Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Best of 2014: Reader picks

Before I get into my personal picks for the best records of 2014, I want to give my readers the spotlight.

To tabulate this list, I looked at all the posts to this blog for the year. I tossed out all of the Saturday Shuffles which tend to get quite a bit of traffic and focused just on the reviews. These are the Top 10 most viewed articles of the year.

Thanks for reading, and I hope to see you again in 2015.

10. Metallica - "Lords of Summer." Published April 8. A new tune from Metallica that may or may not make their next record. I liked it despite its flaws.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Review: Sanctuary, "The Year the Sun Died"

If there’s a balm for fans to ease the breakup/hiatus of Nevermore, it has to be this: The first new music from Sanctuary since 1989.

Four-fifths of the original lineup returned for the band’s 2010 reunion and for The Year the Sun Died — vocalist Warrel Dane, guitarist Lenny Rutledge, bassist Jim Sheppard and drummer Dave Budbill. Only guitarist Sean Blosl passed on the reunion. He’s replaced on the album by Brad Hull, who joined the touring band in 2011, after the departure of Nevermore guitarist Jeff Loomis.

The 2014 version of Sanctuary has, perhaps, a bit of a chunkier and heavier sound, with some shades of Nevermore’s more progressive leanings coming into play at times. Dane’s vocals are the deeper warble we’ve become accustomed to with Nevermore, rather than the youthful shrieks of the late 1980s, but no less powerful.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Review: Whiskey Myers, "Early Morning Shakes"

At the end of the year, there always seem to be a handful of albums laying aorund that I really like, but haven’t reviewed for some reason. I’m not making any promises, but I’m going to try to catch up on those at the end of this year, beginning with this one.

I discovered Whiskey Myers quite by accident when I stumbled across “Ballad of a Southern Man” on YouTube one night. The song, which hit home for me, led me to pick up their 2011 album Firewater, and I loved the mix of country and fire-breathing Southern rockers the boys from Tyler, Texas, brought to the table.

Their most recent release, Early Morning Shakes arrived in February, and it delivers more of the same with, I believe, some even better Southern-fried grooves.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Review: Black Crown Initiate, "The Wreckage of Stars"

I’d heard a little bit of the buzz around Black Crown Initiate, but hadn’t taken the time to check the band out.

I’m super picky when it comes to the more extreme subgenres of metal, and unless I get a promo on it, I’m not usually one to run out and find music from a death metal band. When the video for first single “Withering Waves” showed up on a social media feed, it was an easy click to check it out, and I was astounded.

In short, Black Crown Initiate gives me what I’m missing from Opeth since their move to a 1970s prog rock sound. I wouldn’t call them a clone, but what Opeth did better than anyone else, Black Crown Initiate also does exceptionally well. They deliver crushingly heavy death metal parts, interspersed with moody and dark melodic pieces and plenty of progressive bursts.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Review: Texas Hippie Coalition, "Ride On"

For their outstanding 2012 album Peacemaker, Texas Hippie Coalition brought more of a Southern rock flavor into their brand of groove metal. It worked fantastically.

Before the release of their latest album Ride On, frontman Big Dad Ritch said Texas Hippie Coalition wanted to honor the sound of their earlier records as well as what they did on Peacemaker. At least in the early going, they very much do that on Ride On.

The first two tracks on the album, “El Diablo Rojo” and “Splinter” have just a hint of those Southern elements, but the overriding feel of them — particularly “Splinter” — is more of a modern metal sound. Both are good songs, but I have to admit by the end of “Splinter,” I’m missing the redneck noise.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Review: Slash, "World on Fire"

Slash’s 2012 record Apocalyptic Love blindsided me. I went in for a half-hearted listen, and it turned out to be one of my favorite records of the year. Of course, that means the expectations for the follow-up were much higher.

World on Fire races out of the gate with the same vibe and energy that Apocalyptic Love brought, but it doesn’t sustain that drive and fizzles a bit toward the end.

I appreciate Slash wanting to give fans more bang for the buck with 17 tracks on the album, but maybe it should have been pared down a little as many of the tracks that come late on the record kind of blend into each other.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Saturday Shuffle: DLR, Dio, Living Colour, Metallica, Soundgarden

A nice variety of hard rockers from classics to new stuff, from glam to grunge ...

David Lee Roth, “Tobacco Road.” From the album Eat ‘Em and Smile (1986). I always forget how much I love this cover until I hear it again. Steve Vai’s screaming guitar licks are perfect, and the bombastic, showtune tone of the song is right down Diamond Dave’s alley. It could very well be my favorite track from my favorite DLR solo album.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Review: Dead Earth Politics, "The Queen of Steel"

They had me at “Redneck Dragonslayer.”

If you know anything about me at all, then you know the title of the lead track on this three-song EP from Austin-based metal band Dead Earth Politics is going to immediately get my attention.

The three tunes here, though, do more than pique my interest. They hold it from start to finish and leave me wishing for more.

There’s an interesting blend of metal sounds in these songs, and that starts with that opening tune. The first riff that guitarist Tim Driscoll throws at us on “Redneck Dragonslayer” is rooted deeply in New Wave of British Heavy Metal. It reminds me, perhaps, of something from the Paul Dianno era of Iron Maiden. Then vocalist Ven Scott starts to roar, and it takes a turn.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Saturday Shuffle: Hank Jr., Sturgill Simpson, Dash, Lillian, Ratt

We start this week's installment with a little redneck noise, take a trip through Louisiana, and end up in L.A. ...

