Friday 29 November 2019

Michael Sweet - Ten (2019)

Country: USA
Style: Hard Rock/Heavy Metal
Rating: 6/10
Release Date: 11 Oct 2019
Sites: Facebook | Metal Archives | Official Website | Wikipedia

OK, this one was a real surprise for me and it seems to have been for a lot of other people too. I remember Michael Sweet from way back in the eighties, when he sang for pioneering Christian rock/metal band Stryper, who I recall being cheesy, melodic and overblown. They didn't sound remotely like this.

I can't recall if I've heard any of his solo material until now, but I know what I expect it to sound like. It doesn't sound remotely like the work of someone who gets hired by Boston as vocalist/guitarist or someone who makes a couple of albums with George Lynch of Dokken. It doesn't sound like this.

The sound varies from song to song, but it's generally heavy metal not hard rock and it's lively heavy metal at that, as befits the guests who bring an unlikely variety of background to this material. That's Jeff Loomis of Arch Enemy on the opener, Better Part of Me, and Marzi Montazeri from Superjoint Ritual and currently Exhorder on Lay It Down. Now or Never features Gus G of Firewind. These aren't the AOR keyboard players I was expecting.

With people like Loomis and Montazeri involved, it's heavy stuff. The drums that kick off Lay It Down are more like something I'd expect on a Motörhead album than one by the dude from Stryper. What fits is the powerful voice of Sweet, because even when he was singing cheesy Stryper numbers like To Hell with the Devil, he had an operatic metal range.

To be fair, the heaviest stuff is at the beginning, though the album never wimps out. I see that Sweet has been accepted into Metal Archives entirely based on this album. To provide context there, there are two tracks here on which the guest guitarist is Joel Hoekstra of Whitesnake, who aren't deemed metal enough to be included. Matthew Sweet and Stryper both are apparently seen as more qualifying.

The majority of the album is more straightforward heavy metal, many tracks sounding like demos recorded so guitarists could try out for Ozzy's band in the eighties. The variety here is really interesting. Sweet carries on much in the same way throughout, but Jeff Loomis isn't Gus G and neither of them are Tracii Guns from LA Guns or Rich Ward of Fozzy.

Sometimes the guitarists elevate the music. I wasn't feeling Forget, Forgive at all until it livened up because of the guitarwork of Howie Simon, perhaps best known for his stint with Alcatrazz. I'm not a huge Fozzy fan but Rich Ward creates a memorable vibe on the title track. Sweet complements what he does well, belting out that he's giving us ten, appropriate for the song but also because it's the title of both the song and the album and because it's Sweet's tenth solo album, if you include that pair with George Lynch.

Sometimes Sweet leads the show, like on Shine, which he continues to build a little more and a little more until it's epic stuff by the end. Ethan Brosh of Angels of Babylon does a solid job but it's Sweet's show. So is Let It Be Love, which is the softest song on the album, surely the closest to Stryper as I remember them.

The songs that feel best in sync between vocals and guitar are the two with Hoekstra, Never Alone and When Love is Hated. What I found most interesting here is that the two songs are very different. Never Alone has a heavy feel, like Black era Metallica, at least until the chorus which points the way to When Love is Hated, which isn't too far away from Graham Bonnet era Rainbow.

The biggest mistake the album makes is perhaps to put songs after those two, which are next to each other. After hearing Sweet with Hoekstra, everything that went before is instantly lessened and everything that comes after fails in comparison. Don't get me wrong; Tracii Guns does deliver a strong solo on Ricochet, but it feels like a guest appearance. I haven't heard the Sweet & Lynch albums, but Sweet & Hoekstra sound like a band.

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