Saturday, April 18, 2020


(c) 2019 Rottweiler Records

  1. Sibling Rivalry
  2. Victim-Less
  3. Self Portrait
  4. Machaira
  5. Blue Flame
  6. Obsessed
  7. Fragile
  8. This Life
  9. Who Told You
  10. Water Vice
  11. Out Of Time
  12. When You Have Suffered
  13. Reckless Love
Michael Rowley--Vocals
Aaron Smith--Guitars
Thomas Wheat--Bass
Jamie Kucinski--Drums

Additional Musicians
Kyle Simpson--Piano, Keys, Programming
Jessica Wheat--Female Vocals

XIII Minutes.  (That's 13 Minutes for you non-Roman numerals folks.)  According to the band's bio page, every 13 minutes someone in America dies in a car wreck. Every 13 minutes an American commits suicide.  Every 13 minutes a woman dies of breast cancer.  It also says that 13 minutes is the time between when a tornado siren is sounded and the tornado hits.  I didn't do any independent research on those facts and figures, as I trust the band wouldn't put out a bunch of misinformation that someone would fact check them on.  Thirteen Minutes is also a surprisingly good independent movie about an actual assassination attempt on Hitler in 1939 (I'm a history teacher and a WWII buff...sue me!).  So with all of this information about 13, should it be any surprise that it took all of about 13 minutes for me to absolutely start to really dig this record?!  Well, it may not have taken even that long.

I have never denied the fact that I am a fan of metalcore...when it's good.  Personally, I LOVE big, stinking heavy breakdowns and hardcore vocals, especially if they are combined with clean vocals as well.  I also love big, fat, chugging rhythm guitar riffs and thunderous drums.  So, when I stumble across such a band being hyped as possessing such qualities, it is with great excitement that I usually dive headfirst into said band's album to see if they are worth the hype.  Let me tell you, XIII Minutes is worth it.

The album kicks off with "Sibling Rivalry", and immediately, it is evident to me that XIII Minutes is not your standard metalcore band, although that is what I have heard them categorized as.  For one, there is a smoothness to the riffing that belies a bit of the genre.  Guitarist Aaron Smith has a definite feel for this style of guitar work, and his rhythm riffs are tight and aggressive throughout the record, but they don't contain a lot of that distorted grind that a lot of metalcore bands seem to be incorporating lately.  That's a good thing on Smith's part!  The drums from Kucinski are also really good, punishing on the bottom end and not overly snare-happy, which some bands seem to be doing now.  Again, a good thing!  To me, there is definitely a modern hard rock style that is infused with metalcore elements, but if you are thinking that you will be getting old school Demon Hunter or a band like For Today, think again.  That is not what XIII Minutes is about.  On opener "Sibling Rivalry", all of the elements I previously noted come together really well musically, giving Rowley a solid foundation upon which to sing/snarl.  Rowley's strength is definitely in the ability he has to separate the growly/snarly side of his vocals, which are not dissimilar to what Demon Hunter uses, from his clean vocals, which are far better than what I hear from other bands; he never drifts into emo whining or anything like that.  As with a lot of modern hard rock/metal, the guitar solo isn't overly flashy, but it shows competence and understanding for the genre, with a lot of speed up and down the frets.  There are also some programmed effects in the mix here, but nothing that is overly obvious or overpowering.  Give it a listen here:

"Victim-Less" is an older song that had been previously released as a single, but XIII Minutes chose to incorporate it here.  Aggressive from the jump, "Victim-Less" is one of the more brutal songs on the track, with Rowley spending nearly as much time in full-growl mode as he does with his clean vocals.  There is a harsh breakdown with some tough, bottom-end rhythm riffing, then Smith goes off on one of his high-speed fret runs that pop up all over the place on this record.  Musically, XIII Minutes is very tight, and it really shows on a track like this, where the tempo changes and the stop-starts near the end can start to sound really sloppy if everyone isn't on the same page.  Fortunately, that is not the case here, and Kucinski's drums and Smith's bass are a big part of that crisp, razor sharp edge that is necessary to execute these tempo changes.

"Self Portrait" is an older track that was incorporated here, and while not a bad song, it definitely is not representative of XIII Minutes now.  The track starts off with a walking bass line, with the rest of the band joining in on a rhythm that really can only be described as "bouncy".  An odd effect is used on the first half of the guitar solo here, which makes it sound a bit like the guitar is being played underwater, and it doesn't really go with the track.  Rowley's vocals are exclusively of the harsh variety on this track, which seems almost comical when compared with the jangly nature of the track.  I've been told the band has moved on from this song in their set-lists, and to be honest, I can see why.  There is far superior music elsewhere on this album.

"Machaira" is another older song that also finds its way onto Obsessed.  Musically, the song is a bit more straight forward metal, albeit with a chunkier bottom end than most metal today.  Rowley's vocals again spend a lot of time in the harsher mode, although he does slip into his cleaner delivery in various spots.  One thing that is obviously different, at least to my ears, is the maturation of Kicinski's drumming on the newer material.  While definitely not bad, the drums on "Machaira" are pretty much just straight up rhythm-and-tempo time keepers and lack the flair that shows up in newer material, such as the next track, "Blue Flame".

"Blue Flame" is an example of a track where I really like the clean vocals that Rowley uses.  His clean voice takes on something of an alternative rock sound, while his growls remain in that Demon Hunter mode.  Heavy and chunky, the rhythm guitars are a big presence here, with a tight chugga-chug, chugga-chug tempo that is bolstered by the bass and drums, providing a really solid bedrock or the track to build upon.  Another rapid fire guitar solo scorches through the mid-section of the track, and overall I would have to say this is one of the best tracks here, and it is easy to see why this was chosen as a single, as it is also probably the most accessible for music programmers, as it will mix pretty well with just about any type of metal/metalcore.

If you are looking for something a bit faster, "Obsessed" is more your type of song.  A quick drum run opens the track and instantly the rhythm guitars charge to the front in one of the fastest songs on the album.  Right away the harsher vocals from Rowley are used, and they are the vocal choice for the verse sections, while he cleans up for the choruses, creating a nice interplay between vocal styles.  There is also a female voice that chimes in during the verse portions, which adds even more dynamic and dimension to the track, and there is a point near the finish of the track that Rowley really reaches down to death growl territory, countered by blackened screams that just show the full range of what this band can bring to a track.  Smith's fingers fly through a blistering solo, and the drums really kick in the speed and power on "Obsessed", which is probably my favorite song over all.

"Fragile" returns more to that mid-tempo metalcore stomp style and is the shortest track here, clocking in at 2:47.  Kucinski has some really nice patterns going on here, and as is the case with a lot of metalcore, he's not afraid to abuse his cymbals!  Smith tears through some big rhythm riffs, and Rowley again incorporates both clean and harsh vocals here.  Short and to the point, "Fragile" is definitely not a frail track, musically, and it features a pretty cool groove in the breakdown. 

"This Life" starts with an odd-sounding instrument...for all the world it sounds like muted electric ukulele to me!...but the punishing drums from Kucinski and the think, chunky rhythm riffs from Smith quickly blast you back from your distraction, and Rowley takes off from there.  Using a clean voice for most of the verses, he mixes death growls and blackened screams into the pre-chorus and chorus sections, again providing a really cool dynamic, and once again this is a track that I find myself really drawn to.  As with most of the record, "This Life" can't be labelled pure metalcore, especially with a breakdown section that includes strings, piano, and an atmospheric quality that kind of knocks me back and makes me go, "whoa".  Vicious drums and harshly barked vocals burst forth out of this section, before the song drifts back to this atmospheric style once more to close the track.  Musically brilliant, and again, one of my favorite tracks here, along with "Obsessed" and "Out Of Time", which I'll discuss in a moment.

"Who Told You" punches you in the jaw to snap you back to what XIII Minutes is for most of this record, and that is a tight, groove-laden modern, hard rock band with a metalcore edge.  I love the rhythm riff on this track a lot, and the bottom end is rock solid.  Much like "Blue Flame", there is an accessible quality about this track that should lend itself to being pushed as a single to places like and TheBlast.  Even Octane should be drooling all over itself to snag this track and shove it into rotation, as it really is that good.  Most of Rowley's vocals are of the clean variety here, although his aggressive snarl does make an appearance late in the track.

"Water Vice" is even more punishing than "Who Told You", and finds the band in full-speed mode here, pushing themselves as far into metalcore territory as they venture on this record.  A massive break-down section with those big, bowed guitar stretches is a lot of fun here, and Rowley is in fine form here, easily shifting vocal styles.  Wheat's bass is definitely a big part of "Water Vice", as well Once again, the drum patterns and the precision from Kucinski are superb, and with musical quality like this, I can't help but really find myself surprised that I haven't heard more about this band.  Where has XIII Minutes been and why haven't they been supported more or pushed harder?  I'm at a loss.

"Out Of Time" is the closest the band comes to a ballad, and it is a starkly different track than anything that has come before it.  From the moment Kyle Simpson's piano starts things off, it is clear that this song is a totally different type of monster.  Rowley's clean singing voice soon joins in, and most listeners would be excused for wondering if this track ended up on Obsessed by accident, as it sounds NOTHING like anything else XIII Minutes has done to this point.  In fact, forget the term "metalcore" for a moment, and just think "music".  Add in the gorgeous harmony vocals...and then lead vocals for verse two...from Jessica Wheat and you have a truly beautiful piece of music that should be all over and TheBlast!  This is potent, potent stuff!  And to make it even more amazing, I was told this was Wheat's first time recording.  What?!  Someone needs to take a trip to Oklahoma and see where she's been hiding and see if there are more like her, because this girl can sing!  Check her, and this excellent track, out below...


"When You Have Suffered" is an odd interlude here, and really doesn't fit the flow of the album, in my opinion.  Fortunately it is short (just over a minute), and if it really bugs you, I'm assuming you know how the skip button works.

The album closes with a cover of "Reckless Love", which has been done a couple of times, originally by Cory Asbury, and later by Barry Blair.  Basically a praise and worship song set to harder-edged rock, this is a nice end to the album.  Considerably harder here than in previous versions, the guitars are thicker with a punchier bottom end.  The group vocals on the chorus at the end are a nice touch here, and Rowley uses a clean vocal approach for the entirety of the track.

If modern hard rock with a good dose of groove, heavy chunks of corish vocals, and areas of surprising musicality sounds like it might be your style, XIII Minutes is definitely in your wheelhouse!  Just don't go in with an idea that you know what you are getting based solely on one song or one video, because this is a band that is seemingly throwing new elements at you, trying new things, and keeping the listener on their toes at all times.  Rowley's excellent clean/harsh separation is key here, as are the tight patterns and fills from Kucinski, and the guitar work from Smith, whether on rhythm, lead, or bass guitar, is of really good quality.  Color me impressed, especially on the new material here, which is top notch!

Available digitally from Bandcamp here.

Rating:  Surprisingly crankable!  Crank this to 7.5 as a whole, but I'd give this an 8.5 if based solely on tracks 1, 5-11, and the cover, track 13!

