Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Review: Jackson Taylor & The Sinners, "Which Way Is Up"

Listening to Jackson Taylor’s Which Way Is Up, one has to wonder if the hell-raising country rocker has reached a crossroads.

Granted, he’s always had more traditional tunes that seem to get overlooked in favor of his party anthems, but this album feels a little different. There are still plenty of drinking and partying songs among the eight tracks, but this seems to be a more subdued Jackson Taylor, not quite as raucous and with fewer middle fingers flying.

The difference is felt immediately. Album opener “Another Bottle Goes Down” could easily have been a classic outlaw country number from the 1970s. Taylor adopts a deeper vocal on the song, and while it is about drinking, it’s not exactly a wild party tune. That same feeling is all over “Foolin’ Around,” which sounds so much like a classic track that I thought on first listen it was perhaps a modified cover of a classic tune I wasn’t familiar with. That’s not the case, but it could be.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Metal Meltdowns: Megadeth, "Risk"

The only reason that I still own a copy of Megadeth’s Risk is because when I took it to the local used CD shop about a week or so after I it came out, the owner already had five in the bin and wouldn’t accept my trade. That story just about sums up the initial reaction to Dave Mustaine’s 1999 effort, in which he perhaps handed too much control to producer Dann Huff, and delivered the band’s least metal album to date.

Megadeth’s trajectory in the 1990s was toward the more commercial. It began with Countdown to Extinction in 1992, which in some ways echoed Metallica’s self-titled album of the year before. It was still heavy, but the song structures were simplified and more melodic. Youthanasia in 1994 went even further toward mainstream rock. Cryptic Writings, which I consider one of the band’s most underrated records, struck a better balance between fast, heavy numbers and the more rock-oriented pieces.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Review: Rob Zombie, "The Electric Warlock Acid Witch Satanic Orgy Celebration Dispenser"

Once upon a time, I thought Rob Zombie was something of a metal genius. The last two White Zombie records and his first solo album, Hellbilly Deluxe, were all landmark records of the 1990s as far as I’m concerned. (We’ll forget about all of the dance remix records.) They were weird and quirky, pushed the boundaries at times, but were still undeniably metal.

Then, he decided he wanted to make movies, and music seemed to become a side job. The Sinister Urge, his follow-up to Hellbilly Deluxe, while not a bad record, was far too brief with a lot of filler. Since then, he’s released really good songs here and there, but his albums as a whole haven’t really interested me.

So, I was a bit surprised when I gave my first listen to his latest mouthful of an album, The Electric Warlock Acid Witch Satanic Orgy Celebration Dispenser.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Review: "We are Twisted F***ing Sister!"

Twisted Sister may have had one of the strangest rides in heavy metal history. When Stay Hungry was released in 1984, the band was on top of the world. They were the darlings of MTV for their over-the-top cartoonish videos and a target of controversy for Tipper Gore’s PMRC for the violence in those videos. But a few years and a couple of poor-performing albums later, Twisted Sister had fallen off the face of the earth.

For those who had been following the band through their tumultuous club days, that’s par for the course. As we learn in We are Twisted Fucking Sister!, they were always one of the most popular bands that no one wanted anything to do with.

The film focuses on the pre-Stay Hungry days, beginning with the formation of a very different band than the one we know by guitarist Jay Jay French in the early 1970s. Through interviews with Twisted Sister and their fans, and some rare early live footage, it traces a decade-long journey that brought us the familiar lineup and the band mainstream popularity.

That journey, at times, is of Spinal Tap proportions. The outrageousness of their antics during the Stay Hungry years was apparently nothing new, as the band shares some wild and often funny stories from the early days.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Review: Metal Church, "XI"

Could 2016 be the year of the classic thrash band?

The year started with Megadeth’s Dystopia, and while I personally have mixed feelings on it, most fans are hailing it as their best in years. That was followed by Anthrax’s For All Kings, which is on its way to becoming my favorite album from the band ever. In the remaining months, we’re expecting releases from Testament, Death Angel and Flotsam and Jetsam, and Metallica continue to promise their next outing will also arrive in 2016.

