As a kid, I had a number of friends in local bands, and they all dreamed of getting signed and becoming rock stars, myself included. As life goes on, you come to the realization that those dreams don’t mean as much as they once did, unless you actually became a rock star that is. Instead, you reach for more attainable goals. To release good, well-thought-out music is usually where most of us end up. One of the band’s that many of us kids thought would be huge, as they did get signed and toured and worked with monsters in the industry were, The Brave. I’ve been friends with Stayce Roberts and Malcolm Paris since the early incarnation of the band when they were known as Faxx. The fact that they released two stellar achievements and then disappeared into oblivion was unexpected. What was even more unexpected was for the band to reemerge nearly thirty years later and release one of the best comeback albums of all time in my book. It is true, with God wonders never cease. Following their triumphant return with the album, Evie’s Little Garden comes their latest masterpiece titled Gravedigger.
This latest endeavor shows the band exploring new territories and doing their best to not repeat themselves by making the same album twice. Although there are some nods to past works here and there, Gravedigger is an album that is fully capable of standing alone as an independent work, and a work of genius at that. If I come across as a little biased in this review, well, it’s because I am. To see these guys, continue to fulfill their dreams after decades of hard work is inspiring to say the least.
The album starts with the title track, a creative take on the angel of death and what is in store for us should we die in our sins. Time is of the essence, and no one knows when our life will be forfeited. Musically the song is a mid-paced rocker with a catchy hook and a very Halloween-like eerie outro. While the first track had a subtle bout of that bluesy riffing that Mr. Roberts has proven he is a master of time and again, (this is due in no small part to lessons he took from Tony Palacios of Guardian fame years back). “Bad Day” really sets the standard of what is to follow on this eponymous release, and catchphrases like “Not today devil, I ain’t letting you in.” make for a level of understanding that we can all relate to. The next up in this so far, so good song list is “BraveNation”, an anthemic portion geared towards the state of the world and the Christian’s call to remain steadfast in light of the troubled times we face. Again, this one is very catchy with big hooks, and you will no doubt be singing along with your fist thrown into the air for many weeks to come. Here we have commercial hard rock at its finest. The production is over the top and may not be everyone’s forte but for me personally, it is without a doubt some of the best I’ve ever heard. Kudos to Mr. J.R. McNeely for his mixing capabilities, he just excels at his talent.
Beginning with a nice change of pace, “Eternal” has an acoustic-laden approach that quickly turns into a power ballad with a rather haunting vibe to it which is very interesting as it is more or less a worship song. Ok, here we go with the Halloween spirit again. “Ghosts” begins with more chains and wind, and even a creaky old door before settling into a slower-paced rocker that is even more chilling than its predecessor. Gotta dig the line, “In my situation – they have conversations, something wicked comes – pandemonium, these demon creatures with phantom features are no match for The One – His Holy Son.” The next tune, “Temples” is a straightforward rocker ala Van Halen and something else I can’t quite put my finger on. That may not be a bad thing either. I know it’ll come to me after I finish and publish this review lol! Here we get a tip of the hat to the Battle Cries album.
Ok, the next song is so good in my book that it deserves a paragraph all to itself. This song has such a deeply personal place in my heart, I cannot begin to tell you. This song dates back to the band’s early days as Faxx, and it has remained my favorite ever since I first heard it. Stayce being who he is, decided for no other reason than I told him it was my favorite, to bring it back for this album. All I can say is I’m blessed beyond measure. Now, original vocalist James Salters had an amazing set of pipes, and he is not an easy act to follow. Stayce will tell you this himself if you ask him but, wow! Did he ever do this song justice. Just when I thought he couldn’t impress me more, he does. “Alive” is by far my favorite track on the album and not just because of its vintage roots but because Stayce took a song from thirty years ago and dusted it off, slapped a fresh coat of paint on it, and made it relevant for today. In essence, he made it alive again. From the catchy opening riff to that first scream, the fantastic chorus and killer harmonies to the over-the-top final scream this has everything, including this soul-shattering line, “can a young man live where the old man dies? Where Jesus once was dead, now, He’s alive.”
What album wouldn’t be complete with an emotionally, atmospherically charged slow rocker? “Heaven Knows” is just such a song and fits rather nicely right here. Taking things in a slightly more pop-oriented direction is “Someone’s Watching Over Me.” The standout portion of this song is the use of synthesizer to accent the melody. Another bright and cheery offering comes by way of the song, “Love Is the Only Place.” This tune helps to augment the earlier songs that portrayed that spooky tinged premise. Now, with the next song up, I was again pleasantly surprised with the initial bluegrass vocal intro and then switching gears to deliver a Beatles meets E.L.O. harmony before falling back on the “O Brother Where Art Thou” vibe. Pure genius if you ask me!
The final couple of cuts on the album bring to a close one of the strongest releases I’ve heard this year. With “AfterLife” we are brought back down to a softer piece that lends hope to the time we have to look forward to in eternity. “AfterLife, you got no need to cry, there’s no time for regret, that withers when we die.” Bringing us back from the melancholic premise of the previous tune, “Strange New World” is about as hopeful and joyful as one can expect with a peppy jingle and a positive outlook on an otherwise negative world. Stayce, Malcolm, and John aka The Brave have hit yet another home run with Gravedigger. Their musicianship is unequaled, and their songs continue to melt my heart in ways I didn’t think possible. You guys are the best! Thank you!