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Wednesday, April 15, 2020

BLISTER BRIGADE "Slugfest Supreme"

(c) 2020 Inverse Records

  1. Slugfest Supreme
  2. Ready To Crumble
  3. Let's Storm The Walls
  4. Arson
  5. Through Murky Times
  6. S.M.M.
  7. Damaged Goods 
  8. Disintegrate
  9. Venomous Twister
  10. Pounding The Deadbeat
  11. Burn My World Alive
Gustav Lund--Vocals, Lead & Rhythm Guitars
Cristoffer Strand--Lead & Rhythm Guitars
Anders Gustavsson--Bass
Rickard Lundmark--Drums

Blister Brigade is a classic heavy metal band from Sweden that completely hearkens back to the type of metal I spent so much of the early-to-mid-80s listening to.  I'm not talking Hollywood Hair Metal here, as it wasn't in fashion yet. I'm talking classic heavy metal of bands Accept, Saxon, Judas Priest, Anvil, Scorpions, Virgin Steele, and the like.  The music here is gritty, very riff-driven, and generally pretty catchy. with strong guitar performances, really solid drums, bass that can actually be heard in the mix(!), and vocals that are incredibly reminiscent of that early-to-mid-80s era.  Heck, even the production on Slugfest Supreme sounds like it is straight out of the era, adding an extra layer of nostalgic charm to the record.

The album kicks off with the dreaded intro.  Why do bands do this?  If you think it's musically interesting enough to include, why not just make your intro part of a song?  At least "Slugfest Supreme" is less than 90 seconds long, and to be fair, it covers enough musical bases that I am not really sure why it wasn't expanded into its own song.  So many intros are quirky instrumental numbers, but this has everyone involved, including the lead singer, so...I begrudgingly give Blister Brigade a pass on this intro.

The album proper starts off with a metallic bang, as "Ready To Crumble" kicks things off in fine fashion.  Immediately I am drawn to the vocals of Gustav Lund, because he sounds so much like someone else that it is making my brain itch.  It took several listens before I figured it out, but he sounds a lot like David Reece when he was with Accept...and that is a dang good thing!  As for the song itself, there is a lot of fast rhythm guitar playing, some equally fleet-footed work on the double bass from Lundmark, and a steady bottom end rumble from Gustavsson, which really establishes the band as solidly  talented!  The second guitar is great to hear, although I can't honestly tell you who is playing lead and who is playing rhythm, as both Lund and Strand are listed as playing both, and I don't have a track-by-track breakdown.  I like this song a lot, and I have to say I was pleasantly surprised by this point, as if I am being honest, I judged this band by its name and wasn't really expecting a lot from a band called Blister Brigade.  Sue me...

"Storm The Walls" continues in that early-to-mid-80s metal style, although I will say that the placement of this song right after "Ready To Crumble" feels disjointed, as the two songs have such different rhythms and tempos.  Regardless, the rhythm guitars here are top notch, and I really like the riff they have worked up here.   A double kick drum runs pretty much the length of the track, and some gang shouted, "hey, hey, heys" at the end of the track are a nice touch.  Not a huge stand-out track, but definitely a solid slab of old school metal.  Color me impressed at this point.

Things actually pick up from this point in the record, with "Arson", the second single from this record, making me really wish there was still a place to hear this kind of metal in the United States.  This is a mid-tempo rocker with a tough sounding bottom end with plenty of rumble from the bass.  The guitar solo is a great string-bender with plenty of power, even if there isn't a ton of flash, and Lund's vocals are in excellent Reecian form here!  Check out the video below:

"Through Murky Times" is an outlier here, in terms of style.  A much slower song than anything else on Slugfest Supreme, "Through Murky Times" is an acoustic-based, folky ballad, with an interesting musical presentation and a vocal style that is unlike anything on the record.  The acoustic guitars are really good, with a catchy riff  employed in the verse sections, accompanied by a piano and an excellent bass line.  The guitar solo that sears its way into the track is of the plugged-in variety, and it is played with a large dose of emotion and soul, as it should be due to the melancholy nature and structure of the song, overall.  The backing vocals are lower in register than the lead vocals, and they take on a semi-chanted style that is fairly common in heavy folk rock.  The track is really well done, but it is going to throw some people, I have a feeling.  The more I hear it, the more I like it and the higher it climbs on my list of songs that I really dig from this record.

"Through Murky Times" bleeds directly into "S.M.M.", which stands for Street Metal Mayhem, which is a pretty accurate description of this album as a whole.  Not overly flashy, but catchy and gritty, "S.M.M." builds the tempo until it hits a solid uptempo rhythm...that then speeds up even further with the short burst that is the guitar solo before a vocal bridge leading into the final run through the chorus.  Some galloping double-kick drums jump into the mix, and the lower-register guitar tones on the rhythm playing really add to the dirty feel of the track.  Not my favorite, but a solid rocker, nonetheless.

"Damaged Goods" has a sassy rhythm to it, bordering on boogie-woogie at times, but the deep, grumbling vocals Lund uses in part of the first verse keep things from getting too out of hand.  He drifts back into David Reece territory for the majority of the song, and it is in this range that Lund best operates, although it is impressive to hear the different ranges that he can work in.  A riffy solo section builds out of a brief moment of nothingness, soon accompanied by steadily building drums and gang-shouted "Damaged Goods!", before a final run through the chorus leads to the chug-chug-chugging end of the song.  Catchy stuff here.

"Disintegrate" drifts into a more late-60s/early 70s psychadelic rock feel at the outset, especially with Lund's vocal performance, but then blends in that classic heavy metal riffage from the rest of the album, giving the track an overall 70s classic rock feel that I can't help but really enjoy.  These guys know how to write a song, that is for sure!  The guitar work here is top notch, and while not flashy, the solo here...and pretty much everywhere on Slugfest Supreme...really fits the mood and groove of the song.

