Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Review: Brides of Destruction, "Here Come the Brides"

Take Motley Crue bassist Nikki Sixx and L.A. Guns guitarist Tracii Guns and team them with a pair of unknown artists like singer London LeGrand and drummer Scott Coogan, then add a dash of extra guitar work from former Crue singer John Corabi and what do you get? Surprisingly, a very modern hard rock album.

Though there are definitely some bits, like the catchy "Natural Born Killers" and the sappy "Only Get So Far," that will remind fans of the 1980s scene where the band has its roots, for the most part, nothing on the album seems out of place or dated in today's rock scene.

The album begins with a blast of Misfits-style punk in "Shut Up," then goes dark for the screamer "I Got a Gun," which has a slight industrial flavor. There's plenty of crunch in songs like "2X Dead" and "Brace Yourself," while "Life" reminds me of the current crop of garage bands like the Vines and the Hives.

All in all, "Here Come the Brides" is a surprising effort from a band that could have just trotted out remakes of the members' 1980s hits. It strikes a careful balance between sounds that will please fans of Sixx and Guns' former bands and modern hard rock that should draw a new audience. An impressive debut from two hard rock veterans.

Get "Here Come the Brides."

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Review: The Haunted, "rEVOLVEr"

It takes balls to name your album "rEVOLVEr" - even if you do mess with the capitalization a little.

When you name your record after the album that many Beatles fans consider their best, you better bring your A-game. The Haunted does just that, with an alternately melodic and pummeling assault on the listener.

Original vocalist Peter Dolving returns to the lineup, bringing a different flavor to the slower songs. "Abysmal" and "Burnt to a Shell" are two of the best cuts on the album because the Western twang in Dolving's voice brings to mind a tired and angry gunslinger rolling into town looking for his next target.

And the band does indeed mow down listeners with assaults like "Nothing Right" and "All Against All."

Even though the Haunted have slowed their pace on a few of these numbers, they can still thrash with the best of them. "rEVOLVEr" is another top-notch album from one of Sweden's best exports.

Get "rEVOLVEr."

Review: Diecast, "Tearing Down Your Blue Skies"

I've been aware of Diecast for quite a few years, but I've never really given them much of a listen. With their latest album, they've got my full attention.

God Forbid's "Gone Forever" may have the lock on the best metalcore album of 2004, but "Tearing Down Your Blue Skies" runs a close second.

The album has a much more melodic approach than the past music I'd heard from Diecast, and the group really seems to shine on numbers like "Savior" and "Medieval," which get stuck in your head after a few listens. They even cross into a sound reminiscent of Sevendust's debut album on "These Days."

Of course, they've retained a lot of the hardcore edge, pummelling the listener with screamers like "Traitor" and "Seize the Day."

Finding the right balance between melodic and brutal is one of the biggest problems most metalcore bands have, but Diecast gets it right. The heavy riffs are tailor-made for the mosh pit, and the slower parts are perfect for the sing-along.

Get "Tearing Down Your Blue Skies."

Thursday, October 14, 2004

Interview: Kenny Wayne Shepherd

It's been about five years since Shreveport native Kenny Wayne Shepherd released his last album, and when he takes the stage at the Strand Theatre on Friday night to launch his latest album "The Place You're In," fans may be in for a surprise. Shepherd's sporting a new look and a new sound.

The guitarist who made his name by peddling the blues to a younger audience, puts the focus on rock for this outing.

"It's definitely a breath of fresh air," Shepherd said. "After not having a record out for almost five years, to come out with a new sense of musical style, it's probably a good thing."

Shepherd has spent the last few years recharging. He hit the scene with his 1995 debut "Ledbetter Heights" as a 16-year-old phenom, steeped in the style of Stevie Ray Vaughan. The follow-up, 1997's "Trouble Is ..." propelled him to stardom on the strength of the ballad "Blue on Black." The album went multi-platinum and kept him on the road. After touring for his third album "Live On," Shepherd decided it was time to step away for a while.

"I've been working nonstop since I graduated from high school - year after year, 250 shows a year, three albums," he said. "I think it was just time to take a break, sit back, relax and live life at home for a while."

