|Musical Style: Power Metal||Produced By: Jim Faraci|
|Record Label: Noise||Country Of Origin: USA|
|Year Released: 1995||Artist Website:|
|Tracks: 10||Rating: 90%|
|Running Time: 40:21|
I have been pretty effervescent in my praise for many of the better power metal albums to have been released in recent months. Just last week, for instance, I described the new Golden Resurrection album, One Voice For The Kingdom, as “assertive yet accessible” in addition to being the “heavier and more up-tempo of (the groups three releases)”. InnerSiege, with its debut Kingdom Of Shadows, brought a “cohesive group of songs that all lend to repeat play”, while the material on the initial solo offering from vocalist Germán Pascual, A New Beginning, “(breathes) of melody while oozing with every bit as much high energy emotion and impassioned underpinnings”.
Potential trappings in this scenario, however, come in the form of being so enamored with current artists that those of the past with just as much acclaim get overlooked or forgotten altogether. The fact is that the success of a good percentage of contemporary groups can be attributed to “old school” counterparts that literally “cut their teeth” or “paved the way” for those that followed. San Diego, California based Zaxas is one such act. Forming in the mid-eighties when stationed in Japan while in the Marine Corp, the group recorded a demo entitled White Room Life in 1992 prior to signing with Noise Records for its self-titled debut full length from 1995.
Never heard of Zaxas? If not then you’re not alone. The group pretty much “fell beneath the radar” with the main reason being it put out its first album during an era in which the scene had taken a grungy turn for the worse. In other words, there was not much of a market for what Zaxas was producing musically at the time. But do not let that dissuade you in that the group presents with a level of quality rivaling their modern equivalents, who, once more, owe a measure of their success to the hard working acts (including but not limited to Zaxas) that preceded them.
What Zaxas brings to the table is a technical take on the power metal genre. Yes, the group’s songwriting is intricate and complex, almost to the point of head spinning. The typical Zaxas song might start with a verse or two and then descend into its first or second bridge; this is followed by another verse, a final bridge, one more verse before finally reaching the refrain. By this point we are nearly halfway through the song. Not you’re typical three cords and a cloud of dust power metal, huh?
Examples of the group’s technical flair include “The Anvil”, energetic yet accessible in scope, “White Room Life”, starting slowly prior to building force for its charged refrain, and “Ashes To Ashes”, almost bordering on the progressive with its tempo changes. “In The Beginning” also brings its intricacies but in the more dramatic and sublimely done package.
Solid hooks are delivered by “Revolving Door” and “Soul Survivor”, two of the albums faster and more upbeat pieces, while “Last Chance Believer” also plays up its share of melody. What the three stay true to is the group’s emphasis on complex songwriting arrangements. The same applies to the darker, heavier results yielded by “Images Of Princes” and “Mr. Primetime” in addition to the slugfest of surging bass lines and recoiling guitars that is “Lies In The Balance”.
Zaxas, obviously, shies from the European power metal slant of the acts referenced in the opening paragraph. No, comparison might not be fair, but you will not find any keyboards, over-the-top-big-budget polish or classical, symphonic and bombastic overtones here either. Rather, the focus in on crisp and clean production that places guitars at their rightfully forward place in the mix. It also allows more than adequate room for the bass and drums to stand out. Credit goes to producer Jim Faraci, who has worked with the likes of Tourniquet, Ratt, Poison and Dio, for putting the “power” in the Zaxas power metal sound.
Zaxas also presents with more than its share of talent. It starts with front man Dale Anthony with his Dio influenced vocal style. Mostly maintaining a smooth mid-ranged presence, he can also hit a high note with ease or descend into some lower register grit and gravel. To say that he is a natural for the position would be an understatement. He combines with Mikki Suvia for quite the potent guitar team, the two combining for adept soloing that ranges from the freely flowing (“The Anvil”) to the brazen (“Images Of Princess”) to the emotional (“In The Beginning”). Contemporaries such as John Berry (Jacobs Dream), Kevin Grose (InnerSiege) and Michael Phillips (The Sacrificed) come to mind as a result.
I hesitate to pigeonhole Zaxas a Christian band. Band of Christians might be the more accurate term, at least in light of band commentary in an interview from Heaven’s Metal 54: “We’re not a Christian band in the sense of Tourniquet or a Petra, or someone who is going out to preach the Gospel. Our focus has never really been to reach the Christian audience with our message. Our focus has always been to introduce our message to the world- the people who I think need it the most”. In terms of specific, lyrics are positive in addressing subject including the Bible (“The Anvil”), creation ( “In The Beginning”), inevitability of death (“Ashes To Ashes”) and political matters (“Lies In The Balance”).
It is still a pleasure to listen to the self-titled Zaxas debut after over 15 years. The album remains a consistent work, with ten equally good songs reflective of the bands extensive experience of the time: Keep in mind Zaxas had a ten year history prior to entering the studio and, obviously, had a plethora of quality material to choose from. Songs, at the same time, are so tightly performed you can tell the band had been playing them for years at local clubs, festivals, etc. Those still fans of Zaxas - and who have been disappointed the group has not produced anything in follow-up - will be delighted to know that three of the four original members have reformed and are currently at work on a new album entitled Returns The Machine.
