Saturday, January 16, 2016

LIBERTY N JUSTICE "Life Songs"

(c) 2016 

  1. You Got Love
  2. Gangster Of Love
  3. My World
  4. Only Choice
  5. And Again
Larry Worley--Lead Vocals
JK Northrup--Everything Else!

Liberty N Justice have released their latest project, Life Songs EP, with a couple of interesting changes.  First, Larry Worley of Fear Not/Love Life fame(?) is now the band's full-time lead singer...at least for this album...again moving the band further away from the project that it used to be with a rotating roster of 80s hair metal greats taking turns in front of the microphone.  Worley also contributed to the music and lyrics of the lead track, "You Got Love".  

Secondly, Guitar Master Extrodinaire (yes, capital letters are required), JK Northrup plays every singly note of all of the instruments on this record.  All of them.  Guitars, bass, drums...everything.  Additionally, Northrup wrote all the music, mixed, mastered, recorded, and produced the entire project.  

And thirdly, and perhaps most importantly to long-time fans of the band, the man behind LnJ for all of these years, Justin Murr, had no hand in the actual performance on this record for the first time ever.  According to Murr, "I was done.  Liberty N Justice was finished as far as I was concerned, due to some things going on in my life.  The Vow was the last thing I was going to do with the band.  But JK came to me and said he really wanted to do another LnJ record, and he's the reason its even coming out.  I was done, but after he came to me, I started writing again, and here we are..."  Murr also told me that it wasn't until he committed to writing the project that Worley came on board, so to say that Murr is not involved is not 100% correct...just not in the capacity that fans may be used to seeing him in.

So what, then, separates Life Songs from any other solo album that Mr. Northrup has done?  On the surface...musicaly...probably not a lot, actually, although people looking for a shred record of sorts, or even a Vai-like or Satriani-esque instrumental album will not find that here.  What we have here is an EP of melodic hard rock songs, very much in the 80s/early 90s vein, but with more crunch than some of those era's songs had, particularly in the rhythm guitars and the production.

But if you dig deeper, Murr's presence is still here, whether in the humorous lyrical turns he makes with some songs, or the deeper, introspective aspect he brings to the words of others.  Always seeking to get his faith-based ideals across without becoming preachy or Bible-bashing, Murr has routinely brought chuckles to many of his hardest rocking tracks, like in "Cut Me Mick",  and tugged a heartstrings with his more poignant, sometimes painful tracks, such as Sin", featuring Jani Lane, both of which can be found on The Cigar Chronicles from a few years ago.  Those trends continue in this small tease of an EP, giving the listener hope that there may be more left in Murr's pen for future LnJ releases.

Album opener, "You Got Love" breaks out with a hard-charging guitar before Worley's gritty, snarly vocals kick their way in on a track that is very much reminiscent of the material on Fear Not's record or the LnJ remake of 'We Have A God" from a couple of years ago.  Not to missed here is the BLISTERING solo from Northrup at about the 2:40 mark.  I'm going to go on record and state that my fingers won't even move as fast as JK's here, and I'm not trying to find notes at the same time!  Truly smoking fretwork here on an enjoyable opening salvo from this new arrangement of LnJ.

"Gangster Of Love" is a song title that Murr has kicked around for several years, finally bringing it to life on this funky track that I honestly expected to hear a full horn section utilized on.  With such unforgettable lyrical turns as, "You're a hottie like Gotti" (referring to notorious mob boss, John Gotti), Murr keeps his lyrical tongue fully in-cheek here, reminiscent of some of the truly fun songs of the LnJ catalog, such as "Nakatomi Plaza" or "Cut Me Mick".  In fact, scattered throughout the track are multiple gangster name drops, from Lansky to Capone.  Well worth checking out!  By the way, another smoking guitar solo rips through this track, which is my favorite song on the EP, although I do wish the solo had been a bit longer.

"My World" throttles back a bit, delivering a more mid-tempo melodic rocker with big backing vocals on this track about seeing the bright side of a painful relationship coming to an end.   Worley sounds perfectly at home here, taking a bit of the edge out of his vocals on the verses, then dropping it back in to snarl through the chorus of ,"My world's a better place without you in it/My world's a better place, I finally get it/My world's a better place...".  As expected, Northrup delivers another really solid solo here and top notch rhythm guitar and bass work throughout.  Its always good to hear a song such as this, which could easily come across as bitter, actually taking the high road and looking to the positive side of things, even when human pain is involved.

"Only Choice" is the most blatantly Christian song on this effort, and even then you have to really dig into the lyrics to get some of where this track is coming from.  Once again, this is a more mid-tempo, melodic rocker, with some solid vocal work from Worley who really showcases that the power scream and snarl approach isn't the only way his vocals work.  Sure, there is still some grit and gravel to his approach, but he can throttle back the angst with obvious ease here, which adds to the overall feel of this nice little song.  

