Saturday, April 30, 2011

DIAMOND LANE "World Without Heroes"

(c) 2011 Independent Release

  1. All Rebels Welcome
  2. I Know Who You Did Last Summer
  3. City Of Sin
  4. Sundress City
  5. All The Pretty Things
  6. Needle Down
  7. Time Bomb
  8. Heaven's Falling
  9. Never Going Home
  10. Endgame
Brandon Baumann--Vocals
Jarret Reis--Guitars
Ray Zhang--Bass
Jonah Nimoy--Drums

As far as the current state of sleazy hard rock and metal goes, there are basically two approaches:  the Swedish (European) attempt to almost completely replicate the Sunset Strip, and the American resurrection of the sound while intermixing modern production elements and a more up-to-date look.  Diamond Lane definitely falls into the latter category, bringing the best of the past into the 21st Century with a modern approach, much the same as bands like Hinder, Underride, and several others are currently doing.  Make no mistake, however...Diamond Lane does things their own way and they do those things well.

For example, rather than use a lower-range power-styled voice, which seems to be a trend today, Diamond Lane's Brandon Baumann tends to tread the same vocal waters as people such as Sebastian Bach (Skid Row), Derek (Babylon A.D.), or the lesser-know (and underappreciated) screamer Chris Childs of Sledgehammer Ledge.  Baumann is not afraid to cut loose with some high-pitched wails when the music calls for it, but he is also able to rein his vocals in and truly sing, which seems to be a rarity among so many front men today.

Musically, I can't say enough about the guitar work on this album as Jarret Reis handles all the leads and rhythm work himself.  He proves himself more than competent in both cases, and rips through several tasty solos, while also handling near-breakdown styled rhythm work, both of which can be found on one of the albums strongest tracks, "Time Bomb".  Also up to the task are the drummer, Jonah Nimoy, and bass player, Ray Zhang, who provide a solid foundation for the non-stop, never-slow-down rockers that fill this disc to the brim.  A prime example of the duo's work can be found on the intro (and throughout) "Heaven's Falling" which pounds in with a crushing, chugging rhythm that remains tight and consistent throughout.  "City Of Sin" has an almost dance-beat feel to it at first, again supplied by the thudding of Zhang and Nimoy, but quickly modifies itself to a sassy rocker with a catchy chorus and a really nice retro-styled solo.   

For fans wanting more of a true 80's/early 90's throwback sound, Diamond Lane delivers with "Sundress City" and especially "Needle Down", which sounds like it could have fit in well on the Slave To The Grind album from Skid Row.  The previously mentioned "Time Bomb" fits this bill as well, as does the cheeky "I Know Who You Did Last Summer".  Want a bit more modern sound, while still retaining the strong leads and not-overly produced vocals?  "All Rebels Welcome", "Never Going Home", and "Endgame" are right up your alley.

Possibly the most impressive thing about this release is the fact that it is all done with no label support and, one would have to guess, a fairly limited budget.  While this may not be the most earth-shattering or genre-challenging release of the year, this is easily one of the most solid, most truly enjoyable releases I have heard so far, with no disappointing ballads or wasteful filler material.  I would be shocked if these guys don't find themselves a label home before their next album is released, nor would I be surprised to find out that this disc is picked up and repackaged by someone later this year.  It is that good.

Rating:  Crank this to 8.5!

Check out the band's website HERE

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WARRANT "Rockaholic"

(C)2011 Frontiers Records

1. Sex Ain't Love
2. Innocence Gone
3. Snake
4. Dusty's Revenge
5. Home
6. What Love Can Do
7. Life's A Song
8. Show Must Go On
9. Cocaine Freight Train
10. Found Forever
11. Candy Man
12. Sunshine
13. Tears In The City
14. The Last Straw

Robert Mason--Vocals
Joey Allen--Lead Guitars and Background Vocals
Erik Turner--Rhythm Guitar and Background Vocals
Jerry Dixon--Bass and Background Vocals
Steven Sweet--Drums and Background Vocals

Lead Singer Math can be an interesting equation in bands.  For example, lets look at the following story problems.  Van Halen minus David Lee Roth plus Sammy Hagar equals controversy, multiple platinum albums, radio airplay, MTV hits...and a loss of credibility with the hardcore fans.  Quiet Riot minus Kevin DuBrow plus Paul Shortino equals one smokin' record that no one listens to.  Skid Row minus Sebastian Bach equals an utter disaster on two abysmal records.  So what was to be expected when Warrant decided to do some Lead Singer Math of their own???
Well, for folks who follow the band, they already know that this is their second album with a different lead singer, as Black N Blue's Jamie St. James stepped up to the mic a few years ago for the Born Again album which, quite frankly, fell somewhat flat despite a handful of solid tracks.  The chemistry just wasn't there and a lot of the songs were filler material on what felt like a rushed attempt to get something out onto the market.  But The Saint returned to Black N Blue and Warrant was on the market for a singer again.  Enter Robert Mason of Lynch Mob fame (and Big Cock infamy).

Warrant's new album, Rockaholic, comes barreling out of the gates 100 with the very catch, driving "Sex Ain't Love", followed by two more excellent tracks in "Innocence Gone" and "Snake".  All three of these tracks are hard rocking tracks that sound like a mixture of Warrant and Lynch Mob, which could be expected, I suppose...and the mixture works quite well.  In fact, I'm really liking this record at this point, which, to be honest, I was not sure I would be. 

