Tuesday, May 31, 2016

AUSTIN JOHN "Love Sick Radio"

  1. Clique To Follow
  2. The Plague (featuring Sophie Summers)
  3. Carry You
  4. Howlin' (featuring Jessie James Decker)
  5. Road To Paradise
  6. Hate That I'm Loving It

Austin Winkler--Lead and backing vocals
(No other musicians credited in the press release)

Take a good look.  No, seriously...get close.  Look familiar?  Even a little?  If you think yes, but can't place the guy in the photo, that's because it's Austin John...Winkler...as in the former singer of Hinder.  Yeah!  That guy!  Thing is...he forgot how to rock once he was kicked out of/departed from the band.  Like so many others doing the trend jumping thing, Austin has decided to try his hand at country music now, at least on this track.  But we're not talking conventional, traditional country here...no, no, no.  We're talking Florida Georgia Line, hip hop Bro country, with looped drum beats, rhythmic rap-esque vocals, and no real sign of actual instruments being played...just a bunch of beats strung together with some keyboard sounds and various layers of Winkler's vocals mish-mashed together.  "Clique To Follow" is a prime example of this.  It's not rock, it's not country, it's not rap...heck, it's not music, if you ask me!  What an uninspired mess this thing is...

"The Plague" gets a little better, as Winkler relies more heavily on actual singing, Summers seems to have some degree of talent (although I have no clue who she is), and I think there may be actual instruments played here, but the drum loops and drum machine are tired sounding.  You can hear the "Lips Of An Angel" vocals coming from Winkler here, however, and the listener is given reason to believe that the first track was just an anomaly of some sort.

"Carry You" is pretty dark sounding and has elements of modern rock mixed in with what would most likely be labeled as electronica and it is one of only two songs on this collection I would say that I like, with Winkler's voice sounding especially strong here.  In fact, I could even go so far as to say I could tolerate an entire album of material like this from Winkler...err, Austin John...although I'm guessing that won't happen.  Hinder it is not, but at least there seems to be aim and direction with this track.

"Howlin'", according to the press release, features "country star, Jessie James Decker", but, as someone who used to program a country station and who currently books country and alt-country acts from time to time, I can honestly say I have no clue who Jessie James Decker is.  I will say this, however...she is attractive and she can sing, for sure, but I don't know how someone born in Italy and who sings this type of music can consider themselves "country".  But I digress.  This is the best song here, and that is largely because of relatively strong songwriting and another strong vocal performance from Winkler, coupled with Decker's equally strong presence.  Again, I wouldn't call this "country" music by any stretch, at least not in the traditional sense, and if this is what passes for country now, I don't think I would even know if I accidentally turned a country station on.  Again, we have looped drums and minimal actual instrumentation here, but for a quasi-ballad, its actually not a bad song at all.  As with "Carry You", I could probably listen to an entire album of this style of music without having an aneurysm or some sort of seizure...probably...if I had to...

"Road To Paradise" reverts to the brutal schlock that the first couple of tracks was, with a particularly inane chorus and a keyboard line that sounds like it was borrowed from a clown act at a circus...on an island populated by Kenny Chesney and Jimmy Buffet and their fans.  Just...plain...bad...  If I could program my CD player to auto-skip, this could well be the first song of 2016 that I would blow right past without a second thought.  Horrible.

"Hate That I'm Loving It" mercilessly brings the EP to a close.  I say mercilessly instead of mercifully because there is no mercy given here.  This is a blatant stab at airplay in some kind of non-rock genre...country, hip hop, college, alt...SOMETHING...and it is just bad.  Yeah, you can recognize Winkler's voice to a degree, although it is a bit more strained at the top end than on the couple of decent songs here, and it is by no means a good song.

I have no idea what Winkl...sorry...Austin John's...goal is with this EP, but if it is to completely alienate Hinder fans, and also to turn off 99% of the music listening population of ANY genre related to this EP, then he succeeded, because this is a disaster.  I think the reason there are no musicians credited here is because either there ARE NO MUSICIANS on the record, or they simply didn't want their name associated with this dreck.  All I can say is, for their sakes, I hope Summers and Decker have strong fanbases that are going to be willing to overlook this steaming pile of horridity, or else their careers may be in danger (assuming they have careers...I still have no clue who they are!).

Rating:  Turn it down...WAY down...to 3, and that's only because I didn't projectile vomit on my monitor or keyboard when "Carry You" was playing, and I almost caught myself tapping my foot to "Howlin'".

