Roxx Productions is a booking company from California that has been effective in reuniting some classic Christian metal bands for concerts such as Stryper, Barren Cross, Recon and on August 29th, 2004, four of the original members of legendary thrashers Vengeance Rising. Of course most people familiar with the band have read how former vocalist Roger Martinez has chosen not to follow his former Christian beliefs any longer. There is a long story why the original band members left following the 1990 Once Dead tour. However, suffice it to know that the band members were ready to call it quits so they agreed to give Roger Martinez the rights to the name Vengeance Rising, as well as all the publishing rights to the original songs. This is how it was left when the original Vengeance Rising parted ways. Because of this, and out of respect to their contract with Roger, the original four members decided to bring on a new vocalist and rename the band Once Dead. Enter yours truly.
Since I am the vocalist for this live show, it is a bit hard for me not to be biased. So instead of a review, I will just share some of my thoughts on the DVD, the show and the entire experience. First of all it was an honor for me to share the stage with these guys. Had this been the only show I ever got to do with them, I would have been grateful. What more can a fan ask for than to actually get the opportunity to sing for one of his favorite bands? Fortunately this show is not the end of Once Dead, but more on that later.
I spent two solid months learning the songs for this show. I probably looked like a complete nutcase driving down the road singing all the old Vengeance songs in my car. I am sure I looked like even more of a nut as I was mouthing the words to the songs at the gym during my cardio time with the headphones blasting in my ears. No doubt, I cannot sing these songs without banging my head, making various hand motions, etc. I am sure it was quite the sight. Every moment I had to get a CD on and be by myself I was playing Vengeance. As big of a fan as I already was, I was actually surprised by how little of the lyrics I actually knew. Martinez was always a very charismatic preacher and his lyrics reflected this. However, one thing I didn't notice in the past was the bits of humor thrown into the songs. "Can't Get Out" for instance has the line "I smoked away my frustrations, I took it out on my wife, I even tried to smoke her too, she wouldn't fit in the pipe." I laughed out loud when I read these lines. Why I hadn't noticed them before is a mystery.
I was quite anxious to meet the band for the first time. Vengeance roadie Ken picked me up from my hotel room to take me to the studio we were to practice in. Here I was a 36 year old man and feeling like a kid getting to meet his favorite band. I figured I may never see these guys again after this show, so I took along some stuff to have them sign. Yes, I acted like a silly fan. Wouldn't you? To my delight, Doug, Larry and Glenn actually got a kick out of seeing the old 8x10 Vengeance Rising glossy I brought along to have them sign. I can honestly say that the Once Dead guys are all some of the nicest people I have met. With the fan stuff out of the way, it was now time to get down to business. However, what I failed to remember is that these guys hadn't actually played together in almost a decade. They were reminiscing, sharing stories about the road, the studio, the other band members, funny mishaps, etc. They told me glowing stories about Roger Martinez and how much they missed him. Vengeance Rising were a family in those early days, so much so that even all their roadies from that 1990 tour came back for this reunion show. All of them were there sharing stories from the road. It was quite the reunion party at that first practice and then again when we sat down to a meal together a few days later.
The big show was less than a week away when I arrived in California, so we only had time for about three practices before the big show, and only one of those would be with the entire band. We practiced for several hours at each practice session. The first two practices went great. I felt good, I was belting out the lyrics and the band sounded awesome. Larry recorded some of the practices and it was amazing how good the band sounded, despite not having played together in a decade. The last practice was to be on the morning before the show. Bassist Roger Dale Martin was flying in that morning as well and we would have one final practice with the entire band. Wouldn't you know I wake up that morning feeling like crap! Yup, I was getting sick. I really wanted to freak out, but instead I kept my cool and drank a TON of water. I mean, I drank gallons of lemon water that day making sure I would have enough voice to not only get through practice, but also an interview for the DVD, a set with my band Ultimatum and the final set with Once Dead. Once on stage I was bursting with energy, despite a slightly sore throat and having recently finished my set with Ultimatum. I can honestly say that God granted me the voice to get through that set because shortly after Once Dead left the stage after the final encore, my voice was gone. As many shows as I have done over the years, I have never had that happen to me even when doing more than one show on a day. Listening back to the DVD now I can hear a bit of strain in my vocals, but despite that, I like the otherwise raw, live delivery I gave for that show.
I can tell you that the band was struggling a bit on stage due to poor monitoring and mixing from the club. Unfortunately Larry Farkas wasn't heard at all on stage, making things a bit rough for all of us. However, we troopered through it and the fruits are now available for all to see on this DVD release. Personally, I think the songs sound great. There are no studio fixes on this DVD. There are no overdubs to fix the rubs. This is raw, heavy and live, just like you would have heard it that hot night in August. "Into the Abyss" truly sounds amazing to me. Seeing Larry Farkas on stage with that violin bow again, just like on the 1990 Once Dead tour was amazing for this fan. "White Throne", "Can't Get Out", "Burn", "Mulligan's Stew", "Fatal Delay", "Human Sacrifice", "Warfare" all the classics are here. Frankly the only song missing that I really wanted to play was "Wrath to Come" which had to be scrapped due to our set time that evening. The sound quality on this DVD isn't perfect, but isn't bad either. The sound is quite a bit better than you would have heard in the audience that evening thanks to the mixing of one John Carroll.
Here is what John from Peak Productions had to say about the sound:
One noticeable problem that arose that night is seen on the DVD if you watch carefully enough. During "Into the Abyss" my wireless mic went out completely. Our stage crew didn't seem to notice right away and for some strange reason the guy running the sound wasn't behind the board. I grabbed one of the backup mics for the remainder of the show and shared my vocal mic several times with Roger Dale Martin for some of the gang vocals.