The latest in the string is Metal Church’s 11th album. XI marks the return of singer Mike Howe, who first appeared on 1989’s Blessing in Disguise – a personal favorite. He recorded two more albums with the band, The Human Factor (1991) and Hanging in the Balance (1993), before they broke up and he retired from singing.

After the departure of Ronny Munroe in 2014, Metal Church founder Kurdt Vanderhoof was already talking to Howe about a side project and opened the door to his return. Howe was impressed by the riffs that Vanderhoof was coming up with, and agreed to the reunion.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Metal Meltdowns: Danzig, "blackacidevil"

Most any band that’s been around for a while has at least one of those albums where fans listen and wonder, “what the heck were they thinking?” In this series, I’ll explore some of those moments where my favorite metal and hard rock bands went off the rails. Some of the records I may hate, some I may like, but all represent a fundamental shift in the band’s sound, at least for a moment. I’ll start with a record that’s one of the more dramatic changes of direction in my memory, Danzig’s blackacidevil

After coming out of punk band the Misfits and the experimental horror outfit Samhain, Glenn Danzig established his own name and unique sound under the tutelage of Rick Rubin. For the better part of four albums, he delivered a dark, powerful, doomy brand of metal underpinned by blues rock. Even though he experimented a little bit on his fourth record under the Danzig moniker, nothing prepared fans for what was to come with his fifth outing in 1996.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Review: Zakk Wylde, "Book of Shadows II"

Great records are created by a certain set of circumstances that are nearly impossible to replicate later. That’s why sequels are generally a bad idea. If the reunited Guns ‘n’ Roses, for example, were to decide to record Appetite for Destruction II, it would create an expectation among fans that there’s no possible way the band could meet.

Zakk Wylde’s Book of Shadows isn’t exactly the landmark album that Appetite for Destruction was, but it was still a great record that showcased a surprising side of Wylde that we’d not seen to that point. In the 20 years since its release, we’ve heard a lot of acoustic music — both great and not-so-great — from Wylde. It’s hard for this record to have the same impact that one did, and it doesn’t for me.

All of that out of the way, Book of Shadows II is, for the most part, a good album. I’m just not hearing songs on this one that are as memorable as “Sold My Soul” or “Between Heaven and Hell,” and that’s what I was looking for from this record.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Stuck in my Head: Flotsam and Jetsam, "Iron Maiden"


I’ve been a huge fan of Flotsam and Jetsam’s last couple of records. They’re probably one of the more underrated thrash bands of that genre’s classic era, and I thought they found their way again on 2010’s The Cold and 2012’s Ugly Noise.

“Iron Maiden,” the first single off their upcoming eponymous album presents a serious shifting of gears from those two records.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Review: "Alice Cooper, Volume I: Welcome to My Nightmare"


Editor's Note: Normally, I keep my music writings  and book writings separate, but I thought this would have some crossover appeal, so I'm sharing here, as well. Enjoy.

Though I was at one time an avid comic collector and reader, and I’m a lifelong fan of hard rock and metal, I had never read the Alice Cooper comic series. Recently, a co-worker, knowing my proclivities for both comics and rock, gifted me with “Alice Cooper, Volume I: Welcome to my Nightmare” ($24.99, Dynamite).

The first thing that struck me about this collection was that it was a gorgeous presentation. The hardcover collects the first six issues of the Dynamite Alice Cooper comic, along with a bonus featuring Alice’s first comics appearance with Marvel in the 1970s.

The story arc of the newer comics features Alice as the Lord of Nightmares. Trapped in a bad contract by a trio of devilish agents known as Clan Black, he has fallen into obscurity. That is, until a young man who is being bullied discovers Alice’s music and accidentally summons him from the Nightmare Place for help, freeing him from his contract with Lucius Black, but opening Alice and the young man, Robbie, up to danger from the other two members of the clan.