"And Again" wraps things up by turning the energy back up just a bit, still maintaining that mid-to-uptempo groove that the majority of these five songs dwell in.  Another song about a strained relationship, this song takes the listener through the history of that relationship from start to finish, almost as a prequel to "My World".  Murr has told me that both of these songs are, unfortunately, autobiographical, and in a way, a form of musical therapy for himself.  Once again, not spewing venom, but clearly stating regret, "My World" is a really solid song that Northrup and Worley only enhance with top-notch performance.

The production throughout the album is pretty good overall, although there are a couple of spots where the mix on the drums seems a bit off, probably largely due to the electronic drums being used.  Perhaps it's just my ears, however, as Mr. Northrup is obviously far more musically inclined than I have ever been (although I may be able to outplay him on the saxaphone...).  In fact, if I was to make any complaint about this record at all, other than the brevity of it (which always costs EPs in the end, as far as ratings go...), it would definitely be the drums, as the fact that they are machine-produced really takes away from the opportunity for a big powerful fill or any kind of out-of-the-ordinary rhythm patterns.  They are programmed well, but there is no doubt that these are not "live" drums, which, if I'm being honest, does serve to detract from things just a bit for me.

The guitar work here is simply phenomenal, and I again ask how Northrup was not so much bigger than he was back in the hard rock/hair metal heyday of the 80s, because his chops are easily on par with what passed for great in so many marginal bands.  The guy can flat out smoke and I never tire of listening to his work, whether it be solo, with Paul Shortino, LnJ, or any other project he has been affiliated with.  To learn more about JK and his music, make sure to visit his Alien Productions site...I'm sure you will be blown away.

As of this review, Life Songs is a digital only release, currently available on iTunes, but it will be released on CD in the near future from HighVolumeMusic, so check there if you, like me, are more inclined to go for physical copies.

Justin Murr has assured me there is a new EP on the way from LnJ very shortly, so be sure to keep an eye and ear out for that, as well.

Rating:  Glad to have them back, LnJ kick off a crankable 2016 with a solid 8 effort here!

Friday, January 1, 2016

Glitter2Gutter's Best of 2015!


Well, we made it to the end of another year at Glitter2Gutter, and it has been an interesting year.  Several "classic" bands returned with new efforts (Def Leppard, Europe, Queensryche, Collective Soul, W.A.S.P., P.O.D.), a lot of new bands (Quor, Danger, Dirtbag Republic, Damn Dice) came to the forefront, and a few bands really left me wondering if there was any reason to keep going forward, to be honest (ahem, Iron Maiden, Bon Jovi, Operation: Mindcrime, Lifehouse, and others...).  Small, unheard of bands (Razorbats, Slantpiece, Arson City) did their best to grab people's attention, while established bands (Hinder) moved on with new faces out front.

This is, of course, a completely subjective list, as it is formulated entirely by my opinions.  I realize that not everyone likes what I like, not everyone dislikes what I dislike, and not everyone has even heard all the things I have.  Some of you likely loved albums I had no use for (Iron Maiden's Book Of Souls), while many may question my sanity for including albums you may have detested (Hinder's When The Smoke Clears).  

Also, I realize there are a couple of albums listed here without reviews...YET.  The missing reviews have all been started and are in varying states of completion, and will be up soon.  Remember...this is a one-man project, so I am not always able to get to as many reviews as I would like to, but I hear TONS of new music on a monthly basis.  And, yes, there are albums out there that may be absolutely amazing that I simply haven't had the chance to hear yet, but hopefully I will be able to get to them at some point.

So, where does this list come from?  Obviously, the ratings given to the albums throughout the year play a huge role in the final ratings, but other factors contribute as well.  Do I still listen to it?  How many plays has it received on my computer, in my truck, on my iPod or phone, etc.?  How well does the album stack up to a particular band's catalog for me?  Has it aged well (mostly effecting early year releases, obviously), or do glaring weaknesses start to really annoy me?

I know, I know...not particularly scientific, but come on...it's MY list and MY way of doing things.  So, if my list doesn't match yours, is it really that much of a surprise?

So, here we go...in reverse order...

The BEST OF 2015...

Before we get to the big boys, let me give you an idea of some other albums I REALLY like, but that just missed the Top 20.  In no particular order...

Boba Flex--Anything That Moves
House Of Lords--Indestructible
Distubed--Immortalized
Five Finger Death Punch--Got Your Six
Whitesnake--The Purple Album
Halestorm--Apocalyptica

...and many, many others.  2015 had a lot of good records, but for me, THESE are the Top 20 of the year.






