Thursday, December 24, 2020

SPEED STROKE "Scene Of The Crime"


(c) 2020 Street Symphonies Records

  1. Heartbeat
  2. Scene of the Crime
  3. After Dark
  4. Soul Punx
  5. No Love
  6. Red Eyes
  7. Out Of Money
  8. Who Fkd Who
  9. One Last Day
  10. Hero No. 1
Jack--Lead Vocals
Michael--Rhythm Guitar

Speed Stroke is a band I first encountered about a decade ago, and many of you may have ran into them, as well, on the Crashdiet tribute album, Reborn In Sleaze.  After releasing a couple of albums and touring with a virtual Who's Who of New Wave of European Sleaze and Hair Metal bands (Confess, Reckless Love, Hardcore Superstar, Backyard Babies, Crazy Lixx, 69 Eyes, etc.), the Italian band made the move to Street Symphonies Records and the Burning Minds Music Group to release Scene Of The Crime.  With the move comes the most complete record of the guys' decade-long career!

If you are familiar with Speed Stroke from previous releases, much about the band stays the same on the new record.  Jack's vocals aren't your typical hair/sleaze vocals, as he tends to stay lower in his range than most.  Yes, he can scream, and he has some higher end, but he relies more on snarl and attitude in his delivery than he does on range, which is okay with me.  They may take a bit of getting used to for some folks, but to me, Jack is a big piece of what makes Speed Stroke the quality band they are.  They twin guitars are every bit as solid as they have ever been, with D.B. really ripping into some tasty leads throughout the album while Michael works with Fungo and Andrew to set a gritty rhythm and tempo for the rockers that dominate the album.  But on Scene Of The Crime, the songwriting takes a definite step forward (not that it was bad before) and several songs here are more mature in their approach than in the past.  Oh, sure, there are still the rough and rowdy sleaze rockers (I mean, come on..."Who F'd Who"?), but to me, a track like "No Love" would never have been the excellent ballad that it is here.

"Heartbeat" opens the album and has a straight-outta-88 guitar riff and some group "oh oh ohs" from the outset, as the music builds and the drums intensify before the dirty rhythm riffs from Michael's guitars burst forward into a balls-out rocker to kick the album off.  Jack's easily identifiable vocals ooze from the speakers through the verse sections, with some gang back-up, and then the melodic "oh oh ohs" return in the chorus section.  D.B. launches into the first of numerous high octane solos here, and to say he has the 80s style and sound down pat would be an understatement.  Just an excellent launching pad for Scene Of The Crime to take off from.    

Speaking of the title, the title track is up next, and it is instant ear candy.  The gang-shouted chorus actually kicks off the track, with the drums and guitars kicking in shortly thereafter, giving the track a different feel from the rest of the songs here.  Those gang-shouted vocals show up in numerous spots on this record and are really a great addition to a song like this, even tackling small parts of the verses here and there, which I think is pretty cool.  Jack shows off a wailing scream before the solo run from D.B., and there is a definite Skid Row feel to this track that I think will hook listeners from the get go.  Love it.

"After Dark" has a swinging feel to the rhythm that is unlike anything else on the album, and the first point of reference that popped into my head was "D'Stroll" by D'Molls, although "After Dark", to me, is a far superior song.  There's just more meat to the track, more going on musically, and a better solo from D.B.  Fun and bouncy, but with a shade of darkness to the overall vibe, "After Dark" isn't going to clobber you head on, but it's going to sneak up on you and take you by surprise, sandwiched as it is between the two up-tempo tracks, "Scene Of The Crime" and the next on, "Soul Punx".

Speaking of "Soul Punx", this is a fun, high-octane rocker that I think truly captures the style and sound of the 80s scene as well as just about anything I have heard from any band this year.  The noodling guitars at the beginning of the track, the sharp, snappy drums, the snarling lead vocals, and the fast and furious solo from D.B., all contribute to make this an absolute blast of a song.  A few f*bombs are dropped throughout the song, but this is modern sleaze, folks, so what do we really expect?  All in all, possibly my favorite track on the record.  Check out the video below.

As mentioned before, "No Love" is a killer ballad that I found myself really drawn to from the very first time I heard it.  The piano is a great addition here, and the vocal approach from Jack is perfect for the emotion of the song.  At times reminiscent of GnR's "November Rain", this is a beast of a track and one that really showcases the musical growth of the band. The flamenco-styled guitar at the 3:30 mark is a nice touch, as is the stylistic change that accompanies it, both of which set the stage for D.B. to really dive into a soul-exposing guitar solo here.  The gang chorus coming out of that solo is great, and the whole band just nails the track, giving this six minute track an epic feel without getting overly sappy with the production or dropping in programmed string sections that are unnecessary, etc.  This is a great, great ballad and among the best I have heard from the sleaze genre this year, hands down.  Just like "Soul Punx", this track gets a lot of repeated listens.

"Red Eyes" picks up the pace with an edgy, three-chord rocker that again features more of the excellent backing vocals from the band that I think do an amazing job of setting Speed Stroke apart from many of their peers.  D.B. contributes a fun little solo, and while "Red Eyes" isn't a track that stands up and screams "LOOK AT ME", it is a solid transition from an epic ballad to a sleaze-fueled rocker, "Who Fkd Who?", and is definitely not a skip-track by any means.

