Song Spotlight: I Am, By Michael Sweet

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I can not say enough about the very talented Michael Sweet. The man can seemingly do it all. Over the last few years he has successfully lead Stryper while simultaneously working on his solo career. At 53 years old he seems to have found a new gear. He is a singer extraordinaire, a criminally underrated guitarist, a gifted songwriter and a solid record producer.

Michael Sweet has been a very vocal Christian for a long time. He would be the first to tell you that he is far from perfect and is no saint. But his beliefs have helped him to avoid many of pitfalls of the rock and roll lifestyle that have tripped up and even killed some in the metal scene. His lifestyle choices have helped to not just maintain his vocal abilities , but to refine them. In his early fifties he possesses a voice that would make singers half of age envious.

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The song I Am, from his most recent solo album One Sided War (2016), is a vocal tour de force. I have been a Stryper fan for over twenty years. What he has done vocally over the last several years with Stryper and as a solo artist continues to surprise and amaze me. The man is singing with so much passion and power. Currently far too many veteran hard rock and metal singers are struggling vocally. Michael Sweet is laying down some of the best vocals of his career. And he is still delivering the goods live.

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I Am features a stellar vocal from Michael Sweet. The song begins instrumentally with an 80’s metal style guitar riff. At the 0:29 mark when Sweet bellows “Oooohhhhhhhh!!!!!!”, as a listener you know that you are in for a treat. Musically the song shifts to a heavy, mid tempo guitar riff. Michael Sweet begins to deliver an absolute powerhouse vocal. As the chorus begins he triumphantly sings “I Ammmmmm!!!!!!! The beginning and the end!!!!!!” What an absolutely amazing vocal performance .

The backing band is phenomenal on this track. Playing along with Michael Sweet are Ethan Brosh on guitar, Will Hunt on drums and John O’Bolye on bass. During the guitar solo the tempo picks up and Ethan Brosh lays down a blistering guitar solo. He burns up the fretboard playing a melodic and bluesy shred filled solo. Prior to hearing this album I was unfamiliar with Ethan Brosh. He sure got my attention after hearing his fantastic playing on several songs on One Sided War.

As a big fan of Stryper it is exciting to see Michael Sweet explore heavy metal outside of the band. On his early solo albums he explored guitar driven pop, rock and hard rock. This may have disappointed some Stryper fans, but I feel that all of his solo albums are worth seeking out. Each album showcases different aspects of Michael Sweet’s abilities as a singer, songwriter and guitar player. My personal favorite is his album Truth, released in 2000. This diverse collection includes classic rock, hard rock, heavy metal and one of the best ballads of his career. It’s an album that I highly recommend.

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With One Sided War Michael Sweet, the solo artist, fully embraces heavy metal. I love the music that he has created with Stryper. As the band’s singer, co-guitarist and main songwriter his imprint is all over the band. Hearing him write metal in a different vein and record with different musicians is refreshing. Overall there is a distinction between these songs and his work with Stryper. Of the twelve songs on One Sided War, I Am is definitely my favorite and arguably the best song on the album.

Troy T.

Xiphea: A New Voice For Symphonic Metal

Xiphea are a Symphonic Metal band out of Germany. Formed in 2011, the band has released three CDs so far: Masquerade (2013), From The Uncharted Island (2014) and Once Upon A Time (2016).

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They play a melodic, yet heavy, style of Symphonic Metal with hints of Power Metal. The band refers to their brand of metal as Fairytale Metal. This is their main point of difference. Xiphea’s lyrics focus on tales of romance, fantasy, dwarfs, witches, princesses and retellings of known fairy tales.

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The band’s second point of difference are the delightful  vocals of Sabine Meusel. She possesses a strong, but delicate voice that would be a perfect fit for pop music. Yet that same voice works so well in the context of Xiphea’s Symphonic Metal music. Sabine has a voice that sounds like a mix of Liv Kristine, ex Leaves Eyes, and pop singer Ellie Goulding. Her voice is contrasted nicely by guitarist Neil Meusel’s excellent guttural vocals. His extreme vocal stylings are used tastefully, never overbearing and never overused.

