Reviews: A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z
XT - Saved By The Blood
   
Musical Style: Melodic Hard Rock Produced By: Björn Stigsson
Record Label: Talking Music Country Of Origin: Sweden
Year Released: 2017 Artist Website:
Tracks: 8 Rating: 85%
Running Time: 45:29

XT - Saved By The Blood

Sadly, the Angelic Warlord DeLorean time machine suffered irreparable damage in a recent attempt to go back to the early nineties and circumvent the grunge movement.  But let’s imagine for a moment it’s still working, and that we can use it to send the fall of 2017 Talking Music fourth full length album from XT, Saved By The Blood, 40 years into the past.  There’s no doubt it would be a sensation, what with a seventies influenced sound heavily rooted in AOR tinged melodic hard rock (hooks aplenty of a commercial form) and classic rock (laced with abounding blues elements and the organ to match).

XT remains a project of veteran Swedish musician’s guitarist Björn Stigsson and vocalist Sonny Larsson.  Stigsson, of course, is best known for his work in Leviticus, the at times metal and others melodic hard rocking act with four studio albums to its credit, including I Shall Conquer (1983), The Strongest Power (1985), Setting Fire To The Earth (1987) and Knights Of Heaven (1989).  Larsson got his start in Motherlode, having fronted the melodic metal and hard rock of its 1986 debut The Sanctuary, but did not work with Stigsson until he contributed vocals to six tracks off his 1987 solo album Together With Friends (a wonderful work that desperately needs to be re-mastered and re-issued).

Such partnership led to the formation of XT and its 1992 Viva Records self-titled debut, an AOR infused work that featured strong performances from the two but also highlighted a bit too much keyboard heavy polish for my taste.  Second and third albums, Taxfree and Extended Empire, both also on Viva and released in 1993 and 1998 respectively, better represents the group’s potential, with former trending commercial hard rock territory and latter upping heaviness with a straight on metal-based sound.  Despite not having worked together since the mid-nineties, Stigsson and Larsson regrouped alongside Jerusalem member’s bassist Peter Carlsohn and keyboardist Dan Tibell in addition to Modest Attraction drummer Mick Nordström to record perhaps its finest album to date in Saved By The Blood.

I always identified with Larsson as one of the highest high-pitched vocalists I have heard, a particular I say in the kindest sense, but the passing of over twenty years robbed him of some of his high-end capabilities.  Take this, of course, as natural observation in that now I might describe his style instead as classic tenor intertwined with some becoming middle register heart and grit.  The point being he maintains a high level of aptitude nonetheless in singing within the framework of his capabilities and does not strain or overdue it in the process.

That would be the best way to describe his performance on opening cut “Watchman”, which does a good job embodying the newfound XT seventies based sensibilities.  The song - not unlike much of the Saved By The Blood material - revels in mid-paced with an easy going and laid back form yielding an even mix of definitive guitars and Hammond B3.  All the while Larsson knows when to smooth things out or lend an edge of grit in playing to the melody at hand.

“The One” starts to a brief keyboard solo prior to moving its length at the more forthright tempo, revealing the rawer sound with heavier guitars (for the agile verses) and continued emphasis on organ (lacing the refrain with its catchy ‘whoah, oh, oh, oh’ harmony vocals).  A light pop essence comes to the forefront in the process but not to the point of distraction.  Of equal note is how the manner in which timekeeper Nordström helps reinforce the low end. 

Albums single of which the group recorded a video, “I Will Follow You” returns things to mid-tempo territory in representing by far the heaviest of the eight Saved By The Blood tracks.  Keyboards continue to make their presence felt, albeit not to a fault, along with light tinges of acoustic guitar, which helps make the refrain that much more engaging.  Lending to the heavier rocking setting at hand is Stigsson’s extended stretch of bluesy lead guitar. 

Lone song to come into question is ballad “All Of Your Love”, and that is not due to a lack in quality (it is quite solid actually), but rather on an album with a heavy mid-tempo slant a faster and more upbeat track might have worked better.  Musically, it moves its length in a relaxed manner to big doses of piano, organ and backing vocals as Larsson again puts in a fine showing with his smooth, tenor vocal abilities. 

Second upbeat cut “What’s Going On” features a guitar rhythm similar to that of classic Leviticus song “Born Again” (off Knights Of Heaven).  Outside of that, it is its own song, as found in more pronounced guitars - Saved By The Blood sidesteps the overly slick feel to the Knights Of Heaven production - and an almost underlining dance beat groove courtesy of bassist Peter Carlsohn.  I wish there were a few more high-energy pieces along this line here.

“The Last Supper” returns things to mid-tempo territory but without backing from quality.  The song gets underway to atmospheric keyboards, which soon join with wieldy (and quite catchy) guitars that maneuver in and out of the mix.  Verses that follow revisit the atmospheric leanings in slowing to a near crawl, while refrain contrasts in picking up impetus with its impassioned ‘this is the last night we are together. I’m leaving the earth and going to my Father’ semblance.  Musically and lyrically, “The Last Supper” serves to introduce the two-part magnum opus that is closing tracks “The Crucifixion” and “The Resurrection”.   

