Saturday, December 8, 2018

LEDGER "Ledger"

(c) 2018 Hear It Loud/Atlantic Records

  1. Not Dead Yet
  2. Warrior (featuring John Cooper)
  3. Bold
  4. Foreigner
  5. Ruins
  6. Iconic
Jed Ledger--Vocals, Drums, Percussion

If you have ever had the chance to see Skillet in concert, there is usually a moment in time when the band's tiny-yet-fierce drummer, Jen Ledger, comes out from behind the kit to allow her showcase her vocal talents away from the kit that hides her away for so much of the show.  Perhaps taking her cue from those concert moments, Ledger fully comes out from behind the kit here on her debut solo EP.  Lest one believe that this is something of a fracture of Skillet, the album was co-produced by Skillet rhythm guitarist/keyboard player, Korey Cooper, and the band's frontman and founder, John Cooper, lends his husky, snarly voice to one of the tracks here, as well.

The album kicks off with the lead single, "Not Dead Yet", a sassy rock number that incorporates piano, synths, and big drums, but don't expect any searing guitar licks to jump out at you, because that is not the direction of this track, or the EP, for that matter.  Ledger's voice sounds a bit processed in places, but that could also be partly due to the heavy use of electronics and synths in not only this song, but throughout the whole 6 track record.  She adds a clean ferocity to her vocals on the punchy chorus, while using a much more reserved, smoky...maybe even sultry...vocal approach on the verse sections, and her drumming, as would be expected, is top notch, with interesting patterns and fills throughout the song and EP.  I'm not sure anyone could have predicted the massive hit that this song has become, garnering airplay on not only Christian rock stations, but also on mainstream rock radio and even Octane on Sirius/XM.    

"Warrior" is the biggest rock moment of the record, which is to be expected when John Cooper is in the mix.  However, the introductory moments of the track would not immediately indicate that, as a robotic-sounding Ledger leads things in with the repeated line, "Heart starts to pound, shaking the ground, this is the sound".  But then the drums hit and an edgy guitar riff kicks the track into full rock gear.  Not a fast song, but the heaviest thing on this record, this track alone should give Skillet fans all the reason they need to snag this EP.  The first verse is all Ledger, A cooing Ledger trill breaks up Cooper's snarling lines on the second verse, and the two pair up for a couple of lines here, as well, before Cooper gives way to Ledger for a couple of lines, with Cooper re-entering to shove the song into the chorus, which he participates in.  Big arena drum lines are present throughout this track, as is the gritty rhythm guitar, and Ledger's defiant stance vocals are the perfect fit for this track that usually ends up on repeat a couple of times when this EP is popped in by me. 

"Bold" goes the other way from "Warrior", opting for more electronic elements and a softer vocal approach from Ledger, who manages to come across as sounding vulnerable on the verses, but empowered and strong on the chorus sections.  I will be very surprised if this track is not released as a single in the near future, as it is pure down tempo EDM ear candy, with no aspirations for big arena rock status.  The electronically enhanced drums and swirling, atmospheric synths supply a strong foundation for Ledger to really let her voice take the center stage here.

"Foreigner" is quirky and different than anything else here, as Ledger plays around with some nursery rhymes to forge the verses that run atop a bed of synths and programming before the chorus adds a solid punch with heavier drums and bass thumps, as well as a bit of guitar work.  Sure, this is more synthpop than the hard rock, but that chorus is just so catchy, and Ledger's voice so smooth and powerful, that it is virtually impossible to turn away from "Foreigner".  Ledger uses the song to point out that social media and reality TV are constantly perpetuating roles and ideals upon people that are virtually impossible to meet, creating self-loathing and misery in those people who try to pursue such things.  The title, "Foreigner", relates to the fact that we are foreigners in this world, destined to just pass through on our way to Heaven, and that giving in to the trappings of this fallen, dysfunctional world merely distracts us from our greater goals while on Earth.

