Saturday, July 7, 2018

PLASTIC TEARS "Angels With Attitude"

(c) 2018 City Of Lights Records

  1. Dark Passenger
  2. Secret Society
  3. Iris Kick
  4. Midnight Date
  5. Rhythm Rider
  6. Nuclear Nights
  7. Blue Angel
  8. Day By Day
  9. Headless Army
  10. Miss Stumbling Legs
  11. Universal Kid
Miqu December--Vocals
Andy Whitewine--Guitars
Juha Pietilainen--Guitars
Edu Kittunen--Bass
Eco Xtasy--Drums

Plastic Tears is a Finnish band I know absolutely nothing about, but when lead vocalist, Miqu, contacted me about reviewing their third album, Angels With Attitude, I told him I would be happy to give the band a listen.  While not declaring this the album of the year, or anything like that, I must say I was pleasantly surprised by what Plastic Tears offers here.   

Describing themselves as "street rock", Plastic Tears occupies an interesting spot, musically.  Combining elements of 80s New Wave rock with a lot of classic 70s/early 80s glam rock (think Bowie, New York Dolls, Slade, and especially fellow Finns, Hanoi Rocks), dashes of sleaze, hints of Cheap Trick (mostly in the poppier, hookier songwriting style), and some obvious punk influences.  The resultant sound is an up-tempo, gritty rock style that doesn't sound like anyone in particular, but that has the look, sound, and feel of pretty much everyone mentioned in one way or another.

The album starts off with one of the sleaziest tracks on the record with the revved-up 70s-inspired "Dark Passenger".   A thick bass line supports the verse sections of the track, while some sleazed-up, fuzzed-up guitars churn their way through the chorus and a solo section, as Miqu's vocals snarl their way through the track.  It is those vocals, by the way, combined with some interesting syncopation on the drums in places on this track...and others...that bring about the New Wave comparisons that I mentioned in the description above.  For anyone who grew up in the 80s, there are going to be some very obvious moments where Miqu's slightly nasal, slightly emo vocals are going to recall the radio rock style that I am referring to here, although Miqu doesn't particularly echo any one specific singer.  Not everywhere is this the case, but when you hear it, you will know it.  This is even more evident later on with more alternative sounding, maybe even more dramatic sounding, "Day By Day", which is one of the sleeper tracks on the album for me.  It doesn't really fit the style of the majority of the record, but it is definitely a solid song that showcases the band's ability to work in more than one style.  There is still some good guitar work here, but, as an example, the quirky section coming out of the guitar solo is completely different than anything utilized on the rest of the record, with Miqu echoing his snarled vocals with nearly spoken parts over a sparse bass and drum section.  "Nuclear Nights" has that New Wave-inspired feeling, as well, and dang it if I don't find myself bopping along to the rhythm of this song later on as it ends up being snared in my mind!  Interesting, unique, and unexpected, this odd incorporation of multiple styles is what keeps Plastic Tears from sounding like anyone else that has crossed my desk in quite some time, and keeps me interested after multiple spins.

As good as "Day By Day" and "Nuclear Nights" are, for my money, the fun punky rocker, "Iris Kick" is the best track on the album, with a rumbling bass line starting things off and never backing down throughout the entirety of the track, while the guitars rip and tear their way through the bouncy track.  Xtasy's drums add some nice bottom-end thump coming out of the lead solo as Miqu reintroduces the song's simple-yet-singable chorus.  Nearly as catchy and fun is the follow-up rocker, "Midnight Date".  Rather than utilizing a big guitar solo, "Midnight Date" actually uses more of an extended drum fill, giving Xtasy a bit of time to shine.

If "Iris Kick" is the best song on the album, "Miss Stumbling Legs" is a very close second, coming across as a sleazed-up barroom rocker that Faster Pussycat might have found themselves tangling with on their debut effort.  "Headless Army" is another punkish rocker with a catchy hook and an extremely singable chorus that really finds the band firing on all cylinders, as does the amped-up rockabilly of "Blue Angel".  The album closes in similar fashion with yet another sleazy punk number, "Universal Kid", which feels a lot like a song Dogs D'Amour or Quireboys would have played with back in the day.  A solid way to bring an overall fun and surprising album to a close.

The production here is rather raw, with a definite live feeling to much of the music.  Don't mistake that for me saying it sounds "garage" or "demo", because that is not what I am saying.  Gritty and dirty and real are words that better apply, as there are no obvious production tricks played on the listener here, no canned elements or vocal adjustments or layer-upon-layer of guitar tracks to try to make the sound  bigger than it is.  If I have one complaint here it is that the album seems to have been recorded rather quietly, with a definite difference in volume levels between this album and whatever album I have cued up next.  Perhaps this is merely an issue with the digital review version that I am working with.  Otherwise, I like the feel of the record and I imagine that what you hear on Angels With Attitude is very much what you would hear from Plastic Tears in a live setting.

I find it likely that I will be tracking down the older material from Plastic Tears, as I was impressed with what the band has done here.  Again, it's not that this album is Earth-shattering, as much as it is that the band holds tight to their conviction to be themselves here, not wavering in their own unique approach to a well-known style and sound, and not catering to trends.  Plastic Tears is not a band you are likely to hear anybody copying or imitating, and any who try will likely find themselves falling short, as Plastic Tears is Plastic Tears, period.  They are not who you want them to be, but they are very good at being themselves, and in a world of cookie-cutter bands, being yourself is an impressive feat.  I wish more bands would go this route rather than try to follow the wave of what's popular now.

Rating:  Definitely crankable, but an album that will challenge those who are pigeon-holed into one particular style of rock, Angels With Attitude definitely earns its 7.5.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

**RETRO REVIEW** KINGDOM COME "Kingdom Come"

(c) 1988 Polydor

  1. Living Out Of Touch
  2. Pushin' Hard
  3. What Love Can Be 
  4. 17
  5. The Shuffle
  6. Get It On
  7. Now Forever After
  8. Hideaway
  9. Loving You
  10. Shout It Out
Lenny Wolf--Lead Vocals
Danny Stag--Lead Guitars
Rick Steier--Guitars
Johnny B. Frank--Bass
James Kottak--Drums

Man, thirty years.  It is so hard for me to belive that it has been thirty years since this album was released to much critical acclaim...and even more criticism...from the music media and fans, as well.  For those who may have somehow missed this album (as well as the follow-up, In Your Face), the German band Kingdom Come was about as close to a reworking of Led Zeppelin as anyone had heard at the time, so much so that they were frequently referred to as "Kingdom Clone", and lead vocalist, Lenny Wolf occasionally touted as "Zeppy Wolf" in places.  Jimmy Page even went so far as to accuse Kingdom Come of musical larceny, being quoted as saying, "...when you've got things, like Kingdom Come, actually ripping riffs right off...". To be fair, there are definite similarities, no doubt, but its also somewhat unfair...and unfortunate...that the band is most remembered for those similarities, as Kingdom Come is actually an extremely talented band with some great songwriting skills and top-notch musicianship, not to mention Wolf's incredible range and power as a vocalist.

Released during a time when people were seemingly ALWAYS clamoring for a Zeppelin reunion, Kingdom Come was exactly what people wanted, but the band was absolutely lambasted for it.  The band, for their part, tried weakly to distance themselves from the backlash, claiming The Beatles and AC/DC as their actual musical influences, not Zeppelin.  And, to be fair, you can hear AC/DC in this album, but not in the aggressive three-chord rockers that many people think of when they think of the Aussies.  No, the most AC/DC moment on the record would actually be on the darkly bluesy, laid back balladry of "What Love Can Be".  Definitely not a power ballad, this smokey track was featured in a video on MTV's "Headbanger's Ball" and actually managed to garner some fairly significant airplay as a second single from the record, just missing the Top 25 on Billboard's US Mainstream Rock Chart.  Sure, Wolf still has a Plant-like quality to his vocals here, but to me this song has more in common with AC/DC's "Ride On" than it does with Zeppelin.  See what you think.



That song was something of an outlier, however, as most of the the rest of the album has an undeniable-and-delicious Zeppelin style and sound, right from the start (the album closer changes things up a bit, also).  The album's opener and third single, "Living Out Of Touch", came out of the box riffing like Page and thundering like Bonham, with Lenny Wolf howling to the moon like Plant on Zeppelin's best material.  Fans of 70s classic rock would likely get the sense that they had heard this song before because it has such a meaty, catchy riff, but the punchier, beefier production supplied by producer Bob Rock gives the track, and entire record, a bigger sound than Zeppelin ever produced, in my opinion.  When an album starts out this big and this good, I'm always ready for the let down, but thankfully, it never came.

