Friday, November 27, 2020

DEAD SET SAINTS "We Are The Atoned"

 

(c) 2019 Independent Release

  1. Golden Days
  2. We Are The Atoned
  3. You Don't Have To Go
  4. Your Move
  5. Get Ready
  6. The Love
Jeremiah Miller--Vocals, Guitars
Matt Freddolino--Drums, Gang Vocals

Additional Musicians
Andrew Stanton--Bass, Additional Guitars, Gang Vocals

Denver, Colorado's Dead Set Saints released their debut EP, We Are The Atoned, in 2019 following a successful Kickstarter funding campaign, but I didn't find out about the band until I caught their set while watching the Covid-Quarantine performance of ContagionFest (how appropriate is THAT name??!), and I immediately decided to contact the band to see what was up.  This two-man project got some big-time help in the recording studio, with Andrew Stanton (Disciple) not only contributing on bass, some additional guitars, and backing vocals, but also as the producer of the EP, with Jake Jones (As We Ascend) mixing the project, and Robert Venable (As We Ascend) mastering.  However, as is always the case, without the songs and musicians, all the production help in the world won't make a difference, so I was immediately interested to hear what the guys brought to the table as songwriters.   

"Golden Days" kicks the EP off with an edgy, down-tuned guitar riff and rapid-fire drums before *gasp* clean singing vocals jump into the mix!  That's right, clean vocals!  Sure, there is an edge to Millers vocals here, but there are no snarls, no grunts, no growls to be found, which is unusual in the modern hard music scene right now.  The guitars are tight throughout this melodic modern rocker and I really enjoy the section between the second and final chorus, which is part guitar solo section, part breakdown, with some fast and furious work from Freddolino on the drums and solid bass work, I'm guessing from Stanton, is thrown into the mix to bolster the bottom end.  An impressive kick off for this project to be sure.

The title track drops next, and it is apparent these guys have put some time and effort into their songwriting craft, as well as their playing.  Miller's rhythm guitars are catchy and the drum patterns from Feddolino are interesting and not just the same-old, same-old, with tempo changes in multiple places on this track.  Once again, singing dominates the track and a really strong guitar solo jumps out of the speakers following the vocal bridge section.  I'm not sure if it is Miller or Stanton who lays into the solo here, but either way, it is a really nice piece of guitar work on an overall really good track!

Acoustic guitars kick off "You Don't Have To Go", but it isn't long before the full power of this rocker kicks in!  I'm not a big fan of the "God's voice" spoken section, but it is very brief and not a massive distraction, and doesn't ruin the song by any means.  An anti-suicide song, this track delivers a powerful message with a very strong musical punch.  Also, as the longest track on the EP, clocking in at just a hair under five minutes, "You Don't Have To Go" gives the listener plenty of time to absorb the power of this song and to really appreciate Miller's vocal skills here.  It would be very easy to become overly emotional on a song such as this, but Miller manages to avoid the pitfalls of becoming too breathy or too plaintive, choosing instead to maintain his straight ahead style and to stay comfortably within his range.  A really good track  and while I'm not necessarily enamored of the spoken "God" voice utilized during the bridge section (it lasts all of 10 seconds), I can let this minor foible slide and enjoy a third straight Dead Set Saints track.

Some nifty guitar work intros "Your Move" before the strings move to the side and the percussion does most of the heavy lifting during the first verse section, which is a nice change of pace.  The rhythm guitars do a bit more work in the second verse, and a second voice is added to the mix, but Freddolino's kit still plays a major role in the structure of this song.  Featuring more electronic elements than any other track on the EP, there is still a really cool guitar solo right before a vocal section that incorporates some snarling gang vocals that are easily the most aggro on the entire effort.  That ringing guitar fret work from the intro reappears near the end of the track, and while not my favorite song on the EP, "Your Move" goes a long way toward showing that Dead Set Saints is definitely not a One Trick Pony as far as style and substance.

"Get Ready" is another aggressive rocker with some really nice rhythm guitar work and interesting interplay between the guitars and the drums in the verse sections that is unlike anything else the guys deliver anywhere on the EP.  Miller has some effects added to his vocals on a short vocal bridge before the guys drop in a pretty solid breakdown section that is quickly backed up by a short guitar section and then another run through the chorus.  This track has managed to find its way into my workout mix and it reminds me of the harder-hitting stuff that a band like Random Hero or Decyfer Down might release.  Good, good stuff that I would have to say is my favorite track overall.  

"The Love" teases at being an acoustic ballad as it starts off, but it melds into more of a power ballad as it builds, with a truly soaring guitar section and some of the best vocal work from Miller on the entire project.  Never really crossing over into full-on praise and worship territory, this is a song that I feel could have some pretty big crossover appeal in the Christian radio market if given the chance, and I hope that Dead Set Saints are given the chance to shine with this and a couple of other tracks because there is a lot of musical talent here.  

