Wednesday, August 15, 2018

BROKEN TESTIMONY "Holding On To Nothing"

(c) 2018 Thermal Entertainment

  1. We Never Learned From Our Mistakes
  2. Control
  3. One Day
  4. Fade Away
  5. Instead We Hid From Them, Just Like Our Fears
  6. Blessing
  7. Medusa
  8. We Smoke Them Away, Thinking They'll Burn Off
  9. Unknown
  10. Vitality
  11. But They Just Stain Who We Are Inside
Judge Page--Lead Vocals, Guitars (solo on 9, 10)
Bryce Chism--Vocals (2, 6, 7), Drums
Nic Delvaux--Guitars (solo on 3, 4)
Justin King--Bass

Additional Musicians
Jacob Porter--Additional Vocals on "Fade Away"

I am not going to lie.  When I first received this CD, took a look at the band name, the ummm...interesting...cover art, and the way the song titles were laid out, I thought I was going to be reviewing a death metal band, or at least some kind of brutal metalcore.  Despite these things, however, Broken Testimony is most definitely NOT death metal, or metalcore, utilizing a more post-grunge, alternative hard rock/modern hard rock sound than anything else.  Except, it really isn't that modern sounding, either.  Let me explain...

Broken Testimony is a four-piece out of South Carolina, who has been performing together for only a couple of years.  Despite the relative lack of time together, the guys managed to put together this debut album, which is performed almost 100% exclusively by the band, with only a single guest vocal earning outside credit, which is kind of unusual for such an inexperienced band.  Usually with new bands, there was some bigger band that discovered them and helped them out in the studio by dropping a few guitar solos or co-lead vocals or something.  Not the case here.

The album starts off with...and is broken up by, and ended by, a series of musical interludes.  The first, "We Never Learned From Our Mistakes" is probably the coolest of the four here, and it features a thunderstorm and alert sirens while some mellow guitar strumming goes on over the top.  "Control" kicks in shortly after this intro ends, and almost immediately it is obvious these guys were big fans of the modern rock scene of the mid-2000s, early 2010s, as thoughts of older bands like Staind, Breaking Benjamin, Crossfade, Chevelle, and a few others start to permeate my mind.  The guitar work, in particular, is very reminiscent of what you likely heard from these bands around 2008, 2009, 2010, with the combination of clean and harsh vocals also recalling that era of hard music.  The mix on the drums sounds off to me, as they are pretty flat sounding, but overall, "Control" isn't a bad song at all.

"One Day" is more melodic in its approach, really reminding me of some of my favorite stuff from Staind, although Page's vocals aren't as deep or as emotional as Aaron Lewis' vocals are...but, really, whose are?  Page misses a couple of notes here, whether for dramatic effect or not, I really can't say, but overall, this is one of the best songs on the album, and is really where I think the band finds their sweet spot, stylistically.  Delvaux delivers a decent solo, one that is befitting of the style of the song, and the bass line here is pretty cool, so "One Day" has a lot of what it needs to be a really strong song.  Once again, the drums just sound off, which is unfortunate, as they do detract a bit from the song, and I get the impression that Chism is a much better drummer than the mix represents here.  Just a hunch. 

"Fade Away" continues in the Staind style, with a somber sounding guitar riff introing the track before the bass comes rumbling in over the top of some pretty powerful drum thunder.  Again, Page's vocal style is very reminiscent of the approach used by Lewis, but once again, he seems to miss a note or two, especially when he reaches back for a powerful vocal thrust, which seems to throw him off a bit.  The drums here are much better than on the previous few tracks, and again the band seems most comfortable in this style.  Once again, Delvaux offers up something of a solo, although, much like Staind, Chevelle, and their ilk, the solo really isn't the focal point of any song, so don't expect any Van Halen type of hammer-ons or string bending here.

We hit another interlude at track five, and this one comes off as a bit darker than the first.  There are some vocals to this one, sounding like they are lifted from a movie, but it is one I am not familiar with.  The "music" here is more just atmospheric noise behind the narration, and this track is just a wasted 1:50 to me.  Sorry...I'm not an intro/interlude/outro guy in general (you can find my complaints about these things all over this review site).

"Blessing" brings the music back to life with a really cool drum cadence and a funky bass line that is somewhat reminiscent of somthing Korn might have done several years ago.  The overall track doesn't sound this way, but the first minute or so is pretty cool.  From there, the verse sections are fairly laid back before the harsh vocals kick in on the pre-chorus sections, and then Page pours on the anger in the choruses themselves.  The thick, down-tuned guitars are pretty crunchy here, but I can't say that "Blessing" really does a lot for me, musically.  Lyrically, the song seems to be about killing someone, and is fairly dark and twisted, to be honest, especially when you consider the band is made up of teenagers and early twenty-somethings.  I mean, lyrics like "Plotting in disguise, With no haste, I could not wait..." combined with "No question, I had no doubt, Her skin felt so cold, As I gazed down into her eyes..." are kind of creepy, at least to me.  Maybe I'm reading too much into these words, who knows.

"Medusa" is up next, and is one of the angrier sounding songs on the record.  Page has an edge to his vocals throughout the song, and the lyrics scream of a friendship/relationship destroyed by deceit and lies.  The guitars churn angrily throughout the song, and the drums take on a tribal pattern that just feeds the angst here.  Easily the best of the hard-hitting tracks here, for my money, and a good type of song to make the far more melodic tracks like ""One Day" or "Fade Away" pop all that much more.

