Canadian metal

REVIEW: Sword – “In Kommand” (2020 single)

SWORD – “In Kommand” (2020 Combat single)

For only two bucks, you could be the owner of the first new Sword single in 32 years.  The Quebec band made up of Rick and Dan Hughes, Mike LaRock, and Mike Plant have not released a new song since 1988’s Sweet Dreams.  Yes, that’s all four original members, intact and back for Round Two.  Don’t say nothing good came from 2020!  New Sword — betcha didn’t see that coming.

Sword reverted straight to their trash roots on “In Kommand”, a blitzkrieg of a tune with all the necessary goods:  riffs, chugs, and heavy drum blasts.  It would have been among Sword’s heaviest songs if it was on one of their older albums.  How have they not aged?  Over the course of 32 years, it is usually the singer who has changed the most.  Rick Hughes can still get the job done, even throwing in some screams for old times’ sake.  Incidentally, Mike Plant has never gotten his due as a lead guitarist either, and it’s like he hasn’t skipped a beat since 1988.  If there is only one highlight to “In Kommand”, it is the guitar playing of Mike Plant.

According to Rick Hughes, there is an album coming.  They have Dave Ellefson and Combat Records behind them.  “In Kommand” will have to tide us over until then, but things are sounding good so far.  While Sword albums have always been diverse with an assortment of different kinds of heavy, this track is a good sign.  It means they can still do what the fans expect.  If “In Kommand” is anything to judge by, we have an excellently heavy Sword album in our futures.

3.75/5 stars

Support the artist!  Buy the track, don’t just Spotify!

 

#867: You Keep Me Rockin’

GETTING MORE TALE #867: You Keep Me Rockin’

I love Helix.  They were one of the first rock bands I ever heard.

There are a handful of Helix albums that I play less frequently today.  I tend to gravitate towards “underdog” albums besides the “big four” on Capitol Records.  I can usually be found spinning Breaking Loose, It’s a Business Doing Pleasure, B-Sides and other lesser-known classics.

As an ending to this past summer of 2020, I decided to change it up and spin some classic 80s Helix, the stuff I grew up with.  I chose Walkin’ The Razor’s Edge and Long Way to Heaven in the car.  As per usual, like an old movie, images, thoughts and feelings came flooding back with every song.

Razor’s Edge was my first Helix, and considered the “big one”, with hits like “Rock You”, “Gimme Gimme Good Lovin’” and “(Make Me Do) Anything You Want”.  The first memory that came back was how disappointed I was with that Capitol cassette when I got it as a gift as a kid of 13 years old.  In Canada at least, Capitol cassettes in the early 1980s were of awful quality.  They always seemed to play slow.  I undoubtedly heard the album play sluggish and warbly for years.

That wasn’t all.  I scanned through the credits and noticed something that I thought was peculiar.

“They didn’t write the only songs on here that I know!”  Even as a kid, I noticed!

“Rock You” was a Bob Halligan Jr. composition.  The other two songs were covers (Crazy Elephant and A Foot in Cold Water respectively).  For the first few listens, I had a hard time getting into Helix’s own originals.  I wondered if I even actually liked Helix at all!  But then as now, I didn’t just fast-forward to the songs I liked.  I played the whole tape front to back every time.  I’m not sure when I started doing that — listening to an album in full, and only in full.  It came later in childhood.  When I played my Styx and John Williams records I tended to just skip around to the tracks I liked.  It’s possible that the change to listening to full albums was a combination of the cassette format with my good ol’ OCD.

I was new to “heavy metal” music, and Helix were one of the heaviest bands I’d heard.  My young ears were not acclimated yet.  Only one Helix original jumped out at me on first listen, and  to me it was clearly the hit that wasn’t:  “Feel the Fire”.  It sounded like a rewrite of “Heavy Metal Love”, which wasn’t on the album.  I liked it because I didn’t have “Heavy Metal Love” (didn’t even know what album it was on), so “Feel the Fire” would do instead.

