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Beyond Hell's Gate (Collector's Edition)
Artist: Final Axe
Label: Retroactive Records
Time: 13 tracks/35:03 min.

For those keeping count, this is the third version of Beyond Hell's Gate by Final Axe.  The first edition from 1989 is long gone. Metal heads snapped up every copy of the 2005 CD re-issue that they could find when they discovered the killer guitars of Bill Menchen and the made-for-metal vocals of Keith Miles. Every song was a metal anthem with no filler songs thrown in.  As time passed, fans that never got to buy the original were clamoring for another re-issue, so Retroactive Records decided to go the extra mile and fix the only downside to the album: hire a real live drummer to re-record the original drum machine tracks.

Well, not just any real live drummer - Mr. Visual Time Keeper himself, Robert Sweet of Stryper.  The story goes that he was given free reign to interpret the drums as he best saw fit. The powers that be overseeing this new edition then added an intro, an outro, a new drum solo, new artwork, and gave the whole album an overall sonic face lift.

So how did Mr. Sweet do? The drums are now intense and in-your-dace, just like the rest of the instruments.  But I have to be honest - the first listen was a little hard for me… mostly because I liked the original version so much.  Not only have the drums been re-imagined, some of the song intros, transitions, and fills have also been enhanced and occasionally changed. Some new versions I loved, some I hated… at least at first. By about the second or third listen I was starting to really love the new versions of every song.

After several listens, I really only have two problems with the album. The first one is the intro. It starts off with this keyboard-y "angelic voices" effect. It takes me back to the early 1980s, when I would rush into Sears to try out the newest keyboard they had on display. I would eventually find the same angelic voices effect and proceed to just hit random keys (because I was just so enamored by the sounds coming out of a machine). That is pretty much how the first 30 seconds of the intro sounds before changing into a regular metal intro. I was hoping for something a little more along the lines of Angelica's "Walkin' In Faith" intro, with some nice guitar atmospherics added for effect.

The second problem comes with the Robert Sweet drum solo.  The drums are killer, and overall I like the song. But I like it because I have very diverse tastes and I don't mind techno music that much. Yep - I did not mistype that. There are keyboards added to the Robert Sweet drum solo that make it sound just like a techno song in places.  While it is a cool song, it just sounds really out of place on a Final Axe album. I am wondering why this song couldn't have been a duel Sweet and Menchen?

Other than the keyboard parts that should have been left out, this is a killer metal album. Most of the upgrades work, bringing yet another classic back from the out-of-print netherworld.

By Matt Crosslin (April 12, 2010)


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