Too quickly we are disrupted by yet another interlude, this one called "We Smoke Them Away, Thinking They'll Burn Off".  Again, we have some ambient noise from the guitars in the background as a narrator reads through a passage by Alan Watts, one of those "deep Eastern thinkers" that my college philosophy professors probably still drool over to this day, but that really do nothing for me.  Go ahead and Google him and the words to this interlude and you will find him pretty easily.  Just wasted CD space, in my opinion, and I got an "A" in philosophy, but whatever...

The last two actual songs on the album are "Unknown" and "Vitality".  "Unknown" is a pretty stark, dark-sounding song from the outset, but lyrically seems to be rather hopeful, to be honest.  We find the band back in Staind mode for this one...and the drum mix issue has returned, also, sounding very flat.  A decent song, but not one that does anything to really set itself apart from the rest of the record.  "Vitality" ramps up the aggression slightly, still sounding a lot like Staind to me, but with more chugging guitar riffing going on and some harsher edges to Page's vocals.  I like the way the chorus is layered upon itself, and the track is one of the top three or four on the disc, to be sure.  

Things close out with the outrom "But They Just Stain Who We Are Inside".  I found a notation online that says these interludes were taken from a poem that Chism wrote called "Cigarettes On School Buses", but I'm assuming that is where the track titles come from, and that Chism isn't trying to take credit for Watts' work.

Overall, the band sounds to me like they have quite a bit of talent and a definite passion for the style of music they play.  The issues are that the production, especially on the drum mix, comes off fairly flat on about half of the album, and this style of rock is not really one that is popular today.  Had this come out in that late 2000s/early 2010s timeframe I referenced earlier, I wouldn't be surprised to hear Broken Testimony in the Octane mix.  As it stands, even with updated production, and a bigger recording budget (which I suspect is the root cause of the mix and the off-sounding vocal spots, where only one or two takes were likely used), this would still not sound like anything you hear on satelite radio or modern/active rock stations.  Maybe that's not necessarily a bad thing, and you have to play what you love and what you sound like, right?  To me, Broken Testimony sounds like a band that really loves Staind, Breaking Benjamin, and some of the other bands I mentioned, and, as such, they have incorporated those styles into their own music.  And there's nothing wrong with that or with being true to yourself.  Just don't expect the world to come meet you at where you are if they have already moved past the place you are standing in.  That is especially true of music...

I found an acoustic set from the band on YouTube that gives you a pretty good idea of where they come from musically, as it is VERY reminiscent of the unplugged show Staid did, musically.  If you want, you can check it out below.

The packaging is solid, with lyrics to all the songs included in the multi-fold digipack.  There is a black and white band photo under the clear tray, along with a thank you section and credits.

Rating:  For what it is, Broken Testimony's "Holding On To Nothing" is rockable.  I give this debut effort a 5.5.

Friday, August 10, 2018

TALKIN' TRASH WITH....Luke Easter (ex-Tourniquet, current solo artist)

For more than 20 years, Luke Easter could be found fronting the pioneering Christian thrash metal band, Tourniquet.  However, after five studio albums, an EP, and a final vocal appearance on that band's 2014 album, Onward To Freedon, Luke Easter has stepped away from the metal madness and returned with his own excellent solo effort, The Pop Disaster.  Now, Luke steps up to a mic of a different kind as he takes some time to Talk Trash with us here at Glitter2Gutter!  Check out what Luke's been up to, where he comes from, how he got there, and what's next as we discuss metal, Morrisey, and the completely overrated stature of Klondike Bars!!

G2G:  Luke Easter, the former vocalist for Tourniquet, and no a budding solo artist, has been kind enough to join us to Talk some Trash!  Luke, thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me.  I've been a fan for years!  How have you been?

Luke:  I'm well.  Busy.

G2G:  I can imagine!  I just got your new CD, The Pop Disaster, and it is obvious that you have been busy....

Luke:  Yeah, between finishing and releasing the record, and all of normal day-to-day stuff, there's not a ton of downtime.

G2G:  Normal day-to-day stuff?  Come're a rock star!

Luke:  I wish!  I saw a bumper sticker once that said, "Working Musicians Have Day Jobs". That's very true in most cases, I think.

G2G:  Well, if you aren't a rock star, you sure run with a crowd of guys who are in/have been in some signigicant groups.  Josiah Prince from Disciple, Jesse Sprinkle from Poor Old Lu and Demon Hunter, David Back from Guardian...that's quite a collection of known artists in the Christian rock and metal world.

Luke:  Don't forget Tim Gaines (ex-Stryper).  I have been fortunate enough to have made connections with some very cool musicians over the years.  Almost 23 years with my previous band gave me the opportunity to meet a lot of people, and some of them I am lucky enough to be able to call my friends.

G2G:  I think there's a perception out there that all these Christian bands run in the same circles and all know each other.  Is that necessarily the case?  Or, is it like any other industry, music or otherwise, and its about networking and relationships?

Luke:  It's networking and relationships, at least in my experience.

