Thursday 27 July 2023

Revolution Saints - Eagle Flight (2023)

Country: USA
Style: Melodic/Hard Rock
Rating: 8/10
Release Date: 21 Apr 2023
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If you don't know the name, Revolution Saints are one of a number of supergroups conjured up by the president of Frontiers Records, Serafino Perugino, almost like a fantasy football team that he can actually put together. If you could create a band featuring absolutely anyone from the history of melodic rock, who would be in the line-up? Perugino asks himself that question often, then gets on the phone to see what can actually happen. In this instance, the band was originally made up of Jack Blades of Night Ranger, Deen Castronovo of Journey and Doug Aldrich of Whitesnake, to just cite the most obvious bands on their expansive respective resumes.

Nowadays, on their fourth album, only Castronovo is left from that original line-up, as Aldrich and both Blades left last year, but that's not a problem for Perugino. He just gets back on the phone. With Castronovo still there on lead vocals and drums, he chose to bring in the insanely busy Joel Hoekstra, who replaced Aldrich in Whitesnake and who also released his latest Joel Hoekstra's 13 album in June, on guitar and Jeff Pilson of Dokken on bass, though he appears to be in Foreigner nowadays.

These are all seasoned veterans and they each do good work here, but it's Castronovo's vocals that elevate this beyond the levels we might expect it to occupy. It shouldn't surprise that the songs are all grounded in Journey, but he brings a rasp to the style of soaring melodic vocals that Steve Perry would deliver impeccably clean. While Perry was and is an amazing lead singer, I found that I enjoy that rasp as it grounds this music and makes it a little more real and down to earth. The elegance found in the early songs like the opening title track and Talking Like Strangers is pure Journey but we can hit these notes at karaoke.

I like also that it has a guitarist like Hoekstra to keep everything heavy. If Journey were to tackle a song from this album, any song, it would be softer. It doesn't matter if it's an actual ballad, like I'll Cry for You Tonight, or not. It would inherently be softer with smoother vocals, more overt use of keyboards and a lighter touch on guitar. Hoekstra does tone it down somewhat on that ballad, but, even there, we can feel that he want to rock out and Journey didn't always want to do that. So the default sound here is like the heaviest Journey song ever and that's not a bad thing. Pilson's bass emphasises that too, never doing anything particularly flash but adding that back end efficiently and becoming more obvious the more we look for it.

It's telling, for instance, that I don't tend to be much of a fan of ballads on rock and metal albums, but I'll Cry for You Tonight is a highlight here. It starts soft but it builds and, while it never gets as heavy as the rest of the album, which I should emphasise is still hard rock rather than heavy metal, it gets closer to it than a lot of ballads would. Oh, and there's only one. Some songs may be a little softer than others, but that's just an admirable variation in texture. They're all emphatically hard rock songs and only this one among them truly counts as a ballad.

So far, so good. The core sound here is wonderful, that heavy Journey approach with grittier vocals and livelier guitars. The catch is that it's top heavy. Eagle Flight is a clear highlight at the start and Talking Like Strangers is another right after it. Need Each Other isn't quite as good but it's close, a strong third number. I'll Cry for You Tonight wraps up the first side as the fifth song and it's clearly another highlight. That's four out of five hits and Kids Will Be Kids isn't a miss, just a song that's a little lost in and amongst such stellar company.

However, the best song on the second side is the first one, Crime of the Century, and it's looser and less emphatic than those earlier gems. It's a good one, with particularly solid bass from Pilsen and another excellent vocal from Castronovo, not to forget a neat riff midway from Hoekstra, but it's a step down from the first half. And what's still to come is a step down from that. And that puts me in a similar place to where I was yesterday with Raven.

There's certainly a lot of 8/10 material here, but it initially felt a little generous to go there for the album as a whole. However, I ended up doing that because the stronger songs don't get weaker on repeat listens but the lesser songs get stronger. I'm getting to the point now where it feels wrong odd to call Set Yourself Free a lesser song. I think it's become a highlight and that nudges me over into thinking this is an 8/10 album. If you like the idea of heavy Journey, this is a must for you.

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