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DECYFER DOWN "The Other Side of Darkness"

(c) 2016 Fuel Records

  1. Rearrange
  2. Dead Skin
  3. Nothing More
  4. Believe In Me
  5. The Other Side of Darkness
  6. Beautiful Lie
  7. Lifetime
  8. Anchor Me
  9. Don't Walk Away
  10. Burn Back The Sun (acoustic)
Brandon Mills--Guitar
Chris Clonts--Guitar
TJ Harris--Vocals, Guitars
Benjamin Millhouse--Drums
Chris Furr--Bass

After taking a couple of years off, modern Christian rockers, Decyfer Down, returned to the scene as part of the successful City Rockfest Tour with Disciple, Nine Lashes, and Seventh Day Slumber, and almost immediately had fans begging for new music, as it was evident the band's spark was still there in their live performances.  To that end, the band has answered the call with a brand new album, The Other Side of Darkness, and a new set of tour dates to go along with the new record.  

Returning on this record are the three longest-tenured members of the band, Harris, Mills, and Clonts, who have all been with Decyfer Down since at least 2008 (Mills co-founded the band in 1999), along with relative newcomers Furr and Millhouse who take over the rhythm section of the band, and to my ears, they have never sounded tighter.  Continuing to evolve musically while still sounding like, Decyfer Down, the band retains a bit of the southern rock-meets-post-grunge sound of the last album, Scarecrow, but for the most part they return to the more aggressive, straight-forward modern rock sound fans grew to expect from them prior to Harris taking over as the singer following the End Of Grey album.  As such, Decyfer Down plunges right back into the modern hard rock waters they so expertly navigated previously when songs like "Desperate", "Burn Back The Sun", "Fight Like This", and others were burning up both the Christian Rock and Modern Rock charts.  While Scarecrow failed to produce any charting singles of it's own, there is no denying the power of songs like "Westboro" and "Worst Enemy", especially in the craftsmanship of the songs themselves, so it should come as no surprise that both eras of the band have been melded together to bring out quite possibly the best album in the band's catalog.

 The lead single for the album, "Nothing More", is a prime example of where the band is at musically, as it comes out charging hard from the get go with a crushing, Sevendust-inspired guitar riff and pummeling drums, setting the stage for Harris' edgier, angrier sounding verse vocals, only to ease back slightly to allow his more melodic singing style take over on the chorus sections.   Fans obviously took to this approach from the band as it almost instantly managed to crack the top ten on the Christian Rock charts and garnered airplay on mainstream modern rock stations as well.  My personal favorite from the record, "Dead Skin", and album opener, "Rearrange" are also of this same angry, chunky modern rock style, incorporating aggressive rhythm guitars, tight bass lines, punchy drums, and snarly verse vocals in front of  more melodic chorus vocals.  The fact that the band is now a three guitar outfit should not be lost on listeners, as the overall sound is now much fuller, particularly on the harder, heavier numbers, with virtually every nook and cranny crammed with distorted six string angst of some sort. 

The band does take risks on The Other Side of Darkness, however; I don't want to give the impression that all is aggression and channeled rage at a fallen world.  "Believe In Me", for example, is far more laid back and melodic in every way, Incorporating an un-credited piano/keyboard, "Believe In Me" backs off on the tempo and the rasp and allows Harris to display a very strong tenor singing voice on what I am guessing is a deeply introspective song with some touching lyrics about others seeing more in us than we see in ourselves.  I have a hard time seeing a situation where this song isn't just soaked up by both Christian Rock and Christian CHR radio charts, as well as on modern rock charts and stations, as it is expertly performed.  Likewise, older fans of the band will undoubtedly appreciate the updated, acoustic take on the band's classic hit "Burn Back The Sun" which hit number 1 on the Christian Rock charts ten years ago.  Harris' voice is different from the band's previous singer, yet he does an excellent job on this track which is stripped bare of any pomp or power in this acoustic state, which would leave a lesser singer exposed and vulnerable vocally, especially when presented to a fan base that knows the song so well.  Harris handles it perfectly, in my opinion, and makes the song his own here.

Other favorites here for me are the title track, "Beautiful Lie", and the love song, "Lifetime", which has just a hint of a CCM feel to the first verse before kicking into a melodic-yet-rocking chorus.  Definite wedding material here for the rocker crowd!  "Anchor Me" is another really solid hard rocker that is top three or four for me here, and "Don't Walk Away" is a great ending to the new material here, giving way to the previously mentioned acoustic remake of "Burn Back The Sun".

