Saturday, December 19, 2015

Review: Queensryche, "Condition Human"

Condition Human marks the full return of the Queensryche that I know and love.

While I really enjoyed the band’s eponymous debut with new singer Todd LaTorre, I thought, in places, the dynamic hadn’t quite come together. That’s not the case with the band’s second record with LaTorre. It hits right in Queensryche’s late ‘80s/early ‘90s progressive metal powerhouse, yet manages to not sound dated.

I had my doubts. The first song that I heard was album opener “Arrow of Time,” and while it’s not a bad song, it’s not a standout either. But then along comes “Guardian,” and all is right with the world. An aggressively catchy guitar riff, combined with some driving beats from drummer Scott Rockenfield, puts the listener in mind of some of the band’s more aggressive early work. The huge chorus, though, is firmly rooted in the Mindcrime era, which Queensryche backs up with a lyrical nod to that album. For me, it’s easily one of the best hooks of the record — and with Todd LaTorre wailing like a young, in-his-prime Geoff Tate, it’s a thing of beauty.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Review: Amorphis, "Under the Red Cloud"

I didn’t think that Finnish folk/death metal outfit Amorphis would ever top 2009’s epic Skyforger. But their latest, Under the Red Cloud, certainly gives it a run for its money.

Under the Red Cloud may be Amorphis’ most folk-influenced record to date, but that makes it no less crushingly heavy when it needs to be.

We see the two sides in the first two songs. The title track opens softly, playing heavily into the folk elements before transforming into a ripping rocker with just a few growls from vocalist Tomi Joutsen. Second track “The Four Wise Ones,” digs in for some good, old-fashioned melodic death metal. We get a break in the middle with some effects-laden vocals from Aleah Stanbridge (Trees of Eternity) before the song ramps back up. Even in its heaviness, though, “The Four Wise Ones” plays to the folk elements with whistles and pipes running throughout.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Review: Danzig, "Skeletons"

Glenn Danzig has a pretty good history with covers.

His version of Elvis Presley’s “Trouble,” which appeared on the Thrall/Demonsweatlive EP is, despite some unnecessary lyrical changes, a near-perfect metal cover of the tune. In fact, it ranks as one of my favorite cover songs ever. He also unleashed a solid version of T. Rex’s “Buick Mackane” on his Lost Tracks collection.

Both of those songs are right in his wheelhouse. The selections on his new covers album Skeletons, though, offer some surprises with covers from Aerosmith, ZZ Top, and … the Everly Brothers?

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Still Spinning: Fastway, "Trick or Treat Original Soundtrack"

When I was in junior high, I thought Trick or Treat just might be one of the greatest movies ever. I’d stay up to watch it in the wee hours on MTV, and on the rare occasion that I had a chance to rent a movie to watch by myself, it was often my choice. I even wrote a sequel to it at one point that, of course, featured a kid who totally wasn’t me in the lead role.

The movie tells the story of rocker Sammi Curr, who has died in a hotel fire, but his restless spirit has a plan to return to life during the playing of his unreleased album at midnight on Halloween. It features some pretty bad acting by Gene Simmons as the DJ who plans to play the album, and a hilarious but equally bad cameo by Ozzy Osbourne as a TV preacher.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Review: Marilyn Manson, "The Pale Emperor"

When Marilyn Manson’s latest, The Pale Emperor, hit shelves earlier this year, I dismissed it, as I have the many mediocre Manson records since Mechanical Animals. In fact, I even wrote a review of Mechanical Animals the week it was released instead.

Much to my surprise, though, The Pale Emperor has become one of my favorite records of 2015. Granted, this has been kind of a meh musical year for me, but this record would be a contender in any year.

The Pale Emperor features something that I’ve not heard from Manson in a while, and that’s the willingness to push himself and evolve a little. It’s an interesting blend of the Bowie-esque sounds of Mechanical Animals with some things that we haven’t heard from the shock rocker before, and while Marilyn Manson seemed to get lost a little after his third record, this one feels more like a natural progression from it than anything since.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Review: Slayer, "Repentless"

There are a handful of bands out there in the hard rock/metal world that make a writer wonder if there’s really any point to reviewing a new release — bands like AC/DC, Motorhead and, of course, Slayer. They’re bands that do what they do, and they have a rabid hardcore following who loves every single similar note.

