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!


Saturday, March 27, 2021

LOVE AND DEATH "Perfectly Preserved"

 

(c) 2021 Headdog Music/Blind Tiger Entertainment

  1. Infamy
  2. Tragedy
  3. Down
  4. Let Me Love You (feat. Lacey Sturm)
  5. Death Of Us
  6. Slow Fire
  7. The Hunter
  8. Lo Lamento
  9. Affliction
  10. White Flag
Brian "Head" Welch--Vocals, Guitars
J.R. Bareis--Guitars, Vocals
Jasen Rauch--Bass, Vocals
Isaiah Perez--Drums, Percussion

Additional Musicians
Lacey Sturm--Co-lead Vocals on "Let Me Love You"
Keith Wallen--additional guitars on "The Hunter"
Ryan Hayes--Vocal bridge on "White Flag"

It had been eight full years since the release of Love And Death's first album, Between Here And Lost, a full five years since we had heard even a new song from Korn guitarist, Brian "Head" Welch's "side" project, and more than a decade since Welch released his initial Christian project, Save Me From Myself.  Indeed, 2016's "Lo Lamento", which is also included here, was believed by many fans to be the swan song of what looked to be a promising band, as there hadn't even been rumors or rumblings coming from the L&D camp in years, thanks in large part to Head returning to his "day job" as the guitar player for Korn.  

And then the world went sideways...

Whether of not Covid had anything to do with the resurrection of Love And Death, I am not certain, but it would seem to be EXTREMELY coincidental that Love And Death suddenly seemed to be a machine on the move once touring was cancelled across the country/world, and bands started recording new material as an outlet and a way to generate some income.  Regardless of the reason, with a new rhythm section in place, Head and J.R. Bareis have returned with Perfectly Preserved, a brand new, full-length album from Love And Death.  

The temptation here is to refer to Love And Death as something of a supergroup now, as all of the members have a background with other significant acts.  The obvious here is Head who, whether you like Korn or not, has to be considered one of the more influential guitar players of the past few decades as that band was at the forefront of the down-tuned Nu-Metal movement.  Bareis was a relative unknown on the first Love And Death album, but he has gone on to work with notable the Christian hard rock/modern metal group, Spoken.  As to the newcomers, Rauch is not only a well-respected producer, but he is also the guitar player for Breaking Benjamin and was a member of Red on two of that band's albums, as well.  And while Phineas may not be a household name to many people, Perez's drum work for that metalcore band, as well as his time spent in Righteous Vendetta, is well-known in modern metal circles.  Even the guest musicians lend a "supergroup" mentality to Perfectly Preserved, as metal siren Lacey Sturm, formerly of Flyleaf, joins the band for a song, as does Rauch's Breaking Benjamin bandmate, Keith Wallen, on guest guitars, and Righteous Vendetta's Ryan Hayes on vocals, as well.  Through all of this "star power" however, a cohesive sound still emerges on Perfectly Preserved, with a natural growth from the previous record both evident and understandable.  Yes, Perfectly Preserved still sounds like Love And Death, but this is a more mature Love And Death musically, a more accessible Love And Death, for the most part.  This album still rocks plenty hard, and even dips its hand in the Nu Metal pool from time to time, but there are definitely some changes on Perfectly Preserved that let you know this isn't simply a retread of the first album.

The album starts with an oddity of a track, as the moody intro song "Infamy" features far more piano than anything else, and I have to admit to being a bit thrown as I had heard the lead single "Down" already, and it had NOTHING to do with this type of music. Dark and melodic, "Infamy" clocks in at less than two minutes, however, and features the album's title in its lyrics, and while it isn't a precursor of things to come musically, it certainly carries the angst of much of the rest of the track, especially when Head's roaring vocals can be heard beneath the much smoother vocals of Bareis, who does a good share of the vocal work on this record.

Once "Tragedy" roars to life, the oddity of "Infamy" is quickly forgotten and the listener is just as quickly reacquainted with the old friend that is Head's snarling voice and down-tuned guitar style.  It is immediately obvious, however, that something is subtly different this time around, however, as there is a melodic sensibility to this track that never really appeared on Between Here And Lost.  Indeed, the chorus is far more sing-along here than at any point on the last album, a point of emphasis in more than one place on Perfectly Preserved.  It is the interplay between the heavy aggression of the riffs and verse sections and the more melodic moments during the chorus that we find the growth of this band, both as performers and songwriters, a growth which will recur throughout the record.    

