Saturday, March 21, 2015

EUROPE "War Of Kings" Deluxe Edition

(c) 2015 Frontiers Records

  1. War Of Kings
  2. Hole In My Pocket
  3. The Second Day
  4. Praise You
  5. Nothin' To Ya
  6. California 405
  7. Days Of Rock N Roll
  8. Children Of The Mind
  9. Rainbow Bridge
  10. Angels (With Broken Hearts)
  11. Light It Up
  12. Vasatan (Bonus Track)
Joey Tempest--Lead Vocals
John Norum--Lead Guitars, Backing Vocals
John Leven--Bass, Backing Vocals
Mic Michaeli--Keyboards, Vocals
Ian Haugland--Drums, Vocals

In dealing with the band Europe, you basically have two fan bases.  The first fan base will FURIOUSLY defend both the album and song "The Final Countdown" as one of the masterpieces of 80's hair metal/melodic rock, "Carrie" as the quintessential power ballad of all time, "Rock The Night" as the most underrated rock track ever made, and "Cherokee" as the most socially conscious rock song ever put to tape/CD.  Now, that may seem to be a bit over-dramatic, but you KNOW these people!  You have met these people, talked to them, and even call them friends in some instances.  This band's only major moment in the MTV + Hairbands in the 80's=Love era is clung to like a precious childhood teddy bear for some reason.  Why, no one knows, because when the rest of us go back and listen to that particular album (and the follow-up, to a large degree), most of us come to the same conclusion:  "I liked THAT?!"  Really, people, The Final Countdown is just not that great (not horrible, but not genre defining), and sounds INCREDIBLY dated, especially with the overuse of keyboards throughout the record.

The other fan base of the band recognizes that The Final Countdown (and Out Of This World, for that matter) was more of an anomaly in the band's career, and that the band is far more of a 70's hard rock-meets 80's hard rock-meets gritty blues rock band, and that it is on records such as Wings Of Destiny, Start From The Dark, Bag Of Bones, and others that the REAL sound of Europe is most evident, and that only since the reunion of this version of the band (whose members first started playing together in 1985) has Europe really found their true sound.  

Well, with War Of Kings, I can tell you that fans from the first group will want to steer clear, while fans of the latter group are likely going to celebrate in the streets, because War Of Kings may be the most solid album the band has ever recorded from start to finish.  It really is THAT good.  Things start off with a very Deep Purple-ish sounding guitar and keyboard intro on the title track, before carrying that same Purple vibe right into the next song, "Hole In My Pocket", which takes also blends in a healthy dose of Thin Lizzy to mix as it steps up the tempo slightly from the opening song here.  But, don't think for a second that this album is nothing but Deep Purple worship, or Thin Lizzy worship, or worship of ANY other band, because it definitely is not.  Sure, there are songs that recall the sound of other classic bands, with Led Zeppelin being a distant relative of a song like "Light It Up" or "Praise You", but this is Europe, no question.  There is no mistaking Joey Tempest's insanely smooth vocal delivery, or the incredibly underrated talent of John Norum on guitar.  This is a band that knows how it wants to sound as a group, not allowing for one or two people to so completely dominate the style and sound that the rest of the member's efforts are left behind.  

Initially, this is a somewhat difficult record to get into because there really aren't any "singles" per se, especially in the musical world we live in now.  Sure, "Angels (With Broken Hearts)" has the potential to be a monster power ballad of the ages, but who listens to power ballads today that has any sway in the musical/radio/programming world?  No one.  Exactly.  So the listener simply can't go into this record looking for hits and singles, but rather must take it in as a project.  And what a project it is, especially for fans of strong 70's classic hard rock, with hints of the 80's and even the 90's mixed in in conservative doses.

Rating:  Crankable, but it may take you time to get there.  Don't give up!  Crank this one to 8 and let it grow on you!

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Friday, March 13, 2015

P.O.D. "So Cal Sessions"