One thing he worked on during the break was honing his vocal chops. On "The Place You're In," Shepherd steps up to the mic for the first time in his career.

"It's something that I think all my fans have been anticipating and that I've been looking forward to doing," he said. "It was just a matter of when I felt comfortable enough to step up and do it."

Shepherd thinks the move also adds even more depth and passion to his music.

"This is a very personal album as far as the lyrics go," he said. "It has a different effect when you're actually the one singing and translating the message to people."

He's not planning to take on the old songs himself, though. Noah Hunt is still part of the band (and sings a couple of songs on the new album).

Another guy who handles vocals on the album is Kid Rock. Shepherd first worked with the rap-rocker on Kid Rock's self-titled 2003 album. Now, Rock returns the favor on the track "Spank."

"It's always a pleasure to work with him," Shepherd said. "We've just kind of run into each other on the road over the years and developed a really good friendship. He called me to play on his record, and I had this song that I thought was well-suited for him. It turned out great."

Shepherd will also have some special guests for Friday's performance, including Jerry Cantrell of Alice in Chains. He's also working on a few other surprises, but can't say anything about them yet.

Even with all this rock talk, Shepherd's not worried about alienating his old fans. He's always had a strong rock influence in his music, and though a few may not like it, he thinks most of the fans will follow him.

"I couldn't make everybody happy with any of my other records, either," he said. "There were still some blues purists out there who criticized me and said I wasn't a blues player. With anything, you're going to anticipate some of that.

"But I expect to gain some new fans as well. That's a good thing because they'll listen to my previous albums and maybe get turned on to the blues in the process."

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Review: Megadeth, "The System Has Failed"

A little more than a year ago, it looked like Megadeth was done thanks to nerve damage in founder/guitarist Dave Mustaine's left hand. After listening to "The System Has Failed," that might have been for the best.

The latest Megadeth outing has its moments. "Kick the Chair," with its "Rust in Peace" vibe, is one of the best songs Mustaine has written in years. "Die Dead Enough" and "The Scorpion" are interesting, even if they do sound more like Alice Cooper than Megadeth. And with original guitarist Chris Poland back in the fold - at least for the recording sessions - the guitar work is outstanding.

But most of the songs on the album are just plain boring. I'm talking fall-asleep-in-the-middle boring.

"Blackmail the Universe" tries to recall the band's glory days, but falls well short. Mustaine makes a plea to old-school metal fans on the Judas Priest-flavored "Back in the Day," but considering the cheesy delivery, it's likely to fall on deaf ears.

If you're a fan of the 1990s Megadeth sound, you might enjoy this album. If you're hoping to hear Mustaine and Co. rip out some old-school thrashers, download "Kick the Chair" for 99 cents and use your 15 bucks to pick up one of the remasters.

Get "The System Has Failed."

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Review: Iced Earth, "The Blessed and the Damned"

Putting together a two-disc set that's representative of Iced Earth's nine albums for Century Media is quite a daunting task. Surprisingly, the track list on "The Blessed and the Damned" looks a lot like a homemade Iced Earth compilation that I put together a while back. In other words, Century Media nailed it.

The collection features 23 tracks, ranging from their self-titled 1991 debut through 2001's "Horror Show." For the tracks that have more than one version, they've done a good job picking the best ones. For example, they put the original version of "Stormrider," which I've always felt was stronger than the Matt Barlow version, but they chose the obviously stronger Barlow version of "Angels Holocaust."

I was also happy to see room made for some of the band's longer tracks, like the 9-minute epic "Damien" from "Horror Show."

I do have a few quibbles with the track listing. I would have found room for "Slave to the Dark," one of my personal favorites, and "Ghost of Freedom." But no compilation can be perfect, and likely other Iced Earth fans have favorites that were left off, too. This collection is about as close to perfect as they come.

