2001's Byrd release
"Flying Beyond The 9" was my introduction to the music
of James Byrd, and his band; simply named Byrd. Besides Mr. Byrd
himself, Brian Hutchinson (piano, drums, bass) and singer Michael
Flatters (Takara) form this band.
I won't elaborate on the history of the band and James Byrd in
specific, 'cause in the very near future a bio and interview will
be available on RockNet as well, offering plenty of background
I'm not even going to try to
categorize this music. You'll simply have to judge for yourself.
But the amazing compositions and guitar work will appeal to many.The
songs on "Anthem" are a little calmer then Byrd's previous
release, but the balance between up-tempo and slower material is
The piano / keyboard-driven intro "Dealt By Darkness"
is the perfect start of an album that will impress many. The bombastic
orchestral arrangement will stir up an appetite, like a good intro
should. The voice of Michael Flatters cuts through the broad sound,
and if Mr. Flatters doesn't, the lead guitars of James Byrd do.
The pompous following song "Omen" with the staccato piano,
layered guitar licks and powerful choruses sounds like something
the mighty Queen might have performed in the earlier part of their
career. I wonder if Byrd himself will admit to the similarity. I'll
Of course the guitars are very
prominently here, but thank goodness James Byrd (who wrote all these
songs) apparently has a deep understanding of songwriting and arranging.
At least he doesn't drown each and every song in mindless scale-racing.
More than once the (guitar) harmonies remind me of Brian May, but
the songwriting (except for "Omen" maybe) is, as far as
I can judge knowing only the previous record, typical Byrd work.
"Messages From Home" is a somewhat denser song, with lots
of licks and leads throughout. But pay some close attention to the
rhythm guitar parts and assorted riffs going on in the background.
"Some Day", the ballad of the album, is lyrically your
typical ballad, but the chords, cleverly moving from 'flat' to 'sharp'
(I hope I got the terms right on this one) gives the sad lyrics
an underlying feeling of hope and optimism.
Lion Music call themselves a
'Progressive Metal Hard Rock Label' and if it's up to "All
I Want" this term is certainly justified as far as I'm concerned.
Rhythmically this song (the verses in particular) is a *very* entertaining
track. And Michael Flatters proves how well he's at home in the
higher regions of his vocal capacities.
Some weird-sounding backward guitars are the intro to "Killing
Machine", another up-tempo tune, where Flatters sounds somewhat
more powerful than on the majority of the material. I'd love to
hear this man work live sometime. "Thank You" is lyrically
a tribute to love and friendship. All this is poured into a mid-tempo
track with a sing-along chorus. The lead guitar sound on this one
A more melodic track; "The
Price Of War" follows. The vocal line here is not your run-of-the-mill
stuff. The sober piano riff adds to the atmosphere very nicely,
and the strings and brass arrangements give this song a bit of a
'march' feel, especially when Brian Hutchison does his thing on
Finally "Only Love" is the song on this record that, lyrically,
impressed me most: 'Children see the light of truth within the bread
they break. Never knowing what has come behind the hand they take.'
Conclusion: by all means a worthy
successor to "Flying Beyond The 9". And one of the first
albums in a while that I have done a track-by-track review on, simply
because every track has it's specific qualities. Downsides? Yes,
there are some: the somewhat short playing time might disappoint
some (like me) and I can imagine that (generally) the lyrical content
won't impress a lot of people. Then again, when there's so much
going on musically, it would be cruel to draw away too much attention
from the amazing musical craftsmanship of Byrd - the band.
There's quite a bit of James's
earlier stuff available for your listening pleasure at mp3.com <http://www.mp3.com/jamesbyrd>
Following up his FLYING BEYOND THE 9 cd from 2001, James Byrd is back
with his latest release called ANTHEM. Byrd had started working on
songs for this album before the events of September 11th but in the
aftermath of those events he was at a loss to continue. When he did
he scrapped the work that he had done before and started over. The
songs come from his feelings of personal anger, frustration and sadness
at those events. One thing he wanted to stay away from was using 9/11
as a selling point for his CD. There is nothing in the packaging or
the lyrics that directly links the album to that fateful day as Byrd
felt that he did not want to cash in on that tragedy. It would be
Like FLYING BEYOND THE 9, ANTHEM is a CD rooted in 70s metal combined
with copious amounts of orchestration. Byrd is again joined on this
CD by vocalist Michael Flatters who takes up the challenge of Byrds
emotional ride after 9/11. Opening the CD is Anthem- Delt By
Darkness, a short highly orchestrated piece that speaks of the
lives of those lost. Lyrics such as my heart breaks and
all their dreams scattered to the winds illustrate how
deeply Byrd was touched by the tragedy. One thing is for certain,
James Byrd is still a masterful guitar player and proves it over and
over again on this release by doing more than simply playing a break
neck speed. His playing is tasteful and fits his compositions perfectly.
On tracks such as Killing Machine and Messages From
Home Byrd stretches gives into his more aggressive side while
Some Day and All I Want are emotional windows
into the mind of James Byrd and a mirror of how many people felt after
such a loss of life.