For instance, Tim, I've been a fan of since the first Stryper record came out.  We'd met a couple of times in Southern California back in the day, so he was aware of us.  We had a European date in 2008 and needed a bass player, so we called Tim.  We've stayed in touch off and on since.

It's similar with David.  I bought First Watch when I was 17 or 18, and I've been a fan of Guardian since.  We played shows with them, and I've stayed in touch on and off with him and Jamie (Rowe) over the years.  Actually, David heard demo versions, a long time ago, of a couple of songs that are on The Pop Disaster.  He gave some good feedback, and in a lot of ways, helped me believe I could make this project a reality at some point.

Jesse, I've been a fan of since the Poor Old Lu days.  He is one of the most versatile, creative drummers I know.  I love what he brought to the table for this record.

Josiah is a newer friend.  I actually had never met him until this past March.  We'd only interacted online.  Kevin Young (lead vocalist of Disciple) has been a good friend for a long time, and he pointed me toward Josiah early on when I was trying to figure out who was going to play on the record.

G2G:  Even with all that experience and firepower backing you, the idea of venturing into the solo world had to be scary, didn't it?

Luke:  The solo thing is something that's always kind of been in the back of my mind.  Kris, my producer and guitar player, and I have talked about making a record together since high school.  I didn't start out doing the metal thing; my tastes have always run more to the pop/rock/hard rock side of things, although I am a metal fan.  I always wanted to showcase this other side of me, however.  I'd brought it up in the past, but I was always asked to hold off on doing anything.  So, the timing was perfect for doing it now.  Yes, I would have loved to have done it sooner, but I don't think I was ready.  I don't think I would have been able to assemble the talent and have the right songs ten years ago.

G2G:  Okay, I promise not to dwell on the past, and we're going to definitely spend some time on The Pop Disaster, but I'd be slacking if we didn't talk some Tourniquet for a minute.  How exactly did you end up in such an a progressive way...thrash metal band?

Luke:  I did the whole garage band thing with my friends in high school.  I was the world's worst bass player!  Then, I decided to go for it and try to be the singer, and I played with a local band for a couple years doing that.  I figured out how to sing and not lose my voice, and I learned how to be a part of a band.  I also started figuring out how to craft decent songs.  That ran its course, and I wanted to go to the next level.  I figured I'd either be good enough, or I'd find out quick that I wasn't and I'd cut my hair and go to school or something.  Bryan Gray from The Blamed is a friend of mine, and back then he was in a band called Rocks In Pink Cement.  We'd done shows together, and he is the one who told me to try out for Tourniquet.  I honestly didn't know I could do any of the stuff I ended up doing with that band, but I went for it and sent them a tape.   A couple of weeks later, I was in LA auditioning.  A week after that I was back in LA rehearsing, and a week or so after that, we were kicking off the Pathogenic Tour in Oklahoma.

G2G:  That had to be a daunting situation, stepping into the lead vocalist role to tour for an album you had no part in making (Pathogenic Ocular Dissonance).  Were you at all afraid of how fans were going to accept you since your style is so different from Guy Ritter (original Tourniquet vocalist)? 

Luke:  I wasn't.  I was excited to actually be in a working band doing a tour.  I didn't sound like Guy and I didn't try to mimic him.  I sang the songs my way, but tried to be as respectful of the originals as possible.  But, I wasn't really too worried about folks liking me or not.  I was more worried about remembering all the words!

G2G:  How many songs did you have to learn?  And did you have any background in medical terminology, since so many of those early Toruniquet songs used so much of that stuff? (Laughter)

Luke:  (Laughs) I did not have a medical background!  I had to learn about 12 or 14 songs, I think, and I only had a week or so to learn them before rehearsals started!

G2G:  Holy "Gelatinous Tubercles of Purulent Ossification", Batman!  (Laughter)

Luke:  (Laughter) No pressure!

G2G:  You mentioned buying the first Guardian record (First Watch), being a fan of early Stryper, and being friends with members of The Blamed.  Did you come of age in that early Christian rock/metal scene of the 80s?

Luke:  Not really as a part of it, but I was definitely aware of it.  I grew up in church, and the early 80s were a great time, in a lot of ways, for new music in that world.  So, I was aware of the new bands who were coming up, but I was just a music lover for a long time.

G2G:  I was pretty similar.  I was into all the LA bands, and eventually the thrash scene, as well, and just loved the harder music of the time.  Then I had a friend who introduced me to Saint and Whitecross and Jerusalem, and I steered HARD into the Christian rock and metal scene.  I discovered bands like Messiah Prophet and Bloodgood and Barren Cross and Neon Cross, and from there found the thrash scene, like Deliverance and Vengeance and Sacrament...and of course, Tourniquet...

Luke:  Kris, whom I mentioned before, turned me on to Tourniquet right after STB (Stop The Bleeding) came out.  He also played on the demo I sent when I was trying to get the audition.  And now, all ths time later, he played guitar and produced my solo debut!

G2G:  Did you grow up in a musical family?

Luke:  Not really.  My father sang at church occasionally, and my mother was a very average piano player.  But, in terms of being serious about music, no, it was not a musical home.  They didn't seem quite sure of what to do when I decided I needed to be in a band.  I really don't think they were that supportive until I did my first album.

G2G:  Getting back to Tourniquet for a minute, I always tell people that you are to Tourniquet what Jon Bush was to Anthrax...darker, grittier, angrier, a singer, and that the band evolved due to that.  Is that a fair assessment?

