Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Review: Manimal, "The Darkest Room"

As much as I’d like for every record I hear to bring something new to the table, I know it’s just not possible. And in some genres, innovation just simply isn’t part of the game, so you look at how well the bands use the conventions.

When it comes to European prog/power, Sweden’s Manimal use those genre conventions just about as well as anyone in the field.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Review: Overkill, "Ironbound"

So many good records have come across my desk so far in 2010 that I’ve actually had to neglect a few that are likely to make my top 10 list for the end of the year. One of those is Overkill’s latest, “Ironbound.”

Despite the fact that I was a teenager during the band’s heyday, it was much later before I actually came to appreciate Overkill. But even if I had never come around to them, this album would certainly be enough to make me a fan.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Review: Barn Burner, "Bangers"

Here’s yet another entry in the parade of retro records that seem to be rolling in early this year, and like most of the others, Barn Burner’s Bangers is a pretty solid outing.

The Canadian outfit certainly draws influence from the early 1980s like the other retro bands I’ve heard recently, but they also dip back into the sludgy sound of 1970s metal and doom and sprinkle the upbeat energy of a garage band in places throughout the record.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Review: DareDevil Squadron, "Out of the Sun"

The members of DareDevil Squadron wear their varied influences on their sleeves on their debut album Out of the Sun, and, to be honest, it’s quite refreshing. There’s a dash of traditional metal here, a bit of 1970s hard rock there, a pinch of 1980s sleaze, just a touch of blues rock and even an occasional hit of down-South twang here and there, and it all comes together in a fun, high energy effort that’s totally old school, but doesn’t sound dated.

Much of what’s found on Out of the Sun may seem a bit out of character for three of the five members – vocalist Andrew Ross, guitarist Angus Clark and bassist Chris Altenhoff – who are perhaps better known for their work with the symphonic rock project Trans-Siberian Orchestra. Though there are shades of that background in places on this record, it’s much more of a stripped-down, raw and rocking affair.

The title track sets the tone for the record right out of the gate with a heavy helping of NWOBHM influence and just a shade of Savatage coming on the verses. It’s aggressive, energetic and signals good things. The band locks into a groove on the 1980s hard rocker “Punishment Fits” and then delivers a performance reminiscent of Paul Di’Anno-era Iron Maiden with “Forgotten Son,” which also features an undeniable chorus attack. Fourth track, “Back Lounge,” completes the introduction to the band with an irresistible, purely 1980s sleaze boogie about life on the road that’s lyrically perhaps a little silly but all done in tongue-in-cheek fun. It also offers a nod to where the band was born – during a conversation in the back lounge of a bus sparked by a session of viewing vintage Maiden concerts.

From there, DareDevil Squadron begins to explore the hard rock soundscape a little more. “Hero Falls” reminds me of Thin Lizzy’s “Jailbreak” with the start and stop riffing from Clark and fellow guitarist Aurelien Budynek and the half-spoken, half-crooned vocal style that Ross takes on. The most ambitious number on the record may be the protractedly titled “Chronicles of Sorrow Part 1 – An Eternity of Forgetfulness.” Ross breaks out the mandolin on the tune that opens with a Led Zeppelin flavor and casually morphs into a 1970s prog-rock piece. There’s a more metallic rumble toward the middle of the song, but the art rock leanings remain. The song shows the versatility of the band (as if the members’ past work doesn’t), but ultimately, I have to admit I prefer the more straight-up rockers.

They get back to that with the catchy “Streets of Montmartre” which has an arena rock sound, but keeps just a touch of the prog they showed off in “Chronicles.”

Two of the best songs come near the end of the album. “Power Trip” brings the funk, opening with a cool wah-wah guitar lick. The song feels a little like Kiss in places, but with superb musicianship (though I will say that the brief rapped bits might not have been the best idea.) That’s followed with the groovy blues rocker, “Faith Hope Love,” which is the smoothest song on the record. There’s a classy bit of ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons in the guitar sound and coolness drips off Ross’ vocal delivery on the verse.

