bonus tracks

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

REVIEW: Queen – The Game (1980, all bonus tracks)

QUEEN – The Game (Originally 1980, 1991 & 2011 Hollywood recorded reissues)

When Queen released their devastating debut album Queen in 1973, the liner notes proudly stated “And nobody played synthesizer”.  A mere seven years later, Queen introduced the electronic instrument to their sound on 1980’s The Game. This did not in any way hinder the album from becoming a massive success, nor weaken the Queen sound.  The synth was just another colour in the Queen pallette.  It would be fair to argue that The Game contains no clunkers, no songs that should have been discarded.

All you have to do is fall in love.  Everybody play The Game.

The Game eventually spawned five brilliant singles:  “Play the Game”, “Another One Bites the Dust”, “Crazy Little Thing Called Love”, “Need Your Loving Tonight” and the grandiose “Save Me”.  Anybody who has some decent Queen “hits” albums should know at least four of those songs.  But that’s not all, of course.  Funky bass and sharp danceable beats make “Dragon Attack” one not to miss.  The production of Mack and bass of the incredible and underrated John Deacon really cut through.  Rock albums that sound as good as The Game do not come around often, and “Dragon Attack” must be considered a prime example of why The Game is tops.    On album, it’s followed by Queen’s best known funk jam “Another One Bites the Dust”.  Dancefloor overload, baby!

Speaking of John Deacon, not only did he write “Another One Bites the Dust”, but also “Need Your Loving Tonight” which is good and hard rock and roll.  It could have been a Paul Stanley track.  As far as “rock and roll” goes, “Crazy Little Thing Called Long” is definitive.  The walking bassline and black leather jacket vibe are perfect.

The Game‘s second side has the deep tracks.  “Rock It (Prime Jive)” combines the synths with a scorching Roger Taylor hard rocker.  This cut is well worth getting acquainted with.  You’ll want some “Prime Jive”!  Then there’s the track I vaguely remember hearing on a radio as a kid, “Don’t Try Suicide”.  Good advice, and a strange and snappy little bopper to singalong to.  “Don’t try suicide, you’re just going to hate it,” was the line I found strangely amusing as a child.  “Isn’t that obvious?” a nine or ten year old me wondered.

Then there’s a song I first became acquainted with via Guns N’ Roses.  Axl, an unabashed Queen fan, used to do a bit of “Sail Away Sweet Sister” on piano in concert.  In my mind, it doesn’t matter how you first heard a song, as long as you eventually hear it.  The Queen original is a somber ballad sung by Brian May and featuring stunningly beautiful guitar work.  Another winning combo that sounds a bit Kiss-like is the rhythmic “Coming Soon”.   Don’t be surprised that Taylor penned it.

That is a tight ten songs, half of which were singles.  A damn perfect album.  Of course today there are expanded experiences to choose from.

When this album was reissued in 1991 by Hollywood records for their Queen “Twenty-Year Reign” series, they added a remix of “Dragon Attack”, now deleted.  Adding unnecessary loops, samples and raps brings nothing to the song.  Only collectors need seek this out.   Instead, you should search for the 2011 double CD remastered edition.  This one adds five bonus tracks.  “Save Me” and “Dragon Attack” are live, and the liner notes state that “Save Me” from 1981 could be the “ultimate” rendition of that song.  (It certainly is impressive.)  Then there is a first take of “Sail Away Sweet Sister” before all the words were in place.  The most fascinating demo is a spontaneous recording of what would later become “It’s a Beautiful Day”, finished for 1995’s Made in Heaven, the final Queen album.  History buffs will be delighted to discover a B-side written by Roger Taylor called “A Human Body”.  This unusual song is about the doomed Scott expedition to the South Pole in 1912.

They were talking in whispers,
In bear skins and fur,
Captain Scott and his heroes-to-be,
To have laboured so long,
To have made it this far,
Ooh it’s been such a long ride,
Ooh you know it’s been a long way,
For a human…human…human,
For a human body you see.

