Saturday, October 16, 2021

FICTION SYXX "Ghost Of My Father's Past"

 

(c) 2021 Independent Release
  1. Bleed For The Truth
  2. Caught Up In The Moment
  3. Whispers In  The Dark
  4. My Father's Ghost
  5. History Comes Tumbling
  6. Innocence
  7. This Place Called Life
  8. Waiting, Wondering
  9. Beyond The Shadows
  10. Children Of The Sea (Black Sabbath cover)
Mark Allen Lanoue--Vocals, Guitars
JK Northrup--Guitars, Backing Vocals
Eric Ragno--Keys, Piano, Organ
Larry Hart--Bass
Rory Faciane--Drums

When I first heard that Fiction Syxx was set to release their third album in as many years, I was all sorts of excited!  Had the band done what so many others did (or at least attempted to do) during the Covid shut-down, and gotten themselves busy creating new music?  Then I started asking myself if the project would feel rushed as the band felt some kind of pressure to do something with all of the forced downtime so many of us have faced over these past several dark months.  Would the album be all brooding and cold?  Would it come out like some others I have heard, completely overworked, over produced, over...over-EVERYTHING...as the band had so much time to write and re-write and re-edit everything it came out sounding cold and mechanical and sterile?

Turns out, the down time had given my own mind too much time to worry about such things, as Fiction Syxx has unleashed an album for the ages with their newest offering, Ghost Of My Father's Past!

Right from the outset, Fiction Syxx is in top form, with "Bleed For The Truth" bursting forth with the kind of melodic power that has been their calling card ever since Tall, Dark Secrets was unleashed in 2019.  Their sophomore effort, The Alternate Me, upped the ante a bit, adding a bit more punch to their already powerful approach to melodic prog, and "Bleed For The Truth" steps right back up to where the band left off and smacks a home run!  Sweeping guitars from both Lanoue and underrated wizard, JK Northrup, attack your senses almost immediately, but its the power of Lanoue's voice that seems to haunt me when I am listening to this album, even more so than on previous Fiction Syxx records.  Hart is in full-force here, as well, as his bass is solidly present in the mix, as are Faciane's drums.  And while it is a well-documented fact that I think too much keyboard can kill just about any song or album, the expert work from Eric Ragno may be the overly-cliche glue that holds this project together.  All of these elements come together right from the start of Ghost..., which had me instantly hooked.

"Caught Up In The Moment" finds me being exactly that, as this rocker enchants the listener almost instantly!  The Eastern-styled guitar tones (or is it an electric sitar?) are always catchy to my ear, but the performance here is not utilized in the typical way.  Don't imagine a full-blown Zeppelin approach here, as that is not the goal.  Rather, the band uses this unique sound to set the lead guitar apart from the chugging riff of the track and to set up Lanoue's sonic attack as he vocally glides across the atypical guitar bed and powers the song along.  A more traditional sounding, yet oh-so blistering solo run scorches through the midst of this hard-hitting rocker, and two tracks in, it is apparent that Fiction Syxx is operating on a new level, which is saying a lot considering the rare air they had been working in on past albums!  Not willing to settle for what they have done in the past, Fiction Syxx has challenged themselves to take another musical step, and they are obviously challenging listeners to come along for the ride, as the first two songs make it nearly impossible to not wonder what is coming next.

Lead single, "Whispers In The Dark" comes haunting its way in before tribal-sounding drums kick things up a bit and the harmonic guitars spring to life.  Ragno proves he is a master of subtle support on tracks such as this one, as his keyboards offer so much additional life to a track such as this without becoming overly-dominant and distorting the sound of a track such as this one.  This song is pure melodic hard rock ear candy, mid-tempo in pace and blissfully proggy in all the right spots.  Lanoue really allows his voice to soar throughout the track, and Northrup's chilling string bending solo, followed by Lanoue's speedier, crunchier fret run...just...wow.  The chorus is beautifully structured so that you feel the bass and drums pulsing beneath, rather than just being buried.  I truly love this song.  Check it out and see if you agree...


 "History Comes Tumbling" continues the power-prog mastery, and the mournful wail of the lead guitars throughout is chilling to hear.  I love the extended guitar solo on this track, and the bass work from Hart is not lost on the listener as it really helps to drive the song and lay that foundation that these soaring, searing guitars layer themselves upon.  Once again, Lanoue proves himself more than capable of handling just about any approach within his range, and the man is a melodic machine in my opinion.  I could listen to Mark sing the phone book, I think.

"Innocence" slows things down to ballad territory for the first time, and Fiction Syxx tackle the track with absolute mastery.  Lanoue varies his vocal delivery here, utilizing a softer approach on some of the verse sections, while also allowing his voice to really take flight on the chorus sections.  Again, Ragno is the master of the backing sounds on keys here, and the song completely sucks you in after just a single listen.  And the real magic of this song?  The writing!  Seriously, there is some thought-provoking stuff going on here... 

"Look into the eyes of the children, and lose yourself within their Innocence.  
Remember that you were once just like them. 
Now blinded by yourself, Society.  
Where it's all about me..."  

Wow!  Nobody writes like that anymore!  Without beating anyone over the head and telling them HOW to think, "Innocence" implores people to just...well...to just THINK!




"This Place Called Life" comes out nasty and gritty from the word jump, with a dirtier tone to the guitars and some darker supporting sounds from Ragno's keys throbbing through the verse sections.  Doomy, almost Dio-Sabbath-esque here (more on that in a bit), this is a tasty slice of musicality, with the band showcasing an ability to walk on the darker side of prog.  Lanoue adjusts his delivery to fit the track, but never does he drift off into a sullen, sulking approach.  Instead, I imagine a glint in his eye and a sneer on his lips as he powers through the choruses here.  Then, seemingly from nowhere, a brilliant flash of light bursts forth from the darkness in the form of an absolute eruption of a guitar solo, and "This Place Called Life" finds itself fighting for song of the album honors!  Love it, love it, love it!  

If "Waiting, Wondering" doesn't have you thinking Dream Theater to at least some extent, I'm not sure we are listening to the same song.  Also borrowing a bit from classic prog masters, Kansas, "Waiting, Wondering" is one of those songs that just seems to draw you in and wrap you in a sonic embrace, completely absorbing you with its melodic mastery.  Lanoue absolutely kills it here, and the keys from Ragno are spot-on superb!  Normally, the ballads on an album aren't really my thing; oh, sure, I've had my lighter in the air at concerts, but I'm typically a harder, heavier song kinda guy.  However, when a song as chock-full of emotion as "Waiting, Wondering" comes on, I definitely take notice!  A brilliant song, to be sure!




Beyond The Shadows" follows "Waiting, Wondering" up in truly stellar fashion, bumping up the tempo to mid-tempo territory, but definitely increasing the musical intensity.  The guitars are absolutely gorgeous here...seriously, someone needs to find out how these guys are wringing this much melodic soul out of their six strings and let the rest of the world know!  The solo is just achingly beautiful as Northrup runs the frets, and Lanoue is once again completely at the top of his game on this track (and the album in its entirety).  

"Children Of The Sea" closes things out, and if I am being 100% honest, I was pretty worried about this track.  I mean...Dio-era Sabbath?!  It takes massive balls...and humongous talent...to even think about tackling what is considered by many to be a melodic metal masterpiece.  It turns out my fears were for naught, as Lanoue avoids the guaranteed death sentence of trying to ape RJD, and instead delves into the lower ends of his spectacular range to pull off perhaps the vocal performance of the record!  Yes, there are hints of Dio's snarl here and there, but Mark is Mark to the fullest here, and it is amazing.  The Hammond from Ragno is perfection, and the combination of both acoustic and electric guitars absolutely shines.  Heck, even the percussion is spot-on throughout this true metal classic, and I find myself feeling a bit silly for ever questioning how the band might power through this track.  An absolutely perfect end to a dang-near perfect record!

The production throughout the album is crystal clear, and the separation of the guitars is exquisite, with Lanoue and Northrup both getting a strong voice from their respective instrument.  Huge kudos to Northrup who has shown himself to be a true production wizard through the years, and who possibly outdoes himself here.  This is how a melodic prog metal album should sound, plain and simple.  All you other bands of this ilk...take note.

I'm not really sure what happened, nor is it any of my business, but from what I have been told, the album is no longer available through Melodic Rock Records and can only be obtained directly from the band now by clicking HERE.  Regardless of what hoops you need to jump through, make it a priority of yours to hunt down Ghost Of My Father's Past.  You will NOT be disappointed in any way!

