180 gram vinyl

REVIEW: Queensrÿche – Condition Hüman (2015 vinyl box set version)

As we gear up for this year’s release of the next Queensryche album The Verdict, let’s look back at a different edition of their last album Condition Hüman.  For our original 2015 review of Condition Hüman, click here!

QUEENSRŸCHE – Condition Hüman (2015 Century Media 2 LP, + 7″ single coloured vinyl box set)

It is almost customary now.  When a band comes out with a new album, there has to be a crazy deluxe edition with vinyl and CD.  The best of these editions are the ones that include exclusive music.  In the end, all the posters and booklets in the world add up to only paper.  Exclusive music is the thing of real value.

Queensryche did well with their Condition Hüman deluxe.  It was available in a variety of colours.  This one is yellow, number 659/1000.  There’s a cool turntable mat inside, and a double sided poster.  For music, the album is split onto two coloured 180 gram vinyl records, including the Japanese bonus track “Espiritu Muerto” on Side D.   (The D-side is also etched with the Queensryche logo in the empty space.)  For your convenience, the entire album including Japanese bonus track is duplicated on the CD inside.  Then for the diehards comes the true exclusive:  two more songs on a 7″ single, not on any other version of the album.  This is the real reward for spending the extra money on the deluxe.

“Espiritu Muerto” chugs heavily along, punishing the skulls of unbelievers.   On the 7″ record, the two exclusive songs are fairly non-descript. “46° North” is B-side-ish, like a leftover written for Empire but dropped in favour of something more commercial.  “Mercury Rising” is on the other side, with a vaguely psychedelic metal vibe and science fiction lyrics.

Condition Hüman itself is a strong metallic album, though with hindsight perhaps too “metal” for its own good.  There was a time, not so long ago, when fans would have begged and pleaded with Queensryche to write just one new song in the vein of Condition Hüman.  Now that we have two albums solidly back in the metal genre, it would be nice to hear real diversity in Queensryche again.

That said, Condition Hüman is a damn fine album for what it is.  The Queensryche of today, fronted by Todd La Torre, has been determined to retain trademark elements from Queensryche’s 80s heyday.  That includes strong riffs, dual harmony solos, and screamin’ vocals.  These are all delivered with gravy on top.

The vinyl experience of Condition Hüman is actually superior to that of CD.  It was always a long album, with the standard edition being 53 minutes of pretty relentless stomping.  On vinyl, you’re forced to pause and flip the record three times before even getting to the single.  These brief respites allow you to breath and absorb.  What I’ve absorbed is that Condition Hüman is still a damn fine collection of songs, if a bit too single-minded.  One gets the impression from this album that, though good, Queensryche can still do better.

4/5 stars

LP-A1 Arrow Of Time
LP-A2 Guardian
LP-A3 Hellfire
LP-A4 Toxic Remedy

LP-B1 Selfish Lives
LP-B2 Eye 9
LP-B3 Bulletproof
LP-B4 Hourglass

LP-C1 Just Us
LP-C2 All There Was
LP-C3 The Aftermath
LP-C4 Condition Hüman

LP-D1 Espiritu Muerto

7″-A 46° North
7″-B Mercury Rising

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REVIEW: oreloB – Ravel’s Boléro – Carlo Rizzi, Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra (2012)

MAURICE RAVEL – oreloB (Boléro) – Carlo Rizzi, Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra (2012 Tacet backwards-playing 180 gram vinyl)

Many classical recordings are difficult to play in certain environments, because the parts are written so quietly.  If you have ever listened to classical in the car, you’ll know there are times you think the music has stopped just because you can’t hear the subtle instrumentation over the road noise.  Put it on headphones and it’s a different story.

Ravel’s Boléro is one such composition.  Over its 16 minutes, the music slowly and gently builds from silence.  The entire piece is a gradual crescendo.  This can be illustrated visually by looking at the entire track in Audacity.

This is where we get technical.  According to Techmoan, the greatest Youtube channel dedicated to odd formats and players, LP records suffer from inner groove distortion due to the compression caused by the shorter grooves at the end.  Classical music often takes a dip in quality when you get to the end of the record.  Boléro always suffered on vinyl releases because it gets abnormally loud at the end, and the compression makes it sound worse.  This release of Boléro, on Tacet records, plays from the inside out.  This way, the compression caused by the inner groove happens when the music is quietest.  When Boléro builds to its full volume towards the end (the outer groove), there is no distortion present.  Hence, this release is named oreloB!  Both sides work the same way.  The side two composition La Valse also begins very quietly and finishes loudly.  Because the end distortion is no longer a concern, they were even able to master oreloB a little bit louder than a normal-playing version of the record.

Immediate impressions upon listening to the familiar Boléro again:  Wow, Deep Purple ripped off a lot of classical music!  It sounds like Boléro was in Jon Lord’s record collection.  Even old Star Trek themes — listen carefully and you will hear from where bits and pieces were poached.  Cultures clash on this simply beautiful piece with pomp and circumstance.  You have certainly heard it before and will recognise its themes gladly.

Sure, you could sidestep all the end groove distortion by simply listening to a CD, but that would take the fun out of it wouldn’t it?

4.5/5 stars

 

 

 

REVIEW: Deep Purple – The InFinite Live Recordings Vol. 1 (2017)

DEEP PURPLE – The InFinite Live Recordings Vol. 1 (2017 Ear Music)

The all-time kings of the live album have finally released…another live album!  It’s boldly titled The InFinite Live Recordings Vol. 1, implying that another live set isn’t far off.  The gimmick this time (aside from being 100% live with no overdubs, which is now the Purple norm) is that The InFinite Live Recordings Vol. 1 is only available on vinyl, or by re-buying InFinite in its new “Gold” European edition reissue.  If you’d prefer avoiding the double-dip, then the only way to enjoy The InFinite Live Recordings Vol. 1 is by spinning the triple 180 gram LP set.

