|Musical Style: Metal/Hard Rock||Produced By: X-Terra & Paul Sinclair|
|Record Label: Independent||Country Of Origin: USA|
|Year Released: 2003||Artist Website:|
|Tracks: 13||Rating: 75%|
|Running Time: 63:24|
Anyone familiar with the eighties Christian metal scene is almost certain to be acquainted with the better bands from the era that failed to sign with a label: Soldier, Taker, Paradox, Apostle, Revelation, Crossforce, Armada, Chosen Stranger and a host of others. Critics back in the day heaped praise on the custom cassette demo releases from the aforementioned and bemoaned the fact less able contemporaries (in their humble opinion) got signed and recorded albums that (again, their opinion) were of inferior quality. More often than not, however, the critics got it right either way, in that when all is said and done a lot of talent ended up lost in the shuffle that never received a fair opportunity to reach its long-term potential. Therein also lays the problem in that the lone critique one can levy at said unsigned acts is that they had too short of a shelf life. How much value, for instance, can you place on a band the releases a demo or two and then disbands soon thereafter? I do not wish to be unfair either in light of the fact the inability to land a deal could easily have led to the limited lifespan of the previously noted to begin with. That said if the unsigned bands in question had stuck it out and persevered over the long haul perhaps things might have worked out differently…
Enter Pittston, Pennsylvania based X-Terra, one of the few (if only) groups to have gone against the grain and proven the exception to the rule in this regard. Despite forming in 1985 and remaining independent and unsigned its entire career, X-Terra never broke up and is still making music to this day. My first exposure to X-Terra was a review of its second demo in White Throne magazine issue 3 from 1987. To put things in proper time perspective other bands reviewed included Trytan (Celestial Messenger), Bride (Show No Mercy), Whitecross (Whitecross) and Leviticus (Setting For To The Earth). How is that for nostalgic? The review described X-Terra as “pretty decent blues rock” and exhibiting “real growth especially in the area of songwriting” despite the “sound (being) demo quality”. X-Terra went on to record a third demo in 1988 while also releasing three full-length albums over the next seven years: Who Said (1989), Experience The Power (1992) and New Terrain (1995). A self-titled album (exact release date unknown) followed before X-Terra rounded out its most recent line up in which vocalist and guitarist Bill Hunt joined founding members bassist Anne Kachline and drummer Bob Kachline. The three proceeded to put out the fifth X-Terra album, Wolves, in 2003 and sixth and seventh, X-Nihilo and From The Vault, in 2007 and 2010, respectively.
Lone Angelic Warlord X-Terra review (up to this point) is X-Nihilo, which I graded at 60% in “delivering a blend of metal and hard rock heavily influenced by both the seventies and eighties” and that “despite an occasional filler track is a solid effort from a musical standpoint”. Lone complaint revolved around production, which is of the “low budget variety” in coming across “weak and thin and (with) the drums buried in the mix”. I relegated X-Terra to the back of my mind (not exactly having been won over) until an Angelic Warlord reader got in touch and suggested I review Wolves due to it being (in his words) “way better (in comparison to X-Nihilo)”. The reader in question even went so far as to purchase a CD copy of Wolves and sent it to the sites mailing address- more bands deserve to have fans that are this devoted!
Musically, Wolves finds X-Terra exploring similar musical territory as X-Nihilo in merging aspects of straightforward hard rock, melodic metal and hard rock and acoustic rock with the same seventies and eighties influences. Where the albums sets itself apart is in the areas of songwriting from proving that much more consistent while also featuring the better all around material. That on Wolves taking the more upbeat and heavier direction impresses the most, starting with “Wake Up”, punchy and curtly done with a big drum sound and shouted background vocal driven chorus, but also includes “Wolves”, every but staunch with its snarling (almost astringent) mentality and riff action of an attacking variety. The two find vocalist Bill Hunt standing out with a smooth but versatile mid-ranged style rooted in the eighties (throughout the album you will find hints of Vince Neil, Brett Michaels and Dale Thompson in his delivery).
He also distinguished himself on “Calm Before The Storm” but this time from a lead guitar standpoint in lending an extended stretch of lightning-like soloing. The song, otherwise, comes across epic with its ethereally driven minute long opening and rousing remaining five minutes in which sublime rhythm guitars and periodic explosions align with an assertive refrain (upheld by more shouted backing vocals). An almost power metal feel comes to the forefront. Albums best track in which the X-Terra youthful energy cannot help but stand out.
