CD Review: Lillian Axe "Deep Red Shadows"

CD Review: Lillian Axe "Deep Red Shadows" 
Love & War Records
All Access Review:  B

Keeping to those Deep Red Shadows referred to in the title of their ninth album, Lillian Axe, their solid hard-rock credentials built on blazing heavy-metal riffs, strong-as-steel song structures and a melodic sensibility that’s always ranged from unremittingly dark to sweetly poisonous, hardly ever emerges from them to find the world waiting with bated breath for whatever new sinister creations they’ve dreamed up. And that’s unfortunate, because Steve Blaze and his hardy crew of metal miscreants rarely disappoint, even if their albums never seem to rise up to that glorious metal nirvana reserved for only the chosen few God, or perhaps Satan, have blessed.

With song titles like “47 Ways to Die,” “The Quenching of Human Life” and “Sad Day on Planet Earth,” Deep Red Shadows would appear to be obsessed with human mortality, but that’s only one side of the story. Actually a passionate indictment of apathy and the blind eye mankind increasingly turns toward human suffering “Sad Day on Planet Earth” is all wrapped up in a fairly complex web woven of cycling, silvery acoustic guitar. Similarly cast, the follow-up, “Nocturnal Symphony,” is a dreamy, romantic meditation on eternity and the afterlife that you wish had something that set it apart from its predecessor, but is, none the less, interesting in its own right, if a bit devoid of emotional resonance.

As for “47 Ways to Die” and its black, sweeping embrace of more pop-oriented tricks, this is the song that would have AFI fans all in a tizzy if Lillian Axe weren’t so unnecessarily pigeonholed as a “metal” act. There are irrepressible vocal hooks hidden in its slowly building wave of guitars, setting the stage for the heavy, ponderous riffing and death-trip fantasy of “The Quenching of Human Life” and the stained-glass vision that colors the crushing quiet-loud-quiet dynamics of “A Minute of Years.” Better still is the pounding epic “Under The Same Moon,” a relentless battleship of a song thrashed by storms of guitars as its black clouds open up ever so slightly to reveal a bit of pale acoustic sun midway through, before dropping the hammer of the gods one more time and ending up in some protective harbor of melodic goodness and light.

Deep Red Shadows is a nice effort, but one that, aside from how wonderfully “Under the Same Moon” unfolds and how “47 Ways to Die” simply crashes against the rocky coast of your ears, contains less memorable and majestic moments than you’d for from a band that’s been fighting the good fight for so long. Consistently good, but somewhat clinical and bloodless, the album draws out the intricate guitar work of Blaze and Sam Poitevent and the power and grace of Derrick LeFevre’s vocals. Former Metal Church singer Ronny Munroe replaced LeFevre this summer, and perhaps he’ll push the band to greater heights. Until then, enjoy Deep Red Shadows for what it is, not what it could have been.

-         - Peter Lindblad

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