"Ruins" is a true ballad, relying heavily on a piano and synthesized strings for much of the instrumental work here, as Ledger flexes her vocal muscle here, easily bouncing her voice up and down in range, and adding a whispery quality when required.  One thing that I truly appreciate about this track is that her voice sounds less processed than it often does when she's backing things up in Skillet, or even in other places on this EP.  Her backing vocal tracks here are powerful and provide a gorgeous echo to the lines here about love lost and learning to love again.

The album closes with the heavy bass dance groove of "Iconic", which like every other track here is catchy, hooky, and commands the attention of the listener, even if the style really isn't your cup of tea.  I keep going back and forth between this and "Warrior" as to which is my favorite track here (although "Bold" is definitely in the mix, as well), as both have just a bit more of a rock punch than some of the others that, with just a few twists and tweaks, could allow for them to be Skillet songs.  But Ledger avoids that trap and takes "Iconic" in more of an EDM direction than modern radio rock.  If you listen closely, there are some killer percussive moments here, with Ledger adding some fun twists to the typical dance floor beat of most music today.  I would have loved to hear a guitar solo rip through this track instead of the synth solo that we are given, but I totally get it and appreciate her determination to not go the Skillet route, which would likely have been very easy to do.  Some nice programming elements are mixed in, and there's even a brief moment when all the music stops and it's just Ledger's voice that we are hearing before the hip-shaking groove kicks its way back into the mix.  A great, fun way to close out a surprising EP.  

Mine is a digital copy, so I am unsure of packaging or anything of the like.  The production is even-handed, with the synths staying back in the mix when necessary to allow Ledger's voice to fly, and stepping up to fill the solo voids left by a lack of consistent guitar work.

Rating:  Its hard not to like what the young Skillet drummer has done here, so crank Ledger to 8!

Friday, December 7, 2018

STEELHEART "Rock'n Milan"

(c) 2018 Frontiers Records

  1. Blood Pollution
  2. Livin' The Life
  3. Gimme Gimme
  4. Like Never Before
  5. My Dirty Girl
  6. She's Gone
  7. Cabernet
  8. Drum Solo
  9. Everybody Loves Eileen
  10. Rock N Roll (I Just Wanna)
  11. I'll Never Let You Go
  12. We All Die Young
Miljenko Matijevic--Lead Vocals, Guitars
Kenneth Kanowski--Lead Guitars, Vocals
Mike Humbert--Drums
James "Rev" Jones--Bass, Vocals

Steelheart is the latest Frontiers Records band to have a live recording released this year, as Dokken, LA Guns, Unruly Child, and Mr. Big have all seen live efforts pressed to CD in 2018, with both LA Guns and Mr. Big having also been recorded in Milan (Dokken's was a 2016 show).  However, unlike the other 80s bands on this list, Steelheart is down to just a single member from its original form, that being inimitable vocalist, Miljenko Matijevic, although both Humbert (2006) and Jones (2007) have been in the band for over a decade, and are credited as playing here, but I have also read that it is actually Marten Andersen on bass for this show and Joe Pessia playing lead and rhythm guitars, so I am not 100% sure of who is playing as I write this...but I know damn well that Miljenko is singing!

The album, as near as I can tell, is a sequential recording of the band's live set played at Frontiers Records' annual festival, and is identical to the DVD in terms of track order, with just a single omission from the DVD.  As such, the album starts off with some crowd noise as Miljenko intros the show with a 2+ minute long reading of a Jim Morrison (Doors) quote, which he reads over the top of some drums, before the album actually kicks off with "Blood Pollution".  As is so often the case with intros, this one is NOT a separate track, so you either have to listen to the dang thing every time you put the album on, or you have to fast forward through it, which is a pain in the butt.  PLEASE STOP DOING THIS, PEOPLE!  Anyway...

"Blood Pollution" gets the audience whipped into a frenzy right off the bat as Miljenko cuts loose on that big scream of his after a rather intense build up of drums.  Easily one of the band's hardest-hitting tracks, Miljenko is able to showcase his still fabulous range right off the bat, as he moves from the gruffer, huskier lower range of the verses to the bigger, higher ends on some of the chorus sections.  And, of course, there's that scream!  Without much of a pause at all between tracks, another Steel Dragon track follows next, with the thumping "Livin' The Life" bursting forward next.  Personally, I don't know why this song was included (much more on that in a moment), as it was not a big cut on the soundtrack, but whatever; the song rocks pretty hard and the band sounds like they are having fun with it, although there is some muddiness to the mix here that blurs the sound of the bass and the drums a bit, which is bothersome.  The guitars are nice and up front on these first two tracks, and Miljenko sounds fantastic, which is really no surprise.

