Thursday, April 27, 2017

LIV SIN "Follow Me"

(c) 2017 Despotz Records

  1. The Fall
  2. Hypocrite
  3. Let Me Out
  4. Black Souls
  5. Godless Utopia
  6. Endless Roads
  7. Killing Ourselves To Win
  8. I'm Your Sin
  9. Emperor of Chaos
  10. Immortal Sin
  11. The Beast Inside
Liv Sin--Lead Vocals
Patrick Ankermark--Lead Guitars
Chris Bertzell--Guitars
Tommie Winther--Bass
Per Bjelovuk--Drums

Additional Musicians
Schmier (Destruction)--Duet Vocals on "Killing Ourselves To Live"
Jyrki 69 (The 69 Eyes)--Duet Vocals on Immortal Sin

I can't say I was overly happy when Sweden's Sister Sin decided to call it a day.  In fact, I was downright bummed.  I really, REALLY enjoyed what Sister Sin was doing, and, in particular, the way that lead vocalist, Liv, set herself apart from so many of her peers, both male and female.  She brought an edge, an excitement, and attitude, and yes, a sexiness, to the band's brand of metal that is missing from so many other, similar bands.  So, as soon as I was sent the lead single, "Let Me Out", from Liv's solo record, it should be no surprise that I was instantly ecstatic and wanted to hear more!

From the outset of the record...from the very first moment that the full-on metal guitars and thundering drums come exploding from your speakers on "The Fall", it is clear that Liv Sin is not here to kick back, relax, and rest on her musical laurels.  No, rather she is her to kick ass, take names, and make your ears bleed if at all possible.  If anything, Liv Sin (the band) is actually a step heavier than Sister Sin was on the majority of their songs, and that is clearly evident from track one.  Heavy as stink, yet still melodic, "The Fall" is chock full of speedy, grinding guitars, fret-running solo work, huge drums, and the unmistakable rasp of Liv's awesome vocals.  To be honest, the first thing I thought of when I heard "The Fall", and several other tracks on this record, to be honest, was the Judas Priest masterpiece, Painkiller.  That type of speed, aggression, and vocal angst is present more often than not throughout the entirety of Follow Me, which is quite a statement to make, as I absolutely love Painkiller.

"Hypocrite" keeps up the hard-charging metallic onslaught, with the shredding guitar work from Ankermark and Bertzell absolutely blazing their way across the pounding foundation laid by Bjelovuk's drums and Winther's bass.  In fact, Winther gets a chance to shine on his own a bit, as there is a nice little rumbler of a bass lead-in to the bridge of this song, which is a cool change up from the rest of the scorching, screaming guitar work.

Lead single, "Let Me Out" is up next, and while is backs off the pace ever so slightly, the metal is still served up in massive doses her, as well.  The chorus reminds me a lot of Helloween's "I Want Out", largely because of the three-syllable simplicity of the lyrics and the higher-ranged gang vocals used to such great effect here.  The guitar solo is a great piece of work here, and Liv is at the absolute top of her game here with her angry, snarly rasp perfectly delivering the intensity of the song.  Great stuff, indeed!

"Black Souls" leads in with a cool little interlude before all hell breaks loose on a song that, quite honestly, bears a striking resemblance to black metal in the way the rhythm guitars are used in the background, constantly churning up and down the chords in frantic fashion, yet the rest of the song remains firmly rooted in melodic metal, so there is no need to break out the Viking helmets or sacrifice any goats here.  Not my favorite song by any means, but not a skipper, either, "Black Souls" really showcases the versatility of the band and their ability to meld different metal styles together.

"Godless Utopia" utilizes a rocking bass-and-drum line as the support structure for the first half of the verses before the rhythm guitars jump in and start chug-chug-chugging along, powering the song forward toward an oddly timed chorus, then charging right back out again and starting the cycle all over again.  Things really slow down in the middle,,,dare I say they bog down...before the final chorus, which kind of throws me for a loop here.  Again, its not necessarily a bad song, but it is definitely my least favorite track on the album.