So let’s do that.

This album is the complete Deep Purple set from Hellfest 2017 (June 16 2017 in Clisson, France).  The always fearless band opened with the brand new “Time for Bedlam” single.  The intro and outro are dicey (weird vocal sound effects) but then Deep Purple suddenly plows straight into “Fireball”.  Somehow Ian Paice transforms into his younger self and there is nothing lost.  Going back even further in time, it’s “Bloodsucker” from Deep Purple In Rock.

The oldies, like “Strange Kind of Woman” and “Lazy”, are more or less just filler.  Even though they’re always different, you’ve heard them so many times while the newer songs are fresh meat.  “Uncommon Man” is long and exploratory, while “The Surprising” and “Birds of Prey” are more than welcome on the live stage.  In particular, “Uncommon Man” and “The Surprising” are showcases for Deep Purple’s progressive side, sometimes taken for granted.  Both must be considered among the greatest Morse-era Purple songs.  Both stun the senses, live.

While there was a live version of “Hell to Pay” (from Sweden) on the fairly recent single “Johnny’s Band”, another one in the context of the set is cool because it naturally introduces Don Airey’s keyboard solo (listen for a hint of “Mr. Crowley”).  And that solo segues into “Perfect Strangers” after you place the third LP on the platter.

The usual suspects close out the set:  “Space Truckin'”, “Smoke on the Water”, “Hush” (with a detour into the “Peter Gunn” theme) and “Black Night”.  The reason Deep Purple get away with playing generous amounts of new material is because, without fail, they always deliver the Machine Head hits.

These live recordings were produced by Bob Ezrin, so you can count on great audio.  Why should you choose this over the numerous other Deep Purple live albums from the Morse era?  Because it is always a pleasure hearing new songs on the concert stage.  Deep Purple have remained consistent over the decades and each live album offers a brief snapshot of a set you might never hear again.

4/5 stars

REVIEW: Accept – The Rise of Chaos (2017 coloured vinyl)

ACCEPT – The Rise of Chaos (2017 Nuclear Blast blue and orange splatter limited vinyl edition)

Over the past decade, Accept have joined a rare pantheon.  They are among the few metal bands with “replacement singers” that have continued with honour, and without constant clamouring for older lineups.  Mark Tornillo has, over the course over several great albums, earned his place without question.  The Rise of Chaos (with producer Andy Sneap) continues the journey, full steam ahead.

The blue and orange swirl vinyl edition is a double record set, limited to 700 copies.  Not only do they look stunning, but they sound vibrant and crisp.  A 46 minute album could easily have fit on a single LP, so the fact they did a double means they wanted to ensure maximum musical reproduction for vinyl buyers.*

Wolf, Mark, Peter, Uwe and Christopher crush it throughout.  “Die By the Sword”, the initial assault, is a lightning strike of sharp riffing and Baltes’ bass undercurrent.  This is pure Accept:  gothic backing vocals and overhead screams!  “Hole in the Head” boils over with animosity, delivered molten.  Then, like a Panzer division at full speed, “The Rise of Chaos” rips the heads off anything still standing.

Flip sides.  “Koolaid” retells the story of Jim Jones and the cult of the damned, a topic previously explored by Manowar.  With a riff written as if out of 1984, it takes on a mid-tempo groove rock march.  Yes, it’s possible the best song on the Accept album is named “Koolaid”!  Then the heat put off by “No Regrets” will blister the skin, if the drums don’t give you a concussion.

Flip sides.  Taking it back to a sharp metallic groove, “Analog Man” is an amusing look at our high tech world.  “Now there’s flat-screens and 3-D, my cell phone’s smarter than me!” They go for an anthemic style with “What’s Done is Done”, and plenty of guitar harmony solos to go around.  “Worlds Colliding” has the “classic metal” sound, brilliant riff and chorus combined for a slick mercury-like sound.

Flip sides one more time.  Neither “Carry the Weight” and “Race to Extinction” let up.  It’s 10 more minutes of fast, heavy metal.  Make no mistake, this is one punishing metal album.  Is it a little paint-by-numbers?  Yes — Accept albums are getting that way.  Riffs might be interchangeable.  But when the albums are still this good, it matters little.

4.5/5 stars

 

 

 

* You could also choose from:

  • 45 RPM, 180 gram black vinyl.  “limited edition”.
  • 45 RPM, 180 gram vinyl – blue and red splatter.  300 copies, USA.
  • 45 RPM, clear vinyl.  300 copies, Germany.
  • 45 RPM, 180 gram red vinyl.  300 copies, Germany.
  • 45 RPM, 180 gram vinyl – green and gold splatter.  300 copies, mail order from Nuclear Blast only.
  • 45 RPM, 180 gram vinyl – orange and red splatter.  500 copies, mail order from Nuclear Blast only.
  • This one is 33 RPM, 180 gram vinyl – blue and orange splatter.  700 copies, USA.

 

 

 

 

REVIEW: Rush – A Farewell to Kings (2017 super deluxe edition)

RUSH – A Farewell to Kings (2017 Anthem 3CD/1 Blu-ray/4 LP super deluxe edition, originally 1977)

And the men who hold high places,
Must be the ones who start,
To mold a new reality,
Closer to the heart,
Closer to the heart.

Today’s rock fans have a new reality of their own:  a market flood of “anniversary” or “deluxe” reissues far and wide.  The floodwaters are murkier when multiple editions of the same reissue are available, or when reissues are deleted in favour of new reissues!

