Sunday, December 30, 2012

Best of 2012: Hard rock and metal Top 10

Editor's Note: This is the second in a four-part series looking at my favorite albums of 2012. 

For hard rock and metal, 2012 certainly wasn’t the best year that I can remember. In all honesty, there were only a few albums that came across my desk that really excited me. The ones that were good were really good, but where I’m usually deciding which ones to toss out of my top 10, this year it was more a case of deciding which ones to put in …

No. 10

 SHADOWS FALL – FIRE FROM THE SKY: This is really the record that I wanted from Shadows Fall after their stellar 2002 release The Art of Balance, which had me proclaiming them the next big thing in metal. They disappointed me on that count with a string of mediocre records, but this one kind of gets the fire back. There’s a nice blend of heaviness and melody, and while some people were disappointed by the heavy dose of melodic singing, I think it offers a great contrast to Brian Fair’s hardcore bark. The album is filled with killer riffs and rocks from start to finish.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Best of 2012: Hard rock and metal honorable mentions

Editor's note: This is the first in a four-part series looking at my favorite releases of 2012.

I'll start my look back at 2012 with some hard rock and metal honorable mentions, disappointments and a look ahead at 2013 releases.

Pharaoh – Bury the Light: You pretty much know what you’re getting with Pharaoh, and they delivered again on this record.
Prong – Carved into Stone: Probably the comeback album of the year, Prong gets back to the hooks, melodies and thrash that made their early albums so appealing.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Review: Texas Hippie Coalition, "Peacemaker"

If somewhere in the Lone Star State there were a city where Pantera Boulevard crossed Skynyrd Street, at that intersection, you’d probably find the world headquarters of Texas Hippie Coalition.

The band describes itself as Red Dirt Metal, and it’s as good a description as any. Like the bands that are often identified as part of the red dirt movement, THC has elements of southern rock, country and other genres, but they also add a bit of extreme to the mix, drawing on the power grooves of Pantera, the heavy rock of Black Label Society and even the occasional modern metal influence.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Still Spinning: Queensryche, "Operation: Mindcrime"

“I remember now.”

Damn, this album is fantastic. I always seem to forget just how good it is when I go a little while without listening to it. Then, every now and then, usually when a disappointing new Queensryche record — or in this case, a Geoff Tate solo album — hits the shelves, I find myself reaching for it again. Each time, I’m amazed all over by how great it is and how well it holds up nearly a quarter century later.

I’m sitting at my desk on a Saturday night working when I pop the CD into my computer and put the headphones in. The opening of the concept comes on with the nurse coming in to check on the psychiatric patient, that deep “I remember now” after she leaves as he begins to recall events and the slowly building instrumental piece “Anarchy-X” that eventually explodes, after a brief lull, into the soaring “Revolution Calling.” By the time we hit the first chorus, I’m alternately playing air drums and guitar and bobbing and banging my head to the music. I’m getting strange looks across the room, but I don’t care. You have to enjoy this record properly.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Review: Geoff Tate, "Kings and Thieves"

I have hope now that I might one day hear a good Queensryche album again. The latest solo outing from former frontman Geoff Tate makes it pretty clear who has been in control of the band’s creative direction recently.

If you’re looking for a sequel to the band’s awful 2011 album Dedicated to Chaos, this is your record. It’s got limp rockers, it’s got banal ballads pretending to be more than they are, it’s got an arrogant air of self-importance, it’s got saxophone, it’s got Tate rapping. In short, it’s an absolute mess — worse than I even imagined that it would be.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Review: Dio, "The Very Beast of Dio Vol. 2"

The Very Beast of Dio Vol. 2 picks up where the first volume left off in Dio’s solo career and features tracks from 1996 onward.

It’s an interesting period for me in that it features both what I consider Dio’s weakest work, 1996’s Angry Machines, and the record I consider an underrated masterpiece, 2000’s Magica. Also from the time period are two other pretty good studio albums – Killing the Dragon and Master of the Moon – and a couple of live projects, only one of which is represented here – Inferno: The Last in Live.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Review: Chris Knight, "Little Victories"

Chris Knight actually does what most of the Nashville songwriters think they’re doing. He connects with country’s perceived blue-collar audience.

But real connection doesn’t come through lyrics about pickup trucks and dirt roads. It comes through truth, honest emotion and hitting people where they live. Knight has always excelled at those things, and that doesn’t change on his latest record, Little Victories.

 It’s very much an album for the times. A great many of the songs focus on the down economy, hard times and social strife, but instead of blaming one politician or another and spouting a bunch of rhetoric, Knight sings about cinching up your belt, pulling yourself up and getting it done. That is, after all, what the vast majority of Americans are doing.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Review: Aerosmith, "Music from Another Dimension"

I think it speaks volumes that after hearing a few advance tracks, I had this record in hand for three days before I ever listened to it.

