When it comes to the classic definition of gothic influenced metal and hard rock, Nashville, Tennessee based D.O.G.S. Of Pray fits the bill. A group that can trace its origin to a joining of lead vocalist Henley and guitarists Eddie Folk and Tom Meadows, D.O.G.S. Of Pray solidified its line up upon recruiting co-lead vocalist Bobbi Folk, bassist Doug Zirk and drummer Eric Walter. The talented six piece unit proceeded to sign with ANA Records, not releasing its full length debut The Rise… until after completing the recording process in the summer of 2008.
D.O.G.S. Of Pray, as is fitting to the gothic rock genre, takes a dark and swarthy environs and mixes it with edgy rhythm guitars, a resounding low end and mood filled keyboards. This is best demonstrated on the portent “My Conviction”, hard rocking “Catastrophic, even heavier (but emotionally driven) “The Enemy”, atmospheric “Theater” (a song with a nice touch of commercialism) and funk-laden “The Day”. Other choice tracks include the haunting ballad “How”, laid back “Trinity”, edgy “Righteous Awakens”, semi-ballad “Omission” and worshipful “Alone In The Darkness”.
What stands out most about D.O.G.S. Of Pray is its dual male-female lead vocal approach that finds Bobbi Folk (female) trading off with Henley (male). As a matter of fact, this is the first project to hit the Christian metal scene to feature male and female co-lead vocalists since Random Eyes’ 2003 debut Eyes Ablaze.
Bobbi, to put it bluntly, brings all the qualities that make a great lead vocalist: grit, emotion, soul, guts and determination- all backed by an abundant range and heartfelt passion. The likes of “Theater”, “Righteous Awakens” and “Alone In The Darkness” literally find her singing her guts out while she provides some background harmonizing on “Catastrophic”. Needless to say, it does not get much better.
Henley might not bring the same high level of ability but performs admirably nonetheless. Mostly staying in mid-ranged territory, he is at the top of his game when offering a smooth sounding feel to his delivery- such as on “Omission” and “Conviction”. That said, it is not uncommon for him to cut loose in gritty fashion as well: this proves complementary on “Catastrophic” and “The Enemy” but can fall a bit short on “Trinity”, “Final Days” and “Righteous Awakens”. My overall feeling is a more even approach would have better suited the gothic influenced music here (his occasional courser and rougher overtones can get a bit grating at times).
The guitar work of Eddie Folk and Tom Meadows is solid but unremarkable. More often than not the two deliver short bursts of lead guitar – as found on “My Conviction” and “The Day” – but stand out best when they choose to cut loose (“Theater” and “Omission”). Otherwise, the performance here, again, is quite sound.
With the exception of the lead vocals being occasionally placed a bit high in the mix, production values support the bands gothic approach to the metal and hard rock genres.
Lyrically, The Rise… seems to be sort of a concept album tracing the lives of two young people (a man and women) who are new to the faith. One falls away and returns to the faith while the other, having faced a life of pain and disappointment, finds freedom.
The album gets underway with the ominous “My Conviction”, a sweeping piece in which Henley takes a lead vocal role and Bobbi backup duties. Now, this might not be one of the albums heavier tracks but its infectious melody and trace of atmospheric keyboards are more than enough to put it over the top. “My Conviction” details the voice of God calling a lost soul back to Him:
This voice returning in my head
Do you hear me speaking?
Never leaving, never dead
I know the depths of what you’ve done
Pounding, hurting in my skull
I’m the truth your seeking
Feel it deep into my soul
I’m guiding you unto the Son
“Catastrophic” also finds Henley on lead vocals with Bobbi as backup, who provides some harmonizing that almost has a Middle Eastern flavor to it. This brings about quite the interesting contrast when factoring in the metal-edged rhythm guitar that carries the song its distance- not to mention the element of aggression Henley adds to his delivery during its angst laden chorus. “Catastrophic” talks about finding the faith:
Digging deep below the surface
Of the ground we find the answers
One big event in time holds all the clues
The water covered all the earth
With all its changes
Unlock the keys to the creation truth
The Truth is catastrophic!
