heavy metal

REVIEW: Type O Negative – Bloody Kisses (1993 – original and re-release)

TYPE O NEGATIVE – Bloody Kisses (1993 Roadrunner, original and digipack re-release)

“If you like Black Sabbath,” said the security guy at the mall, “then you have to hear Type O Negative.  They are one of my favourite bands right now.  Do you have it?”

We checked the racks, and we did — Bloody Kisses, the recent re-release in a smart looking cardboard digipack.

There were two security guys at the mall.  There was Trevor Atkinson, the laziest guard in the world, who I knew from highschool.  The other guy had more the look of the cop-wanna-be, the way you picture the cliche of mall security guards in your head.  He was the Type O fan.

The year was 1995, still early in the winter, and fresh working at the Record Store (for about six months).  I had been collecting Black Sabbath for years, and in 1995 I was still mad for them, trying to acquire the rare stuff on CD like Born Again and Seventh Star.  Knowing my infatuation with Black Sabbath, the cop-looking guard recommended Bloody Kisses.  I was also about five months since my first big breakup, and I was still bitter and angry.  It clicked.

I mean, read this dedication in the inner booklet.

I wouldn’t recommend Type O Negative to any old Sabbath fan like he did.  In fact a few months later, I saw Type O Negative with a bunch of Sabbath fans, and they couldn’t have given a shit.  But I got why he did.  The gothic imagery, the heavy guitars, the keyboard accents.  Certainly, the comically deep vocals of Peter Steele were nothing like any of the higher-pitched crooners that Sabbath have ever had in their ranks.  But Type O did sooth my angry, heartbroken soul when I hit “play” on my brand new copy of Bloody Kisses.  I didn’t know, but I had bought a recent reissue featuring a new song called “Suspended In Dusk”, while losing a lot of the instrumental bits and novelty songs on the first edition.  The reissue, with only nine tracks instead of 14, is an overall better listening experience.  (There is also a deluxe edition with all the material from both, plus remixes, and their cover of “Black Sabbath” from Nativity in Black.)

Both versions open with the same song – “Christian Woman” – although the original makes you wait through 40 seconds of metal machine music and moaning called “Machine Screw”.  Cutting to the chase is better.  Soft, subtle keyboards welcome you in.  The nine minute track is laid out in three parts in the booklet.  A: “Body of Christ (Corpus Christi)”, B: “To Love God”, and C: “J.C. Looks Like Me”.  Each is a distinct section with its own riff and hooks, with “To Love God” being a soft interlude between two harder parts.  If anything is Sabbathy here (besides the title), it’s the varied arrangement, the keys, and the Appice-like drums of Sal Abruscato.  Guitarist Johnny Hickey sings the higher vocals in contrast to Steele’s ridiculously low baritone.  This is a truly great song, though the naughty lyrics aren’t poetry.  It’s solid all the way through, which you can’t say for every long song on this album.   The track was pointlessly edited down to four and a half minutes for single release, losing all its grandeur.

The reissue and original differ drastically in running order here, but the more concise reissue blends seamless into “Bloody Kisses”, a very slow dirge that goes on for 10:56.  A bit of a slog, with highlights here and there, but get to the point, right?  In the booklet it is subtitled “A Death in the Family” and that’s exactly what it sounds like.  In the quiet parts of the song are sounds which create the image of a gothic castle during a storm, so you have to give Type O credit for caring about their craft.  “Too Late: Frozen” is another long one, distinguished by it’s goofy “too late for a-pol-o-gies-ah!” chant.  It has a lo-fi punk vibe and is quite enjoyable for all its disperate ingredients.  Of course one of those parts is a big dark dirge-y gothic breakdown.  It’s really two songs in one, with “Frozen” bookended by “Too Late”.

Type O goes for straighter riffing on “Blood & Fire”.  This is about as conventional as songs get on Bloody Kisses.  Some of the lyrics resonated with my sad-sack-of-shit broken-hearted persona that I found myself projecting.

I always thought we’d be together,
And that our love could not be better,
Well, with no warning you were gone,
I still don’t know what went wrong.

It sounds as if a natural side break was inserted after “Blood & Fire”, because there is a respite before the bizarre sitar-inflected “Can’t Lose You”.  It’s a very long buildup, but this sets up their version of Seals & Crofts’ “Summer Breeze” on the reissue.  (We’ll get to what they do on the original running order in a bit.)  “Can’t Lose You” sounds like a gothic parody of the Beatles’ “India period”, but “Summer Breeze” is more like Ozzy’s cover of “Purple Haze”!  Guitars distorted to the max, Pete croons about the jasmine in his mind.  On both versions of the CD, “Summer Breeze” is paired with “Set Me On Fire” as a sort of high-octane organ-centric outro.  Dig that backwards flute.  (Flautist: uncredited.)