"Endless Roads" is pure ear candy, especially for the Sister Sin fans who may be feeling a bit shell-shocked by the relentless speed and metallic assault of most of the first half of the record.  Catchy, hooky, melodic, and more in the vein of traditional 80s metal, "Endless Roads" has a bit of a Warlock feel to it musically, and Liv is given more of a chance to really stretch her vocal skills.  This song is an absolute treat and has been given the "repeat treatment" on more than one occasion as I spin this record.

"Killing Ourselves To Live" comes in with a rather moody intro, then rips the cap off and just starts blazing away throughout the verses that touch on thrash metal in the juxtaposition of the drums and rhythm guitars, although there is a melodic, more traditional element, especially in the chorus section, that keeps it from blasting completely into Schmier's favored metallic style.  The combination of the two vocals here is pretty cool, and the two singers work extremely well together.  I would love to hear Liv take a guest spin on a Destruction record at some point, as she definitely has the chops to keep up.

The record just continues to blaze on with a combination of speed-and-traditional metal, never letting up on the listener, even in the slightly slower moments.  I think it was an interesting choice for the band to tackle a Rob Halford song here...albeit NOT a Judas Priest track...when they take on "Immortal Sin" from Halford's post-Priest band, Fight.  The song chug-chugs along with some really nice bottom end, and Jyrki 69's lower register, doomier vocals are a start contrast to Liv's higher ended snarl, and overall it works very well.  While The 69 Eyes is absolutely not my style of music on its own, the combo of voices is great here!  A bit sludgier than Fight's version, the Liv Sin take on "Immortal Sin" is impressive because it isn't an easy grab to make for a "new band" to tackle a lesser-known track from a legend's side band.  In fact, I'm guessing that unless you are a die hard Halford or Priest fan, it is entirely possible you wouldn't even know this was a cover song, and that would be just as well because Liv Sin really makes it their own, in my opinion.

The album's closer is basically an emotive ballad for the first half of the track before the speed picks up and the song turns into a nice, heavy-yet-melodic anthem that rounds out the record in fine fashion.

The production is really good here, and the band is very, very tight throughout the record.  I love the guitar tones used throughout the majority of the record, and the drums are nice and heavy, yet don't blow away or bury any other instruments.  Produced by Fitty Weinhold (UDO) and Stefan Kaufmann (Accept/UDO), the metal is the main ingredient here, without tons of flash or polish, which serves the record well.  Top notch work here, for sure.

Is this Sister Sin?  No, it is not.  Generally heavier, and certainly faster in several places, Liv Sin has enough elements of her previous band to carry fans over, but there is even more metallic goodness here than in her previous work, and metalheads who may have dismissed her in the past are likely to sit up and take notice now.  In fact, I would go so far as to say Liv Sin will make more fans for older Sister Sin material than the other way around.

Rating:  A truly top-notch metal record.  Crank this up to a blazing 8.5!  Metal has a new vocal queen and her name is Liv Sin!

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Friday, April 14, 2017

THROUGH FIRE "Breathe" (Deluxe Edition)

(c) 2017 Sumerian Records

  1. Reborn
  2. Breakout
  3. Stronger  (Clean Radio Version)
  4. Where You Lie
  5. Breathe
  6. Take It All Away
  7. Dead Inside
  8. Lights
  9. Blood On My Hands
  10. Damage
  11. Jar Of Hearts
  12. Stronger (Acoustic)
  13. Breath (Acoustic)
  14. Stronger (Extended Version)
  15. Breathe (Extended Version)
Grant Kendrick--Lead Vocals
Justin McCain--Lead Guitar, Backing Vocals
Jesse Saint--Rhythm Guitar, Backing Vocals
Patrick Mussack--Drums, Percussion

Driven.  Anyone who has ever met Omaha, NE's Justin McCain would likely agree that driven is possibly the key adjective to use when describing him.  I've met him several times over the years here in Nebraska, and the guy is laser-focused, whether it is on-stage, working with the fans after the show, or in the business dealings of the band.  Yeah, sure, he's talented, but his drive to keep his musical dreams going through everything he has been confronted with is the key to why he, and his bands, is even still relevant in the ever-changing musical landscape modern rock/hard rock/metal landscape.