As one would expect with the names attached to the project, the production and recording are really well done, especially considering this is a truly independent project.  There are no glaring weak spots in the songs, the mixing is even-handed throughout, and there is just enough grit in the guitars to keep the modern rockers happy, while there is also enough polish to please the melodic rock crowd.  I do wish the guys would have had one more track to drive this EP home, but closing with the big, sweeping power ballad isn't necessarily a bad thing, and it definitely wraps up the debut on a promising note, both musically and lyrically.

All in all, I have to say I am very pleased with what Dead Set Saints have offered up here and I look forward to hearing more from my neighbors to the west soon!  I would also love to see the guys given a look by a label or two (hey, RockFest Records...are you listening???), and I hope that radio is open to what Dead Set Saints bring to the musical table because they are one of those bands that can really bridge a couple of different sub-genres of hard rock.  Let ChristianRock.Net and your favorite Christian...and non-Christian...stations know you want to hear these guys wherever you choose to listen!  

By the way, here is their three song performance from ContagionFest that got me hooked on the band...see what you think...  And, yes, I realize there are some pre-recorded elements here (they are a two man project), but you get the gist of what the guys bring to the table, and it's worth it to watch Matt headbang his hat off during "Golden Days"!




Follow the band at www.deadsetsaints.com where you can snag the CD or a shirt if you choose, or hit them up on the socials, download their stuff on iTunes, or give them a listen on Spotify.

Rating:  An impressive debut showing, no doubt!  Crank this to 7 and keep your eyes (and ears) out for these guys in the future!

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

W.A.S.P. "Re-Idolized: The Soundtrack To The Crimson Idol"

 

(c) 2018 Napalm Records

        Disc One

  1. The Titanic Overture
  2. The Invisible Boy
  3. Arena Of Pleasure
  4. Chainsaw Charlie (Murders In The New Morgue)
  5. The Gypsy Meets The Boy
  6. Michael's Song
  7. Miss You
  8. Doctor Rocktor
        Disc 2
  1. I Am One
  2. The Idol
  3. Hold On To My Heart
  4. Hey Mama
  5. The Lost Boy
  6. The Peace
  7. Show Time
  8. The Great Misconceptions Of Me
        Disc 3 
DVD Presentation of The Crimson Idol Movie

        Disc 4

Blu-Ray Presentation of The Crimson Idol Movie

Blackie Lawless--Lead Vocals, Guitars, Rhythm Guitars, Keyboards, Bass, Percussion
Doug Blair--Lead Guitars, Backing Vocals
Mike Duda--Bass
Mike Dupke--Drums on all tracks except "The Peace"
Frankie Banali--Drums on "The Peace"

I will make no bones about the fact that The Crimson Idol is quite possibly my favorite album of all time, and is, with no question, my favorite concept album ever recorded.  Period.  I simply love the album and have played it literally hundreds of times.  I have that album memorized from front to back, lyrically and musically (not saying I can play it, just saying I have committed to memory the drums, the guitars, the solos, the vocals, etc.).  So, when it was announced that Blackie had decided to re-record the album, and with "lost" material, no less, I was definitely intrigued...and a bit concerned.  New songs?  Yes, please!  Re-recordings of songs I was already completely enamored with?  Ummmm....

Much has been made of Blackie's Christian faith in recent years, and the fact that the past two W.A.S.P. albums, Babylon and Golgotha both feature some blatantly Christian lyrics and themes has put a lot of people into a tizzy.  I mean, what in the world is the shock-rock band W.A.S.P. and it's table-saw-codpiece-wearing front man doing singing about God and Jesus?  I'm not going to get into that here (but way to go, Blackie!), but apparently not only did Blackie want to release The Crimson Idol in the version he had originally intended (hence the new songs here), but he also desired to clean up the language of a few songs (more on that in a bit).  Add in the fact that 2018 was the 25th Anniversary of the album, and Blackie had numerous reasons to put out Re-Idolized, it would seem.

Using the same band he has recorded his last two records with, Blackie re-recorded The Crimson Idol, splitting it into two different discs now, as there is a considerable amount of new music added to this new package.  The sequencing of the album is the same, with the new tunes dropped into the order where they were originally intended to be before they were cut from the original release.  Apparently the label wanted Lawless to keep the original The Crimson Idol album to just a single-disc effort, so the interlude, "Michael's Song", the huge power ballad "Miss You", "Hey, Mama", "The Lost Boy", "The Peace" and "Show Time" were all left off the original release.  Let me just say, in doing so, the original label left a LOT of great music in the vault, and I am extremely happy to have it here!