(Tourniquet...Luke, Ted, Aaron)
Luke:  I guess so.  Jon is a very different vocalist than Joey, and I'm definitely a much different sounding singer than Guy was.  Like I said earlier, I never tried to mimic Guy when we'd do the earlier stuff live, but I tried to balance respecting what he had done on the records with making those songs my own.  Same thing in the studio.  I just tried to do the best thing for the song, and to follow the direction I got from whomever was producing.  I just wanted to make my mark and to create a solid body of work.

G2G:  Honestly, I prefer both ou and Jon, although I love where both bands came from and, seemingly, are returning to.

Luke:  Thanks!

G2G:  Have you ever had any real contact with Guy Ritter?

Luke:  The first time I met Guy was at a club in Santa Clara, California.  The band played and some friends and I hung around after to meet them.  I've hung out with him a few times at Gary's (Gary Lenaire) house back in the early days of my time with the band.

G2G:  What about Gary then?  Are you still friends?

Luke:  Gary I recently reconnected with.  Things weren't great between us by the time he left the band, and it kind of went downhill from there for a while.  We reconnected over social media a year or two ago, and we hung out for a bit at the NAMM show in January.  I did a vocal for a track he just released. (Check out "Vainglorious Hypocrisy" HERE) It's good to have him as a friend again. It was cool to do something with him.  We were only on two songs together back in the day.  I think folks will enjoy hearing the two of us together again in a totlly different context.

With the new song...people forget that Gary and Guy started that band (Tourniquet).  They were a big part of initially defining that sound.  When I heard this new track for the first time, it hit me how much Gary's style impacted the sound of those first few records.  The stuff we did after his exit was good, but it sounds completely different.

Sometimes things are greater than the sum of their parts.  I used to love Dream Theater, but since Portnoy left, they just don't do it for me.  There's some kind of X-factor missing, at least for me.  Having had a bit of time and distance, I'd say that we took a hit in some ways when Gary was out of the band.  Like I said, we did some good stuff after, but it wasn't the same.

G2G:  I have to ask, how does a guy go from those harsher, darker vocals I mentioned, to those you used on The Pop Disaster?  I know I told you in a previous conversation that I hear some Sebastian Back in your voice on a couple of tracks, but I hear a lot of Mike Tramp from White Lion on about half the record.

Luke:  I am a big fan of bands like Bon Jovi, Extreme, Stryper, Def Leppard...all the great 80s bands.  I also love a good pop song.  Melodically and structurally, my brain works more in those terms, and its really the way I tend to approach singing.  If you listen close to a lot of the stuff I did previously, you can hear a lot of hints of that.  The harsher, darker growls and such are what I ddin't know I could do prior to joining that band.  I figured out how to do it on the road.

G2G:  So with The Pop Disaster, were you making a Not-A-Tourniquet record, or were you
making a Luke Easter record?

Luke:  I'd say a Luke Easter record.  I mean, left to my own devices, I'm not going to write a metal record, so it was never going to sound like that band anyway.  I did toss out ideas if they reminded me of the past work, but I had already decided early on that I wanted to do a pop/rock record.

G2G:  Okay, now the next question, which you know will be asked due to your history and your bandmates on this this a Christian record?

Luke: What makes a record Christian?

I read a thing once where Bono stated that the Psalms are the original blues.  I know a lot of people cherry pick the ones about how amazing God is, but there are also a lot that are complaints, and that are about how the writer's lot in life sucks.  I know that to many people, a record falls into the Christian category if it's loaded up with sermonettes about salvation, and if it name-checks God or Jesus every other line.  If people applied that same criteria to the Bible, the Bible wouldn't pass the test.  There's history, genealogy, and poetry in there, along with a lot of killing and a lot of sex.  And the Gospel!  So, I don't know how to answer that question, really.

I wrote a handful of songs about life.  Stuff I've experienced, stuff I've seen others go through, and stuff I think about.  I am a believer.  I self-identify as a Christian, and to whatever degree of success, I try to live that out.  What you believe, what you value in life, will come through in you, whatever you do.  So I guess it kind of is, but at the same time, maybe it isn't.

G2G:  I was chatting with a friend about music one time, and he asked me about why Christians never sing about sex.  He said, "you guys like sex, right?"  I laughed at him and said, "Sure.  And I'll bet atheists and satanists like ketchup, but I've never heard King Diamond sing about it..."

Luke:  (Laughter)  Tell him to read Song of Solomon...

G2G:  The point of course being what you talked about...what you value in life.

Luke:  Exactly...

G2G:  As a father, I am very careful about what I deliberately expose my kids to, because there is so much out there I can't control.  My kids listen to about 90% music that would be identified as Christian or "positive rock"...bands like Disciple, Skillet, TFK, 7eventh Time Down, Manafest...stuff like that...which I also listen to a lot of..

Luke:  That's cool.  That's your job as a parent, right?  Set boundaries and prepare them to be able to make good choices when it's time.

I don't want to come off as unconcerned about the Gospel, but in reality, salvation is a starting point.  It sets you on a path.  I think that Christians, in general, but definitely a large chunk of the Christian music world, have turned it into the be-all/end-all final destination, and the culture is the worse for it, in my opinion.

