Friday, December 30, 2016

TANGO DOWN "Bulletproof"

(c) 2016 Kivel Records

  1. Punching Bag
  2. Give Me A Reason
  3. Bulletproof
  4. Carry On
  5. When We Were Young
  6. Going Under
  7. Superstar
  8. Edge Of Goodbye
  9. Anything Can Change
  10. Broken Heart
Chas West--Lead Vocals
Scott Miller--Lead and Acoustic Guitars
Axel K. Gessrier--Bass
Keith Michaels--Drums

Additional Musicians:
Jace Pawlak--Piano, Backing Vocals
Erik Johnson--Keys, Backing Vocals
BJ Zampa--Drums on "Broken Heart"
Justin Velte--Acoustic Guitars

Hard as it is for me to believe, it's already been over two years since Tango Down released their excellent record, Charming Devil...and since David Reece left the fold of the band as lead singer.  Additionally, bass player, Ronnie Parkes, also exited the band, leaving just Miller and Michaels to pick up the pieces and attempt to assemble an outfit worthy of continuing on with the name Tango Down, as it has become synonymous with melodic hard rock of the highest degree.  Thankfully, and perhaps unsurprisingly due to the superb musicianship of Miller and Michaels, the band manages to not only pick up right where they left off, but to also surpass the level they had previously reached on earlier albums.  

New vocalist Chas West (Bonham, Lynch Mob, Red Dragon Cartel) steps in and lends his smooth, soulful vocal talents to the new record, Bulletproof, as does new bass player, Axel K. Gessrier.  As a testament to the professionalism and talent of these two men, the band comes out firing on all cylinders on the new record, with "Punching Bag" immediately setting the tone for this new effort, showcasing a very tight-sounding band, despite the changes, on this upbeat, sassy track.

As good as "Punching Bag" is, it's on the next track, "Give Me A Reason" that the addition of West as vocalist really shines through.  While Reece is a fine singer, no question, West's smokier, more soulful style really carries a lot of emotional weight on this smooth, more mid-tempo melodic rocker.  Beautifully layered backing vocals also serve to enhance this track which also features a tasty little guitar solo and solid rhythm work.

"Bulletproof" is up next and the edge returns to the sound on this hard-hitting track that is highlighted by one of Miller's best solos on this record, an interesting acoustic moment before the last chorus section, and more of West's excellent vocals.  The chorus is simple, to say the least, but it is also highly infectious and allows West to demonstrate his command of his range by simply adjusting his intonation on just one word...bulletproof.  

"Carry On" is another catchy rocker that really recalls a band like House Of Lords for me, with a solid hook, a throbbing bass line, searing guitar solo, and...dang it, I'll say it again...some of the coolest vocals I have heard in this year's batch of albums sent to Glitter2Gutter for review.  I honestly thought losing Reece would be a bigger deal for the band than it turns out to be, because I truly feel that West trumps him in nearly every way.

Perhaps part of this is due to the supreme quality of the songs on this record.  Take for example the next track up, "When We Were Young".  Not only a nostalgia trip lyrically, the song just has that magical quality that makes you want to hit the "repeat" button multiple times so that you can sit back and let the music flow over you.  And when a song is written this well, the addition of a vocalist who can command they lyrics is icing on the sweetest of cakes, which is what I think this song is on Bulletproof.  Definitely my favorite song on the record and a candidate for song of the year for me.

Big drums come thundering back in on "Going Under", but a smoother, more melodic guitar approach reins the track back in before it become some big, bombastic arena number (which isn't necessarily a bad just wouldn't fit here).  This song is a bit more laid back and reserved than the majority of the material here, and it is probably my least favorite track on the record, but by no means is it a bad song at all.  Gessrier's bass is definitely given a voice in this song and he proves himself to be a more-than-capable player in this exceptionally tight melodic machine.  

"Superstar" smacks you across the face if you happen to drift a bit during "Going Under", with gritty guitars and punchy drum work driving this hard rocking track that finds West sounding, ironically, somewhat like Reece did on Accept's Eat The Heat album.  

"Edge Of Goodbye" is the album's big ballad moment.  Featuring a piano intro from Kivel labelmate, Jace Pawlak, the song remains relatively quite and restrained during the verse sections before building and soaring during the chorus sections.  Lighters will be held high, to be sure, if this song finds its way into the band's live sets, and with good reason.  Miller contributes a great, emotionally-charged solo on the outro to the track, by the way, and listeners should be sure to go back and give it the attention it deserves.

"Anything Can Change" returns to rocking mode for the band, leading seamlessly into the gritty, dirty rhythms of album closer "Broken Heart", which finds Maxx Explosion/House of Lords drummer, BJ Zampa, occupying the seat behind the kit.  Some nice keyboard work provides a solid support structure for this track without becoming a distraction, and the bass and rhythm guitar work here is extremely tight.  Miller again melts his way up and down the frets of his guitar on another ripping solo, and West leaves no doubt that he is the man in command of the mic now as the album comes to a close.  A stellar way to end a record, to be sure! 

Perhaps the most overlooked and underappreciated contributor to this entire project is Ty Simms of Bombay Black, who once again lends his prodigious talent to the production, mixing, and mastering of the record.  It's hard to say enough about the talent of this man and the way he helps bring the best performances out of the bands he works with, and the work he does on Bulletproof is no exception.

It's also important to note the work of Erik Johnson on this record, as the backing vocals are a huge part of what makes this album click.  It's amazing how well his voice, and those of his assembled cast, help to round out the overall sound of Bulletproof, and I love the way those vocals are layered to add depth to several cuts here.   

Also playing a big role in this record's success would be the slew of Kivel stablemates who contribute to the songwriting here.  Shawn Pelata (Livesay/7HY/Final Sign), Pawlak, Jimi Bell (Maxx Explosion/House of Lords), and Zampa (Maxx Explosion/House of Lords)...along with Mr. John Kivel, himself...and a few others, all put pen to paper in some fashion in helping to create the songs on this record.  Miller had a hand in writing or co-writing half of the tracks here, as well, and it goes without saying that no matter how good a band is, they have nothing to work with if the music is of poor quality.  That is definitely not the case on Bulletproof. 

As is typical of Kivel products, the packaging is top-notch, with a full-color, 16 page booklet filled with lyrics, writing credits, and thank yous...not to mention the return of the gorgeous cover model Azarja van der Veen (is she an official member now?).  

Rating:  Roaring back better than ever, Bulletproof is top-notch cranking material!  Twist the volume up to 8.5!

Thursday, December 29, 2016

METALLICA "Hardwired...To Self Destruct"

(c) 2016 Blackened Recordings

Disc One
  1. Hardwired
  2. Atlas, Rise!
  3. Now That We're Dead
  4. Moth Into Flame
  5. Dream No More
  6. Halo On Fire
Disc Two
       7. Confusion
       8. ManUNkind
       9. Here Comes Revenge
      10. Am I Savage?
      11. Murder One
      12. Spit Out The Bone

Disc Three (Expanded Edition)

      13. Lords of Summer
      14. Ronnie Rising Medley
      15. When A Blind Man Cries
      16. Remember Tomorrow
      17. Helpless (Live)
      18. Hit The Lights (Live)
      19. The Four Horsemen (Live)
      20. Ride The Lightning (Live)
      21. Fade To Black (Live)
      22. Jump In The Fire (Live)
      23. For Whom The Bell Tolls (Live)
      24. Creeping Death (Live)
      25. Metal Militia (Live)
      26. Hardwired (Live)

James Hetfield--Lead Vocals, Rhythm Guitar
Lars Ulrich--Drums
Kirk Hammett--Guitars
Robert Trujillo--Bass

1988 is a long time ago, especially if you are a fan of a band who, in the estimation of many of its most ardent fans, has not released an album worthy of their name since that time.  Metallica is just such a band.  A true legend in the metal field, and considered one of the pioneers of thrash metal, the mighty Metallica was at the top of the metal heap in the 80s, releasing four consecutive albums of thrashy bliss, starting with 1983's Kill 'Em All, then continuing through Ride The Lightning, Master Of Puppets, and the 1988 offering mentioned at the outset, ...And Justice For All.  Throw in a top-notch covers album, $5.98 EP: Garage Days Re-Revisited, and you had five albums that showcased the fast and aggressive thrash the band was known for, intermixed with enough NWoBHM to outline the difficulty in pigeonholing the band, and enough progressive elements to show the band's growth and maturation as they progressed from album to album.