You see, I’m an Aerosmith fanboy in the worst way. My 11th commandment, once upon a time, was “thou shalt have no rock band over Aerosmith.” I’ve waited on a store to open to buy a new Aerosmith record. At one point, I probably had a different Aerosmith T-shirt for every day of the week. In high school, I was routinely late for school if Aerosmith were on MTV or the radio because I wouldn’t leave until the song was over. I got in fights with people who had the audacity to say Aerosmith sucks.

Truth is, though, Music from Another Dimension kinda sucks.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Review: Crazy Lixx, "Riot Avenue"

Maybe it’s a longing for simpler, better times, but I’ve found myself listening to a lot of 1980s-influenced hard rock lately, both comebacks from bands of the era and newer acts that play the style. Perhaps no one I’ve heard nails it better than Sweden’s Crazy Lixx.

Riot Avenue is the band’s third release, but it’s my introduction, and I may have to go back and check out their previous albums. What we’ve got on this record is a very faithful reproduction of the better aspects of the glitzy 1980s hard-rock scene. The songs here are all catchy numbers with great guitar riffs, tight harmonies and big hooks. Had it been released 25 years ago, no doubt it would have been a huge record. This is a band that sounds like it actually belongs to the era rather than a group of guys who were probably toddlers during the heyday of the scene.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Review: Jackyl, "Best in Show"

The output from these Kennesaw, Ga.-based rockers has often been uneven since their 1992 debut, but when they hit their stride, it’s great fun. They hit it hard on Best in Show, possibly the best record they’ve put out since their 1994 sophomore outing, Push Comes to Shove.

Best in Show delivers exactly what you’re looking for in a Jackyl album – sleazy party anthems that owe more than a small debt to the likes of AC/DC and classic Ted Nugent.

You have to listen no further than the first single from the record, “Screwdriver,” to see what this album is all about. Yeah, singer Jesse James Dupree’s pregnant pause in the delivery of the chorus – “I wanna screw … driver” – is completely predictable, but it doesn’t make it any less entertaining.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Review: Ozzy Osbourne, "Speak of the Devil" DVD

First off, the name of this DVD might be a little confusing. Though recorded on the same 1982 tour, this is not the visual companion to Ozzy’s album of the same name. While that record was made exclusively of his versions of Black Sabbath classics, the setlist on this DVD primarily pulls from his solo works. In fact, we only get a trio of Sabbath songs – “Iron Man,” “Children of the Grave” and “Paranoid” to round out the evening.

 The show, filmed in June of 1982 in Irvine Meadows, Calif., highlights a strange period in Ozzy’s career. Guitarist Randy Rhoads, who was responsible for most of the big riffs and searing solos on these songs, had died in a plane crash only months earlier in March. For a time, Ozzy thought that he might not want to go on, revealing in his 2010 autobiography that he told his wife he didn’t want to be a rock ‘n’ roller anymore.

Those feelings, seemingly, hadn’t quite been put on the shelf by the time this show was recorded, as it’s somewhat uneven. At times, Ozzy looks like the madman we know and love, at others, he’s almost uncomfortable on the stage.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Review: Blackberry Smoke, "The Whippoorwill"

I apologize in advance if this review becomes very personal, but there are just some times that you listen to a record and know that it’s going to be a big part of your life for a long, long time.

It hasn’t happened to me in quite a while, but the feeling was instant on my first run through the latest from Blackberry Smoke. The songs on The Whippoorwill hit me right where I’m living right now, which makes it mean a little more to me. That aside, it’s just filled with incredible songs, funky Southern grooves and hooks that the original Skynyrd lineup would be envious of.

This is Blackberry Smoke’s third full-length album, and while I’ve enjoyed their previous records, I’ve never come close to loving them this much.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Stuck in my Head: Jorn, "Ride Like the Wind"

Who could have guessed that a Christopher Cross song would have so much traction in the metal world? 

This is at least the third heavy cover of the song that I’m aware of. British metal icons Saxon recorded it in 1988, and the extra-vowel-loving thrash act Speeed, featuring members of Annihilator and Seven Witches, remade it in 1999.

Of the three, this cut from Jorn’s recent Frontiers Records release, Bring Heavy Rock to the Land, is also my favorite.

Norwegian wailer Jorn Lande is, in my opinion, one of the top hard rock vocalists out there today. He mixes the best elements of big voices like Ronnie James Dio and David Coverdale for a bold, powerful and classic delivery. That voice brings some much-needed power to the song.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Review: ZZ Top, "Texicali"

Now this is more like it.

