Saturday, November 28, 2015

LYNAM "Bombshell"

(c) 2015 New Ocean Media

  1. Bombshell
  2. Flick My Switch (You Turn Me On)
  3. Send You Back
  4. The Worst In Me
  5. What's Left
Jacob Bunton--Lead Vocals, Guitars
David Lynam--Drums, Vocals
Mark Dzier--Bass, Vocals
Lonny Paul--Guitars, Vocals

Lynam have returned with their SIXTH studio album in just under 15 years, which is quite an impressive feat in this day and age, especially considering they don't have major label support.  This time around, the band shifts gears just a bit, turning in a bit more of a poppy effort, but not at the cost of their sleazy edge.  Also incorporated into the sound this time is a bit of studio production effects, particularly on Bunton's vocals on a couple of songs, and scattered around in various other places across the EP.

The title track, "Bombshell" comes rocking right out of the chutes with a guitar riff that is practically lifted straight from the Kinks hit, "All Day and All of the Night".  From that point, however, the bottom end comes punching in, and Bunton drops his vocals into a lower register for the opening lines of the first verse, and this once-retro sounding track becomes a catchy, sleazy rocker with a simplistic-yet-wickedly-catchy chorus backed by a, dare I say, danceable beat.  Yeah, things are a bit different in the Lynam camp with this effort, but I can't say I dislike the approach.

"Flick My Switch (You Turn Me On)" starts off with the sound of a motorcycle being started, but programmed effects immediately interject themselves into the track, and it's off to the races with another high energy rocker that once again has that damnable dance beat running through the underbelly of the whole thing.  The guitars maintain their edge and grit, and Bunton's vocals bounce along with the song, which I keep cursing as it continues to make my head bop along even though part of me feels like I should be turned OFF by what's going on thus far with the Bombshell EP.  Programming is used throughout this track in much the same way that In This Moment drops them into the vocals, giving the words a stop-start-stop stuttering effect in places.

"Send You Back" is a much darker track than the first two, a bit slower in tempo, and really filled with the punch of electronic bass drums and snare in a "stomp stomp clap" fashion.  The guitars buzz in an angry fashion here, and the slightly higher-pitched backing vocals are a perfect foil for the angry snarl Bunton uses for much of this track.  Incidentally, this song also features a great...but all too short...guitar solo, to go along with the keys and programming that are draped across the song throughout.

"The Worst In Me" continues the darker, more bottom-heavy sound that was started by "Send You Back".  The first verse is rather sparse, as it is largely bass and drums under Jacob's vocals, but by the pre-chorus the guitars have kicked in, and...are those hand-claps I hear in the chorus, itself?  This song reminds me SO MUCH of Joan Jett's "I Hate Myself For Loving You" in it's structure that I kind of want to toy with mixing the two together, just to see what shakes out of that blender!  Once again, there is a tasty little guitar solo and a frustratingly, painfully catchy hook and chorus that stayed stuck in my head for a couple of days (often intermixed with Jett's track, also!).

"What's Left" is also fairly dark in sound, again using programmed effects on the guitar tones which remind me a bit of the sound used by Stabbing Westward, to be honest.  (I'm only talking about the guitar tones, however, as the song is nowhere nearly as aggressive or angry as most Stabbing Westward material was...)  The bass lines on this song are stellar, and dang it if it isn't yet another uber-cathcy...uber-DANCY type of track that I could hear spinning in a techno club almost as easily as blaring from the speakers at a rock show!  In fact, all of these tracks, but this one in particular, sound ripe for full-on techno remixes, and I'm going to go on record as stating I wouldn't be at all shocked if the band decided to do that to a song or two as bonus cuts on their next effort.

The closed-minded are likely to find lots of things to NOT like about this record, and that's too bad because I think they are missing out.  Lynam definitely stretches their musical muscles here, adding in new elements, both retro and modern, along with more techno/new wave influences than I have ever heard them using before, but they do it to really good effect. Not may favorite Lynam effort ever, and I still prefer the work Bunton and Paul did on their side-project, Adler, but this is not a bad little EP at all.  As a matter of fact, I'm going to say that this is one case where I'm glad this is just an EP because I think these 5 songs and 15+ minutes are just about the perfect dose of this type of technosleazepop (patented and trade-marked, so back off!).

Rating:  Definitely catchy. and I'll even say crankable.  Give it a 7, but seek out their earlier stuff if you are looking for more rock and less techno.

Friday, November 27, 2015

SYNDROME OF FIRE "Save Me From Myself"

(c) 2014 Independent Release

  1. So Sorry
  2. Sins
  3. Run
  4. The Fall
Cassie Goetzke--Lead Vocals
Ryan McMahan--Guitars, Vocals
Sonny Cutler--Keyboards, Programming

Additional Musicians:

Noah Henson--Guitars, Bass
Lester Estelle--Drums
Kelly Aus--Strings

Give it just a minute, and you are going to say it.  Well, actually, you only have to wait about 30 seconds and you are going to say, "Man, these guys sound like Evanescence!"  And, yeah, I get it: powerful female lead vocals with some gruff, darker male backing vocals; melodic modern hard rock with chugging guitar riffs and programmed elements; big, pounding drums; some artistically placed strings and keyboards.  Sure sounds like the formula Evanescence used to worldwide acclaim several years ago.  But to say that Syndrome Of Fire is an Evanescence clone is missing the mark, and it's also unfair.

