Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Album Review: Michael Sweet - One Sided War

Michael Sweet continues to be one of the hardest working musicians in the rock and metal scene. Just last year, I reviewed the albums he released with Sweet & Lynch and Stryper, and now he's back once again with a new solo album. It's amazing how much music he's been releasing this far into his career, at a time when most artists with his experience are happy to coast on their past accomplishments. What's more amazing is that he's been garnering some of the best reviews of that career, especially with Stryper's recent turn towards their heaviest material yet. That spirit must be infectious, because this solo album is also being heralded as his heaviest one yet.

This for sure is not going to be a fluffy solo project from the very first seconds, as "Bizarre" opens the album up with a brief flurry of shredding guitar solos. The pace is quick enough to be palpable, and Sweet's vocals are powerful and in your face. There's something to be said about that, but I'll get to that later. Sweet's phrasing in the chorus, and the way the vocals are layered, feels like it could have been a song Dio sang in the mid 80s. There's a definite throwback feel to the track, which is a strong way to open the record.

Even in just the first few tracks, there's a strong sense of diversity that comes through. The title track is a much more modern composition, while "Can't Take This Life" borrows some riffing tendencies from Black Sabbath, which gives the song a deeper and more sinister vibe than I'm used to hearing from Sweet. There are hints of that attitude running through several of these tracks, which helps to give it an identity different from even the heavier Stryper albums of recent years. It's important to differentiate these solo albums from the main band, and that is surely done here. The basics of Sweet's writing are the same, but there's no mistaking this for the yellow and black attack.

"Radio", even without the title, would make a perfect single. It's got the right deliberate pace, with gives the riff heft, and it segues into a strong hook that would be perfect radio fodder, if I can indulge the pun. I also love the use of harmonies and backing vocals, especially in "You Make Me Wanna", as they make the chorus stand out, and sound huge.

There are a couple of issues I take with the record. The chorus of "Golden Age" is annoying, since it relies on vocal effects, which Sweet does not need in the slightest. I don't understand why you would intentionally cover up a strong voice and make it sound worse. The other issue is actually far less apparent here than it has been on some of the other albums of his I've had the opportunity to review recently. Sweet does have a tendency to sing at full power and volume far too often, which doesn't give the songs anywhere to elevate to. He modulates his voice much better here, which is hopefully something he can continue to utilize. His softer tones are just as good, so when a song like "Only You" builds from those tones to his full voice, you can feel the song's intensity growing, which is one of the hallmarks of a great track.

I'm not going to compare this record to either of his releases from last year, because that wouldn't be fair. This is supposed to be something different, and it is. "One Sided War" shows a slightly darker side of Michael Sweet's writing, and while it bears the hallmarks of his style (some of his phrasing, vocally and riff-wise are unmistakable), there's something here that sounds fresh. It might be a bit too metal for rock fans, and a bit too rock for metal fans, but that's its best selling point. This is a record that does a little bit of everything, and defines who Michael Sweet is. In that respect, you have to call it a rousing success.

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