Jesus said, "I am the Door"
And you'll fall away if you disobey
As does “Lookin’ For A Reason”:
I know a way, yes I do
His loving arms, oh, they are reaching out to you
He knocks at your heart's door
He longs to come in
And when He forgives. He forgives all your sin
Jesus said, "I do care"
Jesus said "I'll be there"
“His Is The Rock” focuses on eternal decision-making:
Losing’ direction, you’re a pawn of the night
Played with the darkness you hid from the light
You’re searching for heaven but your body is sick
When will you realize you fell for the trick
There is way that seems right to a man
That many have traveled before
You must choose between the jaws of hell
Or find life through the narrow door
“Signs Of The End” deals with end time themes:
We have to realize this world will fall away
But God sent his Son the Word to guide you on your way
These are signs of the end
Get this through your head
Live for signs of the end of the age
These are signs of the end
And soon will all come true
Watch for signs of the end
This warning is for you
Triumphant Return traditionally has been my favorite Whitecross album in featuring (what is my opinion) the best combination of songwriting, production and performance from the group. Whitecross always followed a close second in that I took pleasure in the songs but not so much the production. Nineteen Eighty Seven, on the other hand, leapfrogs Whitecross into a tie with Triumphant Return in bringing the needed strength of production to match songwriting. A highly recommended work for those looking for an upgraded version to the debut that also comes with some very creditable bonus material.
Review by Andrew Rockwell
Track Listing: “Who Will You Follow” (4:31), “Enough Is Enough” (4:32), “He Is The Rock” (3:50), “Lookin’ For A Reason” (3:34), “No Way I’m Goin’ Down” (4:55), “Seein’ Is Believin’” (4:39), “All I Need” (4:17), “Nagasake” (1:55), “Signs Of The End” (4:13), “Love On The Line” (6:09), “Re:Animate” (4:01), “Angel’s Wing” (1:41)
Scott Wenzel - Lead Vocals
Rex Carroll - Guitars & Bass
Antonio Acevedo - Bass
Michael Feighan - Drums