If something dirtier and sleazier is what you are looking for, you need look no further than "Who Fkd Who?".  Sounding a whole lot like a Kix track, musically, this is a sleaze-infused rocker with plenty of tongue-in-cheek attitude and a really solid backbeat from Fungo and Andrew that keep the track driving along.  I've stated several times in several reviews that bands, especially European bands, like to throw the f*bomb around to excess, especially when there is no apparent reason for it, but I will say that on this particular track, it doesn't come off as excessive, "look at us and our attitude" lyrical candy, so much as it comes across as the general attitude of the song and band, in general...and I can live with that.  The guitar work is excellent here, and D.B. blisters his way through another aggressive, dirty solo.  Definitely a top 5 track here on an album filled with great tracks.

"One Last Day" slows things down...a final time, but it's not really a song, per se, as much as it is a musical interlude.  Andrew and his drums get a break here (he gets to smack a tambourine a few times), as do Fungo and the bass, as this is just Jack and D.B., along with some backing vocals, on a great, soul-baring piece of music that may seem somewhat pointless to a few but that I really, really like.  There is just something about the performances here that draw me in. 

Album closer, "Hero No. 1" is another straight ahead rocker, packed with attitude and dripping with sleaze.  Jack comes off every bit as aggressive and edgy as he does anywhere else on the record, and the gang-shouted backing vocals are spot-on perfect for this big fist-pumper!  D.B. blasts into one final guitar solo, unleashing any flash and speed he had left in the tank from the previous nine songs, and while it is a bit shorter than I would have liked, there is little doubt that he is a serious talent on guitar that more people need to hear. This finale is one that really leaves me hoping for big things from the band in 2021 and beyond!

My only gripe here is the production.  There are several tracks where the mix sounds rather muddy, especially around the vocals and lead guitars.  Now, this is a digital promo copy that I am working from, and on more than one occasion the files sound considerably worse than the actual CD does, so I am hopeful that this is the case.  Even if not, this is still a great record, but if so these production issus do take a bit of polish off the greatness of Scene Of The Crime.

To say that there are a lot of great modern hair/sleaze bands in Europe these days would be an understatement, but I truly feel that Speed Stroke deserves to be mentioned with some of the best.  Scene Of The Crime is one of the true surprises of 2020 for me and is an album that hasn't left my player since I first popped it into the disc changer.  While numerous folks have likely head-banged along with Burn 'Em All by Confess this year, there are several other bands that deserve your attention, and Speed Stroke, with Scene Of The Crime, is one such band.  Seek this record out!

Rating:  Lovin' what I'm hearin' from these guys, and musically I would say crank this fun record to 9!  Unfortunately, the production issues drop this to a 7.5!

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

MOTIVIK "Death Of The Gunman"


(c) 2020 Roxx Records

  1. Inception
  2. Away 
  3. Lament
  4. The Past Of Tomorrow
  5. Souls In Torment
  6. Undismembered
  7. On The Way Down
  8. Pale Rider
  9. Let It Be Known
Ryan Roebuck--All Instruments, Vocals
Courtney Simmons--Vocals

Additional Musicians
Robert Wolfe--Vocals on "Souls In Torment"

How in the world do two guys create such a huge sound?  That is what I was asking myself as I sat at my desk working on this review for Motivik (pronounced MOE-TEE-VICK), a two-piece "groove thrash band" from Atlanta.  Obviously, technology in the recording studio is a key part to the whole process, but to even consider pulling off such a task as this, a band has to have some serious skill, which Motivik definitely has.

The album kicks off with "Inception", which I honestly expected to be an intro, based solely upon the name.  I was wrong.  "Inception" is a  full-on thrashfest with a style and sound, especially on the guitars ,that is going to be reminiscent of old-school Metallica, while also being infused with the twin vocal stylings and multiple tempo changes of Christian thrash legends, Tourniquet.  In fact, comparisons to Tourniquet's Gary Lenaire and Guy Ritter are going to be obvious throughout the record, but would we consider that to be a bad thing?  I certainly wouldn't, as the first three Tourniquet albums are among some of the most unique thrash records to come out of the late 80s when thrash was at its peak.  The rhythm guitars are high speed and gritty, and the drum work here is exceptional, but it is the solo work that that really caught me off guard.  Starting off smooth and soulful, the solo almost sounds like Roebuck is playing an electric Flamenco guitar at the beginning, but then his guitar seemingly sonically EXPLODES into a fit of speed and precision picking that simply must be heard to be believed.  This is insane!  Things then slow WAY back down into a plodding, morose final run through the chorus, and my brain is trying to catch up to what I just heard, as this is NOT the type of music that most bands are attempting these days.  What a killer way to start off a record!

"Away" is up next, and the music is more mid-tempo thrash, with those buzzsaw rhythm guitars and the overwhelming drums, but the vocals are barked in almost nu-metal style...but in a good way!  After the chorus, the song speeds up to break-neck pace for a few seconds, then it slows back down to its original pace for the next verse section.  After that verse, its back on the gas pedal for the drums and rhythm guitars as Roebuck absolutely tears into a shredding solo that has some serious notes-per-second density, only to be closed out by a little flourish from the bass, then back into the chorus to conclude the song.  

