MICHAEL SWEET – Ten

Michael Sweet is probably one of the hardest working musicians in the business right now. If there’s not a new album out by his main priority band Stryper, you can rest assured that there is or will be one out by either Sweet & Lynch or a solo album. What’s even more impressive is that he’s the main song-writer on all of those projects – and the quality is always amazingly high. The guy is a song writing machine – the song production from Michael seems to be without limits, there have been lo less than eleven records coming out from Sweet the last ten years, including the new solo album. Impressive to say the least, in a time when three, four years between albums is the norm. Since the music from Sweet’s different constellations have been so strong, I do expect a whole lot from him when a new album is due for release. His new record also sports some very interesting – and in some cases surprising – guests which makes the album even more intriguing.

Opening track and leading single “Better Part Of Me” is a crusher that lets rip with crunchy riffing where Dio meets Judas Priest. With assertive muscularity, the song goes for the throat with an 80’s Metal vibe, strong melodies and vigour. The guitar solo – featuring Jeff Loomis (Arch Enemy, ex- Nevermore) – is even thrashy and brings on some robust and menacing riffing and on top of all lies an immediate refrain that catches on without any signs of saying hello to radio. Brilliant piece of music. “Lay It Down” takes a slower and moodier turn with a darker ambience. The verses are heavy and in-your-face with more Priest influences while the striking chorus is all modern Stryper – ballsy, rough yet melodic and hook-laden. The song features one Marzi Montazeri of Thrash/Groove Metal rockers Exhorder who delivers a guitar-solo that hits like a hammer. Great stuff.

“Forgive, Forget” is a robust and groovy hard-rocker with a Heavy Metal twist that feature guitarist Howie Simon (Jeff Scott Soto, Talisman, Alcatrazz, Winger), who filled in for Oz Fox on some Stryper gigs last year.  The tune holds a mid-pace and a steady, meaty and rock-groovy rhythm-section and a coherent chorus that brings on a palpable catchiness – very good. With some crunchy and meaty guitar riffing, “Now Or Never” attacks with a fierce outlook. It’s a bit slower in tempo and the verses are somewhat laid-back but still heavy and even brings on an 80′ Black Sabbath influence. The keyboards smooths things out some and it holds an amazingly catchy main-melody with a belonging catchy chorus to go with it. A great tune where guitarist Gus G of Firewind and Ozzy Osbourne fame shines in the solo part.

The title-track and the album’s second single – which has Rich Ward of Fozzy guesting on guitar – is heavy, raunchy, rough and even a bit gloomy. It’s a powerful song, edgy with a fat rhythm and a fist-in-the-air headbang-friendly groove and striking melodies everywhere. The refrain is one of those hook-catchy things that sticks without being the least pop-laden and hit-searching. Great stuff. “Shine” is the third single released from the album and this too is a punchy and heavy Metal belter, very straightforward lying on a stone-hard yet stompy foundation created by the brilliant rhythm-section that is John O’Boyle (bass) and drummer Will Hunt (Evanescence). It’s a driving hard-rocker with a spot-on refrain and some chunky “hey”‘s going in the background. “You don’t have to hide, all you have to do is shine”. Ain’t that the truth, Michael. It features Ethan Brosh on guitar – killer song.

Michael Sweet is responsible for writing some amazing ballads and with “Let It Be Love” (why isn’t this a single already?) he provides us with yet another one. Slower in pace the tune mixes acoustic guitars with electric in a masterful symbiosis with a smooth yet never cheesy melody-hook. The tune also holds a fabulously gorgeous vocal-arrangement and the whole track is both organic and dynamic with a mesmerizing chorus that sticks right from go. A magnificent tune that has every chance of being a hit. It’s also the only track where Sweet plays the guitar solo himself. Joel Hoeckstra (Whitesnake, Trans-Siberian Orchestra, Cher) shows up on “Never Alone”, delivering a glistening guitar solo. It’s a gritty rocker full of edges and some chunky staccato riffing in the mid-paced verses. The song takes traditional Metal and blends it with more melodic driven Hard Rock where the chorus is instantly addictive – very good.

“When Love Is Hated” – also with Hoeckstra on guitar – is a more straightforward-laden Hard Rock track with slight Metal twists here and there, in the modern Stryper way. With crunchy guitars and a raunchy sound the verses comes in a mid pace, maybe not as strong as the rest of the album but the chorus is the cure for that. Very Stryper-like and in-your-face, the refrain attacks, takes a hold and never lets go. Good one. “Ricochet” continues the album with a bouncy rhythm, a beefy groove and a raunchy live-feel all over. The tune is pretty straightforward and heavy yet hook-laden with a spot-on refrain with lots of catchiness and a good punch that made my fists fly up in the air instinctively. It also holds some stellar guitar-work from one Tracii Guns (L.A. Guns). He’s such an underrated player. A really great song.

Latest single “With You Till The End” follows and I totally get why this is a single-release. It’s slower in pace, heavy and sports a kicking rhythm with rough guitars and a sound that goes right for the throat. But it’s also super-catchy with a melodies that sticks, both in verses and in the refrain. Said refrain isn’t cheesy, sugary or radio-flirtatious but it sticks right from go. It features guitarist Mike Kerr and a duet with singer Ian Raposa, both from the band Firstbourne – and they’re both new acquaintances to me. Raposa’s a great singer, very similar to Tony Harnell (TNT), so much I actually thought it was him the first time I heard the song. Good one. Sweet rounds things up for this time with another duet, this time with Todd LaTorre (Queensrÿche) on the album’s fourth single “Son Of Man”. It’s a slammin’ number, heavy and ballsy melodic Metal that has Judas Priest meeting modern day Stryper. It’s a quite short and concise rocker, aggressive but melodic with an addictive chorus that leaves you wanting more. Brilliant.

Michael Sweet has been in a fine form for years now, when it comes to delivering the goods musically and that form continues with this album – his best solo effort to date. It’s quite easy to hear that Sweet don’t bother with thinking of air-play or sales when he writes music these days, both his solo records and the Stryper stuff is the heaviest and hardest he’s ever recorded and is closer to Heavy Metal than actual Hard Rock. He’s not afraid to show off his metal influences either but it never ever comes to rip-offs of any kind. This is a solid record both when it comes to song writing, production and musical performances – it’s really astonishing that Sweet is in his mid fifties with his voice still intact, singing just as brilliantly as ever. I mean, that range!!! That said, I’m a little curious of why he makes his solo albums so similar to Stryper’s music – many of the songs here could easily have fitted a Stryper album. But that’s a bagatelle – Michael Sweet has again released one heck of an album. Highly recommended.

8/10

More Michael Sweet reviews:

I’m Not Your Suicide
One Sided War

Tracklist:

1. Better Part Of Me
2. Lay It Down
3. Forget, Forgive
4. Now Or Never
5. Ten
6. Shine
7. Let It Be Love
8. Never Alone
9. When Love Is Hated
10. Ricochet
11. With You Till The End
12. Son Of Man