Rating:  Supremely crankable!  I'm giving this one the rare 10 and challenging anyone to try to knock this record from Album of the Year status here at G2G!

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Friday, October 1, 2021

THE PROTEST "Death Stare"

(c) 2021 Rockfest Records

  1. Paper Tiger
  2. Greater
  3. Show Up To The Showdown
  4. Voices
  5. Hell To Hold You
  6. The Mountain
Josh Bramlett--Lead Vocals, Guitars
Adam Sadler--Lead Guitars
TJ Colwell--Rhythm Guitars
Jarob Bramlett--Drums, Percussion

Indiana's The Protest come roaring back with an EP of new material that follows up the band's 2018 Rockfest Records debut, Legacy.  This new release features six new tracks (two have already been released as singles), with five of the six being up-tempo rockers, with the sixth being something of a ballad, although don't expect slow dancing and big-haired power balladry here.

The band picks up right where they left off on Legacy with the ferocious "Paper Tiger", which comes off every bit as heavy and aggressive as the previous album's title track.  Some buzzing guitars intro the track (followed by a tiger's roar), with Jarob dropping a big drum rhythm that sets the song off on a mid-tempo-but-crushingly-heavy track that chugs toward Josh snarling and barking his way through the first verse.  On this song about letting go of the fears that hold us back, Josh does everything in his power to abuse his vocal cords, especially on the seething chorus as he exclaims...

"You're just a paper, paper tiger!  
Nothing more than a silver-tongued liar!"   

The chorus is packed full of backing shouts and chants, none of which are credited here, but there is a lot of energy packed into this 3 minute...ahem...rockfest!  A solid breakdown is also incorporated in this fun, punchy kick off for Death Stare.

"Greater" has already surged its way up the charts for many Christian rock stations (and some forward-thinking modern rock stations, as well), and is definitely one of my two or three favorite tracks from the band at this point.  Programmed elements lead the churning guitars and drums into the mix, with Josh utilizing a much more controlled vocal style here as he explains to the listener why The Protest does what it does, despite the long hours on the road and the lack of acceptance among their secular peers.

"I don't do it for the money,
Don't do it for the fame,
As long as someone listens, don't care who knows my name.
I don't do it for the glory
Don't do it for the game,
I do it all to make them see that this all for something Greater than me!"

A truly powerful message about self-sacrifice, not only for doing what you love to do, but also doing it for the One who loves you!  The video is a solid performance piece, as well...check it out...


The EP's current single, "Show Up To The Showdown" is up next, and the band takes a bit of a different tack here, utilizing a sparser sound in the verse sections, followed by a big fist-in-the-air chanting chorus, complete with gang-shouted "heys" scattered throughout.  Jarob's drums have a huge presence throughout this track, as does an uncredited bass line on this thick rocker about standing up to the challenges put in your path.  The band recorded a really fun video for this track as well, which can be seen below...



From here, the band launches into another high energy rocker, this one a bit more uptempo and more straight forward than some of the others, with "Voices" tackling depression, negative thoughts, and self-doubt that creep into our minds from time to time.  The longest track on the EP, "Voices" still clocks in at just over four minutes, and is just straight-forward, guitar-driven hard rock from start to finish.  Some excellent guitar work from Colwell flashes through the track, and once again, an uncredited plaer lays down a rumbling bass line that really establishes a solid structure for the rest of the guitars to grind across the top of.  Once again, Josh spends more time singing than roaring here, especially on the verse sections, while he does get a bit more aggressive on the chorus.  There's a very cool vocal bridge that showcases the angrier side of his vocals, when he starts off in a controlled-but-snarled whisper that builds to a full-on scream as he intones...

"I've got this sickness,
It eats me to the bone...
I'll never make it if I try to do it all alone!
I've got this sickness,
It's poisoning my mind...
I'm climbing out of this and now I'm taking back my LIFE!!!"

A tough, tough chug-chug breakdown follows before the band revisits the chorus again.  A really, really good song that I find myself returning to a lot.

"Hell To Hold You" is the ballad of the EP, but again, don't think Homecoming slow dance material here.  A thick, bouncing bass line really drives the verses, with Jarob's drums keeping pace, before the guitars jump into the pre-chorus and chorus sections, with some big "whoa-oh-ohs" accompanying the chorus lyrics...

"Never knew I needed You 'til now...
A part of me was missing.
There's nothing that can keep me from You now.
As long as I'm still breathing, 
My heart is in Your hands.

I'm alive again...
No matter what we've been through
I'd fight hell to hold you."

While the first section of the chorus seems fairly obvious, I find myself asking if that that last part Christ making a statement to the singer.  Hmmmm.....  Some programmed strings are subtly woven into the mix, with them being the most obvious as the song fades out at the end.  This song really surprised me, honestly, but I like the band taking the chance and throwing the curveball when the rest of the record was nothing but heat (sorry...baseball references are what I do...).

"The Mountain" is an absolutely quirky rocker that I can't help but love.  I would imagine it will be very difficult to pull off live due to a lot of programmed stops and starts with the guitars, but Jarob's drums are an absolute treat to hear on this track as they bounce and prance throughout the song.  There's a big arena rock feel to the track when the guitars punch you in the gut, but those sparse moments in between are what really gives this plucky song its true feel...at least for me.  This song has a lot of Skillet styling to my ear, but it is fresh and definitely not some sort of rip-off track.  This is still purely The Protest, throwing back to some of their earlier, pre-Rockfest Records material.  I will be massively disappointed if this song isn't released as a single, as I absolutely love what the guys pull off here and they sound like they had a blast doing it.

Not even 21 minutes in length, the EP should seem much shorter than it does.  However, the high quality of the songwriting and the top-notch performances keep you so engaged you really don't realize how wrapped up you become in each and every track and, at least to me, the EP doesn't feel as short as it actually is.  Maybe that is due in part to the high amount of energy the band pours into each track, wiping you out as you listen!  Very, very well done overall!

I do have a complaint, but it isn't lodged so much at the band as it is at Rockfest Records.  Let me preface this by saying I love Rockfest Records, I buy all of their releases, and I am in awe of their line-up of artists.  That being said, I have to admit to being upset about the way this EP was handled, for a couple of reasons.  First, it is packaged about as simply as anything I have ever received from anyone, with no lyrics, no credits, no thank-yous, and no band info.  Nothing.  It is a simple cardboard slipcase with the cover art on one side and the track listing on the other.  Period.  And, yeah, I could live with that, if I wasn't charged more than $11 for FORCED Priority shipping (there was no First Class option) for this practically weightless CD (there is no jewel case or digipack, so seriously...this thing weighs next to nothing).  That means I paid nearly $20 for a six song EP that isn't signed or anything.  Normally, Rockfest does an amazing job with the packages they put together, and yes, there was a big package with a shirt and trading cards and other things, but the people who only want the CD shouldn't be charged a ton on shipping to make up the cost of the bigger packages.  Trust me when I say this CD did NOT cost $11.50 (or whatever the exact cost was) to ship, even with the bubble mailers factored in.  Hopefully the goal here is not to drive even more people to digital purchasing because I will always be a CD-first guy.

Regardless of that issue (which I really hope was a clerical error), Death Stare is well worth tracking down and is an incredible effort on the part of The Protest!  I have thoroughly enjoyed it since I received it, and if I have spun it fewer than 30 times in the past two weeks or so, I'd be shocked.  If this was a hold-over project as the band works on their next full release, I can't wait to hear what they have in store for us next!

Rating:  Definitely crankable!  Crank Death Stare to a powerful 9, even at only six songs!  It really is that good!

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Wednesday, September 29, 2021

THE FIFTH "The Fifth EP"

 

(c) 2021 Weapon Records/Vanity Music

  1. Shake Little Sister
  2. Calm Before The Storm
  3. Home
  4. Coming To Get You
  5. Roll The Bones
Roy Cathey--Lead Vocals
Justin Womble--Guitars
Jake Tripp--Bass
Gary "Zeus" Smith--Drums

If you are going to reinvent yourself, you just as well strip it ALL THE WAY DOWN and build things back up again.  This is the situation acclaimed vocalist, Roy Cathey, found himself in with his band, The Fifth, as he rounded up an entirely new group of musicians to put together his vision for the band.  The result is The Fifth, a fittingly five-song long EP of hard rock that hearkens back to the more traditional melodic sounds of Cathey's old band, Cold Sweat.

