Roxx Productions is a booking company from California that has been effective in reuniting some classic Christian metal bands for concerts such as Stryper, Barren Cross, Recon and on August 29th, 2004, four of the original members of legendary thrashers Vengeance Rising. Of course most people familiar with the band have read how former vocalist Roger Martinez has chosen not to follow his former Christian beliefs any longer. There is a long story why the original band members left following the 1990 Once Dead tour. However, suffice it to know that the band members were ready to call it quits so they agreed to give Roger Martinez the rights to the name Vengeance Rising, as well as all the publishing rights to the original songs. This is how it was left when the original Vengeance Rising parted ways. Because of this, and out of respect to their contract with Roger, the original four members decided to bring on a new vocalist and rename the band Once Dead. Enter yours truly.
Since I am the vocalist for this live show, it is a bit hard for me not to be biased. So instead of a review, I will just share some of my thoughts on the DVD, the show and the entire experience. First of all it was an honor for me to share the stage with these guys. Had this been the only show I ever got to do with them, I would have been grateful. What more can a fan ask for than to actually get the opportunity to sing for one of his favorite bands? Fortunately this show is not the end of Once Dead, but more on that later.
I spent two solid months learning the songs for this show. I probably looked like a complete nutcase driving down the road singing all the old Vengeance songs in my car. I am sure I looked like even more of a nut as I was mouthing the words to the songs at the gym during my cardio time with the headphones blasting in my ears. No doubt, I cannot sing these songs without banging my head, making various hand motions, etc. I am sure it was quite the sight. Every moment I had to get a CD on and be by myself I was playing Vengeance. As big of a fan as I already was, I was actually surprised by how little of the lyrics I actually knew. Martinez was always a very charismatic preacher and his lyrics reflected this. However, one thing I didn't notice in the past was the bits of humor thrown into the songs. "Can't Get Out" for instance has the line "I smoked away my frustrations, I took it out on my wife, I even tried to smoke her too, she wouldn't fit in the pipe." I laughed out loud when I read these lines. Why I hadn't noticed them before is a mystery.
I was quite anxious to meet the band for the first time. Vengeance roadie Ken picked me up from my hotel room to take me to the studio we were to practice in. Here I was a 36 year old man and feeling like a kid getting to meet his favorite band. I figured I may never see these guys again after this show, so I took along some stuff to have them sign. Yes, I acted like a silly fan. Wouldn't you? To my delight, Doug, Larry and Glenn actually got a kick out of seeing the old 8x10 Vengeance Rising glossy I brought along to have them sign. I can honestly say that the Once Dead guys are all some of the nicest people I have met. With the fan stuff out of the way, it was now time to get down to business. However, what I failed to remember is that these guys hadn't actually played together in almost a decade. They were reminiscing, sharing stories about the road, the studio, the other band members, funny mishaps, etc. They told me glowing stories about Roger Martinez and how much they missed him. Vengeance Rising were a family in those early days, so much so that even all their roadies from that 1990 tour came back for this reunion show. All of them were there sharing stories from the road. It was quite the reunion party at that first practice and then again when we sat down to a meal together a few days later.
The big show was less than a week away when I arrived in California, so we only had time for about three practices before the big show, and only one of those would be with the entire band. We practiced for several hours at each practice session. The first two practices went great. I felt good, I was belting out the lyrics and the band sounded awesome. Larry recorded some of the practices and it was amazing how good the band sounded, despite not having played together in a decade. The last practice was to be on the morning before the show. Bassist Roger Dale Martin was flying in that morning as well and we would have one final practice with the entire band. Wouldn't you know I wake up that morning feeling like crap! Yup, I was getting sick. I really wanted to freak out, but instead I kept my cool and drank a TON of water. I mean, I drank gallons of lemon water that day making sure I would have enough voice to not only get through practice, but also an interview for the DVD, a set with my band Ultimatum and the final set with Once Dead. Once on stage I was bursting with energy, despite a slightly sore throat and having recently finished my set with Ultimatum. I can honestly say that God granted me the voice to get through that set because shortly after Once Dead left the stage after the final encore, my voice was gone. As many shows as I have done over the years, I have never had that happen to me even when doing more than one show on a day. Listening back to the DVD now I can hear a bit of strain in my vocals, but despite that, I like the otherwise raw, live delivery I gave for that show.
I can tell you that the band was struggling a bit on stage due to poor monitoring and mixing from the club. Unfortunately Larry Farkas wasn't heard at all on stage, making things a bit rough for all of us. However, we troopered through it and the fruits are now available for all to see on this DVD release. Personally, I think the songs sound great. There are no studio fixes on this DVD. There are no overdubs to fix the rubs. This is raw, heavy and live, just like you would have heard it that hot night in August. "Into the Abyss" truly sounds amazing to me. Seeing Larry Farkas on stage with that violin bow again, just like on the 1990 Once Dead tour was amazing for this fan. "White Throne", "Can't Get Out", "Burn", "Mulligan's Stew", "Fatal Delay", "Human Sacrifice", "Warfare" all the classics are here. Frankly the only song missing that I really wanted to play was "Wrath to Come" which had to be scrapped due to our set time that evening. The sound quality on this DVD isn't perfect, but isn't bad either. The sound is quite a bit better than you would have heard in the audience that evening thanks to the mixing of one John Carroll.
Here is what John from Peak Productions had to say about the sound: