Friday, October 20, 2017

ROMEO RIOT "Sing It Loud"

(c) 2017 Kivel Records

  1. Room To Run
  2. Streets Of Babylon
  3. Sing It Loud
  4. Twist Of Fate
  5. What If We Were Wrong
  6. Same
  7. Cry
  8. I Want To Try
  9. Every Now And Then
  10. Best Nights Of Our Lives
Mark Giovi--Lead & Backing Vocals
Scott Miller--Lead Guitars
Erik Johnson--Rhythm Guitars, Drums, Backing Vocals
Ty Sims--Bass, Backing Vocals
Jace Pawlak--Keys, Piano, Backing Vocals

When I was a kid, I had this idea in my head that record labels were like big families.  I honestly thought that all the artists knew each other, hung out, called each other on the phone, went out and partied together, etc.  I just figured it was some big office building with recording studios in the basement, and a bunch of band members standing around chatting, waiting for their turn to get in there and jam.  I get it, I was a naive kid from the middle of Nebraska, and I had ZERO idea of how the music industry worked, but these were honestly my thoughts.  In fact, I was pretty bummed the first few times I got to meet a band or two and asked them about the guys in another band and they told me they had never met!  "But...but you guys hang out at '________ Records' together, right?"  It was just so weird to me that all these guys who had so much in common weren't at least friends, if not a sort of family.

That mentality that I had as a kid is part of what makes Romeo Riot so cool to me, because these guys, while all in different bands, ARE friends and ARE part of a record label family, the family at Kivel Records.  It seems to me every band that is on that label works on each other's records, write songs together, play out together when they are able, and have fun together.  THAT is what my vision of a record label was as a kid! 

For those who have not had the pleasure of hearing...or hearing about...Romeo Riot yet, the band is made up of Mark Giovi (formerly of FarCry), Scott Miller (Tango Down), Ty Sims and Erik Johnson (Bombay Black), and Jace Pawlak, all of whom are currently members of the Kivel Records family.  More importantly, all are talented musicians who happen to be friends and had a vision for something they wanted to try to do together.  Every note of every song on the debut Romeo Riot record, Sing It Loud, is played by the guys listed in the credits...no outside musicians required with this talent pool.  On top of it, Sims mixed and produced the record, making Sing It Loud a completely in-house offering, which is a pretty amazing and cool thing.  (On a side note, even the cover model has Kivel Records ties, as her sister graced the cover of LaValle's Dear Sanity, which is another Kivel release!)

The album starts off in fine fashion, as a guitar roars to life on an upbeat melodic rocker that quickly brings in the rest of the band and the rich tenor of vocalist Mark Giovi.  Supported by Pawlak's keys and a solid bass line from Sims, the song has a nice hook and excellent backing vocals...two constant themes on this record...all giving way to a scorching solo from Miller that is just a tease of the work he puts on display throughout the record.  

The title track had me fooled, as with a name like "Sing It Loud", I was expecting a real barn-burner.  Instead, however, we are treated to a cool, mid-tempo track that is introduced with a simple keyboard tone and bass-and-tom drums underneath Giovi's smooth vocals which are half-spoken, half-sung on the verses.  By the time the rest of the band joins in, the tempo picks up slightly, building to a perfectly executed blending of the backing vocals echoing Giovi's "sing it loud" perfectly, then supporting the rest of the chorus structure in a way that is SORELY missed in today's music scene.  Nobody does backing vocals like this now, and that is a damn shame!

Surprise of the record?  That's easy.  If the guys had called me up and said, "Arttie, who do you think we should cover on this record," I could have listed artists and bands all day and all night long and I would have NEVER come up with their choice!  I'll be 100% candid here in that I was jamming along to the track the first time I heard it, not really paying attention to the lyrics, and then...BAM!...that chorus hit and triggered something from my early teen years, and all of a sudden my mind blasted, "NO THEY DID NOT JUST DO THAT!"  A laugh broke free from my throat and I hit repeat so that I could catch what was being sang, and sure enough, this was the same song that was one of the last hits from one of my first early-teen crushes!  This is Olivia Newton-John!  OLIVIA NEWTON-JOHN!  No, they don't strap themselves into spandex workout gear and get all sweaty with "Physical", but they do a pretty cool, really fun take on her 1983/84 hit, "Twist Of Fate", managing to keep some of the pop sensibilities of the track while beefing up the guitars...and toning down the synthesizers...slightly altering the arrangement to turn it into something more modern and more their own.  I'm not sure whose idea this was or where the inspiration came from, but it is a definite curve ball that somehow still manages to work well within the context of what the rest of the record is about. 


"What If We Were Wrong" is the first true ballad of the record, and it is a big, lighters in the air, arms swaying back and forth moment for Sing It Loud.  This is the kind of melodic ballad that was being put out by bands like Unruly Child, The Storm and Bad English back in the day, bridging that gap between the big hair metal power ballads and the more melodic Top 40 rock ballads being released by Journey or Loverboy, for example.  Giovi's emotional vocals really anchor the track here, and Miller's guitar practically weeps on the intro, dripping with emotion, and then delivers a smooth, powerful solo between chorus sections.  Some nice piano from Pawlak supplies a nice support structure for the track, as well, and I feel certain that this song could be huge in certain markets if radio still played this type of music from new artists.  Really, really good stuff here.

"Same" is one of the most driving, pure rock tracks on the record, and it is a really, really good song.  Some nice, hard-charging guitars and machine gun drumming set the tone and pace, and Giovi adds an edge to his voice that is not particularly evident anywhere else here.  Miller's tone is a bit more metallic on the solo, as well.  A really, really good track to end the first half/start off the second half of the record, and one that leans a bit more toward the Bombay Black/Tango Down style of rocker than most of the others here.  Easily one of my favorite tracks on a record filled with good songs.

I guess if I had to pick my other favorites, I would probably turn to one of three tracks, all from the second half of the record.  "Cry" comes immediately to mind, with Giovi's vocals taking on a bit of a Jon Bon Jovi sound and style on the verse sections of this bright and bouncy, hooky, mid-tempo number that has, to my ear, the catchiest, sing along chorus on a record chock full of catchy choruses!  Just enough keys/piano from Pawlak help to set the tone, along with Johnson's rhythm guitar and Sims' bass.  Miller's solo here is short, but sweet, and the backing vocals are pristine.  Truly great stuff here.  

My second pick would be the last of the slower songs here, "Every Now And Then".  I love the positive vibe of the opening verse, with Giovi singing "I'm a lucky man to live the life that I have lived, I spend most of my moments in the sun..." that bleeds into his wistful memories of a lost love that he thinks of "every now and then".  The bridge here is a cool one, also, with some introspection from Giovi about how his life turned out and what could have been...and which would have been better.  Once again, the emotion that Miller is able to wring out of the six strings of his guitar simply amazes me, as the main riff coming out of the chorus sections is just heart-wrenching, and the solo, while energetic, doesn't betray the overall feel and vibe of the track, and the outro work he does under the last few runs of the repetitive chorus is truly brilliant to me.  I think this song best showcases his talent on this particular album.

The album closer would be my third choice for potential best song, and it really brings the album to a powerful close.  Starting off something like a Loverboy rocker, both musically and lyrically, the song is uptempo and bright from start to finish, containing a chorus that bears more than a passing resemblance to David Lee Roth's "Yankee Rose" (trust me, you'll hear it!) that is both EXTREMELY catchy and singable, begging for fist pumping and head banging to be incorporated when played in a live setting.  Once again, Miller lets his guitar take over in the middle section, running the frets seemingly effortlessly in an 80s-inspired solo that is maddeningly-too-short, then he exits the song with a blazing outro that leaves the listener breathlessly begging for more once they realize that Sing It Loud had come to a close.   

If I had one complaint, it might be that there are occasionally a bit too many keys for my tastes, but that is only on a song or two, and even then it isn't a big deal, as there is so much going on with Miller's leads and Johnson's rhythm guitar that my attention is easily drawn back to the harder edges of the songs.  For people who love the heavier keyboard usage of a lot of the melodic rock/AOR bands out there, this isn't even going to cause you to blink.  In either case, there is virtually nothing to complain about here, as Romeo Riot is the absolute real deal with a powerhouse lineup of talented musicians and songwriters who are at the top of their game here. 