Kicking off with the lead single, "Shake Little Sister", it is apparent this EP features a leaner, meaner, hungrier sounding band than its previous incarnation.  A straight-forward, dirty guitar line intros this foot-stomping rocker before Cathey's signature wail hits and kicks things into high gear.  Following a second run through the chorus, the song teases a breakdown of sorts, but in all reality it is just staging for Womble to rip through a fret-searing solo that honestly took me by surprise.  Some gang shouts of "SHAKE!" add to the back end of a couple of chorus runs, which ups the fun factor, and this EP is off and running!  

"Calm Before The Storm" has a thick bass line that opens things up, along with some cool tom playing from Smith, as Womble's guitars ring in the background, giving the feel of something Godsmack might toy with (think "Voodoo" for a comparison point), but with the accompanying acoustic guitars enhancing the verse sections, and Cathey's powerhouse vocals (supported by some really cool harmony vocals in various spots) this is definitely more akin to later-era Skid Row (when Bas was still on board and the band was still good).  Once again, Womble proves himself more than capable on guitars, handling the supporting leads as well as a really cool solo section before we're treated to another run through the chorus.  The drums take on more of a marching cadence as the song exits, and Womble utilizes some cool blues guitar licks to take things home.  Probably my favorite song here, "Calm Before The Storm" has so many things to love that I find myself hitting repeat a time or two before moving on.

"Home" has everything that would have made a big power ballad hit back in the very early 90s except for big, slick production.   There isn't a ton to say about this song other than Cathey handles the song like the true melodic giant that he really is, from the soaring verse sections to the powerful choruses, which again feature some really strong harmonies on the big "ahhs" and "ohhs".  Womble handles the guitars expertly once again, with a spot-on guitar god solo that could have graced the lighters-in-the-air moments for numerous hair band albums between 1988 and 1992, and the rhythm section keeps things moving forward where so many ballads seem to bog down...both in yesteryear and today.  There are even some programmed strings to enhance the last run through the chorus, but honestly, these were pretty much unnecessary in my book.  As I said at the outset, this song only lacks the saccharine sheen of the MTV era, but to me, that's a good thing, and this is a really powerful song that I have to imagine will be a cell-phone waver in the live setting.

"Coming To Get You" has another down-n-dirty rhythm right from the outset, with Cathey digging deep into his range to bring out an extra dose of soulfulness.  This is a song that right away reminded me of something that Red Sea, Badlands, Die Happy, or any of those truly soulful bluesy hard rock bands of the 80s and 90s would rattle your soul with.  This is good, good stuff here and unlike anything that anyone else is really playing today.  Sure, Inglorious and Greta Van Fleet are playing that retro 70s hard rock style (as are a dozen others now), but this is deeper, heavier stuff, like old Deep Purple but with, in my opinion, far superior vocals.  This stuff is really in Cathey's wheelhouse, to my ear.  Yeah, he can rip off a scream and power through a rafter-raising wail, but this throaty, bluesy stuff is something I would love to hear him explore even more.  Big, thick riffs and a classic guitar round out another track that vies for best on the record.

"Roll The Bones" is a dirty rocker, plain and simple, again in that straight ahead, grit and grind style that is missing from so much rock n roll these days.  Once again we hear the band throw back to a bluesy romp, albeit more uptempo than the mid-tempo swagger of "Coming To Get You", and Womple bends his strings through yet another sweet-but-too-short solo that really has all the style and substance of the best "not-on-MTV-or-Top-40-radio" hard rock of the 80s.  Cathey's snarling on the "roll the bones" portion of the chorus makes me smile every time, because I can just hear the sneer and and see the glint in his eye as he half-growls his way through the lines.  An excellent way to wrap up a far-too-short introduction to the new...and in my estimation, improved...version of The Fifth.

The production on this EP is raw and lean, giving the music a much more "live" feeling, not sounding processed at all.  Some will like this, some will claim it sounds "garage" or "retro".  All I know is that it is refreshing to hear a band perform on its own merits and not based upon studio tricks and ProTools editing.  Does The Fifth reinvent anything here?  Nope, but let's be honest: it's Roy Cathey's vocals that are going to bring most people to this party, and it's the surprising talent of Womble that is going to have people doing more than just hanging on every power note that Cathey delivers.  This is really good melodic hard rock that showcases one of the truly underappreciated vocalists of the past 30 or so years sticking mostly to a classic sound but with hints of an updated feel to the song structures.  Again, this is way too short, as the EP hits at just about exactly 20 minutes, but it is a great way for Cathey to get his new band launched and ready to roll when concerts hit full swing once again.  If you get the chance to check out these North Carolina rockers, I would strongly suggest you do so, as I found myself very impressed with what they put together here.

Rating:  So good to hear Roy in his element, once again.  Crank this one to 8, with the brevity of the release the only real issue I have with it.


Saturday, August 21, 2021

DEFIANT "The Rent In Hell Is Free"

 

(c) 2021 Curtain Call Records

  1. Crusades
  2. Knuckleduster
  3. Vamptress
  4. The Day After
  5. Unmarked Grave
  6. Viva La Revolution
  7. Free For A Price
Albert Halterman--Lead Vocals, Guitars
Joe Defiant--Guitars
Paul Barlowski--Bass
Paul Cochran--Drums

Additional Musicians
Ace Von Johnson--Guitars on "Viva La Revolution"
Jim Taylor--Vocals on "Unmarked Grave"
Richard Reilly--Vocals on "Viva La Revolution"

Hailing from Pennsylvania, Defiant have released their second EP, The Rent In Hell Is Free, blending a scathing metallic approach with some undeniable punk influences that keep the album churning from start to finish.  I wasn't really sure what to expect when I saw that Ace Von Johnson of LA Guns/Faster Pussycat notoriety was on board as a guest musician, but what I got was definitely not Hollywood sleaze!  Instead, what the listener is treated to is more of a traditional metal style, with some punk leanings, featuring harsh (but not growling) vocals, punishing rhythms, and solid song structures.  This is apparent right from the get-go, as the band lays out their own take on a history lesson in "Crusades".  A somewhat up-tempo, angry romp, "Crusades" is a prime example of where this band is coming from stylistically, with Halterman's snarled vocals grating across an aggressive rhythm guitar and hard-hitting drums.  The lead guitar work here is more along the traditional metal approach and not the guitar god axe wizardry of the hair metal crowd, and it fits the style perfectly.  This approach is echoed on the other end of the EP, as well, with lead single and video, "Free For A Price", which combines a catchy lead hook that is repeated in each verse section and more of Halterman's aggro-vocals.  Check out the video below for an excellent idea of what to expect from Defiant.


Other strong performances on the EP can be found in "Knuckleduster", which despite its White Zombie-sounding title, is just punch-you-in-the-face mid-tempo aggression layered over a punishing drum line and churning rhythm guitars.  "Viva La Revolution" is a punked-up affair, and it makes sense that Ace Von Johnson would lend his guitar talents to this track, as it is definitely more his style with a sleazy guitar solo.  I'm not positive, but I think the co-lead vocals are handled by Richard Reilly of The Victims/The Bo Deadlys, and his vocals stand as a stark contrast to the coarse snarls and barks offered up by Halterman.

I also want to draw attention to the doomy dirge, "Unmarked Grave", which showcases a completely different side of the band.  While not my favorite track, and one that could really benefit from a bigger production budget, "Unmarked Grave" shows a band that is not afraid to roll the dice and experiment with different styles and sounds.  The verses are extremely stark and somber, with guest vocals from Jim Taylor (Henne) handling the cleaner lines before the band launches itself headlong into the chorus breaks, with Halterman again taking over the mic.  There are some cool sounds wrung from the lead guitars here, especially on the solo break coming out of the second chorus and before the vocal bridge.  

The moody instrumental track, "The Day After" is also pretty interesting and worth checking out, with Barlowski's bass work getting a chance to really stand out.  Short, but placed perfectly as the lead in to "Unmarked Grave", this track gives the listener a chance to catch their breath before "Viva..." and "Free..." mosh things out at the end of the EP.

Keep an eye out for the band on tour, as they have lined up opening slots for such names as Puddle Of Mudd and Messer in the near future, as well as getting themselves on some metal festivals like Metal In The Mountain, all of which are coming up in the month of August.  Check out their Facebook page for more information about tour dates.