Of these six new-to-Crimson Idol tracks, five are completely new, having never been released before.  The sixth one, "Miss You" was actually later recorded and released on Golgotha.  I said of the song at that time, "This track reminds me a lot of "The Idol" from Crimson Idol, both in the depth of emotion poured out and in the searing guitar solos (one in the middle, and a massive solo that takes the song home at the end) that just pick this already powerful track up and carry it to new heights."  Keep in mind, that I had never heard the song before and did not know it was originally made for Crimson Idol, so that should be an indicator of just how strong this track is and how much it fits with the music surrounding it.  This is a monster of a song and it is borderline criminal that it took 22 years to hear it (on Golgotha) and 25 years to hear it in the context it was meant to be heard in.  Just a great, great song!

Nearly as great is "The Peace", another massive power ballad that really shows Blackie in top form both as a singer and a songwriter.  Musically, once again, this is a song that bleeds out of the rest of the album perfectly.  The style of the track is very akin to "The Idol" and "Hold On To My Heart", and that may have honestly been what kept it off the original release.  In places, it may sound too much like "Hold On To My Heart" for the label execs that axed it.  That is unfortunate, however, because the message in this song really a key part of the musical story of Jonathan, aka The Crimson Idol.  This is the only new song that Frankie Banali played on, and as such it represents the closure of the drummer's incredible run in W.A.S.P. as likely the last track he ever recorded with Blackie (unless there is something in a vault somewhere).  

Of the remaining new tracks, "Show Time" and "Michael's Song" are basically just interludes, with "Show Time" being a 2-minute long spoken confrontation between Jonathan and his own dark side one final time before the titular character takes his own life on stage.  "Hey Mama" is another very short addition here, but it is more musical in nature than "Show Time".  The track really delves into Jonathan's love for his mom and his hatred of who he has become, as he sings that his mother should have orphaned him, let him die, or never even had him in the first place, as he feels he has totally shamed his mother.  This leads to the last new entry here, "The Lost Boy", which is an uptempo rocker with a galloping rhythm that tells even more of Jonathan's pre-Crimson Idol backstory and is actually a continuation of the story started in "Hey Mama".  Again, this is an excellent addition to the story, in my opinion, and is a song that I wish had never been left off of the original.

Speaking of material left off of the original, there is actually plenty of room for at least the interludes and one song, if not two or three songs and no new interludes on the original if they leave out "Jonathan's Story", which takes up a good chunk of time at the end of the 2-disc version of the original.  I mean, while that's a pretty cool narrative, it isn't something I listen to more than once in a while, and I wish it had been put on the bonus disc in lieu of one or more of the songs that were omitted.

Anyway...

As for the songs from the original Crimson Idol release that have been at least partially re-recorded, I am generally pretty happy.  I say "at least partially re-recorded" because some of the songs contain parts that are so note-perfect they feel like they had to be lifted from the original recordings.  If not, Blackie is an amazingly skilled player, because we are talking NOTE PERFECT sections.  Doug Blair is an excellent guitar player and his work on the new songs is spectacular and blends into the old material perfectly, but the magic that Bob Kulick created on the original simply can't be duplicated.  Case in point are the two solo sections on "The Idol", which I argue are possibly the greatest guitar solos ever recorded by anyone (seriously, I LOVE the guitar work on the song that much).  Blair performs admirably on the re-recording, and I have no doubt he handles the solos about as well as anyone could in the live setting, but they are simply not of the caliber that Kulick laid down on the original.  The same can be said of Dupke's drum work.  He is a great drummer, no question, but Banali had a way with fills and with patterns and tempo changes that few others had, and nowhere was that on greater display than on the original Crimson Idol, in my estimation.  Duda is rock solid on bass here (Blackie also contributed some bass work), and this incarnation of the band works exceptionally well together, as the last two albums have shown.  I just miss the passion that Kulick poured into his solos on the original, and I mean that not as a sleight to Blair at all.

Blackie, for his part, sounds in great form, and despite the 25 years of wear and tear on his vocals, I think he sounds just about spot-on for the most part.  Some of the spoken-word parts don't work as well here, but I think has more to do with the way they were mixed/produced this time around than it does with how they were performed.  Blackie's range is still solid, however, and he still has that gravelly howl that he has been known for throughout his career.  

Lyrically, Blackie has cleaned up a couple of songs, removing some f*bombs and other offensive terms, most notably in "Chainsaw Charlie (Murders In The New Morgue)".  The confrontation between Jonathan and his manager at the end of "I Am One" has been cleaned up for its language, as well, and is the one place where I feel the language should have been left in, to be honest, as it really showcases just who Jonathan had become and who his manager was.  Regardless, the song is by no means ruined because of this lyrical cleansing, and unless you really, really cling to the lyrical content of the original are you likely to even notice some of the subtle changes.  I mean, "maggots" works just as well as homosexual slur does for the lyric, although the latter really shows just what kind of person Chainsaw Charlie was.  

