Monday, June 30, 2014

HOUSE OF LORDS "Precious Metal"

(c) 2014 Frontiers Records

  1. Battle
  2. I'm Breaking Free
  3. Epic
  4. Live Every Day (Like Its The Last)
  5. Permission To Die
  6. Precious Metal
  7. Swimmin' With The Sharks
  8. Raw
  9. Enemy Mine (duet with Robin Beck)
  10. Action
  11. Turn Back The Tide
  12. You Might Just Save My Life
James Christian--Lead Vocals, Keyboards, Guitar
Jimi Bell--Guitar
B.J. Zampa--Drums, Backing Vocals
Chris McCarvill--Bass, Backing Vocals
Jeff Kent--Keyboards, Bass, Backing Vocals

House Of Lords is one of those bands that has always seemed to fly just below the radar of the hard rock world, both its fans and the media.  Sure, people know "Can't Find My Way Home", but most would be hard-pressed to come up with the name of even four albums (and they have release nine now), let alone four or five more song titles.  And the thing is, I'm not sure why they don't get the respect they deserve, as HoL has been one of the most consistently good bands in the genre since the debut album came out 26 years ago, in 1988.

When I say "consistently good bands", a lot of people are going to take issue with that statement, as only singer James Christian has been a member since the band's inception.  However, the current line-up...which also features the amazing guitar skills of Jimi Bell, along with B.J. Zampa, Chris McCarvill, and Jeff Kent...has been together for 10 years and five albums now, which shows more band stability than many current or classic acts.  It has also been during this stretch that I feel the band has enjoyed the most consistent sound in its history, as well, with each album building and transitioning from one to the next. 

Precious Metal is the latest album from the current line-up, and it will not throw many curve balls at its fan base.  The material here is pretty much exactly what fans have come to expect:  solid, melodic hard rock with top-notched songwriting, big hooks, catchy melodies, and powerhouse vocals from Mr. Christian.  However, the band sounds as if it decided to make a few minor tweaks to the classic sound, beefing up the "heaviness" on this record and scaling back the keyboards to a supporting role, rather than allowing them to take center stage at any real point in this record.  The results are slightly mixed, although, for the most part, I think the outcome is a very good, very strong record with a couple of tracks that are definitely worthy of inclusion on any "best of" compilation that Frontiers Records may decide to release somewhere down the line (and, yes, I know Cleopatra Records did an Anthology release a few years back.).

The album kicks off with "Battle", which is everything House Of Lords fans have come to expect from the current line-up, with a big guitar hook, complimentary keyboards, and some of Christian's most powerful vocals on the record.  It's a perfect song to set the stage for this album because it eases the listener into the subtle changes I mentioned previously, as the band reigns the keys in a bit and pushes the guitars further out front.  An example of this can be found on the very next track, as the heavier side of the band can be found on "I'm Breakin' Free".  This kick-the-loser-to-the-curb anthem finds Christian snarling about "losing your ass", while Bell supplies some snarl of is own on guitar. "Permission To Die" is full of sass and swagger, kicking off with a bit of a boogie feel to the guitar approach, before the "hey, heys" kick in, and Christian takes over.  "Swimmin' With The Sharks" is another prime example of the band shifting completely into guitar rock mode, as the keyboards are nothing more than a supporting instrument, giving way to the harder-edged rhythm guitars and some excellent drumming and solid bass work.  "Raw" takes a similar stance, as Bell rips through some classic-sounding guitar lines in this pulsating rocker, complete with layered vocals and just enough keyboard work to satisfy those who expect a bit more A.O.R. from this band.

Slower material is also included, as is to be expected, but it is found in a couple of odd places.  I will be the first to admit I had ZERO clue that the title track would be a ballad.  I mean, come on..."Precious METAL"?  But, make no mistake, this is definitely a ballad of the first order.  Acoustic guitar leads things in, with a slow, subtle keyboard build that takes the song to the first chorus which showcases Christian's ability to still climb the vocal scale to reach some higher-ranged notes.  The other "ballad" on this record is more of a slower-tempo rock number, as "Live Every Day (Like Its The Last)" really doesn't slow to the point of a traditional ballad.  No matter, as the message is a solid one and Christian's mastery of his vocals is really put on display here, as he once again effortlessly runs from one end of his vocal range to the other.  Bell supplies a very good guitar solo here, and the keyboards are all but undetectable here, with the rhythm section being all the support the song really requires.