A sudden break here leads to a dark cave where Peter Steele can be found breathing heavily and taking a deep drink from a bottle.  “Damn me father,” he says, “for I must sin.”  It’s the reissue bonus track “Suspended in Dusk”, a frankly dull song about a vampiric creature.  The slower-than-slow approach, paired with the spoken word vocal style does not hasten the blood.  Some clear chordal homages to Black Sabbath catch the ear.  That said, the lyrics are cool.  “Four centuries of this damned immorality.  Yet I did not ask to be made.  Why?”  Too long, too long, goes on forever.  Shame.

Closing the reissue is the other big single, “Black No. 1 (Little Miss Scare-All)”, a tribute to the goth girls of the 90s.  This is a great tune, and it’s hard to believe this hit is an 11 minute tune.  Granted, it was shaved down under five for its single release, which is a shame since you miss great hooks.

“I went looking for trouble,” begins Pete.  “And boy…I found her.”

It’s all Hallow’s Eve, and she’s got a date at midnight with Nosferatu.  Peter taps into everything sexy and cool about Halloween on “Black No. 1”, named for the hair dye colour.  “You wanna go out ’cause it’s raining and blowing, she can’t go out ’cause her roots are showing.  Dye ’em black.”

Terrific ending to the reissued album.  Hit ’em hard with a single on the way out. Epic, fun, hook-laden and conclusive.  So why did they re-arrange the tracklist and cut so many from the original?  “Sacrebleu!”

The band were fully involved with the reissue, which also featured an alternative cover photo.  One has to assume they saw the potential of a better listening experience in the revised tracklist, and they were correct.  If Bloody Kisses has a primary flaw, it’s that too many songs take a while to get to the point (if they get there at all).  With all the original additional material, the album is too uneven in tone and quality.

“Machine Screw” doesn’t take long to get out of the way, but the jokey opener isn’t necessary.  The original tracklist then gets the two biggest tunes out of the way right at the start, albeit a combined 20 minute start, “Christian Woman” and “Black No. 1”.  It then segues into “Fay Wray Come Out and Play” a minute of what sounds like a woman being sacrificed by some kind of jungle tribe.  It’s a sonic filler that doesn’t enhance enjoyment of the album, just contributes to a jokey novelty quality.  As does the next track, a punk thrasher called “Kill all the White People”.  The lyrics are pretty simple — “Kill all the white people, then we be free!”  Is that why they wanted to sacrifice Fay Wray?  I’m getting confused here.  In an abrupt change of pace, “Summer Breeze”/ “Set Me On Fire” follows.  It’s a very different setup from “Can’t Lose You” on the reissue.

Back to “Set Me On Fire”, (which ends abruptly on both versions).  On the original set, the next track is the birthing noises of “Dark Side of the Womb” followed by “We Hate Everyone”.  This is a cool tune, but perhaps the lyrics were considered too jokey for the reissue.  Who does Type O Negative hate, for example?  “Right wing commies, leftist Nazis”, and most importantly “We don’t care what you think!”  The punky tempo and melody are at odds with the majority of the album, but this is one track worth having the original version for.  The song straightens out into a mid-tempo rocker by the middle, before reverting back to its punk origins.  It’s the one they shouldn’t have cut.

The final piece of exclusive music on the original album is “3.0.I.F.” which bridges “Bloody Kisses” with “Too Late: Frozen”.  It’s a bizarre sonic collage of chanting, engine noises, whispering, and the word “negative” repeated before the crash of a highway accident.  While it does serve as an interesting intro to “Too Late”, you don’t miss much by not having it in there.  The original running order goes out on the ballad “Can’t Lose You” which is cool.  And just to avoid any sort of flow or outro, it ends abruptly as the sitar peaks.  When the same thing happens on the reissued version, it sounds more like a setup into “Summer Breeze” than a sudden end.

Get both, or get the deluxe with the bonus CD, or don’t get it at all.  It’s almost like they never wanted you to buy it in the first place.  On the back of the original CD, instead of a tracklist, is just a warning:  “DON’T MISTAKE LACK OF TALENT FOR GENIUS”.

Original:  3.5/5 stars
Reissue:  3.75/5 stars

1. “Machine Screw” 0:39
2. “Christian Woman” 8:57
3. “Black No. 1 (Little Miss Scare-All)” 11:14
4. “Fay Wray Come Out and Play” 1:02
5. “Kill All the White People” 3:23
6. “Summer Breeze” 4:49
7. “Set Me on Fire” 3:29
8. “Dark Side of the Womb” 0:27
9. “We Hate Everyone” 6:50
10. “Bloody Kisses (A Death in the Family)” 10:55
11. “3.0.I.F.” 2:05
12. “Too Late: Frozen” 7:50
13. “Blood & Fire” 5:32
14. “Can’t Lose You” 6:05

#883: Live! Bootlegs – the Prequel

A prequel to Record Store Tales #286: Live! Bootlegs

 

RECORD STORE TALES #883:  Live! Bootlegs – the Prequel

 

I didn’t discover “bootlegs” right away.  But inevitably, I had my first encounter and was confused by what I saw.

