PETRA – Back To The Rock (2010)
If a rock band retires but keeps playing music, does it still make a sound?
If the band in question is PETRA, the legendary trailblazers of Christian hard music, then the answer is undoubtedly yes.
Despite formally retiring and stepping off the stage for what was intended to be the final time in the opening hours of 2006, the four-time Grammy-winning Gospel Music Hall of Fame inductee has reunited to perform shows a half-dozen times since.
Now, in 2010, Petra reunion is afoot, complete with brand new album.
The album, “Back To The Rock”, was the idea of Greg X. Volz, Petra’s first true lead vocalist who fronted the band during its initial wave of success in the early 1980s, when the concept of Christian rock was brand new and not-so-well received by the mainstream.
Volz envisioned reuniting this older version of Petra – himself, guitarist Bob Hartman, drummer Louie Weaver, bassist Mark Kelly and keyboardist John Lawry, to re-record some of the early hits, add a couple new songs and tour in support of the album under the name “Classic Petra”.
Self-financed and self-produced, “Back To The Rock” is something of a time capsule, containing songs initially sold primarily on vinyl in an era when the records competed with the likes of Sandi Patti and Amy Grant for the top of the Billboard and CCM Magazine charts.
The four albums from which “Back To The Rock” takes its songs – Never Say Die (1981), More Power To Ya (1982), Not Of This World (1983) and Beat The System (1985) – represented the biggest rock records ever produced by Christians to that point, culminating in the latter’s reign as one of Christian music’s top two LPs for six straight months.
All that prelude to say: The old guys have still got it.
It’s a difficult tightrope to walk, this tension between modernizing the sound and correcting the production flaws in 25-year-old classics with staying true to the songs so loved by a band’s fans, but it’s one Classic Petra walks exceedingly well.
From rockers like “Bema Seat” and “Angel Of Light” to ballads like “More Power To Ya” and “Grave Robber,” the album sounds both modern and classic, bridging two worlds that are difficult to reconcile.
The harder songs see the most improvement: guitars are crunchier and set further ahead in the mix, and the rhythm is more driving than in the originals. They highlight more strongly than the originals that Hartman has been writing killer guitar riffs for a very long time.
However, the key to making the album work, could be in the ballads, where the introduction of strings and other elements give the melodies much more depth than the originals.
Volz’ vocals, which in the past became the fifth instrument in the band, sound a bit tired in some songs, particularly “Clean” and “Godpleaser.”
But on other Petra standards like “Angel Of Light” and “Adonai”, Volz has never sounded better.
While the powerful original version of “Let Everything That Hath Breath” will never be topped, it’s great to hear Volz belt out this song once again.
Finally, the album closes with two new songs: the title track, written by Volz and adapted from one of his solo albums, and the Hartman-penned “Too Big To Fail”.
Both are worthy additions to the Petra anthology, with catchy hooks and choruses that keep the listener humming well after the song is over.
“Back To The Rock” is distinctly Petra and distinctly the sound of a classic rock band: It features guitar and keyboard solos, good choruses and nice melodies, surely will please old-school fans of the band but also with plenty to offer those for whom Petra is merely a city in Jordan.
01 – Bema Seat
02 – Clean
03 – Angel of Light
04 – Rose Colored Stained Glass Windows
05 – Godpleaser
06 – Second Wind
07 – More Power to Ya
08 – Let Everything That Hath Breath
09 – Grave Robber
10 – Adonai
11 – Back To The Rock
12 – Too Big To Fail
Greg X. Volz : Vocals, Keyboards
Bob Hartman : Guitars
Mark Kelly : Bass
John Lawry . Keyboards
Louie Weaver : Drums
IF YOU LIKE IT, BUY IT!