DELIVERANCE - Stay Of Execution (Limited Run Vinyl)
From Once Was … To What Is…
Those of us who have been around long enough to have grown up during an era when vinyl records were essentially the sole source of recorded music we had access to on a daily basis can relate to this observation – listening to an album (or an album side) was an investment in time. Likewise, every record we “discovered” had a context within the events of our lives at that exact point of “contact.” That’s at least how I grew up listening to music – it was never in a vacuum. And as we moved from vinyl to cassettes to CDs as the preferred media formats for exploring new music, this basic principle still held sway in my life. I say all this not to dissuade the younger generations from continuing to read this review – for all of you, even in the digital era, have experienced something similar in your musical explorations whether you realize it or not – but rather to set the “context” for my review of Stay Of Execution, an album which blessed me richly during a difficult and transitional season of life, an album which has at times been maligned by metal “purists” as a sell-out (whatever that really means in the context of art) … but most importantly, an album which has stood the test of time.
“Stay of Execution was definitely an experimental journey … The fans were shocked, but I think after the initial volts to their ear canals, they were able to appreciate what was going on here…” – Jimmy P. Brown II
Stay Of Execution exposes so many wonderful and ugly truths of life, it has so many depths of musical and lyrical intricacy and yet it was a total leap of faith for Deliverance circa 1992 to release this record, especially in lieu of their success with the first two well-executed thrash-oriented albums. But the metal winds of change were building up to blow away the foundations of metal as we had known them for more than a decade, and Jimmy was wise enough to recognize this, even as many a fan disparaged the change. Oh, in retrospect, it was brilliant – for Stay would herald in the progressive metal to follow – but at the time, it was a total risk. So was taking on Terry Taylor as a producer. What’s an alternative rock guy going to bring to metal, right? But Jimmy was impassioned by Taylor’s works and influence, and so “from once was…” became the new Deliverance.
“Having undergone some major personnel changes, this disc is expectedly different in approach and sound from the prior releases. "Out" is the predominantly speed/thrash sound, and "in" is the progressive and slightly alternative metal sound.This is not entirely bad, however. Slowing down the tempo just a bit has made the music more enjoyable to contemplate. Jimmy has also altered his vocal approach here for the first time, going after the lower register David Bowie style.This decision will probably be difficult for many fans to accept but I think it works well.” – Jonathan “Doc” Swank (1992)
Those were my first impressions of this album in 1992. I was finishing up my final year in medical school in Philadelphia and was soon to be heading off to San Antonio for full-time active duty and residency in Internal Medicine at Brooke Army Medical Center. It was an exciting time, but also a time full of anxiety and uncertainty. I didn’t know what I was getting into from the standpoint of my medical career or my military service. I was moving halfway across the nation to a totally foreign state (laugh Texans!) and leaving everything familiar to me behind (Jimmy can you relate?). I knew God had a plan, but in many ways, I needed a “stay” of my own. The lyrics and music of this album carried me through the challenging years to come and to this day still.
“Here my soul will rest/The answered prayers, the childhood endings/The bitter tears, the new beginnings…” – “From Once Was…”
What’s In A Name…
Few, back in the day, would debate the marketing value of an album title. However, in this digital era it hardly seems relevant, especially when you can pick and choose your music from a plethora of song lists that are totally disconnected from any kind of concept whatsoever. Nevertheless, there are those album titles from days gone by that are just so iconic that they immediately conjure images of the metal music they represent – Ride The Lightning, Rust In Peace, British Steel, Powerslave, Reign In Blood … you can’t tell me these titles weren’t important. While Tourniquet’s Stop The Bleeding lead the way, I can’t really think of too many extreme Christian metal releases with a more “metal” album title than Stay Of Execution. Such a radical concept – to be spared a death which you deserve. That’s metal … but it’s also grace, which defines the Christian way.