A couple of debut album cuts follow things up, with "Gimme Gimme" really drawing a response from the crowd, and the energy on these two tracks is seriously high.  I was a bit concerned that this may fall off a bit, as Miljenko chooses to drop a brand new song into the set at this point, but he made a wise decision in choosing the sassy "My Dirty Girl", which has an excellent groove to it that the crowd seems to have eaten up in this live setting.  This is one of my three or four favorite tracks off the latest Steelheart effort, Through Worlds of Stardust, which manages to successfully blend a bit of the melodic hair metal from the 80s and a more 70s bluesy, classic rock sound.  If you haven't picked up ...Stardust yet because of the less-than-great earlier 2000s output by the band, wait no longer; ...Stardust is well worth seeking out.

A piano-free version of "She's Gone" is up next (Miljenko plays the piano, so no idea why it wasn't utilized at this show), and the vocalist absolutely shines here, really laying some powerful emotion into this overlooked power ballad.  "Cabernet" from the not-so-great Wait album is up next, and to my ears, it sticks out like a sore thumb.  I can absolutely guarantee there is no way this song...or any song from Wait, would have been in my top 15 choices for this album, but I wasn't consulted.  To be fair, I also wouldn't have included the drum solo that follows, but I have a feeling this is as much about giving Miljenko's voice a break as anything.  I guess the solo shows Humbert's skills off well enough, but I don't like drum solos when I am at a concert, and I can guarantee I skip them (if possible) on live albums.

Fan favorite "Everybody Loves Eileen" is up next, and the band threatens to go into serious jam mode here, as the track stretches to more than nine minutes in this live setting, which is pretty cool, honestly.  The guitar work here is excellent, but again, some production issues really mar the performance for me, as there is just too much bass fuzziness overall.  Even turning my subwoofers down doesn't seem to help a whole lot, which is unfortunate.  The band then blasts off into the driving, "Rock N Roll (I Just Wanna)", before Miljenko slows things way down...and tunes his voice way up...for the band's massive hit, "I'll Never Let You Go (Angel Eyes)".  If there is one thing about this live record that really surprised me, it was the fact that I don't think Miljenko missed a single one of those rafter-scraping high wails on this track, even nearly 30 years after it was recorded.  It is astonishing to me to hear him still so powerful and so rangy all these years later, especially when coupled with the fact the guy nearly died several years back.  "We All Die Young" from the Rockstar soundtrack closes things out for the evening, with Miljenko sounding like he could go another 10 rounds vocally, and the band sounding incredibly tight and energetic down to the last note of the evening.

My biggest complaint about this record is actually song selection (although I will also address the production issues in a moment).  Unsurprisingly, six of the 12 cuts here come from the band's huge debut album, while just one song is chosen to represent band's newest album, Through Worlds of Stardust, although "My Dirty Girl" is a really, really good songWhat IS surprising is that while its cool to have the two main Steel Dragon tracks (1 and 12) from Rockstar included, I can't for the life of me understand why absolutely nothing from their 1992 sophomore album, Tangled In Reins, is included here.  Where is "Sticky Side Up", "Late For The Party", the band's namesake song, "Steelheart", or "All Your Love"?  To me, while not as much of a hit on radio and MTV, this album surpasses the greatness of the debut due to overall better songwriting.  Why Miljenko chose to ignore that record in favor of tracks like "Cabernet" from the seriously disappointing Wait album, or the good-but-not-great Steel Dragon track, "Living The Life"...or a drum solo, for crying out loud...is beyond me.  Even on the DVD, the song that was chosen to be cut from the CD listing was another song from Wait ("Live To Die").  I don't get it; there has to be a legal reason for ignoring Tangled...  And if I could complain about the set list just a tiny bit more, adding "Love Ain't Easy" and "Can't Stop Me Loving You" from the debut would have made more sense than the three oddities I listed.    