Overall, much more "metal" than I was expecting, with the punk stylings being more of a support structure for this EP outside of the sleazy punk romp of "Viva La Revolution".  I'm not sure how much room there is on any type of radio for a band of this style of metallic aggression, but if Defiant can manage to wedge themselves in somewhere, they are surely going to try to bust things open.  Definitely an underground force to be reckoned with for fans of punch-you-in-the-mouth, old school heavy metal mixed with touches of doom and punk.

Rating:  Crank this to a 7!


Wednesday, July 7, 2021

MANAFEST "Blackout EP"

 

(c) 2021 Independent Release

  1. Blackout
  2.  Blackout Instrumental
  3. Light It Up
  4. Light It Up Instrumental
  5. Save You (featuring RedLight King)
  6. Save You Instrumental
Canadian Christian rap-rocker, Manafest, is back with this surprise little EP, Blackout.  I call it a surprise, but I probably shouldn't, as Manafest is continually releasing new singles, regardless of if he has a current album out, and Blackout is simply a digital collective release of his last two singles and the new title track.  Both "Save You" and "Light It Up" have been released over the past six or seven months as singles, and both have charted well on Christian rock charts.  "Save You" is the current single, currently residing in the Top 10 at ChristianRock.Net and TheBlast.FM, and features supporting vocals from RedLight King on one verse and in the chorus sections.  This is the "heaviest" of the three songs here, with some solid guitar riffing with a good deal of crunch and a nice, dark tone.  "Light It Up" is a lot more electronic in its approach as it uses some effects and synth work as the bed for the verse sections and an electric drum throughout the track although there is a gritty guitar line to open the track which loops back through the track a few times to help support the choruses.  Nothing earth-shattering or overly original...in fact it's a bit repetitive for me, but it is catchy enough and obviously struck a chord with both Christian rock radio and his fans.    

The new track here, "Blackout", leans heavier on the rapping of Manafest than the other tracks, but it still incorporates an edgy, crunchy guitar presence during a really strong chorus section, while some acoustic guitars are heard to ring in throughout the slower-paced track.  This song about the horrors of drug/alcohol addiction is a very well-written song that I think will catch on with Manafest's fan base in a big way, and I would anticipate it charting very well, as is pretty much the norm for Manafest.  While I like all three tracks here, "Blackout" is the choice cut for me at this point.

The other three "songs" here are simply the instrumental tracks for the three featured tracks, and I honestly listened to them once and then deleted them, as they are not something I would ever listen to again.  I do know that a lot of younger fans are really into instrumental tracks for various reasons, especially those that are really into creating social media mixes and clips, but that isn't this guy.  I just put the three full songs in a mix with a couple of other free-floating singles Manafest has released over the past year or two and burned it for my sons.  

That last sentence, of course, leads me to my one true issue with this EP:  it is digital only.  Now, perhaps all three tracks will appear on a full-length CD later on this year, which wouldn't be surprising since that kind of thing happens all the time.  But if you want the tracks now, the only way to get them is digitally.  Of course, the good thing for a lot of people is you can get the three full songs AND the three instrumental tracks for under $4 from Manafest's webstore.  You can snag your own copy HERE

I'll admit to being a fan of Manafest, even though he isn't going to be the cup of tea of everyone here.  No worries as you can simply move on if you are not interested.  If you are interested, know that if you have been a fan of the artist's more rock-oriented material from the past couple of releases, This Is Not The End and Stones, you are likely going to find yourself liking the three new songs on Blackout, assuming you haven't already heard at least one or two of them.

Rating:  Again, not a real fan of rating EPs, especially when half of the tracks are just instrumental mixes, but there is nothing to keep you from cranking the three full songs included on Blackout.  Really give the title track a chance if you decided to download this digital EP.


Friday, May 28, 2021

RHAPSODY OF FIRE "I'll Be Your Hero" EP

 

(c) 2021 AFM Records

  1. I'll Be Your Hero
  2. Where Dragons Fly
  3. Rain of Fury (Live)
  4. The Courage To Forgive (Live)
  5. The Wind, The Rain and The Moon
  6. Senza Un Addio
  7. Sin Un Adios
  8. La Force de Me Battre
Giacomo Voli--Lead Vocals
Alex Staropoli--Keyboards
Roby De Micheli--Guitars
Alessandro Sala--Bass
Manu Lotter--Drums

Ah, epic symphonic power metal!  Either you love it or you wonder "why in the heck do they put so much effort into just one song?"   Me, I tend to be in the first category, although there is an obvious division of talent between GREAT symphonic power metal and groups who try hard but come up short.  Fortunately, I have always found Rhapsody of Fire to be in the GREAT category, and I have actually followed the band since their 2000 album, Dawn Of Victory, when they were simply known as Rhapsody.  Since their start, the band has released a dozen studio albums, has (amicably) broken off into two versions of the band (one being original guitarist and founding member, Luca Turilli's, version, the other being original keyboardist/composer, Alex Staropoli's, version), and has performed in numerous countries on multiple continents, performing their pioneering brand of symphonic heavy metal to hundreds of thousands of fans.

With I'll Be Your Hero, Staropoli's version of Rhapsody Of Fire continues the thee-part saga they started with 2019's The Eighth Mountain, which was the first studio recording to feature new lead vocalist Voli and drummer Lotter.  On this EP, the band continues to prove that they are the true masters of this style of over-the-top metal, combining blistering speed with symphonic progression and operatic vocals, with layers of backing vocals, strings, and keyboards rounding out impressively powerful compositions that find Staropoli in excellent fashion!  For many, there was great doubt about the continuation of Rhapsody of Fire without Turilli, but for my money, The Eighth Mountain was an excellent record and possibly their best since my all-time favorite from the band, 2002's Power of the Dragonflame, or certainly since 2004's Symphony of Enchanted Lands II!  For fans of power metal, that is saying a lot, I realize, but I felt Rhapsody of Fire was perhaps getting too progressive and leaving behind some of the true power that the early records had.  With what I am hearing on this EP, that should not be a problem in the future of the band!  The lead single, and EP title track, "I'll Be Your Hero" kicks off with Voli's excellent voice opening things up, singing "One day, I'll be your hero" with multiple layers of backing vocals, before he unleashes an ear-piercing scream and the band is off and running!  Staropoli's keyboards weave an interesting tapestry of musical textures upon which the fierce rhythm guitars from de Micheli and the galloping drums from Lotter thunder.  The bass is a solid presence throughout the track, and de Micheli proves he is no slouch in the soloing department, as well, as he delivers a scorching string-bender that is the perfect blend of speed and power.  But for me, this EP was as much about finding out whether Voli could continue in the fine fashion he had established with The Eighth Mountain, or if he was merely a flash in the pan.  Granted, it is only one (new) song, but that song is nearly perfect and Voli's delivery is spot on.  To say I am more than intrigued for the new full-length album is an understatement!

As for the rest of this EP, there is a lot to take in.  "Where Dragon's Fly" is a re-recording of a track that was previously only available as a Japanese bonus track, and fans who have been longing to own the song can now do so.  Musically, it doesn't really fit in with "I'll Be Your Hero", but it was never intended to.  What you have here is a folkish ballad with flute and some Middle Eastern-sounding string work enhanced by big, powerful chorus sections, all brought together in a way that is not unlike something Blind Guardian has done in the past.  Additionally, it showcases what Voli can do with a song that some may already be familiar with, and to say he was impressive would be an understatement.

Likewise, Voli's handling of the two live tracks here is equally impressive.  In fact, the two live tracks here...both taken from The Eighth Mountain...may be the highlight of this EP, to be honest, as these tracks really showcase just how well the band is able to pull off their musical adventures in the live setting.  The production on both is darn near perfect, and if forced, I'd say I probably prefer "Rain of Fury" with Lotter's INSANE drum work leaving me nearly slack-jawed, but "The Courage To Forgive" is also excellent and almost note-perfect, and its big, powerful chorus really comes across in this live format.

The last track...well, the last FOUR tracks...also come from The Eighth Mountain, as all four are versions of the same song, "The Wind, The Rain, and The Moon".  The song is a great one, don't get me wrong, and I can see why it was included as it again showcases Voli's powerful delivery.  But, do we need to hear the same song in Spanish, Italian, and French...as well as English?  Some might say it's me being an American, but I honestly don't see the need here.  I mean, we have over 20 minutes of the same song here!  Yeesh!  However, I am sure fans in countries that speak those languages, and especially in the band's home country of Italy, these versions may be far more appreciated than they are by me, and I do have a skip button if necessary.  I think the disc space may have been better utilized with another B-side re-recording or bonus track, or possibly another live track or two.