Most people into this style of music have likely heard the lead single, "Down" by now, and it is a really good representation of what to expect from Perfectly Preserved.  Haunting clean vocals intro the song with its chorus, before the down-tuned, buzzsaw of guitars roars to life accompanied by the heavy drumming style that Perez brings to the project.  Head handles the lead vocals here, both the clean, more melodic lines and those that sound like a wounded animal yowling in pain, and he does an excellent job.  It is clear why this song was chosen as the lead single, and it has been hanging around the top of the Christian Hard Rock and metal charts for a couple of months now, pushing its way toward number one on a couple of them.  Honestly, the fact that secular outlets (ahem, Octane) have ignored this track is exceedingly frustrating, not only because of the star-quality of the band, but also because there is nothing "religious" or overtly "Christian" about this song.       




I've heard a lot of complaints about the cover of Justin Bieber's "Let Me Love You", and honestly, for the life of me, I don't understand it.  Sure, it comes out of left field a bit, but did you honestly expect L&D to cover "Whip It" on the last record?  Bizarre is what Head does!  Frankly, I think the vocal pairing here between J.R. Bareis and scream-queen, Lacey Sturm, is spot-on, and with Head ruminating angrily in the background with his snarls and growls, I love how the song works, overall.  Bareis has an excellent melodic vocal style...the guy is a really good singer...and Sturm uses both her breathy, clean vocals and her out-of-her-mind-with-rage vocals, both to excellent effect.  The guitar tone is excellent, the drums are still aggressive and punchy, and Rauch's bass is utilized to great effect, so I'm honestly not really sure what the problem is here.  This is a song that is perfectly positioned to crossover a bit, and I highly anticipate this track hitting radio this summer, with it being the kind of song that even Octane might jump all over, further exposing Love And Death to a bigger audience.




"Lo Lamento" is a re-recording of the track from five years ago, and it is in superior form here (although I really like both versions).  Fans of modern heavy rock are going to find themselves drooling all over the riffing, and the various vocal styles utilized throughout the track give this song a truly distinct style.  "The Hunter" is filled with chunky, crunchy goodness from the guitars while also utilizing some very clean, truly sung vocals on the verses, while Head interjects an uber-catchy "and they told another lie, and they told another lie..." into the mix on the first verse that just churns through my brain for hours after hearing it.  

The last two songs on the album seem to form a bridge between the Love And Death world and the Korn world for Head, as far as musical styles go.  While the vast majority of the album is more modern radio rock, these last two songs take on definite Nu Metal tendencies that will likely have Korn fans begging for more.  "Affliction" utilizes some interesting guitar tones to intro the track that is probably the closest to a Korn song on the entire album, especially the way Head handles the pre-chorus in very Jonathan Davis-style.  The interplay between Head and Bareis on the chorus sections is excellent, and there is a bestially-roared vocal bridge that is simply inhuman, coming momentarily close to death metal in its approach.  Obviously a song that is important and special to Head, "Affliction" is all about addiction and recovery, which so much of the album covers, to be fair.   

On "White Flag", the majority of the song is very much in line with the rest of the record style-wise, especially on the clean chorus sections and the haunting atmospheric tones used in the background throughout the song.  But then there is a bridge section where the vocals turn exceptionally harsh, the tempo kicks things up a couple of notches, and we are back in full-on Nu Metal territory for several moments.  Ryan Hayes, from Righteous Vendetta, absolutely tears into the vocals here, creating an even more aggressive vocal approach than even Head's most angry snarls.  Easily the "heaviest" track here (what does "heavy" even mean to people now?), "White Flag" is perfectly placed at the end of the album, not because it is a bad song...not at all...but because it is so starkly different for those crushingly heavy moments, that it doesn't disrupt the flow of the overall album.

Overall, Perfectly Preserved is an excellent return for a band that many had considered dead and gone.  While the music may be a bit more modern hard rock than Nu Metal, there is still plenty for both Korn and older Love And Death fans to sink their teeth into, while also allowing for newer fans to access the band and jump on board, perhaps discovering the older material along the way.  If pressed, I think I would actually say I prefer the songwriting and overall performances on Perfectly Preserved, even if I would be lying if I said I didn't miss the intensity of "Chemicals" or "I W8 4 U" from Between Here And Lost.

