|Musical Style: Metal/Hard Rock||Produced By: Paris Hollins|
|Record Label: Independent||Country Of Origin: USA|
|Year Released: 2012||Artist Website: Messenger|
|Tracks: 10||Rating: 80%|
|Running Time: 30:31|
Everything about You Choose, the fall of 2012 sophomore release from Arlington, Virginia based Messenger, screams of classic hard rock meets traditional heavy metal: An assertive joining of bludgeoning guitars, subterranean bass lines and tenacious drumming that allows for a surpassing heaviness but an element of accessibility at the same time
Messenger got off to a strong start in 2008 with its independently released full length debut I’m Talking To You, an album the Angelic Warlord review (80%) described as having a “throwback sound that hearkens back to the eighties” while also reflecting “a heavier and more muscular side to the decade” in trending towards “guitar driven hard rock (similar to Rez Band) and old school heavy metal (not unlike Saint)”.
On You Choose, also released independently, Messenger - much to the benefit of us all - delivers more of the same. In other words, you will encounter no gimmicks and nothing fancy here but rather good old fashioned and in-your-face metal and hard rock that is also extremely well performed. Musicianship proves adeptly done and songwriting a step up in comparison to the debut, which was already quite good to begin with.
Much of the You Choose material is up-tempo, including metal based tracks “The End Of Time” (with its penetrative guitar walls), “Christian Rocker” (heavy as it gets but with a touch of blues) and “Risen Christ” (highlighting a victorious metal anthem vibe). A decidedly hard rock direction is taken on “The Back Of My Mind” (delivering a blues heavy feel) and “Come Home” (standing out with its warm sense of melody).
When You Choose trends towards mid-paced territory quality fails to diminish. Straightforward metal would be the best way to describe “Power” (aptly entitled cruncher with a punishing low end) and “Rulemaker” (classy piece highlighting variances in tempo) and hard rock “The Sacrifice” (another heavy set blues driven rocker). The lone attempt at a ballad, “Paradise” (bringing an airy feel mixed with hard rock guitars), is a good one.
Helping set the Messenger material apart is its all out heaviness; the group pulls no punches in this capacity. But there is also no need for concern in that Messenger also displays a penchant for melody in which it sidesteps any form of repetition or heavy handedness. The upshot is that all the songs here have something to like about them.
Vocalist Frank Clifton Herring proves the driving force behind the versatile Messenger sound. With a rich and warm style rooted in the mid-ranged, he fits right in with the bluesy hard rocking material but can also belt it out for the heavier metal based tracks. But his true strength resides in how he does not come across strained either way.
Messenger also has a wonderful talent in lead guitarist Vlad Gurin. The best way to describe his playing would be the aggressive fury of Oz Fox (Stryper) mixed with the flair and style of Tony Palacios (Guardian) and Dee Harrington (Saint). His leads on “The End Of Time” and “Come Home” are ripping while “Paradise” reflects a more bluesy and exquisite side to his playing.
Several constructive comments were included as part of my I’m Talking To You review. The most pointed revolved around packaging, which consisted of a 4 panel digi-pak without lyrics. You Choose, in contrast, is a 6 panel effort with lyrics included. Credit the band in this area.
Also credit Messenger for production that rates a couple notches above the debut. No, I do not think I’m Talking To You sounded bad for an independent release, but You Choose takes things to the next level with its more polished and all around fuller feel.
The other constructive comment involved I’m Talking To You including a couple filler tracks. This has been rectified as well in that all You Choose songs are solid. The lone complaint is that You Choose is also a bit short in coming in at just over 30 minutes. Now, I do not want to contradict myself in that I advised Messenger to go with its best material and they did exactly that. That being said, the songs here are somewhat short due to all being under four minutes.
I hate to nitpik because quality ultimately prevails over quantity, but there is also a need to strike a perfect balance between the two. Hence, when it comes to both song and album length, I feel it is necessary that a band settle into what I refer to as the “Goldilocks zone”: Not too long in terms of overall playing time (if interested in an 80 minute progressive rock epic then raise your hand) but not too short either (a thirty minute album almost falls within the EP category)
This is the lone area which disappoints in that perhaps Messenger could have extended several songs into the four or five minute range or turn “The Cave” into a full length instrumental (one of the my favorite I’m Talking To You songs is five minute sometimes-shred-sometimes-fusion instrumental “Special Delivery”). The upshot would be an album falling within the much more satisfying 35 to 40 minute length.
The shortness to You Choose notwithstanding, there is more than enough pluses here to make it a must purchase: All songs are of high quality, production is top notch and band performance of a high level. If you enjoyed I’m Talking To You or classic hard rock and straight on metal in general then by all means give You Choose the chance it deserves.
Track By Track
“The Sacrifice” opens to a drum prior to gradually fading in. The song proceeds to slowly roll through its rugged verses on the way to an incisive chorus in which the more forthright heading is taken. Robust but melodic, “The Sacrifice” represents classic Messenger all the way. Lyric snippet:
Slap my face, accuse me falsely
Sentence me to die
Crown my head and whip me deadly
Can you tell me why?
