1985

An event occurred in November of 1985 that changed my life forever.

I had graduated high school that June and decided to stay in Ventura, CA to attend college, when my parents moved to Fresno, CA for a new job. I had the opportunity to stay with my aunt and uncle in order to stay in Ventura.

One evening after dinner, I asked my aunt if she really believed that silly Bible story about Adam and Eve. She began to attempt to answer my somewhat sarcastic question. When my uncle overheard my question, he proceeded to stroll into the kitchen where he began to engage me in a question and answer session about the Bible, evolution and origins in general.

After 4 to 6 hours of discussion, the gospel of Jesus Christ was presented to me. Before the night was over, God saved me from death and hell. My life hasn’t been the same since.

In the aftermath, I decided it was best to get rid of all my “evil” metal albums. I then began to pursue “Pure Metal”!

 

Last Saturday Night

I had the most tremendous privilege of attending George Ochoa’s Christmas party last Saturday night. I haven’t had that much fun at a party in more years than I can remember.

The best part was meeting all sorts of amazing people. It was the first time I had actually met George in person, and He couldn’t have been more friendly and welcoming. I met members of some of my very favorite Christian metal bands of the ’80s and early ’90s, including Recon, Deliverance, Vengeance Rising and Barren Cross, as well as members of the contemporary band Worldview.

George’s family and friends couldn’t have been nicer and more welcoming to me. They made me feel like I had been their close friend from the very beginning of the Christian metal days in the greater Los Angeles area. I truly felt like I, “fit right in”.

All in all, from the great food and drink to the awesome Scorpions jam session, it was definitely the best Christmas party I have ever attended!

Ronnie & Mike

Here’s a little story about a good friend of mine by the name of Ronnie Hunter.

Back in 1990 I read an ad in Heaven’s Metal magazine posted by Mike Lee of Barren Cross fame. He had recently left BC and was auditioning musicians for a new band. I immediately alerted my buddy Ronnie, who is quite the shredder (A LA Yngwie Malmsteen). He was very interested and I agreed to help him put the submission package together.

I took some professional looking photos of him and helped him record some riff ideas. I even wrote his bio for him. When the package was finished, I mailed it off to Mike. A few weeks later, Ronnie got a call from Mike. Out of over 200 guitar players that had applied, Mike chose Ronnie as his number one guy. Ronnie was ecstatic, to say the least.

Mike wanted Ronnie to come and audition in person. But there was a problem — Ronnie didn’t own a car. Mike lived more than seven hours north of Ventura, so I agreed to rent a car and drive Ronnie up.

The day came to travel and Ronnie and I set out on our way. After a grueling drive, we rolled up to Mike’s house. We parked right in front and got out of the car. Mike had a somewhat bewildered look on his face. Turns out that Ronnie didn’t bother to tell Mike that I was coming along. AWKWARD. Let’s just say it led to a very uncomfortable 3-day weekend.

At the end of the visit, Ronnie and I headed back to Ventura. So why didn’t we see a KILLER album from Ronnie and Mike? I don’t know the full answer, but it appears that Mike figured out that Ronnie wasn’t a Christian and decided it wouldn’t be consistent with his vision for a Christian band to bring Ronnie on board.

Long story short — don’t say you’re a Christian if you’re really not (or, some other claim that just isn’t true).

Have a great weekend and KEEP IT METAL!

Album Review: Narnia — Narnia

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So…it’s been HOW long since the last Narnia studio album with Christian Liljegren on lead vocals? Ten years, you say? Has it really been that long? It has been a long time but this album, dare I say, is worth the wait. I’m not even really sure where to start with this review, but, here goes.

The Narnia faithful will not be disappointed with this record. With this self-titled effort, Narnia returns to it’s neoclassical power metal roots. There is something on this album for fans of all of Narnia’s various sound/style iterations (sans Course of a Generation). There’s a little Long Live the King here, and a little Enter the Gate there. But although the band stays true to it’s sonic roots, there’s plenty of musical evolution to keep this effort sounding fresh. CJ Grimmark would probably disagree, but I find the album to be about half classic Narnia and half a progression towards a newer sound. Let’s break it down track by track:

The opener, Reaching for the Top, is a high energy track in the tradition of Inner Sanctum from the Desert Land album. I think it’s pretty much the perfect opening track for a comeback album. The catchy riff coupled with a tasty guitar solo is sure to please.

Next, we’re hit with I Still Believe, the new People of the Blood Red Cross, if you will. This tune should have you doing a jig with it’s Irish-sounding intro. It then kicks into an up-tempo rhythm leading to a catchy chorus and then into possibly the fastest guitar solo ever recorded by Grimmark. I find the solo break to be particularly satisfying in it’s entirety. CJ’s use of an entirely different rhythm behind the guitar solo is brilliant. I haven’t noticed that with most other artists. This is one of the best tracks on the album.

