Monday, April 22, 2019

ROYAL BLISS "Royal Bliss"

(c) 2019 Air Castle Records

  1. Hard And Loud
  2. Pain
  3. Paranoid
  4. Adrenaline
  5. Light Of The Moon
  6. Devil With Angel Eyes
  7. Be Original
  8. You're Killing Me
  9. How You Like Me Now
  10. Fight Back
  11. S.W.I.M.U.
Neal Middleton--Lead Vocals
Taylor Richards--Guitar
Brian Hennesy--Bass
Jake Smith--Drums

Utah's favorite sons, Royal Bliss, have returned with their first studio effort since their 2016 EP, The Truth, and the band's first full-length release since 2014's Chasing The Sun.  Streamlined to just a four-piece unit this time around, Royal Bliss returns to the modern hard rock sound that served them so well on Chasing The Sun and previous efforts, Waiting Out The Storm and 2009's major label debut, Life In Between.  

A couple of these songs have been floated digitally already, with the scorching hard rocker, "Hard And Loud" with it's fist-in-the-air, sing-along chorus, and the catchy mid-tempo number, "Devil With Angel Eyes" receiving national attention.  Meanwhile, "Pain" has just recently been added to several radio stations as well as SiriusXM's Octane channel.  This punchy, angst-packed track is easily one of the two or three best tracks on an overall great album, with lead singer, Neal Middleton, alternating between his smooth tenor delivery and an edgier, raspier scream on the verse sections.  Taylor Richards' guitar screams to life on the solo (which ends all too soon), with both Hennesy and Smith adding to the depth of the track with a rock solid bottom end.  This is the type of track that the band has consistently done so well, a hard-driving, forward-pressing rocker that is musically relentless and lyrically meaningful, angry-yet-hopeful in an "I'll overcome all of this" way, as Middleton snarls on the opening verse, "I am the one, the only one, who writes my story.." then backs it up with a chorus of "Take away my pain, Cuz it won't fade away!  Falling into nothing, I will rise above it all, and take away my pain!"

"Paranoid" starts off rather starkly, with just Middleton and the rhythm guitar, but soon enough the drums kick in and the bass rumbles to life on another mid-tempo-yet-aggressive modern rocker that recalls for me the things that were so great about the past few studio records.  Taylor utilizes a unique guitar tone and style for the solo here which is a complete departure from anything else on the record, but it works well, and Middleton finds himself alternating between his more aggressive style on the chorus and a smoother delivery approach on the verses.

"Adrenaline" is a very bass-heavy, bottom-end-oriented track, but is catchy as heck, with a 90s alternative guitar line that infects the chorus sections, and a stomp-and-nod tempo from Hennesy that keeps the song rumbling along.  As I said, the track is just catchy...infectious might be a better word...and between the steady drum cadence and the throbbing bass line, the listener is just pulled along, engaged the whole way right up to Middleton's cold close on the song.  Good, good stuff here.

"Light Of The Moon" is the "Crazy" of this record, which says something, as I think "Crazy" is still among the best things this band has ever recorded.  The track starts with a slow build, an acoustic guitar line and Middleton's vocals, building, building, building until the chorus hits and Middleton beckons, "Where did you go?  I've been missing/Someone to hold, You don't listen/All my life I'm caught in the Light of the Moon".  Perhaps the greatest thing about Royal Bliss is the way Middleton's vocals add an emotional layer to the songs that serve to enhance the words that are put down on the lyrics sheet, and nowhere is that more evident than here.  You can feel the emotion the words have been marinating in before they are brought to life.  

"Be Original", with its stomp-stomp-clap tempo and big "whoa-oh, whoa-oh-oh" vocals, is just pure ear candy.  The modern edge applied to Middleton's vocals sits in contrast to the 70s-inspired guitar tones and Hammond-styled synth work (I don't believe it is a true Hammond organ being used here), and this is a pure rocker through and through, as is the edgy follow-up, "You're Killing Me" which features a huge drum presence and some more inventive, creative guitar tones from Richards.  The instrumental section following the second chorus section is basically controlled musical fury, with the rapid fire drums fighting with Richards' guitars and Hennesy's bass in a struggle for sonic supremacy.

