The history of MESSIAH's 1984 "Final Warning" is a tragedy. Thankfully this LONG overdue remastered re-issue of this incredibly rare piece of heavy metal mastery may remedy this situation. The reason I stated that this record was a tragedy is that first off, barely ANYONE heard it! Second, is the issue of Christian Metal. Some believe the term an oxymoron and firmly hold onto the belief that any band professing Christianity fundamentally CANNOT be Metal. To a large degree I hold this belief. With ONE exception: MESSIAH. Which brings us to the idea of "White Metal". This term was most famously used to describe the GREATEST U.S. heavy metal band ever, TROUBLE. But the term was immediately controversial because TROUBLE did not outwardly profess any connection to the christian church. Their lyrics(in the tradition of BLACK SABBATH) dealt heavily with existential issues of good vs. evil and powers from beyond(both good and evil) who exist in the minds of men. So in my opinion TROUBLE were NOT a Christian Metal band(although "White Metal" I still find an apt description for them).
Which brings us to the album we're discussing: MESSIAH-"Final Warning". MESSIAH WERE a Christian band. But the thing that makes them so fascinating is that UNLIKE the few Christian Metal bands of the time(Stryper for example) & the hundreds of crap Christian "metal" bands that followed, MESSIAH DO NOT quote verses from the Bible in their lyrics. They don't preach! Rather, like TROUBLE(but admittedly in a Christian way) their lyrics deal with generic biblical themes of good vs. evil, judgement, temptation and sin, Lucifer, etc. in a way that one need NOT be a Christian to identify with(just existentially aware). For example, the song "Where Are You" is basically an angst-ridden plea to God to reveal himself. So PLEASE DO NOT pass this album by because you think the songs are all loving Jesus crap and quotes from the Bible. Honestly, had I NOT known that MESSIAH were a Christian band before I first heard them, I very well may not have realized it until after multiple spins, and possibly not at all. I just would have figured they were like TROUBLE or SABBATH and really pre-occupied with good vs. evil, the silence of God, etc.
Now, why did I give this album 5 stars? Easy. Like TROUBLE, MESSIAH had a nearly TOTALLY unique sound and style. It is extremely melodic, moody, and at times crushingly heavy while at other times up-tempo, driving & edgy proto power metal. I GUARANTEE fans of early SAVATAGE will LOVE this LP!!! There are keyboards but they are used tastefully and play an essential role in creating the incredibly bleak moods and strange atmospheres of several tunes. They also nicely adorn more up-tempo tunes like killer opener "Who's To Blame". The vocals are EXTRAORDINARY! Like Eric Wagner from TROUBLE or more pertinently Jon Oliva from SAVATAGE they have this unique, undeniable power and mystique. The melodic choruses are just mind-blowing. HEAVY METAL AT ITS BEST!!! The guitar work is equally excellent. These dudes could play! But just like TROUBLE and early SAVATAGE nothing is OVER-played. The rhythm section is rock solid. MESSIAH could really hit the groove, a rarity in far too much metal. The production is EXCELLENT for a lower-budget LP(especially obvious now that we have a remastered version-praise you Metal gods!). At times the LP has an almost proggy-spaced out feel(VERY friendly to those who enjoy listening to their metal after smokin a little ganja and it's always reminded me of QUARTZ's classic "Against All Odds" LP production-wise) which is super-evident in the absolutely awesome tune "Heavenly Metal"(a song which is TRULY heavenly in its pure Metal brilliance).
"Final Warning" is 80s traditional heavy metal at its finest! The level of craft is SO high that if you consider yourself a fan of 80s melodic metal you MUST hear it! Especially fans of European groups like HEAVY LOAD, 220 VOLT, TORCH, early EUROPE, HIGHWAY CHILE, early SINNER, GRAVESTONE, AXE VICTIMS, SAINTS' ANGER, and also fans of melodic hard-rockin NWOBHM stuff like QUARTZ, CHASER, debut era-TOKYO BLADE, DIAMOND HEAD, TYTAN, "Crazy Nights" era-TYGERS OF PAN TANG and also poppy hard rock/metal UK acts like STAMPEDE and debut-era HEAVY PETTIN' and prog-styled metal groups like SHIVA, DAWNWATCHER, etc. MESSIAH will be of particularly GREAT interest to fans of early power metal and great U.S. groups of the era like WARLORD's '83 classic "Deliver Us", debut-era Q5, CHASTAIN, FATES WARNING, OMEN, MANILLA ROAD, debut-era HEIR APPARENT and other lesser known but excellent U.S. groups like EXXPLORER("Symphonies Of Steel" LP), GRAVEN IMAGE, E.S.P.(from Connecticut-released the rare, stellar "Future Is Now" LP in '87), VALHALLA(who released a self-titled 6 track gem in '84), and others. BUT, MESSIAH resides AS HIGH as any upon the list of bands I've mentioned and I sincerely believe(despite the Christian tag) that "Final Warning" is arguably the greatest independently released U.S. heavy metal LP of all-time and easily one of the greatest releases in the whole world of heavy metal in 1984.