While Miljenko sounds great and still possesses a maddening range, vocally, the overall sound of the album is lacking.  It sounds like it was recorded from microphones rather than directly through the mixing board, giving some parts a rather muddy sound, especially on the bottom end.  This is unfortunate because the one time I did see this band live, they were excellent and sounded great!

Sadly, guitarist Kenny Kanowski would pass away just a few short months after the recording of this show, and I can't help but wonder if that is the reason this live recording is seeing the light of day, as sort of a tribute to the man. As such, it would have been nice to have a guitar solo section put in, replacing the drum solo, perhaps.  I can't help but wonder if maybe this show was never intended to be released, which could explain the subpar recording.  

In the interest of full disclosure, I have not watched the DVD and have no real plans to do so.

Rating:  Rock this at 6, with the lower score owing to sub-par production and an odd set list that completely omits several great tracks from their second album.

FIGHT THE FURY "Still Breathing"

(c) 2018 Atlantic Records

  1. My Demons
  2. Dominate Me
  3. Still Burning
  4. I Cannot
  5. Lose Hold Of It All
John Cooper--Lead Vocals, Bass
Seth Morrison--Guitars
John Panzer III--Guitars
Jared Ward--Drums

2018 was an interesting year for the biggest band in Christian hard music, Skillet, and a great year for their fans.  First, the band re-released their latest album, Unleashed, near the end of 2017 with numerous new tracks and updated artwork, calling it Unleashed Beyond.    At least one of the new bonus tracks charted, with others gaining airplay as well, in 2018.  Then, drummer Jen Ledger stepped out from behind the kit to release her debut solo CD, the excellent EP Ledger.  And then, lead vocalist/bassist and band founder, John Cooper, released this EP with his new side-project, Fight The Fury.  

When you first look at Fight The Fury, you can't look past the fact that the band is half of Skillet, with that band's guitar player, Seth Morrison, joining Cooper here.  To be honest, the band is like 5/8 Skillet, because the other guitar player, John Panzer III actually auditioned for Skillet at one time, but was reportedly turned away because of his age (he was only a teen at the time of his audition).  Then, when you hear the first line of "My Demons", the first track and lead single from the EP, it is immediately obvious that this is Cooper's voice blaring out at me from my speakers.  I mean, the guy just has one of those voices that is instantly recognizable, even in the sometimes cookie-cutter vocal world of modern hard rock.  John Cooper sounds like John Cooper, end of story.

But, the similarities really end there, as Fight The Fury is a significantly heavier band that Skillet.  In all honesty, the only track that Skillet would likely ever attempt to do as a band would be the previously mentioned "My Demons", which it could be argued really is just a heavier, less-programmed version of a Skillet song.  I don't have any problems with that line of comparison being drawn, and I am sure that has something to do with why that particular track was chosen as the first one to hit radio; there is a comfort factor here that I feel was designed to ease the listener in to what was to come.  The guitars are more in-your-face than they tend to be on all but the heaviest Skillet songs, and there is a lot more of an aggressive feeling to the rhythm guitars and the drums, which hit particularly hard all throughout the EP.  You can even hear some double bass work in places on the track, which has pretty much become the standard for any band in the 20-teens metal scene.  But the comparisons to Skillet pretty much end after "My Demons" ends and the blistering "Dominate Me" kicks in.  

"Dominate Me" has an absolutely crushing approach that Skillet would never touch, as it would scare off a good chunk of their audience!  A hard-hitting rhythm guitar rips through the speakers first, before Cooper barks a gruff "Go!", and the band is off and running.  Reminding me of Sevendust in the way the guitars come out so choppy and angry, and Cooper's voice bounces across the top of the rhythm of the track, always threatening to break out into an aggro-metal scream, but never quite cutting loose.  Morrison's guitar solo here is perfect, really showing that he has as much talent for this type of music as he does the closer-to-the-vest hard rock of his day gig.  The bass rumbles pretty hard here, also, and the drums are fantastic, as they are throughout the record.  

