(Massacre Records, 2016)
It’s been a longtime coming for Wicked Maraya. But after 25 years of languishing in unreleased purgatory, this Lifetime In Hell has finally been unleashed upon the unsuspecting metal-headed hordes. What an amazing, exhilarating ride it is.
Following a successful three-album run in the 1990s, including ‘94s acclaimed Cycles, Long Island, New York’s Wicked Maraya had disappeared from the scene for nearly 20 years. Many fans, including myself, wondered if the U.S. melodic metal masters really were gone forever or indeed had another trick up their sleeves. Well, Wicked Maraya have scoured the archives of, er, Hell, to return with a massive vengeance in 2016. A collection of their previously unreleased debut-album songs, as well as two brand-new recordings, Lifetime In Hell has resurrected Wicked Maraya to the forefront of the metal underground. More importantly, this album shines with glorious metallic power and fantastic songs.
If Cycles is the iconic benchmark for U.S. metal back in the mid-‘90s, Lifetime In Hell is its forgotten prequel. It wasn’t meant to be that way, of course. The story of Lifetime’s… journey is a meandering yet intriguing one that began back in 1991. At the time, Wicked Maraya’s independent label wanted to bring in acclaimed death metal producer Scott Burns to produce their debut. But the band chose to work with legendary producer Jim Morris (Savatage, Iced Earth, Jag Panzer etc.), whose studio techniques clearly were more aligned with the band’s more melodic sound. The band and Morris expanded on the sound of their rough demos before breaking down each song individually. Leaving no signs of filler, Wicked Maraya and Morris entered Tampa’s famed Morrisound Studios in July, 1991.
So far, so good. This is the point in which Lifetime’s… back story takes a tragic turn, as the band decided to shop around for a new record label and management team. Despite receiving some positive responses, Wicked Maraya failed to attract new label and management interest. Worse yet, the band was forced to part ways with its then-current label and management team, due to unfortunate circumstances. In 1992, the band decided to move to Los Angeles, where they quickly gained a large following on the sunset strip. Despite this live success, they still couldn’t obtain a record deal for Lifetime…, and the band began writing and demoing new songs for what would become Cycles. The material on Lifetime… ended up being shelved, temporarily, at least.
Comparing the two albums is like directly charting an evolution of a band. On Cycles, while still employing plenty of catchy vocal melodies and “wicked” harmony guitars, Wicked Maraya progressed to a heavier, more modern sound and approach. The tempos were slower, the production beefier, the vocals filtered to distortion, and the riffs relied more on groove and deliberate doomy pacing to make their impact. Lifetime…, by contrast sounds like the age-old hungry-and-raw debut record, a blistering combination of U.S. prog metal (ala Queensryche or Crimson Glory, with singer Falco almost sounding like a dead-ringer for the late, great Midnight), NWOBHM, and ‘80s thrash, both of the Bay-area and East Coast varieties. As much as I still love and recommend Cycles, Lifetime… is an exuberant, and superior, record. The songs here ring triumphantly with immediacy and sheer catchiness, sticking in the listener’s ears like a fruit fly to a beer trap. Just try taking this album out of your CD player; I dare you.
This album benefits both from the generally up-tempo pacing, and Morris’ lush-yet-powerful production. Speaking of production, Iced Earth fans certainly will recognize the guitar tone and tuning (a half-step down) from other Morrisound-produced albums such as Iced Earth and Night of the Stormrider. The resemblance in tone and overall vibe between early IE and Lifetime… is uncanny. Guitarists Michael Iadevaio and Daniel Malsch deliver consistently crunchy and driving riffs, while their hyper-gorgeous harmonies rival some of the best work of Crimson Glory’s storied guitar tandem of Drenning/Jackson. The propulsive groove of bassist John Iadevaio and drummer Mike Nack is Mount Rushmore solid. Falco’s impassioned vocals take center stage, though, sounding nearly like CG’s Midnight at his mid-range best, while incorporating some raspy screams that are also effective. Many songs also feature great vocal harmonies, which recall bands such as Saigon Kick or King’s X. The end result is a dynamic and cohesive album that barely lets the listener up for air.
As for the songs themselves, here it’s all about the children. “Tomorrow’s Child,” much like “Resurrection” off Cycles, is so irresistibly catchy that it immediately stands out as the album’s centerpiece. Falco’s vocal melodies are beyond infectious, and the uplifting guitar harmonies are reminiscent of “Lonely” off CG’s Transcendence album. Mid-paced album opener “Sounds of Evil” eviscerates with crushing, staccato riffing and glorious vocal harmonies. The title track is a thrashy juggernaut, anchored by slicing, palm-muted 16th-notes in the guitars and syncopated drum work that lend the tune a bouncy feel. On “Crash and Burn,” the pummeling stomp and eighth-note groove of the verse and chorus riffs will have you pounding your fist through a brick wall. Then the beautiful vocal harmonies in the pre-chorus will lull you to sublime reflection. Other highlights from the original album include the blistering gallop of “Seizure,” the original version of “Johnny” off Cycles, the dynamic “The River Runs Black,” and the old-school thrash riff-mania of “Blackout.”
The two new songs on Lifetime… hint at promising things to come for Wicked Maraya. “Fall from Grace” features driving riffs and strong female vocals in the chorus, though the song is mastered at a soft level, rendering it more of a demo-quality recording. “Suicidal Dawn,” is a fresh and powerful continuation of the groove-heavy and melodic Cycles sound. The new dawn has risen for Wicked Maraya.
--Review by Jonathan Kollnot