Rating:  Extremely crankable!  Rip the knob up to 9 and let's hope that the world rights itself enough for us to perhaps get the chance to see Love And Death on the road at some point in 2021.

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Monday, March 15, 2021

SNAKE BITE WHISKY "Black Candy"

 

(c) 2021 Sliptrick Records

  1. Thunderbird
  2. Raised In Hell
  3. Creep Show
  4. Choke
  5. Bones In The Fire
  6. Reload, Aim, Kill
  7. Sweet Cocaine
  8. Hammered
  9. Dead By Dawn
  10. End Of The Line
Jay R--Vocals
Laggy--Guitars
Stacii Blake--Bass
Dan "Sharkz" Weldon--Drums

Australia's Snake Bite Whisky is not a band for the feint of heart, to be sure.  Combining an updated take on sleaze metal with a heavy dose of punk, a dash of Outlaw country, and chaser of grunge, Snake Bite Whisky is unlike any band that has crossed my desk in recent memory.  Gritty, snotty, grimy, and dripping with sleaze and sludge, Snake Bite Whisky may look like they could have ran the streets of Hollywood in 1988, but it would have been because they were being chased by a dozen cops for publicly unrinating on the fire they had just set to the stage they were playing on!  No, these guys are not Monster Ballad darlings of the video era by any stretch, but they may try to do monstrous things to the bands who were! 

From the moment Laggy's guitar screams to life on "Thunderbird", it is evident these guys are here to kick ass, plain and simple.  Reminiscent of the early, hungry, punkish sleaze of LA Guns, this sub-2:30 scorcher sets the stage for the ten tracks of pure adrenaline-infused, heavy sleaze rock that make up Black Candy.     

"Raised In Hell" is up next, and while it dials back the punk just a tinge, the attitude and sneer of the sleaze rock these guys revel in just surges to the forefront even more.  Laggy, the band's new guitar slinger, absolutely shreds on an all-too-short solo and his dirty rhythms chug and churn throughout the track, while Snake Bite Whisky co-founder, Jay R, spits and snarls his way through the verses before getting a bit of help on the gang-shouted chorus sections.  Two tracks in and I'm already looking for Clorox wipes to try to clean the filth that is oozing out of my speakers away so that I can proceed.

As to the Outlaw country?  Well, you need venture no further than track three, "Creep Show" to get your first taste in the form of the vocals on the verse sections of this otherwise full-throttle sleaze punk track.  Particularly noticeable here is the rumbling from the bottom end where Stacii Blake's bass is hard at work, providing a solid foundation for Laggy to absolutely chew his guitar to shreds on the solo, and Sharkz rapid-fire drumming is spot on, as well!  This is a tight, tight band despite the fact that only Jay R and Stacii have been around since the start of the band.  Filthy, nasty, and raunchy, the music here is absolutely in your face and raw, played with an attitude that is just not present in so much of the modern hair/sleaze genre.  Seriously, this is not 1987 Headbanger's Ball-or-radio-ready sleaze, a la LA Guns or Faster Pussycat; this is punch-you-in-the-face-just-to-watch-the-blood-and-snot-leak-from-your-nose type of sleaze that would likely not have been allowed to see the light of day in 1987!  Full throttle and never letting up, "Creep Show" is the kind of song that is going to either completely turn you off of the band or that is going to gear you up to hear what's next.

And what is next?  More of the unexpected, to be honest.  Following a rumbling bass opening, a guitar riff very reminiscent of Guns N Roses churns to the surface, only to be met by lead vocals from Jay R that come in somewhere between Layne Staley of Alice In Chains and Scott Weiland of Stone Temple Pilots...if they were both trying to imitate the lower range of Axl Rose.  Somehow, it works though, and "Choke" is one of those tracks that you seem to keep returning to again and again, even if you aren't 100% sure why.  Laggy again unleashes a frantic fret run before the final verse section, and this rapid fire number just blazes away until it finally burns out.

"Bones In The Fire" is early Alice In Chains worship, from the sludgy tempo to the grungy, down-tuned rhythm guitars, to that previously mentioned Layne Weiland-style of vocals.  Somewhere in the mix, Laggy drops a nifty, sleazy solo upon the unsuspecting listener, but overall, this is more early 90s Seattle than mid-to-late-80s Hollywood, but if you ask the guys, I'm sure that the members of Snake Bite Whisky will tell you they don't really care what you call it because they play what they feel.  For what it's worth, I think "Bones In The Fire" is one of the best tunes on an album that sports more than a couple strong tracks, and I find myself thinking I could go in for a full album of this type of track.