2017 represents 40 years of Rush’s fine sixth album A Farewell to Kings.  An anniversary edition was guaranteed, but choose wisely.  For those who need the brilliant new 5.1 mix by Steven Wilson, you will have to save up for the 3CD/1 Blu-ray/4 LP super deluxe edition.  Only that massive box set contains the Blu-ray disc with Wilson’s mix.

To frustrate fans even further, A Farewell to Kings had a 5.1 reissue back in 2011, as part of the Sector 2 box set.  That 5.1 mix (by Andy VanDette) has received heavy scrutiny from audiophiles.  Steven Wilson, however, is well known for his work in the 5.1 field, and his work on the 40th anniversary mix lives up to his reputation.  His crisp mix is deep but unobtrusive.  It is occasionally surprising but always stunning, and over seemingly way too soon.  The separation of instruments is done with care, and without robbing the music of its power.  Rush albums were fairly sparse back then but Wilson managed to make a full-sounding mix out of it.

Powerful is A Farewell to Kings indeed.  Though the title track opens with gentle classical picking, before long you’re in the craggy peaks of Mount Lifeson, with heavy shards of guitar coming down.  Young Geddy’s range and vibrato are remarkable, though for some this is the peak of Geddy’s “nails on a chalkboard” period.

11 minutes of “Xanadu” follows the trail of Kublai Khan.  “For I have dined on honeydew, and drunk the milk of paradise!”  Neil Peart’s lyrics rarely go down typical roads, and “Xanadu” surely must be listed with Rush’s most cherished epics.  Volume swells of guitar soon break into new sections unfolding as the minutes tick by.

“Closer to the Heart” is the most commercial track, never dull, never getting old, never ceasing to amaze.  “Woah-oh!  You can be the captain and I will draw the chart!”  Poetry in motion.  “Closer to the Heart” may be the most timeless of all Rush songs.

“Cinderella Man” and “Madrigal” live in the shadow of “Closer to the Heart”, always there but not always remembered.  (Ironically enough, both these tracks were covered by other artists in the bonus tracks.)  “Madrigal” acts as a calm before the storm:  a cosmic tempest called “Cygnus X-1”.  Another great space epic by Rush cannot be quantified in language.  As it swirls around (even better in 5.1), you’re transported across the universe by the black hole Cygnus X-1.  Peart hammers away as Lifeson and Geddy riff you senseless.


The blacksmith and the artist,
Reflect it in their art,
They forge their creativity,
Closer to the heart,
Yes closer to the heart.

Next, Rush forged their creativity on the road.  They recorded their London show on February 20, 1978 at the Hammersmith Odeon.  Previously, 11 songs from this show were released as a bonus CD on the live Rush album Different Stages.  This newly mixed version adds intro music, the missing three songs and the drum solo.  (The missing songs were “Lakeside Park”, “Closer to the Heart”, and all 20 minutes of “2112”.)  Because this set has all the songs in the correct order, the old Different Stages version is obsolete.

Opening with “Bastille Day”, the London crowd is into the show from the start.  They cheer for the familiar “Lakeside Park”, which is followed by “By-Tor & the Snow Dog”.  This early Rush material is as squealy as Geddy has ever sounded.  He’s pretty shrill but Rush are tight.  It gets more adventurous when “Xanadu” begins, and from there into “A Farewell to Kings”.  Hearing Rush do all this live helps drive home just how talented they are.  The powerful set rarely lets up, as it relentlessly works its way through early Rush cornerstones.  “Working Man”, “Fly By Night” and “In the Mood” are played in quick succession, but is “2112” that is the real treasure here.  Anthems of the heart and anthems of the mind; classics all.


Philosophers and plowmen,
Each must know his part,
To sow a new mentality,
Closer to the heart,
Yes, closer to the heart.

What about bonus tracks?  You got ’em.  As they did for 2112, Rush invited guests to contribute bonus covers, and each does their part.  Headlining these are progressive metal heroes Dream Theater with their own version of “Xanadu”.  Dream Theater really don’t do anything small, so why not an 11 minute cover?  Mike Mangini is one of the few drummers who could do justice to such a song — well done!  Big Wreck do a surprisingly decent take on “Closer to the Heart”.  Not “surprisingly” because of Big Wreck, but “surprisingly” because you don’t associate Big Wreck with a sound like that.  Ian Thornley ads a little banjo and heavy guitars to “Wreck” it up a bit.  His guitar solo is shredder’s heaven.  The Trews’ take on “Cinderella Man” is pretty authentic.  Did you know singer Colin MacDonald could hit those high notes?  He does!  Alain Johannes goes last with “Madrigal”, rendering it as a somber tribute to the kings.

The last of the bonus tracks is a snippet of sound called “Cygnus X-2 Eh”.  This is an extended and isolated track of the ambient space sounds in “Cygnus X-1”.  Steven Wilson speculated it might have been intended for a longer version of the song.


Whoa-oh!
You can be the captain,
And I will draw the chart,
Sailing into destiny,
Closer to the heart.

Box sets like this always come with bonus goodies.  The three CDs are packaged in a standard digipack with extensive liner notes and photos.  Four 180 gram LPs are housed in an upsized version of this, with the same booklet in massive 12″ x 12″ glory.  The LP package alone is 3/4″ thick!

A reproduction of the 1977 tour program is here in full glossy glory.  This contains an essay called “A Condensed Rush Primer” by Neil.  Additionally, all three members have their own autobiographical essay and equipment breakdown.  Alex Lifeson’s is, not surprisingly, pretty funny.  Things like this make a tour program more valuable and as a bonus, this is a great addition to a box set.  Digging further, there are two prints of Hugh Syme pencil sketches.  These works in progress are interesting but it’s unlikely you’ll look at them often.  The turntable mat is also just a novelty.  Perhaps the goofiest inclusion is a little black bag containing a necklace with a Rush “king’s ring” attached to it.  Wear it to work next casual Friday!