Hank Jr., “Attitude Adjustment.” From the album Major Moves (1984). There was always this mix of hell-raising country rebel and goofy fun in Hank Jr.’s older work. This tune, about a guy who can’t learn his lesson, definitely fell in the latter category. It’s silly, but much more likeable than some of the humor songs that came later.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Review: "Nashville Outlaws: A Tribute to Motley Crue"

I remember the early days of the tribute album. One of the first, and one that helped launch the format, was 1994’s Kiss, My Ass. (Yes, I know the original title didn’t have a comma in it, but I fixed it for them.)

Among other “gems,” it included a Garth Brooks cover of “Hard Luck Woman” (surprisingly one of the better tunes there) and a sleepy (yes, sleepy) cover of “Rock and Roll All Nite” by Toad the Wet Sprocket. For many years, that album stood, in my mind, as the worst example of a tribute album, and I thought it would always hold the crown.

How could I have known, 20 years later, that Nashville Outlaws: A Tribute to Motley Crue would be unleashed on an unsuspecting world?

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Saturday Shuffle: Testament, Crue, Danzig, Pantera, Anthrax

This week's shuffle is a pretty hard-hitting lineup ...

Testament, “Electric Crown.” From the album The Ritual (1992). Testament never got the press of the Big Four of thrash, but they can stand with the best of them. This album was a bit of a shock at the time with a couple of ballads and, at times, a more accessible direction. Over time, I’ve come to have a greater appreciation for it. This is just a great heavy metal tune, not as thrashing as perhaps what we expected from them, but with a great hook.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Saturday Shuffle: Aerosmith, Infectious Grooves, Slayer, Van Hagar, Dee Snider

A couple of overlooked gems, a song that shouldn't be in my shuffle and Dee Snider on Broadway ...

Aerosmith, “Hangman Jury.” From the album Permanent Vacation (1987). Permanent Vacation was really the record that started Aerosmith down the sordid pop rock path that led, ultimately, to atrocities like “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing.” That said, the album had its moments, and this is certainly one of them. It’s one of the few songs on the record where you really hear the blues rock influence. 

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Something Borrowed: "Tobacco Road," David Lee Roth/The Nashville Teens/John D. Loudermilk

Every now and then my shuffle hits a song from David Lee Roth’s Eat ’Em and Smile album, and I remember how much I loved that record.

Sure, it’s silly, corny and completely over the top, but that’s precisely what I want from Diamond Dave. That flamboyant, and at times, yes, goofy personality is part and parcel of why I’ve always loved him and why, in my mind, Sammy Hagar was never a replacement for him despite really being the better singer. 

Roth also has a knack for surrounding himself with great musicians, and that was especially true of this record, which featured the likes of Steve Vai on guitar, Billy Sheehan on bass and Gregg Bissonette on drums.

At a time when Van Halen with Hagar was moving toward a more pop-oriented sound, Eat ’Em and Smile was a loud blast of wild-eyed rock ‘n’ roll that was essentially a middle finger to what Roth’s former band was doing. At least that’s how I saw it.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Saturday Shuffle: Soilwork, Tesla, Anthrax, Scatterbrain, Alestorm

Pretty heavy lineup this week -- some new stuff, some old stuff and ending with some fun ...

Soilwork, “Memories Confined.” From the album The Living Infinite (2013). One of the tracks from the mellower, more melodic side of last year’s Soilwork double album. It’s not really one of the more memorable, but it’s not bad, either.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Review: Skid Row, "Rise of the Damnation Army: United World Rebellion, Chapter 2"

United World Rebellion, Chapter 2 marks the first Skid Row record that I’ve actually had some anticipation for since Subhuman Race.

That’s because Chapter 1, released last year, was such a great EP. It was the first to really recapture the feel of their classic material. Rise of the Damnation Army follows that well. I’ll admit that I don’t find the songs on this EP as immediately catchy as some of those on Chapter 1, but they’re solid rockers, and they’ve grown on me with each listen.

This one follows the same basic pattern as the first one. There are four hard-driving rock tunes and one ballad. This one adds a couple of cover tunes.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Review: Alestorm, "Sunset on the Golden Age"

Though lots of pirate metal bands have popped up since Alestorm’s 2008 debut album Captain Morgan’s Revenge, none have captured the feel and spirit of it better than these Scots.

On their fourth full-length album Sunset on the Golden Age, Alestorm has just as much fun as on the previous three. By now, you mostly know what you’re getting from the band — thrash-influenced songs about wenching, plundering and grogging, a stray sea shanty here or there and plenty of bombastic symphonics worthy of a pirate movie soundtrack.

I’d like to begin this review by thanking Christopher Bowes and company for immortalizing me in song on my personal favorite track (for obvious reasons), “Mead from Hell.” I’m joking, of course, but it adds to the fun since I don’t hear the name Fred in the music I listen to much. It’s just not a very metal name. That aside, the song is just a great, catchy romp across the sea, as is most of the record.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Saturday Shuffle: Savatage, Skynyrd, Billy Idol, Red Eye Gravy, Pantera

Jon Oliva hits a high note, Skynyrd goes creepy with John 5 and Pantera shreds this week ...

