Michael Sweet solo, with friends – a solid, heavy effort with a little more grit than usual….
One Sided War
Rat Pak Records
12 tracks / 46:30
They say there are always two sides to every story and you would think the same would be true with a war – but you’ll be hard-pressed to find a down-side to the new Michael Sweet solo project, One Sided War. This is a war where everybody wins: the Stryper fans and the Michael Sweet fans will have plenty to celebrate when they crank up the volume on this one….
Volunteering as allies this time around are Whitesnake guitarist Joel Hoekstra, Evanescence drummer Will Hunt, bassist John O’Boyle, Pete McNamara on occasional keys, and Ethan Brosh with an extra set of fingers on the fretboard. The band takes no prisoners as they advance to the front of your speakers with a barrage of clean-edged heavy metal-tinged rock and roll designed to get your head banging and your heart pumping. Sweet himself cuts through swaths of musical landscape with his usual signature-toned machine-gun riffs but gets plenty of help from his band of brothers, who certainly know their way around the heavy metal jungle.
Sweet’s production is crisp and powerful and features all of the elements up-front, with only the occasional filtering (like the vocal chorus on “Golden Age”). All songs are written by Sweet with the exception of “One Sided War,” by Sweet and Blair Daly, and “Only You,” by Sweet and Bruce Wallace.
The album starts like a cannon-shot with the Stryper-like energy of “Bizarre,” the first of several songs featuring obviously spiritual lyrics for those who have ears to hear: “We have the heart and the soul of a king – if we only knew who we are / we could move mountains and do anything, but we just stand back from afar – bizarre.” The attack is fierce and unrelenting and Sweet’s vocals are as powerful and on-the-attack as, well – as when the Yellow and Black first attacked….
The album's title track follows, just as heavy but in a more mid-tempo deluge of sound. The theme of peace through surrender is almost antithetical to the whole Sweet/Stryper mythology but is nevertheless a spiritual truth and possibly a statement on the one-upmanship of social media. Either way, there’s nothing passive about the way Michael sings “I won’t fight – fight no more / this is your one-sided war.”
The slightly sinister-sounding riff that follows the drum intro on “Can’t Take This Life” leads into some signature harmony guitar lines and the hoped-for Michael Sweet high-scream. He’s still got it, folks. The mood lightens with a tongue-in-cheek look at short-cuts to radio play via Nashville and Country music. Actually a fun and entertaining track (and not without some guts), “Radio” shows that these guys have a sense of humor (and even some banjo chops).
Without dipping into every track on this album it’s worth noting that there are at least a couple of songs that may or may not be about earth-bound love - “Who Am I” and “You Make Me Wanna” seem aimed at human relationships, the first being an out-and-out ballad and the latter being a powerful piece of hard pop. Sweet’s love for his God is considerably more raucous, as evidenced by the delightfully heavy, Ronnie James Dio-esque “Golden Age.” By the time the album ends the boys actually do get a little southern rock, if not out-and-out country, out of their systems with “One way Up.”
The playing throughout is solid heavy rock, pop-metal, heavy metal… call it what you will, it will have your head banging. As to how this is different from a Stryper album, well – that’s a good question that’s a bit hard to answer. I suppose the question is, would it sound any different if it was a Stryper album? Certainly, Sweet has some vocal moments that reveal more grit than in the past, but maybe that’s an evolution that will carry through to the next Stryper project as well. Maybe the content would have been seasoned with another ballad, maybe there would have been more anthemic choruses, perhaps more vocal harmony… but with Sweet at the helm, rocking harder than he’s ever rocked in any of his previous solo projects, no Stryper fan will be left behind…