Saturday, December 30, 2017

DELIVERANCE "The Subversive Kind"

(c) 2018 Roxx Records

  1. Bring 'Em Down
  2. Concept Of The Other
  3. Center Of It All
  4. The Black Hand
  5. Epilogue
  6. Listen Closely
  7. The Subversive Kind
  8. The Fold

Jimmy P Brown II--Lead Vocals, Rhythm Guitars
Glenn Rogers--Guitars
Victor Macias--Bass, Vocals
Jim Chaffin--Drums

Additional Musician
Greg Minier--Lead Guitars on 1, 3, second solo on 4

First off, let me say that I am not 100% certain of the track order on this album, as I have seen it in print like I have it listed above, but then the downloads came with a completely different order outside of tracks 1 and 2.  So, if I discover that my listing is in error, I will change it as soon as I have the physical CD in my hands, which should be some time in early 2018.

Regardless of the tracking order, it is safe to say that this is easily the heaviest and fastest record that the Christian thrash metal pioneers have recorded in twenty years or more...perhaps going all the way back to the debut record, or even the Greetings Of Death demo!  While 2013's excellent return, Hear What I Say! was a mixture of the thrashier parts of Deliverance melded with the more melodic approaches of albums like Learn and Stay Of Execution, this new record makes no bones about what it is, which is full-on thrash.  Referred to by some as Deliverance's Reign In Blood, a direct nod to the Slayer album that many people put at-or-near-the-top of the thrash metal heap as far as sheer ferocity and brutality goes, Deliverance's new record definitely has turned the band back a few chapters to the type of speed and aggression they played with when they first burst upon the scene.

For more than twenty years, it seems every fan of the band continually poses the question, "when will you do another real thrash album?"  Seemingly everyone wants a Weapons Of Our Warfare, Pt. II, or another What A Joke.  With The Subversive Kind, the band not only returns to the musical roots of Deliverance, it does so with a virtual who's who of Christian thrash history now in the band.  Besides founding vocalist and rhythm guitar master, Jimmy P Brown, II, this new incarnation of Deliverance features sharp bursts of machine gun drumming from Crucified drummer, Jim Chaffin, rumbling bass lines from Victor Macias (Tourniquet), and blistering lead guitar from Glenn Rogers (Vengeance Rising/Deliverance)...and guest lead work from Christian punk/thrash crossover legend, Greg Minier of the Crucified/Minier/Applehead!  If ever an album had a pedigree for success, it would seem to be The Subversive Kind. 

Musically, this album, as I have mentioned is extremely fast for the most part, but each of these eight songs also features multiple tempo changes within the song itself, creating some unique and interesting dynamics.  You can hear the individual contributions, as well, as several songs feature something akin to a hardcore breakdown in places, but not at the expense of a blistering guitar solo, which every song here features.  No, this is not nu-metal or metalcore, this is pure thrash at its finest.

Jimmy's voice takes on a much more gruff, barked style on this record than on previous efforts.  Gone are the high, soaring screams of Weapons..., What A Joke, or even Stay Of Execution.  To be honest, I'm perfectly fine, as the vocals laid down by Jimmy here fit the aggressive nature of the songs which are far more thrash metal and less speed metal than, say Weapons... was.  With so many of the songs here coming off as rather angry with the observations Jimmy is making, this harsher vocal approach fits the tone perfectly and brings a further fierceness to each of these songs.

Unlike their first few records, Deliverance is not out to beat you over the head with chapter and verse theology, but that does not mean that they have slid in their faith or their stances on touchstone social issues in the world today.  Take for example, "Concept Of The Other", which is about people who use false Christian interpretations to justify prejudice and hatred, with Jimmy singing/barking, "They seem to think we serve the same God, All rolling out their mats or sealed in their pods.  If only I've seen Christ in the way some live, The more we push and take, the more we make them give."

If pushed to choose a favorite track or two, it would be a fairly difficult task.  "Center Of It All", a track about being self-absorbed and drawing all attention to oneself, is an absolute mosh pit churner, featuring some serious speed and is a track that really recalls "Greetings Of Death" from the debut record as far as tempo and approach.  Its awesome to hear Minier rip into the solo on this track, as well, with the middle section slowing down a bit, with a nice thick groove setting the stage for Greg to go to town.  "Concept Of The Other" has some of the best lyrics on the album (see above), and I love the tempo change that is dropped after the second chorus, which allows Glenn to lay down a wicked solo before Chaffin kickstarts the track back into hyperdrive.  The albums' lead single, "The Black Hand" has a definite Weapons Of Our Warfare feel to it, particularly in the guitars, which is very cool, and "Listen Closely" does a nice job of combining the debut record's speed with some Stay Of Execution-styled phrasing used in the vocals.  But if it came right down to it, I'd have to say "The Fold" challenges "Concept Of The Other" for my favorite track here, and is a brilliant way to close a fantastic, breathtaking album, as a bit of singing returns to Jimmy's vocals, and the full-throttle riffing of the rhythm guitars drag the listener ever-so-slightly back to Weapons... one final time.  I also really like the gang-shouted sections, one right before an absolutely blistering solo leads the track into the final chorus, and one just before the outro of the song.  Cool, cool stuff. 

If there are any drawbacks to this album, it would seem to me that clocking in at just 31 minutes is going to be a sticking point for many people.  That being said, let me assuage the angst of some of you by telling you it is a fast, furious, brutal, thrashy 31 minutes that is among some of the heaviest thrash metal I've ever feasted my ears upon in years.  Truth be told...I don't know if I could survive more than 31 minutes in a single sitting!  

Rating:  Starting off 2018 with a crankfest!  Find something to hold onto and crank this up to 8!  The Mighty D is back!

Friday, December 29, 2017

DOLL HAZARD "Transatlantic Meltdown"

(c) 2017

  1. Cat's Got Your Tongue
  2. Rock N Roll Prostitute
  3. Fire Gasoline
  4. No Valentine Cards
  5. Walk On Water
  6. Transatlantic Meltdown
  7. 21 Grams (Off My Shoulders)
  8. Doghouse
  9. You're In My Head
  10. Sci-Fi Child
Chris Damien Doll--Vocals, Guitars, Bass
Sandy Hazard--Vocals, Drums

Additional Musician
Roger Salloum--Piano

The miracle of the Internet has allowed for so many great things to come into being.  And while a lot of people may say that a modern sleaze-punk album may not qualify as a "great thing", fans of the genre would disagree and point to this collaboration between Chris Damien Doll and Sandy Hazard as an example of what greatness truly sounds like.  And I would be one of those in the final group...

4500 miles is a long distance to be separated by when you are working with your "band", but that is exactly what Doll and Hazard were faced with when putting together this record.  Regardless of the distance, however, the two managed to pull off what should be pointed to as a modern standard for the sleaze-punk genre.  Two years in the making, Transatlantic Meltdown takes the best part of the men's main gigs, Suicide Bombers and Dirtbag Republic, respectively, and meld them into something even grimier and grittier, dripping with snot, spit, sass, blood, and booze.  

The Canada-Meets-Norway duo kicks off the disc with a jacked up Faster Pussycat-styled sleaze/punk number in "Cat's Got Your Tongue", which utilizes mostly drums and bass to drive the verse sections, while Doll keeps his guitars in reserve for the chorus parts, save for the lead-in riffage, a couple of buzzsaw interjections here and there on the verses, and a big string-bending solo between the second and third chorus sections.  I really like the sparse nature of the verse sections here, as it adds that much more energy to the chorus parts.

The two take turns on the microphone as lead snarlers, and both work well. with Hazard being the lower-ranged, snarlier Gene Simmons to Doll's higher-ranged, sleazier Pual Stanley, if you want to break it down in something of a relatable fashion.  Hazard is at his best on the sassy, punked-up "Rock N Roll Prostitute", where he is supported by a seriously hard-charging guitar riff and simple-yet-solid drum line that feeds directly into the angst-filled shout-along chorus of "I'm just a rock n roll prostitute!"  "Walk On Water" is another stand-out with a big guitar solo melting its way through the sludginess of track, with Hazard's barked vocals reminding me quite a bit of those used by Zodiac Mindwarp on their hit, "Prime Mover".

Doll more than holds his own in the vocals department here, with my two faves from him being "21 Grams (Off My Shoulders)" and "Fire Gasoline", which are both high speed affairs, with a lot of the sleazy attitude of the Suicide Bombers incorporated, albeit at a higher rate of speed than several of the Bombers songs.  Sounding like Faster Pussycat on steroids, "Fire Gasoline" is an incredibly catchy song with some nice rockabilly guitar work for the main parts of the song, along with a Sunset Stip styled solo thrown into the mix.

My favorite track here would be fairly hard to pin down, although I have to admit to hitting repeat on "No Valentine Cards" more than any other song here.  This punky anti-love song is just so dang much fun to listen to, is insanely catchy, and the lyrics about the teasing vixen that is the subject of this track perfectly sum up the attitude of the track.  The two-man gang chorus chant of "no Valentine cards" works absolutely perfectly with the rhythm of the track, and the brief rip of a guitar solo has enough sass and grit to grab you by the ears and plant your butt back in the seat you may have found yourself dancing out of.  The title track, "Transatlantic Meltdown" is a contender, as well, with its frantic pace and "haven't I heard this before" catchiness, along with its big "whooa oh oh" backing vocals, and jangly solo.  And, the sudden car-hits-wall change in pace and style that is "Doghouse" absolutely has to be mentioned in the favorites here, as there is no way the listener can't feel slapped in the face by the piano-laced, smokey barroom two-step approach, and yet still keep begging for more because it is so well-executed musically.  Nothing before and nothing after this song gives you any inkling of its inclusion, yet it is so perfectly placed and performed that I find myself drawn back to it time after time.  Excellent work right there, no question.  Absolutely love it.  

"You're In My Head" is a fun track, if a bit repetitive in the chorus, and it has some of the cleanest guitar playing on the entire record, sounding a bit like Hanoi Rocks to me.  The album's closer, "Sci-Fi Child" is a last blast of speed, and while it is a good song, it is probably my least favorite track here; it just doesn't grab me like the rest of the material here, but it does manage to squeeze one more nice guitar solo out of Doll and finds Hazard absolutely attempting to kick his way through his drum kit.  It says something to me that the weakest track on this album would serve as one of the better tracks on other records.

Not enough can be said about the musical contributions of both men here, as I would imagine it has to be hard to match up musical styles and approaches without ever getting the opportunity to sit down in the studio with your recording partner.  Somehow the two manage to make it work, however, and the sleaze world is all the better for it, as this is one excellent album that I can't seem to pry out of rotation in my CD player.  The same can be said of the production, which is extremely good considering the way this thing was put together and the style of music it is working with.

As a fan of both bands, I was a bit concerned about what would happen when the two collided.  Turns out I didn't need to worry at all.  Doll Hazard is an absolutely must-hear for fans of the sleaze-punk genre, and the incorporation of the men's influences and respective bands has created an album that will be hard to match for just about any band who runs on the sleazier, dirtier side of rock n roll.

Rating:  Extremely crankable!  9.0 for Transatlantic Meltdown and Doll Hazard!

AUTOGRAPH "Get Off Your Ass"

(c) 2017 EMP Music Group

  1. Get Off Your Ass
  2. Every Generation
  3. All I Own
  4. You Are Us, We Are You
  5. Meet Me Halfway
  6. I Lost My Mind In America
  7. All Emotions
  8. Watch It Now
  9. Ready To Get Down
  10. Turn Up The Radio (Live)
Simon Daniels--Lead Vocals, Guitar
Steve Lynch--Lead Guitars, Vocals
Randy Rand--Bass, Vocals
Marc Weiland--Drums

So, Autograph....where do I start?  Basically one-hit wonders thanks to the success of their debut album, Sign In Please, and the crazy popularity "Turn Up The Radio, Autograph was a California-based 5-piece band that, despite a large amount of talent and a decent fanbase, never was able to fully turn the corner and become a radio/MTV mainstay like so many of their hairy brethren.  Sure, there were two more studio albums (That's The Stuff and Loud And Clear) and several other well-known songs, especially among fans of the hair metal genre, with my favorites being "Blondes In Black Cars", "Send Her To Me", "That's The Stuff", "Take No Prisoners", "She Never Looked That Good For Me", and the semi-obscure "Winning Is Everything", which was only released as part of the soundtrack for Youngblood (anyone remember that flick?).  They flirted with the charts a couple of times, but could never recapture the lightning in a bottle that "Turn Up The Radio" brought them.  As a result, the band left RCA Records after just three albums, and before the band would see their seventh anniversary as a unit, they would be completely disbanded.

When the calendar turned from the 1900s to the 2000s, a lot of 80s bands found themselves regrouping and finding various levels of success as nostalgia acts.  The members of Autograph likely saw this as a chance to give things one more go, especially since they already had most of their fourth album recorded and ready to go.  However, co-founder and original frontman, Steve Plunkett, didn't see eye-to-eye with guitarist and bassist, Steve Lynch and Randy Rand, and decided to strike out on his own with his version of the band, Autograph 2.0.  He released a collection called Missing Pieces which, it turns out, were most of the songs from that unreleased fourth album, but it didn't really capture the attention of old Autograph fans (and it wasn't really all that good, in my opinion).  2002 saw Plunkett release a new album, Buzz, with his version of the band, but again, the album didn't do anything and, quite frankly, also wasn't very good, and Plunkett reportedly left the touring and recording side of music to open his on publishing company.  

Meanwhile, rather than sitting on their hands, Rand and Lynch headed in another direction and picked up former Jailhouse frontman, Simon Daniels, and, reportedly with the blessings of Plunkett (who I imagine still owns at least some rights to the name) released an EP of their own in 2016, called Louder, which was more guitar-driven and punched harder than nearly anything the band had released previously....and featured none of the overly-present keyboards that ruined about half of the material on the band's first three albums for me.  While the new music didn't really capture the same style and sound of 80s Autograph, the music was pretty good and garnered some attention for the band.  So this year, with the new lineup firmly in place, the band re-released the Louder EP with a handful of new songs on this full-length effort, the first Autograph album since Plunkett's "Buzz" effort.

So, first what is new here?  The album is a perfect split of material from Louder and new material.  Even-numbered tracks 2, 4, 6, 8, and 10 all come from the EP and appear here in the exact same form as they did on that recording.  That leaves the odd numbers, 1, 3, 5, 7, and 9 as new songs for this release.

The album starts off with a new song in the title track, "Get Off Your Ass", and immediately it is obvious this is not the Autograph of the 80s.  There are zero keyboards on this record (or at least none that play a prominent enough role that they are distinct in the mix), and Daniels has a much lower range than Plunkett did.  That being said, I would have to say that "Get Of Your Ass" may be one of the ten best tracks the band, in any version, has ever written and recorded.  Seriously.  Rocking hard straight out of the gates, the band sounds tight and punchy with a really good guitar tone from Lynch, and some solid drum work from newcomer, Weiland.  Tongue planted firmly in cheek, the lyrics are humorous while also delivering their point, and Daniels sounds right at home in the range he works at here.  Lynch launches into a really good solo about halfway through the track, and the new...dare I say improved...Autograph is off and running in a big way!

"All I Own" starts off with an unaccompanied Daniels working through the first verse on his own before the band comes crashing in on this power ballad-leaning number.  Rand's bass rings clear throughout the track, and again, Lynch's guitar work is top-notch.  The one problem I have with this track is that the drums are pretty loud in the mix, and when combined with Rand's bass, they really make the song sound rather plodding in places, particularly on the first verse section.  Still, it's not a horrible song at all, and again, Daniels sounds in fine form here, adding a bit of an edge to his bluesy vocals on the bridge section which leads right into another really good solo from the "other" Lynch from the 80s/90s hard rock world.  The backing vocals are tight here, as well, and overall this is another good effort from the returning Autograph, although not the best of the new bunch of songs.

Daniels starts off the next new track, "Meet Me Halfway", belting out the song's title just before the band breaks into a bouncy, shuffle-styled rocker that is my favorite track of all ten presented here.  I love the sass and attitude of this song, and the backing "na na na na" vocals work very, very well with the overall feel of this number.  Again, the drums are very solid, Rand brings the thump throughout the song, and Lynch absolutely dominates the solo he tackles here, sounding at times like he is tinkering with a slide guitar, although I don't think he actually is, and Daniels delivers vocally on a track that Plunkett likely never could have handled properly.  In fact, taken as a singularity, this song is a perfect example of the difference between versions of the band.  Had this been the old Autograph, there would have been an overabundance of keyboards (keytar, anyone???) thrown into the mix, and Plunkett would have turned the song in more of an AOR direction than what is presented here.  As it is, this is a foot-stomping rocker with bite and snarl, and the song is the better for it, in my estimation.

"All Emotions" had me thinking ballad with the title, but I couldn't have been more wrong.  This is an uptempo rocker with some nifty lyrical acrobatics employed by Daniels on the verse sections, as he rips through the lyrics in run-on sentence fashion while managing to get the rhymes to match up with the beat of the track despite it sounding like there may be too many words thrown in there.  Lynch lays out another solid solo here, although it isn't his best work on the record, and the bass of Rand is prominent in the mix, giving it a heavier-feeling bottom end than pretty much anything the band did in their storied past.

The last new track here is "Ready To Get Down", which teases at sounding more like classic Autograph at the start, with some distant, ringing guitar tones leading the way, before Daniels kicks off the first verse and Rand's bass pulses to life.  By the time we get to the chorus, all thoughts of Autograph 1.0 are gone, and we are treated to yet another lively, blues-tinged rocker with a catchy hook and one more really good, fret-tapping solo from Lynch who, in particular, sounds extremely energized with this reinvention of the band.  Daniels works slightly higher in his range here and handles it well, although I think the lower end of his vocals is where he does his best work.  All in all, a fifth new song that is a worthy addition to not only the record but also to the band's catalog.

Of course, I would be remiss if I didn't mention the live version of "Turn Up The Radio" that is included here (and on the EP).  Rather than relying on the keyboards of the original, this new, live version feeds off the bass of Rand and the interplay between Daniels and the crowd.  I'm not 100% positive that there aren't some pre-recorded keys in the live mix here, but a lot of the keyboard work of the original is replaced by the second guitar that Daniels brings to the group.  Speaking of the new vocalist, kudos has to be given to him for not trying to sound like Plunkett, which would be virtually impossible to do as the two men have very little in common as far as style and range.  I know it is likely heresy to say this, but I actually prefer this live version to the classic at this point, as it sounds alive again, and not old and tired after 10,000 plays throughout the years.

Perhaps that alive feeling is the real crowning achievement for Get Off Your Ass.  The band sounds fresh, they sound like they are having fun, and they aren't trying to live off of past formulas for any success this album may or may not find.  This Autograph is doing things their own way, in spite of the well-known name attached to the band.  The new songs here meld perfectly with the carryovers from the EP, and the addition of the live rendition of the band's pinnacle moment ties the whole package together, bringing the past forward to meet the present.  Honestly, my expectations for Get Off Your Ass were decidedly low, so maybe my impression of this record skews a bit higher than it might otherwise, but I find myself really, REALLY liking this record more and more with each spin.  While likely not album of the year, Get Off Your Ass has to be in the running for comeback album of the year, and Autograph may be the surprise band of the year for me.  

Rating:  For me, its impossible not to crank Get Off Your Ass!  Give it an 8.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

UNRULY CHILD "Can't Go Home"

(c) 2017 Frontiers Records

  1. The Only One
  2. Four Eleven
  3. Driving Into The Future
  4. Get On Top
  5. See If She Floats
  6. She Can't Go Home
  7. Point Of View
  8. Ice Cold Sunshine
  9. When Love Is Here
  10. Sunlit Sky
  11. Someday Somehow
Marcie Free--Lead Vocals
Bruce Gowdy--Guitars, Bass, Drums, Backing Vocals
Larry Antonio--Bass
Jay Schellen--Drums
Guy Allison--Keys, Bass, Drums, Backing Vocals

Unruly Child returns for their sixth proper studio album (along with one demos collection, 2002's The Basement).  All of the original players from the stellar 1992 self-titled debut return once again, so I was particularly excited to give this one a spin, as I have varying degrees...everything this incarnation of the band has put out. 

The album starts off with the led single, "The Only One".  Catchy right out of the gates, this track is a bit more directly a poppy-AOR track than a true melodic rocker, at least to my ears.  Free's vocals are still strong, and there's enough guitar-vs-keyboard tradeoff to keep me interested, but I can't help but hear bits of Fleetwood Mac's '77 classic "Go Your Own Way" in the vocals and the structure, which is not a good thing for me (can't stand Fleetwood Mac...sorry...hate me...).  Still, this isn't a bad track, and the Gowdy solo here is a tasty bit of guitar goodness, so the album seems to be off to a decent start.  Check it out below...

Things pick up in a big way for me with the darker, heavier, chunkier, "Four Eleven", as in having the 4-1-1 on someone.  Now this is more like it!  There are still plenty of layered vocals and some interesting musical ideas mixed in between the chorus sections, and a cool guitar solo from Gowdy really hearkens back to that debut record for me that I still hold in amazingly high regard (heck, I used a song from that debut album in my wedding!).  The keyboards are still present but in much more of a supporting role, and Free is particularly powerful in how she extends her exit from the final chorus.  Great stuff here.

"Driving Into The Future" brightens things back up a bit, but remains firmly in melodic rock territory.  Gowdy delivers another big, soaring solo, and Free adds a bit of rasp to her vocals here that again send me back to that first album. "Get On Top" scales the tempo back for the verse sections before building up a bit on the chorus sections.  This change in tempo is interesting and well-played, but the chorus itself finds itself in odd territory, somewhere between catchy and annoying.  Its a simple three-note progression on the three words of the chorus, and it is definitely is singable and catchy, but something about the tone and pitch of those three words just about grates on my brain after several listens.  I don't skip it because...well, I can't!  The rest of the vocal work from Free here is really strong, and Gowdy has some cool guitar work here, but if there was some way to take the edge off that "get on top!" portion of the chorus, I would gladly welcome suggestions.  

"See If She Floats", drifts back into solid mid-tempo goodness, with Gowdy beefing up the verse sections, while simultaneously letting the chorus sections remain a bit more open, utilizing acoustic guitars and softer keyboard undertones.  It reminds me of some of my favorite mid-tempo moments from The Storm's debut effort, which I also hold in very high esteem.  Good stuff, even if it isn't 100% what I anticipate from Unruly Child.

"She Can't Go Home" is the album's ballad moment, although it isn't a proper, lighter-in-the-air power ballad, but more of a slower-mid-tempo number that derives a lot of it's "softness" from the sentimentality of the lyrics.  The guitar riffs are simple in the verse sections, and even in the chorus, really, although there is some nice punch in the bridge section, giving the song a bit of a build up before it slides back down into the emotive chorus supported by some excellent backing vocals.

Returning to that self-titled debut once again, "Point Of View" reminds me a LOT of "On The Rise" in the way it's structured, but the instrumentation is different enough that it isn't a blatant rip-off.  The tempo is a definite pick-up from the last couple of tracks and its harder-edged nature gives the album a bit of a momentum boost heading into the final leg of the record.   Gowdy again delivers several nice, meaty guitar chunks to chew on, and the supporting vocals here are as powerful as anywhere else on the record.  The same can be said of the next two tracks, "Ice Cold Sunshine" and "When Love Was Here", both of which have MASSIVE layers of backing vocals that actually threaten to overpower the strong leads from Free.  "...Sunshine" intros with a futuristic sounding computer voice giving the listener instructions before it slips into that comfortable mid-tempo pace that so much of this record...and, really, much of the best Unruly Child material...finds itself settling into.  Gowdy's guitars keep this track from becoming too airy or fluffy, which could be a definite possibility with the way these backing vocals are stacked up sky high.  The same can be said for "When Love Was Here", which again lays on the saccharine in the backing vocal area, but a nice bass line and some nice supporting work from Allison on keys on a track where Gowdy's guitar isn't the central instrument.

"Sunlit Sky" finds the band in 70s prog territory, which is something they actually pull off very well.  Starting with a slowly building intro, the track is really driven by the progressive drum patterns and throbbing bass line, along with more Allison keyboard wiazrdry (sounds like he's rocking a classic Hammond in a couple of spots), and perfectly 70s-inspired backing vocals that sound like they were ripped right out of the Styx playbook.  I like the use of this track to act as a kind of change of pace to the rest of the record, but I'm not sure I could handle an entire album of this style of extremely-retro rock, no matter how well it's performed.

The album closes with another rocker in "Someday, Somehow".  Gowdy's guitars and Free's punchy vocals give a real boost to the rather repetitive and unimaginative chorus which gives me get the feeling that this may have been more of an add-on track than anything else here.  There's a definite clap-along quality to the track, to be sure, and the uptempo attitude is fun, but the fake crowd noise (What the heck is that doing in there?  Am I supposed to believe this is a live track?) is a definite turn-off for me.  My five-year-old loves the song, however, and as I said before, it has a catchiness to it that is impossible to deny.

As with so many Frontiers releases, the quality of the mix and production is going to be largely in the ear of the listener.  I like the way the album is produced, personally, as I think it is rather crisp with no obvious muddiness or instrumental domination, but I know some people don't think there's enough separation between the highs and lows in the mix.  Maybe my nearly 50-year-old ears don't have the EQ quality they once had, but I'm not hearing the flaws that some do, and there is definitely nothing here that makes me mark this album down quality-wise.

Rating:  Not the best record in their catalog, but probably Top 3 and still crankable.  Give "Can't Go Home" a 7.5


(c) 2017 Perris Records

  1. Day By Day
  2. My Way Or The Highway
  3. Bad Side Of Love
  4. Stay On The Wild Side
  5. Danger Zone
  6. Coming Home
  7. She
  8. Carry On
  9. Risk It All
  10. Fallen Angels
Jorge Cortes--Lead Vocals
Ramon Blein--Guitars
Cecilio Sanchez-Robles--Guitars
Jesus Acosta--Bass
Ruben Santos--Drums

Tequila Sunrise is a new Spanish band that has a solid grip on the 80s hair metal sound, combining elements of Winger, Dokken, and even bands like Danger Danger and, in a few places, Mr. Big or 80s KISS (mostly in some of the song structures).  

The album kicks off in a near speed metal frenzy of guitar flash and flury, and I was seriously second-guessing the type of band I thought I was reviewing here!  Seriously, there is some note density on the intro to "Day By Day", and even more impressive is the clean way in which these guitars are played.  A similarly driving rhythm really kicks this song into high gear as Tequila Sunrise comes out all guns blazing, setting quite the tone for the album.

"My Way Or The Highway" would have been the radio hit for the band back in the 80s, as it has just enough pop to the song structure that I think it would have crossed over into Top 40 territory.  Highly melodic with a catchy guitar hook and big, "whoa"-styled backing vocals, "My Way..." pays definite homage to this band's days-gone-by heroes.  The guitar heroics continue here, as there is a tasty little solo thrown in before the bridge that fits perfectly with the melodic nature of the track.  I really wish I had a full CD to review here, rather than this digital copy, as I would love to give proper credit to the axe-slingers and their solo works, as they are top notch.

"Bad Side Of Love" has a sleazier, bump-and-grind type of rhythm, and Cortes vocals work particularly well here, not sounding quite as muffled by the production.  A bit edgy, a bit nasty, this mid-tempo track just kind of smolders along, building to yet another big, soulful solo, and a nice little vocal bridge leading into the final chorus.  

"Stay On The Wild Side" has a definite Mr. Big-collides-with-Bon Jovi feel to it, especially in the opening riffing, the shuffling groove set up by Acosta and Santos, and the nice, big backing vocals on the chorus sections.  This song is particularly catchy and fun, and is definitely one of my two or three favorites here, really giving me a nostalgic feel with the way the song is structured and performed.  I'm not sure who is doing the solos on this song, but they sound like they are being traded off between Blein and Sanchez-Robles, and there is some seriously fast string bending going on here!  The guys really sound like they are enjoying themselves here, and I'm betting this would be a great song to catch live!

The title track is another excellent rocker, with Cortes managing to rise above some of the production limitations of the record and really expand his range, pulling off some nice top-end screams.  The gang-shouted "Danger Zone!" chorus is fun, and the guitar work is top notch, as well.  

"She" is another Mr. Big-esque rocker that revs you up just before transitioning into the highly melodic "Carry On", which carries a lot of the sounds and stylings of today's melodic rockers.  The cool thing is that it slots in nicely here, not sticking out like a sore thumb or anything.  Yet again, we are treated to some nice guitar acrobatics, albeit a bit more restrained than in some of the other spots on the record.

"Risk It All" doesn't hold such guitar reservations, as there are all sorts of tricks and techniques employed on this high-energy rocker.  Once again, this is one of those songs that has a solid grasp on the 80s era as far as structure goes, but it has a bit more polish...and less rasp or grit...on the vocals than a lot of the 80s bands did.  Cortes definitely reminds me of someone with his vocal approach here (and throughout the album, really), but I'll be danged if I can put a finger on who he sounds like specifically.  Maybe it will come to me later.

The album closes with the very cliche-sounding "Fallen Angels", but it manages to close the album on a very solid note, not falling into the same-old-same-old trap that the well-worn title would seem to threaten.  One final time we get to hear the guitar wizardry of Sanchez-Robles and Blein, and Cortes is definitely well within his wheelhouse vocally here, sounding comfortable and in command.

I only have one real complaint about the album, and that is the production.  The vocal production here, specifically, is less-than-stellar, sounding a bit muffled in several places.  I really think the album would have benefited from having the lead vocals brightened up a bit in several songs, which I think would have given them that much more bounce and life.

All in all, I found myself really enjoying this record, and the talent is obviously there in large quantities, especially in the guitars and the vocals.  While the songwriting may come off as a bit cliched to many people, I found it to be a really fun nostalgia trip without the songs all sounding like rehashes of 80s classics.  In all honesty, I think this band could have been a player in the 80s/early 90s, as they have a definite feel for the songwriting, the structure, and the performances of that era.  Here's hoping for more from these talented Spaniards in the very near future!

Rating:  A definite cranker here, checking in at 8!

Monday, December 18, 2017

REBEL BEAT "Steel Dust"

(c) 2017 Pavement Music

  1. I'm The Law
  2. Swinging Around
  3. One Man
  4. Red Rock
  5. Steel Dust
  6. Melody
  7. Away 
  8. Ferguson
  9. Rain Check
  10. Braindown
  11. Dead President (Live)
  12. Rebel Beat (Live)
Yaroslav Vozvyshaev--Vocals
Stas Opitin--Guitars
Sergey Baybakov--Guitars
Vlad Voloshko--Drums
Slava Parshin--Bass

Hailing from Russia, Rebel Beat is a modern rock band that draws heavily from bands such as Linkin Park, Limp Bizkit, and even some Deftones in places. along with the most electronic moments of a newer band like Red, for most of the album, with doses of Red Hot Chili Peppers thrown into the mix.  While that may sound like an interesting mix, I'm hear to warn you, not all is as it might seem on Steel Dust, the debut album from this quintet.

The album starts off decently with "I'm The Law" as the band treads in familiar sounding territory, with the Linkin Park comparisons coming to the forefront almost immediately, with the industrial guitar approach and programmed elements laying a foundation for vocals that vary from rapped to sung.  There isn't anything that is ground-breaking here, and to be honest, this style is starting to become more and more dated sounding, but the song itself isn't bad, and the musical performances are decent.  "Swinging Around" is easily one of the catchiest songs on the album, and I would actually venture so far as to say I like it, although the rappish vocals do grate on my nerves a bit.  The music is interesting, however, with some hints of 90s alternative thrown in with the nu-metal style and the programmed elements.  "Melody" might be the most complete song on the record, and it is one that I could honestly hear getting serious rotation on modern rock radio, as it is the one that steers the hardest away from the rap-rock vocals, and uses the most aggressive riffing and drumming on the record.  Heck, I'll go so far as to say I like this song for what it is, and I think an entire record of this style of rock would be one that would likely sell fairly well.  Sadly, there isn't another moment on this entire record that matches this one as far as quality goes, and it's not really all that in pretty much everything else here is just plain not good.

Oh, sure, there are hints of okayness in a couple of places.  "Red Rock" is a pretty good rocker, and the military-barked "left, right!" is a cool touch that is thrown into the mix, and the title track has a pretty decent bass line for an intro, and Vozvyshaev spends more time singing here than rapping, which is good.  However, there are few Fred Durst moments on parts of the verses, which is highly annoying, and the song lacks anything of any real musical value.

"Ferguson" is so nu-metal/hip hop that I can't even stomach it...which is odd, considering how bland it is, overall.  Part Rage Against The Machine, part Limp Bizkit, all garbage, this track is just mind-numbingly boring as these Russians try to make a political statement about an American incident.  Yawn. The police sirens in the background do nothing for the track, and the guitars are mundane and repetitive, with no real variation in tempo or tone, and absolutely nothing melodic about them.  Moving on...

"Rain Check" tries to jump-start the album again, but its modern-edged guitars and attitude actually comes across as rather tired and derivative.  Rather than incorporate something cool like, I don't know, an actual guitar solo, the song features several spots of electronic scratching (do they still call it scratching?) and programming that just suck the life out what could have possibly, at one time, been a semi-decent song.  And I don't know what the heck is going on with album-proper closer, "Braindown", as it uses 80s hip-hop in the programmed drums sound like something Sugarhill Gang or Grandmaster Flash might have try to prop up more droning guitar riffing and programming that by this point have me seriously questioning why I haven't just shut this thing off already.   

The two live tracks here are pointless inclusions here, unless the band was just trying to show that they can sound every bit as boring live as they do on record.  At least the drumming sounds live on the live tracks, and the guitars have more bite to them than they do on the majority of the main album.  Vozvyshaev sounds fairly strained on the singing portions of the songs, particularly on "Dead President", and the backing vocals are out of key with the lead vocals, which just becomes a brain-ache.  The self-titled live track is absolutely horrid and is just a bunch of Dr. Seuss-sounding lyrical nonsense verses over the top of a bunch of random electronic noises, all leading to the big chorus of "Rebel Beat Rebel Beat, Rebel Rebel Rebel Beat", or some such nonsense...followed by acoustic guitars and some more Red Hot Chili Peppers-inspired vocals before we are treated to the inane chorus one more time.  My God why am I still listening to this?!

What blows my mind the most about this whole mish-mash is that is produced by...are you ready for this...Jack Russell.  Yeah, THAT Jack Russell, as in the Great White lead singer that is in my profile picture with me!  Never in a million years would I have predicted Jack sitting in the producer's chair on a project such as this, as it is so completely removed from anything he has ever done.  I guess I could hear him singing on a song like the semi-sorta-okay ballad, "Away" if he ever wanted to go in a modern rock direction, but other than that one possibility, which is admittedly a pretty decent stretch, there is nothing even remotely Jack Russell/Great White about this record...and really, nothing remotely good about it, either, other than "Melody".

Oh, Jack...why have you forsaken me...???

Overall, this record really lacks direction as it tries to bring in too many influences, many of which come across as tired and dated, and brings absolutely nothing new to the table.  "Melody" is a decent track, but I hope no one who hears it thinks it is an accurate representation of what the rest of Steel Dust sounds like, because it simply is not.  My fear is that people will hear that song, like it, and then actually buy this record, which would be a horrible waste of money and shelf space ( or hard-drive space if you're a digital type of music collector). 

 Rating:  Turn this thing down...WAY a 3.  

Saturday, December 9, 2017

RAZORBATS "Social Rejects" / "Sister Siberia" EXCLUSIVE SINGLE RELEASE!

(c) 2017 Rob Mules Records

Paul Vercouteren--Vocals
Kjetil F. Wevling--Lead Guitars
Asle Tangen--Rhythm Guitars
Chris Haugerud--Bass
Knut Wettre--Drums

In 2015, Razorbats topped the Glitter2Gutter Top 20 for the year with their debut album, Camp RockLast year, they again cracked the Top 20 with their follow-up EP, This HighThings seemed to be aiming straight up for this band of Norwegian rockers who combine a love for classic 70s guitar rock with a power-pop-meets-punk attitude that really struck a chord with listeners throughout Europe, and which was starting to gain a foothold in America, especially on college radio and independent rock stations across the country.  

But as is so often the case, even the best laid plans can go awry rather quickly, and such was the case for the Razorbats.  Half of the band from the first two efforts exited in 2017 after most of what was to be the band's full-length follow-up to This High was already recorded.  Left with half a band and half an album, lead guitarist Wevling and drummer Wettre faced an uncertain future for their band.

Enter new vocalist, Paul Vercouteren, who had been fronting a band called Hollywood Vampires, and bassist Chris Haugerud, who had been in his own band, Kill City Bandits.  Both men were eager to jump on the Razorbats train, and after recruiting rhythm guitarist, Asle Tangen, Razorbats launched themselves forward as a five-piece band.

G2G was given an exclusive chance to hear the second single from the new album, in "Sister Siberia".  Deeply rooted in classic rock, "Sister Siberia" is a mid-tempo rocker with a big bass line and a simple-yet-catchy melody line and a highly singable chorus that had me hooked from the first listen.  I like the fact that this track doesn't feel the need to fill every nook and cranny with notes, instead letting the song breathe and find a natural groove in which to operate.  The use of some acoustic guitars in the background is a nice touch, as well.  An ode to a rather cold woman, "Sister Siberia" fits perfectly with where the band was headed on the This High EP, and once again, the vocals of Vercouteren mesh perfectly with the style and approach of his new band, this time using a more melodic, plaintive approach than on the snarlier "Social Rejects", which was the first single released. 

For an EXCLUSIVE chance to hear this single ahead of the album's release, just follow this LINK!

As mentioned, "Social Rejects" was the first single from the upcoming Razorbats album, tentatively called II, which is set for release in early 2018.  In "Social Rejects", the band shows once again why they were so highly regarded so quickly.  This new track features a catchy, sing-along chorus that is instantly memorable, along with a nifty guitar hook that perfectly melds the classic rock style the band utilized so well on Camp Rock with the pop-punk approach they have used in the past to craft some of their best songs, such as "Kids Of The 70s" and "Transformer".  Lyrically, the song is one of alienation and those feelings of not belonging that so many of today's youth associate themselves with.  According to their press release, the band says of the song, "...the band invites us into a world of alienation, insecurity, and unrequited love.  But maybe there's hope after all?"

Rating:  As usual, I don't "rate" singles, but if "Social Rejects" and "Sister Siberia" are any indication of where the band is headed on this new record, Razorbats II is going to be a strong contender for the G2G Top 20 yet again...but in 2018!  

Thursday, November 30, 2017

FICTION SYXX "Tall Dark Secrets"

(c) 2017 Melodic Rock Records

  1. Given Sight
  2. Play On Words
  3. Tow The Line
  4. Welcome To My Nightmare
  5. Demon In My Window
  6. Larger Than Life
  7. Where We Belong
  8. Your Promised Land
  9. Spirits Collide
  10. Time To Heal
  11. Children Of The Night
Mark Allen Lanoue--Lead Vocals, Backing Vocals, Guitars
JK Northrup--Lead, Slide, and Acoustic Guitars, Backing Vocals
Tony Franklin--Bass
Rory Faciane--Drums, Percussion
Eric Ragno--Keyboards

Guest Musicians
Bill Leverty (Firehouse)--solo on "Tow The Line"
Steve Brown (Trixter)--solo on "Larger Than Life"
Jimi Bell (House Of Lords)--solo on "Given Sight"
Andy Lee (Circle II Circle)--first solo on "Children Of The Night"
Christian Wentz (Circle II Circle)--solo on "Time To Heal"
Thorsten Koehne (Eden's Curse)--solo on "Demon In My Window"
Stefan Prescott (Biloxi)--Keys on "Children Of The Night"
Lee Small (Shy)
Karl Cochran (Farcry)--Backing Vocals
Carl Sentence (Nazareth)
David Cagle--Backing Vocals

I'm gonna let all you bands in on a secret.  If you want to get me interested in your project, right quick and in a hurry, get JK Northrup involved.  Simple as that.  I am such a fan of his playing, his mixing, his producing...even if for some reason the album ended up being terrible (which I find highly unlikely), the simple fact that Northrup is involved has me interested from the get go.  So, that being said, when I first heard about Fiction Syxx, I knew I had to get my hands on it and give it a listen as soon as I could.

Fiction Syxx is a melodic metal project...some might even go so far as to say a progressive rock/metal project...featuring some fairly big names from the genre.  Not only is Northrup involved, but Tony Franklin (Blue Murder/Quiet Riot/The Firm), Eric Ragno (who has played seemingly with EVERYONE), and a whole slew of guest musicians join up-and-coming drummer, Rory Faciane, and the severely underrated vocalist/guitarist, Mark Allen Lanoue, who is the mastermind behind Fiction Syxx.  Combining an obvious love for the melodic style of the 80s with a somewhat progressive approach to several songs, Fiction Syxx sounds at times to be very familiar and very spite of the fact that nothing here come off as clones or copies of anyone else's music or style.

"Given Sight" starts things off in particularly strong fashion, with a brief intro leading the band into an uptempo, melodic rocker which features not only some excellent rhythm guitar work, but some really nice supporting keyboard work...and even a brief keyboard solo...from Ragno, before Jimi Bell of House Of Lords explodes into the first of several guest guitar solos throughout the record.  Franklin's bass is also a definite force on this track, but the big surprise to many will be the powerful, smooth vocals of Lanoue.  Confident and in control throughout the track (and the record, for that matter), Lanoue comes off like a seasoned pro, gliding smoothly across this track, easily lowering and elevating his register when necessary, and not falling into the over-singing trap that a lot of similar-styled vocalists seem to do these days.  A lot of good can be done with subtlety in situations where big, bombastic vocal acrobatics actually will do damage, and Lanoue expertly avoids the latter, staying squarely in his wheelhouse, knowing who he is as a singer.  Big time kudos on this from me, as this is a serious annoyance to me with a lot of singers.

"Play On Words" backs off a bit on the progressive stylings, heading more into straight ahead melodic rock territory.  Once again, Lanoue comes across as very much in control, allowing the emotion of the song to carry his voice where it needs to go, rather than the other way around, with Lanoue trying to ramp up the emotion to match the song.  Again, it may seem subtle, but Lanoue never sounds like he is trying to steal the show with his voice.  Northrup gets his first chance to step into the lead soloist spot on this track, and does not disappoint, delivering a cool run on the frets that fits the more straight-up rock style of the track, which is right up the axeman's alley.

Another great example of this is the laid back, quasi-ballad, "Where We Belong".  Lanoue sounds not at all unlike Dennis DeYoung from Styx here, delivering a smooth tenor vocal on this softer moment of the record.  In fact, it reminds me a bit of some of that band's later 70s/earlier 80s output, with the big, progressive, nearly-orchestral feel, with some different percussion instrumentation, an almost-too-speedy guitar solo from JK (did I really just type that???), and an airy, 70s-feeling keyboard solo.  An outlier on the record, to be sure, but still an enjoyable moment that allows the listener to catch his breath before the big drums and hard guitars of "Your Promised Land" kickstart things back in a more aggressive direction, with Northrup absolutely tearing things up on his solo break.

"Larger Than Life" showcases the absolute embarrassment of riches that is present on this album, as Trixter's Steve Brown gets a chance to shine on guitar, and absolutely delivers, which should come as no surprise.  I have always felt Brown was seriously underrated outside of those who are truly fans of the genre, likely because Trixter was not a band people took overly seriously back in their heyday.  People really should give this track...and Brown's work here...a listen to hear just how talented this man truly is.  Check it out below...

(Larger Than Life)

"Tow The Line" drifts a bit back more toward that progressive territory of "Given Sight", before "Welcome To My Nightmare" (not the Alice Cooper song), threatens to steal the entire show.  This killer track features one of the grittiest guitar solos on the record...from Mr. Lanoue, himself...despite the fact that it is more of a mid-tempo track, or at least one that is not laced with huge bursts of speed.  "...Nightmare" gives Franklin a bit more room to maneuver here, and once again, the keys here are a nice, supporting element and not overly dominating.  The backing vocals are quite the opposite, however, as they are big and powerful, supporting Lanoue as he drives through the track.  Definitely one of my favorite songs on the album.

(Tow The Line)

Speaking of personal faves, three other tracks come to mind instantly, although all are really well written and performed.  "Demon In My Window" slows things down a bit, again breathing extra life into Franklin's bass (he seems to dominate on the slower numbers here) on this song about ghosts and spirits and hauntings that would have made Ronnie James Dio proud, I think.  In fact, I can here Dio's "evil" vocal edge ever so slightly in Lanoue's approach to the chorus on this track, which also features a nice guitar solo from Thorsten Koehne of Eden's Curse...and a Vincent Price-like laugh to close the track out. "Time To Heal" once again features a bit more of a proggy approach, likely the result of a bit more involvement from Ragno's keys.  The longest song on the album at nearly 7 minutes, I guess you might call this the "epic" track of the record, but don't mistake that for meaning the song is bloated or masturbatory in any way.  The solos here seem to be a bit longer, likely because of the note density on the guitar solo from Circle II Circle's Wentz, but they are not particularly long on the clock, and never do they come across as "hey, look at me" moments.  Once again, Franklin's presence is particularly strong here, especially when the song makes a noticeable downshift in tempo at about the 4:40 mark.

The album's closer definitely pops into my mind as a top song, as "Children Of The Night" is a huge song, incorporating a keyboard intro, galloping rhythm guitars, some very Deep Purple-style organ courtesy of Lanoue's long-time Biloxi partner, Stefan Prescott, and some furious, tight drumming...and that's all in the first 45 seconds, and Lanoue hasn't even joined the party yet! Definitely more of a 70s-inspired rocker, again with some prog overtones, this track features a retro-sounding keyboard solo from Ragno, along with multiple guitar solos, with Lanoue getting the chance to bend the strings on the second solo here, showing he is rather adept on the guitar as well as as a vocalist!  Again, challenging for, and possibly claiming, the top spot on the album "Children..." is an excellent way to round out an overall great debut effort from a band that I truly hope to hear more from in the not-too-distant future.

The mixing and production here is excellent, as is to be expected from anything coming out of Northrup's Alien Productions Studios, and I sorely wish that some "big time" labels would invest in the man's talents, as he truly has a feel for this style of music.  The instruments are crisp and clear, the musicianship is tight, and nothing overpowers anything else, which is so key in my opinion, when dealing with multiple instruments (2 guitars, bass, very present keyboards, drums, and vocals)  all being performed at such high levels of ability.

Rating:  Crankable, without question!  8.5 for Tall, Dark Secrets!

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Sunday, November 26, 2017

GALACTIC COWBOYS "Long Way Back To The Moon"

(c) 2017 Mascot Records

  1. In The Clouds
  2. Internal Masquerade
  3. Blood In My Eyes
  4. Next Joke
  5. Zombies
  6. Drama
  7. Amisarewas
  8. Hate Me
  9. Losing Ourselves
  10. Agenda
  11. Long Way Back To The Moon
  12. Believing The Hype (Bonus Track)
  13. Say Goodbye To Utopia (Bonus Track)
Ben Huggins--Lead Vocals
Dane Sonnier--Guitars,Vocals
Monty Colvin--Bass, Vocals
Alan Doss--Drums, Vocals

Seventeen years ago...let's see...well, I wasn't married, I had no kids, I was considering returning to college to get out of a job I strongly disliked, and I hadn't bought my first house yet.  But...I did buy the last Galactic Cowboys record!  That much I am sure of!  Its crazy to me to think that 2000 was the last time the Galactic Cowboys, in any version of the band, recorded an album, with that last effort being Let It Go on Metal Blade Records.  It was a decent album, to be sure, but it was definitely not the same as the spectacular first two records the band recorded, 1991's self-titled debut, and the criminally overlooked, underappreciated 1993 release, Space In Your Face.  That album, by the way, is the last time that all four original members recorded together, and I am not even going to try to remember what I was doing 24 years ago!  

What I do remember is first hearing about this band in 1991 from some friends of mine who were, like me, big fans of the Christian metal scene.  While never considering themselves to be an overtly Christian act (although all members considered themselves to be Christians), Galactic Cowboys, much like their friends, King's X, were given the Christian Metal label and garnered some publicity in magazines from that scene, with Heaven's Metal being particularly high on the band if memory serves me correctly (man, I'm having to remember a lot for this review...).  Regardless, I picked up the debut album and was immediately hooked by the huge, heavy riffage and the quirky, ultra-harmonious vocals that sounded more like they belonged to The Beatles or their distant 80s musical cousins, Enuff Z'Nuff, than they belonged to a metal band as heavy as Galactic Cowboys.  I loved what I was hearing and turned a few of my friends onto them at the college radio station I was working on at the time (you're welcome, Matt K!).  

I don't need to get into the demise of the Galactic Cowboys, and so many other great hard rock and metal bands of the time that were strangled by the wave of grunge that swept across radio and MTV in the early-to-mid-90s.  However, the situation had to be particularly frustrating for Galactic Cowboys, as their label mates, Nirvana, were largely responsible for that slow, agonizing death that choked the life from so many great bands.  

Well, here it is, 2017, and while I have no idea of what spurred the reunion, the Galactic in the original four members...have come back together and released Long Way Back To The Moon on relatively unheard of label, Mascot Records.  Sounding like they never left the scene at all, Galactic Cowboys have crafted an album that is uniquely GC and certainly nothing like anything the majority of hard music fans of the past 15 years have likely put ears to.  Combining riffs that are as heavy and, at times, as thrashy as some of the things Metallica or Anthrax have done in the same 15-20 year time span, with progressive song structures and melodies, the band continues to keep their signature vocal style intact, featuring strong leads from Huggins, and insanely tight harmony support from the rest of the guys in the band.  Mix in the tongue-in-cheek humor of the lyrics and the huge bass work of Colvin, and it quickly becomes apparent what it was about Galactic Cowboys that got the attention of so many people all those years ago, and what should draw that attention back.

The album starts off in properly heavy fashion with "In The Clouds", a track that on some levels reminds me...musically...of Metallica's "The Thing That Should Not Be", especially in terms of tempo and tone.  Once those vocal harmonies kick in, however, it is evident this is nothing that Hetfield and Co. could, or would, ever attempt to pull off.  The longest track on the album, clocking in at just under 7 minutes, "In The Clouds" is more in line with the type of music the band was doing on their first two albums.  Colvin's bass gets a serious workout in the middle section, where Sonnier also gets the chance to bend and stretch the strings, and even Doss gets to flex a bit of muscle, as the band reintroduces themselves to the metal community.  Huggins is in fine form here, a bit of an edge present in most of his vocals here, but buffered by the support of his long-time pals.    "Internal Masquerade" really plays on this vocal harmonization exceptionally well, really adding that Beatlesque quality that I mentioned before without sacrificing the heft of the track.

Five of my six favorite tracks all pop up in the first seven tracks here, with back-to-back-back sarcastic rockers, "Next Joke", "Zombies", and "Drama" likely occupying the top three slots.  "Next Joke" starts off with a monstrous bass riff from Colvin and some absolute machine gun drums from Doss, before the guitars and Huggins work their way into the track.  There's a really cool guitar solo embedded in the track, and Colvin's bass is a dominating presence throughout the song, but it's the humor of the chorus that sells the track, as Huggins wryly intones, "The sky is the limit, when you put your mind to it, you can be anything...NEXT JOKE!", which is, in so many ways, classic Galactic Cowboys.  The same can be said of "Zombies", an apocalyptic love story set to an Anthraxian rhythm during the verses before stepping back during the chorus section to layer in the vocal harmonies with "It all makes sense to me now, that I would find you...on the last day of the world....ZOMBIE ATTACK!"  Speaking of humor, the next track, the life observations made by Huggins in the opening verse, alone, make this song worth the price of admission, and the ear candy of the vocal harmonies is enough to dang near give you a sugar high, they are THAT sweet!  Seriously, nobody in rock does this...not even such notable harmonizing hard rockers as Winger, the previously mentioned Enuff Z'Nuff, or even fellow Texans, King's X.  I honestly think you could strip away the music and I would still be perfectly happy listening to several of these songs in acapella form....although I'm plenty happy to have the metal still fully included!

