THE RETURN OF THE KINGS
Released on August 26, 2022 (M-Theory Audio)
In a world full of all sorts of distractions, turmoil, stressors, in fighting, uncertainties, and gobbly gook, it is certainly nice to have an outlet. A passion, hobby, distraction that fills that void that you might not want to fill with another tour through the Dairy Queen drive through. And that is why we are here isn’t it and I’ll be good, gosh darned if we aren’t in for a tasty little aside from the real world with the latest outpouring from a little known band from Helsinki called Santa Cruz. Well at least a version of the band — more on that in a minute as that tangent gets the interwebs all in a snit.
Santa Cruz’s born on date was in the mid-aughts, 2007 and after settling in on some steady bottom enders in Mitja Toivonen and Taz Fagerström, founding members Archie Cruz and Johnny Parkkonen released to much fanfare and to an ever growing and equally ravenous fan-base three studio albums. This was the case until March of 2018 when social medias noted a mass exodus (or a mutiny or a removal — there is really nothing about and that is probably best) resulting in Archie being the sole heir to the Santa Cruz throne. And that my friends brings us to why we are here — The Return of The Kings — the second Archie solo / Santa Cruz release.
The Return Of The Kings comes right out of the gate swinging and doesn’t let up through the Pantera inspired, yet still very Santa Cruz slathered opener “Here Comes The Revolution”. As stated, this one is heavy, riff laden and bombastic. Just open them ear-holes to get the Cowboys From Hell nods throughout. They are especially prevalent from the opening riff and the growl scream, to that growl same scream again and snare trill drum fill at the pre solo breakdown that also leads in with the line “You better watch your *explicit* mouth punk”, to that last pinched dive harmonic ending the ripping guitar solo. Spot on recreation. R.I.P. Dime and I do hope when played live, that Archie and company slip into “CFH”. It seems a killer thing to do and should resonate well in a live setting.
‘Take Me to America’ is next and this one, still heavy as all get out, is a little more sleazy, reminding me of Every Mother’s Nightmare and their song “Walls Fall Down”. A banger of a song (both of them), with a singalong chorus and the guitar production is so in your face. Gotta love it! “Under The Gun” drops right in line with the previous two tracks and this one pays heavy homage to Randy Rhoads‘ “Suicide Solution” in the main riff / verse riff, along with the double bass drumming that would make Lee Kerslake smile ear to ear. And riffage there is plenty, and this song is a guitar fan / player’s wet dream. There are so many subtle and not so subtle nods to the pantheon of epic players. I won’t spoil many more, but I will say, the guitar playing thus far is ridiculously proficient. The Dokken-esque “Run baby run” is quite reminiscent of the “Why baby why” from Dokken’s “It’s Not Love”. Mega bonus points for the drum solo that takes out of the solo and brings us right back around into the chorus — well played fellas.
“Disarm” will resonate real well with those Santa Cruz naysayers as this one is nothing short of the best of the best, arena rocker that was a staple for any hair metal band that wanted a single to get on MTV and of course, to garner the audience of the ladies. A real nice song and as mentioned I can see any junior high schooler proclaiming that this song was written for them and their significant other. Case in point, the chorus, “How deep is your love let me see it all tonight”… “Ground” swings the pendulum back to the drop tuned modern hard rocker with some real nice funkified undertones in the verse that might be too subtle for the masses to appreciate. The solo is another monster and the chorus is extremely catchy. The last few notes of this one are a nice touch, very modern, but befitting.
“Shots”, well shoots right from the hip and is another example of a period specific hard rocker, sans any of the modern, drop tuning and the like. Another good example of how Archie ultimately hasn’t stepped too far away from the horse that brought him here and his 80’s rock influences are prominent herein. The lead in riff is equally technical as it is fast and the solo, good night. At just under a minute long, I love it! I really appreciate the double time on the snare on the pre-chorus. From a songwriting perspective, the boys know how to sell a hook and how to pay homage to their (and our) peers. “Round” is all about Guns N’ Roses with the intro and then the “Rocket Queen” main riff, that is abandoned for a tasty in your face Skid Row-esque verse and then a nicely layered Night Ranger / Def Leppard mega chorus that’s layered over that GnR riff. This one is a crisp 3:21, gets in, finds the groove, and gets out. It’s a really solid, well thought out track with a nice key driven pre-solo breakdown, a lightning fast solo and the chorus, forget about it, the hook is set.