"Venomous Twister" comes storming out of "Disintegrate" at full-speed, with thrashy rhythm guitars and machine gun drums.  Released as a single from the album, "Venomous Twister" is Blister Brigade at their absolute best, I think, with Lund again sounding a lot like Accept-era Reese with the snarl and rasp of his vocals.  The guitar solo here has a bit of flash and flair not utilized in many other places, and the overall feel of the song is a bit like not-really-thrash-but-definite-speed-metal of early Helloween.  Definitely my favorite song out of a batch of really good material.

"Pounding The Deadbeat" as a rather humorous title, but the punishing groove and thunderous drums are nothing to laugh at here.  This song is thick, heavy, and rumbles deep along the bottom end, threatening to become a bit ponderous but never bogging down.  Lund adds a wicked sneer to his vocals here, and the quirky first-half of the guitar solo following the second chorus once again showcases the strong songwriting skills of the band.  This is another really well-crafted track that works in a musical style that nobody employs today.  Really, really good stuff.

The album closes on another higher-speed note with "Burn My World Alive".  Lundmark's drums continue to do a lot of heavy lifting here, as they have throughout the album, and he shows that he is fully capable of tempo, rhythm, and pattern changes at the drop of a hat.  The bass from Gustavsson is also given plenty of room to gallop here, and the twin guitars from Lund and Strand rip their way through this proto-speed metal romp that punctuates the album with a strong exclamation point. 

Some people are going to squabble about the production of the record, but if they do, they are missing the point.  This is not supposed to pristine, slick, polished melodic hard rock/metal.  This is heavy metal of the old school variety.  As such, the production here sounds like what we used to associate with metal back in the pre-hair days.  Its gritty, its edgy, heck, you can almost hear the hiss and pop of the vinyl that this would have been grooved into back in the day.  I can't help but smile when I hear the sound, and get that same feeling I used to get from the early metal records I discovered as a teen.  This is what I believe the band intended, and they pull it off so very well!

Do yourselves a favor, overlook the band name, and pick up Slugfest Supreme if you are like me and you hold fond memories of those pre-hair metal days.  Blister Brigade doesn't reinvent heavy metal, but they do a fine job of injecting a dose of a forgotten branch of the genre back into the scene.  If you can't find something to like on this record, I have to question how much of a fan of those early metal days you really are.  "Through Murky Times" and "Venomous Twister" alone should do plenty to earn the most ardent metalhead's approval!

Rating:  Nothing is earth-shattering here, but Slugfest Supreme still cranks!  Crank this to 7.5!

Thursday, April 9, 2020


(c) 2020 Perris Records

  1. Hearts On Fire
  2. Dead Men
  3. Steal Your Heart
  4. Wasted Time
  5. I Cry
  6. A Little Love
  7. Still Close To My Heart
  8. Give It Back
  9. Spotlight
  10. Prayer For Love
  11. Down To One
Roy Cathey--Lead Vocals
Mike Floros--Guitars
Jason Cornwell--Bass
Tony Stahl--Keys
BJ Zampa--Drums

What happens when you take something you are passionate about, build it up to a level that you maybe never dreamed you would get to, and then find yourself blowing the whole thing up, only to start again?  If you get the chance, ask Mike Floros; he probably has a story to tell you!

Following the critical, if not commercial, success of SteelCity's debut album, Fortress, Floros, the band's founding member, guitarist and chief songwriter, stripped everything back down to the most basic element...himself.  From there, he assembled the current version of the band, enlisting the monster vocals of Cold Sweat's Roy Cathey, the enormous talents of House Of Lords' drummer BJ Zampa, and two talented individuals I was not previously familiar with in Cornwell (Eric Martin Band) and Stahl (DeadRisen).  The end result is a true beast of a record that builds upon everything that was great about Fortress, combining an obvious affection for the power chords and Hammond sound of mid-to-late 70s classic rock and the bombast of 80s metal to create a sound that sets itself apart in the melodic rock world of 2020.

You need venture no further than the album's opener to hear the difference between the very good Fortress and the excellent Mach II, as almost immediately the amplitude of the talent is ramped up.  Cathey's higher-end shout of the "Heart's On Fire" chorus kicks things off, and Floros comes flying into the fray, fingers flying in a display of speed and dexterity that sets the stage for the rest of the record.  Stahl lays down a thick layer of Hammond and Cornwell's bass rumbles to life, partnering with Zampa to lay the bedrock for this massive song.  As I stated earlier, the band's love of that 70s power chord is obvious here, and when blended with Floros' thick riffs and searing solo runs that blast straight out of the 80s melodic metal scene, "Heart's On Fire" is pretty much the perfect opening for ANY album of this type!  One track in and I find myself reaching for my jaw, which has pretty much hit my desk.

A great drum intro launches "Dead Men", before Stahl and his true grasp on the power of the Hammond, accompanies by a fat groove from Cornwell, drive the track deeply into 70s classic rock territory.  Roy comes barreling in with his power delivery, and I am immediately hit with the similarities between Cathey's vocals and those of 80s/90s vocal powerhouse, Mike Lee, of Barren Cross.  Both have a truly remarkable mastery of the rich lower tenor/upper baritone delivery that they incorporate, with both able to elevate when necessary.  True vocal greatness is but a piece of this song, however, as this is a monster of a song with a hook that sticks with me for hours after listening to it, and a catchy chorus that begs to be sung along with.  The backing/counter vocals on the chorus are the perfect foil for Cathey's voice to stand out all that much more, and Floros flies through another tasty solo just prior to the last chorus run that ends with Cathy stretching the final note over several powerful seconds.  Great stuff here!

