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Thursday, April 16, 2015

SEETHER "Isolate And Medicate" Deluxe Edition

(c)2014 Bicycle Music Company
  1. See You At The Bottom
  2. Same Damn Life
  3. Words As Weapons
  4. My Disaster
  5. Crash
  6. Suffer It All
  7. Watch Me Drown
  8. Nobody Praying For Me
  9. Keep The Dogs At Bay
  10. Save Today
  11. Turn Around (deluxe edition)
  12. Burn The World (deluxe edition)
  13. Goodbye Tonight--Seether and Van Coke Kartel (deluxe edition)
  14. Weak (deluxe edition)
Shaun Morgan--Lead Vocals, Rhythm and Lead Guitar
Dale Steward--Bass, Acoustic Guitar, Backing Vocals
John Humphrey--Drums, Percussion

Three years had passed since South Africa's Seether had released new music, and I had heard several times that the band had been "put on indefinite hiatus", or even "shelved", in favor of side projects from the individual band members.  I really don't know a lot about the band outside of the album Karma And Effect, other than the songs I had heard on the radio, so whether there was anything to these rumors or not, I am not the person to ask.  I had kind of lost interest as everything started sounding the same, at least as far as radio single go, so if the band had decided to hang things up, I guess I wasn't going to get too wrapped up in that drama, as I had nothing emotionally invested in the band in the first place.  However, it is obvious with the release of Isolate And Medicate, the band's 6th studio album, Seether let the world know that not only are they not done as a band, they are also not done as a musical force in the modern rock scene.

The album kicks off with "See You At The Bottom", a hard rocking tune driven by the grunge-inspired guitar tones and style that Seether has become known for, with Morgan's vocals mixing with the backing vocals in a lesser-degree Alice In Chains fashion throughout much of the track.  There are moments, however, where Morgan really cuts loose with some impassioned screaming, especially during the chorus, that have not always been been present in past Seether efforts.

"Same Damn Life" sports a lifted guitar riff from Little Peggy March's "I Will Follow Him", circa 1963, combining a punkish attitude with the band's grunge stylings, with Morgan even breaking into falsetto for parts of the verses!  Talk about your oddity of a song, but you know what...it works.  Easily one of the catchiest songs on the record, I can't help but smile a bit when I this track, which is now a single, comes on the radio.

Lead single, "Words As Weapons" is almost...haunting...in the way it is put together.  There is just something about Morgan's vocals here, along with the sparse nature of the music during the verses, that is spine-tingling to listen to.  There are alss some chant-style vocals going on in chorale fashion beneath the surface of this largely drum-driven track that adds even more to the eerie nature of this track that I find myself hitting repeat on fairly frequently.

"My Disaster" takes a bit of a step backward for me, as it sounds a lot like a rehash of several of their songs from the past.  In other words, its just not very memorable for me.  The guitars buzz along in their grungy, sludgy style, but the lead guitar really isn't there to speak of (it gets kind of buried under the ryhthm guitars), and the song is rather repetitive to listen to.

"Crash" has an odd vibe to it and I honestly don't think I would have even been able to tell you it was a Seether song if I hadn't heard it on this record.  I know everyone calls this music "post-grunge", but there is nothing "post" about this track--it is straight-up Seattle worship, with elements of Nirvana in the vocals and Soundgarden-meets-Smashing Pumpkins in the music.  The song just sounds so much...older...than it actually is.  I have no doubts you could put this track on a station like Lithium on Sirius/XM, and the majority of casual listeners would never be able to tell you that was a song from 2014 and not 1994.  If you are into real grunge-sounding music, this is a GREAT track for you to grab hold of.

"Suffer It All" does absolutely nothing for me.  In fact, I think I can safely say I don't really like "angry Seether" all that well, as it makes them sound generic, even when they try to mix in a poppy element to the chorus.  Just not my cup of tea at all here.  Skip...

"Watch Me Drown" feels a lot like "Same Damn Life, Part II" to me.  It has that same kind of pop-punk vibe to it, bouncy-yet-grumpy at the same time.  These two songs, in fact, remind me a LOT of what Theory Of A Deadman did to such effectiveness on Scars & Souvenirs, mixing a pop melody in with a punk mentality, and then layering catchy, snarky, attitude-laden vocals over the top.

"Nobody Praying For Me" is a moody, darker track, with Morgan plumbing the lower end of his vocal range during the verses, then returning to his typical snarling delivery style on the chorus of this mid-tempo number.  Simplistic-yet-catchy, this is where the best of the original material ends for me, as "Keep The Dogs At Bay" is just too repetitive to keep my attention, and "Save The Day" really doesn't sound like Seether all that much to me and it has a weird guitar tone (or is it a Theramin?!) that drives me loopy when I hear it in the background.  I think it could have been a pretty cool ballad, but that dang tone is just irritating to hear over and over...

Sometimes I wonder how we get "bonus material" that's as good as, if not better, than some of the material on a regular version of an album.  Why the heck didn't you put ALL the good stuff on an album and leave off a couple of stinkers? And while we're at it, why is the "deluxe edition" in a digipack/slipcase?!  Argh!  Anyway, Seether decided to put out a deluxe edition of Isolate And Medicate with four bonus tracks, three of which are better than half of the rest of the original album.

"Turn Around" is a lot like "Words As Weapons" in the fact that it is borderline creepy to listen to.  The bass line intro sets such a spooky vibe for Morgan to snake his vocals over that this song is just plain fun to listen to.  "Burn The World" is just flat-out cool and the intro makes me think of the old James Bond movies I watched with my dad back in the 70's and 80's.  (I keep expecting Roger Moore to turn around and shoot the screen and then have blood dripping down the screen...but I digress.)    Not really in line with a lot of the Seether material I have heard before, but something I think I would like to hear more of.  And "Weak" is a pretty cool tune as well, but I've been told it actually isn't a new song, just one I missed because it was on some sort of compilation or best-of in the past.

I don't overly care for "Goodbye Tonight".  I have no clue who the Van Coke Kartel is or why Seether has them on their record, but it really didn't add any "wow" to an otherwise all-too-familiar sounding song that really sounds like it could blend into just about any other Seether album cut and not be missed.

While nothing here is going to really stretch the boundaries of what Seether has become known for, perhaps that is a good thing.  There is a lot of soft/loud/soft/loud going on with the song structure (with a couple of exceptions as mentioned), and it is an effect which has worked well for the band in the past.

While not necessarily the most diverse album the band has put out, and likely not the one most band fans will indicate as their favorite, Isolate and Medicate is a strong effort, showcasing Morgan's distictive voice, some decent song-writing skills, and a willingness to hold onto much of what has worked for the band in the past, while not attempting to rewrite previous records.  A decent listen if you are into this style, but nothing earth-shattering.  When it works, which is more often than not, it works well.  However, when things are off, the songs become nothing more than background noise that is basically indistinguishable from the lesser material I have heard from the band in the past.

Rating:  Rock this at 6.5.  While not amazing, it is definitely a decent record. Go for the Deluxe Edition, by the way, as 3/4 of the added tracks boost the value of the record.

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DISCIPLE "Attack"

(c) 2014 Independent Release
  1. Radical
  2. Attack
  3. Dead Militia
  4. Scarlet
  5. Unbroken
  6. The Name
  7. Angels and Demons
  8. Lion
  9. Yesterday Is Over
  10. Kamikaze
  11. Crazy
  12. The Right Time
Kevin Young--Lead Vocals
Josiah Prince--Guitars
Andrew Stanton--Guitars
Jason Wilkes--Bass, Backing Vocals
Joey West--Drums, Percussion

It seems like lately I have been reviewing a lot of new, modern material from bands that are now pushing 20 years in the industry.  Disciple's latest effort, Attack, continues that trend.  I had to actually stop and ask myself how Disciple could possible be 20 years old already...and how I am still listening to them today, as I will be honest in saying I was NOT a fan when the band started out.  Their combination of rap and metal was simply not something that slotted into my musical vocabulary as a 20-something music fan.  

Well, twenty years later, some things have changed (the rap, and most of my hair, is gone), some things have stayed the same (Disciple still BOLDLY rocks for God)...and Disciple is still here.

Granted, the only member of the band who has been here for the full history of Disciple is founder and frontman, Kevin Young.  Looking as young and fresh and energetic as always (was he 12 on the first album or something?!), Young formed a new version of the band (he refers to this version as Disciple 3.0), ditched the whole record label concept and went with a Kickstarter-funded project, and put together the best Disciple album ever, by my estimation.  Geared for modern rock radio musically, but as lyrically bold as ever, Young and company have crafted a guitar-driven modern rock record with enough edge to keep the more metal-inclined fans happy (check out "Radical", "Attack" and "The Name",  for starters), while making sure that the younger generation of fans who flooded Christian radio with requests for "Dear X..." a few years back are not left out in the cold.  