While most fans will already own the songs on the album, the package offers a little extra for collectors. It's got gorgeous artwork by Russian artist Leo Hao, who has done covers for Iced Earth and Blind Guardian before. The art depicts a battle between angels and demons - "The Blessed and the Damned" - and is reversible, so you can have angels or demons on the cover depending on your mood. The booklet also features lyrics, an introduction by former Century Media publicist Loana dP Valencia and commentary from Iced Earth founder/guitarist Jon Schaffer on each album.

Get "The Blessed and the Damned."

Review: Kittie, "Until the End"

The members of Kittie have come a long way since their 1999 debut when they were a group of teenagers trying to prove they could hang with the boys in the burgeoning nu-metal scene.

On their third album, the band has completed its evolution into a true metal band, as evidenced by the pummelling opening track "Look So Pretty," which veers into death metal territory.

On the whole, "Until the End" is a much heavier album that shows a lot of growth. Musically, it's probably the most solid album Kittie has done, and it shows the influence of bands they've toured with over the years. That influence is most noticeable on songs like "Sugar," which opens with a blast of good, old-fashioned speed metal that leads into some chugging, offbeat Meshuggah-style rhythms.

The melodic "In Dreams" and the lead single "Into the Darkness" look back at the band's past, while "Burning Bridges" - a song that's sure to prick up any extreme metal fans' ears - plants their feet firmly on the road to the future.

Though they still seem to be searching for just the right balance between gnarly, heavy riffs and melodic hook-laden rock, the Canadian girls' third outing should give them some real respect in the metal world.

Get "Until the End."

Thursday, May 6, 2004

Interview: Tim "Ripper" Owens of Iced Earth

When Tim "Ripper" Owens went into the studio in the summer of 2003 to lay down vocals for Iced Earth's latest album, "The Glorious Burden," he thought it was going to be a one-shot collaboration. After all, he already had a job - singing for metal legends Judas Priest.

But even then, the rumors were swirling about a Priest reunion with original vocalist Rob Halford, and when the official reunion announcement was made in the fall, Owens decided to make the full jump into his new band. Owens says he felt an immediate chemistry with Iced Earth guitarist and founder Jon Schaffer.

"I definitely think that it's something that seems right, and John and I get along so well," he said. "It's a perfect fit."

The result of the collaboration "The Glorious Burden," released in January, shows Schaffer's passion for history and has been hailed by many Iced Earth fans as the band's best effort to date. Owens was called in on the project when Schaffer was not happy with the performance of long-time singer Matt Barlow, who seemed to have lost his passion for the music.

"The problem is that this album just has so much passion that if you lose your way, you're going to be able to tell," Owens said.

Owens himself didn't have that problem. He loves the album, and with Iced Earth, he's already got something he never had in his years with Judas Priest - a writing credit on the track "Red Baron, Blue Max."

"Jon actually offered for me to write three different songs before I was even in the band," he said. "It's quite amazing."

Owens said he and Schaffer have distinctly different writing styles, and he's already looking forward to what the two of them can come up with for the next Iced Earth album.

"It's something that Jon and I talk about all the time," he said. "We can't wait to work together."

The singer also got to show some vocal chops that he was never able to showcase on a Judas Priest album. With his former band, he was often relegated to trying to sound like his predecessor, Halford, and never got to stretch his talents like he does with Iced Earth.

"The thing about John's writing is that he lets the vocals soar and sing more," Owens said. "This is singing with a lot of emotion. It's definitely more of a showcase for my vocals."

But there were some challenges involved in joining Iced Earth. For one, Schaffer is a notorious perfectionist who challenges and pushes his bandmates. Owens was ready for that.

"Glenn (Tipton, of Judas Priest) was really demanding," Owens said with a laugh. "I'll probably never be worked that hard again, but it taught me a lot. John's the same way; he's a perfectionist."

The second challenge is one faced by any newcomer - stepping out of the shadows of a vocalist that a lot of fans liked. After nearly a decade in Judas Priest, there's probably no one in the world more prepared for that than Owens.

"I filled Rob Halford's shoes," he said. "Matt's good and everything, but when you go to a band where Rob Halford is the singer ..."