The band throws the listener a bit of a curveball with "Dusty's Revenge" which is another one of those lower mid-tempo pseudo-cowboy type of songs not completely unlike Bon Jovi's "Dead Or Alive" or some of the stuff Poison or Keel has tried in the past, but Warrant does it heavier, and I think they pull it off well.  To me, it definitely has an "Uncle Tom's Cabin" type of feel to it, but it is a considerably darker song about violent justice and is one of the highlights on this album.   This is a song I think Mason's vocals really shine on, especially in the lower register, and I think this could be a killer track live. 

At this point Warrant steps on the brakes for no real reason.  "Home", which has power ballad written all over it could wiggle its way onto one of those "monster ballads" collections that float around the various artists sections of record stores, but it really disrupts the flow of the album, especially coming off the already decidedly slower but heavy "Dusty's Revenge".  I see lighters popping up all over the place if this song is performed live, so I guess it has its desired effect, and I think this is better than "Heaven", so not all is lost.

But the album doesn't pick back up from here.  Now would be a great time for another scorching rock track, but we stay in mid-tempo territory with a somewhat bland track "What Love Can Do".  Again, not a terrible track, but nothing overly exciting and by now the album is bogging down tempo-wise....with no end in sight!  "Life's A Song" is another mid-tempo snoozer and I am seriously needing someone to wake me up at this point.  It's not until track eight that Mason is able to open up the throttle on his screaming vocals with "Show Must Go On".  This is a great song, and I think it would have been a GREAT album closer, leaving the fans wanting more with a not-so-subtle message about the band.  This is one of the five or six best tracks on the disc and has my blood pumping and my head nodding (not nodding off) once again.  With a name like "Cocaine Freight Train" you have to know the next song is going to be a full-speed ahead rocker, and it is definitely that.  This song reminds me of something Lynch Mob might have done back in the day and is again, one of the best tracks here.
BUT THEN WE SLOW DOWN AGAIN!!!!  Why, why, why?!  "Found Forever" is another sing-along power-ballad type of song with a big hook and nice harmonies, and again, I know Warrant is known for this stuff, but enough is enough.  We are in obvious airplay mode here, which I know was important about 20 or 30 years ago, but no radio stations are playing these songs now, so is there really a need for this much slow material? 

"Candy Man" picks the pace up just a bit and sounds like an Extreme-type of track with the nicely layered vocals and quirky tempo, and it works well.  "Sunshine" has a bit of a modern feel to the production, but isn't terrible.  And guessed it...ballad time again.  "Tears In The City" is a total waste of space on this disc and there is nothing redeeming about this track, in my opinion.  Skip material here. 

Album closer, "The Last Straw" is back to the uptempo side, but by this point I have lost quite a bit of interest.  Solid track, good vocal performance, nice little guitar solo, but
it's too little too late for me.

This album has some extremely good moments, a huge nap-time in the middle, and is hit or miss after about track 8 or 9.  If the band had cut out about four or five of these songs, and especially at least one of the ballads, this would have been a MONSTER of a record.  As it stands, it is still a good record, but it falls short of Dog Eat Dog or even Cherry Pie for me, as it is simply too inconsistent and too down-tempo for me.  That's unfortunate as when this album rocks it is excellent, and the couple of experimental tracks also really work well.  Mason is a definite keeper here and he does add a lot to the album.  In fact, withoug Mason, I don't think 80% of this record could have been pulled off, and neither St. James or Jani Lane would have been comfortable with most of the material here.  It's a good return, but not great.  Perhaps I expected too much, but with the hype that had surrounded this release, that was probably to be expected.
Rating:  Rock this at a 6.5, but if you can program in only the best stuff, it's easily and 8.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

STRYPER "The Covering"

(C)2011 Big3 Records

  1. Set Me Free
  2. Blackout
  3. Heaven And Hell
  4. Lights Out
  5. Carry On Wayward Son
  6. Highway Star
  7. Shout It Out Loud
  8. Over The Mountain
  9. The Trooper
  10. Breaking The Law
  11. On Fire
  12. Immigrant Song
  13. God
Michael Sweet--Vocals, Guitars
Oz Fox--Lead Guitar, Backing Vocals
Timothy Gaines--Bass, Backing Vocals
Robert Sweet--Drums and Cymbals
Charles Foley--Keyboards, Organ, Piano

It would be difficult to find a more polarizing band in this genre, in my opinion.  Stryper has long been the whipping boy of the "no such thing as Christian metal" group, while easily being the most popular, largest selling Christian metal act of the 1980's/1990's.  Christian fundamentalist groups, on the other hand, stated that the band was actually an instrument of the devil, wearing clothing that was too tight, wearing make-up and doing their hair like women, and singing about human love and lust.  There have always been rumors that the band didn't play on their albums.  There have been line-up changes.  There have been albums where the Christian message seemed to have been watered down considerably...or possibly even left out all together.  There have been crosses made of cigarettes on album covers.  You name it, if it could cause controversy, someone has blamed Stryper for it.