One song that really sticks out is "Enemy Mine", which features Christian dueting with his wife, Robin Beck.  To say this is a quirky song would be an understatement.  There are all sorts of weird electronic elements going on here, including what sounds to be the use of an auto-tuner on some of the electronic vocals.  Beck's vocals are equally as powerful as Christian's, and the interplay between the two is solid.  I like the song, I just don't know if it's a House Of Lords song as much as it is a James Christian or Robin Beck solo album song.  It definitely stands out here, but I think it actually disrupts the flow of the album to some degree.  I don't skip it, but I will admit that it throws me for a loop whenever it first kicks in.

"Action" gets things back on the hard rock track after that little oddity, and really the band never slows again.  "Turn Back The Tide" starts off mid-tempo but builds quickly into a classic House Of Lords song before the album closes with what I think may be the best track on the disc, "You Might Just Save My Life".  A solid arena rocker, this track has a powerful, catchy chorus, some cool vocal tricks, and a driving rhythm that will have your head banging and your fists pounding on the steering wheel as you cruise along, anticipating the big guitar solo which absolutely does not disappoint.  A killer closer to a more-than-solid effort from a great band that I wish would get more recognition.

Precious Metal continues the tradition of solid melodic hard rock albums to come out from the current version  House Of Lords over the past ten or so years.  Fans of the band are going to be very comfortable with what they hear, and many are likely to include this in their Top 4 or 5 of all time from this great band.  Newcomers to HoL will find themselves encouraged to seek out the back catalog after a stellar intro to the band with this latest effort.  A frequent player for me, and one that I am sure will continue to gain spins for years to come.  

Rating:  Crankable, as is the case with all House Of Lords releases.  Crank this one to a 7.5.

Monday, June 23, 2014


(c) 2012 Cargo Records

  1. Hang Me Up
  2. Kick It In
  3. Altar Of Altercation
  4. Self Portrait
  5. Babylon Boulevard
  6. Mistress Addiction
  7. Rejection
  8. Still Alive
  9. Trigger
  10. Where R U Now
Lesli Sanders--Lead Vocals, Bass
Amit Lee Ron--Guitars, Backing Vocals
Shawn Smash--Guitars, Backing Vocals
Jimmy Mess--Drums, Backing Vocals

Additional Musicians
Rev.--Electric Guitar, Backing Vocals
Terry Bratsch--Mandolin, Lap Steel
Rick King--Theramin, Persussion
Julia Harms--Backing Vocals
Rebecca Terry--Backing Vocals

Prophets Of Addiction is the brainchild of former Pretty Boy Floyd bassist Lesli Sanders, but you can stop reading right now if you are looking for music in the same vein as PBF.  Sanders, who also handles the vocals on this raucous debut record, is not here to chase chicks or to have little lighters-in-the-air party.  Nope, he and the boys are here to kick in the door, smash the television, set the couch on fire, drink all your booze, and then leave your house a bottle-and-needle-polluted shell of the home it once was, scaring off the neighbors in the process.  This is not a pretty record, but it is a good one, recalling the seedier side of the Sunset Strip while also incorporating the 70's glam and street rock sound of the New York Dolls and the London sleaze-punk of Tyla-era Dogs D'Amour.  

By giving a listen to just four tracks, the listener is treated to four varying degrees of styles that meld together to encompass the Prophets Of Addiction sound.  The opening track, "Hang Me Up" features a very cool 70's guitar vibe throughout the track that screeches its way across the thumping rhythm section in a way that woul dmake T. Rex proud!  Sanders snarls his way through the lyrics in a Taime Downe meets Rach Rose (Erotic Suicide) and Michael Monroe manner. while the twin guitars of Ron and Smash blister their way into your ears!  "Altar Of Altercation" skillfully mixes punk and sleaze in a violent display of angst and attitude, sounding like the Sex Pistols partying with Faster Pussycat, with Mess sounding especially in his element here with his raw, primal drum attack on display throughout.  The title track, "Babylon Boulevard" sounds a LOT like the Dogs D'Amour did in the late 80's, with hints of WASP in the guitars, while album closer, "Where Are You" showcases a band that knows how to deliver a somewhat more melodic, slower song that still manages to grind, rather than glide, across your eardrums in spite of the piano that slips just below the sonic wall of distorted guitars and crashing cymbals.

