Rubicon Cross – Rubicon Cross – Album Review

Rubicon Cross

Rubicon Cross

Those of you that follow this site will be pretty familiar with the name Rubicon Cross since I have been talking about them one way or another since early 2013, but finally the lid comes off, with the release of the debut full-length CD and in many ways it is a relief to finally be able to get these words out in public. The story behind the band and getting to this point is a little different from many, so please forgive me a paragraph or two while a set the scene here.

The two original protagonists first met back in 2003, so clearly this isn’t a flash-in-the-pan project, but something that has matured over quite some time. First we need to rewind 11 years to Madrid, Spain, where a relatively unknown band from the UK called Pride was supporting FireHouse. After seeing Chris Green (guitar, Pride) on stage, CJ Snare (who, of course, is the vocalist for FireHouse) approached him and asked if he might be interested in playing guitar on his “solo project”, which indeed is where this whole idea originated. The story winds it’s way forward, but becomes one of great friendship, best men at weddings, and lots of Guinness and Indian curry.

While the vast majority will know CJ from the massively successful FireHouse and may have him somewhat pigeon-holed as a somewhat lighter, dare I say it, “hair-metal” vocalist that brought two top ten hits in the shape of the ballads “When I Look Into Your Eyes” and “Love Of A Lifetime”, there is a much heavier foundation to CJ, built on classic metal such as Judas Priest, Iron Maiden and the Scorpions. Indeed prior to FireHouse, CJ fronted Maxx Warrior and Scrap Metal, both much heavier outfits. While FireHouse is still a very active band, the urge to get some of that ‘heavy’ out is at the root of what became Rubicon Cross.

The first track penned by the duo was “Moving On”, which was written in a tiny bedsit apartment in Brighton in the UK (which coincidentally is the town where I spent much of my youth hanging out in rock clubs and playing guitar in a long list of pub and club level bands… small world, eh?). That track proved the mash-up of some seriously heavy guitar, overlaid with a dose of heavy but melodic vocals would ‘fit’, and over time another three tracks were written and polished up to bring about the limited edition EP, released in 2011, containing “Moving On”, “Next Worst Enemy” and “Shine”.

While all this was taking place, some pretty fundamental changes took place on a personal level leading to Chris to move to the USA, which made working on the project a good deal easier. The reaction to the EP was overwhelmingly positive despite the limited promotion and relatively straightforward production. It was clear there was massive potential. The project gained the name Rubicon Cross, which is a re-ordering of the saying “crossing the Rubicon”, meaning the point of no return, which in this context is more of a reflection on the mindset of the project team – onwards and upwards!

The EP success was the final straw that broke the camel’s back, and the “project” quickly became Rubicon Cross, the “band”. In another of those “small world” coincidences, the bass player from Pride, Simon Famery, had also moved to the USA sometime previously and ended up living no more than 20 miles from Chris, who had settled in Chicago. Simon was coopted to become the third member. Plans were made to record the album, this time going all in, with a full-up studio production at Black Dog Studios under the guidance of Rick Beato, who carries an impressive resume including: Shinedown, Needtobreathe, Crossfade, Trey Anastasio, Stuck Mojo, Charlie Mars. Bullet for My Valentine, Dark New Day, Boys Like Girls, Von Grey, Parmalee, Desmond Child and Vince Neil.

The band was completed with the addition of two-time Grammy nominated “Seventh Omen” drummer Robert Behnke and Jeff Lerman-Bones on second guitar. We were fortunate to see the band play at a rehearsal session almost a year ago, back in June 2013 – you can read my thoughts here > http://wp.me/p2hj3p-5a.

Finally we’re up to date, at least for all the most important milestones in the history of the band, so I can now turn my attention to the CD. Depending on exactly what version you end up with you will find ten tracks or twelve with the deluxe version that includes two acoustic remixes. I believe the Deluxe version is only available via Best Buy, and includes the lyrics and poster of the band > http://www.bestbuy.com/site/rubicon-cross-deluxe-only–best-buy-with-bonus-tracks-poster-cd/6017091.p?id=3220147

The album opens with “Locked & Loaded” which immediately comes out swinging, with a veritable barrage from the drums and a tight and heavy riff from the guitars, but at around the 12 second mark, at a point most will have barely had time to take a breath, the first blistering solo (of many to come!) hits you ((smack!!)) between the ears… this is but a taste of what is yet to come, but as a lead-off, throw-down, I think most would agree, you can tell we’re in for a classy-but-wild ride. As soon as the solo peaks, the verse kicks in and the immediately recognizable, but…wait…harder and meaner vocals of CJ Snare grab your attention. I’m going to get this out of the way right now; if anyone comes to this record expecting a FireHouse clone or similar, then give up now. This is an entirely different beast and not a tame one. FireHouse records have FireHouse music – this is Rubicon Cross.

CJ sounds like he is having fun here and the chorus rips, with the whole band in face-melting mode – and be sure to listen out to the bass line from Simon here. Next highlight for me comes when the track clock hits 1 minute 17s, with an absolutely ridiculous guitar run up the neck from Chris – the evidence from the intro solo and this little sample of outrageous fret burning is enough to convince pretty much anyone that Chris Green has thrown the glove down here – the next guitar hero? Hard to argue really… And we haven’t even gotten to the main solo yet, which includes some really beautifully executed melodic arpeggios amongst other fun stuff. Very tasty indeed.

Up next is “Next Worse Enemy” which just slaps you in the face when it kicks in to reveal a slightly slower paced track that features some of my favorite lyrics from the album. How’s this for a line or two: “I’ve been a victim of hit and run, serial monogamy. The one I love, my best friend, is my next worst, next worst enemy” – the lyrics overall are all very good and reflect various life experiences, good and bad. I really like the breakdown section of this song, that features the drums and CJ immediately following the solo.

The track that follows is “Bleed With Me” which was released as the video for the record a few short weeks back, so a few more of you may be familiar with this. Again, make sure you listen out for the wicked bass line that sits under the verse. The video can be seen here: http://youtu.be/dFneEfoJbn8. The solo in this track is a stunner and leads off with a feedback-induced howl, but the 32 seconds that follow are a showcase of Chris Green signature licks. The most important thing that strikes me after hearing this record many times over is the complete lack of extravagance and while, yes, this is heavy metal record, so you want and expect blistering solos and wild vocal performances, there is none of the smug “hey, look at me” guitar-virtuoso, widdle-widdle, that so many great players can fall into, accidentally or otherwise. In fact I think that is the essence of the success this album undoubtedly is – everything, vocals, guitars, bass and drums are cranked to ‘11’, but not a touch beyond. It’s a perfect storm of performance.

Track four takes the pace down, and is perfectly timed to give the listener a chance to re-group and take stock, with the very emotive “Save Me Within” which is a very personal tribute to the passing of Chris’ father, and addresses the mortality that we all have to face at some point through our lives. The lilting mix of 6- and 12-string guitar in the verse provides a very poignant counter-point to the soaring chorus. I’m sure the day this is played live will be a very emotional and powerful experience.

Lest anyone gets a little too chilled, “You Will Remember Me” is a slap-in-the-face-with-a-frozen-fish of a wake-up. The intro features a very melodic harmony that permeates the whole record in fact. While there is no doubt we the overall tone is a very modern up-front sound, underlying the whole thing is something that too many modern bands and records seem to have forgotten – melody. While smash-you-in-the-face riffs and vocals surely have impact, you can only try that so many times until it gets painful; the melody here serves to round off those rough edges, such that you want to come back over and over. While this particular song was written some time in the past, CJ’s recent personal life seems to be inextricably entwined with this song, having recent suffered through a divorce (which let me be clear he has mentioned in several recent interviews, lest I be seen as some demonic rumor-monger!). I’m sure there is some added vigor when it comes to this song live as a result!

I’m not going to play-by-play dissect the remaining tracks here because I want you all to go out and buy a copy… but “Moving On” mentioned earlier, should be recognized as the first track that Chris and CJ wrote together, which was really the litmus test as to how this whole experience was going to work out (or not…). The result was an immediate discovery that the synergy between the two was exceptional and brought two worlds together – the hard-edged modern energy driven metal, with a heavy dose of melodic “pixie dust”. Track seven, “R U Angry” is another relational couch-session, that again seems to reflect recent life events in the Rubicon Cross camp, but this track has a harder edge. “Shine” is perhaps the closest to the sort of track that some might have been expecting, and is the only song I can say might have made onto a FireHouse record. “Kill Or Be Killed” is a much harder edged track and has CJ in full-metal-jacket mode. This is perhaps the heaviest out-right rocker to be found here. To close we have the much less serious sounding “All The Little Things”. This might be the most immediate sounding track in the record and throws a sort of punky twist to the whole thing, excepting the solo, which is another ripper.

So there we have it. The over-arching impression here is that this CD brings a freshness to the table, and addresses something that seems to have been missing from a lot of recent metal – melody. There’s been a lot of power, a lot of edge, and even a resurgence of technique (which seemed to be a bad ingredient for a good while), but Rubicon Cross bring another dimension and that undoubtedly is this mash-up of the best of modern heavy metal, with melody, leaving songs that stick in your head, songs that you want to hear again, the sort of songs you want to hear live, and when you do, you know they are going to crush! My score for the album is a very easy 9.8/10 and so far is album of the year for me.

Update: Live review of the debut Rubicon Cross performance (5/15/14) from H.O.M.E. Bar, Chicago coming very soon!

 

 

 

 

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