Review: Righteous Vendetta - Not Dead Yet (A Rejected Record)

Zachary Tyler Van Dyke
Zachary Tyler Van Dyke   Follow

Record Label: Independent

Release Date: 2015

Album-length: 54 Minutes

Genre: Hard Rock/Nu-Metal

A little back story. Back when Righteous Vendetta was signed to a record label, they sent in a batch of songs for approval, and everyone got rejected. They were told in no uncertain terms that the music was garbage. A direct quote is taken from frontman Ryan Hayes’ Facebook page: “The album deemed ‘the worst batch of songs ever written,’ ‘completely unlistenable,’ and ‘a band that completely lost its way.’ This blows my mind, and I can give a few reasons why: number 1, this is one of the best albums I have heard in the last 10 years, and no, I’m not exaggerating. It’s that good. Number 2, these are some of the best songs this band has ever released – songs like Kill the Lights (the band’s first independent song to hit 1 million streams on Spotify), Like Poison (one of my absolute favorite songs of all time), and Gunpowder. Number 3, there aren’t bands around that I am aware of that sound like Righteous Vendetta, and that is what helps set them apart. Now, I will try to be as impartial as I can, but Lord knows how much this album, for as brief a time as I’ve had it, has impressed me. With that out of the way, let’s dive into our track by track review. Quick disclaimer – this is mostly going to be about the music.

“Fully Alive” is, in my mind, the least impressive song on this album, but please don’t misunderstand me – it may be the least impressive, but it is still a fantastic song with one of the most entertaining breakdown riffs around. I think it speaks to the quality of the rest of this album that this song, when stacked against the others here, just doesn’t quite measure up to them. The production quality is on point with what I’m used to hearing from Righteous Vendetta, and it’s certainly got their signature sound and aggression. But I do think it’s a tad on the simpler side, especially when it’s followed up by the phenomenal Kill the Lights.

“Kill the Lights” opens with a killer riff that immediately grabs you by the eardrum and pulls you into the experience. The structure of the verse makes me want to mosh in my living room (socially distancing sucks). Ryan Hayes’s vocals are dynamite and the guitars are some of the most creative in the industry. Good grief, if you don’t feel something while listening to this song, I am convinced that you are dead inside. Let’s not forget the bridge of this song – Justin Olmstead and former guitarist Carl Heiman’s riffing skills are outstanding, and when it’s paired with the drumming of Zack Goggins, bass skills of Riley Haynie, and vocal prowess of Hayes, it makes for one unforgettable bridge that leads right back into that ripping chorus.

“Gunpowder” has an amazing southern rock flair to its opening riff. It’s a fast, frantic, and explosive display of rock and roll. This is another fantastic example of everyone in the band playing exactly what the song calls for. In my mind, that is what makes a good musician – not the most intricate or wild, but one who plays exactly what fits the song. The cohesion this band displays in this song is amazing. One of my favorite aspects of this song is the half-time end of each chorus. It helps provide some relief from the frenetic nature of the rest of the song. This is a very fun song.

“Not Dead Yet” opens with the same kind of dark tone that would fit in with their 2017 Cursed album. If there’s one thing this band does well, it’s blending incredibly muscular riffs with soaring melodies and catchy choruses. Thematically, this is one of my favorite songs; “We’re not dead yet, we’re just broken… Let us not forget who we are; what we’re capable of if love guides our hearts.” Ugh, how good of a message is this, and honestly, so needed right now. Without going into politics, we as a nation are crippled right now by issues that need to be addressed and dealt with; not just talked about. But, as messed up as we are, we’re not dead yet – just broken. And I agree wholeheartedly – let’s not forget who we are – we are capable of amazing things when we let ourselves be driven by love. Great song.

“Take My Hand” kicks you right in the face with the opening riff. It’s one of the chunkiest intros to a song that I could point you to. It is awesome. On my first listen through of this album, this song stood out to me immediately. It’s not quite a ballad, but it is a somewhat more subdued song for RV. It’s definitely not one of the more fierce songs offered by this band, but its impact is felt just as hard. Also, Olmstead and Heiman’s fretwork is fantastic as they work together to create a wall of sound that carries you away. And again, I find another message I can get behind: “Take my hand, you’re not in this alone!” We need to walk with people through what they’re experiencing. So often, we listen to respond instead of listening to understand, and that creates so many problems. If we would just be willing to put in the effort to understand that everyone has a story and, where their lives intersect with ours, we can and do make a positive or negative impact on whatever chapter we’re in. Another very good song.