There are other equally solid songs here, to be sure.  "Trigger" instantly comes to mind, with it's one-take sounding drums and wickedly cool guitar lick setting the pace for Sanders to sneer, "I shot the devil, I took him prisoner, I smoked the devil, now I watch him disappear..." before leading into a dirty guitar solo and some funky bass work.  Also impressive is "Mistress Addiction" with its bluesy, almost jangly musical approach and a GnR-ish solo (the whole song reminds me of the Lies album) that sets it apart from anything else on the record.  This track alone proves that this is not a one-trick pony of a band and that Sanders and Company are more than capable of writing a song that can shift gears on an album without sounding like they are attempting to sell-out to corporate radio.       

Originally self-released in 2010, this 2012 re-packaging for Cargo Records has the same track-listing and instrumentation, with only a change in cover artwork, at least as far as I can tell.  The packaging cannot get any simpler, as the Cargo Records version is a single sheet insert with a band photo, album credits, and extremely basic thank-you's from the band.  No lyrics are included here, or on the band's site, for that matter, but Sanders' vocals, while snotty and sneering, are easily enough understood that printed words aren't really necessary.  Besides, this is from-the-gut sleaze mixed with snarling punk and street rock, not some deeply introspective prog rock album, so the delivery and the performance get the point across as well as any words could.  

Mixed by former Ozzy Osbourne bassist, Phil Soussan, the record sounds live and dirty, edgy throughout, and not overly rehearsed.  The mix is a bit muddy in spots, but it is hard to tell if that is intentional or not, as the sound fits the image of the band.  I would have liked to have just a bit more bottom end in places, and there isn't a ton of dynamic range here as far as the separation of highs and lows, but with the grit and scum that is liberally applied to so much of this album, it is quite likely that what you hear through your speakers is exactly what you are going to hear live, as well.

Aggressive, angry, filthy, and dirty, Prophets Of Addiction are not the kind of band you are going to pick up on the street and bring home for mother to meet.  In fact, they are the kind of band you are likely going to mistake for a gang and swerve to the other side of the street to avoid!  But after giving a listen to Babylon Boulevard, it is easy to determine that this is exactly how the band wants to be perceived: dangerous but worth the risk, to steal a phrase from Ratt.  

Touring across North America in 2014, Prophets Of Addiction is a band well-worth checking out!  

Rating:  Not for the feint of heart, but still crank-worthy.  I give this one a 7.5.

JIMI JAMISON "Eye Of The Tiger 2014"

(c) 2014 TopNotch Records

  1. Eye Of The Tiger (Rocky III Anniversary Mix)  
  2. Eye Of The Tiger (Rocky III Anniversary Edit)
  3. Eye Of The Tiger ("Sing Along" Instrumental Mix)
Jimi Jamison--Lead Vocals
Bob Babbitt--Bass
Dave Cleveland--Lead Guitar

In 1982, there were few songs bigger than "Eye Of The Tiger" (actually, there was only ONE bigger song), and few movies bigger than Rocky III.  The combination of film franchise and arena rock was pure gold, as this single really launched Survivor into the stratosphere of the hard rock world.  "Eye Of The Tiger" was number one on the Billboard Hot 100 for 6 straight weeks, stayed in the Top 40 for 18 straight weeks, went number one in multiple countries, and earned Survivor a Grammy Award.  (Oh, and as to that one bigger song, only Olivia Newton-John's "Physical" was a bigger hit in all of 1982.)  However, many people don't realize that it was NOT Jamison who was the voice for this massive Survivor hit.  Jamison would have his shot at movie theme song glory later ("Moment Of Truth" for Karate Kid and "The Burning Heart" for Rocky IV), but it was actually Dave Bickler who was the lead singer for the band's biggest hit.

In 2014, Jamison decided to cut his own version of the iconic song and, to be quite honest, it is vocally very similar to Bickler's take on the trrack, although I have long preferred Jamison's slightly gruffer vocals to those of Bickler, and the same holds true here.  Musically, there was a good deal of re-arrangement of the track by Babbitt and Cleveland, who are both members of  the Whitney Wolanin Band (yeah, I don't know who that is, either...).  It is still very identifiable as "Eye Of The Tiger", but the music was updated a bit to keep the song from sounding as dated as you might anticipate, and to give it new life.  In my opinion, this was done successfully, as Jamison's vocals are strong and the music is very nicely done, with a great guitar solo from Cleveland.   The regular Anniversary Mix is nearly 45 seconds longer than the edit and features an extended guitar solo, while the "Sing Along" version is little more than a karaoke track that serves no purpose for me.  I wouldn't even own it except for the fact that I could get all three tracks for $1.99 from iTunes, or just a single version of the song for $1.29, so, for review purposes, I went all the way!  That's what I do for you folks!

