Friday, December 24, 2010

Heavy inspiration

Hopefully, you’ll forgive me for a little sappiness on Christmas. Since I’ve done the metal Christmas song bit a couple of times, I thought I’d try something a little different this year. Instead, I’m going for inspirational hard rock and metal tunes. I’m not talking about religious tunes (as some of the choices will clearly show) or, necessarily, songs that will inspire others. These are simply songs that have inspired or moved me for some particular reason over the years. Feel free to discuss your own in the comments section, if you wish.

“Believe,” Savatage. In my mind, this is one of the finest rock songs ever written – period. It’s amazing. It’s moving. And no matter my mood, it’s a song that always makes me feel better and more hopeful. It’s far from the only Savatage song that I find inspiring (at least half this list could have been from the band), but it’s far and away the most inspiring.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Review: Athorn, "Phobia"

Phobia, the debut album from Germany’s Athorn, seems to be right up my alley. In the vein of a band like Kiuas, one of my favorite discoveries of the last 10 years or so, Athorn blends power metal melodics with thrash and groove and maybe just a little hint of death here and there. I love the combination, and while it’s not a perfect melding, Phobia is a very promising debut.

In the band’s heavier moments, they sound a lot like Lamb of God, particularly on second track “Emperor of Ruins.” There’s the chunky down-tuned riffing, and vocalist Carsten Frank doing his best Randy Blythe impression. But in the more majestic moments, there’s much that will win over the power and melodic metal crowd.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Review: Symphorce, "Unrestricted"

Fans of Symphorce are likely to be split on their latest record, Unrestricted. The album moves the band farther away from the progressive and symphonic elements of their earlier work and puts more of a straight-ahead hard rock spin on their sound.

Album opener “The Eternal” gives us a dark piano intro that sounds promising, but quickly moves into a groove-driven traditional metal/hard rock guitar riff. I like it, since I happen to be a fan of groove-driven hard rock, but those looking for the band’s old sound will likely be disappointed. “Whatever Hurts” takes the shift a step further, opening with a very 1980s hard rock influenced guitar riff. Vocalist Andy Franck also uses a more restrained vocal style on much of the record, particularly on this track. There’s a Nevermore-ish bent to “Whatever Hurts,” and his vocals sound a bit like a cross between Warrel Dane and Dave Mustaine. A huge memorable chorus on the song should win over just about any fan of melodic metal, though.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Review: Circle II Circle, "Consequence of Power"

I’ll preface this review, as I usually do, by admitting to my fanboy admiration for Savatage and the projects of the various members. That said, Zakk Stevens’ Circle II Circle has never completely connected with me since the band’s best effort, their debut record Watching in Silence in 2003. Their last outing, 2008’s Delusions of Grandeur, might have done that if it hadn’t been for the awful mix on the record. Their latest effort, Consequence of Power, sounds much better than the previous, but still is a bit flat and dry in places.

Musically, though, there’s a nice mix here. Naturally, with Stevens’ vocals out front and in your face, there will be comparisons to Savatage, and as with past Circle II Circle efforts, there’s much of his old band. But he offers up some variety, too.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Review: Spiritual Beggars, "Return to Zero"

I remember being a little taken aback the first time I heard Michael Amott’s side project Spiritual Beggars. Being familiar with his work in Carcass and Arch Enemy, what I heard was not at all what I expected, but being a classic hard rock fan, I enjoyed it.

The band’s latest effort, Return to Zero, doesn’t change the formula a whole lot. Perhaps it dials back the psychedelic and puts a little more hard rock edge out front, but it won’t be a foreign sound to fans of previous records. There’s a heavy 1970s rock vibe on this record and a strong Deep Purple influence.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Review: Firewind, "Days of Defiance"

Firewind has long been one of the steadiest, most reliable acts in the power metal genre. Despite guitarist Gus G.’s newfound stardom as Ozzy Osbourne’s latest guitarist, nothing has changed on the band’s latest record Days of Defiance.