The album kicks off with its lead single, "Radical", which is one of the hardest hitters on a record chock full of uptempo rockers.  "Radical" reminds me a lot of the era when I really started finding myself liking Disciple, which is in that By God through Back Again span of records.  In fact, "Radical" sounds like it could have possibly even come from Back Again, as the hard charging guitars and thundering drums recall a harder rocking band than what Young had seemingly morphed the band into with Horseshoes & Hand Grenades, and especially Southern Hospitality. Don't get me wrong, I like both of those records, but I always felt there was an edge missing from most of the songs on those two records.  That edge has been rediscovered and reapplied here, to be sure!

From here, the title track, "Attack" continues in the hard rock vein, albeit just a slightly more radio rock direction.  A bouncy guitar riff brings the song in, crashing it into pounding drums and some  atmospheric elements, before big, shouted vocals ask, "Are you ready for a fight?!", plunging the listener into a spiritual call-to-arms battle anthem!  There's a small vocal breakdown in the middle, but the intensity doesn't let up for long before the bass drum starts to thump again and Young redirects the listener back to the matters at hand!

"Dead Militia" finds Young really reaching into his screaming vocals for the first time on this new album on yet another blistering number that will likely find itself being released as a single before this record is laid to rest.  The drums and bass are given opportunity to shine in spots on this track which is one of the two catchiest tracks, musically, on the entire record.  I was extremely happy that this song was included in the setlist of Disciple's recent City Rockfest Tour, as I was bouncing along with the song from note one (as was my 7 year old son who was attending his first ever rock show).

From here the band shifts gears a bit with what I am guessing will be a major Christian radio rock hit this summer in "Scarlet".  Leaving the hard rocking on the roadside for just a moment, Disciple jumps seamlessly into the modern rock territory it has so effectively been navigating for the past few years.  Young stays as bold as ever with his lyrics ("Though my sins they be as scarlet, Though my hands have been an enemy of God, Though my heart has played the harlot, You give me more than I deserve..."), but he never comes across as preachy or Bible-thumping in his approach, which makes a song like "Scarlet" even more accessible to fans who may be curious as to what Disciple is all about.

"Unbroken" finds the band slowing things just a bit more, steering their musical vehicle into the realm of  modern rock balladry, although they refuse to leave the thunder of the drums or the punch of the guitars completely behind on the choruses.  Speaking of the chorus, we also get to really hear Jason Wilkes add his backing vocals to this track in a simplistic, yet effective manner.  Again, a great song that will find a lot of love on rock radio, even if it is a bit too tame for some band fans.

The rockers need not fear, however, as "The Name" seems to come out of nowhere and threatens to shred your speakers with its sheer speed and power!  This is the Disciple of old by just about any account, and the band tears things up at break-neck speed on this juiced up praise and worship hymn (it's basically "Tis So Sweet To Trust In Jesus" on high octane fuel).  Experienced headbangers only need to apply for entrance here, folks!  Huge, shouted gang vocals, crushing drum rhythms, screaming guitars, a thundering breakdown, and impassioned lyrics...what more could you ask for from a band that is obviously hitting on all cylinders on this track.  Easily the highlight of the live set I saw in March (which was also boosted by a killer light show and some amazing video images...).

The one song on the record that I don't think lives up to the greatness of the rest of the record is up next with "Angels & Demons", and even this isn't a bad song.  The song structure just doesn't seem to fit the flow of most of the record (there are a couple more oddities yet to come), but I never find myself skipping this track or wishing that it hadn't been included.  Perhaps its the almost jarring change in tempo between this song and "The Name" that makes it stand out so starkly, I'm not sure. 

"Lion" is a song that had to grow on me, and I'm still not 100% certain how I feel about it sometimes.  This one is definitely a mood song for me, although much like "Angels & Demons", I would never say I dislike it and I never skip it.  The song almost feels disjointed...almost...as it has a rather quirky rhythm, especially during the chorus, that I find difficult to really lock into.  It was immensely popular in concert, so maybe its just me...

"Yesterday Is Over" returns the band to modern rock ballad territory.  This is the "lighter in the air" song of the record, to be sure.  This one is the "swayer" on the album...and in the setlist...and there were many hands in the air almost the second the infectious guitar intro to this song hit the speakers.  Young really showcases is singing talents here, rather than relying solely on his powerful, more metallic screaming style.

"Kamikaze" picks the pace right back up and is one of my three or four favorite songs on the record, although I have heard (and read) several people saying they really don't care for this track.  I love it, personally!  A definite head-bobber, and showcases a vocal trade-off between Young and Wilkes that I think really works well.  Sure, this song doesn't really fit with the majority of the record, but that only serves to set it off a bit.  It also features one of the truest guitar solos on the record, and is just an overall fun song that seems to manage to creep up a volume notch or two every time I play it.

"Crazy" feels like an industrial rocker to me with some of the effects used at the intro and throughout the rest of the track, and the bass and drums really drive this song for most of the verse sections before a sing-along styled chorus kicks in.  Not overly memorable, but a fun number near the end of the record, which closes out with "The Right Time".  As is often the case with Disciple, the band chooses to end things with a ballad (or at least a more down-tempo number), and this is a pretty good one.  An acoustic guitar carries much of the melody on a track that reminds me of a lot 80's hair band power ballads in the way it is structured.  Again, quite a bit different than the majority of the record, but a solid way to exit and one last chance for Young to get his lyrical point about God's love and salvation across to the listener.

As has been the case for several years now, Travis Wyrick is the producer of the album, and his touch is felt throughout the record.  The man has a definite knack for feeling where Disciple wants to go with their art, and Attack is no exception.  The production is clean and modern, with the guitars sounding especially crisp and sharp here, and Young's vocals punchy and out front the way they should be, without burying the rhythm section in the basement of each track.  Solid, solid work here.

While a lot of bands are satisfied to rest on their laurels...and tour on their catalog...it is evident Disciple is nowhere near done musically, as Attack is easily their most complete record in at least a decade, and my favorite from their now impressive catalog.  I was a little bit late getting to this record, but it is one that I am definitely glad I picked up as it reinvigorated my interest in this band and drove me to go back and pull out their last four or five records and rediscover some of the gems I had unintentionally buried in my CD rack.           

Rating:  Crankable, all the way.  Crank this to a powerful 9...and make sure to catch the band live if you get the chance!

   

Monday, April 6, 2015

LACEY STURM "The Reason: How I Discovered A Life Worth Living" (Book Review)


(c) 2014 Baker Books

Lacey Sturm is known to hundreds of thousands of people, perhaps even millions of people, as the former lead singer of the band Flyleaf.  What most of those people may not know, however, is that prior to her joining the band, prior to her decision to commit her life to Christ, Sturm was a self-described "atheist" who was on the verge of committing suicide.  How did she get there?  How did she turn her life around?  Why did she leave Flyleaf seemingly at the height of the band's popularity?  Sturm addresses these and several other topics in this autobiography.  

Unlike a lot of autobiographies, this book is not overly heavy on personal detail that really doesn't serve to drive the book at all.  The entire project checks in at just 208 pages, with no photo section, although there are several hand-drawn sketches that I believe Sturm did herself, which serve to add a bit to the content of the chapter the sketch is found in.  Yes, she discusses her childhood (she was born to a teen-aged mother who had been advised to have an abortion rather than deliver Lacey), and she talks about her struggles with drugs, depression, and thoughts of suicide, but this book isn't meant to be a dark story that leaves readers feeling sad or depressed for the author.  Instead, Sturm pushes through the details of her young life, explaining how even seemingly negative elements (a life lived in poverty at times, her love of Pantera and Nirvana, a volatile relationship with her mother, a molar pregnancy that could have killed her, etc.) shaped her life and rounded out the individual she would become.  

Each chapter in Sturm's book is a "reason".  "The Reason I Love Jazz", "The Reason I Became An Atheist", The Reason I Loved Nirvana", etc., and each "reason" explains a part of who Lacey is today.  It's a unique way to set up a book, in my opinion, and I found myself turning through the pages quickly and effortlessly, seeking out the story behind the "reason" listed in the chapter title.

One problem I had with the book is also likely one of the main things that will appeal to her target audience, which is teens and young adults.  The background info on some chapters is rather sketchy and I feel like I have been left out of the loop in some places.  The historian in me wants to be let in, wants to be given the smaller details that may not seem important to many readers, while the target audience is going to be appreciative of the fact that only the bigger, broader picture is presented here, without the mundane details.  I get that I am double, maybe even TRIPLE the age of the intended audience here.  I get that I don't always understand the day-to-day struggles of teens and young adults today (despite being a high school teacher surrounded by the target audience on a daily basis), so I am not going to hold this minor issue against the book or the author.

