Sunday, March 27, 2022

CRASHDIET "Automaton"


(c)2022 Crusader/Golden Robot Records

  1. Automaton
  2. Together Whatever
  3. Shine On
  4. No Man's Land
  5. Darker Minds
  6. Dead Crusade
  7. Powerline (feat. Michael Starr)
  8. Resurrection of the Damned
  9. We Die Hard
  10. Shell Shock
  11. Unbroken
  12. I Can't Move On (Without You)
Gabriel Keyes--Vocals
Martin Sweet--Guitars
Peter London--Bass
Eric Young--Drums

After four years (and a pandemic), Crashdiet comes storming back to the scene with album number 6, Automaton, due to hit the streets April 29.  Retaining 3/4 of the same line-up since 2002, and now releasing album number two with Keyes on vocals, the band continues to evolve in subtle ways, which fans either love...or loathe...depending upon how they feel about growth of their musical heroes.

As they did with their previous album, Rust, Crashdiet continues to take things in a slightly heavier, slightly edgier direction than they did on the must-own classic, Rest In Sleaze, or any of the albums that followed.  This time around, I find the songwriting to be a bit stronger, the songs a bit more catchy, and the hooks a bit deeper-digging than on Rust, which admittedly was a grower of an album for me.  Heavier and punchier than the band's earlier material, and perhaps a bit less sleazy, Automaton is Crashdiet for 2022, not for 2002, and people need to understand that when heading into this album.

Now, that sounds like a warning of some sort, but it truly isn't.  I just get frustrated when bands aren't allowed to grow and fans think they want to hear the same record over and over and over.  But honestly, no one wants to hear Shout At The Devil every time Crue releases a record, do they?  Do you want to continuously hear Pyromania (or Hysteria)?  Is Master Of Puppets what you hope to hear each time Metallica drops a new album?  Then why does everyone think Crashdiet should keep trying to re-record Rest In Sleaze?  So, I guess I will backtrack a bit and say that this IS a warning of sorts, because if you want to hear Rest In Sleaze II, you will be disappointed with Automaton.

So, what will you hear on the new record.  The album kicks off with a throw away intro, "Automaton", which is basically just 39 seconds of guitars moaning and wailing with no real structure before Keyes snarls, "Alright motherf**kers", and the album officially kicks off.

"Together Whatever" screams to life with a muscular guitar riff and punchy drums as Keyes spits and sneers through the first verse into the layered vocals and gang shouted "whoa-ohs!" of the chorus.  Sweet continues to impress with his skills, both in the rhythm riffing and the big, full-scale soloing that fill this galloping rocker, and it is apparent Crashdiet is intent upon crushing the eardrums of the listener.

"Shine On" slows the tempo a bit, but ups the heft of the track, with big...BIG...drums and crunchy rhythm guitars on this angrier rocker that breaks down into a a chunky, "hey! hey! hey!" fist-pumping chant section that is absolutely awesome to hear!  Some electronics wind their way into the mix as Sweet churns through another solo, and Keyes sounds completely dominant here, really stepping into his own with the powerful delivery of the vocals here.  Excellent stuff!

"No Man's Land" continues the sonic excellence with another riffy, crunchy track that just screams 80s metal, but updates the sound a bit.  The band really seems to have focused on refining their songwriting for this record, as everything seems much tighter, and the song construction on "No Man's Land" is absolutely top-notch, with a huge chant-along chorus and plenty of room for Keyes to put his powerful range on display.  I absolutely LOVE this song, which I would probably consider to be the second best on an album that is crammed full of great material.

"Darker Minds" slows things down to a more mid-tempo but still punchy pace, and Crashdiet toys with a more modern rock sound.  Still melodic, still chock full of guitar hooks, "Darker Minds" is...well...darker, both in its performance and its style, with a melodic rock version of a breakdown leading into a shorter solo from Sweet and a sweeping vocal bridge that drives the track directly into a final couple of runs through the chorus.  

"Dead Crusade" brings things back to more familiar territory for Crashdiet fans who may be wondering where all of the sleaze went.  Its still there in places throughout the album, but as I mentioned, Crashdiet has adjusted course a bit and has slid into a more metallic groove than on earlier records.  "Dead Crusade" is definitely 80s METAL inspired, with the machine run drums and matching rhythm riffs, but Keyes vocals take on more of a sleazy sneer here than in any place on the previous handful of tracks, and Sweet's guitar solo here is CRAZY big, with all sorts of string bending swales of sound screaming to life.  I'm positive a goofy grin crossed my face when this song ended because what I have wanted to hear from someone for quite some time: melodic-yet-unmistakably METALLIC fun.  There are no pretenses here at all; this is just an updated version of an 80s metallic assault on the senses with Sweet going off in a big way, and me going straight to the repeat button several times before moving onto the next track.

I'm not really sure why Mike Starr from Steel Panther was brought in for "Powerline", as Crashdiet certainly doesn't need any bolstering, and certainly not from a joke band like Steel Panther.  Regardless, "Powerline" is yet another dominating track, albeit a bit more in the melodic vein than some of the other songs on Automaton.  Backing a bit off the pace of the more blistering material here, "Powerline" delivers a smoother, more melodic take on the Crashdiet sound, utilizing Keyes huge voice exceptionally well, especially on the chorus, where he really elevates the range.  Starr's vocal turn on verse two is actually very well done and is proof positive Steel Panther could be a really good band if they would drop the "everything is about sex" euphemisms and innuendo.  Sweet's solo here is, once again, well worth the listen, and Young's drumming is, as always, extremely tight and punchy.

"Resurrection Of The Damned" returns to the metallic attack, with machine-gun-like rhythm guitars introing the track, and punishing drums and a thick, rumbling bass combining to absolutely steamroll the listener.  Probably the sleaziest of the tracks here, "Resurrection Of The Damned" shows the band is perfectly capable of digging into their past for stylistic inspiration, while still mixing in more metallic aggression than is typical of the sleaze sub-genre.  Keyes mixes in an extra edge of angst and sneer to his vocals, upping the nasty factor on a track that has no problems bubbling to the upper tier of tracks on this record, definitely top four for me.

"We Die Hard" is nowhere near as aggressive as the title may imply, and stylistically it is really unlike anything else on the record.  Definitely more in a modern melodic rock vein than the rest of the material, it is still catchy as heck, but incorporates some techniques that really don't show up anywhere else.  An effects-enhance vocal bridge is used after the second verse.  A tempo change with some serious drum work from Young leads into the guitar solo.  Even the solo focuses more on melodic delivery than blistering speed or metallic chords.  Definitely not a skipper, but it was wise of the band to place it this late in the tracklisting so as not to disrupt the flow of the record.

"Shell Shock" maintains the mid-tempo pace of "We Die Hard", but ups the grit and aggression.  The gang-shouted "Shell Shock!" portion of the chorus is guaranteed to incite fist-thrusting and chanting in the live setting, and Keyes digging into the lower register of his vocal range really adds to the dark, angry vibe of this crunchy rocker.  Good stuff.

"Unbroken" starts off on yet another darker chord, but brightens up a bit as the guitars become a bit more melodic by the time the verse section starts.  I like Sweet's guitar tone throughout this track...on this album, really...and the man sounds like he had a lot of fun coming up with not only different solos, but also different, unique rhythm guitar sections.  "Unbroken" incorporates both a sweeping solo and some rapid finger-tapping, as well as the chug-chug-chugga-chug of his rhythm playing...and then breaks down into a quiet interlude section...before bursting to life once again.  Yep, these Crashdiet guys are actually musicians, folks, and the songwriting here is excellent throughout the album, and the various nuances of "Unbroken" are excellent examples of this growth and development.

"I Can't Move On (Without You)", as you might expect, is a softer, tender moment on an album of pretty much non-stop aggression.  Centered solely on Sweet's acoustic guitars and Keye's vocals (with some really nice backing layering) for the first two verses and chorus runs, the song kicks into full-band mode at about the 3:35 mark, really giving it that big 80's power ballad feel that dominated MTV back in the day.  Pure Zippo material here, "I Can't Move On (Without You)" is an excellent way to wrap Automaton, as the band has managed to squeeze in and showcase pretty much every style and sound you would expect from a band as deeply influenced by the 80's Strip as Crashdiet is.  The beauty of it all, of course, is that while it is respectful of the scene, Crashdiet has never been a copycat band that mimics any one particular band or style exclusively, preferring to take their influences and forge their own sound.  They continue to do that with Automaton, they just do it a bit differently than they did in the past.

Overall, I find myself enjoying this new record more and more with each spin, and it is definitely a step up from Rust, which I enjoy, but is and album that, as I mentioned above, had to grow on me a bit.  It will never replace Rest In Sleaze, but it is not intended to, and no band ever tops their classic, regardless of if it is their first record or their last.  Yes, the style has changed a bit and the sleaze is pushed to the back burner in favor of ripping metallic shredding and crunchy, hard-hitting material, but that sleazy element is still simmering and bubbles over from time to time.  All this being said, Crashdiet remains a powerful force in the melodic metal/sleaze metal world and shows no signs of slowing down, even if they have altered their path slightly.  For me, Automaton is probably the best thing the band has released since 2010's Generation Wild, although, let's face it, the band has never released a bad album.  I truly enjoy Keyes on vocals, and I love the direction the band has taken, and I really hope people give Automaton a chance because this is some seriously great music from a band that remains simpactful and fresh two decades into their career!

