byrdtitle.jpg (13537 bytes)

Track Listing
1. Anthem - Dealt By Darkness
2. Omen
3. Messages From Home
4. Someday
5. All I Want
6. Killing Machine
7. Thank You
8. The Price of War
9. Only Love

Lion Music 2002

byrdcover.jpg (36881 bytes)


James Byrd:
Crimes Of Virtuosity [1998]
The Apocalypse Chime [1996]
Son Of Man [1995]
Even More Byrd:
Atlantis Rising [1991]
Octoglomerate [1994]
Fifth Angel [1986]


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.


01.] "Anthem - Dealt By Darkness"
This slow, carefully created piece has the potential to squeeze out a few tears for the fallen and the war torn, and of course those who's bright lights of life were snuffed out so suddenly by the tragic terrorist attacks of 9/11. Sudden emotional impact is the goal here, reaching for it desperately with dramatic percussion that builds tension and Flatter's voice that opens up wide with maybe a little too much vibrato. But the goal is also grasped easily, attributed to Byrd's heart squeezing guitar that is sparsely distrubted but when it This man is truly a master... he makes even this quick and honestly a bit depressing tune an absolute joy to partake in.

02.] "Omen"
This is the perfect example of a powerful song. The guitar is simply superb. Again, James himself is reason enough to dive straight into this. I admit I haven't been this excited over a guitar heavy track since Yngwie's best stuff, or maybe Byrd's "Apocalypse Chime". Slick, catchy, just brilliant, but over far too soon. Unfortunately, like a double edged sword, this spreads out for vocal dives and time changes that may remind some of Queen but I'll go with the wannabe artist, Robbie Valentine, since he has a little more rock up his sleeve than the originators. From this point on the axe slinging is merely a supporting artist, and the orgy of other instruments are illuminated under the spotlight. Michael Flatters actually manages to pull off a nice performance here, the song suits his voice and he pounds it down beautifully. His sound is bent in the Michael Vescera direction, atleast Vescera belting Malmsteen material ("Seventh Sign"). Tons of strings, ivory ticklish piano, orchestra builds and an overall dramatic atmosphere makes it quite the unique piece. However, there is a complaint to be registered. The opening electric riff is so damned good, yet is one of the few places where the axe is actually showcased in the song. It dangles that tidbit in front of your face like horse dying for a carrot, and keeps tempting you throughout the pomp mishmash with little flashes of six string love but its mostly all for naught since the song's focus is obvious not the guitar. For shame, as good as it is, more of Byrd's mesmerizing playing would have been appreciated.

03.] "Messages From Home"
The clear pure sound of the piano rides along with streamers of electric billowing in the forefront. The structures are built up from pieces of Rainbow and Yngwie Malmsteen, but the drums are a bit flat. They need a shot of something in the arm, for some crushing skin pounding could have been the topping on the cake. Having the rhythm section hold back allows for more attention to be focused in the vocal/guitar department so its not all a loss. The electric continues to bloom with a raw soulfulness that sets off a craving for arpeggio happy intricate web weaving which he holds back on. But why!! He just keeps you waiting for that electric breakout. The closing flourish is a whirlwind trip back to the heyday of neo-classical and a welcome extra touch.

04.] "Some Day"
Slow to start, but afterall it is a ballad. And lovely it is, especially after it discovers it has wings and can actually fly, a few minutes in. The chorus is deliriously over indulgent, popping at the seams with a solo that manages to be not just reflective upon a sorrow laden past, but looking forward to the future with a burst of hope. Its a dedication to those who lost someone in the 9/11 tragedy and its a shame that rock being such a niche genre these days, that more people will not have the opportunity to hear it. Its not simplistic radio fodder, but it would most definitely touch a chord whose lives were changed on the day that would never end. Well done with plenty of nuances to pick up on in repeated listens.

05.] "All I Want"
Dark and brooding to begin, a light doomish touch brushes the surface lightly, piling on another dimension to this very prog-like track that is reminiscent of a bombastic post 80s Queensryche minus some of those modern trappings. But it builds gathering momentum as it spirals out of control for a high flying chorus, then is clipped of flight and comes crashing back into the velvet shadows. An abundance of piano gives it a lighter texture in places, and the chorus simply sweeps your breath away with its vibrant power and flanking knife twist.

06.] "Killing Machine"
More doom and gloom? It hints at such and then shapes up to break out into a mid tempo rock style that's easy on the ears and fun to listen to. The chorus is stacked with some solid stuff, and there are several large chunks of hooks tossed in for good measure. Flatters begins to grate on the nerves around this point though. He seems trapped in the same impassive range for the majority of the album. For a couple of songs his ever raking of the upper registers is well and good but for extended listening I just want to pull my hair out. His approach never varies, even when trying to squeeze those higher notes out, its just another agonizing punch of pain. Approaching this song seperate without attempting it along with a Byrd marathon, it fits better as a standalone, otherwise.... God its all Flatters fault. Sorry man, I don't mean to slag you so badly but next time think about a different approach occasionally?

07.] "Thank You"
Ahh now this is more like it. Byrd's guitar is rich and wonderful, dripping from every crevice and crack in the song. When James steps up to the plate and lets those notes just rip its a cause for celebration. His style is so decadent it can spoil the listener because you simply don't find guitar of this quality on every release out there. Each note is perfectly round and three dimensional, an apparition that takes life of its own and this is a nice showcase for such arpeggio laden extravagance. A ballad yes, with a head turning chorus and soft sentiments that proves that hot n heavy romance is not the only bond that makes a relationship. A solid friendship lying underneath is also of such importance it becomes a necessary key in not the initial contact, but staying together forever. Strangely enough, I can't recall too many other ballads that have taken such an approach, and certainly none that fused it into an emotional ride with careful elegance such as this.

08.] "The Price of War"
Off to war, and a heeeree we go... sizzlin' superb electric, a regimented feel especially in the percussion, its a march off to the battlefield. Oh but the price we pay... a muscular well styled track that has alot going for it. Just when you think its going to succumb to overly pomp Queen-ishness without the power punch, it dives head first into this awesome bombastic area that is awesome to behold yet still lacking that solid metal backbone that had the potential to turn it from 'good' to 'insanely awesome'. The percussion is a cool touch, firing off like machine gun rounds with the lead voice sketching out the severity of the situation. Then the guitar edges in, smoothing over the rough parts and sprinkling its relaxing magic over the top, like sprinkles on a cupcake, its the reason for showing up and enjoying the show. Not enough guitar though! If it was more plentiful, I suppose it wouldn't generate such excitement to hear it again.

09.] "Only Love"
OK another run of the mill mid tempo ditty with blazin' guitar, or so it seems. The chorus kicks in and wipes out all fears, just too bad the verses don't generate that kind of excitement or serve to build tension up to it. Love that chorus though, its such a mix of styles, kind of like Stryper meets Yngwie Malmsteen at the crossroads with the verses nodding to a Royal Hunt stripped of their signature keyboards. Good stuff overall, and an uplifting ender with the perfect little garnishes that accent the rest with its vibrant colour.


"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:
Songs - 8.0, Performance - 8.0, Production - 8.0, Lyrics - 8.0

Hot Spots: "Thank You", "Only Love", "Omen"
Bottom Line: A good guitarist's album with plenty to be enjoyed by all.

Review by Alanna Evans -

More Metal Reviews