Saturday, November 10, 2018

HUSH "If You Smile (Recycled)"

(c) 2018 Lions Pride Music

  1. Talk To Me
  2. Babe
  3. Believe
  4. Piece Of The Action
  5. Let It Rain
  6. This Side Of Love
  7. Heaven Ain't
  8. Big Time
  9. Sometimes
  10. G and B
  11. Hold On (Acoustic Bonus)
  12. She Will Be The One (Acoustic Bonus)

Patrick Simonsen--Vocals
Kenneth Kristiansen--Guitars
Stein Andersen--Bass
Jon E. Ostberg--Drums

Hailing from Norway, Hush is a highly polished melodic rock/AOR band that wears its 80s influences with pride.  Definitely more guitar-driven, and with fewer keys than many of their European AOR peers, Hush has decided to re-release their 1998 debut album, If You Smile, but they are doing so with a bit of a twist.  Rather than simply repackage the old album, and instead of completely re-recording the album, the band is doing a bit of both.  Utilizing two new band members, the band has decided to release what they are calling a "20 Year Jubilee Edition" of the album, hence the title, If You Smile (Recycled), with a 50/50 mix of old and new recordings, sometimes even within an individual track.  It is definitely a different spin on the idea of a reissue, to be sure.

The tracklisting is identical to the 1998 original that was released on AOR Heaven/JVC Victor, with the only exceptions being the bonus tracks.  "Hold On", and "She Will Be The One", are brand new acoustic bonus tracks for this release, while the original 1998 bonus, "If (Butterfly)", has been dropped altogether.  

"Talk To Me" starts things off, and is a great representation of what to expect from this album, overall.  Solid guitar hooks, strong tenor lead vocals with nicely layered backing vocals, and straight ahead rock rhythms are what Hush does best.  While not rocking quite as hard as Stage Dolls do on their edgiest material, Hush is definitely a guitars-out-front band, and Kristiansen is a formidable player, both on rhythms and leads.  Lyrically, "Talk To Me" isn't particularly deep, but that just adds to the overall feeling that you have heard this band before...perhaps in a high school gym somewhere in 1988...even though this album didn't originally see the light of day until a full decade later.

"Babe" has one of the corniest lyrical phrases I think I have ever heard, when Simonsen intones, "I live in a one-room monkey cage, too shy to hold the rage" as he describes the craziness of his life with out the "Babe" that is the object of his affection.  It's hard to not laugh when I read what I just typed here, but they are his words, not mine. Apparently he escapes that cage later in the song because he is found "walking sleepless through a dead town and the wind is blowing me again, down a cold and sunny street/I'm feeling helpless on the rebound, though I'm wandering from the wake-up and one lie from the truth." Ummmm...what?!  Despite the absolutely desperate grab for some sort of emotional lyrical hook here, the music on this track is actually really good, and Kristiansen has a great guitar solo here that has a good chunk of the emotion that the lyrics are lacking.

"Believe" starts of with some rather frenetic guitar work from Kristiansen, before it settles into a bass and drum track for most of the verse sections except for a couple of guitar licks that sound like they were lifted from "Get It On (Bang A Gong)", as remade by The Power Station.  Not kidding...note-for-note.  Now, on the original 1998 version, this doesn't happen, as the song featured a LOT more keys than it does in this new version and that guitar lick simply doesn't exist.  I think the new version is better, overall, as I am generally not a huge fan of gobs and gobs of keyboards being shoved into my ears, but to ignore that simple guitar hook is virtually impossible for me.  Regardless, the song is one of the better moments here, and again, Kristiansen gets to flash some nice skill on guitar.

"Piece Of The Action" has a bluesy feel to it, from the opening guitar lick to the funkier delivery style used by Simonsen.  Definitely not the typical style and feel of the majority of the album, but I have to admit to liking what the band is showcasing here, and Kristiansen's versatility is on full display.  There's a nice bass groove to this tune, as would be expected from a blues-funk number, and the drums do just enough to keep the tempo rolling while managing to stay out of the way and not distract from the guitar antics here.     