Sims does a masterful job mixing and producing the record, allowing the overall feel and sound to be one that belongs to a single, unified band, rather than trying to make Romeo Riot sound like parts of several bands assembled on a bunch of songs.  Never did I feel like I was listening to left over Pawlak tracks, or cutting room songs from Bombay Black or Tango Down.  This project is Romeo Riot and it feels like its own entity, which is about as big of a compliment as I can give it.  I think it would have been easy to get too heavy handed in the rock sections, or too airy in the ballad sections, making the record sound like something completely different and one that lacked cohesion.  Hats off to Sims for giving the band their own sound and feel in the production booth.

Erik Johnson has confirmed that the band will be playing shows in the new year, so if they are even remotely in your neck of the woods, you would be doing yourself a HUGE favor to track them down and get to hear the band up close and personal.  

No question that as of this writing, Sing It Loud is a Top 17 for 2017.  The question is just how high in that Top 17 of '17 it will finish!

Rating: Unquestionably a cranker, here....turn this up to 9!

Friday, October 13, 2017

BABYLON A.D. "Revelation Highway"

(c) 2017 Frontiers Records

  1. Crash And Burn
  2. Fool On Fire
  3. One Million Miles
  4. Tears
  5. She Likes To Give It
  6. Rags To Riches
  7. Last Time For Love
  8. I'm No Good For You
  9. Saturday Night
  10. Don't Tell Me Tonight
Derek Davis--Lead Vocals, Keys, Acoustic Guitar
Ron Freschi--Guitars, Vocals
John Mathews--Guitars, Vocals
Robb Reid--Bass, Vocals
James Pacheco--Drums, Pecussion


This history of the 80s/early 90s hard rock scene is littered with bands that had brief, shining moments, only to fade as rapidly as they seemingly arrived, falling off the face of the musical landscape for totally random reasons.  Labels folded.  Bands broke up or members left.  Radio wouldn't play a particular song by a particular band.  MTV didn't think the band had "the look".  But none of these things really explain the rapid ascent, and even more rapid descent of Babylon A.D.  Hitting the scene in 1987, the band was signed to Arista Records by the legendary Clive Davis, and their debut album was out approximately 18 months later.  Three singles from that self-titled debut album hit number one at metal radio.  Their certified gold album spent nearly 40 weeks on the Billboard Top 200 albums chart.  Multiple videos graced the airwaves at MTV.  The band was rolling right out of the gate, and I LOVED them!  I wore out two copies of that debut album before I finally scored a CD of it, and I still have the original today.  In fact, if pushed to list the best albums of the 80's "hair era", I would definitely put this album in the top 10; I think that highly of it.  "Bang Go The Bells", "When The Hammer Swings Down", "The Kid Goes Wild", "Desperate", and a few others from this record are among some of my favorite songs from the era, even to this day.  

A second album, Nothing Sacred, was released in 1992, and two more singles charted on metal radio.  Touring grew the band's fan base, and Babylon A.D. looked poised for the big time, but I wasn't as enamored with this record as the debut.  There were still a few good tracks, but the sophomore jinx seemed to have bitten the band as I didn't feel like the album was as focused or as complete.  Still, I figured that they would shake it off and return bigger than ever with album number three.  But then, the one factor that no band had any control over, that no label could foresee, that no management team could head off took over and killed the promising careers of the Babylon A.D.'s of the world; grunge and hard alternative rock wiped the rock n roll landscape clean, leaving only a handful of the biggest bands to stagger around on life support for several years, trying to recapture what was lost. 

Babylon A.D. wasn't big enough to try to survive the fallout, like a Bon Jovi or Poison, and hadn't really built up the foreign following of a band like Firehouse or Mr. Big, to be able to try to make a go at it there.  Relegated to small labels, the band released a live album in 1999, and then finally that third studio album in 2000, but American Blitzkrieg wasn't what people were listening to at the time, and quite honestly, the band had shed so much of their previous style and sound that many long-time fans, myself included, found little to truly enjoy on the album.  A cool demo compilation, In The Beginning popped up in 2008, which featured several really good songs that showed how the band got to that debut album stage, and then in 2014, Lost Sessions/Fresno, CA 93a 4 song EP of previously unreleased material was released, and the three new, post-Nothing Sacred tracks seemed to point to the band going back to that debut sound had then been given the chance to make a record in 1993.  Another live album was released, and I had hope that a new Babylon A.D. record might not be too far off.

That leads us to 2017 and that new album finally will see the light of day.  Revelation Highway is an album of "new" Babylon A.D. material on the king of all band resurrection labels, Frontiers Records.  I say "new" material, because several of these songs are not actually new, but re-recordings of demo material found on In The Beginning.  "Tears", "She Likes To Give It", "Last Time For Love", and "I'm No Good For You" are all old songs given new life here, and the band sounds like it has not missed a beat in the 30 years since they were originally signed.  

Of the six new tracks here, all are top notch songs, with no filler cuts added just to round things out to an even ten songs.  Album bookends, opener "Crash And Burn" and closer, "Don't Tell Me Tonight" might be the best of the bunch.  "Crash And Burn" kickstarts the record with blistering, chunky metallic rhythm guitars and pounding drums as it charges down the "open road" that Davis sings about, before a screaming solo from Freschi drops in between chorus sections to liven things up even more, if that's possible.  "Don't Tell Me Tonight" features some of the best, flashiest, screamingest guitar work on the record, along with excellent backing vocals, and a simple, sing-along chorus (think Night Ranger's "Don't Tell Me You Love Me" simple) that will have listeners wailing along instantly.  "Fool On Fire" sounds like it should have been on that debut record and is the track where Davis sounds the most like time has stood still for him.  The more I hear it, the more I feel like it could have been the track that followed "Desperate" on that first album, as it just has a tone and quality that seems to flow right off that record and bleeds into this one.  One listen by anyone familiar with the debut and I am sure they will instantly agree.  While those three tracks could have possibly charted a couple more metal hits for Babylon A.D. back in 1990 or 91, "One Million Miles" is the song here that would have likely had crossover radio and MTV appeal back in the day.  Although not a ballad, this track is highly melodic and filled with some great vocal work, both lead and backing, making "One Million Miles" a melodic rocker that features some cool-yet-more-subtle guitar work, especially in the solo section, that would have likely served the band well on radio, especially with its female fan base.

All five of the original band members are here for Revelation Highway, which adds even more to the overall greatness of this record.  No one sounds as if they have lost anything to my ears.  The guitars are edgy yet melodic, with blazing solos and chunky rhythm sections, Davis' voice, while perhaps a touch lower in register than previously, still has grit, power, and range, and there is a tightness to the band that can only be attained through years of playing together.  I'm not a huge fan of the production on this record, at least on a couple of tracks, but I am hopeful that this is more of an issue for me with this digital preview copy, and that the CD itself will add a bit more brightness to the feel of a few tracks here.  Even with the slight flatness of the tone in a couple of places, I can't help but find myself instantly whisked back to 1989 when I play Revelation Highway, but absolutely in a 100% good way.  The nostalgia comes from the familiarity of the band, not from the songs sounding old, tired, or dated, as this is a lively record from start to finish, with no cobwebs or dust bunnies cluttering up the overall feel.  Easily the best "comeback" record from an 80s/90s band I have heard this year, Revelation Highway is in no danger of leaving rotation for me anytime soon.  I absolutely love this record, minor production flaws notwithstanding.  

Rating:  Crankable in the extreme!  Turn this sucker UP to 9.5!




Wednesday, October 11, 2017

**RETRO REVIEW** FOREIGNER "Agent Provocateur"

(c) 1984 Atlantic Records

  1. Tooth And Nail
  2. That Was Yesterday
  3. I Want To Know What Love Is
  4. Growing Up The Hard Way
  5. Reaction To Action
  6. Stranger In My Own House
  7. A Love In Vain
  8. Down On Love
  9. Two Different Worlds
  10. She's Too Tough
Lou Gramm--Lead Vocals, Percussion
Mick Jones--Guitars, Keyboards, Backing Vocals
Rick Wills--Bass, Backing Vocals
Dennis Elliott--Drums

Many 70s bands who found great success with what we now refer to as "classic guitar rock" struggled to find their way through the 80s, as an infusion of heavy keyboard usage and New Wave musical approaches forced their way onto the "rock" scene.  Foreigner definitely fit the first category, as there were few bands who enjoyed more success, as their first eight singles all charted Top 20, a feat no rock band had managed...since the Beatles!  In fact, it would be difficult to find a band that had more success from 1977 to 1981 than Foreigner, as all four albums released during that time frame would chart Top 5, with the album 4 becoming the band's first Number One album.  But then the band started to tweak their sound, causing internal strife between Gramm and Jones.  Gramm wanted the band to continue down the harder-edged radio rock sound that had served the band so well in the past, while Jones began to insert more and more keyboards (and less and less guitars) into the sound.  By the time 1984 rolled around, many fans felt the band no longer resembled the band that had dominated the rock scene just a handful of years prior.

