MARK SLAUGHTER – Halfway There

I was seven or eight years old when I became a Kiss fan – and I never looked back ever since. No matter what musical styles I got into after that, be it punk, pop, rock or metal, Kiss were always there with me, through thick and thin. And no matter what musical styles Kiss brought with them, I always bought their albums. All of them. I loved Kiss and I still do. That also meant that I took in all former members’ solo projects. All of them too. So when guitarist Vinnie Vincent jumped the Kiss ship it was a complete no-brainer to buy the first Vinnie Vincent Invasion album more or less unheard when it came out in 1986. I loved – and still love – that album even though I always thought that singer Robert Fleischman was alway extremely annoying, especially in the higher register. So when he got the boot almost right away after the album’s release, I wasn’t that bummed. The first time I heard his replacement, Mark Slaughter, was when VVI released the second album All Systems Go (1988), another album I really dig. Slaughter’s voice wasn’t that far removed from Fleischman’s but it was way more comfortable for my ears.

When the shit the fan in the VVI camp and Slaughter and the band’s bassist / co-producer Dana Strum hit the road to form a new band, I intentionally followed the guys’ escapades in music magazines and even without hearing a note of what was to be the band Slaughter – with guitarist Tim Kelly (1963-1998) and drummer Blas Elias – I just knew that this band was about to become a huge act – at least in my mind they were. And it was. Their debut album Stick It To Ya (1990) was a melodic hard rock fest where heavy and raunchy hard rock was combined with big choruses, pop melodies and shitloads of passion and fire. To this day, I love that record. But even though Slaughter never cut a bad record, none of their follow-ups were as awesome as the debut and with grunge and nu-metal taking charge, Slaughter’s popularity went down the drain, just like more or less all other late 80’s/early 90’s melodic hard rock bands. Slaughter are still touring but haven’t released an album since 1999 and the underwhelming Back To Reality. But that doesn’t count for Mark. Just like Cinderella frontman Tom Keifer, Mark has in later years been concentrating on a solo career at the same time as touring with Slaughter and in 2015 he released Reflections In A Rear View Mirror on an independent label, an album that judged by its quality, could have sold quite some quantities with the right promotion. And now it’s time for a second effort.

So, Mark and his gang – Jayme Millard on bass and Josh Eagan on drums (Mark handles all guitars, lead vocals, keyboards and some of the bass himself) – kicks off the album with “Hey You”, a rough and quite heavy melodic hard rocker. It’s not a far cry from his old band’s The Wild Life album style wise, only a bit punchier. A great way to open the album and I’m guessing a song like this will kick up some dust live. “Devoted” comes on strong – ballsy and rhythmic with some kick ass metal riffing. The chorus takes on the more melodic side of hard rock and it’s very memorable without being the least radio friendly. A very good song. “Supernatural” comes with a big groove, a bit funky without going Funkadelic on us. It’s very melodic and would have fitted very good on an early Slaughter album with its more poppy vibes – great stuff. The title track is a big ballad, bombastic and even orchestral and a big chunk of vocal layers that brings the song home. Lyrically, it’s biographical and Mark tell’s his story with conviction and feel – brilliant song! Mark continues his ballad journey with “Forevermore” although this one is bigger on hard rock riffing and it’s more uptempo. The chorus is super-catchy and this brilliant melodic rocker would have been a hit if it had been included on Slaughter’s 1990 debut.

The contrast is total when the heavy and darker hard rocker “Conspiracy” breaks loose. The tune comes with a slight 70’s feel and some of the riffs are clearly Led Zeppelin influenced. But it’s still memorable and very melodic in all its raunchiness. And the slow and heavy metal influenced “Reckless” is even tougher and harder – probably one of the edgiest songs Mark has ever recorded. That said, the tune is full of hooks and the intense melody hits right where it should. “Disposable” is a slightly psychedelic ballad with a big Beatles influence – I can’t help but to think of “Strawberry Fields Forever” when I hear it. Still, the song is pretty heavy at times and the chorus is melodic rock all the way. I just love how varied and unpredictable the song is. But “Turn It” is more of what we’re used to hear Mark sing – and that’s not in bad way at all. It’s a melodic hard rock groover with a smashing and in-your-face sticky chorus and I’m back in 1990 again – how awesome! The finishing track “Not Here” is a slow, blues influenced ballad, very atmospheric, laid back, melancholic and emotional. To close a rock album with a ballad is a brave move but the song is so strong that it totally works!

I must admit that the first time I heard this album, I wasn’t really sure whether I dug it much but I got it already by the second spin. I liked Mark’s last album but this one is definitely a step up quality wise. Also, it feels more genuine, hefty and direct and it follows a thread style wise without being repetitive at all. Mark’s voice is also very recognizable although he tends to sing in a lower range today and it feels more subdued and grittier which actually is to his favor. It’s not hard to draw comparisons to his old band Slaughter here musically and I actually found myself wondering why he didn’t make a Slaughter album out of this – it would have worked splendidly as such. Quality wise, this album is Mark’s strongest effort since The Wild Life (1992) and it’s certainly in par with the oh so underrated Revolution (1997). For fans of melodic hard rock, this album is highly recommended.

8/10

More Mark Slaughter reviews:

Reflections In A Rear View Mirror

Tracklist:

1. Hey You
2. Devoted
3. Supernatural
4. Halfway There
5. Forevermore
6. Conspiracy
7. Reckless
8. Disposable
9. Turn It
10. Not Here

 

 

Grit
Subdue
Hefty

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