"Pushin' Hard" blasted to life with a big drum intro and a bluesy riff, then backs off a bit to give Wolf room to work his vocals atop a relatively sparse verse section before building back up through the chorus sections.  A really cool guitar solo is incorporated here, changing the pace up a bit as it slips and slides through a bluesy interlude, and Wolf's screams reach rafter range in places, making the album two-for-two from the outset.  

Of course, the song most people remember from this album was the hugely  successful "Get It On", which was about as Zeppelin as it could get.  A big, riffy intro, a bass line that sounds like John Paul Jones may have been playing it himself, and even a drum fill that has Bonham screamed with every thump.  And Wolf, who completely channels his inner-Robert Plant, delivers such a smooth, solemn vocal turn on the verses, and some massively wailing screams on the chorus, makes it immediately clear where the comparisons come from.  The song charted Top 10 on the US Mainstream Rock charts, and Top 70 on the Billboard Hot 100, which helped propel the album to go Gold the day it was released (it has since gone Platinum, with over a million albums sold).  



There are still more great tracks on this album, with my favorite album cut being the killer, underappreciated rocker, "17".  The track kicks off with a big, crashing drum intro, then bleeds into an excellent guitar lead that is part Led Zeppelin, part Pearl Jam (seriously), with the twin guitars creating a fuzzy, grungy swirl that evolves into a Zeppish riff that disappears completely, leaving Wolf and Kottak's drums...and a fat bass line from Frank...to carry the verse.  There is a massive, extended guitar solo that lets Stag really get expressive and soulful in a seemingly unlimited, unrestrained run of awesomeness!  Not to bog you down with video clips, but give this track a listen and see if you don't see where I am coming from with the Pearl Jam (think Ten era) reference.  Perhaps THEY were ripping off the rip-off band (only kidding).


I get that I am a huge early Pearl Jam fan, but seriously, couldn't you hear Eddie Vedder coming out of that guitar riff at the intro just as easily as you hear Wolf?  That's some great stuff right there, folks!

"Loving You" takes things back down to ballad territory.  This song was also released as a single and video, but by the time it was out, people had really started buying into a lot of the media backlash and Kingdom Come was starting to struggle to get airplay with anything but "Get It On".  This song, written by lead guitarist, Danny Stag, has a largely acoustic feel to it, but features an excellent string-bending solo, and the track also really allows Wolf to extend his vocal range and inflections.  Again, I get the Led Zeppelin references, but I have never heard anything from Zep that grabs me like this does.  I apologize for the less-than-stellar quality of this video, but it was the best version I could find of the official video release.



A couple of sleepers hang out at-or-near the end of the record.  "Hideaway" has a dark, wicked vibe that weaves its way throughout the track, and Kottak's drums are just spot on perfect here.  My only "complaint" would be the really long build that leads this track in; I just kept waiting for the dang thing to kick in!  When it finally does, it is a strong track, especially musically.  The lyrics are pretty simplistic and definitely not the best on the record, but the long guitar solo from Stag, and the overall cool feel of the track makes it a nice addition here.

I also really enjoy the album's closer, "Shout It Out", which strays the farthest from the Led Zeppelin sound on this record, and has more of a straight-forward 80s hard rock guitar riff, with Wolf taming his vocals down considerably.  With its placement at the end of the record, it doesn't stick out as being starkly different, but when taken in into consideration with the rest of the album, there is a definite difference in sound and approach, but it works well and, for me, left me so ready for the next album to come!

I remember buying this album when it first came out, and I loved it right from the start.  This is a rather odd thing for me to say, however, as I have never hid from the fact that, as a whole, I don't like Led Zeppelin all that much.  Sure, there are some monstrous songs with huge Page riffs and Bonham's amazing skills and that rumbling from below that was John Paul Jones, but so often, I couldn't wrap my head around the band's more jam-session moments, their weird, moody interludes, and, more-often-than-not, Plant's yowls, which often seemed out of control and relatively out of place with the rest of the song.  As such, a "Best Of Zeppelin" album is more than plenty for me, and I'd probably argue with the inclusion of three or four songs on such a release.  But with the first two albums from Kingdom Come...and in places on the next two or three records...I found what I really enjoyed from Zeppelin without having to wade through the things I didn't care for.  To this day, I own three times as many KC albums as I do LZ (6 to 2, for those counting), and this debut is the main reason why.

If you have never heard this record, either by accident or specifically due to the criticisms leveled at it, do yourself a favor and change that decision and pick this record up.  Even thirty years later, Kingdom Come is an excellent record with so many amazing riffs and hooks that even the couple of filler tracks come off as better than most of the cookie-cutter stuff that was starting to jam the airwaves by late 88 and early 89.

By the way, the band is back out on tour to support the 30th Anniversary of Kingdom Come, the record, and will be playing the record in its entirety when the band is headlining.  Posted dates so far are all in September and October of 2018, so there is time to make your travel plans.  Lenny Wolf is NOT with them (he did grant the band his blessings, he just doesn't apparently want to tour any longer), so I am kind of torn here.  Part of what I love so much about this record (and, really, the first four KC records), is the music, so with Stag, Kottak, Frank, and Steier all on board, I have no doubt the music is going to be amazing.  The fill-in vocalist is Keith St. John, who has worked with Montrose, Burning Rain, and Lynch Mob.  St. John has a strong voice, to be sure, but he has a lower register than Wolf and is not overly comparable to Wolf, at least on material I have hard that he has performed on.  I will be curious how the revamped Kingdom Come 2.0 sounds live, but if given the opportunity, I'm pretty sure I would jump at it.  You can keep up with the band here.

Rating:  Time has been kind to this album, unlike many 80s releases, and it is still as crankable today as it was all those years ago.  Crank this to 8.

Monday, June 25, 2018

VERIDIA "Pretty Lies EP"

(c) 2015 Word

  1. Crazy In A Good Way
  2. Pretty Lies (featurin Matty Mullins)
  3. At The End Of The World
  4. Say A Prayer
  5. Pretty Lies (Valot Remix) (featuring Matty Mullins)
Deena Jakoub--Vocals
Brandon Brown--Guitars
Trevor Hinesley--Guitars
Kyle Levy--Drums

Pretty Lies is the follow-up EP to the band's 2014 debut, and while it picks up pretty much where that first effort left off, it also moves the band forward, if slightly.  Incorporating elements of modern hard rock, electronica, and some orchestral work, Veridia creates a style of hard rock that is both interesting and accessible, powerful and familiar.

The EP starts off with the hardest-hitting, most straight-forward rocker of the material here, in "Crazy In A Good Way".  Strings combine with chugga-chugga guitars right from the start, laying a hard-rocking foundation for Jakoub to build her soaring voice upon.  Smoldering during the verses, dynamic during the choruses, and powerfully emotive during the bridge section, Jakoub's voice is the focal point for finding how Veridia differs from so many other bands out there today, as she seemingly has the ability to do whatever she chooses to do within the constraints of the song.  The  programmed elements of the song are used to enhance, rather than dominate the track, and I would imagine this to be a great way to kick off a concert as Jakoub repeatedly intones that things are going to get "crazy in a good way" on the simple-yet-catchy chorus.

Speaking of simple choruses, the title track, "Pretty Lies", features a chorus that is about as simple as it gets, but it does so in a way that kind of worms into your head and sticks there!  Matty Mullins from Memphis May Fire provides backing vocals here, and his voice blends almost perfectly with Jakoub's on this track, which leans far more heavily on electronic elements than the opener did.  In fact, it is the guitars that are the supporting instrument here, and several of the drum/percussion sounds appear to be electronic as well.  This song did well for the band at radio, so it is hard to argue with it, but I prefer when the band adds a bit more crunch to their sound.  Jakoub sings about the differences between people and the images they often put forward, especially on social media, creating the "pretty lies" that we tell others about who we are.

"At The End Of The World" reminds me a lot of what Skillet has done on their last couple of albums, again mixing in programmed strings with edgy guitars and big drum beats on this mid-tempo rocker.  Actually, I think it would be pretty cool to have had John Cooper from Skillet lend his voice to this track, punching it up just a bit.  There is a pretty cool guitar solo right before the final run through the chorus, which teases the listener with its tastiness, but it is over all too quickly.  Let the guy play!!!  As it is, this is a solid, if unspectacular, song that will serve fans of the band well.