If it's searing guitar solos you are interested in, "How You Like Me Now" is your track.  While I love so much of what Richards has done on this record to this point, both in how he has crafted his solos and the unusual tones and techniques he has experimented with, it is on the solo here, at about the 1:35 mark that his string-bending skills really just come to life in a pure, straight forward manner.  Not tricks, not studio effects, just the man, his pick, and his axe...the way its supposed to be.

"Fight Back" is the most aggressive song that Royal Bliss has recorded to this point in their 20+ year career, at least as far as what I have heard (and I have heard just about everything except their very first recordings).  Jackhammer drum patterns, a near breakdown chug-chug-chug section from the rhythm guitars, more 70s-toned but high speed soloing, and the angriest Middleton vocals you have likely ever heard rip through the last half of this song that leaves the listener asking, "Wait...that was Royal Bliss, right?"  A little punkish...maybe even a bit grungy...this is a Royal Bliss oddity, no doubt, but in a good way, I think it would be interesting to hear the band tear into this in the live setting!  

In stark contrast to "Fight Back", the record closes with the acoustic number, "S.W.I.M.U.", which finds the band drifting a bit back toward the softer sound they had adopted on The Truth.  The acronym stands for "Smoking Weed In My Underwear", which while admittedly humorous, has little to do with the depth of the song, which is part of Middleton's (and the band's) continuing musical saga of life on the road and the family that the band is for the guys.  An acoustic steel guitar is thrown into the mix here, adding to that southern-fried, country-tinged rock the band had tinkered with, and it is a great ending to an album that showcases a band in full embrace of who they are and what they want to do, regardless of what others think they should sound like or be about.  

Is this the best Royal Bliss record yet?  That is a tall task, especially when considering the greatness of Waiting Out The Storm and Chasing The Sun.  That being said, this is definitely top three for me, and only time will tell where exactly this record finds itself settling.  Just know that this is a great record from an underrated, underappreciated band that deserves far more attention on the national level.

I'm not sure of distribution at this has not appeared on Amazon as of this writing, but you can order the CD here, including autographed copies, along with all sorts of other merchandise and experiences.  The band will be out on the road this summer, and if you get the chance to seek them out (largely in the western half of the country), I encourage you to do so, as they are not only a great live band, but good guys to talk to after the show.

Rating:  Exquisitely crankable!  Rip that knob clear up to 9!


(c) 1986 Pure Metal Records

  1. Hit And Run
  2. Master Of The Metal
  3. For Whom Does The Bell Toll (Ps. 23)
  4. Fear No Evil
  5. Heavy Metal Thunder
  6. The Friend
  7. Battle Cry
  8. Voice That's Calling
Charlie Clark--Lead and Backing Vocals
Andy Strauss--Lead Guitars, Acoustic Guitars, Backing Vocals
Brian Nicarry--Guitars, Lead Vocals (3, 7), Backing Vocals
Joe Shirk--Bass, Backing Vocals
David Thunder--Drums

Additional Musicians
Bill Grabowski--Guitars
Alexander Paul--Guitars

While it had existed as a genre for over a decade, Christian hard rock and metal was going to explode in 1986, due in large part to the massive exposure the genre received from Stryper's massive To Hell With The Devil record.  Suddenly, new bands were popping up, old bands were finally getting recognition and exposure, and new labels were forming to get these bands out to the masses.  Pure Metal Records was one such label, and Messiah Prophet was the first band signed to the label.  Perhaps no band better fit the imagery of a label than Messiah Prophet and their second record (first for Pure Metal), Master Of The Metal.

Previously called Messiah Prophet Band, the five piece act changed three members from their previous album, the solid, but decidedly more hard rock Rock The Flock, dropped the "Band" from their name, turned up the guitars, and created a true Christian (or White) metal masterpiece.  Often wrongly called "Heavy Metal Thunder", most likely due to the popularity of that particular track, Master Of The Metal was a beast of an 80's metal album, complete with dual guitars, a thunderous rhythm section, and a vocalist in Clark who could raise and lower his register seemingly at will.  Interestingly, newcomer Nicarry provides lead vocals on the two ballads of the album, but Clark's wail can be easily recognized in the chorus sections, especially on the massive power ballad, "Battle Cry".