I am curious about one omission from this record, and that is the track "Phantoms In The Mirror", which can be found on the bonus disc of the two-disc version of Crimson Idol.  I was always under the impression that "Phantoms..." was a part of the story, as well, and lyrically it really fits, with the song's character (Jonathan?) singing to the darker image of himself that he has created.  I've always loved that song and wondered exactly where it should have fit into the story, but it wasn't included here.  If you have never heard it, you need to track it down to hear Kulick rip into his guitar and Banali blast his kit one more time...plus, it's a really cool song that, again, should never have been left out of the original release.  Also left off was "The Eulogy", which is a haunting, nearly all-instrumental piece that only has vocals in the last 60 or so seconds of the nearly 4:20 long song.  I guess I'm okay with that one being left off, but would have loved to hear "Phantoms..." in the mix.

In my perfect world, I would have Blackie mix the original Crimson Idol with the new material on Re-Idolized...PLUS "Phantoms In The Mirror"...then have it all equalized and volume-levelled so that the two recordings meld together flawlessly, giving us the full, complete story of Jonathan as Blackie had originally intended it to be heard.  As it stands, Re-Idolized: The Soundtrack To The Crimson Idol is probably the closest we are going to come, and it is truly great to finally hear what we have here in one package!

I would be remiss if I didn't mention that in the full. four-disc package, the Crimson Idol movie is included in its entirety, in both DVD and Blu-Ray formats.  Additionally, there is a large booklet with all the lyrics, including those to the new songs, as well as writing and performance credits.  All in all, this is an impressive package put together by Napalm Records and is the version I would suggest people seek out, although I have been told there are simple, 2-CD packages out there (I have never seen one).

Rating:  Crankable, definitely.  Part of me wants to rate it higher than the original due to the completion of the story and the inclusion of (nearly) all the missing music, but another part of me wants to rate it lower because...well because Bob Kulick and Frankie Banali aren't playing on this new version.  So, in the interest of fairness...

Re-recorded Material:  8
Previously Unreleased Material:  9.5
DVD/Blu-Ray Movie:  9
Overall Package Value:  9



Sunday, November 8, 2020

RIVETING TRUTH "Riveting Truth"

 

(c) 2020 Roxx Records

  1. The Prison (featuring Dennis Cameron)
  2. Stand Trial (featuring Rex Carroll)
  3. Skeletons In The Closet
  4. Give Up The Ghost
Dave Bentley--Lead Vocals, Guitars
Andrew Rudd--Bass

Guest Musicians
Dennis Cameron (Angelica)--Guitar Solo on "The Prison"
Rex Carroll (Whitecross/King James) Guitar Solo on "Stand Trial"
Chris McNeil--Drums

Canadian duo Riveting Truth manage to sneak their new EP out on Roxx Records just in time for the holidays, and anyone who gets this little slab of melodic hard rock under their Christmas tree or in their stocking are going to be very happy with Santa!  Founded in 2017 from the remnants of Ontario Christian metal band Legacy, Riveting Truth is part guitar-driven melodic hard rock with excellent lead vocals and strong songwriting, and part edgy, snarly, thrashy metal...all in just four songs!  Regardless of the style the duo chooses to play, however, expect impressive musicianship all the way through, as well as deep, thoughtful lyrics.

The EP kicks off with the lead single, "The Prison", and the power of this little record is felt immediately.  With a definite bottom-heavy groove rumbling through the track, "The Prison" is a metal-tinged, hard rocking track that sets the tone for everything that follows.  Rudd's bass is present throughout the song, establishing a thick bottom end for the rhythm guitars of Bentley to drive the song.  Bentley also possesses a strong, lower-tenor range voice with a bit of an edge at times. The layered backing vocals, particularly on the chorus section, combined with that strong bass presence give this song a Kings X feel at times, but I enjoy the vocals here far more.  After the second chorus, Bentley shouts "DC!", and the shredding of Dennis Cameron of Angelica fame erupts!  I'm not 100% certain that Cameron plays the entire solo, as it is split into two parts...one more shred-oriented and one more melodic in its style...so perhaps Bentley handles the second half of this really nice solo break.  Regardless, "The Prison" is a really good, uptempo rocker that sets the table well for this effort.  Yes, there are a couple of sound effects here (most notably the slamming of a prison cell door at the end), but there are no obvious keys or synths at work here; just two men, their guitars, and their voices.  Lyrically, these guys take a strong stand for their faith, as well, without beating the listener over the head.  Check out the lyric video below to both hear the greatness of the music and to follow along with what the guys have to say... 




