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  12 Stones
Artist: 12 Stones
Wind-Up Records

12 Stones is the latest entry into the “heavy melody” category, doing their best to incorporate the sounds of Creed, Disturbed, Linkin Park, Godsmack, Rage Against the Machine, and POD into their music.  Interestingly enough, Wind-Up Records had scheduled them to open for the recently cancelled Creed tour. 

The approach here parallels Creed almost identically: hard rock music, guitar solos, roaring vocals over music cranked to eleven, spiritually oriented lyrics.  “Broken” is the single, a tale of one who needs to turn to God, knowing things will not get better until they do.  “The Way I Feel” describes this further, stating that “the world I know is pulling me/more and more each day/I feel like the odd man out as I begin to pray”. “My Life” also details the struggle with self-interest.

“Soulfire” can be compared to Days of the New, while “Eric’s Song” is slightly mellower than the rest, leaning more towards Third Day. 

In general, if you are looking for a loud Christian band that sounds like almost everything on the radio, buy this album.  If you don’t like the current trends in metal, stay away.  This band is as good (or bad, depending on your viewpoint) as any of the “young angry” metal bands that are in constant rotation now.  12 Stones could enjoy some minor fame until the next wave in music comes along.

Brian A. Smith 5/19/2002

Perhaps owing to New Orleans' thriving live music scene, the path to widespread exposure for Louisiana's 12 Stones has been a relatively short one.  Hailing from Mandeville, a rural town of roughly 8,000 just north of the Crescent City, the band was invited to play for industry representatives in New York after only a dozen or so live shows and netted a major-label deal with Wind-up Records less than a year and a half after forming.  While any comparison is accurate only to a point, labelmates Creed represent perhaps the most ideal point of reference.  Like the Tallahassee quartet, the 12 Stones assembly is founded upon the vocalist-plus-power-trio configuration and mines many of the same spots along the alternative hard rock landscape.  Vocalist Paul McCoy's adept and enthusiastic delivery mirrors Scott Stapp's semi-growled singing style.  And Eric Weaver's precise, fleet-fingered fretwork echoes Creed guitarist Mark Tremonti's attention to both melody and detail, lending itself easily to the alternatingly loud and soft start-stop dynamics that are now part and parcel for those populating the post-grunge playing field.

Nearly from the beginning, the lyrics of Creed were the stuff of both scrutiny and debate, due in large part to their veiled Christian references. If anything, the members of 12 Stones up the spiritual ante.  Songs like "Home" and "The Way I Feel" (In the midst of darkness, Lord/ My spirit calls for you) boldly capture the album's complementary main themes of human wretchedness and divine grace.  Others, such as "In My Head" and "Broken" (Daily in my sin I take your life/ I question why you chose to die/ When you knew your truth I would deny), are similarly straightforward with regard to both their candidness and their object.  The group does deviate from its intrinsically melancholy viewpoint here and there.  "My Life" covers the topic of making one's own decisions in life while the equally engaging "Open Your Eyes" relays the challenges associated with sharing one's faith. Likewise, the successively simmering and insistent "Soulfire" (You set my soul on fire/ You take me so much higher) is, at its core, a simple song of celebration and praise.

The numerous parallels notwithstanding, stamping the group as mere Creed knock-offs would be an incomplete description at best.  In several places, McCoy manages to notch up his vocal intensity to approximate the spirited, throat-shredding wails of hardcore acts like Underoath and Zao.  Conversely, other entries, like "The Way I Feel" and "In My Head," with their lilting, melodic pop stylings, could probably fly under the radar as lost Squeeze tracks with cleaner guitar textures on their choruses.  Perhaps most importantly, though, the rollicking album-closer, "Eric's Song," pays convincing tribute to the band's Southern roots, anchoring its post-grunge accoutrements to the bluesy, jam-heavy workouts of artists like Lynyrd Skynyrd and the Outlaws, with results the group would do well to explore on successive releases.  As it stands, the 12 Stones collective boasts heaping portions of raw talent, youthful enthusiasm and pop/rock savvy.  And the band's debut album stands as an impressive combination of the three.

Bert Gangl 5/24/2002

First-time listener beware! Due to the conspicuous verisimilitude on the first track between the music of 12 Stones and Creed, you may be tempted to prematurely label these 70's retro rockers as a cookie-cutter-Creed-knock-off band. 12 Stones are obvious aficionados of the ubiquitous Creed, and significantly influenced by them, but a closer, longer listen will reveal an appreciably distinctive element, one that renders the band a separate entity with a mind, message and will all their own. According to celebrated personality theorist Erik Erikson, "sameness, continuity and social solidarity," like uniqueness and separateness, are essential ingredients in the formation of identity. In addition to the Creed-bleed on various selections, there are also appreciable hints of P.O.D. but 12 Stones are no more peas of the same pod as P.O.D. than they are cut from the same cloth as Creed. Still, they are all brothers in Christ, boldly serving the same king, and basking in the same richness of the same inheritance. So whose going to complain if they share a few chord changes, rockin' riffs and stylistic flavors here and there? 

