Friday, October 21, 2016

DISCIPLE "Long Live The Rebels"

(c) 2016 Tooth & Nail Record/BEC Recordings

  1. First Love
  2. Long Live The Rebels
  3. Secret Weapon
  4. Erase
  5. Come My Way
  6. Underdog Fight Song
  7. God Is With Us
  8. Spirit Fire
  9. Forever Starts Today
  10. Black Hole
  11. Spinning 
  12. Empty Grave
Kevin Young--Lead Vocals
Josiah Prince--Rhythm Guitars, Bass
Andrew Stanton--Lead Guitars, Bass
Joey West--Drums

Additional Musicians
Ethan Luck--Bass
Cody Drigger--Bass
Matt Aracaini--Bass

As an early Halloween treat, modern Christian rockers, Disciple, have returned with their latest offering, Long Live The Rebels, a crowd-funded effort which may be their strongest complete set of material to date.  Following 2014's well-received Attack, and 2015's digital-only EP release, Vultures, the band has returned with 12 brand new songs that are similar in style and approach to those of Attack, meaning a strong sense of melody combined with heart-pounding rhythms, buzz-saw guitars, Young's alternately clean-and-scream vocals, and a heavy dose of adrenaline.  

As the sole remaining member of the original version of the band, which has been together since 1992, Young has really found his voice, not only lyrically, but stylistically, in the past few years.  Always bold spiritually, Disciple nonetheless played the genre-hopping game to a degree, starting off as something of a rap-rock band before fully embracing nu-metal, then more of a metalcore sound, before finally settling into their current, and most successful sound, with heavy modern radio rock. Starting in 2010 with their MASSIVE hit "Dear X (You Don't Own Me)", Disciple has really found their musical niche, still embracing their older, heavier styles, but also incorporating a more mature element, as well, particularly in the way the songs are put together.  Make no mistake, the guitars still churn away, chock full of angst and aggression, the drums are as thunderous as ever, and the lyrics are just as bold as longtime fans will recall, but there is an accessibility that has really shown itself over the past 5 or 6 years, allowing a broader fanbase to attach themselves to the band than ever happened in the past.  This is plainly evident in the fact that the last two full-length releases, Attack and now Long Live The Rebels have taken in over a quarter of a million dollars in fan-funding through Kickstarter, which is a number nearly any mainstream band would struggle to match.

On the new record, the band comes out firing on all cylinders, right from the start.  While possibly not quite as kick-you-in-the-gut aggressive as, say, "Radical" was on Attack, "First Love" is still an incredibly powerful song about finding one's way back to Christ after living a life of deceit, deception, and hypocrisy.  There's a really cool breakdown in the middle of the song, as well as an exceptionally catchy chorus (which so many of the tracks here really feature to a high degree), and some cool interplay between the two guitarists that set the stage for a truly great album.

The title track is up next and its our first chance to hear Young really get aggressive with his vocals on this album, and he does not disappoint.  Churning, swirling guitars abound throughout, and again, there is a really cool tempo changing breakdown at about the two minute mark before the track come crashing back in with the angst-filled chorus.  I really hope that this song makes the setlist for the next version of the City Rockfest Tour, as it is one of my favorites from the new album, no question."Secret Weapon" keeps the metallic aggression turned up with break neck drumming, blistering rhythm guitars, and a pummeling chorus informing the listener that with Christ in your corner, there is very little anyone can actually do to you as a person, as Young bellows, "You can knock me down, destroy my name, But my power comes from a Higher Place".

At this point, the band steps back the tempo just a bit with "Erase", which, for my money, is this album's "Dear X" moment.  A killer tune with a truly powerful message, the chorus alone will hook just about any rock fan, as Young passionately tells the listener that Christ "will erase, your yesterdays, you'll be okay, My Love is greater than your mistakes".  The guitar work on this track is absolutely perfect, and the rhythm section is tight and controlled, so as to not let the song spin out of control into a more aggressive animal than it needs to be.  Its this restraint...this maturity...on this record that speaks volumes about how much Disciple has grown, especially since this version, dubbed Disciple 3.0, has taken the reins of the band.

The difficulty for me in reviewing an album like this one is the desire to break down every single track, which not only makes for an incredibly long review, but also takes away some of the fun in the discovery for people who seek the album out.  That being said, there are just so many excellent moments here, that it is really hard to not lay them all out, whether it be the lyrical wallop that Young hits you with on "Come My Way" ("can you feel my fingertips on the chalkboard of your soul?"...brrrr....goosebump material there!), to the machine gun drumming and aggressive rhythm guitars of "Forever Starts Today", to the haunting structure of "God Is With Us", which was instantly a favorite with my kids due to its insanely simple-yet-uber-catchy chorus.

There really are no weak songs here at all, with only the second-to-last track, the quirky "Spinning", being the only track that even hints at being a bit out of its element on this record.  Even then, I will say that the nearly 180 degree style change, from a mid-tempo rocker to angst-riddled, scream-infused headbanger is a fun one, and Young's lyrical twists ("my life is just a burned out cigarette") make it a fun listen, much like "Kamikaze" did on Attack.  And for anyone who thought that the band maybe strayed a bit too far on that track, the album closer, "Empty Grave", brings the focus back front-and-center on Christ, His resurrection, and the miracle that it is for humanity, in truly powerful fashion.

The band still does not have a full-time replacement on bass, so multiple people step up in that capacity here, but the overall chemistry of the band and the record do not suffer in any way.  The production is top-notch, as is typically the case with the highly professional Disciple, and the mix is stellar to my ear.  Again, the interplay between Prince and Stanton is truly great to hear, and the drum work from West throughout the record is spot-on for me.  And of course, Young's abililty to run the gamut as far as vocal approaches goes, gives Disciple a musical depth a lot of bands of this style don't have, especially with Josiah Prince adding some excellent backing vocals to the mix.

Is Long Live The Rebels a clone of Attack?  No, not by any stretch, although fans of that record, or any of Disciple's records since Horseshoes And Hand Grenades will definitely find moments of comfortable similarity and enjoyable familiarity.  Is it better than Attack?  That's a tough call, also.  While I don't know that I would say it is better, I would say that this new record is definitely on par with that excellent record, and a great return to tru form for the band who may have thrown a few people off a bit with the sometimes odd-sounding material that was cobbled together for the digital Vultures EP.

Rating:  Definitely crankable and an instant candidate for record of the year.  Spin this one up to 9!

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Friday, October 14, 2016

DIRKSCHNEIDER "Live: Back To The Roots"

(2016) AFM Records

  1. Intro
  2. Starlight
  3. Living For Tonite
  4. Flash Rockin' Man
  5. London Leatherboys
  6. Midnight Mover
  7. Breaker
  8. Head Over Heels
  9. Neon Nights
  10. Princess of the Dawn
  11. Winterdreams
  12. Restless And Wild
  13. Son Of A Bitch
  14. Up To The Limit
  15. Wrong Is Right
  16. Midnight Highway
  17. Screaming For A Love Bite
  18. Mosterman
  19. TV War
  20. Losers And Winners
  21. Metal Heart
  22. I'm A Rebel
  23. Fast As A Shark
  24. Balls To The Wall
  25. Burning
Udo Dirkschneider--Lead Vocals
Sven Dirkschneider--Drums
Fitty Weinhold--Bass
Andrey Smimov--Guitars
Kasperi Heikkinen--Guitars

The 1970's and 1980's music scene conjures up many things for many people, of course depending upon what you were into.  There was disco, guitar rock (what we now refer to as classic rock), the Outlaw country movement, the Urban Cowboy country movement, glam/hair/sleaze metal, speed metal, death metal, thrash metal, and of course, the New Wave of British Heavy Metal.  It seems to me that no other time frame really matches the stylistic output of about 1975-1987, and if you could't find something to listen to, it was largely your own fault for having your head in the musical sand.

Of course, being a hard rock and metal review site, we focus upon those genres, from the now-classic rock sounds of bands like Triumph, Rainbow, Foreigner, Journey, etc., to the hair, speed, classic, and thrash metal of the 80s, to grunge in the 90s, and on up through today's modern metal scene.  And while there are so many different styles and sounds to choose from, two things are largely considered to be essential if a band is going to succeed in these genres:  a great front man, and a great guitar player.

We all know about the guitar gods of the time, but for me, the most powerful and most unique voices of the hard rock/metal world came out of that 1975-1987 time frame I referenced earlier.  Lou Gramm, Steve Perry, Paul Stanley (or Gene Simmons, depending upon your KISS preferences), Rob Halford, Bruce Dickinson, Ronnie James Dio, and on and on.  But one name that I have always said was criminally underrated...possibly because no one could pronounce it...was Udo Dirkschneider, the diminutive powerhouse that was the true face and sound of the similarly underrated German metal band, Accept.  Considered by many to be one of the true precursors to speed and thrash metal, Accept was one of the first metal bands I discovered on my own after branching out from KISS in the 70s and the hair metal of the 80s that pulled me fully into the hard rock world.  From the moment I first put Balls To The Wall into my cassette player, I was hooked.

Of course, Dirkschneider left the band in 1987 to form his own side project, U.D.O., which basically allowed the man to continue on with the more metallic style and sound he preferred on his debut album Animal House, while Accept headed in a more MTV/radio friendly sound with their new vocalist, David Reece, and the ill-received (but very strong) record, Eat The Heat.   There was a brief reunion with Udo in the 90s, along with three very solid new albums, Objection Overruled, Death Row, and Predator, but the band went their separate ways once again, with Dirkschneider returning to his U.D.O. projects, and Accept recruting former TT Quick lead vocalist, Mark Tornillo, to continue on their own way.

Even so, Dirkschneider could never shake his Accept roots...nor did he try.  Dirkschneider has always openly embraced the songs of his Accept past, and always incorporated a good number of Accept songs into his live set-list.  However, with the massive catalog that Dirkschneider has compiled with his own band, and the age of some of the Accept material now pushing 40 years, Dirkschneider has decided that it is perhaps time to part with many of the songs of his past.  So, casting aside both the Accept name and the U.D.O. name, Dirkschneider has released this double live CD set under his surname, with a band that is actually the current line-up of U.D,O, (got all that?).

This massive undertaking is, in my opinion, a nearly perfect way to put to rest a lot of these classic numbers, with the band sounding spot-on throughout the record, and Udo belting his way through these songs in his unique, inimitable raspy snarl that has maintained its power and punch for all these many years.  Sure, he's still a bit hard to understand in places...especially when he is trying to talk in English between songs...but the vast majority of these songs have been heard so many times now that singing along is second nature and not at all a problem for long-time fans.

It seems almost crazy that it takes roughly two hours to get through just the "hits" of the Accept catalog, but virtually nothing is left off of this comprehensive collection.  "Fast As A Shark", the underrated "Monsterman", "Neon Nights", and of course "Metal Heart", "London Leatherboys" and "Balls To The Wall"...they're all here and executed to near perfection by the current version of the band, which now feature's Udo's son on drums.  Early tracks like "I'm A Rebel", "Breaker", "Son Of A Bitch", and "Flash Rockin' Man" are all given a full charge of new energy and urgency on this recording, each sounding better, at least to me, in this live form than in the rather dated-sounding recordings they are taken from.  For me, while all of the most common faves are here, the real treats were the lesser-known songs like "Screaming For A Love Bite", "Losers And Winners". and one of my all-time favorite Accept tracks, "Head Over Heels".   Of course there are a couple of songs that I would have loved to hear in this live setting, but none are songs that most people would consider to be essential parts of the Accept legacy, so I won't even delve into those.

If this is the way that Dirkschneider has chosen to put to rest a huge part of his musical legacy, he has certainly done a top-notch job with this massive live set, and I would imagine that I will find myself turning to this set over any "best of" collection of Accept tracks that may be available.  It is really that well done.  I can even stomach the intro here, since it is an intro to a live show, but I do believe I will likely skip it 8 out of 10 times I spin the first disc of this set.  The production is very solid, with band is in fine form, and the mix is really good for a live record, with the guitars and drums each given their own voice throughout the recording.

I have a hard time believing that Dirkschneieder won't still pull "Metal Heart", "I'm A Rebel", or "Balls To The Wall" into the live set...I just don't see how he could get away with that...but I think trimming some of the other material out will give U.D.O. fans a chance to hear some of that band's songs that maybe have had to be left on the shelf in the past.

If you want to catch the Dirkschneider tour, there are some North American dates in 2017 that you may want to check out, especially if you want a full-fledged journey back into the metallic 1980s with one of the truly defining vocalists of a musical generation.  There will never be another Udo Dirkschneider, of that I am quite sure.

Rating:  Expertly executed and completely crankable.  Live greatest hits package or not, I can't recommend anything lower than cranking this to an 8...maybe even an 8.5.

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Saturday, September 24, 2016

WILD SOULS "Game Of Love"

(c) 2016 Lion's Pride Music

  1. Game Of Love
  2. Dirty Mind
  3. Shame On You
  4. Pretty Babe
  5. Riding 
  6. Rock My World
  7. Moonlight
  8. One More Night
  9. I Need Your Love
George Nikolaou--Lead and Backing Vocals
Kostis Tsiligiris--Guitars
Nikos Tsiligoudis--Drums
Tasos Karapapazoglou--Bass, Backing Vocals

Additional Musicians
Manos Skaramagkas--Keyboards

Greece is not the most common location for really good, 80s-inspired melodic hard rock, but Wild Souls is one of the exceptions to that unwritten rule.  With a solid grasp of melody, strong lead and backing vocals, some excellent guitar work, and just enough keys to satisfy the sweet tooth of the more AOR-minded fans, Wild Souls has put together a solid package of mostly uptempo, guitar-driven hard rockers that is among the best I have heard this year.  

On top of the top-notch musical performances, the songwriting here is of a caliber not commonly heard in more retro-styled projects.  So often, bands that are looking to emulate the 80s sound find themselves sucked into songwriting and lyrical cliches, but Wild Souls largely avoids this trap.  I know that the song titles don't necessarily bear proof of that, as most of the titles are pretty standard 80s fare, but musically, the band takes their inspirations and then updates them, adding some little musical twists that keep the listener interested and not feeling like they are listening to a cover band mimic and maul the tunes they grew up loving.

Particularly strong tracks here are the album's opener and title track, "Game Of Love", the hyper-catchy duo of the album's lead single, the hard-charging guitar rocker, "Dirty Mind", and my personal favorite, "Shame On You", which also showcases yet another in the long line of unknown-yet-amazingly talented guitar players, with Tsiligiris absolutely dominating the fretboard here.  I also really dig the exceptionally-well-executed bump and grind of "Pretty Babe", which has some great bass work from Karapapazoglou.  "Riding" is another really good rocker, with some more nice guitar acrobatics from Tsiligiris, who really gives the listener a comfortable feeling with his tone and approach, but comes off as uniquely original at the same time when he goes of on extended solo runs.  The one true ballad here is the beautifully performed, piano-based "One More Night". Good, good stuff right there, even if it doesn't particularly rock at any given point.  In fact, it is far more like a true, melodic AOR ballad than an 80s hair metal power ballad. even when Tsiligiris slides in with his guitar on a spectacular solo, or when the solid and underappreciated Tsiligoudis finally gets around to thumping his drums into the mix. 

Also worth mentioning here is the top-notch vocal approach of Nikolaou.  To be honest, I wasn't 100% sure I would love his voice upon hearing the opening track, but after hitting track two, I found myself really enjoying his style and range, and after repeated listens, I can truly state that he has one of the better mid-range tenors I have encountered in this style of music in recent memory.  Rich in tone and never coming across as strained, Nikolaou's voice runs like smooth whiskey over the more soulful numbers, like "Pretty Baby", but can also add a bit of edge when necessary to give a bit of extra oomph to a rocker like the Deep Purple-meets-Whitesnake romp of "Rock My World".  

The band was wise to keep the album trimmed to just the best nine songs they had composed at the time,  Every song here is solid, with not a single "filler" track for my money. Even the album closer, the slightly key-heavy rocker, "I Need Your Love" is of top quality musically, although this is the one track that is probably a bit weak in the lyrical department, leaning a bit more on the cliched title as part of the chorus than the rest of the songs here.  Even so, it doesn't come off as tired or forced and does nothing to detract from the surprising overall quality of this release.

Set to be dropped on Halloween of 2016, this album is definitely one that falls into the "treat" category.  A pleasant surprise for me from start to finish, I find myself returning to this album time after time for a melodic pick-me-up on par with the best material of this style and sound that I have been sent for review this year.

The band has released a video for "Dirty Mind" to help promote the release of the album, and you can check it out here to get an idea of the excellent quality of this record.