(c) 2014 T-Boy Records
  1. Panic & Run
  2. Will You
  3. Youth Of The Nation
  4. No Ordinary Love Song
  5. Strength of My Life
  6. Alive
  7. Higher
  8. It Can't Rain Every Day
  9. Lost In Forever
  10. I'll Be Ready
  11. Beautiful
  12. Set Your Eyes To Zion
Sonny Sandoval--Lead Vocals
Marcos Curiel--Guitars, Backing Vocals
Traa Daniels--Bass, Backing Vocals
Wuv Bernando--Drums, Rhythm Guitar, Backing Vocals
It is difficult for me to wrap my head around the fact that P.O.D. is now more than 20 years old as a band!  Without getting into too much of the band's history, the band has been recording since 1994 when they released Snuff The Punk on the independent Rescue Records label.  In 1998 they moved to major label Atlantic Records, where they enjoyed massive success with The Fundamental Elements of Southtown and the multi-platinum selling Satellite album, also garnering multiple radio singles and MTV video hits.  The band then bounced around on independent labels, releasing a fistful of albums with some minor radio and satellite radio success and finding themselves involved musically with the WWE for a time.  It would be easy to say the band's career has largely been a successful one with little arguement. 
Despite these previous highs, P.O.D.'s popularity and success have fallen off in recent years, which, again, is not overly surprising considering the band has been around for 20+ years now.  Drop-offs are to be expected.  What was NOT expected, at least by me, was an acoustic album by these modern rockers who were among the first Christian artists to embrace the rapcore style that was sweeping the rock musical landscape in the mid-90's.  How in the world is a band like P.O.D. going to carry their vibe and sound over into the acoustic realm? 
So Cal Sessions can't really be considered a career retrospective, because there is virtually nothing from the early years of the band.  Yes, there are a couple of tracks from Satellite (there would probably be a fan-base riot if "Youth Of The Nation" and "Alive" weren't included), but only one from Fundamental Elements of Southtown (album closer, "Set Your Eyes To Zion"), with nothing from Brown or Snuff The Punk finding its way onto the set list.  On the flipside, there is a LOT of material included from the last four albums, including songs that were never really big hits for the band, while songs that would seem obvious fits, such as "Goodbye For Now", are completely ignored.  So it is ovbious that this is not designed to be a retrospective or greatest hits package by any means.   
So, song selection aside, what works here and what doesn't?  First the parts that work for me...
The album opens with a very reggae-meets-Latin music version of "Panic & Run", which I think is exceptionally well done.  I really like the tone and temp used here and the band sounds like they are having fun with this track.  "Youth of the Nation" works exceptionally well here, with the scaled back chorus parts and the deeper instrumentation on the chorus and bridge being a really nice addition.  "No Ordinary Love Song" is also nicely done, with Sonny seeming to channel a bit of Anthony Keidis from Red Hot Chili Peppers in his vocal delivery style here, especially on the opening verse.  Again, some nice Latin guitar work is included here and really adds a nice, unique flavor to the track.  "Strength Of My Life" comes across a bit more "plugged in" than some of the songs here, largely because of the (minimal) effects that are used on Sonny's vocals.  Again, a nice reggae beat carries the track, and Sonny shows that even in this more stripped-down arena he is able to pull off some impressive lyrical tongue twisting as he alternately rushes through some sections and stretches others out.  "Alive" was surprisingly well done here musically, but the chorus vocals left a little bit to be desired to my ears.  "Set Your Eyes To Zion" is a perfect closer and is very well done, giving long-time fans a familiar track with which to end things.
So, with that said, what doesn't work so well here?  Well, I think "I'll Be Ready" comes across as rather disjointed and "clunky", for lack of a better term.   "Higher" is decent, but was never one of my favorite tracks by the band and the more laid back delivery here really doesn't do anything to improve my feelings for this track.  I thought "It Can't Rain Everyday" would come across a bit stronger than it does in this type of format, but the band altered the song enough that it loses some of the original's strength for me.  I also really didn't like the way "Beautiful" worked in this format for some reason; it really turned me off and I found myself wanting to skip it after the first couple of listens.
My other real complaint is that no risks are taken here.  All of the songs that the band chose to rework were songs that lend themselves to an acoustiic interpretation.  A true test would've been to go with some of the band's harder, heavier material, challenging and stretching themselves a bit more musically.  I would've loved to hear "Boom", "Outkast", "Rock This Party", "Lights Out", or especially "Southtown" thrown into the mix...maybe even "Sleeping Awake". 
Speaking of the mix, the recording here is solid, with the mix done by Clif Norrell and the band producing the album themselves.  The packaging is a pretty simple 8-page insert, with no lyrics, song selection or album info, and minimalistic thank-you's.  There are, however, a lot of pictures, both color and black and white, some of which I'm guessing come from the band members' personal collections as I haven't seen any of these previously. 
I didn't have very high expectations for the record when I received it for review, and I actually put reviewing it off for quite some time, to be honest.  It is nowhere near as bad as I had feared it would be, and thankfully it is an in-studio acoustic effort, not one recorded in front of an audience, so the songs are given a chance to be arranged and mixed properly, and not just presented as four guys sitting on stools strumming acoustic instruments.  Again, I think the song selection could've been a bit stronger, a bit more challenging, but that's more a personal preference than a flaw with the album. 
If you are new to the band, I would suggest skipping this effort until later, and would recommend instead that you pick up the band's greatest hits package, Satellite, and possibly Payable On Death or Testify to find out what the band has been about historically.
The band is reportedly planning a new full studio project for 2015, so keep an eye out for that, and follow the band at for tour and other information.
Rating:  Not terrible, but not something I'm likely to play very often, either.  Rock this to a 6, at least as much as you can "rock" an acoustic record.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

