When it comes to ’80s Christian metal, there were some bands that were a notch above their peers. And with Atomic Arena, Barren Cross emerged as a band unmistakably among the cream of the crop. The record was equally as good as anything Stryper had put out, with all the telltale signs of a real classic.
For one thing, on Atomic Arena Barren Cross had matured noticeably both musically and lyrically from their full-length debut Rock for The King. With a broader worldview, Atomic Arena addressed such topics as suicide and abortion, even child terrorism. The album was also the first of two recorded for Enigma Records, the label that was home to Stryper and other hard rock/metal bands such as Poison, Saxon, Great White…even Slayer.
And really, Atomic Arena was kind of a last gasp at greatness for the band, in a genre that was quickly becoming outdated. Oh sure, they did churn out State of Control the following year, which had a few great moments but was dragged down by over-polished vocals (think Def Leppard) and a generic kind of sound that seemed subservient to Atomic Arena.
The ’90s, though, would change all that as ’80s metal faded out of popularity. But before heavy metal’s glory days faded, Atomic Arena made the genre proud. From the first guitar riffs of Imaginary Music, the album kicks off with hard-rocking intent. And it’s just one of the standout tracks. The second, Killers of the Unborn, is equally as solid and has a don’t-miss drum roll at the end. There is no let down on the third song, In The Eye of the Fire, which just might be my favorite. It lacks a straight-ahead delivery, taking an adventurous path to the first verse with some great stops and starts the rest of the way. The song also highlights the talents of the group’s rhythm section. Drummer Steve Whitaker absolutely kills it (it’s anything but straight-and-simple KISS-style drumming), while Jim LaVerde lays down an awesome bass guitar intro and never lets up.
Terrorist Child and Close to the Edge close out the first side, both of which are great, and the prototypical metal song Deadlock gets things started on the B side. And who can forget what comes next? Cultic Regimes begins with a maniacal laugh and continues at a blistering thrash-metal pace, with some absolutely wicked guitar soloing by Ray Parris. If there is a blemish on the record, it’s Heaven or Nothing, the (ahem) “mandatory” metal ballad that only serves to give the headbanger’s neck a break. After a King of Kings, the album closes on a high note with Living Dead, the longest track on the record at 6:50 that showcases Barren Cross’s ability to get creative within the space of a song. It also kind of reminds me of Iron Maiden, which can’t be a bad thing, can it?
Yup, Barren Cross nails it with Atomic Arena. I’d be amiss not to mention just how good Mike Lee was as a singer. His voice has great range, maybe not to the extent of hitting the high notes and sustaining it like Michael Sweet, but Lee’s pipes were absolutely perfect for the music. And with that, this fanboy signs off.
- Imaginary Music – 4:26
- Killers of the Unborn – 3:28
- In the Eye of the Fire – 4:27
- Terrorist Child – 3:30
- Close to the Edge – 4:55
- Dead Lock – 4:18
- Cultic Regimes – 2:48
- Heaven or Nothing – 4:10
- King of Kings – 3:30
- Living Dead – 6:50