This is the album of 2016. I’m nailing this in place. Challenge accepted music industry?
So lets start by me apologising to all the PRs and randoms who I harassed, stalked and Tony Soprano’d to get ‘Stand in the Fire’ by the Canadian metal super-colossus that is Striker. If you’ve heard the last album, ‘City of Gold’, then you will understand why I went out of my way to get this release. Infact if you had heard the album before that, ‘Armed to the Teeth’ then I really should have gone to Canada to be first in the queue. However, lets just enter the realms of fantasy for a moment and imagine that you haven’t heard previous Striker albums before. I’ll give you some prompts.
Striker. Canadian. Class themselves as an amalgam of rock, hard rock and hair metal. If you are thinking ‘Cherry Pie’, when you read hair metal then lets just put that thought well and truly out of your mind. This music may have had its genesis in the mid-80s but it is so far removed from the basic hair-metal of that era it’s not recognisable. What Striker’s music does do is tick every hair metal box cliche while actually being able to play. Take that Warrant. This band does not do things by half. I am a massive fan of a band that starts a riff then does another different riff at the same time just for the hell of it. Riffs are just leading to solos and the only reason you stop a solo is to start another one. The only time that you don’t start a song with a riff is when you start a song with a solo. Write down those three commandments of Striker because its a manifesto worth learning.
So, after a bit of stand over tactics, the album drops into my mailbox. All meetings cancelled and the album fires up and its an uncompromising riff-fest from the beginning. If 80s hair metal was all about top-down in the convertible cruising to the beach, this is full speed to oblivion as its just force-ten from Edmonton. This is a crazed rush of everything thrown at you all at once.
Track one, ‘Phoenix Lights’, starts things off with a casual riff that bursts into a revved up riff-tide, sucking us in for three minutes of mayhem. Did I mention that this album is best enjoyed with your feet firmly on the ground, shoulder width apart, while you bang your head, fist pump and point at things without looking at them. Got that? Then lets dive into, ‘Out for Blood’, which has an insane riff and a drum beat that drives things along. I’ve no idea whats going on as the drums have broken away and its a riff-a-thon until we head towards the inevitable solo and its a ball tearer – and its a saxophone. Ever heard a guitar and a saxophone swap leads in what the band calls ,’80s cop-drama saxophone filled metal’. Its just crazy, jaw dropping shred.
We stagger into, ‘Too Late’, which starts with a lazy 80s opening with what sounds like a MSG intro. This is probably one of the more laid back tracks on the album and chance for you to catch your breath. It’s the first hint at hair metal and its spot on. By the time it fades we are ready for the title track and we know that this album is something special. This is another wild ride and just hold on while we pile on the riffs heading to the solo which cuts in near the end of the track while the rhythm goes on a shred journey. The solo takes up the last minute of the three and a half minute track. What do we do when we are not soloing? We riff…..until we solo again.
With a title that hints at mid-80s madness we get, ‘The Iron never Lies’, encouraging us to be the last man standing and testing out our strength, while presumably wearing double denim. Again its plain nuts, packed with solos and excellent clear and crisp vocals. Half way through we drop onto a gentle little bridge then power chord our way back to solo madness. At this stage those of you with hair should be seeking out a fan and blowing those locks around while you listen to this monster as its hair metal at its very best. How good is that track!
Half way through the album and its, ‘Escape from Shred City’ and its an instrumental. So no prizes for what that means. Riff on a riff, then change up to two competing riffs while we have some machine drum craziness going on. Slow up, its time for a solo, then clear the way for another solo. Oh what the hell lets have two leads and a shredding rhythm. The mix on this album is a tribute to the mastery that is Frederik Nordstrom who worked wonders with Opeth. Just shy of three minutes but that is a belter. Should be used as an elimination track in the world air guitar championships. Psychotically awesome.
We drop to,’Outlaw’, which can’t be bothered with a riff and just starts with a solo before creating a riff tsunami. The rhythm guitar in this is just mad, driving the song on and so high in the mix the lead is almost obliterated. Then the lead pops out and its on again.We drive into, ‘Locked In’, which is pick of the bunch for me. In many ways the riff reminds us of the previous track but this is a far more complex beast and you are lost in the number of guitars in the mix. We break to sustain, build up the guitars and rock into the second verse. Its unrelenting power metal. I played this track over and over again as it just takes me back to the time when the guitar gods were releasing albums, on what seemed to be a weekly basis, each one challenging and pushing the other. This has the brazen guitar hysteria of Moore but all of the control and chorus of the Schenker boys.
So to, ‘United’, and this is a straight up pose from the beginning. Its the 80s feel good song, with the mass vocals on the chorus flowing into a solo. United….Unbroken. I have the overwhelming urge to find a lighter and raise it above my head at this point. The second-to-last track is, ‘Better Times’ which is perhaps the weakest on the release as I found it a little disjointed. Then again, have you heard the stuff that came before it? So my sights are set pretty high at this point.
And that brings us to the last song and the staple of the classic era of hair metal, the ballad. So a ballad from Striker is a fairly straightforward task where you hold your shit together for as long as possible before breaking into a solo. So its, ‘One Life’, and its a reflective piece with acoustic guitar thrown in and, trust me, its all very sensitive. Then we enter the thrash phase, which, of course, every ballad needs. This song ends with a riff that wouldn’t be out of place on Kill Em All. Didn’t see that coming.
So, what can I say. Loved it. Mad, mental, crazed and packed full of riffs and solos. Huge respect for Tim Brown playing all guitars on this album. Great work everyone. Stop reading, start buying.
Review: Craig Grant