James Byrd delivers another unique album of 70s inspired progressive,
orchestral metal. As on his last release, Byrd uses the orchestration
more as added colouring in the songs, not in a bombastic Rhapsodyesque
way. There is no one else out there making music like this. It owes
as much to Queen and Deep Purple as is does to the metal that Byrd
first showcased in Fifth Angel.
Reviewed by Rick.
Former Fifth Angel founder and guitarist James Byrd continues his
amazing career with another album. The new album titled 'Anthem'
is now released via Lion Music and is a progression of his direction
on 'Flying beyond the 9'. The difference that I picked up on this
release is that the album comes across as more of a production.
The songs are big. The band is classified as a symphonic metal act
and lives up to the name very well. Now it needs to be said that
James Byrd is not making Rhapsody style music even though some find
those comparisons. The bands are definitely different in their approach.
The new album is also filled with a lot of emotion. When Byrd started
to write his new album it was a pre 9/11 era. After the tragic events
he totally shifted gears and offered a different presentation. Maybe
this affected the emotional aspect of this release. Actually, I'd
bet on it. The release is tight with good musicianship, writing,
and vocals. Most of the tracks are actual very visual in their presentation.
Take 'Anthem -Dealt by Darkness' as an example. It's a great opener
that displays the aforementioned emotion as well as big production
sound. This is consistent throughout the rest of the album. Some
of my own favorites include the opener already mentioned, 'Omen',
the melodic 'Some Day', 'All I want', the atmospheric 'The price
of war', and the upbeat album closer 'Only Love'. It's hard to pick
favorites however because the entire album is consistent and well
Overall James Byrd is really writing some prestigious sounding music.
This album is similar than 'Flying beyond the 9' but is different
at the same time. The songs are well crafted with a bit of classical
thrown into big production. An emotionally driven album that makes
a statement where James is as an artist. He has his own identity
and this album really solidifies this notion. This one is definitely
worthy of your attention!
James Byrd became a real legend when he formed the band Fifth Angel.The
Fifth Angel debut album was a true classic in the epic melodic hardrock
genre and in an instant James Byrd was one of the most famous guitarists
from the 80's.Regretfully James left after the first Fifth Angel
album and formed his own band James Byrd's Atlantis Rising.The self
titled debut was a nice record but vocalist Freddy Krumins was definitely
not as good as Ted Pilot (Fifth Angel vocalist).In the early nineties
James released two highly aclaimed instrumental albums which were
strongly influenced by the great Uli Jon Roth.In 1996 James released
the album "The Apocalypse Chime" under the name of The
James Byrd Group and two years later "Crimes of Virtuosity",
which was maybe the most diverse album that James ever released.
In 2001 James made one of the best decisions of his life forming
a band with Brian Hutchinson on keyboards and Michael Flatters on
vocals.Under the name Byrd the album "Flying Beyond the 9"
was released through Lion Music.Almost every editor loved this album
and this was definitely no surprise because the melodic hardrock
mixed with symphonic and neo-classical influences sounded fresh
and inspired.Not only James' guitar escapades sounded better than
ever but also Michael Flatters was one of the biggest new vocal
talents of the last couple of years.Now we got the new album titled
"Anthem" and again the melodic, symphonic and neo-classical
elements are here but I personally think that the songs are even
better than on "Flying Beyond the 9". My favorite songs
are "Omen" , "All I Want", "Killing Machine"
(maybe one of the best songs James ever wrote), "Thank You"
(just listen to the guitar solo on this one!) and "The Price
"Anthem" is another classic in the making and together
with the Fifth Angel debut album this is probably the best album
that James ever released.Very recommended!!!
Rating : 9.5/10
Review by Ronny Elst (2002)
Guitarist James Byrd (ex. Fifth Angel) is back with yet another
very bombastic release in the progressive/symphonic style of music.
"Anthem" is the follow up album to last years success
at Lionmusic (Flying Beyond The 9) and once again with Michael Flatters
(Takara) behind the mic.
Byrd started writing and recording this record prior to September
11th 2001. However, when the attack happened he decided to start
from scratch again. 'I just didnt have any further feeling
of connection to the music I had started before September 11th and
to have continued as though nothing had changed just wasn't going
to be artistically honest', Byrd said earlier in the press release.
More power to him as honesty is probably the most important thing,
when it comes to writing and performing music. This is not just
a attempt to cash in on that tragedy though as the album hasn't
anything to do with 9/11 lyricially or otherwise. Sadly the album
hasn't that much to do with last years success either as the overall
material is weaker than 'Flying Beyond The 9'. Then again, the sound
is very much the same as 'FBT9' and Byrd's guitarwork is really
something out of the ordinary. I really love his guitar tone here
and the music is still very much 'Byrd' with Royal Hunt, Robbie
Valentine, Styx, Stryper & Yngwie Malmsteen similarities in
the mix. The song "Thank You" is nothing but magic though
and one of the best songs he's ever done. The lyric with the simple
yet effective 'Thank You For Being My Friend' really says a lot
about the track. Check out the excellent guitar work and solo here,
perfect bliss if ever. Other highlights would be "Messages
From Home", the nice ballad "Some Day" and the uptempo
rocker "Killing Machine". The main problem is not the
un-catchy songs, it just feels like I've already heard many of them
on his previous CD.