Ranking:  Some excellent, crankable material here.  Crank this to 9!  I really, really enjoyed this record, even though I honestly went in with less than high expectations.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

TESLA "Mechanical Resonance Live"

(c) 2016 Frontiers Records

  1. Rock Me To The Top
  2. EZ Come EZ Go
  3. Gettin' Better
  4. Comin' Atcha Live
  5. Changes
  6. Before My Eyes
  7. 2 Late 4 Love
  8. We're No Good Together
  9. Love Me
  10. Cover Queen
  11. Little Suzi
  12. Modern Day Cowboy
  13. Save That Goodness (new studio track)
Jeff Keith--Lead Vocals
Frank Hannon--Guitar, Bass, Mandolin, Keys, Backing Vocals
Brian Wheat--Bass, Piano, Keyboards, Backing Vocals
Dave Rude--Guitars, Backing Vocals
Troy Lucketta--Drums, Percussion

Live albums.  I love them...or else I want to love them and they end up letting me down.  Those two options are really it for me, at least that's always been my experience.  It often comes down to whether or not I have actually heard the band live, to be quite honest.  If I've seen a band live, I tend to be more critical of the live album because I know what they sound like live, and usually that isn't what comes on the record.  As we all know, most live albums aren't actually all that "live" now, as they are filled with studio overdubs, Pro Tools edits, and songs taken from multiple concerts then edited together to create one "concert" filled with seemingly flawless performances.  In theory, it may be sound practice because, let's face it, a band doesn't want to put out garbage, especially now that so many bands are releasing these albums themselves with little or no label money to back them.  If they are going to release something, they want it to sound as good as possible so that they can actually sell the albums and recoup their costs.  Like I said, it makes sense.  But it's still disappointing for me because I want an element of genuineness when I buy a live record.  This is especially true of a band I have never seen live...and may never get the chance to see live...because it gives me a bit of that experience I have missed.  Maybe I'm weird like that, but that's just how live records do...or, in my opinion.

Now, Tesla is a band that I have seen live...a few times.  I have NEVER been to a bad Tesla show.  Ever.  They are one band that has always left me feeling like my money was well spent after I leave one of their shows, so when I heard they were releasing (another) live album, I was immediately interested.  When I heard their intent for this new live album, I went from interested to almost obsessive.  Why?  It's simple.  What Tesla does here is an interesting twist on the live album concept, as they play one album...exclusively...on this live record.  Of course, I am talking about one of my all-time favorite albums, the truly remarkable debut record, Mechanical Resonance.  Def Leppard recently did much the same thing, re-recording their massively popular Hysteria album live, as well, although I am admittedly not a huge fan of that album (in fact, I think Viva Hysteria: Live At The Joint is pretty much garbage).  Why do I bring this up?  Hang in will make sense.

It has amazingly been 30 years since Tesla released their debut record, but despite that lengthy span of time, they are one of the few bands of that era that not only still records and releases new material, but has also survived largely intact as far as members go.  Only Tommy Skeoch is no longer with the band, having been replaced by Dave Rude a full decade ago.  As such, you know that the band has performed the majority of these songs so many times over the years that it would likely be easy to phone the performances in...and many people wouldn't even blame them.  After all, thirty years of performing "Changes", "Little Suzi", and "Modern Day Cowboy", among others, would likely become a bit less than exciting.  But that is not how the band comes across on this record.  Sure, you can hear some years on the band, especially in a bit of additional scratchiness in Keith's vocals, but for my money, this only serves to add to the authenticity of the performances here.  Besides, it's not the hits that I was most interested in hearing here; it was the deeper album cuts that never get pulled out now that I was most keen on hearing.  I have tried and tried, but I can't remember ever hearing "Right Before My Eyes" or "Cover Queen" live, although I have to believe "Cover Queen" has been tackled at some point throughout the years.  The same thing can be said for me of "We're No Good Together"; I know it has to have been played live at some point, but I just don't know that it has ever been at a show I have attended, personally.  Regardless, I am happy to say that I was not let down by the live renditions of these songs, as the band performed them for this record like they have been doing them day-in and day-out for the last three decades.  It is really a treat to hear these songs given the chance to shine on the stage, at least for me.

Speaking of treats, the brand new studio track, "Save That Goodness" is a definite high point and a really nice add-on for an already impressive record.  A mid-tempo bluesy rocker that treads that Aerosmith territory that Tesla has so respectfully and respectably called home, this new track is easily one of the best songs the band has recorded in years.  And this is where we flash back to that Def Leppard reference I made earlier, as this song was co-written by none other than Lep guitarist, Phil Collen, who will also be producing Tesla's upcoming ninth studio album.  Never a hair band, which is the label that seemingly haunted them back in the 80's and early 90's, much as it did Aerosmith, Great White, and other bluesy hard rock bands, Tesla knows exactly what type of music they work best with and what their fans expect from them, and this new track is a perfect example of that.  Filled with interesting backing percussion, Keith's instantly recognizable rasp, some soulful female backing vocals, and a catchy-as-heck rhythm, "Save That Goodness" is exactly the type of song that represents Tesla when they are at their best, which is where this one...album finds them.

If I had any real complaints about this record, it would be that they tinkered with the track order.  I know, I know..."Little Suzi" and "Modern Day Cowboy" have to be encore material, especially from this record, and I could probably forgive those tracks being shuffled.  But why change the order of all the other songs?  That I don't get at all.  At least they didn't pull a Foreigner and give us a live album that makes allusions to being an album performed in its entirety, then leave tracks off and add in songs that don't belong (see my review of Best Of Foreigner 4 & More).  Other than that, the band's performances here...which I have no doubt have been touched up at least to a degree...are really good and very reminiscent of the live experiences I have had with this band.  Add in the really, really good new studio of their best in many years...and I am happy to say that overall I am very happy with my purchase of this live record from Tesla.

Rating:  Definitely crankable!  I give this a solid 8, which is about as high as I think I could ever go with a live album.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

7HY "Stories We Tell"

C) 2016 Lionspride Music

  1. I'll Survive
  2. Break The Spell
  3. Don't Believe A Word
  4. One More Day
  5. Only Human
  6. Church
  7. Into You
  8. Broken Man
  9. Driving Me Crazy
  10. I've Been Waiting
  11. Sweet Sensation
  12. Wasn't Always Like This
  13. Driving Me Crazy (Duet)
Alan Kelly--Guitars, Bass, Drums, Keys, Backing Vocals
Shawn Pelata--Lead Vocals, Backing Vocals

Additional Musicians
Dave Martin (Marshall Law)--Lead Guitar
Pete Fry (Farcry)--Lead Guitar
Calle Hammer (Houston)--Lead Guitar
Danny Beardsley (Emperor Chung)--Lead Guitar
Elliot Kelly--Lead Guitar
Paul Kelly--Lead Guitar
Martin Walls--Bass
Tom Dwyer (Marshall Law)--Bass
Robyn Kelly--Duet Vocals on "Driving Me Crazy (Duet)"

7HY (shortened from 7 Hard Years) returns with their sophomore effort, following the well-received 2014 effort, No Place In Heaven.  Once again, 7HY is largely a two-man effort, with the "group" composed of former Shy drummer, Alan Kelly, and Oracle/Line Of Fire/Livesay vocalist, Shawn Pelata.  Don't let Kelly's previous gig...or the band logo's eerily "Shy"-like appearance (come on...7hy...Shy...) fool you into believing that this band is a Shy clone, because it is not.  Incorporating bits of the 80s, a healthy dose of 90s progressive melodic rock, some modern elements, and the influences of Shawn's former bands, 7HY is an animal all its own.  Besides, this time around, you could almost jokingly refer to 7HY as the Kelly Family Band, as no fewer than FOUR Kellys make appearances on the record...alongside Marshall Law members Dave Martin and Tom Dwyer, guitarist extraordinaire Pete Fry of Farcry, and several other top-notch the contributors each bring a bit of themselves to the overall feel and style of this record.  The result is nothing short of a spectacular collection of hook-filled, powerfully delivered melodic hard rock/melodic metal that seems destined to occupy a slot in many a reviewer's Top 10 list for 2016!

The album opens with the amazing "I'll Survive", which sets quite a high bar for the album. The intro, which features Pelata's voice and a piano, teases a far slower song than what "I'll Survive" ends up being, as the guitars and drums come driving in and the expertly layered vocals provide a sonic depth not present in many other releases I have heard this year.  Perhaps bands are getting more away from this stacked approach, but it is to their detriment, as this type of highly polished production is one of the things that drives this style of music, in my opinion.  There's a nicely placed, expertly performed guitar solo here, as well, although it is far from the highlight of this track.  In fact, it is the overall interplay between what Kelly wrote and how Pelata interpreted it that is the true power on this, and several other tracks, on this powerfully performed record.

"Break The Spell" follows up with a somewhat slower tempo, although it doesn't begin to approach ballad territory by any means.  Again, Pelata's vocals are allowed room to really soar, and the backing vocals on the simple-yet-catchy chorus, are perfectly executed.  There is a blistering fret-run of a solo embedded here, and the rhythm guitars throughout this melodic track are a driving force in keeping the track moving along.

"Don't Believe A Word" starts off with some interesting keyboard effects, and once again teases being a far slower song than it actually ends up being.  This track reminds me of some of the material Queensryche was tackling on their Promised Land and Hear In The Now Frontier period, which is among my favorite from that band.  Tempo changes, electronic sounds, screaming guitars, and powerful vocals all meld together in fine fashion, and Pelata really stretches his range here, piercing the ceiling of his range with seeming ease.  One of my favorite tracks on the album.