"Say A Prayer", the last new tune on the EP, is the ballad of the effort, and is a strong effort, especially lyrically.  Jakoub sings about the need to pray for those who are hurting, no matter who they are or where they are, and reminding listeners that as bad as things may seem, there is always someone who has it worse and who needs our love and support.  Big, sweeping orchestral elements really bolster the full sound of this track, which again sounds like it is sporting electronic drums and synths while pushing the guitars to the background.  Jakoub's voice is, again, the focal point here, and she gives it her all, easily gliding across the electronic waves of the song.  Her voice and talent are definitely gifts to be reckoned with, and I am anxious to hear what the band comes up with if it chooses to put forth a full-length effort in the near future.

The "Valot Remix" of the title track closes things out, using more electronic effects and less actual musical performance from the band.  The tempo is greatly increased, most noticably on the chorus section, almost to the point that it sounds to me like what happened when, as a child, I would play 33 1/3 rpm records at 45 rpm.  I honestly don't like this remix...at all...but my 10 year old thinks the electronics are pretty cool, so I guess there's a market for it out there.  Matty Mullins is once again featured here, but honestly, he can't be heard at all with the electronic noise going on all over the place.  I just skip this track, personally.

The packaging is ultra-simple, as the CD comes in a cardboard slipcase, with a band photo on the back, along with the track listing, band member names, and some credits.

A couple of years old now, Pretty Lies is still a decent little listen, and fans of Fireflight, Skillet, Icon For Hire, and possibly even Nine Lashes should find something to like here.  Anyone who was already a fan will find nothing about this EP troublesome or off-putting, and the vocals of Jakoub will draw new fans, I'm sure.

Rating:  Extremely short, but executed well, rock this to a 6.5, with a useless remix causing a dent in an EP that clocks in around 17:30 with it, and only 13 or so without.

FOREIGNER "With The 21st Century Symphony Orchestra & Chorus"

(c) 2018 Ear Music/Trigger Productions

  1. Overture
  2. Blue Morning, Blue Day
  3. Cold As Ice
  4. Waiting For A Girl Like You
  5. Say You Will
  6. When It Comes To Love
  7. That Was Yesterday
  8. Feels Like The First Time
  9. Starrider
  10. Double Vision
  11. Fool For You Anyway
  12. Urgent
  13. Juke Box Hero
  14. I Want To Know What Love Is
DVD Tracklisting

  1. Overture
  2. Blue Morning, Blue Day
  3. Cold As Ice
  4. Waiting For A Girl Like You
  5. Head Games
  6. When It Comes To Love
  7. Say You Will
  8. The Flame Still Burns
  9. That Was Yesterday
  10. Juke Box Hero
  11. Starrrider
  12. Double Vision
  13. Fool For You Anyway
  14. Hot Blooded
  15. Urgent
  16. Feels Like The First TIme
  17. I Want To Know What Love Is
Kelly Hansen--Lead Vocals, Percussion
Mick Jones--Lead Guitar, Keys, Backing Vocals
Thom Gimble--Guitars, Saxophone, Flute, Backing Vocals
Jeff Pilson--Bass, Backing Vocals
Muchael Bluestein--Keyboards, Backing Vocals
Bruce Watson--Lead Guitar, Backing Vocals
Chris Frazier--Drums, Percussion

Additional Musicians
Diana Fanai--Backing Vocals, Choir Arrangements
21st Century Symphony Orchestra

Okay, enough of this, already.  This "Live! With Whatever Orchestra Behind Us..." thing needs to stop.  What was a pretty unique idea at one time has become a tired, predictable, obvious money grab for bands that are simply rehashing their classic material and repackaging it for the umpteen-thousdandth time.  And now, one of my all-time favorite bands, and one of the true classic rock legends of the 70s and 80s, Foreigner, has made the leap into the arena of shameless pandering that has been mislabeled as musical artistry.

As poorly executed as I feel Asia's similar attempt was a couple of years ago, Foreigner's effort here may be worse, as for the vast majority of this CD/DVD combo, you basically can't even tell the orchestra is playing...which is pretty darn hard when there are more than 60 members of the choir alone!  The arrangements on most of these songs haven't been altered significantly, so in most cases, this comes off as simply another live album of the standard Foreigner concert setlist, with basically no surprises at all, other than the lack of "Hot Blooded" and "Head Games" from the CD track listing in favor of  "When It Comes To Love" and "Fool For You Anyway", which is a very poor trade-off.

Sure, there are a couple of interesting takes here, most notably "Say You Will", which was modified to incorporate an extended flute solo intro and an acoustic, Flamenco guitar style which actually works pretty well, especially since this is one of the few times you can really hear the backing choir being used to any large degree.  But, what this song also does is really exposes Hansen as merely a good vocalist, and not the powerhouse that Lou Gramm was in the band's heyday.  Hansen has vocal talent, no doubt, but he lacks the soul that Gramm possessed, and on songs such as this, or the symphonically enhanced "Waiting For A Girl Like You"...or especially on "I Want To Know What Love Is", he just lacks that "it factor" that Gramm had in spades.  

The choir is given a couple of chances to shine, most notably on the big intro to "When It Comes To Love", which made me feel like I was walking into an ancient, epic cathedral, and again on "That Was Yesterday", which is one of my favorite Foreigner songs of all time.  Unfortunately, on "That Was Yesterday", the intro drags on and on, and with the addition of the symphony's trumpets and other brass, it sounds like a Chicago song, not a Foreigner classic.  And, again, Hansen's vocals, which have grown huskier over the years, do not hold the power and passion that Gramm's did.  Anyone who says otherwise is lying to themselves, plain and simple.

That really brings me to my final point about this effort.  Foreigner is, sadly, no more than a cover band...a tribute to iteslf...at this point.  Yeah, yeah, Mick Jones owns the band's name and was the founder, blah, blah, blah...but come on.  With only one studio album in the past decade (2009's solid-yet-unspectacular, Can't Slow Down), but seemingly limitless amounts of repackagings, live albums, remasters, acoustic albums, and now a symphonic rendering of classic hits, Foreigner is far more of a cash cow milking machine than KISS could EVER be accused of being.  Seriously.  The band has released exactly nine studio albums (7 with Gramm), but has managed seven live albums (only ONE with Gramm), and more than 15 compilation albums/hits packages.  At what point does humility kick in for Jones?  My guess is never, and the band is once again out on tour and will likely be showing up at a county fair near you very soon.

The tracklisting here is decent, aside from the couple of massive hits on the DVD that didn't make the CD set, and the CD has a lot of crowd fade-ins and fade-outs where songs were obviously moved around.  I honestly don't understand the reasoning for this, as I don't see how it could have made that much difference.  There is very little interaction with the audience here, but the crowd is enthusiastic in their response to several of the performances here, so I guess they enjoyed what they were hearing.  The band's performace is solid, but their stage presence (yes, I actually watched most of the DVD, which is uncommon, but, Foreigner is a favorite of mine...) is pretty stoic for the most part, without a ton of activity.  To be fair, this has largely been standard for the band in live shows for the past decade or more, also, although Hansen usually is a bit more animated live than he was on this DVD set.

To be fair, this Foreigner is musically talented, and several members have been on board for more than a decade now, with Gimble joining on in 1992, and Pilson, Hansen, and Bluestein each joining in 2004, 2005, and 2008, respectively.  But without Gramm (1976-90, 1992-2003), Dennis Elliott (drums 1976-1992), and Rick Wills (bass 1979-1991), this isn't Foreigner.  I have seen the band numerous times, as early as 1984 and as recently as 2016, and there is little comparison.  Sure, the songs are the same, but the feel...the magic...isn't there now, and the band certainly doesn't garner the ticket price that is frequently attached to a Foreigner show these days.  

So, is this newest effort worth picking up?  If you are looking for a live album from this version of Foreigner, I would say stick with 2014's Best Of Foreigner 4...And MoreIf you are looking for live renditions of the BEST version of the band, you would have to go back to 1993's Classic Hits Live (also packaged as Best Of Live).  And if you wanted the best versions of most of these songs, I'd just get 1992's complilation, The Very Best...And Beyond.  But, for me, much like Asia's Symphonia effort from last year, there is little in the inclusion of an orchestra and chorus that makes much difference in the overall sound of most of the material here.  At least with Asia, that live album would, sadly, be the last time the band would record with John Wetton, and 3 of the original 4 members of that band were on board for that band's release.  I guess I just don't see any reason to own Foreigner With The 21st Century Symphony Orchestra & Chorus unless you are an absolute completist who just has to have everything this band...regardless of who is in it...puts out.