Rating:  Definitely crankable, turn this one up to 8.5 and headbang along!  

Saturday, March 12, 2022



(c) 2020 Better Noise Music

  1. Devil's Grin
  2. Outlaws & Outsiders (feat. Ivan Moody, Travis Tritt, and Mick Mars)
  3. Good To Be Us
  4. Blame It On The Double (feat. Jason Hook and Tyler Connoly)
  5. Another Night In Jail
  6. Who I Am
  7. Drive
  8. Better Off
  9. My Whiskey Your Wine
  10. Keep Doing What I Do
  11. Out In The Rain (feat. Lzzy Hale)
  12. She's Hollywood (Bonus Track)
  13. My Whiskey, Your Wine (Acoustic) (Bonus Track)
Cory Marks--Lead and Backing Vocals, Acoustic Guitar, Drums
Bob Funk--Electric and Acoustic Guitar, Mandolin, Banjo
Kevin Churko--Electric Guitar, Acoustic Guitar, Mandolin, Bass, Keys, Drums
Kane Churko--Electric Guitar, Acoustic Guitar, Keys
Scotty Alexander--Electric Guitar, Acoustic Guitar, Fiddle
Marc Miller--Electric Guitar, Steel Guitar, Slide Guitar
Shane Hendrickson--Bass
Jay Buettner--Banjo

Additional Musicians:
Travis Tritt--Co-Lead Vocals on "Outlaws & Outsiders"
Ivan Moody--Co-Lead Vocals on "Outlaws & Outsiders"
Tyler Connoly--Co-Lead Vocals on "Blame It On The Double"
Lzzy Hale--Duet Vocals on "Out In The Rain"
Mick Mars--Guitar Solo on "Outlaws & Outsiders"
Jason Hook--Guitars on "Blame It On The Double"

Go ahead.  Say it.  "That ain't a rock record...that's...that's...THAT'S COUNTRY!!!"  Tell you what.  You call it what you want, but as for me, I'll call it one heck of a record!  I mean, come on, the guy has Mick Mars playing guitar on a song (and Tommy Lee popping up in a video...more on that in a second), Ivan Moody and Jason Hook of Five Finger Death Punch, Tyler Connoly of Theory Of A Deadman, and Lzzy Hale of Halestorm on his debut record.  His DEBUT record!  The guy has some serious firepower loaded up in the part country/part rock double barrels of this record and he flaunts it all over the place!

For those who don't know...and likely don't care...I grew up in Nebraska during the 70s with the Outlaw Country Movement of Waylon, Willie, Kris Kristofferson and others, dreamed of being Johnny Cash, and frequently cited Merle Haggard, CW McCall, and Charlie Daniels as some of my favorite singers of my youth.  In the 80s, it was Alabama and Hank Williams, Jr., who you could hear mixed in with AC/DC, Lyrnyrd Skynyrd, Ratt and Bon Jovi, all at the same party.  I then spent close to a decade in country radio in the 90s, and while I was still a hard-rocker and a head banger by night, I spent a lot of my days drawn to the edgier, rock-influenced sounds of 90s country, with Travis Tritt, Restless Heart, Little Texas, Aaron Tippin, Confederate Railroad, Pirates of the Mississippi, Chris LeDoux and others being particular favorites.  And in the 2000s, I still find myself drawn to good, guitar-driven, rocking country from time-to-time, with Zane Lewis, Brantley Gilbert, Jackson Taylor and the Sinners, and even Jason Aldean being current faves.  All this to say that while I never betrayed, or strayed from, my rock n roll heart, there is a part of me that, given the right mood and the right artist, still appreciates the right style of country music.

Cory Marks is the right kind...  

This album kicks off on a mostly country foot, albeit a punchy, uptempo one, with "Devil's Grin", which features plenty of driving guitar.  Yes, the subject matter is all country, with the country cliche of the Saint-n-Sinner girl drawing the good ol' boy in with her "angel's smile and devil's grin", but Marks puts a rollicking spin on it, whether with the rock guitars or the big, hooky chorus, complete with enough "oh oh ohs" to keep you singing along for some time.  