20.  When The Smoke Clears:  I didn't know what to expect here with a new lead singer, but Hinder did themselves fairly proud with this comeback record of mostly up-tempo rockers with a nod to the past while also keeping modern rockers satisfied.  7.5
Hinder









19  Slantpiece Second Wind:  Nope, you probably haven't heard of these Nebraska boys...and that should change.  Mixing elements of doom, thrash, sludge, and straight up heavy metal, these Bearded Boys from 'Braska enlisted some big time help in producing this 6-song EP, as Michael Beck was brought in to pull the best possible performances from these guys.  Raw, edgy, and fun, Slantpiece should be on your list of bands to check out in 2016.  8.0

18.  Pillar One Love Revolution: (album review to come)  Another album that came out late enough in the year that I wasn't able to fully complete my review in time for this list, One Love Revolution is a solid return for these Christian rapcore/metalcore headbangers.  An odd track or two keeps this return from possibly slotting in higher, but it is a fine return for a band that I had seriously considered to be basically gone from the scene.  8.0







17.  Disciple Vultures EP (album review to come)  Following on the heels of their stellar return, Attack, and a greatest hits effort, Disciple released this digital-only EP of Attack B-sides to tide fans over until their next full effort.  While it is clear why some of these songs didn't make the final cut, all are still solid rockers that will keep fans on the edge of their seat, waiting for more.  8.0









16.  Immortal Guardian Revolution Part I:  Had no idea what to expect when I first popped this EP in, and came away a fan of the Texas bands interpretation of European power/speed metal.  Powerful vocals and fret-melting speed shredding abound on this 5 track effort which also features a guest appearance from Roy Z.  Good stuff!  8.0



15.  Tad Morose St. Demonius:  Power metal very much in the vein of Iced Earth , with big time vocals, punishing rhythms, and a glorious blend of speed and precision on guitar.  My first exposure to the band was a solid one!  8.0









14.  Black Tide Chasing Shadows:  The band has shown signs of maturing as songwriters, but maintain the speedy, edgy approach to what I sometimes refer to as speedmetalcore, while intermixing slower, more melodic elements.  Some people have really bagged on this album, while I view it as their best to date.  8.0









13.  Armored Saint Win Hands Down  I have no idea why this album is so overlooked by people, but I think it was a great return to form for the Saint!  John Bush sounds like a man on a mission since his return from Anthrax, and Duncan and Sandoval are a seriously underrated guitar tandem.  Excellent hard rock/metal songs throughout the album, and my favorite from them outside of the must-own Symbol of Salvaion.  8.0










12.  Europe War Of Kings:  Not a first-spin love affair for me, but this album grew on me more and more with each listen, to the point I consider it one of the top two or three records in their catalog.  Bluesy, melodic hard rock with massive 70's Deep Purple and Thin Lizzy influences.  Joey Tempest's voice is as strong as ever, and Norum's guitar work is criminally underrated in the hard rock world.  8.0









11.  Scorpions Return To Forever: A great mix of older, unreleased material, intermixed with brand new compositions, giving fans a gift in the form of a sort of flashback, while also pushing the band forward into their 51st year of existence!  So glad they decided to not call it quits, as Return To Forever shows a band that is still having fun and sounds as young as ever!  8.0









10.  Quor Human Paradigm:  Completely out of left field for me, Quor combines thrashy-yet-progressive elements with bits and pieces of classic metal and modern hard rock.  Stunned...and exhausted...are the two words that come to mind after I first spun my way through Human Paradigm, and it is with great surprise and pleasure that these San Diego natives make our Top 10 for 2015!  8.5









9.  Damn Dice The Great Unknown:  One of the biggest surprises of the year for me, this is a fun record from these Brits, sounding like a heavy-era Skid Row musically, with a gritty, heavy edge.  While the vocals took a bit of getting used to on a few songs, they did little to detract from how good this album is.  8.5









8.  Nelson Peace Out:  It's Nelson, so if the name means anything to you, one way or another, you pretty much know what you are going to get on this, the supposed swan song of the band.  Fans of hook-laden, tight-harmonied, guitar driven melodic riff rock are going to love this record, favorably comparing it to the band's debut record, while also finding themselves surprised in spots when the brothers stretch their musical legs a bit.  8.5








7.  Serpentine Circle Of Knives:  A stunning combination of European hard rock, melodic rock, and even some progressive/power metal thrown into the mix.  Above average song-crafting and excellent musicianship drive this band that is almost impossible to find fans of in the United States.  Seek them out...now...  8.5
6.  Arson City The Horror Show: A second Nebraska-based band that you likely haven't heard of makes our Top 20, and with good reason.  Arson City combines modern hard rock with some amazing songwriting skills, a tremendous live show, and across the board top-notch performances to be not only a Top 6 album, but the number one modern rock record of the year, and the one of the top unsigned band on our list.  9.0

