Wednesday, June 26, 2013

MADLIFE "21st Century Megalomaniac"

(c) 2013 Madlife
  1. Just One Gun
  2. To Live And Die in Hollywood
  3. I Know the Feeling
  4. Pain of Pleasure
  5. Still Alive
Angry Phil--Vocals
Isaiah Stuart--Guitars
Carlos Pagan--Bass
Kyle Cunningham--Drums

Hard rock of all sorts shows up in my mailbox, with everything from the "Glitter" of glam to the "Gutter" of sleaze, and pretty much everything in between.  With 21st Century Megalomaniac, Madlife delivers the first industrial metal album to find its way onto the review stack in quite some time.  Most of the previous efforts have missed the mark pretty badly and were not really worth taking the time to review, as everyone seems to try to sound like Rob Zombie these days.  Madlife is a bit different, however, and managed to catch my ear in a way the others had not.

Apparently this is the fourth release by this band, although I had never heard of them previously and the line-up of the band has changed at least once, with Angry Phil and Isaiah being the original, founding members of the unit.  Again, as I had never heard the band previously, I have no idea how they sounded before but I can tell you that Pagan and Cunningham are absolutely locked-in as a rhythm section, providing some throbbing bottom end to the aggression poured forth in Angry Phil's lyrics, and giving a crushing underbelly to Isaiah's excellent guitar work. 

Now, as I stated, Madlife caught my ear as attempting to separate themselves from the Rob Zombies/White Zombies and Nine Inch Nails of the world, but it isn't because the music is something altogether different.  Indeed, there are going to be some musical comparisons, but there is a progressive element here that is not found in a lot of what is now referred to as industrial rock, and the songwriting is much deeper than the horror movie schlock that Zombie has churned out over the past few records. 

Take for example the album's opening cut, "Just One Gun".  What is unique about this track is the fact that it sounds like it is written from the standpoint of the gun, not the person using it.  The gun explains that it is simply a tool in the hands of a man and that the gun has no agenda of its own, positive or negative. Pretty much a perfect, "guns don't kill people, people kill people" statement if I have ever heard one, all set to a pummeling-yet-slam danceable rhythm and interlaced with electronic sounds and some chugging rhythm guitar work provided by Isaiah.  Angry Phil's vocals are...well...angry, but every word is understandable and delivered in a snarl that is perfect for the urgency of the music.  The song lacks a guitar solo of any kind, but there is something akin to a metalcore breakdown, albeit more of an electronica-influenced breakdown.

"To Live And Die In Hollywood" is another angry bone-crusher that finds Angry Phil sounding a lot like Alice Cooper at times, focusing on loneliness in the middle of one of the biggest cities in the world.  This song reminds me of something Stabbing Westward would have done about ten years ago, but with thicker, heavier production and a collection of shouted "heys" in the background, incorporating a sense of arena rock to the industrial bullying this track puts forth.

I'm not a fan of how "I Know The Feeling" starts off, with an echoing keyboard effect kicking things into gear, but once the drums and guitar kick in, things are back on track.  Again channeling a bit of Alice Cooper, Angry Phil uses a bit of a cleaner vocal approach in spots on this track, although the aggression isn't lost.  Again, Stabbing Westward would be my point of reference for this song, not Rob Zombie, in this track about depression and battling one's own inner demons.

"Pain Of Pleasure" sounds to me like something that might be heard to come blaring from an industrial dance club, as a very catchy rhythm is incorporated throughout the track, pushing this one more into the NIN territory that some people will want to lump
Madlife into.  Phil's vocals are tainted a bit with some effects which took me a few listens to get past, but they aren't unlistenable, either.  There's also a weird, almost empty spot where a lot of rock songs would incorporate a guitar solo of some sorts, that I am not a fan of.   Definitely not my favorite of these five tracks, but not a skipper for most I would suspect.

The stand-out cut, especially from a writing standpoint, would be "Still Alive" which is a very dark, moody track that continues with the EP's common thread of pain, emptiness, and inner demons.  This is one of the two slower numbers on the album, but by no means is this to be considered a ballad, as power chords are present throughout the track.  I'm not sure what the chanting vocals say at the end of each chorus (there are no lyrics included here), but they add an ominous feeling to the music that throbs over the electronic drumbeats and sampled electronic sounds.  Angry Phil once again finds himself in Brutal Planet-Alice Cooper mode vocally, which he pulls off effortlessly and with great effect.

The album is short, clocking in at just under 20 minutes, but it leaves the interested listener wanting to hear more rather than feeling like they have been drug through a bloated soundscape that seemingly has no end.  Would I have liked to have heard more here?  To be sure, but only if the additional tracks fit the style, theme, and most importantly, the QUALITY of the five tracks assembled here.  Yes, I would love to have some ripping guitar solos, or at least a crushing breakdown, instead of the electronic sampling that riddles most of these songs, but you have to take the album for the style that it is presented in, not the style you wish it was.  With that in mind, this independently produced project is a stand-out among the others I have received of this style, and I would take this over anything Zombie-related since  Astro-Creep.  Again, I find these guys to have more in common with Stabbing Westward than anyone else, but perhaps I am the only one who remembers that band well enough to use them as a point of reference.