I say it's unfair because it immediately attaches a couple of things to the band that really shouldn't be there.  First, its very hard to compare a small, independent band to the massive appeal that Evanescence had at their peak.  While I am sure that Syndrome Of Fire would be more than happy taking their message to the sizes of crowds that Evanescence played before, it really isn't realistic, especially with today's musical climate.  The second thing that is unfair is when you compare Syndrome Of Fire to Evanescence, you risk comparing them to the trainwreck that Amy Lee and her revolving door of members became after their second major label release.  Anyone else remember that disaster?  Who's in the band?  Who isn't?  Who quit...who was fired...are they even a band any longer....  Just a nightmare.  Syndrome Of Fire is not deserving of that unfair comparison, thank you very much.

Now, if you want to compare the musical abilities of the two bands...I can go for that.  And, in all honesty, there are similarities here, but with other elements mixed in as well.  Musically, they incorporate a few more electronica elements into their sound than Evanescence tended to do.  At times they remind me of bands like Garbage, I See Stars, or newer acts like Nine Lashes or Icon For Hire...but never do they sound like carbon copies of any of those bands.  The angry male vocals, such as those in "Run" reach a level of aggression never found in any of the previously mentioned acts, and Garbage and Icon For Hire, while also having female lead singers, don't have the complete musical package that Syndrome Of Fire possesses.  This, again, is a reason for the Evanescence comparisons; Syndrome Of Fire is a collection of talented musicians and some amazingly well-written music.

While the core of the group consists of Cassie Goetzke on vocals, Ryan McMahan on guitars, and Sonny Cutler on keyboards, they recruited some very talented friends to give them a hand when recording this EP.  Noah Henson and Lester Estelle are both members of the well-known group Pillar, with Henson also having spent time with country rocker, Brantley Gilbert.  Add in the talent of Aus, and this is a very high-level effort as far as the talent involved, despite the fact that there is no major label funding the effort.

The EP kicks off with the hard-charging "So Sorry", which in direct betrayal of the soft keyboard intro that leads the song in, features a crushing modern riff from McMahan, as well as Goetzke utilizing the lower-end of her vocal range throughout the first verse before unleashing the full power of her soaring voice on the chorus.  The rhythm section of Henson and Estelle just pummel the bottom end of this song, working so tightly with each other it is obvious that this is not their first work together.  With Cutler dropping in subtle keyboard work and just enough programming effects to keep the modern head-bangers interested, this first track is a powerful introduction to what Syndrome Of Fire is all about.

"Sins" starts off with a beautiful strings and keys intro, and is one of two songs that will draw the heaviest Evanescence comparison, especially once Cassie drops her voice into the track.  Starting softly and slowly, "Sins" eventually allows the guitars to come blasting forth, pushing the power of the song up a couple of notches, before again building further, giving more depth and power to the drums and bass, only to back them off at the finish, allowing the song to fade out in much the same way it started.

"Run"  brings the aggression back to the front of the song, mixing in some programming effects on Cassie's vocals at the outset, and really utilizing the angry male backing vocals to full effect.  This is my favorite track on the EP, largely because of the interplay between the clean and harsh vocals, as well as some really solid guitar work and a pulsating rhythm section.  Good, good stuff here.

"The Fall" is the other track most likely to draw Evanescence comparisons, and again that is largely due to the power of Cassie's vocals.  Focused mostly on keys and Cassie's vocals for the majority of the song, with some very subtle programming elements in the background, this uplifting ballad  doesn't even produce a single drum beat until almost 2 minutes into the track, and then goes another 20 seconds or so before the guitars come sweeping in as Cassie's vocals soar ever higher, in contrast to the bottom-end bass line that rumbles forth.  Again, a really powerfully delivered, and beautifully written song on an EP that features seemingly nothing but top-notch efforts.

Delivering a message of hope and faith without bashing the listener over the head or telling them what to think, Syndrome Of Fire gives people plenty to ponder as they read through the lyrics of the four songs here (all lyrics are included).  Other than that, there is nothing...and I mean the way of liner notes, pictures, thank-you's...heck, I had to go to Facebook and check an old set of messages back and forth between McMahan and myself to find out who was on the record!  The production is spot-on perfect...although I have no clue who produced it....and the mix really allows each instrument and voice to be heard without any other instrument being sacrificed or buried in the mix.

I really wish this had been a full album effort, as it is over all too quickly for me at not even 17 minutes long.  But sometimes, the quality of the material manages to outweigh the lack of quantity, and that is the case here.  Just a really good piece of modern melodic hard rock that is likely to please most members of the Sirius/XM Octane crowd.

Seek it won't likely be disappointed.  Keep checking their website, which has been undergoing some maintenance, for information about a new release coming soon.

Rating:  Definitely a cranker!  Twist it on up to 8...


(c) 2015 Self Destructo Records

  1. Planet Riff
  2. Internal War
  3. Kids of the 70s
  4. Desolation Highway
  5. Soulshaker
  6. Subway Grinder
  7. Transformer
  8. Getaway
  9. Mess It Up
  10. Betty Boop
  11. Warhead

Ah, Europe.  It seems like whenever I start to get a bit jaded about the music that has started to flood my mailbox, inbox, or Dropbox, I can always count on Europe...and quite frequently give me hope again.  The Razorbats are absolutely no exception here, as this 70's-inspired group of rockers may just be the freshest sounding act to roll across my desk in quite some time...possibly all of 2015.

