Friday, November 29, 2013

DAVID ELLEFSON "My Life With Deth: Discovering Meaning in a Life of Rock & Roll" - BOOK REVIEW

(c) 2013 Howard Books

From his humble beginnings as a farm boy in Minnesota, to his rise...and fall...with Megadeth, one of the most celebrated thrash bands of all-time, David Ellefson has somehow managed to continue to move forward in his life, even when his lifestyle was dragging him backward.  Ellefson relates this to the reader in his new autobiography, "My Life With Deth: Discovering Meaning in a Life of Rock & Roll".  Co-written with Joel McIver, "My Life With Deth" is an interesting, absorbing read that I flew through in a total of about 15 hours over two days.  Not that the material is written in a simplistic way, but this is one of those books that flows so well you find yourself having a hard time putting it down.

The book starts with Ellefson's childhood in Minnesota, but unlike so many other memoirs, this book doesn't go into every painstaking detail of that childhood, losing the reader's interest before even getting to the main reason the book was purchased.  I HATE THAT!  It drives me nuts to have to read about uncles and aunts and third cousins that have nothing to do with the story.  Thankfully, Ellefson and McIver dispense with that kind of filler and get to the guts of the story without sacrificing any of the important and relevant facts about Ellefson and his relationship with his parents and brother.  From there, we are taken through Ellefson's first bands, most notably Toz, and his eventual move to Hollywood.  Once there, Ellefson meets up with an upstairs neighbor who drops a flower pot on Ellefson's air conditioner when they are playing their music too loud.  Of course, that upstairs neighbor turns out to be Dave Mustaine, and Ellefson's life is forever altered as Megadeth is born.

Again, without going into too much track-by-track-by-track information, Ellefson takes the reader through the first couple of Megadeth records, all the while explaining his rather rapid descent from Midwestern farmboy to full-blown heroin addict.  The tours are here, the groupies are here (although without any kiss-and-tell sexploits), and the grit and grime of the underbelly of the heavy metal world is laid bare thanks to Ellefson's candid way of saying, "Yeah, I was there...but I'm not necessarily proud of how I got there or what happened when I did!"  

Part of the reason Ellefson is able to present his story in this fashion is because this book is not 100% about that period of his life.  This book is also about the faith that Ellefson credits with saving him from an out-of-control lifestyle of drugs that was pulling him under.  As Alice Cooper writes in the forward for the book, "Sometimes the most rebellious and controversial thing a rocker can do is become a Christian", which is a point that Ellefson goes to great lengths to drive home to the reader, especially when talking about how faith aided him in rehab and recovery from drugs, and how that same faith drove him to create the MEGA Life! Ministries group at his church.  Of course, the book also leads to Ellefson's departure from the well as the inevitable return to the band...and the reunion with an also-saved Dave Mustaine.

Those who are looking for a metal book should have plenty to chew on with "My Life With Deth", and those who are looking for a faith-based book won't find anything overly offensive or off-putting in this effort either.  It is a nice packaging of both worlds told by a man who you sense is truly at peace with himself and where he is in life, whether that is on stage with Megadeth or in church with his MEGA Life! ministries group.  

Not a difficult read at all, I recommend this book as a stand-alone and as a companion to Dave Mustaine's own autobigraphy, "Mustaine".  The book skims over some time periods, and if you are looking for an all-encompassing coverage of Megadeth, Mustaine's book would be the better read, as obviously Ellefson's time away from the band limits his input on certain time periods.  That being said, I thoroughly enjoyed the read and would recommend it to any fan of the band or to people who enjoy reading rock n roll autobiographies.

