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REVIEW: Guns N’ Roses – Hard Skool (2022 Nightrain club clear 7″)

GUNS N’ ROSES – Hard Skool (2022 Geffen 7″ Nightrain club clear vinyl EP)

Back in February, Guns N’ Roses released the Hard Skool EP (or single, or whatever!), containing the first two new Guns songs since 2008’s Chinese Democracy.  With five tracks total (two studio, three live) over three separate formats (CD, cassette, 7″), it was already a pretty good listen.  Axl’s voice has adapted to singing these demanding songs, 35 years after.  But there was always the promise of more in June 2022, and now it has come.

Members of the Guns N’ Roses Nightrain club received a brand new Hard Skool release on clear vinyl, with one exclusive live track added.  The cover art colour has been changed from red to dark charcoal grey, and a “Nightrain Limited-Edition Clear” notation has been added to the front.  This wasn’t cheap, costing $60 Canadian ($45 US) dollars to join.  There are other perks but really, the truth of the matter is I paid $60 for one song.

They had better not reissue this track!

The new exclusive song is “Shadow Of Your Love”, a recent live version recorded with Axl, Slash, Duff, Dizzy Reed, Richard Fortus, Frank Ferrer, and Melissa Reese.  If you cast your minds back to the recent Appetite For Destruction super deluxe edition, “Shadow Of Your Love” was released as a single and it got a bit of airplay.  Live with the new version of the band, it does recapture that Appetite vibe and let’s face it, the song was possibly superior to a couple tunes that did make the final album.  You can hear Melissa on backing vocals, a touch that isn’t on early live versions of the song.  That backing vocal part is present on the studio version from the third disc on the Appetite box, but not the others included.  It’s cool that they’ve brought it back.  This version is just as fast as the old ones too.  It’s awesome to hear Frank Ferrer playing the drum part originally recorded by Steven Adler.  As for Axl, he adapts.  This is one of the most high and raspy of the original Guns repertoire.  Axl delivers it smooth without the rasp and still manages to get his voice way, way up there.  Say what you want about Axl Rose, he’s sounding better than many of his contemporaries.  Of course the real treat is just hearing Slash wail on it, as he should.

As for the other songs on the single; we’ve discussed them before so we won’t spend much more time on them.  “Hard Skool” is a Chinese Democracy outtake that has been reworked with Slash and Duff McKagan.  The duo have writing credits on “Hard Skool” along with Axl Rose and former members Robin Finck, Josh Freese, Tommy Stinson and Paul “Huge” Tobias.  Formerly known as “Jackie Chan”, this song comes closest to capturing the classic Guns vibe – think Illusions era GN’R.  Slash imbues the riff with his trademark snakelike style, and Axl is in full-scream mode on the powerful chorus.  The cowbell brings us back to the 80s a bit, but the experimental solo section is more modern.  The other new/old song “ABSUЯD” is much more Chi-Dem, and more divisize.  Formerly known as “Silkworms”, Guns started playing “ABSUЯD” live after a 20 year absence last year as a surprise.  Axl’s voice is pretty strange here, sounding a bit muppet-ish.  (The screaming portion sounds like tape.)  This live track will take some getting used to.  It’s not that Axl’s voice is bad just…different than what you’re used to.

Both vinyl releases came with a sticker.  This fan club edition also comes with a Nightrain 2022 pin.  The pin comes packaged in a little mini-folder.  It is made of metal and heavy for a pin.  Made for a jacket, not a shirt.  For a higher tier, you could sign up for four pins and a hoodie.  But I really only wanted to shell out for the exclusive track.

You can’t blame Axl for wanting to get some of these old songs out since he laboured for years over them.  It’s fitting that only now with Slash and Duff back in the band, the songs are “finished”.  Keep the releases coming guys.  It doesn’t have to be an album.  It just has to be Guns.