It's interesting to me that 1984 seemed to be a turning point for the band, because I have long drawn a parallel between Foreigner and another 1970s hard rock band that had found solid success, only to begin tinkering with their sound.  That band would be Van Halen and their appropriately titled album, 1984.  Think about the similarities here:


  • Both albums featured the biggest crossover hit of each band's career at that point. ("I Want To Know What Love Is" for Foreigner, and "Jump" for Van Halen....both hit #1 on the charts)
  • Both "I Want To Know..." and "Jump" featured heavy focus on keyboards and a significant reduction in the amount of guitar use.
  • Both albums featured secondary hits that were keyboard-based quasi-ballads ("That Was Yesterday" for Foreigner, "I'll Wait" for Van Halen)
  • Both albums found success with the lone hard guitar track that was released ("Reaction To Action" hit #44 for Foreigner, "Panama" for Van Halen hit #13)
  • Both albums caused internal issues between the two key components of each band
  • Both bands found their lead singers leaving to do solo records (Lou Gramm to do Ready Or Not, David Lee Roth to do Eat 'Em And Smile) after the tours for the 1984 releases

Some eerie stuff there, huh? No, just me?  Okay, anyway...

While Agent Provocateur may not be the strongest album in the band's catalog...in fact, many people consider it to be the weakest of the Gramm-fronted albums...I don't think it is as bad as it was made out to be.  Even now, more than 30 years after it was released, I think there are several tracks that stand up pretty well with the rest of the band's best material.  Notably, I think "That Was Yesterday" is truly the best track on this record and is one that I still routinely return to when I throw in a "best of" package or have access to a jukebox.  I simply love that song.  I also think the lead track on the album, the harder-edged "Tooth And Nail", is an excellent track that would have been even better if it hadn't been for the electronic drum effects.  "Down On Love" and "Stranger In My Own House" are both above average tracks, and "Growing Up The Hard Way" had the potential to be a really good song if not for the wimpy keyboards used in places a searing guitar lick or soaring solo would have proven to be a much better choice.  "Reaction To Action" is a solid rocker that garnered some radio success, as I mentioned above, even though it isn't overly memorable or inspiring lyrically, and it's hard to argue with success, as "I Want To Know What Love Is" remains the band's sole number one hit in its 40 year career.  But there is simply too much filler material, and too much keyboard dreck here for even a vocal giant like Gramm to overcome.  Tracks like "Love In Vain", "She's Too Tough", and "Two Different Worlds" just come off as flat and uninspired, and "Growing Up The Hard Way" only manages to succeed to the level it does because of Gramm.  

As I mentioned above, Gramm would leave the band temporarily after Agent Provocateur to release his first solo record, which was far more in the vein of early Foreigner material than the vast majority of this record.  He would return for the next Foreigner record, Inside Information, only to leave again for another solo record, which was, once again, of superior quality.  The course the once-mighty Foreigner had charted for themselves was not one that Gramm felt he could continue with, although he did return one final time for the greatly underappreciated Mr. Moonlight album, before leaving the band once and for all, with Jones continuing on with what I can only consider to be a Foreigner tribute band, albeit one with a tremendous amount of talent surrounding him.

The production on Agent Provocateur is decidedly 80s, with heavy emphasis on synthesizers (four different men are credited with playing synth on the record), electric drums, and other electric elements.  The guitars are mixed too far in the back for my taste (when they are even allowed to show themselves), and the bass is not overly present, either.  Gramm is in excellent form throughout, however, which is one of the lone saving moments for this record.  All in all, this record isn't horrible, but it is far from the best the band has to offer.  Of course, this can be said of so many bands from the 70s who were trying to find their way through the early 80s.

Rating:  Rock this at 5.5, but if you've somehow never heard the record, you must seek it out for "That Was Yesterday" and the album cuts "Tooth And Nail" and "Down On Love".




OTHERWISE "Sleeping Lions"

(c) 2017 Century Media

  1. Angry Heart
  2. Sleeping Lions
  3. Suffer
  4. Nothing To Me
  5. Weapons
  6. Crocodile Tears
  7. Close To The Gods
  8. Dead In The Air
  9. Beautiful Monster
  10. Blaine
  11. Bloodline Lullaby
  12. Won't Stop (Bonus Track)
Adrian Patrick--Lead Vocals
Ryan Patrick--Guitars
Tony Carboney--Bass
Brian Medeiros--Drums

When last we checked in with the boys from Vegas, they had just debuted Carboney and Medeiros as members of the band....and had apparently forgotten to pay their electric bill, as they dropped an acoustic EP on us, called From The Roots, Vol. 1Since then, the guys have plugged their instruments back in, amped things back up, and they return with their first album of all new material since 2014.

The band comes charging hard right from the start, with lead single, "Angry Heart" which features some rather dark lyrics and equally dark guitar riffs, along with some really solid bass work from Carboney.  I feel like this song...and this album, really...features some of the best bass work to date from the band, and I can't help but feel that Mr. Carboney has really helped to shape the sound of the band in the short time he has been with Otherwise.  Not something that is often said about a bassist, I realize.  Anyway...  The title track is a pretty cool song that received a rather intriguing co-write (in my opinion), as the band called upon Korn's Jonathan Davis to lend some lyrical ideas.  As you might guess with Davis contributing, this is a pretty angry song, and there are hints of Korn-styled lyrical phrasing, but the song remains distinctly Otherwise, particularly as Adrian's vocals soar through the chorus, rising above the screams in the background.  I have always been a fan of Adrian's vocal, and he does nothing to diminish that on this record.  There is also a wickedly cool guitar solo leading into the last chorus here that shows Ryan to be his brother's equal, even if they utilize different instruments.

"Suffer" is a different type of track for Otherwise to tackle, as it is not really all that aggressive, and there is a distinct pop element to the uptempo number.  Taking a considerably more melodic slant than the opening two tracks, "Suffer" is actually very catchy, with an infectious chorus, and I would imagine this track will find itself being pushed as a single at some point.

"Nothing To Me" heads back into more aggressive territory, with some big drums and a hard-driving riff from Ryan that plows through a stop-start-stop-start rhythm coming out of the first chorus.  The edge slips back into Adrian's vocals here, and I keep finding myself coming back to this track as one of the best on the record.  Of course, the same can be said for the next track, "Weapons", with it's electronic effects bleeding into a piano intro that eventually gives way to a slightly discordant guitar, with the whole band jumping into an aggressive-yet-melodic track that has an easy chorus that Adrian can really cut loose on.  Again, a very easy track to fall in love with, and one that I can't help but feel will be pushed to radio in the near future.

Not content to stick with the tried and true, Otherwise mixes things up a bit with songs like "Crocodile Tears", which utilizes a distinct vocal pattern unlike anything else on the record, bordering on spoken-word styling on parts of the verses, with some powerful bass work and solid drums bolstering a heavy-but-not-fast chorus section.  Quirky and catchy at the same time, "Crocodile Tears" is another of my faves on this record.  On the other end of the spectrum, "Bloodline Lullaby" could be considered something of an "alt-metal power ballad", reminding me of similarly styled tracks that have worked so well for other bands in the past, with Skillet coming immediately to mind.  I don't recall Otherwise really testing the waters of this style of ballad, but it works here, especially with Adrian's command of the emotional elements at play here.  I feel like this could be the breakout song of the record if it is given any kind of push at all.

The packaging here is excellent, with a full, 20-page booklet, complete with all lyrics, writing and production credits, thank yous, and some pretty cool artwork, as well as a band photo and some artistically enhanced head shots of each member.  While it is a digipack, at least it isn't one of those crappy, flimsy slipcases that have become the norm for so many bands these days.  