Even the tracks chosen for this covers disc led to controversy about the Yellow & Black rockers, as we have songs from bands with homosexual lead vocalists (Judas Priest), rumored occult members (Led Zepplin and Black Sabbath), and by Knights In Satan's Service (KISS...duh!).  Michael even swears on one song!  And, if that isn't bad enough, on the versions you can buy in the store, the band's trademark logo and Isaiah 53:5 are almost entirely covered up by the UPC symbol!  And what's with that scarred-looking angel (demon?!) on the front of the album?

Through it all, however, if you ask the members of Stryper they have never lost their focus, their faith, or their fans. They also know who they are and where they come from, and they put it all on disply here in The Covering, which is quite possibly the best covers album I have ever heard, and I have heard a lot of them. 

Covering a wide array of artists from Kansas and Sweet to Iron Maiden, Black Sabbath, and the Scorpions, Stryper pulls no punches in absolutely smoking through the twelve covers included here.  The band never tries to reinterpret the songs and make them something they are not, but they also don't completely carbon copy the songs to the point that you forget who is performing.  Michael Sweet's vocals are as powerful as ever...he even proves he can still scream...Oz Fox's leads are nothing short of amazing at times, and the return of Timoth Gaines to the bass, along with Robert Sweet on drums, gives these tracks the rock-solid, throbbing structure required to pull off some of these truly classic songs.  Additionally, Fox and Gaines have never sounded stronger with their harmonies layered over Michael's vocals.  Standout tracks are difficult to put a finger on, as all are performed remarkably well, but my favorites as of this writing would have to be "Blackout", "Heaven And Hell", "Carry On Wayward Son", Breaking The Law", and "Immigrant Song", while "Shout It Out Loud" is the one song I could say I could do without, and even that is not performed badly, it's just a song that is getting rather tired to these ears.

The truly shining moment for this disc, however, is the inclusion of a brand new rocker, "God".  If anyone had reason to doubt where the band stood in their faith, this song should lay all those questions to rest, as this track is bold lyrically and incredibly well-performed musically.  This is the first time since the band came back together as an active unit (they never "officially" broke up) that Stryper seems to reach back to the greatness of the Soldiers Under Command or To Hell With The Devil records and mix in a bit of the modern at the same time.  Michael's vocals a scorching, there is a killer solo in the mix, and even a nod to a classic Stryper track hidden in the music as well (I won't spoil the surprise).  Michael has stated in interviews that "God" is the direction the band is looking to go in on their next solo record, and if so, it is going to be a truly amazing record, guaranteed!

The packaging is pretty cool, as the liner notes are actually a mini-comic book telling the story of the character on the cover.  It is a digipack, which I hate, but I can get past that issue.

All in all, despite the fact that covers records have been done TO DEATH lately, I have to admit I really enjoy this disc and actually play it, not simply shelving it to keep the Stryper discography complete.  Add in the fact that "God" alone makes this disc worth owning, and I can't find a lot to complain about with The Covering.

Rating:  Despite the fact that it's a covers album, crank this one to 7...and play "God" at 10!

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Monday, April 25, 2011

VARIOUS ARTISTS "Forever Mod: Portrait of a Storyteller" (Rod Stewart Tribute)

(c) 1998 DeRock Records

  1. Dynamite
  2. Gasoline Alley
  3. (I Know) I'm Losing You
  4. Reason To Believe
  5. Every Picture Tells a Story
  6. You're In My Heart
  7. I Was Only Joking
  8. Stay With Me
  9. Hot Legs
  10. Maggie May
  11. Rock My Plimsoul
  12. The Killing of Georgie
  13. Da Ya Think I'm Sexy?
  14. Let Me Love You
Contributing Artists:  Joey Allen, Andy Anderson, Carlos Cavazo, Gilby Clarke, John Corabi, Bob Daisley, Warren DeMartini, C.C. Deville, Billy Duffy, I'M'L, James Kottak, Bruce Kulick,  Jani Lane, Robin McAuley, Eddie Money, Stephen Pearcy, Jeff Pilson, Raven, Paul Shortino, Eric Singer, Matt Sorum, Phil Soussan, Spike, Matt Thorne, Laurence Tolhurst, Bart Walsh

There was a time, especially in the mid-to-late 1990's that I would buy just about ANYTHING that featured members of bands that I loved from the 1980's and that whole hair/glam/sleaze scene of the Sunset Strip.  Those bands were, for all intents and purposes, dead or on life-support at the least, so to hear something by those guys you usually had to seek out tribute discs.  A friend of mine who worked in a CD store (remember those?!) told me about this new tribute disc that was out that had a lot of guys that I liked on it...but there was a catch.  It was a tribute to Rod Stewart.  I apparently had a few bucks burning a hole in my pocket, because I honestly don't know why else I would have picked this up at that time....

To be fair, this really isn't a bad tribute disc.  Now, in all honesty, I am not a Rod Stewart fan, didn't like him when he was with Faces, and don't like his stuff now.  Kind of a "never have, never will" sort of deal.  But, there is some truth to the title of this disc, as "Portrait of a Storyteller" seems to fit.  Perhaps "Portrait of a Songwriter" would have been more accurate, because Stewart had a hand in writing every one of these songs, and many are actually pretty catchy when done in a more rocking style, as most of these are.

