Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Review: Dash Rip Rock, "Country Girlfriend"

If you went to college in Louisiana in the last 25 years or so, there's a good chance that you spent a few weekends with Dash Rip Rock. For my money, there's never been a better party band, and their first three records all still get regular time in my CD player.

Since 1991's live set, "Boiled Alive," though, the band's output has been spotty as they explored the elements of their sound. They've tried an alternative sound, a more country sound and even a concept album with 2007's punk-heavy "Hee Haw Hell," a redneck/Cajun take on Dante's "Inferno." They scored a hit in 1996 with the novelty tune "Let's Go Smoke Some Pot," but really have never gotten the widespread recognition that they deserve.

These days singer/guitarist Bill Davis is the only remaining member from the band's most popular lineup. Drummer Fred LeBlanc split after the band's 1989 record "Ace of Clubs" to form Cowboy Mouth. Bassist Ned "Hoaky" Hickel can't be coaxed off his boat in Florida these days. Still Davis has soldiered on, pumping out new Dash music, and current bandmates Eric Padua and Patrick Johnson complement his manic energy nicely.

On "Country Girlfriend," Davis and Co. return to a more Louisiana-centric sound, with quite a bit of Mardi Gras flavor sprinkled throughout. There's plenty of their famous tongue-in-cheek humor with some classic politically incorrect Dash-style numbers like "New Orleans Needs Stronger Dikes" (yep, your mind's on the right track there) and drinking songs like "It's the Beer" and "Beertown USA." There's some harder-rocking material as well, with the Internet pun-filled "Google This" and "Let the Trucks Roll," a tribute to truckers.

Davis also shows off the storytelling flair that's marked Dash's music in the past, as he sings about a Bourbon Street character in the swinging "BS Cowboy." And the more sensitive side is on display with the soft, acoustic "Please Come to the Mardi Gras."

While there's not a song here that's, in my mind, as powerful as "Endeavor" from their self-titled debut, energetic as "Johnny Ace" or as fun as "Bum Fuck Egypt," it still sounds like a Dash Rip Rock record after all these years. "Country Girlfriend" is as solid as any the band has released in the years since those first three albums. I can definitely imagine the smoky barrooms that I was in so many times with people waving a beer and singing along with most of these tunes and having a great time. And in the end, when you're talking about Dash Rip Rock, that's really all that matters.

News: God Forbid confirms split with guitarist Dallas Coyle

God Forbid has officially stated that longtime guitarist Dallas Coyle has left the band and Kris Norris (ex-Darkest Hour) will join the group for the Lamb of God tour, which kicks off Thursday. Doc Coyle further comments: “There have been a barrage of rumors and questions on whether or not Dallas has left God Forbid. It's true that Dallas has left the band. It's taken us a few days to confirm this definitely, and figure out what we were going to do considering the fact that we are starting a very important tour with Lamb of God this week.

“I don't want to go into the hairy details, but all I can say is that there was a mutual disagreement between Dallas and I, and the disagreement became angry on both sides, and he decided to sit out the tour the day we were supposed to leave. We later learned he did not want to tour anymore at all. Everyone in the band, including myself was upset and shocked. For me, it's a lot tougher because he's my brother and I have a very close bond with him. We've done everything together our whole lives, so it's difficult to deal with emotionally but I understand he has bigger responsibilities at home to care for. I wish he would've handled it in a different way, but I am not angry at him for leaving if he is unhappy with our situation. I really hope he finds success and happiness in his future pursuits.

“In the meantime, we've recruited ex-Darkest Hour shredder, Kris Norris, to fill in for the tour. We are currently doing a few warm up shows as a 4 piece to meet the LOG tour in Phoenix, AZ on April 2. Kris will be there for the start of the LOG tour though. I've been friends with Kris for years, and have an immense amount of respect for his playing. I look forward to playing with him, and I'm sure he will knock it out the park! Byron and I will pick up the slack with the vocals as much as we can. Thanks for everyone's continued support, and we'll see you on the road!”