I do wish a tad bit more time had been spent on the Flyleaf years, perhaps addressing the recording process, their videos, some more touring information, etc.  I also wish a bit more had been talked about showing how the band worked both inside of and on the outside of the Christian music industry, and how they dealt with Christians who felt they were not "Christian enough", and secular fans who thought Flyleaf was "too Christian".  However, again, I understand that is not the point of the book.  The book is here to served as a way for Lacey to communicate with her readers and listeners about the hope she has for their life and how she was able to overcome some of the same issues that they are likely dealing with themselves.  It isn't necessarily about music as much as it is about Lacey's salvation and how that opportunity is out there for every single person that picks up her book.  

The 3-page forward to the book is written by Brian "Head" Welch of KoRn/Love & Death, himself a born again Christian, with an afterward written by Franklin Graham of the Billy Graham Ministries organization.  Also, throughout the book, Sturm scatters quotes from, and references to, author C.S. Lewis, whom Sturm obviously holds in high regard.

Was it a good read?  For the most part, yes.  Again, there are things I feel are missing, but perhaps they will be discussed in a future book (which Sturm suggests she will write at some point).  Again, it is relatively short, and I found myself making my way through the book in a total of about 4 hours spread out over a couple of days of reading.

People looking purely for the story of Flyleaf's formation, rise, peak, and then Sturm's departure, will likely put the book down a bit disappointed once they have finished it.  Teens and young adults who are looking for someone they can possibly relate to and learn from are likely to find themselves feeling the book was over all-too-quickly and possibly seeking Sturm out on the internet or trying to converse with her through email or social media.  

Overall, a solid read filled with inspiration and hope delivered by a multi-talented artist of the current generation who "gets" that she is meant to be so much more than a modern rock star.

 
Baker Books
208 Pages


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Saturday, March 21, 2015

EUROPE "War Of Kings" Deluxe Edition

(c) 2015 Frontiers Records

  1. War Of Kings
  2. Hole In My Pocket
  3. The Second Day
  4. Praise You
  5. Nothin' To Ya
  6. California 405
  7. Days Of Rock N Roll
  8. Children Of The Mind
  9. Rainbow Bridge
  10. Angels (With Broken Hearts)
  11. Light It Up
  12. Vasatan (Bonus Track)
Joey Tempest--Lead Vocals
John Norum--Lead Guitars, Backing Vocals
John Leven--Bass, Backing Vocals
Mic Michaeli--Keyboards, Vocals
Ian Haugland--Drums, Vocals

In dealing with the band Europe, you basically have two fan bases.  The first fan base will FURIOUSLY defend both the album and song "The Final Countdown" as one of the masterpieces of 80's hair metal/melodic rock, "Carrie" as the quintessential power ballad of all time, "Rock The Night" as the most underrated rock track ever made, and "Cherokee" as the most socially conscious rock song ever put to tape/CD.  Now, that may seem to be a bit over-dramatic, but you KNOW these people!  You have met these people, talked to them, and even call them friends in some instances.  This band's only major moment in the MTV + Hairbands in the 80's=Love era is clung to like a precious childhood teddy bear for some reason.  Why, no one knows, because when the rest of us go back and listen to that particular album (and the follow-up, to a large degree), most of us come to the same conclusion:  "I liked THAT?!"  Really, people, The Final Countdown is just not that great (not horrible, but not genre defining), and sounds INCREDIBLY dated, especially with the overuse of keyboards throughout the record.

The other fan base of the band recognizes that The Final Countdown (and Out Of This World, for that matter) was more of an anomaly in the band's career, and that the band is far more of a 70's hard rock-meets 80's hard rock-meets gritty blues rock band, and that it is on records such as Wings Of Destiny, Start From The Dark, Bag Of Bones, and others that the REAL sound of Europe is most evident, and that only since the reunion of this version of the band (whose members first started playing together in 1985) has Europe really found their true sound.  

Well, with War Of Kings, I can tell you that fans from the first group will want to steer clear, while fans of the latter group are likely going to celebrate in the streets, because War Of Kings may be the most solid album the band has ever recorded from start to finish.  It really is THAT good.  Things start off with a very Deep Purple-ish sounding guitar and keyboard intro on the title track, before carrying that same Purple vibe right into the next song, "Hole In My Pocket", which takes also blends in a healthy dose of Thin Lizzy to mix as it steps up the tempo slightly from the opening song here.  But, don't think for a second that this album is nothing but Deep Purple worship, or Thin Lizzy worship, or worship of ANY other band, because it definitely is not.  Sure, there are songs that recall the sound of other classic bands, with Led Zeppelin being a distant relative of a song like "Light It Up" or "Praise You", but this is Europe, no question.  There is no mistaking Joey Tempest's insanely smooth vocal delivery, or the incredibly underrated talent of John Norum on guitar.  This is a band that knows how it wants to sound as a group, not allowing for one or two people to so completely dominate the style and sound that the rest of the member's efforts are left behind.  

Initially, this is a somewhat difficult record to get into because there really aren't any "singles" per se, especially in the musical world we live in now.  Sure, "Angels (With Broken Hearts)" has the potential to be a monster power ballad of the ages, but who listens to power ballads today that has any sway in the musical/radio/programming world?  No one.  Exactly.  So the listener simply can't go into this record looking for hits and singles, but rather must take it in as a project.  And what a project it is, especially for fans of strong 70's classic hard rock, with hints of the 80's and even the 90's mixed in in conservative doses.

Rating:  Crankable, but it may take you time to get there.  Don't give up!  Crank this one to 8 and let it grow on you!

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Friday, March 13, 2015

P.O.D. "So Cal Sessions"

(c) 2014 T-Boy Records
 
 
  1. Panic & Run
  2. Will You
  3. Youth Of The Nation
  4. No Ordinary Love Song
  5. Strength of My Life
  6. Alive
  7. Higher
  8. It Can't Rain Every Day
  9. Lost In Forever
  10. I'll Be Ready
  11. Beautiful
  12. Set Your Eyes To Zion
 
 
Sonny Sandoval--Lead Vocals
Marcos Curiel--Guitars, Backing Vocals
Traa Daniels--Bass, Backing Vocals
Wuv Bernando--Drums, Rhythm Guitar, Backing Vocals
 
It is difficult for me to wrap my head around the fact that P.O.D. is now more than 20 years old as a band!  Without getting into too much of the band's history, the band has been recording since 1994 when they released Snuff The Punk on the independent Rescue Records label.  In 1998 they moved to major label Atlantic Records, where they enjoyed massive success with The Fundamental Elements of Southtown and the multi-platinum selling Satellite album, also garnering multiple radio singles and MTV video hits.  The band then bounced around on independent labels, releasing a fistful of albums with some minor radio and satellite radio success and finding themselves involved musically with the WWE for a time.  It would be easy to say the band's career has largely been a successful one with little arguement. 
 
Despite these previous highs, P.O.D.'s popularity and success have fallen off in recent years, which, again, is not overly surprising considering the band has been around for 20+ years now.  Drop-offs are to be expected.  What was NOT expected, at least by me, was an acoustic album by these modern rockers who were among the first Christian artists to embrace the rapcore style that was sweeping the rock musical landscape in the mid-90's.  How in the world is a band like P.O.D. going to carry their vibe and sound over into the acoustic realm? 
 
So Cal Sessions can't really be considered a career retrospective, because there is virtually nothing from the early years of the band.  Yes, there are a couple of tracks from Satellite (there would probably be a fan-base riot if "Youth Of The Nation" and "Alive" weren't included), but only one from Fundamental Elements of Southtown (album closer, "Set Your Eyes To Zion"), with nothing from Brown or Snuff The Punk finding its way onto the set list.  On the flipside, there is a LOT of material included from the last four albums, including songs that were never really big hits for the band, while songs that would seem obvious fits, such as "Goodbye For Now", are completely ignored.  So it is ovbious that this is not designed to be a retrospective or greatest hits package by any means.   
 
So, song selection aside, what works here and what doesn't?  First the parts that work for me...
 
The album opens with a very reggae-meets-Latin music version of "Panic & Run", which I think is exceptionally well done.  I really like the tone and temp used here and the band sounds like they are having fun with this track.  "Youth of the Nation" works exceptionally well here, with the scaled back chorus parts and the deeper instrumentation on the chorus and bridge being a really nice addition.  "No Ordinary Love Song" is also nicely done, with Sonny seeming to channel a bit of Anthony Keidis from Red Hot Chili Peppers in his vocal delivery style here, especially on the opening verse.  Again, some nice Latin guitar work is included here and really adds a nice, unique flavor to the track.  "Strength Of My Life" comes across a bit more "plugged in" than some of the songs here, largely because of the (minimal) effects that are used on Sonny's vocals.  Again, a nice reggae beat carries the track, and Sonny shows that even in this more stripped-down arena he is able to pull off some impressive lyrical tongue twisting as he alternately rushes through some sections and stretches others out.  "Alive" was surprisingly well done here musically, but the chorus vocals left a little bit to be desired to my ears.  "Set Your Eyes To Zion" is a perfect closer and is very well done, giving long-time fans a familiar track with which to end things.
 
