Friday, October 21, 2016

DISCIPLE "Long Live The Rebels"

(c) 2016 Tooth & Nail Record/BEC Recordings

  1. First Love
  2. Long Live The Rebels
  3. Secret Weapon
  4. Erase
  5. Come My Way
  6. Underdog Fight Song
  7. God Is With Us
  8. Spirit Fire
  9. Forever Starts Today
  10. Black Hole
  11. Spinning 
  12. Empty Grave
Kevin Young--Lead Vocals
Josiah Prince--Rhythm Guitars, Bass
Andrew Stanton--Lead Guitars, Bass
Joey West--Drums

Additional Musicians
Ethan Luck--Bass
Cody Drigger--Bass
Matt Aracaini--Bass

As an early Halloween treat, modern Christian rockers, Disciple, have returned with their latest offering, Long Live The Rebels, a crowd-funded effort which may be their strongest complete set of material to date.  Following 2014's well-received Attack, and 2015's EP release, Vultures, the band has returned with 12 brand new songs that are similar in style and approach to those of Attack, meaning a strong sense of melody combined with heart-pounding rhythms, buzz-saw guitars, Young's alternately clean-and-scream vocals, and a heavy dose of adrenaline.  

As the sole remaining member of the original version of the band, which has been together since 1992, Young has really found his voice, not only lyrically, but stylistically, in the past few years.  Always bold spiritually, Disciple nonetheless played the genre-hopping game to a degree, starting off as something of a rap-rock band before fully embracing nu-metal, then more of a metalcore sound, before finally settling into their current, and most successful sound, with heavy modern radio rock. Starting in 2010 with their MASSIVE hit "Dear X (You Don't Own Me)", Disciple has really found their musical niche, still embracing their older, heavier styles, but also incorporating a more mature element, as well, particularly in the way the songs are put together.  Make no mistake, the guitars still churn away, chock full of angst and aggression, the drums are as thunderous as ever, and the lyrics are just as bold as longtime fans will recall, but there is an accessibility that has really shown itself over the past 5 or 6 years, allowing a broader fanbase to attach themselves to the band than ever happened in the past.  This is plainly evident in the fact that the last two full-length releases, Attack and now Long Live The Rebels have taken in over a quarter of a million dollars in fan-funding through Kickstarter, which is a number nearly any mainstream band would struggle to match.

On the new record, the band comes out firing on all cylinders, right from the start.  While possibly not quite as kick-you-in-the-gut aggressive as, say, "Radical" was on Attack, "First Love" is still an incredibly powerful song about finding one's way back to Christ after living a life of deceit, deception, and hypocrisy.  There's a really cool breakdown in the middle of the song, as well as an exceptionally catchy chorus (which so many of the tracks here really feature to a high degree), and some cool interplay between the two guitarists that set the stage for a truly great album.

The title track is up next and its our first chance to hear Young really get aggressive with his vocals on this album, and he does not disappoint.  Churning, swirling guitars abound throughout, and again, there is a really cool tempo changing breakdown at about the two minute mark before the track come crashing back in with the angst-filled chorus.  I really hope that this song makes the setlist for the next version of the City Rockfest Tour, as it is one of my favorites from the new album, no question."Secret Weapon" keeps the metallic aggression turned up with break neck drumming, blistering rhythm guitars, and a pummeling chorus informing the listener that with Christ in your corner, there is very little anyone can actually do to you as a person, as Young bellows, "You can knock me down, destroy my name, But my power comes from a Higher Place".

At this point, the band steps back the tempo just a bit with "Erase", which, for my money, is this album's "Dear X" moment.  A killer tune with a truly powerful message, the chorus alone will hook just about any rock fan, as Young passionately tells the listener that Christ "will erase, your yesterdays, you'll be okay, My Love is greater than your mistakes".  The guitar work on this track is absolutely perfect, and the rhythm section is tight and controlled, so as to not let the song spin out of control into a more aggressive animal than it needs to be.  Its this restraint...this maturity...on this record that speaks volumes about how much Disciple has grown, especially since this version, dubbed Disciple 3.0, has taken the reins of the band.