GOD FORBID returned with the new full-length effort "Earthsblood," which has been met with rave reviews by critics and fans alike. The new offering scored the band their highest chart debut yet and came in at #110 on the Billboard Top 200. The group kicks off a massive North American trek this week alongside Lamb of God, As I Lay Dying, Children of Bodom and Municipal Waste as part of the No Fear Energy sponsored Wrath North American tour. The trek covers 35 markets through the U.S. and Canada, ending in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina May 15. Visit www.myspace.com/godforbid to view the tour’s complete routing and off-dates.

Courtesy: Century Media

Read the review of God Forbid's "Earthsblood."

News: Stratovarius to release 'Polaris' on May 26

Armoury Records (a division of Eagle Rock Entertainment) will release "Polaris," the new studio album from symphonic metallers Stratovarius on May 26.

Pioneers of progressive metal, Stratovarius blends rock influences with neo-classical passion. The album is a collection of 11 songs that thrive with powerful melodies, sophisticated arrangements, and supreme technical prowess. Vocalist Timo Kotipelto explains, “Polaris is a positive, powerful album that Stratovarius fans all over the world are certain to take to their hearts.”

Polaris was recorded in the fall 2008 at Hästholmen and 5by5 studios, in Helsinki, Finland. It was mixed by the legendary Mikko Karmila, who has a long history with the band. They hid themselves in a secluded cottage in the forests of Finland to focus on making the perfect record, and emerged with not only Polaris, but also a positive new outlook on the direction of their career.

With the addition of new guitarist Matias Kupiainen, Stratovarius (vocalist Timo Kotipelto, bassist Lauri Porra, drummer Jörg Michael, and keyboardist Jens Johansson) are ready to dominate the progressive metal empire. They will hit the road in May, embarking on an international tour that starts in Europe and ends in the States. This includes a stop at the renowned Wacken Rocks festival.

Track Listing:
1.) Deep Unknown
2.) Falling Star
3.) King of Nothing
4.) Blind
5.) Winter Skies
6.) Forever Is Today
7.) Higher We Go
8.) Somehow Precious
9.) Emancipation Part I
10.) Emancipation Part II
11.) Mountains Fall

Courtesy: Kayos Productions.

Monday, March 30, 2009

News: Lacuna Coil premieres new video

Italy’s Lacuna Coil has returned with a new full-length release, "Shallow Life," which is set for an April 21 North American release. The album was recorded with acclaimed producer Don Gilmore (Avril Lavigne, Linkin Park, Pearl Jam) at the famed NRG Studios in Los Angeles.

The group recently completed a new video for “Spellbound” that was shot in their hometown of Milan. To view the video, visit Artist Direct.

Cristina Scabbia (vocals) comments: “We had a great time shooting the video for ‘Spellbound’ and it also marks our first time working with acclaimed Italian director Saku in a location that's really peculiar. It was filmed in a very fashionable place: the restaurant ‘Gold’ located in Milan, Italy, which owned by the fashion designers Dolce & Gabbana, who kindly gave us the permission to film over there!

"The location provides the perfect atmosphere to express the ‘Shallow Life’ theme. Everything is really shiny and ‘bling bling’ and the band is performing in the middle of a golden room full of mirrors and giant chandeliers.

“The story is rounded out by some actors that are interpreting different aspects of being under a spell of something: the girl obsessed by her weight and look, the guy who wants to be a superman, the politician etc. We can't wait for you guys to see it and give us your impressions on the new album. See you all soon.”

A "Shallow Life" pre-order package is also exclusively available through CMDistro.com. The limited number package includes the "Shallow Life" CD, an 8x10 glossy band photo, a guitar pick, cover sticker and a choice between a necklace or belt buckle.

Lacuna Coil is also performing some new material on this spring’s “Music As A Weapon IV” festival with Disturbed and Killswitch Engage. The 38-city “Music As A Weapon IV” fest marks the group’s first run of North America in almost two years.

Courtesy: Century Media

Pre-order "Shallow Life."

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Unplugged: Five (mostly) acoustic records you should own

I've been strumming my acoustic guitar a bit more than usual the last few days, and it's gotten me thinking about some of the really good acoustic records by normally hard-rocking artists. When people decide to unplug, it's not always great. If you're a child of the 1980s like me, you probably remember MTV's "Unplugged," which featured a lot of bands that should have stayed plugged in. For every brilliant performance like Aerosmith's, there were plenty of painful performances, like, say, Poison. But some bands can do both just as well. Read on for my five favorite (mostly) acoustic records by otherwise hard-rocking bands.