The record comes blazing out of the gates with “Ark of Lies,” a tune that has everything fans have come to expect from Firewind. It’s a fast-paced, melodic and memorable. If anything, Gus’ guitar work here is leaner, meaner and more focused, as on the traditional opening riff of “Chariot,” the chunky riffing under the keys on “Killing in the Name of Love” or the almost thrashing opening of “The Yearning.”

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Review: Kamelot, "Poetry for the Poisoned"

I’ve always liked Kamelot, and over the years, I’ve enjoyed just about everything they’ve done. But I’ve never been a hardcore fan. So maybe it’s a little strange that a record which is somewhat experimental for them has quickly become my favorite offering in their catalog.

The elements that have always made up Kamelot’s music are still there – strong melodies, operatic and dramatic flair, and, of course, Roy Khan’s powerful and hypnotic vocals. But there’s certainly a more progressive direction here. That’s always been a part of their sound, but it gets pushed a little more to the forefront on some of the tracks. There’s some flirtation with electronic sounds and a harsher vocal here and there, and the usual bombast, though still present, is dialed back in places.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Review: White Wizzard, "Shooting Star"

So it’s been about six months since White Wizzard’s full-length debut, Over the Top, blew me away. It’s a record that will most certainly be near, if not at, the top of my year-end list. But much has changed for the band in those few months. They’ve lost a guitarist and singer Wyatt Anderson, who turned in a such a fantastic performance on that record. This single serves as both a tribute to the late Ronnie James Dio and the introduction of new singer Peter Ellis.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Review: Dimmu Borgir, "Abrahadabra"

I’ve never been a huge fan of black metal, a dabbler at best, but hearing “Progenies of the Great Apocalypse” from Dimmu Borgir’s 2003 outing “Death Cult Armageddon” made me an immediate fan. Then again, the hardcore black metal crowd would probably tell you I still don’t like the genre because Dimmu Borgir is no longer part of it, and they’ve sold out because more than five people know who they are. Maybe they’ve got a point.

Certainly, what’s on the band’s latest effort, “Abrahadabra,” bears little resemblance to other acts in the genre, apart from the raspy vocals and a few occasional blast beats.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Blast Beats: Disturbed, Jaldaboath, James LaBrie

Here are quick shots of a few more recent records:

Disturbed, "Asylum"
After delivering their best effort since their debut with 2008’s “Indestructible,” Disturbed had me really looking forward to this record. Much like “Believe,” the follow-up to their debut, “Asylum” is a disappointment. The songs here are not as catchy as those on “Indestructible” and, like “Believe,” they lean more toward the mellow and melodic. I know a lot of people don’t like David Draiman’s “monkey screams,” but to me, when he uses the more melodic approach, his vocals are like wallpaper, and that’s the case here.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Review: Halford, "IV: Made of Metal"

A glance at the cheesy, amateurish cover of Halford’s IV: Made of Metal, likely wouldn’t inspire metal fans to give it a second glance if not for the fact that it bears the Metal God’s name. Luckily for the legendary screamer, it’s not what’s on the cover, but what’s under the hood, and Rob Halford’s latest effort with his solo band has the power where it counts.

That’s not to say that there’s not plenty of cheese factor to the music, too. The chorus of the title track is practically made out of aged cheddar. It’s silly and campy, particularly at the beginning with the quintessentially 1980s synthesizer. But it’s a tasty variety of cheese. I dare you to listen to it a couple of times and then get it out of your head. It’s insidious in the same way as the theme songs of the kids’ shows my son watches on TV.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Review: Flotsam & Jetsam, "The Cold"

The last Flotsam & Jetsam record to make an impact on me was 1995’s Drift. While I know that some fans of the band will disagree, I consider that record one of their finest moments. I loved the more progressive slant, and as much as I like No Place for Disgrace and Cuatro, it remains my favorite record from the band. In all honesty, with the exception of High, which I found quite disappointing, I haven’t spent much time with the last few Flotsam & Jetsam records, but there was something about their latest effort, The Cold, that grabbed my attention quickly.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Overkill: Songs that I could use a break from

Since my XM subscription expired, I’ve been listening to regular radio in my truck off and on, and after hearing many of the same songs over and over, I started thinking about songs by bands I like that I’d probably be perfectly happy if I never had to hear again. In many cases, these are songs that I really enjoyed at one time or another, but I’ve heard them so often they bring a groan every time I hear the opening notes. So, while I realize no one will listen to me, I nominate these songs for a long break. Feel free to argue the point.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Review: King Giant, "Southern Darkness"

King Giant may hail from Virginia, but the sludge they dish out on Southern Darkness sounds like something raked up from the bottom of a muddy Louisiana swamp. The sound is dense, like a dark, menacing beast that pays tribute to metal legends like Black Sabbath, walks hand-in-hand with sludge contemporaries like Down and Crowbar and even incorporates the influences of outlaw country and Southern rock – all things that I love.