The setting:  Dr. Disc, 1988 or ’89.  Downtown Kitchener.  In the store with best friend Bob and one of his friends.  Browsing in the cassettes, I had worked my way over to Guns N’ Roses, a band I was still learning about.  Something about an EP that came before Appetite?  But what I saw was not that.  In fact, there multiple Guns bootlegs in their cassette section, only I didn’t know they were called “bootlegs”, or what that even meant.  Each one seemed to have a different member on the front.  One had Slash, one had Axl, one even had Izzy.  They were printed on different coloured paper.  They had songs I never heard, like “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door”.  Live shows from the last few years.

Were they official releases?  They had to be if they were sitting there in a store, right?  But A&A Records at the mall didn’t have these.

I didn’t get of the Guns tapes.  I didn’t have the money, and even if I did, I wouldn’t have taken a chance.

My knowledge of bootlegs was limited.  In my mind, I associated the word with the kind of bootleg records they had to buy in communist Russia.  Since you could not buy American music in the Soviet Union in the time of the Iron Curtain, fans got creative.  There is a famous series of Beatles bootleg records, etched into X-ray photographs.  It was the right kind of material to cut the music on.  Like a flexi-disc.  When I heard the word “bootleg album”, I associated it with an album that was illegal to own, but somehow you got a copy of a copy.  Not live recordings smuggled out of a gig and sold for profit.

I finally put the pieces together when I bought the book Kiss On Fire on December 27, 1990.  In the back:  a massive list of live Kiss bootlegs, from Wicked Lester to the Asylum tour.  Tracklists, cover art, the works.  Suddenly, it clicked.

“These must be bootlegs!” I whispered to myself in awe.

“We must have them,” said my OCD to my unconscious self.


I acquired my first live bootleg from Rob Vuckovich in 1992.  It was David Lee Roth live in Toronto on the Eat ‘Em and Smile tour with Steve Vai.  It was just a taped copy on a Maxell UR 90, but it was my first.  My sister got an early Barenaked Ladies gig on tape shortly after, including the rare “I’m in Love With a McDonald’s Girl”.  Then in 1994 she bootlegged her own Barenaked Ladies show on the Maybe You Should Drive tour!

Around this time, my sister and I also started attending record shows a couple times a year.  Bootlegs were now available on CD.  And there were many.  Who to choose?

Black Sabbath with Ozzy, or with Dio?  Def Leppard before Rick Allen was even in the band?  Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, Motley Crue’s final gig with Vince Neil…so many to choose from!

Interestingly enough, the idea of one band member being on the cover art carried into the CD age.  By my side at one show was Bob once again.  I flipped through the Kiss.  There were so many!  I picked one out with Gene on the cover.  Not knowing what bootlegs were himself, Bob thought they were solo albums.  “Don’t get one with just Gene!” he advised.  It wasn’t something I wanted anyway — it was from the Animalize tour, which I already had represented on VHS at home.  I wanted something I didn’t have anything from yet.  There it was!  The Revenge club tour!  Unholy Kisses, they called the disc.  Stupid name, great setlist.  I only hoped it sounded good when I got it home.  They used to let you listen to it before you bought it, but I think I was too shy and just bought it.  As it turns out, I loved it.  Every thump and every shout.

That’s the thing about bootlegs.  You really never knew what the sound was going to be like.  Or even if the gig advertised was the gig you were buying.  Or just because it sounded good at the start, will it still sound good at the end?  Or did the guy recording it have to move to a different seat next to a loud dude?  A soundboard recording was almost a too-good-to-be-true find.  One thing you were certain not to hear:  overdubs.  No overdubs on a bootleg!  They were raw and authentic.

I had made a good “first bootleg” purchase.  A whole new world opened before me.  There were not just live bootlegs, no!  Also demos, remixes, even B-sides.  And among them, some great, and some dreadfully bad choices!


Hear about some of the great ones this Friday, February 26 on the LeBrain Train: 2000 Words or More with Mike Ladano

 

 

 

 

REVIEW: David Lee Roth – Big Trouble Comes to Toronto – Maple Leaf Gardens 10/31/86 (bootleg cassette)

DAVID LEE ROTH – Big Trouble Comes to Toronto – Maple Leaf Gardens 10/31/86 (bootleg cassette)

This cassette is a second generation, recorded from a buddy (with good equipment at least) in 1992.  My first bootleg.  It opens with a Van Halen-era interview with David Lee Roth about “precision rock”.  The crackle of original vinyl is audible.

A nice fade-in brings Steve Vai’s guitar to the fore, and then it’s wide open into “Shyboy”.  High octane, even though it’s just an audience recorded cassette with not enough volume on the guitar.  Without pause they rock into “Tobacco Road”. Gregg Bissonette’s toms a-thunderin’.  Vai certainly needs no help in hitting all the guitar hooks that he baked into the vinyl, just with more flair and energy.