When we got our first taste of new ZZ Top music a few months back with “Flying High,” I was seriously disappointed. I didn’t like it. It wasn’t even close to what I was hoping for from the pairing of Top and Rick Rubin.

Then came the Jeremiah Weed spot featuring “Gotsta Get Paid,” and my interest level immediately jumped back up. After watching the commercial a couple of times, I couldn’t get the “25 lighters on my dresser, yessir” refrain out of my head and searched in vain for a full version of the song to hear, right up until the four-song EP Texicali dropped.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Stuck in my Head: Metallica, "Escape"

The decision to play 1984’s Ride the Lightning in its entirety a couple of weeks ago for their inaugural Orion Music and More Festival brought a historic moment for Metallica. It intrigued me so much that I tuned in to Fuse TV’s live stream of the concert online to see it.

The sixth track on the album, “Escape,” is one of only a handful of songs from their catalog that the band has never played live. Oh, there’s been a snippet of it in a medley here and there over the years, but they’ve never played the whole song, and it’s said that no one in the band really likes it. I can’t understand that since it’s one of my favorite tunes on the album.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Review: Twisted Sister, "Club Daze Vol. II: Live in the Bars"/"Live at Hammersmith" (remasters)

It’s been a good few weeks for Twisted Sister fans. First, Dee Snider’s Dee Does Broadway hit the shelves, now the Armoury Records Remaster Series delivers a double-dose of live music for the band’s SMFs.

First up is Club Daze Volume II: Live in the Bars, remastered by bassist Mark Mendoza. Originally released in 2001, the album starts with a pair of 1984 studio tunes that didn’t make the band’s classic Stay Hungry album – “Never Say Never” and “Blastin’ Fast & Loud.” Both were finished and recorded for this album’s original release. Neither are as strong as anything from Stay Hungry, but both are solid tunes. “Blastin’ Fast & Loud” is the winner between the two, capturing a little more of the raw sound.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Review: Dee Snider, "Dee Does Broadway"

You can thank a couple of warped senses of humor for this gem: The idea for Dee Does Broadway was born out of voicemails that the Twisted Sister frontman and Alice Cooper exchanged, each singing show tunes to the other.

Snider decided to take it a step further and record rock versions of some of the biggest songs from Broadway. His only criteria was that they couldn’t be rock songs to start with – nothing from shows like “Jesus Christ Superstar” or “Rent.”

My only complaint is that, among the guest stars on this record, he couldn’t get Alice to drop by and do something with him. The prime candidate for a Cooper/Snider duet?: “The Ballad of Sweeney Todd.” If ever there was a show tune made for a creepy, crazy metal treatment, this is it, and Snider’s version is fantastic.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Review: Alice Cooper, "The Strange Case of Alice Cooper"

Though certainly not the wildest of Alice Cooper’s live shows, the performance captured on The Strange Case of Alice Cooper is definitely one of his most interesting.

Originally released on VHS in 1979 and out of print for decades, the show has recently been re-issued on DVD by Shout Factory. It was recorded shortly after his famous stay in a mental hospital, and features a healthy dose of songs from his 1978 record From the Inside, which documented that experience.

It opens with a spoken bit from Vincent Price – in the guise here of a strange-looking Cyclops in a doctor’s outfit that I can’t explain, and listening to the commentary, apparently Alice can’t either. From there, he launches into a few energetic rockers in “From the Inside,” “Serious” and “Nurse Rozetta.”

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

New music from Testament

Click below to listen to "True American Hate," the new song from classic thrashers Testament.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Review: Firewind, "Few Against Many"

While Gus G’s debut with Ozzy Osbourne was a pretty disappointing mess, with Gus as primarily a hired gun playing other people’s riffs, his other outfit, Firewind, has yet to disappoint.

It’s not that they do anything out of the ordinary or innovative in the power metal world. It’s just that they do what they do so well. It’s a very guitar-driven, traditional-influenced power metal sound, and they’re one of the most consistent acts out there doing it.

Few Against Many gets started right where you expect it to with first single “Wall of Sound.” There’s a very awkward part in the first verse where vocalist Apollo Papathanasio delivers this strange “yeah, yeah, yeah” line. After that it recovers quickly and settles into the band’s niche with a big chorus. It might not be their best effort from a lyrical standpoint, but gets things started on a good foot.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Review: Accept, "Stalingrad"

Accept’s 2010 album Blood of the Nations, one of my favorite records of that year, served as sort of an introduction to the new incarnation of the band and featured some departures from what I expected going in. Stalingrad, on the other hand, takes a small step back toward the band’s history with a sound that’s more along the lines of their classic material.