Whatever edition of A Farewell to Kings you decide to own (the most logical is the simple 3 CD anniversary set), you can rest assured you are buying one of the finest early Rush albums.  If you have the wherewithall to own the super deluxe with 5.1 Steven Wilson mix, then let the photo gallery below tempt you.

4.5/5 stars

#604: Heavy Vinyl is a Tactile Experience

GETTING MORE TALE #604: Heavy Vinyl is a Tactile Experience

Now that vinyl is back in a big way, you may have noticed more and more heavy vinyl in your local record store.  180 gram vinyl records are very popular, particularly for reissues.  You’ll notice the front cover stickers touting the weight, but what does this all mean?

As it turns out, not very much.  Heavier weight vinyl is a preference, but not one that particularly pays off in improved sound quality.

Typical records are pressed on 120 grams on vinyl.  It starts as vinyl pellets, which are melted and expertly pressed between two plates.  A record is plenty thick enough to accommodate grooves pressed into both sides.  Thickness is not the issue.  Sound quality more depends on other factors.  Virgin plastic, not recycled, is preferred by connoisseurs.  The quality of the presses, the experience of the engineers, and of course the mastering of the music for vinyl are all critical.  Thickness, not so much.  The groove in a record depends more on surface area in order to get a good sound, and that comes from width.  Sound issues arise when a side of a record is so long, that the grooves need to be squeezed onto that 12″ diameter.  Then you lose clarity and distinction.  A thick record might cut down on vibration from the turntable, but a good platter will do the same job.

200 gram vinyl.  Notice the thick edge.

Heavy vinyl feels amazing in the hand. Like buying a heavy-duty vehicle, you feel the weight and sturdiness and associate it with quality.  Generally, you would be correct.  When a label presses a release on 180 gram vinyl, it’s often the case that this is some special reissue.  Perhaps it’s been specially re-mastered for vinyl, or manufactured in limited quantities.  Sometimes these come in special gatefold packaging.  If the remastering is done well and not overdriven like a lot of modern releases, chances are you’ll be getting a good sounding record.

120, 180, 200 grams…how heavy can these things get?  Is there an upper limit?  I asked Gerald McGhee, vice-president of Precision Pressing in Burlington Ontario.  He also sings in Canadian band Brighton Rock.

“You can go higher.   200 is in vogue right now.  140 is standard,  and 180 is getting more traction, but very little difference in sound quality,” says McGhee.

In theory you could take vinyl to absurd limits, but what would be the point?  Maybe if you’re Blink 182, you could do a special 182 gram release.  (Make sure I get my cut for the idea if you do.)  If you as a consumer buy heavy vinyl, you’re doing it mostly because you enjoy it for reasons other than sound.  Perhaps you buy them because you are used to getting a good mastering job with such releases.  Perhaps, like me, you also enjoy the satisfying feeling of handling such a record.  Perhaps you just like to collect variations.  But if you are not one of those, you may just want to save the extra few bucks and buy a cheaper version.

 

RE-REVIEW: KISS – Music From the Elder (1981)

The KISS RE-REVIEW SERIES Part 20:  

  Music From the Elder (1981 Casablanca, 1997 Mercury remaster, 2014 Universal vinyl)

Kiss had gone as far as they could go in the pop direction that they travelled on Unmasked.  The band’s stature was in jeopardy.  The image was outweighing the music and they suffered their first member defection.  As discussed in chapter 18, Peter Criss was out, but he was replaced by an energetic young drummer henceforth known as Eric Carr.  His abilities put sounds in reach that the band weren’t able to do with Peter Criss.  The smartest move, albeit the safest, would be a return to the band’s hard rocking roots.  Songs were written and demoed, including “Don’t Run” (Frehley/Anton Fig), “Every Little Bit of My Heart” (Stanley), “Deadly Weapons” (Stanley/Simmons), “Nowhere to Run” (Stanley), “Feel Like Heaven” (Simmons) and an instrumental called “Kix Are For Kids”.

Based on what we know of these songs today, Kiss easily could have turned them into a classic sounding album.  Whether it be ego, fear, ambition or sheer hubris, Kiss scrapped the demos and aimed instead to shoot in another direction.  That is, Paul Stanley, Gene Simmons and manager Bill Aucoin changed direction at the protest of Ace Frehley.  Eric Carr had no say, being an employee.  Playing on the strengths of Kiss’ larger than life comic book image, Gene concocted a fantasy story that they wanted to turn into a concept album.  If that was successful, they could spin the album off into sequels, a tour and a movie.  And who else would be better to produce a concept album than Bob Ezrin?

The addition of Ezrin was another grievance for Ace Frehley.  It was Bob Ezrin who replaced him on 1976’s Destroyer album with Dick Wagner on “Sweet Pain”.

So a fractured Kiss went into separate studios to record the concept album.  Ace stayed in his new home studio in Connecticut and recorded his guitar parts there, painstakingly taking his time to get just the right crunch.  Much to his chagrin, Bob Ezrin used only bits and pieces of what he was sent.  Bob was dealing with a severe drug problem, and had isolated himself so that the only lines of communication regarding the album were Kiss and Bill Aucoin.  Nobody outside of the circle heard a note until they were done.  There was talk of a double album, but it made sense to do it one at a time…just in case it didn’t sell.  Hence the title, Music From the Elder.  Like Star Wars, this was meant to be only a part of the whole story.