The group can delve into straightforward hard rock as well. “Sell Anything” would sound right at home an any mid-period Rez Band album, smashing its three minutes to an incessant tempo and brazen guitar riffs that refuse to let up. Topping things off is Hunt’s blues drenched soloing. Likewise, “Where There’s A Will” proves cowbell driven hard rock with guitars plundering in and out of the mix and brazen chorus accented by keyboards. I cannot help but be reminded of the classic Rez Band track “Alienated” (off Mommy Don’t Love Daddy Anymore from 1981).
In terms of melodic hard rock, the emotional “All The Way” gives rise to a commercial essence from its up-tempo milieu in which lighter guitar tones and pronounced bass line hold sway. The intensely played lead guitar helps put the song over the top. “It Isn’t Love” maintains a similar heading in lacing acoustic guitars and keyboards to create an accessible environs (mid-paced but uplifting is the feel at hand). Those eighties elements cannot help but come to the forefront on this one. In the end, these two highlight a more tempered side to the X-Terra songwriting abilities.
X-Terra also delivers its share of musically darker moments. “God’s Grace”, albums longest at six and a half minutes, trudges front to back in exhibiting an ominous tincture of a bone chilling quality. The effect is swarthy and weighty but not to the point of sacrificing melody. In a similar vein, “Don’t Curse The Darkness” almost approaches the doom-like with its haunting aspects and churning low end- and proves quite catchy despite the angst. Great song (it would sound at home on Bride’s Silence Is Madness). “I’ve Had Enough” comes across as every bit the hulking plodder from its foreboding aura and discordant chorus backed by resounding drums. Note how Hunt sings in a lower register and brings to mind Alice Cooper in the process.
I find the albums slower material hit and miss. “We All Need A Hand To Hold” shines with its relaxed ballad based flavorings in which acoustic guitars and laid back Gospel feel play lead roles. On the other hand, “The Sun Will Shine Again” (bringing a pop basis with hints of keyboards) and “It Doesn’t Matter” (classic power ballad) struggle to hold up with part of the problem being their protracted six-minute plus lengths. The two tend to meander as a result and more often than not, I find my attention wandering.
Production represents a step up in comparison to X-Nihilo. The main difference is how low-end receives the more prominent mix (drums and bass stand out that much cleaner). That being said production is not perfect either in that some muddy elements still make their presence felt- not to the point of distraction but noticeable all the same (nothing that a professional mastering job could not resolve).
The fact X-Terra has stayed together for such an extended period tells me the group has its priorities in place. Not to sell its unsigned contemporaries short, but the impression I get from X-Terra is that a label deal was not necessarily its goal or at the very least not the benchmark for its success. Proverbs 11:3 sums things up best in this regard: The integrity of the upright guides them. The following question cannot help but be asked in response- towards which direction is your integrity guiding you? In the case of X-Terra, it is successfully walking a fine line between landing a label deal and staying the course and continuing to make music if they do not. Would one be out of line, as a result, to suggest more bands could learn from X-Terra’s example in the face of similar circumstances?
I agree wholeheartedly that Wolves is the stronger effort in comparison to X-Nihilo. Songwriting is better, with the group compiling a wealth of good material (some of it dating to the late eighties and up to the mid-nineties per the albums liner notes). Also note that all three X-Terra members contribute to songwriting, which helps lend to the albums overall consistency. Lone complaint is that perhaps the group could have trimmed Wolves by a song or two- noting the pair of slower tracks I tend to skip. Production is also a step but albeit not perfect. The quality to Wolves is such that we deserve to hear more from X-Terra in the future.
Review by Andrew Rockwell
Track Listing: “Wake Up” (3:30), “The Sun Will Shine Again” (6:21), “Wolves” (3:37), “Where There’s A Will” (3:37), “Calm Before The Storm” (6:14), “We All Need A Hand To Hold” (5:18), “Sell Anything” (3:10), “God’s Grace” (6:28), “It Isn’t Love” (5:14), “Don’t Curse The Darkness” (4:04), “All The Way” (4:59), “I’ve Had Enough” (4:44), “It Doesn’t Matter” (6:16)
Bill Hunt - Lead Vocals, Guitars & Keyboards
Anne Kachline - Bass
Bob Kachline - Drums