"Reload, Aim, and Kill" picks things right back up into high-speed territory, with more gritty rhythm guitars and thick, heavy bass work before a false ending sets up a straight-up punk rendering of the song's title, while "Sweet Cocaine" comes across as a musically nastier/less accessible narcotics-worshipping cousin of  Buckcherry's "Lit Up" with an even faster tempo and more sleaze and punk than spit and polish.

Lead single "Hammered" follows, again showcasing Stacii Blake's bass kickstarting things before Laggy's rhythm guitars and Jay R's snarling vocals launch themselves upon the track.  You know what, rather than try to explain it to you, I'll just let you check it out for yourself.  So, give yourself about 4 minutes of free time and check out "Hammered" below....  I'll wait for you...


The drum work from Sharkz is on full display on "Dead By Dawn", which also utilizes a decidedly "You Really Got Me" guitar riff throughout the track before giving way to an absolute string-melting solo from Laggy.  The suitably-titled "End Of The Line" closes things out in fine sleaze rock fashion, with Jay R f*bombing his way through the track as Laggy blazes through one last screaming solo, while Blake and Sharkz hoist the whole thing up on their backs and power the track home.  Really a fun way to close out a surprisingly fun listen from start to finish.

The production is as raw and dirty as a band like Snake Bite Whisky would require, but it is an intentional, professional mix and production quality here, not something you would get if you set up a boom box in a bar and listened to the band riff away.  Plenty of life and voice is given to Laggy's guitar, with good reason as the man is an absolute beast in this type of musical setting.  Sharkz and Blake are a formidable rhythm section, and Jay R, despite his Sunset Strip blonde mane, is a spitting, snarling force to be reckoned with on vocals, though admittedly he will not likely be everyone's cup of tea.  The end result is Black Candy, a full-on sleazy/punky blast of heavy rock from Down Under that will have your head banging and your fists pounding from the moment the amps are kicked on.

Rating:  Black Candy is impressively crankable from a band I have never heard of!  Crank this to 7.5!

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Sunday, March 14, 2021

WITCH HUNT "Rock N Roll Possession"

 

(c)2021 Rata Mutante Records/Dead Center Productions

  1. The Inquisitor
  2. Demon Hunter
  3. Iron Pact
  4. Hijos Del Fuego
  5. Margaret
  6. Witch Hunt
  7. Forces Of The Night
  8. Rock N Roll Possession
  9. The Beginning And The End
  10. Justicia y Venganza (Bonus Track)
Luis Sanchez--Lead Vocals
Robinson Rincon--Guitars
Adriana Lizcano--Bass
Jhonathan Martinez--Drums

Hailing from Bogota, Colombia, Witch Hunt is an old school speed/thrash band that wears its 80s musical influences on its denim jacket with pride.  There is little doubt that the basements and garages of these four metalheads were strewn with records and cassettes from Mercyful Fate, Celtic Frost, Slayer, King Diamond, Onslaught, Grim Reaper, and even old-school Helloween...not to mention a worn out copy of Metallica's Kill 'Em All!...as there are pieces of each of these bands stitched together to create this metallic monstrosity of a band that, despite their musical preferences, has only been around in its current form since 2016.

Musically, this is old school speed metal with tinges of thrash throughout the album.  From the opening guitar riffs of "The Inquisitor", it is apparent this band is very tight and very proficient on their instruments.  With only one guitar player credited, I'm assuming Rincon handles both lead and rhythm guitars, and he handles both with exceptional skill.  The rhythm riffing throughout the album is tight and aggressive, and the lead work is strong with flashes of creativity in the solos on a handful of songs, but nothing that is going to be mistaken as overly original or inventive.  Keep in mind, however, that this is music that is all about speed and aggression, and Rincon has that in spades as he runs the frets with deft skill that is truly incredible to hear.  Again, one needs to look no further than "The Inquisitor" to find examples of mind-numblingly fast solo work that finds Rincon using the typical speed metal scale runs to very good effect, showcasing an ability to nimbly run up and down the strings at high rates of speed, but without showcasing any real flash or flair.   This theme is echoed throughout the record in song after song, as speed is the focal point of pretty much every track here. The title track, "Rock N Roll Possession" is another great example where the song structure is solid, and headbangers are going to absolutely snap their necks to this blistering scorcher, but the solo work is rather bland, overall, and the lyrics are pretty cheesy, to be honest.  But hey, this is speed metal, right?  This is pretty much par for the course as far as the speed metal genre has gone throughout the years.

