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
Holy Soldier - Last Train
   
Musical Style: Melodic Metal Produced By: David Zaffiro
Record Label: Myrrh / Roxx Records Country Of Origin: USA
Year Released: 1992 / 2017 Artist Website: Holy Soldier
Tracks: 9 Rating: 85%
Running Time: 38:26

Holy Soldier - Last Train - Roxx Records re-issue

I hesitate to describe Last Train, the Holy Soldier Myrrh Records sophomore release from 1992, as a ‘step down’, but in a sense it is, at least in light of the brilliance to the groups iconic (95% Angelic Warlord graded) 1990 self-titled debut full length.  Iconic in terms of how Holy Soldier took the Christian hard music scene at the time to the next level by presenting with a near perfect joining of packaging, production, songwriting and performance not always seen on albums released the preceding decade.  Also consider how I rate Holy Soldier among my all time favorite albums, noting that in placing it second in an article I wrote outlining what (in my opinion) are the top 50 Christian metal albums of the 90’s I rate it above every bit iconic releases such as Bride’s Snakes In The Playground and Deliverance’s Weapons Of Our Warfare.

Of course, it might be a misnomer if not outright unfair to describe any 85% graded album as a ‘step down’, particularly when factoring how Last Train is certainly not without merit when it comes to those key areas of packaging, production, songwriting and performance.  The reason I rate it ten points lower begins with quantity in that Last Train features 8 original composition and one cover (of the Rolling Stone classic “Gimme Shelter”) as opposed to the ten new songs gracing the debut.  When I first purchased Last Train back in the day, I was disappointed (still am, in a sense) that Holy Soldier could not come up with more than 8 new songs over a two-year period.  Lack of output might also pertain to the departure of long-term guitarist Michael Cutting, which, obviously, bereft the group of one less potential songwriter.

Quality is another factor in that I like the Holy Soldier songs just a tad better than their Last Train equivalents.  At this point, it deserves note that I always valued Holy Soldier as not just another ‘three cords and a cloud of dust’ Sunset Strip hair metal band.  Rather, I always felt there was more to Holy Soldier than just ‘hair metal’ in that it brought a technical flair and aptitude to its songwriting not always intrinsic to many of the melodic metal and hard rock acts of the time.  When placed side by side, I always identified with the Holy Soldier songs as better embodying that flair and aptitude in question - even if to just a slight degree - not that those encompassing Last Train were in any way lacking as they are quite solid in their own right and go a long ways towards that 85% score in question.

For those wondering, Last Train placed 33rd (tied with Holy Soldier vocalist Steven Patrick’s very fine 1995 solo album Red Reign) in my list of top 50 Christian metal albums from the 90’s.  If up in arms over it rating so low, keep in mind it was facing some VERY still competition in the form of highly regarded albums from Deliverance, Fear Not, Recon, Sacred Warrior, Bride, Impellitteri, Guardian, Novella, Red Sea, Veni Domine and others.

In order to celebrate the 25th anniversary of its release, Last Train was re-mastered (courtesy of J Powell at Steinhaus Re-mastering) and re-issued on vinyl for the first time and CD with updated cover art (courtesy of Scott Waters of No Life Til Metal) by Roxx Records in August of 2017.  The vinyl pressing is limited to 150 red copies and 350 black copies; CD version is a 500 piece print run.

Opener “Virtue & Vice” represents eighties melodic metal manifest.  The song draws you in at once with its emphatic rhythm guitar presence (In my opinion Last Train presents with a slightly heavier sound than the debut) and rumbling bass driven low end but ultimately shines from Steven Patrick’s soaring vocal delivery.  What I said about Patrick’s abilities in my review of Holy Soldier holds true in that he continues to bring a ‘distinctive vocal style to the period (that walks) a fine line between equal parts melodic and raspy’.

“Crazy” ups the commercial sensibilities with its non-stop hook penchant.  This one does not quite reach the heavier heights to its predecessor - melodic hard rock might be the most accurate manner in which to describe it - but it proves every bit laudable from the airy vocal melodies decorating its affecting refrain (quite catchy and very radio friendly).  Verses smoothly align with the sophisticated scene in flowing at a finesse filled mid-paced clip.

“Hallows Eve” injects some bluesy grit into the Holy Soldier melodic hard rock formula.  The song ups the emotional levels as occasional acoustic traces interweave with melodic guitar harmonies to allow for an atmospheric if not inviting essence.  Star of the show, however, is the guitar team of founding member Jamie Cramer and newcomer Scott Soderstrom, whom lend a fitting stretch of deftly done duel lead guitar.

Holy Soldier exhibits its versatility on Rolling Stones cover “Gimme Shelter”.  The song maintains the bluesy elements but in a more streetwise form, with guitars not quite metal but tough and biting all the same, while Patrick finds himself at home in nothing less than a laid back and reserved environs.  It also deserves note the brilliance to the soulful female backing vocals grading the gutsy refrain.  This is as fine a mainstream cover I have heard from a Christian band.