So, with that said, what doesn't work so well here?  Well, I think "I'll Be Ready" comes across as rather disjointed and "clunky", for lack of a better term.   "Higher" is decent, but was never one of my favorite tracks by the band and the more laid back delivery here really doesn't do anything to improve my feelings for this track.  I thought "It Can't Rain Everyday" would come across a bit stronger than it does in this type of format, but the band altered the song enough that it loses some of the original's strength for me.  I also really didn't like the way "Beautiful" worked in this format for some reason; it really turned me off and I found myself wanting to skip it after the first couple of listens.
 
My other real complaint is that no risks are taken here.  All of the songs that the band chose to rework were songs that lend themselves to an acoustiic interpretation.  A true test would've been to go with some of the band's harder, heavier material, challenging and stretching themselves a bit more musically.  I would've loved to hear "Boom", "Outkast", "Rock This Party", "Lights Out", or especially "Southtown" thrown into the mix...maybe even "Sleeping Awake". 
 
Speaking of the mix, the recording here is solid, with the mix done by Clif Norrell and the band producing the album themselves.  The packaging is a pretty simple 8-page insert, with no lyrics, song selection or album info, and minimalistic thank-you's.  There are, however, a lot of pictures, both color and black and white, some of which I'm guessing come from the band members' personal collections as I haven't seen any of these previously. 
 
I didn't have very high expectations for the record when I received it for review, and I actually put reviewing it off for quite some time, to be honest.  It is nowhere near as bad as I had feared it would be, and thankfully it is an in-studio acoustic effort, not one recorded in front of an audience, so the songs are given a chance to be arranged and mixed properly, and not just presented as four guys sitting on stools strumming acoustic instruments.  Again, I think the song selection could've been a bit stronger, a bit more challenging, but that's more a personal preference than a flaw with the album. 
 
If you are new to the band, I would suggest skipping this effort until later, and would recommend instead that you pick up the band's greatest hits package, Satellite, and possibly Payable On Death or Testify to find out what the band has been about historically.
 
The band is reportedly planning a new full studio project for 2015, so keep an eye out for that, and follow the band at www.payableondeath.com for tour and other information.
 
Rating:  Not terrible, but not something I'm likely to play very often, either.  Rock this to a 6, at least as much as you can "rock" an acoustic record.
 


Sunday, March 8, 2015

ADELITAS WAY "Deserve This" EP

(c) 2015 Independent Release

  1. Deserve This
  2. I Get Around
  3. Filthy Heart
  4. Harbor The Fugitive
  5. Sometimes You're Meant To Get Used
Rick DeJesus--Lead Vocals
Trevor "Tre" Stafford--Drums
Robert Zakaryan--Lead Guitar, Backing Vocals
Andrew Cushing--Bass, Backing Vocals

Adelitas Way return with their 4th release since 2006 with the EP Deserve This.  It should be noted that Deserve This is believed to be the precursor to a new studio album (rumored to be called Alive and set for a summer 2015 release).  Regardless, all five tracks here are brand new and of top-notch quality showcasing a band that is maturing and growing by allowing themselves to step outside the box on a couple of numbers without sacrificing who they have established themselves to be to their fans.

The EP opener and title track, "Deserve This", is what most fans have come to expect from the band.  A straight up modern hard rock number, "Deserve This" kicks in with a distorted guitar chord, some thundering drums from Stafford,  then a frantic bass-and-guitar run kicking this thing into gear right from the start.  Front man, Rick DeJesus, jumps in with his gravel-edged baritone vocals and things are off and running, charging toward the next track, the EP's lead single, "I Get Around".  At this point, the band starts to feel things out a bit, changing up the Adelitas Way sound ever-so-slightly, and tinkering with some different styles and sounds.  In this instance, "I Get Around" is a decidedly hooky, dare I say "bouncy" uptempo rocker that will not disappoint fans of previous hits such as "Invincible", "The Collapse", and "Cage The Beast", but one that also moves a long with a definite skip in its step.  The song kicks off with DeJesus delivering the chorus a cappella before the band comes crashing in,   That chorus by the way, while simplistic, is catchy as all get out and will likely be stuck in your head for days.

The quasi-epic "Filthy Heart" (nearly 6 minutes long) is a bit more down tempo with a somewhat bluesier approach to the song construction.  At times reminiscent of something the Red Hot Chili Peppers might have done, and also including an extended guitar solo with a definite 70's classic rock vibe to it, this song was really driven home for me when I got the chance to see the band live on a stop-over date in central Nebraska.  In fact, three of the five tracks here were performed live that night, with DeJesus telling the crowd that this night was the first night the band performed "Harbor The Fugitive" in a live setting, which was really cool.  The song has a different vibe than anything else I recall Adelitas Way performing on their previous efforts, with some excellent bass work from Cushing and a funky, almost R&B groove to it.  DeJesus' voice is particularly emotive on this track (and "Filthy Heart" as well), abandoning the angry, sharper vocals for a more laid back, singing approach.  Once again, a great guitar solo is included here, with Zakaryan really showing his contribution to the current line-up of the band.  

Album closer, "Sometimes You're Meant To Get Used" returns to the harder-edged modern rock approach previous fans are likely more accustomed to, with DeJesus reapplying the snarl to his vocals, and drummer "Tre" Stafford taking things up a notch here with more complex rhythms and fills than are used on much of the rest of the EP.

Don't get me wrong, I like what Adelitas Way has done in the past, but they got lost in the shuffle sometimes, with so many similar sounding bands competing for airwave space on modern rock radio.  With the Deserve This EP, Adelitas Way has retained their sound but added to it, really expanding their musical vocabulary with some different tempos and styles mixed in.  If pressed, I would have to say that this effort contains three of my favorite AW tracks to this point, with "Harbor The Fugitive" and "Filthy Heart" really finding the band taking their art up a notch with some musical experimentation.  If this is indeed a teaser to the next full-length album, I will be anxiously awaiting that.  As it stands, Deserve This is a solid release in its own right and well worth seeking out for both old fans and people looking for something a bit different from the norm in the Octane world.

The band is currently on tour with Flyleaf and Framing Hanley on the SnoCore Tour, so if you get the chance to catch them live, I certainly encourage you to do so.  Additionally, if you would like to help fund the new album, you can do so here:  http://www.pledgemusic.com/projects/adelitasway   

Rating:  Definitely crankable.  Spin the knob to an 8 here.

Monday, February 16, 2015

PAPA ROACH "F.E.A.R."

(c) 2015 Eleven Seven Music

  1. Face Everything And Rise (F.E.A.R.)
  2. Skeletons
  3. Broken As Me
  4. Falling Apart
  5. Love Me Till It Hurts
  6. Never Have To Say Goodbye
  7. Gravity
  8. War Over Me
  9. Devil
  10. Warriors
  11. Hope For The Hopeless (Bonus)
  12. Fear Hate Love (Bonus)
Jacoby Shaddix--Vocals
Tobin Esperance--Guitar, Bass, Programming
Jerry Horton--Guitars, Backing Vocals
Tony Palermo--Drums

I have know of the band, seemingly forever (they have been around something like 16 years now, believe it or not), but I have never really followed Papa Roach or their career.  In fact, F.E.A.R. is only the second album by the band I have ever owned, with both of them having been referred to me for review.  Sure, I know the singles of the band's nu-metal past, particularly "Last Resort", and some of their more recent efforts like "Getting Away With Murder", but to say I am a fan would be dishonest.  I don't hate them, I don't love them...I nothing them, to be honest.  Papa Roach is a band that has always just "been there" in my musical world.