The record starts off in fine fashion with "Hit And Run", a mid-tempo hard rocker that kicks off with rapid fire snare drums and chugging rhythm guitar riffs before an overlay of police sirens enters the mix, adding a sense of urgency...and perhaps a bit of 80's metal the track, which finds Clark warning listeners "Don't be a hit and run", referring to finding oneself a victim of Satan without having the protection of Christ's love.  The guitar work here is top notch, and the bass of Shirk is definitely stand-out, as are Thunder's drums.  A great way to kick off an album.

The title track is up next, and again, the mid-tempo track is a near perfect track, with aggressive rhythm guitars, a heavy drum presence, big, gang-shouted chorus sections, and a bass presence that was often overlooked in heavy music of the time.  There is a cool time change following the second verse and chorus section that finds Thunder kicking his way through some interesting drum patterns, before giving way to a flashy lead from Strauss, who also wrote the song.  

Nicarry takes his first lead vocal spot on the next track, "For Whom Does The Bell Toll (Ps. 23)".  Introduced by a haunting church bell, "For Whom..." should not be confused with the Metallica track of the same title, as this song is a ballad interpretation of the 23rd Psalm, featuring strong acoustic guitar work and a big, layered chorus vocal, led by Clark, that pronounces "Yea, though I walk/Through the Valley of Death/I will fear no evil".  There are some scriptural modifications to the verses to make them better fit the song structure, but it is clear the intent of the song is to put the well-known inspirational verse to a musical soundtrack the rock/metal kids of the time could relate to.  The chorus, interestingly (intentionally??) leads perfectly into the next track, "Fear No Evil", which finds Clark's high-end power vocals returning to the lead position as the tempo picks back up and the wailing guitars return.  While "For Whom Does The Bell Toll" is an excellent piece of music, it is on "Fear No Evil", with it's shout-along chorus and screaming guitars, that Messiah Prophet really excels.  And nowhere is that more evident than on the featured track of the record, the "hit" of the record, "Heavy Metal Thunder".

Featured prominently at the center of the CD (or at the beginning of the B side of the vinyl), "Heavy Metal Thunder" is five and a half minutes of 80s classic metal bliss.  A big power chord intros the track before Nicarry's rhythm guitars and Thunder's drums join the fray just ahead of Clark's vocals, which take on a nearly-spoken work approach for the first half of each voice, before he cranks up the power, adds a bit of edge, and then elevates the range as he enters the big, layered chorus of "Heavy metal thunder/Heavy metal noise!"  A bridge of "Who are you going to choose?" repeats itself a couple of times before Strauss goes crazy on a screaming guitar solo that put much of the Christian metal scene on notice that this band was for real.  There is also a repeat of the vocal bridge, this time atop just a big...ahem...thundering drum section from Mr. Thunder, himself...before Clark takes a couple of spins through the chorus, and big, twin guitars lead the charge home.  At this point, the greatness of the record and the band is pretty much firmly established and the rest of the record is pure sonic bliss.  

"The Friend" follows up, again featuring a catchy, chant along chorus and gritty rhythm guitars that keep the mid-tempo metallic train chugging steadily forward as Thunder's drums and Shirk's bass keep hammering away in lock step.  Nicarry returns to the lead vocal slot on "Battle Cry" which is an excellent quasi-power ballad that is again supported by Clark's powerhouse vocals on the chorus section, before the record closes with one of my two favorite tracks on the album, the epic metallic rocker, "Voice That's Calling" that is every bit as musically perfect as "Heavy Metal Thunder", even if its likely not as accessible to casual metal fans.  Strauss is absolutely spot-on with his solo work throughout this seven minute monster.  For me, the brilliance of the track is the closing vocal stretch that finds Clark emphatically wailing, "Jesus, Jesus, I will have no gods before you" repeatedly as Nicarry riffs away and Strauss tears into another closing solo run as Thunder complements the song with some great tom fills.  Just a powerhouse of an ending to an equally powerful track.

The cover artwork is nearly as noteworthy as the music, and it is a great part of the overall package here.  The CD insert (and the cassette insert, as well) features full lyrics, writing and performance credits, acknowledgements, and booking information.  There are no band photos or member thank yous included.