1. Alice in Chains, "Jar of Flies." This, to me, is the epitome of a great acoustic hard rock record. It's not some phony, staged unplugging for a TV show. The seven tracks here are all raw and honest. It's an emotional, often dark journey from start to finish, and despite being perhaps the band's softest moment, it's just as heavy as anything they did plugged in. Jerry Cantrell's sometimes simple and sometimes intricate guitar work provides the base, and the moody drone of the late Layne Staley brings it all home. My only complaint is that it's far too short. An acoustic metal masterpiece.

Get "Jar of Flies."

2. Tesla, "Five Man Acoustical Jam." Laugh if you want, but I think Tesla got a bad rap in the 1980s by being lumped in with the Poisons, Warrants and Wingers. They were a great blue jean, roots hard rock band, and they prove it with this set that mixes acoustic versions of their own songs, a number of covers and some just for fun stuff. It's one of those rare live albums that makes you feel as though you were there and having a great time, and the performances are top notch as well. You know their cover of "Signs," of course, but also check out the acoustic version of "Gettin' Better" and their cover of CCR's "Lodi."

Get "Five Man Acoustical Jam."

3. Black Label Society, "Hangover Music, Vol. 6." Like Alice in Chains' "Jar of Flies," there's an honesty here that doesn't often come across in acoustic records by hard rockers. Admittedly, there are a few snoozers here, but it's hard to deny the power of songs like "Once More" and "No Other." Zakk Wylde's gravelly voice is perfect for these moody acoustic numbers, and this record is a powerful testament to what he can do when he turns the Les Paul down a little. (I don't want him to do that often, mind you.)

Get "Hangover Music."

(Sorry, for some crazy reason, there's no widget available for "Hangover Music.")

4. Nirvana, "Unplugged in New York." It's no secret that I think Nirvana is the most overrated band in the history of recorded music. Sure, they ushered in a new style of music, but there were far superior bands in that style -- Alice in Chains, Soundgarden, even Pearl Jam. Still, I agree with the Nirvana worshippers on one point: this record is brilliant. From the gritty opener "About a Girl" to a cool cover of Bowie's "The Man Who Sold the World" to a rocking cover of the Meat Puppets' "Lake of Fire," there aren't many skips on this record. It showed an artistry that I didn't believe Nirvana capable of prior to this record.

Get "Unplugged in New York."

5. Opeth, "Damnation." Perhaps it's a daring move for a progressive death metal band to take a break from the distortion and growls, but I'm glad they did. The result is a very haunting set of 1970s-influenced rock that continues to set the band apart from their contemporaries in the metal genre. While I certainly wouldn't want Opeth to turn to this full time, it's a welcome diversion.

Get "Damnation."

A few more worth checking out:

Godsmack, "The Other Side." I was actually quite surprised with this record. I couldn't really see Godsmack as an acoustic act, until I saw them do their live acoustic set. The performance really put me in mind of Alice in Chains, as does this record. It's perhaps not a comparison that the band would want, seeing as it's one they've gotten their whole career, but in this case it's a high compliment.

Alice in Chains, "Unplugged." Not as strong as "Jar of Flies," but a solid set of songs and a very powerful performance just the same.

Zakk Wylde, "Book of Shadows." This record was very jarring for me when it came out, and I still haven't come fully around to it, but I do have a great appreciation for it. And "Sold My Soul" is just an incredible song, maybe one of his best.

Disagree with me, or think I missed one? Let me know about it.

News: Judas Priest to perform "British Steel" in its entirety on U.S. summer tour

For the past few years, Judas Priest has unquestionably ruled the U.S. summer concert scene, having been a part of both the top-grossing Ozzfest and Metal Masters tours. And this summer, Priest has done it again, by uniting with Whitesnake for a series of stateside shows. Priest will be celebrating the 30th anniversary of the classic album "British Steel" (it was originally issued in April 1980), by performing the album in its entirety for the very first time ever live on stage! In addition they will be playing some old favorites.