As good as "The Prison" is, "Stand Trial" is even better.  Slightly slower, but still powering straight forward with edgy guitars and that powerful bass of Rudd, "Stand Trial" is darker and heavier than its predecessor, and Bentley adjusts his vocals to fit the mood perfectly.  Rex Carroll of Whitecross and King James fame is brought on board for the solo this time...and the man doesn't disappoint.  Rex's guitars explode all over this track, and while I don't have a credits sheet in my promo copy, it sounds to me like he not only plays the big solo in the middle but also the frantic fret work that outros the song, as well.  I really, really like this track a lot and have already added it to a playlist of my favorite tracks for 2020.  

From here, the band shifts styles a bit.  "Skeletons In The Closet" is another dark hard rock tune, but it is going to throw some people as it uses a lot of lower-registered spoken word (or perhaps snarled word is more accurate) vocals to drive home the message.  It reminds me a lot of stuff that legendary Christian rockers, Bride, have done in the past.  In fact, even when he is singing here, Bentley retains a bit of that Bride quality that Dale Thompson utilized so much back in the day.  No, he doesn't hit the piercing siren wails that Thompson did, but he has that haunting snarl down pat, and it works well.  Once again, I can't say enough about Rudd's bass work on this track as it is truly a driving force throughout the song and the entire EP.  The rhythm guitars are solid and though there is no real lead guitar solo, the song doesn't hinge on that type of musicianship, as it combines a grungy style with its melodic sensibilities.  It took me a couple of spins, but I really like this track, also.

"Give Up The Ghost" closes things out and it brings everything to the table as far as influences of the band.  The Bride comparison is still there, especially with a track such as this that brings thrash-styled drums and rhythm playing intermixed with a searing lead solo that shows that Bentley is no slouch on the guitar himself.  There's also a big tempo change after the second run through the hyper-simplistic chorus section that finds the band slowing things down and bringing a sludgy-yet-melodic style to the mid-section of the song, similar to something Alice In Chains has done in the past.  This is a tough song to pigeonhole stylistically, and as the shortest song on the EP, it packs a lot of variety and variance into just over 3 minutes.  Definitely an intriguing song, and like its predecessor, it was a grower for me, but after enough spins, I found myself really, really liking this song.  In fact, it also made its way into a playlist on my computer, as I dropped this into my workout/weight-lifting playlist that is comprised of mostly metalcore and thrash.       

The production is solid here; not polished or shiny, but with the variance of styles, it really shouldn't be.  The instruments get a lot of room to work here, especially Rudd's top-notch bass work, and the guest guitar solos meld flawlessly into the mix of both songs.  A special nod has to be given to drummer Chris McNeill, who handles all the various styles and tempos in amazing fashion!  All the more impressive is the fact that McNeill is probably best known for his nearly two decades behind the kit in Glass Tiger...yes, THAT Glass Tiger...who while catchy, are decidedly NOT metal!  You would never know it with the machine-like drumming that McNeill lays down on this record, flawlessly changing tempos and bouncing between styles seemingly without effort!  I'm not sure if McNeill is someone the guys can round out their band with, but even if they don't, they certainly show that they are capable of delivering solid hard rock/metal music on Riveting Truth, and I am sure the addition of a drummer would be an undertaking the guys took very seriously before moving forward.

Very short at less than 18 minutes, the time factor hurts this EP a bit, but Roxx has the EP special priced at just $7.77 right now, so if you want to snag a copy, head over to www.roxxrecords.com to pre-order now.

Rating:  I generally hate rating EPs due to their brevity, and the style changes on this one will throw some people, no doubt.  Still, I crank this to a 7, as Riveting Truth handles both the melodic hard rock and the heavy/thrashy metallic styles equally well.  Definitely an eye-opening debut.

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Saturday, November 7, 2020

ROOM EXPERIENCE "Another Time And Place"

 

(c) 2020 Art Of Melody

  1. Hear Another Song
  2. Wild Heart
  3. Disappointed
  4. Strangers In The Night
  5. The Distance
  6. Shout
  7. Another Time and Place
  8. The Miles That Make a Road
  9. The Night Goes On
  10. A Thousand Lies
  11. Your Voice Inside
  12. The Distance (European Bonus w/Gianluca Firmo on lead vocals)
David Readman--Lead and Backing Vocals
Gianluca Firmo--Keyboards, Backing Vocals, Lead Vocals on 12
"Dave Rox" Barbieri--Keyboards, Backing Vocals
Steve De Biasi--Guitars
Simon Dredo--Bass
Pierpaulo "Zorro" Monti--Drums, Percussion


Full disclosure, I have had this album for some time now, and I always put it on the back burner for one reason:  the band has TWO keyboard players.  TWO.  Anyone who reads this blog with any regularity knows I am rather averse to keyboards being used as anything more than a strong supporting player in any band, so when I saw that Room Experience had two keyboard players, I had a hard time bringing myself to give Another Time And Place a chance. And all of this was in spite of the fact that I knew David Readman was the lead vocalist!  But, I finally forced myself to pop the disc in and now I am kicking myself for not doing so earlier.