Howard Books

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

DAMN DICE "Wild N' Ready"

(C) 2013 Independent Release
  1. Bang Your Head
  2. Caught In The Ride
  3. Take The Fight
  4. Down
  5. Heart On The Run
  6. Wild Into The Night
Alex--Lead Vocals

Damn Dice have been around for a bit, but until now, I have never managed to actually hear these Londoners' music in studio fashion.  Sure, I had seen the odd YouTube video here and there, and some rather raw, unprofessional live stuff was floated around, but until Wild N' Ready, I had never gotten the chance to hear what they could do if given at least a modicum of professional recording opportunity.  I'm glad I got the chance with this EP, as Damn Dice come out full throttle and don't stop clear through the end on this super-charged little album.  High pitched, falsetto vocals, rapid-fire drums, and screaming guitars abound on this effort, giving the band a sound that reminds me at times like a bit more under-control version of Nitro, especially on the title track.  On follow-up track, "Caught In The Ride", the band maintains the frenetic pace, but Alex channels his inner Bonn Scott on much of the verse work.  Regardless of the comparisons, these sleaze-meisters know how to grab you by the eardrums and rattle your cage!

The other four songs on the EP are every bit as strong as the first two, with "Take The Fight" kicking off with some sound effects before bursting right in with the big, fist-pounding anthem vocals of the bridge which then give way to some serious guitar riffing and a thunderous drum track.  "Down" is a bit dirtier sounding than the rest, with more bottom end and guitars that sound a bit down-tuned, but the angst works well, especially this far into the album.  Chanted backing vocals keep this track from becoming too dark, however, giving the track something of a pissed off Skid Row feel, although Alex's vocals keep the track from sounding even remotely like a clone cut.  "Heart On The Run" is likely the "big" single from this effort (which is laughable since radio won't play this style of rock now), while "Wild Into The Night" sends the album to a screaming, screeching close with more high-speed headbanging energy.  Sadly, not even 30 minutes later it's all over and you find yourself saying, "what?!  That's it?!"  

The production is top-notch, especially when it's considered that this is an indie effort, and the mix is superb, with no muddiness or problems with instruments crowding each other out.  The vocals are nicely out front, but not overbearing, and the drums and bass are given every bit as much chance to be heard as the powerful guitars.

Yet another great 80's inspired band in a long line to come out in recent years, Damn Dice comes out ready to prove something from the get-go...and they get it done.  Seek this one out folks; you won't be disappointed.  As always, if you can, support the band directly by ordering from them at .

Rating:  Short, sweet, and to the point...crank this to 8 and hope that a full-length effort and a record deal aren't far behind.

Monday, November 11, 2013

STRYPER "No More Hell To Pay"

(c) 2103 Frontiers Records

  1. Revelation
  2. No More Hell To Pay
  3. Saved By Love
  4. Jesus Is Just Alright
  5. The One
  6. Legacy
  7. Marching Into Battle
  8. Te Amo
  9. Sticks & Stones
  10. Water Into Wine
  11. Sympathy
  12. Renewed

Michael Sweet--Lead Vocals, Guitars
Oz Fox--Guitars, Backing Vocals
Timothy Gaines--Bass, Backing Vocals
Robert Sweet--Drums, "Visual Timekeeping"

For those who may have been trapped in some sort of maximum security facility without access to the Internet, it is worth noting that Stryper has a new album, and they are back in a big way!  In fact, no matter who you are, if you are into the band, their message, their sound, their is definitely worth noting that No More Hell To Pay has been unleashed upon the waiting masses and it brings a massive sound with it!

Many fans of the band have been less than thrilled with the past few Stryper releases, whether it be the more modern approach taken on albums like Reborn and Murder By Pride, the covers album, The Covering, or the re-recorded classics album, Second Coming.  While each of these albums had their weaknesses, to be sure, fans always held out hope that the classic Stryper song would reappear in full, much as it did with the new track, "God", which appeared on The Covering.  

The wait is over...

Stryper has returned to their melodic hard rock/metal roots with their finest album since the classic To Hell With The Devil.  This album finally feels like a truly Stryper album, and not an album of Michael Sweet solo songs performed by the band.  One needs only to listen to the album's opener, "Revelation", to be instantly blasted by the dual guitar sound that Fox and Sweet showcased so often throughout the band's strongest material from the 80's.  The same can be said of the title track, "No More Hell To Pay", along with nearly every other song here.  But what really makes this record shine as a Stryper disc, even more than the trademark guitar sound, are the vocal harmonies that were missing when Gaines was not in the band, as well as the killer production and the hook-infused songwriting.  Sure, there were some good songs on the last couple of albums, but it has been a long time since the band sounded as Stryper-ish as they do on the groove-heavy "Water Into Wine" or the stellar "Sticks & Stones".  Heck, even the remake of the classic "Jesus Is Just Alright" is treated like it is owned by the band!  The sound is pure Stryper despite the band remaining true to the basic sound and feel of the original.  
Arttie and Michael courtesy of Virus...