Along with 1982's "Screaming for Vengeance" and 1990's "Painkiller," "British Steel" has long been considered one of metal's all-time classics. It was with this release that Priest truly broke through to the masses, with a pair of tracks that have become fixtures on rock radio - the enduring anthems "Breaking the Law" and "Living After Midnight." But like all classic albums, there is not a single weak track detected on "British Steel," as evidenced by such standouts as the perennial concert highlight, "Metal Gods," as well as "Rapid Fire," "Grinder," "United," and "The Rage," among others.

Produced by Tom Allom, "British Steel" was recorded at the Tittenhurst Park in England - which is a mansion owned at the time by former Beatle Ringo Starr, and previously owned by John Lennon and Yoko Ono. In 2001, the album was remastered and reissued with extra bonus tracks, and also, was the subject of an in-depth study as part of the popular "Classic Albums" DVD series.
"The opportunity to perform live on stage in its entirety the whole of 'British Steel' is a dream come true for all of us! We're really excited and looking forward to presenting the album live on stage - fans will be able to enjoy a taste of true heavy metal when it was in its early, raw state!" said the group in a statement. "Plus, we will of course be throwing in a few other Priest classics!"

2009 CONFIRMED TOUR DATES [more to be announced]:

July 1st The Family Arena St. Charles, MO
July 2nd Summerfest (Harley Davidson Stage) Milwaukee, WI
July 3rd Taste of Minnesota at Harriet Island * St. Paul, MN
July 7th Comcast Center * Mansfield, MA
July 8th CMAC * Canadaigua, NY
July 9th Molson Amphitheatre * Toronto, ONT
July 11th PNC Bank Arts Center * Holmdel, NJ
July 12th Nikon at Jones Beach * Wantagh, NY
July 14th Time Warner Cable Amphitheatre * Cleveland, OH
July 15th DTE Energy Music Theatre * Clarkston, MI
July 17th Moondance Jam * Walker, MN
July 18th Rockfest/Cheppewa Valley Music Cadott, WI
July 21st PNC Pavillion @ Riverbend Music * Cincinnati, OH
July 29th California Mid State Fair * Paso Robles, CA
July 31st Sleep Train Pavillion * Concord, CA
August 1st 98 Rock Jamboree @ Sleep Train Amp* Marysville, CA
August 2nd Gibson Amphitheatre * Universal City, CA
August 4th SDSU Open Air Theatre * San Diego, CA
August 5th Pacific Ampitheatre/OC Fair * Costa Mesa, CA
August 7th Dodge Theatre * Phoenix, AZ
August 8th Thomas & Mack Center * Las Vegas, NV
August 10th Sandia Casino Albuquerque, NM
August 11th Red Rocks Ampitheatre * Morrison, CO

Courtesy: Chipster Entertainment

Friday, March 27, 2009

Still Spinning: Savatage, "Hall of the Mountain King"

Editor's note: Still Spinning is an occasional feature where I revisit a record that I consider a classic.

It seems only fitting that as I christen the newest version of Hall of the Mountain King, I revisit the record that inspired the site's name way back in its first incarnation in 1997.

Just so there's no illusion of objectivity here, I'll go ahead and say before I begin that I'm a complete fanboy. Beyond the name of this site, Savatage's music has inspired me on many levels. It's often on the stereo as I write, and it helped shape my love of metal. In fact, Savatage is probably one of the three or four most important bands in my collection. But as much as I like all of their records, "Hall of the Mountain King" simply owns everything else they've done. There's not even a remotely weak song on the record from start to finish.

Let's start with a certifiable metal classic -- the title track (along with its companion piece "Prelude to Madness.") "Prelude," a metal spin on Grieg's "In the Hall of the Mountain King" builds slowly into a mad frenzy of guitar histrionics that leads to the gut punch of "Hall of the Mountain King." The song, in honesty, didn't need the crashing thunder in the opening because that memorable main riff from Criss Oliva gives it all the thunder and lightning it needs. Jon Oliva's vocals are also at their best on this song -- sinister and sardonic, with the trademark screams and that wicked laugh. On a side note, it was one of the highlights of my year last year when Trans-Siberian Orchestra granted one of my wishes by performing "Prelude to Madness" live. Perhaps it's a little sad, I guess, but when those first thunderbolts struck on the stage, I was like a kid who had just been handed a brand new bag of candy. Still, I wish I could have just gotten one taste of that "Hall of the Mountain King" riff, but alas, no such luck.

