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Forgotten Hard Rock Albums: Recon, "Behind Enemy Lines"

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I've been collecting hard rock and heavy metal CDs since the late '80s.

Recon "Behind Enemy Lines" CD cover (2001 Magdalene Records version)

Recon "Behind Enemy Lines" CD cover (2001 Magdalene Records version)

Recon, "Behind Enemy Lines"

Original Release: Intense Records, 1990

(NOTE: This review is based on the 2001 reissue from Magdalene Records.)

When Recon's Behind Enemy Lines was released in 1990, it was accompanied by the usual tidal wave of hype predicting that the Southern California quintet would be the "Next Big Thing" in Christian heavy metal. Unbeknownst to many fans, however, Recon was defunct by the time the album hit record stores, as lead guitarist George Ochoa had already joined Christian thrash kingpins Deliverance, and appeared on their now-classic 1990 album, Weapons Of Our Warfare. (Recon bassist Mike Grato would eventually join the "Big D" as well, coming on board for the following year's What A Joke.)

Behind Enemy Lines racked up rave reviews in metal fanzines, but since there was no band to tour in support of the album, Recon faded away. Over time, copies of the album became sought-after collector's items and Behind Enemy Lines is now considered a cult classic by many fans of American power metal, both Christian and secular.

"Behind Enemy Lines"

So Who the Heck Was Recon, Anyway?

Recon was formed in Hollywood in 1987 via Pastor Bob Beeman's famed Sanctuary Church—the so-called "rock n roll refuge" for long-haired Christian teens that also served as a farm system for many of Christian metal's late '80s heavy hitters. After recording a demo and two cuts for the California Metal II compilation album, Recon began suffering internal problems and George Ochoa jumped ship to join Deliverance. However, he mentioned to the honchos at Intense Records (Deliverance's label) that his old band had written an album's worth of great songs before he split, and that it would be a shame to let them go to waste. After checking out their material, Intense signed Recon to record what would be their first (and only) studio album.

"Take Us Away"

The Album

I missed out on Recon's first go-round—they were one of those underground bands I heard and read much about, but never actually heard, till I acquired a reissue of Behind Enemy Lines in the early 2000s and was blown away by it. Due to their connections with Deliverance, I had expected Recon to be thrash, but they turned out to be majestic, melodic power metal, similar to early Queensrÿche, Crimson Glory, or Sacred Warrior. Basically, if Queensrÿche had gone to a tent-revival meeting in 1984 while recording The Warning and got some of that old-time religion, Recon might have been the result. The shredding guitar work by George Ochoa and Eddie Starline recalls the heavier heyday of the Ryche's Chris DeGarmo/Michael Wilton tag team, and lead vocalist Vett Roberts' piercing, operatic wail could have given the legendary Geoff Tate a run for his money back in the day.

As you might guess from the band's name and the military-themed album cover and title, Recon's lyrics are preachy-to-the-extreme "spiritual warfare" stuff that might turn off some "secular" metal listeners, but when the music is this high quality, I say "Hallelujah, bring it on, brothers."

The highlight tracks for me are "Dreams" and "Take Us Away," which are loaded with killer hooks, air guitar worthy riffing, and irresistible sing-along choruses. The moody epic "Holy Is The Lord" is the album's centerpiece, recalling Queensrÿche's "Road To Madness," and I detect a bit of Ride The Lightning era Metallica in the crunchy "Eternal Destiny" and the title track. In short: Recon had the goods, and it's a shame that they only released this one album! If they'd stayed together long enough to build on this foundation, Recon may have lived up to the hype placed on them in 1990.

Added trivia note: the album's intro track "In The Beginning," "Eternal Destiny," and the outro "John 1:17" all feature voice-overs by the infamous Roger Martinez of Vengeance Rising, i.e. the guy who eventually turned his back on religion and became a well known anti-Christian metal agitator, but that's another story for another day (haha).

My copy of the CD ends with a handful of bonus tracks: the excellent speed burner "Light The Fire" and "Dreams" from 1988's California Metal II compilation, and demo versions of "Light The Fire" (again), "Dreams" (yes, again!) "Alive!" and "Eternal Destiny." It may seem like overkill to have three versions of "Dreams" and two apiece of "Light The Fire, "Alive," and "Eternal Destiny" on the same CD, but since the band put out such a limited amount of material, there probably wasn't much to choose from for bonus cuts.

"Dreams"

So Whatever Happened to Recon?

Recon briefly reunited for an appearance at the 2001 Cornerstone Festival, which was recorded for a live album. There were rumors of a new studio album around that time, but the reunion fell apart before anything came of it.

In response to fan demand, Behind Enemy Lines has been re-issued several times over the years. I own a copy of the Magdalene Records version from 2001, and it's been reprinted twice since then by Roxx Records (a "25th Anniversary Edition" in 2016, and an ultra-limited-to-300-copies "Gold Disc Edition" in 2020).

Vett Roberts was last seen fronting a band called Shades of Crimson in 2009. George Ochoa and drummer John Christianson resurfaced in Worldview, a Christian metal "supergroup" of sorts that also included vocalist Rey Parra (ex-Sacred Warrior). Their debut album, The Chosen Few, was released in 2015.

© 2020 Keith Abt

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