|Musical Style: Hard Rock/Metal||Produced By: Ralph Mendez|
|Record Label: Blood Bought||Country Of Origin: USA|
|Year Released: 2003||Artist Website: Shining Force|
|Tracks: 15||Rating: 50%|
|Running Time: 68:36|
Evangelists and ministers form the ranks of the Houston, Texas based Christian metal band Shining Force. Combining elements of straightforward hard rock and classic metal on its independently released self-titled debut, the powerful music of Shining Force is certain to appeal to fans of Saint, Barren Cross, Armageddon and Jacobs Dream. Lead vocalist Randy Dickey projects a plethora of raw energy and emotion with his scratchy and gut-level mid-octave ranged vocal style. The grit flavored lead guitar work of Richard Navarro stands out best on "God Is Calling", "Come Quickly" and the albums hard hitting title track. I might rank drummer Ralph Mendez as the bands most talented musician, best displaying his abilities on the terrific instrumental "A La Chamba". The albums liner notes list Adrian Flores as the bands bass guitarist, but a total of three different bassists perform on it.
The production values to Shining Force are of the mid-eighties-demo-recorded-on-a-four-track-in-the-garage variety. Both the rhythm guitar and drums come across in a thin and transparent sounding manner. The lead vocals end up placed way too high in the mix, while the exact opposite can be said about the lead guitar. Great improvement is needed here.
Please note that the low budget album artwork is not the most flattering. In addition, the back of the jewel case includes a photo of the band as opposed to a listing of the songs appearing on the album.
Getting the album underway to a drum solo, the energetic power metal of "The Old Serpent Whispers" takes off to a hard hitting riff that quickly conveys it to a powerful double bass driven chorus. Following a blistering guitar solo from Navarro, Dickey ends the song by twice shouting its title. "The Old Serpent Whispers" exposes the lies of the evil one:
In your head he lies
Reminds you of your past life
Never lets your sins die
Rather not see you alive
He is liar
"God Calling" begins, appropriately, to a ringing telephone followed by a voice stating "hello". A formidable mix of rhythm guitar and bass proceeds to drive the song ahead in steady fashion until it gains further momentum for a chorus with a catchy refuse to go away hook. Navarro closes things out with forty seconds of very well done lead guitar work.
An upbeat combination of rhythm guitar and pounding drums initiates "Bow Down", the two evenly leading the way to a good emotionally charged chorus. Several seconds of fiery lead guitar work that segues to a brief drum solo brings out the best in a song that takes a worshipful tone with its lyrics:
Awesome in majesty
The Sword of the Word
Time has come to Him
Will you bow down
To the One
That created it all
Introduced to thirty seconds of eerie sounding keyboards, an energetic double bass driven riff impels "Sign Of The Times" at an upbeat tempo until it achieves an infectious non-stop hook filled chorus. As its title implies, "Sign Of The Times" focuses on the end times:
Wars and rumors of wars
Famine and pestilence
These are the beginning of sorrows
With its compelling melody line, "The One I Love" stands out as the most noteworthy of the albums three ballads. After an acoustic laced combination of rhythm guitar and bass carries the song through its first verse, it smoothly flows to a strong melodic flavored chorus. "The One I Love" is a song about faith:
Many sorrows and much shame
Have come my way
But Your blood delivered me
And that's why I'm here today
Advancing through its first verse at a guitar driven mid-tempo pace, "Come Quickly" gains momentum as it attains a catchy chorus carried by an abundance of the bands forceful energy. Narvarro tops things off with forty seconds of gritty lead guitar work. "Come Quickly" also deals with the end times:
Wars and rumors of war
This has already come
Time for Kingdom come
Come quickly Lord I pray
The driving power metal of the albums title track showcases the bands mission statement in no uncertain terms:
We're Shining Force
We're here today
To be a light
To those, to those who obey
Taking off to an aggressively delivered riff, "Shining Force" immediately launches into a good hard hitting chorus before evenly transitioning to its guitar driven verse portions. One of the albums finest moments occurs when the song stops dead in its tracks for a bluesy guitar solo before Dickey presents the salvation message over a quietly played guitar line:
Jesus He died for you
He gave His life so you wouldn't have to
He paid the price for your wages of sin.