A word about the running order.  When Music From the Elder was first released in North America, the story didn’t make much sense.  It was supposed to begin with the instrumental “fanfare” and then the acoustic strumming of “Just a Boy”.  Instead the record company shuffled the song order to start with something heavier:  “The Oath”.  But the concept never made any sense.  In 1997, Mercury released the Kiss remastered series, and restored the original intended track order.  They even restored a snippet of “lost” music, a Gregorian chant bit between the first two tracks.  The original Japanese pressing came with the tracks in the right order, but was missing one overall (“Escape From the Island”).  The Japanese version also came with a neat full cover obi with pictures of the band — something fans missed out on with the normal release.  (When fans did finally see pictures of the 1981 Kiss, they were taken aback by the modern hair and image.)  The current 2014 LP edition on 180 gram vinyl also has the restored track order.

The album begins quietly (and pretentiously) with strings and woodwinds of “fanfare“, credited to Ezrin and Stanley, and based on the melody of second track “Just a Boy”.  “Who steers the ship through the stormy seas?  If hope is lost then so are we.  While some eyes search for one to guide us, some are staring at me.”  The Elder is the tale of a reluctant hero known only as “the boy”.  He is the archetypal “chosen one” selected by the mysterious and powerful Council of the Elder.  “When the Earth was young, they were already old,” reads the liner notes.  He must face the evil Blackwell, but he can’t believe there is anything special about him.

Although “Just a Boy” is a deep cut loved only by those with Kiss infecting their blood, you can hear its charm.  It sounds nothing at all like Kiss, and its soft acoustics don’t even sound like a rock band.  Paul sings the chorus in an insane falsetto, which he also utilizes elsewhere on the album.  The powerful guitar solo is all his, and one struggles to hear Ace Frehley on the track at all.  “Just a Boy” is a good song, with structure and dynamics and thoughtful composition.  It isn’t something that could be performed well on stage, and the production leaves a muddy haze over the lead vocals.  It’s hard to hear 50% of Paul’s lyrics.  Fortunately, the 2014 vinyl reissue comes with something the 1997 CD did not:  a lyric sheet.  With that in hand, you can follow the story.

In fact, it must be recommended to listen to The Elder on vinyl at least once to fully appreciate the album.  Something about sitting there with a gatefold jacket open and following a story on a record sleeve works as a sort of time machine.  It’s truly an experience that you cannot feel with CD alone, and the only way to do that with the songs in the proper order is with the 2014 vinyl reissue.

Kiss have thrown obscure covers on their albums before, but it’s strange to see such a thing on a concept album.  “Odyssey” by Tony Powers fit the story at this moment, although nothing could sound less like Kiss.  It is a fully orchestrated song and it doesn’t even have Eric Carr on it.  Ezrin didn’t think he was getting the right vibe so he brought in Allan Schwartzberg who also played on Gene’s solo album.  “Odyssey” is as overblown and pretentious as a song can get, as if Kiss suddenly became the Beatles and this was their “Hey Jude” moment.  This many soft, un-Kiss like songs right off the bat is a good way to throw listeners, so the record label ended up moving it to side two.  Paul Stanley has disowned the song, but what Paul failed to appreciate is that though campy, “Odyssey” is also incredibly fun.  It has no place in the Kiss canon, but there it is, and it’s hard to forget that delightfully pompous orchestra.

The first appearance of the mighty demon Gene Simmons is “Only You”, a choppy and spare guitar number that is the first rock moment on the album.  It’s an attempt to be progressive and rock, and it more or less works.  It’s simple and blocky, but it shifts into a few different sections including a reprise of the “Just a Boy” theme.  Paul also guests on a verse as the boy character, questioning his destiny:  “I can’t believe this is true, why do I listen to you?  And if I am all that you say, why am I still so afraid?”  The Elder respond, “In every age, in every time, a hero is born as if by a grand design.”  In an interesting twist, Doro Pesche later covered this song with completely different lyrics.

According to their self-written Kisstory (volume 1) tome, Eric Carr expressed some doubt as to the band’s current direction.  In response Gene challenged him to come up with something of his own, so Eric provided the beginnings of “Under the Rose”, on which he also plays acoustic guitar.  “Under the Rose” became his first writing credit on a Kiss album, with Gene Simmons.  “Under the Rose” is soft/heavy, soft/heavy, and features an ominous choir on the chorus.  But through this, Ace Frehley’s presence cannot be felt.  Such an important part of the Kiss sound before, now relegated to the sidelines.  Ace had only one lead vocal on The Elder, a song based on a riff written by Anton Fig.  Their “Don’t Run” demo was re-written by Gene Simmons and Lou Reed, yes Lou Reed, to become “Dark Light”.  In context of the story, “Dark Light” warns of coming evil.  Ace’s presence is welcome, providing some much needed rock foundation and a brilliant guitar solo.  Unfortunately “Dark Light” is probably his weakest in his Kiss career, a disappointing followup to prior classics like “Talk to Me”, “Save Your Love” and “Shock Me”.

Lou Reed co-wrote the lyrics to the single “A World Without Heroes”, which originated as a Paul Stanley ballad called “Every Little Bit of My Heart”.  Reed came up with phrases like “a world without heroes is like a world without sun.”  These clicked with Gene and Bob Ezrin who completed the song.  Paul plays lead guitar on a somber single that, again, sounds little like Kiss.  Kiss had done ballads before and even had hits with them, but nothing like “A World Without Heroes”, one of their darkest songs.  Strangely, it ended up being covered by Cher.

At this point of the story, the boy agrees to fulfill his destiny and become the hero.  This happens on the most heavy metal song on the album, “The Oath”.  This is the track that opened the original released running order of the album, completely destroying any comprehensible plot.  You can still understand why they did this.  Its metal riff and impressive drums are the intro that the album really needed.  Paul sings in falsetto again:  “Now inside the fire of the ancient burns, a boy goes in and suddenly a man returns.”  The song was performed live once in 1982 on a TV show called Fridays.  Although the performance seemed sloppy and awkward, Ace burned up a couple wild guitar solos.  If this is the kind of material that Bob Ezrin cut from the album, it was a big mistake.