G2G:  I started a discussion on Facebook the other day about the fact that I just don't relate to most of the 80s bands I grew up with and felt way more connected lyrically to bands of the 90s and 2000s.  It's not that they offend me or anything, I just don't feel as connected to it now, other than for nostalgic reasons.  The grunge/post-grunge bands sang about emotions and things I can relate to.  I don't relate to the party-all-the-time stuff.  I think that's part of what drew me to Christian music at I liked but not with messages I couldn't relate to.  Same thing with the "positive rock" bands of today...great message about real emotions and relationships, and yes, sometimes God, but still great music.  I get that on The Pop Disaster; real emotions, real experiences...

Luke:  Exactly.  I like Poison, but I don't spin them like I did back in the day because I'm more grown up.  When you're a teenager, everything is about sex and partying and rebellion, at least for a lot of kids.  So music like that is appealing, because it's about what's most on a young kid's mind.  I think that's why Bon Jovi has had a longer shelf life.  After New Jersey, the songs became more about life and less about girls and partying.  The band grew up with their audience.  I think that's why the Corabi album is my favorite Crue record; there's still sex and parties, but there are other more grown-up themes on there.  That's always the goal when I write.  I need it to be genuine.  I don't want to waste my time making songs that don't really have more to them than just being catchy and singable.

Steve Taylor had a great line in one of his songs.  "If music's saying nothing, save it for the dentist's chair."  In other words, don't just be backround noise; say something worth listening to.

G2G:  Kosher Womack of One Bad Pig sang/screamed, "You can sing about whatever you want to, but if you're just making a bunch of noise...shut up!"

Luke:  Yes!  Totally!  Even if it is just a pop song!  Say what you want about Taylor Swift, but she's writing from the heart about real things that resonate with people.  That's why she's so successful.  It's pop, but at least it's got some depth.

G2G:  Alright, you mentioned "pop", so that leads me to the new record...not the bunch of noise part, but what you were saying about writing about real things.  I love "Life Goes On"...I can't stop playing it.  Tell me about that song...

Luke:  "Life Goes On" was the last song written and recorded.  We had all of the others in various stages, and it occured to me that I couldn't imagine any of them opening the record.  I needed a song with that feel to it tat had a more upbeat lyric.   Then I couldn't come up with anything...for weeks!   There were some time constraints we were working under, so Kris told me if I didn't have something by a certain point, it wasn't going to happen.  No pressure!

G2G:  (Laughter)  No...none...

Luke:  Kelly, my wife, and I were at the airport headed to Disneyland, and the whole song pretty much popped into my head while we were in line for boarding.  I immediately emailed the lyric to Kris, and we had it basically arranged and in production within a week or so.

G2G:  Disney IS a magical place!

Luke:  Disneyland is one of my favorite places in the entire world.

"Life Goes On" is a different type of song for me.  I've always tended to write from a more pessimistic/fatalistic point of view, which I suppose is fine in metal...or if you're Morrisey...

G2G: (Laughing at the Morrisey comment)

Luke:   ...but I wanted to try to break out of that a bit.  There's still some of that in there, but I think the relative positivity of the chorus saves it from being a lament.  It gives it a lift so it's more of an acknowledgement of reality, but an exhortation to keep going because it'll get better.

G2G:  Another track I absolutely love is "As Damaged As You Are".  To me, it's really an anti-judgement song, that we are all struggling, all carrying our own baggage, and that no one is spared that human condition...even when we put on a smile or a mask or whatever...

Luke:  When you're in a band, people think you know stuff, that you've got some special insight into things, purely by virtue of being on a record or on-stage.  It's tempting to buy into it, but even if you don't, there's still pressure...real or present a certain way so you can maintain that facade of having it all together and having all the answers.  But really, we're all broken in some way or other.  And it's not even just band people.  Pastors, teachers, mentors, whatever...everyone has felt the need to put on a mask so they can hide their brokenness.

G2G:  Tell me about "Sideways".

Luke:  I started that song about eight years, or so, ago.  All of verse one is still the same.  I just made one tweak to a line in the bridge because it seemed to harsh to me, and verse two was written maybe two years ago.  I had a couple of friends whose marriages imploded around the same time, and that is the genesis of that song.

G2G:  I love the snarky attitude of "How To Die Broke And Alone..."

Luke:  That's anothe one that took awhile to finish.  Some people choose not to be good people.  They take their loved ones for granted, they mistreat and abuse people, and eventually they wind up bitter and lonely.  Usually with no grasp of why their choices did them in.

I'm happy with that one.  It has a "Dizzy Up The Girl"-era Goo Goo Dolls meets "Left Of Self-Centered"-era Butch Walker vibe, at least the way I hear it.  Kris was invaluable in giving that song its shape.  It was too long.  He hacked it down to size and really gave it shape.

G2G:  Tell me about "Sleep".  I love the arrangement and the strings on that one...

Luke:  That one and "Misspent" are the oldest songs on the record.  I wrote them and Kris and I did demos for them, and they sat for a long time.  The original demo for "Sleep" was way more uptempo and had drums, electric guitar...the whole deal.  When we decided to do it for The Pop Disaster, we were asking ourselves what we could possibly have been thinking when we originaly did it.  So we slowed it down, stripped it down, and lowered the key a bit.  The violin was Kris' idea.  We originally were going to have a bass line, but it wasn't working, so we decided to go the cello route.  That really made the song work.