Album opener “Hung, Drawn and Quartered” announces the intention quickly with aggressive riffing, a big gang vocal chorus and singer Mark Tornillo delivering some of the lines in a more Udo-esque snarl. It’s a great way to start the record, but the energy doesn’t hang around the way it did on Blood of the Nations. I’m not sure if the band felt fans wanted more of the old sound on this one or what, but the regression is, at times, a little disappointing, especially given how awesome the last record was.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Review: Prong, "Carved Into Stone"

I was less than impressed with Prong’s last outing, Power of the Damager. I preferred it to the more industrial stuff they’d been doing, but it hasn’t returned to my rotation in the nearly five years since it came out. I thought it was OK, but didn’t have a lot of passion or energy.

So I approached the new record, Carved into Stone, with only moderate interest. Tommy Victor and Co. fixed my lack of interest with the first track “Eternal Heat,” which blasts out of the gate with a squealing, energetic guitar riff and pummels the listener over the head for about four minutes. The message at the end of the song is clear – the energy and fire are most definitely back.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Review: Slash, "Apocalyptic Love"

After being less than impressed with Slash’s last solo album and its parade of guest stars, and being only a marginal fan of Velvet Revolver or Slash’s Snakepit, I didn’t go into Apocalyptic Love with my hopes too high.

Sure, I figured there would be a few good songs among a lot of uninspiring filler, but I was completely unprepared for what I got: This, friends and neighbors, may well be the best record that Slash has been involved with since Appetite for Destruction.

I’ll admit up front that I’m not sold on Myles Kennedy as a vocalist for this style. There’s no denying that the guy has a fantastic voice, but there are still times here when I’d much rather he use a little less range and a little more attitude. That said, I think he manages to provide a very good foil for Slash, and the record is much the better for it.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

15 Years, 15 Records: 2007 -- Down does it again

Initially, I didn’t like Down’s third record, Over the Under, as much as the first two, but it didn’t take long for me to come around.

The things that give Down so much appeal for me are there – that organic sound that blends all the various influences of their New Orleans home into an amazing stoner/doom sound.

Like all of their records, Over the Under is driven by those big, grooving guitar riffs of Pepper Keenan and Kirk Windstein, but this album is helped by some very personal lyrics from Phil Anselmo. “Mourn,” in particular, stand out. The song was written after Anselmo was barred from the funeral of “Dimebag” Darrell Abbott, and the emotion is raw and gritty.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Review: Bob Wayne, "Till the Wheels Fall Off"

There could be no better way to open Bob Wayne’s upcoming album than with the title track, “Till the Wheels Fall Off.”

If you don’t know anything about Wayne going into this song, you’ll know everything you need to know about him once it’s over. It pretty much sums up how the former guitar tech for Hank III approaches music and life.

The song starts with Wayne making loud train whistle noises. It’s a warning that the album is chugging down the rails at you like a runaway locomotive. The ride begins with this rocking, uptempo country anthem to Wayne’s love of life on the road and his dedication to keeping it going “till the wheels fall off this motherfucker.” It tells you up front what you’re getting with Till the Wheels Fall Off, and Wayne fans would expect no less.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

15 Years, 15 Records: 2006 -- Gone country

If I went back for my whole life, 2006 would probably be the only year that a country album would lead my best-of list. For 2006, though, my top two records are country.

If I had to pick the best record for the first decade of this century, it would be tough to not pick Hank III’s Straight to Hell for its impact on me, personally, and on the underground country scene in general.

While Johnny Cash’s American Recordings in 1994 was the album that reintroduced me to country music and opened me up to listening to some of the classic artists of the genre, it was Straight to Hell that led directly to my discovery of artists who are playing a more traditional form of country today.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Review: Lyriel, "Leverage"

The first impression that Lyriel’s Leverage makes on the listener is a little deceiving.

After listening to the title track, which is the first real song on the record, I thought they were a pretty good Lacuna Coil knock-off with some traditional metal leanings. Heard it before, I thought, but I’m glad I pushed forward.

With the next track, “Parting,” my meh turned into something a little more interested. It opens with a djentish guitar riff, then a violin rises up over that and gets things kicked into a rollicking folk metal tune. It pulled me deeper into the record to “Voices in My Head” and its driving main riff.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Review: Trixter, "New Audio Machine"

If there’s one thing I should have learned by now in all my years of commenting on music as an amateur and professional, it’s this: Be sure you’re right before you make a smartass comment or you may end up eating it.

Can someone pass me the salt and pepper?

When I saw a new Trixter release on my list of upcoming records, I snarked offhand at Something Else Reviews. I thought I was about as safe as I could be. Unlike a lot of bands of the era, I never liked Trixter. I heard their self-titled debut in 1990 and thought it was just another generic entry into a rapidly devolving hard rock scene. I’m pretty sure I didn’t even know they released a second album until I read the press info accompanying New Audio Machine.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Review: Tenacious D, "Rize of the Fenix"

With album art that gives new meaning to the term “cock rock,” Tenacious D rises again from the ashes. With Rize of the Fenix, they’re destined to rule the rock world like the cocks of the walk. They release their inhibitions and rock out with their … OK, enough bad jokes about the cover.