"Still Burning" is probably my favorite track on the EP.  Again utilizing that hard, choppy guitar style of the first couple of tracks, "Still Burning" has a guitar tone that reminds me of old school Metallica, and the drum patterns on this track would likely have Lars Ulrich's approval as well.  This is not to say the track sounds like Metallica across the board, because it does not, as it remains far too modern for the Metallica comparison to be drawn in a straight line.  However, I don't believe for a second that the hints of Metallica are not unintentional, as Cooper has long stated that the Bay Area Thrashers are a definite influence on him musically.  Cooper unleashes some pretty good screams on this track, but also utilizes a harshly whispered approach on the opening lines of each verse section that really sets the barks and screams apart.  Good, good stuff, and once again, the guitars are absolutely spot on for a track such as this.  This should be the second single, in my opinion, and should hit not only the Octane crowd, but also Liquid Metal, and any mainstream rock/metal station out there that still plays what the audience is going to scream for.

"I Cannot" is the "slowest" track on the album, which is ridiculous to say, because the only slower part is actually the chorus sections, and even those aren't withing shouting distance of a ballad or anything like that.  This is the track that utilizes the most electronic elements on the EP, and it is on this track that Cooper revisits a bit more of the melodic vocal approach that he has used in his main band.  The chorus is more Skillet than any other track other than "My Demons", but it doesn't do anything to diminish the song.

The album closes with another metallic assault in "Lose Hold Of It All".  The first section is more punishing rhythm guitar punches to the gut and kick drum blasts to the face, layered upon by Cooper's darkest, harshest vocals from the EP.  There is a killer guitar solo before the final run through the chorus, then after a false ending, some seriously frantic, fret-running guitar acrobatics to lead off the outro section of this track, which is my second favorite of the record.  Again echoing some of the more progressive thrash stylings of ...Justice-era Metallica, this is a super-fun song to listen to and really puts a bookend on the project for me.

Also of some interest to fans will likely be the fact that Cooper has repeatedly said in interviews that where Skillet is an openly Christian band, Fight The Fury is not.  That does not mean that Cooper denies his faith or anything like that, but this is a far darker project, lyrically, than anything Cooper has worked on before.  "My Demons", for example, is about the sexual abuse of a child and the damage that is done to that child.  I have some fairly serious questions about the lyrics of "Dominate Me", as they definitely seem to have an ambiguity to them that could easily lead a listener to find a sexual slant to them, although I have read that they are actually about a lost person looking for someone...anyone...to completely devote yourself to when your world is crumbling.  On the flip side, despite sounding angry and aggressive as snot, "Burning For You" comes across as a modern metal worship song of the highest degree, which is awesome, as Cooper screams, "Your's eternally, I'm still burning, I'm still burning... Still burning true, for You".  I know that "My Demons" has been picked up by numerous Christian and positive rock stations across the nation, and there is certainly nothing evil about any of the songs here, but I have a hard time envisioning "Dominate Me" being accepted by most of these same stations.  

I know there are physical copies of the CD available, but my copy is digital, so I cannot speak to the packaging.  However, since it is release by Atlantic Records, I am guessing there is at least a moderate amount of work put into the packaging.

Production is crisp and clean, the separation of instruments is solid, and the vocals are mixed extremely well.  The bass is present throughout the EP, and the teamwork on the guitars, and the heavy hitting from the drums, leaves me wishing this was at least a couple of songs longer, if not a full album.

Rating:  Far, far better than I was afraid it might turn out to be, I would crank this to 8!  I love this more and more with each spin; I just wish it spun for more than 20 minutes.


Sunday, December 2, 2018

ARSON CITY "Hell Of A Ride"

(c) 2018 Independent Release

  1. Prelude
  2. Hell Of A Ride
  3. Business As Usual
  4. Pushing Forward
  5. One Of These Days
  6. Let's Go
  7. Separate Ways
"Mayor" Patrick Michael Wilson--Lead Vocals
"The Doctor" Mark Beckenhauer--Rhythm Guitars, Programming, Keys, Piano
"The Dealer" Matt DiBaise--Lead Guitars
"The Con" Matt Oliver--Bass
"The Enforcer" Matt Denker--Drums

Omaha's Arson City returns with its first release in nearly three years as they follow up the excellent Horror Show record from 2015.