Definitely the band's most complete album, and their most interesting, it might not have the big, stand-out tracks like "Soldiers" or "Darker Side Of The Moon", but I feel it is the album that is going to stick with listeners.  Intricate and detailed in places, blazing with anger in others, Sleeping Lions pretty much runs the gamut for the band musically, with hard, crunchy numbers and even a couple of mellower, more laid back moment.  Strong production, some interesting co-writes, and the best musical performance in the band's catalog make Sleeping Lions a mid-to-late year sleeper to crack many Top 10 lists.  

Rating:  Crankable, no question, let these Sleeping Lions roar at 7.5!

Saturday, September 23, 2017

**RETRO REVIEW** NEVADA BEACH "Zero Day"

(c) 1990 Metal Blade

  1. Rough House
  2. Waiting For An Angel
  3. On Zero Day
  4. Action Reaction
  5. Only The Fool
  6. Back For Blood
  7. Walking Dead
  8. Stand
  9. Big Zero
  10. Gagged And Bound
Hank Decken--Lead Vocals, Lead Guitars
Geoff Safford--Guitars, Vocals
Tony Rivers--Bass, Vocals
John Murphy--Drums, Vocals

By 1990, the "hair metal" scene was in full-swing, and everyone, including long-time "traditional metal" labels were jumping on the bandwagon, trying to cash in on the insanely popular scene.  Of course, this oversaturation would be a contributing factor to the eventual collapse of the scene, but everybody was too busy partying and worshiping at the alter of the guitar gods to pay any attention.  Metal Blade took a shot on a relatively unknown band, Nevada Beach, hoping they would help to increase the label's market share among the hair crowd.

On the surface, it shouldn't have been that big of a risk, really, as Nevada Beach definitely had the look and the sound of the day.  Lead vocalist/guitarist, Hank Decken, at times sounds a lot like Dirty Looks' lead singer, Henrik Ostergard, but musically, Nevada Beach leans more toward the big, arena hard rock sound than they do toward the AC/DC worship of Dirty Looks.  If I had to draw a comparison to another band or two from the time, I would have to say Nevada Beach could be aligned with early Bangalore Choir, with perhaps a bit of Britny Fox and some Jackyl thrown into the mix.

Overall, this is a pretty solid listen with some big, hard rocking anthems that could have possibly become minor staples in the genre had they received more exposure and come along a couple of years early.  "Waiting For An Angel", in my opinion, should have been the first track on the record, as it is very catchy, has a simple-but-singable chorus, is "video ready" in terms of subject matter and song-style, and is just a fun, party-styled song that was all over rock radio back in the day.  "On Zero Day" is another reall fun song that features thundering drums, a catchy hook, nice groove, and some cool gang-shouting on the extremely simplistic sing-along chorus.  "Action Reaction" is a track that I think the Britny Fox comparison can be heard in fairly easily, and the bluesy guitars of the record's big ballad, "Only The Fool", are very well done on one of the better power ballads you have likely never heard.  I think with a different singer...or at least with more vocal training for Decken...this song could have been a huge radio hit, but as it stands, "Only The Fool" is one of those nuggets that is fun to dig out of unheralded albums from the 80s and 90s.  "Stand" is another cool track with a bit of a bump-n-grind rhythm to it, a tasty guitar solo, and some really good backing vocals on the chorus.  Nicely done here.  "Big Zero" is another bluesy power ballad that had all sorts of potential to be a hit, but maybe Metal Blade already saw the writing on the wall for this style of music and had pulled the plug on the project, because there was, ahem, a big zero in terms of promotion or pushing of this record.

At times the album gets a bit cliche, with "Back For Blood" being a prime example of a song that, while nicely executed musically, has little to the songwriting that would hold the listener's imagination for very long.  Album opener, "Rough House" rocks pretty hard, but had no real radio potential, and "Walking Dead" is pretty plain-Jane with a lead-in guitar riff that sounds like those used by dozens and dozens of songs of the time; not a horrible song...just not really memorable, once again.  "Gagged And Bound" closes the album with a song that I could hear Damn Yankees tackling, carrying a vibe similar to tracks like "Pile Driver", with a really good guitar solo, although not as frenzied as anything Nugent would pull off, and the overall feel of the song, while catchy, is definitely not as polished as Damn Yankees material.

The packaging is pretty standard fare for the time, with lyrics to all the songs included, along with a thank-you section, and a single, black-and-white band photo.  The production is decent, with nice attention paid to keeping the drums big and the guitars out front, but not burying the bass in the mix, either.  The backing vocals, apparently provided by the entire band, are one of the highlights of the disc, as they have the gang-shouting thing down pat, and the guys can also harmonize on the more melodic-styled backing vocals, as well.

Overall, Zero Day is a fun disc to throw in from time to time, and it's a record that will likely have a few of your similarly musically inclined friends asking, "who's this?"  While it is fairly rare, simply because I think its pressing was pretty low, it isn't too hard to find this record for $10-$15 on eBay, although some sellers like to slap that "rare" or "vintage" tag on it and try to pass it off as a $25-$40 disc, which it simply is not.  It is worth seeking out, however, and I doubt anyone will be disappointed with Zero Day when it shows up in the mailbox.

Rating:  Definitely a gem in the rough, rock-worthy with some crankable moments, I'd suggest spinning Nevada Beach's Zero Day up to 6.5, maybe a 7.

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Friday, September 22, 2017

SPOKEN "IX"

(c) 2017 The Fuel Music & 1992 Records

  1. This Is Not The End
  2. Stronger
  3. Dying Without You
  4. Silence
  5. I Will Not Fade
  6. Remember The Memories
  7. Pages Of The Past
  8. The Light
  9. Sleepless Nights
  10. In My Sight
Matt Baird--Vocals
Scoop Roberts--Guitars

Spoken returns after not quite 2 years to follow up their highly regarded album, Breathe Again,with the aptly-named IX, the ninth album in the band's career.  Matt Baird is the sole remaining member of the band and is, in fact, now the only member of the band period according to Facebook, with Scoop Roberts retiring from touring last November and announcing that this would be his final album.  

When I talk to my musically-interested friends about Spoken, the number one thing I hear is "all of their songs sound the same".  To the uninitiated who have only heard the crushingly heavy moments from the band, I guess I could kind of understand where they are coming from, although I would personally disagree, as despite the often-screamed-vocals approach utilized by Baird, there is definitely diversity in the structure and musical approach of even the heaviest material the band has put on record. 

Speaking of heavy, Spoken comes charging hard out of the gate on this record, with "This Is Not The End" featuring some seriously aggressive guitars, matched by the ferocity of Baird's vocals as he screams about not giving up and not losing hope, even in the darkness of one's life.  "Stronger" seems to pick up where "...Not The End" leaves off, lyrically, as it encourages the listener to soldier on, declaring "what is left of me will never give up the fight".  "I Will Not Fade" is probably the heaviest track on the record, with some seriously crushing guitar riffs roaring over the top of some electronic elements and setting the stage for some truly angry, throaty snarls and screams from Baird as he tells the listener "it's not too late to rise above all the regrets, all the mistakes that I've made".  Of the hard-hitting material, this is my favorite track on the record with its pummeling pre-chorus, relentless drumming, and vocals that alternate between the harsh and the melodic.  The complete package for long-time fans of the band, to be sure.

"Remember The Memories" has to win the award for most redundant title...possibly ever...but it is a solid, slightly slower song, with a great message about the legacy we leave behind.  "Pages Of The Past" then ramps the energy back up with some more electronic elements and heavy guitars, but for some reason this track just doesn't jump out at me like several of the others in the first 2/3 of this record.  Not a bad song, just not memorable, I guess is what I would say, and certainly doesn't grab hold of me like "I Will Not Fade".