On top of the standard set, the band decided to throw a new song on me a day before the show. Neither I nor Roger Dale Martin had heard this new song yet, but both of us jumped in and put forth our best effort. So what exactly am I saying in this song? To be honest, I don't know, the words were made up on the spot that evening at the show as no lyrics had been written yet. Right on! That was fun. This song is included as part of the bonus material on this disc. This song may see the light of day on a future recording from the band. So, no, the entire show is not included in the concert footage of the DVD. As a matter of fact, some of the in between song banter between myself and the crowd was also cut out, due to time restraints on the DVD and the amount of bonus material the band wanted to include. However, some of that banter can be heard in other parts of the DVD.
Speaking of the crowd, they were great. It's so much easier to put on a good performance when the crowd is into the show. This crowd was. You could feel the energy in the place. Heads were banging almost the entire time. I enjoyed interacting with those who were crammed up against the stage and even gave some of them opportunities to bark out the chorus on "Burn". I was truly blessed to see one of my vocal heroes in the front row. Ron Rinehart of Dark Angel fame was there and really encouraged me. To all those people in the crowd, you guys rule!
The DVD offers a fairly lengthy interview with the band and covers questions about the breakup of Vengeance Rising, what happened with Roger Martinez, what the band members have been up to since the breakup, and some other subjects of interest to Vengeance die-hards. You will see that the band has no hard feelings towards Roger at all and have nothing but great things to say about him. As well, the DVD includes a photo gallery that features pictures of the practices before the show, the interview and the actual show that evening. As an added bonus a live video of Ultimatum was also added. Finally there are individual discographies for each band member.
One interesting note about the track listing on the DVD. If you go into the individual song listings you will see the original song list that the band used on the stage that is autographed by the entire band. Seven copies of that song list were printed. I grabbed five from the stage and the other two disappeared. I have the original autographed copy as seen on the DVD. Several of the other copies were sent to some of my other Vengeance die-hard fans. Those are quite the collector's item for a Vengeance fan.
It should be noted that I am writing these thoughts based on the advance, test copy I received in the mail prior to the actual release. Several changes were made between that time and the final release.
This show was released as a limited edition bonus disc with the 2010 remastered version of Vengeance Rising - Once Dead. It has also been bootlegged and pressed to CD by InRock Records.
Over two years after the initial "reunion" of Vengeance Rising, the name change to Once Dead, numerous line-up changes, writing and re-writing songs, and multiple recording sessions, "Visions of Hell" is finally unleashed upon the world. Being that I was once a part of this band, I wasn't sure how I'd feel about this recording once it was released. After all, I was originally suppose to sing on this album. However, after multiple spins on the CD player I can honestly say this is one brutal thrash metal release and I quit enjoy it. After only a couple spins, several songs already began to stick out as favorites. The album opener, "Body Parts" is one of the fastest songs on the album. This song is straight forward thrash metal and exactly what anyone would expect from a band made up of ex-Vengeance and Hirax members. There is even a hint of Slayer in this song. The follow-up song takes the intensity level down a notch, but "Devotion", written by drummer Jim Chaffin, is another memorable, fast and heavy song. All these songs feature some fantastic guitar work and well executed guitar solos. From what I know, Glenn Rogers of Hirax recorded much of the rhythm guitar work on "Visions of Hell", while lead guitar duties was split between Doug Thieme, Larry Farkas and Glenn.
One of the highlights of this CD is "The Contract", a song originally written back in 1990 by Doug Thieme for the third Vengeance Rising CD. I saw Vengeance on the "Once Dead" tour all those years ago and remember this song. It was one of two new songs they were playing on the tour. Once the band split from Roger Martinez back in '91, the song was never recorded until now. Hearing this song now, I can only imagine how great the third Vengeance Rising CD would have been had the band stayed together long enough to record this track.
Another standout track is "Grave Diggers: The Forgotten Genocide". This song is slow and as heavy as a the subject matter the song addresses. This song has a big Black Sabbath influence and is quite different from much of the rest of the material presented here. Unfortunately no song writing credits were given on the cover art, but I'd be willing to be that Glenn Rogers had a big hand in the writing of this one. It's worth mentioning the subject matter of this song which is quite disturbing. The song is written in the first-person standpoint from someone who survived mass genocide by hiding under the body of "the maimed".
New vocalist Devin Shaeffer lays down some brutal vocals on this one. His style is a cross between metalcore screams and grunted thrash/hardcore vocals, not unlike Lamb of God. Some fans may be familiar with Devin's work with Fresno, CA metalcore band Fasedown. While Devin does what he does naturally and there are some similarities to his work with Fasedown, it seems to me that he consciously tried to get a different sound with Once Dead. On "Feeding My Addiction" and "The Contract" he reminded me slightly of Steve Rowe from Mortification. There are also lots of old school gang vocals mixed throughout this CD.
The only disappointment with "Visions of Hell" is the production. The recording is raw and abrasive, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. However, the overall mix is a bit muddy and takes some getting use to. On first listen, the snare sound really stuck out and was distracting. As well, at times there seems to be some sort of static that can be heard, especially during parts where the guitars are singled out. Still, I don't find this overly distracting to the point that I can't enjoy this CD. On the contrary, I found myself listening to this CD over and over again in the first few days of owning it. The more I listened the less distracting the recording became and the more I began to enjoy the songs.
One small side note as well, the track listing on the back of the CD is incorrect. The track listing above is correct. The songs are also listed incorrectly when the CD is brought into iTunes. The only song that is correct in iTunes is "Body Parts". The rest of the songs are not properly named.