The song picks up in pace for nearly a minute of blistering lead guitar work backed by more double bass.
A catchy guitar riff propels the wonderful melodic hard rock of "Holy Nation" from front to back, the song showcasing a superlative chorus with an abundance commercial appeal. Navarro displays his abundant abilities on lead guitar during the songs two different instrumental passages. Shining Force makes a statement of faith on "Holy Nation":
I'm never going back to the other side
I'm going with the King of Kings
I'm washed in the Blood and delivered
Will you come and be made free
We are a Holy Nation called to do His will
The instrumental "A La Chamba" is by far the albums most creative composition. Opening to a compelling combination of drums and heavy duty bass lines, a catchy guitar riff reinforced by a bit of double bass pushes the song forward. "A La Chamba" transitions at its two minute mark to a lengthy drum solo from Mendez before the catchy riff returns to carry the song to its close.
Despite its production problems, Shining Force gets off to a pretty good start by opening with its nine best songs. The material that follows, however, comes across on the thin side. As a result, am I out of line to suggest that the band would have been better off ending the album with "A La Chamba"?
"Apocalypse" fails to hold up musically due to the repetitious fashion in which it advances through each of its three verses.
The ordinary sounding acoustic laced ballad "Holy Of Holies" slowly moves ahead until it picks up in pace upon attaining a chorus with a worshipful feel:
Take me in to the Holy of Holies
Take me in by the Blood of the Lamb
"The Blood" proves the strongest of the albums final six tracks. The slowly moving blend of rhythm guitar and bass at the start of the song abruptly gives way to a fast paced guitar solo driven over double bass. Just before "The Blood" reaches its first verse, the rhythm guitar and bass return to take the song to its conclusion at a driving mid-tempo pace. Dickey twice repeats the phrase "the blood" in a catchy manner at the end of each of its first three verses. "The Blood" talks about exactly that:
Pierced His hands
For everything we touched
Pierced His feet
For everywhere we walked
Through His grace
Gave it all
By His cross
Through His call
The blood, the blood...
The overbearing hard rocker "Exodus" is held back by a chorus I might describe as run-of-the-mill at best.
"The Holy One", a lackluster semi-ballad, proceeds to a quietly played guitar line until it abruptly picks up in pace for a chorus reinforced by a driving rhythm guitar. The songs message is self-explanatory:
Jesus has overcome...Jesus the Holy One
The slowly moving piano based ballad "All To You" closes the album with a fair melody line and a nice acoustic guitar solo.
There is a lot to like about Shining Force, and, as a result, a grade of 50/100 might seem a bit harsh. Nonetheless, the album includes way too much filler, while the low budget production job is a significant detraction. (Eliminate the albums final six songs with "The Blood" being the lone exception and I would give this a minimum of 60/100. Higher if its production problems were remedied.) It is worth pointing out that the band displays a penchant for writing a song with a good catchy hook in addition to demonstrating more than enough talent to coincide with the raw energy of its performance. Along that line, I would like to encourage Shining Force on its follow up effort to focus in on its ten best songs while making the necessary investment to secure a professional sounding production job and mix.
Review by: Andrew Rockwell
Track Listing: "The Old Serpent Whispers" (3:30), "God Is Calling" (4:02), "Bow Down" (4:00), "Sign Of The Times" (5:22), "The One I Love" (4:13), "Come Quickly" (3:48), "Shining Force" (5:03), "Holy Nation" (4:40), "A La Chamba" (5:29), "Apocalypse" (3:09), "Holy Of Holies (Take Me In)" (4:50), "The Blood" (5:59), "Exodus" (4:11), "The Holy One" (4:54), "All To You" (5:19)
Randy Dickey – Lead Vocals
Richard Navarro – Guitars
Billy Vaughn – Guitars
Jose Chavez, Adrian Flores & Andy Guerrero – Bass