|Musical Style: Melodic Metal||Produced By: Bill Bafford|
|Record Label: Roxx Productions||Country Of Origin: USA|
|Year Released: 2010||Artist Website: Crystavox|
|Tracks: 12||Rating: 85%|
|Running Time: 49:53|
Crystavox can trace its history to two San Diego based bands that disbanded in the late eighties, Evidence and Private Echo. The core musicians of both groups, vocalist Adam Lee Kemp and drummer Fred Helm (both Evidence) and bassist Loren Holmquist (Private Echo), came together to form the initial line up of Crystavox. The three went on to record a four song demo, Wear It Out, in 1989 prior to signing with Regency Records. Later rounding out its roster with guitarist Tony Lopez, Crystavox entered the studio to begin work on its 1990 self-titled Regency debut. The group followed up two years later on Ocean Records for its sophomore release The Bottom Line.
Crystavox broke up shortly thereafter, with both its albums going out of print and turning into hard to find collectors items. The band, however, reunited in 2010 with the goal of putting together a “greatest hits” package after tracking down the original master tapes, which had been sitting in a Burbank, California warehouse the past twenty years.
Initially, Crystavox planned to remix four songs off the self-titled debut and eight from The Bottom Line, but due to “immaturities and creative gaps in the presentation” they decided to re-master and partially records the tracks by adding new guitar overtones, revised bass compression and new drum samples. The end result, in the bands own words, “is (a) brand new Crystavox (with) songs (that) are current and mixed using today’s technology. It’s like hearing the songs like they were recorded last week and released on radio”.
The project was released as a two disc set in the summer of 2010 by Roxx Productions under the title The 20 Year Mix, with the first disc containing the twelve studio tracks and second a DVD consisting of never before released live concert footage and several MTV style video clips that also have never been released. All footage has had the color completely corrected and restored and has been re-mastered in the 16:9 format.
A recent Heaven’s Metal article about Crystavox described the group as (releasing) “two high-quality albums that were nevertheless underwhelming received. Chalk it up as another example of the “experts” not getting it right.”1 You can count me among the so called “experts” that also did not “get it”. Now, at this point it must be reinforced that I considered the Crystavox members able performers and songwriters but rarely listened to either album due to muddy production that left the band bereft of much of its natural energy. I always found this disappointing in light of the excellent production on albums from the same era by contemporaries Holy Soldier (self-titled) and Guardian (Fire & Love).
As you could imagine, I approach The 20 Year Mix with a fair amount of uncertainty and skepticism. All doubts, however, were cast aside on first listen in that I was literally blown away by improvements as a result of the re-mastering and re-recording. What were once songs that struggled to jump out of the gate now give rise to the all around bigger and cleaner sound: guitars – crisp, defined and forward in the mix – are done to perfection while the low end comes to life in a much more pronounced manner. That previously referenced energy that was missing in the Crystavox performance? Well, it now makes its presence felt to the extent it is almost like listening to a completely different band. As a matter of fact, the power and polish of Triumphant Return era Whitecross mixed with the youthful energy of early Stryper or Rage Of Angels would be the best way to understand what is happening here.
Crystavox did a good job in the song selection process. You will find an ample amount of heavy hitting melodic metal pieces, including up-tempo numbers “Sacrifice”, “Big Picture” and “Paradise” (with the first two delivering hooks in abundance and latter approaching speed metal territory) and mid-paced crunchers “Break Down The Walls” and “Snakes In The Grass” (these two rank with the groups heaviest). Every eighties metal album, of course, is going to include a couple of radio friendly ballads, as can be found in “No Boundaries” and “Home Again”. In between, you will find a bluesy hard rocker (“It’s All Right (To Rock-N-Roll)”), a commercial metal piece “(Power Games”) and a groove driven number (“Stick To Your Guns”).