5.  Worldview The Chosen Few:  Long-time Sacred Warrior vocalist, Rey Parra, joins forces with ex-Deliverance and Recon guitar-slinger, George Ochoa, to create this monster of an album!  Combining power and progressive metal, The Chosen Few also features guest appearances from a Who's Who of the Christian hard rock and metal world, with Oz Fox (Stryper/Bloodgood), Les Carlson (Bloodgood), Jimmy P. Brown II (Deliverance), and Larry Farkas (Vengeance Rising/Die Happy/Sircle of Silence) all contributing to the overall greatness of this record!  Truly a stunning record of immense power and beauty.  9.0







4.  Queensryche Condition Human: (album review to come)  No idea why this album was sent to me SO LATE after its release, but to say that it is stunning would be selling it short.  Given more time to absorb the scope and power of this record, I may have even bumped it up another notch or two.  While there is no doubt that Todd La Torre is still doing his best to recreate the sonic legacy of Geoff Tate as the vocalist of this band, there is also no doubt that he can no longer be considered a mere stand-in.  La Torre IS the vocalist of this classic metal band that fully returns to the power and glory of their earliest metal releases, without the softer progressive elements that were mixed in on later efforts with Tate still at the helm.  Truly excellent material from what can now be considered the only REAL Queensryche in existence.  9.0



3.  WASP Golgotha:  Blackie Lawless and Company return with one of the top albums of their long career, and one of the best releases of 2015.  Big hooks, Blackie's inimitable vocals and unsurpassed "metal opera" writing skills, and powerful performances from every member of the band keep W.A.S.P. firmly at the top of the heap as far as bands from the 80s that are...or should be...still relevant in 2015!  9.0








2.  Stryper Fallen:  Much like W.A.S.P., Stryper has rejuvenated themselves in recent years and have pushed forward to release quite possibly the best material of their amazing, decades long career!  Fallen takes the classic Stryper sound farther than it has ever been taken before, adding a heft and metallic edge to their still unquestionably-Stryper sound and unflinching lyrical stance, to make this, without a doubt, one of the top two record of the year for me....and one that could likely be slotted upward to the top very easily on any given day.








1.  Razorbats Camp Rock:  Nope, you have probably NEVER heard of them, have likely NEVER seen them, and almost assuredly DON'T own this record.  Do EVERYTHING in your power to fix at least points 1 and 3 (point 2 may be tough if you don't live in Norway, or at least Europe), because Razorbats and Camp Rock is our number one record of 2015.  Why?  Quite simply, there is NOTHING I can do to pry this record out of my CD player!!!  This is a nearly flawless modern take on the retro 70s/very early 80s sound, offering up glimpses of T. Rex, The Sweet, 70s KISS, Deep Purple, and very early KIX, with tasty doses of punkish energy and snarky attitude.  Containing one of my favorite songs of  the year in "Desolation Highway", Camp Rock is exactly what is missing from hard rock in 2015...fun, energy, attitude, and an edge from a band that wants to do things their own way, even if that way was previously done by others some 40 years ago!  No question my favorite release of 2015...get Camp Rock by Razorbats as soon as you possibly can!


TALKIN' TRASH 2015



Talkin' Trash 2015... the interviews....

2015 was a bit of a slow year for us for interviews...for a number of reasons...but the three we conducted were good ones (in our opinion), and on two occasions we got the guitar player's point of view on things, rather than always just going with the lead singer.  That made for a nice change of pace, I believe.  In case you missed them the first time, here are our TRASH TALKERS from 2015.  Hopefully we will be able to get with a few more people next year...

Ray Parra (ex-Sacred Warrior, Worldview) HERE
Rex Carroll (Whitecross, King James. Rex Carroll Band) HERE
Kjetil Wevling (Razorbats) HERE

Finally, I want to thank all the bands that submitted material (more than one guy can really handle alone, but I do my best), the book companies that sent in material for review, the artists that took their time to chat with me, and, of course, those of you who chose to read, comment, complain, threaten...whatever...my little review site.  We surpassed 120,000 reads this year, which is quite a humbling number for me, and more than 300 reviews are now available.  Hopefully I have been able to review your music (or your favorite band's music), their books, their concerts, or their videos.  I also hope that perhaps I was able to lead you to discover new music and new bands, because that is realistically what Glitter2Gutter is here for.

Happy New Year, and here's to an amazing 2016!

Arttie
Glitter2Gutter