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MENCHEN - RED ROCK (*NEW-CD, 2008, Retroactive) Tony Franklin/Whitesnake + Robert Sweet/Stryper

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MENCHEN - RED ROCK (*NEW-CD, 2008, Retroactive) Tony Franklin/Whitesnake + Robert Sweet/Stryper

  • Robert Sweet of Stryper
  • Bill Menchen of Titanic/Final Axe/Seventh Power
  • Ken Redding of His Witness
  • Tony Franklin of Quiet Riot/Blue Murder/Whitesnake

It was the fall of 2007 and Retroactive Records owner Matt Hunt asked guitarist Bill Menchen to record a second The Seventh Power album. “And while you are at it, “Matt added, “Why don’t you also put together an instrumental CD with Robert Sweet”. Unduly inspired, Bill proceeded to throw together some new material and, once Robert had finished tracking the drums, recruited Tony Franklin (Whitesnake, Blue Murder) to handle bass guitar duties. After Matt heard what the three had come up with in the studio, he could not help but say “This is too good not to have vocals”. So the search began for a singer with the end result being Ken Redding (His Witness). With its final line up in place, the new four piece unit decided upon the moniker Menchen – at the suggestion of Matt – before putting the finishing touches on its fall of 2008 full length Retroactive debut Red Rock.

What we have in Menchen is straightforward hard rock with the occasional groove, blues, metal and funk overtone. No, this might not be as consistently heavy as the artists’ recent efforts with The Seventh Power (Dominion & Power) and Titanic (Full Steam Ahead), but if you enjoy early 90’s Bride, Die Happy, Red Sea and the V-Rats then Red Rock is certain to appeal to you. Those into the various projects in which Bill Menchen has participated – and by no means am I inviting a direct comparison – should find a lot to like here as well.

Red Rock, for a lack of better words, features some of the finest compositions from Bill Menchen to date. And nowhere is this better evident than on mid-paced pieces “Noon Sun”, “Forty” and “Time To Ride” (great hooks on these three) along with the equally tempered groove of “Shifting Sands” and ploddingly creative “Snowy Plain”. An upbeat direction is taken on “Train Crossing” (catchy hook here as well) and “Wild Wind Blow” (nice use of organ made on this one) while “Desert Rain” delivers a refreshing touch of the progressive.

When taking into consideration the talent at hand - Ken Redding, Bill Menchen, Robert Sweet and Tony Franklin – Menchen can best be described as an all star project.

Let’s start with Redding. Red Rock finds him singing in a lower register when compared to his work on His Witness’ debut Kingdom Come (recorded in 1988). No, he has not lost any range over the years but, rather, brings a higher level of maturity, as demonstrated in the command and control he exhibits throughout the project. If anything, Redding sounds like a cross between Jimmy Brown (Deliverance) and Eric Clayton (Saviour Machine) but with a touch of Geoff Tate thrown in. Yes, the guy is that good.

Menchen makes his presence felt as well, particularly his penchant for delivering biting guitar riffs – again, Red Rock has more of a hard rock feel as opposed to metal but certainly is not without its share of muscle – while occasionally interweaving things with touches of quietly played guitar. He displays his blinding lead work as well (such as on “Train Crossing” and “Noon Sun”) while even showcasing a bluesy side to his playing (“Time To Ride”).

Is there a more talented rhythm section than Robert Sweet and Tony Franklin? Sweet remains on top of things with the type of tight but technical showing one would expect of him, laying down a solid foundation of precision for the band to rest its sound upon. But it is Franklin who takes things to the next level. His playing, at times punchy and others jazzy, is always creative in cleanly rising above the mix (which is testament to the albums crystal clear production values). To get an understanding of what Franklin brings to the table, image Ez Gomer (Jet Circus), Jim LaVerde (Barren Cross) and Pete Emms (V-Rats) rolled into one.

“Train Crossing” gets things going with a bang, an energetic rocker highlighting a razor edged rhythm guitar sound and perfectly placed rumbling bass line. With its tasteful changes in tempo – ranging from low key verse portions to an animated chorus as catchy as they get – and sublime vocal presence of Redding, the song rates with the albums finest. “Train Crossing” touches upon the second coming:

Clouds roll back and the sun shines down
The old freight train is glory bound
The Earth rumbles and the train arrives
Those who believe it save their lives

Hallelujah the train is coming…

The mid-tempo muscle of “Noon Sun” proves every bit as able. The song slowly fades in before charging ahead to a driving guitar riff bordering on the militant. Maintaining the steadfast momentum throughout its first verse, “Noon Sun” decelerates upon acquiring an ambient chorus in which the rhythm guitar fades to a backseat in the mix. The lyrics here are as every bit creative as the music:

I need a drink, an everlasting drink
Can someone save a dying man?
I’ve lost my way, I walk day after day
I’m wondering in the burning sand

I walk along but I don’t walk alone
Cross every valley filled with sand
Walk in the bright light
See His star at night
Can almost touch the guiding hand

“A Salt Mine” delivers some of the albums heaviest moments. The song finds an edgy rhythm guitar at the forefront of the mix, creating an atmosphere that borders on the dominant in capacity. The rhythm guitar does not give way, however, until a plodding chorus underlined by an acoustic guitar is acquired. Menchen stands out with his bluesy work on lead guitar.