In spot number three, we find On the Highest Mountain (possibly my favorite song, well, because…you’ll just have to read the liner notes). This song sounds like it would fit nicely in the LLTK era, yet still feels fresh with it’s time changes and booming chorus. Clearly, the last half of the song is my favorite (liner notes…). CJ solos through the last third of the song, a la Star Over Bethlehem from the Japanese version of LLTK. In a word, it’s down right SHREDTASTIC!

Things really slow down with Thank You. The first time I heard it, it seemed out of place. Let’s just say it’s not your typical Narnia tune. After several listens, I really started to like it. It’s actually quite refreshing. A quiet beginning builds to some fine soloing by mister Grimmark. All in all, a somewhat experimental track that actually works.

Up next, One Way to the Promised Land kicks things back up to full-rocking mode. This one is a fave for sure, with it’s driving rhythm and fascinating keyboard/guitar solo. Probably among my top three favorite songs on the album.

We now arrive at Messengers. The second of two singles released just a few days ago (Reaching for the Top being the first), this is my pick for the best radio song on the record. The animated video for this tune is pretty darn cool. Be sure to check it out at the link below. Solid track in the best Narnia tradition.

Who do You Follow? is another rockin’ gem with some interesting time changes. “Priesthood of Sweden your castles are burning…” is the stand-out lyric. There’s another rippin’ guitar solo, as expected. overall a great tune.

In the eighth spot we find Moving On, another high-tempo scorcher to crank up until just before it’s painful. I really dig the chord progression on the verse — it’s fresh and tasty. Yet another impressive guitar solo from my favorite shred-master is here to enjoy. Another great track.

Last, and certainly not least, is Set the World on Fire. This is my favorite song, without a doubt. Artists often bury the weakest tracks deep on the B side, but that’s not the case here. In my opinion, this is one of the most killer tunes on the album, especially riff-wise. The snare and bass drums kick it off like a gun at a sprint event. Grimmark is doing so much with the rhythm guitar that you have to pay very close attention to catch it all. The guitar solo and solo break are the best on the album, especially the harmony solo portion. This track ends the album with an even bigger bang than RFTT opens it with.

The bottom line: This is arguably the BEST Narnia album to date. It’s a monumental task to attempt to topple the likes of LLTK and DL, but the boys from Sweden just may have done it. From top-notch mixing and mastering to CJ Grimmark’s masterful production skills, this may in fact be the perfect Narnia record.

Score: 9.5/10

The album is available worldwide on September 16th.

Check out the band here: http://www.narniatheband.com

Album Review: Empire 21 — Empire 21

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I’m going to kick off my album reviews with my pick for melodic hard rock/metal album of 2014 — the debut release from Swedish rockers Empire 21. Yeah, it’s that good.

Once in a while, an album comes along that simply blows my mind. It doesn’t happen very often, but occasionally I find myself pleasantly surprised. Empire 21 is the latest group to melt my earphones.

CJ and the boys have really outdone themselves with this effort. There isn’t a bad song on this album — not one track that will make you want to push ‘skip’ on your CD player. The production is the best I’ve heard in many years. As a matter of fact, I can’t remember the last time I’ve heard a mix this good. We’ve come to expect excellence from CJ Grimmark with his work in Narnia and Rob Rock, but I think he’s taken things to the next level with this disc.

Rounding out the line-up is newcomer Ricard Hulteke on lead vocals, Andreas Alov on bass, John Svensson on keys and Tobias Enbert on drums. This is a MUST HAVE for any serious hard rock/metal fan. You’re going to want to drop the coin for this one, trust me!

–Martin

Score: 10/10

Feast your ears on THIS: 

You can purchase the album and other merchandise at the band’s website here http://www.empire21.se Empire21_band Continue reading

Why this blog?

At the prompting of family and friends, I’m starting this blog. It’s an opportunity to share my experiences and knowledge of hard rock and heavy metal music — particularly the Christian varieties.

My metal journey began sometime in 1980. My brother and his friend were playing some very distorted “music” on a tape recorder (if anyone remembers what that is). I remember thinking, “what is that noise?”. That noise turned out to be ‘Back in the Saddle’ by Aerosmith and it wasn’t long before I was beginning to like it. Within a few months, Aerosmith became my favorite band. I started buying all of their albums (on vinyl) and began discovering other hard rock acts along the way. Before long, I was delving into heavy metal bands like Dio, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest and Queensryche.

More later…

I plan to expand on my story later along with experiences, album reviews and maybe a little theology.

For now, Happy New Year!