Your appreciation of this EP and the song it is built upon is going to be largely dependent upon your appreciation for the style.  If you are already a Rhapsody Of Fire fan, or a fan of epic power metal like Helloween, Blind Guardian, and perhaps Stratovarius or Sonata Arctica, you are most likely going to be highly excited by what is offered here, especially since, as I mentioned, a lot of the speed and power that was starting to wane a bit in the twenty-teen years seems to be returning.  If, however, you are more into the classic power metal genre, Rhapsody Of Fire is probably a bit over the top for you and may prove too much for you to really grasp.  And that's okay.  The band and genre is not for everyone.  But for those who love the big epic tales, the sweeping sagas, and the metal soundtrack that Rhapsody Of Fire and their ilk provide, I would imagine I'll Be Your Hero will be blasting in the background as you cast your 20-sided dice or shuffle your Magic: The Gathering deck!  (Whoa...did I just geek out there for a second or what?!)

Rating:  Crankable, to be sure!  I give it an 8!


Thursday, May 27, 2021

NIGHT RANGER "Live In Michigan 1984: King Biscuit Flower Hour"

 

(c) 2019 Alive The Live (Japan)

  1. Intro/Touch Of Madness
  2. Rumor's In The Air
  3. Eddie's Comin' Out Tonight
  4. Call My Name
  5. When You Close Your Eyes
  6. Passion Play
  7. Sister Christian
  8. Sing Me Away
  9. Night Ranger
  10. Night Ranger (Reprise)/Don't Tell Me You Love Me
  11. Band Intros/(You Can Still) Rock In America
Jack Blades--Lead Vocals, Bass
Brad Gillis--Lead Guitars, Backing Vocals
Jeff Watson--Guitars, Backing Vocals
Alan Fitzgerald--Keyboards
Kelly Keagy--Lead Vocals, Drums

It is truly hard for me to believe that Night Ranger is more than 40 years old, and that their first album, Dawn Patrol, will hit that four decades mark next year!  Being a fan of the band for as long as I can remember, Night Ranger has long been one of those bands that I always sought to keep a complete discography of.  However, it wasn't until the Covid Summer of 2020 that I discovered there was at least one live album missing from my collection--their King Biscuit Flower Hour release from 1984.

As a kid, I used to listen to these King Biscuit Flower Hour shows on a rock station I could tune in on my parents' stereo, and I knew that Night Ranger had performed on the show but I was unaware of any high quality recordings of the show.  I knew there were bootlegs of this show out there, but apparently a Japanese label known as Alive The Live has obtained the rights to properly release a lot of these King Biscuit Flower Hour releases, complete with artwork and liner notes, so I jumped at the chance to snag it.

Keeping in mind that this recording is nearly 40 years old (the notes say the show was from August 8, 1984), this is an EXCELLENT live recording of Night Ranger when they were really starting to take off on their own.  Recorded at Northern Michigan University in Marquette, MI while on the Midnight Madness Tour, this set really showcases a hungry young band that is really hitting their stride.  Think about where Night Ranger was at this time, musically:  "(You Can Still) Rock In America" had proven the band wasn't a fluke on their first record, "Sister Christian" was a massive hit, and "When You Close Your Eyes" was about to break big, as well, and the band was playing to very large audiences as headliners by this time.  The band is exceptionally tight, Gillis and Watson absolutely tear things up on guitars, and Blades...well, he sounds like Jack Blades, whom I regard as one of the truly great, classic voices of 80s hard rock.  Keagy sounds great, also, and I am struck by how powerful the backing vocals are on throughout this recording, as this was back in the days of, you know, actually performing your backing vocals!      

The track listing here is a lot of fun, especially the non-singles that were chosen for inclusion here, as many of them are songs that don't see much in the way of live play now.  Of course, when a band is more than a dozen albums into their career, the hits become more important to the live shows than the album cuts, so its fun to hear "Call My Name" from Dawn Patrol, or "Passion Play", with it's extended guitar solo from Jeff Watson, or even "Eddie's Comin' Out Tonight", which used to get quite a bit of live love, but has been dropped in recent years, especially on shorter set shows.  Blades does some playing around with the lyrical phrasing to "Sister Christian", which will throw the home karaoke crowd off, but to me, these kinds of things only serve to add to the charm of a live recording.  There is also a brief feedback issue at the beginning of that song, and it sounds to me like Jack may have studio-dubbed the song's intro at a later point, as when he is finally able to get through introducing the song, the audience sound is completely gone for a moment.  Still, this is a small issue, and takes nothing away from the enjoyment of this rare show.

For the most part, there is very little gapping between the tracks here, although there is an obvious fade after "Eddie's Comin' Out Tonight" and a VERY sharp intro to "Call My Name" which leads me to believe there was some stage banter edited out to keep the show short enough to air.  There is also what sounds to be an edit in the encore between the introduction of the band and the lead-in to "(You Can Still) Rock In America", but again, this is likely insignificant to just about anyone who didn't spend years in radio, editing, and production classes, and again was probably done due to program time restrictions.  Of course, the extended drum solo from Keagy on "Night Ranger" could have been a timing issue, as well, but I'm glad that was left alone as these are the concert experience items that always kept my attention as a teen and even today.  Sure I want to hear the hits, but I also want to hear and see something that is NOT on the CD I can crank up at any given time at home.  This CD does a really good job with the flow to keep this sounding as live as possible, and the minor interruptions are mostly negligible.  

I have been told that this is, perhaps, still considered a bootleg, as there is some question as to the legality of Alive The Live and their releases, but they have done a nice job here with the overall package.  Considering Night Ranger and King Biscuit both reportedly had a lot of their old material destroyed in separate fires several years ago, I'll snap up a package like this anytime I can if the quality is solid.  Live In Michigan 1984: King Biscuit Flower Hour goes beyond being "solid" and well into "excellent" live recording territory and is well-worth picking up if you are into live shows.

Rating:  Highly crankable, bootleg or not.  Crank this to an 8!

Sunday, May 9, 2021

HOT LAUNDRY "Shake, Slide, Twist EP"

 

(c) 2021 Die Laughing Records/Golden Robot Records

  1. Shake
  2. What Would I Do
  3. Satisfied
  4. Glitter And Gold
Janette Lopez--Lead Vocals
Ileath Bridges--Backing Vocals
Gena Serey--Backing Vocals

Grady Hord--Guitars, Backing Vocals
Neil Young--Bass
Thor DSR--Drums

And now for something COMPLETELY different...ladies and gentlemen, I give you....HOT LAUNDRY!

Don't be mislead by the EP's cover and think that this is some kind of parody artwork, because it is not.  Hot Laundry is unlike anything you have likely heard in a very, very long time, as they mix surf rock, Motown girl bands, 60s guitar rock, and the early punk stylings of MC5 into something fresh and fun and altogether different from anything else I have come across in years!  

If you have never seen old 1960s girl group videos from back in the day, you always had the lead singer flanked by two or three other girls who were backing singers and dancers, with the band somewhere off stage.  The Ronettes, the Crystals, the Shirelles, and of course, Diana Ross and the Supremes, were among the most popular, although readers of Glitter2Gutter may be most familiar with these ladies. The Shangri Las...



Of course, when Twisted Sister covered that song, it nearly killed their career...


But, I digress....

The whole point of that little musical nostalgia trip was to set up this short visual of just what Hot Laundry is all about, with their little teaser promo for Shake, Slide, Twist...


After watching that, you may be thinking, "okay, so what's the joke here?"  But the thing is, there is no joke!   This is exactly who Hot Laundry is!!!  What you just saw is exactly what the band is about, and exactly what you get with Shake, Slide, Twist!

The EP kicks of with "Shake", and as soon as the surf rock guitars kick in...with an added helping of distortion...it is immediately apparent this is not going to be your normal musical ride!  Add in the snarling attitude of Janette Lopez's vocals (along with her Motown-inspired backing vocalists/dancers) and you have something truly unique to behold, both visually and musically.  Top all of it off with a healthy dose of snide, tongue-in-cheek sexual innuendo as Lopez sings:

"Everybody wants to be a Bad Ass Bitch 
You know what I want, I wanna scratch my itch.... 
Come on!  Put your sugar in my bowl!"