There are a couple of exceptions, however, where the band seemed to spend more time developing the songs creatively, not relying solely on breakneck speed.  Take for example "Demon Hunter".  Yes, speed is a huge factor, and Rincon and drummer Martinez both get the spotlight shone on them as they exhibit bursts of speed that seem superhuman, but there is also a good deal more creativity, not just in the guitar work...with Rincon delivering possibly his most creative solo of the record...but in the overall song structure, which shows tempo changes and subtle shifts in style throughout.  Likewise, the instrumental track, "Iron Pact" shows some impressive work from Rincon, both on rhythms and leads, and bassist Adriana Lizcano gets the chance to step into the spotlight for a bit, as well.  Again, this song is more about musicality and texture than it is about blazing a metallic path through your ears, as this song never moves past mid-tempo but still manages to hold the listener's attention throughout.  Perhaps it should come as no surprise that these two tracks are near the top of my favorites list on the album.

Also vying for favorite status is the oddly-titled "Margaret", a full-force metallic assault that has Kill 'Em All influence dripping from the strings of the rhythm guitars!  Martinez opens the song with massive drum intro, and his double kicks dominate the bottom end of the track throughout.  For the most part, Sanchez reigns himself in on vocals, spending most of the time in the lower, snarled end of his range, although he does rip into a couple of glass-shattering wails that I really and truly could do without, but they don't do enough damage to keep me from really enjoying the old-school attitude and approach of this proto-thrash monster.  I could really find myself getting into an album filled with speed/thrash of this style.  I also find myself drawn to the track "Witch Hunt", with its tempo changes, machine gun drumming, and insanely fast rhythm guitars all supporting the most controlled vocal work that Sanchez puts forth here.  And then there's the NWOBHM influenced "Forces Of The Night" that utilizes some guitar tones on the solo that are not found anywhere else on the record, while also delivering some of the strongest bass lines on the album.  Once again, Sanchez maintains a firm grip on his vocals here, and Rincon delivers a far-above-average guitar solo here that really makes me wish the entire album was crafted the way tracks 5, 6, and 7 were.  These three songs form a back-to-back-to-back stretch that is absolutely punishing and really fun to listen to!

"The Beginning And The End" is an instrumental piece that closes the album proper, and features some haunting guitar from Rincon as a seemingly dark wind blows in the background.  Its a nice piece of music, but it has nothing to do with the rest of the album, stylistically, and I'm not really sure what the point of this couple of minutes is.  Being at the end of the album I don't skip it, I just let it bring the album to a close and move on, plain and simple.  

"Justicia y Venganza" is listed as a bonus track and sounds all the world like a demo to me.  The production is considerably different than the rest of the album, and the lyrics are all in Spanish, which was not the case for the bulk of the record.  Upon further research, I discovered this was the very first single recorded by the original version of Witch Hunt, clear back in 2007, hence the sonic differences in the material.  I'm not 100% sure who the band is comprised of at that time, although there seems to be no doubt as to the vocalist, as Sanchez is running pretty free with those King Diamond-esque wails, which I have no use for, and overall this track seems like it was tagged on simply to extend the length of the record, perhaps part of the deal when it was picked up for American distribution.  Not a track I spend any time with, honestly, and if I decided I wanted to burn the CD for personal consumption, I'd honestly give this track the axe and stop at just nine songs.

So, if it sounds like I enjoy Rock N Roll Possession for the most part, that is because I generally do.  I honestly really enjoy a lot of what this band brings to the table, and Rincon and Martinez, in particular, show some real skill on their instruments for playing this type of metal.  There are a couple of weaker tracks here, sure, but there are also stretches of surprisingly good material, as well, particularly on the second half of Rock N Roll Possession.  Overall, there is a lot to like about this record musically.