Why did he scrap his previous band, Emphatic, despite multiple charting singles, number one songs on Octane, and touring slots with bands like Red, Gemini Syndrome, and others?  Not a clue.  If I had to guess, it was a contract thing, but I have not had the chance to talk with Justin about the move, and I'm not overly sure that it matters now, as Through Fire has already found themselves picking up right where Emphatic left off, garnering airplay for "Stronger" and "Breathe", and getting "Stronger" picked up by the WWE, the NHL for the Stanley Cup Finals, and in movies, and latching onto tours with Sick Puppies and Nonpoint.  New album?  New name?  No problem, it would seem,

Breathe has recently been reissued in a "deluxe edition" format to help the band continue the momentum they have gained on this first effort.  Repackaged with acoustic and "extended" renderings of the album's two big hits, "Stronger" and "Breathe", this deluxe edition also comes with guitar tabs for those two songs, extended liner notes, and a band sticker, all packaged in a newly designed digipack (dangit!).  Also included is a new cover, as the band provides their take on the song "Jar Of Hearts", previously released by Christian Perri.  I'll be the first to admit I had to find the original song on YouTube, because I knew NOTHING about the original.  If you are like me, I will let you know that Perri's version is a rather emotional, piano-driven ballad, with absolutely ZERO rock to it.  The version included here, while remaining something of a ballad, definitely has some rock to it, with the band's typical buzzsaw guitars, programmed elements, and some really solid drum work from Mussack driving things along. I would imagine that this new track will find its way into live set lists, as I have a feeling that fans will start clamoring to hear it live.  

For fans of the previous band, Emphatic, it is worth noting that "Damage" was an old Emphatic song that has been somewhat reworked here, and "Stronger" was actually an Emphatic song as well from before they were signed to their major label debut, and I SWEAR I have heard it in a live setting before.  Both are solid modern rock/active rock numbers, with "Stronger" being insanely infectious, especially with it's chorus, which is presented both in a cleaned-up, radio friendly version with "forget that" replacing the "extended version's" less-than-airplay-friendly "f**k that" lines.  I don't know that the acoustic rendering of the song was necessary, honestly, but the acoustic version of "Breathe" is pretty cool, giving Kendrick's (formerly of The Wreckage) vocals more of a chance to carry the work load here and allowing him to really expand the emotional dynamic on the song.  

As to the rest of the album, there is plenty of fire and flash to go around, from the guitar-driven "Breakout", the angry, edgy, "Dead Inside", which showcases some impressive screaming from Kendrick, to the catchy "Where You Lie" and "Blood On My Hands".  If there is one weakness here, it is the fact that a lot of these songs have very similar tempos.  They don't sound alike, necessarily, but the tempo doesn't change much, making the songs kind of meld into one another.  Thankfully, "Breathe" and "Jar Of Hearts"...along with the two acoustic renderings...give a bit of separation on this deluxe edition that would have been otherwise missing on the original.

This is an overall very solid album, with McCain showing some nice flashes of solo work on the guitar, and Mussack providing possibly the best drum work to ever appear on a record that McCain has been a part of.  I was really impressed by his fill work, solid rhythms, and overall tight playing.  Saint is a really good rhythm player as well, and Kendrick has the vocal chops to cover all of the Emphatic territory, regardless of the vocalist, and also make this Through Fire material very much his own.

A really nice repackaging here (outside of the digipack part of things), and I'm sure fans are going to want to snap up the reissue as soon as they can get their hands on it.

Rating:  While not ground breaking, Breathe shows solid growth, is catchy and well-performed, earning itself a crankable 8.

