Monday, March 2, 2020

Review: Demons & Wizards, "III"


Fans have waited 15 years for the third album from Demons & Wizards, the side project of Blind Guardian vocalist Hansi Kursch and Iced Earth guitarist Jon Schaffer. Was it worth the wait? That probably depends on how much you like the music their respective bands have pumped out in recent years.

What's hot?

Album opener "Diabolic" sets a high bar for the rest of the record. It's a dark, classic D&W-sounding piece, with a chorus lyric and melody designed to bring to mind their 2000 self-titled debut, in particular the song "Heaven Denies." Kursch's voice retains its power, though the melodies he's singing sometimes leave much to be desired. There's an interesting hard rock influence that comes in, particularly on "Invincible" and the AC/DC- and WASP-inspired "Midas Disease." I think they should have explored that sound just a little more.

Thursday, February 27, 2020

Review: Ozzy Osbourne, "Ordinary Man"

There has been talk of a new Ozzy record for a few years now, and it’s sparked hope that we’d get that one last really awesome album that would erase some of the lackluster releases of his later years and send him out on top.

Now we have it, and, man, this is tough.

The problem I have with Ordinary Man is that the songs are, I think, some of the best that Ozzy has recorded in years. But the album is extremely difficult to listen to, not because of the content, but because it sounds like utter crap. It’s like I’m listening to music through a busted speaker, especially in the heavier moments. I’m assuming that was the sound they were going for, but I don’t understand why.

Monday, February 24, 2020

Review: Marko Hietala, "Pyre of the Black Heart"


Nightwish bassist/vocalist Marko Hietala gives us the English version of his 2019 Finnish release, Mustan Sydamen Rovio, and it's an interesting mix of classic hard rock sounds and the more folky and symphonic side of his main band.

What's Hot?

We already know that Hietala is an incredible songwriter, and that's on full display on Pyre of the Black Heart, both in composition and lyrics. Most of the songs here delve for lyrical depth, but I also enjoy that he's not afraid to have a little juvenile fun in his songwriting, as evidenced by the line in "Stones" where he sings "am I the butt of their constant crack?" There are also some interesting choices here and there on the album, like the synth-heavy sound of "Star, Sand and Shadow" which probably ends up closer to Nightwish than just about anything else here. But I really like when he just goes for the straight-up rock. "Death March for Freedom" is one of my most-played songs of the young year, mixing old-school, Deep Purple-style hard rock with some folky melodies. Hietala's vocals remain just as incredible, dark and powerful as fans of Nightwish and the many other bands that he's worked with would expect.

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Review: Dirty Shirley, "Dirty Shirley"


George Lynch may just be the busiest man in rock 'n' roll these days. Every time you turn around, it seems like he has a new project. The latest is blues rock outfit Dirty Shirley.

What's hot?

Vocalist Dino Jelusic is an absolute beast. His vocals make me wonder if Dio and Whitesnake toured Croatia together back in the early 1990s and if so, where his mother was that night. I joke, of course, but Ronnie James Dio and David Coverdale both are prominent in his influences, along with Jorn Lande. Even if nothing else worked on the record, it would be worth the listen just for his voice. Luckily there are also some tasty, nasty blues grooves from Lynch like the one on album opener "Here Comes the King" and a few strange moments like the Zeppelin-meets-Alice in Chains sound of "Grand Master."

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Review: Annihilator, "Ballistic, Sadistic"

Be careful what you wish for: For years, I’ve wanted Jeff Waters to drop the ballads and musical experiments and just deliver a blazing, no compromise thrash record with Annihilator. Ballistic, Sadistic does exactly that.

When I heard album opener “Armed to the Teeth” a month or so ago, I got excited. Here was everything that I’d wanted from the band for a long time – an absolute ripper of a riff, blazing lead work from Waters and a nice breakdown. There was no nonsense, no playing around with other genres. It sounded like the Annihilator I fell in love with around 30 years ago.

That follows through on the other nine songs on Ballistic, Sadistic, dare I say, perhaps a bit too much. At the risk of turning myself into a huge hypocrite after begging Jeff Waters to return to this sound, the new Annihilator album does suffer, at times, from a lack of variety. From the very beginning, it jumps on top of you and starts pummeling like the girl with the bat from the “Armed to the Teeth” video, and it doesn’t give you a chance to catch your breath.

Thursday, February 6, 2020

Best of the 2010s, Part 3: Sturgill Simpson through Rob Zombie

And finally, we come to the final installment of my favorite records of the 2010s...

STURGILL SIMPSON – HIGH TOP MOUNTAIN (2013): I’m not sure there was a better traditional country album released in the past decade than High Top Mountain. With his later albums, Simpson became far more experimental. Some of that worked for me and some didn’t, but this is the place I’d like to see him get back to one day. The music is very much old-school country, with plenty of Waylon-style honky tonk and some shots of bluegrass, but there’s a definite rock ‘n’ roll attitude to songs like “You Can Have the Crown” or “Some Days.” Though I really like Metamodern Sounds in Country Music and Sound & Fury, this remains his shining moment to my ears.