Time went on, and then suddenly another song clicked: the atmospheric and thumping closing track, “You Keep Me Rockin’”.  I enjoyed the dusky intro before the song kicked into gear.  I can remember listening to this in the family minivan.  Because my own Sony Walkman and Sanyo ghetto blaster couldn’t play Capitol tapes properly, I liked to give them a spin in a car tape deck, which usually had the power to play the tapes at the proper speed.  I cannot remember exactly where we were parked, but it was definitely on a cottage holiday.  It might have been in the parking lot of The Chapel in Underwood Ontario.  I would rather wait in the car listening to music while the parental units were in there browsing.  “You Keep Me Rockin’” came on and I distinctly remember thinking “I’ve never noticed this cool slow part before, but it’s good.”  As if it was the first time, I heard that thunderous riff.  I played it a couple times before I relinquished control of the tape deck back to the parents.

Long Way to Heaven came next into my life, probably Christmas of ’86.  I remember there was a flyer in the newspaper with cassettes on sale.  A&A Records, perhaps?  I circled Yngwie Malmsteen’s Trilogy and Long Way to Heaven by Helix.  Both tapes suffered from the slow warble that was a Capitol trademark in my collection.

Long Way to Heaven brings back fewer memories.  Though the album cover was better, the music is less memorable to me.  No cover tunes this time, though there were two Halligan co-writes.  I remember thinking the old-fashioned harmonies on “Don’t Touch the Merchandise” were cool, and they sound just as good today.  You can really hear the smooth voice of Doctor Doerner in there.

Two of my strongest memories of Long Way to Heaven had to do with the lyrics.  “School of Hard Knocks” confused me.  Was this about highschool?  Was this what I was in for?  A school of hard knocks?  “It’s a long long education” sang vocalist Brian Vollmer.  This caused a bit of a panic for me as I worried about the next year at school!  Then there was “Bangin’ Off-A-The Bricks”.   While the lyrics were about starting out in a rock and roll band, all I could think was “do these guys really beat their heads on brick walls?”  I couldn’t tell but it seemed like it.  “We were just getting our kicks,” sang Brian, but I couldn’t understand what was fun about it.  Any metaphors went right over my head.

I also wondered what my Catholic school teachers would have thought about lines like “It’s a long long way to heaven, but only three short steps to hell.”  But I also didn’t care what they thought.

Those cassettes were hard to listen to, but by 1989 came the answer:  Over 60 Minutes With… was the first Helix CD, compiling the best songs from the first three Capitol records.  There were even three unreleased songs, and they were great!  Finally I had the chance to appreciate deep cuts, by hearing them with the sonics they always deserved.  Fan favourites such as “Animal House” and “Young & Wreckless”.  New stuff like “Everybody Pays the Price”.  Songs I never heard before like “Does A Fool Ever Learn” from No Rest for the Wicked.

I wasn’t able to listen to Helix properly until I had a CD player.  That happened, and it’s been true love ever since.  I’ve been a Helix supporter for many years now and I’m still proud to wear their shirts!

 

 

Just Listening to…Voivod – The Wake

Just Listening to…VOIVOD – The Wake

My first CD purchases of 2019 were based on lists:

  1. Tenacious D – Post-Apocalypto (Iron Tom’s list)
  2. Voivod – The Wake (Uncle Meat and Tom’s lists)

Tom and Meat both praised the new Voivod, so was a must.  The Meat Man happened to be online when I was giving first spin to both.  I struck up a conversation about the new Voivod, which went something like this:

Meat : Its The Voivod.

LeBrain : What do you mean?

Meat : Its a thing. Its The Voivod. Nothing before them was The Voivod. The phrase “one of a kind” is thrown around a lot, but is quite accurate about them in the literal sense. They are The Voivod.

LeBrain : I get you.

Meat : Sex Pistols meets Queensryche.

LeBrain : Yeah but more too.  Rush.  It’s really amazing they were able to carry on after Piggy. He didn’t play “normal” at all.

Meat : It’s still The Voivod. Even with a different writer. It lives within somewhere.

He said it way better than I could.  They are The Voivod and even with two “newer” members (guitarist Chewy and bassist Rocky), they still sound exactly like The Voivod.   A large part of this is singer/lyricist Snake, who has a voice identified with Voivod.  Away (drums) is also a vital component, always supplying the quirky rhythms and sci-fi cover art.

The Wake is a concept album but the story isn’t obvious on one listen.  “Scrolling down in paradise, absorbed by your next device.”  The setting is certainly familiar.  What The Wake does is bring classic progressive melodic elements into The Voivod.  This creates a swirly metal landscape, past present and future.

