I've been an obsessed hard rock/heavy metal fan and collector since the early 1980s. If it's got a good guitar riff and attitude, I'm in.
Deliverance -- "Stay of Execution"
Genre: Heavy Metal, Speed Metal, Thrash Metal
Tracks: 10 Run Time: 45:34
Original Release: Intense Records, 1992
Reissue: Retroactive Records, 2019 ("Gold Disc Edition," limited to 300 copies)
Deliverance was riding high in the late '80s Christian metal underground thanks to the fast-n-furious, no frills thrash metal style featured on their first three classic studio albums - Deliverance (1989), Weapons of Our Warfare (1990) and What A Joke (1991). The "Weapons of Our Warfare" music video had been played on MTV's Headbanger's Ball, Deliverance had sold several hundred thousand records, and they were widely considered to be the Christian scene's version of Metallica.
...yet in spite of all the accolades and success, Deliverance's leader and main songwriter, guitarist/vocalist Jimmy P. Brown II, was feeling pigeonholed by the "thrash" sound and was itching for a change.
As it turned out, Brown's musical intuition served him well, because the metal scene in general (both Christian and secular) was in the midst of a great shift as the decade changed. Grunge Rock was tightening its stranglehold on the mainstream, and thrash metal was falling out of popular favor. Even the mighty Metallica had changed gears, toning down their more extreme tendencies and opting for a highly polished, radio-friendly attack on 1991's gazillion-selling "Black Album." This wide-spread sonic upheaval made it the perfect time for Deliverance to tweak their sound, and Brown went for it!
Prior to recording Stay of Execution, new lead guitarist Mike Phillips replaced George Ochoa and bassist Brian Khairullah (who'd played on the debut and Weapons, but sat out What A Joke) returned to the "D" fold. Brown's choice of producer, Christian alterna-rock icon Terry Scott Taylor, was perhaps the most important ingredient to Deliverance's "new" vibe. Taylor, best known as a member of the experimental roots-rock band Daniel Amos, did not come from a "metal" background. Under Taylor's guidance, Brown and his mates crafted a set of songs that were heavy enough to satisfy the core Deliverance fan base, but also set the stage for future experimentation on later albums. The result was Deliverance's most adventurous LP thus far, maintaining hints of the old thrash fire, but tempered with surprisingly melodic and progressive flourishes.
"Stay Of Execution"
Stay of Execution kicks off with the thunderous title track, a chunky, pile-driving number that has always reminded me of the Armored Saint song "Reign Of Fire" from a year earlier. Its edgy, mid-paced groove probably caught many listeners off guard. Brown's vocal style also went through some changes; he'd dropped his thrashed-out snarls and occasional high squeals in favor of a deeper, mid-ranged baritone that suited the new material extremely well. "Windows of the Soul" and the chugging "Words to the..." displayed Brown's new vocal maturity most admirably.
The mournful "From Once Was" has a darker Queensryche feel, and the frenzied speed metal of "Self Monger" has one of my favorite lyrics on the album - "What do you win if you gain the world and you lose your own soul?"
A cover of Daniel Amos' "Horrendous Disc" (from the 1981 album of the same name) is a theatrical, piano-tinged epic, with gang choruses and harmonic point/counterpoint vocals similar to progressive/power metal bands like Savatage. "Lord of Dreams" is another heads-down crunchy metal track and the atmospheric "Ramming Speed" shows hints of Iron Maiden.
On the utterly frenzied, four-on-the-floor "Entombed," Deliverance throws their "old" fans a bone, recapturing their old-school "thrash" sound, complete with a mosh part in the mid-section. The album closes out with a "remix" of 1990's classic "Weapons of Our Warfare," which honestly doesn't sound that different from the original aside from some effects on Brown's vocals, so I guess it was tacked on simply to pad the album out to 10 tracks. .
"Horrendous Disc" (Daniel Amos cover)
Deliverance's gamble paid off; Stay of Execution was the band's first album to crack Billboard magazine, debuting at # 23 on their Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) chart alongside luminaries like D.C. Talk, Amy Grant, and Carman!
Reviews for Stay of Execution were overwhelmingly positive, even while some "thrash-only" fans were thrown for a loop by its experimental vibe. That includes this writer, who didn't know quite what to make of the album when I first heard it in 1992. When I look back on Stay of Execution now, I understand why the band felt the need to make such a stylistic jump -- if they'd taken the easy way out and simply cranked out another thrash album, it would have painted them into a corner that they never would've escaped from -- but at the time, it took a while to warm up to the material.
Nowadays I listen to Stay of Execution just as much their early catalog. It's one of those rare albums that has actually gotten better with age.
Stay of Execution has been re-issued several times over the years: first as a cheap "2-on-1" release with What a Joke on the KMG Records label, then by Roxx Records in 2014, and again on Retroactive Records in 2019 as part of their "Metal Icon" gold-CD reissue series. If you've never heard this monumental '90s metal album, I highly recommend taking the time to seek it out!
© 2020 Keith Abt