What self-respecting sleaze fan isn't going to love a couple of lyrical lines like that?!  The guitars are edgy and rock hard, with a GREAT 60s acid-rock solo after the second chorus run, and the drums are sharp and snappy with an absolutely killer tone.  As hard as it was for me to believe when I first tracked through this song, I found myself actually digging what this group was doing...and hitting repeat!  Check out the lyrics video below...


"What Would I Do?" continues the 60s rock fun, albeit in a much punchier, more amped-up style than bands utilized 60 years ago.  Lots of Rolling Stones-influenced boogie rock with that girl group sensibility...and the ability to rhyme "nitty gritty" with "get down on itty"...fill this swagger-filled romp that really allows Lopez to utilize her slightly nasal sneer of a voice to its full effect.  A trippy guitar solo is also dropped on the listener before the last couple of runs through the chorus on this Happy Days meets a mosh pit track, and it should be 100% apparent by now that this is not a fluke at all; this is who Hot Laundry is.

"Satisfied" is filled with more of the same, with the sparkling backing vocals from Ileath and Gena given a bit of extra attention, as is the bass work from Neil Young (no, not THAT Neil Young), and we get another period-perfect guitar solo from Hord who really proves himself to be a skilled axeman on this EP.  Still, its the sass and overall vocal prowess of Lopez that is on display here, combining an Aretha Franklin power with a Mick Jagger strut as the rest of the band rocks its way through another solid dose of 60s inspired guitar rock.  

Some fun handclaps open "Glitter And Gold" (they pop up several times throughout the track), and the dance-worthy, funkified groove comes busting forward on the EP's closer.  Tell me, do you "wanna dance with the devil"?  Because if you do, apparently he's a friend of Hot Laundry's...or at least a friend of Janette Lopez...and according to the song, your options are getting down and boogie-ing with the Prince of Darkness or going to Heaven.  You choose!  Even if you choose Heaven here, there's no denying this track is a hell of a lot of fun, as is the entirety of Shake, Slide, Twist.  

So, do I like it?  Is it good?  Will YOU like it?  Well..."yes", "yes", and "maybe", in that order.  Look, if you are pigeon-holed into glam or sleaze or thrash or whatever, then don't bother with Hot Laundry because you are not going to get it, you're not going to like it, and you are going to think I am completely off my rocker.  But, if like me, you appreciate hard-edged music from various eras and genres, then I think there is a very good chance you are going to have a lot of fun with Hot Laundry. I have to say that I would LOVE to see these ladies live, as I'm betting they put on a heck of a show!  Additionally, I have to also say that I am likely going to be tracking down their back catalog, as I want to hear what else Hot Laundry has to offer!  This is something special, even if it comes at you out of left field...via San Francisco...

Rating:  A really, really fun listen that is worth cranking to 8, especially if you are willing to get outside your comfort zone!





Friday, April 9, 2021

RAZORBATS "Mainline Rock N Roll"

 

(c) 2021 Rob Mules Records

  1. Rock N Roll Kills
  2. Working For The Weekend
  3. Rebel Soul
  4. Little Miss Crazy
  5. Big Time
  6. The City
  7. Cocaine Karma
  8. White Trash Radio
  9. Venice
  10. Nightcrawlers

Paul Vercouteren--Vocals
Kjetil F. Wevling--Guitars, Backing Vocals
Asle Tangen--Guitars, Backing Vocals
Martin Korsgaard Hervig--Bass, Backing Vocals
Torris Ilievski--Drums, Keys, Backing Vocals

Additional Musicians
Chris Damien Doll--Backing Vocals
Monica Rennan Hjelle--Backing Vocals

It's been three years since Razorbats released a full-length album, but 2021 sees the Norwegian rockers return with Mainline Rock N Roll.  And, as has always been the case with Razorbats, the band has done so on their own terms, making the album (at least for now) available ONLY on vinyl and digital download.  That's right...no CDs were pressed for Mainline Rock N Roll, at least as of this review.  Of course, in 2016 Razorbats released an EP, This High, digitally and on cassette only, so this shouldn't come as any kind of shock to fans of the band.

The record...yes, RECORD...kicks off with "Rock N Roll Kills", building from some guitar distortion to hard-hitting drums, to some seriously crunchy rhythm guitars to lead the song in.  Everything backs off during the verse sections but comes blasting back in during the pre-chorus portions, complete with some gang shouted "Hey! Hey! Heys!".  There is a definite pop sensibility to the song's structure here, but with a defiant, middle-finger-in-your-face-and-grinning-about-it attitude that sets the stage for everything to come on the rest of Mainline Rock N Roll.

The band has recently released a second single from the album in "Working For The Weekend", but fear not that this is a cover of the classic Loverboy tune.  Gritty rhythm guitars and catchy "oh oh ohs" intro the track before everything again backs off to just Vercouteren's voice, Hervig's bass, and Ilievski's drums to carry the majority of the first verse section, with the guitars jumping back in to rev things up during the hyper-catchy chorus and then on the following verses.  A song about grinding it out in a dead-end job during the week and then cutting loose on the weekend, "Working..." is a fun track with some total 70s keyboard effects thrown into the mix to keep things interesting.  For my money, this is the kind of track that Razorbats has always done exceptionally well, combining a love for retro rock with some 90s pop-punk attitude in places, to keep things fresh and interesting, even while resembling something from four or five decades ago!



"Rebel Soul" plays up the band's love for that pop punk sound I just mentioned, but still manages to incorporate a much cleaner, more 80s oriented, melodic rock lead guitar solo and bridge section.  I am impressed on this track (and throughout the record) with the backing vocal work, and every guy in the band contributes to this part of the album in some capacity, getting some help from their buddy, the Sleaze Fuhrer himself, Chris Damien Doll, from the Suicide Bombers.  To me, this song just sounds like the guys having fun and grinding away at a party rock tune, which is what Razorbats has long symbolized for me, even though they do so with less retro-attitude than in other places.

"Little Miss Crazy" was chosen as the lead single for the record, and with good reason, as it is probably the strongest...and my favorite...on an album filled with catchy songs.  Musically darker than anything else here, "Little Miss Crazy" is a moody rocker with a cool opening guitar riff and an undeniably catchy chorus that hooks the listener with the first spin.  Cheeky lyrics abound in this track as well, with Vercouteren opining, "Why are the cutest ones always insane?" when singing about his "Swan in a pond of doves".  The straightforward and somewhat sparse nature of the track, as well as the way the song is produced, really allows it to take on a haunting feel, and nothing here sounds over-produced or forced.  Hervig's bass is given a strong voice throughout the track, and Wevling's solo is smooth, soulful ear candy that is set off by the simple acoustic riff that runs the entirety of the track.  Vercouteren is absolutely spot-on with his delivery here, and some excellent backing vocals from Monica Rennan Hjelle lend a bit of support to an outstanding track that I find myself drawn to multiple times whenever I spin Mainline Rock N Roll.




A couple of tracks here have seen previous release...sort of.  "The City" was originally supposed to appear on a split-EP with another band called the Sick Things, but my understanding is the EP was never released, although the song was released as both a single and video.  A thick bass line drives the track from the get-go and a catchy, sing-along chorus feeds into the fun of this bouncy rocker.  I'm very glad to see the song get a second chance at life on this album.

Likewise, "White Trash Radio" is given another breath of life on Mainline Rock N Roll after being released as a stand-alone single in 2019.  Kjetil told me that this track has been re-recorded for this release, but the song sounds almost identical to me.  Regardless, this is a fun rock track with a big, catchy hook, nicely fuzzed-up guitars, and a classic 70s guitar rock style that channels a bit of "Saturday Nights Alright For Fighting" as it bounces along with plenty of energy and tongue-in-cheek attitude from Vercouteren.  Check out the awesome video below...


Sandwiched in between these fun rewinds is "Cocaine Karma", a plucky, sassy track that makes me think of a combination of the sing-along melodies of Cheap Trick and the melodic chug-chugga-chug of Marvelous 3.  A largely sparse track, "Cocaine Karma" starts off with Vercouteren using a bit of a sneer to his vocals before being supported by some strong backing vocals and a punchy rhythm section that is just a lot of fun to bop along to.  Once the sing-along chorus hits...forget about it...the song is firmly wedged into your brain.  Wevling drops a cool little solo into the mix, and some handclaps are interjected in time for a final run through that earworm chorus.  Just a really well constructed song from start to finish! 

