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A Bittersweet Farewell - 81%

IceSage, October 4th, 2014
Written based on this version: 2013, CD, Roxx Records

Considering the fact that Deliverance has been retired at least two times already, one might be inclined to take the idea of this 'farewell album' with a grain of salt. Well, rather than reinventing themselves yet again or struggling to decide what the Big D should or shouldn't sound like in 2013, Jimmy and company chose in stead to give us a grab bag of songs that pay tribute to the full gamut of sounds and styles that the band has graced us with over the years. So that fact alone tells me that this really might be the last one, folks. *sigh*

Well, since it's such a hodgepodge of styles we'll just have to go through it song by song.

After a brief and tranquil piano intro ('Liber 111', meaning 'Freedom 111' I believe) we are summarily pounded in the face by 'The Annals of Subterfuge' and by the title alone you can tell you are in for a real thrashing. Jimmy's shouting vocals sound as great as ever. Mike Phillips is on board for some of that technical riffing he so prefers, fleshed out on bass by longtime Deliverance alum, Manny Morales. The skins are drilled with precision by none other than Jayson Sherlock of In Exordium/Paramaecium/Horde fame and he even gives us some sick sounding growls on the chorus (in German no less!). But it's not all balls to the wall as the melodic chorus sounds more akin to later-era D, effectively blending the band's early and later era styles into a single song. A particularly brilliant way to open this album!

This welcome rush of adrenaline continues with 'Angst' which a is full-on, old-school speed/thrasher from start to finish. Even the most critical of fans is sure to love the galloping pace and vocal delivery, both of which remind me of Among the Living-era Anthrax. After this things slow down a bit with 'Hope Lies Beyond', a cover tune (originally by Sombrance) but you'd never know it if you weren't told (aside from the fact that it's kind of obscure) because the band just owns the passion in every note. The powerfully haunting melodies created here immediately transport me back to the Learn album, very reminiscent of songs like 'Time', 'The Rain' and 'Sanctuary'.

Well, as a farewell album reminds us, all good things must come to an end, and this 3-song streak of sweet metal molasses is cut rudely short by the album's apparent centerpiece, an absurd nu-rock blunder called 'Detox'. The only rationale I can figure for including this travesty on the album was to represent Jupiter 6, Jimmy's Bowie-style rock side project. But even that's a bit of a stretch of the imagination. Now while I applaud Jimmy for making whatever music he wants and can appreciate the lyrical vent, the silly and annoying 'Yeah-Yeah' chorus that dominates the song is just a little too much for me endure. To add insult to injury we get this same tune as the album closer, except in German. It's the same deal Jimmy did with 'Back From Mars' on the Jupiter 6 debut. Now hear what I say: 'Back From Mars' may be a great rock song and sounds even better in German; but 'Detox' sounds just as awful in both languages.

The good news is the album swiftly recovers from this misstep with 'Nude', a very enjoyable, Bowie-infused, melodic metal number, and 'Passing', both of which rock hard and bring back some of the best elements of mid-era D. These are followed by an interesting anomaly since I don't recall Deliverance ever giving us a full-on acoustic ballad before. It's probably because 'A Perfect Sky' was written by guitarist Mike Phillips but the song is clearly taylor-made for Jimmy Brown's gorgeous singing, and sing he does! The 'eu-pho-ri-a' part of the chorus in particular is a sublimely beautiful display of Brown's God-given vocal talent.

That leads us to yet another cover tune, this time of Iron Maiden's iconic 'Where Eagles Dare'. Without a doubt Brown's voice has aged a heck of a lot better than that of metal titan Bruce Dickinson. Wouldn't it be amazing if the blokes in Maiden would acknowledge that ol' Bruce can't quite belt 'em out like he used to and snag up Jimmy Brown II to fill in for a tour? I might actually be willing to pay the exorbitant ticket price to see that! Now, the only real challenge with covering an Iron Maiden song is the fact that they have all been covered a gazillion times by everyone and their grandma. Maiden themselves have released this very song on more live albums and greatest hits features than most bands have actual albums. That being said, it was handled with thrashy finesse and is a lot of fun to hear.

