|Musical Style: Heavy Metal||Produced By:|
|Record Label: Stormspell||Country Of Origin: USA|
|Year Released: 2008||Artist Website:|
|Tracks: 15||Rating: No Quote|
|Running Time: 54:40|
It was a sad and cruel twist of fate the evening of November 30, 1984 when guitarist Shaun Tramel and vocalist Tony Saiz were tragically killed in a motorcycle accident in Portland, Oregon. The two had been key members of XINR (ex-sinner), an active five piece unit that formed in early 1983 and spent a year and a half in practice prior to playing its first show on August 11, 1984. Despite its brief existence (the accident led to the groups demise), XINR proved quite prolific in recording demo versions of enough songs to fill a full length album, one of which, “Every Present Angel”, made its way onto the Pacific Metal Project compilation from 1986.
But mostly what XINR left behind were memories, particularly of a group that wanted to “let the world know how they felt about life, and their love of God, and that rock doesn’t have to be evil to be heavy”. And more specifically, that “XINR is more than a rock band, XINR is an idea, a way of thinking, that rock need not be hell bent, but that you be given the choice between good and evil”.
Fast forward to 2008 and Stormspell Records has re-issued the backlog of XINR demo material (10 songs) along with a live track, spoken word piece, instrumental (put together by surviving XINR members) and two XINR songs re-recorded by Cruella on its 1987 album Vengeance Is Mine (Cruella is a group later formed by XINR guitarist Roger DeCarlo).
XINR can best be described as a joining of metal and hard rock heavily influenced by the 70’s and the 80’s. While reviewers have compared the group to Cirith Ungol, Trouble and early Alice Cooper – and rightly so! – fans of Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, AC/DC and Judas Priest should also find a lot to like in XINR. What this reviewer hears is an “old school metal vibe” that brings to mind the earlier material of Barren Cross, Saint, Bride, Messiah Prophet and Philadelphia. Yes, a bit rough around the edges at times (at least production wise) but solid musically in that XINR knows how to craft a quality song with enough hooks to draw you in with repeated listen (there is barely a skip button in the first ten tracks).
What I find refreshing is how the group imbues its material with heaviness and technical propensity in needed amounts without coming across overbearing. In other words, it takes a bit of time for the songs here to grow on you but they hint at the groups potential, which was more than enough to deserve a label deal with a follow up album or two.
The guitar team of Shaun Tramel and Roger DeCarlo are responsible for the previously referenced “heaviness” and “technical propensity”. The two deliver a killer performance throughout, laying down a meaty rhythm guitar sound – you are going to love some of the complex riffs bestowed by the two – but ultimately shine in the soloing department. If you are looking for blistering duel lead guitar work done in a tasteful and complementary manner then look no further than XINR.
Vocalist Tony Saiz deserves mentioned as well. He brings a mostly mid-ranged presence trending towards the scratchy and biting, although you can hear some harsher elements to his delivery at times. He kind of brings to mind a joining of UDO and Bon Scott. While his style takes some time getting used to, you cannot say he is not in step with the musical happenings at hand.
Lyrics might not be forthright as contemporaries Stryper, Barren Cross and Bloodgood but leave little doubt as to the group’s faith.
At this point credit must be given to Stormspell Records for the solid re-mastering (again, a few rough edges in terms of production but for demo material recorded using mid-eighties technology you cannot complain) and packaging (excellent album artwork and a multi-page booklet with lyrics and retro band photos).
In terms of the track by track, I am not going to torture you with a breakdown of all 15 songs but rather focus on the first ten (by far the best moments here) and only briefly touch upon the final five.
“Ever Present Angel” proves a three and a half minute energy explosion with its edgy riffs and intricate underpinnings. Heavy? By all mean but catchy at the same time in that the song – like much of the material here – reflects the bands penchant for creating subtle but persuasive melody structures.
“Fight The Dragon” is a hard charging piece combining a heavy guitar assault with a thick as it gets low end. A more mid-paced direction is taken here but, again, a lack of hooks will not turn you away while Tramel and DeCarlo lay down some nasty guitar leads. “Fight The Dragon” brings some high fantasy themes while presenting with an analogy of the accuser:
Listen to him roar, gonna even the score
Look up into his eyes, mortal man his vapors fry
Wizard spells the land of doom, watch me fight the dragon
He’s mine, the warning sign, such the marrow from his spine
Breaking the spell on the land of doom
Watch me fight the dragon, yeah!
