Avenging Benji - Gold & Dragons

Avenging Benji Gold & Dragons cover
Avenging Benji
Gold & Dragons
Independent Release
Ben Jackson is the rhythm guitarist of Crimson Glory, the main guy in Parish and has released also a couple of solo albums, where he handled vocals as well to modest success, mostly because of lack of promotion, rather than them being lackluster, as they were pretty decent, even verging on occasion on great, examples of melodic metal.
This time around, Ben, opts to release the album under a band moniker, rather than his own name, so enter: Avenging Benji. The band, still consists of Ben on Vocals, lots of guitars, piano and some bass. Then it’s Mark Borgmeyer that was also around before, still on board, on guitars as well. Rich Tabor, has been with Ben through it all behind the drum kit, right from the start and he’s still around, this time sharing duties, with another Crimson one, Dana Burnell that is, who’s handing the sticks on a couple of tunes. There’s also yet another “Crimson” soldier, I am guessing, as the mysteriously credited Sgt. Rawk, should not be anyone else other than Jeff Lords. Then there are three additional vocalists Wade Black, (yet another CG alumnus) and two female singers, Rose Sexton and Emily Munger, who do harmony (sometimes, so thick that are leading) and backing vocals. All of them adding their considerable talents that make the result so much richer, sexier and way more delicious adding more layers of aural pleasure to experience and indulge in, for the potential listener.
“Inquiete” is a short yet beautiful acoustic intro, that recalls that “mystical air” of CG before...
The slightly funky but bone crunching “Gold and Dragons” kicks off! Driving rhythms, cool riff, alluring, slightly eastern, atmosphere, lots of melody... such a cool way to start the record.
“Tired” is such a “nail” through the heart... it’s basically, a postmortem I suppose letter to Midnight, (and to everyone who slowly drove themselves off the deep end), a cautionary plea, from a friend, asking a friend to take care of themselves. It’s heart wrecking. And as you may have guessed it a ballad. It ain’t something musically amazing, but when you pour your heart into something, even one drop of heartsblood contains more “magic” than all the notes in an entire symphony...
“Quietly Crazy” is a love song, or how should one put it an insane, sensual driving song about being drawn to the one you desire and being driven mad, by lust and desire. Oh and through its riff, melodies and desperate rough, vocal that halfway turns into an intertwined male-female more melodious chorus, it just manages to achieve its purpose 101%!
“Human” is a bit more funky with a progier line, crybabies and hollers of pleasure... again, it’s all about, being human and unable to resist, a lady that has it in spades. Funky, Sexy, Crazy, Cool... (haha, that maybe have been close to some TLC, album title I guess hahaha but it must have been in a different word sequence!)
“Underneath It All” takes things a couple of notches back, being a bit more laid back, overall, but it has a big meaty riff, and Emily Munger here assumes lead vocals, unveiling a rather smokey but yet powerful voice, with lots of attitude and great color/texture, that now in the reverse pattern is complemented nicely with Ben being the backing vocalist (I guess)…
“It’s You Love” aww, guess what... is a ballad. I mean what were you expecting? A gory Cannibal Corpse styled death metal onslaught with a title like that?! Well, you’ll probably be left waiting... it’s a cutesy, bright number, with big harmonies and I was pretty sure I could hear some weird guitars too (12 stringers and such – which upon inspecting the liners yeah it has. (It’s sad that there ain’t a booklet with lyrics and more photos something that maybe an EU print might be able to remedy? Should be cool!)… It’s a really nice tune all in all.
“Black Friday”. Now unless, I am getting it all wrong and this is referring to a specific incidental BF, did the band really write a song about BF? Ugh. It begins with a little piano and funkily goes by, with a few notable ideas on bass, probably courtesy of Lords, but overall as a song, it just doesn’t really connect with me. I suppose there’s a bit of irony there, but unless you’re American... you might not get it?!
“Coasts of Eden” is Ben’s “Midnight” moment... going a little lalala, on a holiday like spirit, this is a totally relaxed and a bit out of place song, that's quite enjoyable on its own, even if the vocal effects are a bit weird, at times. It just feels a little like it’s weirdly sandwiched, between songs that it doesn’t really connect to well with somewhat disrupting the flow of the album. On its own it’s not too bad however...
“Cage around My Heart” is hands down one of the best songs Ben has written and he’s also offering a really heartfelt performance making it an easy highlight of the album. It’s a powerful semi-ballad with lots of light and shadow and it has the songwriting that made band like say, Fleetwood Mac or bands of legend what they were... just Magical. Pure “magic”, as good ole Ronnie James used to say... and miss Sexton is also nicely complementing Benny, almost dueting, rather than backing him for most of the song.
“I Stand” features one Wade Black and also Jeff and who knows where this little ditty came from, with its groovy riff and whole heavy style…? Go figure... Not bad at all and while it doesn’t exactly it doesn’t fit 100% again with everything else on the album, it’s good enough on its own. I could have done without some alien adlibs that seem a little dumb, but OK... Oh and it’s sort of again sandwiched between soft songs, but maybe this time intentionally – just to break up the monotony that lots of slower songs would have created.
“Soul to Survive” is yet another highlight. I have a hard time, picking a winner between this song and “Cage...” and if you read the praise that I have already on that song, you’ll be surprised to find out that I like “Soul” even more ! Borrowing a few words from the song… “So, so unreal...” Probably the best song on the album!
“Too Late” is the last proper song on the album, a very lyrical song with a multitude of sentiments, and it’s about not coping well with letting go. Love ending and all those hard to deal with situations... healing the scars, which are hard to.
“Cage around My Heart (acoustic)” is a reprise of the “original” and this “naked” version, I like tenfold, to the point, I’d easily have it over the other one any day. It might be more Spartan, but it’s also a lot more personal, a lot more emotional, with the performances with every nuisance coming alive... Phew… beautiful.
Well. Benny, manages, to be the first of the “Glories” that has managed to “break” the silence since the 25th anniversary reunion with something completely, his own, yet he’s cool enough to do it under the mantle of a band this time around. (One could claim Toddsryche too but that’s another story). At any rate. Some really awesome songs to be found here, some really cool playing, a lot of cool melodies, I suppose a lot of things that everyone liked in “Glory” in a lighter version that occasionally gets heavier as well. But what really worked for me is honesty. You can “Feel It”, when something comes from the heart and in songs like “Tired” or “Soul To Survive” or “Cage Around My Heart”, you can’t fake the feeling … that Ben has poured his heart and soul in these songs and that for me is integral in making (he) ART, just parting with a little part of your soul, so that your art is not void of soul, not a cold facsimile of what you have in your head but a living breathing bit of your heart and soul and it that respect ladies and gentlemen we have a winner!
P.S.: With so much ability… will “they” ever manage to “do it”…? Remains to be seen...