The gears shift hard...and I mean HARD... with the lead single from the record.  When I first heard "Outlaws And Outsiders", I have to admit I was hooked instantly.  I mean, when a "country" record has Ivan Moody snarling "I was a crazy ass kid, and with all the sh*t I did, I'm lucky to be alive", you can't help but take notice, right?  Add in southern-fried country rock legend Travis Tritt (who Marks could easily be a vocal double for in numerous spots on this record), and an all-too-short guitar solo from Mick Mars, and what's not to love?  Moody doesn't compromise who he all...and this is the type of song that Tritt always seemed to sneak onto his records back in his hey day, and both work perfectly on this track.  As I said, Mars' solo is WAY TOO fact, it's honestly almost too short to even really be considered a true solo, but there is an instant level of credibility that's obtained when you can pull talent of this level all in for one song.  Mix in that Marks wrote the song (along with the Churko brothers), and it's all the more impressive to me.  Honestly, if you're bitching about this track being "too country", then you just as well stop reading right here, because this is straight up hard southern rock with a twinge of metal mixed in.  Need proof?  

Marks allows stunned listeners to catchy their breath for a second with the next track, as "Good To Be Us" is pure summer country radio ear candy with an instantly singable chorus and a catchy hook.  Slick and fun, this is the type of song that will have the country girls in their straw hats, sunglasses, cut-offs, and tank tops singing and swaying in the live setting, holding their beers in one hand while throwing the horns with the other, and I'm actually kind of surprised I haven't heard anything about it being released as a single yet.

"Blame It On The Double" is an excellent foot-stomping country rocker of the highest order, with Tyler Connoly of Theory of a Deadman sharing co-lead vocals, and Jason Hook, formerly of FFDP absolutely scorching the strings on his solo. Once again, the subject matter is one that is shared by both genres, although the lyrical approach is more country than rock, but that really shouldn't matter.  This track kicks ass, period, and is far more Donnie than Marie Osmond (don't get the reference?  Google it.) Don't believe it could work?  Check out the video below and keep an eye out for Tommy Lee dropping by, as well...

As is kind of the trend, Marks then goes back to a more country-themed track with "Another Night In Jail", but again, plenty of rock guitar is thrown into this slower-mid-tempo number.  Again, extremely well-written and catchy as hell, more than a few dedicated rockers are going to struggle with dismissing this song as just another country song.    

Speaking of rockers, "Keep Doing What I Do" is another guitar-driven country rock track that namedrops Johnny Paycheck...and then drops an f*bomb...along the way, earning him both his 70s country rock cred and an "explicit" label for the song (not the first on the record, btw).  The guitars are dirty and gritty on this hard-living party tune that pretty much sums up who Marks is and what he does, which is pretty much whatever he wants to do.

Not everything works perfectly here, to be fair.  The ballad "My Whiskey Your Wine" is just way too saccharine for my tastes and is exactly the kind of country ballad that will have the rockers cringing.  To be honest, the same will be said by most on "Out In The Rain", which, to me, doesn't make the most of having Lzzy Hale performing on it.  If I was going to get Lzzy to sing on a song on my album, I would make sure it was a ballsy rocker, because the lady packs a vocal punch like few other in the hard rock world today.  To be sure, she adds some grit and sass to an otherwise overly smooth ballad, and her emotive voice plays well against Marks' vocals...I just wish they had more to sneer at each other about.

The first five tracks here are pure gold and make the album worth purchasing all on their own.  Add in the dirt road cruising anthem "Drive", the title track, and the gritty rocker "She's Hollywood" and you have a helluva record!  I'm not sure why "She's Hollywood" was relegated to "bonus" status, as it is easily one of the best tracks on the album, but it is worth checking out on its own, and it further cements Marks as a true country rocker.  Yeah, it intros with a banjo, but the gritty rhythm guitars and the flair of the solo is straight out of the rock world, as are the big, gang vocals on the chorus.  Bonus or not, this is probably my second favorite track here, and is definitely top three depending upon the day you as me.  As to whether you decide Lzzy Hale's contribution saves "Out In The Rain" or not, it still showcases the range and depth of the material here, most of it written or co-written by Marks, and there will be fans from both the country and rock genres who love it...or hate it.  All in all, there is just too much good material here to overlook Marks' debut effort, and I'm excited to see what...and who...he comes up with next for his follow-up album. 

Rating:  Call it what you will, I call it crankable!  Crank Marks and Co. to a 8!