In all honesty, there are no weak songs here, and nothing here is overly blown up or bloated by excessively long performances, as the longest track clocks in at just 4:05.  Nothing feels rushed, nothing feels shorted...each of the nine new tracks here feels complete and given appropriate amounts of time to grow and build to their respective high points.

The packaging is very nicely done, with complete lyrics, songwriting credits, thank you's, and production information.  There's a cool full-band photo under the tray insert, as well, and the whole project has a very professional feel despite being an independent project.  The production and mix are spot-on as well, with no muddiness or slurring of sounds anywhere on the disc, and there is plenty of punch to the drums without having them dominate the mix.

Overall, one of the best start-to-finish products of the first half of the year for me, and a powerful return to form for this excellent band.  As much as I enjoyed the change in style on Scarecrow and the maturation of the band's songwriting, there is something to be said for a band fully embracing who they are, and then taking that identity and moving forward with it.  Decyfer Down does just that on The Other Side of Darkness.

Rating:  Definitely a cranker, here!  Turn it up to 8.5!

DIAMOND REXX "Dead" Single

(c) 2016 Pavement Music

  1. Dead
Nasti Habits--Vocals
Johnny Cottone--Drums

Diamond Rexx has recorded their first new song in nearly 8 years...at least...as they have reunited to play a special show on June 18th in Illinois that will feature the band playing their cult classic album, Land Of The Damned , in it's entirety from front-to-back.  That day will also see the release of this new single, "Dead", which sounds...well, it sounds like Diamond Rexx.  Sure, Nasti's vocals don't have the higher end they did on Land of the Damned, but the guitar hooks are still there, and the energy level is still high as the guys tear through this somewhat modern-sounding take on the band's classic sound.  The track comes our with a chugging guitar riff from SS, and the lower-range snarls of Habits, with a solid, if unspectacular foundation laid by the drums and bass of Cottone and Andre, respectively.  SS rips off a nice solo starting at about the 2:30 mark, leading Nasti back into his angst-fueled rant against people who may be foolish enough to cross him.  The song continues to chug along through another chorus and verse before coming to an abrupt halt a little more than four minutes after it started.  Not revolutionary by any means, but still sleazy, still a bit punkish, and still Diamond Rexx, "Dead" will hopefully be the start of a new project for a band that really snagged me when Land Of The Damned came out nearly 30 years ago!

SLAVE RAIDER "Take The World By Storm" REISSUE

(c) 2016 Divebomb Records
(c) 1986 Jive Records
  1. Take The World By Storm
  2. Backstabbin'
  3. Make Some Noise
  4. Burnin' Too Hot
  5. Long Way From Home
  6. Survival Of The Fittest
  7. The Devil Comes Out In Me
  8. The Black Hole
Chainsaw Caine--Vocals
Nicci Wikkid--Guitars, Vocals
Lance Sabin--Guitars, Vocals
Letitia Rae--Bass, Vocals
The Rock--Drums

Reissuing long out-of-print material has become the lifeblood of many a small, independent record label, to varying degrees of success.  Some labels take great care to find new material...whether it be songs, interviews, magazine articles, etc....to include in their reissues, along with cleaning up and enhancing sound, updating artwork, and all the other bells and whistles that make a reissue great and worth the money.  Others do absolutely NOTHING, even going so far as cramming two albums on one CD but cutting out songs to make room for the "majority" of the tracks, simplifying full booklets into single sheet inserts, and doing nothing to better the quality of the material being presented.  Thankfully, Divebomb Records falls into the first category, as they have done me a HUGE service by reissuing this long out-of-print, impossible-to-find-cheaply gem from Minnesota rockers, Slave Raider.

Slave Raider was something of an oddity to a lot of people.  Looking something akin to Twisted Sister versions of pirates...albeit pirates wielding a chainsaw WAY before Jackyl made it cool...yet sounding far more metallic than their glammy image would seem to indicate, Slave Raider was a massive success in and around the Minneapolis area, but that success never translated into broader appeal, even with the band signing to a major label.  The main problem was that the label was Jive Records which knew NOTHING about how to handle a rock/metal band like Slave Raider, because they were too busy with the likes of DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince (Will Smith to the uninitiated), Kool Moe Dee, and Samantha Fox.  The label's target audience...pop rap and dance pop...had no idea what they were purchasing if they bothered to pick this album up, and most would likely discard it upon hearing it, as they were certainly NOT fans of the style that Slave Raider presented.  Wrong label, wrong band, wrong relationship, plain and simple.

Musically, Slave Raider wasn't really "hair metal", which had really exploded into full-blown, nationwide popularity by 1986, and they weren't thrash, a la Metallica, Anthrax, etc.  Looking...and, honestly...sounding more like a band such as Lizzy Borden, or the equally fringe Zodiac Mindwarp and the Love Reaction, Slave Raider combined heavy guitars, thundering drums, and snarling vocals  to create a hit-and-miss collection of hard rockers that, at their best, were catchy and solidly anthemic in their style and sound.  Take for example the cult classic title track, which has stuck with me since I first heard it back in '86 or '87 on a VHS recording of Headbanger's Ball (I lived in the country and didn't have cable! The HORROR!!!).  The guitars absolutely shred on this song, and Caine is in excellent vocal form as he snarls about the success his band is going to achieve as they "take the world by storm".  Lyrically, the song is uber-simplistic, but catchy as all get out, and it's the type of sing-along, pump-your-fist type or rocker that labels were looking for from bands such as Slave Raider, and it is likely what Jive Records latched onto when they were first presented with the opportunity to sign the band.  Other top rockers include more mid-tempo audience chanter, "Make Some Noise", "Long Way From Home". and the second-to-last track on the record, "The Devil Comes Out In Me".

This is where the "at their worst" part of my previous statement kicks in.  Lyrically, these guys are not poets or philosophers, to be sure.  Even on the nicely rocking tunes, it soon becomes apparent that the above average rocking can only go so far to cover up sub-par lyrics.  Whether we are talking about "The Devil Comes Out In Me", which is a reflection by the band on their partying ways, taking about "...drinking some whiskey/Maybe a snort of some 'caine", or the equally rocking "Burnin' Too Hot", with such inane lyrics as "Smooth talking - fast walking/Grinding machine/Wearing a pair of painted on blue jeans/Came up to me/One thing on her mind/Told me I was one of a kind", the lyrical content just leaves me kind of....yikes...  And, the really ironic part of it all, at least for me, is that the band was billed as having deeper,  more insightful lyrics that went beyond the party rock cliches of their peers.  Huh?  Outside of the title track and "The Black Hole" (more on that song in a minute), pretty much EVERY song here is about partying and having a good time.

Another frustrating thing for many listeners will be the fact that on an album that is only eight songs long...which was VERY frustrating to teens on a limited-music-budget back in the day...there are two tracks that take up almost half of the album, time-wise!  "Survival Of The Fittest" is so bloated with an intro laden with speech outtakes from various American presidents about the use of atomic/nuclear weapons, and so plodding in its musical pacing and approach, that it knocks an almost-seven-minute hole in the record that its hard to recover from.  With Caine sounding a LOT like Lizzy Borden, vocally, the album's closer, "The Black Hole", is even more guilty of bloat-for-bloat's sake.  The song clocks in at over 8 minutes in length and does less work than the classic Twisted Sister opus, "Horror Teria (The Beginning)", half of which is the similarly paced, styled, and performed...but significantly more memorable  and impactful..."Captain Howdy".  The main problem on this track is the MASSIVE, minutes-long instrumental break  which starts at about 3:45 and carries on for the next four-plus minutes without Caine ever singing another note.  The first guitar solo is nice and skillfully performed, but its followed by a rather monotonous and uninspired drum solo, which bleeds into a really cool-sounding, but equally unnecessary bass solo, which THEN leads into a couple more guitar solos and another drum break...all of which has left me plenty of time to go make a sandwich, vacuum the main floor, finish reading a chapter in whatever book I have my nose buried in, and STILL get back before it all ended!  I don't know if this song was played live, and if it was I don't know that all these solos were included, but if they were I would imagine there was massive flooding going on in the bathrooms as everybody knew they had time to hit the head before the song finished.  Seriously, the musical section at the end is LONGER THAN THE LYRICAL SECTION...and Slave Raider was not a "jam band"!  So, what you end up with are two songs that take up nearly 15 minutes of an album that runs only 34 minutes total, and neither one is a top 5 song for me from an eight track album, so there is an obvious issue for me.      

Sound-wise, Divebomb has done an excellent job of cleaning up and beefing up the sound of the original record, giving a bit of extra thunder to the bottom end...especially the drums...and making sure that the volume is equally leveled throughout the album's entirety, which I felt was an issue on side two of the original (I had this on cassette back in the day).  

The packaging here is top notch, as is to be expected from Divebomb.  A full 20 page booklet has been added to the packaging, which includes not only a band introduction/biography, but also full lyrics to all eight songs, an inlay of the original cassette "J card", the band's original press release for the album, a full article from Kerrang!, a collage of various concert posters and flyers, and several new color photos that I had not seen previously.  Very, very cool stuff.  

Overall, this is a remarkable reissue package and well worth the money.  If you have never heard of the band, or have only heard the couple of singles they managed to squeeze into rotation on Headbanger's Ball back in the day, you would do yourself a service to track this reissue down and not pay the insane amounts of money commanded on eBay and trading sites for what is, in all honesty, an inferior product now that this excellent reissue is available.

Rating:  The album is still the album, original flaws and all.  As such, I would rock this at a solid 6.5...but as a package, this easily cranks to 8.5!

Saturday, May 14, 2016


(c) 2016 Self-Destructo Records

  1. The Hurricane
  2. This High
  3. Born In The Fast Lane

It's been just five short months since the Razorbats took home the crown as having the best record of 2016 according to us here at Glitter2Gutter, as Camp Rock quite simply blew us away with its hard-charging 70's retro rock sound, intermixed with a bit of the early 80's scene and a punk attitude in places.  Not wanting to lose the momentum they had established, Razorbats returned to the studio to record this little 3-track EP, This High, and are set to unleash it upon the world digitally in June of 2016, and again on vinyl in September 2016.  Our good buddy, Kjetil Wevling, the guitarist for the band, was kind enough to send us a preview copy of the release so that we might get you pumped for what's to come.

This mini-EP kicks off in fine fashion with "The Hurricane", which feels like a direct continuation of Camp Rock, complete with a beautifully fuzzed-up 70's guitar tone and a great, simple but snappy drum line that just drips 1978 from the start.  With only three tracks to compare here, there is still no doubt that this is my favorite on this little effort, as it is completely in the band's wheelhouse, with Even delivering another impressive vocal performance and Kjetil ripping off a nifty solo between the choruses.  Reminding me of the style of "Planet Riff" from Camp Rock, fans of T. Rex, the Sweet, or early Cheap Trick are going to cling to this track right from the start.

The title track, "This High", shifts straight into high gear right from the start, with a short, staccato snare burst from Knut before Kjetil comes charging in with the guitars, accompanied by Stig on a nice, driving bass line.  Even's voice continues to retain it's young Joe Elliott qualities, but with a nice punk edge to them, and the backing vocals are solid here as well and add a nice touch in the chorus sections.  Kjetil states that this punkish number is about "two junkies in love who enjoy each other...and enough dope to kill a small Norwegian village".   I can't speak to the killing off of a portion of the Nordic population, but I can attest to the tongue-in-cheek nature of this energetic rocker which also would have fit very nicely on Camp Rock, especially the edgier tracks from that record.

The EP closes out with the ballad, "Born In The Fast Lane", which Kjetil describes as "a reflection on what happens when a successful band breaks up and you find yourself broke and sleeping on other people's couches, but still feel like a star".  Stark from the outset, with a somber guitar riff and Even setting the stage, this beautifully crafted rock ballad (NOT an 80's power ballad, mind you...), has a really nice lyrical approach, echoing the subject's pain and frustrations, but also indicating hope for something better, especially with the ringing refrain of "keep your eyes on the road and your dreams close to the heart".   Slow, without becoming plodding, the track is of the same ilk as one of my faves from the band, "Desolation Highway", from Camp Rock, and its a winner all the way.  Strong performances abound here, from the understated approach of Stig's bass and Knut's drums, to the way  Kjetil just lets his guitar sing along in the background as Even channels a bit of Art Alexakis from 90's alternative rockers, Everclear, in the way he pours extra emotion into his vocals.

The production is solid and not polished at all, which is as it should be, as the distortion in the guitar is a huge part of the sound of this band.  One thing I did notice here is that the 80's elements that were mixed into Camp Rock in small doses are pretty much non-existent here, and that's fine.  The addition of a touch of the alterna-rock 90's on "Born In The Fast Lane" is masterfully done as well, and is not a hindrance to the overall sound of the track or EP in any way.  Growth, even in a retro-styled band, is essential, and Razorbats take just enough of a tiny step here to keep this EP from feeling like nothing but a collection of outtakes from Camp Rock.  

Being an all-digital preview, I have no ideas about packaging for the vinyl edition which will come out in the fall, but the cover sketch is pretty cool and fits the retro stylings of the band well.

While I obviously would've preferred a full-length release, I have to say I am not only fully satisfied with the quality of this EP, but my thirst for new material from this outstanding band has at least been slaked for the time being.  I truly hope that these songs find a home on an upcoming full-length release in the near future, but for the time being, I would encourage anyone who loved Camp Rock, or anyone who loves extremely well-done, 70s-inspired hard rock, to seek out This High EP when it becomes available in June.   

