Release date: February 14, 2012 (US)
In the intervening years since Lillian Axe first broke onto the scene in the mid-80s as another generic hair metal band, something strange has happened: They have become a legitimate band. I point this out because I had written them off before the 90s arrived. In fact, the Louisiana based outfit has not been able to hold onto a record label for more than one record since it left MCA after its first two releases. So when the new CD, XI: The Days Before Tomorrow landed before my ears, I almost tossed it aside. Yet for some reason I felt compelled to give it a listen to see how bad they’d become. My warped curiosity was soon rewarded with the pleasant surprise of guitarist Steve Blaze’s maturity as a songwriter.
Having read other reviews tearing this album down, I’m left to wonder if the band simply suffers from the backlash of its hair metal roots. The Days Before Tomorrow is a wonderful collection of hard rock and metal tracks that are have a nice progressive feel to them. In fact many of these songs could readily have come from bands like Dream Theater or Queensrÿche and been readily gobbled up.
The new album finds the band with yet another lead vocalist, but perhaps this is the turning point for the veteran N’awlins rockers, as Mississippi’s Brian Jones has a voice that genuinely fits the dynamic of Blaze’s songs.
While Blaze produced the album, he tapped the legendary, Sylvia Massy (Tool, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Sevendust, Johnny Cash, Tom Petty, Prince) to mix it.
The opening track “Blaze” immediately grabs the listener with its rolling guitar riff, and massive build. Then it jumps into a nice chunky groove that recalls a bit of Alice In Chains, yet it never gets mired down in that vibe. The bridge and chorus are brilliantly done. Jones voice is nicely melodic and emotive. This track alone is worth the price of admission to the band’s 11th studio effort. Fortunately there is far more to come.
“Death Comes Tomorrow” revels in a Queensrÿche like rhythm broken by piano interludes and soaring vocals that give the song an epic feel without coming across as pretentious. This is a sonic journey of the damned.
One of the album’s highlights is the proggy “Gather The Snow” which highlights Jones unique voice, and gives Blaze room to play. The guitar solo is stunning. The breakdowns and shifts are understated but brilliantly choreographed. The song simply dances across the sonic landscape.
Ken Koudelka’s drum work shines throughout the album, but is particularly noticeable on “The Great Divide”, which is a very atmospheric track full of rich harmonies.
“Take A Bullet” is a full on progressive track, and skillfully done.
“Bow Your Head” is achingly beautiful. Another highlight of the album is the heartbreaking tribute to a child born with a rare skin disease. A tragic lullaby.
Jones gets his howl on for the song, “Caged In”, a track about addiction, while “Soul Disease” has a hint of NWOBHM to it.
More rolling riffage hits you with “Lava On My Tongue” which is followed by the almost renaissance groove of “My Apologies” closing it all out.
The Day Before Tomorrow comes out firing on all cylinders with a record packed with a multitude of hard rock and metal elements all brought together in manner that elevates the performance of everyone involved. The tapestry of Blaze’s guitar work, the melodies, and Jones particular vocal signature blend together into what has got to be the band’s most defining work to date. The con here is the final few tracks aren’t nearly as memorable or inspired as the first half of the record, still they’re all good songs.
On the whole, The Days Before Tomorrow is an impressive affair, mixing hard rock and metal elements into a progressive mélange of tremendous lyrical and auditory impact. Steve Blaze is on top of his songwriting game and this is undeniably Lillian Axe‘s most diverse and passionately creative output so far. An album worthy of your attention on many levels.