This is a masterpiece of an album in the Christian metal genre, and a great piece of straight forward 80s metal overall.  Edging a bit towards more commercial, more melodic metal at times, the album struggles only with the limitations of he production at the time.  This is an album that SCREAMS for a true remastering, because if the muddiness could be even semi-cleaned up in a couple of areas, fans of the Christian metal sub-genre, and of 80s metal in general, would clamor for the project.  As it stands, this album has been reissued one time in the early 2000s, but it was not remastered.  In a perfect world, I would love to see an anthology collection of this album, the 1984 independent album, Rock The Flock, and the last song Clark recorded as Messiah Prophet (albeit with a totally different band), "Blinded".  

This would be the final true Messiah Prophet album (again, Clark recorded one more song, but with a different band), and the next album to feature the Messiah Prophet name, 1996's Colors, is a completely different animal than this iteration.  Decidedly more commercial hard rock in it's approach, Colors, while not horrible, pales in comparison to Master Of The Metal, and not one member of the band from either Rock The Flock or Master Of The Metal performs on it.  I believe this is an example of the label owning rights to the name and the publishing, so when Clark and Strauss' version of the band ceased to exist, the label (then Refuge Records, who bought out Pure Metal) simply put together a new version of the band in an effort to sell records (that plan failed, by the way.  Colors is pretty much considered garbage by most Christian metal collectors, although I think this is a bit harsh.)

Sadly, Clark lost his battle with Lou Gerhig's Disease (ALS) in very early 2018 at the too young age of 55.

Long out of print, in either the Pure Metal or the limited edition reissue, this CD is still highly sought after and regularly fetches $25-50 prices on eBay.  I have seen copies on Amazon listed for $29.99, but I have a hard time believing these are not bootlegs, as they are listed as "new", which I find hard to believe.  

If you can find one for a decent price, you should snag it, because Messiah Prophet's Master Of The Metal is one of the truly great pieces of Christian metal in the important 80s metal scene.  

Rating:  Historically crankable!  Still cranking at 8.5 more than 30 years later!


Tuesday, April 16, 2019


(c) 2019 Rob Mules Records

  1. The City
  2. Summer Of Head
Paul Erik Vercouteren--Lead Vocals
Kjetil F. Wevling--Guitars
Asle Tangen--Guitars
Martin Hervig--Bass
Torris Ilievski--Drums

The best rock band going in Norway least in my opinion...Razorbats return in 2019 with their half of a soon-to-be-released split EP (Canada's Sick Things will be on the other half) from Rob Mules Records.  This split EP will be the first new material from the band since last year's excellent II record, and the first recorded material with new drummer, Torris Ilievski.  

The lead single as far as the Norwegians go is "The City".  Kicking off with a fat bass line and gritty rhythm guitars, the song is a musical adventure for the protagonist who, after a hard night of drinking, finds himself struggling with a case of "room spinning 'round" hangover-induced paranoia, thinking that "spies everywhere" are out to get him.  As is typical with Razorbats songs, a healthy appreciation for classic rock is spread liberally across the single, while elements of sleaze and punk are drizzled into the mix.  Big, gang vocals back up Vercouteren on the chorus sections, and a cool little solo from Wevling is the perfect fit for this fun, uptempo rocker that picks up right where the band's II album left off last year.  Incidentally, Ilievski is a great fit for the band with his approach to the drums, not merely keeping a steady tempo, but adding some interesting rhythms and fills throughout the track.  Welcome aboard, Torris!

If you want to take a listen, check out "The City" right here!

The B-side, "Summer Of Head" is another catchy rocker, a bit more in the 70s punk vein, and considerably raunchier in its lyrical approach.  Kicking off with a guitar riff that snags your attention, the song is nostalgic in its "looking back at a summer of fun" style, "Summer..." drives hard from start to finish, with Vercouteren sounding exceedingly confident on vocals, and the twin guitars of Wevling and Tangen constantly on the attack.  I appreciate the mix on this record, also, as Hervig's bass is given plenty of attention, enhancing the bottom end of the track, keeping it bouncing along.  The guitar solo is a bit more melodic than one might expect to find in a punky/sleazy track such as this, but Wevling makes it work perfectly.  Definitely "B-side" material...not because of  lack of quality, but because of the subject matter...this song will likely find its way into many rockers' summer backyard party mixes, and deservedly so.  