They close the album with a straight-up, no excuses tribute to a major influence with “Lillian.” It’s a pure piece of Thin Lizzy worship that the band members readily cop to.

The five members of the band have a diverse background, with stints in hard rock, metal, symphonic rock and even bluegrass outfits. I find it interesting to hear the versatility of Ross here since for the last few years I’ve only really heard him sing huge operatic numbers like “An Angel Came Down” with TSO. Those performances certainly show his talent level, but he’s equally adept at the traditional metal and old school hard rock sounds found here. Clark has certainly also made a fan out of me with his impressive TSO performances, and his role here is perhaps the biggest surprise since I’m used to hearing him play sweeping, majestic passages. Here, he gets a chance to just cut loose on some down and dirty rock, and the results are great. Budynek is no slouch himself, and the team of Altenhoff and drummer Jason Gianni drive the groove of the record.

In all honesty, I can’t really find a single bad thing to say about this record, and that’s pretty unusual. I like it from start to finish. At the risk of sounding like the crazy lady on that stupid pest control commercial, it just … makes me happy. It rocks, it’s catchy and it’s fantastic fun. What more can you ask for?

Get "Out of the Sun."

Monday, March 15, 2010

Review: Armored Saint, "La Raza"

While I’m thrilled that Anthrax’s Scott Ian came to his senses and reconciled with vocalist John Bush, in a way I’m kind of glad they had the split. As a result, we end up with the first set of new material from Armored Saint since 2000's “Revelation.”

While the outings from Armored Saint have been few and far between since Bush left to join Anthrax in 1994, they’re always worth the wait, and “La Raza” is no exception.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Review: White Wizzard, "Over the Top"

When I wrote my review of White Wizzard’s High Speed GTO last year, I said that if they could deliver an album as good as the title track of that EP, I’d proudly wear the T-shirt, despite my inner editor’s strong objections to their spelling of the word wizard. Well, folks, my shirt is on the way because their full-length debut Over the Top may well be the best traditional metal record you’ll hear this year, or any year in recent memory.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Review: Shooter Jennings, "Black Ribbons"

It’s taken me several listens to finally get my head around this latest release from Shooter Jennings, and I’m sure it will take me quite some time yet to reach a final verdict on this unexpected turn.

It doesn’t come as a huge surprise to me that “Black Ribbons” is not a country record. Shooter’s rock ‘n’ roll roots run almost as deep as his country ones. He started his musical career in a rock band, he’s known to break into a jam of Black Sabbath’s “Sweet Leaf” while performing his own “Busted in Baylor County,” and the last time I interviewed him, we spent an enjoyable few minutes discussing the merits of Sabbath’s underrated 1975 album “Sabotage.” Pair that interest with the fact that his last record, “The Wolf,” was a more traditional country album, and it stands to reason that the rock would be out in force on this one. What is surprising, though, is the tangled web of influences that mix and mingle.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Review: Stygian, "Fury Rising"

On first listen, I thought I was going to really like Stygian’s Fury Rising. You see, I have this weakness in the eyes of many, and that’s the fact that I actually enjoy some of the more commercial acts like Godsmack and Disturbed. Though they have some aspirations to something a little heavier, that’s really the realm where Stygian fits. Unfortunately for me, that feeling I got on the first listen didn’t last over the course of the next few plays.

The band began life as a Metallica cover band, and it won’t take you long to figure that out.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Review: Armour, "Armour"

It seems that a lot of the albums I’ve gotten early this year have a heavy 1980s influence to them. Most have been surprisingly very good, a couple have been awful and then there’s the middle ground, where the full-length debut from Finland’s Armour falls.

There’s some fairly solid early-to-mid 1980s hard rock here, falling a little more toward the commercial end of the spectrum. The bands that come to mind when listening to the record are acts like Krokus and Fastway.