|Musical Style: Metal/Hard Rock||Produced By: Neal Kearin & Steve Rowe|
|Record Label: Rowe Productions||Country Of Origin: Australia|
|Year Released: 2015||Artist Website: Rowe Productions|
|Tracks: 14||Rating: 70%|
Wonrowe Vision. As the name suggests, it’s the new side project of Steve Rowe, better known as vocalist, bassist and founding member of the groundbreaking Christian extreme metal band Mortification. Mortification, obviously, needs no introduction with its legacy Fort Knox secure from releasing fourteen studio albums, five live albums, three compilations and three DVD’s since its early nineties inception. No bounds can be attributed to the Mortification influence accordingly, having gained reputation as ‘one of the most credible Christian extreme metal bands in the world’ while serving to showcase down-tuned sledgehammer riffs, gruff vocals (with Rowe’s signature style often described as ‘grind baritone vocals of extreme reality’) and positive and spiritually uplifting lyrical themes.
Perhaps it was due to being in a creative rut or the simple need to branch out musically, but Rowe joined forces with guitarist Lincoln Bowen and drummer Andrew Esnouf in 2010 to form the new musical partnership that is Wonrowe Vision. Steering clear of the extreme metal boundaries inherit to Mortification, Wonrowe Vision took a ‘heavy edge rock n’ roll direction’ (in the artists own words) on its 2011 Silver Bullet Records full-length debut Mission Invincible. My impression (as taken from the 85% Angelic Warlord Mission Invincible review) is of ‘a joining of old school metal and hard rock backed by some punk based angst and attitude’. Imagine a mix of 70s era Black Sabbath and Motorhead with heavy doses of 80s traditional metal - not to mention other influences ranging from Tank to Resurrection Band to G.B.H. to Altar Boys to The Crucified - and you will have a good idea what Wonrowe Vision brings to the table.
Wonrowe Vision returns in 2015 with its third full-length album 2-Headed Monster, released in follow up to the compiling of new material, live tracks and lost demo recordings that was 2013 sophomore effort Pictures Of The Past Present And Future. 2-Headed Monster finds Rowe and company continuing to take a ‘rough edged by design’ approach (as also noted in the Mission Invincible review) from emphasizing raw as it gets production and toned down songwriting of a basic - but not simplistic - verse-chorus-verse variety. The results speak for themselves, with the trademark Wonrowe Vision near punk-like energy, generous slabs of distorted guitars, assaulting rhythm section and engaging hooks to spare continuing to make their presence felt. In other words, 2-Headed Monster takes the momentum garnered on Mission Invincible and runs with it!
Opening cut “Stone Elder” best embodies this, not quite heavy as Mortification in lacking those ‘down-tuned sledgehammer riffs’ but heavy all the same. The song otherwise proves quintessential Wonrowe Vision, pulsating with its reverberant rhythm section (bass literally breathes in the mix) but also exuding the understated catchiness that made the Mission Invincible material so unique. Immediate impression is of how Rowe has altered his vocal delivery, forsaking the gravely and brusque mode from Mission Invincible for a cleaner and decidedly upper register style. Relegated to the past in the process either way are those ‘grind baritone vocals of extreme reality’ in question!
The groups punk like energy comes to the forefront on “Now Stand”, storming in frenetic fashion to an equal joining of the blindingly energetic and impassionedly focused that has raucous written all over it. Lincoln Bowen tops things off with his furious lead guitar work. Likewise, “Commander” betrays and element of angst. A bass guitar driven mauler, the song sets a mercurial (almost speed metal) tone its reverberant distance as near frenzied verses align with a plunging chorus approaching the astringent. The Wonrowe Vision technical low-end presence particularly stands out on the two.
Up-tempo but not quite as torrid is “Ten 12 One + 2”. With its name drawn from the Book of James Chapter 1 verses 10-12 but also 1 and 2, the song exudes the same stalwart energy in an infectious format (refrain is quite catchy) with a dogged if not perseverant mentality overall. Bowen delivers another fanciful bluesy lead guitar stretch. Aptly entitled “Made Of Rock” gives rise to a scintillating metal-based feel, technical in form with its galloping riff inclination and freight train drum sound setting the merciless tone. Reinforced on both is how Rowe proves quite the underrated performed from a bass guitar standpoint.
Tempering impetus to a more mid-paced level is “GPS”. Standing for ‘God’s Plan of Salvation’, the song drives and plows unflaggingly in giving rise to a straightforward and curtly done ambience. In the end, what this one might lack in catchy demeanor more than makes up for in all out raw, power. “100% Vision” bulldozes front to back, again not the most melody driven but also battering with its demolishing riff action and splintering rhythm section assault. It is on the pair in which those Wonrowe Vision classic metal influences come to the forefront.