Things start off with a rocking version of "Dynamite" which features Spike of the (London) Quireboys on vocals.  This song does a lot to get things rolling, as it is one of the hardest rocking songs on the album.  Also featuring Billy Duffy on guitar and Matt Sorum on drums, this track sucks listeners in with a hope for what is to follow.  John Corabi (Union/Motley Crue/Ratt) does his best to keep things rolling with a pretty to-the-note rendition of "Gasoline Alley", with some very good guitar work from Corabi and guitar/mandolin player, J.B. Crablick.  But then things start to stutter and stumble a bit...

The mini-Ratt reunion of Stephen Pearcy and Warren DeMartini hits a bit of a snag wih "(I Know) I'm Losing You", if only because they try to modernize the sound of the song instead of letting their familiarity with each other's styles morph this into a bit of a sleazy rocker.  Pearcy sounds very good, and DeMartini not only pulls off some nice leads but also plays the lap steel on this song, but perhaps the desire to hear a Ratt song just killed this for me.

Not a big fan of Eddie Money, to be fair, but he does a decent job on "Reason To Believe", even if it sounds like he tried to countrify the song for some reason (maybe that is how the original sounds...I'm not familiar with this song).

Things get back on track with the Robin McCauley (MSG) fronted "Every Picture Tells A Story".  Not surprisingly, Paul Shortino's bluesy vocals sound at home with the classic "You're In My Heart (The Final Acclaim)", and Jani Lane turns in a strong performance on "I Was Only Joking", which also veatures a great saxaphone solo.  Spike returns to join C.C. Deville and Joey Allen on "Stay With Me", and again his gritty vocals work well on this popular track.    

"Hot Legs" is absolutely TERRIBLE, as it is basically a track done by the band Orgy and is just techno-industrial garbage to these ears.  Corabi rescues the disc from totally dying off with a spot-on performance on "Maggie May" which suits his vocal style exceptionally well.  The next two songs are not ones that I am familiar with, but Jeff Pilson handles both vocals and bass on "Rock My Plimsoul" which he collaborates on with C.C. Deville, and it is not a bad track with a soulful, funky delivery.  Likewise, I don't think I had ever heard "The Killing Of Georgie" before, but Gilby Clarke handles both vocals and guitars, and Eric Singer contributes drums to this acoustic track that is a nice, if not noteworthy contribution.

Just when I think the album might close out in fairly fine fashion, I'M'L., whoever the heck that is, absolutely DESTROYS "Da Ya Think I'm Sexy?" with some kind of techno-rap thing that is just brutal.  If it wasn't for me writing this review, I would likely have missed the surprisingly bluesy and soulful "Let Me Love You" which closes things out with Eric Singer pulling double duty on vocals and drums with Doug Aldrich tackling guitars.  I have to say, this is a GREAT surprise following that I'M'L. disaster, because Singer is a very good singer with a smokey, bluesy style that I would like to hear on its own sometime, and not just as back-up in KISS.

As tributes go, things are predictably hit and miss, but there is far more hit than miss here, and I found myself actually liking, not just appreciating, about half of the tracks performed here.  That being said, it's not likely this will ever be a regular in my CD rotation.  I appreciate the effort, really enjoy the surprises (like Singer, for example), and found a couple more artists to absolutely loath!

Rating:  Taken as a whole, play this disc at about 5, but if you can program in specific tracks, you could rock it at a 6.
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LITTLE CAESAR "Redemption"

(c) 2009 Independent Release

  1. Same Old Story
  2. Supersonic
  3. Loving You Is Killing Me
  4. Witness Stand
  5. Redemption
  6. Sick And Tired
  7. Real Rock Drive
  8. That Was Yesterday
  9. Every Picture Tells A Story-Happy
  10. Just Like A Woman
Ron Young--Vocals
Loren Molinare--Guitars
Joey Brasler--Guitars
Fidel Paniagua--Bass
Tom Morris--Drums

When I first heard that Little Caesar had reformed and was putting out new material, I was stoked.  I have long been a fan of the band and still think that their debut albums ranks among the underappreciated sleaze albums of the 80's and early 90's.  That dirty, almost R&B shuffle sound, Ron's easy to pick out vocals, Apache's axework...just a great, great record.

Things have changed, folks....

Now, I have read dozens of glowing reviews about this record...and I don't get it.  This is NOT the Little Caesar I remember and love.  Not even close.  This version of the band is missing a couple of things.  First...Apache is gone.  I haven't done any real deep internet searches to find out what happened to him, but what happened to the band is it lost its grit and its fire on the guitar.  The guitars here are pretty tame and, to be honest, rather bland at times.  I'm not saying the players aren't competent, as it is not like the album is full of off-key notes or that it is poorly played, there just isn't any soul to it, in my opinion.