So the boy has taken the oath, and it’s time to meet the evil one. Gene and Lou Reed wrote “Mr. Blackwell” about the character, who doesn’t seem to be too worried about the discovery of the chosen one. “Here’s to the kid, a real man among men,” mocks Blackwell in the lyrics. (The song also contains the phrase “rotten to the core”, which was a song title Gene had been batting around since the mid-70s.) Musically, “Blackwell” is spare and revolves around the words. A bumping and thumping bass is the main feature of a song that is more words than music.

At the exact moment that you need Ace Frehley to come back and save the album, he does with the instrumental “Escape from the Island”. Co-written with Eric Carr and Bob Ezrin, “Island” delivers the thrills and action-packed guitar action. Because it’s an instrumental it’s hard to determine exactly how it fits the story, except it sounds like an action scene. Perhaps Blackwell launched a preemptive strike on the boy, who escaped. Ace’s guitar attacks the surroundings, chopping them down with fatally loud riffs.

The final song (on all versions of the album) is the single “I”. Gene and Paul split lead vocals on this Simmons/Ezrin song, but once again Eric Carr was secretly replaced on the recording by Allan Schwartzberg. The story is wrapped up with the boy now proclaiming he believes in himself and is ready to take on the evil. The end of the album, yes, but clearly intended as only the first chapter of something bigger. Gene spoke of a heavier sequel album called War of the Gods which would depict the conflict. Instead, “I” serves as the ending, and at least it’s a kicker. Like vintage Kiss, the riff and chorus meld into one fist of rock. The lyrics are suitably uplifting. “I believe in something more than you can understand, yes I believe in me!” That’s pure Kiss in a nutshell right there.

A short hidden track following “I” provides the only dialogue on the album (over a reprise of “fanfare“), although more was recorded. The hidden coda reaffirms that the Elder have found the right kid. “He’s got the light in his eyes, and the look of a champion. A real champion!”

There are two ways to listen to The Elder.  If you want the whole enchilada and would like to hear the story in its correct order, pick up a remastered edition of the album either on CD or vinyl.  If you’d like a more even listening experience that is the same as that of fans who dropped the needle on the album in 1981, then go for the original CD or vinyl release.  But if you’re a Kiss maniac, you simply must do it both ways.

Music From the Elder is a flawed album, mostly marred by sonic muddiness.  It has an uncharacteristic quantity of ballads and un-Kiss-like songs, so fans stayed away in droves.  What they missed was a decent concept album for Kiss, a band that never should have attempted a concept album in the first place.  Because the album failed to sell, Kiss’ ambitious tour plans were scrapped and the band stayed home.  Aside from the three songs played on the Fridays TV show (“The Oath”, “A World Without Heroes” and “I”), Kiss never played any songs from The Elder live until their 1995 acoustic Konvention tour.  The lack of a tour meant Kiss’ momentum was all but halted.  The new drummer that fans barely knew only ever played one show in North America!

A bigger problem was brewing, and that was a bitter and disenfranchised Ace Frehley.  Once again, fans were not aware of the problems brewing in Kiss, but The Elder was the last album Kiss Ace played on until 1998.  It was a repeat of the Peter Criss situation only two years prior.

If Kiss had stuck to their plan of recording a hard rock album again, perhaps things would have played out completely differently.  We’ll have a chance to check out some of the songs they were working on in upcoming chapters for they would not stay buried long.

Today’s rating:

3.5/5 stars


Uncle Meat’s rating:

2/5 steaks 

Meat’s slice:  Some of my favorite records ever have been “concept” records.  Operation: Mindcrime, Misplaced Childhood, 2112, Metropolis Pt 2: Scenes From a Memory, El Corazon; to name just a few of many.  When it comes to The Elder, my one sentence review of this album would simply be:  Some bands should not make concept albums.  Bob Ezrin came straight from The Wall to record this mess.  I read somewhere recently, and it may even have been in the comments here perhaps, but Ace Frehley hates this album.  Which completely makes sense considering he had been on such a roll until it halted with this record.  It’s kind of a hard album to break down individually, but some quick notes:

“The Oath” – Very chuggy heavy song.  I think the [domestic] album starts off with the best song.  Song begins as if it’s Manowar meets Kiss.  More reminiscent of Creatures of the Night than this record.  Perhaps some bombastic Tenacious D-like moments.

“Just A Boy” – Starts off like early ELP and first reaction is that Paul Stanley could never come close to singing this song again.  Solid song.  Overall I get a Wishbone Ash feel. 

“Dark Light” – As mentioned earlier, Ace’s roll slows down with a dull track.  I do like the guitar solo over the bongos though.

“Only You” – An even duller track that starts with Gene singing, and morphs into Stanley singing with some stupid effect on his voice.  Right producer, wrong band.   (That could be another one sentence review of The Elder)

“Under the Rose” – This clunker doesn’t flow for me.  Gregorian Monks?  Bah….

“A World Without Heroes” – I thought it was lame then and it’s only slightly less lame to me now.  Could have used more Lou Reed.

“Mr. Blackwell” – Funky novel track.  Dancy and quirky but one of the strongest songs on The Elder for me.  One of the only songs for me that has a great hook to it.  Unmasked this album is not.

“Escape From the Island” – Good solid rocker.  Great drumming.  This would have been a great live jammer, but I’m doubting they have ever played this live.   LeBrain?  [Nope]

“Odyssey” – WTF?  Was this Paul’s tryout demo  for Phantom of the Opera?  This song alone is an unforgivable sin, and just another reason why this album should have been aborted in the womb.