Irreverent, infectious, and staring right at you with a knowing smile, Razorbats make the most of their half of this split EP, and I hope that this is merely a precursor to more great music coming from the band later this year.  Be sure to stop by the band's site to grab your swag, music, and to keep up with all that is going on in Razorbats' world!     

  1. Stranglehold
  2. You Know It Ain't Right
Cam Turin--Lead Vocals, Guitars
Keith Lewtas--Guitars, Vocals
Patrick Bennett--Bass, Vocals
Matt Gonzalez--Drums, Vocals

Canada's Sick Things are a band that I knew nothing about prior to receiving this EP, although this will not be their first release.  The band had previously released a full digital album through the Bandcamp platform in 2018, which you can find here.  

The lead single from this split EP will be "Stranglehold" (not Nugent's classic track), which will drop in May, along with a video release.  Much like their EP partners, Sick Things plays a 70s inspired hard rock style, but rather than going for the revved-up, punkish approach Razorbats utilizes, Sick Things goes more for a smoother, guitar rock sound, a la Boston, Blue Oyster Cult, or The Who.  Turin has something of an early Joe Elliott quality to his voice, minus a bit of the snarly edge the Leppard singer would employ on their first three albums.  The sound here is thick, with a rich guitar tone, with a lot of bass in the mix, giving the music a bottom-heavy sound.  The backing vocals get a tad bit lost in the mix, as does the early part of the guitar solo on this track, but the overall vibe of the song is a cool one, with handclaps joining the fray following the lead guitar solo, and the final couple of runs through the chorus are really strong.  I'm liking what I hear.

"You Know It Ain't Right!" stays the mid-tempo rock classic rock course, even dropping some cowbell into the mix.  The chorus vocals remind me a lot of early...EARLY...Def Leppard (think On Through The Night, not Hysteria), while the guitars retain that early Boston, B.O.C. sound.  The drums are straight forward and steady, and once again, the bass is a big presence in the mix for Sick Things. I find myself really liking the vocal approach of Turin, as he stays comfortably in mid-tenor range, adding a bit of edge when necessary, but never ranging into a scream or into falsetto territory.  I also really like the guitar work here, with the rhythm guitars hitting particularly hard in their three-chord rock style, and the solo grabs your attention without becoming overly flashy or over-the-top.  Gonzalez is a competent stickman, again not overly flashy or disruptive, and he capably handles the drum approach of the era and style of music this band seems to enjoy.   

If I had any complaint about the music from Sick Things on this EP it would be that it sounds a bit muddy, a tad bit over-modulated, especially on the vocals, which I think is likely due to how much bass is utilized here.  The lead vocals seem like they have the volume pushed up a bit too much, which gives them a fuzzy quality, and the backing vocals get buried a bit from time to time.  I have no production credits in my notes, but I'm wondering if this is a self-produced effort.  Now, take all of this with a grain of salt as I am listening to digital versions of these tracks at present, and it is entirely possible this is not an issue on the actual, physical EP.   

Both bands put their best foot forward here, with Razorbats doing Razorbats things...combining a sassy, sneering attitude with high energy, punk-tinged retro party rock, and Sick Things taking a more straight ahead, NWoBHM meets 70s American classic rock approach.  Production styles differ, as well, with Razorbats sticking to the grittier, more live sound that they have employed so well since their breakout with  Camp Rock, while Sick Things use a smoother and somewhat heavier-handed production approach, giving their songs a thicker sound.  It's an interesting pairing of bands on this split 7-inch EP that will be available on vinyl, and one that I find myself enjoying despite their obvious differences. 

Rating:  With only two songs per band, it's tough to give a comprehensive rating.  As a whole, I'd crank the project to a 7, with the Razorbats material being a bit stronger and more to my liking, but Sick Things have made a fan out of me and I plan to track down that previous album soon.    