It is, however, a near-perfect summation of what the team of Jack Black and Kyle Gass are all about. Crude? Yep. Juvenile? You bet. Hilarious? Most definitely. There’s also a devious intelligence in their lampooning of the rock-star attitude as they pay homage to some of the very people that they’re poking fun at and deliver songs that worm their way into your brain — despite your best efforts to keep them out.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Review: Hank III, "Long Gone Daddy"

After years of battling with Curb Records to have his albums released, Hank III finally broke free from his contract a little over a year ago. Now, it seems Curb has no problem releasing his records.

This is the second they’ve put out since he left, following up last year’s Hillbilly Joker, a rock album they refused to release when it was recorded in 2003.

Long Gone Daddy wasn’t quite as contentious as that release. It collects some songs from III’s earliest recording sessions, along with tunes that he did for various compilations while he was at Curb. There are a few originals, a few alternate takes, a few covers of his grandfather’s songs and a few covers from other artists. All in all, it’s a collection that should please fans who have been turned off by his flirtations with rock and metal. And, if I’m being honest, even I have to admit that it’s better than some of the records he’s turned out in recent years.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Danzig streaming cover of "Devil's Angels"

Danzig is streaming a cover of "Devil's Angels," the theme song of the biker movie of the same name, at his website. The song should certainly please fans of his classic work with The Misfits. It would sound right at home on one of the band's records.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Freebies: New music from the one and only Tenacious D

Take a listen to the title track from the upcoming Tenacious D album Rize of the Fenix below.

To stream the album in its entirety, head over to Guitar World.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Review: Shooter Jennings, "Family Man"

Just a couple of years ago, it seemed that Shooter Jennings was done with country music. He had formed a new band, Hierophant, and put out Black Ribbons, a record with very little resemblance to country. It featured experimental and trippy numbers, art rock, industrial-tinged songs and even some heavy Black Sabbath-like guitar riffs. I did, and still do, really like the record, but I also thought it signaled the end of his country career.

Fast forward a few years, and he’s now trying to become the champion of underground country artists. His new album Family Man returns to roots with something very much in the vein of his first couple of records.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Review: Quiet Riot, "Live at the U.S. Festival 1983"

As an 11-year-old kid in 1983, I would have given just about anything to see this show. I’ve already shared that Quiet Riot’s 1983 album Metal Health was the beginning of my journey into heavy metal — and for a few years there, in my mind, they were the kings. Sadly, that was a bit before my concert-going days, and I don’t believe I could have found any sort of acceptable chaperone for my parents who would have agreed to sit through a Quiet Riot show, no matter how much it meant to me.

So it was 16 years later before I got a chance to see the reunited version of the band, and they still put on a hell of a show. But this set at the U.S. Festival in 1983, well, it’s going to be tough to beat. I’m happy that I at least get to experience it in some form.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Review: Three Thirteen, "Devil Music"

I’ll say this for Three Thirteen. They know how to appeal to me. The packaging of their last album, Full Tilt, caught my interest as much as the music. While their latest, Devil Music, a set of covers to hold fans over until the next record, arrived in a slip case, it came with lots of candy – a poster, some postcards and a cut-out and fold cardboard Three-Thirteen race car.

Normally, I’m not a fan of intros, but the one on this record, which is like a radio promo, is pretty awesome. That leads into a selection of rock covers that includes AC/DC’s “It’s a Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock ‘n’ Roll),” Kiss’ “Rocket Ride,” ZZ Top’s “Beer Drinkers and Hell Raisers,” Anthrax’s “Caught in a Mosh,” Led Zeppelin’s “Ramble On” and Twisted Sister’s “We’re Not Gonna Take It.”

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Review: "Welcome to the Nightmare: An All-Star Salute to Alice Cooper"

Originally released as Humanary Stew: A Tribute to Alice Cooper on Deadline Records in 1998, this collection of covers has recently gotten a repackaging from Cleopatra Records with a few extra tunes from Iced Earth, Children of Bodom and Icarus Witch tossed in as a bonus.

Though most of the songs are done by a mish-mash of artists thrown together – as was the whole series of tribute albums released by Deadline in the late 1990s – there are representatives from some of the biggest names in hard rock and metal here. On the tracks, you’ll find members of The Who, Deep Purple, Def Leppard, Megadeth, Guns ‘n’ Roses, Dio, Motley Crue, Iron Maiden, the Ozzy Osbourne band, Quiet Riot, Twisted Sister, Dokken and more. There are also a few names you might not expect, like sax man Clarence Clemons and bassist Stu Hamm.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Review: Stephan Forte, "The Shadows Compendium"

Normally I’m not a fan of instrumental shred albums or guys that have too many strings on their guitars. Every so often, though, a record comes along that I make an exception for, and Stephan Forte’s The Shadows Compendium is one of the best I’ve broken my unspoken rule for in a long time.