Friday, April 7, 2017


(c) 2017 Frontiers Records

  1. Somehow, Someway
  2. Running Out Of Time
  3. Truth
  4. Day And Night
  5. Don't Let Up
  6. (Won't Be) Your Fool Again
  7. Say What You Want
  8. We Can Work It Out
  9. Comfort Me
  10. Jamie
  11. Nothing Left Of Yesterday

Jack Blades--Lead Vocals, Bass
Brad Gillis--Lead Guitars
Kelly Keagy--Drums, Lead Vocals
Keri Kelli--Guitars
Eric Levy--Keyboards

Night Ranger has quietly long been a Top 20 band for me.  The first four albums from this San Francisco band are essential hard rock, in my opinion, and featured enough edge to keep the hair metal crowd happy, while also being just pop enough to consistently garner radio airplay and appeal. Man In Motion is also a solid, if less spectacular record, and the post-Blades album, Feeding Off The Mojo, has some good moments, but it was definitely missing something, at least for me.  Oddly, when Blades returned from his successful stint in Damn Yankees, Night Ranger didn't automatically return to the level of greatness I expected from this band, as the next three albums were rather flat affairs that were spotty in their songwriting and, well, rather uninspired in their performances, outside of a song here and there.

But then Frontiers Records stepped in...

As has seemed to be the case with many classic era bands on the Frontiers roster, there is a resurgence of energy and life in the last couple of Night Ranger releases that had been missing since 1996.  Starting with their first Frontiers album, 2011's Somewhere In California, Night Ranger began to really sound like Night Ranger again.  2014's High Road took another step forward in their road back, bringing still more energy to the table as well as mixing in a couple of little twists to keep the sound fresh while still sounding like, well, like Night Ranger.  That newfound energy and creativity not only continues on Don't Let Up, I would say it surges to a level not seen since Big Life in 1987!

Longtime member, Joel Hoekstra has departed the band for the new record, and Keri Kelli has supplanted him as the second guitar slinger for the band, bringing with him all of the vast experience he has garnered while working with Alice Cooper, LA Guns, Ratt, Warrant, Skid Row, Pretty Boy Floyd, and so many other classic 80s era bands over the years.  Eric Levy, who was brought on board on Somewhere In California, rounds out the current line-up alongside founding members Gillis, Keagy, and Blades, completing the five-man ensemble that Night Ranger has used throughout its most successful periods.

I don't feel like I need to go song-by-song through the record, because long-time fans of the band are the target audience here, and, as such, the album is chock full of the exact type of hard rock goodness you would expect from Night Ranger.  Top notch rockers here include "Somehow, Someway", the uber-catchy "Running Out Of Time" (which may be my favorite song here), "We Can Work It Out" (no, it's not a Beatles cover...relax), "Comfort Me", "Jamie" (another song-of-the-album contender), and the title track.  "Sister Christian" fans will have to wait for the next album if they are seeking another huge power ballad, because this record doesn't have anything that slow, although "Truth" is a less-raucous mid-tempo track that will tide many fans over.  Also worth noting here is the album's closer,  "Nothing Left Of Yesterday", which, again, is more of a mid-tempo number than a true rocker, but the real kicker for me here is that this sounds an awful lot like a Damn Yankees song to these ears, which is dang near as good as a Night Ranger song!

While it doesn't reach the level of the band's first three records, Seven Wishes, Midnight Madness, and Dawn Patrol, Don't Let Up is a definite keeper, with all of the classic hard rock elements in place...minus the power ballad...even if all of the classic players are not.  The additions of Levy, and especially Kelli, bring a freshness to the familiar feel of this great band, and that "magic" feel has returned that I felt so connected to back in the 1980s.  The songs are well-written and nearly perfectly played, and the production is absolutely spot-on throughout the record.  Try as I might, I have a hard time finding any major flaws, and only a couple of "lesser" songs (which really aren't bad songs, at all...), keep me from pushing this all the way to the top.  I truly love this record and haven't been able to take it out of my player since I got it.

Rating:  Crank this sucker to 8.5!  Don't Let Up feels like the closest thing to a vintage Night Ranger album since their return, and I feel it likely cracks the band's top 5 6 for sure!

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