"Let It Rain" is a piano-based ballad where Simonsen gets to stretch his chords a bit, although he goes down in range, rather than up, adding some huskiness and sounding relatively similar to Foreigner's Lou Gramm in his prime.  In fact, this entire song feels like something Foreigner might have tackled on their Inside Information record in 1987, as does the next track, "This Side Of Love", albeit this song also has something of a "Purple Rain" quality to the music, particularly in the slow build at the beginning.  Again, Simonsen channels his inner-Gramm here, particularly on the verse sections, and Kristiansen delivers a tasteful, soulful solo here that really fits the slower tempo and milder approach.

"Heaven Ain't..." picks the pace back up just a bit, and this feels a lot like the best mid-tempo rock material that Stage Dolls has released.  Simonsen comes off as confident here, his voice flowing effortlessly on this track that you will swear you have heard before, especially on the verse sections.  This song is so comfortable, so easy to listen to, that I find myself dragged back in time every time I play it.  This is what Hush does especially well when they are at the top of their game, even fighting through a corny line like "I'm on a Mercedes ride to the moon".  Kristiansen again flashes some big time skill on the guitar, and I find myself wondering if he wouldn't have been better served auditioning for one of the bigger Scandi bands, rather than forging forward with Hush.  He really is that talented. 

Things stall out a bit at this point, as "Big Time" sounds like a movie soundtrack song from 1988...and not the big, hooky track that is released as a single.  No, "Big Time" would be the track that plays as the credits roll on one of those cheesy raunch comedies ("Porkys" or "Hardbodies" come to mind), where they play something uptempo and punchy, but also just annoying enough to get you to hustle out of the theater so that the staff can come in and sweep out the popcorn before the next show.  "G and B" is equally as cheesy, but in ballad form, and it pales in comparison to the much better slow material of "This Side Of Love", and the album proper ends on something of a whimper.

The two acoustic bonus tracks here are pretty good and nice additions to the record.  "She Will Be The One" has a catchy rhythm, a toe-tapping acoustic rocker that finds the band sounding so comfortable, so completely at-home, that I wonder what a full acoustic album from this band might sound like.  "Hold On" is a much slower acoustic song, and is well-performed, especially by Simonsen.  The percussion section here is a nice touch, giving the song an overall different feel, sounding like it was written and structured to be acoustic, rather than coming across as just an "unplugged" song.  The harmonizing here is good, and Kristiansen plays a really nice, clean acoustic guitar, counterbalancing the amplified antics he employs throughout the rest of the record.     

So, if you have the original, is it worth tracking the new version down?  In my opinion, yes.  I think the new version has a fuller sound, with slightly better production, although the original still sounds pretty good to me.  Plus, this version has FAR fewer keyboards than 1998's effort had, with the guitars grabbing a lot more spotlight here, which is definitely a bonus as Kristiansen has a LOT of talent, which he gets to display far more often here than in the past.  "Hold On" is a pretty good addition here, and "She Will Be The One" is flat-out catchy and one of the high points of the record.  If you don't have the old version, but are a fan of Scandinavian melodic rock and AOR, then I would add this to my list of wants, even if its not at the very top of the list.

Overall, if you are a fan of Scandirock bands like Stage Dolls, DaVinci, Grand Design, or even North American bands such as Giuffria or Honeymoon Suite, you are likely to find something to enjoy about this release, but don't expect a genre revolution.  It is a bit lyrically cliche...and makes some extreme lyrical stretches at times...but more often than not, the solid guitars, better-than-average vocals, and overall well-written songs make up for the lack of original wordsmithing here.

Rating:  A solid rocker at 6.5, I suggest snagging this new version over the 1998 version.