Review by Urban "Wally" Wallstrom
If you liked Flying Beyond The 9 last year, you will
surely like this brand-new Anthem as well. Just like
last year this album counts (only) 9 tracks, all written by the
master guitarist James Byrd (ex-Fifth Angel) himself and once again
the stuff could easily be described as neo-classical metal with
some symphonic overtones. If you remember my review of Flying
Beyond The 9, maybe you still bear in mind that I was as impressed
by vocalist Michael Flatters as I was by Mr. Byrd. Well, this Flatters
- and keyboard player Hutchinson - are still very much part of the
band and all three of them are playing very tight (once again).
Its difficult to point out the best tracks, as all of them
are of a good quality. Fans of Malmsteen must try out this band.
Theres no way back!
Review by CL.
People that know me as a full-on metal head will be surprised to
know that Im a sucker for certain types of soaring harmonies
and borderline sappy pop rock. I also love the epic sound of albums
like Queens A Night at the Opera. My point is that Byrds
Anthem has many of these elements and can now be added to my list.
However, I must make clear that while Anthem is full of beautiful
harmonies and keyboard heavy melodic gems, Byrd is not a bubblegum
band. The musicianship is flawless. James Byrds guitar playing
is brilliant and his solos will send shockwaves from your toes to
your skull. He also throws in a lot of Brian May style layered guitar
parts which sound fantastic. Micheal Flatters belts out some decent
mid-range crooning. The arrangements are captivating and the songs
in general are compelling, if a bit sappy. Its a rocking piece
of work, but its also quite slick and glossy, so I wouldnt
necessarily have it blaring from my car stereo as I drive past a
biker bar. I enjoyed it.
By: Scott Alisoglu
James Byrd is back again this year with another neoclassical guitar
driven masterpiece. "Anthem" breaks new territory for
its push forward in neo inspired music with heartfelt melodies and
blazing guitars. We here at The Shred Zone take pride in our reviews
and players we promote here. James Byrd is one of our favorite artists
and a friend. James is featured all over our site, and we strongly
support this musician's existence in the guitar world and will seek
to push his music to everyone that visits our site. "Anthem"
is on hell of a record guitar fans, and this review will touch upon
every aspect of it. James covers all fronts with slow melodic ballads
to in your face heavy metal riffing. Byrd is no stranger to intense
song writing, he makes every note sound like his last. It only took
thirty seconds into the first song before I knew this song was going
to kick some major guns. So lets get on with it.
"Anthem - Death by Darkness" starts up the album with
some beautiful keyboard orchestrations. This song is very melodic
and each movement in the track progresses nicely. Check out James's
classy lead starting at 01:48, its packed with emotion and soul.
Byrd is one of the few neoclassical guitarists that can play with
pure soul. He's like the Stevie Ray Vaughn of neoclassical playing.
James plays straight from the heart and every note that pours out
of his soul comes from that central location. Michael Flatters vocals
are amazing as well. He has a superb vocal range, and matches his
pitch to the feeling of the song.
In song two "Omen," James Byrd doesn't wait to enthrall
you with his blazing guitar playing. The intro licks are super melodic
and catchy. I also appreciated the complexity and detail of those
lines. Listen closely for the killer arpeggio idea blended in right
before the main verse starts. The main verse depends on the keyboards
for the main backing. James using his guitar like an accent, bringing
attention to certain areas. He does lay down some heavy riffing
though, so don't worry. Another highlight, was the multipart vocal
harmonies. These are present throughout the CD and add more dimension
and layers to each piece. Check out James's lead 02:44, it breaks
open with a short double harmony leading into some amazing WAH drowned
lead phrasings. James doesn't rely on over saturated guitar tones.
He keeps it pretty easy using a DOD Pre Amp 250 pedal for overdrive
on leads, WAH, Marshall 1968 PLEXI 50 HEAD, and some plate reverbs
for added layering. This would explain why Byrd's tone sounds very
"Messages from Home" really packs a punch. This track
is a testament to the style that is Mr. James Byrd. The main palm
muted guitar riff defines and carries the song along. I'd have to
say this is one song to add to your favorite mix cd. Byrd's chops
are astounding. He doesn't go over board with speed, but embraces
you with some of the most intense and soulful bends you'll ever
have the chance to hear. 02:07 marks the beginning of the main lead
section. James shreds up the fret board with his effortless arpeggio
antics then moving into some tactfully selected phrasing. Lastly,
please don't miss the bend and vibrato that James nails you with.
Track four "Some Day" takes the albums mood back down
to a more deeper level, with a beautiful guitar performance accompanied
by very deep and meaningful lyrics. This song is very inspirational.
This song was dedicated to those who lost their loved ones on September
11th. I only wish that all those families could hear and have a
copy of this song, I think it would really bring some words of encouragement
and faith in a better world and humanity. Those events sickened
the hearts of every American that day, and we'll endure on knowing
that our place in the universe will not be disturbed by anyone.
Hands down this is my absolute favorite song from "Anthem."