Indeed, Robert Falcon Scott was considered a hero of the British Empire, though he was beaten to the pole by Roald Amundsen of Norway and died on the way home.  Scott’s story is a tragedy of human error, ego, Imperialism, and the sheer deadly ability of the south pole to render a man lifeless in minutes.  Taylor’s quirky track does not convey this, and so it remains an odd curiosity.

However you get The Game, you will be delighted by the core 10 tracks.  The 2011 bonus CD is highly recommended.  All hail John Deacon, the boss of the bass.

5/5 stars

REVIEW: Queensrÿche – Condition Hüman (2015 Japanese edition)

NEW RELEASE

QUEENSRŸCHE – Condition Hüman (2015 Century Media Japanese edition)

As if it was not abundantly clear on their last album (2013’s self-titled), Queensryche seem to have no intentions of abandoning their heavy metal roots again.  Furthermore when you have a significant lineup change, such as a new lead singer, you can’t just stand still.  You have to keep progressing forward.  The ‘Ryche used their last album to re-ground their sound, but for a followup you need more than that.  Condition Hüman pushes the boundaries out once more, but not without keeping the metal intact.

Indeed, “Arrow of Time” sounds as if the quintet had been ingesting nothing but classic Iron Maiden for breakfast.  Swift and viscous, “Arrow of Time” gets the job done in the requisite four minutes but not without exploring the exotic side of metal riffing.  Imagine an alternate reality where Queensryche did not go in the highly technological direction of 1986’s Rage for Order album.  Envision instead a timeline in which they followed The Warning (1984) with an album that continued to progress, but also go heavier at the same time.  That album would have been Condition Hüman.  “Hellfire” demonstrates this as well; the song would have fit on a heavier version of Rage.

“Guardian” demonstrates this even more clearly.  With the vintage-style screams and vocalizations (Todd La Torre for MVP), metal riffing, but also Mindcrime-like progressive rock, Queensryche have hit upon a satisfying balance.  Songwriting credits are various combinations of all five band members; all but “Eye 9”, written solely by bassist Eddie Jackson (a first, I think).  The album has a cohesive sound, like five guys all pulling in the same direction.  The production, by Zeuss, is punchy.   Queensryche have always employed elements such as sound effects and programming, and Condition Hüman has these fixtures as well.  

Moving on, “Toxic Remedy” is Mindcrime-like, but denser and massive sounding.  Pay attention to the way Todd La Torre layers his vocals on “Toxic Remedy”.  He has arranged the vocals in his own way; this is not a carbon copy of something else.  “Selfish Lives” is the same.  Yes, there are hooks and melodies that sound very Queensryche, but Todd is showing off his own personality more than before.   And he’s not taking the easy way out on any of it!  Sounds like he is really pushing his own limits, especially on “Selfish Lives”.  It’s quite remarkable how lucky Queensryche were to find a compatible guy like Todd, who is also able to stretch it out.

Another album highlight is the rhythmic “Eye 9”, the aforementioned Jackson composition.  This Queensryche-meets-Queens of the Stone Age track blows the doors wide open in terms of direction by putting the rhythm first.  It sounds like Queensryche, yet nothing like any prior Queensryche, simultaneously.  “Bulletproof” puts a new slant on the Queensryche power ballad, keeping the emphasis on the power.   La Torre makes it his own — listen to the last note he sings.  Sends chills up the spine.  Speaking of chills, crossing the acoustics with the heavy chunky riffing on “The Hourglass” did exactly that.  There are Pink Floyd influences coming up to breathe from time to time on Condition Hüman. This is most obvious on “Just Us”, which is also very much like the slightly psychedelic acoustic side of Led Zeppelin. Queensryche have never done anything like “Just Us” before.  “Silent Lucidity” this is not.  The soulful singing at the close of the song is also unlike anything on a prior Queensryche song.