"One More Day" is as close as the album comes to an 80's-inspired throwback, reminding me a bit of something the Scorpions may have tried in their Savage Amusement days, not overly far removed from a track like "Rhythm Of Love", for example.  The track incorporates a sexy bass line, some nicely placed backing keys, and solidly paced drum line, all coursing beneath a layer of melodic guitar work and Pelata's emotive vocals.

"Only Human" has a haunting, ethereal quality to it, and while it is not my favorite track here by any stretch, something about it draws me back to it time and time again.  The ending feels a bit abrupt on this track, but Pelata's vocals really shine here, saving the track from becoming just another track amid so many great songs.

"Church" is easily the heaviest track on the record, actually pushing to the fringes of metal, especially with the frenetic guitar runs and the jackhammer-styled drumming utilized here.  Pelata adds a touch of an edge to his vocals here, which is effective, but the polished production and layered backing vocals keep the tune from driving itself out of the grasp of fans seeking music of a more AOR/melodic hard rock variety.

"Into You" keeps things clicking right along at a nice pace with solid rhythm guitars and a tight bass/drum line.  The chorus is catchy and easy to sing along with, and once again, there is a smoking guitar solo dropped nicely into the mix here.  However, there are some odd keyboard effects in the background of this song that I find distracting and which keep me from really considering this one of the better songs here. 

"Broken Man" scales back the tempo a bit and is one of my favorites on the record, without question.  Again exploring material similar in style to the previously mentioned Queensryche albums, 7HY really shines on this type of song, with some outstanding, and not overplayed, backing vocal work supporting one of Pelata's strongest performances on the record.  Good, good stuff here.

"Driving Me Crazy" appears in two different forms here, with the solo vocal version coming first. Again, I can't help but hear a kinship musically with 90s-era Queensryche...and even more modern releases from House Of far as the songwriting style goes.  This is not a knock in any form, as I love the material on those albums, and I feel the same here.  This song is expertly done in both versions, but I think I prefer this version to the duet, largely because I think the backing vocals are more of a presence here and there is so much the song.  The duet version, while nicely performed, doesn't rock in any sense of the word for the first half of the track, as it transforms this previously powerful rocker into a more emotional ballad-styled song.  There is a powerful build at the middle of the song with a wrenching guitar solo, and Ms. Kelly has a really strong, emotive voice, but I just prefer the edgier, harder rocking version of "Driving Me Crazy".  Neither is a skip track, by any stretch, however, and I am sure there will be many that prefer the duet take here.

"I've Been Waiting" is a really mid-to-slower tempoed cool track that just reeks of epicness to my ears.  The bass relentlessly throbs throughout this track which courses with an sense of urgency which is actually enhanced with some nicely placed keyboards and effects.  The backing vocals are big, the rhythm guitars edgy, the solo absolutely spot-on, and Pelata's vocals are perhaps at their peak on this track, which I would have to say is my favorite overall number here.

"Sweet Sensation" has a big 80's melodic rock feel to it, especially with the fat bass line rumbling along beneath the verses with keyboards and power chord guitars beefing up the chorus and bridge sections in fine fashion.  Some really nice, fun sass to this track.

I would say "Wasn't Always Like This" is the most Shy-like track on the album, and the band saves it for last on the album (not counting the duet mix of "Driving Me Crazy").  Not a clone of anything you will find on any of the Shy albums by any means, but definitely more 80's melodic rock in its approach than the rest of the songs here that feature a bit more of a progressive feel or a more modern style, at least to my ears.

Overall, this is an inspired effort filled with moments of sheer musical brilliance and some excellent performances.  Definitely a step above the debut effort (which was really, really good, by the way), Kelly and Pelata...and the whole Kelly clan!...have found their niche, in my opinion.  The solid songwriting, spot-on guest work, and some of the best vocals I have heard from the gifted Pelata, make Stories We Tell an album that will definitely occupy G2G's best-of-the-year list when 2016 closes.  One of the few melodic hard rock releases of the year that I would apply the label "must hear" to.

Rating:  Just an excellent record throughout, Stories We Tell is a definite cranker!  A solid, unquestionable 9 for 7HY!

Thursday, July 21, 2016

3D IN YOUR FACE "Lost In The Volume"

(c) 2016 Retrospect Records

  1. 2 Miles Down
  2. Moscow Queen
  3. Loud
  4. Memphis Mile
  5. Sound of Recklessness
  6. This Isn't Goodbye
  7. Ringing In My Ear
  8. Baptized By The Radio
  9. Static Renegade
  10. Show Me How To Love Again
  11. The Unknown Frequency
Alan "Hot Rod" King--Vocals, Keys
Chris "Sniper" Hineline--Lead Guitars
Sam "Spade" Morris--Bass
John "The Hammer" Lovings--Drums

I love the underdog.  I really do.  I love the fact that there are small bands out there that are busting their guts to keep the style of music that they love alive.  I salute all those bands out there slogging it out in small, sweaty bars, playing county fairs, and doing whatever they have to do to keep the fires stoked for the music they have a passion for.  As such, I have a soft spot for 3D In Your Face, a four piece hard rock./hair metal outfit from my home state of Nebraska.  

These Omaha natives have been around for many years now, and if you have caught their live show, you know that they are a full-scale entertainment package, with a big sound and light show, true-to-the-era costumes, and, yes, the "hair" of the time...albeit in wig fashion.  However, don't think that 3D In Your Face is a farce cover band, as that is not the case.  Yes, they do play some excellent covers of music from all of the biggest bands of the 80's and early 90's, but they are also serious musicians and artists with their own material as well.  This new release, Lost In The Volume is their fifth studio album of all new material, in fact, and their follow-up to 2014's well-received Midnight Devils.  

The album kicks off with some thick, heavy guitar riffing of the angry variety, before the drums come thumping in and King's lower-register snarl claws its way into the mix.  There's a nice, heavy guitar solo from Sniper on this track, and while the backing vocals could use a bit of a boost from an additional couple of layers, the song is catchy enough and likely one of the new songs to find their way into the live show as it is one that fans could easily catch hold of and sing along.

"Moscow Queen" is not my favorite track on the record by any stretch, and is really one of the few filler tracks on this disc, in my opinion.  I just don't care for the happy-yet-punky vibe on this track, although there are still some nice 80's-influenced guitar flashes here and there.  Be that as it may, I'm not going to lie...I skip this track every time.

"Loud" quickly makes up for the misstep of "Moscow Queen", and is one of the two or three best songs here.  An urgent, George Lynch-esque guitar riff (think the first couple of Dokken albums as far as style goes) opens things, and King's snarl is in its most comfortable range zone here, as he neither plumbs the depths of his range, nor does he try to reach the upper stratosphere with screams or falsetto.  This is a really, really good hair metal track with a nice, aggressive guitar line running throughout, and Spade's bass work is in top form, as well.  Sniper scorches a killer solo at about the 2:10 mark here, before giving way to the lone King scream of the track, and then the final verse kicks in.  Again, this track is pure early Dokken-worship musically, but vocally it reminds me more of the aggressive approach used by bands like Loudness, for example.  Truly love this track.

"Memphis Mile" keeps the pace rocking as they name-drop their hometown on this rollicking track that has a bit of a Poison feel to it.  Sniper has a couple of more blues-inspired drops under the verses in this track before again smoking his way through a high-speed shredder of a solo.  One of the fastest pure rockers here, this is again a song that I think fans will instantly gravitate toward in a live setting, as it is catchy, upbeat, and easy to follow.

"Sound Of Recklessness" is another track that really challenges "Loud" for best song on the album.  Again, we have a strong, churning rhythm guitar to get things started, with a heavy backbeat from Spade and The Hammer plowing the way forward so that King can come blasting through with a confident, snarled tenor that suits him well.  Sniper tears up the fret board once again on his solo as The Hammer churns away on a machine-gun styled snare march tempo, before the band backs way off, allowing Spade to set the stage for King to moan and wail for a moment before Sniper rips back into another blistering run.  Awesome stuff to hear!

"This Isn't Goodbye" is more of a mid-tempo rocker, and while not my favorite number here, it is not a bad track.  I'm just not a fan of this tempo.  Think GnR's "Sweet Child of Mine".  A LOT of people love it, but I never did, as it has a tempo that just never resonated with me.  Same with "This Isn't Goodbye".  It just lacks the aggression and punch that the band incorporates into its best material.  A lot of great 80's albums had tracks that fit this sonic style, and it is performed well overall, although again, the backing vocals could use some beefing up here.

"Ringing In My Ear" kicks the pace back up with a high-octane pace that keeps the album from bogging down at this point.  A churchy keyboard intro leads the band into "Baptized By The Radio" which is a decent track, but comes off as a bit bloated at nearly six and a half minutes.  

