Striker - Play to Win

Striker Play to Win cover
Play to Win
Record Breaking Records
Ah, Striker. Globally hailed and revered as a pioneering Canadian trad metal ambassador, the Edmontonian powerhouse certainly has a knack for business and self-promotion. To be sure, I’m not saying there’s anything specifically ill or traitorous about climbing the music(al) industry ladder if those aims are viable and conducive. Only, there are inherent risks and pitfalls to look out for (as with any such enterprising venture), which bring me to the well-versed and established quintet’s six full-length release in almost as many years, the ten-tracked, forty-odd minute long crap-shoot deviously touted as “Play to Win” (mind you, it’s also the rash and wantonly hedonistic motto of B.C. Lotto, but I digress!)…
Admittedly, I consider this mildly riveting offering my least favorite Striker album, but in no way should this deter those unfamiliar with its iconic brand of power-surging, fist-pumping positivity from giving it a good once over, or two, or more...
It’s quite conflicting, actually, as I’m torn between head-strong objectivity and placidly unctuous, ever-lovin’ praise, which demonstrates just how much I dig their rampantly festive and accessible flair. In a sense, the band still vigorously delivers – albeit a tad perfunctorily – while grabbing the D.I.Y route in terms of distribution by founding their own label, the cleverly monikered Record Breaking Records (a quick glance at the ID number – RBR03CD – readily confirms it’s a fairly young venture, with this particular outing representing its tertiary launch). It also appears frontman Dan Cleary and crew handled the lion’s share – or wolf’s share, as it is – of logistical and technical controls. The newly imposed performance tariffs (i.e. taxes) affecting Canadian artists/bands traveling to the U.S. of A. obligated the gang to take stock, not to mention full control of Striker operations as to ensure future viability. In this economical – as well as byzantine – light, “Play to Win” surely marks a challenging chapter in Striker’s saga. If anything, the “silver”, which lines this slight transgression consists of the band’s inevitable strengthening, not only of its endurance but its resolve as well.
In any case, opener/A1 highlight “Heart of Lies” burst forth with typical candor and force – maybe even a tad more aggressively than usual – but its high point truly consists of an epoch-ally soaring chorus which works in terrific tandem with the grouchily razored, pyrotechnic main guitar riff - akin to something off Accept’s “Blind Rage”. As expected, this masterfully segues into a brief but satisfactorily scorching solo section, courtesy of ax men Chris Segger and Tim Brown, whose rich and squelching overall tones vastly parallel those of Striker, the album. Bridges are comprehensive and ex-tenuous whilst the leads are, as usual, fluidly rock-ish and couched in liberating, coming-of-age overtones akin to fellow Canuck bands such as Sanktuary, Cauldron, Savage Blade, Black Moor, Axxion and Skull Fist. Followers “Position of Power” and “Head First”, for their part, deserve regular FM radio rotation; melodically analogous to “Stand in the Fire”’s uncannily nostalgic and vibrant “Too Late”, both are ideal for non-committal and late-night drunken reveling in the wee hours. “On the Run”, however, is quite mellow and reflective, not likely stand-out material but nor is it trite filler either. I simply take issue with how everybody and their uncle(s) are imperiously compelled to name tracks after my local gas-bar’s lame-ass corporate client slogan!
Gang vox are vastly employed, practically on every track, and although I’m always up for all-out fiery exuberance, as well as “extra-jubilance” (OK, that, I made up!), of this nature, also consider it a “less is more” affair; thus this normally colorful and engaging feature loses its appeal and luster – kind of like chocolate cake – after multiple indulgences. They markedly take the (solar) wind out of my sails on the rather forgettable “Standing Alone” (sorry pals, although I dig the futuristic-ally liberating Moog/themerin thing going on!), in addition to the album’s main culprits, those back-to-back/closing power “B” crooners, “Heavy is the Heart” and “Hands of Time” (no groan-worthy Michael Jackson jokes here, s.v.p.). All the same, they’re most welcome on the poignantly uplifting and enthralling mid-point cut, “The Front”, a real retro-fried Fifth Angel meets Shok Paris – with the newly sophisticated Hitten guest starring – humdinger which does a wicked job of pumping ye ole vestigial (or hungover) claret!
Discounting the thrashy-er opening bar of “Heart of Lies”, the arch-typical, 100% brow-beater, most outright “metal” track consists of the gruff and shouty, wandering “scrivener” (haha, I just like the sound of that – it’s actually a meek word!), “Summoner” – nice job on the squelching natural harmonics, bridging blast beats and scintillating jet propulsion solo section by the way – whilst the succeeding titular track leaves me neither hot nor cold as it innocuously sits in as yet another girth-y Striker “metal for life” anthem...
Market-ably speaking, “Play to Win” (“jouer pour gagner, quoi!”) is as viable, not to mention structurally comparable, to Iron Maiden’s mystic n’ maverick way-farer waverer “Seventh Son of a Seventh Son” (urf!), or maybe even Judas Priest’s precipitously counter-weighed “Point of Entry” (as I wish to avoid sounding like a complete jerk by likening it to the flaccid and oh-so-“bobo” “Turbo”!). When you think of the good songs from said albums – decent Maiden examples consist of “Moonchild” and “The Evil That Men Do”, while Priest can readily boast of scorchers “Heading down the Highway” and “Hot Rockin’” (including the feral and off-beat, spiraling bonus cut “Thunder Road”) you can’t help but nudge them into fair to good territory. The same goes for “Play to Win”, even though I find it would’ve made a swell 90%er of a five-track EP had half the material been spread out over ulterior works, instead of plugging the toilet as they do here. On a final and redemptive note, the aforementioned highlights make this release a sure-fire keeper, anyhow.
In spite of – or possibly due to – its circuitous fluff, I dig this wholly unanticipated release as much as said British cornerstones, which, judging from the Archives, have equally stretched pallets far and wide. Also, we must stop and reflect on how both soon went on to record some of the best material of their careers – or rather, heavy metal journeys (for said old school kingpins, think 1984’s “Defenders of the Faith” alongside 1995’s “The X Factor” – not that Striker needs a new/different vocalist or anything).
At the end of the day, Striker is doing for Canadian traditional heavy metal what Maiden, Priest and Sortilège or ADX have accomplished for Great Britain and France. In a few words as possible, a freaking great job. And who knows?! That second – and/or third – wind may come sooner than we think.