Nothing really changes with the band's newest album, F.E.A.R.  Are there good songs here?  Sure.  I actually will say that I really like the majority the material here.  For starters, I think the title track, "Face Everything And Rise" is a song that I like a lot despite the fact that I tend to dislike just about everything associated with the current electronica-mashed-with-metal movement.  Don't think along the lines of that ridiculous dub-step approach that Korn used on their last album, but think more along the likes of the orchestral-synth approach used to largely solid effect by bands like Skillet on their past few records.  The song is catchy and anthemic in its approach, and Shaddix holds his own vocally here, never straying outside of the angst-ridden shout-singing that worked so well on the better portions of the band's catalog.  "Skeletons" is another solid track which features a pretty cool bass line provided by Esperance, and a nice drum cadence from Palermo.  More mid-tempo in approach, "Skeletons" will be all over Octane and modern hard rock stations before the summer is over, regardless of if it is released as a single, as it is easily one of the catchiest songs on the disc.  "Broken As Me" picks the pace up just a bit with a track that reminds me a lot of the material on Getting Away With Murder, with emotion-drenched, angry vocals that are alternately screamed, shouted, and snarled for the majority of the track.  The programming on this track is definitely of the trendy variety, with some effects even being added to Shaddix's vocals in a couple of spots, which I wish wouldn't have been done, but they aren't deal breakers here.  "Falling Apart" is another track that I am sure will fill the airwaves, both satellite and terrestrial, as the vocals take on more of a singing quality here, especially on the chorus.  "War Over Me" is the other real stand-out for me, which actually amazes me to a degree because I did NOT like this song at all the first time I heard it, owing largely to the synth-piano intro that just about tricked me into hitting the skip button.  Glad I stuck around because I really like the way the song builds to the chorus which then explodes from the verses.  I also think Palermo provides some excellent skin work here, solidly keeping the tempo and rhythm of the track while still providing unique and interesting patterns for the listener.  

From what I have gathered, there are two versions of this album out there, with mine being the "Bonus Tracks" version (hence the bonus tracks...hehe...)  For what it's worth, I'm pretty glad I have this version, as the two bonus cuts here are among the best in my opinion.  "Hope For The Hopeless" is an angry-sounding, but actually rather lyrically-uplifting song about not giving up on oneself, and "Fear Hate Love" is one of the hardest-charging songs on the album with an interesting approach used on the chorus as "fear", "hate", and "love" are gang-shouted while the rest of the chorus is snarled out by Shaddix.  The guitar work here is some of the best on the record, and while not overly complicated, it definitely packs a punch on this track.

What I don't like about this album is that Papa Roach finds it necessary to dip their toes back into the whole rap-metal style and sound that I had hoped was dead and buried 10 or so years ago.  This is especially true on songs like "Gravity", which sounds to me like Papa Roach trying to imitate Linkin Park for some reason, especially in the way Shaddix approaches the vocals.  Does the world really need two Linkin Parks?)  Even the inclusion of In This Moment vocalist Maria Brink can't save this song which I just have no use for.  On another song, "Warriors", Shaddix turns the rap over to Royce Da 5'9" (whoever that is!) to handle a single verse for no apparent reason, and it really does nothing for me.

Additionally, as I somewhat alluded to earlier, the guitars are missing something for me.  No, I'm not talking about solos or anything like that.  Rather, they just seem lifeless and overly-simplified on so many of these songs, not really providing the aggression that I think many of these tracks could have benefitted from.  Too many times the programming takes over for the guitars, altering where I was hoping the songs would go and making them sound generic.  This is especially true in the middle of the record, where things get musically samey (and the rap vocals just lose me).

On the flip-side, I think Palermo delivers some solid to very-good drum work throughout much of this disc, adding some interesting rhythms and beats that give life to songs that otherwise may flatline.  On a song like "Never Have To Say Goodbye", the drums are about the only thing I find even remotely memorable about the track which just drags and lyrically reminds me of a whiny 15 year old girl's diary.  Bleh...  Likewise, Esperance makes up with his bass what he appears to be lacking on guitar, with some excellent work on songs like the previously mentioned "Skeletons" and another of the better tracks here in "Devil".

But, if you are banking the success of your album on stand-out performances by your drummer and bass player, you might have an album that is in a bit of trouble, and that is the situation here with F.E.A.R.  The first four songs, the last two, and two in the middle ("War Over Me" and "Devil") would have made for a pretty solid 8 track album, even if it would've been a bit short by today's standards.  And you know what, if the rap had been left on the shelf, and a couple of the tired-sounding filler tracks here had been left in the studio, I think I would be more inclined to purchase this disc.  As it stands, I'm not going to throw the record away or anything, but I'm glad it was sent to me for review purposes, as I would've been a bit upset with myself for shelling out $15 on this hit-or-miss effort.

The packaging is solid, with full lyrics included in an 8-page booklet that also features writing credits, thank you's, etc.  There are absolutely no pictures of the band included, but there are several desert-apocalypse pictures here which are...interesting.  The production is solid and the mix is really good as no one instrument drowns out another or takes over a track entirely.

Rating:  Rock this to an uneven 5.5, although there are a couple of definite modern rock radio hits here that will drive sales and album interest, for sure.

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Wednesday, February 4, 2015

CHIP Z'NUFF "Strange Time" (featuring the Bonus "ADLER/Z'NUFF" EP)

2015 Deadline Records

  1. Sunshine
  2. Rockstar
  3. Strange Time
  4. Dragonfly
  5. Still Love Your Face
  6. F..Mary..Kill
  7. Anna Nichole
  8. Strike Three
  9. Hello To The Drugs
  10. All Day And All Of The Night (featuring Robin Zander & Steven Adler)
BONUS Adler/Z'Nuff EP

  1. My Town
  2. Yesterday (Another Wasted Day)
  3. The Game
  4. Tonight We Met (And Now We're Going To F**k)
  5. The Pain Is All On You
Chip Z'Nuff--Vocals, Guitar, Bass, Piano
Steven Adler--Drums & Percussion

Additional Performers
Robin Zander--Vocals on "All Day And All Of The Night"
Biff Butler--Vocals on "Rockstar"
Dale Bozzio--Vocals on the Adler/Z'Nuff EP
Slash--sample guitar solo on "Tonight We Met"

I suppose it was only a matter of time, really, before Enuff Z'Nuff founder (and namesake) Chip Z'Nuff took the cue of his former friend/bandmate/lead singer, Donnie Vie, and released his own solo record.  I mean, in this day and age of 80's rockstars making comebacks, writing autobiographies, and heading out on reunion tours, a solo effort by a name from the scene is not really that uncommon.  What IS uncommon, however, is when said artist decides to completely forego the sound that they are known for and branch out into something totally different.  That is the path Chip Z'Nuff has chosen to take here.

I want to make this 100% clear right from the start:  THIS IS NOT AN ENUFF Z'NUFF RECORD.  End of story.  If you are looking for the shiny, jangly, bubblegum-pop-meets-Alice In Wonderland-at-a-glam-concert style that EzN has become known for, do not pick this record up.  You will be sorely disappointed.  Trust me.

There are some good moments here, to be sure, with the cover of the Kinks "All Day And All Of The Night" being chief among them, as Robin Zander sounds excellent on this slightly punked-up version of the classic track, and the guitar solo is catchy and crisp, showing that Z'Nuff is equally adept playing 6 strings rather than just the usual 4 on his bass.  "Rockstar", which features Biff Butler (son of Black Sabbath's Geezer Butler) on vocals, is the lead single and video, and is not really a bad song, but Enuff Z'Nuff fans will likely not really understand what is going on.  I mean, the video LOOKS like Enuff Z'Nuff, Chip Z'Nuff is playing on the song, but the rest of it is just not the same.  Check it out for yourself and see if you agree.




After that song, things get very 70's sounding, and everything starts to run together for me.   The title track, "Strange Time" drops the album into low gear and starts the downward spiral into stoner hell for me.  Droning, repetitive, and filled with 70's-styled production, especially on the vocals, "Strange Time" really paints a picture of the struggle that I go through from tracks 3 through 9 here.  "Dragonfly" is an airy, almost prog tune with some serious blues to the bass line and a trippy, psychedelic approach to the lyrics and vocals.  I can't tell you why I like this song, but I kind of do, as it just seems to infect my brain for some reason, much like certain Doors or Pink Floyd songs do (even though I don't like the Doors or Floyd as a general rule).  The problem is that the song just bleeds into the next track, "Still Love Your Face", which is very 70's Beatles sounding to me...which I am not a fan of...and then this in turn seeps over into "F...Mary...Kill", a weird song written by Z'Nuff, Howard Stern, and Steve Miller.  When it says "co-written by Steve Miller", what it means is that the strangely hypnotic and tripped out tune is a total (and intentional) rip-off of Miller's "Fly Like An Eagle" in structure and the vocal pattern, with a looped drum machine beat and some off-the-wall lyrics.  Again, not EzN at all, but a modernized take on a 70's classic that I imagine the stoners are going to love.  Me?  Nope...too dang long at over 7 minutes, although it would be the perfect snooze bar song on my alarm clock because it will definitely put me to sleep.

From there we go to "Anna Nichole", a two-minute long instrumental interlude that really adds nothing to the record, blending out of "F...Mary...Kill" and then right into "Strike Three", which reminds me of a left-over Tom Petty song.  The effects used on the vocals are annoying here, and I just can't get into this style at all. "Hello To The Drugs" just about has me pulling the plug on the whole thing, but I decide to stick around for the Kinks cover, which I am glad I did, because starting with this track, a weird thing happens...

Things get better all of a sudden.