Dave has never shied away from Van Halen hits or deep cuts.  “Unchained”, “Panama” and “Pretty Woman” are the first three.  The bass rumblings are unlike anything Michael Anthony played on the original.  The backing vocals are far more elaborate.  Like in Van Halen, “Unchained” is interrupted part way, but this time it’s so Dave can ask what you think of his new band!  Pretty hot.  After “Unchained” he stops to talk to a “pretty Canadian girl”.  “Panama” sounds a little odd with Brett Tuggle’s keyboards so prominent in the mix.  And it’s also way way way too long, with Dave trying to figure out who is reaching down between whose legs, but that’s Dave.  You don’t go to the show just to hear the music.  You go to see the whole schtick.  You put in the quarter, you gotta let the jukebox play the whole thing out.

“Pretty Woman” is zipped through fairly quickly (with one audience participation stop), going into Dave’s rabid “Elephant Gun” and the slick “Ladies’ Night in Buffalo?”  “Elephant Gun” features solos galore that would have been pretty awesome to see up close.  It sounds like there’s a vinyl side break before heading into “Buffalo”.  Vai’s guitar is the star here, in an extended solo backed only by Tuggle.  This turns into a dual bass/guitar call-and-answer.

When Bissonette starts on those tribal beats, you know it’s Van Halen’s “Everybody Wants Some!!”  This great version includes a drum solo.  Next it’s “On Fire” from the Van Halen debut.  Dave asks for the guitars to be turned up – we agree.  “On Fire” with keyboards and Vai noodling is a different animal.  After Dave’s original “Bump and Grind”, it’s time to flip the tape.

Side two opens with some of Dave’s acoustic strummin’, and a story called “Raymond’s Song”.  It’s just an excuse for him to say “Toronto” a whole lotsa times before introducing “Ice Cream Man”.  Which completely smokes.  Vai puts his own space-age spin on it, and Tuggle adds boogie piano, but this is one wicked version!

Dave’s solo track “Big Trouble” has plenty of atmosphere and fireworks for the Toronto crowd, but “Yankee Rose” is just nuts.  Nothing but the hits from here on in:  “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love”, “Goin’ Crazy!”, “Jump” and “California Girls”.  The heavy riff of “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love” sounds great in Steve’s hands, who doesn’t go too crazy with it.  Of course there has to be another long break in the middle (too many breaks at this point now).  This time it’s so Dave can get Stevie to make his guitar say “Toronto kicks ass, because the chicks are so fine”.  The rest of the songs are somewhat fluffy, the pop stuff, and rendered a little sweet with the added shimmer of Brett Tuggle.  “Jump” misses the deeper tone of Eddie’s Oberheim OBXA.

It’s worth noting that Roth closes with “California Girls”, not “Jump”.  His solo career is the point, not Van Halen, he seems to be saying.  This is the cherry on top.  Roth hands it to his new band several times in the show — he knew they had to deliver, and they did.  And he wants people to know that he has a band that can compete with his old group.

The show is complete,  and apparently Dave didn’t play “Just a Gigolo” on this tour.  The opening act in Toronto was Cinderella, supporting Night Songs.

Sometimes you wish Dave would get on with it and play the next song, but that’s only because this is a cassette bootleg being played on a Technics RS-TR272.  If you were there in Toronto on the Eat ‘Em and Smile tour, you’d be eating up every word Dave laid down.  He is the master of the stage.  Sure, it doesn’t always translate to tape but that’s the nature of Dave’s live show, isn’t it?  It’s precision rock — visually and audibly combined.

4.5/5 stars (for what the show must have been in person)

 

REVIEW: Loudness – Live-Loud-Alive – Loudness in Tokyo (1983)

LOUDNESS – Live-Loud-Alive – Loudess in Tokyo (1983 Columbia)

Like many classic rock bands, Loudness waited three studio albums before going double live.  The Birthday EveDevil Soldier and The Law of Devil’s Land were ripe and ready for live album immortality.  English is minimal, but you don’t need a Japanese dictionary to enjoy the metal within Live-Loud-Alive.  It is the most galvanized of the metal; Loudness’ integrity uncompromised, with Akira Takasaki in lead shred mode.

With a double length album so early in Loudness’ career, they played plenty of non-album material to fill it.  And it’s good!

Opening with a recording of Holst’s “Mars, the Bringer of War” the band rip right into the riff for “In the Mirror”.  That guitar sounds so classic, you’ll be questioning which Scorpions or Metallica album it’s from.  A heavy chug named “Road Racer” (originally a non-album Loudness single) is paired with one of Minoru Niihara’s most melodic lead vocals.  Only the thick and shimmery (probably embellished) chorus is in English.   On guitar, Akira Takasaki’s solo sounds like he is re-entering the atmosphere after an alien/robot conference in space.  “I Was the Sun” has a slower beat, pounding sheet metal into lethal form, with an elementary riff.  Ordinary as the riff may be, it isn’t the highlight this time.  The chorus takes center stage.  The first side of the original vinyl ended on “Fly Away”, a mammoth of a song mixing the delicate and the heavy.