Friday, November 9, 2018


(c) 2018 Frontiers Records

  1. U Only Live Twice
  2. Sky Falling 
  3. Malibu
  4. One In A Million
  5. Double Shot
  6. Secrets To Tell
  7. Not Killin' Me
  8. Dangerous Thing
  9. I'm A Ratt
  10. From The Inside
  11. Violator
Stephen Pearcy--Lead and Backing Vocals
Erik Ferentinos--All Guitars, Backing Vocals, Keys
Matt Thorne--Bass, Keys, Backing Vocals
Scot Coogan--Drums

While the band Ratt continues to slog things out in the court system to see who can call themselves Ratt and to try to sort out who is in the band (currently, Pearcy and bassist, Juan Crocier own the band name, with drummer Bobby Blotzer on the outs and guitarist Warren DeMartini apparently in exile or retirement), the always-interesting lead singer has released his second solo record in as many years.  Once again enlisting the help of Erik Ferentinos on guitars, and Matt Thorne (Ratt, Rough Cutt, Jailhouse) on bass, Pearcy also brings Scot Coogan (Brides Of Destruction, Rat Bastards) on board to put forth the best Ratt record the band has never made.

From the album artwork to the thinly-veiled name change of the album title, it is apparent Mr. Pearcy has something of a James Bond fetish going on here...there are also numerous James Bond mentions in the lyrics...but don't worry; Pearcy isn't out to sound like Duran Duran on their soundtrack hit, "View To A Kill".  In fact, this is pretty much exactly what you would expect from Pearcy and his rodent-esque pals (Thorne co-wrote Ratt's monster hit, "Round And Round", and Coogan played with Pearcy in Rat Bastards), which is pretty much shamelessly Ratt-sounding music.  

Things kick off with "U Only Live Twice", which sounds to me like it wants to bleed right out of "Shame, Shame, Shame" from Detonator, with the way the guitars into the track.  Pearcy sounds in top form here, with his voice sounding as good as it has in years, both in lead and backing vocals.  Coogan's drums are sharp and snappy, and the bass hits hard on this slithering rocker that sounds very much like vintage Ratt.  Ferentinos rips off a Ratty solo and everything is clicking right from the start.

"Sky Falling" continues this trend, with Pearcy sounding quite a bit like he did back in the Invasion Of Your Privacy days, and the supporting vocals from Thorne and Ferentinos really help to bolster the overall sound.  Ferentinos delivers an excellent solo here, possibly the best on the record, in what I would have to say is my overall favorite track on this new album, although "U Only Live Twice" and "I'm A Ratt" try to lay claim to that title as well.

"Malibu" keeps right on with the top-notch rock, with another catchy, guitar driven rocker.  In fact, "One In A Million" and "Double Shot" do exactly the same thing.  There isn't a ballad to be found on this record, only rocker after rocker after rocker.  "Double Shot", which drops a Bond reference with the lines "die another day" and "man with the golden gun", is a cool, punchy track that also quotes his own band, going "round and round and round" on the vocal bridge before the solo.  Like I said before, Pearcy doesn't shy away from who he is or what he does, and especially on the first five tracks here, and then BLATANTLY on "I'm A Ratt" a few tracks later, he is playing up his past in no uncertain terms...and this Ratt fan is perfectly happy with that!

"Secrets To Tell" is a bit more aggressive in the guitar approach than some of the other tracks here, but it works really well.  The tone reminds me of "Slip Of The Lip" from the Dancing Undercover record, which I think is criminally underrated in the Ratt catalog.  Again, Pearcy sounds spot-on, and while there are is a somewhat modern production approach here, it doesn't alter the sound to come off as anything other than what it is.  Make no mistake, Pearcy isn't trying to sound like Shinedown or Godsmack or Halestorm here; this is non-lawsuit-involved-Ratt-music pure and simple.

Thorne gets to shine a bit on "Dangerous Thing", which features a thick, nasty bass groove, and some odd time signatures in a couple of places on what is the least-Ratt sounding song on the record.  Pearcy tries to work his magic, and there is some fast and furious shredding from Ferentinos, but there is something that is just a bit off for me.  Still an interesting track, but definitely not my favorite here.