One of my favorite quotes from AC/DC guitarist Angus Young came in a New York Daily News interview when he said, “I’m sick and tired of people saying that we put out 11 albums that sound exactly the same. In fact, we’ve put out 12 albums that sound exactly the same.”

It’s a quote that perfectly fits Slayer, whose 12th album Repentless certainly doesn’t break from the mold of what they do. Though the thrashers have probably taken a few more chances with their music than AC/DC, reaching for a slightly more mainstream audience on 1990’s Seasons in the Abyss and incorporating some nu metal influence on 1998’s Diabolus in Musica, the basic musical elements on Repentless are not much changed from the band’s debut Show No Mercy.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Review: Iron Maiden, "Book of Souls"

I often think heavy metal fans are far too enamored with long songs. I’m guilty myself. If all the songs on a record are 8-10 minutes long, then it’s got to be epic, right? Maybe it’s a deep-seated rebellion against the punchy three-minute pop song that makes us think that way, but the epic metal that we expect isn’t always what we get.

When word got out that Iron Maiden’s latest record Book of Souls was a double album with only 11 songs, there were ooohs and aaahs. There was a Maiden-getting-back-to-its-roots sort of feeling for some, since they are the band responsible for a great many of those truly epic long-playing metal songs of the past. After a few listens though, I tend to think of Book of Souls less as a double album than a single disc stretched beyond the capabilities of its content.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Review: Gloryhammer, "Space 1992: Rise of the Chaos Wizards"

I have become a great admirer of Scottish musician Christopher Bowes. He has the uncanny ability to take the absurd and turn it into metal gold.

We first met Bowes as the frontman of pirate metal band Alestorm, where his aaarr-filled vocals, folk instrumentation and knack for unforgettable melodies turned what should have been a one-off novelty act into a formidable outfit that’s spawned a number of copycats.

A couple of years ago, Christopher Bowes turned his attention to epic power metal with the formation of the band Gloryhammer. On their 2013 debut Tales from the Kingdom of Fife, the band introduced us to Prince Angus McFife (vocalist Thomas Winkler), who rose after his home of Dundee was destroyed by the evil wizard Zargothrax (Bowes, who plays keys in Gloryhammer) and his army of undead unicorns. Preposterous, right? But so much fun.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Still Spinning: Motley Crue, "Theatre of Pain"

When talking about Motley Crue’s classic 1980s albums, Theatre of Pain usually gets ranked at or near the bottom of the list. Even bassist Nikki Sixx has gone so far as to call it “rubbish.” I was thinking about the record as I was being subjected to an awful country-pop version of “Home Sweet Home” in a restaurant recently and, looking back, I believe it might have gotten short shrift.

Theatre of Pain had a couple of things working against it at the time. First, it came on the heels of two really good albums. The debut Too Fast for Love was glitzy, raunchy, raw and energetic. They followed that up with the more metallic and angry Shout at the Devil — which is for my money, the band’s best outing. Those are a couple of tough acts to follow.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Review: Armored Saint, "Win Hands Down"

You may never know how long it’s going to take to get a new Armored Saint record, but you can be sure when it gets here that it will be quality. So it goes with their latest, Win Hands Down.

Armored Saint’s output has been sporadic since 1991’s Symbol of Salvation, arguably their best record. Faced with an uncertain future for Armored Saint following the death of guitarist Dave Prichard from leukemia, vocalist John Bush opted to accept an offer to join thrashers Anthrax following that record. We wouldn’t hear from Saint again until 2000, when the band reunited to record the, in my opinion, highly underrated Revelation.

It was another 10 years (not counting a compilation album) with a lot of ups and downs before La Raza arrived in 2010, but again, it was worth the wait. That brings us to the new record, only five years in the making, and the title track and lead single announces to start the record that this is the same, reliable Armored Saint we know and love.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Review: Bob Wayne, "Hits the Hits"

Gambling is a dangerous game. Just ask Bob Wayne. You could go from refusing to perform covers, to doing a silly cover song because you lost a bet, to doing a whole album of covers. It’s a slippery slope.

Wayne’s latest, Hits the Hits, all started with a lost bet that found him performing a cover of Meghan Trainor’s “All About that Bass,” his first ever. A few months later, and we have a 13-song collection of covers from the DIY country singer.