“Black Wall” opens on what sounds like bass synth, but Akira soon takes command with a melancholy and precise guitar pattern.  Then, like any good Sabbath song, he breaks into a completely different lick, just as catchy.  An instrumental track from Akira’s solo album follows, including a wicked drum solo by Munetaka Higuchi.  This side of the record blows out with “Mr. Yesman”, a complex track like “2112” crossed with “Children of the Damned”.

On side three, a new song is previewed:  “Exploder”, a Van Halen-like guitar instrumental destined for album #4.  This transitions into another instrumental called “Heavenward”, similar to Akira’s solo work.  It’s all just good music that flows track intro track.  Guitar shrieks tell us that “Loudness” is next, a brilliant mid-tempo rocker of radio-ready nature.  It sounds like vintage, early 80s Scorpions.  Another killer riff in “Sleepless Night” brings the side to a solid close.

“Speed” does what it says.  That’s no surprise.  What may be surprising is the quality of the non-album B-side “Shinkiro”.  This cool track has some great melodic twists and an absolutely brilliant and varied Akira solo.  One of his best!  From volume-knob twists to full-on speed, it’s brilliant.  The only way to end it is by going back to the beginning, and “Burning Love”, the first non-album single by the band.  It’s a blistering way to go out.

Though not singing primarily in English yet, their musical influences were clearly the same ones from North America and Europe that we know and love too.  While you may not recognize the songs, many will sound familiar because they draw from the same pool.  It’s the best of early Loudness, void of commercial ambition.  While you do lose the ability to sing along, you can at least slam to the riffs.  One can hear why this album is held in such high esteem by the faithful.  It sounds like an experience.

4/5 stars

REVIEW: Loudness – World Tour 2018 – Rise to Glory – Live in Tokyo (2019)

LOUDNESS – World Tour 2018 – Rise to Glory – Live in Tokyo (2019 Ear Music)

In an unfortunate twist of events, Loudness drummer Masayuki Suzuki was sidelined by stroke and could not perform on the Rise to Glory tour.  Ryuichi “Dragon” Nishida filled in beat-for-beat and appears on the live album World Tour 2018 – Rise to Glory – Live in Tokyo.  This 2 CD/1 DVD combo set is compiled from three days in Tokyo, with a bonus:  the DVD features one track with Masayuki Suzuki from the fourth day.  His performance on “Loudness” is as if there was nothing wrong with him, and he appears delighted to be playing live again.

Live in Tokyo is an energized performance, focusing almost entirely on early Loudness.  This being a hometown crowd, many of the songs are performed with their original Japanese lyrics.  1985’s Thunder in the East takes the early focus on disc one with the first six tracks all being sourced from the “big” album.  These tracks are intense, with solos by Akira Takasaki that melt the face.  Classic Loudness with jagged riffs and still-powerful vocals from Minoru Niihara.

Oldies abound.  Disc 1 also includes “Loudness” (the version with Ryuichi Nishida on drums) from the 1981 debut The Birthday Eve.  A slick, well-received version.  There’s also a punishing “In the Mirror” from third LP The Law of Devil’s Land, and the memorable “Crazy Doctor” from 1984’s Disillusion.

The second disc spotlights two lesser-known albums.  First is The Law of Devil’s Land from 1983.  The first five heavy numbers (including a second version of “In the Mirror”) all come from that platter.  This is the heavy proto-thrash that Loudness were peddling at the start of the 80s, and vicious stuff it is.  But not without hooks!  The last five originated on Disillusion, regarded by some aficionados as Loudness’ best.  From “Crazy Doctor” through the ballad “Ares’ Lament” and the finisher “Esper”, these are some great metal songs.

 

Impressively, the third disc (the DVD) highlights another batch of songs missed on the first two discs:  newer material.  “Soul on Fire”, “Go For Broke”, “Until I See the Light”, “I’m Still Alive” and a pair of instrumentals from the new Rise to Glory (2018) stand up to the earlier material.  The awesome “The Sun Will Rise Again” from the 2014 album of the same name rounds out the freshest material.  The new tunes are still heavy, riffy and melodic, but with a very slight modern edge.  “I’m Still Alive” goes thrash metal, but that’s part of Loudness’ origins.  Besides the return of Suzuki on drums for one song, the highlight of the DVD is a ballad.  After so many brutal songs, Minoru breaks out an acoustic guitar for an unplugged “Ares’ Lament”.  This is completely different than the version on CD 2, which was done fully electric.

Any classic band from the 80s or earlier, still trying to pull it off today, has the same question to answer:  How good is the singer?  Minoru Niihara is excellent.  As if no years have passed.  None of the material presents a challenge.

Considering the mixture of material over the three discs, Rise to Glory – Live in Tokyo would be a suitable entry point for any rock fan wanting to check out Loudness.  You’ll get the hits from Thunder in the East, ample early deep cuts, and a sampling of quality new stuff.  Value for the money and time invested.