Secondly, this collection of songs, for the most part, is equally soulless and tame sounding.  In fact, in listening to this record, if the band were to mix in a couple of Eagles, Skynyrd, and ZZ Top covers, and maybe an Alabama or Charlie Daniels Band song on this disc, I would feel the need to pay a cover charge and pay a two-drink minimum, because to these ears, the band now sounds like just about any band you can go to the local roadhouse and hear playing covers on the weekend.  I would have had a very hard time identifying this as Little Caesar, to be honest.  This is not hard rock, sleaze metal, whatever you wanted to label Little Caesar as in the past; that sound is LONG gone.  What you have here is a collection of tired-sounding, lifeless songs that come off as the effort of a band attempting to cash in on the current trend of 1980's and 1990's hair-era bands who have reunited to release new material.  Sadly, this is just about the worst effort of all the reunion discs I have heard, and that is saying something.

I can't say there are no good songs here, as a couple do rock at least a little bit.  "Sick And Tired" is probably the best song on the disc (and would have been a GREAT title for this effort), and "Supersonic" is decent.  The title track is a pretty good ballad that Ron sounds particularly strong on, but even on these tracks, this just is NOT Little Caesar to me.  To say I was seriously disappointed would be an understatement. 

I believe this album has been reissued, as I have seen this CD with different cover art on it; perhaps some small label tried to cash in on the Little Caesar name.  The liner notes in this version are totally non-existant, as there is not even a listing of band members (that much I did hunt down on the 'Net).  No thank you's, no lyrics, no photos, no nothin'.  I'm surprised they wasted the money to make it a four-panel insert instead of a two-panel, because there is literally no reason to have paid for an extra page.

Rating:  Turn this disc down to 3, at the loudest.  Better yet, just find their debut and play that one instead.

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Friday, April 22, 2011

KING KOBRA "King Kobra"

(c)2011 Frontiers Records
1 - Rock This House
2 - Turn Up The Good Times
3 - Live Forever
4 - Tear Down The Walls
5 - This Is How We Roll
6 - Midnight Woman
7 - We Got A Fever
8 - Top Of The World
9 - You Make It Easy
10 - Cryin' Turns To Rain
11 - Screamin' For More
12 - Fade Away
13 - Red Flags (Japan Bonus Track)

Paul Shortino--Vocals
David Michael-Philips--Guitars
Mick Sweda--Guitars
Johnny Rod--Bass
Carmine Appice--Drums

In this season of classic 80's and early 90's hair band reunions, I have to be honest...King Kobra was not one of the bands I saw kickstarting things again.  Don't get me wrong, I love the fact that they did, as I have been a KK fan for many, many years, but with the Mark/Marcie Free situation, and the fact that it had been so long since ANYTHING had been heard from the Kobra Kamp, I just didn't see this one coming.  Man, I am glad it did!

First, I want to say that the addition of Paul Shortino (Rough Cutt/Quiet Riot/Shortino) on vocals gives this album a kick in the pants right from the get-go!  Shortino's smooth, blues-soaked vocals scorch throughout this record, giving a new energy to the band that I really thought was somewhat lacking on the III album...and all but non-existant on most of the Hollywood Trash release.  Additionally, the return of all the instrumental pieces of classic King Kobra shows immediately, as this is one very tight sounding record of balls-out rockers and powerful ballads that sounds like it could have been the follow-up to Thrill of a Lifetime musically.  The guitar work is what is especially impressive here, no disrespect to Mr. Appice who, as we all know, is the mastermind behind King Kobra.  However, Sweda and Michael-Phillips just smoke on this disc in a way that is going to remind a lot of listeners of the current Whitesnake lineup of Beach and Aldrich, with their blues-groove and hard rock/metal licks melding seemlessly together.  Not to be overlooked, however, Appice and Rod lay down some great backbones for these songs and, again, the musical core of King Kobra as a unit sounds like they have never stopped playing together, as this is a smooth, tight group of musicians that obviously enjoy what they do.

It is honestly difficult to find anything truly negative to say about this album, as even the Japan-only bonus track, "Red Flags" is a great song with one of the best guitar solos on the disc.  Stand out cuts for me would have to be the smoking "Tear Down The Walls", or hard-rocking "This Is How We Roll" and "We Got A Fever", the mid-tempo "Live Forever" and "Cryin' Turns To Rain", the latter of which has an almost Whitesnake feel to it, and the ballad "Fade Away".  "Turn Up The Good Times" has a nasty backbeat, blues-based rhythm section that throbs along nicely and has the listener tapping his foot or bobbing his head almost instantly, although it is not difficult to decipher where the song is going to go lyrically, as the typical "party hearty" song (heck, that phrase is the basis of the chorus!).  Likewise,  "Screamin' For More" is another great rocker with a brilliant hook that you will have trouble letting go of, but it is not exactly overly deep lyrically, which might be one of the few knocks I can think of on this disc.  But, really, on an album that this much fun and this great to listen to, I can forgive a cheesy lyric or two.

Blindisded as I was, I have to say that as I write this, King Kobra is a DEFINITE contender for album of the year, even with the new Whitesnake, Warrant, Black N Blue, and several others either already out or soon-to-be released. 

If you were a fan of any version of this band, snag this disc and I can guarantee you won't be disappointed.  If you NEVER liked the band, still get this disc because, again, I can almost guarantee you won't be disappointed!  This disc is special, folks....

Rating:  Crank this sucker to 9.5 and put it on repeat...infinitely!!!