The best material here is without a question the five tracks at the end which comprise the ADLER'Z'NUFF EP that was previously recorded...then shelved.  I am glad that these five tracks were tacked onto the end of this record, as they keep the disc from sinking...and keep me from falling out of my chair in a comatose state.    

"My Town" is a hard-charging song that could be thought of as Cheap Trick on steroids.  Bozzio's vocals fit the music perfectly, and the slightly punkish rhythm bounces along nicely, driven by Adler's strong drum presence here, along with some nice, if unspectacular, guitar work from Z'Nuff.

The next two tracks are about as close to Enuff Z'Nuff sounding material as you will find on the entire Strange Time effort.  "Yesterday (Another Wasted Day)" is a really good track, featuring that sixties-pop inspired rock that EzN made their signature sound in the 80's, The somewhat heavier guitars have a modern buzz to the sound, which actually works well, but there is no denying the catchy jangle-pop sound that is present here.  The same can be said of the slightly darker sounding "The Game", which is, again, a really good song featuing a relatively sharp contrast between the shiny-happy vocals and bouncy melody layered over the top of the edgier, modern guitar tones.

"Tonight We Met" is a mini-GnR reunion of sorts, as Adler and Z'Nuff are joined...sort of...by Slash who contributes a "sample guitar solo" to the song.  What that means is the opening guitar riff from "Welcome To The Jungle" is lifted from that song and sampled into this one.  While I get the marketing gimmick of the idea, to be honest, the "solo" doesn't fit the song at all (doesn't distract from it, really, either...).  Again, we have a bouncing romp of a rock song here, with some auto-tuned female vocals on the chorus, and a sleazier approach to the overall style of the track, which is once again better than just about anything from the first 2/3 of the disc.

EP and disc closer, "The Pain Is All On You" is an interesting song.  Co-written by Paul McCartney (yeah, THAT Paul McCartney), this track features Z'Nuff on piano as well as bass and guitar, and it definitely has a bit of a Beatles vibe, but not in the Enuff Z'Nuff glammy type of way.  Its got more of a bluesy shuffle style to the music with the 70's-era Beatles psychedelic vibe to the way the instruments are arranged.  The weakest of the ADLER/Z'NUFF tracks, "The Pain..." is an interesting way to close things out and bring to rest a very uneven record.

What we have here, by Chip's own admission, is something more akin to a "stoner rock record" (duh!).  He goes on to say "What I have with Enuff Z'Nuff is special, but this is a labor of love.  I started writing these songs while going through every type of hard time--family, finances, relationships--and found moments of clarity while writing."  It's interesting to me the choice of the word "labor" in describing this record, because for me, that is exactly what it was to get through the first 10 tracks here...a lot of labor and borderline hard work at times!

To say that I don't like this record would be a bit unfair, as it does have it's moments.  Overall, however, outside of the ADLER/Z'NUFF EP, there really isn't a lot that the fanbase of Enuff Z'Nuff is going to like, and, quite frankly, the majority of this record isn't all that strong.  Here's hoping the band gets back together (perhaps with Vie???) and releases something great this year, because this isn't going to tide fans over.

Rating:  If this was JUST the ADLER/Z'NUFF EP (and the Kinks cover), I would say crank this to 7.5, but as an entire project, scale this back and rock it at 4.5.  It's just not good, at least for a non-acid dropping,non- pot-smoking rocker like myself.  Those last six tracks simply can't elevate the record out of the mire that is the first 2/3 of the record.

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Thursday, January 22, 2015

CRASH MIDNIGHT "Lost In The City"

(c) 2014 Bronx Bridge Entertainment

  1. 151
  2. MAde For The Money
  3. Welcome To Boston
  4. Outta Control
  5. You're The Only One
  6. Diamond Boulevard
  7. City Girl
  8. Take It
  9. Goin' Down The Drain
  10. Somewhere Yesterday
  11. Nowhere To Go
Shaun Soho--Vocals
Bo-Bass
Alex Donaldson--Lead Guitar
Todd Friedman--Rhythm Guitar
Jim Possible--Drums

I don't know much, if anything, about the Boston music scene, but if Crash Midnight is any indication of the sounds coming out of that city these days, I have to wonder how long it will be before more people are exploring the area for new bands to check out.  Combining elements of punk, GnR sleaze, and 70's era hard rock with some modern updates, Crash Midnight manages to make retro sound rather cool...while not really sounding like they are trying to be anything but themselves.  

The band comes roaring out of the gate with "151", a scorching rocker that oozes attitude, as lead yowler Soho snarls to the listener to "Get back, Jack, I'm a tippin' back, Gonna ride this road til it all goes black..." in this ode to the higher-octane beverages the band likely uses for mouthwash in the morning!  "Made For The Money" keeps the foot on the hard classic rock riff machine's accelerator, with timeless guitar riffing, solid-if-simple drumming, and Soho's brazen vocals. 

"Welcome To Boston" is probably my favorite track here and it reminds me a bit of Guns N Roses and "Welcome To The Jungle", to be honest.  The track just drips with sleaze and sass, from the Slash-esque guitar riffs being slung about by Donaldson and Friedman, to the Axl-like screech  and sneer of Soho.  While not likely to explode the music scene for the band the way "Jungle" did for GnR, "Welcome To Boston" is a kick ass rock tune that gives me hope for bands that are willing to just go out there and tear things up, being themselves and rocking out.  Simply put, I love this song...a lot!

"Outta Control" drifts back more toward the 70's end of the band's spectrum, where they sound equally at home, but then the Guns comparisons are likely to come back once "You're The Only One" kicks in.  Again, don't think of this as GnR worship, because that isn't the intention or desire of the band, but there is no doubt these guys were likely cranking Axl, Slash, and Adler while smoking in their parent's basements and garages.  

"City Girl" shifts the band into punkish hyper drive as far as speed goes, playing fast and loose with a simplistic rocker, and "Goin' Down The Drain", with it's opening riff that reminds me of "Life In The Fast Lane", is likely the anthem for the band, as it sounds as much like a goal for the band as a warning for these guys.  "Take It" is repetitive and raw, but dang if it isn't catchy as all get-out, and "Long As It's Free" rips and tears its way into your brain with its hook and a slamming guitar work.

Don't think for a second that these guys don't have a softer side, by the way, as they do manage to slow things down for a moment with the barroom blues ballad, "Somewhere Yesterday".  A soulful guitar solo, some well-placed harmonica, and whiskey-soaked vocals perfectly glide across the sawdust-and-tobacco-spit-covered floor of your favorite dive.  

Sparsely produced, as it should be, Lost In The City is one of the real sleeper hits of 2014 for this reviewer, and if they come anywhere close to me you can bet I will be in the front row, dodging beer bottles, spit, and stage divers alike.  Honestly, I don't know what there is not to like about this record, as even the packaging is nicely done with complete lyrics and credits, as well as a few shots of the band included.  Nicely done for a small, independent label release.

 At times the band reminds me of the early output of The Last Vegas, raw and snotty, retro yet modern hard rock that punched you in the nose when you put it on, but they may be even more attitude-driven than TLV.  If this first album is any indication of where this band is headed, I want to make sure to be there for what happens next, because unless this ride ends up in a smoldering, twisted mess on the side of the road, these guys are possibly on the fast track to the hard rock underground where they may find themselves worshiped as the next coming of the gods of classic sleaze rock!  

Rating:  Immensely crankable!  Push this sucker clear up to 9 and prepare for the ride!  Things are gonna get good!

ADRIANGALE "Defiance"

(c) 2014 Kivel Records

  1. Defiance
  2. Yours Forever
  3. Back To You
  4. What About Love
  5. Fall
  6. Sometimes
  7. Warning Signs
  8. Fire
  9. Last Of My Heart
  10. Speed
Jamie Rowe--Lead & Backing Vocals
Vic Rivera--Guitars/Bass/Drums/Backing Vocals
Eddie Campbell--Guitars/Backing Vocals

Since their resurrection a couple of years ago, Adriangale has been on a tear, releasing two new studio albums in the space of about 18 months.  Sucker Punch! was a great comeback record for the guys and many people, myself included, were rather surprised at how quickly this latest effort followed.  Would it be a case of too much too soon?  

Nope.