4/5 stars

All cautions made
Every chance was given
No effort spared to save what we had
All in good faith
I would not hesitate
To extend myself and lend you my hand

But you had to play it cool, had to do it your way
Had to be a fool, had to throw it all away
Too hard school and you thought you were here to stay
If that were true, it wouldn’t matter anyway

As tempers fade
And lies forgiven
No cause embraced could break what we had
In its place
A storm is lifting
I would’ve thought you could be more of a man

But you had to play it cool, had to do it your way
Had to be a fool, had to throw it all away
Too hard school and you thought you were here to stay
If that were true, it wouldn’t matter anyway

But you had to play it cool, had to do it your way
Had to be a fool, had to throw it all away
Too hard school and you thought you were here to stay
If that were true, it wouldn’t matter anyway

You had to play it cool, had to do it your way
Had to be a fool, had to throw it all away
Too hard school and you thought you were here to stay
If that were true, it wouldn’t matter anyway

You had to play it cool, had to do it your way
Had to be a fool, had to throw it all away
Too hard school and you thought you were here to stay
If that were true, it wouldn’t matter anyway

REVIEW: Jacob Moon – Under A Setting Sun (2022)

JACOB MOON – Under A Setting Sun (2022)

I’ve only helped crowdfund two things in my life.  I’m happy to say I picked a winning horse in both cases, the second being Jacob Moon’s new CD called Under A Setting Sun.

Although Moon is certainly a stunningly good musician, and his voice could be described as “angelic”, it’s his songwriting that really sets him apart.  Each song on the EP has a different flavour.  That being the case, they all share a certain light, an uplifting feeling that just makes you feel better after a listen.

The opening track “Live A Little” feels like a morning sunrise, with gently picked acoustics ringing clear, and a hint of slide shining from the shadows.  “Today we’re going to leave all those cares behind, and live a little” sings Moon, asking us to look at the stars above.  The message here is simple but necessary.  A brilliant song with a bright glow that will sound great in just about any setting.  It’ll go great on the porch this summer.

The familiar crunch of an electric guitar is joined by the moan of organ on “Tennessee”, a brilliant slow ride.  It has a vaguely southern feel especially when the slide guitar joins in.  “And the road has got the best of me, I thought I could be free yeah, like the winds in Tennessee,” sings Jacob as a soulful backing chorus joins in.  This one will sound great in the car on a country drive, guaranteed.

A unique acoustic song called “Miles To Go” has a gentle, breezy vibe.  A terrific song; you could imagine Jon Bon Jovi clenching his fists in jealousy that he didn’t write it.  It sounds in the pocket of mid-90s Bon Jovi when they weren’t afraid of getting a little more laid back on These Days.  The track sounds more lush as it goes, building to a nice resolution at the end.

If you’ve got the guts to call a tune the “Song That Won’t Leave You Alone”, it had better be catchy!  It’s actually about the creative process, but the title demands an actual song that won’t leave you alone.  The lyrics are fascinating but the chorus is really fantastic.  Great guitar work on this one as well, an absolute gem of a song.

“A Little More Time” is a quiet ballad, but backed with a strong drum beat.  The chorus is perfect.  Once again, a certain Mr. Jovi might be gnashing his teeth that he didn’t come up with this one, but that’s just pure speculation.  He couldn’t sing it like Moon does anyway.

The title track ends the album with a string-coated song that brings the vibe of the album full circle.  If “Live A Little” sounded like morning, then “Under A Setting Sun” brings the day to a close.  Whether that’s intentional or not, that’s one interpretation if you like.  Regardless, “Under A Setting Sun” wears an understated strength on its sleeve, based on the rhythm of the acoustic guitar.  The strings raise it to the clouds, dreamy and powerful.

2022 has been a year for strong releases already.  Add the name Jacob Moon to your list of must-hears.

5/5 stars

 

REVIEW: Guns N’ Roses – Hard Skool (2022 CD, cassette, 7″ vinyl)

GUNS N’ ROSES – Hard Skool (2022 Universal CD, cassette, 7″ vinyl EP)

The first new physical music from Guns N’ Roses since 2008’s Chinese Democracy has finally arrived in the form of an EP!  Good enough; we’ll take it.  Beggars (and hangers-on) cannot be choosers.  Considering how scarce new Guns music has been since the early 90s, the new Hard Skool EP almost feels like manna from the gods.

There are six tracks in total spread over multiple formats:  two new studio songs, and four live.  The last of the live songs, “Shadow Of Your Love”, shipped in June 2022 on a club-only clear 7″.  The other five tracks are all here.

