New Jersey's Exxplorer are a name known to many underground US metal aficionados, and for a good reason. The band's 1985 debut release, "Symphonies of Steel", is a minor classic, rightly revered for its uncompromising take on traditional heavy and power metal, and at the time of its release many fans and critics alike were predicting great things for the band. Unfortunately, Exxplorer took until 1994 to finally produce a follow-up, "A Recipe for Power", and the long delay, combined with changing musical climate, resulted in that record remaining virtually unknown outside of few die-hards. Thankfully, Pure Steel Records decided to give Exxplorer's sophomore album another chance as a re-release, and while "A Recipe for Power" is by no means a bona fide classic, it definitely deserves its time in the sun.
Released at the height of grunge epidemic, "A Recipe for Power" is a decidedly retro affair, even for its time. Songs like "Rockin' Bound", "Rock the Nation", or "Life's Seduction" sound like a time capsule from around 1980, inviting comparisons to more hard rock-influenced moments of Judas Priest around that time. The groove and swagger of "One" (a cover song that has nothing to do with Metallica's more famous track of same name) harkens back to golden days of rock'n'roll, while smooth, clear vocals of Lenny Rizzo give the songs a distinct arena rock feel.
This is not a straight-up, balls-to-the-wall metal album, but even then it is not without its heavier numbers. "Bible Black", "Just a Dream", and "Ride the Storm" are classic US metal tracks, very reminiscent of what Exxplorer was doing on "Symphonies of Steel", and remaining roughly in the same mold as Dio, Accept, or even "Defenders of the Faith"-era Judas Priest. "Beg, Borrow, and Steal" cranks up the tempo to almost speed metal levels as the band showcases its playing chops and attitude. Unfortunately, there is a clear division between the two styles, which at times compromises the album's cohesion and focus, and while Exxplorer is clearly adept at tackling both genres, "A Recipe for Power" suffers from the clash between the two musical directions.
To these ears, the band sound more comfortable on the album's less metallic tracks, which are by far more memorable of the bunch. Despite the unashamedly retro nature of some of these songs, they stand the test of time surprisingly well, and would appeal even to non-metal crowds without crossing into Sunset Strip territory of spandex and hairspray. In fact, some of the heavier cuts feel almost tacked on to remind the listener that Exxplorer is still a metal band, their forays into melodic hard rock notwithstanding. It is for this reason that "A Recipe for Power" is not a statement of purpose it was intended to be, but a good, diverse record with both metal and hard rock leanings. It may not represent the band in 2012, but it serves as an enjoyable snapshot of a different era, and is therefore still a recommended album.