Though I like just about everything on the record, the band is at its best when it gets the right balance of those elements.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Blast Beats: Iron Maiden, A7X, Kingdom of Sorrow

Sometimes I find myself with many more records than I have time to review, so I have to pick and choose my reviews based on what I like better or what my fellow writers at other outlets are doing. Sometimes, though, I’d still like to say a little something about those records, so I’m going to try a new feature out and see how it works. From time to time, I’ll collect three or four of these records and just give a quick paragraph or two take on them. Here are the first three.

Review: Jamey Johnson, "The Guitar Song"

I know that many of my fellow underground country music fans consider Jamey Johnson something of a shill to the Nashville establishment, an artist to stick between a couple of glitzy pop songs every now and then to appease fans looking for real country music. I’m not up enough on the Nashville scene to make a judgment on that, but what I can judge is what I hear on Johnson’s latest double album, “The Guitar Song.” And what I hear is a lot of honesty, conviction and dedication to the roots of country music. No, it’s not perfect, nor does it deliver much that country music fans haven’t heard before, but it’s a solid record rooted in the brand of country delivered by the likes of David Allan Coe, Hank Jr. and Waylon Jennings.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Review: Blind Guardian, "At the Edge of Time"

I remember when I used to get excited about a new Blind Guardian release, but since their 1998 masterpiece Nightfall in Middle Earth, everything they’ve released has been somewhat disappointing. That, unfortunately, doesn’t change much with their latest, At the Edge of Time.

For me, this record is often maddeningly frustrating as it offers short blasts of the Blind Guardian I love only to settle back into the boring, middle of the road stuff found on 2006’s A Twist in the Myth. The opening track “Sacred Worlds,” which clocks in at 9:20, pretty much encapsulates the whole record.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Review: Accept, "Blood of the Nations"

For those familiar with my musical tastes, it might come as a bit of a surprise that I was never a big fan of Accept. Oh, I’ve got a copy of Restless and Wild and Balls to the Wall, but for some reason I never really connected with the band. When it was announced that they had found a new singer and were recording a new album, it barely made a blip on my radar. That is, until I got Blood of the Nations in my hands.

This record rocks, plain and simple. The sound will be very familiar to fans of Accept’s classic material, yet it doesn’t sound dated or hokey. It’s everything that I want in a traditional metal album – heavy, melodic and catchy as hell.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Formative 15

A couple of weeks ago, there was a thread going around Facebook asking people to name 15 albums that were important in their lives in 15 minutes or less. I wanted to add my own, but I couldn’t do it. Rather than list the first 15 records that I really liked off the top of my head, I wanted to take some time to really think about it and get it right. Yeah, I know the spontaneity was kind of the point, but it’s just how I’m built when it comes to talking about music.

Note that this list does not represent my 15 “favorite” records. While a few of these would certainly make that list, there are a few here that I haven’t listened to in their entirety for years. These are records that, in some way, shaped my musical tastes and led me to being the hack music writer that I am today.

The Formative 15 part 2: The Best of the Rest

So, like I said in my post on The Formative 15, I started out with about 100 records on my list, but when I had pared it down to 15, there were still some that I really wanted to mention. Since I can never do what I set out to do and just leave it be, I’ll leave those that care with a few more that were close, but didn’t quite make the cut. Amazon links also provided, where possible.