An Album That Truly Ends On “11”
Listening to these songs in sequence is like listening to a live show – there is the initial shock factor - the opening salvo - which is then followed by the band’s “newer” experimental numbers, which is then followed by a somewhat softer/acoustic sequence and then the fan-favorite skull-bashers that crescendo their way toward the finale. All the while, it just keeps getting louder! If you were to listen to this album as a group of songs in random order, you might miss this, but in sequence (which is how we mostly listen to vinyl) this album accomplishes exactly what I’m talking about. It’s like a live set – and this vinyl remaster finally breathes the needed life into these songs to accomplish just that. The greater presence of bass guitar and bass drum, the deeper tonal qualities of the guitars and vocals impart to the recording that “live” chest-thumping quality which connects with your heart and takes your breath away.
Musically, Stay is a transitional album in that it’s a near perfect mix of the older thrashy Metallica-like Deliverance with the newer more progressive and more original Deliverance, and yet it is still incredibly heavy. In fact, in some ways it is much “heavier” (at least in spirit) than its predecessors. I don’t normally do a song-for-song analysis, but for some reason feel compelled to do so for this impactful album.
“Stay Of Execution” – The single-note guitar rhythms set the tone for the entire album – ominous and intensely untraditional. There is nothing melodic about the opener – Jimmy’s flattened and deep monotone a spiritual sentencing of the soul. Alternating straight and syncopated kick-drum beats drive the song. The vinyl remaster emphasizes the dark and lower tones in the guitars, bass and drums imparting sinister power to the theme.
“Window Of The Soul” – This is another dark song, with an almost familiar guitar intro and the wailing high-pitched vocals hearken back to the first two releases. More vocally dynamic and melodious than the opener, this song feels just a bit more comfortable, but Jimmy’s deep tones in the chorus encourage the listener to “reach deep in my soul, through the windows of my eyes.”
“Give me the heart of the nail-torn lover…”
“Words To The…” presents another somewhat progressive and experimental approach. You have these huge, dialed-in Metallica guitar tones carrying the rhythm and then this unorthodox vocal line. What was never apparent on the original was the heavy bass rhythm which is accentuated by the vinyl master. The quirky chorus didn’t fit the mold for what was considered metal in 1992, but its impossible to ignore the extreme truth in the lyrics here. “Words to the wise and the poor in spirit/words to those who have the ear to hear it.” For years these Scriptural truths have resonated in my ears, largely because of this song…
“From Once Was” – I love that the smooth transition between these songs has been preserved on vinyl with the bass guitar lead-in, the tom pounding, the gentle guitar picking … and then Jimmy’s narrative vocal lead-in as the song builds to a frenzy. These Bowie-crazed vocal twists don’t fit any metal mold, yet Jimmy made it work. The fast and powerful guitar leads and solos (newbie Michael Phillips making an impact?) are powered by massive bass crunch and fast-paced drumming, the latter once again enhanced by the vinyl remaster.
“Self-Monger” – monster riffs and grooves galore lead the way, making this one of the catchiest songs on the album. I love the colors of the cymbals and the drum flashes by Lee which jump off the vinyl and out of the speakers – totally a live feel. While one can hardly forget memorable lyrics like, “But what do you win if you gain the world and lose your own soul? … Where am I going, what am I becoming? A self-monger dying within…” its hard to top the child-taunting chants of “Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah…” echoing the truth of our own selfish nature.
“Horrendous Disc” – I confess, in the early years after the album release, I used to skip this Daniel Amos cover song. But as time passed and the music scene became saturated with regurgitated computer-generated bile, I realized the value of the song on multiple levels. Jimmy’s voice comes to life on the vinyl, largely because this song isn’t saturated with heavy guitars. The open-middle transition section is brilliant – the drum fill into the somber closing segment is thunderous on vinyl as Jimmy’s “Oh, Oh, Oh’s” lead the way out.
“Lord Of Dreams” – this is the sequence in the "show" where the band reconnects with their fan base and this song in particular has long been my favorite on this album – partly because I can connect so well with these lyrics (I’m a terrible insomniac, nightmares and all) and partly because the musical intensity is so massive. The transitions between prog and thrash are so seamless … and the guitar and drum sounds coming off the vinyl are massive! This song is obliterating, always has been, but what I am hearing now is even more expansive. I don’t think most people recognize how technical was the playing on this album, but this song was the pinnacle in that regard. Furthermore, many may not know that this song was the antithesis to “Silent Lucidity” by Queensryche – “Dream control is so hard to achieve/mastered through some evil scheme/There is one way followed without fear/Make Jesus the lord of your dreams.” To this day, I fall asleep to this mantra almost every night as I petition Jesus to be the Lord of my dreams.
