Michael Sweet has to be the most productive guy in the business. Aside from his time in Stryper, - writing, performing, touring, and producing - he's been actively pursuing a solo career and a side project with Dokken guitarist George Lynch. Since 2013, Sweet has put out five albums, along with doing guest appearances on albums from Tourniquet and Benedictum singer Veronica Freeman's solo debut, in which he wrote and produced two tracks. Oh yeah.... And he wrote and published his autobiography, too. The fact that Sweet has been all over the place putting his hands on everything is one thing, the fact that it's all extremely high quality is a whole other thing.
Here he goes again, on his own.
Following up 2014's I'm Not Your Suicide, an album I thought to be his strongest solo effort, One Sided War turns out to be even more powerful. Surrounding himself with crazy talent such as Whitesnake guitarist Joel Hoekstra and guitar virtuoso Ethan Brosh, along with Evanescence drummer Will Hunt and bassist John O’Boyle, Sweet just excels within a hard rock comfort zone.
What you'll hear on this set is hard rock - very hard rock. Sweet is often known for, well, his sweet vocal tone. Over the years, Stryper has taken some criticism from the metal community for being too light, even a bit syrupy. Well, get ready for the meat and potatoes version of Michael Sweet. This is the heaviest material Michael Sweet has ever done.
If you've ever seen Stryper in the live setting, you know that Sweet is as much a guitar player as he is a singer. He's known for his voice, which hasn't changed since the early 80's, but his guitar is the weapon of choice here. With Berklee grad and teacher Ethan Brosh and Joel Hoekstra in tow, the licks and riffage on this thing are frightening. And, of course, the beauty of all of this are the songs in which all of this is contained. These are perfectly written songs with great melody, but not too much melody to remove them from the hard rock genre.
The album jumps down your throat with the thrashy opening track, "Bizarre," and remains pretty relentless throughout. The only ballad-like track on the album is "Who Am I," and even it has power chords. Put your waffles away, there will be no syrup here. This entire record is amazing and is sure to find a spot on my Album of the Year list at year's end. Some of the biggest highlights for me come by way of the songs "Radio," "You Make Me Wanna," "I Am," "One Way Up," and "Can't Take This Life".
With "Radio" we get a great hard rock hook inside of a song that talks about rock guys going to Nashville to try and get a hit Country single. This one's for you, Steven Tyler (and Bret Michaels, and....). This is my favorite track on the record because of the brilliant hook, the lyrics, the little bit of banjo flavor and the wicked guitar solo courtesy of Hoekstra. Simply put, this just kicks major ass. "I Am" is a song that has more than a nod to the late great Ronnie James Dio. It's not that Sweet's voice sounds anything like Dio, but the structure and phrasing of this song is chillingly similar to something you might get from Dio. "You Make Me Wanna" is a perfect example of being really melodic but keeping within that hard rock realm. It's a great sing-along, but still a song that will have your neck sore. "One Way Up" is just another badass rocker that has a bit of a groove heavy, southern guitar feel. Listening to this one will have your fist in the air, imagining how great the song would be in a live setting. Oh yeah.
Now, maybe the most special track on the album is "Can't Take This Life" with Moriah Formica. Moriah is a 15-year old girl that just wails. You'll find her on YouTube covering people like Ann Wilson, and killing it. Yeah, she's that good. On "Can't Take This Life" we get a woman. Sounding like one part Floor Jansen (Nightwish) and one part Lzzy Hale (Halestorm), this is a husky maturity that you won't find in too many voices, much less that of a 15-year old girl. This song and performance just blows me away. Oh yeah.... Did I mention that Michael Sweet appears on Moriah Formica's album, too. Wow.
Michael, take a rest my friend. You deserve it. You've given us a decade of music worth listening to in the span of a couple years. When artists are finding little to no reason to make new music, you're out there writing enough for everyone. I, for one, cannot thank you enough.