"Lament" is an old-Western instrumental, complete with south of the border violin playing and the plodding rhythm of an old gunslinger's horse moseying through the dirt streets of whatever town the hero happens to be riding through at the time.  Many will say this song shouldn't be here, others will say it shouldn't work, but all would be wrong, as this is a killer inclusion to this record, really playing upon the title of the album and working to establish Motivik as a band that will do what they want on an album, stylistic expectations be danged.  I, for one, love this track, especially as a kid who grew up with Spaghetti Westerns and John Wayne and Clint Eastwood movies, both black and white and color.  This is really great stuff!

"The Past Of Tomorrow" is a complicated track, focusing almost exclusively on the groove of the track on the first verse section and throughout the choruses, but then just unleashing the speed in bursts between musical sections.  Some gentle effects are used on the vocals, which reach pitches and ranges not attempted thus far on the album, and one can hear a nod to the vocal approach of Deliverance legend, Jimmy P, Brown II, especially as the song outros.

"Souls In Torment" is a cover of a song from the underground Christian thrash band Sacrament.  Once again, the comparisons to Tourniquet are going to be obvious, but once again, I have to ask if that is a bad thing.  Time changes, a huge drum presence, harsh vocals, and alternately chugging and speedy rhythm guitars are all featured in this song, and Motivik stays really close to the original song in the structure, which I will admit made me smile, as I was a huge Sacrament fan back in the day.  But the real kicker here is the guest vocals from Robert Wolfe, the singer from Sacrament!  If you are an old-school thrash fan, especially a Christian thrash fan, this track alone makes Death Of The Gunman an absolute must own! 

"Undismembered" starts off with a somber tone, a slowly picked guitar reminiscent in style of what Metallica did with "One".  The drums catch a military rhythm about half-way through this opening section, then the rhythm guitars ignite on a mid-tempo thrash attack, complete with some solo work from Roebuck...and this is all in the first 1:35 of the song!  From here, the dual vocals of Roebuck and Simmons join the fray, one barking, the other snarling, again recalling the work Ritter and Lenaire used to do in the first years of Tourniquet, but never with the high-end wailing used by that band.  As is the case with Motivik throughout this album, tempo changes abound, never letting the listener settle into an expected pattern with their head banging or fist pounding, which is a huge part of what makes this record work so well, at least for me.  The big outro solo is excellent, also, and despite the fact that the song is five minutes long, it seems over far quicker than the running time would suggest.

"On The Way Down" has a power metal feel, not unlike something Iron Savior would do, speedy and punchy, but not quite full-blown thrash.  Do not take this as a musical loss, however, as there is a lot to like here!  The drum work continues its remarkable charge through the record, and the riffing here is powerful and melodic, crunchy and aggressive, all at the same time.  Backing vocals are utilized to musical effect here more than in other parts of the record, which is cool to hear, as the two guys' voices really work well with each other.  Roebuck treats us to another string bending solo to feast our ears upon, but power and emotion are the keys here, not just speed and dexterity.  A nice change of pace, to be sure.

"Pale Rider" starts off with a church organ intro, accompanied by a spoken word narrative about the Pale Rider that "is coming for us all", of course referring to death.  A roar from the singer (I never know which man is singing which part), and the song takes off from here!  The drums are once again a true pleasure to listen to here, with so many different fills, and stop-start tempo changes, which really set Motivik apart from so many bands I am sent to review these days.  Some of the vocals on this track fall more into the metallic scream category than the harshly barked style that is often used here, which is cool to hear.  The solo is catchy and quick, but perhaps not long enough for me now, as it has become quite obvious Roebuck can carry out a guitar run for a considerable amount of time if he chooses to.  Another high quality track.

"Pale Rider" bleeds seamlessly into the album's closer, "Let It Be Known", which again incorporates that Western flair that "Lament" so expertly exhibited earlier in the album, including the se of the violins to establish the mood.  Unlike "Lament", however, "Let It Be Known" is not an instrumental but the story of the album's hero whose "draw was just too slow" to beat "the bullet [that] lies within me", as the gunman is overtaken by the Pale Rider of Death.  Surprising to many, this song never blazes into a big thrashy solo or jackhammer drum pattern, rather letting the song...and the album...ride off into the musical sunset at a (relatively speaking) lazy pace that showcases the band's songwriting skill as much as their musical prowess.  Color me impressed with this musical choice, as it is not one that a lot of bands would have made!

The production is very, very well done here, which is necessary when you have so much going on with the various styles, speeds, and tempo changes, and the mix is clean with no muddiness.  I don't have the liner notes for this record, but if this is truly all played by Mr. Roebuck, then he may be one of my new musical heroes, as this is flat out impressive from start to finish!  Thrash fans, all I can say is DO NOT MISS THIS RECORD!  Roxx Records never does massive print runs so this will become harder to find the longer you wait!

Rating:  Very, very well done, Death Of The Gunman is a musical treat to hear!  Crank this to an 8.5!