As I lie tossing in my bed 
Lost in my fears 
Remembering what you said 
And I try to hide the truth within 
The mask of myself shows its face again
12 Stones' affinity for Creed is never more conspicuous than on the first track, “Crash,” a head-on collision between ontological anxiety and God's abiding presence and faithfulness. Though frontman Paul McCoy's mercurial, emotionally intense vocal style is admittedly simulative of that of Creed's Scott Stapp, one gets the sense that McCoy is emotionally connected to the song and not simply acting as a Stapp surrogate. By revealing "the mask," an archetype Carl Jung also referred to as "the persona," McCoy assumes ownership of his own defensive facade, thus rendering it impuissant or powerless, while rendering McCoy and his musical companions emotionally vulnerable. “Crash” is a song that alternatively delivers paroxysms of intense anxiety and impenetrable peace. The successful expression of these complexes of opposites is a fait accompli thanks to a confluence of varying levels of McCoy's vocal intensity, Eric Weaver's weaving guitar pattern, and a tight, frenetic rhythm section that provides an anchor on the undulating waves of self-doubt and insecurity. 

“Broken,” the album's second track reveals another side of McCoy. This prayerful tune is most accurately described as a primal scream psycho-“prayerapy” jam session. If only the mood of the vocals matched the mood of the overall instrumental arrangement. It is decidedly brighter, and together this creates somewhat of a disjointed, incongruent musical impression. “Daily in my sin I take your life,” but most of the band's hate and self-blame appears to be turned inward. "Nothing's gonna change until I'm broken," represents the humble longing of a spirit plagued by guilt and shame to be released. It is a passionate plea for God to "break and enter" into his hardened heart, a sentiment redolent of some of the most memorable poetry of 17th century British poet, John Donne. 

The lyrics of “Broken” are stone weapons aimed at the band. Though there are plenty of lines beholding the grace of the savior, the guilt and self-contempt on this penitently introspective journey speaks louder than the grace. When will the self-inflicted punishment end? Jesus once said to a brutal band of Pharisees who wouldn't dare to see, "He who is without sin, cast the first stone." Yet although the band clearly portrays themselves as not only "with sin" but also as the most abject of sinners, they seem quite intent on stoning themselves. By the third song, they've already cast three large stones, and I'm wondering how many more to will follow? According to my clumsy calculations, in order to reach 12, nine remaining stones are left to cast. Knowing that it is human nature to punish ourselves despite the knowledge that the price for our sins has been paid, I will not add insult to injury by casting my own stone at the band for their predilection for self-depreciation. Besides, they're darn good at damning themselves. Why stand in harms way? 

Fortunately, by the next song, they are growing weary of castigating themselves: "I hate the way I feel tonight." Paranoia, another seed fallen from the tree of Creed, sprouts with the line, "Spiteful eyes are watching me with everything I do." In Creed's case, to a certain extent, the paranoia is reality-based, not really considered paranoia in the pure, clinical sense of the term. In the case of 12 Stones, the degree to which the putative paranoia approximates true paranoia will remain a stone unturned, at least for the time being. 

Progressing through the 12 songs on 12 Stones, the band gradually loosens up, becomes less predictable, and experiments with a few rather innovative guitar licks and vigorously energetic rhythms. Moreover, while falling short of extemporizing, they become increasingly playful with their instruments, not going as far as No Doubt on Rock Steady, but at points coming every bit as close to having a good time as The Strokes do on “Is This It.“

While all of this musical experimentation is going on, one cannot help but notice a lucid lyrical leitmotif gently emerging and repeating throughout the entire 12 songs, that of seeking solace from the storms of life in the arms of a much-celebrated-Savior and turning to Him at every curve in the rocky road to rock 'n’ roll redemption.  12 Stones approach the throne of grace like a patient would a psychologist's throne. Using music as a vehicle for delivering emotional burdens to a gracious God is a good way to go. God understands the human psyche better than the most educated shrink on earth. 

The lyrics on 12 Stones are every bit as emotionally revealing as a 50-minute therapy session. By track ten, one of my 12 most favorite songs on the CD, the band is "Running out of Pain." Though they may still have a long way to grow, there are some things they will never be running out of--raw energy, invigorating verve and a prolific abundance of talent. Add these 12 Stones to your rock collection

Dr. Bruce L. Thiessen 5/31/2002


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