Owens, who provided a basis for the movie "Rock Star" (a very loose basis, according to him), thinks he'll quickly win over the Iced Earth fans, just as he did the Judas Priest fans, and he's looking forward to putting his stamp on some of the old songs on tour. But the one thing he's really excited about performing live is the 30-minute epic "Gettysburg," which tells the story of the famous Civil War battle. It's length is a bit prohibitive for a live show, but Owens thinks it has to be done in its entirety.

"I think it will be pretty exciting live," he said. "I think it would be a nice change of pace because it's got really heavy parts in it and really melodramatic parts."

Despite losing his position as frontman in one of the biggest metal bands of all time, Owens is happy with where he is now and excited about the possibilities for the future. He's ready to move forward, and holds no ill will for his old band. He remains a fan.

"I'm really happy for them, and I think it's going to be awesome," he said. "Rob's the man, and this is a great situation for him. I think it's great to get them back for a 30-year reunion."

Tuesday, May 4, 2004

Review: Death Angel, "The Art of Dying"

Death Angel was perhaps one of the most underrated thrash bands of the late 1980s.

Coming out of the thriving thrash scene of the San Francisco Bay Area, the members of the band were young phenoms. At the time they recorded their debut, 1987's "The Ultra-Violence," drummer Andy Galeon was only 14. Their two follow-up albums 1988's "Frolic Through the Park" and 1990's "Act III" are classics of the genre that belong in any thrash fan's collection. But a bus accident that sidelined Galeon for a year also fractured the band. Several of the members went on to form the short-lived band The Organization, but it didn't have the same spark.

Now, 14 years later, Death Angel has reunited to unleash their fourth studio album, and not a lot has changed - either in the band or in the music. The album picks up right where "Act III" left off with the same big lightning-fast riffs and catchy vocal melodies.

Tunes like "5 Steps to Freedom," "Famine" and "No" are like hopping in the wayback machine and jumping back to 1990. The semi-ballad on this album, "Word to the Wise," doesn't play as well as softer songs from their past like "Veil of Deception" from "Act III," but it's still a solid effort.

If there's one knock against this album, it's that it does sound dated. It's unapologetically a late '80s thrash album. My only complaint is that we should have gotten this album more than a decade ago.

Get "The Art of Dying."

Tuesday, April 20, 2004

Review: Black Label Society, "Hangover Music, Vol. 6"

If there's one man in the world of heavy rock that seems able to do no wrong, it's Zakk Wylde.

From the heavier sound he brought to Ozzy Osbourne's band in the late 1980s to Southern rock with Pride and Glory to his acoustic solo debut to the bone-crunching Sabbath-inspired riffs he lays down with Black Label Society, Wylde has rarely made a misstep. Now comes his sixth outing with BLS, the aptly titled "Hangover Music." If the first five Black Label albums have been the wildest, loudest and craziest party you've ever attended, then this album is definitely the morning after.

On "Hangover Music," Wylde revisits the acoustic stylings of his 1996 album "Book of Shadows." And why not? Over the years, his slow songs have been some of his best. They seem to fit his vocal style well.

"Hangover Music" is a bit grungier and uses more electricity than "Shadows," which was almost completely acoustic. But the trick to this album is in how he uses the electric guitars, not as a crutch, but sparingly to create mood and atmosphere - and of course, to kick out some blistering solos.

Even in a semi-acoustic setting, though, Wylde is still served better by the more upbeat numbers. The CCR-meets-Sabbath stomp of "House of Doom" is a perfect example of Wylde in his element and at the top of his game, and the album-opener, "Crazy or High," is simply one of the best songs the band has written.

Wylde and Co. hit rough waters when they slip into Elton John mode on "Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow," but fare better when they slide into an Alice in Chains groove on "Layne." Wylde shows off his piano skills on "Damage is Done" and the jazzy chords on "No Other" are a nice surprise.

Overall, the album shows that you don't have to plug in to be heavy. But as much as I like the more laid back side of Zakk, I still think he needs to plug back in as soon as possible. The metal world needs him at full intensity.

Get "Hangover Music."

Review: Anthrax, "Music of Mass Destruction"

Though he's been in the band longer than any other singer, Anthrax is just now getting around to a live album and DVD with John Bush. It was well worth the wait.