I’ll admit that my aversion to these things springs, at least a little, from jealousy. I love playing guitar, but I’ve struggled and fought for every note that I’ve ever wrung out of the instrument — and truth be told, most of those notes probably should have stayed in it. So, when I see guys like Forte, whose fingers fly across the fretboard with preternatural grace and seemingly little effort, it raises in me this odd mixture of disgust and complete fascination.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

15 Years, 15 Records: 2005, Zakk Wylde makes an offer we can't refuse

Zakk Wylde finally put it all together with Black Label Society in 2005 for Mafia. Sure, the band had never released a bad record to that point, but the songs, the mix, everything was just right for Mafia.

Led by the charging rock of the opening single “Suicide Messiah” and the catchy hook of the main riff of “Fire It Up,” the record was a stark contrast to the mostly acoustic Hangover Music, released just a year before. There were mellower moments, as well, though, most notably the ballad “In This River,” which Wylde dedicated to Pantera guitarist “Dimebag” Darrell Abbott.

Mafia made a promise that 2006’s lackluster Shot to Hell couldn’t keep, and it wasn’t until 2010’s outstanding Order of the Black that the band got back on track.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Review: King Giant, "Dismal Hollow"

I’m a sucker for a good Southern-flavored groove. It’s where I come from. I heard just as much Waylon Jennings, Hank Jr. and Lynyrd Skynyrd as Iron Maiden and Judas Priest growing up, and though I abandoned my Southern roots in music for a while in my teens and early 20s, I’ve grown to appreciate them again. That’s what initially drew me to King Giant’s debut Southern Darkness. It blended so many things that I like – the sludginess of bands like Crowbar and Down, the Black Sabbath base template for all metal , and a Southern rock attitude. I loved it, and, if anything, the grooves are bigger on their follow-up Dismal Hollow.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Review: Kyle Turley, "Death, Drugs and the Double Cross"

I’ll offer a disclaimer at the beginning of this review. I’ve been a Saints fan as long as I can remember. I watched my first game toward the end of the Manning era when I was probably 8- or 9-years-old. Let’s just say there weren’t any thoughts of Super Bowls in those days.

Kyle Turley just happens to be, along with guys like Sam Mills and Deuce McAllister, one of my favorite players ever to wear the black and gold. He was mean and nasty on the line, just a little crazy, and he knew how to protect his quarterback. Though, in retrospect, the team might have been better off in the long run if he’d just let the guy have his way with Aaron Brooks. I’m referring, of course, to the infamous helmet-throwing incident in 2001 that will likely be Turley’s lasting legacy in the public view, despite his hard-nosed play and two Pro Bowl appearances. He even pokes a little fun at the incident in the song “Flying Helmets” from his 2010 debut Anger Management, which focuses on his football days.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Review: Lacuna Coil, "Dark Adrenaline"

As Lacuna Coil’s sound has drifted more and more commercial, my opinion has been here and there on them. I love Comalies, but the bouncy, nu-metallish stuff of Karmacode didn’t connect with me. The catchy melodies of Shallow Life, though, managed to win me over despite the fact that it was easily the poppiest release in the band’s catalog.

Dark Adrenaline blends all of those elements. There’s some of the bouncy stuff, there are some very commercial numbers, and there’s a little bit of that goth rock slipping back in around the edges.
Things start well. First single and first track “Trip the Darkness” is probably the best song Lacuna Coil has recorded since Comalies.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Review: Buck Satan and the 666 Shooters, "Bikers Welcome Ladies Drink Free"

Ever ask yourself what Al Jourgensen, main man of industrial metal pioneers Ministry, would sound like if he decided to go country? Yeah, me either.

Sadly, Jourgensen has decided to answer that question for us with his side project Buck Satan and the 666 Shooters, which also includes Rick Nielsen (Cheap Trick), Tony Campos (Static-X) and Mke Scaccia (Ministry/Rigor Mortis).

You can tell by the band name that Bikers Welcome Ladies Drink Free, out on AFM Records, isn’t exactly a serious country project. Unfortunately, it doesn’t really work as humor and ends up sounding more like the joke band playing in the corner of a dimly lit dive bar in a Rob Zombie horror flick. Granted, that could have been interesting if done right. This isn’t.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Review: Pharaoh, "Bury the Light"

There are some bands out there that really don’t need a review. When you hear the name, you know it’s going to be quality. Pharaoh has become one of those over the years. But, since it’s my job here, I’m going to give you a review anyway.