“Trinity”, the first track in which Bobbi contributes lead vocals, is a melancholic, mid-paced hard rocker standing out with its low key verse portions and lively chorus in which Henley contributes backing vocals. The emotional feel to the music here aligns itself with a lyrical direction focusing on an individual’s new found faith:
Waking up each day I know I’m not alone
Step by step I take but never on my own
I can’t fall away, Your truth is just too strong
Guides me on my way and never leads me wrong
Though I sometimes stumble, I
Know just whom I can’t deny
“The Enemy” heads in the more upbeat direction. Again, Bobbi takes the leading role here as a driving environs is established, spine tingling the first word that comes to mind as she trades off with Henley during its ardently delivered chorus. As a matter of fact, the grit Henley adds to his delivery here is quite complementary, particularly when taking into account the subject matter at hand:
He rules the dark, He craves the mark
Consumes the heart
His lies he’ll sell, (I know you know my name) destination Hell
Through Christ he fell
I know you know me, I am the Enemy
The dramatic “Theater” – no pun intended – starts tranquilly to a calmly played guitar prior to slowly drifting through its first verse to Henley’s gritty vocal delivery. Upholding the settled atmosphere, the song makes a smooth changeover to an ethereal chorus allowing Bobbi to showcase her heartfelt abilities. “Theater” proceeds to pick up in pace after a minute and a half as the rhythm guitar cuts in, moving ahead at the more determined tempo in highlighting several stretches of the albums best work on lead guitar. “Theater” touches upon the resurrection:
The lights have fallen
And life has fallen
Another tragedy on stage unfolds
The Rise forever saves the show
The Rise forever steals the show
“The Day”, the albums most upbeat composition, stands out with its huge, funk-laden bass line mixed with a metal-edged rhythm guitar. As Bobbi leads the way with her soulful vocal abilities, the song roars ahead in profound fashion on the way to a magnetic chorus coming across in the form of a prayer:
But How did it feel to take all of the sorrow?
How did it feel to take in all the pain?
How did it, the crown of thorns upon you?
How does it feel, to take away my shame?
Great song characterized by its huge hook, huge vocals and equally huge blend of bass and guitar.
I have mixed feelings about “Pirates Of The Galilean”. Yes, this might be one of the heavier songs here and Henley puts forth a fine showing as well; nevertheless, something is missing. Perhaps it is the songs length – only two and a half minutes – or an atmosphere bordering on the quirky, but more often than not I hit the skip button. I find it difficult to digest the lyrics as well:
Stealing souls for Christ we’re being
Pirates of the Galilean
Offering grace to all who need it
Pirates of the Galilean
With a bounty on your life
There’s eternity in sight
Risen treasure it is done
Blood of Christ the only rum
“How” represents as touching and heartfelt ballad as you will find. From Bobbi’s moving vocal performance to its lush blend of the acoustic and electric, the song establishes an atmosphere on the histrionic side of things. “How” asks some very relevant questions:
But how did it feel, to take on all of the sorrows?
How did it feel, to take in all the pain?
How did it feel, the crown of thorns upon You?
How does it feel, to take away my shame?
“Final Days” is another number I struggle with. A mid-paced duet between Bobbi and Henley, “Final Days” is one of the few songs here that the lead vocals end up mixed too prominently. Musically, while far from bad, the song finds Henley taking a course and scratchy vocal approach when perhaps a smoother touch might have done the song better justice.
A crisp rhythm guitar makes its present felt on the hard rocker “Righteous Awakens”. The song proves a climactic composition that evenly drifts ahead from the start, not culminating until gaining a hold of an impassioned chorus in which Henley again plays a backing role. “Righteous Awakens” finds Bobbi pulling out all the stops with her soulful voice, bringing out the best in the laid back milieu and the faith based lyrics:
Now I wonder where you are
I Hope you know I never far
If you seek Me you will find
All the treasures, every kind
The door is open to walk in
Get rid of the hell you’re living in
You’re so close just one more step for you to go
Come in and let your soul surrender.
The semi ballad “Omission” features the albums finest vocal performance from Henley. Quite the moving piece, the song is carried through its verse portions by accenting keyboards before the rhythm guitar steps forward to drive a sweeping chorus that comes across reflecting in its lyrical approach:
As I walk towards the Light
That I can see
I feel the warmth of all
The good inside of me
And all the pride of such
A life that I did lead
And the things that I have done
Some bluesy lead work adds the final touch.
“Alone In The Darkness” begins to narration before the rhythm guitar steps forward. The song proceeds to calmly taper upon reaching its first verse, the heavy duty ambience returning for a worshipful chorus in which Bobbi adds a touch of grit to her delivery. Henley adds some growling that borders on the extreme. A heart crying out to God is the subject matter here:
When I’m here all alone in the darkness
I will cry out for Your touch
When I know I’ve got no one to turn to
I will cry out for Your love
When D.O.G.S. Of Pray hits the nail on the head songwriting wise it does not get much better. The album ultimately proves a consistent listen in that I hit the skip button only once or twice out of twelve songs. Bobbi’s vocal abilities are incredible; Henley, likewise, is capable, although I would like to hear him smooth things out a bit. Lyrically, The Rise… proves an inspired work that I draw a great deal of encouragement from. Recommended for fans of any type of gothic influenced music.
Track Listing: “My Conviction” (3:33), “Catastrophic” (4:10), “Trinity” (3:48), “The Enemy” (3:24), “Theatre” (5:01), “The Day” (3:34), “Pirates Of The Galilean” (2:36), “How” (3:47), “Final Days” (3:51), “Righteous Awakens” (3:37), “Omission” (3:55), “Alone In The Darkness” (4:50)
Henley – Vocals & Keyboards
Bobbi Folk – Vocals & Keyboards
Eddie Folk – Guitars
Tom Meadows – Guitar
Doug “DZ Groove” Zirk – Bass
Eric Walter - Drums