Seriously, there is not going to be a huge demand for this digital-only release unless you are a massive Survivor/Jamison fan, a rabid Rocky fan, or someone who is into collecting movie soundtracks.  Whatever floats your boat.  For under $2, it's a decent pick-up to throw into a gym workout mix or something, but it's not going to change your world and I would be willing to bet more than half of the people who hear this version are going to cling to the original for nostalgic reasons.  As for me, I honestly think I prefer this version, but I think that may have ANTI-nostalgia reasons, as the song in it's original form, has been simply played to least for me.

You can download the song from iTunes here.

Rating:  I don't typically rate singles, but I guess if pushed into it I would crank this to a 7.5, largely because of the fresh update to the music.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

TESLA "Simplicity"

(c) 2014 Frontiers Records

  1. MP3
  2. Ricochet
  3. Rise And Fall
  4. So Divine...
  5. Cross My Heart
  6. Honestly
  7. Flip Side!
  8. Other Than Me
  9. Break Of Dawn
  10. Burnout To Fade
  11. Life Is A River
  12. Sympathy
  13. Time Bomb
  14. 'Til That Day
  15. Burnout To Fade (writing demo) BONUS TRACK
  16. Honestly (writing demo) BONUS TRACK

Jeff Keith--Lead Vocals, Harmonica
Brian Wheat--Bass, Backing Vocals, Piano
Frank Hannon--Lead Guitar, Piano, Backing Vocals, Bass
Dave Rude--Guitars, Backing Vocals, Bass
Troy Luccketta--Drums, Percussion

From the second the needle drops on the new Tesla record...and yes, the first sound you hear will be a needle caressing vinyl...the band comes out with their trademark "normal guys rocking out" vibe that fans have come to expect.  Twenty five years after the band first burst on the scene with Mechanical Resonance, the band still sounds like Tesla, which says something about the continuity of the band, as well as the comfort level these guys have with who they are.  Tesla is, and always has been, a blue collar hard rock band, and the new record, aptly titled Simplicity, finds the guys continuing in that vein with a large degree of success.

The disc starts off with four straight solid rockers of various tempos.  As mentioned, opening track "MP3" starts things off with the sound of a needle dropping on a vinyl album, with Jeff Keith lamenting the current digital age as far as music and personal communication goes.  While I probably would have dropped this track back down in the tracklisting a bit (it just doesn't come out rocking as hard as others here), this mid-tempo number is a good track that is unmistakably Tesla through and through.  I do have to wonder if the band is allowing this album to be sold on iTunes or Amazon, as it would seem to be a tad bit hypocritical in light of the lyrics...but I digress.

The next track would have been my choice to open the album, as "Ricochet" is one of the catchiest tracks on this record.  With it's Nugent name-dropping chorus ("like Uncle Ted said, a 'Free For All'..."), sassy delivery, and smooth guitar work, this track is one that is destined to be a standard in Tesla set-lists for years to come.  "Rise And Fall" features a smooth bass and drum intro, accompanied by a chugging guitar riff, and Keith's easily recognizable vocals.  Aerosmith fans will likely find themselves drooling over this one!  "So Divine..." starts off a bit on the slow side but rapidly builds into one of those unquestionably Tesla rockers built around a sparser sounding verse and then pounding things home during the chorus and the solo break.  This one could have come straight off the Mechanical Resonance album as far as sound and approach goes, and is my favorite overall track on Simplicity.  I absolutely love this song.

Speaking of sounding like classic Tesla, "Sympathy" has a bass line that sounds so much like the into to "Hang Tough" that it's almost like art imitating art.  Again, this harder-edged number is pure Tesla, edged out only by "So Divine..." and the next track, "Time Bomb" for my favorites on the album.  "Time Bomb" has a dirty, gritty guitar tone, and takes on a subtle modern vibe to the track, but there is no question as to who is delivering the goods here, as snarl of Keith and the swagger of the song keep this solidly in Tesla territory.  "Break Of Dawn" is the other real rocker here, and once again, classic Tesla in its approach and execution.  These five songs alone would have made for a killer EP that I would have slapped my $9.99 to buy in an instant; they are that good and that Tesla in their sound.