The last three songs on this record take a SERIOUS left turn from the rest of the album, as Spoken downshifts into a mellower mode.  "The Light" is what I guess I would call a "typical" Spoken ballad, with a solid modern rock approach similar to some of the material from the past two albums. "Sleepless Nights" is a simply gorgeous ballad, chock full of soaring guitar work that reminds me very much of the harder-edged adult contemporary work David Zaffiro (ex-Bloodgood) did with his last couple of records.  Seriously, I had no idea Spoken had this kind of musicality in them.  And as if to prove "Sleepless Nights" wasn't a fluke, album closer, "In My Sight" features some equally excellent, soulful guitar work and finds Baird challenging himself for what his most expressive vocal performance is on this, or any other record!  To those who complain of the sameness of Spoken's work, I would rapidly cue up this song and let them explain where they have ever heard Spoken sound like this in the past.  Truly excellent musicianship here and two of the best songs I have heard from the band...ever, in back to back fashion.  Love it.

I have searched high and low for the rest of the musicians on this album, if there are any, but none are listed in the sparse notes of this album, so perhaps Matt and Scoop did everything here.  Four of the tracks here get co-writes from Josiah Prince, guitarist of Disciple, but there is no mention of him playing, and there are really are no musical similarities between the bands other than the fact that they are both heavy modern rock, but who knows.  My copy is autographed, but I can't make heads or tails of the names scrawled in gold on my album cover!  The "band" is currently on tour, so SOMEBODY has to be playing with Matt, and when I figure out who performs what on this record, I will definitely amend this review.  Regardless, this is a great effort,with some extremely heavy momentsalong with a fairly standard Spoken balled followed by two of the band's most laid back, musically emotional moments...ever...on the final three tracks of the record.      

If you are wanting to dive into this band for the first time...or if you are wanting to introduce a friend...I wouldn't likely recommend IX as the ideal starting point; for that I would probably suggest Breathe Again, although Illusion is a really good record as well, and I am a fan of the band's output on Tooth & Nail Records also, especially Spoken.  That being said, IX is a record that I think any fan of the band should seek out so that they can experience the growth and musical diversity of what too many people label as a one-dimensional band.

Rating:  Crank this to a 7, with the diversity being a huge bonus here, even if the track listing is stacked a bit oddly, at least to me.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

LA GUNS "The Missing Peace"

(c) 2017 Frontiers Records

  1. Its All The Same To Me
  2. Speed 
  3. Drop Of Bleach
  4. Sticky Fingers
  5. Christine
  6. Baby Got A Fever
  7. Kill It Or Die
  8. Don't Bring A Knife To A Gunfight
  9. The Flood's The Fault Of The Rain
  10. The Devil Made Me Do It
  11. The Missing Peace
  12. Gave It All Away
Phil Lewis--Lead Vocals
Tracii Guns--Lead Guitars
Michael Grant--Guitars
Johnny Martin--Bass
Shane Fitzgibbon--Drums

I don't know if there has been a band in the history of rock n roll that has had more line-up changes and members than LA Guns.  Seriously.  To try to connect the dots of who has been in that band is about as twisted and warped as a game of drunken Twister!  But the two key components in all of the great albums the band has released have always been Phil Lewis and Tracii Guns (no disprespect to Steve Riley intended).  Yes, there have been some really good LA Guns records since the split of the duo, but nothing that has touched the quality of the first three records, LA Guns, Cocked & Loaded, and Hollywood Vampires.  

In the world of hard rock, there have been a LOT of never-gonna-happen reunions over the years.  David Lee Roth will never play with Van Halen again.  KISS will never reunite.  Guns N Roses will never see Axl and Slash on the same stage again. You know the drill.  And as unlikely as all of those were, each and every one of them happened.  And, as you can see in the line-up for this album, one of the most unlikely reunions has occurred on The Missing Peace, as Tracii Guns has returned to his namesake band to join Phil Lewis on a record for the first time since 2002's Waking The Dead album.

Fifteen years is a long time to go between records, to be sure, but as we all know, there have been several albums in between the commercially-disappointing but musically-interesting Vicious Circle record.  Phil has managed to largely keep the traditional LA Guns sound alive with a mish-mash of band members, releasing a handful of really good records (Hollywood Forever and Tales From The Strip being the best)...and a couple of not-so-good records as well.  This new album definitely slots in with the "really good records" section, as it combines elements of the first three records with the harder, angrier edge that was present on Vicious Circle.  Still sleazy, still punkish, the new album also features an angst, an aggression...even an urgency...that has not been present for so many years.  This is evident from the get-go, as the drums kick in and Guns' sneering riffage comes to life on "It's All The Same To Me", before Grant's second guitar joins in and Lewis' unmistakable rasp claws its way through the opening verse of this sassy rocker.  Beautiful in it's simplicity and catchy as can be, "All The Same..." is instantly identifiable as LA Guns, and has the feel of the Hollywood scene, but it also feels like a rawer, hungrier version of the band than the last time Phil and Tracii worked together.  There's no slick layer of polish on this track (or anywhere on the record, for that matter), just bare bones hard rock the way the band was introduced to me all those years ago.

Lead single and video, "Speed", carries much the same urgent feeling as it charges along at full throttle, guitars churning and burning their way across a breakneck drum and bass line.  Tracii rips into a high speed fret burner before the final gang-shouted chorus kicks in, and Phil sounds exactly has he always has, which is amazing to me considering the mileage that has to have accrued on his vocal chords over the years.

 

"Sticky Fingers" is one of the real treats on the record, with a huge guitar riff that grabs you right from the onset of the song, a big, sweeping guitar solo section, and a catchy, atypical phrasing style utilized by Lewis on the verse sections of the song, which is my absolute favorite on this new record.  This song is HUGE, an absolute arena anthem, if such things still exist.  An instant classic, in my opinion, this is one track that I feel MUST be included in setlists going forward.

"Christine" and "The Flood's The Fault Of The Rain" are the big ballads of the record, which are pretty much a requirement following the enormity of the song "Ballad Of Jayne" a couple of decades ago.  I think most long-time fans are going to grab hold of "Christine" as their favorite, with the bluesy swagger of the guitars and the nicely layered vocals, but I find myself leaning more toward "The Flood..." which has a definite "House Of The Rising Sun" feel to it.  In fact, its almost uncanny how much the two tracks share a vibe and flow, with the Guns obviously adding a heft and edge to their song that the Animals would not have ever thought to include back in the early 60s.  Lewis' yowl is perfectly suited for this retro-ballad, and the guitar vibe is excellent here.  My second fave off the record, no question, and another song that I would beg the band to include in a live setting.

Speaking of faves, its also impossible to deny the catchiness of "The Devil Made Me Do It", with its big, gang-shouted chorus section of "Lord have mercy!" that feels a lot like something Motley Crue might have done back in the Dr. Feelgood days, but with a much nastier guitar solo and a snarkiness that hasn't been heard on an album from one of the classic Hollywood bands in many, many years.  The title track also worms its way into the best of the best on this effort, with a big, epic feel that isn't quite power ballad, but also never completely breaks into a full-throttle rocker, either.  And I can't discount how much I enjoy the album's closing track, "Gave It All Away", which Phil absolutely floods with emotion, especially as he bleeds pain into the chorus while Tracii and Michael Grant are riffing away in the background.  A truly great way to close this amazing return.

Tracii is in fine form throughout the record, but he is at his flashiest on the uptempo "Don't Bring A Knife To A Gunfight", where he smokes his way through an absolutely scorching solo that is so reminiscent of the material he used to unleash on a regular basis back in the 80s.   For a dirtier sound, check out the solo he rips through on "A Drop Of Bleach", which is an absolutely blazing rocker for much of the track, backing off only slightly on the chorus sections before ramping back up to charge through the verses.  The second guitar provided by Michael Grant really adds depth to the sound here, allowing the riffs to continue to run throughout tracks while Tracii goes off into guitar god territory, and the rhythm section is exceptionally tight here, which is going to go overlooked by many old-school fans who are still geeking out at Phil and Tracii recording together again.

I have to wonder if the title of this record isn't a bit apropos here, as it would seem the thing that was missing from LA Guns, the piece that was needed to get the band back to a level they hadn't really approached in more than 25 years, was the "peace" between Phil and Tracii.  I have no idea about where they are with each other personally; maybe they can't stand each other, even today.  But it is apparent they have at least found a way to co-exist peacefully long enough to put together a record that I dare say will challenge many die-hard fans to question their ranking of the band's catalog.  While it remains to be seen how time will treat this record for me, I'm not so sure I wouldn't slot this in as my second favorite LA Guns record, because it is so good and so complete feeling.  No skippers, no filler, no pointless intros, outros, or interludes, just a snarling collection of sleaze-drenched rockers and a couple of big power ballads fashioned from some really good songwriting and musical execution.   Edgy, sleazy, gritty...and yet still allowing for a bit of fun...The Missing Peace is everything I could have hoped for in an LA Guns reunion album, minus, of course, a full reunion with Steve Riley, Kelly Nickels, and Mick Cripps, which will likely never happen.  But then again...never say never, right?  