The acoustic guitar kept the song flowing and the keyboards helped
create and amazing atmosphere. Michael Flatters vocals were just
perfect with every note that passed. I particularly fell in love
with chorus lines, the lyrics are very cool and you'll be singing
along with Michael every time. The orchestrations and arrangements
were so well put together. Its almost like James has a magical formula
for writing every note that he does. The main lead line just screamed
with emotion and feel. If you were to buy the album for just one
song, this one would be it.
"All I Want" is a little darker and mystical than the
rest of the songs on the cd. The track opens with a very eerie keyboard
line. Then Michael comes in with a more laid back vocal lines. Flatters
again gives a flawless performance. Keep your ears peeled for the
many multipart vocal harmonies throughout the track. They are unbelivable.
I also enjoyed the main guitar line during the verse. It reminded
me of Savatage meets neoclassical, if you can muster that. Byrd
defiantly has a unique style that can't be matched by anyone in
the world. He is true a connoisseur of guitar perfection and mastery.
His leads throughout the song are executed with the highest of caliber
Song six "Killing Machine" brings in the heavier riffing
that James has been known for his whole carrier. I enjoyed the intro
keyboards, they set the stage and vibe of this number. I could almost
predict what was coming next. James's evil riffing! Check out all
the double guitar harmonies he uses to tie each part together. The
chorus guitar part is very powerful and melodic at the same time.
I really liked his choice of chord voicing. The guitar riff and
vocal line walk hand in hand in perfect harmony. It happens a lot
in music where vocal lines perfectly fit with guitar, but this song
is the best example of this I've heard in a while. The main lead
at 03:08 takes the song off in a little more faster direction with
James super clean and speedy runs. Pay close attention to how clean
they are. Damn he's got game! Lastly, really give the last minute
of the song a hard listen. You'll hear some amazingly clean and
concise arpeggios and bends. James tell us how do you do it?
James won't let you get a gasp for air when track seven "Thank
You" starts. His playing is powerful, with driving guitar riffs
and soaring leads. Those leads are defiantly heaven sent! I enjoyed
the lyrical content of this one as well. James has a knack for written
with 100% feeling and emotion. His words and guitar in my opinion
express his true inner thoughts and feelings. Byrd is truly a musical
aficionado. Its rare that you find an artist that knows exactly
how to convey every thought he has in musical terms. James defiantly
has a gift from a higher power and I know he's using it to it's
full capacity. It really bothers me that superior music like this
doesn't get radio air play and MTV music videos. I think the problem
is that labels (exuding our friends at Lion Music <http://www.lionmusic.com/>)
and critics don't think that normal people would like this music
and associate with it. Byrd and other players get pegged as "musicians
for musicians" in another words ONLY GUITAR PLAYERS ARE SUPPOSED
TO APPRECIATE AND LISTEN TO THIS MUSIC. Bullsh*t!!! Music like this
would be like a cultural experience for most people. In the days
where guitar magazines and MTV promote god awful bands, and you
know who they are, I'm not even going to mention who, because they
aren't worth the web space! Instead of promoting slacker musicians
they should be showcasing figures who are true masters. With that
said, "Thank You" is another highlight track one this
masterpiece of a album. Its very melodic and harmonious, and I know
you'll love it as much as I did!
Track eight "The Price of War" sounds like the soundtrack
for war, hence the name. Its very dark and the imagery is quite
apparent throughout the song. I thought the lyrics were very intelligent
and well put together. The song arrangements were great. Check out
Brian Hutchinson's great drum performance throughout this one. The
drums give the song a marching feel. I you'll get tons of mental
images of missiles and bombs and soldiers marching when listening
to this. Its a very powerful song and I think its target is a very
obvious one. Check out the ultra short double guitar harmony at
04:15 -04:20. It may be short, but the note selection was priceless.
This is a characteristic that James seems to carry well. I don't
know how he selects these combination of notes that he does, but
they are breathtaking.
Last but not least, "Only Love" brings this monstrous
album to a close with a huge musical atmosphere. I totally dug the
intro bass lines from Brian Hutchinson, and to tell the truth I
think that was the first time I've ever heard anything like that
before. Go Brian! Michael Flatters gave a top notch vocal performance
as well. He has a great vocal range and it really fits the music
to the T. Honestly I hope Michael stays on board with James for
the long run. I think Michael has been the most talented vocalist
he's worked with in his solo carrier and I hope Michael remains
an integral part of the band. Speaking of Byrd give a listen to
02:50 for one of my personal favorite lead sections from the disc.
James whips out a super happy upbeat lead that left me speechless.
Again, how does he do it? What's his formula? James you blow this
writers mind, my friend. Keep up the good work.
Looking back what else can I say other than, James wins The Shred
Zone's award for best Neo-classical guitar release of 2002. I know
the awards don't come out till next year, but I think its safe to
say its going to take a whole lot of perfection to top James Byrd's
"Anthem." Folks I don't know how Byrd does it year in
and year out, but I'm always amazed by his valor as guitarist. I've
come to set new standards of musical tastes, because of James. His
playing is truly inspiring and uplifting. I know I keep saying this,
but its rare to find unique guitar players that have their own groove.