Rating:  Musically, not horrible, but not executed to its fullest pontential.  Rock this at a 6, but seriously, there is no reason to spend the money on this set.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

THE PROTEST "Legacy"




(c) 2018 RockFest Records

  1. Valor
  2. What Else You Got
  3. Knockout
  4. Straight From The Barrel
  5. Take My Heart
  6. Noise Revolution
  7. Legacy
  8. Stitched
  9. To The Death
  10. Bad Self/Ascension
Josh Bramlett--Lead Vocals, Guitars
Adam Sadler--Lead Guitar
TJ Colwell--Rhythm Guitar
Jarob Bramlett--Drums


Additional musician:

Matt Arcaini--Bass

Indiana quartet, The Protest, return with their third studio album, and first for RockFest Records, with Legacy.  After achieving a degree of success with their previous album, Great Lengths, which featured several Christian rock radio hits, the guys upped their game noticably on Legacy, incorporating a more melodic approach on several of these tracks that was not present on the previous two albums.  Yes, the music is still hard-hitting modern rock with crunchy guitars and punishing drums, yet there is a melodic quality to the music, and especially the majority of the vocals, which find Josh doing more singing and less screaming than on previous albums by The Protest.

Right from the start, it is obvious to me that The Protest has matured, not only as musicians, but as songwriters.  Some excellent production work has helped bring out a fuller, heavier sound, especially on the bottom end of the drums and the rhythm guitars, as well as some awesome bass work, and the backing vocals are much stronger here than in the past.  All of this is evident even in track one, as "Valor" is a more complete song than even the best material on the band's previous two releases...both of which I really enjoy.  But the focus on cleaner singing from Josh is a huge maturation point for The Protest, and I think it will reap big rewards for this band.

The next track up, "What Else You Got" is an absolute gem of a melodic rocker.  Huge, arena shaking drums intro the track, and support each of the pre-chorus sections, in a BOOM BOOM CRASH style that will have fans stomping and clapping along, without doubt!  The interplay between the lead and backing vocals on the chorus is excellent, Sadler absolutely lays into a tasty, melodic solo, and the simple-yet-catchy chorus all combine to create what I am sure will become the band's signature anthem, and a absolutely screams WWE PPV theme song! Already impacting both mainstream active rock and Christian rock charts, this is a huge song that should propel the band through the summer on rock stations across the country.  Call and request it; you won't regret it.

"Knockout" finds the band reverting a bit back to the style they used on their last album, incorporating a bit more speed and some harsher, more screamed vocals in places, but the songwriting is still more complete than on albums past, and the fullness of the sound can't be overstated here.  Punchy, catchy, and chantable, "Knockout" is another one of the new songs that I am sure will cause quite a stir if given a shot in live settings.

"Straight From The Barrel" features some excellent, edgy guitar work from Sadler and Colwell, with the former dropping in a cool-if-short fret run of a solo, and Jarob Bramlett's drums are absolutely pounding here.  Josh uses both his clean and screamed vocals here, sounding at times very much like the guy who belted "Rebel Static" on the last album, but also mixing in a more restrained, more singing style of vocals.

"Take My Heart" slows things down quite a bit, although it doesn't begin to approach ballad territory, and really showcases that melodic side I have referred to several times.  This is the side of the band that I was always waiting for, to be honest, and is the type of song that I think could make an added impact at radio, as it shows the band is not just a one-trick pony...albeit, an angry, aggressive one-trick pony.  Make no mistake, this song still rocks, but it just does so in a cleaner way than the band has presented in the past.

"Noise Revolution" picks up the pace a bit, but continues to find Josh exploring a more melodic singing style.  Lyrically, parallels could be drawn to "Rebel Static", I suppose, but the songwriting, once again, is more complete here, with a catchy groove running throughout the track, Jarob's drum line keeping the track driving along, with layers of guitars and vocals adding a depth that wasn't often found on previous efforts.  To me, this sounds a lot like the band's personal version of Skillet's "Sick Of It", in it's style and approach and groove.  Excellent stuff, to be sure.

The title track, "Legacy", is pure, adrenaline-fueled metalcore at its finest, and I find myself literally skipping back to this track over and over and over again.  The sheer aggression in this track is something that I have not gotten from a band in quite some time, and "Legacy" has to be a contender for song of the year at this point.  I have listened to this track alone no fewer than thirty times in the short time I have had this album, and it has yet to fail to deliver for me.  The combination of Josh's harshest screams, his brother's massive drum sound, the guest bass rumblings from Arcaini (who also produced the record), and the twin guitar attack of Sadler and Colwell absolutely crushes this song that instantly found its way into my workout mix.  For fans of the band, think "Vicious Cycle" on steroids...including the 'roid rage!  Wow...just absolute perfection if you are into this style of music!

"Stitched" hits almost as hard as "Legacy", but not with as much speed and cleaner vocals, for the most part. Josh dials the angst down a notch here, returning to more of a singing voice, but the intensity of the band continues. The down-tuned guitars swirl and churn, and Jarob's drums are so lively and punchy that you can actually feel the pedal hit every time he kicks.  A core-ish breakdown blasts the listener through into the final chorus, and with back-to-back heavy-hitters, the listener is left nearly breathless.    That's unfortunate, as "To The Death" ramps things up even further, with Josh returning to a screamed vocal style for the verses, while sing-shouting his way through the chorus sections and the bridge.  Again, a punishing breakdown section will have a mosh pit stirring up instantly before an almost sweet-sounding vocal leads the band into the final chorus which blisters its way through to a dead-end stop.

The album's closer is another excellent rocker, combining the band's newer, more melodic approach, with the style and sound of their last album.  Again, Jarob threatens to steal the show with his huge drum sounds, while his brother keeps things largely on the clean side, vocally, ith the only exception being some distorted, almost spoken-word sections leading immediately into the choruses.  The song is rather unique, really coming across as two different songs combined into one, with the "Bad Self" section being a modern hard rocker, while the "Ascension" section is a beautiful, yet still heavy, instrumental section that really showcases the musicians' skills, especially on guitar.  I think this is a key point for the band, as many listeners, especially those who sample the album and hear only the crushing breakdown sections, may be of the opinion that Sadler is incapable of a big soaring guitar solo.  The "Ascension" section of this track should lay those misguided beliefs to rest.

Never a band that openly beats the listener over the head with chapter and verse Scripture, The Protest still manages to make their faith very well known throughout the record, with Josh screaming to the listener about the "King of Kings" in the title track, and with a sense of positivity laced throughout each of these songs.  I am anxious to get my hands on a copy of the lyrics for these songs so I can dive even further into the meanings of everything here.

While I thought Great Lengths was a solid album with several really good songs, Legacy pretty much blows its doors off in ever possible way.  If this album doesn't break huge for The Protest, there is simply no justice in the music world now, as this is one excellent record from start to finish.  Granted, this style of modern rock is not for everyone, but for those who like it hard, heavy, fast, loud, aggressive, and with a semblance of melody mixed in, Legacy may be exactly what you are looking for!

Rating:  Incredibly crankable!  Twist this all the way up to 9 and LEAVE IT THERE!!!

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Monday, June 11, 2018

RELENTLESS FLOOD "Escape The Fall"

(c) 2018 Relentless Flood

  1. Away From Me
  2. Breaking Out
  3. 'Til The End
  4. Take it All
  5. Standing Tall
  6. Used To Be
  7. Wake Me
  8. Bullets
  9. Escape The Fall
  10. Set Me Free
Marshal Huffman--Vocals, Guitars
Bret Rogers--Guitars, Bass
Dylan McLain--Drums

Additional Musicians
Jake Jones--Programming

Four years has passed since Relentless Flood's last album, The Time Is Now, which proved to be something of a breakout effort for the melodic modern rockers.  Since that time, the band launched an Indigogo campaign to fund a new album, resulting in this latest effort, Escape The Fall.  A few things have changed with the band since The Time Is Now, with the chief difference being that the Huffman father/son combination has been reduced to just the son portion, as dad, Dale, has taken on a supporting role, co-writing most of the songs on the album, and Bret Rodgers has stepped up to assist on guitars, as well as bass.  Marshal has stepped out from behind the drum kit and has also picked up a guitar, adding that to his frontman repertoire, and Dylan McLain has been brought in to pound the skins.  Add in the fact that Jake Jones of As We Ascend appears through his programming of the electronic elements here, as well as serving as the mixer, engineer, and co-producer on the album, and it would seem possible that the sound of the band might change, as well.  Yet, despite all this, Relentless Flood remains very much the same band that they have been for nearly a decade.

