Michael Lee's Magical Mythical Metal Is No Flashback
Too much is too much, but way too much is perfect. Michael Lee is way too much.
Lee's made his name as an editor and Emmy-nominated producer on everything from E! True Hollywood Story to Super Bowl post-game wrap-ups, but the San Antonio native was suckled at the teat of Van Halen and Judas Priest as a tyke, and has decided to claim the world of music as his own with his debut EP Hold on Till Heaven.
His Facebook page was sent to Rocks Off as a joke. "Hey! Look at this guy 80s guy! What a maroon!" Laugh all you want, but Michael Lee is not some cheeseball nostalgia-gimmick gimp. Sure, his music is over-the-top and unabashedly inspired by metal's more fantastical elements, but like The Darkness before him, an undercurrent of exemplary musicianship and innovation here sets the EP apart from a simple flashback.
Take opening track "Connection" by way of a for instance. Right when you're ready to sneer and shout, "Dokken!You're Sukken! Get off the Stage-n," you pick up on sinister industrial elements winding in and out of the pop-metal guitar riffs. In fact, the whole track made us think of the gritty awesomness of Daniel Ash's last EP, Flame On.
It's important to realize what happens to your mind while you listen to Hold on Till Heaven. You have only seconds to dismiss it as Bill and Ted's bogus soundtrack before the underlying power forces you to appreciate the subtleties woven in amongst the dragons.
And there are dragons! What ever happened to dragons? You fail us, metal, and you fail us band. Not Lee, though. He believes in dragons, angels and vampires. Most of all, he believes that he should sing about them. He even has a song on the EP, "Believe," pretty much laying out the sheer unholy joy of magic and myth.
We fail to see what the hell is wrong with that. Yes, OK, it's kind of cheesy. It was cheesy when Dio did it, or when Rhapsody had Christopher Lee narrate "Unholy Warcry," but it was also epic. Literally epic, not Internet epic. There are artists who explore the wide realm of fantasy as easily as they explore their own hearts and souls. Lee belongs in that temple.
A lush full world demands a pretty lushly produced album, and Hold on Till Heaven is nothing if not stretched to the limit. The album was engineered by Steve Bundrick, nephew of Who keyboardist John "Rabbit" Bundrick who also appears on several tracks on the album.
Incidentally, did you know Rabbit Bundrick was the principal musician on the Rocky Horror Picture Show soundtrack? Judging by Michael Lee's outfits, he certainly did, but what's a little extra outrageousness when you've already gone screaming over the edge like Thelma and Louise on a flying V guitar?
Michael Lee in the Batcave (literally)
Like any album, even a six-song EP, there are ups and downs. We can't say we particularly got behind "Mind You Own Business," a song bitch-slapping the nosiness of Hollywood. Not that it's a bad track, mind you, it's just lacking in dragons - we think.
However, for the segment of the listening populace who prefers a more noir approach to the world rather than a Day-Glo eargasm, this might be right up your alley.
Truly it's the title track that transcends all other attempts on the album. Even after three straight listens to Hold on Till Heaven, the album, we still had "Hold on Till Heaven," the song, on repeat and full volume until our fellow passengers begged us - in vain - to please stop.
It's pop. That's important. It's very pop, and in that is the song's genius. Much like "Your Fate" from our own death rock hometown heroes Ex-Voto on their last album Antioch, what stops you and holds you is and unashamed appreciation of the highly-oxygenated atmosphere of good rock or metal based pop.
True, both songs stand on the cusp between irreverence and a deeper kind of music, but any soldier will tell you that the border is what people fight and die over, not the center. Lee brokers a peace talk between the People's Republic of Metal and Popghanistan that echoes as an anthem of audio exultation for both sides.
One side learns to bang their heads a bit, and the other stomps a few less newborn puppy skulls while they take the time to smile.
Ultimately, that's Lee's true genius. His music is impossible not to smile at. You may shake your head a ruefully, you may rolls your eyes a bit, look at his outfit for Santa's sake! In the end, though, you can't help but love a man who believes.
Michael Lee plays tonight at Pearl Bar, 4216 Washington.
Jef With One F is the author of The Bible Spelled Backwards Does Not Change the Fact That You Cannot Kill David Arquette and Other Things I Learned In the Black Math Experiment, available now.
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