Sunday, April 14, 2019

LOVEWAR "Lovewar"

(c) 2019 Roxx Records

  1. Who I Am
  2. Stand Under It
  3. Upside Your Face
  4. Candle
  5. Grain Of Salt
  6. Tuxedo Alligator
  7. One-Trick Pony
  8. House Of Cards
  9. Mercy
  10. Up For A Fight
  11. You
Tim Bushong--Lead Vocals, Guitars
Greg Purlee--Drums, Percussion, Backing Vocals
Rick Armstrong--Bass, Backing Vocals

No need to check your calendar, as, yes, it is still 2019.  And, yes, you did read the title to this review correctly.  Lovewar has reformed to release a new album more than 25 years after their one true album, 1993's Soak Your Brain.  To some this has become an annoying trend, but for me, the resurgence of old bands who are releasing new material years...sometimes decades...after their last record is an amazing thing!  It not only gives me new music to feast my ears upon, but it also drives me to revisit some of those bands and albums of my youth that have been collecting dust on a shelf.

Things kick off with Purlee's drums before a chunky, down-tuned guitar riff roars from Bushong's guitar on this mid-tempo rocker, only to back off into a quieter, funkier riff during the verse sections.  Here, we get our first listen to Bushong's vocals in more than 25 years...and it was worth the wait!  As a 23 year old, "faster and louder is better" metalhead, I couldn't fully appreciate Bushong's approach, but now, I get what he is doing and definitely like his style and approach.  The edgy guitar crunch returns on the chorus sections which feature some excellent layered harmony vocals from Purlee and Armstrong, whose bass is not only heard but felt throughout this track, mixed perfectly so as to be given a voice without becoming overbearing.  We also get to hear the first solo run from Bushong on guitar, and it is apparent the amount of talent this band has when it is all put together into one musical pot.  Good stuff to open with. 

The tempo picks up...and the music lightens up a bit...on the next track, "Stand Under It".  I'd definitely say this is one of the two or three best songs on an album with no real filler material.  Again, those vocal harmonies are a joy to hear, and the tight rhythm section of Armstrong and Purlee really gives Bushong a solid footing on which he can not only run vocally, but also with a guitar solo that has that 60s Hendrix tone to it.

"Upside Your Face" is another hard rocker with a funky attitude, and it is here that the first comparison to 80s/early 90s King's X is likely to be drawn, although there are nods to Extreme here, as well, though there is nothing even remotely close to a rip-off on this record.  Armstrong is given a chance to really let his bass work here and he does not pass up on the opportunity, nor does Bushong on his solo section.  Purlee, likewise, makes his presence known, with plenty of tasty fill work, especially during the guitar solo, where the cymbals spring forth almost like they are part of that solo.  Another song that falls into that top three or four songs category for me.  

The album's lead single is the funky rocker, "Candle", which features a quirky, jangly guitar riff running the course of the track, along with interspersed harder-edged guitar riffs, giving the song a unique sound that is definitely not something that is part of the current musical landscape.  (And we are all being robbed of so much great music because of this...)  Bushong's vocals are a bit deeper than they were a couple of decades ago, a bit more weathered, but he still sounds strong, like a cross between Gary Cherone and Dug Pinnick.  Armstrong's bass is given plenty of room to rumble on this track, and Purlee's drum patterns are every bit the match for the varying guitar approaches utilized here.  Check the video below to get a feel for what you are going to experience here.

There is a definite musical continuity running between this album and Soak Your Brain, which is largely the result of the fact that these songs were reportedly written as the follow-up album way back when.  That being said, I think the lyrics have been updated to fit a more current time.  As an example, the song "Grain Of Salt"features these great lyrics...

                 "So much tolerance/Can't seem to tolerate...
                   So much violence/Makes me wanna hate.
                   Too many genders/Clutter up the view...
                   Too many lawsuits/Make me wanna sue!"

While nothing here likely jumps out at the casual listener as being out of time, when you consider these songs were written 20+ years ago, the "more than two genders" thing wasn't an issue in the 1990s or even early 2000s.  Regardless, when you hear the band's layered harmony vocals on this, and several other tracks, as well as their musicianship, it becomes very easy to understand why the trio is frequently compared to King's X.  And while that is understandable, it is also unfortunate, for King's X clones, Lovewar is not.  Personally, I far prefer Bushong's vocals, and I think Armstrong's bass, which is featured prominently throughout this record, is a bigger overall instrument than it is on several King's X records.  But again, this isn't about comparing bands and saying "this band is better than that band".  No, this is about a group of guys that came together, seemingly out of nowhere, to reform a band and say, "yeah, let's do this one more time".