"Flipside!" is an interesting track, throwing some harmonica into the bluesy mix to great effect.  I love the way the chorus is phrased, also, and Keith's delivery of the lines just nails this song for me.  I would imagine this song will find itself being pushed as a single at some point, although we all know there are few radio stations that will play it.  "Honestly" floats somewhere between balland and mid-tempo rocker, especially once the simple yet harder-edged chorus snags your ear and pulls your attention around.  The strongest slow number, at least for me, however, would be "Other Than Me", which reminds me of a lot of the band's Great Radio Controversy album stylistically.  Good, good stuff on these three songs as well.

A couple of songs push the boundaries of Tesla's sound just a bit.  "Burnout To Fade" reminds me a lot of the smooth, contemporary approach utilized by the Eagles back in the 70's, and album closer "'Til That Day" treads very closely to the crossover country sound utilized by bands like Restless Heart and Little Texas in the 90's.  Both are solidly crafted, with "Til That Day" being a particularly good song that comes across as contemplative and reflective, featuring slide guitar, some simple piano work, and acoustic moments that really combine for a nice closer to a very good record.

At 14 tracks (16 if you have the deluxe version, which I have), the record does get a bit long, and some subtle whittling here and there would serve the disc well.  Personally, I would probably drop "Cross My Heart", which is just a bit too honky tonk and dredges a bit too deeply into the Skynyrd-meets-Black Crowes vibe for my tastes.  Not a horrible song, just not one of the stronger tracks here.  I also think "Life Is A River" is the weakest of the slower material here and doesn't really add much to the record.  To my ear, it sounds like the band tried to come up with another "Love Song" and just fell short.  And the Keith's attempt to imitate a dog barking, humorous or not, makes me cringe each time I hear it.  Additionally, if I were to buy the record again, I would just get the standard version, as the two bonus tracks really add nothing for me.

On a side note, I was surprised that 2013's digital single "Taste My Pain" wasn't included here...bummed, to be quite I think that is a great song that would have fit extremely well here, especially in lieu of one or two of the weaker songs.  Not sure why it was omitted, but I can only hope it is because we are getting closer to the oft hinted at Tesla boxed set, and that it will be included there as an added incentive to snag that set.  Who knows...

The packaging?  Hey, it's Frontiers Records, so you get the great with the not-so-great, as is typical.  Yes, its a digipack, but I'm getting to the point that the complaining isn't even worth the typing because it's obvious these aren't going away.  That being said, the rest of the packaging is what we have come to expect from this excellent record label that knows what its fans want and delivers upon nearly 100% of the time.

Simplicity is not Mechanical Resonance or Great Radio Controversy, but it is also better than Into The Now or Forever More.  A solid, solid record that is on the must-have list for 2014, for sure.

Rating:  This is pure Tesla, and a dang fine record.  Crank this to 8!

Friday, June 13, 2014

THE LAST VEGAS "Sweet Salvation"

(c) 2014 ILS Group
  1. Touch The Sky
  2. Come With Me
  3. Invincible Summer
  4. Lucky 13
  5. Miss You
  6. Face In The Crowd 
  7. You & Me (You Never Know)
  8. Death Style
  9. Sweet Salvation
Chad Cherry--Lead Vocals
Johnny Wator--Guitars
Adam Arling--Guitars
Bryan Wilkinson--Guitars
Nate Arling--Drums
Danny Smash--Bass

Chicago's The Last Vegas return with their first album since 2012's excellent, but under-publicized, Bad Decisions album.  On the new album, which was fan-financed through Pledge Music, the band takes a bit of a step backward musically.  That is not to say they underperformed, for that is not what I mean.  The skill level and the performances are still there.  When I say they take a step back, I mean back to the 1970's and very early 1980's, as there is a lot of early Aerosmith-meets-Kix influence intermixed with the band's  take on 1980's styled sleaze, a la Motley Crue. LA Guns, and GnR...all seasoned with a bit of Jane's Addiction in places, believe it or not!...which gives the album a bit of a different feel than the last record, but with equally strong results.

One thing that definitely adds to the sound of the band would be the fact that the band has bolstered its roster, now sporting THREE guitar players, instead of the two they had employed since their introduction to the mainstream while on tour with Motley Crue.  I have not yet had a chance to catch this three axe show live, but the results on the record are strong.  I am not sure who plays what solos or if someone is relegated entirely to rhythm playing, but I like the guitar approach taken here and am impressed with the early musical returns.  Welcome to the fold, Bryan Wilkinson!