The disc starts with an instrumental section called "Prelude", and while I have made it well known I am not particularly fond of intros...or even instrumentals, in most cases...I do have to admit that I am going to make an exception here for a couple of reasons.  First, the band makes the wise decision to run tracks 1 and 2 seamlessly into one another, so they can be taken as one whole track OR track 2 can be started independently without it sounding like something is missing.  Job well done!  The other reason I am going to allow Arson City a pass on "Prelude" is because it is so beautifully performed.  What starts off as a piano piece from Beckenhauer picks up intensity with the addition of drums, the bass, and some harmonic guitars that remind me of something Savatage might have done in the 80s.  Really good stuff here.

The intensity kicks up even further where "Prelude" and "Hell Of A Ride" meld together, as some gritty rhythm guitars from "Doctor" Beckenhauer join the fray grinding the song to the point where The Mayor jumps into the mix, snarls "Here we go!" and launches the song into a full-throttle rocker.  If you are even remotely familiar with the Horror-Punk backstory of Arson City and its characters, you know that Wilson's Mayor character was brought up in the streets and as a member of a gang called the Horror Squad.  To that end, "Hell Of A Ride" sounds lyrically like it could be The Mayor's origin story, as the opening lines find the song's protagonist waking up under a bridge as a train roars overhead before going on to describe the life that he has lived.  Perhaps it is merely coincidence that it works out in my brain that way; regardless, this big, anthemic rocker is so insanely catchy that it took me about a dozen listens before I actually managed to get past this track.  The songwriting of the band continues to grow and mature and develop, but great songs are meaningless without talent to execute those songs, and Arson City proves from the get-go that they are more than just a really good local band with a kick ass live show.  The guitar work here is top-notch, from Beckenhauer's rhythm work to the leads of "The Dealer" DiBaise, supported by excellent drum work from "The Enforcer" Denker, and pulse-pounding bass from "The Con" Oliver, all of which come together with just enough modern production and programming to create what I feel is probably the pinnacle of this band's creativity up to this point.  But even then , the band throws more into the mix!  There is also a touch of prog running through the veins of the song, with some symphonic-styled keys dropping into the mix in places, which gives the song a fullness of sound that simply adds to the completeness of this track. Simply an amazing track that always seems to find me hitting repeat multiple times.

"Business As Usual" kicks its way through the speakers next, and if anything, is a bit more aggressive than "Hell Of A Ride", which seems crazy when I write it.  The drums from Denker are particularly strong here, and I don't think enough gets said about what this beast brings to the sound of this band.  Interesting rhythms, speed, precision, and the thunderous heartbeat of Arson City, the drums here are produced absolutely perfectly and are a key element here, not just the foundation upon which the songs are built.  Another song with a dark tale to tell, "Business As Usual" tells the story of life in the streets of Arson City, as a strung-out, would-be armed robber gets gunned down by a liquor store owner, and a hard-working single mother puts a bullet through the skull of a wanna-be mugger/rapist.  Serious stuff, to be sure, but "out here death seems so casual, [but] its just business as usual" in Arson City.  Wilson's vocals are absolutely perfect for such dark subject matter, especially in the quiet moments before the chorus sections kick in, when Wilson drops his range even further, intoning "life can change in the blink of an eye".  Once again, buzzsaw guitars and a tight rhythm section are supported by some modern elements, but no matter what you want to label it, this is simply superb modern hard rock/metal that deserves to be heard.

"Pushing Forward" continues the trend of excellent rockers, with a killer intro that features some haunted carnival ride keys at the outset, followed by more huge, pounding drums working in a kind of counter pattern to those of the rhythm guitars, leaving pretty much no empty space between notes right from the outset.  Big, gang-shouted vocals punctuate parts of the verses as well as jumping into the chorus sections on the "pushing forward" parts, while Wilson's angry, lower-range snarl drives the listener through the "nothing's gonna stop us, all-for-one-and-one-for-all" sentiments of the lyrics.  There are some interesting, discordant guitars thrown into the mix in a couple of spots as well, and suddenly this album is three-for-three as far as great songs go.