"Steal Your Heart" finds SteelCity firmly entrenched in mid-80s melodic metal territory, using more of an 80s-era sound for the keys, and relying more on the heavy riffs of the rhythm guitars and the bass to drive the track.  Zampa's tempo and pattern are also classic examples from that era, and everything comes together to form yet another vehicle for Cathey's vocal dominance to really burst forth.  Floros' solo here is excellent, once again, showcasing an understanding of not just the flash of the 80s "hair metal" solo, but also the harmonic depth of the "true metal" solo of the time.  This may be my favorite solo on the album...or one of the top two or three for sure, and that is saying something, as Floros is a big talent on the six string that not enough people have heard about.  Hopefully Mach II will change that!

"Wasted Time" drifts back to the Hammond-driven, Deep Purple-inspired 70s/early 80s groove, with another big, catchy, hooky chorus that is perfectly suited for Cathey's delivery style.  I really like the bass solo-becomes a drum fill-becomes a guitar solo that follows the second run through the chorus, and again, Floros goes off on a solo that both runs and soars, speeds then screams its way into the final verse section of the track.  It's a tough fight for any song to reach the top of the heap on this record, but I'd be lying (by omission) if I didn't say there was something about "Wasted Time" that drags me back to it time and time again.  This is a powerful mid-tempo rocker that just bridges that classic rock/classic metal gap so expertly that I find myself hitting repeat on it more than once.

"I Cry" starts off with some melodic guitar work that reminds me a lot of the way The Storm's excellent song, "You Keep Me Waiting" starts, but rather than launch into an 80's melodic rocker the way that "...Waiting" does, "I Cry" bleeds back into that thick bass-and-Hammond groove that plows forward behind Cathey's voice and Floros' guitars.  An interesting thing happens where it feels like the song is going to explode into another big guitar solo; the song instead takes on a bit of an atmospheric feel, with more 80s-esque keyboard usage and some big drums, with just a tiny-but-frantic guitar run taking the song into the final chorus.  It is as the chorus dies that Floros explodes and goes off on a big, song-ending run.  I really like the songwriting maturity here that shows that a song doesn't have to follow a specific, set pattern to still deliver in a big way.  Another one of my faves here.

"A Little Love" is just catchy as all get out and is a track that I think really and truly lets the listener know what SteelCity is all about, as all elements of the new band's sound are on display here.  While maybe a bit more lyrically cliche than some of the other tracks here, the musical performances are all top notch, with every player given a place, and each instrument being given a full voice.  If the world of radio were to still play music of this style, I would say "A Little Love" definitely has "radio single" written all over it.

The same can be said of "Still Close To My Heart", which has that "not a rocker-but not a ballad" style that seemed to hit so big in the mid-to-late-80s as far as crossing over from the rock arena to the Top 40 charts.  Catchy as heck and smoothly produced, this is pure ear candy through and through, from the big "ohhhs" of the backing vocals to the melodic bass line and the classy guitar sections.  As one familiar with Cathey's voice might expect, he is definitely in his element here, free to allow his voice to soar in spots, while also allowed to be a bit punchy in spots, as well.

"Give It Back" is another contender for song of the album for me, as this is just a monster track filled with powerful performances strung together, from dirty bass line that intros the song to the gritty rhythm say nothing of that rapid-fire flourish after the tempo change in the opening minute of the Zampa's snappy patterns and cadences.  The chorus is simple but catchy and likely to be stuck in your head for a good while after hearing it, and Cathey continues his vocal dominance here.  Floros' solo is, once again, one that really needs to be heard, and this is definitely one of the best on the record.  This is just a fun song that screams summertime with the top down.  Excellent stuff.

I like the vocal inflection that Cathey uses on the verses of "Spotlight", and the call-and-response of the chorus is perfect, with the backing vocals chanting "I want you!" before each line Cathey offers up, and later adding echoes of "Shine on" in response to Cathey declaring "you're in the spotlight!"  Floros lays into yet another great solo, albeit a shorter one that I thought he might tear through, and the rhythm section is rock solid here.  And, as is so often the case here, the supporting role of the Hammond/keys is expertly executed here, never dominating the track, but also never disappearing.  Short, sweet, and down and dirty, "Spotlight" is likely my personal favorite of the record, and is everything that is great about this genre of music all wrapped up in one track.  I can just see the big-haired, doe-eyed 80s vixen in the barely there outfit that would have been dominating this track had it been set to video in 1988!  Honestly, this song has Headbanger's Ball hit written all over it if it's released 30 years ago.  Love, love, love this song!           

If I had anything I would change here, I would probably drop the instrumental, "Prayer For Love", and that is not a judgement against that track.  No, it's more because it's 1:22 of time that the album isn't graced by the power of Cathey's voice and the scream of Floros' guitar.  Sure, it's a nice opportunity for Stahl to shine on piano, but gimme the whole enchilada when the rest of the meal has been this tasty.  Know what I mean? 

The album closes in excellent fashion with "Down To One".  Soft keys intro the track, kind of feeding off the piano of "Prayer...", leading Cathey's vocals in for one more run on the record.  Once again, the sheer power that he sings with is stunning to behold, and for the tenth time in eleven tracks, a lot of people are going to find themselves asking how this dude didn't become a household name!  The deep richness with which he sings is almost peerless in today's music scene, and if I was putting together a band and an album of this type of melodic hard rock/metal, I can't honestly think of anyone else I would sign on as my vocalist ahead of Cathey.  I am that impressed with his performance here.  Floros, as per usual here, rips through an excellent, high octane solo, but then attempts to one-up himself by dropping an emotive acoustic interlude into the track as well before finishing things off with another whammy-bending, string-melting, fret-smoking solo that brings this nearly-perfect record to an unfortunate close.  