Savatage, “Somewhere in Time/Alone You Breathe.” From the album Wake of Magellan (1997). Can I get a hell yeah? Jon Oliva and a piano performing a medley of “Somewhere in Time” from Streets and “Alone You Breathe” from Handful of Rain. This bonus track, for me, is easily one of the strongest performances on Wake of Magellan, and I love the record.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Review: Buckcherry, "F**k"

Sometimes there’s a fine line between throwing a middle finger to the world and a desperate plea for attention. It doesn’t take much thought to decide which category Buckcherry’s EP Fuck falls into.

A concept album of sorts, if having the f-word in every song title can qualify as a concept, this EP seeks to play on the somewhat dumbfounding success the band had with the single “Crazy Bitch.”

When Buckcherry released their self-titled debut in 1998, I bought it. I still own it and listen to a couple of the songs on occasion. I thought it was a fun little bit of retro hard rock. Like most of the rest of the world, I promptly forgot about the band until 2006, when all of a sudden, you couldn’t seem to escape them.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Saturday Shuffle: III, Hank Jr., Priest, ST, Godsmack

It's a shame I couldn't have had a Hank Sr. song come up to hit the Hank trifecta, but two out of three ain't bad. Things get a bit heavier after that ...

Hank III, “Thunderstorms and Neon Signs.” From the album Risin’ Outlaw (1999). One of several Wayne Hancock songs that III did in his early years, this tune, highly influenced by his grandfather, fits III’s wail perfectly. This version is great, but I think I still prefer the Hancock version which has a little more character.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Still Spinning: Warlock, "Triumph and Agony"

Though often overlooked and rarely talked about, Warlock must be acknowledged as a pioneering band in metal.

Looking around the metal landscape these days, women are almost as plentiful as men. Gone, too, are the days of women writhing around on the floor in their videos a la Lita Ford’s “Kiss Me Deadly” to appeal to the male-dominated fan base. These days, to suggest something like that to some of the women in metal might get you a punch in the nose … or a swift kick somewhere else.

During the early to mid-1980s, though, women in heavy metal were a rarity. You had Joan Jett doing a heavy-rock style that was close, but not quite metal. Lita Ford was laying down some heavy licks, but it was still a few years before her 1988 breakthrough album Lita would blow the doors open for ladies in metal.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Stuck in My Head: "Weird Al" Yankovic, "Word Crimes"

I was probably 12 or so when my family got cable TV for the first time. I believe that plan had 12 channels — which seemed like a wealth of content to someone who had previously only received three, or a fuzzy fourth when the weather was right and you adjusted the antenna to just the right spot.

One of those channels, at least for a little while, was HBO. In those days, HBO wasn’t stacked with as many promos for their stuff as regular TV was with commercials, and the network would sometimes play music videos between programs. It was there that I first discovered “Weird Al” Yankovic.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Review: Ted Nugent, "Shut Up & Jam"

In recent years, Ted Nugent has spent just as much time arguing on news talk shows as he has on the stage. And while it’s sometimes fun to watch the unfiltered, animated Nugent cut loose on a tirade, there are other times when you wish that he’d take the advice of his newest album title to Shut Up & Jam.

But that’s not how Uncle Nuge works. He approaches everything the same way – loud, brash and in your face. Complaining about Ted Nugent being crazy is like complaining about the sky being blue. You may not like it, but it’s always been that way and there’s nothing you can do to change it. So, it’s no surprise that Shut Up & Jam has some soapbox moments, but not as many as I had feared.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Something Borrowed: "Let It Go," Betraying the Martyrs/Idina Menzel

I feel like I may be the only person on the planet that doesn’t love Disney’s Frozen. Everyone I talked to raved about it, and when I finally saw it, I thought it was terribly overrated.

The animation was nice, but it just wasn’t a very good movie — and certainly not up to the standards of a really good Disney animated movie. I thought the first 45 minutes were pretty boring, and the next 45 minutes were just OK. Even the songs that everyone else went crazy over, I thought were a bit overdone.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Review: Judas Priest, "Redeemer of Souls"

To say that I didn’t like Judas Priest’s 2008 concept album Nostradamus would be far too kind. In my review of it, I used words like “overbearing,” “self-important,” “bloated,” “pompous” and “boring.” Six years later, we have the follow-up, Redeemer of Souls, and you won’t find any of those words in the review that follows.

One of my biggest criticisms of Nostradamus was that it was Judas Priest pretending to be something they’re not. With Redeemer of Souls, Priest gives me, and I’m guessing a lot of other fans, exactly what I want — tight, fast and biting traditional heavy metal.

A thunderclap introduces opening track “Dragonaut,” and it seems as though the lightning bolt hit something in the band, electrifying and re-energizing them. If you don’t like “Dragonaut,” you don’t like Judas Priest. It’s as simple as that. There’s a big guitar riff from Glenn Tipton, a great catchy melody and Rob Halford wailing away as only he can. Yeah, maybe the guy has lost a little bit on the high end of his range, but he more than makes up for it in the fire that he puts into these vocals.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Saturday Shuffle: Sevendust, Megadeth, Firewind, Crue, Body Count

All heavy rock, all the time in this week's shuffle.