Jamie Rowe and Vic Rivera, the main men behind the "band", return with what may be their best performance yet with Defiance, a new set of ten near perfect melodic rock tracks.  Searing guitars, edgy yet melodic vocals, positive lyrics, and meatier production than the band has ever used give this latest album the musical punch necessary to really drive the record.  Jamie Rowe sounds as strong and fresh as ever vocally, reminding me of his younger days when his previous band, Guardian, was at the top of their game with Fire & Love and Miracle Mile.  There really is no mistaking the tenor rasp that characterizes the majority of Rowe's vocals, and there is plenty of that to go around here.  Take, for instance, the album opener and title track, "Defiance".  Crunchier and moodier than many of their previous efforts, this song is one that too much vocal polish or shine would have ruined, but Rowe steps to the plate and smacks a home run, charging through the verses before the amazingly melodic backing vocals chime in on the hooky chorus of this hard rocking number.  "Yours Forever" and "Back To You" are equally hard rocking numbers that, once again, remind me a lot of the edgier Guardian material, and "Sometimes" may be the heaviest hitter on the record with a nice ripping guitar solo from the oft-overlooked third member of the band, Eddie Campbell.  To be honest, I wish Campbell would be given more time to shine on this record (or ANY record), as the guy can flat out shred and really brings a classic 80's style to the fretboard that mixes in so well on the harder material here.  Good, good stuff, to be sure. 

The guys don't let their melodic side suffer for the added punch given to the guitars here, as "What About Love" hearkens back to previous efforts from Crunch and Sucker Punch!  Crisp layered backing vocals and some excellent, clean, technical guitar riffing from Rivera are a melodic rocker's dream here, and Rowe's vocals somehow manage to capture a smoother quality without changing their overall sound.  "Warning Signs" is another melodic rocking gem that pulls from their catalog of experience, and the quasi-80's ballad, "Last Of My Heart" is the Zippo-inducing track of the lot with it's electric piano, a scorching guitar solo, and big time harmonies.  

The album closer is an interesting choice as, for those not aware, "Speed" is actually a cover of a lesser-known Billy Idol song from the soundtrack for the movie...you guessed it....Speed.  If you don't recognize it, that's okay as the song didn't even chart in the United States back in 1994 when it originally was release.  Fast forward 20 years and with a little update in production and some minor tweaks, Idol and his ever-present axe-master, Steve Stevens are morphed into Jamie Rowe and Vic Rivera.  While no one will mistake them as clones, the new version packs a wallop and is a great way to wrap things up on this newest Adriangale effort.

The production, as I have touched on, is not as slick and smooth as on previous Adriangale (or a lot of Kivel) releases, and it serves the band well.  Whereas a band like Tango Down really benefited from the polish of the production on their last effort, Adriangale is just as well-served with some of the rough edges left intact here.  The additional grit Rivera gives the record more character to my ears, and the extra heft swings the album right into my wheelhouse as far as styles I enjoy listening to.  It is worth noting that once again, Ty Sims of Bombay Black worked behind the scenes, adding his immense talent to the mastering process of this top quality production.

As is typical of every Kivel Records release I have received, Defiance is very well packaged, complete with a full booklet, all lyrics and writing credits, thank you's, and several photos.  I wish other labels would take note here because for those who believe the ONLY thing that matters is the music...well, let me say this...there's a reason I don't download much music, and the complete package is the main reason why!  It's nice to hold additional artwork and lyrics in your hands as you listen along to a new album by just about anyone.

While many people knock Adriangale as being a project more than a band, I have to ask, "who cares?!"  Great music is great music, and Adriangale knows something about making exactly that.  Unlike a lot of bands, studio band or not, Adriangale seemingly manages to continually up the ante for themselves and so many others in the melodic rock genre.  They know what their fans want and they deliver time after time.  As good as Sucker Punch! was, Defiance is just a smidgen better with beefier guitars and grittier production.

Rating:  Crank this one all the way to 9.5!  An excellent piece of musical art through and through!



Saturday, January 17, 2015

9ELECTRIC "Control"


(c) 2014 Street Smart Recordings

  1. Time Bomb
  2. Bullet Tooth (featuring Heidi Shepherd)
  3. Feel This
  4. Goodbye
  5. Under Attack
  6. Control
Thunderwood--Vocals
Mikey Lopez--Guitars
CaseyDC--Bass
Micah Electric--Drums/Programming

9Electric is an act that I only recently became aware of after seeing them perform as an opening act on Emphatic's latest tour through the midwest.  This effort is actually the bands's second EP and continues the band's Static-X inspired brand of industrial/techno metal.  Normally this is not my style of music at all, but I will admit that a couple of tracks here are extremely catchy and have wormed their way into one of my workout mixes.

One such track is the album's opener, Time Bomb, which just explodes out of your speakers with a bottom-heavy groove and a driving rhythm that immediately sets your head in motion and is likely to get your air-drums some serious action.  As you would expect with this type of music (do they still call it techno or industrial?  I'm seriously not into this stuff, in general...), there are some looped effects going on here, but the actual instrumentation is solid as well, particularly in Lopez's handling of the rhythm guitar and Electric's particularly adept drumming.  Lead vocalist, Thunderwood, employs a fairly clean style of vocals with just a bit of a rough edge mixed into his tenor, shouted delivery style.  

The follow-up track is particularly interesting to me as it features some amazing female co-lead vocals from Heidi Shepherd who fronts the Butcher Babies.  The interplay between Thunderwood (should I call him Mr. Wood?) and Shepherd is excellent on "Bullet Tooth", and I found myself wishing she appeared on more than just this one track as I think it would have given additional depth to a couple of the later efforts here.  Again, the music is a pulsing, throbbing electronic mish-mash of effects and some killer guitar work, with strong bottom-end work from both Lopez and bass player, CaseyDC.

Fans of the band are likely to be a bit disappointed as "Feel This" is a previously released track, but to me it was a new track (obviously), and is, again, one of the better moments here.  A solid, dare I say danceable riff and rhythm drive the track with Thunderwood using a bit gruffer vocals in the verses than on the rest of the tracks here, while returning to his higher-ranged tenor on the simplistic-yet-catchy chorus.

Honestly, though, after these first three tracks, I start to lose a bit of interest because the rest of the EP starts to sound the same to these ears.  Again, I will be the first to admit this may be a by-product of my lack of exposure to this genre of hard music, but after a while all the rhythms seem to meld into each other.  "Under Attack" is pretty cool, though, and reminds me of Powerman 5000, which leads me to my next point.

For lack of a better comparison I think of 9Electric being to Static-X what I consider Powerman 5000 to be to White Zombie.  They are similar in style, sound, and approach, but the latter entries (X and Zombie) are the innovators, while the former (9E and Powerman) are the imitators.  In fact, I have been told that one of the final appearances of Wayne Static was on 9Electric's previous EP, and the band's website (www.9electric.com) features a prominent "RIP Wayne Static" across the top of the page, so there is no real question as to where they draw their influence and, apparently, their friendship.

I have no doubt that people who are fans of the previously mentioned bands, or this style in general, will find my description lacking in some way, and that's fine.  I will tell you that these guys put on a GREAT, high energy live show that kept people on their feet throughout, and the guys were all very friendly to interact with, talking to anyone who approached them after their show.  Perhaps that would be the best way to connect with the band before deciding whether or not you want to pick up this new EP, because I can honestly say that without seeing them live first, there is not much of a chance I would have snagged this disc.

Rating:  Short and a bit repetitive, I still encourage you to rock this at a 6.5.

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Sunday, January 4, 2015

DESYRE "Warning Of The Night"


(c) 2009 G.L.A.M. Nation Records

  1. Warning Of The Night
  2. Dreams
  3. Can't Let Go
  4. Yule Night Brightness
  5. Calling
  6. Mr. Hyde In Delite
  7. Ransom
  8. No One Knows
  9. Undoings Of My Life
  10. The Battle
  11. Burning In The 3rd Degree


Mazi Bee--Vocals, Lead Guitar
Coco Tommy--Lead Guitar, Backing Vocals
Mike Seeker--Bass, Backing Vocals
Jayce Prime--Drums, Percussion

It's not often that I "want to like" a band. By that, I mean that rarely do I get a CD from someone I have talked with, that I enjoyed getting to know, and just hoped and prayed that the CD was good because I really like the person. I was in that situation with Desyre's debut effort, Warning Of The Night, because I had met and chatted with Mazi Bee on-line, and found him to be a very likeable guy, very dedicated to his music and band, not to mention very dedicated to the task of spreading the Gospel through his music. When he told me the band was recording their debut CD, I pre-ordered it, anxious to get it in my hands and give it a few spins. I couldn't wait to like this CD.

Sadly, my desire to like it does not match up with what I actually feel about it.

It is not that the music is bad, because it is not. In fact, the musicianship on the CD is very good for the most part. The guitars, especially, have a great glam/hair metal feel to them, and this band knows exactly the sound they are after, even labelling their sound "Hair Metal Madness" (also the title of their first demo) on the inlay of the digi-pack. The rhythm section is pretty tight, also, although the sound of the drums is a bit "echoey" (is that a word?) and hollow at times, which I attribute to what was likely a very small redording budget. Even the song structure is generally sound and very much a throwback to the 1980's. Lyrically, for those who find these things important, the band is also very up-front about their faith and only occasionally struggle with translation from their native Finnish to English. All of these things are average to above average, or even very good, as in the guitar department.

