Reviews

REVIEW: Max the Axe – Status Electric (2018)

MAX THE AXE – Status Electric (2018 Mutant Music)

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.

4/5 stars

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REVIEW: Shaw Blades – Hallucination (1995 Japanese import)

SHAW BLADES – Shaw Blades (1995 Warner Japan)

Ever wonder what Damn Yankees would have sounded like without Ted Nugent?  Possibly, a little like Shaw Blades.  In 1995, the Nuge returned to his solo career with Spirit of the Wild.  Tommy Shaw and Jack Blades had already formed a successful songwriting partnership (with an Aerosmith hit under their belts) and so together they continued.  Damn Yankees drummer Michael Cartellone joined them, but for the most part it’s expert Journey-man Steve Smith — one of the smoothest drummers in rock.

Expect acoustic rock and ballads with impeccable harmonies.  Boring, you say?  Not at all; not when you have a batch of songs this strong.  Opener “My Hallucination” is a lament for the 1960s, with an electric guitar backing up Shaw and Blades’ perfect vocals.  Those two guys can hit some notes.  “I’ll Always Be With You” is more like campfire rock, a summetime gem and ode to innocent love.  There are some sweet Def Leppard chords tucked in there.  Third in line, the strong “Come to Be My Friend” gets a touch psychedelic but it’s the smoking acoustic soloing that will blow you away.  Either that or the insanely good chorus harmonies.

“Don’t Talk to Me Anymore” is the first song you could call an outright ballad even though it’s a soft album.  It’s lightly arranged with a less is more attitude.  Then things get upbeat on “I Stumble In”, an outstanding memorable head-nodder.  Journey fans will recognize their favourite drummer’s always fascinating tom tom work.  Moving on to the album’s second true ballad, “Blue Continental”, a laid-back Southern vibe permeates.  It’s logically followed by “Down that Highway”, upbeat but stripped to the basics.  A couple acoustic guitars, two voices, some tambourine and accents (fiddle, keys) and you have a song!

The electric guitar comes out for “How You Gonna Get Used to This”, one of the less remarkable songs compared to the catchier acoustic tunes.  The mandolin makes an appearance on “The Night Goes On”, another quiet but excellent ballad.  “I Can’t Live Without You” draws things to an end, but is also unremarkable.  Among diamonds, it fails to shine bright enough.  Fortunately, the ending it was preceding is a short track simply called “The End”, which reprises themes from prior songs, tying up the album with a nice bow.

This album produced no commercial singles, but there were two extra tracks, exclusive to the Japanese CD.  “How Does It Feel” brings back the electric guitar, but it’s more interesting than the other electric songs on the album.  It could be a grower.  “Straight Down the Line” is the gem.  It’s the fastest song of the whole bunch, upbeat but light, and a blast in the car.  Tommy’s intricate little lightning fast guitar hook is a tasty delight.  Tracks like this are why collectors really seek out Japanese imports.  They are their own rewards.

Any version of the debut Shaw Blades is going to be thoroughly enjoyed.  Get one.

4.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Dave Arcari – Live at Memorial Hall (2017)

DAVE ARCARI – Live at Memorial Hall (2017 Buzz Records)

The most wonderful thing about this community of writers is the chance to hear new music.  I think I can safely say I have bought new music at the recommendation of just about every writer I follow.  One such writer is J from Resurrection Songs, an amazing musician in his own right.  I’m not sure exactly how it happened, but through following him, I also ended up following his fellow countryman, Scottish singer/songwriter Dave Arcari.

Arcari has an engaging social media presence, so after following for a while and checking out his videos and live clips, I decided to finally buy an album.  I chose 2017’s Live at Memorial Hall, and a wise choice it was.  I had an inkling that an Arcari live album would be the way to go.

Dave Arcari is an “alt/blues troubadour” and that description works as well as any.  Hammering away on his steel guitar with a bottleneck slide on one finger and a wee dram of Scotch, Arcari has his own brand of storytelling.  The sandpaper vocals sound like they’ve walked a million miles.  Up there alone on the stage, Dave commands attention.  You tend to associate a steel guitar with the American south and the bluegrass that came with it.  You rarely think of a Scottish storyteller.  Yet here he is, so enjoy.