To the disappointment of some, the two new songs are slightly old:  Chinese Democracy outtakes that have been reworked with Slash and Duff McKagan.  The duo have writing credits on “Hard Skool” along with Axl Rose and former members Robin Finck, Josh Freese, Tommy Stinson and Paul “Huge” Tobias.  Formerly known as “Jackie Chan”, this song comes closest to capturing the classic Guns vibe – think Illusions era GN’R.  Slash imbues the riff with his trademark snakelike style, and Axl is in full-scream mode on the powerful chorus.  The cowbell brings us back to the 80s a bit, but the experimental solo section is more modern.

The other new/old song “ABSUЯD” is much more Chi-Dem, and more divisize.  Formerly known as “Silkworms”, it was largely enjoyed by those who knew it from live bootlegs but thought it should have been on the album.  The keyboard intro has been axed, the riff emphasized and the lyrics slightly modified.  The main hook “What can I do, with a bitch like you?” has been replaced with a refrain of “Absurd!” The words are otherwise just as angry.  “Listen motherfuckers to the song that should be heard!” bellows Axl on the opening line.  “Parasitic demons sucking acid through your heart!”  I wonder who this was written about?  Vocally, Axl’s in the faux accent he utilized on “Down on the Farm” and you’ll love it or hate it.  Interestingly former keyboardist Chris Pitman, who was credited with songwriting on the original “Silkworms” version, no longer has a credit.  It is now credited to Axl, Slash, Duff and Dizzy.  Presumably the Pitman parts were chopped.  At the time of its writing, Pitman said: “It ended up being this incredible track that sounded like Guns N’ Roses 10 or 15 years in the future. It was so far removed from our other songs that we had to put it in this other place. Concept-wise, it didn’t fit with Chinese Democracy. We hope we will have other songs that match that kind of futuristic sound. It’s a really exciting track because it morphs into this crazy sound, but it was out so much in the other direction that we have to let time catch up with it.”  While that was true of “Silkworms”, the version known as “ABSUЯD” is more guitar-oriented.

The live songs commence with “Don’t Cry”.  Slash and rhythm guitarist Richard Fortus sound great together on this, but Axl struggles when the singing gets high at the end.  It’s a demanding song, and 1991 was a long time ago.  “You’re Crazy” on the other hand is really good.  Using the slower Lies arrangement, but played on electric, this version is like brand new.  A real cool addition to your GN’R library.

The third live track is exclusive to the 7″ vinyl:  “ABSUЯD”.  Not only do we get new songs on this EP, but we already get one in a live version.  Guns started playing “ABSUЯD” live in 2021 as a surprise before it was released on iTunes.  Axl’s voice is pretty strange here, sounding a bit muppet-ish.  (The screaming portion sounds like tape.)  This live track will take some getting used to.  It’s not that Axl’s voice is bad just…different than what you’re used to.

The 7″ vinyl came with a sticker while the cassette and CD versions come with no extras.  The CD is packed in a slipcase, and the cassette in a cassingle cardboard sleeve.  This got crushed a bit in the mail; a jewel case would have been better.

Completing this tracklist is “Shadow Of Your Love (Live)” on an additional 7″ single, available only by joining a “Nightrain” membership on the official site.  The cheaper of the pricey packages gives you access to the usual online perks such as pre-sale tickets, but your only physical merchandise is the vinyl, a sticker, and a pin.

The cover artwork includes an interesting visual clue.  On a school locker door, the classic Guns N’ Roses logo is stickered overtop a graffiti style logo reminiscent of Chinese Democracy.  Almost a metaphor for what these new songs are.

It’s encouraging that Guns N’ Roses have finally released something new, even if the songs are just reworked tunes from 20+ years ago.  Perhaps they’re clearing the decks before working on truly new material.  It’s all but certain that we will see more, and hopefully a longer release next time.  While some moments on the live tunes are shaky, and the new tunes were not as warmly received by some, the Hard Skool EP is wonderful to hold in hand.  New physical music from GN’R!  About time.