The driving force behind Crystavox is vocalist Adam Lee Kemp who, for a lack of better words, owns a serious set of lungs. He stays mostly in gritty mid-ranged territory while showcasing significant power and presence in the process. If anything, the guy has the style that would fit in quite well on any of the Liberty N’ Justice all star projects (I’m surprised he has not been recruited).
Lead guitarist Tony Lopez is a fantastic musician that has underrated written all over him. He decorates the project with soloing of quite the skilled variety, with his fast paced and fluid style best standing out on “Paradise”, “Break Down The Walls” and “Stick To Your Guns”. “The Big Picture” and “Shame”, at the same time, finds him combining with rhythm guitarist Loren Holmquist for some immaculate dual guitar harmony (sort of like Oz Fox and Michael Sweet).
The only complaint about the project involves packaging, which could use a bit more detail. The problem revolves around the font in the liner notes, which is almost too small to be read without a magnifying glass. Perhaps a several page “mini booklet” allowing room for both a larger font and lyrics would have worked better.
Track By Track
“Cry Out” gets things underway with a bang. Three minutes of unremitting energy, the song captures the bands decisive momentum and raw emotion in no uncertain terms. Great hook, great up-tempo milieu and great shredding guitar solo. “Cry Out” does exactly that:
Kenosis to blood Jesus paid the price
So sitting on my hands just won’t suffice
Love has changed my ways turned me upside down
Once a rebel heart but now I carry a crown
Let’s go, we’ve got to get it out
Up against the odds
To let the Rock cry out
To the ends of the earth
We will carry the Word
To the lonely hearts
Who have never heard
From the mountain tops
To the valleys below
We will praise until there’s no where left to go
“Break Down The Wall” slows things to a mid-paced romp while showcasing the all around heavier sound. What stands out about the song its staunchly focused guitar riff and weighty chorus backed by some well timed double kick drum action. More fluidly done lead guitar rounds things out.
The melodic hard rock of “Power Games” has the eighties written all over it. With a big dose of backing vocals leading the way and rhythm guitars playing a reduced role, this one will be certain to appeal to fans of metal on the lighter side of things- think Stryper, Shout, Guardian and Angelica. The emphasis on “Power Games” is not losing focus:
So many stars are shining
But still we lose the light
Too many stars are falling
All because they're losing sight
Helpless without heroes
They're like sheep before the slaughter.
Trying to make a fragile work
Without the master potter
All hail to the Lord and King
Lift up your voice and sing
Don't forget where we came from and what His name will bring
All hail to the Lord and King
Lift up your voice and sing
“Stick To Your Guns” returns things to high energy territory. What we have here is an up-tempo rocker with a full on guitar sound, placing emphasis on a hulking bass line while delivering a touch of hook and groove in the process. I can see Holy Soldier doing something like this.
“Sacrifice” represents this reviewer’s choice track. Another upbeat melodic metal slab, the song delivers a mega-huge chorus hook – trust me, you will be challenged to rid this one of your mind – along with an infectious guitar energy that hints of Eternal Ryte or Rage Of Angels. The double kick drum returns to back a run of gritty lead guitar. Making God real is the message behind “Sacrifice”:
It seems that there is never
Quite enough to go around
We hesitate then love's too late.
They fall without a sound.
There's got to be a better way
To show that He is there
It warms the heart to hear you pray
But that won't prove you care!
Sacrifice - And be the living proof
Sacrifice - So they can see the truth
The melodic based “Shame” oozes of mood and emotion. While the rhythm guitar carries a lighter load here, filling its void is a ton of melody and stylish touches of guitar harmonies that are tight as all get out. Guess you might describe “Shame” as a finesse filled piece that brings to mind Rock In A Hard Place ere Bloodgood.
“Home Again”, the first of two ballads, is an acoustic based number allowing Adam Lee Kemp to shine with his raspy vocal delivery. Keyboards highlight the backdrop while layered vocal melodies uphold its emotionally charged chorus. This one received quite a bit of airplay back in the day. “Home Again” expressed the heart of God:
I hold eternal fire
That the world cannot put out
And it burns away desire
To accept a life of doubt
To find the world is sacrificed
On an altar of vanity,
Draws me to my Father's arms
Where He longs for me to be
Come home son - So many a night my tears brought you the rain
Come home son - It hurt so much but you are worth the pain.