But many felt success bred a rapidly declining aggression to the Metallica sound, pointing to the band "selling out" on the self-titled 1991 album, also referred to as "the Black album", which was decidedly more hard rock and less metal than anything the band had done before.  This new sonic accessibility led to increased sales and a larger fan base, with the record selling more than 16 million copies and becoming one of the top albums, sales-wise, in American history.  It also cost the band some of their die-hard fans, as the disenchanted began to look elsewhere to get their metal fix.  This was probably a good thing, too, as the band departed more and more from their thrash roots, releasing to alternative metal albums, Load and Reload, the live S&M album which featured the band being backed by the San Francisco Symphony, and a new covers album, Garage, Inc.  For original fans from the Kill 'Em All days, Metallica was about as far removed from the band they fell in love with as they could possibly be.

Of course, most readers know that things DID get worse, as the abysmal St. Anger was released in 2003, at which point even I had all but declared the band dead.  I enjoyed the Black album, I found things about Load and Reload to enjoy, and I'll even admit to enjoying S&M for what it is (the record...not the sexual fetishes, by the way...), but St. Anger killed the band for me.  To me, the album is so bad I don't even own it now...and I'm a completist when it comes to collecting my favorite bands.  (I also don't own the equally crappy Lulu, which found the band collaborating with Lou Reed.)

Of course, the band started to work on a musical resurrection with Death Magnetic in 2008, and the band seemed to be returning to their roots musically, although the production on the record is overly compressed, the sound suffers as a result, and many of the songs were almost too complicated for their own good.  Throw in the fact that Hetfield had apparently forgotten how to sound like Hetfield vocally (both on record and live, by the way...he had pretty much lost his edge by this point), and this album was a letdown for me, although there was some hope that the band may be finally coming full circle and the band remembered how to thrash about a bit.

That brings us, finally, to Hardwired...To Self Destruct.  Unlike Death Magnetic, the new album doesn't come off as the band throwing a bone to a long-starved section of their fan base; it comes across as the band sounding like they genuinely woke up from a long musical coma and suddenly remembered, "Hey, we're Metallica!  What the hell have we been doing these past 20 or so years?!"  They then locked themselves in a room, pulled out the first five albums (yes, there are still some hints of the Black album here...but not many), picked up their instruments and re-learned how to be Metallica!

The new record starts off in blazing fashion with the frantic thrash-about of the title track, "Hardwired...To Self Destruct", which should immediately have fans slamming off of one another and moshing about the room.  With a loose and easy speed that hasn't been present since Puppets, and a tone that is reminiscent of the Justice days, "Hardwired" finds the boys chewing through an actual thrash song, complete with Lars sprinting away on double kicks and James threatening to scorch the strings right off his rhythm guitar.  While he didn't contribute any writing to this album, Hammett rips off a nice solo in the middle of the track, and UNlike the Justice record, you can actually hear Trujillo go to work on the bass, which really helps support the structure of this blistering track.  While all of this is great and welcome, for me one of the most important...and likely most overlooked...facets of this song and album is the return of the Mighty Hetfield as lead snarler for the band.  Sure, he still attempts to throw in some hip crooning here and there (mostly on disc two), but the sneer and snarl are back for the first time since the Black album, and James truly sounds like the James of old, which does so much for the sound of the band that it is almost impossible to adequately describe.  Honestly, this more than anything else had me excited upon hearing "Hardwired".

"Atlas, Rise!" shows a bit of the progressiveness that the band had started toying with on Justice and then continued with to varying degrees of success for several albums, but the rhythm guitars continue to blaze along on this track, the tempo changes are more metallic in nature, and the high speed guitar solo keeps the listener's attention solidly directed, all of which don't allow "Atlas, Rise!" to devolve into the alternative dreck that so many songs did on Load and Reload.  It's not my favorite track here, but it's still very much a Metallica track of the older-school variety and one I enjoy.  "Now That We're Dead" drifts closer to the edgier hard rock sound of the Black album than it does the thrash of the first four records, but it remains heavy as stink and fits nicely with its surroundings.  Kudos to Lars for the different drum tempos used within this track, especially during the extended break before the last bridge and chorus.  "Moth Into Flame" drags a Ride The Lightning tone to the opening guitars and a "Four Horsemen" styled structure to the verses, which is pretty dang cool to hear on what is easily one of the best songs on this new record.  A definite nod to the old-school, while not ripping themselves off or simply rehashing old ideas, "Moth Into Flame" finds the band successfully revisiting familiar waters while still managing to sound fresh.  "Dream No More" again recalls the more simplistic bottom-heavy rock of the Black album, not sounding wholly dissimilar to "Sad But True", but again it manages to avoid being a complete reworking of that song, largely due to some absolute jackhammer drum work from Ulrich in spots, and a cool solo from Hammett that really showcases the guitar slinger finding a groove and just absolutely running with it.

"Halo On Fire" is my least favorite track on the first disc, but it isn't horrible by any stretch.  At more than eight minutes in duration, the song is likely too long for a lot of people, although the tempo changes should help alleviate attention span problems.  My main issue with it is that this is an example of a song where James slips into that sing-song crooning style that he used in the Load/Reload era of the band that seemed to get stuck in his head as his go-to approach in all cases, even when performing older material live.  The music itself isn't bad here, just not overly interesting or memorable, but again, so much more palatable than 90% of the material the band released from Load through Death Magnetic.

Disc 2 starts off in fine fashion with "Confusion", which again has a definite throw back approach, with the intro drum cadence and guitar riff punching you so familiarly in the face that you welcome the bloodied nose with a smile, as Hetfield once again proves himself to be one of the greatest  rhythm players in the history of the genre, and Hammett absolutely scorches through a really good solo here.  But from here, Disc Two limps along a bit for three of the next four tracks. "ManUNkind" gives a co-writing credit to Trujillo, and after an odd, atmospheric intro, slips into a Black-ish groove, although there is an element of Rage Against The Machine to the guitars leading into the verses that I find rather unsettling (I freaking HATE RAtM!).  If I had to completely drop one track from the album proper, this would likely be it.

"Here Comes Revenge" has a purely Justice inspired tempo and opening riff and quickly rights the ship (although its not like "ManUNkind" had sunk the record by any means), with "Am I Savage?" finding the band getting a bit more experimental/progressive and drifting a bit in the direction of Load/Reload, but Hetfield resists the urge to slip into "metal Sinatra mode" for the most part, which helps keep this from becoming a straight-up skipper.  Much like "ManUNkind", this would be a track that I would have likely left off, or at least moved to the bonus disc of the deluxe version.

"Murder One" starts off like it wants to be "One...Pt. 2", but a couple of rapid-fire drum bursts disrupt that feeling on this track which tributizes the late Lemmy Kilmister and name-drops several Motorhead song titles throughout the lyrics.  Not my favorite, and one that could likely have been left off, but I guess it isn't something that has to be skipped, either.

"Spit Out The Bone" is an absolutely perfect close to the second disc, and the main album, with huge drums, blazing rhythm guitars, a piercing solo, and gut-wrenching thrash tempos ripping right through your skull, with Hetfield's snarl held firmly in place throughout.  It wouldn't shock me to learn that "Hardwired" and "Spit Out The Bone" were written in the same writing session, as both really recall the thrashiest sounds the band has put on a record in many, many years.

The bonus disc contains a re-recorded, and somewhat shorter, version of "Lords Of Summer", which I was kind of surprised didn't make it onto the actual album.  The "Ronnie Rising Medley" here was also previously released on a tribute to Dio, and it's pretty cool to have it here as part of this package, even if it really doesn't fit anywhere, stylistically.  "When A Blind Man Cries" is a cover of a Deep Purple track, and it is done very, very well musically, although many are going to find the song's bluesy approach a bit of a downer after the much heavier, faster material on the two main discs of this set, and...well...Hetfield sings rather than snarls, so there is that.  "Remember Tomorrow" is an Iron Maiden cover, and hearing the twin guitar tones that are so much a part of Maiden is pretty cool coming from Hetfield and Hammett, and the bass of Trujillo is really given a voice here.  Again, probably too sing-songy for me, and Hetfield will never be mistaken for Dickinson, but it's a nice cover nonetheless, from a band that loves to do covers.

The live material sounds better than so many other recent live recordings that I was really happy to have it included here.  Hetfield actually sounds like Hetfield here, and the tempos are crisp and fresh, perhaps even a hit faster in the live setting than on the original albums, especially with the slower-tempo tracks.  One minor letdown was not including any Puppet or Justice songs in the live set, but its a short set performed specifically for the reissue of Kill 'Em All and Ride The Lightning, so it is understandable.  Plus, no Load/Reload schlock was included either...or God forbid, something from St. I'll take it!

This is the album Metallica fans have been clamoring for for decades now, as the band has finally, fully returned to their thrash roots, even if those roots are more from the Justice era than Kill 'Em All  or Master Of Puppets.  While Death Magnetic was a step in the right direction, Hardwired...To Self Destruct fully embraces, to varying degrees, who the band was on those first four classic albums, and finds the band in top-notch form as far as both musicianship and songwriting goes.  While I have no belief that it is the end of the band's recording career, if Hardwired... WAS to be the last album the band released, it would be a more than satisfying bookend to a legendary career.

Do yourself a favor and spend the extra few bucks to get the deluxe edition.  The bonus tracks and the live set are worth the dollars spent.

Rating:!  Rattle the windows with this masterpiece nearly 30 years in the making, by cranking it up to 8.  A bit of bloat keeps it from being even a notch higher, as it is that good in its best places.  Once again, all hail the mighty Metallica!

Monday, December 26, 2016

EDEN'S CURSE "Cardinal"

(c) 2016 AFM Records

  1. Prophets of Doom
  2. Sell Your Soul
  3. The Great Pretender
  4. Messiah Complex
  5. Find My Way
  6. Kingdom of Solitude
  7. Utopian Dreams
  8. This Is Your Moment
  9. Rome's On Fire
  10. Unconditional (feat. Liv Kristine)
  11. Saints and Sinners
  12. Jericho
Nikola Mijik--Vocals
Thorsten Koehne--Guitars
Paul Logue--Bass
John Clellane--Drums

Eden's Curse is a band I have at least some passing knowledge of from their albums with the band's namesake, Michel Eden, on vocals.  At that time, the band was something of a power metal/symphonic metal band with huge vocals, tasty guitar runs and sweeps, and some really strong rhythms.  Not my necessarily my typical fare, to be sure, but I own the first two albums on CD and the third digitally, and pull them out from time to time, when the mood strikes me.  

When Michael Eden left, I assumed the band was dead, so I was completely unaware of their new singer, and had no clue that they had put out Symphony Of Sin in 2013.  So imagine my surprise when I was sent this new album, Cardinal, for review, as I simply believed this band was no longer in existence.

The album starts off strong, with the first four tracks ranging from good to excellent, as the band flexes its musical muscle from the outset.  The record starts with "Prophets Of Doom", kicking things off in a familiar symphonic manner, reminding me quite a bit of something Avantasia or old Rhapsody (now Rhapsody of Fire) would have done.  A galloping rhythm and an underlying keyboard current support "Prophets of Doom", setting the stage for the big, sweeping guitars one would expect from this style of metal.  However, it's Mijik's vocals that are the big surprise here.  Sure, the lyrics are rather typical of this genre, bordering on a cheddar-fest at times, but I've never been one to complain about the dungeons-and-dragons, kings-and-queens lore-styled lyrics, so I wasn't put-off by what was being sung; I was more impressed with HOW Mijik was able to sing the lyrics.  I'm not sure what he has done in the past...if anything...but his is definitely a versatile instrument allowing him to sound somewhat similar to Tobias Sammet here, and then more like Jorn-lite on later tracks, such as the absolute beast on this record, the huge "Messiah Complex", which I will admit to putting on repeat for about half a dozen straight listens when I first got this record for review.  While it sounds more like an Allen/Lande song than anything from Eden's Curse's catalog, it is a monster of a track with some absolutely catchy-as-sin hooks, some really cool guitar licks, and an edge added to the vocals that really up the ante for this record musically.  In between these two tracks, "Sell Your Soul" and "The Great Pretender" are both strong numbers as well, with "Sell Your Soul" being the first real example of the band shifting gears since the loss of Eden on vocals, as there is a definite melodic radio rock feel to this track that wasn't really a part of older Eden's Curse.  It's not a bad song by any stretch, but there are some metallic sacrifices made here that make the song more accessible than "Messiah Complex", for example.  Still, no alarm bells go off for me through these first four tracks.

The first slip for me comes with "Find My Way".  The track starts off with some rather stylistically off-putting keyboard effects that don't fit this style of music all that well and really have no home with the rest of the record.  A nice, crunchy rhythm guitar steps in to help the track recover before disappearing entirely to leave Mijik and a piano as the sole workers on this track which for much of the first verse, before the band sweeps back in on what has now morphed into a big, Journey-esque power ballad type of song.  Yes, I said Journey-esque.  Take just a hint of the flowery flourish out of the keyboards, and exchange Steve Perry for Mijik, and I think you would agree that this track would have been all over AOR/Top 40/Mainstream Rock stations in the early-to-mid 80s.  The song just doesn't fit.  I'm also not a big fan of the keyboard solo that is interjected into the middle of the track, or of the way the keys take over chunks of the song in general. 

If "Find My Way" sounded slightly off from the sound of the rest of the record, "Kingdom Of Solitude" juts right out of this record like a third arm, musically.  This song has Extreme written all over it, from the funk-infused guitar intro to the keyboard horns, the boogie dance rhythm utilized in several spots on the track, and the Nuno-inspired guitar approach of the solo...and much of the rhythm riffing.  Lyrically, its not territory that Extreme explored, but musically, this could've been on Pornografitti or III Sides To Every Story rather easily.

"Utopian Dreams" heads the ship back in its original direction after being blown briefly off course.  The gallop is back in the music on this Stratovarius...or perhaps more Kamelot...styled symphonic track that includes the genre-typical keyboard runs and solos where true power metal bands would have dropped a blazing guitar solo or and extended fret flourish of some sort.  But, this is the genre that it is, and so if these things bother you to great degree, then Eden's Curse isn't a band you should be seeking out in the first place.

"This Is Your Moment" is a really strong rocker with a catchy hook, some really good backing vocals, and top-notch rhythm guitar work from Kohne.  Mijik's vocals really stretch toward the upper end of his tenor range here, and he proves himself more than capable of sustaining a note or ripping out a scream when necessary, then slipping back into that edgier Jorn-ish approach.  Good stuff here.

"Rome's On Fire" is probably my second favorite track here (probably switching on-and-off with "This Is Your Moment"...), and is one of the more straight-forward power metal tracks on the record, with big, thundering drums, top notch rhythm guitars, multiple mini-guitar solos, big backing vocals, and a really strong performance from Mijik.  Also, the keys take a more subordinate role here, which is what I typically prefer. 

"Unconditional" is simple too saccharine for me to stomach, with its pop radio rhythm, the echo effects on the guitars, and the overly emotional female vocals of Liv Kristine threatening to push me into a diabetic coma.  Honestly, despite the weirdness of having pseudo Extreme and Journey tracks mixed in, this is the lone skipper for me as I seriously just don't enjoy it at all.

The album recovers to finish strong with both "Saints and Sinners" and "Jericho" both being top five tracks on the record.  "Saints..." is extremely catchy, with Mijik again showing his vocal versatility on this symphonic speed metal treat, and "Jericho" is the album's "epic" track, clocking in at just under eight minutes and featuring multi-layered vocals, several time changes, chorus-styled backing vocals, and some straight-from-the-80s power chords and rhythm guitars, interspersed with healthy doses of symphonic keyboard sweeps, some 70s-sounding synthesized Hammond organ, and high speed guitar-keyboard solo interplay.  A big song to wrap up a slightly uneven, but overall impressive album from a band I thought to be dead and gone.

The production is clean and all of the instruments are separated nicely, which is pretty typical of good symphonic metal.  Compression is not an issue here, as the sound is full and vibrant, with plenty of highs and lows throughout the mix.

The vast majority of Cardinal doesn't stray too significantly from the material the band was putting out with Eden at the mic, although there are some definite AOR/melodic radio rock elements mixed in now that I don't recall being a significant part of older records (I'll now have to pull those to check them out more closely, I guess), and the occasional oddball track slips in to challenge the flow of the record near the middle.  But, for the most part, if you are a fan of symphonic metal and/or power metal, Cardinal is going to be right there in your wheelhouse and I can't imagine you not enjoying the majority of the record.

Rating:  Crank this to 7, with the high points pulling more weight than the scattered low points.

Friday, December 23, 2016


(c) 1991 Capitol Records

  1. Call It Rock N Roll
  2. Original Queen of Sheba
  3. Cold Hearted Lovin'
  4. Can't Shake It
  5. Lovin' Kind
  6. Heartbreaker
  7. Congo Square
  8. South Bay Cities
  9. Desert Moon
  10. Afterglow
2005 Reissue Bonus Tracks (Japanese Edition)

     11. Train To Nowhere
     12. Weak Brain and Narrow Mind
     13. Down At The Doctor
     14. The Hunter

Jack Russell--Lead Vocals, Backing Vocals
Mark Kendall--Lead & Rhythm Guitars, Backing Vocals
Audie Desbrow--Drums, Percussion
Tony Montana--Bass
Michael Lardie--Rhythm Guitars, Piano, Synth, Hammond, Backing Vocals

Additional Musicians:

Alan Niven--Backing Vocals, Production
Michael Thompson--Slide Guitar on "Cold Hearted Lovin'"

Everybody has that go-to album that they can pop in at any time and it instantly changes their mood for the better.  It may not be the most popular album a band has ever released, it may not even be by your favorite band, but that one album is a game changer for you.  For me, it just so happens that it IS an album by my all-time favorite band, Great White, but the first part of my statement rings true, as Hooked is definitely not the most popular album in the band's rather extensive catalog.  In fact, I would dare say it is one of their most underappreciated albums, despite it's musical greatness.

Now, I know that it's hard to say an album is underrated or underappreciated when it manages to chart Top 20 and sell over 500,000 copies, but hear me out on this.  Yes, it sold and charted well, but I have always argued that it did so on the basis that it followed up the MASSIVELY popular ...Twice Shy album and the band's biggest hit song, "Once Bitten, Twice Shy".  Had it not been for that album, and that song, in particular, there is a very good chance that Great White would have been little more than one of the dozens and dozens of hair bands of the 80s vying for attention in an over-saturated and often-under-talented market.  If that were the case, I dare say that Hooked would have been little more than a blip on the scene's radar despite the fact that I consider the album to be one of the highlights of the band's career.

Personally, I own numerous different versions of this record.  Starting at the top right and going clockwise, there is the the "censored" pressing, the nude cassette version, an import censored pressing, the censored exterior/nude interior pressing, the Japanese double-disc reissue with the nude cover and the Live In New York album as a bonus disc, and the very cool Hooked promo kit that comes with a fisherman's net bag, held together by an imitation shark's tooth, surrounding an entirely different alternate cover on the outside and a CD and cassette on the inside.  The center disc is a censored exterior/nude interior version, autographed by the Jack, Mark, Audie, Michael, and then-new bassist, Teddy Cook.  I also own two vinyl versions, as well as all of the CD-singles from the album, both foreign and domestic, which included "Desert Moon", "Lovin' Kind", "Call It Rock N Roll", and "Congo Square". (Did I mention I love this record?) 

Sure, some are going to say it's the collector in me, combined with the fact that I love this band, that gives the record such high praise, but I truly do feel that this album was where the band fully developed the "Great White sound", and where they really seemed to hit their stride musically and creatively. This was the last full-length album to feature Montana on bass, as he would depart after this record, but the "Core Four" of Russell, Kendall, Desbrow, and Lardie would continue on for several more releases, honing the sound that was really first developed on Hooked.  This style and sound included a lot more blues influence to their hard rock material, with far less of the "Hollywood hair" flair than had been previously employed.  The ballads, which Great White, and Russell in particular, is possibly most famous for, also incorporated a lot more soul and substance in their approach, going more for emotional content than "lighter in the air" power balladry.   Both ballad entries here, "Lovin' Kind" and "Afterglow" showcase this more 70s-inspired, soulful approach.  

The rockers, meanwhile, are among some of the best ever recorded by the band.  "Call It Rock N Roll" starts the album off in fine form, not overly flashy, but to the point and indicative of where the band was headed with Hooked.  And while many point to "Call It Rock N Roll" as being a "Once Bitten, Twice Shy" clone, I don't find that to be the case at all, and actually prefer this track.  "Original Queen Of Sheba" is catchy 3-chord AC/DC-styled rock but with far superior vocals and more bluesy sass, and the Stones-esque "Can't Shake It" should have received airplay, in my opinion, at least on album rock stations.  Two of my personal faves from the band appear on this record, with the hard-hitting "Heartbreaker" sounding a bit like a throwback to the band's earlier sound, but again with a bit more blues and soul incorporated, and "Desert Moon" is catchy as heck and would likely have become a radio staple had it been recorded and released even 5 years earlier.  Sadly, "Desert Moon" will likely always be known as the song that was being performed when the fire broke out at the Rhode Island Station nightclub, forever altering the Great White story.  I also think that "South Bay Cities" is a particularly fun track, even if its not exactly the deepest song the band has ever worked on, lyrically, nor is it meant to be.  Jack's howl on the chorus is just a treat to listen to here, and "South Bay Cities" works very well to help inject some fun, laid back atmosphere into the more emotionally-charged mid-to-slower-paced tracks here.

Three singles were officially released from this record, with "Desert Moon", "Congo Square", and "Call It Rock N Roll" all achieving some sort of chart recognition in either the United States or United Kingdom, with "Call It..." actually cracking the Top 5 on Billboard's Mainstream Rock chart, while "Desert Moon" hit number 16 on that same chart.  "Lovin' Kind" was pressed as a single in Europe, as well (I have a copy, so I know it exists) but it received no push at all, and I've heard (but haven't verified) that the band was pretty upset with Capitol for not working that song, which they felt could have been a chart hit.  I'll have to ask Jack the next time I see him.

The bonus tracks on the reissue are, for the most part, throw-away for me, largely because I already have the songs from other compilations and live albums.  Still, if you can find it for a decent price, I suppose the reissue may be the best way to go if you are looking for musical quantity for your dollar.  All are cover songs, and none fits the flow or sound of Hooked overly well, but all are done well, with "Down At The Doctor" and "The Hunter" being the best two, in my opinion.

Russell is in top-notch form throughout the record, with his raspy tenor adding edge and sass to the rockers and soaring effortlessly on the ballads here.  Kendall's guitars are the perfect complement to the approach and sound of the songs on this record, with simple-yet-effective solos slipped into the mix, while he and Lardie work so well as a tandem on the rhythms throughout the record.  Lardie's keys are also a nice supporting character here, as well, not stepping on any musical toes by trying to jump out front to grab the spotlight, which is clearly not where they should be in a band taking a decidedly more blues-based approach.  Montana and Desbrow are locked in on the bottom end throughout the effort, whether the band is in full-on rocker mode or tackling a more honky-tonk, shuffle-styled track like "Congo Square".  Again, as I stated previously, I think the band really hit their musical stride here, as all facets of the band were clicking, from the individual performances to songwriting to the production of Alan Niven. 

Rating:  Again, many will say it's because this is my "go to" record that I crank this record to a 9.5, but I argue that if people had heard the Hooked record before Once Bitten... or ...Twice Shy, this would be the style of Great White that most fans would grab hold of, and "Can't Shake It" or "Call It Rock N Roll" would be the hit that "Once Bitten, Twice Shy" has become.

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Monday, November 28, 2016

DIMINO "Old Habits Die Hard"

(c) 2015 Frontiers Records

  1. Never Again
  2. Rockin' In The City
  3. Can't Stop Loving You
  4. The Rain's About To Fall
  5. Even Now
  6. Tears Will Fall
  7. Mad As Hell
  8. Sweet Sensation
  9. Tonight's The Night
  10. The Quest
  11. Stones By The River

Frank Dimino--Lead Vocals
Justin Avery--Keyboards
John Miceli--Drums
Danny Miranda--Bass

Guest Musicians
Oz Fox (Stryper)--Guitars
Punky Meadows (Angel)--Guitars
Jeff Duncan (Armored Saint)--Guitars
Eddie Ojeda (Twisted Sister)--Guitars
Ricky Medlocke (Blackfoot)--Guitars
Pat Thrall (Hughes/Thrall)--Guitars
Paul Crook--Guitars

Every now and then, I get releases that completely seem to come out of left-field, totally unannounced, and 100% unexpected.  DIMINO did exactly that for me when it was sent to me for review, and this was for a couple of reasons.  First, the album is over a year old (didn't know that when I got it), and was just NOW sent to me.  Second, I hadn't heard ANYTHING from Dimino since his days in Angel, although I had heard he has made an appearance or two with the Sin City Sinners out in Las Vegas.  Other than that...nothin'.

Then Old Habits Die Hard shows up out of the blue.  And, I have to say, I'm actually pretty glad it did!

The first thing that most people will grab onto is the fact that this is essentially Dimino with an all-star backing band, of sorts.  Not only does he have a total Who's Who of guitar players on board here, but even his "band" is a bunch of recruits from Meat Loaf.  Secondly, with the addition of Punky Meadows as a guitar player here, there are likely to be those who wonder if this record will sound anything like Angel.  The answer is a short, sweet, but emphatic...NO.

One thing to note immediately is that Dimino has brought his vocal range WAY down from the rafter-scraping heights it sometimes reached in Angel.  Yes, he can still belt out a pretty good, high-pitched scream, as evidenced in "Sweet Sensation", for example, but on this record, Dimino uses a much more blues-based, mid-range tenor than the falsetto some people will remember him for from the 70s with Angel.   Think of the range of Biff Byford from Saxon, Dave Meniketi from Y&T, or possibly David Reece from Bangalore Choir/Accept/Tango Down as far as where his vocals tend to center themselves pitch-wise.  

What we have here is a nice collection of bluesy hard rock that runs the range from galloping rockers, like the album opener, "Never Again", the straight out of the 80s metal scene, "Rockin' In The City", to the amped-up, hard-charging "Mad As Hell", which reminds me musically of a classic mid-80s Y&T.  All really, really good stuff that had me grinning from the get-go, but nothing even remotely Angel-esque in its approach.  

In fact, a lot of this record has a solid 80s-era Y&T feel to it, which may be why I find myself digging it so much, as Meniketti and Co. has long been a Top15 band for me.  Take the previously mentioned "Sweet Sensation", for example.  We have some really good, hard power chord rock here, a soulful-yet-edgy vocalist who can let a wail rip when he wants to, a conservative use of the organ in the background, all running atop a simple bluesy rhythm section with a nice hook and a fairly impressive guitar solo.

"Tonight's The Night" liberally borrows from "Johnny B. Good" in its guitar approach on the intro and leading into hyper-simplistic chorus sections, and is a fun, if not overly memorable, rocker that flashes one of the catchier guitar solos on the record.

For those who are looking for a bit of 70s nostalgia, there are a couple of songs that will likely fit the bill.  "Tears Will Fall" has a definite 70s classic rock sound, but it has more in common with Rainbow than Angel, in my opinion, both musically and vocally.  "The Quest" is going to be another nostalgic choice here, and it is done very, very well and is probably my second favorite song on the record.  The driving guitar riff and harmonic solo, the excellently integrated Hammond in the background...and then on a solo of its own...the layered "dreamy" vocals on the bridge, and the simple-yet-sharp drums all hearken back to a time when Angel was making it's cult presence know, but Angel, this is not, as once again, Dimino's vocals are huskier and, dare I say, more powerful than they ever were in Angel. 

Album closer, "Stones By The River" starts off with a really cool blues rock riff and a simple kick drum leading in a song that has something of an old time gospel song feel to it.  Once again, Dimino's vocals are directly in their wheelhouse here, as his new bluesy rasp fits perfectly on this slower, more laid back number.

Dont' go into this album expecting a resurrection of Angel or that style, and I can pretty much guarantee you are going to love it, especially if you love blues-based 80s -era hard rock (NOT hair metal) like Y&T, Whitesnake, Deep Purple, etc.  However, if you are looking for a throwback to the Angel days, you are bound to be sorely disappointed, as this is NOT the record for you.

Not sure why it got here so late...but really glad it got here!

Rating:  Really good stuff here.  Crank this up to 8 and let the rocking begin!

Saturday, November 26, 2016

OTHERWISE "From The Roots: Volume 1"

(c) 2016 Another Century/Century Media

  1. For The Fallen Ones 
  2. Love & War
  3. Crimson
  4. Vegas Girl
  5. Die For You
  6. Never Say
Adrian Patrick--Lead Vocals
Ryan Patrick--Guitars
Tony Carboney--Bass
Brian Mederos--Drums

So...apparently the MTV Unplugged movement didn't die with the Stripped series which featured a lot of the hair bands of the 80s offering up acoustic renditions of their biggest hits.  Las Vegas rockers Otherwise have also decided to...not rock?  Well, kind of.  From The Roots: Volume 1 is an all-acoustic set or songs from the foursome, featuring three new renditions of songs from their major label debut, True Love Never Dies, plus three from their most recent studio effort, Peace At All Costs.

One thing to note on these acoustic re-workings here is that they are just  The arrangements are altered, which was more than necessary in a couple of places, and more for effect in a couple of others.  So, if you are a purist who only wants to hear songs in their original format...why the heck are you even picking this EP up in the first place?!  Anyway...