Outside of the sheer musical talent found on Mach II, I would have to point to the higher level of songwriting on this album over its predecessor, which is really saying something.  Again, with Fortress, we're talking about a Top 10 album of 2018 for Glitter2Gutter, but everything that record did great, Mach II does better.  Add in spotless production and a gorgeous mix, and there is practically nothing to dislike about this record other than the fact that it eventually comes to an end.  Of course, that just gives the listener an excuse to start it all over again, which this listener has done repeatedly for the last couple of weeks.  

To predict that Mach II will end up in the Top 20 of 2020 doesn't require Carnac-like prescience, as this album is truly that great!  Hunt it down, pop it in, and see if you can manage to dislodge it from your disc player.  So far, I have not been able to...  Mach II is so, so close to musical perfection for me that I have no desire to replace it with anything else at this point.

Rating:  Absolute crankability here!  9.5 for Mach II!

Sunday, April 5, 2020

MONDAY SHOCK "Rude Awakenings"

(c) 2020 Burning Minds

  1. Rude Awakenings
  2. Blind
  3. Your Side
  4. Spirit Of Life
Alessandro Marchi--Vocals
Enrico Dabellani--Guitars
Nicola Iazzi--Bass
Alessandro Broggi--Keys
Fabiano Bolzoni--Drums

Monday Shock is something of a project band that was put together by well-known Italian producer, Oscar Burato, who not only produced this project, but also co-wrote the songs here.  The result is a catchy, fun EP that combines not only an obvious love for 80's melodic rock but also the bouncing tempos and rhythms of the 90s pop-punk sound.

"Rude Awakenings" is a throw-away intro that teases the listener into believing they are going to be getting some sort of 80's synthpop band here, which is 100% not the case.  An alarm clock sounds, and we hear the cover model yawn before the electronic drums and synthesizers kick in.  The joke is carried out very convincingly, I must admit, because for the first minute of this EP, I have to admit I was a bit concerned as to what I was getting here.  

"Blind" is the first real song here, and it is a good one.  Rhythm guitars and drums open the track, along with an obvious bass presence and just a hint of keyboards as a supporting instrument, which is generally how I like to hear them incorporated.  The song has a fun, bouncy tempo and a definite pop sensibility to the song structure, but this is definitely melodic hard rock.  Marchi's vocals kick in and instantly my mind goes to a young Klaus Meine as far as the tone that he uses and the accented-but-understandable lyrics.  The guitars here are really good, with Dabellani showing some flair in what sounds to be a largely tapped solo and some solid rhythm guitars throughout the track.  A promising musical start to this short 3 song EP (we won't be going back to that intro anytime soon.)  Check out the video for "Blind", the debut single, below.

"Your Side" is another catchy, uptempo rocker, with the pace and rhythm very much in line with a lot of the pop-punk songs of the 90s I mentioned at the outset, but once again, this is very much a melodic hard rock track with a really strong bass presence, tight drumming, and more guitar flash from Dabellani.  I did some research on Dabellani, and apparently the guy was basically just a session player and cover band guitarist before jumping on board here.  Also a songwriting contributor on this EP, I have to think someone is going to grab him up to play for them at some point if Monday Shock doesn't go forward from here, because his talent is unquestionable.  By the way, that bass presence I talked about previously comes from Nicola Iazzi, who may be familiar to some as the one-time bassist for bands such as Embryo, Firmo, and he worked for a brief time with Hardline.  This is a fun rocker that feels like summer, and I have no doubt it will be released as a single in Europe where music such as this still has something of a voice on the radio.

"Spirit Of Life" starts of with a soulful blues guitar intro blending into the full band as the EP closes with this very strong ballad.  Again, Marchi's vocals take on something of a younger Klaus Meine tone, and the whole song sounds very much like something the Scorpions may have tackled on their more recent releases.  The backing vocals are superbly done, and the music here, especially the guitar work, is pretty much spot-on.  An excellent close to a pretty strong debut EP from a project that I hope continues on.   

As one might expect, the production here is excellent, with Burato at the control board.  If you are at all familiar with the sound of bands on the Street Symphonies or Logic II Logic labels, then you have likely heard Burato's work, as he was the co-founder of both of those labels.  There is a level of polish to these tracks, but not so much that the guitars lack bite, the keyboards dominate the sound, or that the drums sound overly processed.  This is just a fun experiment that I feel deserves a chance to be explored further, just to see what happens.

Very, very short, especially when the evil-tease intro is thrown aside, Rude Awakenings is harmless fun that should mix well with just about any modern Euro-melodic rock you want to mix it with.  

Rating:  You really can't go wrong with this little effort, so crank it to 7 and let's see if anything further comes of Monday Shock!

Friday, April 3, 2020

ADELLAIDE "New Horizons"

(c) 2019 Lion's Pride Music

  1. Robotica
  2. Time's Hotel
  3. Nightfalls
  4. Tonight (Once In A Lifetime)
  5. Ring Of Saturn
  6. Smile
  7. It's Just A Matter Of Time
  8. Oceania
  9. Paradise Grace
  10. Together Again
Daniel Vargas--Vocals
Vitor Balconi--Guitars
Cadu Yamazaki--Bass
Leandro Freitas--Keys
Herbert Loureiro--Drums

Adellaide is a Brazilian band that I only recently discovered when New Horizons showed up in my inbox.  Blending an obvious love for 80s melodic rock, AOR, and progressive rock, Adellaide is not really like any other band I have come across in some time.