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Friday, April 15, 2011

DISTORTED WONDERLAND "Distorted Wonderland"

(c) 2010 Jamsync Music

  1. Raised on Rock N Roll
  2. Losing It
  3. Slave of My Desire
  4. In For A Thrill
  5. Never Had Nothing
  6. Behind The Scenes
  7. Waving The Flag
  8. Stand And Deliver
  9. Guillotine Babies
  10. On The Other Horizon
  11. Tangerine
Olof Lindgren - vocals
Fredrik Lundstedt - guitar
Axel Karlsson - bass
Petter Karlsson - drums

Here we go again!  Another band from Sweden...and another killer record!  This band, like so many others it seems, rose from the ashes of another group's demise.  Vocalist Lindgren and bassist Karlsson were previously in a band called Overnight Sensation (not the Finnish hard rock band) when they got the chance to sing background vocals for modern Swedish sleaze legends, Hardcore Superstar.  Not one to let an opportunity pass them up, the pair took the offer and decided they wanted to do something more in this style than their current band was doing, so they took up the Distorted Wonderland moniker for a side project.  When Overnight Sensation called it a day, Distorted Wonderland was given top priority by the pair, and I am mighty glad it did!

It's not so much that Distorted Wonderland does anything completely different than so many of the Swedish sleaze merchants of the past five to ten years, it's that they do it better!  The songwriting on this debut disc is absolutely top-notch and features some of the catchiest, stuck-in-my-head hooks I have heard in years.  As an example, as soon as I hear the acoustic-based rocker "Guillotine Babies" once, I will have the infectious chorus (and hilarious lyrics) echoing in my brain for days!  The same can be said for album opener, "Raised On Rock N Roll", whose chorus, simple as it is, gets drilled into my subconscious and niggles at my mind for hours!  These guys write some seriously addictive material that leaves you wanting to just hit repeat and start all over. 

"In For A Thrill" lets the listener know they are in for a hard-charging track with the sound of a muscle car's engine revving up before the guitars take off full-speed-ahead.  "Never Had Nothing" is another killer song with its pulsing drumbeat intro, slamming guitar riffs, an almost-hardcore-breakdown moment in the middle, and snarled vocals filled with attitude; the slightly more modern-leaning "Waving The Flag" is equally as aggressive if a bit more radio friendly with its big background "aaahhhs" and slick production.  Album closer "Tangerine" is a full-on, rapidfire slugfest of a song with what is becoming the band's trademark, a catchy chorus with ever-so-slightly layered vocals. 

With their connection to Hardcore Superstar, and their sharing of homelands with Crashdiet, Nasty Idols, and the like, there are bound to be comparisons drawn.  I think you can hear a little bit of all of these bands mixed together on this disc, with hints of "Dreaming In A Casket" Superstar here, combined with the snarling attitude of the Idols and the big, slick, superstar production and presentation of Crashdiet.  I still think that, overall, Crashdiet probably has the edge on these guys simply due to experience, longevity, and the chance to really hone their sound, but if Distorted Wonderland continues down this path, which is slightly heavier than the majority of their contemporaries, there really is no limit to how huge they could get. 

Listeners beware, this band never slows down as there is not a single ballad to be found here.  Nothing but pulse pounding, head banging sleaze soaked metal is to be found on this debut disc that has me begging for more already.  Easily one of my top five albums of the year from 2010, I am chomping at the bit for more from these guys!

Here is the "alternative version" of the band's lead single and video "Raised On Rock N Roll"...

Rating:  Crank this one to 9.5 and then rip off the knob!

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Sunday, April 10, 2011

RAGE OF ANGELS "Rage Of Angels"

(c) 1989 Regency Records

  1. Leave You Or Forsake You
  2. Reason To Rock
  3. It's Not Late For Love
  4. Somebody's Watching You
  5. Hooked On A Good Thing
  6. Do You Still Believe In Love
  7. Rock For The Rock
  8. Are You Ready For Thunder
  9. Don't Give Up
Dan Mariano--Vocals
Frank DiCostanza--Guitars
Greg Kurtzman--Guitars
Dale Gilfort--bass
John Fowler--Drums

Rage of Angels is probably most famous in non-Christian circles as the band that DiCostanza and Fowler were in before they joined Steelheart.  A smaller number of fans may know Mariano's later work in a band called Pyn Siren.  But if you are one of the many fans of the hair metal genre who has not yet heard Rage Of Angels as a complete unit, I strongly urge you to do so.

In the late 1980's, the Christian metal hair scene consisted largely of...well...Stryper.  There were a few others, but not many had achieved solid label status yet.  Enter Rage Of Angels.  While Regency is not a huge label by industry standards, they were certainly a recognized label in the Christian music industry, and Rage Of Angels was primed and ready to go.  They had a great look, a couple of very talented guitar players, and a far above average lead singer, so it looked like they had every opportunity to explode.  Of course, since so many of you probably have no idea who they are, it should be obvious they did not explode.  Rather, they imploded....

There are varying versions of what happened, but the most commonly held version is that the band, which had been together since 1987, had actually broken up by the time their album was actually released.  As such, there was not much in the way of merchandise to promote, no tour to support the record, and, since the band was in effect dead, no reason to push it for airplay.  This is all very unfortunate, as this is a very solid record with several potential radio hits that would not have had to be restricted to Christian radio (mainstream radio was not as open to Chrsitian music at that time as it is now).  