"I'm A Ratt"...well, do you really need to ask where this track is going?  The lead single from the album, "...Ratt" is everything the title would have you believing it is, with a catchy guitar hook, pure 80s-era production on Pearcy's voice, and a great rhythm and tempo, with a really tasty solo from Ferentinos thrown into the mix.  I have heard some people complaining about this being the lead single, and for the life of me, I have no idea why.  This is EXACTLY what fans of Pearcy and Ratt should be clamoring for.  Yeah, I'm not exactly a fan of that weird musical tag at the end of the track, but I can forgive the last 12 seconds for what is an otherwise great Ratt track!  Easily one of the top two songs for me on a record filled with great stuff.

"From The Inside" is another great, straight-ahead rocker that channels a bit of Cinderella's "Somebody Save Me" in the rhythm guitar line and the phrasing of the verse sections.  I'm not completely sold on what Ferentinos is doing on guitar in a couple of spots here, but I'm not reaching for the skip button or anything, and to be fair, Ferentinos does right his guitar ship on the work he does as the song closes.

The album closes in nasty fashion, with the sleazy "Violator" wrapping things up nicely.  Pearcy manages to weave another James Bond reference ("007" thrown into the first verse here...) into the record, along with some gang-chanted "hey, hey, hey's" to get the crowd pumped up in the live setting, no doubt.  Again, a bit more modern sounding than most of the other songs, at least from a production standpoint, but still an overall solid track to close out a really good Ratt...err...Pearcy record!
The typical "I hate Frontiers' production" complaints have been bandied about when the singles and videos were released, but I honestly don't have an issue with this record.  Yes, there have been a few Frontiers Records releases this year that I have found less than appealing as far as production goes, with some muddiness issues, but I don't get that from View To A Thrill.  Is it the crispest sounding record I've heard this year?  Nope, but it's not supposed to be, either.  That is never what Ratt was about, and it isn't where Pearcy has come from on any of his solo records, either.  The grit and sleaze and sludge are part of the sound.  Overall, I have no problems with the sound of this record.

I know there are going to be people who complain that Pearcy isn't stretching himself or that he is just trying to cash in on Ratt.  Ummmm....duh!  This is who Pearcy is and what he has (mostly) always played, even when he polished the sound a bit for Arcade.  Look, if you were expecting anything else from this record, you have not been paying attention to Pearcy lately.  The man is pretty much out to prove that he and his version of Ratt are the real deal, and the music on View To A Thrill is more Ratt than anything that's been put out in a decade or so.  Sounding very much like it could have slotted in right between Detonator and Infestation, this new effort from Pearcy should be pure ear candy for any Ratt fan.  Another excellent solo record from the Ratt frontman, and even better than last year's really good SmashWhether or not we ever get another true Ratt album is anyone's guess at this point, especially with the apparent insanity of Bobby Blotzer, Warren DeMartini's "retirement", and Pearcy's own problems at some recent live shows.  But, if we don't, View To A Thrill is about as good as its going to get...and that's pretty dang good!

Rating:  Crankable excellence!  A definite 8.5 for Mr. Pearcy!

Monday, November 5, 2018

BRAINSTORM "Midnight Ghost"

(c) 2018 AFM Records

  1. Devil's Eye
  2. Revealing The Darkness
  3. Ravenous Minds
  4. The Pyre
  5. Jeanne Boulet (1764)
  6. Divine Inner Ghost
  7. When Pain Becomes Real
  8. Four Blessings
  9. Haunting Voices
  10. The Path
Andy B. Franck--Lead Vocals
Torsten Ihlenfeld--Guitars
Milan Loncaric--Guitars
Antonio Ieva--Bass
Dieter Bernert--Drums

Since I first discovered this German power metal band on their 2001 album Metus Mortis, Brainstorm has probably been the most consistent power metal band that I have followed.  I suppose this can be attributed, at least in part, to the consistency of the line-up, which has remained 4/5 steady since Franck came on board in 2000, with bassist Ieva being the "newbie" of the group, not coming on board until 2007.  So, if you are doing the quick math, that means this current version of Brainstorm has been together for a full 12 years, which is a rather considerable time for a band to stay together these days.