Charlie Daniels Band, “Fire on the Mountain” (1974). Released before the peak of his popularity, this record contains some true classic CDB tunes, including my favorite “Long-Haired Country Boy.” I immediately latched on to the message of that song, and took it on as a kind of personal anthem. Though my long hair has been gone for a while, the idea behind the song still rings true.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Review: Black Label Society, "Order of the Black"

The four years since Black Label Society’s last outing, the lackluster Shot to Hell, have been quite tumultuous for bandleader Zakk Wylde. He’s had some pretty serious health issues, been forced to give up the booze and been kicked out, then brought back in, then kicked out again of Ozzy Osbourne’s band. The good news for fans is that, sometimes, adversity creates good music, and Wylde definitely has his groove back on Order of the Black.

The newfound energy here probably stems just as much from taking a needed break as from the turmoil of the last few years. In the early part of the decade, Wylde was pumping out a new Black Label Society record every year, and no matter how prolific you are, there’s only so long you can keep that up and continue to produce good music.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Review: Black River, "Black 'n' Roll"

In recent years, a few hard rock efforts from members of black metal groups have crossed my desk. I’m not really sure what the connection between black metal and old school hard rock is, but apparently there is one. The latest is Black ‘n’ Roll from Black River, featuring members of Behemoth, Dimmu Borgir, Neolithic and Rootwater.

There’s one problem that I’ve come across with most of these offerings – the vocals. One of the reasons that I’m very choosy about the extreme metal that I listen to is that in so much of it, the vocals seem to be almost an afterthought.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Review: Soilwork, "The Panic Broadcast"

Often when a beloved band member makes a comeback, there’s a tendency for fans to heap praise on that record when it’s not always completely warranted. To my ears, that’s kind of what’s happening with Soilwork’s “The Panic Broadcast.” The truth of the matter is that Soilwork has rarely disappointed me, and “The Panic Broadcast” is a very good record. But the return of guitarist Peter Wichers has returned and, just about everywhere, people are gushing about this record. To me, though, it’s another in a steady stream of Soilwork releases, and certainly not a better record than their last outing “Sworn to a Great Divide,” which was, for me, something of a comeback record.

Review: Heath Forbes, "Caught in the Middle"

Heath Forbes may call Nashville home these days, but it's obvious from one listen to his latest record "Caught in the Middle," that his heart is still in Louisiana.

It begins with album opener "Where the Cypress Meet the Pine," a Hank Jr.-influenced country rocker that serves as an introduction to Forbes' home state and is loaded with references for other natives.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Review: Soulfly, "Omen"

When Sepultura and Max Cavalera parted ways in 1996, fans were the ones who got the shaft. Instead of the thrash powerhouse we’d had up to that point, we got two mediocre acts that, while both having their moments, never came close to delivering anything with the power of Arise or Chaos A.D.

Over the course of his past several records with Soulfly, though, Cavalera has slowly started to change that.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Review: Wuthering Heights, "Salt"

I remember being asked to review a Wuthering Heights CD a few years back for Teeth of the Divine, and I remember two things about that record. First, the Emily Bronte-inspired band name that wouldn’t really entice me to pick it up otherwise, and second, that I didn’t really care for it much. I guess things can change in a few years.

I initially passed on an offer to review their latest, “Salt,” for Teeth, but decided after reading Erik Thomas’ review of it there to give it a chance. I’ve been pleasantly surprised.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Review: Annihilator, "Annihilator"

I’ve been an Annihilator fan since I heard the first strains of album opening instrumental “Crystal Ann” from their 1989 debut Alice in Hell. By the time the second track, “Alison Hell,” was over, I was devoted. The band’s been through some ups and downs over the years, but they always seem to bounce back strong at some point.

Don’t read too much into the eponymous title of this record. This is certainly not a reinvention or re-imagining of the band. If you’ve followed Annihilator over the years, nothing on this record is going to surprise you. Guitarist, founder and primary driving force Jeff Waters does pretty much what he’s always done – high energy thrash with a tight barrage of fast riffs, wailing leads and the occasional grooving breakdown to interrupt the pure fury.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Review: Flametal, "Heavy Mellow"

I’m a bit of a collector of offbeat recordings. I love strange stuff like (good) parodies, metal tunes covered by groups in other genres (and vice versa), metal Christmas tunes, etc. Given that, and the fact that I’ve always been a closet fan of flamenco guitar, Flametal’s Heavy Mellow was a must-listen for me.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Review: Nevermore, "The Obsidian Conspiracy"