In conclusion, this gem has remained virtually hidden since its release in '84. I own the crappy old bootleg CD versions of "Final Warning" ripped off scratchy old copies of the LP with muddled sound. Even then though, I cherished that poor sounding bootleg because it was SO obvious that the music contained therin was of epic quality. NOW, we have a beautiful, crisp, crystal clear remastered CD version to enjoy, so there's NO excuse. If you truly consider yourself a connisseur of 80's heavy metal(or metal in general) you MUST hear this album! And if you pass it up because they were a Christian group you will have to answer to the METAL GODS...this is your Final Warning!
ANGELIC WARLORD REVIEW
Any discussion concerning the Holy Grail of Christian metal collectibles inevitably revolves around several rare and hard to find albums. Perhaps the scarcest is the CD version of the original mix of Stryper’s Yellow And Black Attack, a highly sought after item that only saw release in Japan. M Pire’s Chapter One (low distribution due to the bands label folding), Scarlet Rayne’s Theater Humanitarian (only 1000 copies printed) and Joshua’s Intense Defense (European only release) are other uncommon CD’s worth mentioning. If you want to talk cassette only demos then the following must be considered: Apostle (Hymns), Xalt (Dark War), Soldier (Babylon), and Paradox (Ruler & Power And Glory) just to name a few. Barren Cross’ six song EP Believe might be the king of vinyl collectibles – it came out in both blue and white vinyl versions – but you also have to reference vinyl only albums by Emerald (Armed For Battle), Stronghold (Fortress Rock), 100% Proof (Power And The Glory) and Messiah (Final Warning).
Messiah is a particularly obscure group, getting its start in Texas in the mid-seventies as a tribute band prior to moving to Detroit and independently releasing two albums: the full length effort Final Warning (1984) and EP Going Insane (1986). So little was known about Messiah at the time that Final Warning and Going Insane were not reviewed in Heaven’s Metal until 1989 (issue #20 described the band as “apocalyptic hard rock”). My impression of Messiah is dark but melodic heavy metal influenced by the seventies and early eighties. The group, for instance, brings the same “old school” feel of other Christian metal bands of the time such Saint, Philadelphia, Bloodgood, Emerald and Messiah Prophet. Mainstream counterparts include Warlord, Uriah Heap, Alice Cooper and Thunder Rider.
Final Warning presents with an even breakdown of melodic metal pieces and those taking a traditional metal approach. From a melodic standpoint, up-tempo numbers “Whose To Blame” and “Heavenly Metal” shine with their catchy choruses while the mid-paced “Outta Control” brings hooks every bit as abundant. “Where Are You”, with its acoustic laced sensibilities, even showcases some commercial hard rock touches. If interested in a heavier direction then the albums doom-ish title track, Alice Cooper influenced “Mistaken Identity” and boundless energy of “Keep Searching” fit the bill. “Lucifer”, perhaps the most creative number here, almost approaches progressive metal territory.
Irregardless of style presented, the songwriting here is of high quality in that the band does a capable job balancing its natural guitar driven energy with catchy hooks to draw you in with repeated listen. Trust me, the melodies are quite strong and will remain with you for some time.
It must be noted that Final Warning received virtually no distribution and disappeared without a trace once Messiah disbanded. The album, as a result, has remained a little known and pricey collector’s item for years, with vinyl copies selling as high as $1000. The good news, however, is that in the fall of 2010 Final Warning was re-mastered and re-issued by Retroactive Records with the original album artwork and liner notes from vocalist Charles Michael.
I enjoy the gritty and raspy style that vocalist Charles Michael brings to the project. While his delivery is reminiscent to Bloodgood front man Les Carlson singing in a lower key (such as on “Whose To Blame”) or even Alice Cooper (check out “Mistaken Identity”), he can add a smooth sounding touch when need as well (see “Heavenly Metal” and “Final Warning”). Guitarist Scott Wood proves a capable shredder, adorning the project with lead work of the same high quality as contemporaries Oz Fox (Stryper), David Zaffiro (Bloodgood), John Mahan (Saint) and Ray Parris (Barren Cross). If in doubt then check out the scorching soloing he adds to “Whose To Blame”, “Mistaken Identity” and “Keep Searching”. Bassist Dave Johnson and drummer Keith Behnke round out the Messiah line up.
Yes, production sounds dated and is a bit thin in places but otherwise holds its own when compared to other releases from the same era.
“Whose To Blame” is an up-tempo barn burner, storming its distance at a feverish pace to a proclivity on the tempestuous side of things. Fast, furious and catchy, this one proves the perfect album opener. “Whose To Blame” asks a relevant question:
I hear the drums of war
Pounding at the door
God is angry
And I hear the trumpets roar
Hate is just a sin
Love in the end will win
Can’t you hear the voice
Calling from within
People we’ve gotta change – or whose to blame?
The pace slows exponentially with “Outta Control”. What we have here is a mid-paced track characterized by its sledgehammer guitar riffs and slick as all get out chorus upheld by layered vocal melodies. An emotional setting is established as the song slows for an acoustic passage that gives way to a blazing run of lead guitar.