Pharaoh is dependable. So much so that I wanted to say that they do on Bury the Light pretty much what they’ve done since they released 2003’s After the Fire, but I went back and took a listen to that record in preparing to review this one. What I realized was the band’s sound has evolved quite a bit since those days, but it’s been in a gradual way. So if you’re familiar with Pharaoh, no, you won’t be surprised by anything you hear on Bury the Light. But there are nuances.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Review: The Scorpions, "Comeblack"

The re-recording of old favorites has always been a tough one for me. I know there are sometimes reasons to do it – rights issues or personnel changes – but as a fan, it’s hard for me to put aside 30 years or so of listening to a song and embrace a new version. That’s what The Scorpions ask us to do on their latest, and supposedly final album Comeblack.

The first seven tracks of the album consist of updated version of some of the band’s biggest hits — “Rhythm of Love,” “The Zoo,” “Rock You Like a Hurricane,” “No One Like You,” “Blackout,” “Winds of Change” and “Still Loving You.”

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Review: Dio, "Holy Diver" (Audio Fidelity remaster)

Believe it or not, there was once a time when metal was just metal. You didn’t have the death and black metal guys looking down their noses at the power and traditional metal fans and vice versa. You didn’t have publicists mangling language to create a subgenre like “blackened jazz thrash death polka” so their band could be the only act in that category. Metal just was.

I miss those days, and I get exasperated with my metal brethren who so often wall themselves up inside one subgenre and insist on bickering and fighting about what’s “true metal” or not. You can throw out a band name on many message boards and watch chaos ensue, but there are a few rare albums in history that you’re not likely to get much argument about. This is one of them.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Freebies: Century Media offering free sampler

Century Media Records is offering a free sampler of their bands that are currently on the road. The compilation features Lacuna Coil, In Flames, Iced Earth, Warbringer, Suicide Silence, Deicide, The Agonist and others. Click here for the details.

Freebies: Download a new song from Dragonforce

Dragonforce is offering a free download of "Fallen World" from their upcoming album The Power Within, featuring new singer Marc Hudson. Click here to get it. In case you're wondering, or if it helps you make up your mind, it still sounds like Dragonforce.

Still Spinning: Motley Crue, "Motley Crue"

When I saw Motley Crue’s self-titled 1994 record on a list of the “10 Worst Heavy Metal Albums of All Time” a while ago, I was a little taken aback. Granted, it was not a very well-constructed list, containing a few albums that weren’t metal at all, and a few more that weren’t even the worst by that artist, much less the worst of all time. But still…

The nearly 20 years between Crue’s best-selling Dr. Feelgood and their 2008 comeback album Saints of Los Angeles, were not always kind to the band. There was 1997’s absolutely awful reunion record Generation Swine, which featured a mish-mash of alternative-tinged attempts to be relevant, songwriter Nikki Sixx working out his punk fetish, songs that were written for John Corabi and not suited to Vince Neil’s nasally vocals and misguided tributes to children and wives. If you’re looking for Crue’s worst moment, this is it.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

15 Years, 15 Records: 2004, Iced Earth makes history ... sort of

In the wake of Sept. 11, Iced Earth singer Matt Barlow decided that he wanted to do something for his country and joined the Department of Homeland Security. Jon Schaffer regrouped by picking up former Judas Priest singer Tim Owens, and the pairing turned out to be a potent combination on The Glorious Burden.

It’s a concept record of sorts, featuring songs based on historical events and figures. It’s a topic that Schaffer is passionate about, and it shows in the music. While the first disc of the two-disc set is outstanding, it’s the second disc that really shines. “Gettysburg (1863)” is a 32-minute epic in three parts, telling the story of the Battle of Gettysburg from the American Civil War. It’s bombastic, symphonic and quite possibly the best work of Schaffer’s career.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Overkill's "Electric Rattlesnake" now streaming

From the upcoming album The Electric Age. Enjoy.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Review: Lillian Axe, "XI: The Days Before Tomorrow"

Growing up in rural northern Louisiana, I didn’t often get to see my guitar heroes live. Maybe that’s one reason Lillian Axe’s Steve Blaze became one of them. I could be guaranteed to see the New Orleans-based band at least a couple of times a year somewhere, and Blaze’s, well, blazing fretwork was, and still is, impressive.

There was a little dive bar called the Cartoon Lounge tucked away next to a highway overpass in Monroe. It’s long been closed and demolished, but I have fond memories of it. I didn’t go there to drink. I didn’t go there to socialize. I went there for music. You’d often find me by myself, leaned up against one of the poles that ran through the middle of the building, in my own little world, intently studying whatever band was playing. Yeah, I was that guy.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

15 Years, 15 Records: 2003, Anthrax comes for us all

It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of the John Bush era of Anthrax, but in my opinion, We’ve Come for You All is easily on par with any of the records of the band’s classic lineup.