For starters, as I mentioned, there is an obvious 80s element to the band, particularly in the song structures and the instrumentation.  But, I don't mean 80s as in "hair bands and Hollywood".  I mean 80s as in slickly-produced, Top 40 AOR stuff.  The band claims to be influenced by Journey, Survivor, Kansas, and Asia, and to be sure, there are elements of all of those bands on New Horizons.  But they come in small doses.  For example, on "Tonight (Once In A Lifetime)" there are times you can hear bits of Journey, particularly in certain guitar passages, but for the most part, and if you close your eyes and let your imagination run a bit, you can hear a bit of Kansas in the melodies and the way the vocals are applied to this piano-laden ballad.  The vocals are smooth, but heavily accented with some significant English pronunciation issues, but I can get around that, as this is not an uncommon issue with all the foreign bands I am exposed to.  No, my main issue is I feel like I need to visit my dentist after sitting through more than a handful of songs from Adellaide, as the music is just too slick, too sweet, too sugary for me to spend a lot of time with it.  And that's unfortunate, because there is obviously a lot of musical talent in this band, particularly in the guitar work of Balconi and the drums/percussion of Loureiro.  

The album starts off with a spoken work intro for the first track "Robotica".  From the get-go, I think this is supposed to be a concept record to some extent, but for the life of me, I can't figure the story line out.  Anyway, the actual music of this track starts about 35 seconds into the track, and to be honest, the music is rather catchy.  Vargas's voice joins the track and almost immediately I hear Klaus Meine of the Scorpions, both in the pronunciation of certain words and in the tone he sings with.  There are also some odd, Mr. Roboto-type vocal effects thrown into the chorus, which I can work around.  After the second chorus, Balconi goes on a really nice, melodic guitar run that has me thinking Adellaide might really be onto something.  I mean, this guy is good, and as I said, the song is catchy, even if it is overly polished.

But when "Time's Hotel" kicks in, the album starts a slow slide into 80s high school movie soundtrack territory.  You know what I'm talking about:  a band is playing in the background as the movie's main characters dance in some sort of climactic plot point, as camera's cut to the feathery-haired lead singer crooning to the guitarist who bending his strings in a highly melodic solo...just before the keytar player wanders across the stage, and we cut instantly back to Molly Moore or Demi Sheedy or Ally Ringwald (see what I did there??).  This song...and really, the majority of the just so slick that it doesn't even feel like rock, regardless of the tempo or the instruments being played.  And I feel bad because I WANT to like it!  Again, Balconi has some serious talent on the guitar, and once again his skill is on display here in an excellent solo.  But the overall feel is just too slick, too pop-infused, and too danged sweet to really enjoy.  Plus, this is one song where Vargas's enunciation is noticeable to me, because he doesn't use the "h" in his "th" sounds, so when he sings "you are my therapy" he's instead singing "you are my terapy"...and it just drives me up the wall!!!

"Nightfalls" has some great percussion/drum work to it, sounding a bit like Phil Collins in places, a bit like Men At Work in others, and I think it's a really cool sound that Loureiro has going on here, with some interesting patterns and tempos.  The guitars are really good, and the bass work is tight, but there are WAY too many keys for my liking, and there are some really bizarre vocal accompaniment sounds (not really singing so much as...squawking, maybe?) that just do serious damage to the track.

As I previously mentioned, "Tonight (Once In A Lifetime)" is really a pretty good track...probably my favorite of the album, to be honest....with some solid mid-80s Top 40 guitar rock song writing.  The song it reminds me of a bit, however, actually comes from the mid-90s, as there is something here that really makes me think of Foreigner's "Until The End Of Time".  As I stated above, the guitar work here has a Journey quality to it at times, and the use of the piano, rather than keyboards, is a very good decision here.  I can imagine taking Tracy by the hand and escorting her to the dance floor at my high school prom, as she smiles sweetly at me as she most likely thinks to herself, "Why the heck did I tell this mohawked musclehead I'd go to prom with him...again?!"  Errrr....anywaaayyyy...

"Ring Of Saturn" is a pretty straight forward rocker with a progressive bent, and isn't as obnoxious as some of the tracks here.  Again, the song's title and apparent sci-fi significance makes me think I am supposed to be catching onto some grand story here, but I'm totally missing it.  It sounds like I'm on repeat here, but the guitar work is top notch, the rhythm section holds the line very well, the keys aren't overplayed, and the vocals are largely really good (some odd sounds again, however), but the production just feels like there is a layer of sugary glaze that drips down and around the song, pooling up around the base of it and oozing around your feet as you stop to admire the musicianship, only to find yourself stuck to the floor!

"Smile" is just...ah, heck...just read the last paragraph again...  

"It's Just A Matter Of Time" is my other favorite track here, and that is owed in large part to the fact that I absolutely loved the first two Asia records.  The keyboard intro alone throws me right back to that classic Asia debut record, with the greatness of  "Only Time Will Tell" and "Heat Of The Moment".  There is ZERO doubt that there has been some time spent listening to that band and that record here, as "It's Just A Matter Of Time" is a pure 80s melodic/prog rock track of the highest order.  Really, really good stuff that I wish popped up far more frequently style-wise on this record.  Now THAT would be a record I could fall in heavy like with!

"Oceania" again has be trying to figure out what the story of this album is...and again failing.  As far as the song itself goes, this one isn't all that bad, honestly.  The keyboard tone is a bit too pingy for me, but the rest of the track is pretty good.  A good rhythm section, a bit of an edge to Vargas's vocals, guessed it...a really good guitar solo.  I'm kind of starting to wonder if the album was backloaded, because two of the best tracks are in the lower 40% of the record. 