The acoustic laced “Where Are You” would not sound out of place on Bloodgood’s Rock In A Hard Place. The song joins a mega melodic chorus – sustained by every bit as big backing vocals – with traces of keyboards that help lend to the commercial scene. One has to appreciate the polish this one brings to the table. The lyrics here cry out to God:
As we pass the time, we have been calling for You
Way up high, yes we have been searching for You
Up on the sky, we have been looking for You
Deep inside, we have been searching for You
So where are You? Where have You gone?
Where are You? It’s been so long?
Hear my cry, Lord I have been waiting for You
I wonder why, I haven’t heard from You
“The Choice” is my least favorite track here. No, far from bad but not quite on the same level as the albums better material, with the main reason being a chorus that falls a bit flat. The song, otherwise, proves an up-tempo melodic rocker delivering some cool double kick drum action. “The Choice” is aptly entitled:
Free will- it’s a gift that’s been given to you
Everyone has been given the right to choose
You make your own decisions day by day
And the right or wrong, you’re the only one who’ll pay
But if in doubt , get on your knees and pray
I know your wondering
About the things I’ve said
My words are turning
They’re spinning around your head
But in the end the choice is left up to you
No one else can tell you what to do
Just listen to that voice deep down inside
And let your conscious be your only guide
“Heavenly Metal”, on the other hand, ranks with the albums finest. Despite the clichéd title, the song finds the band playing to its strengths- and that is delivering catchy melodic metal oozing with larger than life hooks certain to draw you in time and again. Underpinning things, at the same time, is quite the solid foundation of crunchy rhythm guitar.
“Mistaken Identity” has Alice Cooper written all over it. Haunting as it gets, the song is laced with bizarre guitar feedback and doom-ish spoken word delivery as it maneuvers its staunch verses and every bit as inauspicious chorus. The low end is quite happening, with Keith Behnke standing out with some impressive drum rolls. “Mistaken Identity” warns against being deceived:
I can see them, they’re roaming around
They’re in the air and they’re on the ground
Just look people in the eyes,
The demons hide in their disguise
Now they control the air, land and sea
They use the elements to fool you and me
Religion, politics are their command
One world economy for all the land
The demons have their fun
I know they’re amused
They try to torture and they love to confuse
The end is near and their time is short
Decide before you land in all of hells court
Messiah hits its stride with “Keep Searching”, a high energy track – it reminds me somewhat of “Whose To Blame” – that races front to back to a plethora of fast paced riffs and gripping hooks of a near commercial capacity. Ironically, the unsettling church organ and classical keyboards starting the song contrast with the mercurial scene.
The apocalyptic “Lucifer” highlights a slight progressiveness. Opening the song is a piano standing in support of narration from Revelation 12 and 13 prior to it picking up in pace to a storm of guitar. “Lucifer” is all over the map the rest of the way, establishing a theatrical backdrop in proceeding through calmer passages backed by vocal melodies and others carried at a faster tempo by rollicking guitars and drums. Wood’s adds to the dramatic mood with his fluid soloing. Great song exposing the father of lies and the antichrist:
He’s the author of death
The father of lies
If you do his bidding, you’ll surely die
Nations will fall, many nations will rise
He’ll be their king- be like the most High
Is his biggest trick
He sits on the throne under six sixty six
He’ll gather his armies from far and wide
He’ll be their king – be like the most High
He’s the king of this world,
Now you gave him control
All that is left, is the fate of your soul
He captured hearts of everyone
Many will be damned
When his work is done
The albums title track brings a doom-like milieu. Characterized by its driving guitar riffs but accented by traces of keyboards, “Final Warning” delivers an expertly done chorus – very catchy and conveyed in exalted fashion – while allowing Messiah to exhibit its musicianship in that its final minutes are instrumentally driven. “Final Warning” conveys exactly that:
This is your final warning,
Is it heaven or deceit,
If you believe it, then listen to me
It’s the light of the sunrise,
Beware of the flash
And don’t look up, get on your knees!
Now, this is your final, final warning
So many times you turned and walked away
This is your last and final calling
This is your final, final warning
Final Warning is a solid album musically that showcases the potential of a group I wish had stuck around long enough to record a couple of other full length projects. The songwriting is quite strong and is backed by a fine band performance, particularly from Scott Wood and his deftly done soloing abilities. Give Retroactive Records credit for releasing a work that ahs been out of print and impossible to find for several decades. Any fan of classic melodic and traditional metal would be well served by picking up a copy.
Review by: Andrew Rockwell
Track Listing: “Whose To Blame” (3:10), “Outta Control” (4:33), “Where Are You?” (4:10), “The Choice” (3:46), “Heavenly Metal” (5:50), “Mistaken Identity” (4:56), “Keep Searching” (4:24), “Lucifer” (6:11), “Final Warning” (5:46)
Chuck Gugel – Lead Vocals
Scott Wood – Guitars
Keyboards – Dan Knowles
Bassist Peter Smoltz
Drummer Keith Behnke