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For fans of the technical, fast side of Queensryche, “All There Was” will scratch that itch.  With that pulsing technological rhythm and “Needle Lies” tempo, you are in for a ride.  Don’t forget the blazing guitar histrionics.  The final album track is “Condition Hüman” itself, 7:48 of dramatic progressive metallic rock.  Check out the “Astronomy Domine” section after the fifth minute, just before it goes into that deliberate Mindcrime riff.  If I had to pigeonhole the sound of this album, it would be “progressive metallic rock”, but pigeonholes are lazy.  Still, as Commander Pavel Chekov once said, “If shoe fits…”

Holding out for the Japanese edition of the album, the bonus track “Espiritu Muerto” is the bonus track worth waiting for.  Going sludgy for 3:40, but topped with a soaring chorus, the bonus track is in the mold of the album but different just the same.  It’s a long album though, and adding more material (even if good) can sometimes push a CD just a bit too far in terms of attention span.  “Espiritu Muerto” is close to this line, but because it has enough personality of its own, it’s worth staying around for.

If any of these songs sound intriguing to you, check out Condition Hüman.  Fans who wonder where Queensryche could have gone had they adhered to heavier roads will find much to enjoy.  They have never taken the easy way with any of their albums, but it is hard to imagine a fan of early ‘Ryche who won’t find something here to love.

4/5 stars

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REVIEW: Scorpions – Face the Heat (Japanese and Canadian versions)

Part 2 of 2 — for yesterday’s instalment, click here.  For Aaron’s review of the domestic CD, click here!

FACE THE HEAT_0002SCORPIONS – Face the Heat (1993 Polygram, Japanese and Canadian versions)

1990’s Crazy World was a huge hit, but before Keith Olsen produced it, Scorpions had approached Canada’s Bruce Fairbairn.  Pleased with his work on their Who cover “I Can’t Explain”, Scorpions prepared to convene in Vancouver with the producer.  They were disappointed when Bruce changed his mind at the last minute when forced to choose between the new Scorpions and AC/DC projects.  Fairbairn chose AC/DC, and the result was the five times platinum (US) Razors Edge album.

Since Crazy World ended up selling two million in the US and another five million worldwide, I’m sure there were no hard feelings between the two parties when they finally did hook up together on the followup album, Face the Heat.  Personally speaking I felt Crazy World wasn’t heavy enough.  I was hoping for more in Face the Heat.  Additionally, this album was the Scorpions’ first since 1972 without bassist Francis Buchholz.  Replacing him was five-stringer Ralph Rieckermann who ended up spending almost a decade with the Scorpions.  Rieckermann was a very different player and added new elements such as slapped bass.

The first single “Alien Nation” showed promise.  A menacing, metallic riff ushered in a tune with some slamming drums (thank you Herman Rarebell), and that ultra-low fifth string on the bass guitar. I preferred “Alien Nation” to just about any song on Crazy World. The year was 1993 and a heavy groove was exactly what the doctor ordered.

“No Pain No Gain” exhibits the Scorpions’ knack for naff song titles. Thankfully it too is a grinding metal groove, showing off Matthias Jabs’ talkbox skills on the guitar. With the Scorpions post-Schenker and post-Roth, you have to expect a certain amount of boneheaded metal. I think these guys genuinely love givin’ er on that trademark, simple sound. I believe they like playing this kind of thing with earnest, so good on them.

Three songs in and “Someone to Touch” is another great little Scorpions rocker. This speedy one won’t tax your brain cells in the lyrical department, but you will find yourself singing along to the chorus without realizing it. The chorus bears the stamp of Fairbairn with its answering lines. After this much firepower, I don’t mind a ballad and “Under the Same Sun” (perhaps a sequel to the worldwide hit “Wind of Change”) is a good one. Besides, Scorpions follow it by firing off another rocker called “Unholy Alliance”, another knockout with a great chorus. This helps lessen the impact of the next ballad, “Woman”. “Woman” is very different from “Under the Same Sun”, being dark and mournful. Another success.

Unfortunately, Face the Heat stalls in a major way on side two. A number of boring songs in a row (“Hate To Be Nice”, “Taxman Woman”, “Ship of Fools”, “Nightmare Avenue” boast only a few surprises and memorable moments. Jabs sports a nice fatbody jazz guitar solo on “Hate To Be Nice”, a trick that Fairbairn later encouraged Eddie Van Halen to use on his band’s next album, Balance. Unfortunately, a cool unique solo like this is within the same song as these lyrics:

“Hey baby, listen up,
I’m not in love with you,
You keep runnin’ off at the mouth,
And someone else can scratch my back,
And I could care less about your legs,
I just wanna see ’em walk all over me!”

