Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Review: Seven Witches, "Amped"

I've always had an appreciation for guitarist Jack Frost's blend of traditional and power metal, and Seven Witches' latest effort is no exception. The first thing you'll notice, as with any Frost release, is the in-your-face guitar riffs. "Amped" certainly has more than its fair share of them, from the opening track on.

Seven Witches have often been compared to Iced Earth, and there are certainly similarities beyond being among the few U.S. purveyors of this style of music. Both are led by an outstanding guitar player with a knack for cutting riffs, and new vocalist Alan Tecchio certainly fits into the mold of past Iced Earth wailers at times. Despite the similarities, Seven Witches is certainly no Iced Earth clone. Actually a closer comparison for me would be Chris Caffery's 2005 release "W.A.R.P.E.D.." It's got the same style and feel as this record, particularly on songs like "Fame Gets You Off."

One thing here that's a little different than the past is an obvious turn toward a classic traditional metal sound. The riffing is not always high speed or highly technical. For example, "Sunnydale High" features a prototypical, fairly simple, old school metal riff, and Tecchio's vocals get a little bit of a gruffer hard rock edge to them. The band also explores some electronic sounds on "Dishonor Killings," which has one of the catchiest melodies on the record. There's also a nod to prog in the opening of "Red," and a classic arena rock approach that leads into a galloping "Powerslave"-era Maiden sound on "Widows and Orphans."

A clear difference from Iced Earth comes in the area of songwriting. While most of the songs are not bad, some leave you scratching your head. "GP Fix," an ode to Moto GP racing, is one of the weaker premises for a song that I've heard. It's otherwise a good song, but I guess since I can't relate to the band's passion for the sport, it really doesn't connect with me. Likewise, "West Nile" is a little weird for me, perhaps because I'm from an area that gets hit pretty hard by the disease every summer, and it hits close to home.

There are a few middle grounders here, too. While I don't dislike the ballad "BE," it is a little vanilla when compared with the rest of the album. And I really just can't make up my mind on their cover of Billy Idol's "Flesh for Fantasy" because I'm such a fan of the original. The Seven Witches version is essentially the same, only crunched up a bit, but to me, the song seems to lose some of the nuances in translation. Tecchio also doesn't pull off the dark, mocking tone that Idol gave the song. That said, I don't hate it, and in fact, with Idol singing over this music, I might like it better than the original.

Frost's production here is solid, and almost perfect for the style. Ultimately, "Amped," like most of the other releases involving Frost, is pure, unadulterated top-shelf traditional metal.

Get "Amped."

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Review: Eddie Ojeda, "Axes to Axes"

When you think of great guitarists, Twisted Sister's Eddie Ojeda isn't the first person you think of - or even the 15th. In fact, if his name does come up, it's probably in one of those late-night, drunken naming sessions that's gone on way too long. I'm not knocking him as a player, just pointing out that he's not someone you usually think about.

That's why I was a little surprised when I got a copy of Ojeda's solo album "Axes to Axes." But Ojeda doesn't go in for the instrumental wankfest that you expect from a guitarist's solo album. There are a few showpieces here, but for the most part, he sticks to his strength, and that's writing punchy, undeniably catchy hard rock and metal tunes. It also doesn't hurt that the album gets some heavyweight help on the opening track from Ronnie James Dio. Rudy Sarzo, Joe Lynn Turner, and of course, Twisted Sister bandmate Dee Snider also put in appearances.

The guitar work here is solid, if not awe-inspiring. The riffs are great and the melodies hook you, but there's nothing lead-wise that makes me want to run grab my guitar and say, "man, I've got to figure out how he did that." Ojeda does cover a lot of territory here. "Please Remember" is a great 1970s hard rock song, and Ojeda's voice works very well for that style. He also flirts with funk on "Love Power" and Spanish stylings on "Senorita Knows." But by and large the biggest sound here is that of early Twisted Sister.

The shining moment on the album is his collaboration with Snider on the surprisingly menacing cover of the Beatles' "Eleanor Rigby." It's a galloping cover with Snider delivering the vocals in a mocking tone that fits perfectly. The funk-rocker "Love Power" is another strong moment, and of course Dio's appearance alone makes "Tonight" a memorable tune.

While most of the songs here are quite good musically, lyrically it's another story. Ojeda isn't very strong in that department, and it shows on songs like "Evil Does (What Evil Knows)". This is a nice, old-school Dio-style song that would have been great if they lyrics weren't so painfully awkward. It was intended to be a historical epic, and it comes closer to being a hysterical epic. Take the first verse: "In the minds of ancient leaders/only power rules/the only thing worth fighting for was gold and jewels/as they learn from their sins and mistakes, they become rich fools/now all their people will die cause they must rule." The fact that Ojeda delivers the vocals with such grave seriousness and drama only serves to make it more cringeworthy.

I make fun of "Evil Does" because the lyrics are easily the worst of the album, but other songs don't fare much better in that department. Dio helps out by putting his golden pipes to work to improve "Tonight" by giving the lyrics more gravity, but other songs don't benefit from the stateliness of a Dio.

If Ojeda finds a good lyricist to work with and just focuses on the guitar work, I think he's really got something to build a solo career on. Lyrics aside, the songs are otherwise strong, and "Axes to Axes" is a pretty damned good album from a surprising source.

Get "Axes to Axes."