Someone I'm really close wit was going through a really difficult time in their life.  When we'd talk, they'd tell me how stressed they were in their life and how they couldn't seem to sleep anymore because things were so bad.  "Sleep" came out of those conversations.  I think it works well as a bookend with "Life Goes On".  They're similar topically, but where "Life Goes On" is about not giving up, "Sleep" is about letting go and not getting dragged down.

G2G:  I have to know...where did the album title come from?

Luke:  A blend of insecurity and being aware of what I'm known for.  Obviously whatever name I've made for myself, whatever reputation I've had up until now, has been because I sang in a metal band.  This record is decided not metal, and I was concerned how it might be received.  So. I decided to give it a tongue-in-cheek title.  Thankfully, the respose has been very positive.

G2G:  Well, to me, it's anything but a disaster.  You pulled it off extremely well.

Luke:  Thanks.  I can't tell you how good it feels to hear that from people.  I like the record.  I'm proud of the work Kris and I did, and very pleased with everyone's contributions.  It would have really been a bummer if it had ended up being a literal "pop disaster".

G2G:  Alright...completely different tack.  Let's say I was to pull up at the Easter house on a typical day.  What is Luke probably doing?

Luke:  What time are we talking about?

G2G:  (Laughter)  Ummm...6:27 PM.

Luke:  Finishing dinner whilst watching something on Netflix, most likely.  How about you?  What's going on at Casa de Arttie at 6:27 on an average evening?

G2G:  Wow!  Gotta respect anyone who "whilsts" you!

Luke:  I like words.  Especially semi-anachronistic ones.

G2G:  (laughter) Who doesn't?!  I like pulling out atypical words in typical scenarios.  Anyway, let's see....6:27 PM at my house...I'm probably finishing up making supper, since my wife frequently works later than me.  Being a teacher, my day is usually done by 4 or 4:30, at least in the classroom.

Luke:  Cool.  How old are your kids?  Marie is your wife's name, right?  How long have you been married?

G2G:  Wait a minute!  Who's doing the interview here?!  (Laughter)  My oldest is 11, and my youngest is 6.  Marie and I have been together for 20 years, married for 13.

Luke:  Nice!

G2G:  And you?

Luke: No kids.  Met my wife when I was 20, and we've been married 21 years in September.

G2G:  Awesome!

Luke:  She is...

G2G:  Are you a sports guy?

Luke:  No, I don't get it.  I'm competitive, but not like that.  And I don't understand the attraction of  watching overpaid people playing games. I really, really don't understand folks using the word "we" when referring to the object of their fandom.  I'm a Megadeth fan, but I've never seen them play and then told people how awesome "we" were last night...

G2G:  (Laughter)  I hear that a lot.  I've always been a sports guy.  Played baseball, football, wrestled, ran track...even played basketball in junior high and as a freshman.  Competitive powerlifter, armwrestler, and bodybuilder for a time, also.  Now I just lift for me, and I coach baseball, soccer, and wrestling for my kids.

Luke:  That's awesome.  What do I know?  I geek out over Star Wars and Doctor Who and stuff like that.  I imagine there are people who don't uinderstand that at all.

G2G: Doctor Who?

Luke:  New Who or Classic Who?

G2G:  Classic.

Luke:  Classic...I'm not as well versed, but I like Pertwee a great deal, but Tom Baker was the first Doctor I was ever aware of, so I have a soft spot for him.

G2G:  Tom Baker, for sure!  Loved him!  See, I have what I like to call Life-ADHD.  I'm into too many things for my own good.  Sports, music, history, comics, wife needs to run into some kind of inheritance so I can retire and have more time!  I need like 35 hour days!

Luke:  I feel you!  I just know I was supposed to be independently wealthy by now...

G2G:  Well, I'm adopted, so I keep waiting for someone to show up and tell me I've inherited an island kingdom somewhere...

Luke:  (Laughs)  I survived by telling myself I was adopted, but I guess that's not the same thing...

G2G:  Has anyone ever told you how much you and Dan Chandler from Evans/Blue look alike?  I was trying to find some images for this interview and I was like, " that Luke or Dan?" (Laughter)

Luke Easter
Dan Chandler

Luke:  I don't even know who that is!  (Laughs)

G2G:  (sends Luke a picture of Dan...)  I interviewed Dan a few years ago...great dude...

Luke:  He does look like a younger me!
G2G:  Alright, Luke, I like to wrap up interviews with some sort of game, and you just happen to get to be the first to play a new one called "Take It Off and Turn Me On".  It's pretty simple, so are you ready?

Luke:  Okay...I think...

G2G:  (Laughter)  Okay, here we go.  Take a band off of my list of bands to see because they were just not that good...

Luke:  Third Eye Blind...Jenkin's version...BORING!

G2G:  Turn me on to a band I have to hear...

Luke:  Sons Of Apollo.  Their debut is the best record Dream Theater never made!  Why?  'Cause it's got Mike Portnoy and Dream Theater doesn't!

G2G:  Yep, I actually have that album.  Good stuff!  All right, Take It Off...a movie off my must-see list because it simply wasn't a must-see...