I've seen him compared to other neoclassical players like Yngwie,
but I think James is on a different playing level. Sure he sounds
very neoclassical when it comes down to it, but he entices you with
so much soul, I couldn't begin to explain it to you. James's soulful
shredding is what sets him apart. Maybe being a Jimi Hendrix fan
plays a part in it, maybe not. James can you fill us in? (I smell
a third interview coming on). laughs
So guitar fans, do you country and your music a service and pick
up "Anthem" today at Lion
Music or Guitar
9 . I know for a fact your going to pass out after listening
to this masterpiece. Its nothing short of a perfect release from
an amazing guitar hero. I give this album the highest praise an
album can get for its soul, melodies and amazing performances. If
this isn't enough to make you want to pick up this cd, than I think
you may have to go get your head examined by a doctor!
The epic opening tune Anthem Death By Darkness
immediately shows what this records all about, and the style
I described in my review of the predecessor Flying Beyond
The 9 is continued the same way on this new album. This automatically
means that there are lots of Queen influences in the guitar sound
and close-harmony singing, without getting annoying, but still James
knows to create a distinctive personal sound, and therefore he has
done a great job. Apart from the Queen influences, licks and tricks
from guys like Yngwie J. Malmsteen and Uli Jon Roth are all around,
but your reviewer doesnt consider that to be a nuisance either.
There has been no changes in the band since Flying Beyond
The 9, so we could even speak of a Flying Beyond The
9 Part 2. Now James has an enormous back-catalogue,
so as far as Im concerned he doesnt have to come up
with something completely new, besides, he has done that already
in the past, and in a very daring way, I might add. So basically
we can keep it simple. If you thought that Flying Beyond The
9 was not your cup of tea, then you might as well leave Anthem
alone as well, but if you really liked it, than you should know
what to do by now.
Jester screams: 75/100
OF THE ROCK
James Byrd is best remembered as the man who formed famed power
metal heroes Fifth Angel in the 80's, splitting from the band before
the national release of their debut album. Since then the axe hero
has put together a string of projects, which include numerous instrumental
albums, the short lived James Byrd Group (one album 1996's 'The
Apocalypse Chime') and now his latest venture, 'Byrd' a new band
altogether. Byrd has gained massive acclaim as a progressive rock
mastermind, with Yngwie Malmsteen endorsing his work, most notably
on Byrd's 1996 project 'Son Of Man' which featured a front cover
note from Malmsteen. Quite the innovator, Byrd is heavily involved
in guitar research, while sticking steadfastly to the classical
rock style he helped pioneer. 'Anthem' adheres to the symphonic
metal niche, combining orchestral passages a la Queen (especially
those multi-tracked guitars), and solos that the aforementioned
Mr Malmsteen would gladly sign his name to.
It would be easier for those fans at the heavier end of the spectrum
to admire this effort. The 'at times' complex arrangements are an
ideal fit for those used to belting out Finnish power metal or an
Italian outfit like Rhapsody. Admittedly there's some gratitious
playing going on from Mr Byrd, and for me, the best moments are
when he's not going at 100mph. When the notes are soulful and carefully
considered, they shine. A great example is the supreme 'Some Day',
apart from the well worn songtitle. Starting out slow, and meaningful
is 'All I Want', but builds up momentum in the style of Queensryche.
The double kick drums and classico/symphonic nature of the track
holds the interest. 'Thank You' features some cool guitar riffing,
while 'Price Of War' has a regimented feel, not surprising considering
the war theme.
In summary, it is not the sort of album for melodic rockers who
are looking for an 'easy on the ear' set of tunes to wile away the
hours. The musical style is well played and executed, and as mentioned,
is suitable for those who phreak out on guitar excess a la Malmsteen.
For this set of ears, I can appreciate the effort from the guys,
despite the fact that the musical style doesn't move me in the way
of some other acts. Good for it's genre though.
7/10 Review by George Thatcher
Fortunately, we also receive promos from labels other than the 'usual'
brutal bands. Here's the next solo album of James Byrd whom I had
never heard before. And although I can't make comparisons with his
previous releases I'm more than sure that those albums will be just
as recommendable as this new album. In short, James Byrd is one
of those guitar player that can easily do some complex fast riffing
or guitar licks. However, this guy doesn't write songs around his
guitar playing like many of those guitar players tend to do. The
songs on "Anthem" are real songs, excellently crafted
with decent song structures. Musically, Byrd writes neoclassical
symphonic hard rock. Yes, I would call it hard rock as it's not
really heavy (although some solos are quite heavy ripping) and it's
accessible for any one. At first listen the name Queen came to my
mind because there's definitely a feel to this album that reminds
of Queen. Furthermore, Brian May is certainly an influence for Byrd
as one can hear in various guitar licks and solos. But rest assured
that Byrd does not rip them off or anything, this album contains
excellent tracks like "Omen", "Messages from home",
"Some day" (about 11-9), "All I want" and "Only
love". I should also mention the other 2 band members who've
also laid down some excellent musicianship. Michael Flatters who
has an excellent warm voice which easily adapts to each of the musical
harmonies, and Brian Hutchison who is responsible for piano, drums
and bass on this album. For true metal fans, this album might be
too soft but people who appreciate very good song writing and great
musicianship should not hesitate to check this out.