The last listed track on the domestic CD is the ballad “Lonely Nights”, another really good ballad. Who cares that they just copied the way they ended Crazy World, with a slow dark ballad like “Send Me An Angel”?  All well and good says I, but as I mentioned in yesterday’s instalment of Getting More Tale, the US and Canadian versions of the album have a hidden bonus track!  Way back in ’89, the Scorps and Fairbairn discussed recording an Elvis cover.  Tucked away unlisted after “Lonely Nights” is Elvis Presley’s “His Latest Flame”.  It is a pleasant surprise!  The trombone and trumpets are the perfect added touch.  I’m sure Scorpions grew up listening to a lot of Elvis Presley records, and this version is faultless.  It’s gleeful and authentic sounding despite the fact that it’s the Scorpions!

FACE THE HEAT_0003Neither of the two bonus tracks on the Japanese version of the CD are as good as “His Latest Flame”.  Both are ballads:  “Kami O Shin Jiru”, and “Daddy’s Girl”.  They are inconsequential to casual Scorpions fans who don’t obsessively collect all their songs.  Additionally, they are disappointing to Scorpions collectors who buy these things hoping the extra tracks will be better.  I dig Rieckermann’s fretless bass on “Kami O Shin Jiru”, but these songs only serve to end Face the Heat on an excessively mellow note.  “Daddy’s Girl” is particularly depressing; I don’t want to listen to songs about child abuse — I already know it’s bad!  Scorpions tackle the subject in their usual subtle-as-a-brick fashion.

If only the second half of Face the Heat was as strong as the first.

3/5 stars

#397: Face the Heat (Mail From Sydenham)

Part 1 of 2 — First the tale, tomorrow the review!  This tale itself is a direct sequel to Aaron’s story “Mail From Jedi Master LeBrain”.

PARCEL FACE THE HEAT

RECORD STORE TALES MkII: Getting More Tale
#397: Face the Heat (Mail From Sydenham)

I collect Japanese imports, especially when there are bonus tracks afoot. A year ago, I found a Japanese copy of Scorpions’ Face the Heat CD with two such bonus tracks. I bought it from one of my favourite vendors, at the Toronto Musical Collectibles Record & CD Sale. It was $15 and complete with obi strip. A steal. (Who says Japanese imports are very expensive anyway?)

TOP OF THE BILLBecause I try to avoid redundant copies in my collection, I donated my original CD of Face the Heat to Aaron. He reviewed it and called it “a collection of strong songs that gets better as it goes along”. I played my Japanese copy, and filed it away without giving the album much thought until recently. Martin Popoff’s excellent Scorpions tome, Top of the Bill, reminded me of an Elvis cover that Scorpions did as a hidden bonus track.

The Scorpions almost recorded “His Latest Flame” back in 1989 for their hits compilation, Best of Rockers ‘n’ Ballads. It was between Elvis and The Who’s “I Can’t Explain”. “I Can’t Explain” won out, but the Scorps gave it another go in 1993 for Face the Heat. (Incidentally both tracks were produced by the late Bruce Fairbairn.)

“His Latest Flame” was one of the first “hidden bonus tracks” in my collection. It’s very unlike anything the Scorpions had done before, but they did a damn fine job of it in my opinion. I love the horn parts. I’m sure that was Fairbairn’s doing, a trumpet player. It was buried unlisted after the end of “Lonely Nights”, the final song on the CD, as part of the same track. When I read Popoff’s book, I realized, “When I gave Aaron my original CD, I didn’t check if the Japanese CD retained that bonus track…”

Indeed, “LeBrain” the Bonehead did fail to check if “His Latest Flame” was on the Japanese CD, and it is not. It’s very rare to find a domestic CD that has a bonus track not included on a Japanese version, but it does happen, and it did happen on Face the Heat!

Gratefully, when “LeBrain” the Bonehead asked if he could have the disc back, Aaron immediately said “no problem”! He knows the kind of collector I am. He sent it back to me as a part of a recent parcel exchange that we enjoy doing from time to time!