“Ashes And Dust” heads in a straightforward hard rock direction. Featuring a brief but flowing chorus – which immediately gets things going – the song is driven from front to back by a powering guitar riff (backed by Robert Sweet’s technical presence on drums). Initiative does not taper until the song obtains a quieter passage, which soon gives way to an instrumental section featuring a blistering guitar solo. Job is the subject matter at hand:

Shall we receive good and not evil?
We shall receive from the hand of the Lord?

Though He slay me
Yet shall I praise Him
What is man that
God is mindful of Him?
Who can counsel Him who laid
The foundation down
Where were you when all the stars
Sang out loud?

The dark and weighty “Forty” plods its full length to a pronounced low end. Redding adds a complementary low key touch to his delivery, best highlighting the swarthy environs with the deep harmonizing he adds to the songs first several seconds. The chorus, of course, is superlative in featuring just the right amount of gripping – almost anthem-like – appeal. “Forty” deals with Christ’s temptation in the wilderness:

Forty days tempted in the wilderness
Forty days going hungry
Satan tempts make bread from stone
Jesus says live by God’s word alone

Tell me people what’s your forty?
Time of testing time of trial?

“Shifting Sand” comes across in the form of a groove laden hard rocker. Stalwart would be the best way to describe the song as it muscles through its verse portions in establishing a contrasting lyrical environment:

Last years political answer turns out to be a disaster
Health food that’s good for me turns out to give me cancer
Movie stars who have the life end up being divorced in strife
Turns out the home run king was doing that steroid thing

A purposeful chorus, on the other hand, focuses on the One Rock to stand upon:

One God who made us all
One Lord saves us from the fall
One Rock on which to stand
In this world of shifting sand

Franklin’s pronounced bass lines are really happening here as well.

“Time To Ride”, with its tasteful changes in tempo, showcases some of the albums more creative moments. The song kicks in at once to an energetic guitar riff, spiritedly advancing through its first verse only to taper in a guttural manner for its bridge and near crawl for a catchy chorus sustained by a quietly played guitar. Beautiful. Menchen steps to the plate with a brief but bluesy stretch of lead guitar.

Plodding, intense and just plain heavy, “Snowy Plain” proves four minutes of heavy duty metal with its snarling rhythm guitar sound. The song begins slow and driving only to gradually build momentum, peaking to a crescendo of hard hitting riffs before abruptly tapering to a near doom-ish crawl as pummeling drums decorate the backdrop. Inspired would be the best way to describe not only the music here but lyrics as well:

I had to put on my shades
This blinding light snowy plain so white
Transfigured before my eyes
Glorious white shining so bright
And as the moon hung in the sky
I stopped and stared should I say all night?

The up-tempo “Wild Wind Blows” delivers a ton of groove. A touch of organ accents the song as it races its distance in establishing a frenetic scene, only briefly decelerating for a stylish chorus before regaining the lost initiative in unrelenting fashion. Menchen adds a run of bluesy lead guitar to a song based around John 3:8:

Right now I’m living way out in the desert
But I’m waiting for the wind to blow to make things better
Up in the mountains down by the ocean
Any way the wind blows that’s where I’m going

Any where I go any where I go
Any where I go is where the wind blows

“Desert Rain” brings an inviting touch of the progressive. The song opens to a thunderstorm interwoven with a piano, calmly drifting until impetus abruptly builds as a hard rocking rhythm guitar takes over. “Desert Rain” proceeds to drive ahead with a ton of class – the melody here is huge – while Menchen wails away on guitar in the background. Things close in the way they began to a thunderstorm.

The best way to sum up would be to state that Bill Menchen, Robert Sweet, Ken Redding and Tony Franklin prove an unbeatable combination. When further factoring in the inspired songwriting and adept production values, Red Rock is certain to challenge for album of the year. A highly recommended first class work of art.

Review by: Andrew Rockwell

Track Listing: “Train Crossing” (4:12), “Moon Sun” (3:50), “A Salt Mine” (4:04), “Ashes And Dust” (3:34), “Forty” (3:50), “Shifting Sand” (3:41), “Time To Ride” (3:51), “Snowy Plain” (3:45), “Wild Wind Blows” (3:44), “Desert Rain” (3:24)

Ken Redding – Lead Vocals
Bill Menchen – Guitars
Tony Franklin – Bass
Robert Sweet – Drums