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

GALE FORCE "Subhuman"


(c) 2021 Independent Release

  1. Crash & Burn
  2. Subhuman
  3. Master Machine
  4. Red Line
  5. Dystopia
  6. Never Say Goodnight
  7. Rat Race
  8. Where Am I Going?
  9. Fire In The Hole
  10. Alter Ego
  11. Riot Act
Michael Drive--All Vocals
Tracy G.--Lead Guitars
Randy Oviedo--Bass
Paul Alfery--Rhythm Guitars, Keys

In the 1980s and early 1990s, there was likely no band in the Christian scene that waved the heavy metal flag higher than Barren Cross did.  Not death metal, not speed metal, not thrash, hair, or doom metal.  I'm talking just heavy metal.  Albums such as Rock For The King and Rattle Your Cage, and most notably the band's two biggest, most well-known efforts, Atomic Arena and State Of Control, really showcased a heavy band that delivered with big, screaming guitars, pounding drums, deep, rumbling bass, and a front man who could wail with the best of them, Christian or secular.  Michael Drive (then known as Mike Lee), was the epitome of a heavy metal front man, with a powerful, deep tenor that could shake the rafters if necessary, or drop to a menacing snarl, whatever it took to command your attention.  When Barren Cross was no more, Drive (Lee) could be heard fronting bands such as Bare Bones and Sanxtion, and even trying his hand at a more pop-oriented sound as a solo artist, but never did he really find his musical voice again, in my opinion (although Bare Bones was close). 

During a slightly later period, Tracy G was the screaming guitar voice of Dio, which of course featured one of the most lauded singers in heavy metal history, Ronnie James Dio.  Tracy G (real name Tracy Grijalva) brought to the band a heavy-yet-still-melodic style and helped to forge the sound on what are considered to be two of Dio's heaviest records, Strange Highways and Angry Machines, and he served as the guitar player for the band from 1993-1999.  Much like Drive, however, once his stint with that band was over, the guitar player found himself drifting from project to project, with none of these really catching on in a way that seemed to suit his style or talent level.     

 It seems things have perhaps changed for both men with Gale Force!

Gale Force has been together as a band for not even two years, yet they have put together a powerful album of metallic hard rock that completely sideswiped me.  Having been a massive fan of both Barren Cross and Dio since...well, since forever, it seems...I was intrigued by the pairing of Drive (who I am certain I will call "Lee" at some point in this review) and Tracy G, and I hoped the results would be a solid start for a new band.  There is no way I was prepared for Subhuman in its totality, however.

The record kicks off in a big, aggressive way, with "Crash & Burn", which was actually the first song the band wrote together, even before really being a "band".  The rhythm guitar riff reminds me of EZO's "House Of A Thousand Pleasures", but the rest of the track is nothing like that quasi-hit from the cult Japanese metal band.  Right away, it is apparent that Lee...err...Drive (see, I did it already!) has not lost a step at all vocally, as he is all over this song from the get-go!  Alternately gritty and soulfully smooth, Drive is in complete command of this hard-and-heavy rocker.  Tracy G shows that he hasn't missed a step, either, as he tears through a nifty, speedy solo as he tears across the solid bass work of Oviedo and the rhythm riffing of Alfery.  Interestingly (at least to me), the drummer for this track...and for the entire left uncredited, with the liner notes simply thanking the "great session drummers who played on this album".  Not sure what that's about, but the drums here are definitely worthy of the rest of the track and don't sound at all like they are programmed.  There are some programmed car crash effects dropped into the mix, but otherwise this is just five guys and their instruments rocking out full force!  Check out the lyric video below...  

The album's title track is up next, and immediately a contender for the crown of "Best Song On The Record" steps up to the place.  Thick and chunky, "Subhuman" has a scorching solo section from Tracy G., an uber-catchy, sing along chorus, and an undeniable hook that sucks you in upon first listen.  Drive again powers his way through the track in a way that I haven't heard from him since the last studio record from Barren Crosss.  Metal-tinged hard rock at its finest, there are no keyboards here to tinkle away in the background, no programmed orchestral sections layered in for emotional effect; this is just punishing hard rock that will have fists pounding and head banging from the first listen!  

If "Subhuman" throws down the gauntlet for song of the record, "Master Machine" answers that challenge, as it is every bit as powerful and catchy, with even more metallic bite than its predecessor!  Lee...DANGIT...Drive is simply unrelenting here, snarling his way through the chorus sections, then backing off into a more singing vocal style for the chorus work.  The drums are really, really good here, leading me to really wish I knew who was playing, and Oviedo gets a bit of the spotlight shone on his outstanding bass work on this track.  Tracy G. once again blasts through a metallic fret running solo that hearkens back to some of his work with Dio, particularly on Angry Machines, and this album is blowing me away three tracks deep.

If there's a miss on this record, it would have to be the ballad, "Red Line", which drops in at track four.  But make no mistake, this isn't a horrible song at all.  It just seems of out of place on the rest of this punch-you-in-the-earhole record.  Drive is able to showcase a softer side, and the piano really serves to set the track apart from the blistering metal tracks that surround it.  The problem is that it the song just sticks out SO MUCH that it serves as a serious speedbump in the flow of the record.  I'm not saying I would have dumped the track, but I would have moved it much farther down in the track listing, or at the very least surrounded it by a couple of more mid-tempo numbers than "Master Machine" and "Dystopia".  Placement aside, the song is a strong one, and again, Drive sounds really strong here.  For his part, Tracy G lays into a really nice, melodic string-bender of a solo, and the previously mentioned piano is well-performed by Alfery, so it isn't a throw-away track by any means.  I will note that there is an odd "referee's whistle" effect that pops up in a couple of places that I'm nor really sure why it is there.  I'm wondering if it is an after-effect of the digital download that I am reviewing, and I will be interested to see if I can even hear the sound on the actual CD when it arrives.  I'll let you know!

