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Nowadays it is really hard to get albums loaded of GOOD heavy metal. While Yngwie gets more and more boring with every release we get Impelliteri, Narnia and some others trading tendencies and trying really hard to get out of the box without actually sacrificing their core sound. As you might expect the majority of those albums are, for me at least, at the edge of boredom. Thus, when I read about this album I was a little afraid of being a copycat of Yngwie, fortunately this is not the case although there is obvious resemblance. I mean, this is neoclassical shredding metal by all means.
The first seconds you listen to this metal feast you know this will be hell of a ride. The riffing style is not 100% similar to Yngwie’s albums. Joe Stump’s riffing style is a little less melodic than Yngwie yet it has far more edge and sharp style. The riffs do not repeat themselves for instance, although the keyboards sound is what resembles to Yngwie in some way IMHO. The melodies are sharper and more interesting since they shred and at the same time have melody. The major difference between the two is that Joe is really concerned with the rhythm section and he creates powerful riffs to sustain the background. Yngwie uses rhythm sections only as an excuse to play his guitar fills every single second he can.
The vocal department, courtesy of the great Mike Vescera leaves me speechless. He has the perfect tone for this kind of metal. This is heavy metal the way it is supposed to be played and sung. He has a higher screechy tone and some hard rock vibe but without being smokey.
Save me’ has very classical influences and the solo by all means is exquisite without that wankery waterfalls of notes like Yngwie does although for someone who are just passing by the album out of curiosity, it will pretty much sounds the same. ‘Into the unknown’ is almost a hard rock tune due to the riffing style. The keyboards are very present here and drive the melody. The solo is more hard rock influenced with neoclassical influences. ‘Hellbound’ sounds very much like a piece from an Axel Rudi Pell album with its structured riff pattern and soloing. This is a nice mid tempo song with double bass and outstanding vocals by Mike and it is really rhythm based and actually there are not that many solos or guitar fills you can notice which makes it a great song, making the rhythm section sound really tight. Of course, the solo is kick ass and again, he uses different patterns and sections within the same solo. ‘Kill the King’ is THE tribute to the already well known song from Rainbow with its 70s sound keyboards. Nice dual soloing between keyboards and guitar solos. Mike sounds very much like Ian Gillian and all those hippies singing style singers from back then. This is, so far, the only version of this song that I actually like. ‘Last time’ is a very emotional song with delicious yet middle range and safe zone for Mike Vescera. The use of a double bass drum makes it sound even more powerful considering that it is kind of a ‘soft’ song. ‘Dante’s danza is an exquisite instrumental with some flamenco influences, which by the way, the style was copied by Rex Carroll on his King James’ album on his instrumental as well. This is Joe’s show off but as far as I am concerned, he does not repeat the passes or the fills over and over, but instead he uses different cascades of notes, making it very interesting. ‘Still holding on’ is the only song that cannot grab me. It is not because it is a ballad. It has to do with the guitars being too heavy and too loud in the mix, plus the distortion that is too sharp for a ballad that eventually speeds up using a crescendo build up that is quite nice because the riff is quite rich so I guess my problem is only with the first part of the song. ‘The unknown’ is mid tempo song and it has very prominent keyboards to accentuate the atmosphere of the unknown (pun intended) and it sounds very similar to any song from the ‘Alchemy’ album. ‘Sacred ground’ is another kick ass song that doesn’t go into really high speed and the riffing section is really strong and here the bass lines are really thick and strong. Finally ‘Undercover’ is another song that could fit into a Axel Rudi Pell album ‘Black moon pyramid’ because of its retro feeling and tribute to the 70s and 80s bands.
In the end my friends, this is a kick ass metal album, not power metal or any other boxing category and although I can understand the resemblance with Yngwie and some might get pissed off because of this it is not all the same. Oh, and for the record, thanks to a friend of mine who is an Yngwie’s fucking stupid worshipper and wet pants fan, I became a hater of Yngwie’s records. I actually got rid of the ones I had so when I discovered this guy after many times listening to this album I finally got it and they are not all the same shit. Joe’s is, as far as I am concerned far better in regards to composition which is the core of any good song. I am taking only 5 points because of the aforementioned songs I don’t like but as far as entertainment, shredding, guitar lessons, technique and kick ass vocals this album has it all.
Thirty seconds into the first track, and I find myself reaching for the CD case to make sure I had not mistakenly hit Play for a Yngwie Malmsteen CD - alas, no mistake made; it's not Yngwie, but I forgave myself very quickly for thinking so. The US band The Reign of Terror may well be familiar to guitar shred fans, but were, until this here CD "Sacred Ground", released in 2001, not on my radar.
Instead of Yngwie doing the mad shredding, the axe wielder in this band is Joe Stump. We have 12 tracks, and two of them are the requisite instrumentals (guitar and keyboard atmospherics in one, acoustic guitar for the other); on the other ten tracks Joe Stump is backed by his band (vocals, bass, drums, keyboards). The other reason for my earlier mistake became clear after looking up this factoid: the vocalist here, one Michael Vescera, has in the past performed the same duties for none other than Mr. Malmsteen.
To be honest, while I occasionally enjoy this kind of music, it is not my favorite genre - there is just too much super-fast guitar noodling, which, while certainly impressive, also tends to become monotonous after about 5 tracks. The song structures are also similar enough to make the songs quickly blend into each other. "The Unknown" was the only song that made me look up the song title - the others were all one big morass of guitar-overloaded metal.
If you're into this kind of metal in the first place, you will certainly enjoy this CD - I'll keep it handy if I feel the need for maximum notes-per-minute metal.