I do appreciate that he was willing to send this “gifted” CD back. It just goes to show how two collectors understand one another! As for Face the Heat, look for my review of both CDs right here tomorrow!

REVIEW: Black Sabbath – The Dio Years (2007)

BLACK SABBATH – The Dio Years (2007 Rhino)

Compilations are always fun to quibble about. Fans like to complain about which songs are missing, and which songs they’d replace. I won’t spend too much time talking about that. Most reviewers have already pointed out that “Sign Of The Southern Cross” and “Time Machine” are missing from the 2007 Dio-era Black Sabbath compilation, The Dio Years.

It’s very important to remember two things. One, this album contained the first new Black Sabbath music released in nine years. Nine years! This is a band that used to release an album every year, up until the point that Ozzy Osbourne rejoined the band. Since then (and before the new album 13), the band released exactly two new songs (both with the Ozzman singing) and started to stagnate. Since The Dio Years represented the first new Sabbath material in almost a decade, it bears a listen.

The second point of note: this set was originally supposed to be a 2-CD boxed set. As such I’m sure a lot of songs were dropped along the way, Yes, “Southern Cross” is missing. However, this reviewer’s only real quibble is “Southern Cross”. I mean, hey — “Lonely is the Word” is on here!  I would have replaced “Lady Evil” with “Southern Cross” myself (I never liked “Lady Evil” much), but perhaps the fine folks at Rhino felt that one 7+ minute epic was enough for a single disc. I can understand that logic. Besides, I, like every Sabbath fan worth his or her own salt, already own Mob Rules.

SABBATH DIO YEARS_0006

This disc was freshly remastered. I should point out that this remastering session was not the same one that produced the series of Sabbath Castle remasters in the late 90’s, but one that occurred in 2006/7. As such the sound is even heavier (louder). I found that I had to roll down the bass a bit, as my normal settings made the bass just too heavy. This was also the first time that the material from Dehumanizer (15 years young!) had been remastered.  The running order is a little weird, though.  “Heaven and Hell” as the third song on an album?  A live “Children of the Sea” following “I”?  The flow is lacking in cohesion.

The liner notes are excellent, very detailed, with lots of facts that casual Sabbath fans didn’t know (like the fact that Craig Gruber from Rainbow, and Sabbath keyboard man Geoff Nicholls were brought in to play some bass when Geezer briefly left the band in 1980). There are a bunch of cool pictures and artwork as well, which fit in nicely with the Sabbath vibe.

Every Dio-era album get a look-in, even the controversial Live Evil via a great version of “Children Of The Sea”, almost as memorable as its studio counterpart. No rarities. What you get instead are the aforementioned three new songs. That’s one more than Ozzy gave you on the Sabbath Reunion CD, by the way!

When Dio was with Sabbath he tended to talk about his songs in terms of tempo. As such, you get one “fast one” (“Ear In The Wall”), one “slow one” (“Shadow Of The Wind”) and one mid-tempo song (the single “The Devil Cried”). I almost always prefer the fast Sabbath stuff, so obviously “Ear In The Wall” is my favourite. Sound-wise, these three new songs pick up where Dehumanizer left off, and foreshadow The Devil You Know.

Geezer, unfortunately, was not involved in the writing.  Iommi and Dio also did the production themselves. This might have something to do with the fact that I can’t hear nearly enough of Geezer’s trademark slinky bass lines–something I identify with the Sabbath sound more than any singer they’ve ever had. Iommi’s playing some good riffs and some scorching solos here, although I have found his guitar tone over the last decade to be too modern and distorted. I much prefer it when he gets a nice amp-driven sound rather than something so processed. However, bottom line is, these three new songs are good, albeit not essential, parts of the Sabbath catalogue.

Thankfully these three new songs were not the last gasp of Black Sabbath. Before his untimely death, Ronnie James Dio recorded The Devil You Know, under the name Heaven & Hell. And of course after that, the original Black Sabbath finally delivered the unforgettable 13.

As for The Dio Years?