Not simply satisfied to re-create the sound of their glory years, Stryper takes its most metallic approach to a song in decades with the gritty "Saved By Love" that finds the golden-throated Michael Sweet...*
gasp*...growling!  The snarl in his voice as he tears through the chorus is unmistakable, yet even in these vocally aggressive moments, there is not a feeling that he is compensating for the loss of power or range.  This is even more obvious in other songs, as it sounds to this reviewer's ears as if Michael has every bit of the vocal range he possessed in the 1980's, without an ounce of power missing from those vocal chords.  And, having had the opportunity to hear Michael (with Oz on guitar) in an acoustic setting just a couple of weeks ago at Skull Fest, I can attest to the fact that it is not studio wizardry that keeps Michael sounding strong here, as he was in great vocal shape in person, as well.  

There are a couple of moments that don't really reach out and grab me, for various reasons.  One, the song "Marching Into Battle" just doesn't do much of anything for me, especially with the sluggish-sounding chorus.  Not sure what that is all about, but it hasn't forced me to hit the skip button...yet.  The other song I find myself struggling to like is "The One", which is the closest thing to a ballad the band really gives us here.  The vast majority of the song is fine, and I actually find myself liking it...right up to the "ooh ooh eee oohs" of the chorus.  WOW! thanks.  Seriously, I really like this song except for those chorus parts which just about cause the skip finger to explode off of my hand in its mad dash to the control panel of my CD player or iPod!  The greatness of the rest of the song has caused me to sit on my free hand while I am driving, but I am fearful that too many more spins through that chorus will have me veering off into the ditch as I fight to keep my finger from leaping across the steering wheel at the disc changer!

The weak moments are few and the greatness is over-flowing here, so I can (probably) manage to get through these minor bumps in the road, especially when a classic-sounding Stryper track, complete with a big, sing along chorus, such as that on the non-Spanish (thankfully for me) "Te Amo" keeps me happily bopping along.  The same can be said of the metallic face-melter, "Legacy", or the album closing "Renewed", both of which contribute more signature Stryper guitars and big melodic vocals.  "Sympathy", which is not even remotely as laid back as the title might suggest, is another stand-out rocker that I find myself nodding my head along with.  

All of the originals are back for this effort, and, if interviews and album credits are to be believed, all of the members played their respective instruments throughout this effort, which makes it that much more special for me, as this has (reportedly) not always been the case through the years.  The guitars, as previously mentioned, are especially strong on this record, but the backline of Robert Sweet and Tim Gaines is exceptionally tight, providing each song with a solid framework to build upon.  

Having not had the chance to see the full band in concert, I am not sure what songs from this disc make it into the new live set, but there are many that could and should.  I would be surprised if "Te Amo", "No More Hell To Pay", "Sticks & Stones", and "Water Into Wine" aren't mixed in, and "Revelation", "Sympath" and "Saved By Love" all would sound great surrounded by classics as well.  And, I am almost positive "Jesus Is Just Alright" will be mixed in with a track or two from The Covering.

Unlike a lot of Frontiers Records' releases, this album did not come in a digi-pack, but rather in a jewel case, with full artwork and inserts.  I did not get the deluxe edition as I am not a fan of DVD's being added to a package such as this, so I do not know what type of packaging that comes in, but my guess is that those particular versions are likely digi-packs.

In the end, whether you are a fan of Stryper, or just melodic hard rock/metal in general, there is virtually nothing to keep you from instantly launching this album into the top ten of the year.  Amazing vocals, near-perfect guitar work, exceptional songwriting, and 80's-inspired-yet-still-modern production equate to an almost perfect album.  A couple of choruses are really all that stand between No More Hell To Pay and that coveted 10, so I guess Stryper will need to come back and try again.  Until then, make sure you snap this record up...IMMEDIATELY, if not sooner!