So in the end what we have here are six brand new songs (seven if you count the German-language version of 'Detox'), an intro and two cover tunes. It's a bit of a stretch to release this as full length (an EP perhaps), but as a final offering from the band I'll let it slide. For the most part, despite the album's brevity the songs are brilliantly executed and fine additions to the D legacy. But true to the band's varied discography, there are elements here that are not going to please everyone. That said, I believe Jimmy Brown II accomplished what he set out to do, getting all of the good and the bad wrapped up his in his Deliverance experience out of his system and laying it on the table in all of it's varied incarnations with nothing to hide. If this truly is the end for the Big D, these songs form a more than worthy book end to the band's musical legacy. But if the recent reunion with George Ochoa and subsequent performances garner some new recordings I won't complain. Either way it's win win.

A fitting swansong to the band's legacy - 87%

MetalFRO, January 17th, 2014

Bands break up all the time. Some burn out from touring, some have inter-personal conflicts and can't sustain friendships enough to maintain the band, some just get tired of doing "the band thing". Some bands break up because the style of music they've been playing has fallen out of favor, and rather than dragging fans through a shift to something they might not be on board for, they change the name or break up and reform under a different moniker. Other times, the motivation for carrying on just isn't there, and artistic integrity demands that a stopping point be chosen. Whatever the case may be, we're all human, and we can't carry on making music forever.

When a band decides not to change the name as a stylistic change is afoot, sometimes fans feel slighted. Anyone making music, unless it's absolutely devoid of artistic pursuit or merit, has to be satisfied, at some level, with the art they've created, or it becomes a hollow pursuit. When the artist chooses to do what feels right from an artistic perspective rather than perpetuate the machine that may please fans more, there's usually a backlash. Such is the case with Deliverance, forever in the shadow of the 1st 2 albums they recorded, their eponymous debut and "Weapons Of Our Warfare", a high watermark of tuneful thrash/speed metal and a fan favorite. When band leader and chief songwriter Jimmy P. Brown II decided to begin moving away from that style and guitarist George Ochoa wasn't keen on doing so, the resulting 3rd album "What a Joke" demonstrated that artistic conflict doesn't always make great records like it did with The Beatles. Once Jimmy was back at the helm 100% of the time with George's departure, he took the band in a number of different directions over the next few years, and created several excellent albums. The entire "D" fan base wasn't on board with the move away from thrash, because let's be honest - most thrash fans are a kind of picky.

I'm of the mind that while the band's 1st 2 albums are awesome, they're not the be-all, end-all of the Deliverance musical canon. I happen to quite like some of their non-thrash material as much as those 1st 2 records. In particular, "River Disturbance" and "Camelot in Smithereens" are both top-shelf albums that any band should be proud of. I never felt like a full-on return to a thrash metal sound was warranted, and I believe the band proved me right with 2007's "As Above, So Below". Granted, it was as much a groove metal album as it was thrash, but it didn't sound as vital as it should have, had largely forgettable riffs, and just didn't grab me the way much of their discography had. I had the same experience with the band's "Learn" album, though repeated listens has given me a much greater appreciation of that record. I still don't have much to say about AASB, because it still doesn't do much for me. Now that "Hear What I Say!" is out, and is reportedly the band's last album (again), does it fare any better? I'll answer that with a resounding "YES!" this time around.

Where the previous album was hampered by largely forgettable songs, this album is far tighter and more interesting, in part because Jimmy and company aren't attempting a halfhearted recapture of the "glory days" of thrash . Instead, they wisely choose to provide a sort of stylistic retrospective of the Deliverance catalog via a new set of songs. This works pretty well since the tracks are interesting, the production is much improved, and the whole thing just feels like a concerted effort to make a good album. The album is a bit slight in terms of content, since you have an intro track that segues into 1 of only 7 new original songs, followed by a cover of Iron Maiden's "Where Eagles Dare", and "Entgiftung", which is a German-language version of "Detox". Despite the somewhat slim pickings here, it still has enough meat on the bones to satisfy.

