Subhuman, the January of 2021 independent debut full length of Los Angeles, California based Gale Force, is a time machine in a lot of ways. As in back to the eighties when classic metal reigned supreme, noting the Gale Force affinity for vigorous vocals, distorted guitars, emphatic rhythms and a dense bass and drum sound. That said a commercial side rooted in the same time-period also defines Gale Force, revealed in songwriting of a more melodic nature to feature accessible hooks, occasional ballad proclivity and vocals to approach from a smoother standpoint. Either way, it adds up to a best of both worlds scenario for fans and critics alike!
Further reinforcing the Gale Force value are some BIG names to grace its lineup. It begins with vocalist Michael Drive (formerly Mike Lee) of Barren Cross fame, whom continues to highlight his recognizable but powerful Dickinson influenced vocal style. It would be suffice to suggest he impresses from how he retains his prime form despite the passing of so many years. It also includes former Dio guitarist Tracy G, referencing his contributions to studio albums Strange Highways (1993) and Angry Machines (1996) not to mention his extensive solo career and well-known Eightball Cholos project entitled Satan’s Whore.
A band with believing members might be the best manner in which to describe Gale Force, noting the presence of Michael Drive, whom composed all lyrics and in the albums liner notes emphasizes the importance of ‘giving credit to the One who’s due’.
Opener “Crash & Burn” does a good job revealing the heavier Gale Force side. One on hand, Drive plays a prevailing role with his commanding, projection filled vocal delivery; on the other, Tracy G sets every bit the vital tone with his brimming rhythm guitar and enthusiastic soloing. Otherwise, the song stands out as a mid-paced traditional metal stomper with the low-end resonance to match. Lyric snippet:
Get strong again
Lay to waste the past you bear
The negative influence
It all can stay there
Now’s your chance
To really get fulfilled
Only God can move you
To the place where your faith is built
Albums title track carries on the classic metal tradition as a razor sharp bludgeoner, even heavier with its verse sections buried in ascendant guitars but also melodic in terms of a layered backing vocal driven refrain to bounce between the left and right channels. “Subhuman” no doubt hits hard (former) but also reveals a slight commercial essence (latter).
“Master Machine” proves a three and a half minute energy burst. It separates as one of my albums favorites, amalgamating a keyed up freight train like momentum with some of the albums most immediately recognizable hooks (and in the process bringing to mind Warrior’s 2001 release Code Of Life). Essential to the song is the intense rhythm section home to paramount bass and fragmenting drums. Lyric snippet:
Living workers fight for your lives-
From automation confederates
Human being resistance is taking hold now
Must put limits on the robotics of the mechanizations
In the factories where living humans used to be
Realize the threat of a conquering corporate faction
That seeks to overthrow fellow humans to the void
Push back - don’t wait until you’re sacked
We must be fighting back, criminalize
Three songs in and the raw but crisp metal sheen to production cannot help but point to fourth Barren Cross album Rattle Your Cage, with presence of Michael Drive playing no small role in this regard.
Gale Force reveals its melodic side on ballad “Red Line”. Song takes a glossy piano-based form, gently drifting in sleekly flowing fashion, but also lightly touching upon hard rock territory, as found in periodic underlining guitar.
Subhuman returns to full on metal territory with “Dystopia”. What we have is a low-end plodder, mid-tempo in resonating of bleeding bass for its callous verse sections but also enlivening from standpoint of the opulent vocal melodies to decorate the catchy refrain. Bluesy lead guitar dominates instrumentally. Lyric snippet:
Every time that you fall
It gets tougher to get up-
From the floor that you smash your face upon
Bloody as your face is
Still, you’re back for more of me-
You worthless prey
You’re the definition of insanity
With fair eyes, lukewarm gaze
“Never Say Goodnight” represents another choice track. Melodic metal territory is traversed, as tons of memorable hooks lead the way (noting the anthem like refrain) and an every bit scratchy blues driven mentality (found in Drive’s lower register vocal performance).
“Rate Race” is a return to impetus driven metal territory. This one proves no-nonsense as it gets, launching to distorted guitars prior to pile driving forward to irascible riff action in reflecting the churlish and afflicted as vocals touch upon the resonant and harmonies the aggressive for the elevated refrain. This one mirrors the angrier side to Gale Force. Lyric snippet:
In pursuit of a life that is riddled with strife
Running after a goal that reeks grief on your soul
Wasting family and joy on what fizzles to the void
Shamelessly idolize what makes you die in the…
Are you willing to be sold?
Are you the one who is controlled?
Are your wife and kids in the back seat-
While you make love to your money?
Second ballad “Where Am I Going?” delivers a lighter touch when placed alongside “Red Line”, powered by manifest bass and swirling keyboards in giving rise to a melody to challenge that of classic Barren Cross ballad “Light The Flame” (off Rock For The King from 1986). Guitars do not play a role until the instrumental interlude to start the final minute.
With explosions to start over a darkly woven backdrop, “Fire In The Hole” reveals of bluesy hard rock somewhat akin to Bride but with more of a stark metal edge. Yes, the song is biting and caustic - noting the snarl to Drive’s vocals - but does not back from the melody-based penchant to the Subhuman material either. Fiery is the feel to lead guitar. Lyric snippet:
Erase the memories of your blindness
Derail the train of temptation’s fate
Drop ‘em all - at the firing line of your weakness
Till Heaven has your heart once again
Purge your friends that share in your addictions
Say goodbye to the house of Hell
Be strong as a mighty man of valor
And let ‘em know your soul’s not for sale
Manner in which “Alter Ego” roars out of the gate reminds of classic metal cohorts Saint. Song certainly fits the bill, with its curtly done guitar signatures and mauling mid-paced tendencies setting the infiltrating tone. Yet, a gentler side to “Alter Ego” reveals in the melodic vocal melodies to play a periodic soothing role.
“Riot Act” starts to a drum solo prior to grinding forward in unrelenting fashion, reverberating of understated hooks and snarling impetus as Gale Force locks into a muscular low-end groove. Snarling guitar leads further lend to the exuberant mentality to command. In the end, a quality deep cut making an already very good album that much better. Lyric snippet:
Go on and read me the Riot Act, I’m not your tool
Get your kicks on the news at six
Find out how to give your mind a fix
Hey sheeple, everybody in line
Follow the program with your robotic spine
What you think you are worth is of nothing to them
You "expendable human"
If you think for yourself, you will surely offend
One can do no wrong with Gale Force in light of the talent at hand, particularly when factoring vocalist and guitarist combo of Michael Drive (whom sounds good as ever) and Tracy G, not to mention every bit able bassist Randy Oviedo and second guitarist Paul Alfery. It would all be for naught, however, if it were not for quality songwriting, which delivers the goods in terms of a choice sampling of (mostly) heavier to (periodic) melodic material and that faster and on the slower to bluesy side of things. Put Subhuman at the top of your list.
Review by Andrew Rockwell
Track Listing: “Crash & Burn” (3:44), “Subhuman” (4:37), “Master Machine” (3:33), “Red Line” (4:18), “Dystopia” (4:15), “Never Say Goodbye” (5:04), “Rat Race” (4:14), “Where Am I Going” (4:09), “Fire In The Hole” (4:43), “Alter Ego” (4:01), “Riot Act” (4:37)