Rating:  Just a couple of "ooh ooh eee ooh's" away from perfection.  Crank this baby up to 9!!!  All hail the return of the Yellow and Black Attack!

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Sunday, November 3, 2013

WHITECROSS "Concert Review: Skull Fest 2013"

North Platte, NE may have been an odd choice (for some people) for a hard rock festival to be held, but from October 18 through October 20, 2013, nearly 30 bands gathered together with hundreds of fans from across the country, Canada, and Russia, to celebrate their common love of music.  Among the most popular of the shows was the Christian hard rock group, Whitecross, who performed a powerful set of their classic favorites.

(Arttie and Rex Carroll)
Band founders Rex Carroll (guitar) and Scott Wenzel (vocals), along with long-time drummer, Michael Feighan, and bass player Benny Ramos, fired up the crowd from the opening notes of "Enough Is Enough", and not letting up until the final chords of "He Is The Rock" rang out.  While all of the songs were likely not familiar to many of the concert-goers, one thing that was universal was the love of a killer guitar solo, and Rex Carroll did not disappoint!  Whether ripping through the individual solos of the songs, or when he was threatening to melt the strings from his guitar during his extended guitar solo, Carroll left the fans cheering and screaming for more.  Likewise, Feighan's drum solo was something to not only hear, but listen to as well, as he seemingly took a page from Robert Sweet's (Stryper) book and turned his drum solo into a full-on spectacle for the eyes and ears! 

One thing that I was particularly happy about was the fact that Wenzel did not water down his message from the stage, repeatedly making reference to the love of God and Jesus, even on the couple of minor occasions when one or two individuals in the crowd were less than appreciative in their response.  While it is true that this was a rock show, the fact that Sunday's line-up included multiple Christian acts (Whitecross, Inner Siege, Jonathan Pagano of Novella, X-Sinner, and Michael Sweet and Oz Fox of Stryper) was a good indicator that these bands' faith was welcomed by the promoters (including yours truly).  Add in the fact that attendance for Sunday was better than that of Friday (headlined by Jack Russell of Great White), perhaps it could be said that many of the Sunday fans came specifically to hear these Christian artists who don't frequently get added to festivals such as this.
The material for the show leaned heavily on the band's most popular album, In The Kingdom, with "Tell Me The Time", "We Know What's Right", "Good Enough", "You Will Find It There", and the title track all finding their way into the setlist.  Also included was the rare, "Love On The Line", as well as "Enough Is Enough" and "He Is The Rock", both taken from the band's 1987 self-titled debut.  As is always the case, there are a couple of songs that I wish could have made it into the show, with "High Gear", "Red Light", and "Shakedown" being at the top of my wish list, but the entire 65 minutes was filled with powerful music with an even more powerful message, so my complaints are minimal.  One thing I was happy about, however, was the decision to not include any ballads.  (Granted, "In The Kingdom" is a slower song, but I don't really consider it to be a true ballad.)  I have never been a huge fan of Whitecross' ballads, largely because I didn't feel the production on them was "big enough", if that makes sense.  If I had to pick a favorite song (or couple of songs) from the show, I would have to go with "Love On The Line", simply because it is rare enough on CD, let alone to get to hear live, and "Down" and "Enough Is Enough" have always been favorite songs in any setting.  Of course, not including the drum solo and guitar solo as high points would be ridiculous, so perhaps NOT picking a favorite moment would be easier...   
Wenzel's voice was far better than his performance on a couple of YouTube clips that have surfaced, and he sounded spot-on for the majority of the tracks.  Ramos' bass lines were clean and distinct in the mix, providing a perfect accompaniment to Feighan's thundering drumming.  However, to deny that Carroll was the focal point for most would be to deny the truth, as the axeman's skills remain at an incredibly high level, and his performance left more than one attendee slack-jawed and screaming for more.  While Carroll is more commonly found with his other band, King James, or his side blues project, it goes without saying that if you get the chance to catch the Whitecross in a live setting, you should do so without hesitation.  In this reviewer's opinion, you will not be disappointed.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

ADRIANGALE "Sucker Punch"