"One Of These Days" is a slightly slower, slightly off-kilter rocker, similar to something Theory Of A Deadman might come up with, but much darker, heavier at the bottom, and interwoven with a jangly, horror film feel to it.  A piano leads us in once again, along with the sounds of a thunderstorm, as Wilson drops low into a storyteller vocal approach for the first few lines before being interrupted by the dark bounce of the rhythm section.  After two runs through the chorus section, a big, screaming lead solo from DiBaise that leaps straight out of the late 80s metal scene (not hair metal...heavy metal).  I like the feel of this track and I hope that it is one that the band incorporates into their live set, as I think its a great change of pace track that will keep things from becoming too predictable.  The quirky drum patterns give the track a syncopated feel, offset by the chugga-chugga-chug style of the rhythm guitars, all layered over that piano that stays with the song throughout the length of the track, and the thunderstorm that exits the song. 

"Let's Go" pushes the pace back up once again, although we are still not into full break-neck speed territory by any stretch.  Still, this hard-charging modern rocker is fueled by crunchy guitars, another atypical drum pattern that has to be fun for the band to work around., and a strong presence from Oliver on bass, which can literally be felt throughout the track. Following the second chorus there is something of a breakdown section fueled by Beckenhauer and Oliver, PLUS a guitar solo from DiBaise before bouncing right out and back into the chorus song for another run through.  Again, super catchy and so unique when compared to so much of what is heard in rock today.  Good, good stuff.

The disc closes all too soon with...believe it or not...a Journey cover!  Yep...you read that right.  Now, first off, Wilson and Perry will never be confused with being vocal twins separated at birth, and Arson City and Journey have pretty much nothing in common musically, but I can't wipe the smile off my face when I hear this track.  The guitars are grittier, edgier, more urgent, and tuned far lower than anything Journey likely ever attempted, and the unmistakable keyboard intro carries a dangerous, angry edge not found in the original.  The rhythm guitars out of the keys on the intro are also cut a bit short from the Journey version, but there is no denying that the band is working hard to remain faithful to the original song, while also remaining faithful to who the band is and what they are all about musically.  The guitar solo from DiBaise is relatively simplistic at first, but he gets to run the frets pretty quickly before the solo gives way to a final run through the chorus, and the rhythm guitars have a punch to them not found anywhere in Journey's storied catalog.  One of the best touches here is the echoed lines from Wilson...done in a deep, gravelly, whisper-snarl manner...on the verses, which gives the song a darker feel than the original.   

Produced by Beckenhauer and Wilson, the album sounds amazing and professional despite the fact that it is a true self-release, with no label backing at all.  The disc comes in a cardboard sleeve, with the artwork at the top as the front cover, with the back being a continuation of the roller coaster artwork, a track listing, and some skeleton notes regarding credits and so forth.  If you're really nice to the guys, perhaps you can get one from the band that is signed by Patrick, Mark, and the Three Matts (which my physical copy is; the above photo is from the press kit).

As any review of Arson City must do, I have to include a note about the live performance from these guys.  If you have never had the chance, you absolutely need to see these guys in the live setting, whether as an opener or as the main event, as they fully deliver every time they take the stage.  The ultimate way to experience the band is at their annual Citizens Ball every October in Omaha, as the full Horror Punk show is brought to life, with the full stage show, the Horror Squad, the make-up, the costumes, and the fan participation at a peak!

Follow the band at https://www.facebook.com/arsoncity/ for more information about getting your hands on this CD.  Yes, it is a quick 25 minutes, but it is well worth the investment and one of the truly great releases of the year, label-supported or otherwise!  Every time these guys put something out, the quality increases and the bar for the next release is set even higher.  Hopefully we won't have to wait three more years to see if they can top themselves and this excellent effort!  

Rating:  I don't see any way these guys don't end up with the G2G True Indy Album of the Year with this cranker!  Turn it way up to 9!