Stylewise, comparisons between Rage Of Angels and bands such as Skid Row, Theater or Girls-era Motley Crue, or Cherry Pie-era Warrant, are all fair.  The band never drops into ballad gear, with the decidedly mid-tempo "Are You Ready For Thunder" or "Don't Give Up" being the closest these guys come to slowing down.  Otherwise it is full speed ahead with some excellent, hook-laden rockers such as the hit-ready "Somebody's Watching You" or "Do You Still Believe In Love", either of which could have been slipped into rotation at any rock station with no one being the wiser.  Granted, some of these songs do wear a bit thin due to the cliched "Rock For The Rock" type lyrics of many Christian hard rock bands of the time; in fact, they use that very title for a song here, along with "Reason To Rock".  While many of the songs have definite faith-based lyrics, it is rumored that this was merely a gimmick that was used to attempt to garner attention for the band.  I find this a bit hard to believe, as, like I said, Stryper is the only Christian band to have any kind of real mainstream success at the time, but it is unlikely we will ever know for sure.  As it stands, if you can find a copy of this album cheap, snag it and give it a chance.  I highly doubt you will be disappointed, as many of the songs are exceptionally catchy and well performed.  Fans of Steelheart already know of DiCostanza's talent on the guitar, and that is on display on this record as well.

It should be noted that this album has been widely bootlegged.  The original Regency Records version, which mine is, has a blue border around the cover, that I have been told is missing on some boots.  I have a 2004 Brazilian bootleg from a label called Avantage Records that also has the blue border but has absolutely nothing for an insert...the inside artwork is identical to the front cover, minus the blue border.  There is also a reissue that supposedly has some demo tracks on it, but I have never encountered this and cannot verify the status of that.  Keep an eye out, folks, because this disc does not usually sell cheap with eBay prices regulary between $25 and $50...even for the bootlegged versions.

Rating: Crank this Christian hair metal classic to 7.5!

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Friday, April 8, 2011

UNDERRIDE "Distorted Nation"

(c) 2011 EPI-Records

  1. Another Way Out
  2. Paparazzi
  3. Say Goodbye To Everything That's Gone
  4. Love Is Like Dying
  5. Porn Star
  6. Don't Walk Away
  7. Do Anything To Me
  8. Inside Out
  9. Blinded By You
  10. Candy Girl
  11. Road To Nowhere
Suzuki Sixx--Guitar
Double A--Drums
El Barto--Bass

Underride is one of those rare true indie bands that manages to pull off a professional sounding release with quality songs and a sound that is still largely their own.  I have read some reviewers compare Underride's latest album to Hinder, but I think that is unfair.  Sure, there are some similarities, most notably the hard, aggressive guitars with a sleazy touch, the modern production tones, and some rather biting lyrics at times, but that is really where the comparisons end for me.  Underride is a band of their own, period.  They are not out to copy anyone.

There is one major disappointment on Underride's new album:  it has forced me to say I like a Lady Gaga song!  The band pulls off a killer, sleazed-up, rocked-out version of "Paparazzi" that slays the Gaga version (I had to look it up for comparison).  Outside of that tongue-in-cheek "dislike", there is not much about this record to be negative about.  Album opener, "Another Way Out" comes scorching out of the gate with its smoking guitar riff and big background vocals, followed by the previously mentioned "Paparazzi", which I really can't get out of my head. 

One thing newcomers to the band will likely take note of are the vocals.  "Love Is Like Dying" and "Blinded By You" are two tracks that I think really showcase Rev's vocals, which are in the lower mid-range but exceptionally powerful.  Likewise, the dual guitar attack of Princess and Sixx rips off enough nasty, yet modern-sounding riffs to keep all of these songs charging at a powerful rate, even when the band slows things down ever so slightly.  The guitar intro to "Say Goodbye To Everything That's Gone" has an almost haunting feel to it until the rest of the band comes crashing in, and "Porn Star" features a wailing solo that contends with anything these ears have heard out of the American modern hard rock scene thus far.  The rhythm section is nice and tight, and the bass on tracks like "Blinded By You" and "Don't Walk Away" is sure to keep the listener's heads pounding away.

If there is anything truly negative to be said (and no, I don't inlude my Lady Gaga jest from earlier...), I would have to say I could have done without the last two tracks, "Candy Girl" and "Road To Nowhere".  Don't get me wrong, these are not bad songs, but they are old songs taken from the band's 2008 disc, "One Of Us", and I would have loved to have heard another new track or two in the mix.  Additionally, the insert is pretty bland, with not a single band picture in the entire package and no lyrics.  Maybe the band had to do this to save some money to snag the Lady Gaga song, but if they play their cards right and release this song as a single, Underride may just have a breakout smash hit on their hands!

If you are looking for the sleaze or glam of the European scene, Underride is not for you.  However, if you are looking for excellent modern American hard rock with hints of sleazy Hollywood throwback mixed in, I think it would be hard to come up with a more solid effort than Underride's "Distorted Nation".

Rating:  Crank this sucker to 9!!!

Check the band out, order the CD, and find out tour dates HERE!