This is going to be an album that requires several spins before a deeper analysis.  Voivod’s icy brand of Quebec heavy metal can be cold as a Canadian winter.  Voivod will be getting plenty of play before it warms up again.

1. “Obsolete Beings” 5:35
2. “The End of Dormancy” 7:42
3. “Orb Confusion” 6:00
4. “Iconspiracy” 5:16
5. “Spherical Perspective” 7:41
6. “Event Horizon” 6:11
7. “Always Moving” 5:12
8. “Sonic Mycelium” 12:24

REVIEW: Zero Option – Gates of Utopia (1991) #TBT

ZERO OPTION_0001ZERO OPTION – Gates of Utopia (1991 Fringe)

Here’s a blast from the past for your Throwback Thursday! Most readers will never have heard of Zero Option. Too bad! Zero Option blasted out Kitchener Ontario in the early 90’s with a fresh power metal sound. They released a debut album on indi label Fringe, a label best known for its punk rock roster including bands like Dayglo Abortions. Singer Phil Maddox was well known about town for his powerful pipes. Lead guitarist Rick VanDyk is probably best recognized for his later stint in another (more famous) Kitchener band — Helix.  The Helix connection must go way back to this album, because Greg “Fritz” Hinz is thanked in the liner notes, as is legendary vocal coach Ed Johnston from Fergus Ontario, who also coached Brian Vollmer in the technique of Bel canto.  (Johnston passed away in 2008.)

Zero Option sound nothing at all like Helix.  They present their metal with a bass-heavy Megadeth groove.  Maddox’s voice is nothing like Mustaine’s, but it too is a matter of taste.  He has a smooth singing voice, and the ability to belt it out, but lacks the range to hit some of the notes he’s going for.  Gates of Utopia is only a first album, and the guy probably would have grown as a singer had they made a second CD.  He already had a pretty unique voice, as I struggle to compare him to someone else.

Opener “State of Panic” occupies that Mega-groove (think “Symphony of Destruction”) and boasts some pretty wailing solos and a decent chorus.  “Face to Face” is a standout track, a thrash metal mash with a variety of cool elements: time changes, busy drums, guitar harmonies, and smoking riffage.  In 1991, Zero Option were going for a sound that was based equally in classic metal and thrash, and they were considered to be on the cutting edge with Gates of Utopia.  Listening back today I still get a feeling of “they were onto something cool”.  You can understand why people were raving about the CD back then.  The guitar work on “Face to Face” is top notch and the band were capable of tricky arrangements.

ZERO OPTION_0002

Other tracks good enough to put the CD on your want list include “Lords of the New Church”, which has a memorable chorus and tasty guitar harmonies.  “Think Tank” thrashes pretty hard and has dualing guitar solos, a gimmick I always enjoy.  “Right Off the Face” is one of the slow, grindy catchy ones.  Gates of Utopia is less about the individual songs and more about the overall impact: there are lots of guitar and vocal hooks over the course of this solidly made album.  It’s hard to judge it fairly by 2015 standards.  In 1991, these guys were right on the cusp of something new.  Something that bands such as Megadeth and Metallica would master and exploit to sell multi-platinum albums in just a short while: a cross pollination of thrash metal heaviness with more mainstream metal sounds.  Gates of Utopia couldn’t have done what those mega-sellers did, but another record or two and who knows what Zero Option could have sounded like fully sharpened?

 

The serious weak link here is the lyrical department.  For example, from “Rise and Fall”:

When the universe was created,
Man was not around.
Centuries later,
Evidence was found.

Subject matter discussed on Gates of Utopia are standard fare: censorship, TV preachers, the dangers of drugs, insanity, pollution, and girls.  They are adequate, but pretty highschool.  Of course, these guys were barely out of highschool.

Rick VanDyk still plays music today, in a Metallica tribute act called Sandman with former Helix members Brent “Ned” Neimi and Paul Fonseca.  So there ya go!