Now, when I say the band is 70's inspired, don't fret that I'm talking disco or 70's folk rock or anything of that nature.  I'm talking the hard rock of the late 70's, with bands like Sweet, T. Rex, Cheap Trick, Alice Cooper, etc., mixed in with a couple of shots of the punked-up attitude of Too Fast For Love-era Motley Crue, and the NWOBHM sound of early Def Leppard thrown into the mix. If pressed, I would say it reminds me of the way KIX sounded, to a degree, on their first two records before jumping fully into the 80's sound with Midnite Dynamite...although the Razorbats take it even a step further.  Sound interesting?  It definitely should, because these guys are so soaked in the sound you would swear that several of these tracks were recorded in 1978, not in 2015.    

The album kicks off with "Planet Riff", which has that NWOBHM sound I just mentioned, with the riff sounding like it could've been recorded during Leppard's On Through The Night sessions.  The tone is perfect, and the retro-production values absolutely nail the sound here.  Even's vocals, which sound similar to KIX's Whitman here, have that hint of reverb that seemed to always seep into the best hard rock of the 70s, and the rhythm section keeps things locked into a laid back groove that is not overly complicated, but definitely catchy.

"Internal War" keeps things rocking with a tune that sounds a lot like a cross between Cheap Trick and the KISS material that Ace Frehley was singing on during the 70s.  Again, that hint of reverb is used to great effect on the vocals here, much like Ace used on "New York Groove" and similar songs.  The solo here is simple, yet totally fitting into the referenced time frame, and it is already apparent that this band is not just able to recreate the sound of the era they are influenced by, they are attempting to add to that time's musical catalog...just 40 years later!

"Kids Of The 70s" could've been the title track of this album, as it perfectly lays out who this band is and what they are about.  Sounding like the little brother of Cheap Trick's "That 70s Song" from the hit sit-com, That 70s Show, the chorus is pure crowd anthem material, and I am more than certain that this song gets everyone up from their barstool or booth to stomp their feet and clap along.  Love this track and all that it brings with it.

"Desolation Highway" slows things down a bit, blending a big, fat bass riff into the shuffle of this haunting song.  A nice, bluesy guitar solo compliments Even's raspy vocals on this track which again features a simple, yet instantly catchy chorus that is likely to induce more than a few Zippo sightings in the live setting.  Another absolutely killer track that actually FEELS like it is from the 70's, and isn't just a tribute to the time.

"Soulshaker" picks things up a bit, not with breakneck speed, but with sass and attitude.  I absolutely love the guitar solo here, and Knut does an excellent job of filling in every little gap in this song with solid, yet not flashy, kit work.

"Subway Grinder"  is where the speed kicks in full-throttle, evoking those early Crue references I dropped at the beginning of this review.  Utilizing the same type of punk attitude that "Live Wire" used to such great effect, "Subway Grinder" just plows straight ahead with churning guitars, a short-yet-furious guitar solo, snappy drums, a tight bass line, and loads of spit and snarl from Even's vocals. (A few tracks later, "Betty Boop" uses much the same stylistic approach, again punking things up to great effect...and great speed...never letting off the throttle until all ONE MINUTE AND TEN SECONDS are spent!)

"Transformer" slows the pace back down again with its fuzzed-up guitars and just-above-ballad-tempo, much the way AC/DC used to do back in the day, and "Getaway" continues hanging out in that same speed range, although the feel is now very much in the vein of early Def Leppard, as Even manages to channel a bit of a younger Joe Elliott in how he approaches his vocals. 

"Mess It Up" kicks things back into Too Fast For Love-inspired gear, as Even adds the gravel back to his vocals, followed by "Betty Boop", and then one of my other favorite tracks on this amazing release, "Warhead".  A rumbling bass line comes chunking out of the speakers before the guitars kick in for a moment, only to back completely off as Even's vocals bite their way into the track.  Just a killer, killer 70's fueled track, complete with hand claps, gang backing vocals, and a ringing guitar solo that makes me sad that things have come to a close...and very happy for whomever invented the repeat button!

The production is SPOT ON here, with perfect 70's fuzz on the guitars, absolutely perfect vocal tracking, and stylistically correct rhythm work from Knut and Stig.  I honestly don't know what they could've done to make this a better record as far as production goes, because I can't find a single thing to complain about.

The packaging us UBER-simplistic, with the front cover of this slipcase being the above picture, and the back being the tracklisting.  That's it.  I had to contact the band to get a press kit to even have the member's names and the instruments they played here.  No lyrics, no thank you's, no writing credits, and no other photos are included here.

If you have any inclination to seek out a new band with an amazingly well-performed retro sound, you MUST look into the Razorbats!  I'm somewhat slack-jawed at just how well these four Norwegian guys have managed to nail the attitude and sound of an era that none of them were even close to being born in.  They must have raided their parent's...maybe even their grandparent's...record collections to become this well-versed in the style and sound, but it is well worth the stereo needles that were probably used up in their basements and garages.  Make no mistake, the Razorbats are the REAL DEAL, folks...they just made their first album 40 years after the fact!

Get your copy of Camp Rock HERE...and you will know exactly what I am talking about as far as the greatness of this band.  

Rating:  Incredibly crankable, give this one a solid 9 on one of the best albums of 2015 as far as G2G is concerned!