In addition to showcasing the band's live show with Bush, it also gives fans the chance to see one of the last Anthrax shows with original bassist Frank Bello, who recently parted ways with the band.

On "Music of Mass Destruction," 'Thrax rips through a collection of songs both new and old with incredible energy.

There are a few stumbling points along the way. "Bring the Noise" really doesn't work without Public Enemy involved, and I still think Bush isn't up to some of the older material because it doesn't really fit his style. That being said, I have to give him credit for the ones he belts out better than the original. "Be All, End All" sounds great with Bush on vocals, and even the classic "I Am the Law" takes on a gruffer, more powerful sound.

Of course, when they rip out newer songs like "Inside Out," "Refuse to be Denied" and "Safe Home," Bush is in his element and the performances are tight all around.

Anthrax also throws out a couple of surprises, going way back to the band's debut album for the bonus track "Metal Thrashing Mad" and whipping out a cover of Metallica's "Whiplash." There's also a nice treat for comics fans on the DVD as artist Alex Ross chats about designing the cover for this album, as well as the band's stellar 2003 release "We've Come For You All." He also talks comics with drummer Charlie Benante and shows off some of his personal collection of memorabilia.

Having had the pleasure of seeing Anthrax live, I know this doesn't compare to the real energy, but it's close - a must-have for thrash fans.

Get "Music of Mass Destruction."

Tuesday, March 30, 2004

Review: Aerosmith, "Honkin' on Bobo"

It's a shame these are cover songs because this is the album that a lot of Aerosmith fans have been waiting on for more than 25 years.

There are no synthesizers, no horn sections and no bows to radio airplay. It's just the five members of Aerosmith (with occasional help from vocalist Tracy Bonham and pianists Paul Santo and Johnnie Johnson) rocking out on some of their favorite blues tunes. The result is a very warm, organic record that recalls the band's best work of the 1970s. And why shouldn't it? Some of the band's hottest songs in the '70s were covers of old blues tunes.

Hearing the band put their stamp on "Shame, Shame, Shame" or Willie Dixon's "I'm Ready" will make you think you're listening to one of Aerosmith's classic albums like "Toys in the Attic" or "Rocks." The songs would certainly fit right in there.

A real surprise on this album are the two Joe Perry sung tunes, "Back Back Train" and "Stop Messin' Around." In the past, Perry songs have been like an afterthought, perhaps throwing a little bone to the guitarist. On this collection, they're two of the best songs. Perry's smooth, smoky voice is a perfect fit with the bluesier numbers.

The only weak spot on the album is, surprisingly, the only new Aerosmith song, "The Grind." It sounds like the same ballad we've heard them do seven or eight times since the early 1990s. But the energetic numbers like Bo Diddley's "Road Runner" and "Baby, Please Don't Go," and the down and dirty numbers like Sonny Boy Williamson's "Eyesight to the Blind" and "Never Loved a Girl," a reworking of Aretha Franklin's "I Never Loved a Man," will soon make you forget that one misstep.

This is what Aerosmith should sound like. Here's hoping the Boston bad boys will throw us some new rock 'n' roll in this vein in the near future.

Get "Honkin' on Bobo."

Tuesday, March 16, 2004

Review: Grip Inc., "Incorporated"

When drummer Dave Lombardo parted ways with Slayer in the early 1990s to form his own band, I thought it was a bad move.

Grip Inc.'s first three releases were good, but not outstanding, and when Lombardo rejoined his old bandmates in Slayer a couple of years ago, it could have signalled the end of Grip Inc. Instead, the band has delivered its best album to date.

"Incorporated" is easily the most diverse album the band has done. It has the same mix of Slayer-style thrash, punk and progressive, but every time you think you've got it figured out, the band throws in something new. They add some electronic industrial beats on tracks like "The Answer " and "Prophecy." They throw out a little flamenco guitar on "Enemy Mind," and several songs have a Middle Eastern flavor.

Perhaps the most surprising touches are the strings on "(Built to) Resist," and the Gregorian-style chanting on "Blood of Saints."