Of course, consistency in a line-up means very little if the musicianship is not in top form, which has never been an issue for Brainstorm.  Combining the underappreciated vocals of Franck with the blistering fret speed of Ihlenfeld and Loncaric would be enough to bolster any metal band's line-up, but when you take in the sprinter-speed footwork of Bernert on the drums, and the galloping bass approach that Ieva brings, you have a nearly unstoppable force, musically.  And with top-of-the-heap songwriting, Brainstorm has long been one of the two or three standard bearers of power metal, in my opinion.

As is typical of the band, Midnight Ghost is filled with breakneck speed, incredibly thick note density, an impeccable sense of melody, and huge...HUGE...hooks, both vocally and musically.  Fast, heavy, and aggressive, Midnight Ghost actually manages to take the band to a new level of excellence, a statement that I thought might not be possible following the greatness that was 2014's Firesoul...or 2005's Liquid Monster, which many fans point to as the previous pinnacle for the band.  

From the very first drum kicks of "Devil's Eye", there is an aggression to Midnight Ghost that may have been at least somewhat lacking on the last couple of albums.  Bernert is a sheer heart attack waiting with the pace he sets on this track (and throughout the record), but the tandem of Ihlenfeld and Loncaric are equal to the task here, which is a rather amazing statement to make, honestly.  And its not just the sheer speed that Bernert plays with, it is the interesting and change of tempos and rhythms that he mixes into each track that really provides the heartbeat for this band.     

But its not just blazing speed that makes Brainstorm the great band that it is.  You need look no further than the second track, "Revealing The Darkness" to find a haunting intro featuring piano and strings that bleeds into a guitar riff that carries on throughout the track, weaving an intricate melodic thread throughout the song.  Franck's vocals range from a thick, rich baritone to a somewhat higher ranged tenor, never straying into territory where his power and command are lost.

"Ravenous Minds" is a crushing, metallic assault, not so much in tempo as much as in heaviness and crunch.  I'm not a huge fan of the effects used on Franck's vocals on the chorus that intros the song, but fortunately those effects are a one-time thing, and it is just clean vocals utilized for the rest of the track.  Big, chunky rhythm guitars are buoyed by a current of keys that tinkle just below the surface, adding a nice melodic contrast, and Ieva's bass work is especially present here.  The twin guitar riffing on the solo is especially enticing, and the sharp snare and thunderous kicks from Bernert keep me absolutely riveted upon repeated listens.

Two tracks really boil down the greatness of this album for me, although everything here is of excellent quality.  But the album's epic track, "Jeanne Boulet (1764)", which clocks in at nearly eight minutes, may be the show-stealer.  A thunderstorm, a haunting church bell, and a snarling narrative from Franck lead in this song that would seem to be about a true-to-life French girl who, in 1764, was among a number of teen-aged children and women who were killed by a "horrible beast", believed to be a large wolf (or possibly a pack of wolves) in the region during a stretch of time from 1762-1767.  (Sorry...the history teacher in me had to do some research!)  The telling of the story seems to be a bit erroneous in the song, however, as this Jeanne Boulet is apparently being sacrificed for some unknown the same year as the ACTUAL Jeanne Boulet.  Hmmmm....  Regardless of the historical accuracy, the tale told in the song is an excellent one and performed in fine fashion, with Franck masterfully manipulating his voice to fit the emotion of the song, especially when he dramatically intones "sacrifice her!", while the guitar playing is powerful, melodic, and chock full of hooks.  Tempo changes, multiple guitar solos, huge drums...this track has it all!  Don't believe me?  Feast your ears below...

