Dying To Live
I'll be the first to openly admit that my obsession with the Melodic Rock genre has been, for better or for worse, a life-long affliction. Fueled my an unhealthy affinity for Mello Yello and Sunbelt Bakery® granola bars, I had shamelessly devoted the vast majority of my notoriously misspent, ADHD-addled youth and early adulthood shamelessly pursuing a seemingly endless array of both mainstream and obscure artists and groups. However, once I officially embarked on a career as a music and occasional entertainment journalist (courtesy of the exceedingly patient staff of the Duluth Reader, then known as Reader Weekly), my obsession with all things Hard Rock and Hard Rock-related spiraled hopelessly out of control as my access to promotional materials increased exponentially. Accordingly, when we were at long last afforded an opportunity to partake in Dying To Live (2015), from Joel Hoekstra's 13, I immediately found myself truly enthralled with the 'star-studded' release.
On the stellar Dying To Live (2015), an expertly assembled twelve song collection of Hard Rock and Heavy Metal, each track, beginning with the relentlessly pummeling, Russell Allen-fueled gem “Say Goodbye To The Sun” and the quasi-Classic Rock canticle “Until I Left You”, immediately commands the rapt and undivided attention of all parties involved, myself most definitely included. Wasting little--if any--time driving home each key focal point, Hoekstra quickly arms himself with a veritable plethora of mosh-inducing riffs and rhythms without succumbing to the chart position-driven tactics of the Pop and Hip-Hop dominated mainstream. Boldly re-addressing the increasingly stagnant state of the genre (i.e. when was the last time an impending new release found you with feelings of unbridled excitement?) by utilizing a seamless, carefully-executed barrage of soaring vocals, blistering fretwork and imaginatively abusive rhythms, the guitarist scores 'major points' early and often.
Continuing with the acoustic-tinged lament “Never Say Never” and the soaring, hook-laden “The Only Way To Go”, the fleet-fingered Hoekstra is joined by the steadfast--to say the very least--combination vocalists Jeff Scott Soto (Journey, Talisman, Yngwie Malmsteen) and Russell Allen (Adrenaline Mob, Symphony X), bassist Tony Franklin (Blue Murder, Rated X, The Firm), keyboardist Derek Sherinian (Black Country Communion, Dream Theater, Portnoy, Sheehan, MacAlpine, Sherinian) and former Black Sabbath, Dio and Heaven And Hell drummer Vinny Appice. Having dutifully served as the proverbial sideman with long-suffering AOR stalwarts Night Ranger prior to replacing ex-Dio/House Of Lords axeman Doug Aldrich in Whitesnake, the group drives home each key focal point with a well-rehearsed ease. Further solidifying a burgeoning reputation as a bona fide force not to be ignored, Hoekstra showcases his astounding talents without dry humping the proverbial listeners.
A self-Produced affair throughout that wisely avoids the 'Frontiers Records Project' stigmas of yore (i.e. Jim Peterik's Pride Of Lions and the Joe Lynn Turner-led 'Super Group' Sunstorm), other standouts, including the thought-provoking deploring “Dying To Live” and the equally impressive closer “What We Believe” deftly showcase Hoekstra's woefully-unsung abilities as a bona fide leader. Attacking their respective instruments with a previously unparalleled precision, the fruits of Hoekstra's labors speak for themselves without, believe it or not, needing to overcompensate for a lack of fortitude. While obviously intent on invoking the spirit of--or perhaps even outright paying homage--to many of the genre's founding fathers, the yielded auditory excursions are infused throughout with a refreshingly level of originality sorely lacking from his few true contemporaries, making the mighty Dying To Live an absolute must-have for any genuine Hard Rock or Heavy Metal enthusiast.
At the risk of repeating myself, what, exactly, as you waiting for? Easily Hoekstra's most significant--and, as a result, most thoroughly enjoyable--solo effort to date, the majority--if not all--of the decidedly tuneful wares contained herein leave little doubt regarding the guitarist's unabashed lyrical and compositional prowess. Even if you somehow find yourself reluctant to wholeheartedly embrace Hoekstra's unabashedly commercial approach (as exemplified on the previously-mentioned “Until I Left You” and the emotionally-charged “Start Again”), one must, at the very least, sincerely admire his seemingly ceaseless penchant for continuously honing his already razor-sharp chops. Needless to say, if you've once again found yourself in search of a refreshingly tuneful reprieve from the painfully overwrought buffoonery that are so often force-fed en mass, then this, my friends, might just be the high-octane 'counter-irritant' for what ails you. Trust me, you will not be disappointed.
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