4.5/5 stars

 

REVIEW: Triumph – “Spellbound” (1984 special promo 12″)

TRIUMPH – “Spellbound” (1984 MCA 12″ radio promo disc)

1984’s Thunder Seven was a big one in Canada, with “Spellbound” and “Follow Your Heart” both hitting the top 100 singles chart.  Triumph singles rarely offered up much in the way of non-album material, but the odd curiosity could be found.  This Triumph single for “Spellbound” was acquired by a friend, from Jerry’s Records in Pittsburgh back in 2013.

On the A-side, the standard 5:12 single version of “Spellbound” without edits.  You can really hear why this was a hit in 1984.  Triumph had learned to marry keyboard and guitar riffs for a bigger radio-ready sound.  With Gil Moore on lead vocals, “Spellbound” had huge chorus.  The track was also made into a cool video.

The B-side was specially designed for radio airplay.  Each track on Thunder Seven is given a brief special intro by the three band members.  You could look at this as an interview disc.  It’s nine minutes in length and not without value.  By listening we learn that “Spellbound”, for example, changed much from conception to release.  It was once titled “White Lies” before it was rewritten.  “Time Canon” was made up of 18 parts over 66 tracks.  Amazing stuff.  Their Canadian accents are adorable.

An excellent purchase for Triumph fans who have it all and need a little more.

4/5 stars

REVIEW: Jim Crean – The Book of Cryptids Volume II (2020)

JIM CREAN – The Book of Cryptids Volume II (2020 Dark Night Records)

Jim Crean, hard rock singer extraordinaire from Buffalo, New York, has issued another covers album called The Book of Cryptids Volume II.  Many will shy away at the thought of a covers album, but Crean always picks interesting covers off the beaten track.  The Book of Cryptids Volume II works because A) these are not songs you typically hear covered, and B) Jim kicks ass on them all.

It’s a varied album.  “Medusa” by Anthrax opens heavily and melodically.  You might wonder how a hard rock singer like Crean tackles Anthrax.  Without difficulty!  Jim has a bit more rasp, but where Joey Belladonna gets aggressive, Jim pays more attention to the notes.  It’s a fine trade-off.  Second in line is the seldom-covered Aerosmith classic “Kings and Queens”, which is right up Jim’s alley.  Sounds like a banjo is thrown in for texture during the verses.  For an even deeper cut, check out the flawless version of Def Leppard’s “Mirror Mirror”.  It ticks all the boxes from dual guitars to throbbing bass.  Old raspy Def Leppard is well suited to Jim, who wrenches some panache from the chorus.  An ace performance.

Gowan’s “A Criminal Mind” is definitely an unexpected cover.  The only band known for covering it is Styx — featuring Lawrence Gowan.  Jim Crean could be the only other singer to dare tackle it?  This song might be a bit of a sacred cow in some quarters, but Jim does an admirable job of it.  Not vastly different, but with its own unique vocal colours.

Keeping with a synthy 80s plot twist, “Silent Running (On Dangerous Ground)” is the old Mike + the Mechanics hit.  Cool guitar solo on this track that stays pretty true to the original.  Then “Cry For Freedom”, the White Lion slow burner from 1989, is another surprise.  Crean has covered White Lion before, but “Cry For Freedom” is a special song.  Not a ballad yet not a rocker, it leans heavily on the beat and the vocal.  Then it has a guitar burn-up near the end, and this one sounds exactly like Vito Bratta.

A keyboardy piano ballad called “Love Is” (Vanessa Williams) …well, let’s just say it takes balls of steel to put it on the same album as an Anthrax song.  Fortunately Jim makes it cool, but not as cool as the earlier “Criminal Mind”.  But then it’s a whole different ball park:  Mother Love Bone, and “Star Dog Champion”.  Again, a song that might be considered sacred in some quarters.  Jim’s voice is well suited to it, and this “Champion” is fully enjoyable.

We begin to draw to a close on the Scorpions early dark ballad, “When the Smoke is Going Down”.  It’s another song that Crean is capable of bending to his will.  Brilliant vocal on this one, especially considering that Klaus Meine has to be a top-five metal singer.  Coming down from that climax, the final denoument is surprisingly authentic to the original:  the Stones’ “Gimme Shelter”.  This is one of those mountainous peaks that only fools dare to climb.  Yet Crean’s winning streak continues unabated.  The sonics are so close to the Stones, and everything sounds completely natural.  How the hell do you replicate Charlie Watts’ drums on “Gimme Shelter”?  Dunno, but it sounds really good!

All this said, you’re still skeptical, right?  Covering “A Criminal Mind” and “Gimme Shelter”?  A healthy dose of skepticism is warranted when reading a glowing review of a covers album.  To me, covers are worth listening to when you enjoy the spin that another artist puts on the song.  In this case it’s Jim’s voice, a classic hard rock voice that I like a lot.  So I’m cool with hearing “A Criminal Mind”, because I like the way Jim sings.