Room Experience is a studio project featuring members of multiple European melodic rock and AOR bands that has actually been together for some time.  In fact, Another Time And Place is actually the second release from the band, although I have yet to track down and hear the debut.  Centering largely around the smooth, melodic style of De Biasi on guitars and the powerful tenor of Readman, Room Experience focuses a lot of attention on strong songs and has spent a good deal of time crafting this album.  In fact, the process of writing and assembling this album started in 2017, and for the most part it really shows that the musicians here were highly focused on getting the most out of each of these tracks, with a really strong mix and even-handed production giving every instrument the chance to shine here.

The album kicks off with one of the best rockers on the project, "Hear Another Song".  De Biasi's guitars have a nice 80s tinged edge to them, and Readman comes right out of the gate doing what Readman always does, commanding the listener's attention with his amazing voice.  Had Readman been in an MTV band in the 80s and early 90s, he would be a household name for fans of that era.  As it is, unless you are a fan of his killer band Pink Cream 69 (which I am!), or have caught him in his numerous, underrated acts such as Voodoo Circle, Anderson/Laine/Readman, Adagio, or his solo work, you likely know the voice, but not the man.  If you find yourself enjoying his work here, I highly suggest you seek out Readman's other projects; you won't be disappointed!

As good as "Hear Another Song" is, "Wild Heart" is even better and my second favorite track on the record.  De Biasi absolutely goes off on a couple of incredible solo runs, and Readman's vocals absolutely dominate this uptempo rocker.  I was a tad concerned about this track when it started off with some keyboard elements that just really aren't my thing, but De Biasi's guitar quickly screams to life and rescues this great song.  The backing vocals are top notch here (as they are throughout the record) and the keys do as they should and provide support for the song rather than trying to dominate it.  Oh, and Dredo's bass gets a fun little spotlight shone on it coming out of the first chorus run, which is a nice touch.  Overall, a great representation of what this band can do.

Things continue in fine fashion as Di Biasi's guitar wails away to kick off "Disappointed", teasing at a more aggressive style for this song, before settling into a catchy melodic rocker that falls very much in line with the rest of the album here.  Once again, Di Biasi's guitar work here is superb, especially on his solo flashes, and I think it might be hard to argue his guitar work doesn't carry this project every bit as much as Readman's vocal prowess.  The guy really delivers every chance he gets, and his work on this short rocker is a great example of that.

"Strangers In The Night" is a song that I feel would have been huge in the 80s.  The production here is, of course, ore polished than it likely would have been in 1988, but this song has that same melodic approach that bands like Europe used to such great effect on their most popular, commercial sounding work.  Again, De Biasi absolutely goes off on his solo run here, and Readman explores a higher level of his range on the last couple of runs through the chorus here, which is really cool to hear.  He never gets uncomfortable and isn't dropping a falsetto bomb on the listener, but he pushes himself and delivers in a big way.  Definitely my favorite track here and one that I hit repeat on multiple times.  Love this song and this style that the band absolutely nails!        




One track that I repeatedly try to get myself to like is "The Distance", but I just can't do it.  And I get repeated chances to do it because the song is on the album twice, once with Readman on lead vocals, and then a final time as a European bonus track with Gianluca Firmo on lead vocals.  While Firmo acquits himself nicely as a singer, he isn't Readman, but it doesn't really matter because neither man can salvage this track for me.  The keyboards sound like something out of a 70s porn flick (not that I would watch such a thing, but come on...we ALL know the sound I'm referring to!), and the song itself is just too overwrought and really sounds bogged down.  The guitar solo is strong and it's not abhorrent to listen to, it just never goes anywhere for me.  In true transparency, I skip this song from time-to-time when it pops up.  "The Miles That Make The Road" is a far superior slower-tempo track with even better guitars and FAR better keyboard work from Firmo, with a catchy melody and a sing along chorus.

Without hitting on every single track here (though, I guess I did hit most of them), I think a couple more do deserve mention.   "Shout", which picks up the tempo and lightens the mood substantially from "The Distance" is a fun track with some excellent guitar work.  While "Shout" isn't necessarily the cream of the crop here, but it accentuates the band's strengths which are, of course, the powerhouse vocals of Readman and some great guitar work, accompanied by nicely placed keys, a solid bass line, and rock-steady drumming.  Not flashy, but smooth and well-executed, this is AOR-tinged melodic rock that just about every fan that I know of this style will appreciate.