Musically, Relentless Flood continues to combine agressive, hard rock riffing and solid rhythm guitar lines, with modern programming and production elements, and Huffman's clean, melodic, lower-register tenor vocals, all supported by big drums and solid bass lines.  A perfect example of this is the lead single, "Away From Me", which has managed to climb into the Top 10 of several Christian rock charts after numerous weeks of airplay.  Not dissimilar from the band's previous big chart hit, "Come Home", "Away From Me" employs a strong sense of melody despite the gritty, churning guitars interpsersed with some electronic programming and some excellend drumming from newcomer, McLain.  A powerful song about spiritual warfare, "Away From Me" continues to showcase the band's lyrical and thematic approach of good vs. evil, God vs. Satan, as Huffman exhorts the devil to "get away from me, cause now I see you're no good for me, Stay away from me, hopeless enemy, you're going down today...".  Check out the lyrics video below...



"Breaking Out", is another song that will feel reminiscent of "Come Home", perhaps even more than "Away From Me".  The rhythm guitars scale themselves back to a large degree on the verse sections before coming alive on the chorus parts of the song, and the guitar solo, while not overly flashy, has enough style and flair to hook the listener's attention. The rhythm section is especially strong here, with some machine-gun like work from McLain that really complements the guitars.  Huffman sounds strong, working well within his range, and his voice has matured nicely over the years, gaining strength and depth on each release.  A great example of this vocal grown would be on the next track, a third straight hard rocker, "'Til The End", where Huffman adds a gritty edge to his vocals that was not nearly as powerful or believable on previous efforts,  

"Take It All" is the first time the band even hints at slowing down, and while the verse portions of the song are much more stark in nature, with Huffman's vocals being far more out front than on other songs, there is a musical buildup that ramps up to the chorus sections, keeping the energy level high, even if the speed isn't necessarily there.  Huffman goes into a brief spoken vocal approach (perhaps snarled is more accurate) before the lead break, and the backing vocals feel especially strong here. 

"Standing Tall" adds some extra thump as it steps up the tempo a notch or two from "Take It All".  As is often the case with Relentless Flood's songs, the band really scales back during the verse portions before springing to life in the bridge and chorus sections, with the rhythm guitars pretty much disappearing at points and some electronic atmospheric elements used to support the verses here.  Once again, McLain proves himself to be a valuable addition to the fold, as his tempos and patterns add so much depth to these songs.  The lead guitars here again adhere to the "less is more" school of modern rock soloing, which I don't always agree with, and I do find myself wondering what Dale (dad) would have done differently were he still slinging the axe on this record.

"Used To Be" is the closest thing to a true ballad on the record, and it's pretty good.  Some piano is added to the mix here (assuming these are some programmed elements from Jones, as no pianist/keyboardist is credited that I can find) on a poignant song about how the power or Christ's love and forgiveness rescued the song's protagonist from aspects of his past and brought about positive change in his life.  A lyrically powerful song, "Used To Be" really showcases Huffman's vocal maturity, as he handles the track with both power and emotion, again, adding a believablity factor to his vocals that perhaps wasn't always there in the past.

"Wake Me" begins the build back from ballad territory, heading back in a more mid-tempo rock direction, with some solid chug-chug-chugga-chug rhythm work from Rogers, whom I also assume continues to play bass here, as he did on the last album, as no new bass player is credited.  Huffman stretches his range just a tad bit here, reaching the upper edges of his rather smooth tenor, and he handles it well.

The title of "Bullets" had me hopeful that we would be treated to the band ripping things up with a burst of speed, but instead it falls back into what I consider to be Relentless Flood's default setting of aggressive mid-tempo hard rock.  Jones incorporates some more electronic elements here, and the guitar solo is smooth, short, and relatively tame.

The title track falls into much the same tempo as the majority of the tracks here, although the lead guitar work has a bit of flash to it, particularly atop the rhythm guitars and drums on the intro, and springs a bit more to life during the solo break than anywhere else on the record...although, we still aren't talking about anything overly glitzy or flamboyant.  Again, McLain is the hero of the day on this track, just crushing his way through things here, changing tempos with no apparent effort and modifying patters to keep things interesting.  A modern rock version of a breakdown is used to nice effect heading into the final chorus.

"Set Me Free" closes things out, once again slotting comfortably into that mid-tempo range Relentless Flood tends to live in, but with some of the most interesting rhythm guitar patterns on the disc, and a couple of mini bursts of speed that really lead me to wonder what would happen if this band just cut loose every now and then.  A rapid fire machine gun burst from McLain pulls the band out the short lead break and into the bridge leading to the last big chorus, making "Set Me Free" the most complete-feeling song on the album for me and one that I think sets the stage well for the band to move forward in its approach, if it chooses to.

This brings me to my one true complaint about this album: it feels like we have heard this before.  To fans of the band, the songs on Escape The Fall will likely feel very familiar, very comfortable...very much like the last album, The Time Is Now.  Now comfort and familiarity can be good things, for sure, but when a band grows too familiar, too comfortable, there tends to be a lack of growth.  There is nothing here that stretches the boundaries of what the band has done previously.  That is not to say that these songs aren't good, because they are.  They just never slap me in the earhole and scream, "check this out!", with the possible exception of "Set Me Free" at the end of the album.  I'm not saying the band should reinvent itself, or bring in a rapper, or become all electronic and totally change their style and sound (ahem, Nine Lashes), but when the vast majority of the songs here...and on the previous two albums, really...all run about the same length and vary little in tempo or structure, there is a sameness that can be misread as stagnance.  

The good thing about all of this familiarity?  Well, what this album does better than the previous two is that while done in a familiar style, this album does what Relentless Flood has always done, but does it better.  For example, this album surpasses the previous two efforts from the band in the production area, no question.  Jones does an excellent job of beefing up the sound in places where it likely would have come across somewhat thinner in the past.  The separation of instruments is, overall, very good, and Huffman's vocals are not required to do anything seemingly out of his range or capabilities.  There are a few studio production tricks thrown into the mix, which is to be expected on a modern rock album such as this, but nothing that takes away from the performances of the individuals involved.  And, no disrespect to Marshal Huffman, but the drumming of  Dylan McLain really steps things up a couple of notches.

The packaging here is extremely basic, with a simple digipack serving to house the disc.  There are no lyrics or band photos included, although there is a thank-you section as well as the requisite performanc, writing, and production credits.  The artwork is a pretty cool touch, however, with the front and back being one continuous wrap-around photo.

In the interest of full disclosure, I was a supporter of the Indiegogo campaign for this album, and as you can see in the photo above, my copy of the CD is autographed by the band.  As part of my pledge, I also received a digital copy of the album a couple of weeks early, so I have had the chance to live with this album for a bit, so I feel comfortable with my opinions about Escape The Fall.  To that end, 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.

Rating:  Escape The Fall just edges into crankable territory, largely on the strength of the playing and the passion of the lyrical approach.  Crank this to 7.

Friday, June 1, 2018

MASS "When 2 Worlds Collide"

(c) Escape Music, Ltd.

  1. Just Can't Deny
  2. Only A Dream
  3. Falling In Love
  4. Alive
  5. Second Hand Rose
  6. Turn It Over
  7. Revenge For The Maiden
  8. Some Time Ago
  9. Stand Alone
  10. Time Marches On
  11. When 2 Worlds Collide
Louis St. August--Lead and Backing Vocals
Gene D'Itria--All Guitars
Joey "Vee" Vadala--Drums, Percussion
Michael Palumbo--Bass, Backing Vocals

Additional Musicians
Jeremy Huessi--All Keyboards, Strings
Michael Sweet--Lead Guitar solo on "Stand Alone"

As outlined in the autobiographical song, "Some Time Ago", "way back in 85..." MASS hit the hard rock scene with their first full-length album, New Birth, with three of the four members that are still cranking up the amps and thundering away at the drums on this new album, When 2 Worlds Collide.  St. August, D'Itria, and Vadala have been around since the start, and have formed a musical bond, as well as a family-styled bond, that is evident in the music on this new record, which ignores trends and sticks to what the band has always done best...producing driving, hard-rocking music with strong songwriting, powerful vocals, and excellent musicianship.  This time around, Jeremy Huessi was brought on board to add a new element with keys and programmed strings, updating the sound a bit, but not doing anything to alter what MASS has brought to the table, particularly since their 2007 return on Crack Of Dawn, a harder, crunchier album than what many recalled from the band's most well-known album, 1989's Voices In The Night.

