The big shot producers, label deals, videos for MTV, all the key support slots in those heady, magical days of long-haired rock ‘n’ roll in the low ‘90s.
Indeed, New Orleans survivors Lillian Axe have persevered through more than 20 years of sincere music-loving and music-crafting, arriving at the record chief songsmith and guitarist Steve Blaze calls “our most mature record, the truest to the sound of what the band has wanted to achieve since its inception back in 1983.”
That’s quite the statement, given the unparalleled reputation Lillian Axe has garnered amongst serious musicologists, despite being lumped in with the hair bands of the day. In fact, the almost unfortunate timing of being big news during those days has helped keep relatively secret the fact that Lillian Axe have been - at least from records like Love + War on - a strident, ambitious, complicated band Zeppelin-esque in spirit and Queen-like of explosive creativity and meticulous execution. And yet magnificently, this time-honored surfeit of talent, passion and work ethic deliberately soared tangentially yet boldly from a base that embraced a certain pristine melodic rock sensibility that is, yes, part and parcel of that early ‘90s metal sound now seen as “corporate.”
This astonishing marriage of sensibilities continues – and incredibly intensifies – with the band’s new album, Waters Rising, a record of high yet accessible art, a record where attention has been paid to every detail, an album with a blinding shine.
Ask Steve Blaze about the band’s trademarks, and like the true artist he is, he arrives somewhat at the above assessment through a purity of sincerity that is refreshing in this world of packaged concepts.
“Potential singles on this record are everywhere, with all of the first four tracks getting serious consideration. One of those is “Quarantine,” (which, by the way, unintentionally ended up with a chord progression out of “Hotel California!”).
And closing out the album? Well, after all the intense and dramatic lyric work that come before, it’s time for an instrumental. “Yes, ‘5’… I wrote that as we recorded it,” reveals Steve. “I said I want to write an instrumental and I want to put everything in it, from blues and shredding to clean guitar to orchestrated pieces, to arpeggiated riffs, any effects, flange, wah-wah, octave, anything you can put on there. I don’t want to hear anymore, ‘Steve, when are you going to do an instrumental?’ I have no excuses on this one. It’s full of shredding. We’d do one section, beef it up, and then move to the next and fill it up again.”
Waters Rising features a new vocalist in Derrick LeFevre, who is in possession of the same pristine, clear, powerful sound that Ron Taylor had, a necessary trait given the panoramic majesty of these songs, be they dark progressive rockers like “Deep In The Black” or solid gold smash balladry such as “Until The End Of The World.”
On the subject of singers, Steve is candid but confident. “People who’ve heard the record are more than happy, because, you know, when you change a singer like Ron Taylor after 15 years, a lot of people think, that's it, the beginning of the end. And we were fortunate. We were talking about auditioning other guys from other successful bands, but I think it would've been the kiss of death to have somebody - even if they're great singer - who would have no similarities to Ron Taylor. Because there are seven albums of material, and there's a new voice. Fortunately Derrick is a career cover band singer - this guy covers everybody, from AC/DC to Heart. He can just mimic so well, but his natural voice is so similar to Ron, with even a different kind of richness to it, that it’s astonishing. And he's been in bands opening for Lillian Axe before we even had our first record deal. But yes, if you weren’t seriously up on the band, you probably wouldn't even realize we had a new singer.”
Serendipity to be sure. The result is an album that is gorgeously appointed yet boldly heavy, Lillian Axe relentlessly bringing out huge monolithic chords often European and even Sabbatherian in weight and then having Derrick temper them with his smoothly crooning pipes. Adding to the heaven and hell dichotomy is recurring layered harmonies and twin leads, plus production that is hi-fidelity in the extreme, fully plush yet pounding.
Quiet simply Waters Rising is arguably this band’s second masterpiece, the first being 1993’s Psychoschizophrenia, a deceptively sweet and smooth record actually way heavier and smarter than folks give credit. Waters Rising is in that realm and deserves serious attention. Amusingly, we don’t have to tell you to give it a chance, it has to be played right through, or it’ll grow on you. Cue it up anywhere. It is obviously and immediately a joy to behold. Whether you’re looking for traditional metal or something lighter, you’ll get it right away. The pay-off of repeated listens will become apparent as you make them, namely the discovery that Blaze has massaged into these pieces all manner of ear candy that can only come from a man and band this obsessive about their craft.