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Musically Xiphea  combines the sounds of bands like Epica, Nightwish and Xandria to create their own unique brand of Symphonic Metal. The music contains a nice balanced mix of heavy guitars, keyboards and orchestrations. Xiphea are first and foremost a metal band, but melody is key. The band plays for the sake of the song. Guitar riffs abound, but not at the expense of the music.

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As a fan of Symphonic Metal I am always on the hunt for new bands. I came across one of Xiphea’s music videos online last year. Before I even heard a note I was intrigued by the band’s description as Fairytale Metal. I am so glad that I took the time to watch that video. I have been a fan of Xiphea ever since. I really enjoy this band and I am greatly looking forward to hearing more great metal music from them in the future.

Troy T.

Song Spotlight: Stryper’s Pride

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For the last month the song Pride, by Stryper, has been at the forefront of my mind. I can not get enough of this song. The song is featured on Stryper’s most recent album Fallen, which was released in late 2015. One could strongly argue that Fallen  is Stryper’s best album. It is by far the band’s heaviest album.

Pride showcases Stryper’s brand of melodic riff based metal. The track has a bit of an 80’s vibe, but the sound is throughly modern. On display is the nimble dual guitar work of Michael Sweet and Ox Fox, solid drumming from Robert Sweet and bassist Tim Gaines holding down the bottom end. Michael Sweet really shines here singing with so much passion and power.

Michael Sweet will turn 54 this year. He may not be able to hit all of the extreme high notes with ease anymore, but he can still sing his head off. His vocals on the song Pride, especially the chorus, are out of this world.

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Currently there are quite a few singers from the 1980’s metal scene struggling vocally, especially in concert settings. This is far from the case with Michael Sweet, as a song like Pride can attest. Somewhere in his mid forties Sweet found a new gear vocally. Over the last twelve years, starting with the Reborn album in 2005, he has recorded some of his absolute best vocals. It is amazing how powerful and aggressive his vocals have been, especially on the last two Stryper albums.

Pride is a song that features a band that is locked in. All four band members are playing for the song, leaving room for little licks, tricks and drum fills throughout. That solid foundation creates a launching pad for Michael Sweet to reach the stratosphere during the chorus when he screams “Priiiiiiiiiiiide!!!!”  Just when you think it can’t get any better he takes it to the next level vocally after the guitar solos. He really delivers some soaring vocals as he sustains the screams even longer during the final choruses.

As I said I really can not get enough of the song Pride at this time. I have had the Fallen album in constant rotation. But for now Pride is the track that I am really locked on to. Crank it up and play it loud!

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Troy T.

Metallica – Looking Back To Move Forward

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I have a few thoughts on Metallica’s newest album Hardwired…To Self-Destruct. I have been a Metallica fan since 1987 so new music from one of my favorite bands is generally a great thing. Hardwired is a very solid collection of diverse metal songs. I must say that their previous album, Death Magnetic, is a much better record. However, Hardwired is far from being a disappointment. After the long layoff between albums I really did not know what to expect. But if I’m honest, after hearing Lords Of Summer back in 2014, I had low expectations.

Let me start off with the album cover and the various band photos inside of the booklet. Whose idea was this, these photo montages are kind of creepy. Perhaps the album cover will grow on me over time. If done differently this could have been a cool heavy metal album cover, instead it looks like a poster for a horror movie. As a big fan of album cover art I am disappointed. Metallica really has not had a great album cover since   …And Justice For All, back in 1988.

Now onto the music. Metallica have composed twelve songs that not only manage to pay tribute to their past, but also show a newer side of the band.  Throughout the twelve tracks one can hear nods to their prior albums, especially Kill ‘Em All, Master Of Puppets, The Black Album and Load. For my taste there may be a few too many nods to Load, but overall I really like where the band is going musically.