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Wednesday, March 9, 2022

IGNESCENT "Ascension EP"


(c) 2022 Independent Release

  1. Remnant
  2. Better Left Forgotten
  3. Anymore
  4. Final Fight
Jennifer Benson--Lead Vocals
Ty Moreland--Guitars
Ian Sebastian--Bass
Joshua Garcia--Drums

Harsh, siren-like guitars announce the arrival of Ignescent's newest single, as the band's EP, Ascension, comes screaming to life with "Remnant".  Shortly thereafter, thick, down-tuned rhythm guitars come crashing in, pairing with the bass to reinforce a bottom end to the track that would make Love & Death proud!  This is some seriously heavy, dark music coming from Ignescent, building upon the foundation they had laid with the release of four singles over the past couple of years.  As has always been the case with the band, the real focal point of this rejuvenated group (Moreland and Garcia are new to the band) are the alternately angelic and sneering vocals of Jennifer Benson, who dwells largely in the darker, angrier portion of her delivery style for this song, matching the intensity of the music being delivered here.

For the next two tracks, Benson allows here more angelic vocal side to appear, stretching her range from that darker, harsher style used in "Remnant" to the much loftier pitches her fantastic voice allows her to use seemingly at will.  Benson lists Flyleaf as an influence, and her ability to change styles and pitches with ease is definitely reminiscent of what Lacey Sturm has show, although with one notable exception, Benson never really ventures into the full-throated screaming territory that Sturm regularly treads.  "Better Left Forgotten" finds Benson using a more restrained approach on the verse sections, then soaring through the chorus sections.  Musically, "Better Left Forgotten" maintains the crunchy, floor-scraping tuning on the guitars, but Benson adds a bit more melodic flair to her vocals here, ratcheting the overall feel of the song up from the angry depths that "Remnant" explores.  I would be willing to bet this song sees release as a single by this summer, and I predict it will hit hard, although it may be more on harder stations, or even metal stations, that "Better Left Forgotten" finds its biggest success.

Easily the most radio friendly of the four tracks on this EP, "Anymore" is going to please long-time fans of the band, with a hard rock sound blending with a touch of melodic pop-rock to the song's structure.  Benson's vocals on "Anymore" are spectacular, as she showcases her full range and various styles, climbing the scales with a sweet run through the chorus, which I rank as one of the catchiest I have heard in the modern rock world thus far in 2022. Easily the most melodic of the tracks here, with Moreland utilizing some smooth, catchy melody lines throughout the song, "Anymore" may actually see the band at their creative peak at this point in their career, combining styles and influences with ease.  Hard enough to please the rivotheads, but melodic enough to entice copious amount of play from stations like and ChristianRock.Net, I think "Anymore" is going to be all over the place when it sees release as a single and my hope is this track really breaks the band to the next level and exposes people to just how talented this band has been for ears.  I rarely say this about songs, but in this case I will make an exception: I would LOVE to hear an acoustic version of this song!  I just think the song structure and Benson's amazing vocals really lend themselves to a powerful, emotional acoustic rendering of this song.  Just my take...

The EP closes with "Final Fight", which forgoes anything sweet in lieu of sheer aggression, from the snarling bottom-end of the rhythm guitars to the pummeling drums, the rumbling bass to Benson's urgent, angst-filled vocals. For fans familiar with the band's singles from 2020 and 2021, think of the darker sounds the band used on "Demons777" and get angrier.  Returning to the opening sounds and styles of "Remnant", this bottom-heavy rocker is a perfect closer to this EP and finds the band in seriously aggressive modern hard rock/metal territory that fans of The Letter Black will likely grab hold of instantly.  Featuring a catchy pre-chorus, a chunky breakdown, and some catchy guitar work from newcomer, well as a serious scream from Benson just moments before the track closes, "Final Fight" leaves the listener wondering what just smacked them in the ear hole!

Ignescent continues to grow and evolve with each release, and this EP finds the Chicago-based band at their creative zenith to this point in their career.  Although the band has crafted a sound and style that is rather easily identifiable as Ignescent, on Ascension everything is bigger, heavier, darker, and more well-honed than on their previous single releases. Admittedly, I would have loved to have had those four 2020 and 2021 singles packaged with these new tracks to give the listener something closer to a full album than this achingly small EP, and I will always prefer physical media to digital-only releases, but I don't fault the band for wanting to get fresh music out to their fans.  Perhaps at some point in the not-too-distant future we will see a full Ignescent CD, but for now, I highly encourage fans to hit their favorite digital media platforms to check out Ascension.

Rating:  Very short but very solid!  Crank this 15 minute tease to 8 and make sure you set your player to repeat because Ascension is so engaging it will simply fly by!