Nevermore’s latest outing, The Obsidian Conspiracy, is at once recognizable as a Nevermore effort yet still not quite like anything they’ve done before. The primary hallmarks of the band’s style are there: tight performances, fantastic musicianship and the unmistakable combination of Jeff Loomis’ blazing guitars and Warrel Dane’s distinctive vocals. But there’s something of a peeling back of the more progressive elements that have become a bigger part of their sound over the years and certainly a toning down of the aggression of their last outstanding effort, This Godless Endeavor.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Review: Jorn, "Dio"

Unlike the avalanche of Ronnie James Dio tributes that are sure to be headed our way in the coming months, Jorn Lande’s tribute was begun some time ago, when the metal legend was still very much alive. That, to me, puts it in a different league as a heartfelt tribute to the man and his music rather than a cold cash grab taking advantage of a tragic loss. That’s felt from start to finish on a record that is respectful, celebratory and would have been just as poignant if released before Dio’s death.

Jorn takes an interesting approach in selecting the songs, opting for songs that are meaningful to him rather than the “big” songs that might be expected.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Review: Sons of Liberty, "Brush-fires of the Mind"

So Iced Earth guitarist Jon Schaffer, who has always seemed a very patriotic sort, has now launched a side project Sons of Liberty and electronically self-released a debut record Brush-fires of the Mind (out today in physical form on Century Media). The project is heavily political and obsessed with conspiracy theories. He’s said that he intends the band and its website to become a “think tank,” so he obviously has aspiration for it beyond just music. That’s all well and good, but first you have to have the music, and most of the songs from this record are mediocre at best.

Not surprisingly, Sons of Liberty sounds an awful lot like Iced Earth. Since his primary band is practically Schaffer’s solo project anyway, there’s not a lot that’s musically different other than the inclusion of sound bites from political speeches.
I’m not sure who else is involved in the project as there’s no list of contributors on the site, but Schaffer handles the guitars and vocals, and therein lies the first problem.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Review: Danzig, "Deth Red Sabaoth"

When it comes to Danzig, the first three records, in my book, are certified classics. After that, it’s a mixed bag. Yeah, I know most everybody loves IV, but I’m in the minority that thinks it’s just a mediocre record with a few great songs. Blackacidevil, well, let’s just not go there. Satan’s Child and I Luciferi both have their moments and failures for me, and I do have to be honest and say that I’ve never heard Circle of Snakes in its entirety after getting pissed off at his publicist at the time who sent me a “review copy” containing 45 second clips of each song. Really?

So I approached Deth Red Sabaoth hoping for good things, but expecting another mediocre outing. I love a surprise, and I certainly got one here.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Review: Ozzy Osbourne, "Scream"

In listening to Scream, one has to wonder why Ozzy was in such a rush to change guitar players. Just about every guitar riff on the record was quite obviously written by Zakk Wylde (the claim is that producer Kevin Churko wrote them, but if so, he's a great Wylde mimic), and though Gus G. plays them, it still sounds, with the exception of a few notable moments, more or less like Zakk Wylde. So, if you’re expecting a big departure from what you’ve heard from Ozzy due to the addition of Gus G., then you’re going to be somewhat disappointed.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The year at the halfway point

I always like to take a minute at the halfway point of the year to look back at the top moments so far. To be honest, sometimes it’s hard to put together a top 10 list after six months, but it’s not a problem at all this year. It’s been a year of fantastic records, with hopefully many more to come.

The flood of good records, unfortunately, has been overshadowed by the loss of legend Ronnie James Dio, and a great deal of my music listening time has been devoted to the various stages of Dio’s superb career. Still, I’ve found plenty of time for new music, too, and here are my favorites so far.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Review: Masterplan, "Time to Be King"

Jorn Lande makes his return to Masterplan on their latest effort, Time to Be King, and it makes all the difference.