4/5 stars

All cautions made
Every chance was given
No effort spared to save what we had
All in good faith
I would not hesitate
To extend myself and lend you my hand

But you had to play it cool, had to do it your way
Had to be a fool, had to throw it all away
Too hard school and you thought you were here to stay
If that were true, it wouldn’t matter anyway

As tempers fade
And lies forgiven
No cause embraced could break what we had
In its place
A storm is lifting
I would’ve thought you could be more of a man

But you had to play it cool, had to do it your way
Had to be a fool, had to throw it all away
Too hard school and you thought you were here to stay
If that were true, it wouldn’t matter anyway

But you had to play it cool, had to do it your way
Had to be a fool, had to throw it all away
Too hard school and you thought you were here to stay
If that were true, it wouldn’t matter anyway

You had to play it cool, had to do it your way
Had to be a fool, had to throw it all away
Too hard school and you thought you were here to stay
If that were true, it wouldn’t matter anyway

You had to play it cool, had to do it your way
Had to be a fool, had to throw it all away
Too hard school and you thought you were here to stay
If that were true, it wouldn’t matter anyway

REVIEW: Yngwie Malmsteen – I Can’t Wait (1994 Japanese EP)

YNGWIE MALMSTEEN – I Can’t Wait (1994 Pony Canyon Japanese EP)

Immediately following the Seventh Sign album, new Yngwie Malmsteen material surfaced in Japan.  Three songs and two live tracks served as a nice dessert after a pretty good studio album.  Mike Vescera remained on lead vocals.  The lineup is largely the same as The Seventh Sign, but with Barry Sparks added on bass (probably just for the live songs; it sounds like Yngwie on the studio cuts).

Title track “I Can’t Wait” is one of Yngwie’s strongest ballads.  Though it starts with uncharacteristic acoustic strumming, the song transforms into the kind of epic ballad that you expect from the guitar god.  Vescera’s range and power are on display.  Great song.  And you don’t always say that about Yngwie tunes.

“Aftermath” is a pounder.  Slower, determined, great drums.  Lots of shredding come solo time.

The two live songs are “Rising Force” and “Far Beyond the Sun”, hits from the days of yore.  Recorded live at the Budokan earlier in the year, it must have felt something like home for Mike after his stint in Loudness!  “Rising Force” is an ass-kicker, pedal to the metal, and the whole band rising to the occasion.  That’s it for vocal tracks though.  “Far Beyond the Sun” is one of Yngwie’s best known guitar compositions, familiar and beloved for its exquisite neo-classical stylings.  As for this version?  Flawless and inspired.

The final track is a studio instrumental called “Power and Glory (Takada’s Theme)”.  This was done as a theme for a Japanese pro wrestler and few will be familiar with it.  Slow, plodding, with the repeated chant of “Ta ka da!”, it is hard to really like.  Yngwie’s acoustic work is always brilliant, but difficult to digest here.

Good EP overall.  Hard to find.  Snag if you find for a good price.

3.5/5 stars

#968: Go For the Songs From the Electric Heart

RECORD STORE TALES #968: Go For the Songs From the Electric Heart

Trapper is Emm Gryner, Sean Kelly, Frank Gryner and Tim Timleck.  For those who know, Trapper is also one of the best hard rock bands going, if you happen to like that retro-catchy sound done with expertise and skill.  This style of music never died, but it was definitely harder to find after grunge hit the “reset” button.  Bottom line though:  a good song is a good song.  Trapper write and play good songs!

Joe Elliott is a fan. Isn’t that enough?

I have liked Trapper since first hearing about the band in 2015, when they released their first cassette.  I knew Emm Gryner by reputation and quickly became a fan of her solo work.  Of course, I was will familiar with Sean Kelly from his many recordings with Helix, Lee Aaron, the Metal On Ice CD/book project, and so on.  But I missed out on that limited edition tape.  I also missed the five track CD release Go For the Heart, of which 300 copies were made.

I’d been listening to the band quite a bit on the weekend, since getting their newest tape Songs From the Electric North in the mail.  Only 50 were made, and this time I managed to get one!  Sean sent it to me with a nice note.  He’s a great guy.  Not only did he take the time to appear on the LeBrain Train in May 2021, but even before that he was instrumental in helping me identify MuchMusic personalities on my VHS tapes.  I always like adding more of his music to my collection.

And that is the point of this story:  the collector’s disease.  It’s a real thing, and I have the actual receipts.  I decided I wanted “all the Trapper songs”.  I looked on Discogs and much to my amazement, they had a copy of Go For the Heart for $75 plus shipping.  $100 total.  Last copy sold was $71, two years prior.  It had been on my wishlist for some time.  I did the math, and decided this was my best chance to own it.  Go For the Heart has “Grand Bender” and “The Warrior” from the debut tape, so this would get me “all the Trapper songs” in physical form.  Still flush with Christmas money, I decided to pull the trigger.  Collector’s itch:  temporarily scratched.