Don’t expect any Johnny Cash or Waylon Jennings, even though they’d seem to fit his style more. On this collection, Bob Wayne puts his own spin on classic rockers like the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Ozzy and Guns N’ Roses, along with some much stranger pop choices — like Adele, Rihanna and Gnarls Barkley. There’s even a Bob Marley tune in the mix.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Review: Savatage, "Return to Wacken"

As Savatage prepares to take the stage for the first time since 2001 today at Germany’s Wacken Open Air Festival, I finally received my copy of their latest release, Return to Wacken.

First off, I’ve got to say that I should have done my homework on this before paying the import price. The title of the album is a bit misleading. I was expecting, perhaps, some live performances from the band’s previous appearances at Wacken. Instead, we have studio versions of songs that the band has performed at Wacken. It’s a bit disappointing to pay a premium for songs I already have, but that said, it’s still a pretty nice collection, if a bit heavy on their later work.

Return to Wacken opens with three bonafide classics for Savatage fans – “Hall of the Mountain King,” “Gutter Ballet” and “Believe.”

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Review: "The Decline of Western Civilization Collection"

A lot of years have passed since I’ve watched Penelope Spheeris’ The Decline of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years, but it was a staple of my teenage days. Thanks to the new Decline of Western Civilization Collection from Shout Factory!, I had a chance to relive at least a few hours of my misspent youth and look at it from a very different perspective.

The boxed set collects all three of Spheeris’ Decline of Western Civilization documentaries on Blu-ray, with an extra disc of outtakes and extended interviews. Coming into this viewing, I had seen the first film once or twice, Part II probably a dozen times or more, and I had never seen Part III, which was previously unreleased on video.

The first film focuses on the punk scene of Los Angeles in the late 1970s, with groups like Black Flag, X, and Fear. Penelope Spheeris documents a series of live performances from L.A. punk bands interspersed with interviews with the musicians and other punk fans. It’s the format that all three movies will follow. The focus of this first film is solidly on the music, the ideas behind it and the people who make it.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Review: Immortal Randy Rhoads: The Ultimate Tribute

What’s not to like about Immortal Randy Rhoads: The Ultimate Tribute? You’ve got the songs of one of the greatest metal guitarists of all time recorded by an all-star cast of hard rock and metal musicians with the blessing and participation of the Rhoads family.

Unfortunately, there’s quite a bit not to like about it.

While the song choices from the Ozzy catalog feature very few surprises, it is nice to see that they plucked a couple of tunes from Randy’s days in Quiet Riot, and they even get an assist from his brother Kelle on vocals for “Back to the Coast.”

Being a huge fan of Tim Owens, I was excited to see that he was singing on eight of the 11 tracks from Immortal Randy Rhoads: The Ultimate Tribute. After listening to it, though, I think we might have found a metal legend that “Ripper” can’t mimic. I remember him doing a great version of “Mr. Crowley” with Yngwie Malmsteen for an Ozzy tribute some years ago. Here, he sings some of the songs well, but most just don’t work. Though Owens is inarguably a more technically talented vocalist than Ozzy, there’s a quality in Ozzy’s voice that Owens just can’t recreate.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Saturday Shuffle: Alice in Chains, Warrel Dane, Grand Magus, Sebastian Bach, Sepultura

A pretty heavy lineup this week, though we do at least hit five different subgenres ...

Alice in Chains, “Frogs.” From the album Alice in Chains (1995). For some reason, Alice in Chains’ 1995 self-titled album never seems to really get its due. It produced its hits, but wasn’t quite as straightforward, perhaps, as Dirt or Facelift. This dark, moody number is a perfect example of that with a quirky melody and Layne Staley delivering the end of each verse line in a lilting, high tone. Not my favorite song from the record, but good stuff nonetheless.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Review: Sweet and Lynch, "Only to Rise"

I’ve debated this fairly often over the years with Stryper fans who think I’m absolutely crazy, but the one thing that always kept Stryper from being a favorite of mine was the vocals.

I don’t mean to imply that Michael Sweet is not a great vocalist. The guy can obviously wail, but his voice was always just too squeaky clean and, well, angelic for my tastes, particularly on the heavier tunes. Oz Fox would lay down this gnarly, heavy riff, and the soaring vocals just didn’t seem to match. I wanted something a little more down and dirty. In fact, to this day, Against the Law — though controversial among fans — remains one of my favorite Stryper recordings, and for just that reason.