ADELITAS WAY "Deserve This" EP

(c) 2015 Independent Release

  1. Deserve This
  2. I Get Around
  3. Filthy Heart
  4. Harbor The Fugitive
  5. Sometimes You're Meant To Get Used
Rick DeJesus--Lead Vocals
Trevor "Tre" Stafford--Drums
Robert Zakaryan--Lead Guitar, Backing Vocals
Andrew Cushing--Bass, Backing Vocals

Adelitas Way return with their 4th release since 2006 with the EP Deserve This.  It should be noted that Deserve This is believed to be the precursor to a new studio album (rumored to be called Alive and set for a summer 2015 release).  Regardless, all five tracks here are brand new and of top-notch quality showcasing a band that is maturing and growing by allowing themselves to step outside the box on a couple of numbers without sacrificing who they have established themselves to be to their fans.

The EP opener and title track, "Deserve This", is what most fans have come to expect from the band.  A straight up modern hard rock number, "Deserve This" kicks in with a distorted guitar chord, some thundering drums from Stafford,  then a frantic bass-and-guitar run kicking this thing into gear right from the start.  Front man, Rick DeJesus, jumps in with his gravel-edged baritone vocals and things are off and running, charging toward the next track, the EP's lead single, "I Get Around".  At this point, the band starts to feel things out a bit, changing up the Adelitas Way sound ever-so-slightly, and tinkering with some different styles and sounds.  In this instance, "I Get Around" is a decidedly hooky, dare I say "bouncy" uptempo rocker that will not disappoint fans of previous hits such as "Invincible", "The Collapse", and "Cage The Beast", but one that also moves a long with a definite skip in its step.  The song kicks off with DeJesus delivering the chorus a cappella before the band comes crashing in,   That chorus by the way, while simplistic, is catchy as all get out and will likely be stuck in your head for days.

The quasi-epic "Filthy Heart" (nearly 6 minutes long) is a bit more down tempo with a somewhat bluesier approach to the song construction.  At times reminiscent of something the Red Hot Chili Peppers might have done, and also including an extended guitar solo with a definite 70's classic rock vibe to it, this song was really driven home for me when I got the chance to see the band live on a stop-over date in central Nebraska.  In fact, three of the five tracks here were performed live that night, with DeJesus telling the crowd that this night was the first night the band performed "Harbor The Fugitive" in a live setting, which was really cool.  The song has a different vibe than anything else I recall Adelitas Way performing on their previous efforts, with some excellent bass work from Cushing and a funky, almost R&B groove to it.  DeJesus' voice is particularly emotive on this track (and "Filthy Heart" as well), abandoning the angry, sharper vocals for a more laid back, singing approach.  Once again, a great guitar solo is included here, with Zakaryan really showing his contribution to the current line-up of the band.  

Album closer, "Sometimes You're Meant To Get Used" returns to the harder-edged modern rock approach previous fans are likely more accustomed to, with DeJesus reapplying the snarl to his vocals, and drummer "Tre" Stafford taking things up a notch here with more complex rhythms and fills than are used on much of the rest of the EP.

Don't get me wrong, I like what Adelitas Way has done in the past, but they got lost in the shuffle sometimes, with so many similar sounding bands competing for airwave space on modern rock radio.  With the Deserve This EP, Adelitas Way has retained their sound but added to it, really expanding their musical vocabulary with some different tempos and styles mixed in.  If pressed, I would have to say that this effort contains three of my favorite AW tracks to this point, with "Harbor The Fugitive" and "Filthy Heart" really finding the band taking their art up a notch with some musical experimentation.  If this is indeed a teaser to the next full-length album, I will be anxiously awaiting that.  As it stands, Deserve This is a solid release in its own right and well worth seeking out for both old fans and people looking for something a bit different from the norm in the Octane world.

The band is currently on tour with Flyleaf and Framing Hanley on the SnoCore Tour, so if you get the chance to catch them live, I certainly encourage you to do so.  Additionally, if you would like to help fund the new album, you can do so here:   

Rating:  Definitely crankable.  Spin the knob to an 8 here.