I felt quite satisfied with my myself!

The next day, I noticed my good buddy Aaron from the KMA had left a comment on my Friday January 14 live show, during which I unboxed my brand new Songs From the Electric North cassette.  “Jealous you got the new Trapper,” he said.  “I only have the one CD here.”

Wait…the CD?  They only have one CD and it’s Go For the Heart.  The one I just paid a hundred bucks for.  And Aaron’s was signed by Emm and Sean!  He paid a buck.

I had to tell Sean this story.  “No regrets!” I said.  And it is true.  I paid a lot — maybe the most paid yet for that particular CD.  But I wanted it.  I wanted it for a while.  I know what the last guy paid, and I paid $4 more.  Will it appreciate in value?  Not the point!  I collect music from artists I like in physical formats.  I wanted it, so I bought it.

Hey, I’m a collector and sometimes we splurge!

REVIEW: Trapper – Songs From the Electric North (2022 limited edition cassette EP)

TRAPPER – Songs From the Electric North (2022 limited edition cassette EP)

One gets the sense that, although Trapper take the quality of their music very seriously, Emm, Sean, Tim and Frank are doing it for the pure enjoyment.  They must be!  Trapper is a top-notch band honouring their 80s roots by writing that kind of catchy rock song with singalong hooks.  Each track on their brand new cassette EP, Songs From the Electric North (limited to just 50 copies!) sounds assembled with great care, and genuine zeal.

Fear not if you missed out on the cassette, for you can download the EP on your iTunes!

Songs From the Electric North consists of four originals and two covers.  The covers,  “Illégal” by Corbeau and “Bye bye mon cowboy” by Mitsou, were previously reviewed here so you can check that out if you want to know more about those two excellent tracks.  In particular, we praised “Illégal” for a beautifully chunky riff that Sean Kelly captured with a nice crunchy guitar tone.  We also singled out Emm Gryner’s lead vocal, with depth, grit, power — the whole package.  This is the first physical release for these tracks.

The four originals vary in flavour, so picking favourites will also widely vary from person to person.  On side A, “Winterlong” opens, hitting the ears on a nice tense Sean Kelly riff with a Campbell-era Dio feeling.  This track has it all, from the powerhouse vocals to thundering drums n’ bass.  “Winterlong” also boasts a lyrical guitar solo, carefully composed and executed.  This track is a rocker!  Heavy as metal, yet sweet as saccharine at the same time.

Power ballad territory ahead!  Perhaps “Almost Forever” is in the vein of ‘87-era Whitesnake or albums of that direction?  Whatever your inkling, “Almost Forever” is memorable, and done to perfection.  It’s a hard sound to get just right.  The keyboards and especially Emm’s melody put it exactly in the right ballpark.  A winning song, that you will be coming back to again and again when you want a new ballad with that nostalgic feeling that sends you back in time.

Opening side B, “You Need An Angel” has a nice chunky rock groove.  Here Kelly reminds me at times of Ratt’s Warren DeMartini in tone and feel.  Another fabulous classic rock composition, laden with hooks and punchy drums.  And completely different in direction from the other tunes.

The last of the originals is the pounding metal of “New Year’s Day”.  This track has an epic quality, harder to describe, except to say it’s different again from the previous songs!  Solid riff/groove combo, with Emm delivering a vocal that just divebombs you with hooks from the sky!  How’s that for a description?  Just listen to it.

I’m very grateful to score one of the 50 copies of this tape.  To give you an idea of demand, Trapper’s first cassette “Grand Bender” / “The Warrior” was limited to 100 copies and never turns up for sale.  Their CD EP, Go For the Heart, runs about a hundred bucks total with shipping these days.  I should know, because I bought the last one!

You can get your copy on iTunes, so head on over and get rocked by the Songs From the Electric North. 

5/5 stars

REVIEW: Joe Satriani – Joe Satriani (1984 EP, 2014 RSD reissue)

JOE SATRIANI – Joe Satriani (1984 Rubina EP, 2014 Relative Record Store Day 180 gram reissue)

In 1984, The Squares guitarist Joe Satriani quietly put out a low-key instrumental EP on his own label, Rubina records.  How limited was the release?  An exact figure is hard to find, but original copies today run about $500.  Four of the five tracks were reissued on Joe’s Time Machine album, but the fifth track’s master tape was damaged.