"Tuxedo Alligator" is a picture of a wry smile painted with musical brushes, with liberal doses of blues, funk, and rock all smattered across the canvas.  The riffs are chunky and gritty in places, daring Bushong to unleash his guitar, but the funky bass line and generally laid back, lounge-esque drum patterns reign things in, creating a musical tension that is pure ear candy.

"One-Trick Pony" starts off with an acoustic guitar section that eventually morphs into a Zeppelin-styled riff that is soon swept over by the band's layered, Extreme-styled chorus, which actually precedes the first verse.  This song is dang-near hypnotic, and I found myself returning to it over and over, drawn in not only by the instrumentation, but also Bushong's angrier approach to his vocals, particularly on the bridge section where he screams...

                "The world is dying/And we are crying, and shaking and bawling and roaring and 
                 barking to the dogs!" 

...or something close to that; there are no lyrics included with my preview copy, and his angry snarl is a bit hard to make out in this section.  The longest song on the album, there's a lot to take in here, and all of it is good.  Probably my favorite track on this album.

"House Of Cards" takes on a groove-heavy Enuff  Z'Nuff quality musically, with tight harmony vocals and an infectious melody that sets it apart from some of the other tracks here.  The guitar solo is exceptional, with Bushong using two different styled effects on specific parts of the solo break, alternating between a smoother, 60s-rock sound and a slightly edgier, grittier sound. 

"Up For a Fight" starts off with heavy, dark tones, before moving into more friendly-sounding territory.  Again, highly catchy, especially on the main guitar riff that carves its way through the track, and the layering of the vocals add a depth that is just absolute perfection to these ears.  This anti-politics least the current state of really, really well done, and would have been the perfect close to a really solid return.  But Lovewar isn't quite done yet.

"You" is another Zeppelin-meets-King's X track, especially in the guitar riffs that open the track, while the Extreme qualities of the song jump out at you in the pitch-perfect harmony vocals, the added percussion instrumentation, and the thick vibe that runs throughout.  All three men are equal parts of the whole here, and if "One Trick Pony" isn't the best of the batch, "You" probably is.  "You" has an extended instrumental section to exit the song, but does so without feeling like it breaks down into a jam band session, and when the final guitar note rings out, you find yourself waiting for the next track to kick in because you simple don't want the record to be done!

The production is very good here, which is essential when you are dealing with a band that has as much musical talent, quality, and depth as a band like Lovewar.  Top notch songwriting, excellent musical performances, and gorgeous vocal work...from lead vocals to those exquisite harmony vocals...all lead to an amazing return for Lovewar. 

Now...if we can only convince them to not wait 25 or so years before the next album comes out...

Rating:  A strong return for the band, crank this to 8.

Friday, April 5, 2019

PAVLOV'S DOG "Prodigal Dreamer"

(c) 2018 Rockville Music

  1. Paris
  2. Hard Times
  3. Winterblue
  4. Thrill Of It All
  5. Easter Day
  6. Hurting Kind
  7. Aria
  8. Waterlow
  9. Suzanne
  10. Crying Forever
  11. Being In Love
  12. Shaking Me Down
  13. The Winds Wild Early
David Surkamp--Vocals, Acoustic and Electric Guitars
Sara Surkamp--Vocals (5, 7, 10), Acoustic Guitars
Abbie Steiling--Violin
Rick Steiling--Bass
Mark Maher--Piano, Hammond B-3, Synthesizer
David Malachowski--Electric Guitar
Manfred Ploetz--Drums

Additional Musicians
Saylor Surkamp--Backing Vocals
Hollie Woods--Backing Vocals
Robert Marstiller--Percussion, Backing Vocals
Paul Hennerich--Trumpet

Every now and again, an album comes to me that makes me stop and go...."ummmm....huh.  Okay then...".  Pavlov's Dog is a band that does exactly that with the release of Prodigal Dreamer, their first album in 8 years, and only the eighth record in the band's 47 year history.  You read that right...47 year history!  Other than the background information I had in the press sheet and the little I pulled from some research, I honestly know exactly ZERO about this band, so I was starting in that same place...ground zero...when I put the album on to play.