That being said, whether or not you find yourself enjoying Witch Hunt is going to depend largely upon your tastes, and therefore your tolerance, of Sanchez and his vocals.  Personally, I could never get into the high-pitched wailing of Mercyful Fate or Grim Reaper, even when I found myself impressed with their musical prowess, and a couple of tracks here are borderline ruined by this type of ear-piercing vocal work.  This is going to be key for people seeking out Witch Hunt, as the vocals of Sanchez are all over the place, ranging from snarling, not-quite-death growls to piercing wails that will startle sleeping dogs throughout the neighborhood.  And while the falsetto-screamed vocals are not my thing...at all...I will say that the vocal performance from Sanchez is strong, with seemingly no issues as he moves from style to style and rides the elevator up and down his range.  Likewise, the production on the vocals is very clean, and at no point to I feel like the vocals were buried in the mix or too heavy-handed and out front.  

In the end, I was pleasantly surprised by Witch Hunt, and I think a lot of old school metalheads will take an instant liking to this Colombians band.  If you can get past a couple of iffy vocal spots, and you can accept a few speed-over-substance guitar solos, Rock N Roll Possession may be exactly what fans of early speed/thrash metal are looking for.  And while not an album that will ever be a frequent player for me, as I have largely moved on from this style, Witch Hunt has a definite skill and passion for this style that translates into a far more enjoyable listen than I would have ever anticipated.

Rating:  Surprisingly, I found myself cranking this to 7!

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Friday, March 12, 2021

**RETRO REVIEW** CINDERELLA "Still Climbing"

 

(c) 1994 Mercury Records

  1. Bad Attitude Shuffle
  2. All Comes Down
  3. Talk Is Cheap
  4. Hard To Find The Words
  5. Blood From A Stone
  6. Still Climbing
  7. Freewheelin'
  8. Through The Rain
  9. Easy Come Easy Go
  10. The Road's Still Long
  11. Hot & Bothered

Tom Kiefer--Lead Vocals, Guitars
Jeff LaBar--Lead Guitars
Eric Brittingham--Bass

Additional Musicians
Kenny Aronoff--Drums on 1-10
Fred Coury--Drums on "Hot & Bothered"

In 1994, one of my all-time favorite bands released what I have always considered to be one of...if not THE...last great albums from one of the members of the so-called "hair band era".  Never really fitting in with the Hollywood hair scene (probably because they were from Philadelphia), Cinderella was still lumped in with the Poisons and Warrants of the world, much the same way Great White and Tesla were.  Sure, they had long hair...heck, they pretty much had the whole "hair metal" look down...but Cinderella (and Great White, Tesla, etc.) had far more blues rock to their sound than glam pop, and generally rocked a lot harder, also.  In the end, genre-splitting was going to make very little difference, as by 1994, the whole "hair band" scene had imploded and been replaced by grunge and hard 90s alternative rock, and most 80s bands were forced underground if they were allowed to survive at all.  And while a lot of those bands tried to bend with the times and eke out an existence by distancing themselves from their past (such as Warrant did...), Cinderella refused to play the game, releasing Still Climbing, which, as I stated above, I truly believe to be one of the last great albums from those 80s bands.  And if that doesn't strike you as a bold enough statement, I'll throw another one at you; this is the best album in Cinderella's catalog.  BOOM!  Take that!

After bursting onto the scene in 1986 with their multi-platinum debut, Night Songs, Cinderella reeled off a couple more albums, including the Billboard Top Ten album, Long Cold Winter, which also eventually went triple-platinum, and 1990's Heartbreak Station album, which while decidedly less "hairy" or "glammy", somehow managed to sell a million copies and crack the Billboard Top Twenty by landing at #19.  Years on the road had taken its toll on the band members, with LaBar reportedly falling deeply into alcoholism, Coury feeling like a hired-gun (he had only actually performed on one album), and Keifer essentially losing his voice, so Cinderella stepped away from the scene from 1991 to 1993 to regroup and recover.  Of course, during that time, the music world was put on its ear, and it seemed there was little room for...or interest in...Cinderella by the time Still Climbing was released in late 1994.  In fact, to this date, the album still has not gone platinum (a million records sold), which is a true pity, as Still Climbing takes the best of all the Cinderella albums and blends it into an absolutely killer hard rock record.