I also really enjoy "The Night Goes On", which finds De Biasi dropping a cool bluesy lick into on the intro, before building into a more straight ahead melodic rocker that has some of the best vocals from Readman on the album.  Again, definitely an 80s influenced style here with a Bon Jovi feel, "The Night Goes On" is easily in the top half of this generally really strong album. Check the track out below:





I also really, really enjoy the rocker "A Thousand Lies" with its classic 80s guitar tone and songwriting style that, once again, I think would have propelled this band to relatively big things in 1989.  Once again, the influence of a band like Europe, or even Bon Jovi, is impossible to ignore, but at no time does "A Thousand Lies" come off as a ripoff track.  And, yet again, De Biasi proves himself to be an excellent guitar player with both his rhythm work and his solos, with his fingers flying at a rapid pace throughout this track.  

Rating:  Aside from a couple of lesser ballads, this is a great example of melodic rock in 2020 and a really strong effort overall.  Fans of melodic hard rock, AOR, and "Westcoast" melodic rock should seek this out and crank it to 7.5!

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Sunday, November 1, 2020

LA GUNS "Renegades"

 

(c) 2020 Golden Robot Records

  1. Crawl
  2. Why Ask Why
  3. Well-Oiled Machine
  4. Lost Boys
  5. You Can't Walk Away
  6. Witchcraft
  7. All That You Are
  8. Would 
  9. Renegades
  10. Don't Wanna Know
Kurt Frohlich--Lead Vocals, Rhythm Guitars
Scott Griffin--Lead Guitars
Kelly Nickels--Bass, Backing Vocals
Steve Riley--Drums, Percussion

Here we go again.  LA Guns is, once again, making me add in things like "Steve Riley's version" to the name of the band, as somehow we continue to have two completely different and distinct versions of the band competing with one another, yet apparently no one, not even band namesake Tracii Guns, actually owns the rights to the name.  So, lest anyone make the mistake of thinking the band has somehow reunited for the three-hundredth time, I want to make things completely clear: this LA Guns is the Steve Riley/Kelly Nickels version of the band, NOT the Phil Lewis/Tracii Guns version of the band.  If you are somehow still confused, trust me when I say you will not be confused once the music starts, as this version of the band is definitely not on the same level as the other.

That is not to say this LA Guns is bad, they just don't really sound like LA Guns.  A lot of that has to do with the fact that Kurt Frohlich sounds very little like Phil Lewis, and Scott Griffin, who is a very talented guitarist in his own right, doesn't sound all that much like Tracii Guns with his style and approach.  Additionally, the songwriting approach of this version of the band is less Hollywood sleaze and more straight-ahead, gritty hard rock.  Oh sure, there are some notable tunes here, but don't look for a "Sex Action", "Ballad of Jayne", "Rip And Tear" or "Malaria", as that classic sound is generally not to be found on this record.

The album kicks off with the lead single, "Crawl", which is definitely one of the best tracks on the record and starts things off on a good note.  While not a "classic" LA Guns sounding track, it isn't far off, at least as far as the bones of the song go, from the dirty rhythm guitars to the tight playing from both Riley and Nickels.  But there is something not quite sleazy enough, not punkish enough to be a full-blown LA Guns track.  And no, I'm not asking for a rehash of that 1987-91 classic sound from the first three records, but I am asking that the band sound at least akin to their namesake.  "Crawl" has some nice guitar work from Griffin (formely Ratt's bassist), and its no surprise that Nickels and Riley are absolutely rock solid here, but their are some distinct differences that hold this track back.  First, God bless him, but Frohlich just doesn't have Lewis's vocal prowess; there's no spit, no sneer, no snarl.  Granted, I'm willing to be Frohlich is a better SINGER, but he is not the VOCALIST that Lewis is, at least for the style of music LA Guns is associated with.  Secondly, where the heck is the down-n-dirty guitar solo?!  Nickels lays into an extended bass run that could be classified as a solo, I suppose, but where the heck is Griffin?  He never steps up and just blazes his way through the string-melter that you know Tracii would have slathered all over this song.  In fact, for me, that missing guitar solo is really what takes this song down a notch from being a potentially great tune to just a pretty good one.  Check it out and see if you don't agree.



"Why Ask Why" picks up the pace just a bit, and Griffin comes more prepared to play on this track, even ripping through a couple of nice lead runs, both after the second chorus and on the outro of the song, but again, the lack of Lewis is seriously felt here.  On the verse sections, Frohlich sounds more like a higher-registered Sully Erna from Godsmack than he does the frontman for LA Guns, and on the chorus, things are just way too smooth. Again, a pretty good song, just nothing that is going to stick with me for very long.