Review by Ron
James Byrd, ex-guitarist of Fifth Angel has landed with his new
solo album, Anthem. Mr. Byrd was motivated by the events of 9/11
to create this album. However, he did not want to capitalize on
9/11 as a selling point for this album. There is nothing on the
cover or otherwise directly referencing these events, and the lyrical
references are very indirect. Anthem is a progressive rock album
that pays homage to rock and metal sounds of the 70's while managing
to sound new and fresh. Certainly Queen and maybe Deep Purple and
Rainbow come to mind while listening to this CD. The keyboard layers
are thick and always present. There is also a symphonic element
to the songs, but not similar in style to bands such as Blind Guardian
or Rhapsody. The symphonic elements are somehow secondary in nature;
they add to the atmosphere of the songs, but do not transform them
into majestic, epic songs as you will find with Rhapsody, Blind
Guardian, and others. James Byrd delivers a plentiful amount of
"virtuoso style" solos throughout the disc, although the
guitar work in general is not nearly as flashy or dominant as was
the case in Fifth Angel. You won't hear too many driving riffs as
the songs depend mainly on the symphonic and keyboard elements as
well as James Byrd's deep emotions rooted within each and every
song. The album is very well balanced between mid temp and slow
songs as you might expect from an album inspired by such a large
loss of life. As I said, you won't hear any heavy or aggressive
moments, but rather a more subdued and emotional album. Vocalist
Michael Flatters rises up to the task of conveying Byrd's deep emotions
through his singing. The production is above average, although the
drumming could have been just a bit louder to create the perfect
Although a very solid and consistent release, I feel that it could
have used a slightly heavier guitar sound without sacrificing the
emotional impact of the album. This album should appeal most to
the prog rock / metal fans out there, although this album has quite
a unique sound with its 70's influences mixed in.
Anthem is guitar wiz James Byrd's new album, under his band moniker
Byrd. It's the former Fifth Angel guitarist's second album under
this name. Anthem is inspired and dedicated to the events of September
11, with the day itself and the days that would follow the subject
of the album's lyrics. Byrd has a very distinct style, mixing guitar
shred metal with symphonic pomp rock. Yngwie Malmsteen meets Queen
with a strong progressive twist. Don't over estimate the album's
heaviness. It's actually only a small step up from hard rock, with
the orchestral and keyboard sequences adding texture and making
it an overall 'lighter' experience than some guitar heavy albums.
There are still plenty of guitar highlights, excellent and well
thought out solos as well as some hard hitting riffs. Vocalist Michael
Flatters has a Graham Bonnet quality to his voice - commanding,
authorative, but less dominating than the aforementioned Bonnet.
He certainly fits the music perfectly, with a rock voice teemed
with the pompish flair needed.
Much like Jame's last album Flying Beyond The 9, this album will
appeal to fans of guitar shredders like Yngwie Malmsteen and the
pompish Uli Jon Roth for instance, and not to mention a more 'metal'
Queen if there could be such a thing! Fans of the last album and
James' very melodic guitar prowess should embrace this album with
ease, although I think I prefer the last album by an edge.
James Byrd and co. have returned with a new CD entitled 'Anthem',
a great album that fits nicely between ROYAL HUNT, RAINBOW, MALMSTEEN
and ANDRE ANDERSEN, so basically what you get is classical melodic
progressive metal with some AOR/Pomp touches here and there. The
only pity is the short playing time which only borders around 40
minutes, but from start to finish it's quality music, so why complain!
Highlights are "Sonic day" (great melodic rockballad),
"All I want" (great melodic prog metal a la ARTENSION),
"Thank you" (bombastic ballad a la ROYAL HUNT) and closing
track "Only love" (uptempo melodic rocker like TEN meets
MALMSTEEN). Also nice to mention is the Progressive/Pompish AOR
tune "Omen" that somehow reminds me of AVIARY (remember
them?). This CD is not only recommended to fans of BYRD, but to
anyone who like classical melodic hardrock a la MALMSTEEN, RAINBOW,
Rating: 8.5/10 (Review by Gabor Kleinbloesem)
PROGRESSIVE ROCK PAGE
This marks James Byrd's second album with his new group - BYRD -
and he is joined again by vocalist Michael Flatters and multi-instrumentalist
Brian Hutchison. I am not terribly familiar with the progressive/symphonic
metal label, but it certainly suits the subject matter of this particular
album, which focuses on the aftermath of the 11th of September tragedy.
The title of the album speaks volumes - it contains a number of
anthemic tracks - some of which work better than others, which are
bound by a common theme, and associated dark tone (although there
are moments of optimism, too). The album's packaging makes almost
no mention at all of the subject matter (apart from the dedication
of 'Some Day' to those who lost loved ones), and certainly does
not use it as a selling point.
'Anthem' starts with simple piano and vocal before a timpani roll
ushers in some basic keyboard chords. This is the most symphonic
track on the album, and includes only two short segments of Byrd's
guitar work towards the end, hinting at the Malmsteen-like mastery
of his instrument. Although it sets the tone for the album, this
track is just a bit too over-the-top for my taste, and reminds me
most of the wedding scene in Queen's Flash Gordon soundtrack. It
does sound very much like an anthem, but is a bit cloying to me.