Rating:  WAY TOO SHORT on time, but plenty long on what it delivers, This High EP is definitely crankable.  Twirl the knob to 9 for the quality of material here, as I feel it is completely a continuation of the greatness of Camp Rock.

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Monday, May 2, 2016

ARMORED SAINT "Win Hands Down"

(c) 2015 Metal Blade

  1. Win Hands Down
  2. Mess
  3. An Exercise In Debauchery
  4. Muscle Memory
  5. That Was Then, Way Back When
  6. With A Full Head Of Steam
  7. In An Instant
  8. Dive
  9. Up Yours
John Bush--Lead Vocals
Jeff Duncan--Guitars
Phil Sandoval--Guitars
Joey Vera--Bass, Vocals
Gonzo Sandoval--Drums, Percussion

Additional Musicians
Eric Ragno--Piano, Keyboards
Pearl Aday--Vocals "With A Full Head Of Steam"
Kayleigh, Jezebelle, Giuseppe--Vocals on "Up Yours"

Armored Saint is one of those bands that, unless you were TRULY into metal back in the 80s, you probably heard about but didn't actually hear.  Oh, sure, you might have heard an early song or two, most likely "Can You Deliver", and they may have owned the CLASSIC Symbol Of Salvation album, which I think is one of the 100 truly must-own metal albums of all time, but most people would likely be hard pressed to name a dozen Armored Saint songs...again, unless you are a true, dyed-in-the-wool metalhead.  

But you know what?  Armored Saint doesn't care if you've never heard of them.  They play because they love to play, and to heck with everyone that doesn't understand or believe.  You know how I know that's the attitude they have?  Because NO ONE keeps playing for 30+ years with little to no recognition unless they are in it for the love of the music and for what they are doing.  And that describes Armored Saint to a "T".

2015 saw the return of the Saint with what I consider to be one of their three best albums ever, in Win Hands Down.  Now that John Bush has returned to the band full-time following his long stint in Anthrax, the band has come out swinging for the fences, in my opinion.  Yeah, they released a couple of "okay" records while Bush was with 'Thrax, but Revelations was really nothing to write home about with the exception of "After Me (Comes The Flood)" and a couple of other above average tracks, and the new material on Nod To The Old School really did nothing for me.  But, with La Raza, the band took a solid step back in the right direction, even though I think that record lacked the focus and intensity of Symbol... or this newest record.  

Win Hands Down is a solid chunk of metallic hard rock that is excellent at its best and very good at its worst.  Kicking off from the very get-go with the angry screaming of Duncan's and Sandoval's twin guitars and Gonzo's thunderous drum sound, it is obvious that the Saint is here to kick some teeth in as the title track, "Win Hands Down" comes blaring from the speakers! A big, scream-along chorus, ferocious power chord grooves, and Vera's signature bass rumbling deliver on this traditional-sounding Armored Saint track that could easily have slid into the mix on Symbol Of Salvation, shoving its way into the mix right after "Dropping Like Flies" and just before "Last Train Home", in my estimation.  Even the atmospheric..dare I say trippy...interlude at 2:40 doesn't slow down this machine, as the ripping guitar solo at the 3:22 mark just blazes away anything resembling doubt about how great this track is!  Bush is in top-notch form vocally, and everything on this track works to near perfection!  

"Mess" has a bit of a throwback sound to the intro guitars, which is pretty cool, and the urgency here is undeniable.  Again, Gonzo has some massive drum lines in this track, backed up perfectly by Vera, and the guitars just chew through your ears all throughout the track.  The overall pattern and rhythm of the song is a bit odd, to be sure, especially going into the choruses, and there is some downright strange instrumentation used right after the first chorus...is that a sitar???...but, again, it works for me and I really like the sonic experimentation here.

"An Exercise In Debauchery" is definitely an old school Armored Saint-sounding track with a much more accessible chorus than "Mess", and some truly frenetic guitar work throughout.  Vera gets the chance to step up to the forefront and drop some truly great bass SOLOING into the mix at about the three minute mark, which simply has to be heard.  

"Muscle Memory" is an interesting track, showing a band that has matured and has become introspective as it has grown longer in the tooth.  A bit more laid back in approach than the first three barnstormers, "Muscle Memory" has some cool guitar effects layered into their classic 80s metal sound, but the song is written with a wisdom and understanding of one's legacy that the guys in the band couldn't have even begun to approach in their younger days.  One of my favorites on the album, the song reaches Iron Maiden epic territory with its seven-plus minute running time, with hints of Ragno's keys being interspersed throughout and some cool percussion sounds thrown into the mix. 

"That Was Then,Way Back When" turns the pace back up a bit with a galloping, metallic rhythm guitar line and a straight forward drum attack, but it lacks some of the real grit and the teeth of the first few tracks despite the inspired interplay of Bush's vocals and a quirky solo section after the second chorus.

"With A Full Head Of Steam" is an interesting number, starting off rather sparsely with some simple bass rumbling and rim-shot drum work under a laid back guitar riff, only to burst forward in a...pardon the title-borrowing here...full head of steam as it charges into the first verse, which finds Bush trading off a couple of lines with Mrs. Scott Ian, Pearl "My Daddy is Meat Loaf" Aday, who sounds decent here with her husky-yet-still-feminine vocals, although she still pales compared to the powerhouse vocals of Bush.  The guitar solo here isn't typical Armored Saint material, and comes off as something far more modern than most of the other stuff on the record, although Vera's bass work is still something to behold.  Not a horrible song by any means, and it has some interesting time changes throughout the track, but this one took several spins before it really clicked with me.

"In An Instant" is a really strong track about the Boston Marathon bombings that packs a good deal of emotion, interspersing acoustic guitar sections with some equally hard-hitting, angry moments.  Again, this is a track that only an older, wiser Armored Saint likely could have written, and is one that shows not only the depth of the band lyrically, but also gives them a chance to stretch their musical muscle and step outside their normal metallic box.  A top 4 track for me on this record for sure.

"Dive" starts off with a really cool piano intro and Bush actually singing, rather than snarling, on a track that reminds me a LOT of some of the things Queensryche was doing with their slower, more progressive material on Empire or Promised Land.  The only true "ballad" on the album, "Dive" really impresses me with its ability to incorporate a new approach, experiment with atypical Armored Saint instrumentation, and a softer vocal approach from Bush.  Not saying I would want an entire album of this type of material (which I jokingly called "Armored Floyd" when I was describing it to a friend of mine), but as a stand-alone moment on this album, it works very well and I like it a lot.

"Up Yours" closes the record with the most acerbic, biting lyrics on the record and finds the band in a rather chippy mood as it finishes things off in rip-roaring fashion, even incorporating some screamed "up yours" chants from Bush's children, Jezebelle and Giuseppe (not sure who Kayleigh belongs to) into the final run through of the chorus.  Showcasing the fact that these "old guys" still have their chops, a raging guitar solo rips through the middle section of the track, leaving little doubt that while time may have matured the band from an overall songwriting stance, they are still metalheads at the core and are at the top of their game when they are snarling, spitting, and screaming in your face...up yours! 
The packaging is pretty good...for a digipack...grrrr....and the booklet contains all lyrics, thank you's, writing credits, etc.  There are no band photos, at least in the traditional sense, but otherwise its a nicely done package.

A great return for a criminally overlooked band, Win Hands Down easily made the top twnty albums of the year for me and is the album from the band I turn to most outside of Symbol Of Salvation.  If you haven't done so, seek out both of these albums immediately, and go ahead and snag March Of The Saint and La Raza while you're at it.

Rating:  Utterly crankable, Win Hands Down is a really, really good record.  Crank this to 8 with no hesitation!


Sunday, May 1, 2016

FIERCE HEART "Fierce Heart" Re-issue

(c) 1985 Mirage Records

(c) 2016 AOR Blvd Records

  1. Echoes
  2. Fierce Heart
  3. Out For Blood
  4. Lion's Share
  5. Search And Destroy
  6. Heroes
  7. Never Gonna Make Me Cry
  8. Bad Maureen
  9. Loose Lips
  10. Getting Lost Inside Your Love (Bonus)
  11. Bad Child (Bonus)
  12. Power To Rock (Bonus)
Larry Elkins--All Vocals, Bass
Rex Carroll--All Guitars
Chris Lord-Alge--Drums and Fairlight programming

It took thirty-one years, but Fierce Heart's one and only release, the self-titled Fierce Heart record, has finally received a proper reissue.  I say "proper" because this album has been "reissued" no fewer than three times previously, once by Retrospect Records, once by some company called Unidisc Music (an unauthorized release, I have been told), and one other time by some bootleg label (Russian, I believe) that didn't even put their name on the outside of the product (and trust me...its a bootleg, no question).  I am told by other collectors that there are at least two other boots out there as well, so who knows how many times this album has been knocked off, and by whom?

One thing should be obvious, however, with this many people willing to make illegal copies of a record.  There's a market for them.  Why?  Quite simply, its because the album is a very, very good piece of early-to-mid 80's polished hard rock, not overly far removed from much of what was starting to explode out of the Hollywood scene, despite the fact that the "band" (really only Larry and Rex) was actually from Chicago.  Now, I know, I know, people are going to say this sounds "dated", which is a term I hate.  Of course it sounds "dated"...it was written and recorded 30+ years ago!  Do you expect it to sound like it came out this week?  Look, if you don't want music to sound like its "from the 80s", don't buy music FROM THE 80's!

Now, AOR Blvd has promised that this is a remastered version and that some of that "80's sound" has been updated, but that's a lot of hooey.  Is it remastered?  Yes, no question.  Does this reissue sound better than the bootlegged copies I have or have heard?  Yeah, absolutely!  There is no question that the original nine tracks sound very crisp and clean.  The Russian (I'm assuming) disc, for example, sounded like it was recorded straight from vinyl, so there was a hiss to the sound, which was annoying, and the others sounded rather tinny to my ears.  Also, there are some volume issues on the previous versions I have/have had.  Those issues have largely been cleared up, as AOR Boulevard has obviously boosted the volume on this new release, making it much more listenable at a decent volume (meaning you don't have to turn it up to 8 to get decent volume out of it, which, in turn, increases the noise factor on just about any pre-2000 CD, in my opinion).  But regardless of what you may have read into the statement that the sound is "updated", it still sounds like 80's hard rock, as it should.  It's not like they brought back the layers of guitars that Rex mentioned in his interview with me, or that they changed the drum machine out for a live drummer.  Additionally, the three bonus cuts are all very demo sounding, with little to no mix to them at all.  Still cool to hear, and, if I'm not mistaken, a couple of these riffs were lifted from these songs to eventually become Whitecross riffs, as they are VERY familiar to me.  (Note--Rex verified this when I got the chance to update his interview, which you can read HERE).

Musically, the album sits somewhere between Journey and a band like Dokken, or the lesser-known band, Eyes, for example.  It's harder-edged than the poppy stuff Journey had their greatest success with, but not as glammy or "hairy" as the hair metal acts of the time.  Relying on strong songwriting, killer guitar riffs, big hooks, and catchy choruses, this album is exactly what most radio stations were gobbling up.  I would go so far as to say it is one of the truly underrated gems of its time as far as this type of polished hard rock goes.  Elkins actually is a rather strong singer, sounding at times like a younger version of Jeff Scott Soto on power rockers like "Lion's Share", and the backing vocals throughout the record are also superbly done, as is evidenced on a track like "Heroes" or "Bad Maureen".  For his part, Reynolds was also quite a gifted vocalist on the three tracks presented here, with a bit more upper-end to his range, which is really shown on the ballad, "Getting Lost Inside Your Love".  However, it is Carroll's guitar work that really steals the show on the majority of these tracks, whether it is the tight rhythm work on "Out For Blood", the hook-laden "Bad Maureen", the catchy-as-sin title track, or the demo-form shredder, "Power To Rock".  "Bad Child" also shows some flash from Carroll, but this song also features one of the best rhythm sections on the whole project and I think it really showcases an edgier, harder sound that would have translated well with the later 80's crowd as hair metal and harder-edged rock were starting to really dominate.  It's really too bad that there is no way to get the original source tapes from this record and to have it properly mixed, as Carroll has told me that there were usually dozens upon dozens of guitar tracks laid down for these songs and that the sound was huge at one time, but, true to the 80's mentality, the tracks were condensed down, the drums (drum machine) was pushed out front, and the sound comes off as a watered down version of what it could have (should have) been.

If you have another version of this record, and you enjoy it, I highly encourage you to seek this new remastered version out, as the sound quality is definitely cleaned up and superior, and the bonus material is a nice addition.  Additionally, the packaging on the reissue is top-notch, with all of the lyrics now included, as well as a new cover, new tray artwork, and an interview with Rex and Larry included in the booklet.  Rex also covers some...but not nearly all...of the issues we discussed in his interview on this site. Kudos to AOR Blvd and Rex for putting together a really nice package here.

It really is too bad that this band didn't get the shot it deserved (to find out why, check out our newly updated interview with Rex Carroll HERE), as I think mid-80s radio would have eaten this record up with the correct push.  As it stands, this is a piece of melodic hard rock history that many still have not heard in a good, clean sounding version, which is exactly what AOR Blvd provides here.

You can order the project directly from Rex's website at www.rexcarrollmusic.com

Rating:  An album I have long-enjoyed is given top-notch treatment here, and the music really is strong here.  Crank this to 7.5.

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