The other track I would steer you to as an example of the band's greatness would be the penultimate track on Midnight Ghost, "Haunting Voices".  The chug-chugga-chug rhythm guitars, the raspiness that Franck adds to his voice in sections of the verses (think Mike Howe of Metal Church, for comparison), the big, harmonious, layered chorus sections, and the hook-laden melody of the guitars is, for me, exactly what I think of when I think of Brainstorm.  The change in drum patterns from verse to chorus are spot-on perfection, and the deep, snarling vocal bridge before the guitar solo, only add to the greatness of the track.

The album closes on another great song, with "The Path", a track that upon first listen reminds me a bit of something Demons & Wizards may have put together, with the more melodic approach of Blind Guardian interspersed with heavy, thunderous Iced Earth moments.  Again, thick layers of backing vocals support Franck on the chorus, only adding the the raw power that he possesses.  I truly feel he is one of the best vocalists in all of metal today (and, really, for the past fifteen or so years), and his perfect handling of the heavy, simple-yet-deadly riffs that Ihlenfeld and Loncaric attack each song with is merely more proof of that greatness.

And, while mentioning greatness, I contend that Dieter Bernert is quite possibly the most talented, and certainly the most interesting, drummer in power metal today.  I find myself focusing so much on his performance on this record (and on most of Brainstorm's albums, really), that I have to restart songs sometimes to get the full effect of the track.  That is saying something, my friends, for I would say I am generally a vocalist-first, rhythm guitar-second, drums-third listener, with lead guitars, bass, and then keys following in that order (I think a killer rhythm guitar can cover up a good deal of weakness in lead guitars...see Iced Earth as an example...).  That is not the case here, as Bernert captivates me with his originality, force, and speed nearly every time I put in an album by the band.

The production here is really good overall, with generally great separation of instruments, although there are a couple of spots where I felt the bass could have possibly been brought forward just a tad.  There is no muddiness at all, however, and my one minor complaint could also be the result of my copy of the album being presented in mp3 format, which as we all know tends to compress things to varying degrees (depending upon the quality of the files).  I would expect that when I receive my physical CD of Midnight Ghost, any misgivings I may have had will slip away.

If Midnight Ghost is not the absolute best record in a string of really good-to-excellent records from this German powerhouse band, it is absolutely in the top three of their 12 album catalog.  Today, perhaps due to an excitement about new material, I would have to say Midnight Ghost is my new favorite from the band, but only time will tell if that impression remains.  And who knows...maybe the next Brainstorm album will knock all contenders from the ranks!

Rating:  A brilliantly crankable 9.0 masterpiece!

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Saturday, November 3, 2018

GODSMACK "When Legends Rise"

(c) 2018 BMG

  1. When Legends Rise
  2. Bulletproof
  3. Unforgettable
  4. Every Part Of Me
  5. Take It To The Edge
  6. Under Your Scars
  7. Someday
  8. Just One Time
  9. Say My Name
  10. Let It Out
  11. Eye Of The Storm
Sully Erna--Lead Vocals, Guitar, Piano
Tony Rombola--Lead Guitars, Backing Vocals
Robbie Merrill--Bass, Backing Vocals
Shannon Larkin--Drums

Additional Musicians
The Gilbert H. Hood and West Running Brook Choir--Chorus Vocals on "Unforgettable"
Zvezdelina Haltakova--Violin on "Under Your Scars"
Irina Chirkova--Cello on "Under Your Scars"

From the very first track on the new Godsmack album, it is obvious something is different about this record...and, indeed, about the band.  Sure, vocalist Sully Erna uses the word "baby" as often as Rob Zombie snarls, "yeah", but musically there's a shift here...sometimes subtle, sometimes not so much.  Just looking at the information above should give you an immediate clue about these changes.  I mean, violin and cello on a Godsmack album?  A choir (which turns out to be a children's choir, no less...)?  What the heck has been going on in the four years since 1000HP?