And so goes much of the record.  "Well Oiled Machine" really had me feeling pretty jazzed at the outset, only to have the weak chorus and predictable song structure leave me seriously wanting.  The rhythm riffs hint at classic LA Guns, but the rest of the song is a letdown after a promising start.  "Lost Boys" drops into mid-tempo territory on the verse sections then kicking things up a notch on the chorus sections, but those choruses are just so...weak? lame? tired? lyrically, and lack energy in the performance.  At one point, the song feels more like a lesser version of the classic MSG tune "Anytime" than it does something that should end up on an LA Guns record.  Griffin offers up one of his best solos here, no question, and again Nickels and Riley are every bit the rhythm section you would expect of two such-seasoned veterans, but the song is just not there.  

"You Can't Walk Away" slows things down to near ballad territory and is one of the better tracks on the record, but not for the reason you might expect.  It's not because mental images of "The Ballad of Jayne" are conjured up.  No, it's because this sounds for all the world to me like a song written by and for...Tesla.  Honestly, if Tesla were to record this song 30 years ago, I think it not only makes an album, but it might even get released as a single.  I really, really like this song and Jeff Keith would have NAILED this song's style and delivery.  In fact, if I close my eyes and really try, I can make myself hear this on Psychotic Supper as it has a kind of "Song And Emotion" feel to it.  An honestly great song to my ears, just not for this band.

"Witchcraft" is a nice, dirty rocker that probably comes the closest to capturing the spirit and sound of classic LA Guns, and Griffin is likely at his peak here as a lead player.  There's even an edge to Frohlich's vocals that really doesn't show up for most of the record that really adds to the song.  And while still overly simple, the chorus has a sleazy sass to it that nothing else on this record really has, which helps the overall feel of the track immensely.  So, two of the three best songs come back-to-back on the record here, but they are buried in the middle of an album that a lot of people will likely have given up by now.  And in both cases, you can't help but know in your gut that the Lewis/Guns version would have performed these songs better.

"All That You Are" is just not a good song, despite the best efforts of Nickels who delivers some excellent bass work here.  From all the "na na nas" and "hey! hey!s" to the overly extended "cry-e-i-e-i-e-in'" the lyrics are forgettable and their delivery...including the compressed, cliched "singing into a megaphone" delivery is so below LA Guns standards that the song makes me cringe.  Riley sounds bored, quite honestly, and Griffin is again relegated to more of a gun-for-hire role as the lead player than the de-facto guitar god that an LA Guns player should be.

Things don't really pick up with "Would", either.  In fact, as a largely acoustic ballad, it would be nearly impossible for "Would" to be a pick up, but you know what I'm getting at.  Once again, not a terrible song, but this is just so not an LA Guns song.  There's just nothing meaty to grab hold of here, which is a shame, because the performances aren't terrible.  In fact, I like the music of this track which I really think would fit nicely into an Alice In Chains acoustic record, where you would expect something moody like this to show up.  Overall,  if nothing else, songs like this one, like "All That You Are", like "Well Oiled Machine" really show how much the Riley/Nickels version of the band pales in comparison to the Lewis/Guns version in the songwriting category.  It's really not even close, honestly.

"Renegades" should be a daring, snarling song, but it absolutely is not.  In fact, despite the fact that it is the title track, this has to be one of the most bland songs on the album and is completely forgettable.  "Don't Wanna Know" brings the record to a close with a Guns N Roses kind of vibe...minus the big Slash solo...and is one of the songs that fits into the best half of the record, but it is far too late to do anything to salvage this album.

Overall, this isn't a terrible record, it's just not a really good record, and definitely NOT an LA Guns record for the most part.  It's a generally solid listen with a couple of really good tracks and a handful of decent tunes, but a few songs find the band going through the motions and a couple are just flat-out misses for me.  The production is good, overall, and the musicianship is above average, as well.  The feel is just not LA Guns, however, and that is going to turn a lot of people off and likely cause them to distance themselves from this version of the band in the future.  Would I go see the Riley/Nickels version of the band live?  Probably once, just to see how Frohlich handles Lewis' vocals in the live setting, but I wouldn't be going to hear these new tunes.  On the other hand, I would go see the Lewis/Guns version anytime, not just to hear the classics, but to hear the great new stuff they have released on their latest efforts, The Missing Peace and The Devil You Know.  And, I guess therein lies a big chunk of the difference.

Rating:  Rock this to a solid, if unspectacular 5.5 and wait to see how the other version of the band responds.

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