“Ramming Speed” – moving into even more familiar territory with this heavily Metallica-influenced song (“Fade to Black”), Deliverance solidified their mastery of heavy metal. In Metallica meets Judas Priest (“Ram It Down”) fashion the crushing riffs in this song would herald the sounds we would later hear on Learn. With maritime reference such as “Slaves to the King of Kings/Steer the ship by the sweat of our brow” this song has that war-like vibe. The drum flams with double bass underlying the droning vocals of “building up to ramming speed” sends chills down the spine … brilliant guitars. Can you feel the music getting louder?!
“Entombed” – We are at “11” folks! I turned this song up as loud as I could stand on my system on this vinyl version and still no distortion and the bass drums still had clear articulations. This song is a cloud-pleaser - clearly hearkening back to the thrash origins - but the lyrics are no less engaging. “I reckon myself as dead, I’ve been entombed…” Still, while this song does sound the most like old-school Deliverance, Jimmy’s vocals stay low – no screaming here. The guitar solo shreds and this thing just comes to "live" life on vinyl – its brutal, scorching fast - short but sweet.
“Weapons Of Our Warfare” (remix) – and here is the encore! Even though this song wasn’t originally written for this album, in my head this remix always belongs here. “Provoking thoughts only cause the sin/That provoking thoughts have earned” is yet another lyrical phrase from this album that still resonates with all of us on a daily basis as the struggle to live in this world is continuously becoming more challenging.
Beating a Stick on the Ride Bell…
Kevin Lee is all over the place on drums on this recording. I love all the Deliverance drummers (Chris Hyde was a thrash master) but in my opinion Lee’s drum performance on Stay is arguably the best of any of the Deliverance albums period. The rhythms were dynamic, an amalgam of thrash and straight up metal, with plenty of progressive flair. One of the most endearing aspects of this album, though – and it manifests on almost every song – is the way he uses the bell of the ride cymbal. I don’t know if he was a blacksmith in another life, but that ride bell cuts through the metal mix like a hammer on an anvil. Additionally, on multiple tracks he alternates straight double bass eights with syncopated kicks in a manner that feels less traditional and more progressive. The vinyl remaster captures the nuances of his contributions in ways I didn’t previously appreciate.
A Recording Built For Vinyl…
If the point isn’t obvious at this moment then you haven’t been paying attention – Stay of Execution is deeply conceptual, yet the songs are perfectly placed – intentional or otherwise – for maximal listening experience and lyrical exegesis and impact. The vinyl imparts a live vibe not as apparent on the digital releases. My disc is flat and free of any obvious surface deformities, but its not perfect – there are a few critical pops (mostly at the end of “Entombed”) that detract slightly from the listening experience. Overall, though, this is an amazing sounding, near audiophile quality recording with plenty of high fidelity power.
The green instead of purple cover color scheme is taken from the 2014 remaster on CD. As with all the Limited Run Vinyl, the 180-gram swirled color disc (purple which nicely, but completely unintentionally corresponds to the original title cover colors) is housed in a poly-lined black paper inner sleeve and a single outer jacket. The 12 x 12 lyric insert features lyrics on one side and comments by Jimmy from the 2014 CD remaster. Note that Retroactive has issued a 2019 Gold Disc Edition of the CD (pictured above) with the same 10 tracks in addition to this vinyl. Get these while you still can as the vinyl is limited to 100 units HERE and the CD 300 units HERE.
1. Stay Of Execution (4:34)
2. Windows of the Soul (4:58)
3. Words To The ... (4:23)
4. From Once Was (3:58)
5. Self-Monger (3:29)
1. Horrendous Disc (5:27)
2. Lord of Dreams (5:04)
3. Ramming Speed (5:48)
4. Entombed (3:46)
5. Weapons Of Our Warfare - Remix (3:40)