3/5 stars

REVIEW: Helix – Bastard of the Blues (2014)

NEW RELEASE

HELIX – Bastard of the Blues (2014 Perris)

I’ve been a Helix fan a long time.  They were one of the first bands I’ve ever liked.  I’m pleased to report that their new album, Bastard of the Blues, is their strongest in years and possibly on a par with their best 80’s work.  It is their first album with Chris Julke of Cambridge Ontario on guitar, replacing John Claus (who replaced the Doctor, Brent Doerner).  This new lineup of the band (still featuring Kaleb Duck – guitar, Daryl Gray – bass, and Fritz Hinz – drums) is again working with Sean Kelly and Aaron Murray, producing one hell of a record.  It consists of 8 brand new songs, and 3 slightly older songs that you may have missed the first time.

BASTARD OF THE BLUES_0006The title track “Bastard of the Blues” is a mean, fully loaded soul-metal rock song.  Soul-metal?  Sure, why not?  Check out those backing vocals, and the smoking lead guitars.  Soul-metal!  Songwriting-wise, this is a top drawer.  Production-wise, performance…there is absolutely nothing that sucks about “Bastard of the Blues”.  Although this is a completely modern song, there are aspects of it that take me back to 1978’s Breaking Loose album, such as its experimental nature with different sections and so on.

It takes balls to name a song “Even Jesus (Wasn’t Loved in His Home Town)”. It’s heavier than the title track, and boasts a nasty little guitar riff to hook you.  Once again, Helix raised the bar.  Then they change gears:  “Winning is the Best Revenge” is solid pop rock that in a just world would be on the radio.  This one takes me right back to the mellower sounds on Helix’ 1993 classic It’s a Business Doing Pleasure.  Vollmer’s voice is in top shape.  Lyrically these two songs really seem pointed at those who may or may not have impeded Helix in the past!

“Screaming at the Moon” would be a cool song live, with it’s lyrics about fists pumping in the air.  My favourite song however is the next one, “Metal at Midnight”.  If it wasn’t for the modern production I’d swear this song was from 1984.  What a great hard rock chorus.  I’m absolutely nuts for this song.  What is it about bands like Judas Priest and Helix recently, that they have managed to tap into that vintage vibe?  I think part of the credit must go to co-writer Sean Kelly, who proved his metal credentials last year on his excellent Metal On Ice EP.

BASTARD OF THE BLUES_0007“Hellbound For a Heartbreak” is similar in direction to “Screaming at the Moon”, which is solid hard rock with hooky guitars.  But then, I was taken by surprise: “When All the Love is Gone” is an epic 70’s-sounding ballad with a voice singing that I’m not familiar with.  Turns out, it’s Daryl Gray!  He absolutely nails it.  This song could have been at home on Breaking Loose, alongside “You’re a Woman Now”.  I tend to like albums with multiple lead singers, so I enjoyed the change of pace.

From the compilation CD Best Of 1983-2012 comes “Axe to Grind”, getting a second life here.  Now here’s an interesting observation:  On the Best Of CD it didn’t make a huge impression on me.  Here, I’m enjoying it a lot more, particularly for the scathing lyrics.  Anybody who has read Brian’s Facebook page knows he’s not shy about sharing opinions, and “Axe to Grind” reminds us of that.  Then comes “Skin in the Game” from the EP of the same title.  This being an older song, you can hear the presence of the Doctor!  Also from that EP is “The Bitch is a Bullet”.  It boasts one of those memorable Helix choruses.

Album closer “Sticks and Stones” is another favourite.  It’s a fast-paced bluegrass-y metal shuffle!  Hey, I don’t know how to describe it better.  This is a great song, purely smoking, and showing off the musicianship of these five pros.  Much like “Metal at Midnight”, I just can’t get enough of this song!

As an album, Bastard of the Blues is more cohesive and consistent than some of the recent Helix discs, including The Power of Rock and Roll and Vagabond Bones.  As good as those albums were, Bastard is better.  It feels like a complete album, more so than before.  It holds its own against classics like Back For Another Taste, a high-water mark.

I don’t often get preachy in my reviews here, but I will say this:  Go out and get Bastard of the Blues.  Order it online.  Do what you have to do to purchase this album.  You’ll be supporting a hard working band that have really earned your dollars.  If there was one pleasant surprise of 2014 so far, it is that Helix came out with such an incredibly strong album.  They have raised the bar for themselves again.

5/5 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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