L to R: Tjaard Walstra (bass), Rudie Kingma (drums), Harold de Vries (vocals/guitar), Maurice Gijsman (guitar)
You wouldn't expect a Wildman & Steve album review to begin with a reference to K.C. and The Sunshine Band, but when it comes to the new album by Dutch metal artists Angelic Forces, "that's the way, uh huh, uh huh, we like it!" We discovered them through a recommendation to us on The Christian Metal Forum and were soon interviewing guitarist Maurice Gijsman. That led to a growing friendship (more on that later), and while we loved their 2018 self-titled EP, we couldn't wait for their first, full-length album...and here it is (and here and here)! Heard the phrase "all killer, no filler?" It applies here. This is NWOTHM at its best, and it's not for the faint of heart, so let's get into it track by track.
A 32-second instrumental, reminiscent of "The Abyss" on Stryper's To Hell With The Devil, opens the album with sounds of a storm, possibly an earth-destroying one, filled with screams, and then...armageddon strikes!
"Armageddon" is hard driving, melodic metal with actual singing. Harold de Vries holds notes and does not merely scream, especially in the catchy chorus. He and Maurice Gijsman take turns with blistering guitar solos, and with lyrics based on the Book of Revelation about a dragon coming out of the sea, you have a killer opening, all well supported by the relentless drumming of Rudie Kingma and the pounding bass of Tjaard Walstra.
Just how fast can Gijsman's fingers fly across the fret board? His solo blazes through the intro to "Through the Fire," and then de Vries cuts loose with lyrics that, in a nod to John 10:10, acknowledge the thief that Satan really is and inspire us to "keep running through the fire." His later solos put the "traditional" in NWOTHM, and with screams worthy of Michael Sweet, the song roars to a close, leaving you wonder how three minutes and forty-seven seconds could have gone so fast.
"Against" is up next with more of that traditional metal guitar sound, and a killer drum opening from Kingma, but it the lyrics...wow! Pure metal! Addressing Satan again, the lyrics declare, "You're full of hate/Now it's too late/Your fate is sealed, I'm against you!" With solos alternating between Gijsman and de Vries, this song sounds as if it would strike fear into the heart of the dark lord himself.
After four, full-throttle tracks, you might expect a power ballad here so we can catch our breath, but not on this album. "Arise" kicks off with a scream that makes you think you are listening to "Loud 'n' Clear," the opening number on Stryper's 1984 debut The Yellow And Black Attack and you realize there is no breather here. This is a metal anthem if ever there was one. It sings of rising at the command of Jesus and the return of "the one we all killed and stabbed." And when de Vries hits the final verse, "At the end every one shall kneel/When he rules with a rod of steel," he soars into the stratosphere on the last syllable, which is immediately followed by what can only be described as an explosion of sound and ferocity.
You just know that a song called "Mission to Hell" is going to be brutal. The guitars blaze, Kingma doesn't merely pound his drum kit but rather beats it into submission, and once again...those lyrics! "The earth was quaking when it/Drank the blood of his sacrifice." This song is all about 1 Peter 3:18-20, and if there's one thing metal takes seriously, it's the supernatural. Listen to this song and you cannot help but be pumped up that the One you follow is the One Who triumphed over death itself. A truly stand out track, this is one that has you reaching to turn up the volume.
"Repent or Die" sounds like the title of an old-time sermon, the kind you don't hear preached much these days, but metal can still get away with it. Once again Gijsman and de Vries share guitar solos that are as fierce as the lyrics, and that rhythm section of Walstra and Kingma is unrelenting.
If you are thinking these guys are just a bunch of religious nuts, their next song says that's not true. "Religion Is a Lie" takes aim at false religious systems that are meaningless apart from Jesus. Nothing could be clearer than the lyric that says, "If you deny the Son, don't even bother/'Cause without his precious blood you won't survive." Gijsman, who wrote the music and lyrics, solos here in a way that calls to mind Mötley Crüe's "Dr. Feelgood."
Wait...the last song? "Fear No Evil" is the closest thing to a ballad on the album. It starts slow and dark, befitting a trip through the valley of the dead, but there is no reason to fear evil. de Vries gives us a solo that is scorching and surely bent the strings right off the neck of his guitar.
I mentioned earlier the growing friendship with Maurice Gijsman. I will never forget when he sent me the picture of his daughter being baptized back in 2020. It comes as no surprise that the first person he thanks in the liner notes to this album is "The one and only stellar master Yeshua." This is an album that is bold in its Christian message and utterly fierce in its music. Combined with fantastic cover art and options in digital, CD, black vinyl, and gold vinyl formats, Arise by Angelic Forces takes NWOTHM in the direction it needs go.