4/5 stars

REVIEW: Heaven & Hell – The Devil You Know (2009)

H&HTDYK_0001HEAVEN & HELL – The Devil You Know (2009 Atlantic)

If one considers The Devil You Know as a part of the official Black Sabbath canon (as I do), then it’s not a stretch to call it the darkest and heaviest album in this band’s storied career. The only album that would be on a par with that is Born Again. If I refer to Heaven & Hell as Black Sabbath in this review, I trust you’ll forgive me. After all, this is the Mob Rules/Live Evil/Dehumanizer lineup of Black Sabbath, and a rose by any other name….

The previous album that these four guys did together was 1992’s masterpiece Dehumanizer, (notwithstanding the three new songs on the compilation Black Sabbath: The Dio Years). The last official Black Sabbath studio album prior to this was 1995’s Tony Martin-helmed Forbidden, a dreadful rushed piece of garbage that almost buried Sabbath forever.*

So, it is quite refreshing that The Devil You Know is so heavy, and so good. If you are familiar with the slow, dirgey sludge that were the three new songs on The Dio Years, that is a good reference point to the sound on this album. Very sludgey, mostly slow, guitar-heavy and intense. There are some faster ones (“Double The Pain”, “Neverwhere” etc) but for the most part this is 10 tons of pure heavy Black Sabbath. Songs like “After All” from Dehumanizer are the blueprint.

Especially enticing are the riffs. Iommi’s riff on “Bible Black” is crushing. “Fear” has some exotic noodling that I found surprising and refreshing. Vinnie’s drums are all cannons without the machine guns, which I do miss. I also wish Geezer’s bass was more slinky and audible, but combined with Iommi’s guitar it just creates this sheer wall of metal. All this is held together by Dio’s still-strong, unique, wonderful voice. Tonally, it is deeper than it was back on Dehumanizer, over 15 years previous.  He was 66 years old when this was recorded.

Walmart version

Walmart version

The Devil You Know is not an instant pleasure. Hooks are scarce, as the album bludgeons you with sound. However, the familiarity that these four musicans create with their combined sounds are the hook. One of the most missed sounds in metal was that of Black Sabbath. When Ozzy came back to Sabbath in ’97, new music was scarce (only two new songs on Reunion, although a third never-released new song called “Scary Dreams” was absolutely mindblowing). I am glad that Dio-era Sabbath was capped off with one hell (pun intended) of an album. This album stands up to the glory days without copying it, and that is a hard thing to do.

Itunes bonus tracks exist for the OCD collector: You can find unique live versions of both “I” and “Neon Knights” on their version of The Devil You Know. If you’re not a hardcore collector, then you can stick to the double live album Live From Radio City Music Hall. If you are a Sabbath completist, then be aware the two live bonus tracks are not from that album, but are unique (and great) live versions unavailable anywhere else.

Rest in peace Ronnie. Sleep well, knowing that you did something rare. You created a cap stone worthy of your body of work.

3.5/5 stars

* The “rough mix” of Forbidden is better.

REVIEW: Anvil – Hope In Hell (with bonus tracks)

NEW…ish RELEASE!

HOPE IN HELL_0001ANVIL – Hope In Hell (2013 The End Records)

15 albums in, Anvil still perseveres.  I was saddened by the sudden departure of former bassist Glenn Five (no relation to John 5).  His song “This Ride” was a personal favourite on Juggernaut of Justice.  Still, Anvil bounced back incredibly swiftly with Sal Italiano, adding an American member to the otherwise Canadian trio.  The change is seamless; Sal Italiano is an apt replacement and has no trouble at all keeping up with Robb Reiner (drums).

If you’re an Anvil fan, Hope In Hell is more of what you have grown to expect.  Solid riffs, incredible drumming, lots of heavy metal with a little bit of humour in the lyrics.  The title track starts the album on a slower groove, but that’s only a warning shot.  “Eat Your Words” storms the stage amidst machine gun drums and chugging riffage.  This kind of song is Anvil at their best; just playing their faces off at top speed.  Add in those tasty trademark Lips guitar solos and we’re off to the races.