Sevendust, “Bitch.” From the album Sevendust (1997). The mid- to late-1990s were kind of a barren time in hard rock and metal for me, but in the waning years of the decade, a few albums came along that excited me. One of those was Sevendust’s debut. Though many copied the sound in the years that followed, it was something different at the time. I still can’t listen to a song like “Bitch” without cranking it up and screaming along.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Review: Quiet Riot, "10"

Quiet Riot’s first album since the death of frontman Kevin DuBrow arrived recently with little fanfare or, really, even any warning for fans.

First thing’s first, and that’s the rant that you knew was coming. Drummer Frankie Banali is the only remaining member from the band’s classic Metal Health lineup, and this isn’t really Quiet Riot. It’s a group of guys with a connection to Quiet Riot going out and playing those songs. I realize Banali was a part of the band’s most successful period and, aside from a stint with W.A.S.P. has been with Quiet Riot pretty much continuously since 1980. He had a major hand in writing those songs and has every right to continue to perform them. I still get grumpy about it. Sorry.

Rant done. Now I can talk about the record, which features six new songs with Banali, bassist Chuck Wright (who has done a few tours of duty with QR), guitarist Alex Grossi and perpetual replacement singer Jizzy Pearl (Love/Hate, Ratt, L.A. Guns). Banali went through a string of short-term singers before settling on Pearl, and from what I heard of the others on YouTube videos, he does seem to be the best fit. DuBrow’s distinctive voice is difficult to replace, but there’s just enough of his tone in Pearl’s to make a connection.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Review: Arch Enemy, "War Eternal"

The Alissa White-Gluz era of Arch Enemy begins with quite a bang on War Eternal, the band’s 10th album — and one of its best overall efforts to date.

For the record, there’s no drama with former vocalist Angela Gossow. She stepped down due to family and other obligations, but remains with the band in a managerial position and even had a hand in choosing her successor. White-Gluz, who some fans may know from The Agonist, will be, at the same time, a familiar and quite different voice for the band. Her death growls have as much venom as Gossow’s ever did, but I would say that White-Gluz’s vocals also sound just a wee bit more feminine. I realize that’s really relative when you’re talking about death growls, but there are more moments when I realize there’s a woman snarling here than there were with Gossow.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Saturday Shuffle: Alice in Chains, Queen, DAC, Rob Zombie, White Wizzard

A few bona fide classics and one big bust make up this week's edition of the Shuffle ...

Alice in Chains, “Grind.” From the album Alice in Chains (1995). Alice in Chains’ self-titled record seems to get overlooked a little, but it’s a great album. The grooving, grinding riff of “Grind” is a great example of what you can find. Layne Staley’s dark and angry vocal on the verse gives way to a rare, almost hopeful chorus from the band.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Interview: Ted Nugent

No matter the title of his forthcoming record, Ted Nugent makes it pretty clear pretty quickly that he doesn’t have any intention of shutting up.

When we began this interview, ostensibly to give the Motor City Madman a chance to talk about Shut Up and Jam, a simple question about the title led — in true Nugent form — to a profanity-laced tirade about the current administration and the state of government. This being a site about music, not politics, we’ll spare you the majority of that. Suffice it to say that he’s not a fan.

Once that was out of the way, though, the 65-year-old rocker settled in (if, that is, you can say the ever-animated and hyperactive Nuge ever “settles” in to anything) to discuss some other topics. Over the course of the conversation, we bounced from place-to-place, with the always ever-so-humble guitarist touching on the new record, the influence of Mitch Ryder, the reunion with long-time vocalist Derek St. Holmes and the effects of aging.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Review: Sturgill Simpson, "Metamodern Sounds in Country Music"

Sturgill Simpson opens Metamodern Sounds in Country Music with a bit of a curveball for fans of his outstanding solo debut High Top Mountain. “Turtles All the Way Down” shows a more philosophic side to the throwback country singer, and even throws in some odd spacy, progressive sounds.

Now, don’t get it all mixed up. There are some warbly guitars and echoing vocals, and he is sharing thoughts on religion, man’s place in the universe and, yes, “reptile aliens made of light” that cut you open and pull out all of your pain. Anchoring that, though, is the same old school, heavily Waylon-influenced country that made High Top Mountain such an awesome record.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Saturday Shuffle: Metallica, Gloryhammer, Hank Jr., Hank Sr., Bruce Dickinson, Jackson Taylor

Metal, old school country, a classic rock flavored Bruce Dickinson tune and a little new-school country to round things out ...

“Wherever I May Roam,” Metallica. From the album Metallica (1991). From a sitar opening lick to a huge, epic tune. I talked a bit back about how I’ve come to have more appreciation for this record, but this is one of the songs that I always loved.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Review: Body Count, "Manslaughter"

As its opening song “Talk Shit, Get Shot” would suggest, much of Body Count’s return album Manslaughter revels in gratuitous violence and sex. That’s always been the case for Ice-T’s metal outfit, of course, but most of the band’s early output built that around a framework of social commentary.

A lot of the material on Manslaughter takes that violence and sex to an absurd level, but I have to admit that many of the tunes, like that opening song, are pretty catchy.