In fairness, though it does give an accurate representation of the
initial effect of 11/9, as portrayed by the media - i.e. a nation
brought together by tragedy, and associated outpourings of grief
The second track, 'Omen' gives a better indication of the style
of the album. Starting with a powerful guitar introduction, the
song settles into a verse backed by a repetitive keyboard line which
is punctuated regularly by a combined attack of drums and guitar,
and a choral backing vocal which owes more than just a nod to Queen.
The guitar solo halfway through is more melodic than I would normally
expect from lesser guitar 'virtuosi' - Byrd appreciates that soloing
does not have to be about how many notes you can fit into a bar.
'Messages From Home' kicks off with a progressively more frantic
guitar passage, before settling into an up-tempo song which is something
like a heavier version of IQ. Lyrically, the song is open to interpretation
- the suggestion is that of the US citizens seeking retaliation
(in Afghanistan), but it could also be applied to the feelings of
those who made the strikes on the 11th, which just shows that we're
all only human.
Here comes the ballad... Acoustic guitars and string synths provide
the backing for the first verse of 'Some Day', before the full band
sound joins in for the chorus. Again, we're back in anthemic territory
here - you can almost picture the candles waving to and fro in the
arena audience - very much AOR at its best. Like the first track,
this one ends up a little too sweet for my taste - probably as a
by-product of the subject matter in this case.
'All I Want' starts with a simple piano melody, building into a
disjointed rhythm backed by guitar chords and drum rolls. The chorus
is a fairly straightforward rocker, which is introduced by a short
Queen-like choral segment each time. There are a couple of times
throughout this track where the guitar solos could have been given
a little more space to develop - the solo starting at 03:10 sounds
like it could have lasted at least another 20 seconds, but is cut
short by the next verse.
'Killing Machine' is a little uninspiring in the verse, and the
chorus is a little too cheerful to do justice to the line "You
know that you're just a Killing Machine". However, there is
much more of Byrd's guitar solo featured in the second half of the
song, and we get to hear what he can do, with the guitar providing
a good counterpoint to Flatters' vocal lines.
A heavy guitar/bass riff forms the backbone of 'Thank You', which
has another anthemic/symphonic chorus, and a rather awkward ending.
It also features (twice) the crime against poetry which is "I
was broken like a potter's vase, I soon felt the demon's mace"
- a rhyme which only works in American English, and just makes me
laugh whenever I hear it.
'The Price of War' starts off quite weakly, with a very basic vocal
and piano verse followed by the chorus, then returning to the basic
verse. Then the military drumbeat comes in and turns the song completely
around - it suddenly becomes the strongest track on the album. It
is reminiscent of the images conjured up by the likes of Sassoon
and Owen during WW1, brought up-to-date. It also features a soaring
guitar solo and a sense of the bluster (and futility) of war.
An eastern feel introduces 'Only Love', which rocks along in a dark
cloud until the chorus steps in with its 'love conquers all' motif.
Finishing the album on a positive note - a nice thought, if a little
Technically, this album is pretty faultless - all three musicians
work well together to create a tight, powerful sound. The keyboards
are mostly used for synth backing, so are fairly sparse, but since
Brian Hutchison also plays bass and drums, it would be harsh to
expect Wakeman-like keyboard fills. Artistically, some of the lyrics
leave a bit to be desired - how many rock singers would feel comfortable
singing "I know that I'm their tool"? Also, I find some
of the AOR choruses too sickly-sweet for my taste.
Fans of Yngwie Malmsteen, Steve Vai and the like would not be disappointed
by this album, as it includes some excellent guitar work, without
being 'show-offish', whilst Queen fans looking for something heavier
would appreciate the layered guitars and choral backings in several
songs. Despite the couple of lapses into predictability already
mentioned, there are some good, strong songs here which deal with
a difficult subject from a personal perspective. I enjoyed it a
lot more than I thought I would.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10.
Follow up to last year's excellent but rather oddly titled 'Flying
Beyond The 9' opus, 'Anthem' sees former Fifth Angel guitar Zeus
James Byrd continue to further explore the neo-classical hard rock
territory which has always featured heavily in his playing. Not
as steely edged as bands like Ring Of Fire or Lost Tribe, melody
wise 'Anthem' is more rounded hard rock than driving metal, albeit
with some decidedly Malmsteenesque guitar licks - kinda like an
updated early Rainbow with just a touch more theatrics a la Royal
Hunt or Artension. Moody, atmospheric, and filled with plenty of
ambient light and shade, the three piece have crafted an album's
worth of sophisticated, yet instantly accessible songs. Vocalist
Michael Flatters continues to go from strength to strength, thoughtful
arrangements bringing out a great performance - especially on some
of the multilayered harmonies. James Byrd also shines, his inventive
licks adding the extra dynamics to tracks such as the powerful 'All
I Want' or smouldering 'Some Day'. Classy.
If you dug James Byrd's previous album, you can buy this one unheard.
On Anthem James uses the same ingredients to serve up a different
dish. The album sounds a bit more mature in the sense that the shredding
just for the sake of it has gone. Instead the tracks are more melodic
and the songs seem to have been written around the vocals this time.