Unfortunately, all this momentum comes to a screeching halt on track #3:  “Through With You”.  The main riff and drum part of the song is a direct rip off from “Smoke On the Water”.  The really unfortunate part is that the rest of the song is great!  I’m quite surprised it made the album, just because of its similarity to the Deep Purple classic.  Lyrically, it might be a jab at Glenn Five.  Who knows?

“The Fight Is Never Won” is much better, back with the thunderous artillery and smoking guitars.  By the chorus, it mutates into something more like classic metal.  “Pay the Toll” too is red-hot.  Anvil excel at fast rockers, and Lips’ solos fit like a glove.  For lyrical hilarity, check out “Flying”.  This ode to touring has my favourite lyric in all Anvil history:

“Tel Aviv to Turkey then down through Greece,
Back home to Canada to see our famous geese.”

As silly as that is, it actually exemplifies something I admire about Anvil: their earnest joy that they get to play heavy metal music for thousands of people.  It is quite obvious that Anvil would not have carried on this long if they did not love what they do.  It bleeds out of the music and lyrics.

The album continues, steadily rocking more excellent riffs.  The songs are not all memorable, but all boast memorable parts.  “Bad Ass Rock N Roll” for example has a cool chorus, but the song itself sounds much like the rest of the album.  One issue that has always plagued Anvil is a certain sameness to their songs.  However, much like AC/DC, Anvil try to play this as a strength with mixed results.

The final song (of the standard edition) finally gets us back to magnificent Anvil metal: “Shut the Fuck Up”.  The sheer velocity of this short firecracker is a joy.  It’s definitely one of the most indelible tracks.  Plus it’s fun to sing along, I admit.

Then there are the bonus track.  Europe got two:  “Hard Wired” and “Fire At Will”.  (The Japanese edition, which I want, has a live version of “Hope In Hell”.)  I like “Hard Wired” better than a couple songs on the album proper.  “Fire At Will” is not particularly special.

Hope In Hell is a good album, no more, no less.  Anvil will continue.  I believe that much.  There is nothing anyone can do to stop Anvil now.  I thought Juggernaut of Justice was a really excellent record.  Hope In Hell is missing…something.  It entertains for most of its duration, but it is uneven.  Anvil can do better, and I hope they will do better, next time.

3/5 stars

REVIEW: Anvil – Juggernaut of Justice (Deluxe and iTunes versions)

For my recent review of Anvil’s This Is Thirteen on vinyl, click here!

JUGGERNAUT_0001ANVIL – Juggernaut of Justice (2011 The End Records)

When I first heard all that cowbell on the track “Fukeneh!” I screamed aloud, “YES!” Anvil don’t give a crap about what’s trendy and what ain’t. That’s why they’re still around over 30 years later, and Juggernaut of Justice was one of their best albums since the early 80’s.

It’s not commercial, but it is more accessible. As good as This Is Thirteen was, I like Juggernaut of Justice better. It is slickly produced by Bob Marlette (at Dave Grohl’s Studio 606). Bob Marlette is not my favourite producer, I’ll admit that, but he’s done a bang-on job here. A little trebly on the guitars in the mix, but otherwise a fine, clear sharp production job. Lip’s vocals are more accessible, but not overproduced. You can still hear flat notes here and there, which is good!  I like production to remain authentic.  Kudos to Marlette who made a great sounding Anvil album.

Every song is great. I especially loved “Conspiracy” and “Fukeneh!”. “On Fire” is cool and fun lyrically, an obviously autobiographical tune about Lips himself. The title track is great, and so is the galloping nu-metal sheen of “This Ride” (featuring bassist Glenn Five on vocals.)  Yet there are no weak tracks, Anvil sharpening their metal edges.  With the exception of the 7-minute “Paranormal,” (a great slow burner) all songs are in the 3-4 minute range, packing maximum punch into the grooves.  Also noteworthy is the horn-laden metal of “Swing Thing”!  This great instrumental shows off the considerable chops of drummer Robb Reiner. It is the icing on top of this heavy metal treat!

I love the cover art, which reminds me of Endgame by Megadeth for whatever reason. (Also “Conspiracy” reminded me of some of the lyrical themes on Endgame.)