An eighties melodic metal album would not be complete without at least one ballad and such is what we have in “Love Is On The Way”.  Opening its first seconds to acoustic guitar and plush vocal melodies, the song delicately rolls through its ornate verses only to gain momentum until peaking for its abundant refrain that has FM radio written all over it.  If I happened to suggest this is fine an eighties ballad you might hear I would not be far from the mark, although I would still take “Eyes Of Innocence” off the debut over it.

Back to heavier territory on the metal edged “Dead End Drive”.  A gunning engine followed by a car burning its tires at the start help sets the songs forceful tone, as snarling guitars and the heavy-footed timekeeping of aptly named drummer Terry “The Animal” Russell up the fixed momentum unequivocally.  Chorus flows with perfect assurance in aligning with the dissonant scene at hand.  I cannot help but be reminded of heavier songs off the debut such as “See No Evil” and “Tear Down The Walls”.

“Tuesday Morning” proves a mournful plodder that reflects upon semi-ballad territory.  The song comes across disconsolate in capacity, slowly maneuvering its distance as lighter guitar tinctures stand alongside steadfast rhythm guitars as the group’s soulful harmony vocals make a mood-filled statement.  One of the more introspective Holy Soldier tracks “The Pain Inside Of Me” cannot help but come to mind.

“Fairweather Friend” ups impetus as a non-stop barnburner.  With blazing guitars cemented to the front of the mix, the song powers its short (3:25) distance to hammering drums (check out the double kick drum during the impactful refrain) and Andy Robbins’ pulsating bass (underscoring the sinuous verses).  Cramer and Soderstrom again pull out all the stops on lead guitar.

Scintillating, genuine and graceful, albums title track flows perfectly from the start with forwardly placed acoustic guitar in lending to the effortless form at hand - the Holy Solder harmony vocals again make a Stryper like statement - that has trades of smoothly flowing AOR written all over it.  Enough muscle, however, asserts itself to push “Last Train” well into hard rock meets melodic metal territory.

As is often the case, re-mastering adds and element of gloss to the finished production.  Volume levels increase, but in the process that much more detain comes out in the back end, including enhanced bass presence, crisper drums and a tighter guitar sound (rhythm, lead and acoustic).  When listening to both versions back to back, the original Myrrh release comes across a bit flat in comparison, which makes the Roxx re-issue a priority purchase.

Similar to the self-titled debut, lyrics leave little doubt as to the Holy Soldier member’s faith.  “Hallows Eve” hints of the Second Coming:

I gaze into the evening sky
A jaded refugee
I know He's out there somewhere
And He's comin' back for me

I see the last of long ago
Though waking from a dream
A thief is coming in the night
The Door is opening

“Dead End Drive” warns against the dangers of drinking and driving:

Dead end drive,
Do and die,
A drinking, driving suicide,
Heading down the last road of your life,
Dead end drive,
Do and die,
The road to Hell's before your bloodshot eyes.

The last thing I can remember: we were flying down Deadman's Curve,
The devil, he was laughing with delight as the car began to swerve,
Well, I hit the brakes; I was just too late,
A cripple at the hands of fate.

Albums title track metaphorical speaks of eternity:

No you'll never find me
When I leave the world behind me
And take the Last Train
Destiny will guide me
As I climb aboard and finally
Take the Last Train
That blood-red engine
Pulls a chain of crimson
And takes me home

The conductor calls for tickets
As he slowly makes his way
The man who's sitting next to me
Grows suddenly afraid
And my heart was filled with sorrow
As they led him from the train
And left him there among the dead
Crying in the rain

It might have been a hit harsh when I initially suggested that Last Train was a step down in comparison to the debut, but it is a capable album in its own right more than deserving of an 85% score.  Yes, I like the Holy Soldier songs slightly better, keeping in mind those on Last Train are more than commendable (in a sense it is almost unfair comparing the two in light of the brilliance to the debut).  Of course, the individual Holy Soldier members continue to execute at a high level, with particular credit going to front man Patrick and guitar team of Cramer and Soderstrom.  Lone complaint is that I wish the group had recorded an extra song or two: the perfect track listing would have been 10 equally good new songs along with the Rolling Stones cover (it is at that point we start talking 90% to 95% graded reviews, which come down to not just quality but rather quality in quantity).  All things added up, the Roxx Records re-issue - whether vinyl or CD - comes strongly recommended.

Review by Andrew Rockwell

Track Listing: “Virtue & Vice” (4:30), “Crazy” (4:44), “Hallows Eve” (4:18), “Gimme Shelter” (4:23),”Love Is On The Way” (4:54), “Dead End Drive” (3:53), “Tuesday Morning” (4:23), “Fairweather Friend” (3:25), “Last Train” (4:34)

Musicians
Steven Patrick - Lead Vocals
Jamie Cramer - Guitars
Scott Soderstrom - Guitars
Andy Robbins - Bass
Terry Russell - Drums

 

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
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