If there’s one reason that you should check out this record though, it has to be for their new version of Suicidal Tendencies’ “Institutionalized.” Metal fans will be familiar with the original, in which the subject’s concerned parents want to get some help for what they see as his problems. The classic ST song introduced the black humor that has permeated frontman Mike Muir’s work and spawned perhaps the band’s most memorable lyric as Muir calls for a Pepsi.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Review: Hellbound Glory, "LV"

After 2011′s Damaged Goods, it looked like Reno’s Hellbound Glory might be on the way to stardom. They landed an opening spot for Kid Rock, a coup for an independent underground country act. There was talk of a fourth album to come soon. Then, they just sort of disappeared.

There were occasional rumblings from the camp — their single “The Feud,” which had a much louder and more electrified sound than what fans were used to; a couple of live YouTube “albums”; a scattering of cover tunes on the Internet. But nothing really substantial, until now. LV, named after Hellbound Glory frontman Leroy Virgil, is a five-song EP with a very strong connection to Virgil’s home of Aberdeen, Washington.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Saturday Shuffle: Iced Earth, Jason Boland, Queensryche, Dash, Zeppelin

There seems to be a theme about ones and onlys going on in this week's shuffle. Oh, and check out the nifty new logo so that when this feeds to Facebook, you guys won't have to look at my ugly mug plastered across the page ... at least, I hope.

"Burning Times,” Iced Earth. From the album Something Wicked This Way Comes (1998). If I had to pick one Iced Earth song, this would probably be the one. The riff is awesome, the tune is full of power, and it’s a great way to kick off the best album of the Matt Barlow era.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Review: Lillian Axe, "One Night in the Temple"

A while back, Lillian Axe founder and guitarist Steve Blaze had the idea to put together an intimate acoustic show for a select few friends, family and fans. The concept took on a life of its own, evolving into One Night in the Temple, a three-disc (2CD, 1 DVD/Blu-Ray) chronicle of the band’s first official acoustic performance.

The evening was captured in February 2013 at Sound Landing Studios in Covington, Louisiana, a converted Masonic Temple — hence, the name of the album — in front of a very small crowd of friends, family and a few lucky fans. Over the course of about two hours, the band covers material ranging from their 1988 eponymous debut to 2012’s XI: The Days Before Tomorrow, including a few rarities that, in some cases, have never been played live. Some of the songs are tailor-made for the acoustic approach, others are a bit of a surprise.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Best of 2014: Mid-year country and Southern rock

Wow. Here’s a first: Over the few years that I’ve been doing a Southern rock and country list, I’ve once or twice had to struggle to get 10 albums at the end of the year.

Hard rock and metal is my first love, so I don’t always dig into the country and Southern rock genres with the same vigor.

This year is a bit different, though. I’ve heard a little more and explored a little more, and I’ve got a Top 10 at midstream, all of which I’ve really enjoyed. I’m interested to see what this list looks like at the end of the year …

No. 10 — WILLIE NELSON – BAND OF BROTHERS: This record is not quite as much fun as his 2012 outing Heroes, but it’s still Willie Nelson. He penned most of the songs on this record, which has been a change from recent years, and no one can match the phrasing of Nelson’s performance.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Best of 2014: Mid-year hard rock and metal

Just so we’re clear, this list gets completely blown up in a couple of weeks when I can officially add Judas Priest’s Redeemer of Souls, which I’ve been jamming at high volumes for about a week now. But, at the official midpoint of the year, these are my picks in hard rock and metal.

Overall, it’s been a good year thus far in the genres. There are a few old favorites, at least one newcomer and a couple of surprises …

No. 10 — BODY COUNT – MANSLAUGHTER: Eight years after a disappointing return with 2006′s Murder 4 Hire, Ice-T’s metal outfit brings back its early glory, delivering a violent gutpunch of an album that’s a little heavier on gratuitous sex and violence than social commentary, but still entertaining.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Review: Down, "Down IV: Part 2"

On this second in a series of EPs which will eventually add up to Down’s fourth studio album, the band continues to dish out the same Sabbath-inspired punishment that marked the first EP released in late 2012.

Nowhere is that more evident than fourth track “Conjure,” which follows the Sabbath template to the letter. The eight and a half minute track opens with a ten-ton, doomy slab of a droning riff that probably has Tony Iommi hitting his lawyer’s speed dial right about now. Then Phil Anselmo (Pantera) comes in on vocals, also sounding a bit Ozzy-ish, at least on those first lines. Then about halfway through, guitarist Pepper Keenan (Corrosion of Conformity) kicks the speed up with a galloping break in the old Sabbath tradition. Finally, they settle back into that heavy dirge to finish things out.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Review: Metallica, "Through the Never"

So, I’m just getting around to checking out the Metallica “movie” since it hit Netflix, and it’s a bit of an odd beast.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Review: Anti-Mortem, "New Southern"

Hard to believe that I almost passed on this record. I saw the band name Anti-Mortem and immediately thought death metal — even though, I guess the name would technically mean anti-death. I couldn’t have been further off the mark.

New Southern
, in fact, is the finest piece of Southern-fried hard rock that I’ve heard since Texas Hippie Coalition’s Peacemaker a couple of years back.

