ARMADA - Frontline
Before jumping right into a review of this new first-time-on-CD reissue of Armada's album Frontline, let me give you a little back-story on my history with the band's music. It was the 1980s, and as you probably know, Christian hard rock & metal were still in their infancy and looked at with skeptical eyes by the mainstream church. Along with that, very few record labels were jumping onboard to sign and release bands of that genre. So, most bands did the independent thing by funding their studio time, and releasing their material on cassettes. These cassettes were promoted throughout the growing music scene, by being reviewed and promoted through the many self-published fanzines like...well...Heaven's Metal.
At the time, I likewise self-published my own similar magazine, and so was in the circulation circuit receiving tapes from bands too. One day, in comes a tape from this band Armada, whom I had never heard of before (not an uncommon thing of course), but unlike most tapes, this one stood out. In those days, a great majority of tapes received were very home-made. Many had no cover, or they had hand-written, photo copied or other types of homemade covers & tape labels. When I opened and found this Armada Frontline tape, it was very professionally packaged. This was no ordinary "demo" tape as was most common in those days; this Michigan based band was a cut above already.
I have to admit though, when I popped it in to play it, on first listen, it didn't grab me. You see, I was big into heavy metal - the typical melodic metal of the days, and this was not that. So initially I do not think I gave it as much attention. I think it actually wasn't until their next release (1988's Black & White) that they really caught my attention. And because of that, I revisited the Frontline release, and realized the error of my ways. Armada quickly became one of my favorite bands, and Frontline one of my favorite releases.
Unlike the high-range vocals of metal bands at the time, what we have here is a mixture of hard rock with a bluesy edge, at times pushing towards a very metal edge, with lower range, gritty vocals, with songs that are full of memorable lyrical hooks that replay in your mind over and over. Mid-paced rockers like the opener "Communication" and title track "Frontline," the to high energy, fast-paced "Buts Its Only Rock N Roll," this is a full on hard rock assault.
In 1998, the CD world was in full force, and it became common for bands to self-release CDs, which Armada did. They released Hope of Glory, which was a kind of best-of type compilation of songs from various releases, but with only three tracks lifted from the Frontline tape. That kept the name alive and well, and brought in some new fans, but that was about as far as it would go, sadly.
These guys were poised for Christian rock-world domination, and while they did get included on a few notable compilations releases, that sweet record deal and world distribution just sadly never happened for them. For years and years I have continued returning to the music of this band, and this release in particular, and that love is still strong.
Then, in the early 2000's, in a music forum (if I recall) I made contact with drummer/vocalist John Heald. I asked him if they had ever digitized their cassette releases. He said they had, and he graciously sent me a full eight CDr releases all housed in full color, homemade artwork. Of course it included the whole Frontline and Black & White releases, but also their first release (All Four One), as well as compilations containing demos, remixes, live and early tracks recorded under different band names. I was ecstatic, and now armed with a massive amount more than I previously had, I have spent the last almost two decades absorbing and loving all of their material.
Sadly, John Heald passed away in 2004, probably a year or so after sending me the CDs.
So, fast forward to 2019, and you can imagine my excitement when Retroactive Records announced an official and remastered edition of this Armada release. Finally, after decades of love for this band, I was going to see a professionally released packaging of one of my favorite albums. And HERE it is finally! It sounds great! The packaging takes what was already top notch and pushed it to the next level. Making this the official release it deserved after all these years.
3. The Calling
5. Shine the Light
6. But It's Only Rock N' Roll
7. No Retreat/No Surrender
8. Loud and Bold
9. No Alibi
10. All You Need (Salvation)
Check out these samples below, order it before this limited 500 piece run is gone. And I hope you grow to love this band as much as I have over the decades. My next desire? Black & White on CD, and then BOTH releases on vinyl! A man can dream can't he?