Rating:  Raw, amped, and dripping with sleaze, crank this to a 8.5!

Saturday, September 9, 2017

THOUSAND FOOT KRUTCH "Untraveled Roads Live"

(c) 2017  TKF Music/The Fuel Music

  1. Running With Giants
  2. Light Up The Sky
  3. The River
  4. Push
  5. Untraveled Road
  6. Let The Sparks Fly
  7. Born This Way
  8. Courtesy Call
  9. Be Somebody
  10. War Of Change
  11. The End Is Where We Begin
  12. A Different Kind Of Dynamite
Trevor McNevan--Lead Vocals
Joel Bruyere--Bass
Steve Augustine--Drums
Andrew Welch--Guitars

Thousand Foot Krutch offers up their second live album in just five years, which is a bit of an oddity, especially since the band is independently releasing Untraveled Roads on their own TFK Music label.  Frequently, live albums are contract fillers, but that is obviously not the case here.  What the band does do differently this time around is they focus exclusively on material from their past three albums, so some long-time fans may feel a bit shorted on the tracklisting, and issue we will get to in just a minute.

Untraveled Roads was recorded during this year's WinterJam Tour, which found the band making 46 stops in front of over half-a-million people.  All of that touring has served TFK well, as the band on this record is a finely tuned, well-oiled machine, firing on all cylinders and packing a ton of energy into these 12 tracks.  McNevan showcases an excellent live range and solid vocal command throughout the set, only shifting to a lower key on a couple of occasions, seemingly more to catch his breath for the next section than simply because he couldn't hit the notes.  This is most obvious on the second track, "Light Up The Sky", where he drops lower for the chorus intro, "excuse me while I...".  However, he is able to rip the top off the higher ends of the chorus here, and throughout the rest of the record, so this was likely done for dramatic effect, or simply to save a bit for the rest of the show.

The mix is excellent here, with plenty of bottom end throughout, and touring guitar player, Andrew Welch, nails his parts at every opportunity. I'm not sure who is doing the backing vocals (I believe it's Bruyere), but they do an really good job of supporting the high-energy McNevan, who is surpassed only by John Cooper from Skillet as the most active, most dynamic front man in the Christian rock industry.  Speaking of McNevan and TFK being a Christian band, the singer does take a brief moment at the end of track eight, "Courtesy Call", to talk to the crowd about Christ and his faith, but he isn't preachy by any means, rather speaking conversationally to the audience about being accepted by Christ rather than being concerned about being accepted by today's culture, which leads into one of the band's most recent hits, "Be Somebody", which is given even more of an emotional punch in the live setting. 

As I mentioned previously, the track listing here comes exclusively from the last three albums, The End Is Where We Begin, Oxygen: Inhale, and their most recent studio effort, Exhale.  As such, there are a few tracks that I was surprised weren't included here, most notably "Fly On The Wall" and "I Get Wicked" from The End..., and "Lifeline" from Exhale.  It's also very hard for me to not wait for long-time fan favorites like "Rawkfist" to show up in the mix somewhere, and I'm not going to lie, I would've LOVED to hear the band throw in their cover of Collective Soul's "Where The River Flows", although that would've obviously been a real stretch for inclusion here...but hey, a guy can dream, right?

All in all, I found Untraveled Roads to be a fun listen, and a largely complete collection of their greatest hits from the past five years.  Overall, the missing classic songs notwithstanding, I think this is a better live record than Live At The Masquerade, which is saying something, as I thought that live record was very well done overall.  But the sound quality of the band here is just that much better, that much tighter, that much more polished and yet still punchy. The band is in complete control of their sound and presentation throughout the record, and I sincerely hope there is a live DVD to go along with this CD so that people get the chance to see these guys in the live setting.  Better yet, if you get the chance, you should do yourself a favor and head out to see them live if you get the chance.  

Rating:  I generally don't "rate" live albums, but I will say that this effort from TFK is definitely crankable and very enjoyable.  What the heck...crank it to 8 and let the sparks fly!

Friday, September 8, 2017

BOBAFLEX "Eloquent Demons"

(c) 2017 Thermal Entertainment

  1. Eloquent Demons (Intro)
  2. I Am A Nightmare
  3. Long Time Coming
  4. Say What You Will
  5. Lights Out
  6. Real Sadness
  7. Off With Your Head
  8. Moon And Shadows
  9. Hey You
  10. Reckless
Marty McCoy--Guitar, Vocals
Shaun McCoy--Guitar, Vocals
Dave Tipple--Guitar, Vocals
Tommy Johnson--Drums
Jymmy Tolland--Bass

Bobaflex is a band that confounds me.  No, that's not fair; it's not the band that confounds me.  What confounds me is the lack of respect the band seems to garner in the hard rock community.  I really don't know what people want from a band these days, I guess, because there is ZERO reason that Bobaflex isn't a much bigger name than they are.  Perhaps Eloquent Demons, the eighth album from the McCoy Brothers and Company will change this fact and finally be the album that breaks the band in a huge way.

Now, I'm not saying that no one knows who Bobaflex is, or that they have had no success at all, because they have.  Tracks such as "Chemical Valley", "I'm Glad You're Dead", "Bury Me With My Guns On", and the excellent cover of "Sound Of Silence" have all made dents in the charts and on rock radio.  But the sheer talent this band brings to the table, from the infectious hooks and churning guitars, to the pounding drums and the extremely tight vocal harmonies, Bobaflex delivers so much more than your average modern hard rock band.

On Eloquent Demons, Bobaflex ups their game to a height they have not previously reached, and that's saying something.  Yeah, yeah, there's a dreaded (and, to my ears, somewhat dreadful...) intro that I have played exactly ONE time, but once that mini-distraction is out of the way, this is a fantastic hard rock record!  From the blistering hard rock of "Reckless", the scorching "Say What You Will" and the heavier, more groove-intensive "Long Time Coming", to the outstanding, melodic cover of Pink Floyd's classic, "Hey You", Bobaflex shows a musical flexibility not commonly found today.  Elsewhere, "Real Sadness" will likely have people making at least loose connections between the band and the sludgy, grungy metallic tones of Alice In Chains, which is a dang good thing for this guy.



If I had to pick a favorite track that really sums up what Bobaflex has created here, I would have to point to the truly excellent, "I Am A Nightmare".In many ways, this track reminds me of some of the dirtier, grittier Sunset strip bands, especially when you hear the killer vocal harmonizing and the absolutely SCREAMING guitar solo, not to mention the sneering attitude the track is delivered with.  Sure, it's still a modern sounding track, as should be expected, but the throwback attitude and execution can't be overlooked.  I absolutely love this track and would relish the opportunity to hear it performed live.  It is a guarantee that this song is going to be dropped immediately into my personal Bobaflex playlist that accompanies me to the gym on a regular basis!  

"Off With Your Head" doesn't really deliver in quite the same way as most of the rest of this record, though it is impossible to deny the catchiness of the simple melody and the delivery of the chorus, which can only be described as tongue-in-cheek, considering the aggressive-sounding title.  However, this little hiccup is quickly covered up by the howl of a wolf, the pounding of drums, and the chugging guitars that lead "Moon And Shadows" in.  Classic Bobaflex right here, as the rhythm section is insanely tight and just dares you to not start pounding your fists and snapping your neck along with the beat, even in its slightly off-kilter moments, which only further add to the intrigue of this penultimate track on the record.  And speaking of those bass and drum sounds, Johnson and Tolland deserve a hearty round of applause for their efforts on this record, as they do an excellent job of being the backbone of this rock-n-roll monster of a record.

The mix and production here are very solid on this first effort from the band on their new label, Thermal Entertainment.  The artwork is pretty much standard Bobaflex fare, which means it's pretty dang cool, but I can't make any further comments about the packaging here, as mine is a digital promo copy.