Album number eight opens up in fine fashion, with head bangers and fist pounders rumbling out of the speakers.  A hard-hitting drum cadence rips "Just Can't Deny" open right from the start, leading D'Itria's guitars to come charging to the front, clearing the way for St. August's still powerful scream to pierce the wall of sound built up on this full-throttle, classic rocker.   A catchy mid-track solo combines D'Itria's six-string prowess with Huessi's wizardry on the Hammond, before the final chorus closes things out.  A blistering way to start things off, no doubt about it.

Things slow down just a touch for "Only A Dream", but there is a thick, bottom-end heaviness here that is a force to be reckoned with, a mass of crunch that is Palumbo's rumbling bass, D'Itria's chunky rhythm guitars, and Vadala's crushing drums.  St. August is in again in fine form, showcasing a powerful tenor that he equally dips and elevates throughout the track, going a bit lower throughout the verse sections and then climbing the ladder during the soaring chorus.  D'Itria blasts through a fingers-flying solo, as well, as MASS delivers what I have to say is one of my favorite tracks by them from anywhere in their multi-decade catalog.  An excellent song, to be sure!

The title of track three, "Falling In Love", hints at potential ballad territory, but that is not the case here at all.  Instead the listener is treated to more classic rock-styled guitars layered atop Huessi's Hammond tones, similar in nature to something Boston or Deep Purple may have employed.  The drums drive the track through the verse sections, and once again St. August powers through the track with seemingly little effort and no show of time slowing him down.

"Alive" starts off with a cool acoustic guitar riff that leads into another punchy mid-tempo rocker that has 1989 written all over it.  Particularly enjoyable is the verse riffing from D'Itria, which has such a comfortable, familiar feel to it, as well as the brief acoustic bridge coming out of a big D'Itria solo.  There is all sorts of nostalgia tied to a track like this, but without feeling like this is someone else's song or a leftover from days gone by.

The first miss for me is the piano-based ballad, "Second Hand Rose".  I openly admit I am not a big power ballad guy...never have been with a few exceptions...as mostly these songs come off as overly saccharine and too slick for my tastes.  There has to be some real grit to a power ballad for me to enjoy it.  "Second Hand Rose", despite its solid performances, is just too polished to my ears.  It has a definite lighters-in-the-air feel to it, but there isn't much of an edge here for me to grab hold of, and the pace gets a bit plodding.  If I'm being completely honest, I don't care for the odd tone of the keyboards, either.  Just not my song, no matter how it is sliced...

"Turn It Over" recovers nicely, with a bass intro from Palumbo leading into some cool chugga-chugga riffing and a great, pounding drum line that are supported nicely by Huessi's Hammond.  D'Itria uses some vox guitar effects in a couple of places, first out of the second chorus run, leading into a big solo run, and then again out of the final chorus and into the chunky outro section. St. August, once again, really sounds at home on hard-hitting tracks such as this one, which is, once again, one of the better MASS tracks I have ever encountered.

"Revenge For The Maiden" has a more melodic metal, almost Helloween quality about it, from the big, galloping drums to the rhythm playing in support of the verses, from the fury of the guitar solo to the way the layered vocals are structured.   I know I have sung high praises of a couple tracks already, but this may be the best of the bunch overall, although my choice of the album's masterpiece may change from listen to listen.

The previously mentioned "Some Time Ago" is a very cool track, providing a brief autobiography of the band.  Built around a solid drum line and some very 80s sounding metallic guitar drop ins throughout the verses, "Some Time Ago" is another superb hard rock track that, once again, really showcases how underappreciated the talents of both D'Itria and St. August were back in the band's heyday.  D'Itria rips off another cool, inventive solo, and St. August unleashes his most powerful scream of the record on the exiting chorus.

"Stand Alone" is the second ballad of the record, and it is the better of the two.  There is a fuller sound here, with more grit to the guitars and less keyboard involvement, and St. August isn't quite as sweet in his vocal delivery.  Speaking of sweet, Stryper's Michael Sweet delivers an excellent guitar solo here, which really completes the full circle of the band.  For those who may not be familiar, Sweet actually produced the band's Voices In The Night album, which was released on Enigma Records, which was also Stryper's label at the time, and the band actually lived with Sweet for a couple of months while recording that album.

"Time Marches On" has a Whitesnake vibe to it, with its slow Hammond build at the intro, cruising into an arena-rocking drum section and a bluesy riff and vibe from D'Itria.  St. August may be at his best here, as he really gets to lay the power into his tenor here, as befits the musical style.  Not entirely sure what to think of the solo section here...it is definitely different and more modern sounding, showing some willingness to experiment, but for my money, I think I would've just let D'Itria rip into another big solo. Still, this is wicked cool, bluesy hard riff rock stuff here that I would love to hear the band tackle on a full-album basis. 

The album closes with the title track which opens with a warning siren before building up into a nice, straight forward melodic metal rocker that closes things on a high note.  Again, the long-standing trio of St. August, D'Itria, and Joey Vee sound incredibly tight, along with new mates Palumbo and Huessi, who despite my initial misgivings, actually turns out to be an integral part of this record and is someone whom I would like to see become a permanent fixture in this band.



The packaging here from Escape Music is very good, with a 12-page booklet, with full lyrics, a full-color band picture (as well as a color photo of Huessi), writing and production credits, a thank-you section, and pertinent contact information.  The production here is excellent, and I really like the drum sounds attained here, which is frequently an overlooked area on so many rock albums these days.  The mix is excellent, also, with no muddiness and no one getting buried in the mix.

Louis and I, Skullfest 2013, North Platte, NE
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.  I've had the great fortune to meet and hang out with these New Englanders a bit, watching some baseball on television (Red Sox, of course...ugh...), and getting to spend some time chatting with Louis.  Its safe to say I have met very few people in the industry that are more personable and down-to-Earth than the guys in MASS, and they put on a heck of a show, regardless of venue size.  Not only do I encourage you to pick up When 2 Worlds Collide, but to take in a live show if you are given the opportunity.

Rating:  An excellent record, with only one minor hiccup for me, which does virtually nothing to dampen the overall greatness of When 2 Worlds Collide.  Crank this Album Of The Year contender up to 8.5!

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THEORY (THEORY OF A DEADMAN) "Wake Up Call"

(c) 2017 Atlantic Records

  1. Straight Jacket
  2. Rx
  3. Echoes
  4. Wake Up Call
  5. PCH
  6. G.O.A.T.
  7. Loner
  8. Time Macine
  9. Glass Jaw
  10. PO Mouth
  11. Wicked Game
Tyler Connolly--Lead Vocals, Guitars, Piano
Dave Brenner--Guitars, Backing Vocals
Dean Back--Bass, Backing Vocals
Joey Dandeneau--Drums, Percussion, Backing Vocals

Additional Musicians
David Donaldson--Violin
David Angell--Violin
Kris Wilkinson--Viola
Carole Robinowitz--Cello

Theory Of A Deadman returned late last year, right on schedule with their "every three years means a new album" routine.  Being a huge fan of the band, particularly their massively popular albums, Scars & Souvenirs and The Truth Is..., as well as their less-welll-known-but-equally-fun, Savages.  Sporting the same line-up since 2009 (with Connolly, Brenner, and Back all being around since the beginning), it was a little odd to me that the band decided to shorten their name to just Theory this late in the game, but whatever; if you know WHO and WHAT you are getting, a simplified name is of little consequence.

But the problem is, despite knowing WHO you are getting, there is likely no way fans picking up Wake Up Call could have been prepared for WHAT they are getting.  Because, while in "theory" this is the same band, in factuality, this new Theory is NOT the Theory Of A Deadman that I had come to love.

It is tough for me to write this, because I really do love this band.  Their irreverant attitudes, the catchy, snarky, hooky, driving rock that straddles the line between the sleaze of the 80s and 90s and the modern rock of the 2000s, the emotion that Connolly manages to pour into the ballads, the stage presence...and Connolly's pompadour...were all a part of the package that was my Theory Of A Deadman.  But it seems that with this new Theory, all that remains is a little of the snark, most of the vocal emotion...and Connolly's pompadour...because the driving energy, the sleaze...heck, the ROCK...is virtually gone from this new album.