“2-Headed Monster” is this reviewer’s favorite cut. The albums title track proves a monumental doom metal slab, starting to a curt drum solo before a forlorn march of plodding guitars take over and power impetus ahead. Despite the downcast feel at hand, the song fails to forsake accessibility in that generous melody makes a statuesque statement. A bass solo opens an instrumental stretch with a cool jam-fusion feel to it. Great piece that makes you wish Wonrowe Vision had further explored the doom based side to its songwriting.
Lone track not to do it for me is “I’m Gonna Be A Good Looking Corpse”, another punk-ish barnburner that assaults relentlessly with the best of them. Not that the song is trite or falls within filler territory, rather it fails to establish itself (at least based upon my experience) due to its all too short two and a half minute length. What gets lost in transition is some of the abiding flair characteristic to the better material here. Again, my opinion, keeping in mind I can see how others might embrace it.
Closing things out are quality live versions of five 2-Headed Monster tracks that were recorded at Rowe’s 50th birthday party. Wonrowe Vision leaves little doubt as to its live and licks and chops in storming through rousing versions to
“2-Headed Monster”, “Ten 12 One +2”, “GPS”, “Mode Of Rock” and “I’m Gonna Be A Good Looking Corpse”. Of note is how Rowe explains the meaning behind the titles to “Ten 12 One +2” and “GPS”. I also appreciate how “I’m Going To Leave A Good Looking Corpse” translates better live with that much more infectious energy overall.
Packaging maintains the trend of previous Wonrowe Vision albums with eye catching black and white cover art. A digi-pak replaces the jewel case of the debut, with the enclosed mini-booklet folding out to feature an assortment of band photos along with lyrics and detailed liner notes.
Any album in which Rowe plays a lead songwriting role is going to uphold said ‘positive and spiritually uplifting lyrical themes’ and 2-Headed Monster proves no exception. “Now Stand” fulfills this role:
If you don’t stand for something
Then you will fall for anything
Make a decisive move, look towards your future
If you don’t stand for something
Then you will fall for anything
Show your gun, weapons high
Shoot the evil, straight between the eyes
As does “100% Vision”:
And the trouble time will come for all
You’ve gotta stand up or ya gonna fall
So lean upon the Rock of Ages
Got into The Book and look inside the pages
Because salvation is there for all
Take some time to give Him a call
It’s too late in eternity
Now is the time to set your spirit free
The subject to “Ten 12 One +2” has already been explained:
I am a servant of the One on most high
Listen to this from one who follows the Truth
To the 12 tribes scattered among the nations
Consider joy when you are facing the trials
Blessed is the man who battles on through the trials
He stands the test he will receive the crown of life
Again, “Made Of Rock” is aptly entitled:
The free climb up as the ladder is sent down
Help to others just in time
Gratefulness to the rescue mission
Saved by Redemption sent from Heaven
Reaching up to the One above
It is not me but the Son
With one skip button out of nine, 2-Head Monster does not equal the consistency of Mission Invincible, the stronger release overall with 11 equally good cuts. Perhaps wearing thin as a result is some of the ‘less is more’ (in a positive sense) appeal distinctive to Wonrowe Vision, referencing how the group took somewhat shaky vocals and even shakier production and turned them into strengths on Mission Invincible with the (again) noted tight songwriting and punk-based energy and swagger. If I were to invite comparison, I prefer the lower register vocals leanings to the debut (more befitting the music at hand), while 2-Headed Monster features better production, keeping in mind room for improvement still exists in the area. Regardless, I remain a supporter of Wonrowe Vision and its ‘old school’ and ‘throwback’ sound that merges the best aspects of the 70s and 80s; fans of either decade will find a lot to embrace here with 2-Headed Monster coming with solid recommendation as a result.
Review by Andrew Rockwell
Track Listing (Studio): “Stone Elder” (3:52), “Now Stand” (3:33), “2-Headed Monster” (4:26), “Commander” (3:53), “Ten 12 One +2” (3:45), “GPS” (3:19), “100% Vision” (3:54), “Made Of Rock” (3:21), “I’m Gonna Be A Good looking Corpse” (2:37)
Track Listing (Live): “2-Headed Monster” (4:37), “Ten 12 One +2” (4:25), “GPS” (4:01), “Made Of Rock” (3:11), “I’m Gonna Be A Good looking Corpse” (6:11)
Steve Rowe - Lead Vocals & Bass
Lincoln Bowen - Guitars
Adam Zaffa - Drums