Luke:  Star Wars: The Last Jedi.  #rianjohnsonisamoron  (Laughter)

G2G:  Turn Me a book I need to read...

Luke:  A Gentleman In Moscow by Amor Towles.  Best novel I've read in the past 10 years.

G2G:  Take It Off...a band from the 80s hair bands that simply needs to call it quits...

Luke:  Ratt.  Ratt without Blotz I can deal with, but Ratt without Warren?!  No...

G2G:  Turn Me a food I have to try...

Luke:  It's a toss-up between the chips and queso or the street corn at Torchy's in Austin, Texas! 
ROAD TRIP!  I miss Austin...

G2G:  Never been.  Been to Dallas/Ft. Worth, but never Austin.  Okay, Take It Off...a food that is simply terrible...

Luke:  Wow, lemme think...  Klondike Bars.  Seriously, Klondike Bars.

G2G:  What?!

Luke:  On paper, they seem awesome.  Ice cream?  Yes.  Chocolate shell?  Yes.  But in reality, they have a weird aftertaste, and the ice cream isn't that good.

G2G:  So I guess the answer to the jingle is there is NOTHING you would do for a Klondike

Luke:  Nope...

G2G:  Okay, Turn Me a television show I need to watch...

Luke:  If you've never seen Orphan Black, you need to remedy that, ASAP.  Ozark was great, too.

G2G:  Nope, never seen either...

Luke:  Orphan Black, then.  It's super cool, very interesting, and original.  And timely...

G2G:  Take It Off...a show that I have no need to see because it has just run its course...

Luke:  Is Modern Family still on?  I tried watching it once.  It wasn't funny.  That or the equally unfunny, Big Bang Theory...

G2G:  Really?  Hmmm.  I think they're both still on.  I don't have television, though.  Just Netflix.  Turn Me a place I need to go...other than Austin...

Luke:  San Francisco.

G2G:  JK Northrup keeps telling me that...probably to see the Giants play.  I've just never been drawn there...

Luke:  Dude, you're breaking my heart...

G2G:  Full disclosure, cities scare me.  I grew up 10 miles from the nearest town of 600 people.  My closest neighbor was almost a mile away.

Luke:  Ha!  I was born in The City (San Francisco) and was raised 20 minutes south in a little beach town.  I'd never want to live in a city proper, but I get really squirrelly if I'm too far from one.  I need culture and an airport nearby at all times.

G2G:  Well, I was 45 before I flew for the first time...

Luke:  I was like 9, or so.  Flew to DisneyLand...

G2G:  Turn Me the best band you've seen perform live...
Butch Walker

Luke:  Butch Walker.  Extreme is a close second.

G2G:  Oddly, Extreme is a band I've never seen, and I've seen most of the name 80s bands...  Okay, Take It Off...a song on the radio because you just can't stand hearing it again, for crying out loud!

Luke:  I don't listen to much on the radio...hmmm...Sports Talk!  Yes!  Axe the sports talk!

G2G:  Turn Me the best kept secret at DisneyWorld...

Luke:  I've never been to DisneyWorld, but I've been to DisneyLand a lot.  I'd have to say the best kept secret is this; if you go to townhall and tell them you're celebrating a special occasion, they give you a badge that has the same theme as what you're celebrating.  You know, like your first time there, your child's first time, a wedding anniversary, whatever.  It doesn't happen on every ride, but the cast members have the discretion to pull you our of line when they see the badge and whisk you to the front of the line.  It makes the Magic Kingdom a wee bit more magical.

G2G:  Alright, last one...Take It Off...which social media app should come off your phone?

Luke:  Snapchat.

G2G:  I've never used it...

Luke:  Snap's interface is ridiculous.  I don't get it.  I'm Facebook primarily, but I use Twitter and Instagram a bit.  Most of the Snapchat stuff has been ported over to Facebook now, anyway, so Snap's a bit superfluous at this point, in my opinion.

G2G:  So now that the new record is out there, what's next?  Are you going to try to play out a bit, or maybe do a video or something?

Luke:  I'd love to do shows.  I'm trying to figure that out.  I'd like to do a couple of lyric videos, also.

G2G:  How can people get their hands on The Pop Disaster, because, honestly, they need to hear it...

Luke:  iTunes, Amazon, all the various and sundry streaming services, or at my site, 

G2G:  Is there some Luke Easter merch out there yet?

Luke:  Not yet, its in the works.  Lame answer, I know, but I was focused on the record and didn't make sure my merch game was good to go.  It will be remedied soon!

G2G:  So, there's a possibility of more Luke Solo stuff in the future?  Odd Star Wars pun intended...

Luke:  (Laughs)  Yes, definitely.  I do not plan on this being a one-off thing.  I already have ideas for the next one.

G2G:  Well, I'll be in like for it, becaise I honestly really like The Pop Disaster.  I have no doubts it will show up a time or two on our year-end best-of lists.  It is truly an excellent effort and I hope that people go in with an open mind and enjoy it for what it is.

Luke:  Wow!  Thanks!  That's awesome!

G2G:  How can people best stay in touch with Luke Easter?

Luke:  The website.  It's a landing place for the release at the moment, but the full site will be up very soon.  Also on Facebook and Twitter, obviously.