The band’s 2007 outing, MKII, without Lande at the helm, was an OK effort, but he was definitely missed. This record makes the absence obvious. With Lande on the mic, they’re a much more powerful outfit.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Review: Exodus, "Exhibit B: The Human Condition"

I understand that there are some people out there who don’t like Rob Dukes-era Exodus, and I get that. But I, for one, love it. The three records that feature Dukes, including this latest effort, have been some of the heaviest and most aggressive in the band’s entire catalog.

If you didn’t like The Atrocity Exhibition: Exhibit A, then Exhibit B will not likely be to your tastes either. In tone, style and heaviness, the two records are quite similar. The songs here are, for the most part, fast, brutally heavy and on the long side.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Review: Avantasia, "Angel of Babylon"

Projects that feature a who’s who of artists from a genre usually disappoint me. No matter the gathering of talent, it usually just doesn’t quite gel. One exception to that rule in the past has been Tobias Sammet’s Avantasia. Once again, for the most part, he overcomes that with the double release of The Wicked Symphony and Angel of Babylon. A big difference is that Avantasia remains Sammet’s vision, rather than taking on the characteristics of the other artists.

What he doesn’t overcome is the curse of the double album. Typically, they only contain enough really good material for about one record and some uninspired filler. It could be because I started with Angel of Babylon and was just tired by the time I got to the middle of The Wicked Symphony, but Angel seems to be the much stronger release of the two.

Review: Avantasia, "The Wicked Symphony"

The other half of Tobias Sammet’s two-album Avantasia release, The Wicked Symphony, doesn’t fare quite as well as its counterpart Angel of Babylon. It, too, has its moments, but overall seems just a little too generic power metal in places.

Like its companion piece, The Wicked Symphony opens with a longer, more epic number in the title track. This is one area where this record is better. The song opens with some symphonic adventure movie orchestration and features some dramatic riffing. It’s far better than the forgettable opening track of Angel of Babylon.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Review: Jon Oliva's Pain, "Festival"

I’ve been a fan of Jon Oliva since the first time I heard Savatage, and I honestly don’t think that anything he’s ever touched has turned out remotely bad. (OK, I do try to block out Fight for the Rock). In my mind, he’s one of only a handful of creative geniuses in metal, and he never seems to sit still. He took Savatage from a traditional metal outfit to a symphonic metal force working with producer Paul O’Neill and has even transitioned the basic Savatage sound into commercial success with the symphonic rock spectacle of Trans-Siberian Orchestra.

Even still, the transition that he’s made with his new outfit Jon Oliva’s Pain has been fascinating to me.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Review: Godsmack, "The Oracle"

From time to time I catch a little grief in metal circles because I like some of the more commercial hard rock acts like Godsmack and Disturbed. Quite frankly, though, I’m way too old to play the “who’s more metal” game. I like what I like, even if it is commercial.

On their last record, “IV,” Godsmack experimented with some new flavors and sounds. I thought there was some good stuff on the record, but I didn’t love it. For their latest, “The Oracle,” they’ve returned to the sound that got people’s attention in the first place.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Review: Hank Williams III, "The Rebel Within"

It’s not surprising that Hank III’s final album for Curb Records wouldn’t be his best effort. He’s been fighting the label to get the music that he wants to release out in a timely fashion for a long time and has been fighting to get out of the contract for years. “The Rebel Within” accomplishes that goal and starts a new era for III. Unfortunately for fans, it’s a seriously mixed bag with not a lot of real energy.

It’s not a complete throwaway record, though. There are a few definite reasons to check it out, the foremost being “Karmageddon.”

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Review: Poisonblack, "Of Rust and Bones"

I could really use a new Sentenced album about now. Unfortunately, that won’t be happening, so I have to settle for the next best thing – singer Ville Laihiala’s Poisonblack.

My relationship with Laihiala’s side project turned main project has been up and down. I wasn’t wild about the debut record with a different vocalist, but the follow-up, Lust Stained Despair, with Laihiala back on the mic, was among my favorite records for 2006. When 2008’s A Dead Heavy Day came around, I couldn’t get into it. Granted, times were better then, so I just might not have been in the mood. Of Rust and Bones, on the other hand, has arrived with perfect timing.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Review: Kiuas, "Lustdriven"

I’ve been telling everyone who will listen about Kiuas since I first discovered them with 2005’s Spirit of Ukko. It was a convincing blend of power, thrash, folk and just a touch of death metal that was a highlight of my listening that year.