Speaking of "Dystopia", this track is Michael Drive at his best, plain and simple.  Utilizing every tool in his vocal toolbox, Drive spits, snarls, screams, and soars at various times, adding a demented, haunting twist to his vocals (think Alice Cooper theatrics) in places, as well.  Tracy G lays down another fret-melting solo, and Alfery's rhythm playing is at its strongest on songs like this one.  Again, uncredited, the session drummer used on "Dystopia" is really, really good, and this track is definitely one that fights for the listener's attention every time it comes up on the stereo!  I typically hit repeat at least a couple of times, but then have to force myself to stop so that I can get to "Never Say Goodnight".

Bass lovers, you are going to drool all over yourself when you hear the fat groove that is dropped by Oviedo on "Never Say Goodnight", a deep, thick, haunting song that reminds me of some of the stuff that Tracy G was doing with Dio.  While mentioning the guitarist, Tracy G once again delivers a excellent solo, creative, soulful, and willing to allow quieter moments to enhance the notes and tones that he entices from his guitar.  Drive is, once again, in rare form here, adding an angry edge to his powerhouse delivery, and I find myself really wishing I could watch the man lay down these tracks in the studio, just to witness the theatrics I have to believe he brings into the booth with him.  The man is a vocal master that really doesn't get the love he so deserves because so many people choose to ignore his work with Barren Cross (which is folly in and of itself).  

"Rat Race" has a definite mid-80s metal feel to the guitars and even the production.  It reminds me of old Twisted Sister in its stylistic approach and guitar tone, although the angrily barked chorus is probably a bit harsher than anything Dee and the Twisted Boys did back in the day.  Not enough can be said about the way Drive attacks this record vocally, unafraid to alternate approaches and to experiment with different techniques.  And, as on every song here, Tracy G., sets fire to the solo section, this time using that retro sound to blaze away before the song surges headlong into the final runs through the chorus.

"Where Am I Going?" has an odd intro that had me scratching my head a bit, to be honest.  Once the strumming was over, however, a throbbing bass line sets in motion a slower-tempo rocker that doesn't really check all the boxes to be categorized as a power ballad, especially with the different time signatures utilized by the drummer here.  But if you drop the word "ballad" you are still left with "power", which Drive delivers here in a deeply introspective song that finds the singer exploring the darkness of his past and questioning where that past will lead him in the future.  If I have one complain about this track it is that it seems to end rather abruptly and I would have loved to have heard Tracy G. get to solo his way out of the song as it faded into nothingness.  I really miss those long outro solos of the 80s and 90s...  Just sayin'...  

For those who have heard the Rattle Your Cage album by Barren Cross, "Fire In The Hole" is a bit reminiscent of the song "The Unsuspecting", but is definitely not a rip-off track.  The chugging guitars and plodding bass line are both slower than on "The Unsuspecting", but there is definitely something there.  Perhaps it is the impassioned vocal performance from Drive, who again alternately snarls and wails on this heavy track, pushing the power level of his vocals about as far as one would think they could go.  Tracy G...who is specifically called upon by Drive ("T.G...pick up that guitar and talk to me!"  JUST KIDDING!) blasts into a metallic fretfest that is unmatched on the record in terms of note density and sheer force of will being exerted upon his guitar, and the overall feel of the track has it in firm contention with "Dystopia" and "Subhuman" for song of the album.  Love this track! 

"Alter Ego" is a bit more hard rock than much of the album, but don't take that to mean it backs off the intensity or the attitude, as the difference is more in the songwriting structure than anything.  Faster than the previous couple of tracks (and the following track, for that matter), "Alter Ego" has a catchy hook and a sing along chorus that finds Drive backing himself up perfectly (Drive handles all of the vocals according to the liner notes), with big, layered backing vocals soaring behind his slightly edgy lead vocal line.  

"Riot Act" closes the album in excellent fashion, with the gritty metallic grind of the song serving as an angry sonic slab for Drive to snarl across. Tracy G explodes in a couple of different solo runs here, including a monstrous shredding exit at the end of the song, as the bass and rhythm guitars relentlessly power the song forward.  Proof that heavy doesn't have to mean fast, "Riot Act" is another top notch entry into contention for song of the record, which puts it into the company of half the album!  To me, that tells you there is something special about Subhuman as a record, and about Gale Force as a band.  

Thankfully the liner notes include the lyrics, as I was curious to see if Drive would back off of his lyrical approach with this band.  Thankfully, he absolutely does not.  There is not shortage of references to God throughout the record, but at no time does Drive wield his faith like a weapon against the listener.  Much like Scott Stapp did in his turn with Art Of Anarchy, Drive sings from his heart and soul about his own worldview, but at no point does he condemn the listener to hell for not sharing that same worldview.  Take, for instance, these lyrics from the album's title track...

"Sub-man, are you exposing the scam, that God is 'dead', 'fake', 'blind', or 'sick'?  Or a figment of your imagination running, Must be some elaborate trick!" 