Hailing from Oklahoma, Anti-Mortem brings together a variety of rock influences, ranging from Metallica-style thrash to a more commercial brand of modern hard rock to classic Southern rock. That results in a record that should have at least something for just about any fan of any kind of hard rock. New Southern is a heavy and hard-hitting album, but the beauty of it is in the abundance of huge hooks. Just about every song on the record has at least some part that you’ll still be humming hours later.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Saturday Shuffle: Poison, BLS, Quiet Riot, Pantera, Alestorm

A guilty pleasure, a rare miss from Zakk Wylde and the beginnings of my metal journey ...

“Look What the Cat Dragged In,” Poison. From the album Look What the Cat Dragged In (1986). So, yeah, it’s tough to defend Poison, but I will defend this song against the most ardent of hair metal haters. The riff is tough as nails – the best in the band’s repertoire, and despite its shallow nature, it’s a great hard rock song.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Review: Sebastian Bach, "Give 'Em Hell"

Last time out, Sebastian Bach brought an unknown teenage guitar whiz to the party. On Give ‘Em Hell, he calls on some slightly better known players — including bassist Duff McKagan (Guns n’ Roses, Velvet Revolver) and guitarists Steve Stevens (Billy Idol) and John 5 (Rob Zombie, Marilyn Manson, David Lee Roth).

The results are much the same, though — a lot of tough, gut punch guitar riffs that aren’t always borne out by Bach’s vocal melodies.

While I’ve quite enjoyed most of Bach’s solo records, and Give ‘Em Hell is no exception, I voice the same annoyance with each one. In his desire to show off his range, he has a tendency to take a gnarly metal tune with great promise and soften it with a lilting, soaring chorus.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Saturday Shuffle: Metallica, BLS, Saigon Kick, Savatage, Carcass

I'm feeling some love for 1991 in today's shuffle ...

“My Friend of Misery,” Metallica. From the album Metallica (1991). This song was one of the weaker links of “The Black Album,” but still not a bad tune. It was one of those few cases where bassist Jason Newsted was able to grab a little of the spotlight.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Still Spinning: Ozzy Osbourne, "No Rest for the Wicked"

Reading a recent interview with guitarist Zakk Wylde, who was discussing the 25th anniversary of Ozzy Osbourne’s No Rest for the Wicked, I first felt kind of old. Wow, a quarter century. Then, I immediately dialed up that record, which never strays far from my playlist.

For me, No Rest for the Wicked ranks right up there with Blizzard of Ozz and Diary of a Madman in the discussion of Ozzy’s best solo records. It was a groundbreaking album for him in several ways, not the least of which was a fresh-faced 20-year-old shredder on guitar who completely changed the sound.

That clean-shaven kid with the teased and frosted hair is practically unrecognizable from the gnarly, scruffy, bearded berserker we know Wylde as today, but he infused Ozzy’s music with a new energy and helped the metal godfather release his heaviest solo record to that point.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Review: White Light Cemetery, White Light Cemetery

How often do you go to a country show and walk away with a new metal record? Almost as rare is popping in a small indie debut and hearing what sounds like a well-oiled, seasoned machine roar out of the speakers.

I had both experiences a couple of weeks ago when I caught White Light Cemetery, out of Lafayette, Louisiana, opening for Jackson Taylor and the Sinners. It seemed an odd combination at the time, but by the end of their set, White Light Cemetery had won over the whole crowd with a tight, grooving and highly entertaining show.

The band blends a few interesting worlds. They’re very much rooted in the sludgy swamp metal of their Louisiana brethren Down and Crowbar, but there’s also a heavy influence of Southern and stoner rock. It results in songs that are often very heavy, but also usually have more of a joyful tone than those other bands that I mentioned.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Review: Delain, "The Human Contradiction"

Every now and then, I come across a record that for some weird reason seems to call out to me for a listen despite past history.

When Nightwish’s Imaginaerum came out a few years ago, I wasn’t a huge fan, but it ended up being my favorite record of the year. Likewise, I’ve had a couple of Delain records cross my desk in the past, including their 2009 effort April Rain, which seems to be regarded as their best. They’ve never grabbed my attention.

But as I scanned my available promos over the past weeks, my eye kept hitting on their latest, The Human Contradiction, so finally I decided to give it a listen. Pretty randomly, I picked the song “Stardust” to sample. By the end of the song, I was downloading the full record.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Review: Mat D and the Profane Saints, "Holyoke"

Every now and then, I like to do what I call YouTube hopping. I pick a song I know I like, whatever I’m in the mood for, and then I bounce through the related videos, hoping to discover something unfamiliar. It often leads to a lot of partially listened songs and a dead end. But every now and then, I have a wow moment.

That’s what happened a couple of weeks ago when I hit on a video of Mat DeRiso, leader of Mat D and the Profane Saints, performing a solo acoustic version of “Gambling, Girls and Guns” from the band’s recently released Holyoke album. I ended up listening to the song over and over for about a half-hour and deciding I needed to hear the rest of the record. “Gambling, Girls and Guns” is a dark tune that definitely features a touch of “House of the Rising Sun.” DeRiso spins a tale of a bad man, in more ways than one, in an entrancing, deep voice that’s part country, part rock and 100 percent badass.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Saturday Shuffle: 5FDP, Aerosmith, Kiss, Staind, Bob Wayne

Strange mix this week. A couple of bands I don't really listen to, a couple of classics from 1976 and a country tune ...