“Step Back” is one of my favorites on this album. The orchestral opening is ethereal and really caught me off guard. This has some of, if not the best, guitar work that Olmstead and Heiman provided on this album. As much as Gunpowder displayed the cohesion this band has, this song stepped it up to a whole new level. This is such a complex, intricate, and full song, but nothing ever feels out of place or difficult to follow. Thematically, I feel like this is a continuation of “Take My Hand” in some ways: “This is not about me; it’s about the only thing that matters… I’ve got this secret to a better place, however long it takes, I’ll show you everything.” Knowing the faith these guys have, I interpret this in a couple of ways: first, the secret to a better place he has is a clear reference to the saving grace of Christ. Second, just before this, he mentions how simple it is to forget what we’re here for. As a Christian, I understand this is getting sidetracked by what I desire and the things that catch my eye as opposed to living for Christ and showing people his love; hence, “However long it takes, I’ll show you everything.” The guitar solo around the 2:40 second mark is amazing and fits the flow of this song excellently.

“Love Sick” reminds me of a song that’s meant as an “in your face!” kind of song. Like, someone angered them and this is their way of shoving it back. Maybe I’m way off, but that’s just how I hear the song. The tone of the guitars in this song is impressive – honestly, this entire album sounds amazing. Similar to Gunpowder, this song is frenetic and almost chaotic. But, true to their sound, they found a way to balance the chaos with melody, and I dig it. While I think that “Fully Alive” is the least impressive on the album, this one is a close second. It’s fantastic, but in my opinion, it just doesn’t stack up against the rest. For the record, I wouldn’t skip this or “Fully Alive” – there isn’t a song on this album I would skip.

“The System” would nearly fit in well with 2011’s Lawless. The riff in the chorus is easily one of the biggest and powerful they’ve ever written. Again, their Christian background is pretty evident in the lyrics of this song – and I take it as a battle anthem. The cymbal work that Goggins plays with leading into the bridge brings me a lot of giddy joy and has me expecting a wall of death. This song is excellent in every way! Ryan Hayes's voice is so impressive in this song – the way he flips between aggressive growls and screams to an anthemic melody just never fails to amaze me. The range he has is insane.

“Bite the Bullet” is another that would fit nicely in 2011’s Lawless – it’s got a phenomenal riff and a catchy chorus, but the thing that really stands out to me in this song is the near rap style of vocal delivery that Hayes nails here. It’s such an interesting dynamic that shows up in a lot of RV songs (most prominently in a later track), and what really helps it stand apart from other rock-rap music is the fact that Ryan is doing it while either being super aggressive or flat-out screaming the lyrics. It’s so well done. In my mind, the entire point of this song is encapsulated in the line: “When the words become useless, conversations are foolish. We avoid matters of the heart, ya, that’s what tears us apart.” The fact is that when we avoid difficult conversations, we don’t actually help fix problems, and there’s a point to be made of words that, in the end, won’t have any use. If the words are just going to keep the conversation moving in a circular motion, then just stop talking.

“Like Poison” came out in 2019 as a single and it was, and still remains, my absolute favorite song by Righteous Vendetta. I was utterly blown away by the tone of the guitars, the intensity of the drums, and the power behind the vocals. Throw in the fact that they got Trevor McNevan (my favorite singer) from Thousand Foot Krutch (one of my favorite bands of all time) on the track, and it became an instant classic. This song is so perfectly written and structured that I can’t find a single thing to pick at it about. McNevan nails his verse – it is easily one of the best he has ever delivered. So much about this song is powerful and it gets stuck in my head for days and days. When I found out that this track initially was supposed to come out in 2015 on this rejected record, I couldn’t believe anyone would consider this a bad song – seriously? This song is flawless and it’s a crying shame that it didn’t see the masses until 2019. That said, I am super thrilled these songs exist for the masses now!