First off, Prodigal Dreamer is the type of album that really should be played on vinyl; there is no question about that.  In fact, this is the type of music that used to be on the turntable when I would walk by this old hippie's house on my way home from campus when I was in college.  (Oddly, this was in the late 80s/early 90s, and he wasn't old enough to be a true hippie, but I think he had partaken of a bit too much of the 60's generation's "mood alterers", if you catch my drift, man...)  His was a steady...and of Grateful Dead, Phish, and a bunch of 60's and 70's folk/progressive rock, and on the harder end of the spectrum, Pink Floyd, Kansas, and Rush.  And it was always on vinyl, long before vinyl became cool again.  Everything about the sound and style here says that this would go even better with the hiss and pop of vinyl, but my digital files will have to do.

The second thing about Prodigal Dreamer that you should know is the album was recorded in a rather unique fashion, using what is known as "room-miking", with the entire band all performing together live and at the same time, rather than in parts or in separate sound booths.  That fact blew my mind, as the complexity of some of these songs would seem to require multiple takes and retakes to get down correctly.  But for all seven members, plus the guest musicians, to get together and jam together and pull it off is absolutely mind-blowing to me.  That takes some talent, regardless of the style of music being played.

As to that style, well, it is definitely not the style of music I would normally listen to.  Progressive folk rock is probably how I would describe it, but I am not sure if that is altogether accurate.  Band founder/lead singer/composer/arranger/guitar player David Surkamp sounds to me like what I would imagine a child of Bob Dylan and Geddy Lee might sound like.  While not quite as rangy as Lee, and not quite as nasal or whiny as Dylan can be, Surkamp finds a slot somewhere in between and pretty much stays the course there.  There is an emotional quality to his vocals that is definitely unique, and the slight warbling vibrato he employs in places adds a uniqueness to his sound. 

The music here is pretty much all acoustic, although there are interspersed electric guitar sections, some of which are pretty good, honestly.  The extended solo on "Thrill Of It All" is quite tasty in a psychedelic 60s rock kind of way, and it really sets itself apart from the rest of the reggae-ish, bass-driven approach that drives the majority of the track.  Some plaintive Hammond B-3 organ also drops in from time to time, but for the most part, this is pretty much an unplugged record for most of the performers here.  

Lyrically, Surkamp seems to stick to songs about lost love, unrequited love, pain, and painful memories, which suits the musical style well.  "Easter Day", for example, starts off with "It was rainin' out in Georgia, when I found where the rainbows end.  So I poured myself some bourbon, and I drunk myself to sleep."  Surkamp's wife, Sara, takes a turn on lead vocals for this song, which uses liberal doses of violin, piano, and sparse drums, and her voice is stark, dry, and wracked with pain...and about an octave lower than that her husband uses.  

In speaking of the violin, Abbie Steiling's work is all over this record, and she is truly talented, there is no question.  The same can be said for the Hammond B-3 work of Mark Maher, which is strongly featured in a couple of tracks, with "Shaking Me Down" being a song in which the instrument is the predominant feature for the most part.  There is also another interesting guitar solo in this track, but if I'm honest, I'm not all that sure the guitar solo fits the rest of the song, at least not all of it.

I was really shocked at the lack of rock here, to be quite honest, and to declare this to be anything more than mood music would be disingenuous on my part.  The problem is, I'm not entirely sure what mood I'd have to be in to listen to this with any kind of regularity.  There's just nothing here that is overly interesting or memorable to me.  Again, I don't question the talent, and I don't doubt the earnestness with which it is performed, but there is really nothing to grab onto least for me.  After spinning through the album half a dozen times, I can't tell you with any confidence the names of any of the songs, the choruses, or even the idea behind a single track.  If I'm being completely candid here, I had to actually listen to the album the entire time I was writing this review just so I had some recollection of where the guitars drop in or where the Hammond has a voice.  In fact, the only thing I can say with 100% confidence is that Abbie Steiling is a fantastic violin player, that David Surkamp has a unique voice that I would assume some find absolutely perfect...and others find terrifically annoying...and that Pavlov's Dog is simply not for me, at least on this record.  I have read that older records had a lot more rock to them than this one does, so perhaps those would be a better place to look for fans of this art rock/folk rock/progressive genre.

Rating:  Turn this down to a 4.5 folks.  It just doesn't rock at all.