From the outset in the lead-up to this album, Erna had made it clear that he was looking to take the band in a new direction, aiming for a more modern hard rock sound than the modern metal the band had previously employed.  Don't take that to mean that the heaviness of the band is gone, because that is not true; there are still plenty of heavy moments on When Legends Rise.  However, the metallic bite is not the main focus of the record now, with melody, song structure, and musicianship at a higher premium than sheer aggression, darkness, and anger.

The opening six songs on this album are probably as good as any six songs I have heard in succession on a record in years.  Not kidding, the first 20 or so minutes here is just about perfection for a hard rock record.  The album starts out in fairly comfortable territory, with the album's second single, the anthemic title track, "When Legends Rise".  Big drums pull a distorted guitar line behind them to intro the song before the entire band kicks in and Erna snarls his way into the opening verse.  But it's when you get to the chorus that the new feel of Godsmack kicks in, and if you really listen to the lyrics of the chorus, it seems the band is announcing the alteration of the course of their musical journey, burning down their past and forging a new future:  "It's burning down, It's burning high, When ashes fall, Legends Rise!"  Still featuring the typical driving guitars and catchy drum patterns of old, "...Legends..." sands off some of the rougher musical edges, and leaves behind a really nice slice of modern hard rock that feels like Godsmack, even if it doesn't sound 100% like the band that delivered "I Stand Alone" or "Whiskey Hangover".

"Bulletproof", the album's lead single, is pure rock ear candy, with even my 6 year old son latching onto the uber-catchy, echoing chorus as he rocks out in the back seat!  Definitely more radio friendly than just about anything the band has released since "Voodoo", "Bulletproof" is the perfect song to test the waters with for fans of the band, as Erna's vocals are still instantly recognizable, and the guitars still buzz with edgy life, but there are now hints of synth drawn into the mix, and a slightly reined-in bottom end that doesn't try to overpower your speakers with every drum hit or bass thump.

"Unforgettable" is just that, especially with the use of a children's choir on the second half of the song's choruses, with the interplay between Erna's deeper, edgier vocals being copied by the children word-for-word (including a huge, "whoa-oh-OH-oh-oh"...), while "Take It To The Edge" is a huge, ballsy chant-along rocker that will have fists thrusting into the air in a live setting, as the chorus just begs for Erna to have fans scream along as he taunts them, "I take it to the edge <EDGE!> of life <LIFE!>...".   The punchy, "Every Part Of Me" is sandwiched in there, as well, but should not be overlooked with the grit in the guitars and the thump of the rhythm section driving one of the harder rockers of the first half of the record.

The real curve ball on this album for longtime fans is going to be the beautiful, emotional piano ballad, "Under Your Scars", complete with the previously mentioned strings.  A lyrically raw and vulnerable track, "Under Your Scars" is Godsmack's "November Rain" moment, no question, and if it is not released as a single to massive crossover appeal, I think I may lose any shred of faith I may still have in the music industry, as this is a song unlike any other I have heard in the past few years from a band that was built upon angst and bleakness in so many of their biggest songs.  This song is a huge step for the band and one that really showcases the songwriting of Erna, his ability to structure a song such as this, and his willingness to put himself out there, fully exposed as a lyricist and vocalist.

There are still moments on the record where you can hear elements of Godsmack V 1.0, mostly toward the end, and specifically on the hard-charging "Say My Name", and album closer, "Eye Of The Storm", which seems to straddle the territory between the two sounds of the band while mixing in some thunderstorm effects.  Both are excellent, guitar-driven tracks that allow the band to cut loose a bit more than on other places on the record, and their inclusion actually serves to give the album a completeness that may have been lacking, otherwise. 

Even if the only good songs on this album were the first six, this would be a great effort.  But when all eleven tracks range from really good to excellent, you have a pretty special album on your hands.  When Legends Rise has to be in contention for album of the year when all is said and done in 2018, it is simply that good.  To say otherwise is to simply hold onto any previous biases that listeners may have from the Godsmack of old.

Rating: No way around it, this album is crankable to the extreme.  Crank this to 9!