A loud, banging band burst onto the Christian scene in 1987 with the kind of album that any Jesus-loving metal head could love. Whitecross played a straight forward brand of heavy metal, which would have been left for dead at the side of the road if not for the incredible licks of Rex Carroll. Carroll’s guitar chops, combined with Scott Wenzell’s weezy voice, created a great tandem behind the no-frills rhythm section of drummer Mark Hedl and bassist Jon Sproule.
Whitecross might have played it straight, but their metal sound was anything but dull. Seein’ Is Believin’, No Way I’m Goin’ Down and Lookin’ For a Reason are great rockers. And who can forget Nagasake, the solo in which Carroll’s guitars screams, wails and practically begs for mercy. Yup, Whitecross laid down a self-titled debut that, despite a lacklustre production, was one to remember.
The band’s follow-up full length release, Hammer & Nail, was also really good, and by then the band functioned and sounded like a well-oiled machine. The album still had a bit of grit, but was definitely slicker and lacked the raw edges that helped endear their debut to Christian metal heads. And I remember not only getting a chance to see Whitecross on their Hammer & Nail tour, but somehow getting to be part of the road crew when they came to town. Now I don’t recall much about the concert, I think I may have come home with one of Hedl’s drumsticks, but I do remember that Carroll sat down to eat pizza with us after the stage was set up before the show. However, we were being real goofy with our food and he was grossed out and promptly moved. So much for my brush with fame.
As for the band’s sound? I always thought Ratt was a fair comparison, but I do hear shades of Dokken in there…and I’ve always been a big Dokken fan. There could also be some Whitesnake, Cinderella, King Kobra and Warrant influences…even a touch of Motley Crue, anything in the classic metal vein. I think Wenzel’s voice was great and helped give the band, along with Carroll’s licks, a real identity. One thing I learned being a roadie for a day was that the lead singer stuffed a cotton ball in each cheek before he went on stage. Seriously!
If there is a knock on the band’s debut record, other than a bad mix, it does sound a bit “same-y” after a while. Really there’s not much difference between He Is the Rock and Lookin’ For A Reason, which play back to back on the first side. Whitecross also doesn’t deviate from the genre norm by including an “obligatory” metal ballad, You’re Mine, that doesn’t fare too well given the production.
On the B side of its debut, Whitecross saved the best for last. No Way I’m Goin’ Down, Seein’ Is Believin’ and All I Need are all scorching tracks. All I Need begins with a great Dokken-like guitar riff, and Carroll’s guitar solo has to be the best on the record.Well that is until you get to the next song, Nagasake, the unforgettable guitar solo with all the Eddie Van Halen excess Carroll can muster. The closer Signs of the End, arguably the fastest song on the album (but we’re not talking Pantera or Iron Maiden fast), also begins with yet another killer guitar riff .
While I don’t think ’80s metal has aged all that well for the most part (although there are exceptions to the rule), turning the clock back to 1987 and spinning the Whitecross debut once in a while is not only a healthy dose of nostalgia, but also a good rockin’ time.
- Who Will You Follow (4:02)
- Enough Is Enough (5:44)
- He Is the Rock (4:34)
- Lookin’ for a Reason (3:33)
- You’re Mine (4:03)
- No Way I’m Goin’ Down (4:12)
- Seein’ Is Believin’ (4:28)
- All I Need (4:13)
- Nagasake (1:53)
- Signs of the End (4:00)