"Static Renegade" is a nice, fast rocker that opens with...what else...static, as the subject of the song fiddles with a radio dial, trying to find something to listen to, before a roaring guitar comes ripping out of the speaker.  Released as a video by the band, you can get an idea of what 3D In Your Face brings to the table below:

"Show Me How To Love Again" is the album's ballad, and it is executed pretty well.  A piano is the only instrument at the outset of the track, accompanying King's more upper-range vocals through the first verse, before the entire band kicks in to back the chorus and the following verses.  Something about this song sounds familiar, but I'm not certain what it is.  Anyway, it is a nice ballad in the power ballad style of the 80's, and while it's not "Is This Love", "Something To Believe In", or the epicness of "November Rain", it is definitely better than a lot of what passes for balladry these days.

"The Unknown Frequency" closes the record in fine fashion, returning to the driving hard rock that I feel is 3D's strong suit.  Sniper's guitars lead the track in, and the solid backline of Spade and The Hammer (sounds like a hardware store chain...), keeps the song thumping along in a song that, in places, has a "Gypsy Road" feel to the guitar stylings, although it is in no way a rip-off or sound-alike song.

If there's one real complaint here it would be one that the production, especially on the drums, is a bit thin in places.  I'm not sure if it was a microphone set-up issue, or perhaps this is the sound they were going for and I'm just missing the point.  It just feels like the drums could be a bit bigger in spots, especially the toms and the kick.  Also, as I mentioned in a couple of places, the backing vocals could utilize a few extra layers of "oomph" here and there, but these are relatively minor issues, especially when one takes into consideration the fact that this is an independent project likely put together on a relatively small budget.  I am more than willing to bet the best songs here sound even better live, as I have seen 3D In Your Face live on several occasions and, as I mentioned before, they bring a huge sound and show with them in whatever venue they are playing, as well as an energy that compliments their material even further.  

3D In Your Face is not the best band you have ever heard, but they are also not a group of clowns that are out there making fools of themselves with parody songs and running jokes filled with juvenile locker room humor.  Yeah, they are a bit tongue-in-cheek in places, but they have a passion for what they do and it shows in the work they put into both their live show covers and their original material. 

The liner notes come with full lyrics, band photos, thank-you's and writing credits, for those interested in such things...such as myself.

To get a copy of this album, or the equally well-done Midnight Devils, head to the band's website, and check out the band's store.

Rating:  I can't help but crank this record, as I love the effort, the style, and the majority of the songs here.  Crank it to 7, and be sure to track this band down in a live setting!

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

STEVEN TYLER "We're All Somebody From Somewhere"

(c) 2016 Dot Records

  1. My Own Worst Enemy
  2. We're All Somebody From Somewhere
  3. Hold On (Won't let Go)
  4. It Ain't Easy
  5. Love Is Your Name
  6. I Make My Own Sunshine
  7. Gypsy Girl
  8. Somebody New
  9. Only Heaven
  10. The Good, The Bad, The Ugly & Me
  11. Red, White & You
  12. Sweet Louisiana
  13. What Am I Doin' Right?
  14. Janie's Got A Gun
  15. Piece Of My Heart (with the Loving Mary Band)
Steven Tyler--Vocals, Harmonica, Bass, Synth, Tamborine

...and a whole bunch of other folks!  (Seriously, this list would be incredibly long!)

I decided to approach this review in a completely different way.  Instead of telling you everything that this album is, I'm going to instead tell you everything it is NOT.  So, as a primer, the four "NOT's" we are going to cover here are:  

It is NOT an Aerosmith (or ANY band) project.
It is NOT a country record...seriously...
It is NOT horrible...
But is is NOT great, either.

First, it is NOT an Aerosmith (or ANY band) project should be simple enough to understand.  Outside of Tyler, I cannot find a single instance in any of these 15 tracks where another Aero-member made an appearance, a co-writing credit, or was even thanked.  So if you were going into this with some sort of hope for at least a partial Aero-reunion, forget it.  This is a Steven Tyler solo record done in the purist Nashville sense, meaning that there isn't even a cohesive band used on the record.  Instead, what Tyler does is what the vast majority of country artists do, which is assemble a massive collection of studio and session talent to put together the best sounding record possible.  Does it work?  Largely, I'd have to say yes, as the performances here are musically solid...even very is generally the case in the Nashville music scene, as that town is seemingly chock full of top-of-their-game pickers, pluckers, fiddlers, and drummers who have their craft down to an absolute art form.  For that reason, I do think Tyler should get at least a nod of appreciation, because he didn't do the easy thing and just grab a couple guitar players and build a band.  He went for the best and it generally shows through in the performances.  Now, he did pull in some pretty big names for production help, and that's not a bad thing.  Anytime you get Dann Huff to work with you on an album, you have managed to get one of the best, period.  T Bone Burnett helps out on half of the album, with Jaren Johnston from the Cadillac Three and Marti Frederiksen lending assistance on a few tracks as well.  So, while NOT an Aerosmith record, it is also NOT lacking in musicality or top-notch performances. is NOT a country record....seriously.  For those who may not know, I grew up in rural Nebraska where you would hear Hank Williams, Jr., Alabama, Johnny Cash, Chris LeDoux, and Waylon Jennings mixed in with AC/DC, Guns N Roses, Poison, and Ratt, and think nothing of it.  I also spent many years working in country radio, so it is not like I don't know a thing or two about country music.  In fact, while it is definitely not my main go-to musically, I still enjoy several country artists from time to time, mostly older "Outlaws", newer "Red Dirt" artists, and a few neo-traditional artists.  What I don't like at all is what passes for about 90% of Top 40 Country Radio these days; the music that people attempt to pass off as country these days is downright stomach-churning most of the time.  Bro-country, hip-hop-country, pop-country...I can't stand the vast majority of it.  So, with that understanding, what Tyler does here really isn't country.  Sure, it was done with Nashville session artists, and yes, you can hear a lot of country music instrumentation, but the record, as a whole, is not a country record.  Yeah, he gets a bit "bro-ish" on one of the dumbest songs on the album, the lame radio grab, "Red, White & You", and the equally desperate "Sweet Louisiana".  Same with "Love Is Your Name", which, again, just begs late 90's/early 2000's country fans to request it on their favorite radio station.  And the instrumentation of "It Ain't Easy", which features not only pedal steel and fiddle, but also a mandolin, is definitely country-tinged.  But when you are looking at those four songs...and another one or two that come readily to mind, especially "I Make My Own Sunshine"...through the scope of 15 total tracks, you can't truly call this a country record.  Maybe a label more along the lines of an Americana album would be more fitting and appropriate.  Now, country fans aren't going to be offended by anything they hear on this record, by any stretch.  In fact, I think several of them will throw this Tyler record in their disc changer right next to Eric Church (who kicks serious tail, by the way), Turnpike Troubadours (again, ass-kickers...), Little Big Town (who does NOT kick serious tail), and Thomas Rhtett ( thank you...).  And maybe that ownership of Tyler will lead them over to explore more Aerosmith, and maybe some similar artists, which can only be a good thing, right?

Thirdly, it is NOT horrible.  Not at all.  In fact, there are a few songs I really, really like here.  The opening track actually sounds like something that Aerosmith could tackle at any given time, and Tyler's ability to cheekily coin a lyric is in full effect from the get go, as he proclaims, "I could blame Jesus, I could blame Momma, I could blame Brahma for all the bull that's in my head...".  Pure Tyler right there, folks. The chorus part sounds a lot like "I Don't Wanna Miss A Thing" from "Armageddon".  I really, really like the Jeff Beck-inspired "Hold On (Don't Let Go)", which features an excellent blues-soaked harmonica solo (which is oddly enough NOT performed by Tyler), and a great clap-clap-stomp pattern that just hooks you from the get-go and doesn't release you at all.  Of course, everyone knows that "Janie's Got A Gun" is an Aero-tune, but this version is even darker and more desperate sounding in its slower, sparser acoustic presentation here which relies heavily on the vocal prowess of Tyler and far less on the strength of Aerosmith as a band.  I know some purist fans are going to disparage his effort here, but for my money, I actually think I prefer this version.  And, Janis Joplin's "Piece Of My Heart" is given yet another send-up here, with Tyler doing a pretty good job of letting country fans know that the pop-country version Faith Hill released on her debut album 20+ years ago is NOT how this track is supposed to sound.

Finally, this is also NOT a great album, either.  Largely, this is a product of Tyler not being given a chance to really shine in his areas of strength, which are his lyrics and his grasp of bluesy, soulful songs.  The material Tyler works with here just doesn't have that sexy swagger that you expect from something with his name attached to it, and a lot of the lyrics are hokey as opposed to cheeky.  For example, from "It Ain't Easy", we are given this great lyrical drama: "Lookin' for the hand that holds the smokin' gun/It's like tryin' to squeeze a drop of rain out of the sun"?  What the?  Or how about these charged up lyrics from "I Make My Own Sunshine":  Everything is woderful, everything is great/And I'm as free as a bird outside my window pane"?  Sheesh!  And when he isn't being corny, he's being so dang serious!  Fun is definitely something that is lacking in great doses on this record for the most part.  And with the record being bloated with 15 songs, when most of them aren't fun, it makes it hard to get through on repeated listens.    

In the end, if I'm asked to sum up We're All Somebody From Somewhere in one simple paragraph, I would state the following:  

This record, despite being a Steven Tyler solo record, lacks the things that make Steven Tyler who he is, and has always been.  There is no sex, there is little humor, and there is very little in the way of fun.  When mixed into a 15 track album that really only contains 4 or 5 memorable of which is an Aerosmith cover, and another is a tired Janis Joplin cover...not even the sound of Tyler's voice can salvage an album that, for all intents and purposes, lacks anything else that is truly Tyler.  This is a mix-in album at best, and realistically, I'd only mix in about 5 of these songs.

Rating:  Rock this at a relatively disappointing 5.5, knowing that even trimming the fat of the absolute worst tracks here wouldn't bump it past 6, however.                

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

**RETRO REVIEW** TRIUMPH "Surveillance"

(c) 1987 MCA Records

  1. Prologue: Into The Forever
  2. Never Say Never
  3. Headed For Nowhere
  4. All The King's Horses
  5. Carry On The Flame
  6. Let The Light (Shine On Me)
  7. Long Time Gone
  8. Rock You Down
  9. Prelude: The Waking Dream
  10. On And On 
  11. All Over Again
  12. Running In The Night
Rik Emmett--Lead Vocals, Guitars, Synthesizers
Gil Moore--Drums, Percussion, Vocals
Michael Levine--Bass, Keyboards, Synthesizers

Additional Musicians
Steve Morse--Acoustic Guitar on 4, Electric Guitar on 3

Every now and then I like to dig deep into my collection to pull out an artist or album that I feel is shamefully overlooked.  With this review, I cover both aspects, as I think Triumph should receive much more acclaim than they are afforded, and I feel this album is not even recognized by far too many hard rock/classic rock fans.

Despite international chart success, Canada's Triumph was, in my opinion, a criminally overlooked act, as I feel they were one of the best outfits of the 70's and 80's classic rock era.  A hard-rocking power trio, the band was sometimes kiddingly referred to as "the poor man's Rush", a moniker which I have always felt unjust and cruel, as I would take the best of Triumph over 99% of Rush's catalog any day.  Classic rock staples such as "Lay It On The Line", "Hold On", "Fight The Good Fight", and "Magic Power", as well as powerful albums such as Allied Forces and Never Surrender, are still considered to be among the best material to come out of that late 70's/early 80's hard rock scene. 

The mid-80s found Triumph attempting to go in a more pop-oriented direction as they tried to garner more radio airplay to bolster their career after parting ways with RCA Records in 1984 and signing on with MCA Records.

Surveillance is the final album recorded by the band with all three founding members on board, as Emmett would become frustrated with the direction of the band and embark upon a solo career.  As such, bassist Levine actually referred to Surveillance as nothing more than a "contractual obligation" album.  Personally, I think this Surveillance is one of the top three albums the band ever put together and showcases some of the most aggressive, hardest-rocking guitar work from Emmett since the Allied Forces record.  I have no proof, but the record really feels like Emmett decided to make HIS Triumph record with Surveillance, especially following the frustration he has stated he felt with the band's previous album, the spotty, hit-and-miss effort, The Sport Of Kings. 

It's hard to argue with the screaming solo in "Never Say Never", the hard-charging riffage found in "Headed For Nowhere", or the absolutely soaring guitar solo in "Long Time Gone".  Emmett, who I have long felt was among the most underrated guitar greats of his era, really flexes his muscle throughout the record, even on tracks like "Rock You Down", where lyrical cliches and cheese-filled choruses threaten to choke the life out of parts of the record.  Emmett's vocals, as well as his guitar, soar in "On And On", and the Kansas-tinged "Carry On The Flame", with its keyboard/synth flourishes and solid rhythm guitar riffing, is a strong example of the band working together at it's best.

Unfortunately, this album is two tracks too long, in my opinion, as "All Over Again" and "Running In The Night" both are too slow, too AOR for my tastes, although "Running In The Night" does feature a pretty solid...if too short...guitar solo from Emmett.  If these two tracks were carved off, I truly feel that Surveillance may be looked upon by hard rock/classic rock fans as the second best in the full band's nine album catalog (a tenth album, Edge Of Excess, was made with out Emmett in '93), behind only Allied Forces.

To the best of my knowledge, this album has never been reissued, but it is still fairly easy to come by at a good price.  I would strongly encourage fans of the band's best-known material, or fans of classic rock in general, to seek out Surveillance, if only for the chance to hear Emmett's guitar scream to life one final time in the band he helped found more than 40 years ago.

Rating:  Two weaker tracks to end the album...and a lame intro...are all that keep this from hitting 8 on the scale.  Crank this to 7.5!

THADEUS GONZALEZ "Thadeus Gonzalez"

(c) 2016 Independent Release

  1. Diamond High
  2. The Surgeons
  3. A Murder When I Sing
  4. Bite It
  5. Silver Inside
  6. Bat Snake Tiger
  7. It's A Sure Thing
  8. A Real Class Act
  9. Stand On Ceremony
Thadeus Gonzalez--Vocals, Guitar
Scott Reategui Richards--Bass, Guitar

Additional Musicians
Dennis Hill--Guitar, Bass
Nathan Walker--Drums

Even in the hard rock world, Thadeus Gonzalez is not a household name by any stretch of the imagination.  In fact, exactly NONE of my friends had even heard of this singer/guitar player until I introduced them to his album, Utopian Society, a couple of years back.  To be honest, even I lost track of Gonzalez after that album because I had not heard a single new note from him in that time.

Gonzalez remedies that issue with his new, self-titled album, Thadeus Gonzalez.  Self-released and available through his website,, this new album finds Gonzalez in fine form with an album of eight new hard rock numbers and a lone ballad ("Stand On Ceremony"), each crafted with solid rhythm guitars, Dave Grohl-esque vocals (provided by Gonzalez), and a punchy rhythm section that really lays a bedrock foundation for each of these numbers to be built upon.

The album kicks off with "Diamond High", which comes charging out of the gate, bass, and drums all pummeling the listener before Gonzalez crashes in with his angry, snarled-not-screamed vocals.  There is an interesting tempo change near the end of the track, throwing the listener for a bit of a loop, before the pace picks back up and finishes in hard-charging fashion.

"The Surgeons" is one of my favorite songs here, as it really showcases Gonzalez's ability to meld a more melodic rock style with the aggressive-sounding rhythm guitars that his music incorporates throughout the majority of this record.  The chorus is particularly strong as Gonzalez sings about "everybody takes something until there's nothing left inside".  The churning guitars are solid throughout, although I do wish there was a rocking solo thrown into the mix after the second chorus. 

Hand claps and a bouncing bass line intro the next track, which I find to be rather humorous.  Seriously...any singer that dares to title a song of his "A Murder When I Sing" has to be able to plant his tongue firmly in cheek.  Now, obviously, the song isn't about his singing being so bad that people die when he steps to the mic, but c' gotta see the humor here, right?  Again, this is a cool, aggressive hard rocker that is definitely in the upper-half of the material on the record and it is catchy as all get out.  I would imagine live crowds are going to eat this track up!

"Bite It" is an extremely aggressive modern rocker, with some absolute breakneck rhythms and jackhammer drums coursing throughout the angry track that constantly grinds away with buzzsaw rhythm guitars and a rumbling bass, while "Silver Inside" backs off the aggression and tempo just a bit, utilizing more of a classic rock guitar tone, especially at the beginning, to establish the attitude and approach of this song.  

"Bat Snake Tiger" is another favorite of mine here, with its stripped down approach, relying almost exclusively on the drums and bass underneath each of the verses, with the guitars snarling their way in to help fill up the chorus before backing off a bit once the chorus ends, and then completely disappearing again once the next verse starts.  I really, really dig the structure and design of this song and it is with this type of experimental approach that I think Gonzalez shines.  Again, I think a nice, screamer of a solo would add to the overall feel of the song, I still enjoy it for what it is and find myself returning to this song again and again.

"It's A Sure Thing" starts off rather quietly, just a lone guitar and Gonzalez working through the first verse, only to be joined by a bass drum for the second lyrical pass, then allowing the entirety of the band to come crashing in for the chorus and the rest of the track.  Again, not a traditional rock arrangement, especially in the modern rock world, but effective nonetheless.  This track, along with "Bat Snake Tiger", really reminds me of some of the stuff that Bobaflex does so well, which is perhaps why I like them so much. 