I didn’t really know many of Dave’s originals, and only a couple of the traditionals, but this is a very enjoyable album even so.  Live albums shouldn’t be mucked with, and this sounds 100% live.  Some tracks are mellow and contemplative, others are fast and rambunctious.  It doesn’t matter to the crowd who hoot n’ holler after every song.

Favourite songs?  Sure, how about “Dreamt I Was 100”, “Bring My Baby Back”, “Devil’s Left Hand” and “Whiskey in My Blood”?  The fast ones are my favourites!  There are 24 songs so I’ll wager nobody’s going home disappointed.

Dave Arcari just returned home from a fall US tour.  If he ever comes to Canada, I wouldn’t want to miss it.  This CD will have to do for now.

3.75/5 stars

Oh!  And the CD came with an autograph, and I’m pretty sure he mailed it from the US tour, since it’s postmarked from Michigan!  That’s dedication!

REVIEW: Fu Manchu – Clone of the Universe (2018)

FU MANCHU – Clone of the Universe (2018 New Damage)

First the first time in a long time, “I’ve Been Hexed” by the brand new Fu Manchu album.

Clone of the Universe sounds cut from the same cloth as classic albums such as King of the Road and The Action is Go.  Aside from the mind-bomb that is the 18 minute track “Il Mostro Atomico”, each song is short, riffy and to the point.  “(I’ve Been) Hexed” is an immediate thumbs-up, a reminder of what we liked about Fu Manchu when we first heard them.

You can’t tell if “Don’t Panic” has anything to do with Douglas Adams, but it’s as fast and relentless as the UFO-themed “King of the Road”.  Maybe the Sabbath-crawl of “Slower Than Light” is also about space travel; maybe it’s not.  The fun is in the guessing, but by the end the song is at moving at warp.  Both “Nowhere Left to Hide” and “Intelligent Worship” boast riffs carved from the stones of Mt. Iommi, contained with in the Fu Manchu groove.  The title track “Clone of the Universe” is like a heavy metal hammer, or a stoner rock Mjölnir.

Despite the strong Fu Manchu grooves throughout, it is undoubtedly the side-long “Il Mostro Atomico” that is the centerpiece.  Suddenly from somewhere left of center comes the “Snow Dog”; Alex Lifeson of Rush with his own style of lead guitar.  Lifeson always had a knack for finding cool artists to work with outside his normal sphere.  Hearing him rip and make noise with Fu Manchu is so right.  Not to mention, this jam which keeps going on and on has plenty to offer when you listen all the way through.

Clear winners:  “(I’ve Been) Hexed”, “Il Mostro Atomico”.

4.5/5 stars

#715: The Lost Chapters – “The First Year”

These paragraphs were chopped from Record Store Tales Part 6:  The Record Store, Year 1.  I dunno why.

 

GETTING MORE TALE #715: The Lost Chapters – “The First Year”

Ever seen High Fidelity with John Cusack?  When Cusack says, “I hired these guys to come in three days a week, and they started coming in every day.  There’s nothing I can do to stop it.”  That was us.  That me and T-Rev.  The boss man hired on Trev in the fall, two months after I started.  We worked opposite nights and opposite weekends.  We were like ships passing in the night.  We never would have gotten to be such tight friends if we didn’t keep coming into the store every freaking day!

See, as used CD store, we got in new inventory every day.  We were getting in cool shit.  I was just beginning to transfer my music collection over from cassette to CD, so I just started to upgrade and buy up old back catalogue.  I snagged You Can’t Stop Rock And Roll by Twisted Sister that year, which was a big deal to me because it was deleted at the time.  I got some Dio CDs that I never had before.  I began collecting Rush in earnest.  We had rarities too.  I got a split King’s X / Faith No More live bootleg called Kings of the Absurb which is pretty damn good.  I really got quite a few CD singles at that time too.  A few previously unknown Faith No More singles dropped into my lap.  It was crucial to come in frequently.  If you didn’t, you might miss something you were looking for.  Or something you didn’t know you were looking for.