So, I had a little trepidation going into Sweet and Lynch’s Only to Rise. Remarkably, though, former Dokken/current Lynch Mob guitarist George Lynch — Sweet’s partner in this enterprise — has done a terrific job of matching up with Sweet’s vocals. There are some rough spots here and there (like album opener “The Wish,” where I feel almost like Sweet is oversinging it a bit), but for the most part it really works.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Stuck in my Head: ARO, "Raining Gold"

Aimee Osbourne may prove herself to be the brightest of metal madman Ozzy Osbourne’s offspring in more ways than one.

First, Aimee opted out of all of the craziness that was The Osbournes reality show. While her siblings hammed up the spotlight, she quietly did her own thing. She continues that trend with her latest single, not using the Osbourne name, but rather going by ARO.

Her independent personality carries over into this first single from ARO’s upcoming EP. “Raining Gold” is light years away from the squawky, attention-hungry hot messes that her sister Kelly has unleashed on the music world. It’s subtle, smart — and, damn it, this girl can sing. At least on this first single, it seems that Aimee Osbourne knows where her vocal wheelhouse is (dusky, yet a bit sultry) and she sticks with the formula, using it very effectively.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Saturday Shuffle: ZZ Top, Jackyl, Helstar, Priest, Megadeth

A little classic, a little party and a heavy ending this week ...

ZZ Top, “Lowdown in the Street.” From the album Deguello (1979). Deguello remains my favorite ZZ Top album because it struck a great balance between their hard rocking side and their funky, groovy blues side. All of that is encapsulated perfectly on this tune.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Review: Judas Priest, "Defenders of the Faith 30th Anniversary Edition"

Sandwiched between the bona fide metal classic Screaming for Vengeance and perhaps Judas Priest’s most controversial album, the synth-guitar laden Turbo, Defenders of the Faith often seems to be an overlooked gem in the band’s catalog.

This year marks the 30th anniversary, and Judas Priest celebrates with a new remastered three-disc edition of the album, which also includes a 21-song live set from Long Beach Arena in 1984.

It doesn’t take long to remember that Judas Priest was still at the height of its game as album opener “Freewheel Burning” comes raging out of the speakers. It’s a classic, high-speed Judas Priest number with vocalist Rob Halford screaming like a demon and hitting some of his biggest notes. After a year or so of listening to last year’s exceptional Redeemer of Souls, it’s an instant reminder that as good as Halford sounds now, he was that much more impressive in his prime.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Saturday Shuffle: Amon Amarth, Aerosmith, Firewind, Three Thirteen, Metallica

Today, I re-introduce the Saturday Shuffle. For those who don’t remember it, it was one of the more popular features on the site for the last couple of years. I take the first five songs that come up on my shuffle and offer a few brief thoughts on them. I won’t pull punches. If a really bad song or something embarrassing comes up, I’ll own up to it. (See the second song below).

Amon Amarth, “Legend of a Banished Man (Live).” From the album The Avenger (2009 re-issue). One of the more plodding numbers from Amon Amarth’s early work gets the live treatment on this re-issue of the band’s second album. It’s perhaps one of the slower numbers, but no less epic.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Review: Jackson Taylor and the Sinners, "Cantina del Diablo"

If there’s any artist that could get away with releasing a mariachi record, it’s Jackson Taylor. Good thing, too, because that’s the influence all over his latest release Cantina del Diablo.

Technically, this isn’t a “new” album. Cantina del Diablo grew out of his Dos Sinners acoustic tour, and it includes eight songs from Jackson Taylor’s back catalog done mostly acoustic. In some cases, the songs are greatly transformed from their original versions, while others follow closer to the original, just perhaps a bit softer or with a bit of mariachi-style flair added in.

First single “Maria,” with its aye-aye-aye-aye chorus, seems — pardon the bad pun — tailor-made for this collection. Throw in some heavy Spanish horns and a trilling shout or two, and it transforms quite well into a mariachi tune. Stylistically, it’s a bit different than what we’ve heard from Taylor before but, thematically, it’s right in his wheelhouse — a hard-driving, hard-drinking, cautionary tale about a cheating woman and what that brings.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Still Spinning: Marilyn Manson, "Mechanical Animals"

Yes, I know Manson has a new record out, and I plan to get to it eventually. But this one, for some reason, has been popping up in my shuffle a lot lately, and I’ve come to appreciate again how good it was.

I remember seeing one of those clickbait articles online at some point last year discussing rock albums with only one good song, and Mechanical Animals was on that list. The writer’s contention was that “The Dope Show” was the only good song on this record. I remember at the time thinking the guy didn’t know what he was talking about, and after revisiting this record, I’m sure of it. If anything, “Dope Show” is one of the weakest songs.