"A Real Class Act", co-penned by Gonzalez and Richards, is another nice rocker before the album closes with its lone down-tempo track, "Stand On Ceremony".  Gonzalez says in his press release that this track is "about not following tradition.  Times change, views change; you have to adapt and believe in yourself."  Gonzalez and his guitar stand alone for the first 70 seconds or so before the rest of the band joins in on a track that is structured a lot like the ballads that Foo Fighters have utilized to such great effect.  This is also the one track on the album with an absolutely true guitar solo, and it is pulled off in excellent fashion with a lot of emotion poured into its execution.  Very nicely done and an interesting way to close an otherwise balls-to-the-wall rocker of an album.

The band is very tight throughout the record, with only a change in bass players from the first record.  Nathan Walker of the band Lit again joins Gonzalez on drums, and new bassist/guitar player, Scott Raetegui Richards, really helps to round out the overall sound of the record.  Despite the indie nature of the record, the production is top notch, with Dennis Hill (Hagar/Satriani, Lit, Good Charlotte) producing, as well as contributing some lead guitar and additional bass, as he did on Gonzalez's previous Utopian Society record.

I have a promo copy, so I am not 100% sure of the packaging for this record.  Mine is just a simple cardboard sleeve with the album cover on the front and a skeletal outline of information on the back.  No lyrics are included, but Gonzalez is easy to understand throughout the record, so with a couple of spins through you will likely be singing along, especially to the catchiest tracks here.

Edgy, aggressive, fast (for the most part), and yet still experimental in places, Thadeus Gonzalez will be a nice introduction to the album's namesake for those who may have missed him the first time around.  I doubt the record will get much in the way of airplay, largely due to this indie status with no label backing, but that shouldn't stop fans of modern hard rock from jumping over to the website to snag a copy of this album. 

Rating:  Crank this to a 7, with the lack of lead guitars being the main thing that keeps it from edging a bit higher.  Not earth-shattering, but definitely enjoyable.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

RED "End Of Silence 10th Anniversary Edition"

 (c) 2006 Essential Records

(c) 2016 Essential Records

  1. Intro (End Of Silence)
  2. Breathe Into Me
  3. Let Go
  4. Already Over
  5. Lost
  6. Pieces
  7. Break Me Down
  8. Wasting Time
  9. Gave It All Away
  10. Hide
  11. Already Over Pt, 2
  12. Breathe Into Me (Remix Acoustica) *BONUS*
  13. Already Over (Acoustic Version) *BONUS*
  14. Lost (Acoustic Version) *BONUS*
  15. Hide (Acoustic Version) *BONUS*
  16. If I Break (NEW)
  17. Circles (Working Demo) (NEW)
Michael Barnes--Lead and Backing Vocals, Piano
Anthony Armstrong--Guitar, Backing Vocals
Randy Armstrong--Bass, Backing Vocals, Piano

Additional Musicians
Jason Rauch--Guitars
Andrew Hendrix--Drums
Bernie Herms--String Arrangements
Rob Graves--Programming, Additional Piano
Steve Brewster--Drums on "Pieces"
Various string performances by the Prague Philharmonic, Jim Grosjean, Kris Wilkinson, David Davidson, David Angell, Pam Sixfin, Mary Katherine Van Osdale, Matt Walker, and Anthony Lamarchina

I don't know if this is becoming a trend, or if I am just noticing something that has actually been going on for a while now, but it seems to me we are seeing more album re-releases than ever before.  Now, I'm not talking nostalgia reissues here...I'm talking albums that are only a few years old (ten, in this case), that are reissued with new material and with singles being pushed again.  And perhaps I notice it more than the average person, especially with bands like Red and Jumpsuit Apparatus, for example, as I pay far more attention to the Christian hard rock charts than most people.  Regardless, Red (or their label) has decided to re-release the band's 2006 debut album, End Of Silence in this 10th Anniversary Edition, featuring slightly altered artwork, two completely new tracks, four acoustic versions of previously released songs, and updated insert information.

Without completely re-reviewing the record, let it be stated that it was obvious from the original release of this record that Red had something special going on.  The symphonic rock/metal movement that was in full-swing in the Christian market by 2006, as numerous bands were flirting with adding violins, violas, cellos, and all sorts of string arrangements.  (In all fairness, Christian symphonic thrashers, Believer, were doing this extensively back in 1993 on their Dimensions record...).  But Red was different.  Red didn't just add strings to their music; they built the string sections into the songs themselves, creating truly atmospheric and symphonic rock songs while holding onto their alt metal edge.  With the addition of the extraordinarily powerful vocals of Barnes, Red burst out of the gate doing something that other, more veteran bands were aspiring to add to their sound.  The result was an amazingly popular debut record that features the 2007 and 2009 Christian Rock Songs of the Year in "Breathe Into Me" and "Lost", as well as "Break Me Down", which was nominated for the same award in 2008.  "Already Over", which I feel is the most powerful track on the album, also received significant airplay on both Christian rock and modern rock radio, as did "Let Go", while "Hide/Pieces" was released as an additional split-single, as well.

On this new version, we are treated to two new songs and four acoustic remixes.  "If I Break" is a dark, somber song, featuring a brooding string arrangement and Barnes haunting vocals.  The first third of the song is purely Barnes and various acoustic stringed instruments, but the band punches itself into the equation at about the 1:45 mark, bringing the song to full energy and life, mixing it perfectly into the rest of the original record.  "Circles", meanwhile, was a "working demo" for the original record, and is 7 minutes of orchestral alt metal at its finest.  I am not sure if there were ever supposed to be lyrics and vocals for this song, but I have to say that I love the song in this instrumental version, as the instruments are given a chance to really shine here, especially the solid drum work of Hendrix and some really nice string arrangements.  There is also a particularly strong guitar line that works its way into the track at about the 5:30 mark that charges the track with a new, angry life as it grinds across the surface of the cellos and violas that continue to saw away in the background.  Powerful stuff.

The acoustic remixes are really not overly surprising, but they are very well done, with "Already Over" and "Lost" being essentially the same songs with just vocals and strings as the electric guitars and drums are stripped away.  "Hide" has its arrangement changed a bit to incorporate some really nice acoustic rhythm guitar work, while "Breathe Into Me" showcases some excellent layered backing vocals that are not nearly as obvious in the fully electric version.  If nothing else, these tracks serve to really highlight Barnes' powerful tenor and the intricate work involved under the heavier elements of each song, and I think they are nice additions, if not essential ones.  

Also of note here is the band's decision to change the insert information.  There is a new, very brief biography of the band up to the point of signing their contract prior to the making of End Of Silence, as well as the inclusion of the lyrics for "If I Break", as well as some new writing info for the new tracks.  Most notable, however, is the change in the band's line-up reflected in the Anniversary Edition notes.  For those who may be new to the band, or for who possibly were unaware, Hendrix had left the band before the original release of this album, but he performed all of the drums except for on "Pieces".  Rauch, who wrote the majority of the music on this record, became a non-touring member in 2009, and has subsequently left the band.  (Whether an oversight or intentional, Rauch is not listed as performing ANY of the music on the reissue...)  The album has also been digitally remastered for this anniversary edition.

The packaging for the new version is now a slip-sleeve cardboard tri-fold package, rather than the jewel case offering of the first.  There are no new pictures added to the new layout, although the photo under the tray in the original release is now the face artwork of one of the new package's sleeves.  The color changes exemplified in the various versions of the cover art above are consistent throughout the new packaging.  My guess is this new packaging is simply cheaper.  The CDs themselves also look different, with the new disc a goldish color, as compared to the black and white of the original.  Not really big deals, although we all know I am a firm believer in the jewel case being the superior packaging form.  C'est la vie, I suppose...

So, is it worth it to pick up the new version?  I guess that depends.  Personally, I love the new version, as I think the two new songs are excellent additions that do add something to the original album, and the acoustic renditions are a nice touch, as well.  If you already have the 2006 version, and don't care about acoustic remixes, you can always just download the two new tracks and burn yourself a new copy of the record, I suppose.  If you have the band's other material, but had never gotten around to picking up this excellent record, then by all means you should do yourself a favor and pick up the definitive version of End Of Silence, which would definitely be the 10th Anniversary Edition.

If I had any real complaint, I wish the acoustic versions of the songs would have been placed at the end of the original record, with "Circles" and "If I Break" mixed into the original tracklisting, to help improve flow.  I think "If I Break" would've worked well right before "Already Over, Pt. 2", personally, and I think "Circles" could've fit behind just about any of the hardest songs here, although I know a lot of people don't like instrumentals interrupting the flow of a record.  

