Saturday, August 19, 2017

ART OF ANARCHY "The Madness"

(c) 2017 Century Media Records

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Thursday, August 3, 2017

OWL COMPANY "Horizon"

(c) 2017 Independent Release

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

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

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

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

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

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