Lillian Axe: From Womb to Tomb (2022)

It’s probably not a shock, but when I was in my teens I loved the hair/glam/hard rock scene. We were always looking for the next great chorus to sing along to, the next wicked solo. Everyone had their favorites, and mine was Lillian Axe: a hard rock band out of New Orleans who could certainly play to the MTV and hair crowd with songs like “Show A Little Love” but really nailed it on their heavier, almost progressive (for a 80s hard rock band with hair that high) tracks. It’s been a hot minute since the band had done any new music; but as I was putting together my Nine Circles Best of 2022 list I needed a breather from all the extremity so turned to the band only to see that – lo and behold – back in August they released their first album in 10 years, From Womb to Tomb. Another non-shocker: more than a few of those songs have that magic to bring me right back to that time where every chorus was bathed in the glow of youth.

From Womb to Tomb tackles the concept of existence from its origin to its demise, but as I went through the album I found it best not to concern myself too much with trying to tie together the different meanings and threads and just let the music wash over me. After the cascading intro of “Breathe” the band launches into the killer hard rock of “I Am Beyond” which got my 15 year old son’s seal of approval immediately with its catchy chorus that modulates up in its second part. Any fears I had about my favorite band from 25 years ago were soothed immediately – they may be on their 4th lead singer (Brant Graham who does a great job) and I don’t know how many other members, but all that matters is guitarist and primary songwriter Steve Blaze, whose signature style is still there. The songs weave between huge stompers like “The Golden Dragon” and “Dance of the Maggots” that blend multiple sections and acoustic moments without sacrificing heaviness and more contemplative (though no less heavy) moments like “Fall of the Human Condition” and the beautiful closer “Ascension” with its opening piano that uses that half-step modulation things Blaze does so well in his arrangements.

Where I really get those classic Axe moments on From Womb to Tomb are in the way Blaze and the team rip through a song like “Neverending Me (Dempsey’s Kick)” – it starts with piano and Graham’s vocals carrying a killer Lillian Axe melody as the song swells before kicking into a great heavy riff that repeats in different keys before coming back to a super grandiose anthemic chorus. It’s that mix of heavy and uplifting that the band on their greatest songs – “The World Stopped Turning” or “Waters Rising” – that have always drawn me to the band again and again, even when the genre as a whole has turned somewhat stale. That sense of the epic is there on “Neverending Me (Dempsey’s Kick)”, “I Am Beyond”, and “The Great Deception” in full effect, and it makes the somewhat slighter songs that much easier to fly by.

Because I’ll be honest: one or two of these songs don’t hit quite how I want them to. “Migrating North” is six and a half minutes long and it never really gets anywhere. There’s a slow build to the end where the song moves into a light the lighters climax, but it doesn’t hit for me at all. From Womb to Tomb is also long: 72 minutes and 17 tracks if you count the bonus track of the band doing “Show A Little Love” live. That time is extended with no less than four interludes, none of which really add to the cohesiveness o the album – I’m not counting “Breathe” or the brief but really engaging “No Problem”. Small nitpicks to be sure, and when couched between so many great songs, songs I never thought I would get from a band still sounding this good after so much time, I’m more than happy to forgive those minor transgressions.

I’ve listened to this album more times than I can count since discovering it. Small gifts like your favorite childhood band kicking your ass with new music is a nice way to start 2023.

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