To say I am a fan of Bobaflex is an easy call to make, and I have had the pleasure of meeting and hanging with the guys after a live show.  And as much as I have thoroughly enjoyed their previous efforts, especially Charlatan's Web and Anything That Moves, there is no doubt in my mind that Eloquent Demons has taken the band to a new level.

These guys tour pretty much non-stop, so there is really no reason to not take in a Bobaflex show somewhere relatively close to your neck of the woods.  It will be a killer show, no question.

Rating:  Crank this sucker and crank it mightily!  Definitely an 9 for Eloquent Demons!



Saturday, August 19, 2017

ART OF ANARCHY "The Madness"

(c) 2017 Century Media Records

  1. Echo Of A Scream
  2. 1000 Degrees
  3. No Surrender
  4. The Madness
  5. Won't Let You Down
  6. Changed Man
  7. A Light In Me
  8. Somber
  9. Dancing With The Devil
  10. Afterburn
Scott Stapp--Lead Vocals
Ron "Bumblefoot" Thal--Lead & Rhythm Guitars
John Votta--Lead & Rhythm Guitars
John Moyer--Bass
Vince Votta--Drums

"Super Group" is an odd tag to put on an act, especially these days.  So many artists are in multiple bands, so the label doesn't seem to mean as much now as it did in the 70s and 80s, especially.  But when you look at the combination of players in Art Of Anarchy, it seems somewhat appropriate to apply the tag.  I mean, you have Ron "Bumblefoot" Thal, who has been a member of Guns N Roses, and is a well-known, accomplished guitar player in his own right.  Then you have John Moyer, the bass player for the band Disturbed.  And...well, does Scott Stapp really need an introduction, having been the lead singer of Creed, easily one of the biggest...and most reviled...bands of the post-grunge 2000s?  Now, if you are like me, you have no idea who the Votta brothers are...no disrespect intended at all...but still, that line-up probably deserves the "super group" moniker, especially when you learn that Stapp is, in fact, replacing another huge name, in the late Scott Weiland of Stone Temple Pilots fame.  So, yeah...I think I'll go with super group...

When I mention Art Of Anarchy to some of my music-loving friends, the first thing that many ask is, "cool, but do they sound like Creed?"  Even today, years and years after that band exploded across radios and televisions across the world, it is amazing to me the two polar opposite responses Creed receives.  Much like Nickelback today, they are either loved or loathed, with virtually no middle ground, and it seems a large (disproportionate?) amount of the hate is reserved for Stapp.  His struggles with substance abuse and mental health issues have been widely discussed on the internet, and Stapp addressed them himself in his book, Sinner's Creed.  Many people are unaware that Stapp has released two solo records, largely directed...and well-received...by the Christian rock market, and that while his vocals are unmistakable, those records don't particularly sound like Creed.  The same should be said about Art Of Anarchy, for while there is no missing Stapp's vocals, the songwriting here is not Creed-esque, for the most part, and is overall much harder-hitting than the majority of Creed's material, especially the singles.  For that matter, The Madness doesn't sound like Disturbed or Guns N Roses, either.  Nor does it really sound like the first Art Of Anarchy record, which was okay, but not spectacular.  

The Madness is a powerful hard rock album with excellent songwriting and top notch musicianship that is more than enough to allow the record to stand on its own.  The guitars are crisp and edgy, and the sound is exceptionally full, with seemingly no wasted space between notes on the songs here.  Lyrically, Stapp is on top of his game throughout the record, with some of his best writing to date, as he uses his personal life as fodder for many of the songs here, sometimes in obvious ways and, at other times, in far more subtle ways.  The entirety of the lead single, "The Madness" is obviously written about Stapp's struggles, with a chorus of:

"The other side of fear is freedom, the other side of pain is healing,
The Madness keeps me from the other side.
The truth, the lie, the shame the glory,
The love, the hate, an endless story,
The madness or the other side."

He also interjects his faith into songs throughout the record without beating the listener over the head with it.  Take for example the song "A Light In Me", where Stapp sings:

"The shadows...turning day into night...,
Where is the light?
The shadows...stay to remind me that there is...
There's a light in me!
There's a light in me!"

...or the powerful chorus of the high octane rocker, "No Surrender":

"No way out...hit the flatline,
We get up, no surrender,
It's your time...grab the lifeline,
We get up no surrender...No Surrender.
Time has stopped,
Time to choose,
This could be the end of you,
This could be the end of you."

If forced to pick favorites from the record, the first half of the record is absolutely stellar, with not a single bad song among the first four.  The previously mentioned "The Madness" and "No Surrender" are my two favorites from the record, but the scorching anthem that is"1000 Degrees", and arena shaking "Echo Of A Scream" are right there neck-and-neck as both are hard-hitters.  For those seeking a softer moment, the power ballad, "Changed Man" is absolutely on point, with Stapp baring his emotions an his soul to the listener in what many would say is the the most Creed-like moment of the record, even though I think it sounds more like Stapp's solo material than Creed.

(Alternate, interior cover)
Speaking of Stapp's solo material, the one song I really don't care for here is "Somber", which I believe is a track that he brought to the group from his shelved solo record from about 8 years ago.  The song matches its title, and to be honest, its kind of a downer...something of a mood-killer for an otherwise excellent record.  It doesn't destroy the record, and I don't necessarily skip it...at least all the time...but it definitely doesn't match the power and quality of the other nine tracks here.  Fortunately, the band rights the ship on the last two songs, as both the sassy "Dancing With The Devil" and the scorching "Afterburn", another soul-baring moment for Stapp.

The packaging is solid, as is usually the case with Century Media, with a full booklet complete with photos and lyrics, as well as a cool tri-fold case which features some pretty awesome artwork.  In fact, I prefer the interior, alternate cover to the one that is packaged as the exterior.  Perhaps this is so that people who are fans of the spiritual side of Stapp won't be turned off, and hey, in today's music market, bands can't afford to turn away a single purchaser.

Thus far, Art Of Anarchy would likely be my surprise album of 2017, and it has managed to stay in my CD player for the better part of the summer.  It would have to be an amazing Fall and Winter full of killer albums to knock The Madness from the Top 5 albums of the year for me.  It is that good.  Hopefully, this is not the last we will hear from this amazing melodic, hard rocking "super group".

Rating:  Crankable to the extreme!  Crank this to 9.5!

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Thursday, August 3, 2017

OWL COMPANY "Horizon"

(c) 2017 Independent Release

  1. Intro
  2. Celebrate And Kneel
  3. Ain't Time For This
  4. Riddles
  5. Deathrow
  6. Black N Blue
  7. Bullet Proof Innocence
  8. Caged Emotions
  9. Underdog
Enrico Minelli--Vocals
Felipe Ruiz--Guitars
Thiago Biasoli--Drums
Fabio Yamamoto-Bass

Brazil, at one time, was a hot bed in the metal industry, particularly if you were into thrash, which I very much was in the 80s and 90s (still love it, to be honest).  Something about the brutality of the bands from the South American country really grabbed my attention, and even though I still preferred the Bay Area Sound to those coming from bands like Sepultura, Korzus, Torture Squad, and Executer (sic), I still kept an ear to what was coming from the region.  Unfortunately, a lot of what I used to really like about the South American metal scene evaporated as death metal, and eventually black metal, took over the thrash scene and tuned me out, as I am not a fan of those particular genres.

When this CD came to me, I was not sure what the heck it was.  For one, I have no clue how the band found me or managed to get a CD to me, but that's not overly unusual I guess, as I get a lot of independent stuff funneled my way.  But if you look at the cover, and combine it with the name 'Owl Company', there is no way you would likely come up with a description to fit this new export from Sao Paulo, Brazil.  While not thrash, this is definitely metal...HEAVY metal...albeit more in the groove-heavy, sludgy, southern metal style that a lot of people associate with later Pantera or, more to my mind, a band like Texas Hippie Coalition.  Melding 70s classic rock with a more 90s metal approach, Horizon is loud, fast, aggressive, and angry!