Track By Track
The guitar distortion at the start of “The Anvil” soon gives way to a slamming rhythm section. The song proves unwavering its remaining distance, knocking and plowing ahead as it interweaves between staunchly done verses and bridge taking the more concise heading. The guitar distortion returns at the start of an instrumental passage carried by blazing lead guitar. Lyric snippet:
The anvil stands alone
The hammer's come & go
Tired and useless worn away
Attack the golden rule, the genius & the fool
How can man destroy what man has not made
The liar and the law, one will soon be gone
The dead man's ashes rest upon the stone
It's more that just a chance or blind coincidence
The fire starts to burn but the paper remains
Taking the slower but heavier heading, “Images Of Princess” proves the darker and more churning piece, almost bringing to mind Wicked Generation era Sacred Warrior. The song sets an ominous tone for its unwavering verses, picking up pace for its elevated bridge prior to exploding for what amounts a smoothly driven refrain. Guitar leads take the nastier tone this time around.
A rawer metal direction is taken on “Mr. Primetime”. Launching at once to walloping drums and abounding guitars, the song proceeds to maul its way in no-nonsense fashion in giving rise to some portent aspects bordering on the doom-like. Impetus briefly lightens prior to a snarling instrumental excursion. Barren Cross comes to mind in the process.
“Lies In The Balance” highlights full-on front to back energy. The song kicks up quite the storm, with the rhythm section playing quite the pronounced role (albums best palpitating bass line can be found), hitting hard as it gets in powering through its forcefully done bridge and more melodically tinged chorus. One cannot help but appreciate the steadfast feel this one brings to the table. Lyric snippet:
Lies become facts when you word them just right
Keeping your lover pushed way out of sight
Changing your hair for the crowd I was in
"Say whatever they want man, just as long as you win"
I have been taken by words I was told
I bought a package that's not what you sold
"Hidden in places, they can't see a trace of my lies"
"Keep all those faces away from my revealing eyes"
A three minute energy burst, “Revolving Door” represents the albums most energetic and upbeat. The song slowly fades in prior to battering the rest of its way, with the mindset steadfast and guitars setting the spirited tone in highlighting some speed metal aspects. Of note is the understated melody that cannot be denied.
“In The Beginning” proves the albums most dramatic. The song starts quietly to acoustic guitar and bass only to pick up impetus at once, exuding some faster to slower tempo changes throughout in setting quite the histrionic tone. Things slow to a near crawl for a quietly played guitar at the halfway point prior to momentum returning to its grit laden ways. The albums best stretch of emotional lead guitar gently fades out at the end. Lyric snippet:
In the beginning
When the heaven and earth are one
To be or not to be
What have we done?
In the beginning when earth was but a wasteland
And the darkness covered all the eyes could see
In the beginning before the dark bowed to the light
And the mighty winds had swept across the sea
And the light cracked through the sky
And the birds began to fly
And the new formed earth
Was seen through man's eyes
“Soul Survivor” represents this reviewer’s choice track. Another high energy piece, the song batters its way to rollicking riff action in highlighting its share of stately tendencies (put this one on any Jacobs Dream album and it would sound right at home). Refrain, fittingly, proves sweeping and snarling while plenty of melodies and harmonies can be found throughout, particularly during the instrumental moments.
The mid-paced flair to “White Room Life” delivers a wallop. The song starts slowly by cruising its more tempered verses and muscle driven bridge (guitar really deliver quite the bit here), gaining further initiative upon obtaining an appropriately force driven chorus. Powerful and weighty are the first words that come to mind. Lyric snippet:
Dreaming of dreaming in daylight
Laughing along with the moon at night
Sleep no longer means rest for me
Carefully listen carefully
Reaching out for a life line
Clutching on to everything mine
Faces vanishing into air
Nobody sees me, no one cares
White room life
Sanity's rules don't apply to fools
White room days
Endlessly lost within the maze
A melodic proclivity is delivered on “Last Chance Believer”. But melodic means no less heavy, as the song delivers mid-paced muscle in abundance with front to back bristling guitars and pronounced bass lines leading the way. The melodic aspect comes into play during the lighter tones of the more gently done chorus. Soloing, as one might imagine, highlights the more feeling based proclivity.
“Ashes To Ashes” stands out with its over the top anthem-like aspects. With its pulsating bridge and commanding refrain, the song dominates with its crushing guitar lines and driven low-end, only letting up the angst-laden momentum briefly at the midway point for a calmer, spoken word passage. I can see The Sacrificed doing something like this. Lyric snippet:
The trumpet sounds a call to war
The day is dawning reality is crushed
Don't you lose sight of what your fighting for
Ashes to ashes & dust to dust
Dust to dust
The autumn calls the living to die in the winter
But it can't call the mark of your soul to due
The night steals the day, farewell to the rainbow
But it can't take the last breath of life from you
You pay the piper & a song he'll play
But do you know who the piper pays
Review by Andrew Rockwell
Track Listing: “The Anvil” (3:21), “Images Of Princes” (4:07), “Mr. Primetime” (4:22), “Lies In The Balance” (3:36), “Revolving Door” (3:08), “In The Beginning” (4:27), “Soul Survivor” (3:36), “White Room Life” (3:48), “Last Chance Believer” (4:28), “Ashes To Ashes” (5:24)
Dale Anthony - Lead Vocals & Guitars
Mikki Suvia - Guitars
A.C. - Bass
Rik Veale - Drums & Percussion
Rocker, Randy. “Zaxas.” Heaven’s Metal 54 (1995): 28.