Consider this.  We’re 10 months into a worldwide pandemic and gigs have dried up.  Some artists, like Jim Crean, are recording and releasing music, and we should be supporting that.  He gives you good value for the money.  This copy came signed, with a custom Jim Crean guitar pick and signed photo.  Not to mention some quality covers of great songs off the beaten track.  The Book of Cryptids Volume II comes with cool artwork of various cryptozoological specimens including a kraken, Bigfoot, some sirens and an alien.  You can buy this package direct from the artist, so you know the money goes to the right people.  Check it out — guaranteed a few of these tracks will put a smile on your face.

4/5 stars

REVIEW: Loudness – Buddha Rock 1997-1999 Music Clips DVD

Part Four of Four – Buddha Rock 1997-1999

LOUDNESS – Buddha Rock 1997-1999 Music Clips (1999 Rooms DVD, from the box set Buddha Rock 1997-1999)

The complete Buddha Rock 1997-1999 set comes with the three Loudness albums from that brief era, and also a bonus DVD with the accompanying music videos.  On the back some are listed as “full size” and others “short size” — let’s find out what that means and what Loudness videos looked like in the late 90s.

“Ghetto Machine” opens, with Loudness including a shaven-headed Akira Takasaki performing in a darkened room.  The added static interferance reminds us we are in the 90s when bands like Loudness didn’t have much budget and covered it up with tricks like this.  Masaki appears cold with his big fur hat, but it’s fun to see this version of Loudness on video.  “Evil Ecstasy” has cleaner production, but this is one of the “short size” videos — it’s only about 90 seconds of a pretty cool song.  Too bad because this video is much more watchable.  The funkier “San Francisco” is also one of these short versions, as is “Creatures”.  All of these videos appear to be taped at the same time.  The section of “Creatures” used focuses on the guitar solo.  That’s cool at least.  “Katmandu Fly” is the “full size”, but it’s also only a minute-long instrumental so to call it “full size” is kinda cheatin’.

Moving on from the Ghetto Machine album, all the rest of the videos are “full size”.  From Dragon, it’s two of the best tracks:  “Dogshit” and “Crazy Go Go”.  This time Loudness are playing in a huge, uber-clean garage.  As “Dogshit” demonstrates, Akira was now into his “fly sunglasses” phase.  It looks like the band are having fun here, which makes it an enjoyable watch.  Great song too.  “Crazy Go Go” is more straight ahead, with lights and struttin’ stage moves instead of goofing around.

Apparently they only did one video for the final Masaki album, Engine.  “Black Biohazard” is that song; not a tune that impressed on prior listens.  (Also strange how “Black Biohazard” is the only song not in capital letters on the cover.)  This video is made from grainy outdoor concert festival footage.  From this we can ascertain that live, Masaki was a capable frontman with a cool rock star stage persona.

At 25 minutes, this DVD can not be considered more than a bonus for buying the Buddha Rock box set.  It is not the main draw.  The fundamental reason to get Buddha Rock is to acquire the three albums Ghetto Machine, Dragon and Engine in one place with ease.  As a bonus feature, the Music Clips disc does what it does.  “Dogshit” is the best video by a wide margin, and it remains unclear why “short size” videos were included, unless that’s all that was ever made for those particular songs?

The Buddha Rock box set also comes with photos, complete lyrics (in English) and liner notes (in Japanese).  It’s the obvious way to go to cover those years, an era which ended with the Engine album in 1999.  At Masaki’s urging, Akira Takasaki reunited the original Loudness lineup and released Spiritual Canoe with Minoru Niihara at the microphone.  That put an end to the Masaki Yamada era, which started with member turnover before solidifying on these three albums with Naoto Shibata and Hirotsugo Homma on bass and drums respectively.  Great musicians both who helped Loudness explore new and weird directions at the end of the 90s.

Music Clips DVD:  3/5 stars

Buddha Rock 1997-1999 box set:  3.5/5 stars  (the sum of the whole is greater than its parts)

REVIEW: Loudness – Engine (1999)

Part Three of Four – Buddha Rock 1997-1999

 

LOUDNESS – Engine (1999 Rooms, from the box set Buddha Rock 1997-1999)

The Masaki Yamada era of Loudness ended with the 1990s.  Masaki felt (correctly) that Loudness would be best off reuniting with its original lineup in the year 2000, and so Engine is the last album to feature Yamada, drummer Hirotsugo Homma and bassist Naoto Shibata.

As with the previous two Loudness albums (also included in Buddha Rock), Akira Takasaki’s penchant for experimentation is at the forefront.  “Soul Tone”, the opening instrumental, makes that much clear with its atypical exotic guitar drones in place of a song.  Then Akira cranks up the string harmonics on the bizarrely rocking “Bug Killer”, a 90s song if there ever was one.  He must have been listening to Rage Against the Machine.  The track descends into guitar mayhem by the end.  It’s incredible to think how Akira transitioned from an 80s guitar hero compared to Eddie and Yngwie, to a 90s master borrowing from Morello and the Middle East.

