Reviews: A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z
The Crimson Bridge Ministry - Choices
Musical Style: Metal/Hard Rock Produced By: Jeff Forrest & Norm Campbell
Record Label: Independent Country Of Origin: USA
Year Released: 2017 Artist Website: The Crimson Bridge Ministry
Tracks: 8 Rating: 80%
Running Time: 33:10

The Crimson Bridge Ministry - Choices

Does it suffice to suggest that the ‘sophomore jinx’ rarely if ever rears its ugly head in the hard music world?  Defined as an instance in which a second effort fails to live up to the standard of the first, a sophomore jinx most often occurs in the area of athletics, particularly the NFL where it is not uncommon for a player to set the league on fire his rookie season only to come crashing down to earth his sophomore campaign.  Can you say RG III?  Contrast this with the metal and hard rock communities, where if a drop off exists between a bands first and second albums it is more than likely not a steep one but rather on the minimal if not gradual side of things.  Consider, for instance, how I highly regard Sacred Warrior and Holy Soldier sophomore albums, Master’s Command and Last Train, but not quite to the extent as either groups respective full-length debuts Rebellion and Holy Soldier, both of which received 95% Angelic Warlord reviews.

More often than not, however, instead of a downturn a band will make significant steps and strides when transitioning from its first to its second album, noting the upgrade made on sophomore albums by Barren Cross (Atomic Arena), Saint (Time’s End), Bride (Live To Die) and Messiah Prophet (Master Of The Metal) in comparison to their debut releases.  San Diego, California based The Crimson Bridge Ministry (TCBM) has made similar levels of improvement between its 2016 independent debut full length Remnant Rock and summer of 2017 sophomore effort Choices.  Also released independently, Choices finds TCBM ‘raising the bar’ in the key areas of songwriting, taking the tighter, catchier and (of equal importance) consistently heavier direction, and production, revealed in the cleaner and more polished sound.  Packaging takes a step up as well, with eye catching cover art, courtesy of Jeremy Antoine, and a slick fold out digi-pak with a CD slipcase.

Choices also finds TCBM maintaining its affinity for joining traditional heavy metal with blues based hard rock, referencing the groups musical influences (as taken from its press material): Iron Maiden, KISS, AC/DC, Cheap Trick, Van Halen, Randy Rhoads, Scorpions, The Cult, Kamelot, Angra, Bloodgood, Theocracy, Stryper and Worldview.  Where Choices diverges from Remnant Rock is how it is a full band effort as opposed to being mostly a ‘one man band project’.  Whereas Remnant Rock featured primarily the contributions of founding member Norm Campbell, who handled lead vocals and all instrumentation except drums, provided by Jeff Forest, and lead guitar on one track, Choices includes the contributions from a host of musicians.  Joining Campbell, who returns on vocals and guitar, is Forrest along with bassist Mat Busike and the lead guitar team of Steve Langdon and Dave Nichols, turning TCBM into a triple guitar attack!
Opening cut “Black Sheep” represents a good indicator of that newfound TCBM heaviness.  A powering mid-paced mauler, the song plays up layer upon layer of keen rhythm guitar for its acerbic verses only to temper (even if slightly) as the groups trademark harmony vocals lighten the precise but curtly done refrain.  Lead guitar enthusiasts will embrace the duel lead guitar Nichols and Langdon bestow to the extended instrumental break.

“Charmed Life” ups the tempo in taking the more melodic heading.  A strong commercial vibe presents itself but without forsaking the intrinsic TCBM muscle, as intricately woven guitar harmonies lead the way - instrumental moments are near mesmerizing - over an underpinning of Busike’s succinct bass.  All the while Campbell highlights his classic tenor vocal delivery that revels in the smooth and melodic.  Do I detect a faint hint of Miracle Mile era Guardian?

Mid-tempo territory reasserts itself on “Never Letting Go”.  The song proves an exercise in contrasts, with verses giving prominence to a gritty and earthy blues based and refrain reveling in the lightly polished in touching upon the radio friendly.  Overall feel at hand is an amalgamating of early nineties Bride with the commercial resonance of Stryper.

Upping the bluesy elements but in a more forward momentum driven package, “Drown Your Pain” headlines another resilient bass line along with ample doses of heavy-duty backbone groove courtesy of timekeeper Forrest.  Guitar wise, however, is where the song shines, as an abundance of perseverant licks and chops lends to the course (in a positive sense) setting not to mention another immaculate run of soloing from Nicols (sort of like Troy Thompson or Tony Palacios).

“The Great Divide” comes across in the form of an upbeat melodic hard rocker.  Initiating to a few seconds of bass and rhythm guitar interplay, the song takes a breakneck approach for its thundering verses only to pull back the throttle as the group’s harmony vocals (that sound a bit like The Beatles this time around) stress the contrastingly smoother refrain.  Langdon lets loose with albums best run of lead guitar.