While I like all of the Bush records, this one is special. It’s an album born out of Sept. 11 through the eyes of New Yorkers. An album that expresses both the anger and disbelief over what happened that day, as well as an album that seemed to show a new unity within the band.

It’s a very varied record from the semi-ballad ode to their hometown “Safe Home” to determined tracks like “Refuse to be Denied” to good time rock ‘n’ rollers like “Strap It On” and “Cadillac Rock Box.”

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

15 Years, 15 Records: 2002, Members of Pantera, COC get Down again

There was some serious competition in 2002, but it’s an easy choice for me. The Southern sludge of Down’s second release remains an all-time favorite record of mine. After beginning as a side project between Pantera’s Phil Anselmo, Corrosion of Conformity’s Pepper Keenan, Crowbar’s Kirk Windstein and Eyehategod’s Jimmy Bower – all from New Orleans – the band released its first record, NOLA, in 1995 and disappeared for seven years as the members returned to their respective bands.

In 2002, as Pantera was falling apart, the band unleashed Down II: A Bustle in Your Hedgerow, now also featuring Pantera’s Rex Brown on bass. The album was a little groovier and a little more Southern than the band’s first outing.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Freebies: Listenable offering free 22-song sampler

Listenable Records is offering fans a free 22-track sampler, which is now available for streaming and download at The album, which features tracks from many Listenable's diverse roster of artists - past and present - includes Gojira, Svart Crown, Sarah Jezebel Deva, 77, Hate, Serpent Cult and more. Full sampler tracklisting below:

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Review: Widow, "Life's Blood"

My relationship with Widow has been up and down. I really liked my introduction to them, On Fire, when they were a female-fronted, horror-themed outfit. Their last outing, Nightlife, just didn’t do anything for me. So I went into Life’s Blood not really knowing what to expect, and that’s probably why it took me so long to delve into this one. I was won over from the first track.

The album opens with an old school hard rocker “Lady Twilight,” which heads back into that original early 1980s metal territory that I liked so well on On Fire. The song flat out rocks, with a wailing guitar riff and a great chorus hook that gets stuck in your head. It reminds me of recent efforts from acts like White Wizzard and Holy Grail.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Review: Van Halen, "A Different Kind of Truth"

Note: This review originally appeared at Something Else Reviews. When you're finished here, head over there for a couple of other takes on this one.
I stand corrected – and pleasantly surprised, too.

When I went into my first listen of Van Halen’s A Different Kind of Truth, I was expecting a steaming pile of mediocrity. After a few spins, I think the team in charge of promoting the record has done a big disservice to it in the clips that they’ve allowed to dribble out to the public. Those clips, with the exception of “The Trouble with Never,” which I’ll get to in a minute, have largely been forgettable and often not even the best parts of the songs.

Take “Stay Frosty,” for example. The clip out there makes it sound like a weak attempt to recreate “Ice Cream Man.” It is, of course, an attempt to recreate that song, but by the time you get to the turbo-charged hard rock section later in the tune, you don’t really care. It’s great stuff, and it’s what Van Halen should sound like.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

15 Years, 15 Records: 2001, Jon Oliva takes the helm for Savatage again

The field of candidates for 2001 wasn’t the strongest, but the year did see original singer Jon Oliva return to the helm of Savatage on Poets and Madmen. The album is probably the band’s least publicized and, possibly, least known, which is a shame because it’s a great record.

The record has a loose concept based around the work of journalist Kevin Carter, whose Pulitzer Prize-winning photo from the Sudan was featured on the tray card of the CD, but covered by a black-backed jewel case because of record company financial ills. It wasn’t until I interviewed producer Paul O’Neill just a few years ago and he told me the story that I even discovered the photo was there. Like all Savatage records, this one has great variety from big metal mashers like “I Seek Power” to tender piano-driven ballads like “Back to a Reason” to the more symphonic sounds of “Commissar.”

Thursday, February 2, 2012

15 Years, 15 Records: 2000, Alice Cooper gets 'Brutal'

The thrashing opening riff of Alice Cooper’s Brutal Planet announces immediately that this record is going to be a little different. The record, which is essentially a morality play, is darker and bleaker with less of Cooper’s trademark black humor, though it does creep in on songs like “It’s the Little Things.”

It’s a heavier record musically, easily Alice’s most metallic, and the themes that he tackles in the songs are heavier as well. It was part of a trio of heavier records, ending with 2001’s Dragontown, after which he returned to his garage rock roots.