That two-song set, though, is just the high point of a powerful complete album from start to finish. There's the fairly simple, but very effective riff of "The Price You Pay," which ranks as another of the band's greatest tunes in my opinion. There's also quite a bit of variety on the record, ranging from the soft instrumental "Last Dawn" to the almost pop-rock "Strange Wings" (another great riff) to the full frontal assault of "White Witch." Top it all off with the Jon Oliva screamfest "Beyond the Doors of the Dark" and the dark, almost haunting "Legions," and you have a true metal classic.

I'll be honest in saying I don't think Savatage has ever done a remotely bad record (I don't really count "Fight for the Rock" as a Savatage record because it sounds nothing like them), but as much as I love "Gutter Ballet," "Streets" or just about everything else they've done, nothing comes close to touching this record. Criss Oliva's guitar is at its raw best here, untempered, unadulterated power. While it's not as refined or complex as their later records, to me, it's the perfect metal album.

Get "Hall of the Mountain King."

Thursday, March 26, 2009

News: New music from Black Sabb... um, I mean Heaven and Hell

Heaven and Hell, featuring Ronnie James Dio, Tony Iommi, Geezer Butler and Vinny Appice, (that's the second incarnation of Black Sabbath to us old geezers) have posted the new tune "Bible Black" from the upcoming album "The Devil You Know" on their official MySpace page. The record is set for release on April 28.

My first impression is that this song is much better than either of the two songs the band recorded for "The Dio Years" greatest hits collection a while back. "Bible Black" has much more of the feel of something from "Heaven and Hell" or "Mob Rules" than either of those songs.

It builds slowly with some dark, clean guitar work from Iommi. Dio's voice is in fine form here, as good as its ever sounded really. From there, it launches into a big, heavy riff and becomes a slab of a metal beast with all the groove and grace you expect from this version of Black Sabb ... um, I mean Heaven and Hell.

It's really good stuff. Check it out for yourself at www.myspace.com/heavenandhellmusic.

Preorder "The Devil You Know" now.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Review: Luna Mortis, "The Absence"

I was a bit surprised on picking up Luna Mortis' "The Absence" to find that I'd heard the band before. I remembered reviewing 2006's "Way of the Blade," which they recorded under the name Ottoman Empire. I didn't remember being very impressed by it. Maybe I should dig it out and give it another listen because their debut as Luna Mortis is a completely different story.

Blending elements of thrash, power metal, progressive and even melodic death metal, the Wisconsin-based band takes its cues from all over the metal map. Opener, "Ash," starts with an old school thrash gallop, then drops into an entrancing prog/power mode before exploding into a snarling Swedish-influenced death metal monster. It settles into a blazing power metal mode for the bridge before returning to a prog chorus. In some hands, that could become an unlistenable hodgepodge of styles. Here, though, it flows smoothly and naturally, which is the real appeal of Luna Mortis.

Vocalist Mary Zimmer has a nice middle-ground voice for female metal singers. While she can pull off the expected angelic bits, there's no overbearing soprano. She's, at times, reminiscent of Lacuna Coil's Cristina Scabbia, mixing tenderness and toughness, and her vocals are often hypnotic, as on the pure prog number "This Departure." That is, of course, when she's not snarling like a rabid beast on the death metal-influenced portions of the record. Guitarists Brian Koenig and Cory Scheider deliver tight, memorable riffs along with smooth and enticing leads. There's nothing incredibly fancy in their guitarwork, but it's perfect for the sound of the band.

Over the course of the record, Luna Mortis bounces in and out of styles with reckless abandon and marvelous results. The title song is pretty much a full-on melodeath number with just a few interludes of the more mellow stylings. It's an interesting counterpoint to a song like "Forever More," which is more of a straight-ahead European power metal number with soaring chorus vocals and upbeat guitar riffs. But the true strength of Luna Mortis is when they blend the styles together with songs like album opener "Ash," the aggressive thrasher "Never Give In" and the haunting "Phantoms."

