Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Walk the Sky - Walk the Sky (2005)

There's an old adage that most of us have heard more than once: "They don't make 'em like they used to."  There's a lot of truth to that, as is evidenced by a number of products that have been on the market for years.  I'm in Information Technology, so indulge my example of the floppy disk.  Does anyone even really use them any more other than in specialty markets?  Most of us use USB flash drives or various large capacity portable devices.  I remember playing computer games & booting up to MS-DOS on my family's first home computer, the trusty IBM PCjr.  The floppy disks that we purchased with or for that machine were expensive, but they were trusty.  I still have that old computer, and it still works.  Plus my old games & disks mostly still boot & are usable.  The same can't be said for other 5 1/4" or 3 1/2" disks I purchased in years since.  I don't think even the most recent batch of 3 1/2" floppy disks I purchased a few years back are even working - most of those have since failed after FAR fewer uses than my old King's Quest game or trusty MS-DOS 2.1 boot disks.

So it goes with music, in a way.  When a style is new on the scene, it's vibrant & fresh, with lots of exciting things going on.  You have bands that play with wanton abandon and make music that is crazy good somewhat on accident.  Then there are bands that study their craft & take this new style to heart, playing it with absolute precision & technical prowess.  Still, you have bands that inject as much melody as possible into whatever style to increase its marketability and commercial appeal.  And the list goes on.  However, once a style falls out of favor, a much smaller contingent of artists continue to play that style out of a love for the music.  Sometimes the vibrancy and energy of the original movement can be preserved, but often as bands (and their membership) age, something gets lost in that aging process, which is why rock & roll is often considered to be a "young man's game".  However, there are bands that withstand the test of time, or come out of nowhere to capture a moment in time that reflects the peak of a style's success, whether commercially or musically.  Walk the Sky is a good example of the latter.

Walk the Sky is a project lead by former Regime and Soldier guitarist/song-writer Rick Hunter-Martinez.  For those unaware, both of these bands sort of flew "under the radar"in the late 80's and early 90's, being mostly known in "Christian music" circles for their commercial hard rock and metal sounds, but without making too big of a splash nationally.  Regime's "Straight Thru Your Heart" was a solid album of commercial metal and hard rock, and the recent re-issue on RetroActive Records exemplifies the quality of the material that Rick and company were capable of.  This album (complete with 2 Regime tracks re-done) is a shining example of another adage that a learned skill is never forgotten, "like riding a bike".  While it may have been 25 years since Regime and Soldier were active, Rick certainly hasn't forgotten how to play, nor has he lost his touch for writing great songs.

Musically, this stuff is excellent.  It screams "old school" but doesn't sound dated from the standpoint that the production is clean & sounds like it was recorded in 2005 versus 1988.  Guitars scream when they need to, riffing is diverse and catchy, melodies abound, and Rick's fingers fly when he plays solos that are at once flashy and tasteful.  Never does he dive headfirst into the murky waters of guitar solo overkill, instead content to showcase his talent in ways that make sense within the songs.  Bass work by Tom Young is competent, though as with much metal, not overly up front, so it's difficult to pick out from time to time, but there's nothing wildly unique going on here, just competent bass work that does the job without being too wild.  Vocally, Rob Bonstin is on-point and sounds great.  He sounds like he's about half-way between King James vocalist Jimi Bennet, and Stryper's Michael Sweet in terms of both his tone and range.  He fits the material well, and brings a good overall feel to the songs.  He delivers both Regime remakes with great aplomb, and the rest of the material he really shines on as well.  As for the drumming, Jeff Lemas does everything you expect from the standpoint of the songs - tasteful drumming that doesn't go too far off the beaten path, knowing when to add fills and bits here & there for effect, but not showboating.

My biggest complain about the album is not in the sound, but the consistency of the material.  Pretty much all the songs are great, but there are some tracks that don't immediately feel like they belong here: "Snake Eyes", "Make Up Your Mind", "What You Need", and to a lesser extent, "Touched By You".  These have a much more laid back, bluesy feel, and don't feel like they were written as part of a whole album, but feel like they're more just tracks that Rick & company wrote when they got together to just jam stuff out, versus feeling like they're a cohesive part of the album.  They're quality tracks, no doubt; matter of fact, I'd be interested in hearing an entire album of this bluesy hard rock style from this group of musicians, because they play it well and the songs are tight.  However, in the context of this album, they feel a bit out of place.  It would be like taking 3 or 4 random tracks from Cinderella's "Heartbreak Station" album (heavy on the blues rock) and inserting them into the band's debut, the somewhat heavier & more metal-oriented "Night Songs".  It's the same band, but it doesn't always feel like a natural flow from track to track.  Otherwise, this is all quality material.

If you are at all a fan of 80's-styled hard rock, commercial metal, or "hair metal" in any fashion, you need to at least hear this material, because no one is doing it quite like this these days.  Despite the disparity between some of the material, this is still a high quality album that I can't imagine anyone being into any of the aforementioned bands not liking or thoroughly enjoying.  Recommended.


No comments: