Friday, March 15, 2019

LA GUNS "The Devil You Know"

(c) 2019 Frontiers Records

  1. Rage
  2. Stay Away
  3. Loaded Bomb
  4. The Devil You Know
  5. Needle To The Bone
  6. Going High
  7. Gone Honey
  8. Don't Need To Win
  9. Down That Hole
  10. Another Season In Hell
  11. Boom!
  12. Killing Machine (Live) (Japanese Bonus Track)
Phil Lewis--Lead Vocals
Tracii Guns--Lead Guitars
Ace Von Johnson--Rhythm Guitars
Johnny Martin--Bass
Shane Fitzgibbon--Drums

It's always funny to me how a band can go years...sometimes even decades...between album releases, and then turn around and start churning out album after album.  LA Guns is one of these bands, having sustained gaps of 7 years between Tales From The Strip and Hollywood Forever, and then 5 more years between Hollywood Forever and The Missing Peace, but now we are on the second studio record (third total counting Made In Milan) from the reunited Phil Lewis/Tracii Guns duo in less than a year and a half!  But hey, I'm not here to complain, especially when the results are as amazing as The Devil You Know, because this album takes all the furious energy of The Missing Peace and simply adds to it, coming across loud, aggressive, sleazy, angry, snarky, and wagging a middle finger at anyone who though the band was dead and gone. 

The first two tracks here have both been released on YouTube as singles.  "Rage" is a high-speed, punk-infused blast of adrenaline into'd by Fitzsimmons' sticks and a "1, 2, 3, 4!" that bursts right into a nasty guitar riff and a yowling vocal style that can only come from Phil Lewis!  Martin's bass throbs all the way through the track, and that beefed up bass presence is just improvements to the overall sound of this record from the more raw, almost garage-sounding style of The Missing Peace.  Tracii cuts loose on a rambunctious solo before the last couple of spins through the chorus, with Von Johnson's aggressive rhythm work charging hard from start to finish.  "Rage" sets a pace that would seem almost impossible to keep up for an entire album!



As if on cue, "Stay Away" backs off the speed just a tad, but don't mistake that for saying it backs off the aggression, as that is simply not the case.  I love the riff on this track, and Fitzsimmons has some serious issues with his cymbals, as he beats the living crap out of them, adding to the aggressive tone of the track's overall sound.  Phil Lewis strings together some of his best lyrics in years, with the line "I got a taste of success/The taste of blood in your mouth/Like getting punched in the face/And your teeth knocked out!" just grabbing my attention from the very first time I heard it.  Bitter much, Phil?!  Whatever has him angry, it has his full lyrical attention, which is a great thing for fans of the snark and sneer that was always present, along with an ever-present chip on his shoulder, when Phil was at his best!  



"Loaded Bomb" starts off with a snare drum intro and some Zeppish guitar work before it morphs into another high-energy rocker with some sick slide guitar from Guns and absolutely spot-on vocals from Lewis.  An absolutely filthy sleazefest, "Loaded Bomb" also features some excellent rhythm work from Von Johnson and frantic footwork from Fitzgibbon, and continues to find Lewis in a rather pissed off mood, lyrically.  "Loaded Bomb" sounds like it crawled straight out of an 80s-era Sunset Strip sewer then dragged itself to the modern version of the band and just slathered itself all over the band members.  At times fast and furious, at times a bit funky, and at all times sleazy, its on tracks like this, where the band stretches themselves a bit to incorporate different influences, that I think LA Guns has always sounded their best, regardless of the incarnation. I love this track.

The title track took me a few spins to really get behind it, but that is likely because there is a lot to take in on this track.  For starters, this is a pretty doomy sounding song, which is not something that one will often hear about LA Guns (in fact, I don't think I've ever said something like that...).  It seems Phil is trying his best to craft some sort of dark, horror rock track lyrically, with a chorus of "My mama done told me you're the devil/And the devil been suckin' on my soul..." or "Gotta stench that stinks like sulfur/And blood flows through your pores/Not band when you're numb to the horror/Gonna meet me...when I'm dead and cold!"  There are guitars all over this track, coming at you in waves, whether in the chug-chugga-chug tempo of the bridge, or the wailing Guns solo that screams to life right after, there is, as I stated before, just so much going on in this song.  The drum presence is big here, especially in that bridge section I mentioned, and the bass can be felt throughout.  Different, and not my favorite track, but one that continues to grow on me more and more.    

Back to back killer tracks here are "Gone Honey" and "Don't Need To Win".  "Gone Honey" captures that laid back groove that the band had down to such a science on Cocked & Loaded, a sleazy self-confidence with a smooth and sly, cocksure quality spreading across Lewis' vocals as he dismisses a scorned lover.  "Don't Need To Win" picks the pace up just a bit and Lewis' vocals regain their edge and bite with the whole band sounding like they've spent a good deal of time with the debut album, reliving that gritty, sleazy style of rock n roll that the band produced seemingly effortlessly back in the day.  "I don't need to win the game/But I'm gonna be in it" is such a great line that fits the feel and attitude of a band that has absolutely zero to prove but is still out there taking big league swings at the fence nonetheless!

"Down That Hole" is a song that will divide the fans a bit, I have a feeling.  The Zeppelin vibe on this track is absolutely inescapable, from the retro feel of the drum sound used by Fitzsimmons to the liberal use of slide guitars.  The solo from Guns is one of the best on the record and a big, catchy hook just grabs hold of the listener as Lewis glides (as much as Phil's vocals will glide) across the track.  This, and the title track, are likely to be the most challenging songs for long-time fans of the band who think every song should be "Sex Action" or "Rip And Tear".  But for fans of some of the bands' more adventurous musical endeavors, these two songs are going to be big time winners.

"Another Season In Hell" is as close to a ballad as the album comes, but this ain't no "Ballad Of Jayne".  Lyrically dark and musically intense, "epic" is probably the best single-word description for this track which stretches to nearly six and a half minutes.  Tracii's guitars carry a tone that matches the angst and pain in Lewis' vocals perfectly, especially on the melancholy solo section that is drenched in soul and carries as much emotional weight as anything he has laid into a song in years.  Dang close to musical perfection to these ears.  

The album closes with "Boom" is punkabilly at its best and a fun way to close the album proper.  Big, gang-shouts bolster the chorus, and Tracii rips through one last scorcher of a solo before the band exits the album on a high note that is likely to leave fans wondering how long they will have to wait before the band treats its fans to another slab of rock done right!

If you happen to snag the Japanese pressing of this record, a live version of "Killing Machine" is the final track on the album.  Sounding like a soundboard recording, this isn't the same version that was released on Made In Milan, and it finds the band in fine form.  A couple of minor vocal squawks from Lewis let you know this is, indeed, a live recording that, at least vocally, is likely free of too much touching up,  That being said, Tracii's solo is so note-perfect, I wouldn't be overly surprised to find it had been overdubbed, but it's really not a big deal because this song has nothing to do with The Devil You Know or how great that record is.

One thing of note that I feel needs to be added is that the sound quality of the videos that have been released is NOT of the same quality on the CD, at least to my ears.  I have had issues with some of Frontiers Records' releases as far as production goes, but I don't detect any significant flaws on The Devil You Know.  There are a couple of places where Phil's voice gets a bit raw, but these areas are small and don't run the course of entire songs or anything, and take nothing away from the quality of the songs.  If anything, these minor flaws only show that the production here is not so heavy-handed that everything has been sanded down and polished up to a glossy veneer that would run counter to the style of a band like LA Guns.  Of course, production is an opinion thing, but I like the way this album is mixed and put together, and I think the flow is excellent, with peaks and valleys in tempo keeping the listener on their toes, despite the lack of a pure ballad.  No real complaints from me in the production department.

Overall, I have to say that I think The Devil You Know is a step up from the really, really good The Missing Peace, and I have mentioned to people before that, as of this writing, this may be my favorite LA Guns record...ever.  As amazing as those first two records are, I truly feel The Devil You Know deserves mention with them both as far as the best the band has done.  Maybe it's the newness of The Devil..., and maybe it's because I have played those first two albums TO DEATH, but there is something about this new record that just grabs me and holds on for dear life while simultaneously trying to shake me to death!  Had this album come out in 1990, after Cocked & Loaded would it have been a hit?  Not likely, as I think it would have scared the crap out of most people to hear the band sounding this angry and this hungry.  Perhaps that is why it is so powerful to me now, because somehow, after all these years, and while dragging all that baggage, LA Guns sounds as powerful and as hungry as they ever have.  And that's saying something...

Rating:  One crankable beast, The Devil You Know is a definite 8.5 for me!

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