After two months of shadowing the owner, I was working solo and loving it.  I got to pick my own music every night, within reason.  There were obscure rules.  Judas Priest was out, but Soundgarden was OK.  Anything that was a new charting release was considered OK for store play.  We were allowed to open anything to play it, as long as we didn’t abuse that.  For the first while we were even allowed to bring music from home.

That ended when I brought in a bunch of recent purchases to listen to one morning.  They included an indi band from Toronto, called Feel, formerly known as Russian Blue.  The sound was vital, and the early 90s buzz was that Toronto was going to be the next Seattle.  I was all over these bands, like Slash Puppet, Russian Blue, Attitude (later Jesus Chris), Gypsy Jayne, and the rest.

[An aside:  I caught a little flak when I took in a used copy of Slash Puppet.  “This is an indi band,” the boss complained.  “It’ll sell,” I defended myself.  “Trust me I know this band.”  I knew half a dozen customers by name that I could recommend it to.  I sold it to the first of those guys to come in, this insurance guy named Tony who loved 80s rock.  He bought it after one listen.]

The day I had my personal Feel This CD in the store player, a customer noticed it.  He thought it was cool, wanted it, and asked how much.  I had to tell him it was my own personal copy, and no I couldn’t order it in because it was an indi band.  He would have to write to the band to get a copy, and I wrote down the information inside the CD for him.

The boss thought this was kind of a silly situation, and rightfully so.  Why play music we weren’t selling and were not able to sell?  This was a store.  So that ended.  No more bringing music from home.  I guess I’m the guy who ruined it for generations of Record Store employees to come.

 

REVIEW: The Gandharvas – Sold for a Smile (1997/1998 US and Canadian versions)

THE GANDHARVAS – Sold for a Smile (1997/1998 Universal US and Canadian versions)

What a band were the Gandharvas.  Lead howler Paul Jago could hit those Perry Farrell highs, and they wrote some pretty fucking great songs including their major hit “The First Day of Spring”.  An unappreciated gem would be their third and final album, 1997’s Sold for a Smile.  Led by the anthemic single “Downtime”, this is a hard album to resist no matter which version you get. It even made our list: “88 Unrightfully Ignored Albums of the 90s“.

Versions?  Yes, two:  the Canadian and US have different track listings.  In 1997, Canada got the basic 10 track CD.  When it was released Stateside, a number of tracks including “Downtime” were remixed.  The US and Canadian versions of “Downtime” have vastly different guitar solo and outro mixes, for example.  The States also got two bonus tracks:  a new recording of “The First Day of Spring” and a cover of Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time”.  (The original album was a shorty at just under 40 minutes.)

The Gandharvas turned it up a notch for this album without losing sight of their more delicate tendencies.  “Gonna Be So Loose” is a slamdance of squealing vocals and chords.  (This song is available remixed on the US version.)  But then “Shells” is a low, strummy song perfect for the headphones.  It shows of the layered vocals that are a Gandharvas trademark.  “Waiting for Something to Happen” then goes somewhere between Guns N’ Roses and screamy, psychedelic punk rock — an astounding song, which then defies all logic by going acoustic.  And then all over the place.

Time for a little more pop in the rock, with “Hammer in a Shell”.  Snarly pop, with a sour candy coating.  “Watching the Girl” was another fine single, a more streamlined song for this album.  It too was remixed on the US edition, putting the guitars way louder.  Then strap in for “Sarsasparilla”, a boulder-heavy rocketship blast into space. “Into the Mainstream”, then, is a bit more complex, and perhaps a little bit epic.

“Milk Ocean” leads you to the end, with a healthy dose of acidy psychedelia.  It’s the closer, “Diabaloney” that’s a real head scratcher.  Is it a joke?  I can’t tell.  “I fuck it up, I got the fuck, I got the luck,” goes one set of lines.  Heavy and screamy goodness, but a real headscratcher nonetheless.  What the hell did I just listen to?

On the US version, the new recording of “The First Day of Spring” is placed third in the running order, after the remixes of “Downtime” and “Gonna Be So Loose”.  It’s quite a bit heavier than the original, though a brilliant song it remains.  Could it be actually a polished up live version?  Why does Paul Jago yell out “Colorado!” in the middle?  For fun?  This band is from London, Ontario not Colorado!  And “Time After Time”?  They twist it up, give it bite, and for better or for worse make it their own.  Unless you have a serious attachment to the song, the Gandharvas’ interpretation is quite cool.

