Saturday, March 28, 2015

Saturday Shuffle: ZZ Top, Jackyl, Helstar, Priest, Megadeth


A little classic, a little party and a heavy ending this week ...


ZZ Top, “Lowdown in the Street.” From the album Deguello (1979). Deguello remains my favorite ZZ Top album because it struck a great balance between their hard rocking side and their funky, groovy blues side. All of that is encapsulated perfectly on this tune.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Review: Judas Priest, "Defenders of the Faith 30th Anniversary Edition"


Sandwiched between the bona fide metal classic Screaming for Vengeance and perhaps Judas Priest’s most controversial album, the synth-guitar laden Turbo, Defenders of the Faith often seems to be an overlooked gem in the band’s catalog.

This year marks the 30th anniversary, and Judas Priest celebrates with a new remastered three-disc edition of the album, which also includes a 21-song live set from Long Beach Arena in 1984.

It doesn’t take long to remember that Judas Priest was still at the height of its game as album opener “Freewheel Burning” comes raging out of the speakers. It’s a classic, high-speed Judas Priest number with vocalist Rob Halford screaming like a demon and hitting some of his biggest notes. After a year or so of listening to last year’s exceptional Redeemer of Souls, it’s an instant reminder that as good as Halford sounds now, he was that much more impressive in his prime.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Saturday Shuffle: Amon Amarth, Aerosmith, Firewind, Three Thirteen, Metallica


Today, I re-introduce the Saturday Shuffle. For those who don’t remember it, it was one of the more popular features on the site for the last couple of years. I take the first five songs that come up on my shuffle and offer a few brief thoughts on them. I won’t pull punches. If a really bad song or something embarrassing comes up, I’ll own up to it. (See the second song below).


Amon Amarth, “Legend of a Banished Man (Live).” From the album The Avenger (2009 re-issue). One of the more plodding numbers from Amon Amarth’s early work gets the live treatment on this re-issue of the band’s second album. It’s perhaps one of the slower numbers, but no less epic.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Review: Jackson Taylor and the Sinners, "Cantina del Diablo"


If there’s any artist that could get away with releasing a mariachi record, it’s Jackson Taylor. Good thing, too, because that’s the influence all over his latest release Cantina del Diablo.

Technically, this isn’t a “new” album. Cantina del Diablo grew out of his Dos Sinners acoustic tour, and it includes eight songs from Jackson Taylor’s back catalog done mostly acoustic. In some cases, the songs are greatly transformed from their original versions, while others follow closer to the original, just perhaps a bit softer or with a bit of mariachi-style flair added in.

First single “Maria,” with its aye-aye-aye-aye chorus, seems — pardon the bad pun — tailor-made for this collection. Throw in some heavy Spanish horns and a trilling shout or two, and it transforms quite well into a mariachi tune. Stylistically, it’s a bit different than what we’ve heard from Taylor before but, thematically, it’s right in his wheelhouse — a hard-driving, hard-drinking, cautionary tale about a cheating woman and what that brings.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Still Spinning: Marilyn Manson, "Mechanical Animals"

Yes, I know Manson has a new record out, and I plan to get to it eventually. But this one, for some reason, has been popping up in my shuffle a lot lately, and I’ve come to appreciate again how good it was.

I remember seeing one of those clickbait articles online at some point last year discussing rock albums with only one good song, and Mechanical Animals was on that list. The writer’s contention was that “The Dope Show” was the only good song on this record. I remember at the time thinking the guy didn’t know what he was talking about, and after revisiting this record, I’m sure of it. If anything, “Dope Show” is one of the weakest songs.

You can say a lot of things about Marilyn Manson and the direction that his career has taken. Strings of mediocre albums have made him a caricature of himself, but those first three records cannot be denied. Each of those showed a developing and evolving persona for Manson. His debut, Portrait of an American Family, was solely about shock. With Antichrist Superstar, he honed the edge on that shock with rage and vitriol — producing, arguably, the last rock ‘n’ roll record to truly scare the shit out of parents. And that’s what made the transformation on Mechanical Animals so bizarre and wonderful.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Review: Circle II Circle, "Live at Wacken: Official Bootleg"


It may have been a bit surprising to the crowd at the Wacken Open Air Festival in 2012 when Circle II Circle took the stage not to play music from their albums, but to perform Savatage’s 1997 album The Wake of Magellan. It was the last Savatage album to feature Circle II Circle frontman Zak Stevens, and one of the more underrated in their catalogue.

Though video of that performance has been available on YouTube for some time, the band has finally released the official audio version of it.

First of all, this isn’t a complete performance of The Wake of Magellan. For one thing, Circle II Circle had only about 40 minutes of set time, and the album checks in at about an hour. A couple of instrumental pieces are cut to make the time, and they don’t perform the two songs on the album originally sung by Jon Oliva — “Another Way” and “Paragons of Innocence.” They also play around a little bit with the order of the songs so they can close with “Blackjack Guillotine,” arguably the album’s heaviest track.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Stuck in My Head: "Dimebag" Darrell Abbott, "Whiskey Road"



Unlike many passed artists, “Dimebag” Darrell Abbott doesn’t seem to have left behind much unreleased material. Either that or his family is being very careful with what they let out. But every now and then, something we haven’t heard before trickles out.

A while back, Guitar World premiered the track “Whiskey Road,” recorded on Pantera’s final tour in 2001. The song features the late Dimebag on all instruments and vocals, and though it’s a rough demo, it shows a lot of promise. If you’re expecting a crushing Pantera tune, think again. “Whiskey Road” is a Southern rock drinking song from start to finish. Though there’s a little bit of “Cemetery Gates” in the clean guitar sound and some of the leads, there’s a lot more twang than crunch.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Review: Whitey Morgan, "Grandpa's Guitar"

Sometimes a song just hits you right where you live.

Whitey Morgan, probably the biggest hell-raising honky tonker out of Flint, Michigan, settles down a bit on his latest album Grandpa’s Guitar, a collection of acoustic pieces in honor of his grandfather, William Henry Morgan.

The song, which Morgan said was one of the most difficult he’s ever recorded, recalls the impact that his grandfather had on his life. In the story, he recalls finding a treasured tape of his grandfather playing and singing in the basement and his first experience with the guitar at the knee of his grandfather. Later, after his grandfather passes away, he consoles himself by once again retreating to the basement, finding that guitar and letting his sorrow sing through the strings.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Best of 2014: Hard rock and metal

We enjoyed a really strong year in hard rock and metal, so much so that some albums I really enjoyed got bumped off of my Best of 2014 list. There were great comebacks from the likes of Sanctuary, Body Count and, of course, Judas Priest. There were releases from some very promising new acts like Anti-Mortem and Black Crown Initiate. There were entries from some steady-as-ever acts.

As always, this list is subject to change with my mood, or as I discover a few records that I somehow missed over the course of the year, but here’s my Best of 2014 list for hard rock and metal — at least, as of the last week of the year …


No. 10 — SANCTUARY – THE YEAR THE SUN DIED: It’s been 25 years since Sanctuary’s last album, but you’d be hard-pressed to tell that from this record. This is a bit heavier perhaps, a bit more progressive, than the band’s earlier work, but just a stellar album all the way around.