Elsewhere, on "Crash & Burn" he announces that "Only God can move you to the place where faith is really built", while on other songs, such as "Dystopia", he warns of today's society that seeks to steer people away from God when he sings, "Don't fear Dystopia, All is fine, don't seek a higher way".  

The production is solid and professional, but sounds a bit dull in spots.  To be 100% candid, however, this review is based upon a digital download as the CDs are still being printed, so I have strong hope that this is more of a download issue than anything else. If that is not the case, the production will by no means stop fans from enjoying this slab of metal and metallic hard rock.  I truly hope Gale Force is not a one-and-done project, as this is some impressive stuff.

You can get your copy right now by going to and pre-ordering the album.  You will get an instant download of the entire album including the album cover and complete booklet for like $16 or $17.  The first 200 CDs ordered will be autographed, as well.

Rating:  A surprisingly powerful record that I didn't see coming at all!  Crank this to 8.5!

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Saturday, December 12, 2020

BAYLESS "Christmas"


(c) 2019 Independent Release

  1. O Holy Night
  2. Little Drummer Boy
  3. First Noel
  4. O Come O Come Emmanuel
Jared Bayless--Lead Vocals, Guitars
Vanessa Bayless--Lead Vocals, Keys, Programming

I honestly thought that with 2020 being such a...well, let's call it "frustrating"...year, we might see more new Christmas albums being released to try to brighten up the end of the year.  That has not been the case, at least with bands and labels that send music to Glitter2Gutter or our all-Christian sister site, PositiveRockReview, so I pulled up an EP from last year to spread some holiday cheer in these dreary Covid days.

One of the most exciting modern rock bands to come out in recent years has been the independent act, Bayless.  The husband and wife team features incredibly powerful clean vocals from both, with some harsher vocals coming from Jared, who also plays guitars, while Vanessa is responsible for keys and programming.  Does that mean the drums are programmed here?  I would have to assume so, as no drummer is credited anywhere that I can find.  This is of minor concern here, however, as these are traditional Christmas songs, and there is little to really shake up for the most part, although the Bayless couple does alter the arrangements just a bit to keep things fresh.  But if you know anything about Bayless...which you should after last year's stellar Ready.Aim....then you know Bayless is about powerful vocals from both spouses, with strong guitars and programmed elements.

This EP starts off with "O Holy Night", although "Carol Of The Bells" is used to lead the song a chorus of what I'm guessing are programmed bells, kick the song off.  Once this traditional favorite kicks into it's familiar vocal opening, things really take off.  Surprisingly, I would say this is my favorite performance on the EP, as Bayless does a great job of keeping things traditional as far as the melody and tune go, while also adding some programmed orchestral elements and the heavy rock riffing from Jared's guitar, along with a driving drum line.  Jared sticks to backing his wife on vocals for most of the song, with his haunting baritone ringing out in the chorus sections, but for the most part this is Vanessa's baby, and she delivers in a big way.  Jared does break into a refrain the band adds to the end, as he sings about "the night that saved my life", referring of course to the "holy night when Christ was born".  I couldn't tell you how many times I have requested this song on (I'm sure THEY could tell you!), but it is a lot!  I really like what Bayless did here, and I was jacked for the EP to continue.

My all-time favorite Christmas song, "The Little Drummer Boy", is up next, which had me very excited.  Unfortunately, I ended up being rather let down, to be honest.  The vocal performances are superb, to be sure, but I am not a fan of the arrangement at all.  The drums, physically, are lacking, and lyrically, there is very little in the way of "pah rum pum pum-ming" going on here.  The song features some slightly discordant piano at the beginning, which gives way to the the soaring vocals of Vanessa who sounds absolutely exquisite here.  But Jared's backing "ahs" where there should be powerful "pah rum pum pums" really shocked me.  On the second verse, the snare drums kick in with a marching cadence as Jared takes over on lead vocals and Vanessa slides into the background, but she doesn't "pah rum pum pum" for me, either!  The guitar work is solid but not overpowering, which it typically isn't in this classically drum-centric song, and the programmed strings and orchestral elements remain enhancements rather than major players, giving plenty of room for the vocals to work, which they do extremely well.  But in the end, the lack of a truly powerful drum presence and the overall arrangement just really let me down.  Perhaps I am unduly biased due to this being such a favorite of mine. 

"The First Noel" is an acoustic-based number here, with Jared handling the lead vocals on the first verse, with Vanessa tackling verse two.  The production here is a bit thin but not horribly so.  Some tinkling xylophones and chiming bells ring in the background as the song builds on verse two, with the electric drums smoothly sliding into place over a simplistic drum line.  Nothing overly unique about the arrangement here for the first 2/3 of the track, as Bayless plays it pretty close to the original for most of the track here.  They do add some of their own style in the later stages as there is some nice tympani work added in and the vocal arrangement is altered a bit.  A few modern flourishes are dropped into place toward the end.  I like this quite a bit.

"O Come O Come Emmanuel" closes things out in unique fashion.  The first verse is starkly different than the rest of the song, with an almost island feel to the sparse acoustic guitar and simple drum line that backs Vanessa's soaring voice, with a tinkling of piano drifting in as the first verse closes.  The guitars crunch their way into the track with the start of verse two, as do some programmed strings and drums, with Jared's powerhouse baritone adding solid support to his wife's remarkable soprano which is used as the lead on every verse here and throughout the chorus sections.  Again, I really like what the band does here, I just wish the production had been a bit beefier.  Very much listenable, just not in line with the greatness that Ready.Aim. as far as fullness of sound goes.