This is a release most people assumed they’d never own without parting with some serious dough.  Then in 2014, for the 30th anniversary, the original Joe Satriani EP was reissued for Record Store Day.  Unfortunately, due to the lack of liner notes, we don’t know how this was accomplished.  The damaged track, “Talk To Me” is intact and sounds just fine.  Was it sourced from an original vinyl?  Was it restored?  You can now experience a 180 gram “replication” of the original 1984 EP that started it all.

Guitar Player magazine went nuts for the EP, which is remarkably performed entirely on guitar.  Every instrument you hear is a guitar.  The “drums” are Joe tapping on his pickups.  The “bass” is a detuned six string.  The sound effects and other “instruments” are Joe wringing every sound he could think of from his instrument.  It’s truly innovative.  It’s even pretty listenable.

The record opens with “Talk To Me”, which could be seen as a precursor to Joe’s uptempo guitar anthems like “One Big Rush”.  In fact, there’s a familiar lick in this track that Joe used as a main hook on Flying in a Blue Dream‘s “Back to Shalla-Bal”.  This track, thought long lost, is probably the best of the five and most indicative of where Joe was headed.

“Dreaming Number Eleven” is an interesting song, with a suitably dream-like opening that soon gives way to a funky beat complete with “slap bass”.  The experimental side of Joe manifests in the sound of a roaring train, all performed on guitar.

Side two commences with the light and tropical “Banana Mango”, a breezy track with blazing speed laid overtop.  This contrasts with the nuclear “I Am Become Death”, a gothic dirge.  There is a middle section that sounds like the wind blowing through a wasteland.  Then, a backwards guitar section that foreshadows part of Flying in a Blue Dream.  Finally, “Saying Goodbye” is a brief but tender ballad as Joe is known to do.  It is constructed from gentle volume swells.

It’s clear from this record that Joe was going to be a formidable composer, let alone player.  Just as interesting as the guitar work are the arrangements.  They are all meticulously constructed, and though some tracks are more listenable than others, they all make up a snapshot of who Joe Satriani would become.  Within three years of its release, Joe would change rock history by Surfing With the Alien, his talents now fully expressing themselves.  The Joe Satriani EP is an experimental prototype to the genius to come.

3/5 stars

REVIEW: Marillion – Christmas 2020 (single)

MARILLION Christmas 2020 (2020Racket Records CD single)

For those who love the numbers (hands up, both of you), here are some Marillion 2020 statistics for you:

  • This is the third Marillion single in 2020, after the “Easter” and “Made Again” home recordings.
  • This is the sixteenth Marillion Christmas CD.  A full list of them can be found at bottom.

This year it’s a simple two-track CD single, instead of a live album, and it’s better that way.  Not that a double live CD isn’t a fine way to spend Christmas, but this just feels more…Christmas-y.

Both tracks are produced by Michael Hunter.  “All I Want for Christmas is You” features jingle bells, and the full band givin’ ‘er.  Nice to hear Marillion just rocking!  This is what I want to hear this Christmas — a party.  Ian Mosely doesn’t get to pound a simple one out like this much anymore.  This is good time Marillion Christmas dance party track — and there are not many of those!  They even managed to squeeze in a so-cool Steve Rothery guitar solo without losing the fun.

For the sentimental type, enjoy a lovely “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”.  Hard to believe Marillion haven’t covered this one yet, but they have now!  They do it with piano, keyboards and light accompaniment.  It’s done just the way you want to hear it, around the fire after the kids have been tucked in.  Listen for Steve Hogarth’s Christmas message at the end.

Two Christmas songs done so perfectly that even a Grinch-like curmudgeon can enjoy them.  What else do you want for a free Christmas CD?

5/5 stars

Marillion Christmas CD collection

REVIEW: Max the Axe – Bodies of Water (1995 cassette)

MAX THE AXE – Bodies of Water (1995 independant cassette)

This has to be one of the rarest items I own.  I have acquired the only remaining cassette copy of the first Max the Axe release, a five song tape called Bodies of Water.  In a rare move, the cassette had the bonus track rather than the CD.  Back in 1995, Max the Axe didn’t have a drummer so the drums on this release are programmed.  That lends it a streetwise but quaint mid-90s nostalgia.