Chad Cherry seems to be channeling his inner Steve Whitman of Kix throughout much of this record, and does a great job of it at that!  His voice is in excellent shape throughout and he is able to sustain his notes in any range he chooses to sing in.  Since the first time I saw them live, I have thought Cherry had that "it" factor to be one of the great frontmen of this generation, and his vocal performance, both on Bad Decisions and now Sweet Salvation, shows that his singing has caught up to his showmanship, at least for me.  

"Come With Me" is the lead single from the record (and second track), and serves to really showcase the direction of most of this disc.  Nate Arling uses some tribal rhythms with his drumming, and I was INSTANTLY thrown to the sound of early Jane's Addiction as soon as Cherry hit the chorus of this record, as all the instruments stop except for a single guitar and some simple cymbal work ringing under his vocals.  After the second chorus, a raucous guitar section powers the track forward, with solid bass work from Mr. Smash pummeling the bottom end of this song.  Just a very cool track that worms its way into my head more and more with each listen.  Definitely a top 3 or 4 track for me here.

"Invincible Summer" is another hard rocking number that finds Cherry using a bit of an Axl Rose approach to his vocals during the vocals, very similar to the style employed on "Sweet Child Of Mine" or "Mr. Brownstone", then kicking them back up into a higher range on the bridge and during the chorus.  With lyrics borrowed from Guns N Roses (" was the best time I can remember..."), and Ella Fitzgerald!!! ("...summer time and the livin's easy..."), this isn't your typical rock track, which is part of what makes it so cool.  If you are like me, you will swear you have heard this song before because of the lyrical snippets used here, but the song doesn't come across as a rip-off of anyone nor does it sound dated...all while also being a completely new and original song!  Now that is not an easy feat to pull-off with someone like me who has heard tens-of-thousands of songs from thousands of albums!    

"Face In The Crowd" is the lone song on this record that doesn't really have at least one foot firmly set in the 70's groove of the rest of the record.  In fact, "Face..." is easily the most modern sounding track on this record, and a lot of that has to do with the effects used on some of Cherry's vocals.  That being said, a scorching Appetite-era, Slash-inspired guitar solo and sparse-but-solid rhythm playing still drive this hard rocker forward to great effect.

"You & Me (You Never Know)" feels a lot like an early Kix song and maintains a gritty, cutting edge with barked backing vocals and a catchy hook similar to those employed by the Baltimore rockers on their first couple of albums, up through Midnite Dynamite.  In fact, this song seems somewhat modeled after a track like "Sex", with only the harmonica missing!  Not a rip-off at all, but definitely in that same vein, this would be my second favorite track here if I had to put numbers to them.   

"Miss You" has a funky sound to it with some 70's styled Hammond organ thrown into the mix, this is an updated take on the classic Get Your Wings Aerosmith sound.  

And, if forced to rate them individually, what would be my favorite track?  No questions for me.  "Death Style" is a snotty, sassy track that really epitomizes what I think of when I think of The Last Vegas.  Full of piss and vinegar, the band's attitude on this track is that of a gang, declaring themselves "Apocalyptic, destroyer of towns, I'm always turning the world upside-down!"  This is THE anthem for this band, and I pray it is performed at every show these guys play!  Again, some excellent (and underrated) guitar work serves the song extremely well here, and I imagine this nasty rocker will come off even sleazier and grittier live!  Awesome stuff here!

"Sweet Salvation" brings things back a bit to the smoother sound of Bad Decisions as far as the style goes, but that retro-rock sound is still firmly in place, especially in the tone of the guitars and the simplicity of the drum line.  A great closer for an outstanding album.

With Roy Z overseeing the production, the album has a great feel to it throughout, with nice separation of the instruments, giving each their own voice and room to breathe.  He resists the overproduction that so many records seem to be subjected to these days, allowing the sound of the band to take center stage here, not his idea of what he believes the band should sound like.  With a pedigree of heavier acts such as Judas Priest, Sepultura, and Helloween (to name a few), Roy Z handles a less metallic band quite well here, giving the band the ability to showcase their own style.  Having had the chance to catch these guys live three times, I think this is the most "live" feeling record they have released, and it comes off as legitimate and honest, full of sass and swagger and ready to kick your ass live!  

A sleeper hit for 2014, I anticipate a lot of people are going to overlook this band once again, which will be their loss, as this album is easily going to find it's way onto my Top 15 list of the year!  