As if you can’t tell, this is an album you should own.  Get one or the other, or both!

5/5 stars

 

REVIEW: Greta Van Fleet – Anthem of the Peaceful Army (2018)

GRETA VAN FLEET – Anthem of the Peaceful Army (2018 Republic Records)

Greta Van Fleet have become one of the most controversial new bands in a dog’s age. They are either lauded or loathed for their slavish adherence to a classic Led Zeppelin niche. It wasn’t cool of them to claim that Aerosmith was a bigger influence — we know the truth. Just like somebody from Kingdom Come claimed he’d never heard Led Zeppelin. It was bullshit in 1988 and it’s bullshit in 2018.

The problem is, Greta Van Fleet are pretty good. They’re young, they’re impressionable, and this is their first real album. Every band should be allowed some leeway so early in their careers. Especially when, in 2018, that classic Zeppelin sound is so refreshing.  They might get young kids into that sound.  When I was 15, I wouldn’t give Led Zeppelin a chance because they looked old-fashioned and the lead singer wore sandals on stage.  I did, however, listen to Kingdom Come.

What makes the band special is singer Josh Kiszka. A voice like this is rare. A younger, smoother Robert Plant, perhaps. He will eventually develop and come into his own. His soaring voice makes “Age of Man” such an impressive opener that you will have to keep going. Its slow, epic quality is unusual for an opener, and sets the tone for an album that might take itself too seriously, but not at the expense of good music.

There’s nothing as blazingly celebratory as “Highway Tune”, but admit it or not, Greta Van Fleet have written an album’s worth of good songs. “Cold Wind” rocks.  It’s loaded with obvious Zeppelin references like an outtake from Physical Graffiti.  They captured a Bonham-esque drum sound to go with it, but haters will be nauseated by Josh’s “ma-ma-ma-ma” improvisations.  “When the Curtain Falls” might have been chosen as a single because it sounds so Zep (with hints of Deep Purple), but it’s not the strongest song here.  They sound better when using tasteful doses of keyboards, like on “Lover, Leaver (Taker Believer)”, an epic and one of the most slammin’ tunes.  (Great slide guitar too.)

Their acoustic “You’re the One” is Zeppelin III oversimplified; a good tune but not enough to fill the shoes it’s trying to be in.  “New Day” is better because it doesn’t adhere to the blueprint.  Also a lil’ different is “Mountain of the Sun”, but Josh’s yodel-like vocal affectations might be too much.  Still, check out the apocalyptic “Brave New World”, definitely a step in the right direction.  It gets a little wobbly again at the end, with a return to the hippie Zeppelin acoustic format.

Anthem of the Peaceful Army is a good album for a debut long-player.  They will have to continue to step it up.  In the meantime, this collection of songs will be spending lots of time in my ears this winter.

4/5 stars

GUEST REVIEW: Helloween – Keeper of the Seven Keys: Part I (1987)

Guest review by Holen MaGroin

Happy Halloween, kiddies!  Here’s guest writer HOLEN MaGROIN with the final review in his series for Halloween 2018.  In case you missed ’em:

Oct 3:  Soundgarden – Screaming Life/Fopp EPs
Oct 10:  Batman / Batman Returns movie reviews
Oct 17:  Fastway – Trick or Treat Original Music Score 
Oct 24:  The Shining movie review (?)

And now:

HELLOWEEN – Keeper of the Seven Keys: Part I (1987 Noise)

It’s 2AM in my land, and I really need to catch the Z’s. I put this review off way too long, and now I must suffer the consequences. But if you thought I was going to miss the last review of the month (on Halloween nonetheless) you are very incorrect. Sleep deprivation is no stranger to this man, I SHALL FORGE AHEAD WITH MY TRUSTY KEYBOARD TO REVIEW… Helloween – Keeper of the Seven Keys Part I. This is my review of the power metal classic, it’s going to be just as kickass as the album itself, and I don’t care if no one agrees. I’m right in my own little world, and that’s all that matters to me. Really this is just stream of consciousness, which is impressive because I’m barely awake. Awake as in “I Awake” by Soundgarden. There’s a good Halloween tune.