What won't surprise you are thrashers like "Endowment of Apathy" and the slab of crunch on "Man With No Insides." They may mix things up a bit, but they haven't sacrificed any heaviness.

Get "Incorporated."

Review: Godsmack, "The Other Side"

Acoustic sets are a tricky thing for hard rock bands. For every Alice in Chains or Tesla that gets it right, there are a dozen bands that take the stage with an acoustic and bang out the same power chords they use with an electric. Without the wailing wall of distortion, all of the weaknesses are exposed.

Luckily, Godsmack is one of the bands that gets it right. On "The Other Side," the band offers up acoustic versions of several of their songs, along with three new tracks.

Godsmack shows an impressive side on this album, that they've hinted at before on songs like "Voodoo" and "Serenity." The most impressive and surprising moment on the album is a reworking of their heavy hit "Awake." They've renamed it "Asleep" for this version and changed it from a pounding headbanger to a melancholy ballad. It gives a whole new signifigance to the song's subject.

I was also a bit surprised by how well other heavy tunes like "Re-Align" and "Keep Away" translated into acoustic numbers. They perhaps hovers a bit close to the "same three chords" approach, but the songs take on a warm, rootsy feel that works well.

Of the three new songs, the most interesting is "Touché," which features members of Dropbox, the first signing to Godsmack singer Sully Erna's label. It's got a twangy, almost country feel that's a bit out of character for the band. All in all, "The Other Side" reminds me a lot of Alice in Chains' "Jar of Flies," and that's a very good thing. This album shows that Godsmack isn't a one-trick pony and further reinforces their position as one of the top hard rock acts out there.

Get "The Other Side."

Tuesday, March 9, 2004

Review: Manowar, "Hell on Earth III"

Is there any band that better represents the spirit of metal than Manowar?

Whether you love Manowar or think the metal warrior schtick is a little corny, you have to admit that there are no greater champions of the music than the world's loudest band, and they prove it again on this DVD.

The first disc chronicles Manowar's travels around the world with plenty of behind-the-scenes footage, fan interaction and some live performance clips. This disc shows first-hand Manowar's dedication to their fans and vice versa. Their love of performing their music is evident, and they seem to truly appreciate the people that allow them to do it. How many other band have you ever seen that allow a fan to grab a guitar and come on stage for a jam session almost every night?

The second disc contains an hour-long performance from an outdoor festival in Cologne, Germany, where about 27,000 fans packed the streets of the city to see the band. It's a rousing performance, if a bit brief.

The rest of the disc is full of vintage Manowar videos, along with their latest two clips. I would have liked just a little more live performance, but beyond that, I've got no complaints. The DVD shows truly that Manowar are "Kings of Metal." All hail.

Get "Hell on Earth III."

Tuesday, February 24, 2004

Review: Opeth, "Lamentations"

Always evolving and moving forward, Opeth takes another chance on their latest release, the live DVD "Lamentations."

Recorded at the Shepherd's Bush Empire in London, the DVD features a real rarity, a complete performance of the band's mellow 2003 release "Damnation." That album, the companion piece to 2002's heavier "Deliverance," showcased the band's melodic side in a way that fans had never seen. It's a blending of folk, psychedelic rock and other influences with no distorted vocals and little distorted guitar, a stripped-down declaration of the band's talents.

The show chronicled on this DVD is a gutsy move for the band. It takes some moxy to take the stage in front of a group of rabid death metal fans and play what is, in essence, an acoustic set. Singer Mikael Akerfeldt makes reference a couple of times from the stage to the band being a little nervous, and well they should. Extreme metal fans are known for their fierce loyalty, but they're not known for embracing change in their favorite bands.

Opeth has always been the exception to that rule, though. They built their name on 10-minute epics with complex arrangements and strange musical shifts. Over the course of a 10-year career, the band has been constantly on the move, and most of their fans have followed. The evidence is on this DVD, as fans pump their fists with just as much vigor to the slower songs in the first set as to the metallic second set.

The band's performance is note perfect. There's not a lot of stage show - no pyro, no elaborate set, no rock star posturing. It's an honest performance from a band that's just happy to be doing what it does. (When was the last time you saw a rock guitarist take a minute to tune on stage, rather than just trading his guitar for a new one?) For Opeth, it's all about the music. But the live show is no less entertaining for that - in fact, it makes it all the more powerful, highlighting the band members' superb musical skills.

The band also uses the first set masterfully to build excitement, tension and drama for the second set. It comes to a head when the band launches into "The Master's Apprentices," throwing fans into a frenzy for the second helping, which focuses mainly on the "Deliverance" and fan-favorite "Blackwater Park" albums.

As an added bonus, the DVD contains a 65-minute documentary about the making of the companion albums "Deliverance" and "Damnation," which gives fans an insight into the internal workings of Opeth.

Get "Lamentations."

Review: God Forbid, "Gone Forever"

With their latest release, God Forbid join the ranks of a new breed of American metal bands like Shadows Fall, Killswitch Engage and Chimaira that don't mind mixing and matching their favorite parts from all the various subgenres of heavy music.

To see a perfect illustration of this, you have to look no farther than the first single off this album, "Better Days." It pummels you into submission during the verse, then lifts you back up with a melodic chorus that will burn its way into your head and get stuck there.

The whole album follows suit. It takes elements of hardcore, death, thrash and good old-fashioned melodic metal and creates a Frankenstein monster that's just as volatile and just as fascinating as Mary Shelley's creation.

I can't resist a good melodic vocal with a vicious call-back scream, and this album is packed with them, most notably "Washed Out World." But the band can also rip out a good straightforward exreme metal number, too. Check out "Anti-Hero."

The New Jersey-based quintet tears through nine songs on "Gone Forever," each as good as the last. From the thrash of "Force-Fed" to the bludgeoning "Judge the Blood," the album is outstanding from start to finish. Welcome to the future of extreme metal.

Get "Gone Forever."

Tuesday, February 10, 2004

Review: Damageplan, "New Found Power"

Pantera fans, rejoice. Founding brothers Vinnie Paul and "Dimebag" Darrell Abbott have called in reinforcements for their MIA bandmates and recorded an album that will have Pantera fans asking one question - Phil who?

They had big shoes to fill on vocals, but former Halford guitarist Patrick Lachman was up to the challenge. Lachman can do a spot-on Phil Anselmo impersonation in case the band wants to roll out some Pantera tunes, but he's also got a versatility that allows him to do much more than just be a clone of his predecessor. (Take a listen to "Reborn" or "Soul Bleed" to hear another side.) The band's tattoo artist Bob Zilla takes over on bass, laying down a solid bottom end.

With song names like "Breathing New Life," "New Found Power" and "Reborn," it's not hard to figure out that a lot of the songs are about new beginnings and reflect the band's struggles over the past few years. (There's also a very pointed jab at Anselmo.)

The album is a new beginning in more ways than one, though. Without the expectations of a Pantera album, Dime and Vinnie took the opportunity to stretch their songwriting skills, resulting in a much more varied album.

While numbers like the title track, "Breathing New Life" and "Explode" are ripped straight from the Pantera songbook, there are songs you'd never hear on a Pantera album, like the acoustic "Soul Bleed," the earthy "Moment of Truth" or "Pride" and "Save Me," which come down more on the commercial side of today's metal scene. In essence, they can have their cake and eat it, too, with pummelling songs that will satisfy Pantera fans and a few that could find crossover success.

Is it a new Pantera album? No. Half the album is too mellow, and it just doesn't have the same spark. But it's as close as we're likely to get.

Get "New Found Power."

Review: Into Eternity, "Buried in Oblivion"

Into Eternity first wowed me with their 2002 release "Dead or Dreaming." Its high-powered blend of progressive and extreme metal was surprising and refreshing.

The Canadian quintet returns with a much more ambitious offering for their official Century Media debut. "Dead or Dreaming" was all about the hooks, focusing on the progressive side and melodies that stick with the listener. There's nothing on this album that I'll hum for weeks like "Absolution of the Soul" from the last record, but the songs here are much more complex and engaging.