Rating:  Love it, love it, love it.  Crank this to 9!

Friday, June 6, 2014

BABYLON AD "Lost Sessions/Fresno, CA 93"

(c) 2014 Perris Records

  1. Love Blind
  2. While America Sleeps
  3. Love Is A Mystery
  4. Bang Go The Bells (re-recording)
Derek Davis--Vocals
Ron Freschi--Guitars
Dan De La Rosa--Guitars
Robb Reid--Bass
John Pacheco--Drums

Believe it or not, 24 years have passed since Babylon A.D. unleashed their self-titled, debut EP upon the hard rock world, and the band has decided that now is as good a time as any to reunite and give it another spin, with several live dates scheduled for 2014.  In preparation for that, the band has released this little EP from 1993, simply called Lost Sessions/Fresno, CA 93.  From what I understand, Davis had actually held onto these session tapes for quite some time...only to forget he had them...and then find them again.  They were cleaned up a bit, put on CD, and voila, here you go!  New Babylon A.D....sorta....

What we have here are three new songs and a re-worked version of "Bang Go The Bells" from the debut album.  I can state without hesitation that all three of the new songs sound a LOT more like what people had come to expect from Babylon A.D. than anything that actually appeared on the band's follow-up album, which I had a hard time swallowing outside of a couple of tracks.   

The opening track sounds to me like it was possibly a song that had been written for the debut, but just didn't make the final cut for whatever reason.  Solid guitar work and Davis' vocals carry this song which features a simple, yet catchy chorus and a tasty little guitar solo.  "While America Sleeps" is another solid rocker that, again, has that same feel as the debut disc, finding Davis reaching up into the higher reaches of his vocal range on a couple of screams, while plumbing the lower ranges for much of the verse work here.  Good stuff, to be sure!

"Love Is A Mystery" finds that band slipping into lighter-raising ballad territory.  Definitely a track in the "power ballad" style, "Love Is A Mystery" is a solid, if not overly original song with a soulful guitar solo and nicely emotive vocals.  There is also a teased false ending that leads into some more great tandem guitar work, which I love.  Nice touch!  This is a decent song, but as far as Babylon A.D. ballads go, I far prefer "Desperate" off the debut record.  For me, though, Babylon A.D. was always better when they were cranked up full-throttle, so perhaps I am a bit biased on this track.

I am not really sure why the band had decided to re-record "Bang Go The Bells" just three short years after the original was out, but I will say that I prefer the original.   Not to say this is a bad version, but I would say 99% of the time I am going to choose the original over a re-recording, and this is no exception.  If you have never heard the original, then you may end up liking this version better; I'm guessing it is going to be whichever version you attach nostalgia to that is going to end up being your favorite.

This was limited to just a couple thousand CD pressings, so it may be out of print already.  You can check to see if any are still available.  If so, I'd definitely recommend snagging this little gem to round out your Babylon A.D. collection and to get it signed as the band is out and about this summer.

Rating:  While short, this EP is still crank-worthy.  Crank it to 7, held back by the duration (about 20 minutes) and the fact that only three of these songs are new.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

HELIX "Bastard Of The Blues"

(c) 2014 Perris Records

  1. Bastard Of The Blues
  2. Even Jesus (Wasn't Loved In His Hometown)
  3. Winning Is The Best Revenge
  4. Screaming At The Moon
  5. Metal At Midnight
  6. Hellbound For A Heartbreak
  7. When All The Love Is Gone
  8. An Axe To Grind
  9. Skin In The Game
  10. The Bitch Is A Bullet
  11. Sticks & Stones
Brian Vollmer--Vocals
Kaleb Duck--Lead Guitar, Vocals
Daryl Gray--Bass, Keyboards, Vocals, Lead Vocals on 7
Chris Julke--Guitars, Vocals
Gregory "Fritz" Hinz--Drums

Additional Musicians
Cheryl Lescom--Backing Vocals on 1
Nick Walsh--Backing Vocals on 4

Where has this album been for the past 25 years?!  Seriously!

For the uninitiated, let me give you a bit of a background on the band.  Helix is a hard rock/metal band from Canada that has been around in one form or another since 1974.  (That's 40 years for those of you doing the math in your head!)  It wasn't until the early 80's, however, that Helix really garnered any notice outside of Canada, starting with their first major label record, 1983's No Rest For The Wicked, and their first real successful single, "Heavy Metal Love".  In 1984 the band released Walkin' The Razor's Edge, which included their best-known song, "Rock You", and in 1985, the band rounded out their strongest stretch of albums with Long Way To Heaven, which included the MTV hits "Deep Cuts The Knife" and "The Kids Are All Shakin'".  1987's Wild In The Streets was a decent album as well, but the band had started becoming to slick, too poppy, for my tastes, and I lost interest after this record.