Checking in at 11 songs, Still Climbing has no weak material from start to finish, and in fact features some of the best songs Kiefer has ever written...but not all of them were new tracks.  A couple of older non-album tracks from the band's heyday are dusted off, beefed up, and fine tuned for this record, and both serve Cinderella well.  If you ever track down a bootleg of some of the band's older live shows, there is a chance you might hear a slightly different version of "Talk Is Cheap" in the set, but this version is far superior, with Tom's sassy vocals and biting, sarcastic attitude on full display.  It's also worth noting that "Freewheelin'" is an older track as well, and there is a bootlegged version of this track in its pre-Night Songs version floating around out there if you desire to search for such things.  More than any other track on Still Climbing, "Freewheelin'" definitely has that earlier, "hair metal" sound, and is fast and aggressive on this record, but still manages to fit into the tracking order nicely.  Seriously, if you have the time, compare that track to something like "Push Push" or "Once Around The Ride" from Night Songs, and I think you will hear some definite similarities in style and sound.  And, as most fans of the band likely already know, "Hot & Bothered", which is the only track that drummer Fred Coury performed on, had appeared on the Wayne's World soundtrack in 1992.  That means of the 11 songs that made the cut for Still Climbing, only 8 were new tracks.  

Big deal...  

As far as new material goes, the album is filled with some of the hardest-hitting tunes Cinderella ever recorded, while still managing to keep the bluesy swagger that they had started implementing in a big way with Long Cold Winter.  From album opener, "Bad Attitude Shuffle" to the soaring "All Comes Down" to the title track, there is more punch and more grit to this record than anywhere else in their catalog.  "Blood From A Stone", which features some great Hammond organ on the intro section, may be the best song the band has ever recorded, and "Easy Come Easy Go" is a barroom-blues rocker that will flat out stomp a hole in a sawdust-covered floor if given the chance.  And don't let the acoustic intro of "Road's Still Long" fool you into thinking this number is a ballad, as you will likely be smacked upside the head by the punch of the drums and the the thunder from the bass as this mid-tempo rocker builds to a snarling, gritty peak with Keifer at his absolute vocal best.



For the casual fan who fell in love with the band based on the monster ballad "Don't Know What You've Got (Till It's Gone)", or perhaps that song's older predecessor, "Nobody's Fool", you need look no further than the two MASSIVE ballads from Still Climbing to find something to sink your teeth into!  "Hard To Find The Words", a ballad written from Tom to his mother, is a true gem and should be played every Mother's Day by every guy in the world!  Tom pours his heart out on this remarkable track, apologizing for who he was and crediting Mom for who he has become.  Poignant, but never sappy, "Hard To Find The Words" is truly top-notch songwriting at its best.  Not far behind is the equally powerful, "Through The Rain", another inspired piece of balladry that had all but died on rock radio by the time the album was released.   

The production on Still Climbing is the best of the band's catalog, as well, with the drum sound, in particular, being excellent, with a lot of punch and a nice, tight sound to the snares.  The guitars, from the rhythms to the leads to the slide solos, are just spot-on perfect, and a couple of years off had given Tom the strongest, richest sound from his voice that he had achieved on record since Long Cold Winter for sure, as he was able to hit the raspy highs and the cleaner lows, seemingly with ease...even though Kiefer has gone on record stating that the album was a vocal nightmare for him to make.  You'd never know it to hear Still Climbing, as he sounds truly incredible from note one.  Sadly, the vocal issues would return in some subsequent shows...of which I attended more than a few...and Tom would have troubles in the live setting for a few years.  Thankfully, he has been able to return to singing in recent years with a couple of solo albums, including the really strong The Way Life Goes, and the live videos I have seen of his solo act seem to indicate a lot of his vocal struggles are behind him at this point in his career.

If you have never given this record a chance because of the timeframe it was released it, do yourself a favor and pick it up.  Don't assume you are getting Warrant's Ultraphobic or Dokken's Dysfunctional, as there is not a single attempt at grunge or alternative on Still Climbing.  All you get is good, hard, blues-based rock that rattles the windows and shakes the floor, regardless of what radio stations and critics were clamoring for at the time.  No label support, no official videos, no airplay.  None of it mattered, as the band just did what the band wanted to do with Still Climbing.  As a result, although they didn't know it at the time, Cinderella brought their career to a close at an all-time high, which is what we should aspire to.  

Rating:  Such a crankable record, even 27 years later!  Crank this to 9.5, as it is darn near perfect and, to state it one more time, possibly the last great record of the hair era!

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