Review: Lillian Axe – From Womb To Tomb
Global Rock Records (August 19th, 2022)
Reviewer: Jason Hopper
Lillian Axe are one of the most unconventional bands to come out of the 80s hard rock scene. Their melodies were more nuanced than most bands of that era. I have been a fan of theirs for over 30 years and loved all of their albums up through 1993’s ‘Psychoschizophrenia‘. Outside of a few tracks from their ‘Fields of Yesterday‘ album, nothing since then has resonated with me, with founder/guitarist Steve Blaze taking the band in a more eclectic direction, straying further away from the hard rock roots that first put them on the scene in the late 80s. With ‘From Womb to Tomb‘ being their first release in 10 years, I was curious as to what the direction the band would take.
There is a lot to unpack with this album as it is not a straightforward rock record. Right from the jump, if you are expecting a sound similar to the first three albums, you’re going to be disappointed. The band continues a progression that had its roots planted in the aforementioned album ‘Psychoschizophrenia‘. There are eccentric beats, tones, and sounds. I would say that there’s too much going on and unfortunately that’s ultimately detrimental to the album. Great melodies are mixed throughout songs with such drastic tonal shifts that it’s necessary for the band to either pause briefly to shift melodies or drop down to one instrument momentarily to allow for the change to be made. Those progressive attributes are jarring.
In order to pull something like this off, the band must incorporate lengthier tracks. Four tracks are over 6 minutes long and five tracks are over 5 minutes long. With four interludes between tracks, that leaves three tracks that are of standard length. In most respects, the standard-length ones are the best songs.
The album begins with the intro track ‘Breathe’. If a band insists on an intro track, this is the way to do it. There’s just one line in the song (‘Breathe in the air’) and a bunch of instrumentation, and it all works very well to pull the audience into what is essentially a concept album about a person’s birth, life, and death. When done right, concept albums have incredible staying power in fans’ minds. You say Queensryche, WASP, or even My Chemical Romance to a fan and one of the first albums that crosses their mind is the band’s concept album.
Parts of this collection work for me. ‘The Golden Dragon’ is a standout track that is very reminiscent of something you would hear off of ‘Psychoschizophrenia‘. The song does not stray from the main riff for very long which is to its benefit. The heaviest song to be found here. Two other songs also remind me of the ballads off that album. ‘No Problem’ is a short acoustic ditty that sounds like the sibling to their song ‘The Needle and Your Pain’, one of Lillian Axe’s best ballads. Both songs about comforting someone in their time of need, the song is simply beautiful and it’s a shame it’s one of the shortest songs on the album. I was hoping the lyrics to ‘Migrating North’ would match the musical arrangement, which is a fabulous, mostly piano-based ballad, but alas that’s not the case. I like you yes I love you very much, but I hate them yes I hate this much much more” is just awful. If you can look past some cringy lyrics, you’ll find an atmospheric, melancholic song about the struggles of choosing a life path.
The album has a bunch of interludes throughout, similar to the recent release from Shinedown. The similarities don’t stop there as the band at times take some inspiration from them. Songs like ‘Neverending Me’ and ‘From The Mountaintops’ could easily be Shinedown songs, especially in the vocal delivery of singer Brent Graham. I’m an old-school Ron Taylor fan, but Brent does a great job with the material.
It is the second half of the album that I have a problem with, and it all leads back to the concept of the album. It takes a very dark turn with songs about disease, dying, and the soul leaving the body as it makes its way to Heaven. The “death” part of the life and death concept begins with Track 9’s ‘Dance of the Maggots’, a song that’s an allegory of a disease eating away at the life of the subject of the album. From there, you get a few nihilistic, depressing songs (‘Fall of the Human Condition’, ‘The Great Deception’) and the music certainly matches the story. These songs are reminiscent of a hair band in the mid-90s trying to write a tune in a vain effort to stay relevant. Some elements of grunge vibes make its way into these songs, which served to remind me of all the things I hated about the 90s Seattle scene. The songs about passing on (‘From the Mountaintops‘ and ‘Ascension’) do not offer much relief for such a heavy subject and it’s at these last two songs that I could not wait for the album to end.
Regarding production, the album sounds like a million bucks. I believe it was produced by Steve Blaze, who does a phenomenal job behind the knobs. Any criticism about this album should not point in this direction. If you’re buying this hoping for something akin to the first three albums, don’t bother. Four interesting tracks cannot save this album from overindulgence and it’s own subjective despair. I cannot see many fans of the band digging this release. For hardcore collectors only.