(20th Century Music/Vanity Music Group, 2017)
And high above the city tonight/a man has died, new life shines bright/one who rules remains ignored/behold tonight an eagle soars!/and he's coming for you!
So, the circle continues. Life, as portrayed in “An Eagle Soars,” one of Drive's most memorable and poignant tunes, exists as part of a continuum of death and rebirth. To die, our inexorable fate, is only permanent on the terrestrial plane. The soaring eagle serves as a visceral symbol of, not only our mortality, but of the soul's destiny to live on – perhaps on a spiritual level, but certainly in the hearts and minds of friends and loved ones.
That, of course, is just one writer and fan's humble interpretation of an amazing song. For Drive's late singer David Taylor and guitarist/band leader/head songwriter Rick Chavez, “An Eagle Soars” now stands as a fitting tribute to their musical legacy. For those who may be unfamiliar with the criminally unsung band, the Southern California-via-Texas-based Drive released two classic melodic-metal albums – 1988’s excellent Maiden/Queensryche-influenced Characters in Time, and 1992's more diverse and mature Diablero. Both records worked to build a small-but-extremely devoted fan following. It's a sad and perverse truth that Drive has been virtually ignored in the underground metal community despite the outstanding quality and unique flavor of their music. Their label issues and subsequent breakup in the mid-'90s certainly didn't help matters. So it stood that Diablero served as Drive's swansong – until now.
Idefi – A Tribute to David Earl Taylor and Rick Chavez is a brand new collection of previously-unreleased Drive songs, recorded over a period of 25 years. Originally intended by Chavez as a tribute to Taylor, who lost his life in a 2009 car accident, Idefi naturally morphed into this dual- tribute album following Chavez's passing (due to an internal bleed) on February 25th, 2017. The record features the contributions of past Drive members: Mercy Valdez and Mike Conde (guitars), Michael Anthony Guerrero (bass), Valentin San Miguel (drums), as well as a host of other contributing musicians. The CD also includes a treasure of a 20-page booklet, chock full of essential band history and beautiful photographs and tributes. As a sort of loose collation of rare demos and unheard album tracks, Idefi understandably lacks the flow and stylistic cohesion of a traditional album release. This statement is an observation, not a criticism – the 13 songs here, taken individually and with an open mind, are thoroughly satisfying and powerful representatives of Drive's versatile style.
Again, those steel-hearted metalheads who only want to listen to blistering ragers 24-7 may be disappointed with Idefi's vast stylistic range. This album features such sundry influences as hard rock, blues, funk, latin, balladry, more funk, and yes, traditional melodic U.S. metal. Make no mistake, the incomparable foundation of Drive's music -- Taylor's superb vocal talent and Chavez's guitar wizardry – is still on prime display. Taylor's singing exudes both confidence and finesse, always sounding like he should have been the biggest metal, rock, or pop star in the world. When appropriate, he hits the most ear-piercing highs with ease, all while employing an incredibly soothing vibrato and pristine overall tone. Meanwhile, Chavez's guitar work delivers the best of rhythm and lead mastery; rhythm-wise, he's equally adept at the intricate speed-metal picking (ala Hetfield, Schaffer, or Tipton) as he is crafting the catchiest and most melodic riffs, not unlike Van Halen, Vito Bratta, or George Lynch. Needless to say, his lead playing flawlessly combines technicality, tasteful phrasing, and, again, an impeccable sense of melody. It really is a treat to hear this remarkable duo one last time.
As for the songs themselves, let's start with the most metallic tracks. Opener “Inherit the Wind” is an infectious and melodic slow-grooving rocker, featuring a killer chorus and crunchy, spacey chords that recall Dokken or Lillian Axe. “Insanity” crawls along at a similarly languid pace, but the sheer melodicism of the riffs and Taylor's vocal lines, particularly in the chorus, make this an instant Drive classic. Drive treats die-hard fans to a familiar treat with an en-español version of “Pandilla” from Diablero; its syncopated funk-metal main riff and highly-emotive interlude section as powerful as ever. With “U12B” the funk-metal vibe continues, albeit hampered by a low-fi demo production. The up-tempo, galloping “U Or Me” showcases a stirring chorus and is the strongest new pure-metal tune on here.
The rest of Idefi varies greatly stylistically, though the songwriting quality is consistently strong. One can really hear Chavez branching out and spreading his wings with this later material, no further “eagle” metaphors intended. “Otra Vez,” the Spanish interpretation of the Diablero acoustic-based ballad, is an easy favorite. The compelling “Under the Spanish Sun” begins as another acoustic ballad but evolves and builds to a climax on pillars of Chavez's crunchy riffs and Taylor's irristible vocal melodies. An accelerando speedy-riff section at the end is just what the doctor ordered. Other standout tracks dabble in Stevie Ray Vaughan-style Texas blues (the title track), somber hard-rocking swagger (“Not Yet”), and lounge-like latin jazz-rock (the grammatically questionable, “Me and My Carnal”; last I checked, “carnal” was an adjective, no?).
While not every song on Idefi is a masterpiece, all fans and friends of Drive need to own this album. Those incorrigible rivetheads who want to hear only metal songs should probably deduct a point from my score; I, however, refuse to condone such scroogy behavior. R.I.P. David Taylor and Rick Chavez, and long live Drive.
--Review by Jonathan Kollnot
--Tracklisting: 1.) Inherit the Wind 2.) Insanity 3.) Otra Vez 4.) Pandilla 5.) U12B 6.) U Or Me 7.) Under the Spanish Sun 8.) Idefi 9.) Woman 10.) Not Yet 11.) Enemy Wind 12.) Me and My Carnal 13.) Fool