"The Absence" is sure to bring plenty of comparisons, and if I had to simplify things, I'd say Luna Mortis reminds me a little of a cross between Dream Theater and Arch Enemy. But I think that would be really shortchanging the band and the ground they cover. The songs are memorable, the transitions are seamless, and though the year is young, I'd guess this record is destined to be one of my favorite of 2009.

Get "The Absence."

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Review: God Forbid, "Earthsblood"

This record had the misfortune of coming out on the same day as Lamb of God's "Wrath," and has gotten a bit shortchanged in my listening because of that. It's a shame, too, because this record is easily as good, if not better.

God Forbid came to fame as part of the metalcore movement which blended elements of metal and hardcore. While the subgenre quickly stagnated, a few bands progressed and improved. God Forbid's last record, "IV: Constitution of Treason," was one of the best of 2005 and showed a band on the move. It was a more melodic, more complex record than their previous work, offering a wider range of sounds. "Earthsblood" continues on that path, bringing in even more progressive influence.

That's not to say that God Forbid can't still deliver the blocks that built the subgenre -- chugging guitar riffs and shouted verse vocals mixed with more melodic and catchy choruses. They prove it with "War of Attrition," which despite being one of the more typical metalcore numbers is also one of the best on the record. They can still deliver a solid breakdown as well. Just check out the ferocious segment from "Empire of the Gun."

But what makes "Earthsblood" truly interesting is the even more varied progressive and melodic elements the band adds. Sometimes it doesn't work quite as intended. "The New Clear," for example, perhaps takes those aspects too far and comes off sounding a bit like a metal band trying to play Santana. But when they blend together, as on "The Rain," it's well above and beyond what the other bands in the subgenre are doing.

The star of this record, as with the last, are the guitars of Doc and Dallas Coyle. They unleash some primo riffs here, most notably on the thrashing opening of "Shallow" and the old-school hard rock opening of "Walk Alone." The vocals see some changes as well. Lead vocalist Byron Davis still rages away, but the record features more clean vocals and harmonies, which are used particularly effectively to punctuate Davis' snarls on the epic title track.

While many of their contemporaries in the metalcore subgenre stagnate and fade, God Forbid continues to push forward and get better with each record they release. "Earthsblood" is yet another triumph for what may be one of the most underrated bands in the metal world right now.

Get Earthsblood.

Submission guidelines for Hall of the Mountain King

UPDATE: I'll leave my old anal guidelines here for posterity, but these days I'm pretty easy. If your music is like the stuff you see on this blog, just shoot me a link to where I can listen to it. If I like it, I may write something about it. If not, I probably won't. That's it.

If you represent a band or a label and would like to have your music featured here, e-mail submissions@mountainkingmusic.com for details on where to send it.

I welcome music from both signed and unsigned acts. My primary music interests are hard rock and metal. I prefer music with strong melodies and at least the occasional hook. I have a secondary interest in outlaw country, Southern rock and blues and will consider submissions in those genres. I will attempt to review every record that I receive, but be aware that I will be completely honest in my reviews, love it or hate it. If you'd like to direct me to a MySpace or some other place where I can sample your music to see if I might like it before you send me a review copy, I'm willing to do that. I'm not one of those reviewers who loves to trash records. I'd rather use my site to promote music I like.

I prefer to receive review copies on CD for a couple of reasons. The first being the purely personal love that I have for the physical product, and the second being that I do most of my listening for review on the go and need something portable. (Full CDs with liner notes will get brownie points.) I'll also accept high-quality digital files as long as they offer me the same portability as a CD. About the only thing I will not at least attempt to review is a voiceover CD because I find them unlistenable.

If you have any questions, feel free to drop me a line at submissions@mountainkingmusic.com. Thanks.

Review: Alestorm, "Leviathan"

In a 2008 filled with great metal records, Alestorm's "Captain Morgan's Revenge" may not have been the best from a musical standpoint, but when it comes to pure, unadulterated, campy fun, no one topped these Scottish pirate metallers.