Favorite Tracks”  “The Oath”, “Mr. Blackwell”, “Escape From the Island”

Forgettable Tracks:  Take your pick….


To be continued…

Original mikeladano.com review:  2012/07/26

#562.5: The Sunrise Returns

GETTING MORE TALE #562.5: The Sunrise Returns

I was very saddened when Sunrise records shuttered most of their stores nationwide, including my regular outlet at Fairview Mall.  Not so much when the HMVs started closing.  I haven’t spent any money at an HMV in years.  Recently, Sunrise announced they would be taking over several of the old HMV locations, including the one at Fairview mall.  Yes, Sunrise has finally returned to Fairview.

Sunrise re-opened a few days after Record Store Day in a case of bad timing, but they still had some RSD stock.  I set aside my Saturday morning to immerse myself in their inventory.  As expected they had plenty of vinyl, displayed front and center when you enter the store.  It’s a good selection of the usual suspects priced in the mid-$30s.  Their vinyl catalogue selection was much better than the same for CD.  Flipping through the Kiss LPs, they had 15 or so titles from the catalogue including some of the lesser known ones such as Carnival of Souls.  Then I flipped through Deep Purple on CD.  Disappointingly, they had five copies of the hits disc Icon, one copy of In Rock (standard edition) and one copy of The Very Best Of.  The same issue plagued many artists in the CD section:  five copies of Icon, but very few actual albums on CD.   This wasn’t the case across the board.  There was a healthy Metallica section and they had all the Oasis deluxe editions.  One deluxe that I was looking for was the four disc Black Sabbath Paranoid reissue, but all they had was the double CD (and 180 gram vinyl of course).

They staff were friendly and passed the test.  They approached me and asked if I needed help, I didn’t need to ask them, and they waited a reasonable amount of time.  Unfortunately their system isn’t quite up and running yet.  No inventory lookup.  But they tried.  You can’t judge a store too harshly a few days into their first week.  They had a promotional sale on:  Buy something on vinyl and get $5 off a T-shirt.  They had a lot of cool T-shirts, (a lot!) but if there is one thing I don’t need right now, it’s more T-shirts.  They even had brand new Star Wars turntables.  Star Wars turntables?

The one surprise I saw was in the Mr. Bungle section.  They had five copies of their legendary debut album, at a steal of $5.99 each.  Compare that with $21 on Amazon.

I hope Sunrise does well.  They made a few sales while I was there, and the store was never empty.  It was funny to listen to the people browsing.  “Is that a CD?”  “No, it’s a seven inch record.”  “NO WAY!”

Way indeed.  Welcome back Sunrise.

SUNRISE SCORES:

Four finds from four different genres.

Brant BjorkTao of the Devil CD – $18.99 (compared to $24.28 on Amazon.ca)

OasisBe Here Now 3 CD deluxe – $32.99 (compared to $31.45 on Amazon.ca)

KissMusic From the Elder 180 gram LP reissue – $32.99 (compared to $33.79 on Amazon.ca)

Steve Earle & the DukesThe Continental Club 7″ RSD 2017 single – $11.99 (not available on Amazon.ca)

 

 

REVIEW: Rainbow – Live in Munich 1977 (vinyl)

Thanks for joining me this week for my Deep Purple Project. I admit that this review is a bit of a cop-out. I got dreadfully sick with the flu a week ago and was not able to finish any more Purple reviews for this week. I pulled an old one out of the hopper instead. This is close to Purple,  — the Man in Black himself, and Blackmore’s Rainbow. This review is for music writer Victim of the Fury!

RAINBOW – Live in Munich 1977 (2013 Eagle Rock 180 gram 2 LP set)

Something about listening to classic rock with that rich, warm sound of pristine vinyl played on nice big speakers for the first time…is there anything better?  Dropping the needle on side A, let us begin the ritual of properly listening to a double live album.

This 180 gram was a birthday gift from my sis, knowing my love of all things Ronnie James Dio. Not to be confused with the double CD Live in Germany 1976, this freshly mastered concert was recorded in 1977 for German television.  Dio was one hell of a powerhouse, especially in 1977.  Live in Munich contains what must stand as one of the best Dio performances caught on tape.  This was caught just before the album release for Love Live Rock ‘n’  Roll.  “Kill the King” was a storming opening and the live recording is all but flawless.  If Rainbow could be faulted for anything at this point in their brief life, perhaps they played too many long jams on stage.  “Mistreated”, the Deep Purple concert favourite, is the first of these.  As usual for the Man in Black, Ritchie Blackmore himself, the song is almost 12 minutes in length when stretched out live.

Lets not get into comparing Ronnie James Dio to David Coverdale. There’s no point to that.  As with Black Sabbath, you either like Ronnie’s interpretation or you don’t.  Regardless is it drummer Cozy Powell who detours most noticeable from the Deep Purple original, doing a busier blast than Ian Paice did.  As for Blackmore, his solo spans the entire spectrum delightfully.  He fluffs it for a moment, only to immediately take control and keep going.  This is a brilliant version of a song we have heard many times.  Ritchie then takes center stage for a delicate workout to “Greensleeves”, before blasting into the Rainbow barnstormer.  Once again, this is probably the best live version on tape.