The guitar sound is improved here over "As Above, So Below". Not so much because it's heavier (it's not), but because it has a crisper feel to it. The production helps that somewhat, but both Jimmy and Mike have a guitar sound that is just tighter and snappier than before. I think it hearkens back to an earlier time for the band, and that's a good thing, because the production of AASB was just a bit heavy-handed, with its 90's groove metal sound and wall of sound bass. I'm all for a heavier sound, but when it doesn't enhance the songs or make them sound better, it falls into the "more is just more" category. I'm happy to report that both Jimmy and Mike sound great here, with a meaty tone that doesn't sacrifice clarity or definition. In addition, the guitar solos here have a nice wail and bite to them, where they appear. Acoustic & clean guitars sound great, too, in the songs they're utilized, with that hint of reverb that helps them ring out a bit. Bass is provided again by long-time Deliverance bass guitarist Manny Morales, who has played on more "D" studio albums than any previous bassist. It's only fitting that he would play on the final album. His bass guitar is loud and clear this time around, and is nicely placed in the mix where it provides both an audible companion to the guitar and drums, but also provides necessary weight to the sound. Drumming on this final album is provided by none other than renowned skins man Jayson Sherlock, who many will know from his time in Mortification, Paramaecium (and later InExordium), as well as his prog metal band Altera Enigma and one-off black metal band Horde. While it would have been cool to have Jeff Mason behind the kit again to echo the Deliverance power trio days, Jayson's drumming here is powerful, dynamic, and spot on for what this album needed to really take it to the next level.

Vocally, Jimmy sounds as good as ever, and in my opinion, a bit more focused and on-point than he was on AASB. Jimmy's David Bowie-esque wail has become a signature of his style since he really started singing, and he uses that to great effect here, but there is a bit of variety as well with some shouted vocals, a bit of grit now and again, and a nice rapid delivery vocal in "Angst" that has a bit of a "tunnel" effect on it. Anyone who has been listening to Deliverance for years knows that Jimmy isn't the world's best singer, but he uses his voice as effectively as he is able to get the lyrics out there, and that's what you get here. The slower passages and more mid-tempo bits have the best vocal work, as is par for the course with Deliverance material, and in some of those sections he sounds really well honed. He does some nice dual-layer/multi-octave vocals like in "Hope Lies Beyond", and of course the chorus of "Detox" where there's the mid-range vocal for the melody, and a bass vocal underneath.

In terms of the songs, the new material here is stronger than that of AASB. Firstly, the intro track ties into the album nicely, giving a hint of the main riff in "The Annals of Subterfuge". There's no 11-minute aimless instrumental, no tracks that go on longer than they ought to, and really no filler to speak of. This is a lean album, clocking in at just over 41 minutes. "The Annals of Subterfuge" destroys any of the thrashier or speedier tracks on AASB, and "Angst" pretty well trounces the previous album's material as well. Beyond those 1st 2 major songs, you get a lot of variety in a short time. "Hope Lies Beyond" is a lot of atmosphere with a little riff, and "Detox" is a major groove-fest with a heavy riff and catchy chorus. "Nude" is a mid-tempo song that echoes the band's more progressive outings with its vocal layering, interesting riff, and different melodic structure. "Pass" returns to a bit more of the groove metal sound, but with a melodic riff and more interesting presentation than most groove metal can hope to boast. Rounding out the new songs is "A Perfect Sky", which echoes the balladry on "Camelot in Smithereens" somewhat, with its somber yet buoyant melody, gentle acoustic guitar and spirited vocal from Jimmy. The cover of "Where Eagles Dare" sounds good, with its chunky guitar, Jayson giving Nicko a run for his money, and Jimmy straining a bit to hit a handful of the notes. He really does have a bit of that Bruce Dickinson vibe to his voice, and it's a wonder Deliverance hasn't done a Maiden cover before. And of course the German-language version of "Detox", "Entgiftung" is fun to listen to, especially if you don't speak German, because it's interesting to hear the lyrics of the song delivered in a different language.

If you're going to go out with a bang that leaves fans mostly satisfied but still wanting more, this is the way to do it. You're not giving them so much material to chew on that they'll be analyzing the album for years to come, but enough that they don't feel slighted that you ended on such an abrupt note. This 40+ minutes of music is just about right because it gives that retrospective look at the career with quality songs, doesn't overstay its welcome, and encourages repeat listens through memorable melodies, excellent production, and great performances. Though it's sad to see a band go when their music has been a steady companion for so long, it's nice to see it happen on the band's terms, and to go out on a high note like this. I would recommend this to all fans of Deliverance, and especially those who like the bulk of the band's catalog. Anyone else who is open minded where their metal is concerned would do well to look into the album as well.


Originally written for MetalFRO's Musings: