IRIDIUM ROCK AND METAL REVIEWS WITH LEIGH SPENCE
We were honored to be reviewed by our friend Leigh Spence at Iridium Rock and Metal Reviews!
Leigh was the first person to play these tunes to the world, and we couldn't appreciate him and what he does more!
CHRISTIAN MOLTEN METAL BANDS
THE BRAVE – GRAVEDIGGER – Fan Album Review
By Samuel in Australia
It might be cold Down Under, but as a massive fan of The Brave’s material, I’m emphatic in saying that it isn’t cold anywhere around the band’s new album, Gravedigger… Honestly – it’s caught fire! Somebody grab the fire extinguisher… quick!! The Grave Digger is upon us - and he has delivered to the fans in spades. For me, this album is the finest of the band’s career so far – a beast full of killer tunes! Catchy as anything with the memorable hooks, this is outright ear-candy. You’d do well to find another album that’s recorded and mixed better than this one. You can hear for yourselves the logical progression in personal and professional growth and excellence evident in this recording. With sound magician JR McNeely collaborating yet again on mixing duties, the LP sails to new heights.
The clever narrative of Grave Digger’s incredible track Undertaker starts out, “Can you hear the words I’m saying? The music’s loud and the band keeps playing…!” Ever since the opening stanza of All Together Now pounding my ears to kick off the Battle Cries debut album - recorded by the band during the LA Riots of 1992 - Stayce Roberts (lead and BGV’s, guitar, keys), Malcolm Paris (bass guitar, BGV’s) and rhythm maestro John Spittle are up to their old tricks – and at it again having more fun together than ever: They’re well and truly alive and kicking in 2022! You can hear the MUSIC and MESSAGE loud and clear – and I have to say – the band haven’t been clearer in their intention or better in how they’ve done it.
Hot on the heels of 2021’s Evie’s Little Garden, the illustrious comeback album after 27 years, Grave Digger was described by Stayce Roberts as ‘more mature’ and insinuated the band ‘is in full bloom’ on this disc. After his suggestion that EV’s was simply The Brave ‘clearing their throats,’ I couldn’t agree more that Grave Digger is simply the zenith of the band’s achievements across their entire catalogue so far: From front to back, this new LP is a masterpiece. The ‘Three Picassos’ have – together - painted a rich, deep, impacting and long-lasting work-of-art for the fans to savor for years to come. It’s the perfect fusion of what these guys are known for – late 80’s sounding AOR-style arena rock along with understated bluesy groove - and this time these fellas have taken things to the next level.
Over the 13 incredible tracks, there seems to be a bit of a leaning slightly more towards the Trust album kind of vibe, with top-notch grooving and bluesy riffing – yet with plenty of the more AOR arena rock sound. The atmosphere of the tracks is arguably at it’s finest on this recording. In particular, the keyboards in their layering and variation add even more to the atmosphere of each mix, without stealing from the guitar orientation of each track. With the signature BGV’s and huge sound emanating from the speakers, you can hear plenty of influences all across the rock spectrum – the likes of Mr Big, Warrant, Def Leppard, Bon Jovi, Extreme – even Badlands, Ozzy Osborne and Foreigner – to name a few.
I described EV’s as a kaleidoscope of different musical colors to savor. Grave Digger is more of a musical smorgasbord of ‘fine dining’ rock and roll, complete with chocolate souffle, if you will – and just like the EV’s album – the variation and quality of the track material ‘had me from “Hello” the minute the intro to the Grave Digger track kicked in. If EV’s was a bazooka, then GD really is like a tank… it hits you!
Musically, lyrically and spiritually – The Brave are at home here. It feels like the same comradery, spirit and purpose is on this disc as the one The Brave bought into the studio for the first time in the Pakaderm label days. Everything seems to have been pushed to its creative, organic ‘limit’. The sound is ‘like a million-dollar production,’ the sentiment posed by masterful YouTube album reviewer, Leigh Spencer of Iridium Reviews. This is outstanding stuff: Production quality is out of this world - and the songwriting and arrangements are meticulous.
No song sounds the same. The band has so much to say that’s poignant and pertinent to us in 2022. See if you can pick up the pattern in some of the song titles (Grave Digger, Eternal, Ghosts, Afterlife, Heaven Knows, Undertaker…) the themes are prominent regarding the afterlife, the breaking of chains that hold us down – and the call to get right with God while there’s still time… There’s timely social commentary in the tracks BraveNation and Strange New World – one or both of which were inspired by a statue of what appears to be the beast in the Book of Revelation erected outside the United Nations building in New York. Finding hope in Christ in the fallen world in which we live is front and center of the album.
Stayce’s guitar playing sounds like Paul Gilbert (of Mr Big fame) on steroids. Never sounding better, he shreds with infectious lead and rhythm guitar parts that blow the mind with luscious tones and effects. Did I mention his pipes? Man, can Mr Roberts sing the house down! His lead and BGV’s sound more grown and mature than ever. There’s intentional variety in his vocal delivery all over the disc – the falsetto pops up, the high wails appear – and the low croons carry the songs’ narrative along perfectly. Malcolm’s bass playing is the best I’ve ever heard – and his instrument is so pivotal and evident in the mix as the songs are carried along, giving me goosebumps. John cuts loose on his skins with the assured and commanding spirit of John Bonham – and his cymbals and drums are the best I’ve heard in a recording with John behind the kit… Wow! Each member gives every track exactly what they need with an accomplished chemistry. They’re as tight as they’ve ever been making the best music of their ministry careers.
GRAVEDIGGER: (Brave Vibe – The River meets We’re Not In Kansas Anymore) Man! Slow-tempo catchy-as belter. Notable intro and outro with a decidedly Hollywood movie score feel. Really cooks when kicks in full-bore. Clever lyrically imploring the listener to get right with God. Brilliant guitar solo. Staycey’s vocals are killer – I understand the BGV’s were layered so meticulously with more than multiple BGV tracks on this incredible, bluesy tune. Chorus hummer, ala Evie’s Little Garden. One of the band’s best-ever tracks.
BAD DAY: (Brave Vibe – Elevate Me meets Killing Floor) Subtle, slightly subdued mid-tempo bluesy fire-cracker. Shades of Extreme and Mr Big here with a cool Rob Thomas attitude throughout. Clever lyrical boundary-builder and line-in-the-sand. Takes a stand against the enemy, putting him in his place. Awesome bluesy Santana-like lead guitar segments. Tight as a butt-crack rhythm section to the groove. Wind those car windows down as you cruise around…
BRAVE NATION: (Brave Vibe – I’ve Always Wondered meets Big World) The quintessential Brave track of the entire catalogue. Says everything there is to say as to the state of the world and how big our God is. Bit of Queensryche mixed with somewhat catchy Warrant kind of feel. Statement-like and one of those huge Brave anthems, ala If That Ain’t Love that stays with you. Slightly haunting in parts, yet strong in conviction and almost boogie-like at the end of each chorus.
ETERNAL: (Brave Vibe – Trust meets Lonely Bones) Possibly most ‘unforeseen’ track to make the cut. Beautiful surprise ballad-come-rocker with subdued sections not too dissimilar to Extreme’s More Than Words before really soaring into a rocked-up middle sequence. A haunting, hopeful, soaring and vulnerable number with a delicate feel. One of the most far-reaching, emotive guitar solos in the catalogue – not unlike Lonely Bones. Memorable acoustic intro and especially notable nylon-string outro in conjunction with orchestral strings that welcomes a nostalgic feel as it fades.
GHOSTS: (Brave Vibe – Creep meets I’ve Always Wondered) Absolute killer tune outta left-field. Creepy intro not unlike Creep. Bluesy, groove-orientated guitar riffing here into super-catchy chorus. Notable dreamy Queen-like bridge with an Ozzy Osbourne feel, followed by my favorite measured - yet bull-outta-the-gate - guitar solo that’s so hot, it cooks the barbecue to char-like proportions. Lyrically it’s a deep ‘chewing of the fat’ regarding subtleties – and reality - of spiritual warfare as Christ-ones.
TEMPLES: (Brave Vibe – Following You meets Long Way To Heaven) Arguably the catchiest, funkiest track on the LP. Shades of Guardian’s Curiosity Killed The Cat and Bride’s Don’t Use Me in this bluesy, fist-pumping romp. Catches you off-guard as it hits right off the bat. Groovy effects and loops. Possibly the most unforeseen, meandering and groovy bridge of the whole album. Guitar solos are memorable and atmospheric with Santana-like pop-sensibilities. Staycey’s low-end and high-end vocals layered simultaneously in the 2nd chorus onwards is an album highlight…Wow!
ALIVE: (Brave Vibe – Big World meets I’ve Always Wondered meets Ride With The Rhythm) Surprise from the band’s original Faxx-era early days of 1987 – it’s a surefire winner and fan favorite. Full array of Staycey’s vocal range in awesome display on this one. Atmospheric keys so prominent in the mix just add to the strength of the rhythm guitars. Huge choruses and story-telling narrative from the view of everyday people’s lives juxtaposed against the Gospel story of what Christ did once for all. Powerful, all-encompassing and unifying in an All Together Now type of vein.
HEAVEN KNOWS: (Brave Vibe - Running All My Life meets Trust) Lyrically and emotively powerful power-ballad. The outro gave positive chills down the spine ala Running All My Life. Memorable dual-harmonizing guitar solo reminiscent of Never Live Without Your Love and Run To You. Really captures the heart of God in midst of heartache, with a hopeful view to Heaven and what we know our heavenly future will look like.
SOMEONE’S WATCHING OVER ME: (Brave Vibe - Come To Me meets If I Told You) Unassuming sleeper hit. Didn’t see the emotional pull and musical hooks coming in this melancholic, reflective and yearning classic. Deep, melodic, sweeping - almost gut-wrenching - it has the full array of emotions on show here in a beautifully haunting take of knowing what it’s like to feel loved by a Heavenly Father watching over and deeply pursuing us. Beautiful array to Staycey’s vocal range and urgency I’ve never heard before that’s grips and doesn’t let up. Creeps up on you the way Come To Me did upon first listen. Most personally impacting and favorite track of the album… Wow!
LOVE IS THE ONLY PLACE: (Brave Vibe - And We All Fall Down meets Love: Automatic) Uplifting, punchy, party-like number that highlights the positives of our walk with the Lord. Almost punk-influenced verses. Stretching, soaring pre-choruses that take you on a journey of hope. Choruses have a memorable sing-along assuredness and the guitar solo is fun and melodic.
THE UNDERTAKER: (Brave Vibe – Rage Of The Age meets Lucid) Groove-machine. Daring and clever lyrically. Super-catchy beast that’s a slow-tempo clugging chucker. Creepy intro with Ozzy vibes in distorted vocal delivery in the verses. Pre-chorus is catchy-as. Huge chorus showcasing Staycey’s vocal chops and BGV’s are huge. Choruses end with incredible, surprising chord changes plus equally surprising lead guitar section. Wind-the-windows-down rocker and album highlight.
AFTERLIFE: (Brave Vibe - Just A Man meets Never Live Without Your Love) The LP’s ‘full-cream’ ballad – clocking in at over 6 minutes long. Terrific measured build from start to finish in true Foreigner/Journey style. Deeply impacting as you find yourself remembering loved ones that may have passed on. Rings true as one contemplates their own mortality with hope and conviction. Stayce’s varied vocal delivery and falsetto is the real deal.
STRANGE NEW WORLD: (Brave Vibe - Love: Automatic meets Run To You) Perfect send-off to end the album on a soaring, assured musical crescendo. Latches onto you with a positive, hopeful emotive narrative that never lets go. Almost haunting, yet dreamy determination and steely resolve as it lifts you up to a future where ‘He’s got the whole world in His hands.’
Outstanding songs: The Brave know how to write a song. It’s melody central here with one catchy melody and chorus after the next. So much so, I found myself finding the goldmine of ‘my favorite track so far’ about eight times in a row after the previous ‘favorite’ track was superseded by the next…you get my drift. One finds themselves hemmed in as a listener and you’re hooked before you know it. Song construction is well thought out and meticulous. The emotional intelligence in each tune’s lyrical and musical narrative is brilliant and assured. The tunes stir emotion in all the right areas that tie in beautifully with their individual and collective message. The variation in the songs is excellent, and the track list order is bang on for variety and hooks. No ‘filler’ to be found.
Production quality: is superb. It’s obvious that recording with bandmates located in different states, then engineering, producing and arranging the tracks has been completed to an incredible standard. Add JR McNeely into the mix (pun intended!) and you have an outrageous monster sound!
Musical Equity: apparent in the line-up of Roberts, Paris and Spittle is obvious. The fun the guys must have had together cutting tracks to this disc is real and palpable.
In conclusion, Grave Digger is my Album Of The Year so far – in a 2022 packed with quality releases from bands and artists making comebacks galore. It doesn’t get any better than this, folks. The Brave have really excelled themselves this time – managing to follow up the fantastic Evie’s Little Garden with aplomb. Beware the Grave Digger… If you’re licking your chops, grab your napkin and buy the album… now!