As far as I know, this is only available digitally, and I am sure you can download it on all your favorite platforms.  I know Amazon has it for under $4.00, so snag it an put it into your favorite holiday musical mix...although I'd honestly consider leaving "Little Drummer Boy" out, especially if you are as big a fan of the track as I am.

Rating:  The performances are strong but the arrangements are a bit hit or miss for me, especially on "Little Drummer Boy", and the production is not quite at the peak.  Rock this to a 6.5.

Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 5, 2020

ROYAL BLISS "Our Favorite Things EP"


(c) 2020 

  1. Favorite Things
  2. Medication (featuring SHIM)
  3. Ritalin
Neal Middleton--Lead Vocals
Taylor Richards--Guitars
Memphis Hennesey--Guitars
Dwayne Crawford--Bass
Jake Smith--Drums

Additional Musicians
SHIM--Co-lead vocals on "Medication"

Just in time for the holidays, Royal Bliss fights through the pandemic unknown to return from quarantine with a bite-sized EP, Our Favorite Things.  Currently only available digitally, not only does Our Favorite Things find the band hitting hard with some of the heaviest material they have released in some time, but they also bring in SHIM (Shimon Moore, formerly of Sick Puppies) to collaborate on the current single, "Medication" (more on that in a minute).  Utilizing the same four-person line-up found on the self-titled release from 2019, Royal Bliss offers up this little musical gift for its fans in a time when so many are begging for new music to tide them over until a time when we can go see our favorite bands live again, a theme which the band visits on a couple of occasions on this effort.  

The EP kicks off with the band covering the classic "Favorite Things".  The music is eerily haunting in the way it is performed here, and Middleton matches the mood perfectly, especially with the reverb that is added to his vocals.  Always teasing at becoming a hard rocking affair, "Favorite Things" sticks to relying on acoustic guitars and simple drums, along with some effectively placed strings and a children's choir to back things up.  There's a potent instrumental section before Middleton comes screaming back into the fray with another run through half of the chorus before he leaves the scene and allows the children to carry the song home.  There's a lot going on musically in this track and it is definitely a fun listen that I hope drifts across the airwaves of more than a few rock stations during the Christmas season. 

Things get amped up in a BIG way with the band's late-summer single, "Medication", which features SHIM, formerly of Sick Puppies, on co-lead vocals.  An aggressive rocker, this is the type of hard-hitting Royal Bliss track that I fell in love with from the band several years ago on the Waiting Out The Storm and Chasing The Sun albums.  Fueled by the angst of the pandemic and the lack of live music due to lockdowns, quarantines, and social distancing across the country, "Medication" blasts the listener with heavy guitars, a punchy bass line, and thunderous drums as Middleton snarls, "Where's my medication?!"  It should be noted, however, that medication in this case doesn't refer to pharmaceuticals, but to the music that the band...and so many of us...need to keep ourselves sane.  As such, the accompanying video, which can be seen below, fits the mood and attitude of the song perfectly, as does the lead vocal assist from SHIM (Shimon Moore), formerly of Sick Puppies.  SHIM is featured on the second verse of the song, and also appears in the video in a television commercial for the medication, SHIMTAC, which will apparently help with the "Rockvirus" that has swept the country.  (Be ready with the pause button in several spots in the video to catch the different references that are sprinkled throughout the television programming that the strait-jacketed Middleton watches from his padded cell.)  Moore's vocals are distinct enough from Middleton's to add a different feel to his verse without compromising the crunch of the music, and I hope that more came out of the pairing of SHIM and Royal Bliss than just this one song, as I think they fit together perfectly!  Also of note are the gang backing vocals that are incorporated in the track, adding even more depth and power to the agitated snarl that Middleton uses on the chorus sections.  Check it out below and see if you don't agree...

And in case you missed it, beware of the side effects of SHIMTAC should you choose to take your "medication"...

The EP wraps with another medicine-based track in "Ritalin".  A snappy drum beat and punked-up guitar riff drive this three minute rocker that again harnesses the angst of the band during this shut-down period for live music.  I like the guitar solo that follows the second run through the chorus, and the outro frenzy from Richards is excellent as well!  Seemingly speaking out against the government making decisions for us and pointing out that the far-left and far-right are both missing the mark for the majority of the people, "Ritalin" has a catchy rhythm, a sharp hook, and a sing-along chorus that will likely become a live show staple in 2021 and beyond.  The lyric video is below...

As I stated previously, this EP is currently only available digitally, and I honestly doubt the band will go to the expense of pressing a 3-track CD, but perhaps these songs will show up in 2021 on a full-length record that the band decided to assemble while touring was on hiatus.  Regardless, if you are a fan of the hard-edged rock n roll that Royal Bliss is known for, you are definitely going to want to track these last two songs down, and "Favorite Things" is a must-have for your Covid Christmas playlist!  

Rating:  Not a fan of rating EPs due to the small sample size, but in the spirit of the season, I'll gift you with a rating of Our Favorite Things at a crankable 8!  

