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Friday, August 07, 2009

CD Review: Lillian Axe - Sad Day On Planet Earth

Lillian Axe - Sad Day On Planet Earth
2009 Blistering Records
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

Though the name Lillian Axe never did roll instantly off the tongue of hard rockers and headbangers over the years, never let it be said Steve Blaze and Lady Lillian haven't given their all, particularly after exchanging a primary mode of melodic metal ala Dokken for something more progressive amidst their dedicated primer of tunefulness.

"Dream of a Lifetime" and "Show a Little Love" could've been greater than modest hits for Lillian Axe had Warrant and Firehouse (and the platinum angels with plastic faces Def Leppard before them) not stolen the limelight once Lillian Axe were kickstarted on the scene courtesy of the late Robbin Crosby and subsequent video plays on the original Headbangers Ball.

Many following Lillian Axe view Steve (back in the day known as "Stevie") Blaze and his group officially changing course as of 1993's strong and complex Psychoschizophrenia. Honestly, Blaze had already been tinkering with more elaborate songwriting as of Love + War with robust, mathematic tunes such as "Ghost of Winter" and even "Diana," the latter of which also yielded sugar cane choruses to offset the snarling bitchery of "All's Fair In Love and War" and "Down On You." Even Lillian Axe's self-titled debut from 1988 yielded the exquisite "Waiting in the Dark" to counter the bouncy Iron Eagle soundtrack flavor which became hipster chic in the rock community when it saw life.

2007's Waters Rising was one of the rarely-spoken feelgood stories as Steve Blaze officially resharpened the Axe and issued some of his most commanding and articulate music to-date. Wisely keeping the same ensemble for this year's Sad Day On Planet Earth, Lillian Axe may continue to be unsung heroes of a scene lately relegating long-existing acts as "Rocklahoma" worthy only, however, there shows no deterence whatsoever on Blaze's part.

Sad Day On Planet Earth is well-likely Blaze's most excavated work, even as he decidedly turns the pages back at times to the more elaborate moments of Love + War and continues the threads of twining harmony he struck gold with on Waters Rising. Better yet, Blaze concocts a spiritually-grounded metal epic about the collapse of Mother Earth in godless times and towards the end of this quite-long album, he projects hope and ambition towards better times under the eyes of God.

Starting on the heavier side with "Megaslowfade," "Jesus Wept" and "Ignite," Lillian Axe make a statement they're still no slouches on the amps while provoking the listener with sharp lyrics about a crestfallen society led into an abyss of chaos and hatred. However, the bouncing "Ignite," which would've sounded ultra-rad booming out of an '84 Mustang with custom mags uses its rhythmic tempo to "fire off a cosmic round that will blind every devil on a planet that's saved."

In the latter half of the album, Blaze repeatedly utilizes acoustic picking tapestries to set up random surprises such as the yummy fifties rock 'n roll sway on the choruses of the otherwise cautious and slinky "Cold Day In Hell." As he did on Waters Rising, Blaze capitalizes on sweet blends of 12-string plucks which sound like harpsichord as well psychedelic top layers on the verses of "Nocturnal Symphony." Happy to note this finely-written tune elevates into powerful, crunchy choruses. Put together, it is undeniably Beatles-esque as is the album's gracefully textured (and ultimately thunderous) "witness" finale "Fire, Blood, the Earth & Sea." If you were around the first time, did you picture Lillian Axe growing this lavish when you had the more basic "The More That You Get" and "Misery Loves Company" to roll over?

Granted, Lillian Axe does dip back towards a throwback metallic punch groove on "Kill Me Again," albeit the Steve Blaze penning this song is more in-tune with making a pact with his savior than goofily "Laughing in Your Face" in the old days. Such depth cannot be overlooked despite temptation to relegate "Kill Me Again's" old school riff trips, because Blaze turns to The Beatles, Megadeth and the bible to deliver an updated version of the past with far more relevance and revelation.

Only at times does Sad Day On Planet Earth betray a few loose ends such as transparent, muffly sound capturing of drummer Ken Koudelka's floor tom, but overall, Steve Blaze more than competently mixes his latest creation and lets his guitars sparkle and sizzle only when they serve the moment. Likewise, vocalist Derrick LeFevre suits this band better than anyone previously holding court, no disrespect especially to Rob Taylor, whose pipes breathe life into "Dream of a Lifetime" as if he forever owns the song. LeFevre was impressive on Waters Rising; on this album, he's downright passionate.

Whatever you do, don't dismiss this group because Steve Blaze is the only remnant from the old days, or just because you feel Lillian Axe is to be held in the same nostalgic regard as Bang Tango or L.A. Guns, two excellent bands in their prime and still capable of delivering a wallop today. Blaze and Lillian Axe are living in the now and Sad Day On Planet Earth is a striking example of doing something meaningful under the new guard of an old banner.

Rating: ****


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