Back To Reviews Index

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

FOREIGNER "The Best Of Foreigner 4 & More"

(c) 2014 Trigger Productions/Sony Music

  1. Night Life
  2. Woman In Black
  3. Urgent
  4. Waiting For A Girl Like You
  5. Break It Up
  6. Girl On The Moon
  7. Say You Will
  8. Feels Like The First Time
  9. Cold As Ice
  10. Hot Blooded
  11. I Want To Know What Love Is
  12. Juke Box Hero
Mick Jones--Lead Guitar, Keys, Backing Vocals
Kelly Hansen--Lead Vocals, Percussion
Jeff Pilson--Bass, Backing Vocals
Tom Gimbel--Guitars, Saxaphone, Flute, Backing Vocals
Michael Bluestein--Keyboards, Backing Vocals
Bruce Watson--Lead Guitar, Guitar, Backing Vocals
Chris Frazier--Drums, Percussion

By this point, I feel like I'm the cranky old guy when it comes to reviewing "new" releases from classic bands that I grew up loving.  I know, I know...bands change, members quit/die/get fired,  new members are hired/born, whatever, and the band goes on.  Van Halen has replaced multiple members (including one through birth). many members have they had?  Journey...what...5 lead singers now?  So, yeah, I understand that nothing, not even beloved bands stay the same forever.  And I can honestly live with that as long as it doesn't feel like the band is betraying their fan base to make a cash grab, which is precisely what this "new" album from Foreigner feels like.  Oh, and the reason I keep saying "new" is because that is what the band is calling it, what the label is calling it, and what the little sticker on the outside of the wrapper calls it.  But, if you look very closely...on the the very tiny will see that what this is is a new LIVE recording.  And, yeah, I get that the title should have given away that this was not NEW fact, it DID give it why the deception?  There is literally NOTHING new on this record....well, except some of the members, I guess...

The title is also a bit deceptive because it is NOT a "best of" record, at least in terms of hits, as the casual Foreigner fan likely has never heard "Night Life", "Woman In Black", "Break It Up", or "Girl On The Moon".  And, while all four of those songs do appear on the band's classic 4 album, they don't appear in the order they do here.  Plus, two songs from that killer record, "Luanne" and "I'm Gonna Win", are inexplicably left off.  So, I guess its the "best of 4" because 8 of the original tracks are good enough to be included, but not the other two?  Whatever...

The additional tracks, while definitely hits for the band, don't really make a lot of sense as far as how they were chosen or why they were included.  "Say You Will" comes from one of the most maligned Foreigner records ever, Inside Information, which most die-hard fans consider to be too poppy to be a classic Foreigner record (I personally disagree, but who am I, right?).  "I Want To Know What Love Is" is supposedly one of the main songs that drove a wedge between Mick Jones and Lou Gramm, mostly because Jones didn't like it because it didn't rock hard enough...but now that Mick is the only original member left, he includes it here.  I have no complaints with "Hot Blooded" or "Cold As Ice" being included because, quite honestly, they ARE two of the best tracks by this legendary band and are simply must-haves on any compilation or in the live setting.  

The performances here are solid, if a bit cookie cutter in nature.  Hansen is an incredible vocalist; of that there is no question.  He hits all the notes, phrases things very well, and seems to really put effort into most of these songs, which is admirable, considering he is a stand-in.  But the band sounds bored, quite they are on autopilot.  Gimbel's saxaphone parts may be the one true exception, as he wails on his instrument in several spots, and really adds to the songs he is a part of (maybe it's the sax player in me talking here, I don't know...).  But other than that, the leads are generally lifeless copies of previous efforts, the bass, while adequate, isn't really bounding out of the speakers, and the drums provide a solid, if unspectacular backdrop for these songs.  

To be honest, it feels more like I am listening to a really good cover band than it does like I am listening to Foreigner.  And I have no problem with that as far as going to a concert.  But stop putting out records claiming to be Foreigner, please...especially if all you are going to do is continually repackage hits that only one current member has ever played on.  

Speaking of packaging, the packaging here is above average, with a nice collage of pictures at the center of an 8-page foldout insert.  The band line-up, some recording information, and basic credits are included; lyrics are not, but honestly, who needs them for most of these classic songs?  There is also a full page of thank-you's, as well.

The production is solid, as would be expected from a band as well-known as Foreigner.  Hansen was the producer of the record (Jones executive produced it), and the mix is really good, which can often be a problem with live records.  Speaking of "live", I didn't notice any glaring overdubs here, which are often easy to detect on older live records, and everyone knows live records are never 100% live anyway, so that's not a real issue for me.

In closing, allow me to sum things up with a couple of quick, intentional puns.  It does NOT "Feel Like The First Time" I have heard this record, but it may well be the LAST TIME I pick up something from this band that is not 100% new.  Why?  Because these one-time "Juke Box Heroes" are quickly becoming karaoke versions of themselves, and it's really sad for this long-time fan.

Rating:  Its some of the biggest hits from Foreigner, and its performed adequately...if rock this at 6, but honestly, there is ZERO reason to pick this CD up.  None.  You likely already own the best of Foreigner with the REAL band playing, anyway.  And if not, this isn't even the best live version of any of these songs that you can find elsewhere.