"Venice" throws a bit of a curve ball into the mix, as this is a haunting, acoustic-based ballad that is completely unlike anything else on the record...or in the band's catalog, for that matter.  Vercouteren's vocal skills are fully on display here, especially during the first verse where virtually all electricity is stripped away from the instruments, save a lone, mournful guitar tone that interjects itself in various places.  Once again, some excellent backing vocals really lend themselves to the fullness of this track's sound, and Wevling's wailing solo is spot-on perfect for this song that continually builds upon itself, adding little musical bits here and there until the fullness of the track is finally achieved in time for Wevling to drop in another wickedly melodic outro solo.  A really, really powerful song unlike anything the band has tried before.  Highly recommended!

The album concludes with the high voltage, early Motley Crue-styled rocker, "Nightcrawlers".  A little bit punky, a little bit sleazy, "Nightcrawlers" is pure fun from the moment the thunderclaps intro the song, and the early 80s guitar tones are a true joy to hear!  A complete downshift in tempo accompanies the bridge section which features some werewolf howls in the background, only to find the guitars charging hard out of this little break and chewing their way through to the end, with some flash and flair to the presentation here.   I can pretty much guarantee "Nightcrawlers" is my second favorite track here, trailing only "Little Miss Crazy", and it really makes me wish the album wasn't ending every time I get to the song as I truly love this track and this record.  

Every time the band releases new music, be it a single, and EP, or a full release, I find myself a bit giddy with anticipation, and I am always worried I am hyping things up too much for myself.  Sooner or later I have to be let down, right?  Well, so far, so good with Razorbats as they manage yet again to keep me engaged from start to finish.  Growing more skilled as songwriters with each release, and getting tighter and tighter as performers, Razorbats are a band that has seemingly come a long way since their killer debut, Camp Rock, which is truly saying something as that album was Glitter2Gutter's album of the year for 2015!  Will Mainline Rock N Roll put another Glitzy award on Razorbats' mantle at year's end?  Only time will tell, but the band has certainly delivered a contender!

Rating:  Razorbats remain one of my favorite bands that most folks have likely never heard of, and remain oh, so crankable!  Find a turntable...or download it...and crank this to 9!


GREAT WHITE "Live"

 

(c) 2020 Independent

  1. I'm Alright
  2. Lady Red Light
  3. Desert Moon
  4. House Of Broken Love (Intro)
  5. House Of Broken Love
  6. Big Time
  7. Blues
  8. Mista Bone
  9. Save Your Love
  10. Rock Me (Intro)
  11. Rock Me
  12. Once Bitten, Twice Shy

Mitch Malloy--Vocals
Mark Kendall--Guitars
Michael Lardie--Guitars, Keyboards
Scott Snyder--Bass
Audie Desbrow--Drums, Percussion

Great White has released yet another live album, the Kendall/Lardie/Desbrow version of the band's second such CD in the past 8 years (the other being 30 Years - Live From The Sunset Strip).  Why?  One has to believe it is the simplest and safest way for the band to introduce yet another new lead singer, with Mitch Malloy now attempting to fill the role of Jack Russell following the ousting of Terry Ilous, who fronted the band on their last two releases, 2012's disappointing, Elation, and their last studio effort, 2017's Full Circle.

Live starts off with "I'm Alright", a track from the Full Circle album that featured Ilous (XYZ) as the lead vocalist.  I'm not really sure why the press materials for this album pitch this as a "new song", since it was actually released 3 years ago, unless it is because the rumored next Great White record, with Malloy, will repackage this song as a single.  Regardless, "I'm Alright" is actually a pretty good, straight-up hard rock song, and the band sounds like it is having fun with the track.  Malloy is energetic and interacts with the Kentucky crowd in a few places, and this live package is off to a great start, except for one thing...this song doesn't sound like Great White, and is a track virtually nobody knows...

The band moves on from this newish song with three classic tracks, and the crowd is probably going, "Oh...okay...I know THESE songs...", with "Lady Red Light", "Desert Moon", and "House Of Broken Love" rolling out back-to-back-to-back.  "Lady Red Light", in particular, sounds really strong musically, and again, Malloy does a really solid job of handling this Great White signature song.  I have to be honest here in saying that I think this is the best I have heard Kendall's version of the band in a live setting...ever.  "Desert Moon" also really sounds strong here, and there is more energy and oomph to the band than I have heard on any post-Jack record, so perhaps Malloy has brought something to the band that the more laid back Ilous simply couldn't add to albums Elation, Full Circle, or his live Great White album, the previously mentioned 30 Years Live from the Sunset Strip.  Following a completely pointless intro (thankfully you can skip it), even "House Of Broken Love" sounds strong from a musical standpoint, and Kendall's solo is very nicely performed, but here is where Malloy falters a bit.  The man gives it his all, to be sure, but he does not have the type of vocal style that Jack Russell has which takes this song from really good to absolutely great.  Malloy sings the song pretty well; Jack Russell owns the song.

Malloy introduces "Big Time" as another new song, which of course it isn't, because again, this song was released three years prior as the lead single from Full Circle.  Once again, the fact that this isn't a classic Great White track actually saves the song in this live setting because Malloy can feel free to attack the song as best suits his vocal style with no expectation of sounding like Russell.  My complaint about this song is the same one I had when I reviewed that album a couple of years ago:  it sounds like a blatant rip-off of THEIR OWN SONG, as even the most casual fan will be able to pick out the same guitar riff and drum pattern in "Big Time" as was used in the classic "Face The Day" from the Shot In The Dark album.  The sin of laziness excused, the song actually comes off pretty well live.

"Blues" is simply an instrumental blues jam that focuses largely on Kendall's guitar playing, and it is done very well, to be honest, and doesn't suffer from being bloated or overblown, clocking in at just under 2:30 total.

The album wraps with four straight songs from the band's heyday, and once again Malloy does an admirable job on the rockers, and struggles by comparison on the ballad, and especially on the band's best-known song.  "Mista Bone" is done very nicely, and "Rock Me" is handled better than I imagined it would be, although there is an obvious difference in not only vocal approach and delivery style, but also pitch in the vocals here.  It's not a deal breaker, but for longtime fans, it is definitely noticeable.  "Save Your Love" is another big, signature ballad for the band, and once again, try as he might, Malloy simply can't muster the emotional power that Russell still cranks up in the live setting on this song.  Again, Malloy isn't terrible, he's just not Jack Russell. Unfortunately, Malloy really sounds out of his element on "Once Bitten, Twice Shy", coming across as tired-sounding (maybe he was tired by this point) and he seemed to be reaching for notes in a couple of places while sounding flat in others.  The band itself even sounds a bit flat on this radio classic, especially at the outset, where the tempo seems a little bit slow, although the energy picks up when the second verse kicks in.  The crowd participation section is handled well enough, and Desbrow gets after it pretty hard on the last runs through the chorus and closing out the track.              

There are some glaring omissions from the set-list if you are a true Great White fan, but for casual fans, the tracking here is passable.  No "Rollin' Stoned", no "Angel Song", no "Face The Day" or "Stick It" or "Big Goodbye" or "Call It Rock N Roll"...all are songs that certainly could have/should have found their way into the live set, in my opinion, especially "Rollin' Stoned" and "Call It Rock N Roll".  I can understand not wanting to expose Malloy with another big power ballad like "The Angel Song" or "Old Rose Motel", but I have to admit to being surprised by the omission of at least a couple of the songs I listed here.

The production/mixing/recording of this live album is generally solid, although there are a couple of fairly harsh edits between a couple of songs, but sometimes not much can be done about those kinds of issues.  I would have cut out both intros, personally, as neither one adds anything to the song that follows, and both just take up time that could have been given to another song.  The mix is surprisingly strong, with Snyder's bass being very easy to pick out on multiple tracks, which is not always the case on live records.  The backing vocals are also pretty good, which can again be a glaring issue on live albums from just about any band you can think of, so that was a nice little bonus here.

So, do you need to own this record?  Nope, not unless you, like me, are a Great White completist who has to have everything the band has done.  It's pretty pricey to own, for one thing ($30 for the CD/DVD set, $35 if you want it autographed...plus an additional $5.00 S&H if you live outside the US), and there are better versions available of all of the classics...with Jack singing, no less.  So unless you really want a live version of "I'm Alright" and "Big Time" with Malloy singing them, you can pass on Live and not feel like you are short-changing yourself in any real way regarding Great White.