G2G:  Luke, this has been awesome!  We've "known" each other for some time through the internet world, but never really had the chance to chat like this.  I hope you had some fun, as well...

Luke:  This has been great!  Thanks for all the kind words, and thanks for making time for me!  I appreciate it more than I can say.

G2G:  Best of luck with The Pop Disaster, and be sure to stay in touch!  We'll do this again!

Luke:  Definitely!  Thank you.


So there you have it.  Great guy to talk to, and if you still haven't snagged The Pop Disaster, I can not overstate the importance of grabbing it.  We'll have the review up soon, but go get it and hear it for yourself.  It's not metal, but it is a great melodic rock record that most of you will likely find yourself falling in love with.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

RICHARD BLAKE THOMAS (a.k.a. Rev Theory's RIKKI LIXX) "Standing In The Fire" BOOK REVIEW

(c) 2017 Deus Crux Publishing

Few will know who Richard Thomas is when they pick this book up, but all will know who he is...and more importantly, what he stands for...once they have finished reading.  Such is the goal of this autobiography of a young guitar virtuoso who began experimenting with drugs and alcohol by the age of 10, yet still managed to climb to rockstar status, while hiding his addictions until those same addictions, combined with isolation and depression, nearly took his life.  This is the story of how Richard Thomas became Rikki Lixx, found himself a pawn in a self-described "spiritual warfare" between God and Satan, escaped death, and came out the other side as a follower of Christ and happier and healthier than he had been at any other point in his life.  

The book starts with Thomas describing his young life as a young kid infatuated by the rock n roll lifestyle of his favorite band, Guns N Roses, while his home life fell apart due to the divorce of his parents and a self-described lack of supervision as his mom worked to support Richard and his siblings.  He talks of being raised in large part by his grandparents who "employed him" around the house so that he could earn money to buy his first guitar, which he soon became obsessed with.  By the age of 10, Thomas had started his first band, Twilight's Misery, and had "started drinking and doing drugs.  On a bad day I would drink close to a gallon of whiskey and a case of beer, not to mention all the drugs I was mixing with the alcohol."  By 11 Thomas had lost his virginity, by 12 he had experimented with cocaine, and at one point, he even went so far as to huff propane from a friend's grill to get high.  He was truly "living the rock n roll lifestyle" before he even reached his teen years!  Thomas looks back now on these incidents and can clearly point to indications of actual spiritual demons at work in his young life, but not having the tools or knowledge to resist the evil they were plying against him.  

From there, the book chronicles Thomas's life through special music schools that honed his musical abilities (he had guitar sessions at Berklee College of Music in Boston, the Governor's School for the Arts, CAPA, and others), and his succession of small, local bands, hearing himself on the radio in Philadelphia, and eventually his big national break replacing DJ Ashba (Sixx AM/Guns N Roses) as the guitar player in Operator, a hard rock band with a big label recording contract.  Assuming the name "Rikki Lixx" (suspiciously close to Motley Crue's Nikki Sixx...), Thomas found himself on a national tour and soon falling into the trappings of life as a guitar god rockstar.  But it wasn't until a couple of years later, when he joined Rev Theory, that Thomas's rockstar life would reach its highest peaks and then crash to its greatest depths, as he drowned in an ocean of alcohol, choked down handfuls of pills, and eventually decided to take his own life.

Interspersed throughout with commentary from various people from Thomas's life (M. Shadows from Avenged Sevenfold, Paul Philips and Greg Upchurch of Puddle Of Mudd, Tony Palermo of Papa Roach, Anthony Greve of Pop Evil, Jenna Guns from the Sirius/XM Octane radio station, and many others), Standing In The Fire is not the type of sin-to-salvation book that many are accustomed to reading, most likely.  With language that many would consider to be too coarse, vulgar, or profane (swear words are changed only with the addition of symbols, such as "s*!t", for example), frank descriptions of nudity at the Playboy mansion, and references to infidelity, prostitution, strippers, and obviously lots of drugs and alcohol, this is not a book that is attempting to preach to the choir or save the saved.  Instead, Standing In The Fire is more of a cautionary tale for those who may be desiring the things Thomas describes here, or for those who find themselves already surrounded by the types of depravity outlines here, and an invitation to find a way out before things get as out of hand and as seemingly hopeless as they had become for Thomas.  As such, Thomas outlines how he came to accept Christ as his Lord and savior, how his life has been changed, and how he is now able to see the spiritual warfare that surrounded his life every day while pursuing the life of a national rockstar.  

A short book, Standing In The Fire is an easy read (I finished in just under three hours over a couple of days), with only 10 chapters spread across 140 pages.  There are a few minor editorial/grammatical errors, but nothing that is overly distracting, and Thomas does jump around a bit at times, although he always manages to redirect himself back to his original point in the narrative. There are several pages of black and white photos included, as well.

Inexpensive and available in both paperback and eBook form from Amazon, Standing In The Fire is an interesting read, but not for the feint of heart.  While nowhere near as dark or graphic as Nikki Sixx's Heroin Diaries, Standing In The Fire still doesn't pull many punches in its description of the hedonistic, drug-addled life the author was leading, although his story of salvation at the end...along with numerous mentions of his faith throughout the something not found in other, similar books.

Deus Crux Publishing (self-published)
Black & White Paperback or eBook 
140 pages

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


(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 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 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 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.