Two simple words: “You gotta”.
Max the Axe is back with possibly his most potent lineup yet. Led by Max and his thrilling axe, the band now boasts Dr. David Haslam on drums, Mike Mitchell on bass, and powerhouse lead vocalist Eric “Uncle Meat” Litwiller.
Full disclosure: I know these guys. I love these guys. But I also just love hard rock and heavy metal. So, out of integrity, I swear that if I did not like their new album, Status Electric, I would be straight up and tell you. But I do like it. A lot. How much of that is due to friendship? I don’t know. Read the review and decide for yourself. This is a good album. I have bought way worse albums, for way more money.
I’ll give you some honesty right from the start. “River Grand” is a good song, but not for an opener. I rarely like when an album opens on a slow grind like this. It’s enough to throw some people, but the song kicks by chorus time. Eric Litwiller pours it all on, his lead vocal being the highlight of the track. What’s he sound like? He’s like an amalgam of many. You can hear some Tenacious D, some Anvil, some Maiden.
As for Max, his solos are simple, memorable and to the point. Pure rock and roll with a side of Ace Frehley. His lyrics almost steal the spotlight though, as many are clever for the genre, and catchy as fuck. “Next Plane to Vegas” is one such example, a pure blast…win place or show.
Who is “Randy”? What’s your real name, Randy? One of the weirdest choruses you’ll ever hear also happens to be one of the catchiest. I can’t help it though. I was sitting at my desk going, “Randy! Randy! What’s your name, Randy?” Musically, we’re at debut-album Maiden, or reasonably close to it. This is one of two semi-epic tracks on the album.
Max the Axe goes pop metal on “Call of the Wild”, nothing but a Motley Rokken good time. The decent chorus is mashed up with a verse that doesn’t quite mesh. But then things go full-on metal with “Sick of Living”. This fuel-injected track has Eric singing at his most Bayley with a dash of Dickinson. Litwiller’s roots include thrash metal, and there are healthy doses of that along with his best David St. Hubbins screams. “Sick of Living” smokes the competition, besting several tracks on the great new Judas Priest album! More great metal: “The Other Side”. The lead riff sounds as if bequeathed by Lord Iommi himself, with a modern slice. And like any good Iommi track, it boasts two solid riffs, and a smokingly Sabbath solo.
Sometimes you hear an album and know right away which song should be the single. That is “Gods on the Radio”. Punctuation error aside, this track is winning 110%. It shall henceforth be known as “You Gotta”, since that is the vocal hook that will be rattling inside your head for days. The lyrics (Litwiller’s first writing credit) are borderline genius for being so goddamn memorable.
God’s on the radio,
With the world in his video,
Phil Collins in the studio,
Phil Collins in the Su-su-su-su-sudio.
The song itself is punky Queens of the Stone Age, with vintage 1977 Ace Frehley lead guitar and maybe a hint of Mike Patton. Yes, this is the single, absolutely. I’ll say it’s one of the best songs to come out this year. At least, if the amount it’s stuck in my head is anything to judge by. In fact I’m gonna go back and play it again. “You gotta,” as the man says.
Yeah, even on repeat listens, it remains as fun as the first. I only wish for a better sounding recording; it would be brilliant with full-on studio fidelity. “You gotta turn it up louder,” says the man, so that helps.
Garage rock is embodied with the sloppy “Uptite Friday Nite”. Stupidly catchy, it’s not one of the best tracks but it’s the noisiest. This is the kind of jam you’d put on before going out for the night. It sounds like the guys shoutin’ out the chorus are already halfway there.
The second, and superior album epic is “Scales of Justice”, Litwiller’s other co-write. Vintage 1976-era Judas Priest (circa Sad Wings) meets a slick Zeppelin groove. Jimmy Page definitely sounds like an influence in parts, while others are jagged riffs of metal. Max uses his Axe to carve music from pure granite, and it’s all very satisfying. The song snakes in and out with different sections and grooves. As a closer it is suitably climactic and leaves you wanting more.
I played some tracks for some friends. One disagreed with my praise of “You Gotta” and thought “Scales of Justice” was far better. Another commented, “You know what this sounds like? A bunch of 40 year olds in a basement.” And I responded, “What’s wrong with that?” Here are some guys in their 40s that are still passionate about rock, and after many years, have written a collection of nine good songs. With regular-Joe money, they made an album. And it’s a good album. I hear things on this album that keep me coming back. I ask myself, “am I biased”? Of course I am. But I wouldn’t have to listen to it if I didn’t want to. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve played this album in totality. It’s a lot. You don’t do that unless you like it. Whatever it is that I am hearing on Status Electric by Max the Axe, I can only hope that you can hear it too.