Eleven tracks long (and I do mean loooonnnngggg), Wake Up Call is pretty much an IV drip of boredom, lulling the listener into a musical stupor, only occasionally managing to fight off the haze long enough to see the band-formerly-known-as-Theory Of A Deadman in the distance.  Ironically, one of the best, most T.O.A.D. songs on this new record is a song about America's opioid addiction problem, the tongue-in-cheek "Rx (Medicate", which was the first single from the album.  This is one of the places where the snark I mentioned before can still be found, and there is a definite smirk on Connolly's face when he sings/raps/scats, "Your friends are high right now, your parents are high right now, that hot chick's high right now, that cop is high right now, the President's high right now, your priest is high right now, everyone's high as f**k right now, and no one's ever coming down", yet there is also a knowing understanding in the social commentary he is making.  I remember hearing it on Octane one day, and instantly I knew it was Theory Of A Deadman, despite the looped drums and the Spaghetti Western-sounding whistling at the beginning of the track.  And yes, it's a dark topic, but its a fun song for some reason, and its catchy as all get out.  This is MY Theory Of A Deadman, but sadly "Rx (Medicate)" is one of only three or four places that I find myself enjoying Wake Up Call.

I actually had high hopes when I popped the disc in for the first time, as the opener, "Straight Jacket", has a fun, bouncy sound right from the start, with Connolly dropping some piano into the mix alongside his instantly recognizable vocal phrasing and some rocking guitars, especially on the chorus section.  To top it all off, the band plays to their strong suit with smile-inducing, quirky lyrics that manage to weave Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding, Tesla, Lloyd Braun, and  Mary Poppins (try to say "super cala pessimistic, expiala narcissistic" several times fast) into the narrative.  No, its not the hard-charging rocker that "Bad Girlfriend", "Little Smirk", or "Savages" is, but its definitely Theory Of A Deadman, which is what I was hoping for.  Following this is "Rx (Medicate)", and then its not until track six, "G.O.A.T.", that the band even attempts to become Theory Of A Deadman again, and only one other time...on the closing track...a cover of Chris Isaak's "Wicked Game", no less...do I actually enjoy what I am hearing.  Connolly, by the way, NAILS "Wicked Game"; its worth checking out (but I think I still prefer the Emperors And Elephants cover...maybe).  

That's really it.  Four good tracks total, the first two and then two of the last three, that make this anything even remotely resembling a T.O.A.D. album.  The rest of the album sounds like a Connolly solo record, as there is no getting around the vocals being all him, but the rock is all but missing.  Yeah, there are some great, insightful, introspective lyrics, but that means nothing without the sound of the band.  "Echoes" is okay, I guess, and rocks to a degree, but it sounds like Connolly singing a Pink song, not like a Theory Of A Deadman song, and "Glass Jaw" has flashes of T.O.A.D...albeit with too many odd electronic elements to it...but that's it.  On the rest of the album, the guitars are usually so buried in the mix they are virtually gone, and half the time the drums sound programmed, rather than played. I have no clue what is going on in the song "PCH" with its weird electronic effects, and the rest is either slow, schlocky dreck or overly-polished, happy pop that I can't get into.  To quote one of the lyrics from "Rx (Medicate)", "I am so frickin bored..." when I listen to Wake Up Call, that I just ripped the four useful tracks into a playlist of my favorite stuff from the band, and got rid of the CD.  

Wake Up Call is an interesting title to an uninteresting album, only because I feel like a wake up call is exactly what I needed for most of this record.  Without a "Lowlife" or a "Blow" or "So Happy"...and definitely no "Bad Girlfriend"...there is little to bolster this record, and nothing to buoy it in my ratings.  

Rating:  Hard as it is for me to say this, I recommend turning Wake Up Call down to a 4.  Grab ANY of their first five records instead if you want the REAL Theory Of A Deadman.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Talkin' Trash with SHAD MAE (Guitarist of DEVOID)




When the debut effort from Devoid showed up in my mailbox, I had no way of knowing how much it would still be impacting me all these months later!  A more powerful melodic metal album I have not heard in recent memory, and had I received it earlier, it very well may have been the Album Of The Year for 2017 here at Glitter2Gutter.  So, when band founder/lead guitarist/chief writer, Shad Mae and I started kicking around the idea of an interview, I knew it was one I wanted to run with.  So, if you have a few minutes, hang out as Shad Mae joins me for Talkin' Trash....


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G2G:  Shad, I want to thank you for taking the time to chat with me here a bit!  Not sure if you saw our end-of-the-year lists, but Devoid was definitely one of our favorite efforts of the year...we just got it so late!  What a truly, truly great record, though...

Shad:  Thanks to you, Arttie.  Yes, I saw that...so glad about it!  I feel really honored to receive such good feedback, and to make you list as one of your favorite records of the year...wow!  It pushed me to make a second one quickly.

G2G:  Whoa!  Are we getting some sneak peek, inside information here about a new Devoid record?

Shad:  Yes, I've just finished to write eight songs, and I'll contunue with my mates, Gwen and Jorris to reach twelve tracks.  Sorry about my English, by the way...(Laughs)

G2G:  No worries about your English..I took two years of French and trust me, we don't want to try that!  (Laughter)

Alright, before we jump too far into the future of Devoid, let's talk a bit about the past, shall we?  How did Devoid come together in the first place?

Shad:  Yes, sure.  Devoid came after the second Shadyon (Shad's previous band) album.  I wanted to write a more direct and powerful album with no compromise.  So, I decided to write a full album and
submit the final stuff to the musicians.  We had problems with the Shadyon lineup, and I did not want to waste my time without releasing anything new.

G2G:  So, are any of the guys in Devoid carry overs from Shadyon?

Shad:  Yes, Jorris on keyboards.  We always work together.  And I work with Gwen Kerjan for the producing.  He worked on the Shadyon Mind Control album.

G2G:  When I first heard the Devoid record, it wasn't only your guitar that grabbed my attention, but also the vocals.  Can you tell me how you and Lizard got hooked up?

Shad:  I am a BIG fan of the Evidence One albums, and I was...and still am...very impressed by Carsten's (Carsten "Lizard" Schulz) vocals.  Classic rock touch with a real talent for a catchy chorus...he's such a melody-maker.  So, when I thought about a singer for Devoid, I decided to contact him.  He listened to the stuff and said yes.  I'm really glad and proud to have him on board!  His performance on Cup Of Tears blow my mind and he go further than I expected.

G2G:  His work on the LaValle record blew my mind, as well.  But, I have to ask how you dealt working with a guy named "Lizard" in the band.  Did you worry it would change the band's image at all?  (Laughter)

Shad:  (Laughting) I think I must change my name to Shad "Snake" Mae, and maybe do a concept album on reptilians!  (Laughter)

G2G:  Yes!  (Laughter)  So, do you consider Devoid to be a band, or more of a project?  Is playing live shows something you hope to do with Devoid, or have you already had that chance?

Shad:  Devoid is first a studio project, but I received some good new for gigs, and the most important is I've got great pleasure to work with these guys, so let's see what happens in the near future.  With a second album, maybe we can do some live stuff.

G2G:  You currently live in France, correct?

Shad:  Correct.

G2G:  What is the musical scene like in France?  I know in the 80s and 90s, there was a fairly significant underground metal/hard rock scene.  FISC, ADX, Sortilege, Demon Eyes...all pretty good bands I tracked down over the years...of course, Trust...  But what about now?

Shad:  Oh, yes!  You're right, we've got great bands in the 80s.  You could check Manigance, Satan Jokers, Nightmare, Now or Never, Adagio...really great bands.  Of course, my other band, Shadyon... (Laughs)  The scene here is very diverse, but when you play melodic metal, it is more difficult.  Gojira is the most renowned French metal...great songwriters, but far more brutal than Devoid...

G2G:  Is there a good live scene?

Shad:  Yes, great activity and really great local bands.  And, we can't forget Hellfest!

G2G:  I've heard big things about Hellfest, but have obviously never been.  Pretty crazy scene?

Shad:  Yes, great place with nice atmosphere.  The programation is outstanding...very diverse bands, from Iron Maiden to more obscure death metal bands.  You should come!

G2G:  I may take you up on that some time!  So, tell me about Devoid.  Technology is really a huge part of the band being able to come together, correct?  The members are pretty spread out, right?

Shad:  Yes, right.  Thanks to the Internet!  For this record, we recorded our personal musical lines in our own studios.  I sent the demos to all the guys and then I let them do their own parts.  They all write their own stuff.  I wrote the songs...the guitars and lyrics...but I prefer to let the guys be free to play what they have in their mind for their parts.  It's more fresh, more natural.  Then we debrief and validate the stuff.  I'm going to try to co-write a bit for the next record.

G2G:  That's a pretty unique approach...

Shad:  Yes, we all live in different countries, so...more easy to work like this.

G2G:  ...and now, technology let's you and I communicate like this live!  It truly is amazing when you stop and think about what we seem to take for granted...