BLACK TIDE "Chasing Shadows"

(c) 2015 Pavement Records

  1. Intro
  2. No Guidelines
  3. Angel In The Dark
  4. Predator
  5. Burn
  6. Chasing Shadows
  7. Before We Form
  8. Sex Is Angry
  9. Welcome To Misery
  10. Heaven
  11. Promised Land
Gabriel Garcia--Lead Vocals, Bass
Austin Diaz--Lead Guitars, Backing Vocals
Cody Paige--Drums

Black Tide returns after a fairly long layoff, and a couple of line-up changes, to release this, their third album.  Garcia, who has been the vocalist since day one, now plays bass as well following the departure of Zakk Sandler, with Austin Diaz now handling all guitar duties.  Also gone is previous drummer, Steven Spence, replaced here by Cody Paige.  As one may expect with the addition and subtraction of members, there has also been a modest change in the sound of Black Tide, although, to these ears, it is still very much the same band, blending melodic modern metal with elements of speed and thrash metal into one massive wall of sound.  No, its not the musical style that has changed so much as the polish that is put into the production of the new record, which, in my opinion, actually benefits the band and allows for a larger audience to discover and enjoy these Florida boys' music.

The album starts off with a classically-inspired acoustic intro which for a few listens creates a big, crescendoed build up to the crushing "No Guidelines".  As we all know, I don't like intros, outros, or most interludes, so "Intro" becomes an instant skipper for me after a few listens, but more so I can get to the meat of the record than due to any musical missteps made on "Intro", as it is actually performed very well.  Speaking of "No Guidelines", as the guitars come ringing in and the drums begin their crushing assault, I am instantly reminded of the direction Bullet For My Valentine took on their last couple of records:  still fast, still aggressive, but decidedly more polished than on, say, Scream, Aim, Fire.  This is exactly what Black Tide has done on this record, and I think they have done it to great effect.

"Angel In The Dark" is the next track, and also the lead single from the record.  Blending Euro-power metal with their usual melodic speed stylings, Black Tide steps up their game here a bit by adding this new element to their sound.  I particularly like the power metal-styled break downs in this song as well as an extremely competent solo from Diaz, who really comes into his own on this record, incorporating more melody into his solos and not just shredding for speed's sake.  Garcia's voice really works well on this type of song, and this is easily one of my favorites from the record.

"Predator" is a gritty, speedy metal number with a cool, subtle tempo change as the band works its way into, and then back out of, the chorus, displaying a musical skill that was not always present on the band's first couple of efforts.  The lyrics are a bit 80s-ish (read "cheesy"), and Garcia drops a few seemingly unnecessary f*bombs here and there, but again, this is a solid speed/power number that really benefits from the newer, more polished production sound and is a number that I imagine will go over exceedingly well in the live setting.

"Sex Is Angry" is another musical highlight from this record, as it really showcases the band's willingness to experiment with styles and tempos outside their comfort zone.  Despite the title of the track, there really isn't any "anger" to the approach of this track musically (the anger is in the lyrics dealing with a dysfunctional relationship).  What there is is a band adopting a far more mid-tempo approach, utilizing an 80's style not all that dissimilar from something Whitesnake may have pulled off back in the day.  Big guitars, thundering drums, perfectly placed keyboards as supporting instruments...what's not to love if you are a fan of the classic hard rock sound of the past.  Again, the lyrics are a bit...misogynistic, I times, but doesn't that also really fall into a lot of the 80's lyrical themes of the day?  One stark difference here is the inclusion of a pure burst of Black Tide speed on the extremely short guitar solo, stepping the band outside the restraints of the rest of the song, but then on the second solo, Diaz slides back into the groove of the song and pulls off an extremely tasteful piece of work.

"Heaven" is a big power ballad, again, new territory for the band, and it is executed very well. I'm guessing if there is going to be a song that brings serious blow-back for the band from this record, this will be the track, as it is decidedly NOT the Black Tide of the previous two records.  It's a shame that it is likely going to be dismissed out of hand by many, because there are actually a lot of intricate parts here, especially in the acoustic guitar work....and especially the Spanish guitar use in the song's solo...and the subtle rhythm section use that holds the track together.  Garcia also gets to showcase an ability to utilize his voice as an instrument, and not simply as a sonic sledgehammer.  I'm not saying this is my favorite track on the album, but it is definitely a well-performed ballad and worthy of being placed on this record.

"Burn" is another track that allows Diaz to flex his solo ability, while also really letting Garcia sing more than scream, which had never been the case on previous releases.  "Chasing Shadows" and "Welcome To Misery" are also all worthy numbers on this record, and "Before We Form" is another track that many fans of the 80's/early 90's may find themselves appreciating more than they may have expected from a Black Tide effort,

Several die-hard Black Tide fans have been spewing quite a bit of venom at the band for this album, claiming that the band's edge is gone.  I disagree.  I think there is still quite a bit of snarl and bite to this album, but it is now in a more palatable package to the complete hard rock family than previous albums were.  Is the speed still present?  Yep, in measured doses.  Is there still aggression?  Again, yes, but this record isn't about pure speed, angst, and the sheer desire to crush the listener's skull with aural violence or to snap their spine with an endless breakneck pace.  This is an album that shows maturity and evolution, which had to happen to a band that was signed when the members were all, what, 15?  There are songs now utilizing different stylistic approaches, different tempos, and different musical elements, sure, but what's wrong with growth?  Add in the various line-up changes, and it is inevitable that Black Tide's sound is going to transition a bit, but Chasing Shadows is a darn fine album, in my opinion, and one that I think will contend for Top 20 status for me at the end of the year.

Rating:  Very crankable and much more accessible to the general hard rock/metal audience than in the past.  Crank this to a really, really solid 8!

Saturday, November 21, 2015

P.O.D. "The Awakening"

(c) 2015 T-Boy Records/Universal Music

  1. Am I Awake
  2. This Goes Out To You
  3. Rise of the NWO
  4. Criminal Conversations (featuring Maria Brink)
  5. Somebody's Trying To Kill Me
  6. Get Down
  7. Speed Demon
  8. Want It All
  9. Revolucion (featuring Lou Koller)
  10. The Awakening
Sonny Sandoval--Vocals
Marcos Curiel--Guitar, Backing Vocals, Synth, Glockenspiel
Traa Daniels--Bass, Backing Vocals
Wuv Bernardo--Drums

P.O.D. is a band that keeps trying to re-invent themselves, it seems, with varying degrees of success.  They have gone from a ground-breaking Christian rapcore group to garnering massive international success with the more modern radio rock friendly album, Satelite, then cranking up the metallic content of their music for an album or two, then unleashing an acoustic record, The So Cal Sessions, upon their fanbase with their last release.  While always retaining elements of rap and often reggae, and mixing in varying doses of hard rock/metal, the band has never really made two consecutive albums that sound all that much like one another.  They don't start now, as The Awakening is the band's first foray into the world of concept records, of all things!

I can say without hesitation that this is the P.O.D. album I have listened to the most in a LONG time, largely because my kids absolutely love the album and I can't manage to get it out of my CD player, so I am very familiar with just about every nook and cranny of this record.  As such, it is extremely easy for me to pick out highlights without even a bit of thought here.  The record is basically made by the time you hear the first four tracks, because every single one of them is a winner.  "Am I Awake" kicks off with some pretty cool news snippets and sound bytes (although some of them, I suspect, are manufactured), before leading into a nice, bottom heavy rocker complete with a great guitar riff,  This leads right into the album's lead single, "This Goes Out To You", which is a definite Satelite or Testify throwback type of song, and the only track that doesn't have it's beginning marred by some odd sort of intro or interlude (more on that in a bit).  It's plain to see why "This Goes Out To You" is the choice for the first radio track here, as the chorus is insanely simple, yet highly catchy, and I can definitely see this song turning into a crowd participation anthem in concert.  "Rise of the NWO" is another gritty rocker with yet another highly catchy chorus and a driving guitar riff that just bores into your brain, intermixed with a distinct Middle Eastern tone to some of the secondary guitar parts.  Three for three right out of the gate in terms of solid rockers...that's a pretty impressive start in this day of creating singles and then throwing filler fluff in between the hits to complete an album.

"Criminal Conversations" is up next, and if I had to make a guess, I would say that this will not only be the next single from The Awakening, but I have a hunch it may be the most popular song P.O.D. has released as a single in a long time.  This ballad is chock full of emotion, with both Sonny and Maria Brink of In This Moment matching each other's vocal expression note for note.  I was truly impressed by this song, particularly with Brink, who I cannot claim to be a fan of.  Her porno-moan delivery style just grates on my nerves (and eardrums!), and 95 times out of 100 I tune her songs out...or turn them off, when possible.  Here, Brink scales back the orgasmic timbre of her voice and just sings for the most part, really drawing out a powerful performance and adding a lot of depth to an already impressive song.  Very nicely done.

My kids love "Somebody's Trying To Kill Me", but more for the brief intro where the story's character yells the song's title at another character before the music even kicks in.  The song, in all fairness, is actually one of the weaker songs on the album, as the chorus is rather monotonous and just kind of drones on and on, despite a relatively strong guitar hook.  "Get Down" improves upon things a bit by turning up the tempo slightly and allowing Sonny to get more aggressive with his vocals.  "Speed Demon" is a full-throttle rocker, bordering on punk as far as it's use of loose speed and aggression goes, and is one of the better tracks here, as is the similarly styled, "Revolucion".  The album closes with "The Awakening", which is a really good song (once you get to it), although it may be a bit long and a bit much to filter through by the time you have finished a rather long record.

Not everything is perfect here, by any stretch.  For one, unlike Queensryche's Operation: Mindcrime, for example, the spoken interludes on The Awakening are all attached to other tracks...they are not stand you can't skip through them, which is a real bummer, as several just make the album way too cumbersome and clunky.  To be honest, it's actually kind of hard to even follow the storyline in places, and I wonder if some of the narrative parts weren't left on the cutting room floor due to a lack of space or something.  Several of the interludes are down-right annoying, while a couple are kind of hard to figure out what is going on.  On top of all of that...the vocal acting for a couple of the characters is not particularly good.  Oh, well...

I am NOT a fan of the ballad "Want It All", as it really sticks out like a sore thumb and totally ruins a run of pretty good songs, especially coming out of the barn-burning "Speed Demon".  Where the other ballad, the previously mentioned "Criminal Conversations", manages to keep the track interesting and energetic, thanks in large part to Brink, "Want It All" just falls flat for me.  And, as mentioned, "Somebody's Trying To Kill Me" is rather bland vocally, although the guitars are meaty enough to resist the temptation to hit least some of the time.

Lyrics are included in the packaging, along with full credits and individual thank-you's from each of the members.  There aren't any band photos, but there is the interesting cover art which I find I like quite a bit.  The production is very clean and has a good dose of bottom end, as you would probably expect with a hip-hop influenced group such as P.O.D.