You can say a lot of things about Marilyn Manson and the direction that his career has taken. Strings of mediocre albums have made him a caricature of himself, but those first three records cannot be denied. Each of those showed a developing and evolving persona for Manson. His debut, Portrait of an American Family, was solely about shock. With Antichrist Superstar, he honed the edge on that shock with rage and vitriol — producing, arguably, the last rock ‘n’ roll record to truly scare the shit out of parents. And that’s what made the transformation on Mechanical Animals so bizarre and wonderful.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Review: Circle II Circle, "Live at Wacken: Official Bootleg"

It may have been a bit surprising to the crowd at the Wacken Open Air Festival in 2012 when Circle II Circle took the stage not to play music from their albums, but to perform Savatage’s 1997 album The Wake of Magellan. It was the last Savatage album to feature Circle II Circle frontman Zak Stevens, and one of the more underrated in their catalogue.

Though video of that performance has been available on YouTube for some time, the band has finally released the official audio version of it.

First of all, this isn’t a complete performance of The Wake of Magellan. For one thing, Circle II Circle had only about 40 minutes of set time, and the album checks in at about an hour. A couple of instrumental pieces are cut to make the time, and they don’t perform the two songs on the album originally sung by Jon Oliva — “Another Way” and “Paragons of Innocence.” They also play around a little bit with the order of the songs so they can close with “Blackjack Guillotine,” arguably the album’s heaviest track.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Stuck in My Head: "Dimebag" Darrell Abbott, "Whiskey Road"

Unlike many passed artists, “Dimebag” Darrell Abbott doesn’t seem to have left behind much unreleased material. Either that or his family is being very careful with what they let out. But every now and then, something we haven’t heard before trickles out.

A while back, Guitar World premiered the track “Whiskey Road,” recorded on Pantera’s final tour in 2001. The song features the late Dimebag on all instruments and vocals, and though it’s a rough demo, it shows a lot of promise. If you’re expecting a crushing Pantera tune, think again. “Whiskey Road” is a Southern rock drinking song from start to finish. Though there’s a little bit of “Cemetery Gates” in the clean guitar sound and some of the leads, there’s a lot more twang than crunch.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Review: Whitey Morgan, "Grandpa's Guitar"

Sometimes a song just hits you right where you live.

Whitey Morgan, probably the biggest hell-raising honky tonker out of Flint, Michigan, settles down a bit on his latest album Grandpa’s Guitar, a collection of acoustic pieces in honor of his grandfather, William Henry Morgan.

The song, which Morgan said was one of the most difficult he’s ever recorded, recalls the impact that his grandfather had on his life. In the story, he recalls finding a treasured tape of his grandfather playing and singing in the basement and his first experience with the guitar at the knee of his grandfather. Later, after his grandfather passes away, he consoles himself by once again retreating to the basement, finding that guitar and letting his sorrow sing through the strings.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Best of 2014: Hard rock and metal

We enjoyed a really strong year in hard rock and metal, so much so that some albums I really enjoyed got bumped off of my Best of 2014 list. There were great comebacks from the likes of Sanctuary, Body Count and, of course, Judas Priest. There were releases from some very promising new acts like Anti-Mortem and Black Crown Initiate. There were entries from some steady-as-ever acts.

As always, this list is subject to change with my mood, or as I discover a few records that I somehow missed over the course of the year, but here’s my Best of 2014 list for hard rock and metal — at least, as of the last week of the year …

No. 10 — SANCTUARY – THE YEAR THE SUN DIED: It’s been 25 years since Sanctuary’s last album, but you’d be hard-pressed to tell that from this record. This is a bit heavier perhaps, a bit more progressive, than the band’s earlier work, but just a stellar album all the way around.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Best of 2014: Country and Southern rock

Unlike my Best of 2014 list concentrating on hard rock and metal, not a whole lot changed from my mid-year picks for country and Southern rock. There was a little bit of shuffling and a new entry or two, but precious little from the second half of the year managed to unseat anything from my early Best of 2014 list …

No. 10 — MATT WOODS – WITH LOVE FROM BRUSHY MOUNTAIN: Woods is a really good songwriter, an underrated art in country music today. That’s really what makes this record stand out for me. It’s about the songs and stories.