Despite the lack of commercial success after Wild In The Streets, the band (which was primarily sole-remaining original member Vollmer, major 80's members Hinz and Gray, and a revolving cast of musicians) continued on, releasing 7 more studio albums (including Bastard...), a Christmas album, a couple of EP's, 2 live albums, an acoustic album, and numerous best-of compilations.  All of these included a track or two which came close to recapturing the magic of the 82-87 stretch, but there was usually a little too much attempted humor, too many filler songs, weak production, and other glitches that kept the band from ever reaching their peak again. 

Things have changed, folks....

With Vollmer bringing Hinz and Gray back into the fold for 2009's solid, if unspectacular, Vagabond Bones, the band started to gel once again.  With the addition of Duck on lead guitar, and Julke on rhythm guitar, the band has once again found the right musical combination to put out what I feel may be the most solid album of the band's long, storied career!  

Things kick off immediately with the blues-drenched hard rock of the title track, which finds Vollmer's trademark rasp right at home alongside some skillful playing from Duke and Julke, respectively, as well as some excellent keyboard work from Gray, and powerhouse backing vocals from Cheryl Lescom.  This track, while not typical of the Helix of the 80's, definitely finds the band clicking and comfortable throughout this mid-tempo scorcher.  With all honestly, I was pretty shocked with what I was hearing after just one track.

The pace bumps up just a bit wit "Even Jesus (Wasn't Loved In His Hometown"), a sneering, cynical swipe at the band's hometown of London, Ontario.  Once again, solid guitar work really lays the foundation for this rocker, giving Vollmer the platform for his still-strong vocals (perhaps his work as a vocal instructor has something to do with his continued skill where others have struggled in recent years).  

"Winning Is The Best Revenge" takes a tiny step back for me, largely because it sounds like something that would have made its way onto the band's more slickly polished fare from the early 90's, like the Back For Another Taste album, which really didn't do a lot for me.  The track isn't a skipper, necessarily, but it definitely isn't my favorite.  

The band cranks the harder edge back up with the next two tracks, "Screaming At The Moon" and "Metal At Midnight", both of which are excellent tracks.  These two, along with "An Axe To Grind", all have the same style and sound as the band's biggest 80's hits and would likely have been huge back then...or now, if any radio supported hard rock of this style today.  I'm guessing Europeans fans will eat these tracks up as they are used to being fed a steady dose of solid melodic hard rock.  "Hellbound For A Heart Break" is another quality hard rock number that builds upon the band's past glories, sound-wise, in a song about gambling addiction.  

"When All The Love Is Gone" reminds me a lot of "Dream On" (the Helix song from Wild In The Streets, not the Aerosmith classic), but it goes into territory not previously mined by the band, as it is Gray, and not Vollmer, on lead vocals.  Gray is more than competent, using a lower tenor range than Vollmer does, and singing in a smoother style than the gravelly snarl that Vollmer often incorporates.  While I wouldn't want too many songs of this style to be included, this is a nice little change-of-pace that I have to admit to liking pretty well.  It will never replace "Deep Cuts The Knife" as the big Helix ballad, but it isn't a skipper, either.  

Tracks 9 & 10 are songs that originally appeared on the Skin In The Game EP, and, quite frankly, are the lower points on the record for me.  This isn't because they are bad songs, necessarily, but because they don't completely fit the flow of this record.  Maybe this is just a personal thing, but I would have rather had one new song than two previously done tracks.  Again, not a huge issue, but it does take my feel for this album down a tick or two.

The album closes with a rollicking bluesy number, "Sticks & Stones", which has a definite 70's era Aerosmith feel to it.  I swear I have heard this song elsewhere, but danged if I can find the original if I have.  It's a good track and a nice closer to a great album, overall.    

This album sounds like it would have been the logical follow-up to the band's most successful stretch from the early-to-late-80's; it is that good.  If you have EVER been a fan of Helix, you absolutely must pick up this complete surprise of an album and crank it immediately!  These Canadian hard rock legends are far from dead, and Bastard Of The Blues is all the proof you will need!

Rating:  Crank it to a killer 8!