I think this is the band's best record in a few years, and I would easily slot it in with their top 3 or 4 as far as the songs themselves go.  While there are some flaws, this is really a pretty solid record with some of the best new material from the band in quite some time, and it is easily the most cohesive album from start to finish of any album since Satelite, although Murdered Love is a solid record as well.  The overall disjointed feel caused by some of the interludes does do the record some damage, but it doesn't make it unlistenable by any stretch.

Rating:  Crank this to a 7, which could have possibly been an 8 if not for some execution issues with the way the concept part of the album was presented.

Back To Reviews Index

Friday, November 6, 2015


(c) 2015 Frontiers Records
  1. Choices
  2. Burn
  3. Re-Inventing The Future
  4. Ready To Fly
  5. Discussions In A Smoke Filled Room
  6. Life or Death?
  7. The Stranger
  8. Hearing Voices
  9. On Queue
  10. An Ambush Of Sadness
  11. Kicking In The Door
  12. The Fall
Geoff Tate--Vocals, Keyboards, Saxaphone
Kelly Gray--Guitars, Vocals
Scott Moughton--Guitars, Vocals
Dave Ellefson--Bass
John Moyer--Bass
Mark Daly--Vocals
Randy Gane--Keyboards
Simon Wright--Drums
Scott Mercado--Drums, Dulcimer
Brian Tichy--Drums

Round Two of the Geoff Tate vs. Queensryche (Toddryche?) feud kicks off with Tate's new band/project/ensemble/ARMY, Operation: Mindcrime, releasing "The Key" on Frontiers Records.  Ten men are listed as being "members" of the group, with no fewer than seven being shown in the band photo, so O:M is obviously quite an undertaking as far as personnel goes.

On his last effort, Frequency Unknown, Tate and his band continued down the path that Queensryche had been traversing with their last few records as a united group, intermixing elements of the past with much more modern sounds.  And, probably not surprising to anyone, nothing has really changed here with The Key, although there are a few key flashes to their past that are noteworthy and will likely interest a fairly fractured fanbase of the original band.

For starters, The Key is a concept album, not unlike the original band's most well-known effort (and this band's namesake), Operation: Mindcrime.  Throughout The Key Tate intermixes spoken word parts and musical interludes to try to create a unique sonic landscape upon which to build this reportedly 3-album-long concept project about four people who invent some sort of technology that allows people to experience an alternate reality.  And, to be fair, in a couple of places, The Key actually manages to capture some of that Mindcrime magic.  One such place is on the song, Re-Inventing The Future", a track Tate co-wrote with Megadeth bassist, Dave Ellefson.  While not an out-and-out copy, this track will immediately have fans flashing back to "The Mission", interspersed with parts of "I Don't Believe In Love", particularly in the song structure and in Tate's vocal delivery.

But, as much as a track like "Re-Inventing The Future" hearkens back to the better days of classic Queensryche, a track like "The Stranger" reminds you just how far the band had strayed from their original sound before they split.  I don't even really know what to think of this's just so bizarre and out of sync with the rest of the album.  It's a total curveball, even for the forward-thinking Tate, as he uses RAP-styled vocals, some odd dubstep electronica sounding music, and what I'm guessing is left-over porn vocal tracks...or really bad Halloween there is this disturbing moaning going on in the song that I can't even force to fit into where I think Tate was going here.  Just truly, truly random and strange, "The Stranger" is an auto-skip when I spin this record now, guaranteed.  Just NOT a good song at all...

So with the two extremes....the really good and the REALLY bad...out of the way, what is the rest of the disc like?  Meh, it depends upon your thoughts of Frequency Unknown and, to a lesser degree, Tate's solo album, Kings and Queens....combined with elements of Queensryche albums Promised Land (which is one of my personal faves from the band), and Tribe and Hear In The Now Frontier (two albums I never play any longer).  There are a few pretty good songs here...and some not-so-hot numbers.  On the one hand you have "Hearing Voices", another track that has a lot of the past built into it musically, but with some more modern elements mixed in, producing one of the better tracks on the record.  On the other hand, however, "Burn" is a bottom-heavy rocker that holds a lot of promise musically, but Tate sounds bored singing here, coming off as rather monotone, believe it or not, and I am left shaking my head at lost chances.  "Ready To Fly" has some really cool 70's classic rock feel to it, a la Rainbow or Deep Purple, especially in the use of the keyboards, but then "Discussions In A Smoke Filled Room" gets all Pink Floyd trippy on me and totally loses my interest.  "Kicking In The Door" is one of the Promised Land -like moments I mentioned, and is a decent song, but then "Life Or Death" comes on and Tate isn't even the lead singer on it, which is just as well because even Tate in top form couldn't salvage this track.  "On Queue" sounds like the music I'm frequently stuck listening to when I'm put on hold, but the instrumental, "An Ambush Of Sadness" is actually a great piece of music that I find myself really, really liking.

Like so many other concept albums, The Key really needs to be taken in as a whole, but therein lies another problem:  this is only 1/3 of the story.  To me, a lyrics guy, the album does feel a bit incomplete, mostly because the listener is left hanging, waiting for the story to continue.  I've heard that the last song here, "The Fall" is also the beginning of Part 2, so I don't know if that means the next record will have "The Fall" on it, also (perhaps in reprise form), but it would seem an odd thing to do.  We'll just have to wait and see, I suppose.

The packaging is nicely done, as you would expect from Frontiers, with band photos, lyrics, and all the bells and whistles as far as credits, thank-you's, and liner notes.  The production has been an issue for some people, but I didn't really take issue with it, as I think Tate deliberately pushed the bass up in the mix, likely to showcase Ellefson and Moyer's contributions.  It's not razor sharp or crystal clear, but its also not the muddy slop you might think if you read some people's complaints.