Monday, February 3, 2020

Best of the 2010s, Part 2: Gloryhammer through Soilwork

Today, we continue with the next 10 entrants on my list of favorite albums of the last decade...

GLORYHAMMER – SPACE 1992: RISE OF THE CHAOS WIZARDS (2015): Yes, this is Christopher Bowes’ second inclusion on this list, but it’s a different band and just as much fun. Instead of pirates, we’re focusing on heroic fantasy and science fiction. The next chapter of Bowes’ tale about Scottish hero Angus McFife takes us to space in the “far future” of 1992, where Angus McFife XIII battles the evil wizard Zargothrax, released from the ice prison where the hero’s ancient ancestor had locked him. The story was a bit looser than the band’s debut, 2012’s Tales from the Kingdom of Fife, but the music had matured by leaps and bounds. It was a tough call between this one and 2019’s Legends from Beyond the Galactic Terrorvortex, but in the end, I think the songs here are stronger overall – and there’s “Goblin King of the Darkstorm Galaxy.” If I’m most thankful for one thing musically in the last decade, it’s Bowes and the joy he’s brought me with both of his primary projects.

Friday, January 31, 2020

Best of the 2010s, Part 1: Alestorm through Delain

It’s not until you sit down and actually start combing through the hundreds of records you’ve listened to over a decade that you realize how daunting the task of picking favorites over that period of time is. I barely remember who the guy occupying my body in 2010 was, much less where his head was musically when he picked his Top 10 for that year. It seems like both just yesterday and a lifetime ago.

After a bit of mild agonizing, I’ve chosen 30 favorites for the decade. It’s a completely random number because, basically, that’s as far as I could narrow the list – and even at that, there were a couple of tough cuts. They’re listed in alphabetical order because I didn’t have the fortitude to attempt to rank them 1-30, and if I had, it might be another decade before I’d be able to finalize the list. I’ve also limited it to one album per artist, even though several of the artists on the list had multiple records that I would have liked to include. As always, I stress that I am in no way saying these are the “best” albums of the 2010s, only my favorites, and I’m sure that I’ll kick myself for forgetting something as soon as it’s published. Still, off we go …

ALESTORM – NO GRAVE BUT THE SEA (2017): If I had to name my artist of the decade, it would probably be Alestorm. No band brought me more pure, unadulterated fun and joy in the 2010s, and every album they released was a contender. It came down to a tough choice between this one and 2011’s Back Through Time, but in the end, I think No Grave but the Sea may be their best piratical adventure to date. It has some of the most memorable melodies, an injection of heaviness in the form of an increased presence of keyboardist Elliot Vernon’s harsh vocals – and as always, Christopher Bowes’ quirky and silly sense of humor. Oh, and it spawned the profane anthem about an anchor that will likely close every show they do from now on with a rousing, drunken sing-along.

Friday, January 10, 2020

Best of 2019: Gloryhammer, Soilwork, Beast in Black, Tom Keifer, Sturgill Simpson and more

There’s a contingent of metal fans who think the music should always be uber-serious and without any trace of humor. I don’t agree with those folks, and really never have, but I do get it. Many of us were drawn to metal from places of anger, pain or isolation, and we found solace in knowing that there were others feeling the same things.

As I’ve gotten older, I have gained a much greater appreciation for things that just make me happy. There’s enough going on in the world to validate my anger and sadness these days, and more often than not when I turn to music, I want to get away from that.

When Kirk Hammett and Rob Trujillo were getting bashed mercilessly by some fans this year for taking a couple of minutes of each Metallica show to have some goofy fun by performing absolutely awful covers of songs that had some significance to the town they were playing, I was watching the YouTube videos and laughing along with them. I was happy to see them having fun and not taking things too seriously.

For the same reason, Nanowar of Steel’s completely ridiculous IKEA-ad Christmas tune “Valhallelujah” sits right next to Parkway Drive’s “Wishing Wells,” a violent and raging tale of coping with grief, on my list of Best of 2019 list. (And, yes, I know the Parkway Drive song wasn’t actually released in 2019, but more on that later).

So, if there’s a theme to my list of favorite albums of the past year, you’ll see that it’s not necessarily complex and serious musicianship that won me over in 2019, but rather the ability to make me smile and take me to another place for a few minutes.


PARKWAY DRIVE – REVERENCE: I was a fan of the early wave of metalcore in the late ’90s and early ‘00s with bands like Shadows Fall and God Forbid, but the style quickly got stale for me. These days, I tend to discount most anything tagged with the label automatically, so Parkway Drive was not on my radar until late January. We were listening to Sirius/XM on our four-hour drive back from a concert in Dallas that had been my son’s Christmas gift when I heard “The Void” on Octane (his channel of choice). I thought it was kind of cool with a Metallica vibe. A couple of hours later, they played “Wishing Wells” on Liquid Metal, and the song just punched me in the gut. When I got home, I grabbed Reverence, and it remained a staple of my listening all year. It has the perfect balance of raging heaviness mixed with memorable melodies and riffs that just does it for me. It’s one of my most listened records this year, and if I had heard it when it was released in 2018, it would have easily been a Top 5 pick.