Some cool scale work introduces the semi-ballad, "Amisarewas", which really showcases the band's ability to change up not only pace, but also style and tone.  A far deeper song lyrically, "Amisarewas" reaches back to the band's faith for inspiration but doesn't beat the listener over the head with chapter and verse lyrics, relying more on real world observation about the world around us to get the point across.  The solo section here is more laid back and prog in nature, particularly in the structure and the mixture of the instruments, with no one instrument being the dominant voice for quite a long stretch before Sonnier's guitar steps up in gritty fashion and demands the listener's attention just before the chorus returns, with the backing section singing "all that has been done, all that's left to come" as Huggins sings "amisarewas, bebeenbeing" before ending each chorus with "Thy will be done!" as the tag.  The title track is the other real stand-out track to me, with some more stellar bass work from Colvin and some nicely interspersed shouted vocals leading into the chorus sections of this humorous track that really hearkens back to the band's earliest records.  

There are absolutely no bad tracks here at all, which is quite a feat for a 13 track album.  Even when approaching a song that is not necessarily in their wheelhouse, Galactic Cowboys prove they have the musical chops to tackle just about anything.  Aggro-rocker "Hate Me", for example, has furious rhythm guitars and some sharp drumming and reminds me a bit of something Suicidal Tendencies was doing in their more artistic stretch, particularly in the way Huggins uses a rapid-fire, spoken word style at the outset of the track, and the rest of the verse vocals come out more snarled/barked than sung, although the backing vocals...well, let's just say that Suicidal would have ZERO chance at the execution of this type of harmonizing!  "Losing Ourselves" is a uptempo-yet-downtuned, grungy number that again features Huggins exploring some different vocal techniques and delivery styles, particularly on the verse sections, which somehow manage to work and not sound disjointed when played alongside the other, more melodic tracks here. 

My promo copy comes with two bonus tracks, and I have no idea if they are for import versions only, or if they will appear on all versions.  Both are excellent songs that could fit into the album proper with no problems at all, so I am not sure what led to these two tracks being labelled as "bonus material".  Of the two, I probably prefer the aggressive "Believing The Hype" the most.  Again, Huggins slips slightly into Mike Muir (Suicidal Tendencies) mode at the beginning of the track and during the choruses with his spoken rant-styled vocals as he exclaims "now you're a sucker for believing the hype"!  I can't help but wonder if this song is a bit of a swipe at the grunge movement that killed off their career...and then disappeared nearly as rapidly as it appeared....referring to the record labels that pushed this style of music as the "suckers".  Who knows, but it seems to fit in my mind.  "Say Goodbye To Utopia" is also a relatively aggressive track with a really cool downshift in tempos about midway through before it gives way to some furious bass work and one more guitar extremely breakneck solo.  And then, as if giving a final wave to the listener, the band showcases its true charm and its calling card as those those layered harmonies glide across the chorus one final time before slightly echoing out, allowing the Galactic Cowboys to ride off into a musical sunset that only they could create.

The production on this record is raw and dark, particularly in the sound of the drums and the voice that is given to Colvin's bass.  While many find this type of production a bit off-putting, I think it fits the tone of the album well, giving it a more live feel...especially in the drums...and clearly giving the vocal harmonies a chance to shine, which I feel is given a strong contrast on this record that would not be possible if the album was given more gloss and shine.  Yes there is grit, yes there is darkness, yes there is depth, all things that I think give Long Way Back To The Moon some musical relevance in today's hard rock scene without compromising who they are and what they bring to the table.

Seventeen years...twenty-four years...however you look at it, it has been far too long since Galactic Cowboys graced the hard rock/metal scene with their brand of musical uniqueness, and I sincerely hope we don't have to wait anywhere near that long again before we hear from the guys again.  The band has so much to offer to a scene that is rife with sameness and cookie-cutter bands, and they offer a musicality that is desperately missing from the scene.  I don't know that this record will be the one that "breaks" the band to the world, as I'm not sure that is even a possibility now, with the way radio and internet music outlets operate.  But it is a record that should give musicians and artists hope that creativity still counts for something and that perhaps perseverance can be its own reward of sorts.  They may not have exploded into the stratosphere like so many music executives thought they would in 1991, but with Long Way Back To The Moon, the band can at the very least provide an excellent bookend to their recording career should they choose to call it a day at this point.

Rating:  Top 10 for 2017 for sure, crankability is not a question here.  Crank this to 9!

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Friday, November 24, 2017

IRON SAVIOR "Riding On Fire (Re-Forged)"

(c) 2017 AFM Records

  1. Riding On Fire
  2. Battering Ram
  3. Brave New World
  4. Prisoner Of The Void
  5. Titans Of Our Time
  6. For The World
  7. Eye To Eye
  8. Mindfeeder
  9. Watcher In The Sky
  10. Mind Over Matter
  11. Warrior
  12. Iron Savior
  13. Tales Of The Bold
  14. No Heroes
  15. Break The Curse
  16. Condition Red
  17. Protector
  18. I've Been To Hell
  19. Atlantis Falling

Piet Sielck--Lead Vocals, Guitars
Piesel Kustner--Guitars
Jan-S Eckert--Bass
Patrick Klose--Drums

Everyone has a guilty pleasure band, right?  One that doesn't necessarily fall in line with the majority of your listening choices, but that you can't help but pop in from time to time, even if its just to get that instant smile going on?  For me, that band has long been German power/speed metallers, Iron Savior.  In general, I am a very casual power metal fan, outside of bands like Helloween, Blind Guardian, Metal Church, and a small fistful of others, but Iron Savior is one band that I have always sought out when new material was being released because...well, because I just like their style and sound so much!  So, when I heard that the band was recording a 2-CD set of their best material in re-recorded fashion, I was immediately interested and knew I would be seeking the set out.  Thankfully, I had this review copy show up in my email inbox about two weeks before it would be released, so I got a bit of an early Christmas present, it would seem.

Iron Savior finds themselves in the same boat that so many bands are in these days; they have lost control of their back catalog.  Usually due to bad publishing deals or one-sided contracts, a lot of bands find themselves no longer owning the rights to their old albums, so they face a dilemma when it comes to their classic material.  With the band now being 20 years old, with 10 proper studio albums (and a 2015 re-recording of the Megatropolis album), along with a live album, there is a vast amount of material that fans had been requesting to be reissued, but the band's hands were tied by their old label, Noise Records.  So, the band did the only thing they felt they could do...they re-recorded 19 of their biggest songs for this new collection.

Riding On Fire (Re-Forged) focuses entirely on material from the Noise Records releases from the band, with six songs (1, 3, 6, 9, 12 and 19) coming from their 1997 self-titled debut, three (4, 7 and 10) from 1999's Unification, just one (18) from 2001's Dark Assault, and seven (5, 8, 11, 13, 14, 16, and 17) from 2002's spectacular Condition Red release, along with three (2, 7 and 15) from 2004's Battering Ram.  While he is obviously no longer a member, Kai Hansen (Helloween) contributed to the writing of the songs from Iron Savior, Unification, and Dark Assault, so fans of his should be happy to see several of his collaborations included here.

The performances here are top-notch, with blisteringly fast rhythm guitar work, blazing solos, and some excellent drumming from brand-new drummer, Klose, who joined the band just prior to the undertaking of this album (talk about a trial by fire!).  Sielck's voice is as snarling and menacing as ever, and the bass work from Eckert is understated yet powerful, helping to glue the band together into the powerful metal machine that they truly are.  Also present are the big backing vocals, especially on the song's choruses, which have become a hallmark of not only Iron Savior, but so many German power metal bands.  I have to admit that I am always a bit leery about bands re-recording past material with new members, but this version of Iron Savior pulls off the classic material exceptionally well, which should come as no real surprise, I suppose, since Kustner has been in the band since 2000 now, and Eckert is on his second stint with the band, having played with Iron Savior from 1997-2003, then rejoining in 2011. 

Obviously, with a re-recorded collection such as this, the broad story line that all of the band's albums through Condition Red have told (they are all part of one HUGE science fiction story line) cannot be followed lyrically, nor should it really matter, as only the truest, die-hard fans likely know what the story is about.  Even so, the lyrics are bold, powerful statements in their stand-alone settings here, offering up typical power metal themes of battle, bravery, standing up for what's right, etc., which Sielck, the band's main songwriter, has always done well.

The production here is excellent, and the recordings are, in every instance, superior to the originals, in my opinion.  Even the classic Condition Red material sounds better to me in this re-recorded state, and that says a lot, as Condition Red is not only my favorite Iron Savior album, but one of my top five power metal albums in my collection.  I truly love that record and was extremely happy to see it not only so well-represented here, but also to hear it executed so very well.

I was a bit surprised to see that none of the new tracks from the 1999 album, Interlude, made it onto this collection, as that record is also on Noise and those songs are, as such, unavailable elsewhere.  I realize not every great song could be included, and as it is, this two disc set stretches to nearly 100 minutes, but I still would have liked to have heard "Stonecold" or "The Hatchet Of War" included, along with perhaps another track from Unification, such as "Forces Of Rage" or "Unchained".  Still, as it stands, this is a nearly perfect collection and an amazing primer for any new fans who want to check out the band's earlier, classic material without paying ridiculous prices...if they can even find the originals in the first place. 

Rating:  So, so good, I can't fairly treat this like a new album, as it is re-recordings of classic material.  I would still consider it crankable, however, turning things up to 8.5.

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Wednesday, November 22, 2017


(c) 2017 Frontiers Records

  1. A Head Long Jump
  2. Wake Me Up
  3. It Was Always You
  4. The Fear
  5. Under Control
  6. The New Reality
  7. My Eyes
  8. A Guitar In Church?
  9. All For What
  10. The Wave
  11. Tidal Change
  12. The Same Old Story
Geoff Tate--Vocals
Kelly Gray--Guitars
Scott Moughton--Guitars
John Moyer--Bass
Simon Wright--Drums
Brian Tichy--Drums
Scott Mercado--Drums
Mike Ferguson--Drums

Just a quick many drummers does an album need?  


Geoff Tate's post-Queensryche project, Operation: Mindcrime, completes its three-album cycle with The New Reality, an album that has been either anticipated or dreaded...possibly the metal community since the iconic vocalist released the first album in the trilogy, The Key, in 2015.  For those who are joining this musical venture late, the Operation: Mindcrime (the band) trilogy is a vast conceptual story about four people who invent some sort of technology that allows them to create an alternate reality that others (I'm assuming the government) want to get their hands on.  Fans of Queensryche originally flocked to this project, hoping for something akin to what that band was doing in the brilliant first half of its career, between the debut EP and Promised Land.  For Tate detractors, this trilogy was a chance for them to point and scoff...perhaps even the man who, despite all of his talent and the stage he had been given, managed to get himself fired from the band that he co-founded and that had become a shadow of its once-great self.  

I happened to be one of the people who fell somewhere between camps.  Having been a Queensryche fan since the word jump, I was excited at the prospect of Tate continuing on in the vein of Operation: Mindcrime and Promised Land, which was where Tate's project was reportedly headed.  And at first, when he was still recording under HIS version of the Queensryche name, Tate succeeded to a large degree with Frequency Unknown, but once he was legally forced to drop the 'Ryche name and his project became Operation: Mindcrime, things have not gone as swimmingly.  Overly long and bloated, convoluted, and hard to follow, the first two parts of this trilogy were mostly a disappointment, although both had some shining moments that gave me true hope.  Could Tate possibly have one more really good record in him?

With The New Reality, it seems that perhaps he did.  Easily the best of the three, in my opinion, The New Reality seems far more focused musically, sticking largely to what Queensryche did best on the Mindcrime, Empire, Promised Land stretch, which is crafting both big metallic rockers and progressive, musically interesting and challenging ballads, along with some interlude moments added for texture and depth.  As far as the music goes, there is a lot of Promised Land here as well as some Rage For Order and Mindcrime.

Things start off with what sounds like a theremin and some atmospheric keys before we get some spoken word lyrics from Mr. Tate, but it takes over two-and-a-half minutes of the opening track before the band kicks in and the song "A Headlong Jump" actually starts.  Once it does, however, it is very reminiscent of the music that Tate was doing with Queensryche on Promised Land, sounding not entirely unlike tracks "I Am I" or "Disconnected", as points of reference.  I have to admit that I am immediately intrigued.

The uptempo rocker, "Wake Me Up", has some really nice guitar work in it and Tate is in fine form, easily adjusting his vocal range to fit the music, and I like that this is pretty much just a straight up hard rock track, nothing overtly progressive or atmospheric about it.  That changes a bit with "It Was Always You", which reintroduces those electronic and programmed keyboard elements, weaving them in and out of the tribal drum pattern used here, which I really like.  Again, Tate comes off as vocally confident and in control here, and the layered backing vocals...which I believe are just layers of Tate supporting himself...add a nice touch of depth.  There's also some really cool saxophone work here (again, reminiscent of Promised Land), and I find myself rather excited to dig more and more into this album.

"The Fear" stays in that progressive vein, but "Under Control" returns to a harder-edged sound with angry guitars, a gritty bass, and a edgy Tate all combining nicely on another one of those 'Rhychian tracks that so perfectly melded the progressive and hard rock genres together when the united band was hitting on all cylinders.  I really like this track, as it carries some Empire qualities with it, while not sounding like a rehashing of old material.

"The New Reality" is another, laid back, more-progressive moment on the record that I find myself really liking, although, once again, it seems to take a long time for Tate to join the party.  Again, very much in the Promised Land vein, this song also has, at times, aggressive rhythm guitars, piano, saxophone, programmed elements, and some pretty cool drum work throughout, which seems to be a common theme on this record.  I don't have any indication of which drummer played on which tracks, but the drums throughout this record are excellent and fit the mood of these tracks so well.  Never overplayed, and never just the standard rock patterns used over-and-over again, there are a variety of interesting rhythms, patterns, and fills, as well as a nice selection of percussion instruments intermixed with the basic drum sounds.  So many places have Tichy written all over them to my ear, but, as I said, I have no idea who plays on which song at this point, so all I can do is guess.

"A Guitar In Church" loses me, to be honest, as it is a seemingly self-serving instrumental that does nothing to advance the overarching storyline of the trilogy, or to enhance this record at all.  I would drop it, personally, but its not like its glaringly bad or anything.  I just don't see the point, and oddly, its not overly guitar-driven, either, despite the name; there are a lot of keyboards, however.

"All For What" jumps back into the story of the album(s), and with the alert siren effects and the spoken word drop-ins from Tate, this feels very much like an Operation: Mindcrime-inspired track.  There are keys/pianos, a string section (most likely synthesized as I have not seen it credited anywhere), and Tate is in fine form here as he ranges from spoken word sections to angered screams, with some powerful, impassioned singing dabbed liberally all across the track.  This, as much as anything, has that big, epic feeling that was missing from the first two installments from the band, and once again, hearkens back to better times for Tate with Queensryche.

"The Wave" is pretty dang cool, a riffy mid-tempo rocker with a plodding drum section that pretty much demands my head start bobbing along, although the track does have some rather odd electronic elements in it (is that a theremin again?!), where a screaming guitar solo would have fit in nicely.  Is Tate making some sort of political statement here with the line "the radical left have no power, and the right, no solution", or is it all part of the storyline?  Not sure, but the line definitely jumps out at you when you hear least it did for me.

"Tidal Change" is really just a minute-plus long intro to the closing track, "The Same Old Story", which is one of the real disappointments on the record.  Not because it is a poor song, because it is not, but because the record ends on something of a laid-back whimper rather than a gut-punch rocker, which I think would've served so much better.  Still, "The Same Old Story" does fall in line with the mood and style of about half the record, again dropping in electronic elements (and an organ?) to enhance the progressive nature of the track.  Again, I think Tate sounds very much in control here, never reaching the rafters with a wailing scream, but still climbing the ladder in a couple of places, while varying his pitch and delivery all throughout the track.

It's odd to me that all three of these albums were supposedly recorded in one massive session over several weeks (or perhaps months), as the writing styles are so different on the three.  This disc reigns superior over the other two, and it isn't really all that close, to be honest.  With this album, I feel like I am listening to Queensryche again, which is an awesome thing for me.  I have long stated that my favorite records from 'Ryche were Promised Land, Operation: Mindcrime, Rage For Order, and Dedicated To Chaos (I also think American Soldier is unfairly bashed...), and I think this record contains elements of all of those records, with Promised Land and Dedicated To Chaos the most obviously represented.  There are also some obvious comparisons to Dream Theater that will be made, especially Images And Words and Awake, which I feel have some of the best DT combinations of heft and progressiveness.

The production here has its issues, as it has a few spots where the mix comes off as rather muddy, with the guitars on the title track being one place where this issue really stands out in my memory.  The drums also come off as a bit flat in spots, particularly the bass drum, but this is a relatively minor issue to me.  I simply adjusted the EQ on my system and boosted the bottom end a bit.  There are also a couple of moments where the music has such varied volume levels that I found myself having to adjust the settings on my computer (my copy is digital) to properly hear everything that was going on.

It will be interesting to see what happens next for Tate, as I believe he was legally only allowed to use the Operation: Mindcrime name for this trilogy and for touring, or perhaps that was a choice he made...I'm not 100% sure.  Speaking of touring, since Tate has the exclusive rights to tour Operation: Mindcrime I and II, he is taking his band of the same name on the road for the 30th anniversary of that iconic record.  Tate still has some interesting musical ideas in him and I hope he has a platform on which to share these ideas, as the progressive rock/metal community still has a place for a talent such as his.  Where that goes, it is anyone's guess at this point.

Is this a full-scale return to the greatness of Queensryche at its peak?  No, but it is closer than Tate has come since leaving/being ousted from that band.  Overall, I found myself enjoying the record quite a bit.  If it has any glaring weaknesses, it would be the lack of a true single (although, what does that really matter these days?), and it really could have used one or two more hard-hitting rockers.  Other than that, I think this is an enjoyable record that is best digested as an entire meal and not broken down into several individual courses.

Rating:  The only album of the trilogy that I consider crankable, I give this one a 7 (compared to a 5.5 and a 6 for the previous two entries).

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