If you're not familiar with Byrd's debut album, but you're into
European Hardrock in the vein of (70's era) Rainbow and Yngwie Malmsteen
you'll probably love this album. My favorite track is the lovely
ballad Some Day.
With the exception of some older Fifth Angel I had heard many years
ago, which I liked, I had not heard any of James's solo stuff...Well...
Let's get one thing straight, James Byrd is a damn good guitarist...
The guy can play and was brought up on old school guyslike Blackmore,
Uli Roth, Hendrix, and Al DiMeola. He received his first national
recognition with the above mentioned Fifth Angel from Seattle, which
also included Ken Mary and Ted Pilot. He has a great biography on
his Web site so check it out. The guy even builds his own guitars
which I can totally appreciate as I have built a couple
As for this release, his seventh under his own name, at first listen
I said, "He's just another Yngwie clone." But, as I gave
it some more spins I started to hear all of the various influences
previously mentioned. James draws on a wide variety of styles to
arrive at his own. He gets a great guitar tone through his Marshall
1968 50 watt head. His equipment is listed on his site (I love when
musicians do that as I am always interested in what people are playing
and what they use to record). Most noticeable about this CD is the
song structures which are very symphony orientated, lots of building
up and peaking, then dropping back down to start the crescendo over
again. This style of writing will appeal to fans of guitar oriented
Metal, while those of you into more straightahead, verse/chorus/verse/chorus
type of songwriting may find this hard to follow as it needs its
due attention given.
The production of the guitar and vocals sounds great, but the bass
and drums seem to be more in the background and lacking depth. This
makes for an uneven mix and takes away from the overall dynamics.
The melodies of Michael Flatters are very well done. He has a very
pleasant sounding voice, powerful and soulful at the same time.
He compliments the music very well.
In summary: Overall this is a good guitar orientated release and
deserves a better listen to fully digest. If you are into guitar
driven, Symphonic Metal, check this one out. Song structures might
notappeal to those who are into more straightahead metal.
Here we have
a new album from James Byrd. Released in the Summer of 2002, “Anthem”
is a deep, insightful exploration of the effects of September 11th.
James, with bandmates
Michael Flatters and Brian Huchtison, deliver emotional performances,
well-matched to the serious subject matter of the lyrics.
The compositions are complex
and multilayered with generous doses of blistering guitar work,
soaring keyboards and passionate vocals. The writing style on this
album blends classical influences with hard rock and metal. The
use of varied dynamics (quiet passages and loud passages) keep the
songs interesting from start to finish.
Vocalist Michael Flatters turns
in a strong performance on “Anthem”. He’s adept
at using his voice to convey the emotion of the lyrics. He has a
good balance of technique and feel. I find myself trying to sing
along with him—an excellent gauge of how much I like a vocalist.
Brian Huchtison fills out James’
compositions well with his keyboard, drum and bass work. Brian’s
parts mesh well with James’ rhythm and solo guitar.
James’ playing is top-notch
throughout. He is often compared to Yngwie Malmsteen and Uli Roth.
The comparison is appropriate, but I feel James has his own unique
‘voice’ on guitar. His neo-classical lead playing on
Anthem is highly melodic. I also appreciate his willingness to step
back and play for the song. Instead of lead guitar constantly dominating
the music, it is integrated into the compositions. This is the mark
of a confident, mature guitarist.
I like the dramatic, symphonic
feel of “Anthem”. The mix is clear and punchy. The instruments
and vocals are well recorded. The songs “All I Want”
and “Killing Machine” are especially good, both in their
composition and their performance. In fact, “Anthem”
is filled is memorable hooks.
A few minor quibbles: I don’t
like the reverb used on the vocals; there is too much of it, and
the reverb sound isn’t pleasant to my ears. The reverb has
the effect of distancing me emotionally from vocalist Michael Flatters’
I would like to hear James’
rhythm guitar a bit louder. He has some cool, chunky rhythm guitar
going on. James’ rhythm guitar is mixed a little lower than
the keyboard in many places on the album, and eq’d a bit thin.
Turn it up, man!
My minor criticisms aside, “Anthem”
is a very good album. The songs are strong; the performances are
passionate. The lyrics are heartfelt and mirror the emotions of
many after the tragedy of September 11th. Fans of neo-classical
and progressive music will love James Bryd’s “Anthem”.
8 out of 10 Keyboards.
Review by: Jeffrey Ryan Smoots
Byrd’s latest offering is another must for anyone who loves
a great guitar in the midst of fabulously well-written symphonic
metal. With Michael Flatters
on vocals and Brian Hutchison on piano, drums and bass this trio
rides a beautiful storm of powerful, emotional music. Obviously,
to James Byrd, making a great album and stopping there is not an
option. Although Anthem is in the same direction, clearly the same
overall sound, there is a definite progression overall (compared
to Flying Beyond The 9). Never overbearing, either on the guitars
or anywhere else, this album’s sleek production brings out
a big sound while allowing every instrument to shine in its proper
This is another one
you should get for your record collection.
A-J Charron - 2003-11-12