“That Old Man” slows things to a mid-paced romp entrenched in the bluesy (sort of like a heavier version to The Glenn Kaiser Band).  The song revels in moving emotion as it gradually presses its distance, with thickly woven guitars and biting low end aligning with Campbell’s correspondingly soulful vocal delivery.  Langdon’s neo-classical soloing helps make this (in my opinion) albums best track.

“Steal Your Thunder” rates a close second, in my book.  If anything, it proves albums heaviest with sledgehammer guitars backed by plenty of technical drum rolls and fills from Forrest (the groups press material is spot on in describing the main riff as 'Neanderthal and heavy'!).  I particularly appreciate how the song starts slow and driving - and reminding a bit of “That Old Man” - only to gradually gain impetus for its verses until exploding for the full on energy that is its stark refrain.  Great song!

Leaning towards a more melodic direction, “Cornerstone” takes pleasure in its pleasing albeit assertive front to back guitar harmonies that walk a fine line between all out metal and a commercial form.  Helping reinforce the latter is a cameo appearance from the group’s harmony vocals, which help bring to the album a flattering sense of accessibility.  I cannot help but think TCBM successfully strove for and obtained an eighties influenced sound on this one.

TCBM came into being when Campbell made the “decision to accept the un-earned gift of salvation paid for by Jesus on the Cross” (quoting the groups press material).  Hence, the meaning behind the groups prose (all lyric descriptions are taken from TCBM press material).

“Drown Your Pain” is about “someone who is trying to cover up or numb their  inner pain by using drugs or alcohol instead of trusting the Lord, surrendering that pain to Him and letting Him heal them through His promises and Love”:

Remember that day I found you trying fill your veins?
So high on a ledge and ready to fly away
Remember that time I found you trying to wash the stain?
Ready to fight all night to protect your shame

And I don't know if you agree or even listen
I'ts gonna be way too late when you depart
And if you don't feel you deserve what you've been given
It's just the kind of love that's in God's heart

“The Great Divide” speaks of “the difference between believers and non-believers both here on earth and in the afterlife”:

He kept piling those "coincidences" 'til I couldn't deny
The truth of God's existence and how empty was my life
It was time to decide, high time to decide
I wanna see you on the other side, one way to cross the great divide
Once you die, you travel to the other side, no way to cross the great divide

You say you're not responsible for those who close their eyes
Let them decide salvation on their own
But your relationship with God should shine a light
So bright they can't deny they've chosen wrong

“That Old Man” describes “our never ending struggle with sin”:

I've been taking the high road, I've been carrying a heavy load
Every day on the tight rope, any minute gonna explode
Cuz that old man keeps pulling. He's stronger than you know
He's stubborn and unwilling to ever let you go

Now I'm a double feature, a sinner and a brand new creature
But that old man keeps pulling. He's stronger than you know
He's stubborn and unwilling to ever let you go

The main theme to “Cornerstone” is “the choices we make, the most important being the foundation of our belief system”:

I was comatose from the overdose
I was so close to kissing it all goodbye
So I took a step back, back from the aftermath
And chose a new path from the beams of broken light

He is the cornerstone I chose for my foundation
Rejoice again I sing rejoice!
He is the cornerstone on the path to our salvation
He is a choice, again I say rejoice

Choices succeeds from allowing TCBM to further define its sound, which reinforces equal parts traditional metal guitars and bluesy hard rock flavorings with a light melodic essence.  The referenced TCBM harmony vocals help blend all these ingredients into a complementary whole.  The album also finds Campbell settling into a classic tenor vocal style (tinctured with bluesy touches of grit) that perfectly suites the music at hand.  Further credit the high level of musicianship in that Forrest, Busike, Nichols and Langdon are solid as it gets (to maintain continuity I hope the same line up returns for the third TCBM album).  If it does come to fruition, I would like to see it include more than 8 songs and 33 minutes of music, although TCBM much to its credit makes efficient use of the albums abbreviated length (no filler or skip buttons).  If you enjoyed Remnant Rock or are into any of the styles found on Choices, then be sure to make it a priority purchase.

Review by Andrew Rockwell

Track Listing: “Black Sheep” (4:40), “Charmed Life” (4:03), “Never Letting Go” (3:40), “Drown Your Pain” (4:42), “The Great Divide” (4:25), “That Old Man” (3:35), “Steal Your Thunder” (4:00), “Cornerstone” 94:13)

Norm Campbell - Lead Vocals & Guitars
Steve Langdon - Guitars
Dave Nichols - Guitars
Mat Busike - Bass
Jeff Forrest - Drums


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