Rating:  An 8 in its previous form, I recommend cranking the new version up to 8.5, as I feel "Circles" and "If I Break" really add a significant element to the re-release.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

ONE BAD PIG "Love You To Death"

(c) 2016 Porky's Demise Records

  1. Love You To Death
  2. What Does The Fool Say
  3. The Lust, The Flesh, The Eyes & The Pride of Life
  4. Get Your Hands Dirty (featuring Les Carlsen)
  5. Footwashin'
  6. Sunday Skool Rawk
  7. Teenage Royalty
  8. Heads Will Roll
  9. It's Not Pig Latin (Itsay Otnay)
  10. Judgement Stick
  11. Straitjacket
  12. Ben Moors
  13. Red, White, or Blue (Colour Me)
  14. Tumbleweed
  15. OMG
Carey "Kosher" Womack--Lead Screamer
Paul Q-pek--Guitars, Vocals, Trumpet, Wails, Half an Accordian
Daniel Tucek--Bass, Vocals, Madolin, Other Half of Accordian
Lee Haley--Guitar, Vocals
Paul "PJ Bostic" Roraback--Drums, Percussion, Vocals

Its' been twenty-five LONG years, but seemingly out of nowhere, Christian punk pioneers, One Bad Pig, have returned to the sty with their latest offering, Love You To Death.  Founding members Womack and Q-pek, along with long-time member, Daniel Tucek, have recruited a couple of new swine this time around, with Roraback sitting in on drums for Philip Owens (who was unable to commit to the project for family reasons) and Lee Haley, whose addition gives the band dual guitar players for the first time in its recording history.  Despite the long layoff, the change in musical landscapes, and the independent nature of this Kickstarter-funded project, One Bad Pig has largely managed to recapture the magic of the past 30+ years, and definitely succeeded in recapturing the fun that was such an essential part of the Pig.

The album starts off with the title track, "Love You To Death", and almost immediately there is a noticeable rawness to the band's sound that captures the energy the band brings to their live shows.  There is no slick, polished production to be found here, but the mix is still solid and professional, with production tandem of Roraback and Q-pek tending the album's sound.  Kosher's vocals, punkish as they are, retain essentially the same tone and quality as on previous recordings, and the energy of the band is definitely still present.  It is interesting this time around to hear how the addition of Haley on guitar really adds to the fullness of the songs here, with this quality being obvious from the very opening track.  Starting off with a surf-rock riff, "Love You To Death" quickly (d)evolves into the high octane punk stylings the band is so well known for, especially as Roraback's machine-gun drums and Womack's razor-and-broken glass vocals come snarling across the rumbling bass line laid down by Tucek.  An excellent way to kick things off for me...

"What Does The Fool Say" is one of my favorite tracks on this new album, with it's question-and-response styled format really adding to the overall performance of a song that, lyrically, is an extension of early Pig favorites, "Let's Be Frank" and "Don't Be Fooled".  Interestingly, the gang chorus actually starts off each verse here, asking "What does the fool say?", before Kosher responds with lines such as, "There is no God, I've been left here all alone", or "There is no God, no omnipotent hand".  Instantly catchy and fun, both my 4 year old and my 9 year old have already figured out the timing to jump in on the "What does the fool say?" parts with near perfection.  Just a great, great song that reeks of Pig greatness from the past.

Anyone who knows the Pig knows that covers are one of the things they have always loved to do, and this album features their latest addition to their collection of cover tunes with "The Lust, The Flesh, The Eyes, and the Pride of Life".  Originally performed by another classic Christian punk band, the 77's, the track is given new life and energy by One Bad Pig, with the rawness of the production again really adding to the punch of the track, and the Irish sing-along feel of the chorus adding to the fun, especially with the "hey, hey, hey's" mixed in.

The band shifts into a slightly more metal mode with "Get Your Hands Dirty" which features co-lead vocals from Les Carlsen of Christian metal legends, Bloodgood.  The interplay between Kosher and Carlsen works surprisingly well, as even I couldn't have predicted how these two starkly different vocal styles and tones would mesh.  The chorus is extremely simplistic, with just a simple multi-repeat of the title doing the job, but it is still effective nonetheless.  This song is a prime example of the two guitar approach really adding to the overall power of the song, as there is an excellent solo ripped off here while the rhythm guitars and bass continue to chug along in the background.  Definitely a top 5 song for me here.

"Footwashin'" returns to more purely Pig-styled punk territory, both musically and lyrically.  Perhaps that is because this is as pure as any of the songs here can get in regards to it being a classic Pig song, as the lyrics were handled by Kosher and the music was all Q-pek's.  Its this collaboration that I feel brings out the best in the band, especially when Kosher is able to add his twisted humorous take to the words while still pushing forward the lesson and message of the song.  No one but Kosher can pump out lyrics such as "Big feet, small feet, all feet stink/Feet are the grossest, don't you think?", while still telling the story of Jesus humbling Himself to wash the feet of even the lowliest of people that He encountered.  Prime Pig, to be sure.

"Sunday Skool Rawk" is a string of all the Sunday School/Bible School songs you learned as a child being set to a breakneck punk pace...and briefly, a Spanish cantina-styled interlude, complete with Spanish lyrics and Q-pek on trumpet!  Brings a smile to my face every single time.

"Teenage Royalty" is more fast and furious punk fun, with another classicly catchy chorus, particularly with the gang-shouted, "I'm the king of the World!".  Once again, a purely Pig song from start to finish, with Haley contributing to the lyrics here, which is nice to see.

The album takes a distinctly dark turn with the somber, heavy, and doomy, "Heads Will Roll".  Ripped straight from current events and newspaper headlines, the song deals with the martyring of Christians being beheaded, hung, or burned alive for their faith and beliefs.  Extremely powerful musically, and lyrically honest...even brutal...this track is an ominously beautiful, angrily hopeful song of people willing to die for what they believe in, but dying not as aggressors but as those who love what and Who they believe in.  Very obviously directed at Al Qaeda, ISIS and all those involved in the whole terroristic Islamic movement, "Heads Will Roll" is the one track on this album that really pushes the Pig into new, undiscovered territory...and it does it with great effect.  As dark as it is, "Heads..." is hands-down my favorite track on the record.

The band shifts back into fun-loving territory with "It's Not Pig Latin (Itsay Otnay)", which, while not my favorite track, definitely brings a solid degree of levity back to the proceedings, as does the follow-up, seventeen-second burst of "Judgement Stick".  "Straitjacket" keeps things in impish fun mode, although there is a really cool musical section near the end that again finds the band expanding upon their typical musical styles.

"Ben Moors" is a song that was written for the song title's namesake.  Ben Moors is an Australian gentleman and Pig fan who contributed a large donation to the Kickstarter fund (I believe it was $1000) to have a song written about him.  Its humorous, to be sure, but really doesn't do anything to advance the album lyrically.  A fun little piece, and not a skipper by any means, but don't spend any time looking for much in the way of Biblical lessons in this song that is basically just a fun-loving musical autobiography of this superfan.

"Red. White, or Blue (Colour Me)" returns to the Irish pub-style of punk, which I think the band does extremely well on this album.  Again, a really catchy chorus, and the Pig-perfect partnership of Womack's lyrics and Q-pek's music produces another top five track for me.

"Tumbleweed" is an odd song here...not bad, just odd.  Very chunky, with a discordant sounding lead guitar weaving its way through the background, it is unlike anything I have heard the band try before, and I think it works to a large degree, but other than Kosher's vocals, it really doesn't feel like a Pig song to me.  

"OMG", which stands for "On a Mission from God" closes the album out with a flourish of heavier, more metal-edged guitars, some of the harshest screams from Kosher, and that solid, mid-tempo (for punk, anyway) pace that the Pig pulls off so well.  There is also an excellent guitar solo ripped off before the song's bridge, that is unlike pretty much any solo you have heard from the band in the past as there is a definite nod to the 80's metal scene in its execution.  An excellent way to go out swinging from this classic band.

The packaging is digipack, with full lyrics, thank you's, and Kickstarter credits (yes, I am in there) included in a 12 page booklet, along with some different shots of the band...and Ben Moors.There is also an explanation from the band as to why they have decided to return to the musical scene and about where they stand with their faith in today's world.  There is also a full-color picture of the band on the inside of the digipack sleeve, as well as band line-up information and production credits and another picture under the CD tray.

In so many ways, this album is the perfect bookend for the band's catalog, particularly if you go all the way back to the demo, A Christian Banned.  The evolution of the band from straight street punk to well-versed musicians with an ability to expand upon their repertoire is seemingly complete.  The new musicians slide seamlessly into the mix here, not only occupying space, but also making really nice contributions to the sound and the writing of the record.  Is it the end of the Pig?  As a fan, I certainly hope not, but if it is, I can honestly say that the band has gone out on a high note and that they have exited stage left doing things in a manner only One Bad Pig can seemingly do. Kosher told me in our recent interview, "here's a good rule of thumb when it comes to One Bad Pig: never say never!"

If you loved them in the past, I can't imagine you not loving them now.  And if you are new to the band, this is as good a place to start as anywhere in their catalog.  It is that good, especially for fans of fun, insightful, quirky punk.

Rating:  Pure crankable fun, as only the Pig can deliver!  Crank this up to 9 and enjoy it for what it is!