In time for a U.S. tour, and in anticipation of the follow-up record due out later this year, we get this four-song EP. The record opens with the title track, a six-minute ode to the fabled beast of the deep that has just as much camp as last year's record, if not quite as much fun. It follows the power/folk metal blend that they established on the last record, though it lacks the big hook that so many of those songs had.

Less interesting is a reworking of the tune "Heavy Metal Pirates" from their original demo, which is more corny than fun, and a German version of "Wenches and Mead" from the last record.

The centerpiece of this EP, though, is a song called "Wolves of the Sea," which I'm told by a European friend is a cover of an awful pop song by a Latvian band called Pirates of the Sea. It seems to have been tailor-made for Alestorm, though, and it delivers all the fun and silliness that I expect from them. Yes, it's a bit goofy, but it's also impossible to get out of your head.

While history is littered with metal bands that take a gimmick too seriously and make a joke of themselves, the difference here is that Alestorm is in on the joke, and they play it to the hilt. If you're a fan of power or folk metal with a sense of humor, it's sure to leave a big grin on your face. I'm looking forward to the full record later this year.

Get "Leviathan."

So what's this all about?

If you've arrived here from the original Hall of the Mountain King page, you're probably wondering what the heck this is all about. Well, the explanation is simple. Of all the stuff that I threw at the wall on that page, what really stuck was the music content. It's what most people came there for, and this spinoff gives people the chance to get to that quicker without wading through my other ramblings. It also offers me the opportunity to do a little more than reviews, so you can look for regular news updates, and, perhaps, even an interview or two from time to time. Basically I'm just expanding the reach of the site in the music realm.

If you want to read my book reviews, random rants and musings about the Saints, they're still available at the old site, and I'll keep adding to those as well, though not as frequently as this site.

Finally, if you're new here and don't have a clue what I was talking about in the first two paragraphs. Welcome. This site is just what the title says, music reviews, news and more. Hope you enjoy.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Review: Lamb of God, "Wrath"

My appreciation for Lamb of God was a slow evolution. After hearing their debut "New American Gospel," I pretty much wrote them off as boring and repetitive. The follow-up, "As the Palaces Burn," was a little more interesting, but the first song from the band that really caught my attention was the stop and start riffing and stronger melody of "Laid to Rest" off their major label debut, "Ashes of the Wake."

It wasn't until Lamb of God's last record, 2006's "Sacrament," that they completely won me over. With stronger melodies, more expressive vocals from frontman Randy Blythe and a strong thrash influence, it became my favorite record of that year and made "Wrath" one of my most anticipated releases of this year.

On first take, "Wrath" offers a bit of a throwback to their earlier records. The hooks don't come quite as easily here as they did on "Sacrament," and there seems to be an effort to make the record sound heavier. Still, the thrash influences that they picked up on "Ashes" and "Sacrament" shine through. The band locks into an almost Pantera-like power groove on occasion. "Dead Seeds" may be the best example of that, bordering on Pantera worship at points, but it pops up in smaller doses throughout the album. There's also more of the Testament influence that we heard on Sacrament, particularly in Blythe's vocals early in the record on songs like "In Your Words," and the chorus of first single "Set to Fail."

While the hooks here aren't always conventional, they do have a way of burrowing into your head. A couple of listens to a song like "Broken Hands" and it will play in your head for days.

When the more melodic newer sounds of Lamb of God collide with the old intensity, it's also a potent mixture. Check out the venomous "Fake Messiah," one of the strongest performances here. It opens with a pounding snare, reminiscent of "Black Label" from the band's debut record, but offers much more musically and melodically than anything from that record.

Blythe continues to expand and explore his vocal range, even throwing in some clean vocals here and there throughout the record. The style is reminiscent of Phil Anselmo and a far cry from those monotonous roars of the band's early work. Guitarists Mark Morton and Willie Adler continue to improve their chops as well with some great riffing and a little more exploration and layers on top of those chunky riffs. They also add to the variety by blending a few mellower passages into the raging attack including a couple of brief acoustic interludes.

Will the heavier parts of "Wrath" be enough to win over those long-time fans that were turned off by the stronger melodies and hooks of "Sacrament?" I don't know. But it's certainly a satisfying record for those of us who were won over by those same elements. "Wrath" manages to walk that fine line between melody and heaviness that few modern bands seem to be able to hold.

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