They’ve gone through a few phases since then while keeping basically the same sound. Their last outing, 2008’s excellent New Dark Age focused more on the heavier end of their sound. The newest, Lustdriven, trends more toward the power and thrash end of what they do.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Review: Brainstorm, "Memorial Roots"

I’ve been a big fan of Germany’s Brainstorm since I discovered them with 2003’s Soul Temptation, and their last outing Downburst remains a favorite from 2008. When it comes to power metal with traditional leanings, the band is about as consistent as they come.

Their latest effort, Memorial Roots, which came out last year overseas and makes its way to the U.S. this year, doesn’t quite hit me as hard as Downburst did, but it’s still a solid and enjoyable effort.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Ronnie James Dio, 1942-2010

There’s no shortage of great things to say about metal legend Ronnie James Dio based purely on his body of work, from his earliest recordings with Elf and Rainbow, to his multiple stints with Black Sabbath and his stellar solo career. Inarguably one of the greatest voices in metal and the guy credited with bringing the “horns” hand gesture into the metal world (his superstitious grandmother used it to ward off the evil eye) Dio made the kind of impact on his genre that few artists achieve.

But in the hours after learning about his death, it isn’t so much his music that I keep thinking about, but a moment in the summer of 2002 when I had the pleasure and privilege of spending about half an hour with him.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Review: John 5, "The Art of Malice"

To be honest, I’ve been over the guitar god shred instrumental album for a long time now, but in recent years, I’ve become more and more impressed with the work of John 5 every time he pops up somewhere. That interest was enough to get me to give his new record “The Art of Malice” a shot.

Granted, there’s a lot of showy shredding here, as on any instrumental guitar record, but by and large the songs here are actual songs, not just a conveyance for John 5 to pack as many notes as possible into. Like any good tune, the songs here follow progressions and have solid hooks, albeit musical ones rather than vocal ones.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Review: Extreme, "Take Us Alive: Boston 2009"

Extreme’s return to the music scene in 2008, “Saudades de Rock,” was a pleasant surprise, packing a 1970s hard rock flavor. They finished up the tour for that record in 2009 in their hometown of Boston and have captured that performance for their new CD/DVD “Take Us Alive.”

The record offers up a nice mix of new and old, even throwing in some tracks from their 1989 eponymous debut, which guitarist Nuno Bettencourt once spurned, and even the all-but-lost 1995 record “Waiting for the Punchline.”

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Review: AC/DC, "Iron Man 2"

This record is such a softball that it’s hardly fair for me to review it at all. A collection of previously released songs from a hard rock icon like AC/DC is so easy that I almost feel bad about it, but for my three loyal readers, I’ll persevere.

I’ll admit that I’m not a huge AC/DC fan. They’ve always been one of those bands that I enjoy in small doses. If “Dirty Deeds” or “Hell’s Bells” comes on the radio, I’ll crank it up and rock out, but you’ll only find a few of their records on my CD rack.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Review: Krokus, "Hoodoo"

Life is full of surprises.

When the link to download a promo of Krokus’ latest arrived in my inbox, I rolled my eyes. I never was a big fan of the band in their heyday, and I doubted they could do anything to win me over at this late date. But about halfway through the second track, “Hoodoo Woman,” I was stunned to find myself grooving along to the 1970s Aerosmith feel of the track. I had pictures of that goofy video for “Screaming in the Night,” and I couldn’t believe I was really digging this.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Review: Mob Rules, "Radical Peace"

Germany’s Mob Rules fits in that large category of European power metal bands that have just never connected with me personally. Generally, I prefer the mid-tempo style the band employs more than the speedsters, but, despite a few bright moments here and there, I’ve largely been unmoved by their work.

After draggy album opener, “Children of the Flames,” which feels like it goes on forever despite the fact that the running time is only about seven and a half minutes, I thought I was in for more of the same with their latest, Radical Peace. Things picked up with second track “Trial by Fire,” though, a more uptempo galloping piece with a big chorus.