The vocals are a completely different story.

Part of the problem, again, is the limited recording budget. The vocals alternate between being too out front and almost buried in the mix. For example, on ""Yule Night Brightness", a Christmas metal song, Mazi's vocals are so low on the verses that I honestly can't make out what he is saying without the lyrics sheet. The chorus is fine, but the verses are just a mish-mash of mumbling in Finnish-accented English and very hard to make out. Mazi also falls out of key on several occasions, which I am not 100% sure in unintentional. When he is on, he has a pretty good, if somewhat limited range-wise, voice for this type of material, and pulls some of these songs off very well. Some, however, are rendered almost unlistenable by the clash between Mazi's lead vocals and the also frequently off-key backing vocals. To his credit, Mazi has been very respectful of the criticism he has received about the vocals, and he vows that they will be better on the next album (which is being recorded as I review this effort).

Some of the songs are very strong in their structure, performance, and sound. I think the up-tempo rocker "The Battle" is probably the best song on the disc and Mazi's vocals actually sound incredibly on-key and on-target here. Perhaps the mid-to-lower register most of this song is performed in is where he is more at home. "Burning In The 3rd Degree" is actually a cover song and is another good track with some solid lead guitar work and touches of 80's New Wave-ish keyboards, which is logical since the song is a lesser-known track from the Terminator soundtrack originally performed by Tahnee Cain & the Trianglz (tell me that isn't a New Wave name!). There is a hidden track at the end of "3rd Degree" which is actually a Finnish-language version of "The Undoings Of My Life", which is, in both forms, a fairly decent mid-tempo number that gives Mazi and Coco some time to flash their guitar talent and again finds Mazi singing in a more comfortable middle range and not straining to hit higher notes he struggles with.


The packaging is pretty good for an indy product, with full lyrics, photos, credits, and thank you's. Again, I hate digi-packs, but since there is nothing I can do about it, I will stop my commentary there.  One little added bonus for those of us who pre-ordered the album was this sticker which came with the disc.


Overall, I think the potential is there and the love for this sound and style of music is definitely present. Also, most importantly, the heart for the band as a ministry is strong, which cannot be understated. There are just some kinks to be worked out. Had this been a self-professed demo, I think it would have been more kindly accepted by most people, as we all know demos quite often sound nothing like the finished product. For this to be a first studio effort can be looked at as either a really bad offering with nowhere for the band to go, or as a starting point for the band to build. I choose to go with the latter.

Rating: Turn this down to 4.5 but keep an eye and ear out, because I truly feel the next effort will be far superior.


BRYAN "HEAD" WELCH "Save Me From Myself"


(c) 2008 Driven Music Group

  1. L.O.V.E.
  2. Flush
  3. Loyalty
  4. Re-Bel
  5. Home
  6. Save Me From Myself
  7. Die Religion Die
  8. Adonai
  9. Money
  10. Shake
  11. Washed By Blood
Brian "Head" Welch--Lead Vocals, Lead Guitars, Rhythm Guitar, Synthesizers
Archie J. Muise, Jr.--Rhythm Guitar
Trevor Dunn--Bass
Tony Levin--Bass
Josh Freese--Bass

First things first, folks...if you don't like KoRn's style of music, you are not going to like Brian "Head" Welch's album, period.  You can just stop reading now, and please don't waste my time telling me how much this music stinks, becuase I DID warn you.  However, if you are still reading, I encourage you to do so with an open mind, looking(and listening) for the underlying message here, as it is an important reason for why I also didn't dismiss this album out of hand upon first hearing it.

At many points throughout this album it is, as one should expect, very much in line with the music KoRn was releasing in the mid-1990's and early 2000's.  Welch was a founding member of the influential band, and his guitar playing and songwriting was featured on the band's albums from 1993 to 2005.  However, after feeling his life falling apart, becoming addicted to drugs and alcohol, experiencing suicidal feelings, and following a frightening episode in which he felt he was dying, Welch left the band, cleaned himself up, wrote a couple of books, and released this album.  There is no doubt where the music is headed (no pun intended) from the very beginning of this album, as the nu-metal stylings of KoRn are all over this.  That being said, this is NOT a KoRn clone album, by any means, with the most significant difference actually being much of the guitar playing here. 

"L.O.V.E." opens the disc with some slightly dischordant notes that might instantly have KoRn fans nodding their heads in appreciation, only to bring in an almost industrial sounding guitar that will likely throw those same fans for a bit of a loop.  Additionally, especially on the bridge, Welch can be heard singing, something which is NOT a KoRn staple!  It is not until the Johnathan Davis-esque vocal barking on the chorus that the listener might be shaken back to the reality that this is an ablum by the founding guitar player of the nu-metal giants.

"Flush" was the lead single for the album and I have to admit its still a bit silly to hear the sound of Welch "vomiting" into a toilet to start the track, and the flushing toilet sound effect at the end is borderline comical.  The song is an autobiographical one about Welch's days of meth addiction, and the accompanying video is so graphic that it was actually pulled by some video programs and led some Christian bookstores to stop selling the album, at least temporarily.  "Re-Bel" is a song that Welch wrote about children who flee abusive parents and find their way to salvation through Christ.  I do not believe this was an autobiographical song, but rather is about children Welch has known in his life.  As someone who has worked with troubled kids for many years, this song struck a chord with me on a personal level and is one of my favorites here. 

"Adonai" is another song which has a definite KoRn feeling to it, especially in the middle section where Welch uses a previously employed musical tactic of taking a nursery rhyme ("Ring Around The Rosie"), altering the lyrics to fit the song, and then building from there.  "Money", a track bout people who worship money or use it as a tool for evil, features some extremely harsh, screaming vocals and haunting guitar tones that KoRn fans will recognize as classic "Head" style. 

Other songs are not as easily recognizable as being in the KoRn style, especially not the current sound that band has adopted since Welch left.  "Shake", one of my personal favorites, is rather progressive in the way it is put together, utilizing a guitar style and tone that I can only describe as "jangly" for much of the song before incorporating a more aggressive, harsher tone in the breakdown of the song.  "Home" has very little in the way of a KoRn feel to it, also, and is one of the best tracks here, in my opinion.  This song again employs a more industrial sound to the guitars and doesn't feature any real breakdown which is pretty much a requirement for KoRn, or most nu-metal, songs.

The high point of the album, at least for me, is the nearly 10 minute long album closing epic, "Washed By Blood".  Here Welch uses synthesized string arrangements in a fashion that a lot of Skillet fans will recognize and he also employs a much cleaner vocal style for much of the track, actually singing through the verses of this song then breaking down into more of a whisper about half-way through the track where the music also fades off into a sound reminiscent of a music box.   The song rebuilds itself in aggression from there until we are at full-bore screaming and furious rhythm guitar and drums for about a minute, before the synthesized "voice of God" slows things back down, ushering in the "washed by blood" chorus again and taking things to the song's end.  Once again, this is a huge song with a powerful message of redemption and salvation that I think is Welch's way of wrapping up all of the wounds and frustrations and angers that he has exposed throughout this record.   

It should be noted that none of the members of the band would follow Welch to his current project, Love And Death.  While all solid in their performances, this album is about 90% Welch, as he contributes every instrument except bass on this effort.  There is no drummer listed, so one can only assume that the drums are programmed, which would seem to indicate Welch took care of that duty as well.

I had been exposed to a lot of the band's music while working on a college radio station, and I admit to liking the first two albums because they were heavy and different. That being said, I would never have labeled myself as a KoRn fan, by any stretch. I am a fan of Head's, however, which surprised me the first time I heard myself say it or saw myself writing it in a review.  I am not going to sit here and tell you this is my favorite album of all time or that I play it non-stop, because neither is true.  I think of this album as a lot like Sixx A.M.'s Heroin Diaries Soundtrack album, as I think Save Me From Myself really goes hand-in-hand with the book Welch authored about his salvation.  Musically, Save Me From Myself is on-par with the majority of what I have heard from this genre, even expanding upon the nu-metal foundation in places. Lyrically, while simplistic at times, the messages that are delivered here are powerful, autobiographical, and sometimes painful to listen to/read in the lyrics sheet.  It is true that lyrics are obviously not Welch's strong point, but he more than gets his point across and the starkness of the words to these songs adds a sort of power to many of the messages.  This album is a testimony of one man's fall from the top of the music industry to the absolute, near-death bottom, and then pulling himself back up with the help of God and the love of Christ, and no matter how some criticize the writing, that message comes through lound and clear on this album in a brutally honest way that may turn some people off, while drawing others in at the same time.

Rating:  Personally, I would advise people to rock this album to 6.5...but I imagine KoRn fans may be torn on where to place the knob, depending upon their era preference for the band.