Packaging is of a bare minimum here, as the EP comes in a digi pack with no interior pictures, liner notes, or even band contributions (I had to track down who played what on-line).  The mix is very clean with nice separation of the instruments, and the production is powerful and without distortion.

Rating:  Not my typical listen at all, but definitely of higher quality than most albums of this type.  If industrial is your thing, crank this to a 7.5.

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Saturday, June 8, 2013

HESSLER "Comes With The Territory"

(c) 2012 Hessler
  1. Waste Away
  2. Rising Sign
  3. Who Will You Run To
  4. Confessions
  5. Gone Away
  6. All You've Done (Is Nothing New)
  7. Wicked World
  8. Taste The Lips
  9. Million Lights Above
  10. Hate Me, Leave Me
Lariyah Daniels--Vocals
Frankie Snakes--Guitars, Backing Vocals
Igz Kincaid--Guitars, Backing Vocals
Erik Michael--Bass, Backing Vocals
Marcus Lee--Drums, Backing Vocals
First, I have to say this...WHAT THE HECK IS THAT THING ON THE COVER?!, on with the review...
Hessler is an up-and-coming hard rock act hailing from the Windy City of Chicago.  Combining the sounds of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, a bit of the hair/glam scene of Hollywood, and some modern elements, Hessler doesn't really come off sounding like anyone in particular, largely because NO ONE plays this type of metal any longer.  Unless you still worship at the alter of early 80's, female-fronted acts like Bitch, Hellion, Lee Aaron, early, pre-radio hit Lita Ford, Warlock, or Leather Leone-fronted Chastain, you aren't likely to have a grasp on what Hessler appears to be trying to do, which is to recreate the old Metal Blade/Shrapnel Records sound (or so it would seem) and convince everyone that this is 1983 and not 2013, at least musically.   
One thing that I would think the band might find frustrating is the fact that every review that is written about the bands seems to focus first-and-foremost on Lariyah Daniels's looks, much the same way Doro Pesch (Doro/Warlock), Lizzy Hale (Halestorm), Christina Scabbia (Lacuna Coil), and Angela Gossard (Arch Enemy) are all viewed more as sex-symbol leading ladies than they are powerhouse vocalists.  This is unfortunate because, like all the others mentioned here, Daniels brings a lot more to the band than just a pretty face.  Combining a powerful scream with a definite vocal sneer, Daniels delivers a commanding performance right from the first track...when the song allows.  For example, powerful guitars drive the album's opener, "Waste Away" , which has a definite NWOBHM feel to it, but it's Daniels' voice that slams the track home, accompanied by some big, shouted gang vocals from the boys in the band.  "Rising Sign" is much the same: pure NOWBHM worship musically with Halestorm-styled modern female vocals layered over the dual guitars, although Lariyah is all alone on this one, with the gentlemen remaining vocally silent (at least not thrusting their voices and their fists in your face on this number). 
This same formula is used throughout most of the disc...big, hook-laden songs with some killer twin guitar work, pummeling rhythms, and screaming vocals....and it works pretty well.  Case in point, take the multi-tempo track "All You've Done (Nothing Is New)".  On this song, things kick off with a chugging NWOBHM guitar rhythm before adjusting to a more bouncy style for the lyrics, then bursting into an arena rock-styled anthem complete with gang-shouted vocals backing Lariyah's, who sounds very similar to Lizzy Hale on this track, especially on the bridge section coming out of the lead guitar solo.  "Taste The Lips" is more direct in its tempo choice, but still has that big raise-your-fist-and-scream anthem feel that just reeks of 1982's metal scene, along with more gang vocals and some nice, if simple, guitar work.  The album ends on a crushing number, "Hate Me, Leave Me", leaving fans with a definite metallic taste in their mouths that will likely leave people banging their heads, pounding their fists, and begging for more.  I think closing in this manner is a very good move because it allows the listener to forget some of the less-than-inspired material that is scattered throughout the album.
"Million Lights Above" sticks out a bit from the rest of the album, at least for me, as it is the biggest departure from the early 80's sound, relying more on the later 80's power ballad approach.  On this track, Lariyah shows off a softer, more feminine vocal approach over a guitar line that reminds me a lot of Metallica's "Nothing Else Matters" at times.  It gets a bit long (over five minutes), and we don't even get any drums or bass of any note until after the 3:20 mark of the song, so you can tell there's not a lot of "power" behind this "power ballad", but it's a solid effort that sounds a lot like what I would imagine Metallica and Lita Ford in a blender might sound like.  While not spectacular, it is definitely the better of the two ballads on Comes With The Territory (I'll get to the second ballad in a moment). 
So, what are these problem spots?  "Wicked World" is just boring to my ears, as Lariyah shares lead vocal duties on the verses, sounding like a lot of modern hard rock bands, and when she does step into the spotlight she shifts into a lower vocal range as she enters the chorus section.  With a weak, repetitive chorus, and bland male lead vocals, the Iron Maiden-inspired guitar riffing on the solo is really the only thing that sets this song apart from a lot of what passes for hard rock on radio now, but it can't salvage the track.  "Confessions" starts off with a weird intro that leads into a kind of tired-sounding mid-tempo chugging rhythm that leaves Lariyah's vocals sounding flat and lifeless.  I think the potential for a powerful song is there on this one, but it fails to deliver. 
As I mentioned, there are two ballads on this album, with one being far superior to the other.  This is the other one.  "Gone Away" just seems to drone on and on and on, chewing up over five minutes and going nowhere musically.  This is one of the very few tracks here that are devoid of masculine backing vocals, as Lariyah is used as her own backing vocalist here, with multiple layers employed in what I imagine was an effort to add more emotion to the track.  It fails for me on all levels, however, and I skip this track every single time I get to it now.
The packaging is pretty typical of independent band releases, as it comes in a digipack with a band picture on the back and individual band member pictures on the interior.  There are no lyrics included, although there is a thank-you and credit section.  And, of course, there is that FREAKY thing on the album's cover that I still have no idea what it is!
All in all, not a horrible effort by any means, and I think Hessler will grow from here.  I have read that this is the first time the band has had a stable line-up, so perhaps as the band has more time to write as a group they will find their preferred groove, work to perfect it, and come out swinging on their next effort.  As to this one, there are a lot worse things out there to listen to (or to avoid listening to, I should say!), but there are quite a few more complete efforts, also.
Rating:  Rock this at a 6, with the best stuff slightly overshadowing the filler. 
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Wednesday, June 5, 2013