IMG_20151108_111910Flipping the record to side B, we are treated to Ritchie seemingly tuning his guitar…melodically…working his way into a lengthy “Catch the Rainbow” including classical interludes.  There’s more than a little “Little Wing” within “Catch the Rainbow”, which Ritchie plays into.  Bassist Bob Daisley sings the angelic backing vocals, proving why he has been such an integral member to so many bands over the years.  In fact this would have to be one of the strongest Rainbow lineups, period.  Keyboardist David Stone rounded out the quintet, and he is kept busy on “Catch the Rainbow”.  The brand new song “Love Live Rock ‘N’ Roll” is next, and a few people in the crowd indicate they may already know the song!  It is presented more Deep Purple in style (hints of “Black Night”), perhaps a bit more laid back with nice flashes of organ here and there.

The second LP has to shuffle the track order out of necessity.  “Still I’m Sad” is 25 minutes, so it must occupy all of side C, even though it was played after “Man on the Silver Mountain” in concert.  There is something about a side of vinyl that contains one monolithic slab of music in only one track.  It feels like a challenge, a solo-laden endurance challenge.  Once it starts rolling, it becomes one of the most intense versions of the song yet recorded by Rainbow.  Then it goes all over the place as pretty much every member has moments to shine.  It’s way too much and it’s way over the top and taxing even to the staunching rock fans.  It was 1977 and this is the way it went down!

Settling in for the final slab o’rock, side D is also daunting with two tracks of 15 minutes apiece. Purple’s “Lazy” is teased out, as part of “Man on the Silver Mountain”. Lots of soloing and noodling abound, and the big weakness with this period of Rainbow is that they thought we needed this much of it. The segue into “Starstruck” is way more fun. More solos and a frantic “Do You Close Your Eyes” ends the concert. Stone’s keyboard solo is cheesy fun, but overall this is another great over the top performance from Rainbow. You can hear a guitar destroyed at the end of it all.

Double lives are best experienced on vinyl, and pristine 180 gram records fit the bill perfectly. If you’re going to go double live for Rainbow, do it with Live in Munich.

4/5 stars

A
1. “Kill the King”
2. “Mistreated”
3. “Sixteenth Century Greensleeves”

B
1. “Catch the Rainbow”
2. “Long Live Rock ‘n’ Roll”

C
1. “Still I’m Sad”

D
1. “Man on the Silver Mountain”
2. “Do You Close Your Eyes”

REVIEW: Brant Bjork – Jalamanta (vinyl) New photos!

Hey all, hope you enjoyed our review from earlier today! ;)

The Brant Bjork review below is a rewrite of one that I originally posted July 6 2012.  I didn’t have a decent camera back then, and I’ve been aching to show some better pictures of how beautiful this record is.  I couldn’t resist revising the review itself either.  Enjoy.

 

BRANT BJORK – Jalamanta (1999 / 180 gram vinyl 2009 reissue)

I still remember the circumstances surrounding me originally getting this on CD.  As recounted in an earlier Record Store Tale, Tom and I were at a party.  We were listening to some sHeavy, and Tom mentioned the Brant Bjork solo album as another must-have.  Being a fan of Brant Bjork’s drumming from Fu Manchu, I ordered it without hearing a single track.  Tom attempted to describe it by calling it “a cross between Fu Manchu and surf rock.”  Interesting.

10 years later, when Bjork reissued it on vinyl, he added the UFO-centric Blue Oyster Cult cover bonus track, “Take Me Away”.  Automatic re-buy.  It doesn’t really sound like the rest of the album, but who cares?  It’s Brant Bjork covering Blue Oyster Cult.  But that’s not the only reason to re-buy Jalamanta.

What a beautiful record! The first thing you’ll notice is the new cover.  All black with the Brant Bjork skull embossed.  Beautiful.  Open it up to get at the booklet with all new photos. The booklet truly is a work of art. Remember when you used to buy an LP, and you’d sit down in front of your stereo staring at the pictures, trying to make out every little detail until the record was done? Brant Bjork takes us back to that time.

The cover page is what appears to be an awesomely greasy Mexican meal, and then the final page is the empty plate — a satisfied customer. Just like with this LP.  You can really get stuffed on the grooves and tones contained herein.  There are plenty of low-key, incessantly grooving instruments.  The music is simple, repetitive, but effective.  It’s not heavy, but it feels weighty nonetheless.

The lyrics are included.  Here’s an example, from “Automatic Fantastic”:

The man shakes me down, that’s why I’m broke. Rich man’s got all the green but it ain’t the kind you smoke. So we turn up the rock, and we roll it slow. We’re always flying high, and the ride is always low.

Musically, if you haven’t heard this album before, I don’t really know how to describe the songs.  Bjork plays almost everything himself, and the vibe is laid back.  He sings on every song but “Toot” which is handled by Mario Lalli (Fatso Jetson). He’s chosen to mix his vocals way back and emphasize the unadorned guitars and drums.  The mix is spare, quiet at times, loud at others, but always trippy. Imagine driving down a deserted highway on a hot summer night with the windows down. This is the soundtrack to that ride.

This is one of those album that sounds like it was just meant to be heard on 180 gram vinyl. There’s no sound like it in the world. I noticed a heck of a lot more bass, the bassline on “Lets Get Chinese Eyes” being particularly sublime. This album just sounds stunning now.

5/5 stars

  1. “Lazy Bones” – 1:29
  2. “Automatic Fantastic” – 6:59
  3. “Cobra Jab” – 3:18
  4. “Too Many Chiefs…Not Enough Indians” – 3:44
  5. “Sun Brother” – 4:45
  6. “Lets Get Chinese Eyes” – 4:45

  1. “Toot” – 5:58
  2. “Defender of the Oleander” – 7:53
  3. “The Low Desert Punk” – 5:20
  4. “Waiting for a Coconut to Drop” – 4:17
  5. “Her Brown Blood” – 4:16
  6. “Indio” – 4:15
  7. “Take Me Away” – 5:35 (Blue Öyster Cult cover) vinyl only bonus track