“The Way of the Fist,” Five Finger Death Punch. From the album The Way of the Fist (2007). So the lyrics are not exactly the stuff of poetry, and there’s a lot of uber-macho posturing. Still, this tune is fantastic to crank to the max after a bad day at the office and scream along.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Saturday Shuffle: Crue, Quiet Riot, Testament, Megadeth, ST

A very 1980s feel to this week's Shuffle ...

"Jailhouse Rock (Live)," Motley Crue. From the album Girls, Girls, Girls (1987). I must admit that Girls, Girls, Girls hasn't held up as well over time as some of Crue's other records, but I still enjoy this messy, bashing cover of Jailhouse Rock. It's not a perfect cover, but it's the perfect cover for Motley Crue.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Review: Bob Wayne, "Back to the Camper"

After a two-album stint with metal label Century Media, DiY-country artist Bob Wayne heads Back to the Camper for his latest record. The title references his early years of making his own records and hand-burning them in his John Deere motor home.

Wayne, who is still signed to Century Media’s People Like You imprint in Europe, went back to basics for the album, and the results are fantastic. While Wayne’s two Century Media albums focused more on the rowdy side of his personality, with loud and brash tunes — many re-recorded versions of earlier songs — Back to the Camper is a quieter and more thoughtful affair.

It has the feel of one of his earlier self-released albums, only with better production values, and features easily some of his best songwriting to date. The focus rests firmly on Wayne’s storytelling in these songs, and he spins some good tales.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Review: Black Label Society, "Catacombs of the Black Vatican"

After the lackluster Shot to Hell — the band’s weakest album — in 1996, Black Label Society, which had been churning out pretty much an album a year to that point, took an extended break. Zakk Wylde returned with a vengeance on 2010’s Order of the Black, finding the fire again and punishing eardrums across the metal world.

The band’s latest Catacombs of the Black Vatican comes after another four-year break from studio recording. It also marks the first release without long-time rhythm guitarist Nick Catanese, who joined in 1999 and left in December 2013. Known as the “Evil Twin,” Catanese was the only other stable member of the band besides Wylde over the years. Wylde himself handled all guitars on this release, though Lizzy Borden guitarist Dario Lorina will handle rhythm duties on the road.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Saturday Shuffle: Alice Cooper, Jackyl, Oliva, Shooter, Volbeat

Not the most memorable shuffle in the history of the feature, but still a few high points ...

"Something to Remember Me By," Alice Cooper. From the album Welcome 2 My Nightmare (2011). This ballad was not one of the high points of what was a surprisingly good sequel album by Alice. It's OK, but there are far better songs on the record.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Review: "Ronnie James Dio: This is Your Life"

Any tribute to Ronnie James Dio begins with a conundrum for the artists involved. It’s Ronnie James Dio, one of the greatest singers to ever grace rock music, an iconic voice that can’t be duplicated. So the vocalists here have a tough job right out of the gate. But it’s all for a good cause, as proceeds from Ronnie James Dio: This Is Your Life will benefit the Ronnie James Dio Stand Up and Shout Cancer Fund.

Anthrax kicks off the album on a high note with a faithful rendition of the Black Sabbath classic “Neon Knights.” I often give Joey Belladonna a lot of grief when I write about Anthrax, but I also believe in giving credit where it’s due, and he holds his own. That’s no small feat, considering he’s being compared to Dio.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Review: Gus G, "I Am the Fire"

With Ozzy focusing on Black Sabbath and Firewind on a hiatus, guitarist Gus G. found himself with a little time on his hands, resulting in his first solo album, I Am the Fire.

Gus manages to cover a lot of metal/hard rock ground on I Am the Fire. There are a few power metal-tinged numbers that will be familiar to Firewind fans, but there are some much heavier tunes, some more commercial pieces, some grunge-influenced material and a few softer moments, too.

For the solo record, Gus called on a number of special guests, notably singer Mats Leven (Yngwie Malmsteen, Therion), who appears on four of the 12 tracks on the album. Leven also filled in on the road for Firewind with the departure of Apollo Papathanasio.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Saturday Shuffle: Blind Guardian, Ratt, Hendrix, Iced Earth, White Zombie

This week we travel from one of the earliest tunes of hard rock to one of the most recent ...

"Noldor (Dead Winter Reigns)," Blind Guardian. From the album Nightfall in Middle Earth (1998). Just one of many majestic tracks from Blind Guardian's masterwork based on J.R.R. Tolkien's "Silmarillion." The song, which tells the story of the Noldor elves, has some nice changes of pace with huge, soaring chorus harmonies, blazing metal moments and some nice symphonic touches.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Review: Lacuna Coil, "Broken Crown Halo"

After the more commercial hard rock approach on Karmacode in 2006 and the extremely poppy, but surprisingly enjoyable Shallow Life in 2009, Lacuna Coil returned to a bit darker sound for 2012’s Dark Adrenaline. The Italian rockers continue that trend on Broken Crown Halo.

There won’t be anything jarring on this release for fans who have followed the band over the years. Broken Crown Halo contains the same mix of ethereal hard rock, goth overtones and accessible pop hooks that have become Lacuna Coil’s bread and butter. There’s a little added flair here and there, but by and large, this record is what you expect from them.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Saturday Shuffle: Sabbath, III, Queensryche, Hellbound Glory, Soilwork

The "triumphant" return of the Saturday Shuffle? A nice mix of heavy and hick anyway ... 