I liked Juggernaut of Justice enough to buy it twice: Once digitally, to get the bonus track “What I Want To Be”, and then the limited edition CD which has its own pair of bonus tracks. “The Station” grinds along relentlessly, with a metallic sheen of multiple layered guitars. “Tonight Is Coming” is more basic, but with G5 hanging out on the upper frets of his bass every now and then to give it some flavour. The chorus is pretty amusing: “Tonight is coming, all day long!”*

The digital bonus track, “What I Want To Be” is the best of the three, a bright metal song with Reiner playing it fairly straight and the transmission in drive. Each bonus is a perfectly fine track, so purchase as you feel so inclined.

Very, very happy with this album. I had my doubts due to the presence of Bob Marlette instead of Chris Tsangarides, but…well done, Bob.

4.5/5 stars

* their new album, Hope In Hell, features the song “Flying” with the following lyric:

“Tel Aviv to Turkey then down through Greece,
Back home to Canada to see our famous geese.”

You gotta love that.

REVIEW: Anvil – This Is Thirteen

“Keep on rockin, keep on rockin’, to this metal tonight!”  The first of two Anvil reviews this week!

ANVIL – This is Thirteen (16 track vinyl edition, 2009 VH1 Classic Records)

I won’t go into the whole Anvil story — see the movie (Anvil! The Story of Anvil), and then get this album if you haven’t already. Don’t get this album because you feel sorry for Anvil and want to help them on their quest for stardom; buy this album because it is one seriously heavy piece of metal greatness. It’s amazing that thirty years on, a band can come up with something as strong or stronger than their classics.

Surely some of the credit must go to veteran knob-twister Chris Tsangarides (Judas Priest, Thin Lizzy, Bruce Dickinson) who produced This Is Thirteen. Tsangarides, if you’ve heard his past productions, gets a simply great sound and performance out of bands. In particular, heavy bands like Anvil. Everything here sounds great — the drums are pounding, clear and heavy and the guitars are shredding and crisp. Excellent sounding record!  (NOTE:  Tsangarades has been ill recently, and we wish him nothing but the best.)

The songs? Well, originally there were 13 songs…this is Anvil’s 13th album, get it? However, some extras were added to this vinyl edition (more on that later). The core 13 songs are pretty damn strong. I would say heavier than the “classic three” Anvil records, but every bit as catchy and memorable. The riffs are the kind that bore their way through the skull into your brain. And Lips plays almost all the guitars here — clearly, he is not only a talented frontman, but also an underrated shredder.  No one will mistake Lips for Alex Skolnick, but he’s like a more talented Nigel Tufnel — and I mean that in the nicest way — style wise. (Former lead guitarist Ivan Hurd also appears on a handful on tracks.)

Bordering on thrash metal at times, and sinking to Sabbathy lows at others, This Is Thirteen gives you a variety of metal to sink your teeth into. Check out the title track “This is Thirteen” for some seriously heavy doom. Sounds like something on Sabbath’s Dehumanizer CD, even lyrically. I’m sure Dio would approve. Then skip ahead to something fast and heavy like “Shoulda Woulda Coulda”. This Is Thirteen has a little of everything!

Highlights for this listener included the title track, the apocalyptic “Bombs Away”, “Burning Bridges”, “Feed The Greed”, “Room #9” and the three bonus tracks.

I love when bands put bonus tracks on vinyl. It makes the metal geek in me scream in joy. Here there are three:

14. “Thumb Hang” – a song Lips & Robb wrote in highschool, about the Spanish Inquisition. Finally recorded 30 years later, it’s actually a pretty decent song!

15. “Metal On Metal” – re-recorded for that heavier sound, but don’t worry, it’s not modernized at all. It’s a straight remake, just better sounding.

16. “666” – same deal. The great thing about these re-records is that it allows new Anvil fans to get their two best known songs along with the new album. Pretty genius if you asked me!*

My only gripe? Occassionally Lips’ voice can be a little grating. I have the same issue when I listen to Megadeth for a couple hours on end. I just can’t listen to Mustaine’s voice for too long in a row. Lips’ voice isn’t as grating to me, but too much Anvil and I need to play something else.

4/5 stars

* These three songs were later re-released on the 2011 Anvil compilation Monument of Metal.

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