Shad:  Yes, it's amazing...so far, but so connected!  Imagine in a few years...all go faster, only for the better.

G2G:  Now, you are quite a bit younger than me, but your music comes across as so much more mature than a lot of newer bands.  Tell me about growing up and your musical background.

Shad:  Well, I'm a child of the 80s, so I grew up with bands like Europe, Toto, Winger, Simple Minds, Metallica...  When I was 13 years old, I began to learn guitar and I was deep into guitarists like George Lynch, Dann Huff, Randy Rhoads, Kee Marcello, Nuno Bettencourt...  I used my fingers playing their songs!  (Laughs)  Then, I discovered Dream Theater.  Images And Words and Awake were big revelations for me.  I became a prog addict.  Shadow Gallery, Fates Warning, Symphony X, Angra, Rush, Kansas, I love it all.  I also really like Evergrey, Devin Townsend, and Winger.  Henrik Danhae and Reb Beach are some of my favorite guitarists.  In the early 2000s, I fell in love with the Swedish metal scene and with bands like Soilwork and In Flames.  Their works on riffs and guitar arrangements are stunning!  Their songwriting influences me a lot, particularly for the riffs.  You mix all of that together, and you get Devoid.  

G2G:  Did you have a musical family?

Shad:  Not really as musicians, but as listeners, yes.  My parents were into pop music and typical Britain stuff, and Celtic tunes, too.

G2G:  Do you remember your first guitar?

Shad:  Yes, sure!  A BC Rich Warlock like Max Cavalera from Sepultura.  I was such a rebel! (Laughs)

G2G:  Big Bloody Roots fan, were you?

Shad:  Yes, I am!  And I love Chaos, A.D., unique atmosphere and a really cool album.  

G2G:  Agreed.  I found myself really drawn to the speed and thrash scenes after going through my 70s classic rock and 80s hair metal stages...

Shad:  Great!  I love thrash...Testament, Megadeth....

G2G:  Testament is my favorite.  I love Anthrax, as well...both eras...and the first four, and the latest, Metallica are all essential...

Shad:  Yes, Alex Skolnick solos are excellent!  Anthrax is so groovy and powerful.  Yes, all essential.

G2G:  Alright, so let's jump back to Devoid.  When we started chatting, you mentioned we may not need to wait too long for new Devoid music.  Can you fill us in on any details?

Shad:  Yes, sure!  All the demos are done, just have to finish some detals.  But, the songs are ready.  You can expect catchy riffs and heavy choruses, with the mighty Carsten Schulz doing vocals again.  Just need to book the budget.  And there are some great guitarists involved!

G2G:  So you brought in some extra guitar fire power outside of yourself?  I thought you did amazing work on the first record!

Shad:  Thanks, indeed!  Yes, I play most of the parts on the album, but I really wanted to share leads with guitarists I love.  That's why I manage to bring in some guitarists on the songs, just for the pleasure to hear them playing on my song.

G2G:  Any hints or clues?  Come on, quit teasing!  (Laughter)

Shad:  In my dream, I want to have Reb Beach and George Lynch...but it's just a dream....

G2G:  Lynch is probably too busy with one of his other fifty bands and projects!

Shad:  Yes, so true...

G2G:  Did you have a good idea of how you wanted to attack this new record, since you already had one Devoid album under your belt?

Shad:  Yes, I want to attack with a power song, very, very heavy riffs, and some acoustic surprises on it.  And, in terms of business, I have to discuss things with my actual label, get feedback about the first one.  I really want to make a real clip for this one.  And I think about a co-writing session with Gwen Kerjan from the Slab Sound Studio.  We actually worked on the new demos and we plan to rearrange the songs together.  I want an external vision on the songwriting this time.  It could bring more surprises on this record and force me to change my routine.  My goal is to be finished with the producing stuff for the end of the year, then a release in 2019.

G2G:  Shad, one thing we like to do is a quick response, trash talking section in our interviews.  Are you ready?

Shad:  Ready...

G2G:  Best concert you ever attended?

Shad:  Evergrey

G2G:  Worst concert you ever attended?

Shad:  Manowar

G2G:  Really?  No!  Say it isn't so!

Shad:  Sorry...really...

G2G:  Was Ross the Boss still with them?

Shad:  No, not with Ross.  It was the Warriors Of The World Tour...which is a stunning song, by the way.

G2G:  Okay, the world needs to know...were they wearing loincloths and carrying Thor's hammer with them?

Shad:  (Laughter)  No...it was leather...(laughs)

G2G:  Alright, moving on...is it KISS without Ace and Peter?

Shad:  No, not KISS...

G2G:  Van Halen or Van Hagar?  We refuse to acknowledge Cherone was ever in the band...

Shad:  Van Hagar.

G2G:  Really?  Why?  I'm good with either answer, personally...

Shad:  I love the For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge album.  I also love David Lee Roth's solo stuff...

G2G:   Balance is probably my favorite Van Hagar effort, but For Unlawful... is definitely a really good album.

Shad:  Their first album is still my top album, but Hagar's vocals are so soulful...

G2G:  While we are on Van Halen...sort of...which Michael Jackson song has the better guitar solo?  Eddie Van Halen's solo "Beat It", or Steve Stevens on "Dirty Diana"?

Shad:  Steve Stevens.  I love his bends on that solo!

G2G:  Stevens is majorly underrated, don't you think?

Shad:  Yes!  His work with Levin Bozzio Stevens is magic.

G2G:  Did you know he did the guitar parts on the theme song to Top Gun?  I just found that out not too long ago.

Shad:  Really?

G2G:  Have you heard his Atomic Playboys album?

Shad:  I love it and I got it!

G2G:  Aldo Nova...overrated or underappreciated?

Shad:  Underappreciated, for sure.

G2G:  Do you have a favorite Aldo Nova record?

Shad:  Blood On The Bricks

G2G:  Good stuff...good stuff, indeed!  Yngwie Malmsteen, musical genius or bloated egomaniac?

Shad:  Genius with his first album, but now just an ego maniac.  I prefer Jason Becker!

G2G:  Cacophony with Marty Friedman is killer!

Shad:  Oh, yes!

G2G:  Speed Metal Symphony is a shred masterpiece!

Shad:  Yes, absolutely...

G2G:  Okay, so we've chatted a bit about some of the 80s guys that have influenced you,  but what about earlier, classic hard rock guys?  What about a guy like an Ace, or Eddie...or even Hendrix?

Shad:  Well, I love the free playing of Jimi Hendrix.  Without him, there's no hard rock.  And Van Halen is THE guy...tasty and innovative, great soloing and also an awesome rhythmician.  Not a lot of an Ace Freheley, KISS stuff, guy.  Sorry.  I love Kerry Livgren, though!

G2G:  Have you heard the songs he did with Ronnie James Dio?

Shad:  No!  I must check!  Which song?

G2G:  "To Live For The King".  (I emailed Shad the video at this point...)

Shad:  That is a great, great song!  Very melancholy vibe.  I love it!

G2G:  There's another..."Mask Of The Great Deceiver"...

Shad:  Thanks for this discover!  Livgren and Dio...wow!!!

G2G:  If there was a solo out there that you feel people absolutely had to hear, what would it be?  Doesn't matter the time frame or genre...

Shad:  "Mister Crowley" by Randy Rhoads.  "Symphony of Destruction" by Marty Friedman in Megadeth.  Eddie's solo on "Beat It".  They are all perfect with awesome feelings.

G2G:  I always steer people towards "The Idol" by WASP, with Bob Kulick on guitar.  Amazing!

Shad:  Yes!  Amazing song and awesome album!

(Shad at left at Shadyon reunion show)
G2G:  So, while we're waiting for new Devoid music, is Shadyon something that you might return to in the interim?

Shad:  We actually made a live comeback last week with a new drummer and bass player.  We've got all new demos finished, and Walter, our new drummer, wrote a lot of songs and he is so, so good.  So,
you can expect new stuff soon.

G2G:  Shad, this has been a blast!  I love talking to people around the world, and a lot of our readers do, too.  How can fans keep up with you?

Shad:  Facebook is a great way, mate, and there is also a Devoid Twitter page.

G2G:  Shad, this has been awesome.  Thanks so much!

Shad:  Thanks to you!  I appreciate it a lot!

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Awesome stuff from our new friend, Shad Mae!  If you haven't checked out his bands, Shadyon or the absolute masterpiece that is Devoid's "Cup Of Tears", you need to do so as soon as possible!  You should be able to find both projects fairly easily, even on Amazon for those who don't mind using evil corporate giants!  (That's a joke, folks...)  


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