Stretch me out and nail me down
A cross then did I earn?
Be prepared I shall arise
And I will return
“The End Of Time” hits hard and fast, taking an unequivocal up-tempo heading while reflecting the more metal feel in comparison to its predecessor. Chorus, with its abrupt but too the point feel, ranks with the albums finest. Credit Gurin, whose lead guitar stretch begins slow and bluesy only to abruptly take on a shredding turn at the end. Lyric snippet:
Marking, counting thru the Mayan ages
To prove the day the planets will align
Sine will have its wages
Christ returns the day of God’s design
The End of Time - Can’t be told by one
The End of Time - has to come to pass
“Paradise” approaches semi-ballad territory with its ethereal feel and overriding melody. The song proves the albums most tranquil from how it plays up some stylish and gentler overtones along with a fitting stretch of bluesy lead guitar played with a great deal of feeling (sort of like something Rez Band would come up with). Lyric snippet:
Shangri-La, Xanadu, Utopia, Nirvana
Many seek and they find their search is all in vain
Heaven-sent, Earthen-scarred; Jesus the Messiah
When you seek Him you will find heaven is yours again
Come to His throne
We come to Him alone
It does not get much heavier than “Christian Rocker”. Powerful in tempo and form, the song grinds and punches to storms of slamming guitars in highlighting a piercing chorus and low-end reverberating as it gets (drummer Tim “TNT” proves his nickname is aptly deserved). Lyric snippet:
He wants to be my friend
He wants to see me go
I don’t think he knows
What he’s supposed to know
He wants me to say I’m vain
He’s just a talker
He’s just judging me cuz’ I’m a Christian Rocker!
“The Back Of My Mind” highlights an angst-laden mentality while mixing in aspects of blues hard rock. Guitars are fittingly heavy set in delivering the needed crunch, lending to what amounts quite the exacting scene. The lone complaint is that the “hey-hey-ho-ho” backing vocals are a bit overdone. Lyric snippet:
Faith… lives in the back of my mind, but I don’t want to go there
I pray… when some time I can find, I know it’s not fair
“I’m fine!”, “You’re fine!”
At least that’s how I think it should be- they tell me
I’m living a lie, and I don’t know what to do
I don’t know why, but it’s hell I’m going through
My problems are mine, I’m not one to whine
I take the blame
I know that I’m proud, I don’t’ say it loud, I feel the shame
Spirited anthem “Come Home” smoothly flows its distance, exuding a warm upbeat energy with an abounding chorus and bustling low-end playing leading roles. Gurin again hits the nail on the head with his radiant guitar leads. Yes, melody for sure but every bit heavy as well. Lyric snippet:
A wife looks out the window. A husband keeps checking his phone
She told him that she forgives him. Will this fight leave him alone?
The Lord Christ please with His fallen. The Maker cries out to all men
Turn from your own way. He won’t be asking again
Won’t you come home…
Aptly entitled, “Power” starts in discordant fashion to pounding drums and snarling guitar feedback. At a moments notice, however, impetus kicks in to some driving riffs that impel the song through its weighty as it gets verses and lively chorus in which a victorious message is conveyed:
And with a heart of love He dies for sinners
He came down from above to make then winners
For those who trust Him, He has power
To help with sin, He has power
So you and I can win with His power
Classic metal is the overall feeling at hand.
“Rulemaker” brings its variances, starting its verses quietly to stilly done guitars only to gain resounding momentum as guitars take over to back what amounts quite the decisive chorus. In between we have bluesy guitar harmonies aligning with an emotionally done bridge and more metal laced guitar leads. Lyric snippet:
Pharisees and Sadducees made rules that burden men
Christian leaders do it still today
Christ had come to chastise some and show the love of God
Those leaders heard Him say
Rule Maker - You love the role you play
You Faker - Ignoring your own sin
Soul Breaker - You stand in heaven’s doorway
You don’t’ enter and you won’t le me in
“The Risen Christ” delivers the high energy goods. With an abundance of brazen riffs carrying things ahead, the song plays up an uplifting mentality of the worshipful variety (chorus is inspired as it gets) and eighties metal feel certain to draw you in on first listen. Some bluesy proclivities make their presence felt as well. Lyric snippet:
They mocked Him, they smacked him, they pulled out His beard
They laughed at Him as He spoke the truth
‘Crucify Him” they sneered
They slashed His back, crowned His head with thorns
They nailed Him to the tree
And though He dies, He was raised again like He said He would be
He is the Risen Christ, who carried Paradise
To be with Him on high, Him who is glorified
He’s the Lord, He is God, Almighty Jesus
Review by Andrew Rockwell
Track Listing: “The Sacrifice” (3:11), “The End Of Time” (3:40), “Paradise” (3:05), “Christian Rocker” (3:14), “The Back Of my Mind” (3:24), “Come Home” (3:04), “Power” (3:32), “Rulemaker” (3:22), “The Cave” (:45), “The Risen Christ” (3:10)
Frank Clifton Herring - Lead Vocals, Guitars & Keyboards
Vlad Gurin - Guitars
Roy Richardson - Bass
Tim “TNT” Tieff - Drums