Released 15th July 2011 on Lion Music
Acclaimed guitarist James Byrd sort of returns to action with a new release of old archive recordings dating back to the immediate days following his departure from melodic power metal pioneers Fifth Angel. This new 14 track release – “Beyond The Pillars” – represents alternative earlier versions of 7 tracks that would appear on his Shrapnel solo debut, the self titled “James Byrd’s Atlantis Rising”, along with 7 new previously unreleased numbers.
Of course a killer guitarist is often nothing without a great vocalist and here Byrd is joined by the powerful vocals of Freddy Krumins, a disciple from the David Kyle school of vocal training so if you like vocals along the lines of Geoff Tate etc then step right in. Fellow Fifth Angel alumni Ken Mary handles the drum work with characteristic precision and with bass from Tim Cook this is one cooking band.
Those that are familiar with Byrd’s output know him to be a master of guitar, but also a rather handy songwriter which the material here in testament to. Granted the sound might be rougher than what we are generally used to these days but when you consider the source of this material being long presumed lost tapes recorded as “demos” back in 1987 the quality is more than acceptable.
The tracks featured on the aforementioned JBAR debut back in the late 80’s here still sound fresh, full of energy and with a raw edge that makes them sound more aggressive and dare we say it better versions. Byrd’s guitar work here is also more cutting and “go for the throat” than what has until now been available. These tracks are all excellent slices of melodic metal with some neo-classical touches. The vocal melodies are also strong being the perfect balance between commercial and musical, infectious is one way to sum up these tracks.
The never before heard tracks are a nice mix of material. Opener “Chasing The Shadows Away” and “Stranger In The Night” continue right where the debut Fifth Angel album left off and should be essential listening to fans of FA. Byrd then serves up a poppier side to his art with two well crafted commercial rock tracks in “I Don’t Believe In Love (Falling In Lust)” and “On My Mind”. The former possesses a hook that could easily grace any Van Hagar release and its nice to hear Byrd thrown down some major key licks. The latter is really quite different to anything heard from Byrd before. Commercial for sure, yet with a certain L.A. feel to the sound, again excellent vocals and guitar combine to euphoric heights. A delicate ballad is served up in “Gotta Find You” and this is a good fit with the material ultimately heard on the JBAR album. Album closer “Requiem Atlantis” is a fine instrumental offering, with the first half acoustic before Byrd’s electric guitar melodies soar for the second half. The only odd curveball in the proceedings is the dark vocal/keyboard possessed piece that is “Waiting in The Shadows”. To be fair I could do without the track but from a collectors point of view it’s nice to hear.
Overall “Beyond The Pillars” is in light of any brand new material from Byrd a welcome stop gap that shows his reputation in the 80’s was well earned and this is a very good package indeed. Fans of quality hard rock/metal are advised to check out this archive release and fans of Fifth Angel especially so given the recent farce surrounding that bands reformation attempts of the last couple of year (from which it is noted Byrd has distanced himself from).
Rating – 90%