“Black Biohazard” chugs unremarkably just like much of the 90s did.  Leaning on a groove, “Twist of Chain” has certain 80s delicious metal elements hidden under the distortion.  It’s the kind of song that makes these lost albums really worth hunting down.  Similarly, “Bad Date/Nothing I Can Do” buries its hooks under vocal distortion.  Unfortunate that they didn’t just let it loose.  “Apocalypse” fails to build on this with a forgettable alterna-dirge.  “Ace in the Hole” has more going on, with a menacing far East vibe.  The guitars are like razor blades.

 

A sudden left turn on the partly acoustic “Sweet Dreams” almost sounds like a great lost Stone Temple Pilots song from some unknown era.  “Asylum” focuses on the bass, as a lot of the album does, choosing a heavy psychedelic feel.  A long guitar solo section is the track’s highlight.

Without warning, the oddly titled “Burning Eye Balls” goes to acoustic exotic Zeppelin territory.  This refreshing change is followed by “Junk His Head”, a pretty straightforward headbanger that does away with the distorted vocals.  Hirotsugo Homma lays down a killer beat on this one.   The penultimate instrumental track “2008 (Candra 月天)” doesn’t have any particular hooks to relay which is unfortunate since previous Loudness instrumentals have at least been interesting.  This leaves it to the closing track “Coming Home” to make final impressions, of which it makes few.  It has echoes of the old Loudness track “So Lonely” but without much of the feeling or structure.

These three final Masaki-era Loudness albums all have some cool tracks; enough at least to assemble a good single-disc compilation.  Owning all three is for fans only.  It is fun to sit and listen to a band evolve, and watch them try on all kinds of different hats.  If that’s your obsession too, pick up Engine and check out the complete Buddha Rock box set while you’re at it.

2.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Loudness – Dragon (1998)

Part Two of Four – Buddha Rock 1997-1999

 

LOUDNESS – Dragon (1998 Rooms, from the box set Buddha Rock 1997-1999)

Lucky 13th album for Loudness?  Maybe not, but it is an uptick from the prior release Ghetto Machine.  The band just kept on going, with only Akira Takasaki remaining from the original lineup.  Their third singer Masaki Yamada was on his fourth album with Loudness, and by now they had established a heavy alterna-metal 90s sound.  It is the strongest of the three albums of the Buddha Rock era.

Loudness had become fearless, blending thrash and funk together on “9 Mile High”.  Those who don’t enjoy Masaki’s growling style won’t be turned around here.  Those who like it fast enough to make the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs will not have a problem.  It skips between thrash and funk without warning.

The appetizingly titled “Dogshit” could only have come from the 1990s.  Harmonic drones are substituted for a main riff, and Masaki’s vocal is closer to rap metal.  Yet there’s something irresistible about it.  “Dog shit on my bike boots!” sings Masaki with a heavy guitar backing him.  And that’s why Loudness could get away with doing this kind of music.  It’s the guitar.  Akira Takasaki is one of the best in the world, but he’s more fearless than Yngwie and can play just about anything.  With a virtuoso like that, it’s unlikely you’re going to sound like dog shit.

“Wicked Witches” is heavy, detuned, and it grooves to the max while drilling into your brain.  There’s even a little bit of early Van Halen in the riff.  That leads into “Crazy Go-Go”, a single and album highlight.  Foregoing the nu-metal, this one is wah-wah heavy and just plain rocks!  Flat out, kick ass, rock and roll.  “Backstage go-go babe, like a circus after school, playin’ my guitar like a country horse.”  (Country horse?)  You get the picture!  It’s about groupies!  (Akira makes his guitar whinny like a horse!)

Drummer Hirotsugo Homma gets to have some rhythmic fun on “Voodoo Voices” which is one of the most bizarre tracks Loudness have ever done.  Voodoo voices indeed, as the vocals are buried, ethereal in the mix.  It’s trippy and trip-hoppy.  The instrumental “回想” (“Kaisō”) is made up of backwards guitars playing quietly and hypnotic.  Then suddenly it’s a metal riff on “Babylon”.  Masaki eschews the growl and goes for psychedelic singing.  “Crawl” features a chugging Akira riff, and then some pulsing synth?  This album goes everywhere.

“Forbidden Love” is pretty cool, coming closer to the spirit of 80s Loudness.  Then go for some more 90s funk metal on “Mirror Ball”, which is as hot as Anthony Kiedis’ arm pit.  Another stunning instrumental emerges in “Taj Mahal”, which is not about the shredding but entirely about atmosphere.  A variety of unique sounding guitars are accompanied by exotic percussion and bass.  Unfortunately that leads into a little bit of a dud for an album closer.  “Nightcreepers” doesn’t make an impression.

While this Dragon is an experimental one, not afraid to mess with expectations or traditions, it is still rooted in that 90s nu-metal dungeon.  That is something that dates the disc to certain period in time.  When it rises above that, as it does on “回想”, “Crazy Go Go” and “Voodoo Voices”, it transcends genre and goes somewhere unique.  There are just enough of those moments to make this album a keeper.

3.25/5 stars