The difficulty for me in reviewing an album like this one is the desire to break down every single track, which not only makes for an incredibly long review, but also takes away some of the fun in the discovery for people who seek the album out.  That being said, there are just so many excellent moments here, that it is really hard to not lay them all out, whether it be the lyrical wallop that Young hits you with on "Come My Way" ("can you feel my fingertips on the chalkboard of your soul?"...brrrr....goosebump material there!), to the machine gun drumming and aggressive rhythm guitars of "Forever Starts Today", to the haunting structure of "God Is With Us", which was instantly a favorite with my kids due to its insanely simple-yet-uber-catchy chorus.

There really are no weak songs here at all, with only the second-to-last track, the quirky "Spinning", being the only track that even hints at being a bit out of its element on this record.  Even then, I will say that the nearly 180 degree style change, from a mid-tempo rocker to angst-riddled, scream-infused headbanger is a fun one, and Young's lyrical twists ("my life is just a burned out cigarette") make it a fun listen, much like "Kamikaze" did on Attack.  And for anyone who thought that the band maybe strayed a bit too far on that track, the album closer, "Empty Grave", brings the focus back front-and-center on Christ, His resurrection, and the miracle that it is for humanity, in truly powerful fashion.

The band still does not have a full-time replacement on bass, so multiple people step up in that capacity here, but the overall chemistry of the band and the record do not suffer in any way.  The production is top-notch, as is typically the case with the highly professional Disciple, and the mix is stellar to my ear.  Again, the interplay between Prince and Stanton is truly great to hear, and the drum work from West throughout the record is spot-on for me.  And of course, Young's abililty to run the gamut as far as vocal approaches goes, gives Disciple a musical depth a lot of bands of this style don't have, especially with Josiah Prince adding some excellent backing vocals to the mix.

Is Long Live The Rebels a clone of Attack?  No, not by any stretch, although fans of that record, or any of Disciple's records since Horseshoes And Hand Grenades will definitely find moments of comfortable similarity and enjoyable familiarity.  Is it better than Attack?  That's a tough call, also.  While I don't know that I would say it is better, I would say that this new record is definitely on par with that excellent record, and a great return to tru form for the band who may have thrown a few people off a bit with the darker material that was cobbled together for the Vultures EP.

Rating:  Definitely crankable and an instant candidate for record of the year.  Spin this one up to 9!

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Friday, October 14, 2016

DIRKSCHNEIDER "Live: Back To The Roots"

(2016) AFM Records

  1. Intro
  2. Starlight
  3. Living For Tonite
  4. Flash Rockin' Man
  5. London Leatherboys
  6. Midnight Mover
  7. Breaker
  8. Head Over Heels
  9. Neon Nights
  10. Princess of the Dawn
  11. Winterdreams
  12. Restless And Wild
  13. Son Of A Bitch
  14. Up To The Limit
  15. Wrong Is Right
  16. Midnight Highway
  17. Screaming For A Love Bite
  18. Mosterman
  19. TV War
  20. Losers And Winners
  21. Metal Heart
  22. I'm A Rebel
  23. Fast As A Shark
  24. Balls To The Wall
  25. Burning
Udo Dirkschneider--Lead Vocals
Sven Dirkschneider--Drums
Fitty Weinhold--Bass
Andrey Smimov--Guitars
Kasperi Heikkinen--Guitars

The 1970's and 1980's music scene conjures up many things for many people, of course depending upon what you were into.  There was disco, guitar rock (what we now refer to as classic rock), the Outlaw country movement, the Urban Cowboy country movement, glam/hair/sleaze metal, speed metal, death metal, thrash metal, and of course, the New Wave of British Heavy Metal.  It seems to me that no other time frame really matches the stylistic output of about 1975-1987, and if you could't find something to listen to, it was largely your own fault for having your head in the musical sand.

Of course, being a hard rock and metal review site, we focus upon those genres, from the now-classic rock sounds of bands like Triumph, Rainbow, Foreigner, Journey, etc., to the hair, speed, classic, and thrash metal of the 80s, to grunge in the 90s, and on up through today's modern metal scene.  And while there are so many different styles and sounds to choose from, two things are largely considered to be essential if a band is going to succeed in these genres:  a great front man, and a great guitar player.

We all know about the guitar gods of the time, but for me, the most powerful and most unique voices of the hard rock/metal world came out of that 1975-1987 time frame I referenced earlier.  Lou Gramm, Steve Perry, Paul Stanley (or Gene Simmons, depending upon your KISS preferences), Rob Halford, Bruce Dickinson, Ronnie James Dio, and on and on.  But one name that I have always said was criminally underrated...possibly because no one could pronounce it...was Udo Dirkschneider, the diminutive powerhouse that was the true face and sound of the similarly underrated German metal band, Accept.  Considered by many to be one of the true precursors to speed and thrash metal, Accept was one of the first metal bands I discovered on my own after branching out from KISS in the 70s and the hair metal of the 80s that pulled me fully into the hard rock world.  From the moment I first put Balls To The Wall into my cassette player, I was hooked.

Of course, Dirkschneider left the band in 1987 to form his own side project, U.D.O., which basically allowed the man to continue on with the more metallic style and sound he preferred on his debut album Animal House, while Accept headed in a more MTV/radio friendly sound with their new vocalist, David Reece, and the ill-received (but very strong) record, Eat The Heat.   There was a brief reunion with Udo in the 90s, along with three very solid new albums, Objection Overruled, Death Row, and Predator, but the band went their separate ways once again, with Dirkschneider returning to his U.D.O. projects, and Accept recruting former TT Quick lead vocalist, Mark Tornillo, to continue on their own way.

Even so, Dirkschneider could never shake his Accept roots...nor did he try.  Dirkschneider has always openly embraced the songs of his Accept past, and always incorporated a good number of Accept songs into his live set-list.  However, with the massive catalog that Dirkschneider has compiled with his own band, and the age of some of the Accept material now pushing 40 years, Dirkschneider has decided that it is perhaps time to part with many of the songs of his past.  So, casting aside both the Accept name and the U.D.O. name, Dirkschneider has released this double live CD set under his surname, with a band that is actually the current line-up of U.D,O, (got all that?).

This massive undertaking is, in my opinion, a nearly perfect way to put to rest a lot of these classic numbers, with the band sounding spot-on throughout the record, and Udo belting his way through these songs in his unique, inimitable raspy snarl that has maintained its power and punch for all these many years.  Sure, he's still a bit hard to understand in places...especially when he is trying to talk in English between songs...but the vast majority of these songs have been heard so many times now that singing along is second nature and not at all a problem for long-time fans.

It seems almost crazy that it takes roughly two hours to get through just the "hits" of the Accept catalog, but virtually nothing is left off of this comprehensive collection.  "Fast As A Shark", the underrated "Monsterman", "Neon Nights", and of course "Metal Heart", "London Leatherboys" and "Balls To The Wall"...they're all here and executed to near perfection by the current version of the band, which now feature's Udo's son on drums.  Early tracks like "I'm A Rebel", "Breaker", "Son Of A Bitch", and "Flash Rockin' Man" are all given a full charge of new energy and urgency on this recording, each sounding better, at least to me, in this live form than in the rather dated-sounding recordings they are taken from.  For me, while all of the most common faves are here, the real treats were the lesser-known songs like "Screaming For A Love Bite", "Losers And Winners". and one of my all-time favorite Accept tracks, "Head Over Heels".   Of course there are a couple of songs that I would have loved to hear in this live setting, but none are songs that most people would consider to be essential parts of the Accept legacy, so I won't even delve into those.

If this is the way that Dirkschneider has chosen to put to rest a huge part of his musical legacy, he has certainly done a top-notch job with this massive live set, and I would imagine that I will find myself turning to this set over any "best of" collection of Accept tracks that may be available.  It is really that well done.  I can even stomach the intro here, since it is an intro to a live show, but I do believe I will likely skip it 8 out of 10 times I spin the first disc of this set.  The production is very solid, with the band in fine form, and the mix is really good for a live record, with the guitars and drums each given their own voice throughout the recording.

I have a hard time believing that Dirkschneieder won't still pull "Metal Heart", "I'm A Rebel", or "Balls To The Wall" into the live set...I just don't see how he could get away with that...but I think trimming some of the other material out will give U.D.O. fans a chance to hear some of that band's songs that maybe have had to be left on the shelf in the past.

If you want to catch the Dirkschneider tour, there are some North American dates in 2017 that you may want to check out, especially if you want a full-fledged journey back into the metallic 1980s with one of the truly defining vocalists of a musical generation.  There will never be another Udo Dirkschneider, of that I am quite sure.

Rating:  Expertly executed and completely crankable.  Live greatest hits package or not, I can't recommend anything lower than cranking this to an 8...maybe even an 8.5.

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