Monday, November 30, 2020

IRON SAVIOR "Skycrest"


(c) 2020 AFM Records

  1. The Guardian
  2. Skycrest
  3. Our Time Has Come
  4. Hellbreaker
  5. Souleater
  6. Welcome To The New World
  7. There Can Be Only One
  8. Silver Bullet
  9. Raise The Flag (Bonus Track)
  10. End Of The Rainbow
  11. Erase Your Pain
Piet Sielck--Lead Vocals, Guitars
Joachim "Piesel" Kustner--Guitars
Jan S. Echert--Bass
Patrick Klose--Drums

Ah, Iron Savior.  If ever there was a guilty pleasure band for me, Iron Savior would have to be it, and I make no bones about that fact.  If Iron Savior releases an album (and Skycrest is now album number 13, believe it or not!) I will be there to pick it up, no question.  I simply love what mastermind Piet Sielck and his band bring to the table seemingly each and every time they put out new music.  And, perhaps unsurprisingly, Skycrest continues in that vein as the German metal machine has unleashed yet another molten slab of power and speed.

Retaining the same line-up since 2017 (with all but Klose having been involved in the band at some point since 2000), Iron Savior has forged a musical chemistry that bleeds into each of these songs.  Is there a formula to what the band does?  Absolutely.  Doesn't that lead to staleness or stagnation?  Not at all.  Nothing on Skycrest sounds like a rehashed version of a song from Kill Or Be Killed, Battering Ram, or the classic Condition Red.  Sure, you know beyond the shadow of a doubt that this is Iron Savior that you are listening to, but that is largely a product of Sielck's unmistakable voice and the power anthems that the band delivers time and time again.  Heavy, crunchy, edgy, and more often than not, fast as hell, Iron Savior's music simply delivers every time out, and Skycrest is no exception.

The album kicks off with "The Guardian", which is about as close to a musical slip-up as the band makes on this album.  Why?  Quite simply, I don't like intros, something that I have never hidden from anyone who reads this site with any regularity.  Checking in at 77 seconds, "The Guardian" sounds a lot like something you might hear from Pretty Maids musically (and there is NOTHING wrong with that!), but it doesn't do much other than set the stage for the title track which comes blowing out of your speakers on a metallic mission!  "Skycrest" is all galloping drums, chugging rhythm guitars, and Sielck's gravelly vocals that both soar and snarl at the same time!  I love what Klose brings to the band with his cymbal-punishing drum attack, and the guitar trade-off between Sielck and Kustner is glorious to hear.  And we are only on the first real track of the album!

"Our Time Has Come" has a definite throwback feel to the first few introductory chords, and I found myself in love with the track within about 15 seconds!  Melodic yet still speedy and crunchy, "Our Time Has Come" is the type of song that fans of the band have come to expect, with "save the world" lyrics...motivational and cheesy all in one...and the blazing guitar solo that we all know is coming, set to a breakneck pace driven by machinegun drumming and a blistering bass line that likely leaves Echert's fingers smoking by the time the song has concluded!

The majority of the rest of the album is exactly what you have likely come to expect, and love, from Iron Savior.  This is punchy, fast, sometimes lyrically-cheesy-yet-satisfying power metal that you either love or hate.  Period.  There really isn't much room for anything in between, as Iron Savior does what Iron Savior does better than just about anyone out there today.  From the blazing guitars and thundering drums of metal anthem "Hellbreaker", to the snappy drums and screaming guitars of "There Can Be Only One", to the smoother-yet-still-heavy "Raise The Flag", a song literally about heavy metal, Iron Savior delivers straight-forward music for the metal crowd.  This is metal: heavy, power metal, pure and simple.  Not hard rock, not modern rock, not something "core"...just metal.  This is not music that is designed to hit the radio, it is music that is designed to be played loud in the hardcore gyms and garages and dive bars and smaller concert venues where the blue collar metal fans can still be found.  Big, soaring backing vocals beef up these metallic overtures, backing up the Udo-esque snarl of Sielck, and the blistering guitars...whether rhythm guitars or searing solos...are some of the best and most underrated in metal today.  

But lest you think you have Iron Savior completely pegged, the band does throw a twist at you in the end.  As the album comes to a close, bassist Jan Echert is given the chance to step up to the mic on the albums big ballad, "Ease Your Pain".  While his is definitely a different voice than Sielck's, it still works perfectly within the confines of the album's closer, and shows that just when you think you have Iron Savior figured out, the band shows it still has a trick or two up its sleeve.  A big, soaring ballad, "Ease Your Pain" concludes the Skycrest story well, and while not my favorite track on the record, it is delivered so well that I can't help but find myself smiling as I nod along to the rhythm.  A nice acoustic guitar interlude follows the achingly soulful guitar solo, and Echert takes the song through one final chorus run before the record concludes.    

Thirteen albums in (12 original studio records and one re-recording, 2017's Riding On Fire) the band shows no signs of slowing up, and Sielck seemingly has no end to the stories he has to tell from the Iron Savior universe!  Destined to find its way into many metal fans' Top 20 of 2020, Skycrest is a definite winner and a worthy addition to the Iron Savior catalog.  Hunt it down and snag your copy now so you can embrace the greatness!

Rating:  Maybe a slight step back from Kill Or Be Killed, this newest effort is still highly crankable!  Torque the knob up to 8!

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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 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.


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, 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 more shred-oriented and one more melodic in its 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 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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