"Hand of Doom," Black Sabbath. From the album Paranoid (1970). This dark song about drug use is one of the oft-overlooked gems from Black Sabbath's most famous album. Geezer Butler delivers a mesmerizing bass line that's just perfect for the tone and subject matter of the song.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Review: The Pretty Reckless, "Going to Hell"

If I’d heard of The Pretty Reckless before I stumbled across the title track of their latest album, Going to Hell, I likely would have written them off as soon as I discovered that their singer was one Taylor Momsen, an actress from the TV show “Gossip Girls.”

Admittedly, I know nothing about the show, but I’m not inclined to carve out time for an actor trying to cash in on her TV fame with a bad record. I can be like that.

So, I’m glad that I heard “Going to Hell” before I knew that fact about The Pretty Reckless. The song got my attention right away with a big, catchy opening guitar riff and an energetic, punk-influenced verse. That riff comes right back on the chorus, and there’s something in the melody of that chorus that puts me in mind of Alice Cooper. It’s a ripping tune from start to finish, and sent me looking for more from the band.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Stuck in My Head: Metallica, "Lords of Summer"

For the past nearly 25 years, there’s been no more polarizing band in metal, or perhaps all of rock, than Metallica.

Since the release of that monstrous self-titled album in 1991, fans have been thrown into three different camps. There are the loyalists that have followed and defended them faithfully through all of their ups and downs. The folks, like me, who have mixed feelings about their work since that time, but try to keep an open mind despite some disappointments. Then, there are the people who will never be satisfied with anything the band does again and take every opportunity to criticize.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Review: Van Canto, "Dawn of the Brave"

As bizarre as it is, I wasn’t sure that I was going to review this latest record from a cappella metallers Van Canto. Then I got to the final song on the record, a cover of Black Sabbath’s “Paranoid,” and I just couldn’t resist.

“Paranoid,” as we all know, is a fairly simple three-chord tune and wouldn’t seem to lend itself to the multi-voice a cappella treatment as well as a more complex composition, but Van Canto gives it the old college try. The results, with guys going “bom bom bom bom bom bom bom bom bom bom bom bom bom bom bom dah dum doo” is at the same time sort of ridiculous and, strangely, absolutely entrancing. I had to listen to at least three times in a row, and I’m still not sure what I think about it. But I think you need to hear it.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Something Borrowed: "Can't Find My Way Home," House of Lords/Blind Faith

In 1990, my music listening habits ran the "gamut" from hard rock to thrash. If it didn't have a loud guitar, I wasn't interested. Classic rock radio was also a fairly new concept as. So, I suppose, I can be forgiven if I didn't know this tune was a cover when I first heard it, even if the original band included a few rock heavyweights.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Review: Grand Magus, "Triumph and Power"

After several friends highly recommended Grand Magus’ latest record, I decided to give it a quick listen. I tried out the first two tracks on the record, “On Hooves of Gold” and “Steel Versus Steel,” and thought the retro metal sound wasn’t bad, but it didn’t immediately connect with me.

Three or four hours later, when the chorus of “Steel Versus Steel” was still running through my head, I decided that it was time to more fully explore Triumph and Power. The tune wouldn’t have been at all out of place on a classic Judas Priest record, and it kind of sets the tone for what Grand Magus delivers on this record.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Saturday Shuffle: N.E.R.D., Disturbed, Cypress Hill, ZZ Top, Aerosmith

A shuffle with two hip-hop tunes in it? What are things coming to here ...  ;)

N.E.R.D., "Lapdance." From the album In Search of ... (2002). This tune is a bit of a guilty pleasure. Well, more than a bit of one, I guess. I might be the only person on the planet that liked the "Daredevil" movie. And I absolutely love the scene where the camera pans up on Michael Clarke Duncan as the Kingpin in that suit, leaning on his cane and puffing a cigar. That scene is the whole reason this song is in my collection. I could live without the more typical rap toward the end, but otherwise, I have to admit I like it.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Saturday Shuffle: Bruce Dickinson, Savatage, Suicidal Tendencies, Shooter Jennings, Queensryche

After a few weeks of wildly varied shuffles, we're back to something a little more metal, minus one country tune, of course ...

Bruce Dickinson, "Kill Devil Hill." From the album A Tyranny of Souls (2005). Man, we're long overdue for a new Bruce Dickinson solo album. His solo work, at least for me, has been far better than Iron Maiden's records in recent years. My shuffle seems to love this song, which naturally, deals with the Wright Brothers' first flight. It's one of those great, dramatic Dickinson tunes.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Review: Scott H. Biram, "Nothin' but Blood"

I’ve always imagined that a one-man band would have to have something of a split personality, and Scott H. Biram certainly seems to back that theory up on his latest album on Bloodshot Records.

On Nothin’ But Blood, Biram shifts from solemn and sacred to loud and profane in the blink of an eye.

The second track on the album, “Gotta Get to Heaven,” sets the stage. The tune is a very old-school country number with some gospel overtones that tells the story of a man that walks the line between the wild life and redemption. Biram throws his soul into the hallelujahs on the chorus, but keeps a fittingly rough edge on the song.