"Paradise Grace" sounds like its going to return things to the sugary sweetness of most of the rest of the record, with far too much time spent on the keyboards that intro the track.  BUT...if you scan forward about 30 seconds or so, you get an 80s Journey-esque track, at least musically, although Vargas will never be confused with Steve Perry...or Steve Augeri...or Arnell-whatever-his-name-is. The rhythm guitars have a cool tone to them, the drums are very well done, and the backing vocals enhance what Vargas is trying to do.  The song itself isn't overly memorable, but its close to a standout on this record. 

The album (mercifully) closes with "Together Again", which starts off with some 80s video game soundtrack keyboards, but finds itself morphing into a fairly decent mid-tempo rock track.  Not metal, not hard rock, just rock.  The backing vocals are straight out of Up With People, but the guitar solo is nice, the Asia-styled synth solo tagged onto the end of the guitar run is pretty cool, and Vargas delivers one of his better overall performances here.  So to answer my own question from before, I would have to say that this album definitely IS backloaded, because all but one of the best songs come in the final four tracks here.  Now, I'm not saying they are great songs, because they are not.  They are, for the most part, pretty good to good, but still, that's an improvement over most of the first six tracks.

The thing is, I don't think this is the fault of the band, at all.  I think most of the problems here are due to the glossy layer of polish poured all over these songs.  I'm betting if you hear Adellaide live there will be more grit, more edge, several of these songs.  But with the heavy-handed approach utilized here, the rock is never able to grab a foothold because it slips off of whatever edge it tries to push off of, leaving it to hang on for dear life while the rest of the song slicks right on past.  And that's an odd thing for me, because the producer here is none other than Tito Falaschi.  Wait, you don't know who that is?  Well, I'm betting several readers know who his brother is, as Edu Falaschi was the lead vocalist for fellow Brazilian power/prog band Angra for a stretch of four albums including the excellent Rebirth.  You would think with that musical pedigree, Tito might have a bit more of an idea as to what melodic hard rock is supposed to sound like, but maybe he wasn't paying close enough attention, or perhaps he was trying to make sure that Adellaide DIDN'T sound like Angra.  Whatever the case, I honestly feel the production does serious damage to many of these songs and really brings down the album as a whole. 

Rating:  Just too much sugary goo to get through.  Rock this to a 5.5, but know there are a couple of really good songs, and some serious musical talent if you swim through the syrup to find it.

Thursday, April 2, 2020


(c) 2019 Independent Release

  1. On The Inside
  2. Graveyard of Identities
  3. Twisted Humanity
  4. Give Me A Sign

CJ English--Vocals, Guitar
Maggie English--Bass, Vocals
Lulu English--Drums, Percussion, Vocals

Okay, for the most part, this whole stripped-down acoustic thing has run its course.  For the most part, all the listener is given is an EP or album filled with unplugged renditions of songs that the artist thinks they can safely pull off with very little thought or effort put into changing things up or putting consideration into how previously heavy material is going to come across in the acoustic setting.  But all of those things are "for the most part".  They are not the way Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh do things, thankfully.

The normally heavy, aggressive, often-harshly screamed music of GFM has been dumped on its head by the English sisters, and the result is a fabulously delicious mess.  Of particular note is the strength of the girls as musicians.  Acoustic music typically exposes weaknesses, in my experience, as you can't disguise a flub with more distortion or volume.  And, there are a few such flubs here, and the girls just blow through them.  For example, the lead vocals on "Graveyard Of Identities" stretch a bit too far in the second verse and come a bit off key at one point, but the girls just seem to shrug it off, seemingly owning their imperfections, and move on.  Musically, the skill exhibited by both CJ and Maggie on their stringed instruments is impressive, and hearing the girls all sing in clean vocals and HARMONIZE so well is a real treat.  I also really like the alternative percussion used by Lulu on a track like "Twisted Humanity" or "Give Me A Sign", both songs where she employs either congas, or perhaps tunable bongos, to deliver a rich tone that fits so well with the string work from her older sisters. 

Perhaps even more impressive to me is the rearrangement of these songs.  All four are tracks that have been released as singles at some point, so most listeners are already familiar with what they are hearing.  With that familiarity, there is often a tendency to stay safe and not challenge either the performers or the listeners to be open to something different.  That is NOT the case here, as all four songs have been reworked, with "Give Me A Sign" being particularly impressive to me.  The changes in vocal pitches, the way the backing "whoas" are still incorporated, but in a more haunting way, and the gentle incorporation of some piano (not sure who is playing that), really alters a song that is really aggressive in its usual form.  In all honesty, all four of these tracks are actually uptempo numbers and not songs that most bands would have chosen to rework, as there is a lot of change that was required to put these songs together in this new fashion.  Most bands would have played it safe with ballads, or at least more down-tempo numbers.  Not so with GFM.  Color me impressed.  And, lest you think the girls incapable of pulling this song off in the live setting, check the video below.

I have no way of knowing if these were done "live", or if they were all recorded in multiple takes over multiple sessions, but it matters little in the end.  The musical maturity shown by these three young ladies is worth noting, and GFM continues to prove that they are so much more than just a sister novelty act.  GFM is an act that deserves to be paid attention to, and they seemingly command that attention more with each release, including this little 4 song EP.  I genuinely hope that another acoustic effort is offered up by the girls at some point in the not-so-distant future, especially if it is anywhere near as good as this one. 

Rating:  It's an EP, it's acoustic, but it cranks!  Spin 'er up to 8!