“Evil Apple” – you got to love these song titles! – brings a touch of up-tempo groove. This one rollicks its distance with Saiz adding some Bon Scott-like sass to his vocal delivery, which cannot help but enhance the forceful scene. Another fine stretch of bristling lead guitar rounds things out. This one is aptly entitled:
What’s your name, I said my names Adam
She said my name is Eve, from the beginning of time
I knew we’d start one hell of a family
Evil apple, look what ya done to me
Evil apple, look what ya done to her
Evil apple, you’re shiny bright and red
Evil apple, you should’ve listened to what he said
He said it’s evil
Some eerie spoken word delivery gets “Don’t Tell Me No Lies” underway. This one proves another romping piece with its fast paced and tireless milieu while bringing just the right amount of hook driven catchiness to draw you in with repeated listen. Lead guitar and bass solos round things out.
“In Limbo” is a solid instrumental. The song brings a “jam band’ feel with its changes in time and tempo, varying between some Sabbath influenced riffing, guitar interludes heading in the more upbeat direction and passages delivering a hard hitting touch. Some tight musicianship is showcased in the process, particularly from Paul Dreyer, who goes all out behind the drum kit.
“The Hills Have Eyes” starts slowly and ominously to a pronounced bass line only to abruptly pick up in pace. The song conveys a ton of energy its remaining distance, curtly driven but tightly focuses while highlighting a vicious run of lead guitar. This one is short but certainly not lacking in charisma. “The Hills Have Eyes” talks about how you are always in Gods presence:
Stories of lost and long ago beckon me to hear
Tales of an unseen force that's lethal when it's near
Of how the old forgotten ones who tower high above
Know all the secrets that you hide and what you're thinking of
But for the mighty ones who reach the sky watch us here below
Don't you know the hills have eyes, have you seen them glow
You can't run, you can't hide, no matter what you do
Don't you know the hills have eyes, and they've got their eyes on you
The up-tempo leanings continue with “The Ghostly Galleon”. Brazen, bold and no-nonsense as it gets, this one just plain kicks with its forceful riffing and intently focused melody. Put this on Barren Cross’ Rock For The King and it would sound right at home. The albums best lyrics are presented here:
Darkened skies before us
Bring again the rain
Gently falls upon us
Wash away the pain
Up ahead the distance
Levels out the sky
Sprits here among us
Summons winds to cry
From waters old and ancient
There came a fateful storm
That bade the waters torrid
What was dead was now reborn
A ship that sails at no command
Blown slightly off its course
“All Hallows Eve”, the albums longest at five and a half minutes, represents this reviewer’s choice track. The song cruises as it transitions between aggressive riff driven passages and tasteful instrumental moments in abundance- do I dare say a hint of the progressive is conveyed in the process? The first word to come to mind is creative in that what we have here is a band with a TON of potential (think early Saint or Bride and how they eventually turned out). Great stuff.
“The Devils Gone” delivers a big touch of groove. The song starts to a chaotically driven instrumental opening before really taking off, driving ahead as a snarling rhythm guitar and Saiz’s caustic vocal presence carry things ahead. An environs bordering on the tumultuous prevails in the process. “The Devil’s Gone” talks about how salvation is at hand:
Out in the back streets, no matter where you are
You can never fall him, cause you’re too slow on the draw
The devil’s gone, the devil’s gone
I’m not tryin’ to preach, I just have to say
Fall down on your knees XINR's, start to pray
Salvation is at hand, it’s Babylon again
You’ll see complexities
“Fall To The Prey” is the simplest track here in terms of structure (observation and not a critique). The song opens its first half to a couple of short verses before closing instrumentally to a hard charging rhythm guitar. Straightforward and a bit basic but still good nonetheless.
“My Revolution”, a raucous AC/DC like rocker, is listed as recorded “live” but you cannot tell in that its not possible to discern the audience. I wish we had gotten a studio version of this one in that it is quite good. “Beyond Belief” brings two minutes of narration (of a poem by Tony Saiz) while instrumental “XINR” moves its short distance to a forward bass line backed by driving guitar harmony.
The Cruella versions “Fight The Dragon” and “The Devil’s Gone” are well done in following the same pattern of the XINR originals, although with tighter production values. Cruella vocalist Rick Nolen sings in a higher key in comparison to Tony Saiz.
Review by Andrew Rockwell
Track Listing: “Ever Present Angel” (3:42), “Fight The Dragon” (3:38), “Evil Apple” (3:26), “Don’t Tell Me No Lies” (3:38), “In Limbo” (4:05), “The Hills Have Eyes” (3:22), “The Ghostly Galleon” (3:26), “All Hallows Eve” (5:28), “The Devil’s Gone” (4:21), “Fall To the Prey” (3:40), “My Revolution” (4:06), “Beyond Belief” (1:49), “XINR” (1:55), Fight The Dragon” (3:05), The Devil’s Gone” (4:53)
Anton (Tony) Saiz – Lead Vocals
Shaun Tramel – Guitars
Roger DeCarlo – Guitars
Kenny Stocks – Bass
Paul Dreyer - Drums