I love the confidence and diversity that Hetfield displays as a vocalist. I have always enjoyed his vocals on the prior albums. He has been among my favorite metal vocalists for a long time. But listening to these new songs I hear a level of confidence, vocally, that was not as apparent on prior albums.

Say what you want about Lars Ulrich’s drumming and his timing issues, in a live setting. It’s true that he has some troubles live, but he is an inventive and dynamic drummer, in a studio setting. Lars has never been on  my list of favorite drummers, but he always keeps the drums interesting. That is definitely the case on Hardwired.

I applaud Kirk Hammett for continuing to push himself on the guitar. He’s not content to rest on his laurels or his considerable skills. He continues to learn new things and push his skills on the guitar. He still favors the wah-wah pedal a great deal, but after all this time I have come to accept this as a part of his guitar stylings. He must be given some credit for becoming a bit more tasteful with his wah usage.

Bassist Robert Trujillo is along for the ride helping to hold down the very solid rhythm  section on display  throughout the album. Anyone that can keep up with Hetfield is a solid player and Trujillo is up to the task.

Overall Hardwired…To Self-Destruct is a great metal album. It is far from Metallica’s best album and it is far from their worst album. Like all of their albums this is a team effort.  That being said Hetfield continues to be the star of the band. He has layed down some excellent rhythm guitar and he really shines vocally.  I applaud the band for pushing themselves to the next level. The songs may not be as melodic or the riffs as memorable as prior albums, but this it the newest chapter of this great band. As a fan I am enjoying the journey.

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Troy T.

Genre Overload!!!

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When it comes to heavy metal I miss the 80’s. Especially the early to mid 80’s when metal was just metal. Generally if it was heavy it was  just called heavy metal. In today’s  metal scene there are genres with sub genres for sub genres of genres that no one’s even sure what the original genre is supposed to sound like. Of course I am exaggerating, but here in 2016 there are just way too many metal genres and subgenres. If you do a little research the results will leave  you  with extreme genre overload.

I do understand the need for labels and genres in music. I am a huge fan of Thrash Metal, Symphonic Metal, Progressive Rock and Neo Prog, the latter being a subgenre of progressive rock. So overall I do not have an issue with genre labels.  But somewhere in the late 80’s and 90’s things begin to go awry with the  splintering of metal into far too many genres, leading us to where we are today.

To list all of the genres and subgenres of heavy metal that currently exist would leave one’s head spinning. I’ll list a few, in no particular order, and perhaps you’ll agree that things have gotten just a bit out of control.

Power Metal, Doom Metal, Sludge Metal, Pagan Metal, Glam Metal, Gothic Metal, Grindcore, Metalcore (A genre that some metal fans believe is not metal at all, I’m not sure why), Deathcore, Mathcore, Neoclassical Metal, Post Metal, Progressive Metal, Djent, Stoner Metal, Symphonic Metal, Thrash Metal, Speed Metal (In regards to the prior two, I was never sure what the difference was between the two), Alternative Metal, Funk Metal, Nu Metal (Which I guess is now Old Metal, just kidding someone might start a new genre), Groove Metal, Grunge (Was Grunge really a music genre or just a passing fad?), Industrial, Rap Metal, Rapcore, Avant-garde Metal, Extreme Metal, Death Metal, Black Metal,  Symphonic Black Metal, Folk Metal, Viking Metal, Shoegaze, Christian Metal (a genre some feel does not make sense, but I am Christian and I love metal, so listening to metal played by other Christians without the dark lyrics usually associated with metal is a no brainer for me), Post Punk, Crust (What the heck!?!?!?!), Blackened Death Metal, Melodeath, and I’ll end my list with perhaps the oddest genre title of this batch, Pirate Metal.