“The Crucifixion” in my opinion represents albums best number with its twelve-minute portrayal of the crucifixion of Christ.  I like to think of it as a more extended version of the Bloodgood track “Crucify” (off Detonation from 1987), covering the subject in the same affecting manner but with a bit more detail than the three-minute Bloodgood rendering.  Whereas Bloodgood opted to go a near speed metal route, XT takes its leisurely mid-paced time while not forsaking key areas of heaviness and melody, which allows the song to hold up despite its length (at least that is my experience, noting I am a big progressive aficionado).

“The Crucifixion” breaks down between two parts, with the first covering Christ’s betrayal, arrest and trial while interspersing the breathtaking chorus throughout:

Here is my Son, He is the one
Who will save you all from a certain death
My only Son… and all of mankind
Will be reached about His sacrifice
My only Son

Second half provides a dramatic reenactment of the crucifixion, including the crowd repeatedly shouting ‘crucify’, the nails being hammered, dialogue with the believing thief and Christ’s final words on the cross (provided by Larsson): ‘Father, forgive them for they know not what they do’.  It adds up to as perfect a progressive masterpiece as you will find, and for me song of the year.

What Bloodgood’s “Messiah” is to “Crucify”, XT’s “The Resurrection” is to “The Crucifixion”.  The song effectively sums things up in providing a fitting closure to the two-song ‘suite’, lightening things musically with guitars in a reduced role and keyboards in a forward position in allowing a bountiful melody to carry both verses and refrain.  An elevated if not becoming victorious ambience is the feel in light of the subject at hand.

I find production immaculate with perfectly placed keyboards - I cannot say enough good things about the work of Tibell - and more than adequate guitars to approach hard rock territory.  Nothing to complain of in that all aspects of the recording process are present in needed amounts.  Likewise, packaging gets the job done with the darker feel to the cover art in line with the musical leanings at hand and booklet containing easy to read lyrics, band photos, etc.

It would be sufficient to say that the Saved By The Blood lyrics are inspired in pointing towards Christ.  “I Will Follow You” embodies the albums straightforward message:

For God so loved the world
That He gave us His only Son
Anyone who believes in Him
Should not perish
But to have eternal life

God didn’t send His Son to condemn
But to save you and me

As does “Watchman”:

Trust the One who conquered it all
He paid the price for you
And keep Him close deep in your heart
Say these words and open your eyes

I am found, I was lost, now I’m free
Give me strength to carry on

Subject matter to “The Last Supper”, “The Crucifixion” and “The Resurrection” is self-explanatory-

“The Last Supper”:

He took the bread, blessed and broke it
This is my body, take and eat
He took the wine and give it to them
This is my Blood of the new covenant

But one of you have already betrayed me
One of you who eat with me

“The Crucifixion”:

The priests took Jesus to Pilate
And accused Him to get Him crucified
What evil has He done he asked
He claims to be the king of the Jews
I will release the killer Barabbas or Jesus, your choice
- Barabbas
And Jesus the king of Jews, what do you want me to do with Him
- Crucify

“The Resurrection”:

You seek Jesus of Nazareth
He was crucified but He’s not here
He is risen from the dead
Tell His disciples the news
Don’t’ be afraid for He is risen now

He’s alive, and He lives in me
Christ set me free, I rejoice in the Lord

Repeat listen reveals Stigsson, Larsson and company to have put tremendous effort into the Saved By The Blood material, with such hard work paying off from how each song manifests that one quality - notable melody, catchy riff, engaging harmony, etc - that allows it to stand on its own.   Lone complaint is that the album strains a bit too much towards the mid-tempo- so perhaps replacing ballad “All Of Your Love” with an upbeat rocker would have revealed the better balanced track listing overall. Outside of that, Stigsson was smart in surrounding himself with such a group of talented, veteran musicians, with the results speaking for themselves.  If a fan of XT or any of the projects to feature Stigsson or Larsson, then make Saved By The Blood a priority purchase.  Finally, as for the time travelling DeLorean thing, do not make the same mistake I did and neglect to purchase the extended warrantee…  

Review by Andrew Rockwell 

Track Listing: “Watchman” (6:02), “The One” (3:42), “I Will Follow You” (4:45), “All Of Your Love” (4:06), “What’s Going On” (4:18), “The Last Supper” (5:19), “The Crucifixion” (12:41), “The Resurrection” (4:37)

Musicians
Sonny Larsson - Lead Vocals
Björn Stigsson – Guitars, Keyboards & Moog Taurus
Dan Tibell - Keyboards & Hammond
Peter Carlsohn - Bass & Moog Taurus
Mick Nordström - Drums

 

Reviews: A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z
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