Opening intensely with “Hard Drive”, Max the Axe’s music defies genres from the first track.  Heavy sludge riffs, flute, saxophone, a keyboard orchestra!  Lead vocals on this track by Pam Hammond leap beyond expectation as she bellows powerfully over the complex track.  You get more sax (courtesy Rockin’ Randy Harrison) on “Where’s Pablo?” featuring Mickey Straight on lead vocals.  This has a cool, dirty street vibe groove.

The  cassette bonus track “Guns To Iran” is dead center, and features “Max the Swinging Axe” on distorted lead vocals.  Pure metal on electronic steroids.  I’m immediately reminded of “Manic Mechanic” by ZZ Top, but a thrash metal version.

“I’m Glad Now” has another singer, Tim Rolland, and a completely different vibe.  Straight noctural, memorable melodic hard rock with a growly singer.  But then the screamer “Fair Ophelia” ends the cassette on a seriously heavy note.  Pam Hammond and Max the Axe return on vocals, assaulting the ear with aggressive heaviness.  Max does the metal grunting while Hammond sings in classic screamin’ metal style.

This is good stuff and surprisingly well preserved 25 years later.  Max’s sharp jabs of guitar solo adrenaline still rock the speakers with intended impact.  Maybe the Axe will remaster and reissue his early tunes so the rest of you can hear them too.

4/5 stars

REVIEW: Queensrÿche – Queensrÿche (1983 EP/2003 remaster)

Part I of a Queensryche two-parter.

QUEENSRŸCHE – Queensrÿche (1983 EP/2003 EMI remaster)

Sometimes a reissue is done so right you just gotta “Take Hold of the Flame”.

The 1984 debut EP by Queensryche is one such release.  The original vinyl runs shy of 18 minutes, leaving plenty of space for bonus tracks.  For this, they included the audio for all 10 songs from their first home video, Live in Tokyo.  Wishes fulfilled.

The original four track EP put the quintet from Seattle on the map.  Opening with “Queen of the Reich”, the young band showcased their knack for riffs and screaming vocals.  Geoff Tate’s opening scream cannot be touched.  Tate seemed embarrassed of these songs later on (all written by Michael Wilton and Chris DeGarmo with one lyric by Geoff).  Though the songs are clearly a starting point, they’re nothing to be embarrassed by.  “Queen of the Reich” remains simple, majestic and powerful.

The “Nightrider” sails away but the riffs go on with pneumatic precision.  Early Queensryche were not that dissimilar from early Iron Maiden, but at least they were doing that sound well.  Curiously enough this self-produced EP was not recorded with the intention to release it.  Queensrÿche is actually just a demo, but the band were starting to make waves on the live scene and so the four songs were released as an EP.  It eventually went gold; very rare for an EP.

Flipping over to side two, “Blinded” is screamy and raw.  Not one of the bands’ most memorable tunes, but soon arrives “The Lady Wore Black”.  This is a metal ballad in the classic vein of “Beyond the Realms of Death” or “Remember Tomorrow”.  Tate’s voice cascades while the band weave a backing track of guitar thunder.  Along with “Queen of the Reich”, it still turns up on live setlists.

The live set in Tokyo, recorded in 1984, contains all the tracks from the EP, a non-album song called “Prophecy”, and several from the debut full-length album The Warning.  Opening with the “Nightrider”, Queensryche don’t let up through a generally fast and heavy set.  “Prophecy” keeps up the brisk pace, with a chorus that is miles ahead of “Nightrider”.  And this DeGarmo-penned smoker was a non-album track!  “Deliverance” from The Warning follows in its ashy footsteps.  It’s an onslaught of Warning tracks:  “Child of Fire” and “En Force” rolled out in heavy fashion.  This trio of Warning songs might be considered the slow part of the set.  They have a soundalike vibe as they steamroll the ears.

“The Lady Wore Black” brings a slower, dark atmosphere.  Tate’s sustain is unbelievable!  Then it’s a blast of classics to close the set:  “Warning”, “Take Hold of the Flame” and “Queen of the Reich”.  Magnificent metal through and through, with “Take Hold” being an unequivocal high point.  From Tate’s vocal to the exalted riffing, Queensryche nail it.

Don’t just get the EP.  Make sure to get the 2003 CD reissue with the glorious Tokyo show included.  You’ll be happy you did.

4/5 stars