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Sunday, April 3, 2011

MR. NASTY "Ain't Dead Yet"

(c) 2005 Hardline Records
  1. Rock N Roll Man
  2. The Hardline
  3. Murder In My Eyes
  4. Joyride
  5. Dream About You
  6. Self Destruction
  7. Loose
  8. Wild World
  9. Moonlight Serenade
Dee Dee Sweet--Vocals
Scott Bittner--Guitars
Mike Silvo--Drums

Mr. Nasty is something of an underground legend of the sleaze world.  I absolutely loved their first album, so when I heard the band had regrouped all these years later, I naturally had to hunt this new disc down.  Pleasant surprise or major letdown?  Well...a bit of both, maybe.

First, the good.  These guys still know how to rock and they have not sold out and become neo-grunge acts or arena rockers, by any means.  They kick things off in high fashion on "Rock N Roll Man", with a guitar riff that might make people think that they are listening to Faster Pussycat covering an Aerosmith song!  I absolutely love this track!  "Murder In My Eyes" is another great, Aerosmith-inspired rocker that finds Dee Dee exploring the lower range of his vocals on the semi-spoken parts.  Their rendition of "Wild World" will make people seriously wonder if this is the same song that Mr. Big covered a few years back (yep, same song...).

Now the bad...or at least the "not as good".  First, this is not a full regrouping of the band.  In fact, the only two members remaining from their KILLER debut album ".38 Caliber Kisses" are Dee Dee and Scott; Doug Banx, Tommy Jo cole, and Monti Monroe are no longer in the band.  But that's not a huge deal, as Dee Dee's voice and Scott's buzzsaw guitars are the the main draws for this band, anyway.  Second, "The Hardline" and "Moonlight Serenade" are re-recordings of songs from their second album, "The Fine Art of Self Destruction", which is a bit frustrating.  Again, not a big deal, however, as a lot of bands do re-recordings, especially so many years after their last release.  However, they don't really fit the sound of the new songs, in my opinion.  My last negative point, and probably my biggest, is that with the exception of a couple of songs, the band seems to have strayed from their sleaze roots to more of a straight-ahead 70's hard rock sound.  "Loose" as a kind of Lenny Kravitz retro sound to the guitars, and even the best tracks here have a dirty Aerosmith vibe to them (as I mentioned earlier), which is fine except that is not what Mr. Nasty was about on their first two discs.  In fact, some people accused the band of being Faster Pussycat clone at times, which would never be the case now.  It is not uncommon for older bands that come back to modify their sound slightly, and often it is because their singer has lost something in their range, and I wonder if that is not the case here.  Dee Dee would certainly never be accused of ripping off Taime Downe now, and that's fine.  Perhaps I was a bit TOO nostalgic in my anticipation with this new album.

All in all, this is a very solid record and I actually enjoy it a lot.  I just don't think of it as Mr. Nasty when I spin it.  I also wish they would have come up with another new track or two.  That being said, this disc is what it is, and I can honestly say that if the band puts out another record I will grab it up in a heartbeat.  I'll most likely just be expecting more of the sound on this disc than from discs of the past.

Rating:  Rock this one at 6.5.

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BANG GANG "Love Sells"

(c) 1990 Sinclair Records

  1. Pedal To The Metal
  2. 20th Century Boy
  3. The Neon Fairytale
  4. Young & The Restless
  5. You Make The Beat Go On
  6. Be A Model (Or Just Look Like One)
  7. Dangerous
  8. Thrill After Thrill
  9. B.M.G. (Be My Girl)
Jet Silver--Vocals
Scott Stevens--Guitars
K.J. Kristoffersen--Guitars
Scott "The Bitch" Earl--Bass
Achon, Inc.--Drums

Every now and then you stumble upon an absolute gem without even trying.  When I was a DJ on the radio station for the college I attended, I ran across this album and immediately fell in love with it.  In fact, to this day, it is easily one of my favorite glam albums of all times, hands down.  Owing as much to T. Rex (who they cover) as they do to the likes of Poison or Pretty Boy Floyd, Bang Gang deliver one of the truly underappreciated, unknown albums of the 80's/90's hair scene, in my opinion.

The album starts off fast and never slows down, as "Pedal To The Metal" kicks things off in high gear then blends directly into the nicely executed T. Rex cover "20th Century Boy".  The first ballad appears next with "The Neon Fairytale", before ramping the action right back up with the two strongest songs back-to-back with the rocking "Young & The Restless" and "You Make The Beat Go On".  To my ears, there are no bad tracks here, although I could probably do without album closer "B.M.G.", which is something of a throw-away song, but at only 2:30 on the clock, it doesn't drag on and on, and hey, it's the last song so skip it, turn it off, or just start the disc over!

Plenty of hooks in this one, also, as Kristoffersen and Stevens work very smoothly together.  The rhythm section is extremely tight throughout the album, and Jet's voice reminds me at times of Steve Whiteman of KIX or Drew Hannah of Wildside at others, although he is a clone of neither.  Considering this is an indie release, the production is very good.  The booklet contains full lyrics and credits as well as additional pictures. 

I've seen this disc pop up on eBay from time-to-time for about $15-$20, and this is one of the few albums I can say I would pay the top end of the spectrum for.  Also, if you can find it, the band's follow-up to this one is top-notch as well!

Rating:  Crank this sucker to 9.5!!!   

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