1. Anthem - Dealt By Darkness
3. Messages From Home
5. All I Want
6. Killing Machine
7. Thank You
8. The Price of War
9. Only Love
Lion Music 2002
Crimes Of Virtuosity 
The Apocalypse Chime 
Son Of Man 
|Even More Byrd:
Atlantis Rising 
Fifth Angel 
|Many know the story of the trials and heartache
that stemmed from the 80s band Fifth Angel. Few people however are aware that the majority
of the material written for the band was masterminded by the guitarist and key to that
band's success, James Byrd, the very man that was fired from the group shortly after
negotiations for a major label pickup were in place. While the opportunity to make buckets
of money was cut out from underneath him, never giving up heart, James went on to a highly
acclaimed solo career, even earning praise from the hard to impress axe wizard, Yngwie
Malmsteen. The instrumental outing "Son of Man" was loved by many, and was
topped only by the magnificent "The Apocalypse Chime" a year later. For an album
that was made just to honor contract obligations, it was a masterpiece in every sense of
the word... another album or so and then in mid 2001 we were "Flying Beyond the
9", as the guitarist reinvented himself and his music, shortening the group's moniker
to just "Byrd" but still pretty much flying solo. Hailed as music for the new
millennium, it did make the mold but apparently didn't break it, for its bold and brazen
follow up, "Anthem" embraces the power personality of the previous disc while
taking us on a journey into the dark realms of deja vu. Familiarity is a cool card to play
and judging by the album's overall sound and imagination, he's not just bluffing either.
Some of the musical themes are indeed similar, but Byrd's playing is always a delectable
treat that any axe loving fanatic will find hard to turn down. His dynamite explosive
style tempered with a rare tenderness is a miracle to behold. Add to that a penchant for
twisting technical displays that are mind boggling yet fitting to their particular
composition, all combines for a unique treat indeed. Those that have had the opportunity
to listen to his past albums and marvel at the sheer quality poured into every aspect will
most likely agree to acknowledge James as one of the best masters of the six string,
period. His latest helps to nudge this claim along, even if it falls short of his two
career highlights, those being James Byrd Group's "The Apocalypse Chime" and the
cult favorite and groundbreaking Fifth Angel self titled debut.
The same problems that pestered "Flying" mercilessly have cropped back up here in force, namely Byrd's choice of vocalists, Michael Flatters. His range is quite good, he hits those high notes but his voice is just too flat, devoid of emotion most times and never takes risks. Lower registers? Forget it, he doesn't even attempt it. Its as if he's halfheartedly belting entries in a phone book, not trying to appeal to emotions through song. As I complained last time, if a more dynamic singer were in place, the tracks contained within would be absolutely killer, A plus all the way. Everything else is perfect and in place: dramatic compositions with the potential to be brimming with life, a snug tight rhythm section and the guitar doesn't even have to be questioned or explained... the weakest link is Flatters, flattening the songs with his impassive vocals, which is a shame when all else clicks beautifully.
You can feel the inspiration that helped shape the album, it was touched deeply by the tragedies on 9/11 and while the songs are not necessarily directly about the terror attacks or the falling of the twin towers, the emotions swirling within are very close to the desperation, darkness and tiny lights of hope currently swimming within this country's borders.
"Anthem - Dealt By Darkness"
"Anthem" may be the next step on the road to world domination but its unfortunately been cut off at the exit. For a guitar driven album, its oddly lacking in indulgent tangents with the instrument. The solos are blindingly wonderful when they do pop up, but are few and far between. Maybe I'm just one of those that wants to be just assaulted with more guitar from this master. You just can't get enough of his rich riffs and imaginative note selections. Why not just go nuts with this, the 'band' Byrd's greatest asset? Its the ace in their hole and instead of playing for keeps, its like they fold before the game has even started! All the other guitarists set free creates a couple of vehicles to display their talents, but perhaps that's the point. The focus on "Anthem" is the songs, and while James offers up a mix that serves the pomp purposes all right, they are crippled by a lack of variety. Sure you have your mid tempo symphonic rockers and a couple of tender ballads, but there's no real power pounders. "The Price of War" could have really been a slayer but even it whimpers out. A couple of these with the metallic side played up, would have balanced the disc off nicely and made it seem like more of a total package with a flowing order rather than a random collection of similiar sounding tunes. Most everything has its dark side as well, and the Queen influences run rampant with some unnecessary posturing that is over the top but grounded by Flatters refusal to deviate from his 'norm'. He also grates way too quickly. If he wants to use Flatters in the future, perhaps Byrd would consider adding a second or even third vocalist, a'la Nikolo Kotzev's Brazen Abbot. This would eliminate the majority of problems and make the disc much smoother. If this review sounds a little harsh, its simply because so much is expected of a disc with Byrd's name on it, after the excellence of Fifth Angel and his other solo outings throughout the 90s. Its not the achievement that "Flying Beyond the 9" was, but this newie is a good followup for those that just ate up the previous disc's newfound sound. "Anthem" is most certainly not a stinker, there's alot to like for guitar fanatics, its just that it slips way under the bar he that was set in the past with "The Apocalypse Chime", which was a shining example of metal perfection, but I'm just biased since "Apocalypse" is one of my favorite albums... ever. To sum things up, if you don't mind a nod to the reign of Queen and are just wild about guitar playing backed by intellegent songwriting, this is an absolute must have.
Ratings and Wrap Up: