Saturday, February 16, 2019

FEAR NOT "For The Wounded Heart"

(c) 2019 Roxx Records

  1. Don't Want None (Come Get Some)
  2. Shadows Fade
  3. Carry Me
  4. Love Is Alright
  5. Shipwrecked Hypocrite
Eddie Green--Lead Vocals
Larry Worley--Guitar, Vocals
Chris Howell--Lead Guitar
Rod Romero--Bass
Gary Hansen--Drums

Perhaps the band should be called Believe It Or Not, because that is honestly how I felt when I heard that Christian hard rockers, Fear Not, were returning after 25 years.  And not only is the band back, but all four original members are back, as well!  Worley, Howell, Romero, and Hansen all made a pretty significant splash on the Christian hard rock scene in the early 90s, but like nearly all bands of the time, they were swept away in the alternative/grunge tsunami that would wipe away pretty much the entire hard rock/hair metal scene of the time.  But, a Roxx Records reissue of the band's self-titled debut album apparently sparked a desire for the band to give it another run.

On this new, 5-track EP, the band brings in Eddie Green to handle the lead vocals, with original vocalist, Worley, moving to backing vocals and guitar.  I have been asked why Worley is no longer the lead vocalist, and I do not have an answer to that question...yet.  Perhaps I will get a chance to talk some trash with Larry at some point and get that answer.  For now, however, know that the lead vocals have been left in good hands with Green, who has a deeper, richer tone than Worley typically employed.  But don't think that the band has changed all that much as far as their style and approach, as Fear Not is still, first and foremost, a hard rock band.

The EP kicks off with a big drum intro from Hansen, as "Don't Want None (Come Get Some)" comes crushing out of your speakers!  Edgy guitars from Howell and Worley join the fray, as does Romero's rumbling bass, before the newbie is allowed to utter a sound.  But, when Green breaks his silence, he comes out swinging!  Again, singing in a lower register than Worley used, Green's vocals carry an urgency, an angst, that really powers this track.  The chorus sections are complete with big, gang shouted backing vocals that sound a bit as if an angry mob, rather than a group of musicians, were rioting in the background.  Howell rips through a tasty solo before the final chorus kicks in, and by the time the track wraps, a feeling of "whoa...yeah!" sweeps over me.  This is impressive; what have you been waiting for?!

"Shadows Fade" steps a bit back from some of the modern rock hints that were thrown into "Don' Want None", and sounds a bit more like classic Fear Not, musically.  It is on this track that I finally realize that Green reminds me a lot of the vocal style of Ken Tamplin, both in the range he works in as well as the emotion he packs into his words.  Once again, Howell flashes his guitar talents with an excellent solo, and Green showcases his lung capacity when he holds one particular note coming out of Howell's solo for an extended period of time.  Swirling guitars churn their way throughout the whole song, and again, the drums and bass are huge support structures for this great, great rock tune.

The band slows things a bit for "Carry Me", which hints at being a power ballad, but perhaps with a bit more "power" than "ballad".  Again more in the vein of classic Fear Not, "Carry Me" is a moving song about never having to walk alone when you walk with Christ.  The song, to me, is a rocker's update of the classic Footprints In The Sand poem, and it is executed perfectly.  Green pushes his upper range a bit more here, but more in a rich tenor than in a rafter scraping scream or wail.  Worley's backing vocals are very evident on this track, in particular, and they add a great deal to the feel of the song.  I would imagine this will be released as a single at some point, as it is a song that melodic rock stations, whether terrestrial or Internet-based, will definitely want to add to the mix at some point.  

A bit of aggression returns to Green's vocals on the thumping "Love Is Alright", and he takes on a sound that is close to that of EZ Gomer from Jet Circus, if you understand that early-90s Christian metal reference.  Howell blazes through a killer solo here, complete with all the fret board antics one would expect from an axe slinger of his talent.  But as great as these things are, it is the bottom-heavy groove of the track that gets stuck in your brain on this extremely catchy track that has to be in the live set.  It just has to.

"Shipwrecked Hypocrite" closes out this all-too-short EP (just 20 minutes total) in excellent fashion.  The rhythm guitar line is a bit quirky, which I like, and Green again is offered an opportunity to explore his range a bit in this track about living your life without the guidance of Christ to help you set your course as you navigate the waters of life.  Before closing, Howell cuts loose one final time on a truly impressive solo, and once again the interplay between Green and Worley vocally is a treat to hear.  

I will be honest, I was very leery of another singer fronting this band that I have followed since 1991 when 3/4 of the guys were in LoveLife (minus Chris Howell on guitars).  And while there is a difference to the could there not be?...the addition of Green does not alter who Fear Not is or what they do.  This is an impressive return for a band that has been almost completely inactive for more than 25 years, and I get the impression that this is not a one-and-done deal.  The band has said that they plan to hit the road in 2019, and I wouldn't be surprised if there is more to come from these guys.  Again, I don't know the status of Worley doing any lead vocals on the classic material live, but I would definitely go check them out regardless if Fear Not is anywhere near your neck of the woods.  If what they bring to the table live, and in any future recordings, is anything close to the quality of the material here, it just may turn out that it was worth the wait.  

Top notch production, a thick, bold sound, and spiritual-without-being-preachy lyrics...For The Wounded Heart is a winner in a big way to start 2019!  Due out in March, you can pre-order your copy through Roxx Productions for just ten bucks!

Rating:  Crankable in a big way!  For The Wounded Heart hits 8 on my rock Richter Scale!

Saturday, February 9, 2019

IRON SAVIOR "Kill Or Get Killed"

(c) 2019 AFM Records

  1. Kill Or Get Killed
  2. Roaring Thunder
  3. Eternal Quest
  4. From Dust And Rubble
  5. Sinner or Saint
  6. Stand Up And Fight
  7. Heroes Ascending
  8. Never Stop Fighting
  9. Until We Meet Again
  10. Legends Of Glory
  11. Sin City
Piet Sielck--Lead Vocals, Guitars
Joachim "Piesel" Kustner--Guitars
Jan S. Eckert--Bass
Patrick Klose--Drums

Consistent and relentless.  In my mind, no two words better describe the band Iron Savior and the music that it makes!  While I am not a power metal guy, per se, Iron Savior is a band that I fanatically seek out when I hear of new music being released, because it just resonates with me so strongly.  To my mind, there is no more consistent power metal band out there than these Teutons, with no disrespect intended for bands such as Blind Guardian, Helloween, Primal Fear, or even Sielck's other band, Savage Circus, or any of the other truly great power metal bands of the scene.  But, when you pick up an Iron Savior album, you know exactly what you are in for, and with the release of Kill Or Get Killed, their 11th original studio recording, the band seeks to capitalize on that consistency and remain at the top of the European power metal heap.

To explain the two words I chose to describe the band, let's start with consistent.  The band's lineup remains the same following the excellent Riding On Fire: Re-Forged, a 2-disc release of re-recorded classic material.  As such, drummer Patrick Klose is the the newest member of the band, working on his first original studio album, while Kustner and Eckert have been with band founder, Sielck, since at least 2000.  Once again, it is this consistency in the core of the band's lineup that helps to keep the songwriting and the performances spot-on, with the band always sounding like Iron Savior.  Throughout their 20+ year existence, you cannot pick out a single album from their catalog and say, "that doesn't sound like Iron Savior", because everything they have done sounds like Iron Savior.  A lot of that, of course, has to do with the unmistakable vocals of Sielck, who is once again in top-notch form here, with his melodic snarl soaring over the top of these eleven slabs of molten power metal.  Not the high, wailing, ear-piercing type of vocalist that so many speed/power metal bands routinely employ, Sielck stays more in the lower tenor range, but his vocals burst forth with power and clarity, depth and angst, and the layers of backing vocals employed only serve to bolster his already near-perfect performances.  In fact, for me, the backing vocals the band always employs, are one of the keys that truly separate Iron Savior from so many of its peers.  They are always an absolute match for the aggressive style of power metal the band plays, whether using the higher-pitched, soaring styles used on tracks like "Heroes Ascending", or the angrier, darker, nearly-shouted style utilized on "Stand Up And Fight".  Plus, the guitar combination of Sielck and Kustner...who had the unenviable task of filling the shoes of Kai Hansen back in 2000, is on a level that is nearly unmatched in the metal scene today.  While never mentioned in the same breath as legendary guitar tandems, Sielck and Kustner lay waste to anything standing in their way, with powerful rhythm lines and searing solos, while the rumbling of Eckert's bass melds perfectly with the crushing percussive performances from Klose, who was the perfect find for the band when longtime drummer, Thomas Nack, vacated the kit in 2017.

Relentless is the other word I chose to describe Iron Savior, and Kill Or Get Killed is, like all of the band's releases, relentless in its energy and aggression from start to finish.  Nowhere is this more evident than on the lead single from the album, "Eternal Quest", which comes ripping out of your speakers like a Berserker unleashed!  Kustner leads the attack, his rhythm guitars charging to the front, with Klose following in lockstep behind, his galloping drums driving the pace, as Eckert's bass rumbles forward as well!  Sielck's alternately smooth-then-snarled vocals rally the troops, sounding the battle cry, accompanied by the previously mentioned power backing vocals, delivering a nearly perfect metal anthem.

If the crushing metallic assault of "Eternal Quest" is to your liking, there is nothing here you will not find equally appealing.  The title track features some of the fastest rhythm guitar on the album, along with some seemingly impossible double-time drumming, while "Roaring Thunder" backs that up with a slightly slower (slightly!) tempo, but a darker rhythm guitar tone, with wailing guitar effects backing those up.  "From Dust And Rubble" starts off with some programmed synthesizer elements, before building into something of an 80s-inspired heavy metal song with a big, chant-along chorus that will have fans thrusting their fists in the air in concert.  "Never Stop Believing" has a more melodic metal approach, especially on the guitars, but doesn't lack for power because of the slight style change.  The bass is particularly strong on this track, also, and Sielck counters the smoother guitar with an edgier vocal tack than he takes in some of the other songs here.  It's a nice juxtaposition of sounds and styles and the result is a really, really strong song.  "Sinner Of Saint" has a Judas Priest feel to the guitar line, which is pretty darn cool, and Halford's vocals actually leak into my imagination for a moment, wondering how he would sound on this rocker.  Of course, Sielck has practically nothing in common with the siren that is Halford's voice, but his aggression and edge are the perfect sound for Iron Savior, and this tasty power metal track is a great representation of what Iron Savior does so well.  The guitar solo here is also not to be missed!  The onslaught continues through all ten tracks of the album proper, with album closer, "Legends Of Glory" nearly matching the opening title track in terms of speed and ferocity in the guitars, as well as in the sense of urgency in Sielck's vocals.  

For many, "Heroes Ascending" may be the pinnacle of the record, with its unique rhythm guitar-and-drum patterns, huge, sweeping guitar solo, and massive hook, all backed by a soaring backing vocal section that rips through the sing-along chorus parts!  For me, however, the real diamond here, amongst an album full of gems, is the epic "Until We Meet Again", a huge, nearly 8 minute long track of galloping, mid-tempo pomp and power.   There are some uncredited synth elements here that add to the overall atmosphere of the track, and the soaring vocals that Sielck utilizes on the chorus really speak to his range as a vocalist.  At a little over halfway through the song, there's a softer section, basically the programmed synth elements and Sielck's vocals taking on a whispered, almost spoken-word style, before a massive guitar solo erupts, building in power and intensity, before returning to the main riff of the song and ushering in the final verse and runs through the chorus.  The multiple styles that Sielck utilizes on this track really add to the overall depth, with verse sections that reminds me a lot of the harder-hitting material Pretty Maids has released, while the vocal phrasing on the chorus, reminds me a LOT of Dio, to be honest, especially as the album closes.  Such a great, great song, I really hope this song finds its way into the live set of the band, although its sheer length and scope may make that a difficult task. 

"Sin City", the eleventh track on the album, is a bonus track that was not included with my review copy.  I have been told that it is a cover of the AC/DC song of the same name, which I find a bit odd, as my brain can't really combine the two styles.  I will have to hung down the song to hear it, of course, and I am trying to gain confirmation that it is indeed a cover song.  I will update this review when I have further information.

As is frequently the case with Iron Savior records, Kill Or Be Killed is something of a concept album, although the songs are strong enough to stand on their own.  According to Sielck, the primary songwriter for all Iron Savior releases, the album was inspired by the book, The Star Of Pandora, a sci-fi book about the destruction of human civilization when it is overrun by alien invaders.  With that in mind, "the never give up, never say die" attitude of tracks like "Kill Or Get Killed", "Stand Up And Fight", "Never Stop Fighting", and "Legends Of Glory" are given even more context, although none was really required.

Chock full of metal anthems, Kill Or Get Killed is guaranteed to be a massive player for me in 2019, and is, as of this very moment, one of the two or three best releases of the young year.  More than half of this record will be going into my workout mix (which is more than 25% Iron Savior as it stands!), with numerous tracks likely to make the "best of" lists of longtime fans of the band.  Kill Or Get Killed is a superb metallic reminder of how great music should be made, with a consistent level of excellence demanded of the band, and a relentless drive from that band to always meet that demand!  This is the definition of Iron Savior for me!

Is this the best Iron Savior record the band has made?  Likely not, but then again, there is no such thing as a bad Iron Savior record, so ranking them is rather difficult for me.  I would say this is top five, to be sure, with Condition Red, Titancraft, Dark Assault, and the reissued Megatropolis 2.0 also competing for Top Five slots!  And that excludes great stuff like Battering Ram and The Landing!  So much greatness to be considered.  Quite the problem to have, eh?

Rating:  Metallic excellence!  Crank this to 9!

Friday, February 8, 2019

TORA TORA "Bastards Of Beale"

(c) 2019 Frontiers Records

  1. Sons of Zebedee
  2. Giants Fall
  3. Everbright
  4. Silence The Sirens
  5. Son of a Prodigal Son
  6. Lights Up The River
  7. Let Us Be One
  8. All Good Things
  9. Rose of Jericho
  10. Vertigo
  11. Bastards of Beale
Anthony Corder--Lead and Backing Vocals, Acoustic Guitar
Keith Douglas--Lead, Rhythm, Acoustic Guitars
Patrick Francis--Bass
John Patterson--Drums, Percussion

It's sometimes funny to me how the bands that didn't break big manage to stay together and still get along, while the bands that enjoyed huge success can't seem to stand one another and splinter, fracture, of flat out break up within a couple of albums.  Tora Tora falls into the first category, as all four members of the band continue to perform together 30 years after their A&M Records debut album, Surprise! Attack, which, in my opinion, should have been a much bigger album than it turned out to be.  And even if that album didn't have what it likely took to break big, their follow up, Wild America, should have been massive, as it is an excellent record that I feel is highly underappreciated!  Regardless, the band struggled to find success, and their third album, the once-shelved/long-bootlegged/finally-released Revolution Day was the last we would hear from the band outside of a trio of FnA Records releases of demo material from the first two records.  

That all changes in 2019.

Bastards Of Beale finds the full band reuniting for a brand new album for Frontiers Records.  Due out in late February, this new album brings together everything that fans of the band, or their style, would want out of Tora Tora.  Sounding more cohesive, and with more upbeat tracks, than Revolution Day, the new record sounds like it could have been the logical follow-up to Wild America.  Chock full of Memphis rock-n-blues, Tora Tora pulls no punches on this new record, hitting hard with the rockers and getting soulful on the slower numbers.

The album kicks off with the gritty, nearly sleazy guitar sounds of "Sons Of Zebedee", which finds the band right back in the form they left us in back in 1992.  Corder sounds almost identical to how he sounded on Wild America, with just enough gritty edge added to his otherwise smooth tenor to really drive the bluesy vibe of the track.  The guitar work is solid, and the drums fit the style perfectly, with no extra flash or unnecessary odd timings thrown into the mix.  This is just a straight ahead rocker that fans of Tesla, Tangier, Tattoo Rodeo and the bluesier side of Great White will instantly grab hold of.  But those same fans may not want to get too grabby too quickly, as the best is yet to come!

The next two tracks, "Giants Fall" and "Everbright" both pull in a distinct Zeppelin vibe to the guitars, with a dirty, hard-edged blues sound, and solid rhythm work from both Francis and Patterson.  These are the kinds of songs that Corder's voice was made for, as he seemingly effortlessly delivers a soul-drenched performance on each track.  "Giants Fall" hits hard with that blues rock vibe that Zeppelin did so well, with an undeniably catchy hook, sing-along (wail along?) chorus, and a deep groove that you simply can't get out of once you step into it.  "Everbright" continues that Zep feel, with a sassy swagger that simply isn't found in much music today.

"Silence The Sirens" continues the top-notch blues rock, and it is a sleeper for best track on the album.  The rhythm section here is particularly punchy, especially Francis' bass work, and the sparsity during the first part of the verse sections makes Corder's vocals sound even more haunting than they might otherwise.  When the intensity kicks up, so does the overall feel of the song, and the moaning wail of Douglas' guitar as he exits the chorus sections is spot-on perfect.  Again, an easy-to-sing-along chorus is a big bonus here, and I can envision fists in the air when Corder hits "Silence the sirens!" in a live setting.  The guitar solo here is a big string-bender, also, and there simply isn't anything bad to be said about this song.

A few people may be turned slightly off by "Son Of A Prodigal Son", as there is a definite country nod here, but think more alt-country or Red Dirt country than the slick product that flows out of Nashville these days.  No, Bro Country this is not...classically, Steve Earl ("Copperhead Road") comparisons make sense, or more modernly, a band like American Aquarium ("Burn.Flicker.Die" comes to this band, by the way...) might be a good line to connect dots with.  Bottom heavy, dirty, gritty, with a cool groove and a tinge of Southern twang in Corder's voice make this another instant favorite of mine...maybe even stealing song of the album honors.  As I have mentioned before, I worked for many years in country radio, and when bluesy, swampy country rock is done right, it is an awesome thing to hear, and Tora Tora NAILS it here!     

"Lights Up The River" is the album's big ballad, very much in line with the best the band recorded all those years ago.  If you found yourself hitting repeat on tracks like "Phantom Rider" from the debut, "As Time Goes By" from Wild America, or "Shelter From The Rain" or "Candle And The Stone", two powerful ballads from Revolution Day, then you are going to absolutely love this six minute-long track!  Heartfelt, soulful, bluesy, and stark, the track spends the first minute and a half as an acoustic track before the juice is turned on, and the power of the track hits just that much harder.  In many ways, it reminds me of something like "Song And Emotion" by Tesla, which is one of the more underappreciated tracks in that band's catalog.  Songs like this really make me wish more people would take the time to actually construct songs these days, because when a song is done really well, it doesn't matter the genre (at least to me), it's just a good song.  "Lights Up The River" is one such song.

"Let Us Be One" is a dirty rocker, with a filthy groove to match, and it is the perfect track to ring out of the speakers following something as soulful as "Lights Up The River" was.  Follow that up with the barroom boogie rock of "All Good Things", and this album has already done more work taking the listener from one style to another, without forgetting who the band is musically, than probably 2/3 of the stuff that crosses my desk.  This is what I think Revolution Day was missing to a degree; the up and down, faster then slower moments that found the band exploring various tempos and textures within a given style.  Bastards Of Beale has this quality in spades.

I thought "Rose Of Jericho" would be another ballad, but it is more of a throwback rocker than anything, name-dropping Elvis (well, the "king of Tupelo", anyway), and Tina Turner (albeit as the "queen of Nutbush") across another catchy, bouncy rhythm, with some more solid bass work from Francis, before a scorching solo from Douglas rips through the midsection of this track that also features a rhythm guitar riff that would likely make ZZ Top proud.  Good stuff here.

"Vertigo" is an instrumental number that just rips.  Douglas sounds like he is having a blast on this straight-up hard rocker, that reminds me of some of the stuff that Van Halen was playing around with during the Hagar years.  The drums are excellent, the bass tight and fluid, and Douglas is simply in the zone throughout!  Normally, instrumentals in the middle of an album...well, the annoy me, to be honest...but "Vertigo" was a dose of fun I did not anticipate.

The closing track, which is an odd place to put the title track, is another good rocker, coming as close to the Sunset Strip sound as anything here does, but that is largely due to the guitar solo Douglas chooses to treat the listener to.  Otherwise, this is more of a classic rock-styled track, albeit with Tora Tora's southern sensibilities thrown into the musical mix, as well.  It is a fine closer to an album that I was honestly a bit leery about when I first heard it mentioned.

Twenty-five years is a LONG time to go between albums (1994 is when Revolution Day was originally recorded, never mind when it was released, and I was curious where the band would find themselves.  Thankfully, they found themselves pretty much where they left us.  Unfortunately, you aren't likely to hear anything from this record on any radio...satellite or you're going to have to track the album down  But, once again, Frontiers has found a quality band to resurrect, and I doubt most fans of the band from 30 years ago are going to find anything to complain about here.

Rating:  A step up from Revolution Day, but perhaps still a step behind Wild America, Bastards Of Beale is crankable, nonetheless!  Crank this to 7.5!

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Friday, February 1, 2019

SILVERTUNG "(But, At What Cost??!)

(c) 2019 Thermal Entertainment

  1. Dodging Bullets
  2. Feeling Inhuman
  3. World Gone Mad
  4. Wise Up
  5. Black Sunset
  6. You're Fine
  7. Done My Best
Speed--Lead Vocals, Guitar
Codey--Lead Guitar
Sam Sour--Bass

Baltimore, Maryland isn't exactly a hotbed for the hard rock/metal industry, but Silvertung is doing their best to change that impression.  In fact, they have been doing so for some time now, as (But, At What Cost??!) is the band's fifth release in six years, and they have placed at least three tracks in the Billboard Mainstream Rock chart, with "Face The Music" being the one that sticks out in my mind the most.  They've also garnered stage time with some serious heavyweights of the hard music scene, with opening slots for Godsmack, Anthrax, and Shinedown.  And now, with (But, At What Cost??!), the time may be now for this band to step fully into the spotlight.

This maxi-EP (7 songs is pretty long for an EP, but not really enough for a standard LP) kicks off with the hard rocking, "Dodging Bullets".  An aggressive, modern rocker, with tight, swirling guitars and relentless drums, "Dodging Bullets" is the perfect stage-setter for this band, as it includes everything they are about.  Speed's snarling-yet-oddly-melodic vocals rise above the musical fray on this scorching affair that would be perfect for a WWE or UFC promo song!  It sounds to me like there are some keys, or some sort of electronic programming effects here that are uncredited on the promo release I received, but they merely add to the mix here, rather than detract, and the guitar solo from Codey is a rather impressive chunk of work.

"Feeling Inhuman" continues the aggressive groove, again with some electronic elements mixed into the undercurrent of a track that carries a bit of a nu-metal feel, especially in the down-tuned guitars and the way Speed echoes the song's title in the chorus sections near the end.

"World Gone Mad" is a definite contender for best track on the release, with a chugga-chugga guitar riff punctuating the verse sections, and Speed once again adding an element of melody to his otherwise sneering vocals.  Utilizing an interesting vocal bridge/breakdown section rather than a guitar solo, the song carries a bit of a Rob Zombie feel to it, but not so much as to come across as a rip-off of any sort.  Sour's bass is definitely a presence on this track, as well, and the sing-along chorus is just the hook to complete the package.   

"Wise Up" is probably the angriest of the songs here, and it works well.  I really felt like I had heard this song before, somewhere, but I think it's just the catchy songwriting approach used on the chorus that feels so familiar.  Speed's snarling, barking vocals, especially on the ultra-aggressive chorus, mixed with the discordant guitars that rip through the section between the last two runs through said chorus, really set this song apart from most of the rest of the album.  I have a feeling this may end up in my new workout mix.

For much of the track, "Black Sunset" is rather reminiscent of a big Godsmack arena rocker, and that's a dang fine thing!  Bursting at the seams with metal-tinged angst, "Black Sunset" is a crushing mass of vocal fury, with a big vocal breakdown, with all sorts of angry barking and fist-punching-the-air, "Hey! Hey! Heys!"  I dig this track, no question.

"You're Fine" is another solid rocker, although it is rather repetitive in the lyrics, and it seems the track is over before it ever really got things going.  Normally that would be a frustrating thing, but it gets us to "Done My Best" that much quicker, and that is a good thing.  

The lead single from this release, "Done My Best" has a metallic "swing" feel to it, with some excellent footwork from Danno really helping to set the tone here.  Lots of stop-start guitars in the verse sections, and some nice twin guitar work in the chorus really set this song apart from anything else here, as do the gang-shouted layers on parts of each of the verses. Despite its aggressive vocal delivery, its impossible to miss the big, catchy hook here, and this is a track that I think should see some rapid, upward movement on the Billboard Mainstream Rock chart, as well as on Octane, and open-minded terrestrial radio stations that don't bow down to what the corporate rock gods think people want to hear (do such stations exist?).  I would have loved to hear Codey unleash a blazing solo here, rather than the nu-metallish breakdown that is employed, but this minor deficiency does  nothing to damper my feelings for this song.  Definitely a winner of a track here, and probably my favorite, although both "World Gone Mad" and "Black Sunset" are also big songs for me, as is the blood-pumping crusher, "Wise Up".         

Plenty of heavy riffage can be found throughout the album, and the production from Steven Wright (Slipknot, Mars Volta) brings an edge to the band's sound that should help it to fit right in...without blending into the modern rock landscape of 2018-2019.  Each track here is crisp and tight, without tons of extraneous intro or outro monotony to wade through, with every slap to the face track clocking in at between 2:45 and 3:47.  Of course, if you do the quick math, you also understand that this album...again, I'm calling it a maxi-EP...hits the stopwatch button before half an hour has passed, which is a bit of a bummer, as I was just starting to feel like I was good and warmed up by the time "Done My Best" wraps things up.   

Overall, a really fine effort from the band and one that I hope gives them more than a passing glance from the modern rock community, even if it's just so Speed can buy a jacket with two sleeves (watch the video, you'll get what I mean...).

Rating:  A crankable way to start the new year for these guys!  Give this seven track effort a seven on your dial!

Friday, January 25, 2019

QUIET RIOT "One Night In Milan"

(c) 2019 Frontiers Records

  1. Intro/Run For Cover
  2. Slick Black Cadillac
  3. Mama Weer All Crazee Now
  4. Whatever It Takes
  5. Terrified
  6. Love's A Bitch
  7. Condition Critical
  8. Thunderbird
  9. Party All Night
  10. Freak Flag
  11. Can't Get Enough
  12. Wild & The Young
  13. Let's Get Crazy
  14. Cum On Feel The Noize
  15. Bang Your Head
James Durbin--Vocals
Alex Grossi--Guitars
Chuck Wright--Bass
Frankie Banali--Drums

One Night In Milan, the new live album from Quiet Riot, is the latest in the live series that Frontiers Records has been releasing.  Featuring a classic hard rock/metal act from the 80s, several of these releases have seen the light of day over the past few years, ranging from the excellent (Mr. Big) to the really good (LA Guns and Tyketto) to the pretty good (Dokken and Steelheart) to the decent (Treat).  Yes, other bands have put out live records recently on Frontiers (Asia and Graham Bonnett/Alcatrazz come to mind), but these were not recorded as part of the Milan series.  So where does Quiet Riot stack up with the rest of these recent live efforts?

First off, I have to admit I have a hard time calling this band Quiet Riot now.  Sure, Frankie Banali owns the name and is an original, and yes, I know Chuck Wright has been in and out of the band since the Metal Health days.  But, I honestly can't consider this current line-up anything more than a tribute band with Durbin out front, and even the talents of Grossi on guitars can't really do much to change my mind.  

So, you might be saying, "Okay, Arttie, but is it any good?"  Well, that depends.  I didn't really mind Durbin's vocals on the last studio effort from the band (2017's Road Rage), and I actually kind of liked that record, even though it kind of struggled with an identity crisis, in my opinion.  I thought the guy put forth a strong effort and avoided the trap of trying to sound like the late Kevin DuBrow.  But, I have to say that Durbin's performance here is an unbalanced one.  At times he is great, while at other times he comes across as, well, yowly is really the only word I can think of to cover it.  He yowls.  A lot.  Especially early in the record.  Maybe it was adrenaline, I don't know.  I do know it gets annoying.  He's also off-tune in several spots early, with some of the most notable instances occurring in the band's most well-known songs, such as "Slick Black Cadillac" and Condition Critical".  To be fair, he does sound pretty good on "Wild & The Young" (although I think the band sounds somewhat sloppy here...and the backing vocals are just not there at all) and he's right on with "Mama Weer All Crazee Now"...except when he tries to be-bop along with Grossi's guitars.  A couple of other tracks show that he could be a really effective vocalist for this band, especially on the lesser-known tracks, such as "Whatever It Takes" and "Terrified", where only the hardest of hardcore fans likely know how DuBrow sounded on those songs.  He also does a really good job on "Love's A Bitch", which I was rather surprised by, to be honest...although for most of the songs it sounds like he forgets the "ch" and is just singing "love's a bit".  And, if I want to get REALLY nit-picky, it drives me NUTS when he says "this is from our record, such-and-such", when he wasn't even BORN when a couple of these records were made, and he only sang on ONE album.  I get it, he's part of the band, but the just bugs me.

The crowd doesn't sound particularly into the show, to be honest, regardless of how much Durbin tries to engage them, which he does quite frequently (and he does do a good job of trying to stir up the fans in attendance).  Of course, I don't really know how much the audience was mic'ed up here, but it sounds pretty bad when Durbin tries to get the song to sing along to chorus sections of big songs, like "Mama Weer All Crazee Now" and it sounds like a bar crowd rather than an arena crowd.

The set list is solid, as the band predictably sticks to the most tried-and-true songs here, with only "Freak Flag" and "Can't Get Enough" showing up from Road Rage (tracks 10 and 11), with seven songs being culled from the multi-platinum breakthrough, Metal Health (1, 2, 6, 8, 13, 14, 15), three from 84's Condition Critical (3, 7, 9), and a single song each from QRIII (12), Terrified (5), and Down To The Bone (4).  Wisely, but somewhat unfortunately, the band totally steers clear of material from the Paul Shortino-fronted Quiet Riot, and also ignores later studio efforts Alive And Well, Guilty Pleasures, and the released-the-shelved 10 album, all of which are understandable.    

While it is a live record, there are still several songs here which stand out for me as being pretty well done.  The previously mentioned "Love's A Bitch" is a good example, but, again, it is really frustrating/annoying when Durbin tries to get the crowd to sing along and its just crickets, man.  The bass work from Wright is great here, and Grossi rips through a killer solo, though, so the track is pretty solid, overall.  It's also pretty cool to hear "Thunderbird" played live...incorporating a piano...which Banali tells the crowd has never been done before, and Durbin may be at his best here, to be honest.  (On the downside, there is a two minute long history lesson from Banali as he intros the song "Thunderbird", which, of course, was a tribute from Kevin DuBrow to Randy Rhoads.  He also has the crowd take a moment of silence for Rhoads and DuBrow, before kicking off the song, which sadly isn't too hard to do.)  

Of the two new songs, "Freak Flag" is the strongest of the two, which is also how I felt when I heard them on the Road Rage album.  The backing vocals here...well, they suck...but there is an energy to the song that the crowd seemed to respond to.  "Can't Get Enough" may actually sound better live than it did on the record...well, except the terrible backing vocals...but I still contend it doesn't sound like a Quiet Riot song.  While I totally understand why they were included, if I had been in charge of the band, I would have dropped "Can't Get Enough", if not both, and added in something like "Sign Of The Times" from Condition Critical, or maybe "Rise Or Fall" or "Twilight Hotel" from QRIII, as I think both would have fit nicely.

The band, as would be expected, nails their two biggest hits to close the record, but man, that lack of backing vocals is just so painfully noticeable that I actually wish they would use backing tracks, even if its just layers of the same guys in the band, because these sections are really distracting.  For his part, Durbin sounds more and more like DuBrow, and more and more comfortable, as the record goes on, and I wonder if it is because as his vocals get more fatigued they get a bit raspier and edgier.  Album closer, referred to as "Bang Your Head" rather than as "Metal Health", has a long, bluesy intro, which is pretty cool, honestly, and is one spot where the crowd's attention is obviously grabbed.  While it takes nearly a minute and a half for the song to actually kick in, it's an interesting 80+ seconds.  By this point, it is particularly apparent Durbin's vocals are starting to really tire, and I honestly wondered if he would be able to get through the song the way he sounds on the first few words of the first verse.  He recovers and ends up sounding really good for the majority of this song.

Production-wise, the drums are mixed way too hot in places, particularly the kick drums, which is to be at least somewhat expected given the reputed ego of Mr. Banali.  (Full disclosure, I've never met the guy, and he could be a great dude, which is why I said "reputed ego").  There are also some VERY obvious edits made on this record that were not so noticeable on the previous live records Frontiers put out from this series.  I'm not talking about altered set lists between the CD and DVD, I'm talking about blatant issues with edits being made where the crowd sounds flat out don't match up.  It's sloppy and not something I would expect from a label such as Frontiers, who normally does a really good job with stuff such as this.  I have noticed that a lot of these issues occur as Durbin is introducing songs to the audience, so I wonder if they cut out portions of his stage raps.  I wish Grossi's guitar was a little higher in the mix, especially his rhythm lines which get buried by the drums and bass at times, but generally his solos are pretty easy to make out, overall.

Overall, the band sounds pretty good, if a bit sloppy in places, but something has to be done about those backing vocals, which are just atrocious.  Durbin, as I stated before, is up and down, but he gets better as time goes on.  As a whole, I think One Night In Milan is a decent, if unbalanced live record, at least in terms of overall performance.  There are only a handful of instances where I felt the singer and the band were both on at the same time, but when they were, they sounded close enough to the real thing that I think Kevin DuBrow was smiling somewhere.

Not as good as the 2003 live record, Live In The 21st Century (seek it out, it's worth it!), but not a horrible listen, either.  My feelings about the use of the Quiet Riot name aside, I think this is, overall, a decent representation of where the band is now, and if it leads somebody to become a fan of the band and to seek out the back catalog, I guess it has served it's purpose.

Rating:  Rock-worthy, I give One Night In Milan a 6.

Monday, January 21, 2019

GREAT WHITE "Full Circle"

(c) 2017 Bluez Tone Records

  1. I'm Alright
  2. Movin' On
  3. This Is The Life
  4. Let Me In
  5. Moonshine
  6. Cry Of A Nation
  7. Give It Up
  8. Big Time
  9. Never Let You Down
Terry Ilous--Lead Vocals
Mark Kendall--Guitars
Michael Lardie--Guitars/Keyboards
Audie Desbrow--Drums
Scott Snyder--Bass

As anyone who reads this site with any regularity will likely know, I am a massive Great White fan.  In fact, if I am asked "who's your favorite band, Arttie?", I will automatically answer Great White.  I have been hooked on the band since I was first introduced to them with Shot In The Dark, and I have stuck with them through thick and thin.  But, I also do not hesitate to make it known that I am less than enamored with the split/two-band thing, and I am very unhappy with the way Jack Russell has been basically treated as a second-class citizen by the band that he co-founded.  Regardless, I have continued to buy the music that Mark Kendall's version of the band has put out, while also picking up Jack Russell's Great White's release, and catching that version of the band live whenever I have the opportunity.  So, when Great White, sans Jack Russell, released Full Circle in mid-to-late 2017, I ordered it to keep the collection intact, if nothing else.  Plus, I'll admit, the title of the album had me hopeful that perhaps the band had finally come around to truly grasping who they once were and releasing an album worthy of the Great White name, regardless of the singer.

I have played Full Circle through in one sitting maybe three times since I got it.  Total.  I'll pop it in from time to time with the intention of playing it all the way through, but it is just about impossible for me to do.  Now, it's not because Full Circle is a terrible record.  In fact, it is considerably better than the sleeping pill that is this version of the band's last record, 2012's horribly titled Elation.  No, the problem is, no matter what some reviewers will tell you, this simply does not sound like a Great White record.  There are hints at this being a Great White record, with a lot of that likely due to the fact that Michael Wagener was brought on board to produce the record, which definitely helped the band to achieve a fuller, richer sound than what they had when they recorded Elation for Frontiers Records.  And yes, there are elements of the blues-infused hard rock that Great White did so well back in the day.  But in so many ways, this version of Great White sounds like they have either run out of ideas, or simply don't remember what Great White used to sound like.  

I'll give you two examples, featuring two of the better songs on the record.  The first example is the band running out of ideas.  The song, "Big Time" sounds like it could be a classic Great White song, sure.  Wanna know why?  Because the band pretty much rips off one of their own songs!  The opening to "Big Time" and the opening to "Face The Day" from Shot In The Dark feature almost exactly the same guitar riff with practically the same simple drum line running beneath it (although "Big Time" does add in some kick drum).  Seriously, the first time I played "Big Time", I thought it WAS a re-recording of "Face The Day" until the lyrics hit.  Is this what the band has to do to sound like themselves?  They have to borrow old ideas and cut-and-paste them into songs with different choruses?  No thank you. 

Example number two, this time with the band not remembering what it used to sound like.  Remember when the full band released that excellent tribute to Led Zeppelin?  It's been repackaged a handful of times, but it is frequently referred to as Great Zeppelin.  Ring a bell?  Well, if not, just put track three, "This Is The Life" on, because you will be treated to a rollicking mid-tempo rocker that reeks...REEKS...of Led Zeppelin, including Ilous' wail on the pre-chorus section...but sounds nothing like Great White.  On that record, Great White was trying to sound like Led Zeppelin; it was a tribute record.  But here, the band is just ripping off Zep riffs and yowls (albeit with a less impressive rhythm section) and calling it their own.  And yeah, yeah, I know...Greta Van Fleet and Inglorious and their ilk are making a living off of doing just this same thing, but come on...this is a classic hard rock band that has sold millions of records!  They shouldn't need to play to the current trends in an effort to stay quasi-relevant in today's music scene.

Aside from these two tracks, yes, there are some decent songs.  Album opener, "I'm Alright" is a pretty decent rock number with a really good solo from Kendall.  "Let Me In" is a great blues-rock number, with a soulful solo from Kendall, but you are lying to yourself if you are a Great White fan and you don't say to yourself, "man, Jack woulda KILLED on this song!"  And, it's not that Terry sounds bad...although I'm not a fan of his raspy vocal approach to chunks of this's just that Jack would sound so much better!  The same can definitely be said of the bump-and-grind closer, "Never Let You Down", which finds Terry trying his darndest to imitate Jack's bluesy swagger, but falling hopelessly short.  

Outside of these five tracks, the rest of Full Circle fails to do much for me.  "Moonshine" has it's moments, I guess, but when a horn section is introduced, I pretty much lose interest, as it just sounds forced to me.  And I think I could have liked "Cry Of A Nation" were it not for the rather boring chorus section that totally betrays a cool bass groove and a really smooth solo from Kendall.

You can call me opinionated, biased, jaded, whatever, but to me this is simply not a Great White record.  To me, it is more of a Mark Kendall solo record than a Great White record.  And maybe that is the direction Kendall should be going.  Maybe he should call his version of the band Mark Kendall's Great White, so people aren't confused into thinking that they are going to sound all that much like Great White.  At least when Jack's version put out their album, they were pretty up front in letting people know they were going to experiment with some different styles and elements.  

Look, when you call your album Full Circle, and reviewers are going out of their minds telling you this album would have gone multi-platinum had it come out 30 years ago, fans of a band are going to expect, well, that you have come full circle and have embraced who you were and what you did.  But with Full Circle, Great White seems to have done nothing more than to tread water, neither fully embracing who they were or really attempting to move forward.  

Rating:  Disappointing as a Great White record, but at least it's better than Elation.  Rock this at 5.5.

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Sunday, January 20, 2019

KANE ROBERTS "The New Normal"

(c) 2019 Frontiers Records

  1. King Of The World
  2. Wonderful
  3. Beginning Of The End
  4. Who We Are
  5. Forever Out Of Place
  6. Leave This World Behind
  7. The Lion's Share
  8. Leave Me In The Dark
  9. Above & Beyond
  10. Wrong
Kane Roberts--Lead and Backing Vocals, Guitars
Evan Magness--Guitars
Scot Lang--Keyboards
Ed "Special Ed" Modigliani--Bass
Alex Track--Keys, Drums, Percussion
Christopher Tisi--Drums

Additional Musicians:
Alice Cooper--Vocals on 3
Katt Franich--Vocals on 4
Alyssa White-Gluz--Female & Death Vocals on 3
Nita Strauss--Guitars on 1
Johnny 5--Bass
Kip Winger --Bass, Backing Vocals on 1, 3, 5, 7, 9
Aoyama Hideki--Drums on 3
Ken Mary--Drums on 9
Paul Taylor--Keys on 9

I'm going to go ahead and get this out of the way.  If you are looking for Saints And Sinners Pt. 2, just stop right now, go grab that disc, pop it in, and enjoy the greatness that a lot of people have overlooked or never bothered to listen to.  Saints And Sinners is a truly excellent album of some of the best melodic hard rock to come out of the early 90s, and is an absolute must-own record.  But, The New Normal?  It ain't Saints And Sinners Pt. 2...but it is pretty darn good in its own right, but in different ways.

The album kicks off in a big way with "King Of The World", and right away, it should be obvious this is a darker, edgier, and more modern Kane Roberts.  Sure, a melodic guitar line runs under Roberts' vocals right from the start, accompanied by some keys, but there are also much heavier drums, especially on the chorus, as well as far more aggressive guitars in the same place, along with some electronic elements threaded throughout the track.  By the way, those choruses are enhanced even further by the backing vocals of one Mr. Kip Winger, who actually makes appearances five of the tracks on this record.  Roberts is in great form vocally, and his guitar skills have never been in question (at least by anyone who has ever bothered to listen to his solo stuff or his work with Alice Cooper), but he has darkened his tone lyrically.  Instead of musing "Does anybody really fall in love anymore", Roberts now snarls, "This is my coronation, Thank you for the degradation/And all I need is the one and only, Broke-down, loneliest girl/Then I'll be, Thankless and free, You're all gonna see/The King Of The World!"  The song has a symphonic quality to the way it is constructed, especially in those chorus sections, with the sharp, punchy drums and stop-start dynamics on the guitars as they crash out of the chorus.  Speaking of guitars, Alice Cooper's current axe-slinger, Nita Strauss, makes a guest appearance on this track as well, handling sections of the lead guitars throughout much of the song.  There is an odd vocal interlude before the richly dark guitar solo that screams to life at about 2:40 in the track, just as Roberts painfully howls, "You never fade away!"  Definitely good stuff, to be sure, but not what people are likely thinking of when they think of Kane Roberts.

Of course, the track that is going to make or break the album for many people is going to be the seriously metallic "Beginning Of The End".  Running the gamut from melodic hard rock to...death metal!...this track is a seriously intense musical journey.  Starting off with some edgy, chugging guitar riffing, the vocals are led in by the one and only Alice Cooper for verse one, with Roberts not joining in until the pre-chorus.  Alice keeps the microphone for the first half of verse two, as well, with Kane taking over from there, only to be joined by some soaring female vocals...and some harsh, brutal death metal growls...courtesy of Arch Enemy's Alissa White-Gluz.  Oh!  And did I mention Kip Winger drops by to help on the bass and chorus vocals?!  Some fierce guitars cut a screaming swath through the middle of the track, before Alice snarls "Go find a war!", and the song cuts out with a false ending, with Kane blazing another quick outro solo, just for good measure.  If that isn't enough, Babymetal drummer, Aoyama Hideki, lays into some seriously heavy percussion on this track., with lightning fast fills and a huge double-kick presence.  There was so much going on with just this track, I was nearly exhausted!  Repeated listens ensued after that first listen, and with every listen, I appreciate the overall complexity of the song more and more. has Alice Cooper, so there's that!

And then, for as aggressive as "Beginning Of The End" is, "Who We Are" is equally as laid back, melodic, and experimental.  In many ways, this track is a pop as anything Roberts has put out, to the best of my knowledge, but it works.  Featuring the crystal clear vocals of Katt Franich, whom I have never heard of, this track is the complete counter to "Beginning Of The End", quieter and more contemplative.  A rich acoustic guitar intros the track and runs throughout, joined by some drums and percussion, as Roberts' vocals enter the song and handle the first two verses and chorus sections, before Franich drops in for a vocal bridge section, before Roberts re-enters to take the song out, with the dark closing lines, "I feel like a dead man walking, Maybe its the drugs talking, Should we burn it all away...?"

"Forever Out Of Place" is an excellent follow-up to "Who We Are", retaining a lot of that acoustic-meets modern flair, with an acoustic flamenco guitar kicking the track off, with some looped drums and effects accompanying them on this mid-tempo track.  The chorus plugs in and rocks out just a bit more than the verses, but this track is about the closest The New Normal ever comes to Saints And Sinners, and melodic rock fans should gobble this track up in one swallow, from the big, melodic hook to the way Kip Winger injects his soulful vocals in the background and even on his own for a couple of lines of the chorus the last time through.

"Leave This World Behind" breaks the lull of the previous two tracks, ramping up the power and the speed in a big way, at least as far as the chorus sections go, with huge drums and crunchy guitars.  The verse sections are still rather sparse, with some odd electronic elements warbling across the underside of these sections, but when the chorus hits, it is full steam ahead, with massive use of double-kick drums, big, crunchy guitars, and powerful keyboard fills, leading into a meaty solo run from Roberts coming out of the second chorus section.  The juxtaposition between the softer verses and the much heavier chorus sections is musical ear candy to me, and the brief piano section that drops in for a visit exiting the massive guitar solo, just teases the listener for a moment before another huge, metallic run through the chorus...and then coming to an abrupt, face-into-a-wall stop.  I love it!

A lot of old-school fans are going to be particularly interested in the penultimate track here, as "Above & Beyond" reunites the musicians from Alice Cooper's Raise Your Fist And Yell album, as Kane's vocals and guitars are accompanied by Kip Winger on backing vocals and bass, Paul Taylor (referenced as Paul Horowitz on the Cooper record) on keys, and Ken Mary on drums.  Definitely one of the top two or three tracks on the record...maybe, just maybe the best one of the bunch...there are so many things to like here, from the dark sounds of the opening verse, to the big, arena anthem sound of the chorus, which has a very Winger feel to it, but with some distinctly modern elements and production qualities!  The vocals here are so perfectly matched between Kane and Kip, I really wish the pair...heck, this entire line-up...would get some studio time set aside and record an entire album together!  Heck, even bring Alice in for a guest spot or three!  It would be every bit as awesome as this song is!

The guest appearances, guest co-writes (including Brent Smith from Shinedown and Lizzy Hale from Halestorm, among others), and the all over the place styles that are used on this record make it one of the most interesting hard rock albums I have heard in a long, long time.  There is no moment of absolute settling into a comfort zone here, because just when you think you know what Roberts and friends are going to do next, they zig when you were preparing to zag, and either punch you in the jaw with a crushing metallic slab of rock, such as on "Beginning Of The End" or the quasi-creepy, electronically-imbued album closer, "Wrong" (featuring an uncredited lead vocal turn from Kip Winger), or they shut the power completely off to the guitars (but leave them on for the electronic drums) and plumb the dark depths of Roberts' soul on tracks like the Hale co-write, "The Lion's Share", or the previously mentioned "Who We Are".

If this is truly the "new normal" for Kane Roberts, count me in!  Definitely not a follow up to Saints & Sinners as far as cohesiveness and melodic flow, but there are some absolutely stunning musical moments here, and I'm curious what the guy has up his sleeve for the future.  Hopefully we won't have to wait several years for another solo Kane Roberts record, because The New Normal shows the guy has a lot to get off his chest and out into the open, musically.

Rating:  Absolutely fantastic!  Crank this eye-opener to 8.5!

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Friday, January 18, 2019

STRYPER "God Damn Evil"

(c) 2018 Frontiers Records

  1. Take It To The Cross
  2. Sorry
  3. Lost
  4. God Damn Evil
  5. You Don't Even Know Me
  6. The Valley
  7. Sea Of Thieves
  8. Beautiful
  9. Can't Live Without Your Love
  10. Own Up
  11. The Devil Doesn't Live Here
Michael Sweet--Lead Vocals, Guitars
Oz Fox--Guitars, Backing Vocals
Robert Sweet--"The Visual Timekeeper" Drums

Additional Musicians
John O'Boyle--Bass
Paul McNamara--Keyboards, Moog
Danny Bernini--Percussion
Charles Foley--Backing Vocals
Matt Bachand (Shadows Fall)--Death Growls on "Take It To The Cross"

Yikes!!!  Suddenly, Stryper is swearing at me!  And apparently, they are playing death/thrash metal now, least that's what we are led to believe if we take the entire new album, God Damn Evil, only at face value.  I mean, just check out the chorus on the lead single, "Take It To The Cross" (the first one hits at 2:13)...

There are so many things wrong with this track that I almost gave up on the record after one track!  Okay, not really, as I genuinely love Stryper and have since they first hit the scene with The Yellow And Black Attack clear back in 1984.  I've followed them forever, it seems.  And they have been seriously kicking Satan's head around for the past five or six years since they were revitalized on Frontiers Records with the brilliant melodic metal on No More Hell To Pay and Fallen (and, technically, on Second Coming, which is also on Frontiers).  But this?  Like I said, so many things wrong with this song.  For starters, that 1:19 intro is NOT just on the video; it's also on the record and it is super annoying.  I thought my CD was damaged the first time I popped it in because it took SO LONG to start playing!  Now, once it kicked in, its's pretty decent in the opening musical section, with some aggressive rhythm guitars and kick drums, and a style that is a bit heavier than is typical for the band, but still pretty much recent Stryper, with Michael's melodic voice still very much present.  But then the chorus kicks in and...and...heck, I don't know!  Look, I love thrash metal, which I have made very evident throughout this site and the reviews I've done, but this is just a big swing and a miss from a normally very heavy hitter in the melodic metal line-up (I also love baseball, in case you hadn't figured that out)!  Christian metal fans will likely note that Michael Sweet sounds exceedingly close to Dale Thompson of Bride with his shrieks in the chorus section. (In a bit of historical irony, Thompson was reportedly asked to front a Michael Sweet-less Stryper a couple of decades ago, but that's a story for another time.)  And then, Matt Bachand from the melodic death metal band, Shadowsfall, comes growling out of my speakers at me for no apparent reason.  I'll be honest, this album features one truly unique distinction for me in that it is now, officially, the only album I can think of that has an opening song (not intro, but actual song) that I skip right off the bat.  I just can't do it.  I actually ended up ripping and re-burning the album without "Take It To The Cross" for my car.

It's funny to me that the next track is called "Sorry", because it seems like Stryper is apologizing for the previous track!  And, from this point on, the record is pretty much what you would expect from Stryper:  big, catchy hooks, strong lead vocals, soaring, perfectly harmonized backing vocals, and thunderous drums.  In fact, some of the tracks on this record are among the best the reformed band has released since they came back with Reborn clear back in 2005.  Check out the video for "Sorry" below, and tell me this isn't exactly what you'd expect from Stryper these days...

Michael Sweet is in absolutely stellar form on this record, delivering powerhouse vocal after powerhouse vocal on pretty much every track here.  Heck, he even gives it his all on "Take It To The Cross", for what it's worth.  But to me, nowhere does he sound better than on the previously mentioned "Sorry", and on the big, mid-tempo rocker "The Valley", which features a chorus of a slightly paraphrased 23rd Psalm, "Yea though I walk through The Valley of the Shadow of Death, I Fear No Evil, No Evil...".  Excellent stuff here and a song that I can only hope ends up in the playlists of the band for years to come, as I think it is a truly classic Stryper song!

Three other songs are sure to become instant classics, as well, with the big, melodic sing-along of "Sorry", the barn-burning, near-speed metal of album closer, "The Devil Doesn't Live Here", and the most controversial track the band has recorded since "To Hell With The Devil".  Of course, I am talking about the huge, arena anthem that is the title track, "God Damn Evil", which is apparently so bad that Wal-Mart has refused to carry it.  Okay, whatever.  Michael Sweet laughs it off and explains (as if it needed explained) that it is actually a prayer, of sorts, asking God to damn the evil of this world to hell.  Just like people claimed Stryper was asking you to go to hell with the devil in 1986, they are, at least according to Wal-Mart, pronouncing themselves to be God damn evil musicians.  (For the record, I believe if this was what they were going for, the grammatically correct way to say it would have been to use the past tense form of the verb "damn", which would then be God damned blasphemy intended here in my grammar lesson, as I am both a God-fearing Christian and a teacher.)  All three these tracks feature everything that has made Stryper so great for 30+ years, and definitely everything that has them laying waste to pretty much every other 80s-era glam/hair/metal band that is still pulling on the spandex and strapping on their guitars.  And kudos to the band for bringing the yellow and black back, but in a more modern way, as the imagery is the stuff of my youth and I LOVE seeing the stripes on the guitars and cymbal stands, etc., without having to see the band all bumblebee'd out!

The other real stand-out for me is "You Don't Even Know Me", which has a total 80s throwback vibe, with the guitar riffs and tone, as well as Michael's wailing vocals, sounding like they could have been written and recorded during the To Hell With The Devil sessions.  "Own Up" is pretty decent, also, with a bit more of a modern, bottom-heavy sound, and some slight production effects added to Michael's vocals on the verse sections.

There are a couple of lesser tracks here for me, but by no means do they fall to the level of filler material...they just aren't quite as strong as those first six cuts and the last two.  Oddly, all three fall in consecutive order, with "Sea Of Thieves", "Beautiful", and "Can't Live Without Your Love".  Of the three, "Beautiful" is the best of the batch with some big, thundering drums leading off the track and powering their way throughout the song's entirety.  I can envision this song being the full-band return to the stage after a big drum solo from Robert.  It has some strong chorus vocals, also, but it just doesn't really grab me like most of the rest of the record, although it has grown on me more and more with repeated listens.  Thankfully, we don't have to sit through any saccharine sweet ballads of the "Honestly" ilk, and the slowest thing on this album is "Can't Live Without Your Love", which really doesn't hit ballad level.  It is also one of the few Stryper songs I can recall off the top of my head that speaks directly to humanly love, with no possibly way to interpret the song's subject as being God, as the chorus is pretty blatant:  "Woman, I can't live without your love/Every moment is just what this dream's made of/Can't live without your love".  And you know what?  Good for Stryper!  I get so sick of people thinking that Christian bands, or bands of Christians, or however you want to label them, can't sing about anything but God and Jesus.  These guys are married with kids and families and if they want to sing about Earthly, human love, so be it.

In the end, this record isn't quite up to what Fallen and No More Hell To Pay are for me, but it is Gosh Darn Close (see what I did there?!).  Take away a couple of tracks, however...especially the out-of-left-field opener, "Take It To The Cross"...and everything people have come to love about the Yellow And Black Attack since their rebirth is still there in a big way.

On a side note, new bass player, Perry Richardson (ex-Firehouse) did not play on the record, nor did longtime bassist, Timothy Gaines (or his original replacement, Tracey Ferry, who played on 2009's Murder By Pride).  Bass was handled by a guy by the name of John O'Boyle, who does a heckuva good job carrying on the Stryper sound and style!  It will be interesting to see...and Richardson fits in live, as Gaines' bass and harmony vocals were a part of Styper's live show for so many years.

One final not here.  Michael Sweet produced this record, and I would like to suggest to Frontiers Records that Mr. Sweet produce ALL of their studio records, as he has an amazing sound on the three albums Stryper has released for the label.

Rating:  Just a slight slip from the level of the past two records, but still exceedingly crankable!  Give God Damn Evil an 8!

Friday, January 11, 2019

THE 2018 GLITZnGUTZ AWARDS (aka THE TOP 18 OF 2018)!!!

Yeah, yeah, I know...we're already almost two weeks into 2019 and I'm just now getting the Glitter2Gutter Top 18 of 2018 list up.  Hey, keep in mind, this is a ONE MAN operation here at G2G (hence the name arttieTHE1MANparty), and I was still trying to filter through a few 2018 releases at the last minute before compiling our definitive list.  More than 220 new albums crossed the desk this year, so that is a lot for one guy to go through.  Plus, unlike some lists on some sites, I'm not a genre nazi, and I review everything from modern radio rock to thrash to hair metal...and we take it ALL into consideration here.  Oh, and I got the flu.  But, I powered through, and I can now deliver to you, the adoring reader, the official...


(I watch a lot of The Office...I mean a LOT...and I wanted my own Dundies, so I have created the GLITZnGUTZ AWARDS, which afford the winners absolutely nothing, other than the hardcore street cred that comes with such a prestigious award!)

2018 was another big year for Glitter2Gutter, as far as readership goes!  The top four most read reviews on the site this year actually all jumped into the Top 10 most read reviews in our seven-plus years of reviewing albums!  That's quite a statement, I think.  Again, keep in mind, this is the category for the nerds among us; it is pure, 100% raw data.  It doesn't matter if the album was great or absolutely abysmal, the reviews were read, and that's all that counts here!  The following 18 albums had the most "hits" or unique page reads in 2018, not factoring in re-reads, scroll throughs, or copy-and-past shares on other sites.  So, without further delay, here they are, in reverse order....


18.  Bonfire Temple Of Lies

17.  Biogenesis The Black Widow EP

16.  Odyssey Desperado Don't Miss The Sunset

15.  Arson City Hell Of A Ride

14.  Wicked Garden Already Gone Maxi-Single

13.  Plastic Tears Angels With Attitude

12.  Love Stallion Unforgettable Ride

11.  Necronomicon Unleashed Bastards

9.  JK Northrup/David Cagle That's Gonna Leave A Mark

8.  Devoid Cup Of Tears

7.  Luke Easter The Pop Disaster

6.  Steel City Fortress

5.  Judas Priest Firepower

4.  Razorbats II

3.  Deliverance The Subversive Kind

2.  The Protest Legacy

...and with nearly 2,000 unique reads in 2018 (plus more than 300 in 2017), the GLITZnGUTZ AWARD for most read review of 2018 belongs to....

1.  Silked And Stained Love On The Road  

Not only was Silked And Stained the most read review of 2018, but this Greek band's album now sports the most unique reads EVER!  So congrats on your 2018 GLITZnGUTZ trophy!


Up next, the newbies get a chance to shine, as we take a look at...


This GLITZnGUTZ AWARD (the name is catching on, right?) doesn't need a lot of explanation, as it is simply the best artists who released a debut record in 2018.  Sometimes I got the review materials rather late, and sometimes I got so many new albums in a short period of time that some reviews got put on the back burner.  As a result, some of these reviews are forthcoming, but all made some sort of splash in 2018. we go...

10.  STRAY BULLETS Shut Up  "...there are several things to enjoy on this band's debut album, Shut Up, and multiple songs that I find myself really liking, or absolutely loving, as is the case with "Black Out"..."

9.  ODYSSEY DESPERADO Don't Miss The Sunset  "...Don't Miss The Sunset is definitely an album worth waiting to hear, and I'd rather it not take four years between efforts from this project, especially if they are always going to be of this high quality!'

8.  BEXLEY Lost In The Moment "Musically, the performances on Lost In The Moment range from competent to excellent, with Bexley's guitar skills definitely belying her tender age." 

7.  BAD WOLVES Disobey (Review Pending)

6.  MYLES KENNEDY Year Of The Tiger (Review Pending)

5.  LEDGER Ledger  "Ledger fully comes out from behind the Skillet drum kit here on her debut solo EP.  Its hard not to like what the young drummer has done here." 

4.  FIGHT THE FURY Still Breathing  "Far, far better than I was afraid it might turn out to be, I love this more and more with each spin; I just wish it spun for more than 20 minutes."

3.  STEEL CITY Fortress "Steel City is uber-talented, make no mistake, and they have set the bar for themselves extremely high with Fortress.  If you have not already sought out this record, you need to do so immediately, as you are missing out on an album that will have to be in consideration for album of the year when 2018 wraps up."

2.  ERASERHEAD Eraserhead  "Pure and simple, this is a great record that NEEDS to be cranked! I considered Eraserhead for New Artist of the Year, but felt I couldn't give them the top award since, for all intents and purposes, Eraserhead is an older version of Deliverance under a different name.  Regardless, this is deserving of mention on numerous lists for best album, best artist, best new artist, what have you...the album Eraserhead, and the band, Eraserhead, are simply excellent!"

...and the GLITZnGUTZ AWARD for New Artist Of The Year goes to...

1.  LUKE EASTER The Pop Disaster  "And the winner for most incorrectly titled album of 2018?  No question, The Pop Disaster from Luke Easter has to be RIGHT up there, as there is absolutely nothing disastrous about this effort.  A+ songwriting, a name-dropping backing band, and excellent production surround Easter on his debut solo effort, giving the former metal barker an amazing platform on which to showcase where his musical heart lies."


Next up, a new GLITZnGUTZ AWARD category...most read interview of 2018.  Again, purely a data-driven category, but just who did you want to read Talkin' some Trash the most in the last year?


10.  Justin Murr (Liberty N Justice)  Every week, a few more people seem to click on this interview, and it gets double-digit hits every single month, without fail, despite the fact that it was conducted way back in 2012.  Maybe it's time for an update???

9.  Ron Keel (Keel)  Again, an older interview, but still a very popular one among G2G readers!  With a new album on the horizon, it may be time to touch base with Mr. Keel once again!

8.  Kjetil Wevling (Razorbats)  After the release of the band's II album, people started checking out what the guitarist of this band had to say, in a big way!

7.  Robby Lochner (Jack Russell's Great White)  Following the release of Jack Russell's Great White's debut CD in 2017, interviews with the band's members started gaining popularity again.

6.  JK Northrup (Fiction Syxx. King Kobra)  Another oldie from 2012, but with Fiction Syxx releasing a phenomenal record in 2017...and with a new one on the way...people were checking in with JK on a pretty regular basis in 2018.

5.  Gary Holland (Great White, Britton)  Out of nowhere, the interest in Mr. Holland REALLY spiked at the end of 2018!  Is there anything to that in the Great White world?  I honestly don't know, but people seemed to want to find SOMETHING out...

4.  Jeff Jones (St. Elmo's Fire)  It was awesome getting to talk to Jeff after first meeting him more than 25 years ago while I was on a college radio station in central Nebraska, of all places!  A great interview from an underappreciated talent in the metal world!

3.  Josh Bramlett (The Protest)  The last interview of 2018, it was a fun one right after Thanksgiving that many people jumped on board to check out!  If you missed it, it's well worth the read!

2.  Shad Mae (Devoid)  Following the release of the INCREDIBLE album from Devoid, I got the chance to talk with the band's brainchild, which was a lot of fun!  Here's hoping Devoid round 2 sees the light of day in 2019!

And, the GLITZnGUTZ AWARD for Most Read Interview of 2018 goes to....

1.  Luke Easter (ex-Tourniquet)  2018 was a BIG year for Luke, with the release of his debut solo record, and we gave him a chance to talk about that year!  A great guy with a lot to say, Luke picks up his second GLITZnGUTZ AWARD!  I'm sure he is absolutely thrilled!!!


Up next, we renamed a category this year, changing it from Comeback Of The Year to the newly christened OLD DOGS/NEW TRICKS Award.  This award goes to the band, or solo act, who has been around for at least 25 years and came out with the highest-rated album on G2G for a given year!

2018 saw a LOT of releases from so-called "classic" acts, with several bands from the 1970s even releasing quality new material!  Many of these were late-in-the-year releases, so some reviews have not yet been posted, but all have spent considerable time in my CD player already, and all have received at least a ranking score.  So, for our inaugural year with this award, G2G presents...


18.  RIOT V (formerly Riot) Armor Of Light (Review Pending)  "Not classic era Riot, but still a solid effort from a band that I really had considered pretty much dead following the considerable line-up changes.  Not a single original member remains, although bass player, Don Van Stevern, and guitarist Mike Flyntz, have been on board since the 80s."

17.  ANVIL Pounding The Pavement (Review Pending)  "Anvil Is Anvil may have been the name of their 2016 album, but Pounding The Pavement lives up to that record's name, as well.  If you love Anvil, you will love this record, as...well...Anvil IS Anvil.  There's really no other way to put it."

16.  ACE FREHLEY Spaceman  "This is Ace Frehley doing what Ace Frehley does.  All in all, this is an album that is at least comparable to every solo Frehley album that has been made, and probably my second...maybe third...favorite of his solo catalog.  Again, he was never going to touch the magic of the '78 record, but I feel it is a slight step better than Anomaly, and probably just as good as the surprising Space Invader. "

15.  FIFTH ANGEL The Third Secret (Review Pending) "I tried...I really give The Third Secret every chance to supplant the first two classic records.  And while it is a very good record, there is just something missing from the magic of those first two albums.  Still well-worth picking up."

14.  DEE SNIDER For The Love Of Metal (Review Pending) "God love Dee Snider for staying out there and doing what he loves to do.  And while For The Love Of Metal works on about 3/4 of the album, the couple of misses really miss for me, holding this record back just a bit."

13.  NAZARETH Tattooed On My Brain  "In a year that saw a LOT of 70s hard rock bands reunite for another run with great albums, Nazareth has produced one of the best with a solid collection of new songs, a few of which I am sure will find their way into set lists for the next decade or so.  Not the classic of Hair Of The Dog or Razamanaz, and not as heavy as No Mean City, which are my top three albums in the Nazareth catalog, but Tattooed On My Brain is definitely a quality release that is a fun listen, even after repeated plays."

12.  URIAH HEEP Living The Dream "I would say that this album easily falls into the top third of Uriah Heep's catalog for me, and would be a great starting point for any new fan who may have only experienced the band's classic hits previously.  Long time fans should also seek this one out, as they will surely find themselves hoping at least a couple of tunes from Living The Dream make it into the set list of this still consistently touring band."

11.  SAXON Thunderbolt " I don't hesitate in saying that Thunderbolt is the best Saxon record in a decade, probably going back to 2007's, Inner Sanctum record.  While it is not going to replace Wheels Of Steel or Denim And Leather...or the polarizing-yet-personal favorite, Innocence Is No Excuse...or some of the other classic metal albums that Saxon released in the early 80s, there is no reason long-time fans should turn away from Thunderbolt, like many did from 2011's Call To Arms.  I see no reason to not put Thunderbolt firmly in the top 10 albums of the band's catalog..." 

10.  STEPHEN PEARCY View To A Thrill  " Look, if you were expecting anything else from this record, you have not been paying attention to Pearcy lately.  The man is pretty much out to prove that he and his version of Ratt are the real deal, and the music on View To A Thrill is more Ratt than anything that's been put out in a decade or so.  Sounding very much like it could have slotted in right between Detonator and Infestation, this new effort from Pearcy should be pure ear candy for any Ratt fan.  Another excellent solo record from the Ratt frontman, and even better than last year's really good Smash."

9. ALICE IN CHAINS Ranier Fog (Review Pending) "The Seattle grunge/metal hybrids are never going to top the magic of Facelift or Dirt, as so much of that magic died with Layne Staley.  Still, Ranier Fog does more to recapture some of that magic than anything the band has done since their reboot with DuVall out front, and Jerry Cantrell remains one of the most underrated vocalists and guitar players of his generation.  A moody record that I find myself spinning with great frequency."

8.  IMPELLITTERI Nature Of The Beast (Review Pending)  "It's Rob Rock and Chris can it NOT be great?!  Fast, loud,'s everything you'd want from the band, even if the songwriting is not the absolute best the duo has come up with.  I'll still take it over so much of what bands are putting out now."

7.  MASS When 2 Worlds Collide "I think it is fair to say that When 2 World's Collide is the best album of this band's long career, and that's taking into consideration the greatness that I attribute to Sea Of Black and Crack Of Dawn, which are both excellent records.  An excellent record, with only one minor hiccup for me, which does virtually nothing to dampen the overall greatness of When 2 Worlds Collide." 

6.  STRYPER God Damn Evil  "It's still Stryper, but God Damn Evil takes a small step back from the greatness of the previous two records, Fallen and No More Hell To Pay.  Take away a couple of tracks, however... especially the out-of-left-field opener, "Take It To The Cross"...and everything people have come to love and expect from the Yellow And Black Attack since their rebirth is still there in a big way."

5.  METAL CHURCH Damned If You Do (Review Pending)  "Released VERY late in 2018, this record may have had a shot at being album of the year, had it had more time to grow on me.  Still, it will definitely be a Top 18 record, as it is that great!  Everything you loved about the power/thrash style of the band in the 90s...with a touch of the 80s thrown in...Damned If You Do is only a very slight step behind XIthe scorching effort from 2016.  Heck, they may be dead-even for me..."

4.  NECRONOMICON Unleashed Bastards  "Man, I am fired up, to say the least!  This is probably the best thrash metal record I have listened to since...well, since Testament's Brotherhood Of The Snake or Metal Church's XI...both of which came out over two years ago...or possibly Deliverance's The Subversive Kind!  Fast, furious, fun...Necronomicon have set the bar extremely high for any metal act that follows in 2018, and blasts the last quarter of this year into the first half of next with an absolute sonic feast!  To say I am impressed would be an understatement, and Unleashed Bastards will definitely be in the conversation for album of the year in just a couple of months!"

3.  DELIVERANCE The Subversive Kind "If there are any drawbacks to this album, it would seem to me that clocking in at just 31 minutes is going to be a sticking point for many people.  That being said, let me assuage the angst of some of you by telling you it is a fast, furious, brutal, thrashy 31 minutes that is among some of the heaviest thrash metal I've ever feasted my ears upon in years.  Truth be told...I don't know if I could survive more than 31 minutes in a single sitting!"

2.  BONFIRE Temple Of Lies  "Temple Of Lies pretty much hits on all points and is easily the best classic-styled hard rock album I have heard in the first quarter of 2018!  Sure, I'm always a bit bummed when bands lose their voice, but Stahl is an excellent choice to front the band...adding a new, higher-ranged metallic element to this long-standing band of classic German hard rockers!"

And, the Number One OLD DOG of 2018 is...

1.  JUDAS PRIEST Firepower  "So, is this the best Judas Priest record of all time?  Obviously, people are going to have varying opinions, but since you are reading this, you must want mine.  In my mind, it is definitely the best thing the band has put out in nearly 30 years.  Not a perfect record, which would be extremely difficult on an album that is 14 tracks long, but it is the best true "metal" album I have heard this year, and one of the best of the last 3 or 5 years."

And now, we are left with only one category left...the big kahuna...the grand spectacle that you all came here for...


Honorable Mention:

ALICE IN CHAINS Rainier Fog (Review Pending) "Not exactly the same as their original sound, but there is still more than a little bite in this old dog, and Rainier Fog proves that Alice In Chains is not yet done.  An excellent return to something closer to where they came from."

BAD WOLVES Disobey (Review Pending) "While many will point to the rocked-up cover of the Cranberries' "Zombie" as the shining moment on the record, it is the sheer brutality of songs like "Officer Down", "No Masters", "Better The Devil"...and the brutal honesty of "Remember When"... that truly serve to define who Bad Wolves are.  Still, Bad Wolves will need to lean heavily on their next record to prove they are more than just another Five Finger Death Punch clone, as many have labelled them with Disobey."

BIOGENESIS Black Widow EP "The Biogenesis style is not going to be for everyone, to be sure, but there is no denying their uniqueness in the metal world.  Combining elements of thrash, power metal, symphonic metal, and touches of modern metal all into one swirling, churning, moshing vat of hard music is not an easy task, yet Biogenesis pulls it off keenly!  The resurgence of this band is an exciting one for me, and should be for anyone who considers themselves a fan of metal.  This is good, good stuff, folks."

BLACK STONE CHERRY Family Tree (Review Pending)  "Modern hard blues rock at its best, Black Stone Cherry return with possibly the best album of their career.  "Bad Habit" got the big airplay, but songs like "You Got The Blues" and "Burnin'" are every bit its equal."

IMPELLITTERI Nature Of The Beast (Review Pending)  "Honestly, the pairing of Rock and Impellitteri has never released a bad album, and they aren't about to start now.  Nature Of The Beast is a great album, no question about it."

LITTLE CAESAR Eight "Eight is a very good, hard blues rock record from a band that would likely be just as comfortable on a stage in a honky tonk dive as it would in front of 2500 people in a theater or arena.  In fact, Little Caesar may be more comfortable in that honky tonk, because those people are the type to likely get the gritty, grimy, blue-collared, soulful rock-n-blues the band is delivering on an album like Eight.  If that sounds like your kind of music, then I encourage you to seek this album out, as it is definitely a fun listen, and the best I have heard from Little Caesar in at least 25 years."

LOVE STALLION Unforgettable Ride  "Not an outright 70s classic rock guitar record, nor a mid-to-late-80s hair metal affair, Unforgettable Ride carves out a niche in the smoother, more laid back guitar rock of the 1979-1983 range that was so much a part of my youth.  Hart has an obvious passion and talent for this type of music, as it is extremely well-written and his vocals are spot-on for the style." 

METAL CHURCH Damned If You Do (Review Pending) "Since Howe has returned, the band is obviously rejuvenated and reinvigorated.  Metal Church has not sounded this great (other than with XI) since my personal favorite, The Human Factor, more than two decades ago!"

NECRONOMICON Unleashed Bastards  " If you have any love for thrash at all, forget picking up the last Metallica album you have been hemming and hawing over (and it is a good record, don't get me wrong...), and grab Necronomicon's Unleashed Bastards instead.  If you though Metallica's "Spit Out The Bone" was top-notch thrash, you need to hear "Leave The Lights On"...and that song isn't even the best on this record!"

STEPHEN PEARCY View To A Thrill  "From the album artwork to the thinly-veiled name change of the album title, it is apparent Mr. Pearcy has something of a James Bond fetish going on here...there are also numerous James Bond mentions in the lyrics...but don't worry; Pearcy isn't out to sound like Duran Duran on their soundtrack hit, "View To A Kill".  In fact, this is pretty much exactly what you would expect from Pearcy and his rodent-esque pals (Thorne co-wrote Ratt's monster hit, "Round And Round", and Coogan played with Pearcy in Rat Bastards), which is pretty much shamelessly Ratt-sounding music."

RELENTLESS FLOOD Escape The Fall "I find myself enjoying Escape The Fall quite a bit, but I do hope that the band stretches themselves more on their next effort, trying some new things, alternating speeds and tempos a bit more, and experimenting with their sound, while still remaining heavy and aggressive in their overall approach.  I also hope that it doesn't take four years for that next effort to surface, as Relentless Flood has a lot of talent and promise and deserves to be heard."

SHINEDOWN Attention! Attention!  (Review Pending) "Not the best record the band has ever released, but Brent Smith's emotive vocals and the powerhouse delivery from the band continues to be a force to be reckoned with, even 15 years after exploding on the scene. It's also nice to see the band experimenting with their sound a bit, without sacrificing the formula that works so well for them."

SMASHING PUMPKINS Shiny And Oh So Bright, Vol. 1 (Review Pending)  "Billy Corgan reunites most of the original line-up for one of the most complete albums the band has ever released.  You either love or hate this band, but Shiny... was definitely a surprise return for this band, and fans of Smashing Pumpkins alternative hard rock sound will most definitely find something to love here."

THUNDERPUSSY Thunderpussy (Review Pending)  "I feel dirty just typing the band...and, but Thunderpussy are much more than their name.  These rocker chicks play a scorching brand of 70s power rock that deserves to be heard.  Just make sure your parent's don't see the album cover..."

URIAH HEEP Livin' The Dream "If you had told me that 2018 would see a Uriah Heep record competing to make the G2G end of the year list for best album, I'd have asked you to get to your physician immediately, as a stroke was obviously pending.  Yet, here we are, and here Heep is, delivering their finest record in decades, and doing so without discarding who they are in an effort to become relevant."

And now the Top 18...

18.  CLUTCH Book Of Bad Decisions (Review Pending)  "If you have not picked up the latest effort from Clutch, you would be wise to rush right out and do so...after reading this, of course.  Whether they are tearing through one of several straight-up hard rockers, or tinkering with a horn section, of all things, Clutch remain one of the truly underappreciated hard rock bands today, which is a situation that needs rectified."

17.  LEDGER Ledger  "If you have ever had the chance to see Skillet in concert, there is usually a moment in time when the band's tiny-yet-fierce drummer, Jen Ledger, comes out from behind the kit to allow her to showcase her vocal talents away from the kit that hides her away for so much of the show.  Perhaps taking her cue from those concert moments, Ledger fully comes out from behind the kit here on her debut solo EP."

16.  FIGHT THE FURY Still Breathing  " When you first look at Fight The Fury, you can't look past the fact that the band is half of Skillet, with that band's guitar player, Seth Morrison, joining Cooper here.  To be honest, the band is like 5/8 Skillet, because the other guitar player, John Panzer III actually auditioned for Skillet at one time.  Then, you hear Cooper's voice blaring out from your speakers. But, the similarities really end there, as Fight The Fury is a significantly heavier band than Skillet.  The guitars are more in-your-face than they tend to be on all but the heaviest Skillet songs, and there is a lot more of an aggressive feeling to the rhythm guitars and the drums, which hit particularly hard all throughout the EP."

15.  TREMONTI A Dying Machine  (Review Pending)  "Forget anything you thought you knew about Mark Tremonti based upon his past work with Creed or Alter Bridge.  Tremonti (the band) is a full-on metal machine, whether crushing your eardrums with "Bringer of War", or skirting the edges of thrash metal with the mosh-pit-inducing "The Day When Legions Burned".  True, there are a couple of requisite radio rockers here, but it is the metal involved that will keep the Tremonti machine from dying, despite the album's name."

14.  SLASH feat. MYLES KENNEDY & THE CONSPIRATORS Livin' The Dream (Review Pending)  "A massive Guns N Roses reunion wasn't enough for Slash, as he teamed with Kennedy once again to release the most front-to-back complete record the "group" has recorded.  "Driving Rain" deservedly got the airplay, but check out the far darker "Lost Inside The Girl" or the acoustic "The One You Loved Is Gone" if you want to hear Kennedy's vocals truly match the guitar god's presence on Livin' The Dream."

13. ARSON CITY Hell Of A Ride  " Omaha's Arson City returns with its first release in nearly three years as they follow up the excellent Horror Show record from 2015.  Yes, it is a quick 25 minutes, but it is well worth the investment and one of the truly great releases of the year, label-supported or otherwise!  Every time these guys put something out, the quality increases and the bar for the next release is set even higher.  Hopefully we won't have to wait three more years to see if they can top themselves and this excellent effort!  In my opinion, this is the best truly independent album of 2018, with zero label support of any kind!"

12.  SEVENDUST All I See Is War "Combining the bitter angst of the debut, with the more musical...perhaps even progressive....sound of Animosity, and the flat out heaviness of Alpha, with All I See Is War, Sevendust proves they are still a band that not only demands your attention, they deserve it.  Not their all-time best, but still a really good record despite a couple of misses near the front end."

11.  SAXON Thunderbolt  "2019 will be the 40th anniversary of the release of Saxon's debut album, Saxon, believe it or not.  Long considered one of the true heavy metal bands, and one of the leaders of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal (NWoBHM), the band has no plans on calling it a day, as is evidenced by this, their 22nd studio effort, Thunderbolt.  With founding members Byford and Quinn...and drummer, Glockler (1981-present)...still manning their stations, the Saxon machine rolls on and are in fine form here."

10.  STRYPER God Damn Evil (Review Pending)  "Stryper almost...almost...tinkers with their sound too much, particularly on the throw-away metallic screamer, "Take It To The Cross", which almost had me turning the album off after track one.  Thankfully, "Sorry" (which humorously seems like an apology for the previous track), "God Damn Evil", "The Valley", "Sea Of Thieves", and "The Devil Doesn't Live Here", all serve up enough powerful, harmonious metal to save the day and give Stryper a third consecutive great-to-excellent record."

9.   HALESTORM Vicious (Review Pending)  "Another new record, another way that Lizzy Hale is more ferocious as a vocalist (and guitar player, for that matter), than any dude in your band!  From the blazing "Uncomfortable", to the nasty without being filthy "Do Not Disturb", Vicious was just that...a vicious new slice of metallic-tinged hard rock that seemingly gets better with every spin." 

8.  STEEL CITY Fortress  "Steel City is uber-talented, make no mistake, and they have set the bar for themselves extremely high with Fortress.  If you have not already sought out this record, you need to do so immediately, as you are missing out on an album that will have to be in consideration for album of the year when 2018 wraps up."

7.  DELIVERANCE The Subversive Kind "It is safe to say that this is easily the heaviest and fastest record that Christian thrash metal pioneers, Deliverance, have recorded in twenty years or more...perhaps going all the way back to the debut record, or even the Greetings Of Death demo!  While 2013's excellent return, Hear What I Say! was a mixture of the thrashier parts of Deliverance melded with the more melodic approaches of albums like Learn and Stay Of Execution, this new record makes no bones about what it is, which is full-on thrash.  Referred to by some as Deliverance's Reign In Blood, a direct nod to the Slayer album that many people put at-or-near-the-top of the thrash metal heap as far as sheer ferocity and brutality goes, Deliverance's new record definitely has turned the band back a few chapters to the type of speed and aggression they played with when they first burst upon the scene."

6.  BONFIRE Temple Of Lies  "If you remove Scorpions and Accept from the mix, I would have to say that Bonfire is probably the most consistent, most recognizable German hard rock/metal band remaining from the 80s scene.  This is due, in large part, to Hans Ziller's relentless drive to keep the band moving forward.  Having released their first album under the Bonfire name in 1986 (the original version of the band was called Cacumen), Ziller is the lone original member still in the band, yet somehow the overall sound of Bonfire has remained generally consistent after more than 30 years.
On Temple Of Lies, Ziller has inserted Alexx Stahl as the full-time vocalist.  With Stahl, the vocals now take on a more metallic approach, and while it may seem a stark departure for fans of the band's classic material, the addition of Stahl has breathed new life into the band, in my opinion, and gives Bonfire a place to launch from as they move forward from 2018."

5.  ERASERHEAD Eraserhead   "Eraserhead, for all intents and purposes, is the one-time thrash band, Deliverance, that released a heavy, progressive album entitled Learn in 1993.  Minus only the keyboard player, Eraserhead is Jimmy P. Brown II, Manny Morales, and Jon Knox who were the band on that record, and they have returned 25 years later for this new album.  While the album is filled with amazing musical moments, "Memoria" may be my favorite track, as it is the perfect representation of this album.  Very similar in rhythm and tempo, "Memoria" would have fit perfectly on Deliverance's 1993's Learn album, but in no way does it sound dated here.  Jimmy's vocals are absolutely spot-on here as he powers across the surface of Knox's steady rhythm and Morales' thumping bass.  Mid-tempo and melancholy, this is exactly the type of song I have been seeking from any of Jimmy's projects and albums of the past several years. A progressive metal masterpiece, "Memoria" is well worth skipping to, although you'd be bypassing some excellent music in doing so.  This song never fails to garner a repeat when I am listening, it is that amazing to my ears.

4.  BRAINSTORM Midnight Ghost "If Midnight Ghost is not the absolute best record in a string of really good-to-excellent records from this German powerhouse band, it is absolutely in the top three of their 12 album catalog.  Today, perhaps due to an excitement about new material, I would have to say Midnight Ghost is my new favorite from the band, but only time will tell if that impression remains."

3.  LUKE EASTER The Pop Disaster  " I'll admit to it; I am ALWAYS a bit wary of lead singers that leave their band behind and set off into solo album land.  Turns out, I had no reason to fret here.  Luke Easter more than successfully surgically excises himself from his position as the twenty-plus year frontman for prog/thrash legends, Tourniquet, and seemingly effortlessly transplants himself into a band of friends willing to allow him to explore the music that is more in line with where he has stated his heart lies.  No, there is no metal to be found on The Pop Disaster...and I mean NONE AT ALL...but there is plenty of expertly crafted, hook-laden rock that ranges from the poppier edges to the harder-yet-melodic fringes of the genre."

2.  JUDAS PRIEST Firepower  "Judas Priest and I have two things in common.  We are both 48 years old...and we both still have metal in our veins!  Lest anyone think that the years have robbed Judas Priest of anything, they come roaring back with their 18th studio album, Firepower.  Yes, I know that Judas Priest has released three other albums since Rob Halford's return, and while all three had their moments, not Angel Of Redemption, not Nostradamus, and not Redeemer Of Souls have had the full complement of crushing drums, rumbling bass, screaming twin guitars, and...that voice!  Yes, they had elements of legendary Judas Priest, and yes they each had some great Judas Priest songs.  But for me, you have to go back to 1990's metallic must-have, Painkiller, to find such a perfect mix of speed, power, intensity, and musicianship as is found on Firepower. Priest, my friends!  This is EXCELLENCE!"

1.  GODSMACK When Legends Rise  "From the outset in the lead-up to this album, Erna had made it clear that he was looking to take the band in a new direction, aiming for a more modern hard rock sound than the modern metal the band had previously employed.  Don't take that to mean that the heaviness of the band is gone, because that is not true; there are still plenty of heavy moments on When Legends Rise.  However, the metallic bite is not the main focus of the record now, with melody, song structure, and musicianship at a higher premium than sheer aggression, darkness, and anger.  The opening six songs on this album are probably as good as any six songs I have heard in succession on a record in years.  Not kidding, the first 20 or so minutes here is just about perfection for a hard rock record. Even if the only good songs on this album were the first six, this would be a great effort.  But when all eleven tracks range from really good to excellent, you have a pretty special album on your hands."