In the end, this isn't a terrible live album by any stretch.  This version of  the band sounds more energetic than I have heard them in some time, and Malloy does a good job of interacting with the crowd and keeping the show moving along.  He also does himself a service by NOT trying to sound like Jack, because he...and anyone else....is destined to fail in that capacity.  The problem for me is always going to be the fact that this version of Great White, while featuring three members of the "classic" line-up, will always sound like a cover band, regardless of how talented the lead vocalist is.  It happened with Ilous, it happened with Jani Lane (seek out a YouTube video of Jani fronting the band if you never have), and it happens again here with Malloy.  He is a GREAT singer, no doubt....

...but he ain't Jack Russell...

If you want to order the CD...or if you want to track down a copy of Full Circle, both can be purchased here.

Rating:  Overall, not the hot mess I was expecting, but still not what I want from Great White.  Rock this to a 6, with the lack of several classics...and no Jack...holding this effort back a good deal.


Friday, April 2, 2021

PLASTIC TEARS "Anthems For Misfits"

 

(c) 2021 WormHoleDeath Records

  1. Doomsday Girls
  2. Riot Zone
  3. Clash In The Night
  4. Look Of Lies
  5. Hallucinations
  6. Divine 
  7. Radar Eyes
  8. Restless Outsider
  9. Nobody Likes A Crybaby
  10. Candlelight Hate Affair
  11. Communication
  12. Imaginary Virgin Mary
Miqu December--Lead Vocals
Andy Whitewine--Guitars
Juha Pietilainen--Guitars
Edu Kettunen--Bass
Eco Xtasy--Drums

It's been three years since Finnish street rockers, Plastic Tears, released their (to me) surprisingly good Angels With Attitude album.  Combining bits of sleaze and punk with an obvious love of/respect for Finnish legends, Hanoi Rocks, Plastic Tears created a musical environment on that record that I was in no way prepared for.  Could the band capture the magic again on Anthems For Misfits?  With the same lineup intact from the previous record, a new record label, and an entire pandemic's worth of time to craft songs, I had to admit I was hopeful for a record that was at least close to their last effort.  I was not surprised for a record that was even better, however.

As soon as the distorted guitars cut loose on the punkish glam rocker, "Doomsday Girls", it is evident the band is picking up right where they left off.  A rollicking piano is thrown into the mix here, adding even more fun to this barroom boogie track that is intentionally messy, exceptionally raw, and unquestionably fun, as Miqu and the boys tear through the album's opening cut and wrap things up in under two-and-a-half minutes!  Things are off and running for Anthems...right from the jump!

The album's lead single is up next with "Riot Zone", which abandons the piano in favor of even grittier guitars, an extra helping of sneer from Miqu's voice, rapid fire drum cadences from Xtasy, and fun, carnival-effects breakdown before the last run through the high-octane chorus!  Sound like a disaster waiting to happen?  I imagine it could have been if handled by a lesser-caliber band, but for Plastic Tears, a track like this is just another day at the musical office, and "Riot Zone" is a perfect example of what this band does best!  Check out the official video below.


"Clash In The Night" changes things up just a bit, not by slowing the track down, but by altering the approach of the delivery.  Less chaos, more control is the motto of this track that has crossover radio appeal written all over it...you know, if radio still played rock n roll (maybe it does in Finland and Europe).  The guitar solo here shows a nice melodic approach without wandering into sappy territory, and Miqu backs off the punkish flavor of his usual vocals to adopt a cleaner singing style that works very well,  "Clash..." is a nice surprise and at 4:05, clocks in as the longest song on the entire album, without feeling like it.  

"Look Of Lies" straddles the styles of "Riot Zone" and "Clash In The Night" pretty nicely, with a spy-thriller movie tone added to the main guitar riff and a collection of "la la la's" from Miqu shaking up the overall feel of the track just enough that the listener may feel a bit of musical vertigo just four tracks into Anthems For Misfits, as the band really lets all of their influences creep into the mix by this point in the record.  "Look Of Lies" also features a nice guitar solo and some more great work from Xtasy on drums that are well worth checking out.

Just when you thought you might have a grasp on where Plastic Tears was headed with this record, the coolest track on the disc pops up...and it is unlike anything you have heard from the band before.  Finger snaps, a walking bass line, and a Stray Cat strut approach tease and taunt throughout "Hallucinations", with a bluesy guitar solo thrown into this snazzy, jazzy, Zoot suit number that I constantly find myself hitting repeat on.  Miqu's delivery is spot-on here, and everything just seems to click on a track that, by all accounts, should be totally out of the comfort zone for Plastic Tears.  However, the band pulls off a track most other bands of this style wouldn't even attempt, and they do it with a cool factor that few bands of ANY style today could likely top.  Love this track!

"Divine" and "Radar Eyes" both add the grit and sleaze back to the music, with "Radar Eyes" being another track that really fights for the right to claim the title of best song on Anthems For Misfits.  I love the guitar tone used here, and the more mid-tempo rock approach works exceptionally well here.  The main guitar hook here is catchy, and the lead solo is very strong, with the guitar tandem of Whitewine and Pietilainen showing a great ability to fit their sound to any style the band demands of them.  The addition of a Hammond organ is a nice touch, and I wish I knew who to credit for the piano/organ/keys that pop up in various songs here, as these instruments do add a depth that belies the band's punk/sleaze background.

"Restless Outsider" is another catchy rocker with Miqu going into full Billy Idol-meets-Elvis snarl mode vocally, and "Nobody Likes A Crybaby" brings a definite danceability to an rollicking rockabilly track with some definite sleaze influence, especially on the guitar solo.  Kettunen's bass work is on fine display throughout the record, but aside from "Hallucinations", it is perhaps not felt as strongly anywhere as during the bridge section of "...Crybaby", where handclaps accompany the rumbling bass line and snappy drums.  Good stuff!

"Candlelight Hate Affair" has a healthy dose of 80s New Wave interwoven into the track and Miqu sounds like he would be up for attempting a cover of Simple Minds "Don't You Forget About Me" as an encore in concert sometime.  Some cool keyboard effects intermix with the laid back guitars to once again showcase the fact that Plastic Tears is not a one-trick pony...yet they always manage to sound like Plastic Tears, largely thanks to Miqu's vocals.  This is a fun changeup near the end of the record and is a song I hope the band manages to sneak into their live sets at some point.  Go ahead and feel free to throw a Breakfast Club Bender fist into the air as you exit this cool, nostalgic-feeling track!

"Communication" is a sub-two-minute blast of punk rock energy complete with a churning bass line, guitars that threaten to chew their way out of the speakers, a break-neck pace, and gang-shouted vocals on the chorus section that is pretty much done by the time you have finished reading this!  A short, sweet, and to the point reminder of who Plastic Tears has always been and where they come from stylistically, regardless of the variety they bring to a record such as Anthems For Misfits.  

The album wraps with another insanely catchy rocker that, despite its placement on the record, is another of the tunes vying for best of the best here.  "Imaginary Virgin Mary" brings everything together, from snappy rhythms and buzzsaw guitars, to a HUGE tempo change during a bridge section that features only a softly tinkling piano (which returns later to end the song...and record).  Miqu is in top form on this track, snarling, crooning, and delivering his vocals in a manner that, quite honestly, you will either love or hate; it's really that simple.  And, that in a nutshell, describes not only this record, but Plastic Tears, overall.  What you think about Anthems For Misfits and Plastic Tears is going to hinge largely on two things:  your preference on vocal style and what you think about the genre-defying, sleaze-punk "Street Rock" the band plays. 

To me, there is no arguing the talent of the band, as they put on full display with Anthems... an ability to pull off just about any kind of music they want to, and they do it with a Plastic Tears flair.  Is it metal?  Nope.  Punk?  Maybe sometimes.  Sleaze?  Here and there, sure.  But they are also glam, New Wave, and apparently 1950s rockabilly, all at the same time!  And I honestly feel that Miqu's vocals are a huge part of the band and its uniqueness that helps Plastic Tears transcend genres so easily, but I also get why they might not be everyone's style.  For me, however, I'll take Plastic Tears any day over cookie-cutter clone bands with no real personality and no ability to push the envelope of who they are as a band.

True to the album's title, Plastic Tears is a band of musical misfits, and Anthems For Misfits is a perfect representation of who they are.  

Rating:  Definitely crankable!  Crank this to 8!