Come home son - I have so many things to give to you.
Come home son - Today we start. Today all things are new
If you just come home again
Some interesting contrasts are presented on “Paradise”. The song starts slowly to a tranquil keyboard driven opening but kicks into high gear at a moments notice, racing its distance in high octane fashion in allowing for walls of crunchy guitars and rapid double bass in abundance. The best way to describe “Paradise” might be speed driven melodic metal (think “The Reign” by Stryper).
“It’s All Right (To Rock-n-Roll)”, despite the platitudes of its title, is a solid blues based hard rocker. Plenty of gritty attitude leads the way while Adam Lee Kemp, again, stretches with a complementary gravelly vocal performance. Early nineties Bride? Without a doubt, although some of the guitar tones bring to mind Guardian.
“No Boundaries”, ballad number two, is a rich and full sounding piece with its acoustic flavorings. A lushly done chorus joins with some moments that hint at the worshipful. “No Boundaries” reflects a heart crying out to God:
Have mercy on me Father
For I have done you wrong
I’ve broken your heart again
And I cannot carry on
My legs are weak from running
And I can’t cry anymore
I’ve given up pretending
I need You like never before
Then in Your arms I feel it
And In Your face I see
In Your word I read it
Just how much You love me
There is love that knows no boundaries
There is hope that sees you through
There is peace that passes understanding
When there’s nothing I can do
Another high energy melodic metal piece, “The Big Picture” delivers the goods with its rollicking impetus and stalwart feel to its driving chorus. The songs instrumental moments, in contrast, are surprisingly melodic with Lopez and Holmquist descending into some pleasing guitar harmonies.
“Snakes In The Grass” closes things strongly. The song starts to a pronounced bass line joined with some bluesy guitar, sustaining the stalwart initiative its length in showcasing a guitar sound rivaling that of “Break Down The Walls” for all out heaviness. This would sound right at home on any Whitecross album. “Snakes In The Grass” talks about avoiding distractions:
When subtleties are camouflaged
I know that they’re around
When feelings override what real
Their casualties are found
The forest seems to hide the trees
When I’m busy making ground
Much distracts an ear to hear
But discerning avoids their sound
Snakes in the grass – breaking down my stride
Snakes in the grass – Feeding on my pride
Snakes in the grass – You can run but you can’t hide
Snakes in the grass – Near the cross that they denied!
Very pleasantly surprised would be the best way to describe my feelings towards The 20 Year Mix. As already mentioned, the re-mastering and partial re-recording make all the difference in the world as the bands natural energy is finally allowed to come to life. It also must be noted the strength of the song selection process in that what we have here are arguably Crstavox’s 12 strongest tracks. The bonus DVD is icing on the cake.
Review by Andrew Rockwell
Track Listing (Disc 1): “Cry Out” (3:01), “Break Down The Wall” (4:56), “Power Games” (4:32), “Stick To Your Guns” (3:56), “Sacrifice” (3:49), “Shame” (4:34), “Home Again” (4:53), “Paradise” (4:43), “It’s All Right (To Rock-n-Roll)” (4:15), “No Boundaries” (3:57), “The Big Picture” (3:37), “Snakes In The Grass” (3:42)
Track Listing (DVD): “The Crystavox Story”, “Break Down The Wall” (Live), “Stick To Your Gun” (Live), “The Big Picture” (Live), “Paradise”, “Snakes In The Grass”, “No Boundaries”, “Tough Boys”, “In Your Arms”
Adam Lee Kemp – Lead Vocals
Tony Lopez – Guitars
Loren Holmquist – Guitars
Fred Helm - Drums
1. Beck, Chris. “Crystavox: Twenty Years Later.” Heaven’s Metal 85 (2010): 8-9.