Michael Sweet - ONE SIDED WAR
Michael Sweet has been a busy-bee (yellow and black pun intended) in the past three years, releasing essentially three solo projects. This may not sound like much of a task until you remember that he also released three new Stryper albums in that time frame also. Well, he is back with probably his heaviest release to date.
One Sided War It is a solid release of kicking, blistering hard rock and metal, and it starts off full force when you are hit in the face with the high-energy opening of Bizarre, probably the most aggressive and fastest track on the album, it sets the stage well for what follows. It was the first tracks heard prior to the album’s release, as it was the first of three videos released. Of course I am sure we’re going to start hearing those with a legalistic leaning screaming over the fact that the very first line he uses the word “damn” – but hey, it rhymes great with lamb. Seriously, it fits the topic of the song, which is looking at how people who used to care, who used to have integrity, now just stand back and do nothing to help others.
Up next is One Sided War which falls a little more into the feel of what we have come to expect from Sweet, and is a solid, mid-tempo hard rocker. This title track deals with relationships where mud has been slung, blood has been shed, and hurtful bullets fired, yet one participant has found forgiveness and has let it go, while the other continues fighting, but their fight is now a one sided war.
Can’t Take this Life comes up next, and faces us with a need to mention a quick note about the song order. This first batch of pressed CDs has the tracks listed out of order from how they appear on the CD. So, while this is listed on both the track listing and lyric section as being the second song, it is actually the third. Quite a few of the rest of the songs after this are affected and appear flipped. Plus the lyrics for this song have a misspelled word in them, so for collectors, grab one of these early copies before they correct things. The song is another great mid-tempo rocker dealing with how he is strong and well rooted, and while others may take away a moment from his life, they cannot take this life. While it is not perfectly clear who the participants are here, the fact that the aggressor has and “evil mind” and has to pay “for every single sin” they have done, it could be seen as a Christian’s struggle with evil forces.
Up next is Radio which Michael told me is one of his favorite tracks, and is the third video single released from this album. It is a parody looking at how some hard rock starts have sought to become country, trading in their leather metal for boots and a twang. We’ve seen lots of rockers do crossovers, people like Jon Bon Jovi come to mind, as well as one of my favorite metal vocalists on the 80’s, Ron Keel, who released a few albums worth of material under the name Ronnie Lee Keel. Michael just has some fun here, and while the song starts out sounding country-fied, it kicks in after a bit to a sound of an almost southern hard rocker.
After those three mid-tempo rockers, he kicks into high gear again on Golden Age. This is a very clearly Christian song as would be expected, and at times sounds like it could have easily been a Stryper track. It has the feel and energy of that style, and lyrically feels most Stryper-ish from the others on this release. This track was also one of the three songs featured in a video released prior to the album’s release.
Only You is up next, and is a slightly slower paced rocking that seems lyrically centered around God being the only one to help in time of need. Though I admit am a little confused about the way the chorus is worded if it is supposed to be entirely about God. The attributes of the “you” seem clearly God, who makes lightning, makes truth in a world of lies, and is there when we wrestle our demons away, etc. But then the chorus says to this “you” that “you can reach out to me, I’ll be there if you’re lonely” – which seems odd in speaking about God as if he is lonely and needing us. Other than my confusion on the meaning here, the songs is still a good one and could be more about personal relationships with god-like metaphors.
I Am is without question a song sung from God’s perspective. It starts off as a mid-tempo rocker, though the tempo adds to the mega-heaviness and powerful feel of the track. Then for the solo, it really kicks it up a notch into a high-octane double time feel. This is one of my favorite tracks, and just feels as heavy as an anvil.
Who Am I follows, and drops things down a notch. Not a ballad in the sense that it still rocks, but for sure a slower moment on this release. Beautifully executed as expected from Michael, dealing with a loving relationship where he is asking “who am I to take your love for granted; who am I to make you feel obscure.”
Another loving relationship based track, You Make Me Wanna is a very wonderfully done mid-tempo rocker filled with tons of beautiful harmonies. The harmonies really stand out to me on this track, and they add such a wonderful depth to key portions of the track. That along with the blistering lead section make this another favored track.
Picking up the pace is the next track, Comfort Zone. Musically it is full of high energy, and lyrically the song can apply to an earthly relationship, or one with the Lord. With verses looking at all of the things done to “get back to you,” the chorus exclaims that “you’re my stone, you’re my refuge, you’re my home. I’m not alone, you always take me to my comfort zone.”
One Way Up has a very commercial hard rock appeal, with a southern/country rock guitar intro that gives it a very different flavor than most tracks here. We’ve seen Michael play with this feel before, so it is no surprise, and he pulls it off most excellently here. Lyrically he deals with life’s decisions and making right choices to live in the one way that leads up.
The final track is a bonus track, being a repeat of track two Can’t Take This Life, but this time around lead vocals are handled by 15-year-old Moriah Formica. Michael tells of her opening a show for them at some point in the past year, and totally impressing him with her talent on both guitar and vocals. Click to see a YouTube video where Stryper had her come join them on stage and sing “To Hell with the Devil” and she does a great job. So Michael brought her in to sing on this track, and she does any excellent job. Keep a eye out for more from her in the future.
Overall, this is an exceptional album from Michael Sweet, and he has brought in some amazing talent by including Joel Hoekstra (Whitesnake/Night Ranger) on guitar for three tracks, and the shredding guitar playing of Ethan Brosch, a local guitarist in Michael’s area who he describes as a cross between George Lynch and Steve Vai. Add to that the drumming talents of Will Hunt of Evanescence fame, and there is some big name talent on display here to round out one of Michael’s best releases to date.
While we have here some of Michael’s heaviest work to date, the album as a whole is still in step with the top notch sound and style we have gotten from all of Michael’s past work in both solo and Stryper releases. In 2017 we’re supposed to be seeing a new Stryper release, as well as a new Sweet & Lynch release, so Michael seems set to continue staying busy bringing us more excellent music.