Holy shit, Batman! I’ve got to stay focused. Anyway, Helloween – We Couldn’t Think of a Longer Fucking Title if We Tried, So Fuck Anyone Trying to Review This You Stupid Pricks Pt. 1 is a classic power metal release. Manowar can piss off; Helloween is the real deal. Unlike Manowar, Helloween knows how to make an album with classics instead of just one to two good songs and a whole lot of Viking poser bullshit ballads (Manowar sux). This album is a real step up for the band in that Helloween finally realized that they needed a good singer, so they got Michael Kiske who basically sounds like a German Geoff Tate with a little less power. I’m talking prime real estate Geoff Tate too, so this is pretty good as far as metal singing goes.

When I first put on this album there were obvious classics, “I’m Alive”, “Twilight of the Gods”, “Future World”, and the epic “Halloween”, but all the other two full length tracks “A Little Time” and “A Tale That Wasn’t Right” revealed themselves to me upon repeated listening to be the genre staples that they claimed to be. There are only six songs on this beautiful slab of wax because “Halloween” is over thirteen minutes long, and two songs are an intro and outro respectively. And I do respect them, because they’re not very long and they add to the tension instead of impeding on the awesome. These are complex, compelling, melodic tunes that don’t get sunk by their European ambitions. “Holy wars… in the skYYYYYYY” the classic “Twilight of the Gods” bridge will have you tapping your fist against the wall in no time, because it’s so good. LOVE IT ALL. It’s worth it. If you’re a metal fan and don’t have this in your collection, you’re doing it wrong my amigo.

5/5 Pumpkins

 

Author’s Note: I’m sorry, everybody!

REVIEW: Steve Perry – Traces (2018 deluxe edition)

STEVE PERRY – Traces (2018 Fantasy Records deluxe edition)

So what’s the story?  Does Steve Perry still “got it”?

He does.  We just might not agree on what exactly “it” is.

Traces is Perry’s first solo album since 1994’s For the Love of Strange Medicine.  He’s been keeping a low profile since leaving Journey after 1996’s Trial By Fire.  If you were worried that Steve Perry has gone “soft” and his voice has changed in that time…then you were right!

But that’s not a bad thing.  Steve Perry’s voice is one of a kind.  The soul cannot be copied; it’s just raspier now.  If you want the youthful range, go listen to Journey instead.   Or buy Arnel Pineda’s forthcoming solo album.  If you want an older, wiser but still the same Steve Perry, he is here on Traces.  He’s collected 10 slower songs, some more upbeat than others like the lead single “No Erasin'”.  Each one still retains Perry’s ability to compose memorable material.  These songs are honed, short, and to the point.  Even the ballads are pretty basic: quiet and contemplative, but with soft hooks.  All fat has been trimmed.  “We’re Still Here”, “No More Cryin'” and “We Fly” are among the best tracks, but “No Erasin'” is the clear highlight.

The deluxe edition, a Sunrise exclusive in Canada and Target for the US, has five more songs of varying styles.  “October in New York” sounds like a quiet piece from a stage musical.  “Angel Eyes” goes more for soul, while “Call on Me” has the tropical flavours you might remember from Journey’s “Baby I’m Leaving You”.  The fabulous “Could We Be Something Again” has a choir on it.  The good thing about the bonus tracks is you can tell the reason they were cut was not quality.  It was simply that they don’t fit in with the direction of the main album.

Traces is not for Journey fans who wanna rawk.  This is for fans of classy pop rock, soft rock, and the ballads on Trial By Fire.  If that’s you, get Traces (the deluxe of course) and take some time to dig a little deeper.

4/5 stars

 

Sunday Chuckle: Hell of a Hat

Jen gave me this hat.  I wore it to work and was told I looked like “the villain from an Indiana Jones movie”.

 

But which one?  René Belloq from Raiders of the Lost Ark, or Panama Hat from The Last Crusade?

You decide!