Overall, The Key is very frustrating for me because, I'm not going to lie...I'm still holding out for another really great album from Tate.  I was truly hoping this might be the one, but clearly it isn't, and I don't know that I have very high hopes for parts two and three, although I know I will buy them.

Rating:  I feel so confused and, honestly, betrayed at times by this record because it teases me into believing and then kicks me in the face for sitting too close to the speakers with my hopes on display!  Rock this at 5.5, and that may be generous...or maybe unfair...I'm not really even sure.

Back To Reviews Index

Thursday, November 5, 2015

QUOR "Human Paradigm" Deluxe Edition

(c) 2015

Human Paradigm EP

  1. The Silence and the Spark
  2. When the Gods Speak
  3. Human Paradigm
  4. The Reverent
  5. Guardian
We're Going To Be Awesome EP
  1. Watching You
  2. The Fragile Break
  3. Paradise
  4. Let's Rise

Brian Corn--Vocals, Guitar
Doug Smith--Bass
John Michael Cordes--Drums, Percussion

Quor.  Don't ask me, I have no clue.  I looked it up, and there is no definition for Quor in my dictionary, although there should be.  Quor should have "pretty dang cool" listed as it's entry, because, as shocked as I was when I first popped it in, that is how I would describe Human Paradigm.  I mean, come on...when you are sent a CD by a trio named Quor (pronounced "core", I believe), you aren't exactly thinking metal, right?  I was thinking something along the lines of either a bizarre alternative project or some kind of college garage punk band with songs about beer and "screw the establishment!".  Well, "don't judge a book by its cover" can also be morphed into "don't judge a band by its name", because Quor is NOT what their name may strike up in your mind.

Based in San Diego (again, not exactly a metal mecca), Quor is a polished, professional musical outfit with an incredibly tight sound intermixing elements of 80's heavy metal and thrash with more modern bands like System of a Down, adding in hints of Tool and splashes of doom/sludge-styled hard rock.  Mixing relatively complex percussion patterns with intricate guitar solos, generally clean vocals, and solid rhythm guitar, Quor comes across as a band that plays what it wants, taking elements of their own personal influences and creating their own form of metallic mayhem.

Take, for example, the album opener, "The Silence and the Spark".  Immediately recognizable are the thrash elements I spoke about, especially in the speed and the precision of the riffs and rhythms.  The song is also a bit heavier than a lot of people associate with pure Bay Area Thrash, at least as it originated in the 80's, and it also manages to incorporate melody and a hook not often found in the full-on speed shred fests of the 80's band.  Much the same can be said of "When the Gods Speak", which uses more thrash-related guitar elements, some stop-start rhythms, a really nice hook, and a rather chantable chorus that I would imagine as an anthem of sorts for the band.  The next two tracks slow the pace a bit, with both "Human Paradigm" and "The Reverent" being more mid-tempo in pace than the two face-melters at the outset.  However, this doesn't mean the music is any less powerful, and the title track, in particular, features a scorching guitar solo.  "The Reverent" has a Euro-power metal feel to it in places, partly due, I think, to the lyrical content, which I have read is based on a novel Corn is writing.  (May need to check that out...).  The EPs closer, "Guardian" returns to a bit darker sound, utilizing that doomy/sludgy style I referenced earlier, while also incorporating some big drums and technical riffing in another anthemic sounding track.

This particular package is actually a combination of the band's 2013 EP, We're Going To Be Awesome (which was also the band's name before switching to Quor), and their newest effort, Human Paradigm.  I'm glad they incorporated both albums into this package, as neither EP is particularly long, but I do kind of wish they had put them onto one CD so I didn't have to keep switching back and fort.  First World problems, I know...  Anyway, of the two EPs here, I would have to say I prefer the new material, although the older stuff isn't bad, just not quite as heavy with a bit more radio-rock approach to the sound in places.  Take, for example, "The Fragile Break", which is very reminiscent of the way Metallica changed their style and sound on the Black Album and, to a lesser degree, Load.  Still crunchy, but nowhere near as speedy or thrashy as the first three epic albums.  "Watching You" is pretty darn fast, I do have to say, and it is my favorite from the first EP, and "Let's Rise" gives it a good run, but neither song is quite up to the level of the newest material.

What's really amazing to me is the fact that Human Paradigm was reportedly recorded in just a single week, which is unheard of these days, especially with as tight and powerful as the production is on this disc.  The older EP is also recorded very well, perhaps getting a bit of a remaster treatment in this package (or perhaps indication in the notes that I can find).

The packaging is simple...a double-sided cardboard is often the case with small, indie projects.  Mine was not sealed, so I don't know if there was a lyrics sheet that slipped out or something, but mine does not have lyrics.  There is also virtually nothing in the way of liner notes here, so a lot of my background info came from the press kit I was sent.

Metalheads looking for something new to chew on their ears for a while would do well to seek out this deluxe version of Human Paradigm as it incorporates a lot of older elements into an updated package.  While not pure speed/thrash metal, it is pretty dang good and the new EP, especially, has seen a LOT of spin time in my player.

Ratings:  Human Paradigm cranks to 8.5, We're Going To Be Awesome slides back a bit to rock at 6.5, with the total deluxe edition checking in at a very crankable 7.5.

Back To Reviews Index