The last time I'd even thought about LILLIAN AXE was somewhere around the release of 2002 comeback live album "Live 2002" and even then it took a bit to jog my memory about the Louisiana band. Having paid exactly zero attention to the group during its late '80s/early '90s active period I remember thinking the representative sampling of LILLIAN AXE's melodic rock (with metal edges) on that live affair to be enjoyable, all of which does little to inform my opinion of "XI: The Days Before Tomorrow" since I don't remember much else about it. Opinions of past releases largely nonexistent, it was with a relatively clean brain-slate that I would assess "XI: The Days Before Tomorrow". After first impressions left me nonplussed at best, the new album kept growing on me and I'm now able to call it a solid melodic rock album on which founder Steve Blaze's guitar work shines and the songwriting is much more hit than miss.
But if you're looking for an album that grabs you by the throat with riff-based rock bombast, you won't find it in "XI: The Days Before Tomorrow". To my ears at least, it is an album that requires a certain mood, unless the more commercial/softer end of rock is your exclusive listening choice. Regardless of listener taste, that aforementioned growing quality is also due to the subtle intricacies of arrangement involved and Brian Jones' more than capable, yet not exactly fiery vocal approach. Yet even his seemingly restrained delivery is imbued with understated passion and pleasing calmness that fits within the larger scheme.
Make no mistake about the "rock" part of this album though, as the majority of the songs are fueled by riffs from Blaze and guitarist Sam Poitevent that are downright hot, "Babylon" and "Caged In" two examples. But it is the meticulousness of the six-string arrangements and Blaze's enormous talent as a lead guitarist that are in equal terms most impressive. "Take the Bullet" is a defining moment in that sense since the guitar parts are arranged with a fine attention to detail that should please music fans and axe freaks alike, while Blaze absolutely wails during the solo segments. In fact, Blaze moves with ease into moments of pure shredding, beautiful acoustic runs, effective melody patterns, and leads of a more neoclassical bent; in all cases contributing to the higher purpose of the song itself.
Then there is the "melodic" part of "melodic rock" and "IX: The Days Before Tomorrow" is crammed full of lush melodies; sometimes with a sugar content that would send a diabetic into shock, but lush melodies nonetheless. From the pure emotion and class of "Gather Up the Snow" to the well-developed hook of standout "The Great Divide" to a song called "Bow Your Head" that will have even the "no-ballads" tough guy types begrudgingly admitting to its infectiousness, chief composer Blaze has a real knack for writing the penetrating stuff. Giving credit where it is due however, it should be noted that engineer Rob Hovey shares a writing credit with Blaze on "The Great Divide", so maybe he's a hook-master too. Otherwise, Blaze is responsible for all music and lyrics.
In the final analysis, fans of emotional, melody-drenched rock should eat up "XI: The Days Before Tomorrow" like a civilly disobedient protester inhaling his first full meal after a hunger strike. The fence sitters may find the album a tad bloated and/or too sappy to experience in one uninterrupted sitting, but even then most would be unable to deny the majesty of Steve Blaze's guitar performances and at least some of the melodic content. Personally, it may not be an album to which I will return with frequency and one for which spins will be dictated by mood, but there is enough here that I may end up remembering more about "XI: The Days Before Tomorrow" when 2022 rolls around than I did about "Live 2002" in 2012. Pithy qualifiers aside, LILLIAN AXE have created a work of some quality here.