  1. Sucker Punch
  2. The Black And Blue
  3. When I Said You'd Be The One
  4. All About The Money
  5. Believe
  6. Give Me A Sig
  7. What Would You Do
  8. Temporis Intermisso
  9. The World We Knew
  10. Could've Been Me
  11. You

Jamie Rowe--Vocals
Vic Rivera--Guitars, Drums, Backing Vocals
Eddie Campbell--Guitars, Backing Vocals
Matt Mahoney--Bass, Backing Vocals

Alright, show of hands....who can believe it has been 13 years since that first great AdrianGale record, Feel The Fire?  Okay, okay...put your hands down.  Now, who thinks that it has been FAR TOO LONG since the last record, Crunch?!  That's what I thought....

Since 2000, AdrianGale has been one of the best, if not necessarily the best known, melodic rock bands on the scene.  Featuring the vocals of Jamie Rowe (Guardian/Tempest) and the guitar talents of Vic Rivera (Poley/Rivera and a frequent collaborator with Liberty N Justice), the band has recorded off and on with various line-ups under a couple of different names (they changed their name to Crunch upon leaving Kivel Records several years ago).  Once things were set straight for the band to return to Kivel, the name was reborn and fans can once again kick back with a full album of top-notch melodic hard rock that is nearly unrivaled in the industry!  From the moment the boxing match sound effects kick off the title track, to the final fade of the piano-driven ballad, "You", it is obvious that AdrianGale has found the line-up that should push them over the top and into superstar status in the melodic rock world.

One thing I particularly like about the album is that it remains a ROCK record, not drifting into ballad territory every other song, and not trying to get all prog on me every other song.  Keyboards, while present on the disc, are used as a supporting instrument, not as the main player in any of the songs here.  The band never forgets who they are or what they are trying to accomplish on this record, which is incredibly refreshing to these ears.

It is virtually impossible to pick a favorite song here, as there are no bad songs to compare to!  "Sucker Punch!", smacks you right in the face from the outset, with the dual guitar attack of Rivera and Campbell and the vocal talents of the consistently underrated Rowe setting the tone for the rest of the record.  "The Black And Blue" backs off the pedal ever so slightly, giving Campbell a chance to really let loose on lead guitar here, keeping things "hard", but emphasizing the "melodic" a bit more.  "Give Me A Sign" is a bit more mid-tempo, with the exception of the speedy finger work that Campbell unleashes on the solo, and "What Would You Do" leads the band into the intriguing instrumental, "Temporis Intermisso".  The single, "When I Said You'd Be The One" is another melodic rocker with amazing harmony vocals and a radio-friendly pop sensibility to the hook, but the band doesn't sell out who they are to try to gain airplay.  After all, this is who AdrianGale is, a hard rocking band with a genuine knack for writing catchy hooks and intriguing riffs that nearly anyone on Top 40 radio would steal in a second....and then destroy with programming, Auto-Tuned vocals, and crappy hip-hop beats.  But I digress...

On the slower side of things, album closer, "You" is the only ballad, and it is killer.  This is just an amazing piece of music that I am willing to bet will end up being the first dance at several weddings over the next couple of years.  A simple piano line is the backbone of the song, with Jamie's soul-soaked vocals and a great, emotionally charged guitar solo placed perfectly over the top in the mix, making sure that every note of every instrument is crisp and clean and given a chance to shine.  Again, powerful lead vocals and perfectly executed backing vocals are what are going to hook so many listeners in, but at the end of the day, on this song and every other one here, it is the complete package that needs to be absorbed and appreciated.

After numerous listens and attempts to dissect the album far more than I probably should, I simply can't find anything wrong with it!  The production is top-notch, the mix is stellar...there is really just about nothing wrong with this record.  At the end of the day, this is a nearly perfect melodic hard rock record, surpassing the band's previous pinnacle, Crunch, and setting a very high bar for themselves should they choose to record again.  I don't see this album leaving my CD changer mix any time soon.

Rating:  An absolutely crankable gem!  I wasn't sure if we would see a 10 this year, but AdrianGale has delivered with the flawless Sucker Punch!

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