The album starts off with "Intro", which as everyone who reads this blog knows, is a horrible way to start an album if you want to grab my interest.  This is no different, to be honest, as all this intro did was really make me question the recording quality of the album, as the sound quality of this disorganized jam-styled-riffer is decidedly low-fi.  Turns out that the recording and the mix are actually excellent, which becomes evident as soon as the intro bleeds into the first real song here, "Celebrate And Kneel".  This track comes out with fangs and claws bared as big, thundering drums bring the screaming guitars and Minelli's low-register snarl to bear on the listener.  This onslaught continues, especially with high-octane numbers like "Play With Fire", "Riddles", or the slower 70s-Sabbath inspired sludgefest "Bullet Proof Innocence", which is likely my favorite track on this record, bloodying your nose as it bludgeons you with a thick-grooved wallop.  Wedged in there is "Black 'N Blue", which uses a modern recording technique at the beginning of the track, applying that hollow-sounding recording style so many bands seem to employ now (you'll know what I'm talking about the second you hear it), but it rights itself to become a bottom-end riffer that has a catchy hook and driving rhythm. The "ballad" of the record, "Caged Emotions", competes for best of the bunch here, also, and is another bottom-heavy rumbler that should have 70s Sabbath fans sitting up to take notice, especially with the truly excellent bass work from Yamamoto so evident here.  Minelli at times sounds like he is channeling Chris Cornell in his approach to phrasing, and this is never more evident than on "Caged Emotions".

The surprise of the year for me, so far, Horizon is one of those records that should get massive heavy rock radio attention...and possibly even Grammy-type attention...but it is likely going to fly under the radar of those "in the know" morons who think they know what metal and heavy rock fans want.  Trust me, if you want actual old-school metal, soaked in whiskey and filtered through the doomy sludge of the 70s  heavy rockers, Owl Company is exactly what you have been searching for.  Still not having a solid internet presence that I am aware of, the band can be sought out on Facebook, which may be the best way to order this record.  And make no mistake, you NEED to order Horizon.

Rating:  A stunner from out of nowhere, crank this to 8.5!

Thursday, July 27, 2017

SEVENTH DAY SLUMBER "Found"

(c) 2017 VSR Music Group

  1. Sky Is Falling
  2. Horizon
  3. Found
  4. Sins Of Our Fathers
  5. Heart On My Sleeve
  6. Mercy Meets My Pain
  7. Til The End
  8. Tomorrow Breaks (Into The Fire)
  9. Fallen
  10. My Last Words
Joseph Rojas--Lead Vocals, Guitars
Jeremy Holderfield--Lead Guitars
Ken Reed--Bass
Blaise Rojas--Drums, Percussion

I first encountered Seventh Day Slumber about 12 years ago, or so, when I was rummaging through a used CD store in Denver, Colorado.  I grew up in the 70s and 80s, and was a big fan of the arena/hair metal genre, so when I found this CD called Picking Up The Pieces by Seventh Day Slumber, I had to snag it.  Why?  Because the track listing included "When The Children Cry", and I had to know if it was the same song that was done by White Lion.  Ignoring all of the other tracks on the CD, I popped the disc in and immediately tracked to "...Children...", and sure enough it was the same song.  The singer had a much lower range than Mike Tramp, and the feel of the song was a bit grungier than the original, but it was still the same song, and I found myself liking the approach the band had taken. Also, being a huge fan of the Christian hard rock/metal sub-genre, and owning every Stryper, Whitecross, Guardian, and Skillet CD out there, I was also appreciative of the message the band delivered on the rest of the album (once I got around to listening to it), and I mentally filed the band away as one that I'd check out further at some point.

Flash forward to 2017, and I am still a fan of the Christian hard rockers, having seen them in concert a couple of times and getting the chance to meet them, as well.  I pretty much own the band's catalog (minus their first couple of very hard to come by independent releases), and have been generally pleased with the majority of the band's output through the years (you can read reviews of We Are The Broken and Redline).

Found is the band's first full-length release in over five years, and one that finds the band doing what they do best, wrapping solid hard-but-radio accessible rockers around a couple of emotional ballads, challenging listeners to dig deep inside themselves to work through questions of self-worth, pain, faith, and redemption.  Never shying away from their faith, Seventh Day Slumber has always delivered a powerful message with powerful music, and Found is certainly not the exception.

The album kicks off in fine fashion with the hard-driving "Sky Is Falling", which features a nice guitar hook from Holderman right out of the gate, a solid bass line from Reed, and the smooth, emotion-laced tenor of Rojas, all of which have been trademarks of the band for several albums now.  What is new, however, is the strong drum performance of Blaise Rojas, who took over the drummer's seat on Redline, and who showcases solid musical growth throughout Found.  On "Sky Is Falling", the strength of the drums is evident right from the start, and the younger Rojas finds himself perfectly in the mix of the track, not only as the timekeeper for the band, but as an interesting part of the listening experience.  It's nice to hear that he is allowed to expand past the simplistic rhythms and patterns frequently utilized by younger musicians.

"Horizon" finds the band slipping into a bit more melodic territory, while still maintaining an upbeat rock tempo.  Solid backing vocals add to the depth here, and I'm betting this track will find itself on the radio in the near future, as well as in the band's setlist for shows.  The track flows very well with an easy-to-sing chorus, but I do wish Holderfield's guitar had been given the chance to voice a nice, melodic solo somewhere between chorus sections on this song about persisting through the hard times and not taking your eyes off the Prize.

The album's lead single is also the title track, and "Found", the song, is a powerful example of Rojas laying himself bare emotionally.  The singer says the song is one that really touches him deeply when he performs it, and it is definitely one that many people will likely identify with when they hear it.  Seamlessly melding in a section of "The Old Rugged Cross", "Found" is one of the better ballads the band has ever put on an album, in my opinion, and is likely to be one of the biggest Christian rock hits of 2017.

Back-to-back tracks ramp the album back up into hard rocking territory, with "Sins Of Our Fathers" and "Heart On My Sleeve".  Both are excellent rockers, and "Heart...", in particular, really gives Holderfield a chance to shine on a muscular solo that fights its way to the forefront before the final, catchy chorus section kicks in.  Really good stuff here on both of these tracks that are guaranteed to please fans of the hard-edged tracks from We Are The Broken or Redline, or for fans of the gritty radio rock put out by bands like Skillet and Thousand Foot Krutch.

Things slow back down a bit with consecutive ballads, the piano-based "Mercy Meets My Pain", and the more power ballad-styled, "Til The End".  While neither is a bad song, by any stretch, placing them sequentially, and just a couple of songs separated from "Found", kind of bogs the album down a touch here, and I probably would have moved "Til The End"...well...toward the end of the record, just for pacing reasons.  In fairness, I really like "Til The End", and it holds a great message of redemption, with a chorus of "tomorrow you will wake up, its another day of, mercies that will never end...", while also encouraging the listener to "let go of the past, let go of those ways, let go of all the anger, all of the mistakes".  A great message, just perhaps placed in a bad spot, tempo-wise.

Once again, the rock returns with "Tomorrow Breaks (Into The Fire)", which is one of the top four songs on the record, without question.  One of the true strengths of this band, for me, has always been the way Joseph can just glide his tenor across a pretty hard rocking track like this one with seemingly no strain or effort at all, but without compromising the grit necessary to maintain the edginess of the track.  Holderfield can be heard constantly churning in the background with some really good rhythm work, and Reed weaves a pulsing bass thread throughout the track.  Good, good stuff.

"Fallen" continues the rock assault, and I wish the record had closed with this track, just to leave me with a fist in the air moment.  Understandably, however, the band chooses to close with the praise and worship-styled "My Last Words".  A track which I would call an "uptempo ballad", if that makes sense, "My Last Words" features some nice string work, acoustic rhythm guitars...and...do I hear a slide guitar, also(?)...on a track that bears a strong resemblance to "Found" as far as tempo goes.  I could see CCM stations picking up on this track in a big way, while rock stations may pass it over in favor of the grittier material on this record.

I'm not going to deny I'm always a fan of the harder material, regardless of the band, and the case is no different with Found.  This new album has plenty of those hard-edged moments, and while they don't do anything to really push the boundaries of what 7DS is known for, I don't think they need to, either.  After all, Seventh Day Slumber has always been about the message, with the way that message is delivered being a secondary concern.  Thankfully, the band continues to deliver that message in a way that this old rocker can really appreciate and rock out with, while also sharing it with the next generation of rockers coming up in my household!

Rating: A solid album throughout, with several punchy rockers for the listener to chew on, while absorbing the positive messages of the slower moments.  Well-written, nicely produced and skillfully performed, crank this to a 7.5!