This list is far from complete, it is just scratching the surface of the ever growing list of metal genres and subgenres.  Can we please stop now?

Michael Sweet’s One Sided War

Stryper’s lead singer Michael Sweet will soon have a new solo album out called One Sided War.  A music video featuring a new song called Bizarre was released today.

Stryper is one of my favorite bands and I am a huge fan of Michael Sweet’s solo career.  Anyone following Michael Sweet’s musical activity over the last few years know how incredibly prolific he has been. Utilizing all of his God given talent he has recently appeared on several albums with Stryper, released a solo record and recorded an album with guitarist George Lynch.   It is a great time to be a Stryper and Michael Sweet fan!

Unlike many of his contemporaries from the 80’s metal scene Michael Sweet still looks incredibly healthy and he sounds great.  The man continues to be an incredibly gifted singer, guitarist, songwriter and producer.  Stryper’s last two records, No More Hell To Pay and Fallen, are arguably their best to date.   Michael Sweet’s One Sided War is slated for release on August 26 and I am greatly looking forward to it.

My Top Ten Favorite Metal Albums

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I’ve been a metalhead since 1984, so over the years I have heard quite a bit of metal.  Picking ten was hard, putting them in order would be near impossible.  So after much thought here are my top ten favorite heavy metal albums, in no particular order.

Candlemass – Nightfall:  Heavy riffs, amazing leads, great production and the vocals of the one of a kind Messiah Marcolin add up to an amazingly diverse doom metal masterpiece.

Metallica -Master Of Puppets:   Hands down the greatest thrash metal album of all time, one of the greatest metal albums of all time and perhaps THE metal album of the 80’s. 55 minutes of near perfection in metal.

KISS – Music From “The Elder”:   A concept album??? KISS?!?!?! Yep and it’s a good one. Deemed a failure by many, including the band, but one could argue that the band never sounded better.

Megadeth – Rust In Peace:  Megadeth’s best album and the second best thrash album of all time. The riffs and leads played by Dave Mustaine and Marty Friedman are insane.  Mustaine never sounded better vocally. The perfect mix of aggression and melody.

Zero Hour – The Towers Of Avarice:  Four equal parts creating the ultimate prog/technical metal album. Erik Rosvold sounding like the offspring of Ronnie James Dio, Geoff Tate and Freddie Mercury. The Tipton twins, Jason and Troy, locked in on guitar and bass taking the listener on a roller coaster ride of riffs. Mike Guy laying down the rhythm to this insane musical journey. As if that were not enough, it’s also a concept album.

Shadow Gallery – Tyranny:  A concept album on par with the greats. Mixing the influences of Queensryche, Metallica, Pink Floyd, Kansas, Queen, Dream Theater and Yngwie Malmsteen into a unique blend of prog metal that unlike other bands in the genre is the perfect mix of prog and metal. There is plenty of space for keyboard and guitar solos. Like the great concept albums the story is quite an emotional journey.

Queensryche – Operation: Mindcrime: Queensryche’s finest moment and one of the best concept albums in any genre.

Epica – Design Your Universe: My introduction to symphonic metal and the heavenly voice Of Simone Simons. A perfect mix of metal, thrash, death metal, progressive rock and classical music.

Sepultura – Beneath The Remains                                                                                  – Arise:

Two from the once mighty Sepultura. Sepultura did not invent thrash, but they sure perfected it.  With back to back albums they produced two classics of the genre. Led by one of the best voices and riffmeisters in thrash, Max Cavalera. The band also features two of the most overlooked musicians in metal, Igor Caverlera on drums and Andreas Kisser on lead guitar. Kissesr lays down some of the most melodic leads in thrash.

Honorable Mention: Albums that were close to making the top 10:
Extol – Burial
Stryper -In God We Trust
– Reborn
Overkill – The Years Of Decay
Extreme – III Sides To Every Story
Tourniquet – Pathogenic Ocular Dissonance