STACEY BLADES "Snake Eyes: Confessions of a Replacement Rockstar" (Book Review)

(c) 2009 BookSurge Publishing

Stacey Blades, the ex-guitar player for L.A. Guns and Roxx Gang took the time to put pen to paper and released this book, Snake Eyes: Confessions of a Replacement Rockstar as an independent author, regaling readers with stories documenting his rise from the Canadian rock-bar scene to making the jump to the (perceived) big time by joining Roxx Gang.  After slogging away in a band that had huge potential...but no apparent direction or follow-through...Blades made a career-defining leap when he took the opportunity to replace founding guitar player, Tracii Guns, in LA Guns.   

Most of the stories here are new, at least to me they were, as not a lot has been written about L.A. Guns AFTER Tracii left because, let's face it, the Hollywood scene had pretty much been shoved to the back burner by the time Stacey came on board.  That being said, Stacey has several cool tales to tell about time spent overseas with the Guns, working on the albums, and his personal relationships with Phil Lewis, Steve Riley, and other members of the band, and what it's like living in...and trying to get out of...Tracii's shadow.  And, speaking of relationships, Blades also offers up humorous advice for dating (or more specifically NOT dating) psychos, his dealings with his Roxx Gang band mates, and the handful of life-long friendships that help define who Stacey Blades is as a man and a musician.

Scattered throughout the book are several black and white photos, which are nice to check out, and show Stacey at various points throughout his career.  Also included are quotes and outtakes from various friends, road crew members, family members, and band mates, which add even more color and reality to the stories spun by Blades here.

A couple of negatives do pop up in my mind.  First, I can't believe how large the print is in this book (it's also double spaced, I believe).  Now, while it makes it an extremely easy read, it also makes the book's length a bit deceptive as there would probably be 20 or 30 pages knocked off the book's length if the font size was even an 11 or 12 point font.  Second, the book could have benefited from a bit more editing, as there are still several spelling and grammatical errors throughout the book.

These minor complaints don't detract from the enjoyment people can take away from this book, and they do not stop me from recommending this book.  Hey, Stacey did this on his own, after all; I'll cut him some slack. It is a pretty short, quick read that I got through in just under two days.  I look forward to the updated version that Stacey mentioned working on when I got the chance to interview him a while back (read the interview here).  As the book ends, Stacey is still in the band and there is no inkling of his upcoming resignation, so I'm assuming there will be more tales to tell regarding this chapter in Stacey's life, as well as projects he may be currently working on.  And, who knows...maybe a couple of psycho stalker fans will pop up again in the extended version of the book.

Is it the best rock bio I have read?  Not at all.  Is it the worst?  Not even close.  Definitely worth checking out and a relatively cheap pick-up at under $15 from Amazon.

232 Pages