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.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Review: Anthrax, "For All Kings"

In the 1980s, Anthrax rested, arguably, at the bottom of the Big Four totem pole. When they wanted to be, they could be just as dark, political and technical as their contemporaries Metallica, Megadeth and Slayer, but they were really a different animal.

Aside from being the only member of the Big Four not born on the West Coast, Anthrax was made up of a group of oddball guys who liked to have fun and be goofy from time to time. Whether it be a rap song where a band member messed up the rhymes at the end of each verse (“I’m the Man”) or a twangy, Western-inspired ode to Tipper Gore and the PMRC (“Startin’ Up a Posse”), the New York boys didn’t always take themselves so seriously. Perhaps the fact that they were open to doing funny things their partners in crime were not ultimately led some in the uber-serious thrash crowd to not take Anthrax quite as seriously as those other three.

When it comes to staying power, though, none of those other bands have been able to hang with Anthrax. Over the course of their last three records, Anthrax has consistently produced far better music than any of their contemporaries, and I might argue that it’s some of the best music of their career.

Monday, February 29, 2016

Stuck in my Head: Zakk Wylde, "Sleeping Dogs"

I remember being extremely excited about Zakk Wylde’s solo album Book of Shadows back in 1996, and then supremely disappointed. Loving his work with Ozzy Osbourne and Southern rockers Pride and Glory, I expected a scorching set of metal tunes. What I got was a collection of mostly soft, acoustic numbers, and I hated it.

Fast forward 20 years, and I have developed a much greater appreciation of Wylde’s acoustic work. In fact, I think it’s some of his best work, and some of the tunes from Book of Shadows are among my favorites.

I’m generally opposed to “Part 2” albums because they create an expectation that they can almost never live up to. But I have to admit that my interest was piqued when Zakk Wylde announced that he’d be releasing Book of Shadows II in April.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Saturday Shuffle: Flotsam and Jetsam, Testament, III, ST, Ratt

This week starts strong with an underrated album and ends on a mediocre note.

Flotsam and Jetsam, "Empty Air." From the album Drift (1995). Drift is far and away my favorite Flots album. I loved the slightly more progressive tone of it. "Empty Air" is one of the heavier tracks from the record, and it's got as much power as anything that the band has ever recorded. A fantastic song from a fantastic record.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Saturday Shuffle: Prince, King's X, Dream Theater, Sabbath, Ashes of Ares

A quintessential 1980s pop tune, a classic metal moment and a great live performance from one of the most underrated bands ever ...

Prince, "Delirious." From the album 1999 (1982). Remember when we all thought 1999 was so far away and would never come? One of the hits from 1999, this tune has a quintessential 1980s pop synth riff, but it's still a lot of fun in 2016. It may come off as a bit cheesy today, but just a few seconds in and you'll be bobbing your head. There's no video available because it's Prince, but you know how it goes.