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.