“Here With Nothing” is the defacto ballad of the album, and it is beautiful and broken. This is the most subdued song I have ever heard from them and it’s so good. Ryan’s voice reaches some amazingly powerful melodies. Goggins drumming is effortlessly in the pocket – it sounds just fantastic. Throw in the orchestra behind them, and this is one of the more unique songs in Righteous Vendetta’s catalog. Minor-key songs are some of my favorites, and this song hits me so hard. “Can you even see that my heart is tearing at the seams? I’m bleeding out I’m left in pieces, so pick me up; don’t leave me here with nothing.” What powerful words! How often do we do this to ourselves – outside we appear just fine, but inside we’re desperately begging for someone to notice how much we are hurting. This is an incredible message and one that so many can connect with. This earned its spot on my ballady and sad playlist. So good.

“The Way It Goes” was on Reignite: The Fire Inside, so I’ve heard it before, but I enjoy it all the same. The chorus of this song has some of the highest notes I think I have ever heard Hayes reach. In my mind, there’s some musical dissonance between the intensity of the verses with the, for lack of better phrasing, airiness of the choruses. I like the way they changed the rhythm in the second verse, too – it gives a good separation and, in a way, slows the pace of that verse to match the chorus a little better. The chorus is incredibly catchy and, it too gets stuck in my head for hours after I’ve listened to this song. I don’t have a lot to say about this song, lyrically. It’s not bad, but as far as the lyrics go, they don’t stand out to me too much in the context of the rest of the album. The song is good, the pre-chorus is especially memorable, but the lyrics just don’t hit me like some of the others on this record.

“Revolution” opens with a punch to your eardrum and goes on to just use it as a punching bag. This song hits so powerfully hard! There’s a stutter-stomp rhythm (if I can call it that) in parts of this song that switch up the pace and keeps you on your toes. The break down in the song is excellent – this band does power chords (or just crazy toned guitars) better than most, and honestly, I love it! This makes me bang my head so hard that my neck hurts. Totally worth it.

“The Answer” sounds Egyptian in its opening, and I’m not against it. There’s some staccato going on in this opening rhythm that I can’t get enough of – it’s such tight musicianship. From a lyrical outlook, this is probably in my top 3 tracks on the album for their message. “There is an answer to the problems that we face; how long until the Answer comes our way?” in my mind is a clear reference to the band’s faith in Jesus. The instrumentation in the middle of the song is, I think, the best on the album and is an excellent showcase of what each of these guys is capable of. A ripping and fluid solo, drums that are always on point, bass that actually stands out – it’s the one moment on the whole album where there isn’t a single thing that I would change. In my mind, this is a perfect track.

“Listen To Me” was also on Reignite: The Fire Inside and as when I first heard this song, it took my surprise. If you asked me what I expected to hear from RV, a full-blown rap song with a rock and roll chorus would never have been an answer. But that’s what we got here, and it’s amazing. Ryan has such commanding control over his voice and the delivery of these lyrics, it’s impressive. His range never ceases to amaze me. While this isn’t the longest song on the album, it is probably the biggest standout in terms of memorability. Nobody will forget this song because it’s so different. That second verse is such an impressive display of flexibility in musical range. This whole song is fantastic.

All in all, the fact that this was a rejected album will never not make me scratch my head. This album is such a blinding light in what can be an incredibly stale genre of music. I can’t imagine anyone legitimately listening to this and saying, “This sucks – these are the worst group of songs I’ve ever heard.” I’m calling shenanigans. This album is, without exaggerating, in my top five of the last 10 years. There is enough variety here to keep your attention through the whole thing without feeling like you’re hearing the same thing the whole time. A few tracks stand above the rest, such as: Like Poison, Step Back, The Answer, and Here With Nothing. Righteous Vendetta is a band that deserves way more recognition than they get because they are truly one of the most ingenious bands around – producing better original music than most bands around right now. I can’t help but wonder how things might be different if this album was greenlit 5 years ago – not just for them and their carrier, but for their music. Honestly, given that they are independent and doing what they want musically now, maybe the fact that this steaming pile of garbage music got snubbed was the best thing that could have happened. Consider me a man of terrible music taste, because I love everything about this album.

High Point: The Answer

Low Point: Lovesick

Favorite Tracks: Like Poison and Step Back

# Rating: 10/10

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