The focus on "Buried In Oblivion" is fully on the heavier side of the band, even veering a bit into the black metal realm on songs like the outstanding "Dimensional Aperture" and "Beginning of the End."

The band also embraces its Canadian roots. "Point of Uncertainty" sounds so much like Canadian thrash legends Annihilator that I had to check the liner notes to make sure Jeff Waters hadn't joined.

For those who prefer the progressive side of the band, there's a treat in the companion pieces "Buried in Oblivion" and "Black Sea of Agony." The first is a soft song with some nice orchestrations which leads perfectly into the second song, which would have been right at home on "Dead or Dreaming." There's some very nice vocal play on this album between Chris Krall and Tim Roth with interesting swaps and harmonies. The clean vocals sound at times like Geddy Lee and at others like a young Geoff Tate and the death vocals run the gamut from shrieks to rumbling growls.

With this album, Into Eternity shows that it has more to offer than a few catchy hooks. They're definitely a band to watch.

Get "Buried in Oblivion."

Tuesday, January 27, 2004

Review: Force of Evil, "Force of Evil"

If you miss the good old days of heavy metal, then this is the album for you.

When I was growing up, there was no band darker or more evil than Mercyful Fate, with the power riffs of Hank Shermann and the ear-piercing wail of King Diamond. Now Shermann, tired of waiting on bandmate King Diamond to come back into the fold, strikes out on his own. He's recruited Mercyful Fate alums Michael Denner and Bjarne Holm, former King Diamond bassist Hal Patino and vocalist Martin Steene, for a debut album that, not surprisingly, sounds an awful lot like Mercyful Fate.

In fact, listening to songs like "Eye of the Storm" and "Samhain," I could almost imagine myself back in those leather-and-spikes days. They're songs that can hang with the best of Mercyful Fate.

Though he tries on songs like "Under the Blade," Steene doesn't quite have the vocal chops of King Diamond, but he's more than adequate to carry the songs, and those who don't like King's shrieks and growls might even prefer him.

Musically, the album is solid. Guaranteed to get any old school metal fan banging his head.

Get "Force of Evil."

Tuesday, January 13, 2004

Review: Iced Earth, "The Glorious Burden"

Here's one history lesson that should sway even the most unstudious music fan. Iced Earth guitarist and founder Jon Schaffer outs himself as a history buff on this album, which also marks a historic moment for the band.

When long-time vocalist Matt Barlow departed to return to college, he left a huge void. Fortunately, a Judas Priest reunion with Rob Halford left singer Tim "Ripper" Owens looking for a job. Owens stepped in and laid down some incredible vocals on this album. No longer confined to sounding as much like Halford as possible, Owens stretches out on "The Glorious Burden," and the results are fantastic. It's obvious he believes in his new band because the vocals on this album are more passionate than any of his phoned-in performances as a hired gun with Judas Priest.

The songs on the album - the typical crisp, fast, precise Iced Earth fare - cover key points in American history, from the signing of the Declaration of Independence ("Declaration Day") through the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks ("When the Eagle Cries," "The Reckoning"). It also explores world history with Attila the Hun ("Attila") and famed World War I pilot Manfred von Richthofen ("Red Baron/Blue Max") providing the subjects for two of the strongest outings on the album.

But the heart and soul of this album is a song that almost didn't make the cut because of its length, an epic 32-minute piece based on the battle of Gettysburg. It's easily the most passionate piece of music Schaffer has ever put on an album.

He uses the music to great dramatic effect, perfectly punctuating the ebb and flow of the battle as it plays out in the lyrics. He also uses bits of Civil War-era songs like "Johnny Comes Marching Home" and "Dixie," at one point, blending them together in a nice symbolic gesture.

There are also some poignant moments lyrically in the three-part masterwork as a Confederate soldier contemplates having to cross swords with his best friend in "Hold at All Costs," and the band (with the help of Barlow) makes us privy to a haunting conversation between Generals Longstreet and Lee just prior to the ill-fated Pickett's Charge in "High Water Mark."

Though I'd like to think the best is yet to come, this could well be the crowning achievement of Schaffer's career.

Get "The Glorious Burden."