The first two tracks come from Peace At All Costs, with "For The Fallen Ones" and "Love & War" getting the first run at things.  Both are done very well, with the interplay between the Patrick brothers being a focal point not only here, but throughout the record.  "For The Fallen Ones" has some of the coolest percussion on this entire EP, with the tambourine and snare being the main instruments used, but it also sounds like some maracas or shakers of some sort are also being utilized, giving the track a bit of a Latin percussive element.  "Love & War" is an interesting turn on a pretty hard rocker, and I think it works pretty well in this format.  It has something of a country rock feel to the track in this format, although Adrian doesn't slip into any twang territory vocally.  Obviously there are some dynamics that are changed when you venture into the acoustic realm, but I think the band handled it very well on these first two tracks, as well as follow-up, "Crimson", from True Love Never Dies.  Here, Adrian softens up his vocal approach, giving an extra bit of emotion to the track and really driving home the feeling on one of my favorite album cuts from the band.

The only real stumble for me comes on track 4, as "Vegas Girl" comes across like an acoustic lounge song, although the arrangement allows for the song to morph entertainingly into "Horse With No Name" for one verse and a chorus, before flowing seamlessly back into the original track.  I will guarantee this is a hit in a live setting, but here, while cute a few times, it wears itself out after repeated listens.  And, while it's humorous to hear Adrian drop the f*bomb in this track (he REALLY emphasizes the "ck" at the end of the word with just makes it completely pop out of the acoustic setting it is surrounded by), as I've stated before, I can easily live without a bunch of swearing in songs...especially this word...and it sounds rather juvenile after a time.  That being said, I can't deny it made me chuckle the first couple of times I heard it.

"Die For You" stays the closest to its original song structure, and probably works better than any of the re-recorded material presented here in that aspect, which makes sense since it is the biggest hit the band chose to rework on this effort.  Ryan uses a flamenco-sounding style on the solo here, which is really cool, and Adrian, again, shows just how powerful his voice can truly be.  Also, Tony's bass work is a bit more noticeable here than on other cuts.  I'm not sure if he's using a traditional acoustic 4 string...I'm assuming it's not an upright...but he definitely gets some feel going here.

The album closes with "Never Say" from Peace..., and, again, the band tinkers with the song structure a bit, but the punch of this rocker still shines through more than on any of the other tracks.  I would actually go so far as to say I prefer this version, to be honest, and I am anxious to see if it makes it into the band's live set, as I think it most accurately conveys the personality of this typically high-energy, high-interaction band.

The name of the album leads one to believe that there will be a second acoustic EP at some point in the future.  If they do decide to go this route, I hope the band steps a bit out of their comfort zone and tackles some of the harder/heavier songs in their catalog.  I would be particularly interested to hear "Coming For The Throne", "Darker Side of the Moon", and "Soldiers"...maybe even "Demon Fighter"... given the acoustic make-over, just to see where they decide to take the tracks.   

Musically, this EP is extremely clean, with no squeaks and squawks from the acoustic guitars, and Ryan really gets the chance to showcase just how good of a guitar player he is.  That's one thing about an acoustic record that I love; your strengths and your weaknesses are really laid bare for the listener, without a lot of production tricks to cover up mistakes or musical deficiencies.  Likewise, Adrian's vocals are very strong and very clear, with no real backing vocals used anywhere on the record.  I'm guessing that this album was tracked and not just recorded as a single in-studio jam session, so there could be a good deal of cleaning up that was done here, but it doesn't bother me either way.  The quality of the final product is what matters, at least to me.  The band has nothing to "prove" to me with this set.

The packaging is very simplistic, with just a simple thank you list to the bigger contributors to this fan-funded effort, and a single black and white band photo under the clear disc tray.  My copy is autographed by the band (my scanner is down at the moment, so I had to snag this picture from the 'Net), and, yes, I was a campaign contributor.

All in all, this is a cool little set that I have played several dozen times already.  Will it become a long-laster for me?  Honestly, I doubt it, as acoustic albums don't do a ton for me unless there is new material on it, but I can see myself putting it in from time to time, much the same as I do with Alice In Chains' or Godsmack's acoustic efforts, or even Bon Jovi's, for that matter.  There is certainly nothing wrong with the performances here that would deter me from popping it in when the mood strikes.

Rating:  Taken for what it is, rock this at a really good 6.5.  Once the shine is off the humor of "Vegas Girl", it drops things for me just a bit, otherwise this EP would likely have reached crankable territory.  Still very much worth picking up, especially for fans of the band or for fans of acoustic rock in general.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

SCATTERED HAMLET "Swamp Rebel Machine"

(c) 2016 Buck Moon Productions

  1. Battle Hymn
  2. Whip-Poor-Will
  3. Stonewall Jackson
  4. Four Barrel Mojo
  5. White Trash
  6. Swamp Rebel Machine
  7. Green Bastard (featuring Johnny T. Crash)
  8. Outlaw Breed
  9. Rimfire
  10. Buckshot
  11. The Lesson
Jake Delling Le Bas (Drums, Percussion, Vocals)
Adam Joad (Vocals, Harmonica, Guitar)
Adam Newell (Lead Guitar, Slide Guitar, Vocals)
Richard Erwin (Bass, Vocals)

Okay, before you read any further, I want you to do three things.  1)  Look at the album cover...I mean really look at it.  2)  Check the names of the songs here.  3)  Look at the instruments played by band members.

Got all of that done?, the image you get in your mind is probably nowhere near as sleazy, swampy, or southern as Scattered Hamlet actually is!

To best describe this band, all I can say is imagine taking a southern rock band, with the Confederate Rebel flag AND the Don't Tread On Me flag both in tow, mixing in a handful of Harley Davidson motorcycle grease and about 10 gallons of swamp water, a thick dollop of sleaze metal....and then stirring it up with the moan of a slide guitar...and you have a decent idea of where Scattered Hamlet is coming at you from, musically.  And even then, you may find yourself blindsided by this band whose members probably only come to town every now and then because there's electricity to plug their instruments into!

The CD opens with some swamp sounds...frogs, birds, water, etc...leading into the marching drum cadence you would likely expect from a song called "Battle Hymn", but it also utilizes the type of horror movie vocal overlays that Rob Zombie likes to infuse into his songs to such great effect.  When I first popped the disc in, I thought I was probably looking at another intro, which we all know I'm not that into, but then a shotgun blast hits and Joad's vocals come snarling up from beneath the green film of the swamp these guys have crawled out of, with guitars gurgling right up alongside that voice, chug-chug-chugging their way to the surface to grab you by the throat and commands you to sit your ass down and listen.  

"Whip-Poor-Will" continues the gut-wrenching sludginess, with Joad's vocals at times recalling a slightly less pissed off Phil Anselmo if he fronted a biker band in a dive bar in the deep south.  Some classic guitar rock elements combine nicely with metallic edginess to churn the sound to an angry, sleazy froth with a solid nod to the drumming of LeBas here, as he labors fast and furious to keep the track thumping along, not allowing it to drift off course at all.  "Stonewall Jackson" one of my favorite tracks, musically, follows suit, as the slide guitar solo, alongside the much more punkish-sounding guitars that are also utilized on the solo, really give it a southern-fried metal sound that serves the band well.

"Four Barrel Mojo" is the required metallic shuffle song on the record, although the chorus section breaks out of the breakneck two-step pace and into more of a mosh-pit mentality.  Joad's vocals here carry hints of Taime Downe from Faster Pussycat at times, especially in the way he phrases the verses and the little snarl he adds to the end of certain words.

"White Trash" is another fun rocker that is a definite nod to the sleaze rock of old, again utilizing a Faster Pussycat approach to the spare use of instruments underneath the verses before fully ripping into the chorus sections.  Easily one of my two or three favorites here,

The title track revisits that swamp scene I mentioned at the outset of the record, but it doesn't take long for the bottom end of the guitars to start muddying up the serene scene, churning up the waters and leading the vocals into the slowly building mosh that is stirred up to full force by the time the chorus hits.  There are a lot of moving parts musically on this track, with tempo changes, a breakdown of sorts, and a pretty cool guitar solo to boot.

"Green Bastard" is as much punk as it is biker rock or metal, especially in the chorus section, while "Outlaw Breed" drives the band back to the more sleaze-styled approach used on "Four Barrel Mojo" and "White Trash".  The harmonica intro to "Rimfire" doesn't do anything to warn you of the full-throttle fist-pumper of a biker-boogie track that is to follow just 30 seconds later, and "Buckshot" revisits the Anselmo-lite vocal style of vocals in a slow build of a track that eventually breaks out into a pretty cool bluesy-metal guitar solo in a rather surprisingly uptempo track.

The album closes with the band's epic track, "The Lesson", which clocks in at nearly 8 minutes in length. Opening with a very "For Those About To Rock" AC/DC styled riff and build, the band backs off to give Joad's angry vocals room to build and name-drop Johnny Cash, "Folsom Prison Blues", Waylon Jennings, Lynyrd Skynyrd, "Simple Man", and all things southern-fried country...but with a bucket of sludgy metal thrown in for good measure.   As unmatched and unrelated as all those things may seem, "The Lesson" has a definite Outlaw country feel to the lyrics and to the meaning behind the story, kinda like what David Allen Coe did with "The Ride" (look it up), while the music allows the band to showcase any number of musical influences without ever letting the listener forget that this is deep-south biker metal, not Nashville-slick country or LA styled glam.  Surprisingly good and again, one of my top three tracks here.

The mix is very well done here, and the production is a sleaze fan's delight, particularly in the treatment of the guitars and vocals.  The packaging is every bit as simple as you would likely expect it to be, with a simple single-fold insert with a band photo and credits, but no lyrics.  

Not sure what I expected when I popped this in, but what came out was NOT my expectation...and that's a good thing.  Scattered Hamlet is so much more than I anticipated, and deserves your attention...and will demand it if you don't give it willingly!  There is really very little to not like here, but if I had to drop a track, it would be "Green Bastard"...and that's only if I was absolutely required to make some sort of change.  

Rating:  Crankable, no doubt.  If the sleaze and sludge on the dial doesn't keep you from being able to grab hold, make sure to turn this up to 8!

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

IN THE VERSE "Transformer"

(c) 2016 Independent Release

  1. Compassion
  2. Dying Words
  3. Already Are
  4. Shatter To Pieces
  5. Alone
  6. Your Sacrifice
  7. Transformer
  8. Final Days
  9. Mid-life's Night
  10. Afterlife
Dave Hanson--Guitars, Bass, Guitar solo on "Shatter To Pieces"
Noah Hulbert--Vocals, Bass, Guitar solo on "Already Are"
Chris Cerfus--Keys
Devin Schumski--Drums, Bass

Christian rockers, In The Verse, return with their first full-length album on December 9 with Transformer, a GoFundMe fan-funded effort that finds the band expanding to a full compliment of four members with the addition of Schumski on drums.  Combining elements of modern hard rock with smaller doses of classic rock and some nice keyboard sections, this Wisconsin-based quartet seeks to expand upon the surprising-to-some success of the band's EP Hostage, and it's single, "Disaster", which continues to garner large Christian rock radio support.

One of the most noticeable things about In The Verse has to be the rich tenor of Noah Hulbert, which seems to glide effortlessly across the fuzzed-up guitars and pounding rhythm section.  Not a screamer, at least for the most part, although I do wish he would cut loose just a bit more than he does (we'll get to that in a minute).  He's also not one of those pseudo-death singers who scrape the bottom-end of their range only to completely lose those of us who actually care about what is being sung.  Hulbert instead focuses on staying solidly within his comfort zone and actually sings a lot of the vocals on this record.  That's right...sings.  Now, that doesn't mean he steers completely clear of adding some edginess to his vocals in places, but never are his lyrics unintelligible, and never does he drift into that "I'd rather hear a cat scratching a chalkboard" emo-whining that continues to be popular with so many bands today.

The album starts off on a huge note with my second favorite track of the record, as "Compassion" leads-in with some cool synth tones from Cerfus, soon to be greeted by the chunky rhythm guitar of Hanson and the pounding of Schumski's kick drum and some really tight snare rolls.  When I first heard this song, I had a mixture of 70s arena keys interwoven with current guitars and drums from the 80s and 90s combine, and I think that this still stands as a fairly accurate representation of what "Compassion" does musically.  I really, really enjoy this track, although I would be lying if I said I didn't wish Hanson would cut loose with a totally ripping guitar solo during the bridge section, but as it is, this is a really nice table-setter for the record that is to come.

"Dying Words" changes the tempo up, utilizing more of a piano sound than a synth sound on the keyboards, and Hulbert has to negotiate some lyrical acrobatics to get through the verses, but I really like the different musical approach utilized here.

As far as the rest of the songs go, there are any number of really good radio rockers here, but for my money, nothing touches the aggressive, metal-infused churning of the debut single "Shatter To Pieces", my favorite track on the record.  The track kicks off with some excellent rhythm guitar work from Hanson, along with some jackhammer drumming from Schumski, before  a nice chord progression leads Hulbert's vocals into the fray.  This song is the most logical follow-up to "Disaster", and is a song that was instantly embedded in my brain within a couple of listens.  There is a ripping guitar solo near the midpoint of the track, as well, and "Shatter To Pieces" is a perfect example of the band blending more classic rock/heavy metal sounds into a modern hard rock number.  Love it!

"Final Days" is another solid rocker that actually features some true harsh vocals from Hulbert, and I think the contrast between his regular singing vocals and the screams actually works very well.  This is a song that I can hear in my head in a live setting, with the power chords of the chorus just exploding from Hanson's guitar as Schumski wails away and abuses his drum kit...all before Cerfus provides a calming, soothing keyboard interlude for about thirty seconds before the band comes crashing back in.  This is another track that I would imagine has to end up garnering some significant Christian rock radio airplay.

One thing that I really think speaks volumes about In The Verse is the way they can jump from the hard and fast aggression of "Shatter To Pieces" only to flow directly into the piano intro of "Alone", a much more radio rock sounding track, without missing a beat or making it sound forced or out of place.  Similarly, "Your Sacrifice" shows a band that is able to really downshift from an uptempo, charging rocker through the verses into a much more sweeping, melodic approach on the choruses, with little effort.  Cerfus is a huge part of holding the sound together on a track such as this because his keys are such an integral part of the musical tapestry on a song like "Your Sacrifice", without trying to force their way to the front and dominate the song...which they absolutely shouldn't do.  It's also nice on this track to hear Hulbert cut loose a couple of times with the angst vocally, which adds yet another nice contrasting element to the song.

"Mid-life's Night" is a song totally unlike anything the band has done on this record or previously, at least that I have been exposed to, as it has a very 90's alternative-yet-melodic feel to a good chunk of it, with some solid keys and a definite musical flow that has more in common with music of that time period than the buzzy, chunky riffs and crushing drums of today's hard rock scene.  Dont' get me wrong...I really, really like the fact, I'd put it in the top 3 or 4 tracks on the record.  It's just so different it really stands out and bears special mention here, in my opinion.  It is also the perfect lead-in to another really melodic modern rocker in "Afterlife", which features some sweeping keyboard melodies in the verse sections, and a couple of mini-synth solos, of all things, following chorus sections, with the guitars being the underlying support here rather than the driving force.  It sounds backward in my description, I know, but the juxtaposition of instruments here is actually very cool to hear, and is a unique...and promising...way to end the record.  Total proof in these last couple of tracks that In The Verse is not a band that is going to be easy to pigeonhole as far as style goes.

Lyrically, In The Verse remains very open about their faith, not hiding behind obscure "is he singing about the love of God or the love of a woman" type of lyrics, with songs touching on the listener really taking stock of where he/she stands in their relationship with God and whether or not that is where they want to be if the End of Days should come.  A great lyrical example here is found in the opening verse of "Dying Words" when Hulbert sings:

"Specifically, to those who've expelled
The idea of a god that's not themselves...
Well for you then, this isn't gonna end well...
Promises that you can't keep,
Sowing seeds that you won't reap,
Wasting everybody's lives...
Who believed in your lies..."

Great stuff that speaks directly to the listener, challenging our own worldview and our own opinions of ourselves and where we place our relationship with our Creator versus our self.  Lyrics such as these are found scattered throughout this record and are refreshing to hear for those seeking true Christian lyrical themes in these days of politically-correct "positive rock" versus "Christian rock". Sure, topics like loneliness and despair are covered as well, such as in the previously mentioned "Alone", but they are tackled in a manner that shows the performer reaching out to God and His love, and not to human love, to fill that void within.

Is this a perfect record?  No, not at all, but I have yet to find more than a handful of records that even bump up against that ceiling.  There are a couple of tracks that sound a bit too similar for me to really separate them in my mind, but fortunately they are not seated side-by-side in the tracking of the record.  The title track is a bit plodding for my tastes, and something seems to be missing from it that would really make it pop.  The production is slightly thin in a couple of places, but not to the point of distraction at all, and some minor manipulation of my EQ to bump up the bottom end a bit totally compensates for this.  The mix is very nicely done with great separation between the guitar and keys, and the bass and drums, as well.

For a sneak peek...err...listen, In The Verse has allowed us to post this link to their latest single, "Shatter To Pieces" for you to download and check out yourself.  If you like what you hear, you are still able to pre-order the record, Transformer, at their GoFundMe page, which can be found here.

Solidly performed, with some really, really good, aggressive guitar rock in places, followed by truly musical, keyboard infused modern melodic tracks, Transformer is a nice step for the Milwaukee rockers.  Hanson definitely plays to his strengths with his buzzsaw approach to rhythm guitar, and he rips off several nice solos and fills, although the metalhead in me is always down for a couple more truly aggressive guitar solos in a song or two, but overall, very little to complain about on this debut full-length from In The Verse.  I have to say that Cerfus really surprised me here, as I am NOT a keyboard guy in general, as most who have read this site can attest to, but his understanding and interpretation of where the band is going with these songs, and the way he infuses his instrument into these tracks, is a definite enhancer for any number of the songs here, whether hard rockers or more laid back, melodic numbers.  And, it goes without saying that the addition of a live drummer is always a big-time plus, and Schumski handles his place behind the kit very, very well.

Rating:  A solid effort, crank this to 8 and keep your fingers crossed that we will be able to see these guys out on tour in the near future.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

SWEET CREATURE "The Devil Knows My Name"

(c) 2016 Diet Records

  1. Not Like Others
  2. Time To Move On
  3. Burning Midnight Oil
  4. The Devil Knows My Name
  5. Purpose In Life
  6. Away From You 
  7. Our Life
  8. Fifteen Minutes
  9. Perfect Day

Martin Sweet--Vocals, Guitars
Michael TxR--Drums
Linus Nirbrant--Vocals, Guitars
Tin Starr--Bass

With Martin Sweet being one of the founding members of Crashdiet, and with members of Gemini Five (Starr),  and Toxic Rose (TxR), it would be easy to guess that Sweet Creature would be an extension of the modern style of glam/sleaze that the represented bands play as their main style (we won't cosider that Nirbant's main gig is in a death metal band...).  And while that would not be wholly wrong, Sweet Creature is definitely not a sound-alike duplicate of any of the aforementioned bands, with more of a 70s classic rock sound mixed in with obvious 80s influences such as Motley Crue, for example, while also tossing in minimal doses of the 90s.

Take for example the album's lead single, "Not Like The Others".  The song is instantly catchy, with the chanted chorus leading off the track in a very Crashdiet-sounding way, but the guitars are much more straightforward, with no crazy antics or soaring leads to take away from the almost grungy take on song structure, with thick chugging riffs, while the thumping bass and drum lines fall more in line with bump n grind songs like "Pour Some Sugar On Me".  In fact, it's really only that insanely catchy chorus that even teases the listener with an idea of where some of the band's members come from.  Its an odd combination, I know, but you know what?  I really, really dig this track and I was hooked right from the get go.

"Time To Move On" has some quirky tempo changes that make it a fun listen, and one of the more Crashdiet-like songs on the album, as it reminds me of some of the stuff they put onto their second record.  "Burning Midnight Oil" is another really good hard rock number with a definite nod to The Crue in the guitars department, especially on the intro and the pre-chorus sections sounding very much like what Motley was writing in the Girls, Girls, Girls era.  

The title track is an interesting combination of Jane's Addiction and Crashdiet, as the verse sections have that acoustic guitar base that Jane's Addiction used to such effect in songs like "Jane Says", (and Sweet's voice even takes on a slightly Perry Farrell tone as he works through the verses), while the heavier guitars scream in on the chorus sections.    

"Purpose In Life" is quite possibly the peak moment on an already solid debut record, and is one of my two or three favorites here, with a sweet acoustic guitar lead-in and a big, power ballad feel that is easily the most reminiscent of the 80's scene that Sweet and his previous band, Crashdiet, have always been most closely linked with.  That being said, there is also a 70s classic rock vibe going on throughout this track that is really cool, and the guitar work here is nicely underplayed so it doesn't dominate the entire track and turn it into a big, over-produced mess.  Despite the lackluster effort at rhyming some of the verses here (possibly a language issue), this is a really, really good song that will likely slot in as one of the best ballads of the year.

The rest of the album is much the same: a very solid, if not overly flashy record, that shows Sweet taking tiny, baby steps away from the tried-and-true mold of the hugely successful Crashdiet.  Will Crashdiet fans find plenty to like here?  There is no doubt about that, but don't expect a carbon copy of Rest In Sleaze or Generation Wild because that is not what you will get here.  What you will get is a fun, slightly diverse record with some really big rockers, an excellent ballad, and a couple of slight-misses ("Our Life", for example, really doesn't grab me for some reason...), that equate to an overall enjoyable listen that is well worth seeking out.  There is no doubt that the first half of the record is stronger than the second, but "Away From You" and "Fifteen Minutes" are solid efforts that hold the record together in the later stages.

The production is very good throughout the I mentioned, not flashy, not sugary, and not bloated...and the overall performance of the band is what you would likely expect from a group made up of members of previously noteworthy bands.  The interplay between Sweet and Nibrant on guitar is especially strong, which is actually the area I was most concerned about since Nibrant's death metal background is a LONG way from where this record goes!  It will be interesting to see if this is also the touring version of the band should Sweet Creature hit the road, and I'm imagining that gigging together will only make the band that much tighter on a follow-up record.

I look forward to further growth from Sweet Creature in the future, and feel that if Sweet's old band is truly dead and buried, then this band is a suitable successor, even if there is likely little chance of supplanting a once-in-a-lifetime band like Crashdiet.

Rating:  Crank-worthy, but with room for growth.  Crank this to 7.5 and keep your eye on Sweet Creature in the future.

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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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