“Gunshot” will be on everyone’s shortlist as song of the year. It drinks from the well of every staple from every rock n’ roll song ever written. You’ll never find all the easter eggs and you’ll be damned to not tap a foot, sing along and you’ll never get the dang song out of your head. The Rolling Stones‘ “Honky Tonk Women” percussive cowbell and drum intro to the “woooohooohwooh’s” in the chorus to the Guiro (the ribbed fish percussion instrument) and the epic Vibro-Slap (the same used in the intro to “Crazy Train”) — simply brilliant. Archie’s voice on “Gunshot” (well the whole song for that matter) reminds me so very much of another great vocalist Jace Ivy and the now long defunct Scandinavian band Undone. “1000 Cigarettes” is another modern mid-tempo arena rocker, borderline ballad, that should be playing on all the radio stations and equally should be the anthem for any young lovers (not unlike “Disarm” from earlier). This is a great song, but still has a dinger of a guitar solo, and even though I do dig the heavier tunes, this seems to be the sweet spot for Archie and his voice. I’m not saying he can’t do the harder stuff, but this styled song seems the perfect fit for him and this song will eventually be on some future Netflix rom-com of that I am certain.
“Would You Believe” is another well written ballad that can’t help but be a hit. The verse, chorus, the whole kit and caboodle is a crash course in how to craft a mega single. Even the shreddy solo fits so well into the wonderfully catchy, uplifting love song and this line alone “This isn’t one of those tough songs, this one’s for you and me” is worth the price of admission alone. It’s another ready made hit / movie song, and the “da dat do dahs” — well done fellas. And rounding out the album is another in the later half of the album’s modern arena rockers in “Stay”. This one should resonate well. It is sing-songy, catchy as all get out and seems real radio friendly. The song is short at 2:19, so stay focused.
As with anything, there will be lovers and haters. Seems a waste to be hating on anything, let alone something so damn tasty, regardless of your hurt feelings that Archie isn’t proclaiming his solo artist status. I guess if he was a megalomaniac and if he wanted, he could have titled this album The Return of The King (see I dropped the plural). But ultimately, who cares? The music is great. No one is, or should be (other than the elitists), up in arms about it. If I could dumb this down even a step further, The Return of The Kings, to me is like Skid Row’s Subhuman Race — easily my favorite record from the band. No slag on the first two but Subhuman Race had them covering all their musical stylings bases, equally heavy, melodic, heartfelt, balladry — again a wealth of great songwriting and musicianship, very akin to Santa Cruz’s latest.
The Return of The Kings covers a wide swing of musical stylings as you have just read, but all are unique to Santa Cruz and all are befitting to the band’s proficiencies. It’s nice to see an artist have such a broad paint stroke with their work and for me, it’s a real pleasure to see the varied styles and more importantly, the way the band crafts the music, connecting all the influences and of equal importance, the details and proficiency in the way they present it. I know I will be listening to this one for a while as I need to wrap my head fully around all the nuances of what Archie and company have presented. Excellent stuff! Consider me now a fan.
01. Here Comes The Revolution
02. Take Me To America
03. Under The Gun
04. Disarm Me
05. Standing My Ground
06. 10 Shots
07. Another Round
09. 1000 Cigarettes
10. Would You Believe It
CD Bonus Tracks:
Archie Cruz – vocals, guitars
Jerry Jade – guitars
Tommy Bradley – bass
Randy McDemian – drums
Produced by Archie Cruz and Otto Halonen
Mastered by Svante Forsback
Reviewed by Terry Martinson for Sleaze Roxx, August 2022
Santa Cruz‘s “Here Comes The Revolution” video:
Santa Cruz‘s “Under The Gun” video: