heavy metal

REVIEW: Sword – III (2022)

SWORD – III (2022 Massacre Records)

Talk about a comeback.  34 years after 1988’s “final” Sword album Sweet Dreams, comes Sword III!  With the full original lineup intact!  Rick Hughes – lead vocals.  Dan Hughes – drums.  Mike Larock – bass.  Mike Plant – lead guitar.  Forget about Saints & Sinners; this is the real deal, heavy as fuck, modern and edgy.  At 34 minutes and seven songs (plus an instrumental), it’s not the beefiest album, but the fact that it exists at all is what counts.

III is less thrashy than either Metalized or Sweet Dreams.  It is, however, nice and heavy.  Perhaps heavier than Sweet Dreams overall.  Rick Hughes’ voice has lost its screaming grit but the man still has impressive power and range.

Opener “Bad Blood” is an uptempo metal romp, with a high-pitched chorus that hits the spot.  What really satisfies are the guitars by Mike Plant.  He’s got a great tone and the riffing here is memorable and hard-hitting.  His solo on “Bad Blood” is just as tasty.  “Bad Blood” is an excellent example of the sound of “new” Sword.  Heavy, modern, determined and unstoppable…but with remnant stylings of the 80s still intact!

(I Am) In Kommand” was released in 2020 as Sword’s comeback single.  This is its first physical release, finally!  Fast with ripping guitars, “In Kommand” is indeed in charge of the assault, but what’s with the “K”?  I don’t get it.  However, you’re not going to think too much about it when you’re banging your head.

Track three “Dirty Pig” is a contender for best track on the album.  The riff grinds, but also has some rich Priest-like qualities.  It’s not one dimensional.  And just listen to Mike Larock’s thumping bass underneath!  Sword are a one guitar band and they’ve never really been afraid of that, which lets the bass really breathe.  “Dirty Pig” thumps and electrifies while you pound your fists to the groove.

The brief instrumental “Surfacing” is a cool respite, right before the other contender for best track:  “Unleashing Hell”!  Each verse starts with the line, “1986 in Montreal…” while Hughes weaves a tale of debauchery and a young band on the rise.  “1986 in Montreal, smokin’ chicks, a free-for-all.  In our 20’s, ready to brawl, not much money but lots of balls…”  It really makes you wish you’d been there!

The riffing gets more complex and driving on “Spread the Pain”, a killer track augmented by speed and melody.  This has a Dio vibe.  Then “Took My Chances” slows things down to a punishing pummelling.  Mike Plant doesn’t throw down a lot of fills and solos here, but what he does makes it count.  A mid-song tempo shift makes thing fast and Maiden-esque, which is never a bad thing.

Finally, album closer “Not Me No Way” ends things the right way:  by blasting through a head-banging stomper!  The riff smokes and the chorus is nice ‘n defiant!  “Not me!  No way!  I will not play nice!”  Very reminiscent of old Rick Hughes lyrics such as “Life on the Sharp Edge” from Sweet Dreams.  “We didn’t talk, we walked!”  He’s always been great at writing defiant songs about not conforming and not compromising.  It seems appropriate to end Sword III with defiance.

The question I’ve been pondering is, “Does Sword III kill the previous two albums?”  That’s a tough call on an uneven field, because this album really only has seven songs.  It wouldn’t be controversial to say it is their equal, so that’s what I’m going with.

4/5 stars


REVIEW: Keel – The Right to Rock (Remaster/bonus track)

KEEL – The Right to Rock (1985, 2000 Metal Mayhem Music/bonus track)

From the Gene Simmons Song Factory, heeeeere’s Keel!

Let’s talk about the bonus track first.  Anybody could tell you that “Easier Said Than Done” was a Simmons song, just from one listen.  Surely enough, scan the liner notes, and it’s Gene and Mitch Weissman, whom fans know from 1984’s Animalize album.  Like many Gene Simmons productions, The Right to Rock bears his name on a few writing credits.  “Easier Said Than Done” is right down mid-80s Kiss alley.  What about the remix?  Structurally, it is unchanged.  The drums sound different, and on a whole the track sounds a little brighter.

That’s it for extras.  The booket is only a single fold-out, with no lyrics.  It has a note from Ron Keel, indicating that this is the first CD issue of the album outside Japan.

(The rest of this review was previously published in 2015)


The rest of the non-Simmons songs are basically reworkings of tracks from Keel’s first album Lay Down the Law. That album, like Ron Keel’s debut with Steeler (featuring one Yngwie J. Malmsteen) were on Shrapnel. For the A&M Records debut, they pulled out the big guns. They got Gene Simmons in all his wig-ness, and put out a very corny but tremendously fun music video.

It is “America 1989”, and rock and roll is outlawed. “Those who are apprehended suffer severe consequences.” Can our young teenage Keel lookalike get away from the rock police? Quiet Riot did something similar with their “The Wild and the Young” video a year later. It’s corny fun.

The song too is corny fun. I guess it’s a classic now. It has that stock heavy metal riff that you need: something Motley Crue or the Scorpions would be comfortable with. It has that rebellious rock theme that was so prominent in the 80’s. It has a shout-along chorus. “You got it! The Right to Rock!” Hey, I grew up in a Catholic school. I know what this is about. “Don’t let anyone tell you how to live your life!” I had a teacher call me out on the first day of school for wearing a Judas Priest T-shirt. I could relate to this song in a big way when I was 13.

It should be noted that Gene Simmons, as a producer, is not known for his sonics. The Right to Rock sounds pretty good for the period, but the drums ring shallow and weak. There’s not much presence for the bass guitar, and the backing vocals are the typical rock mush. That’s what you get with Gene behind the console.

“Back to the City” has a good Priest-like chug to it. I think Keel were going for something middle of the road with their music, like Priest-meets-Scorps-meets-Crue-meets-Kiss. If so, this hit the mark. Ron’s vocals are overwrought but that’s his style. If you don’t like that kind of vocal, you won’t like Keel.

Kinda stinky is “Let’s Spend the Night Together”. You know, I still gotta give the guys credit. They have made this into a pretty fine pop metal song. If you didn’t know the song, you’d assume it’s an original, in the pop metal genre. So from that perspective, I think it’s kinda cool. Stinky and cool — like good gorgonzola.

“Easier Said Than Done” was written by Simmons/Weissman, the same team responsible for much of the Animalize album. The lyrics even reference “Russian Roulette”, a song title Gene had been toying with for years. (A song called “Russian Roulette” was finally released on Sonic Boom.) So, guess who “Easier Said Than Done” sounds like? That’s right — it is a dead ringer for Simmons-style Kiss. And it’s actually a pretty good song. The problem is Ron’s Gene impression. I can’t help but chuckle at his dead-on Gene vocals. I dare you to refrain from a giggle yourself. Same deal with “So Many Girls, So Little Time”. Kiss fans will recognize that’s a line recycled from the Kiss song “Burn Bitch Burn”.

Onto side two, “Electric Love” is a Keel original, but you immediately notice that the song isn’t as immediate as the two previous Simmons tunes. “Speed Demon”, another original, sounds exactly as the title implies. Quality-wise, it’s only at “Priest outtake” level (Defenders of the Faith era). Then it’s back to Simmons outtakes, with “Get Down”, the weakest of the Simmons songs by a long shot. “You’re the Victim (I’m the Crime)” is a Gene-like title, but this too is a Keel tune. It’s in the same vein as “Speed Demon”, and the same level of quality.

It’s fun to revisit The Right To Rock periodically…but sparingly.

3/5 stars

REVIEW: Savatage – Poets and Madman (2022 glow in the dark vinyl reissue/bonus track)

SAVATAGE – Poets and Madman (2001, 2022 glow in the dark vinyl reissue)

Let us start with this vinyl reissue, before we look at the album proper.  Savatage have done a lovely job of reissuing their catalogue on vinyl, with colours galore, epic packaging, and occasional bonus tracks.  This reissue includes one such track on a bonus 7″ record.  Awesome.

The album comes packaged in a beefy gatefold sleeve, loaded with pictures and graphics.  It’s a double album, plus the bonus single.  It also includes a massive booklet with loads of text, an interview, photos and lyrics.  This reissue was done right.  It is always a pleasure when you have something to read along to while you listen.  The two 12″ records glow in the dark, a fun effect when you feel like turning your lights off and listening in pitch black (which will probably be never).  Unfortunately the records have high surface noise.  The bonus 7″ is a clear tie-dyed or splatter design, and sounds excellent.

The bonus track on the single is an extended version of one of the better album cuts, “Awaken”.  It is almost a full minute longer, with the extra meat at the end of the track.  Almost a full minute of extra guitar gymnastics for you to sink your teeth into.  There is music on only one side of the 7″, with the other side blank.

A totally worthwhile vinyl reissue, while we wait for the arrival of new Savatage in 2024.


(The rest of this review was previously published in 2014)

Since the death of Criss Oliva, Savatage had become a much more operatic beast, culminating in the formation of Trans-Siberian Orchestra. Here, there are many changes afoot. Guitarist Al Pitrelli departed for Megadeth, although some of his work is herein. Co-lead vocalist Zach Stevens is also gone, having formed the excellent Circle II Circle. This leaves The Mountain King himself, Jon Oliva, to handle all lead vocals for the first time since 1991’s Streets: A Rock Opera. (A new co-lead vocalist named Damond Jineva was hired for the tour.)

This is another dramatic rock opera, and as soon as the needle hits wax, you hear Oliva’s piano flourishes dominate the opening song, “Stay With Me Awhile”. Much like “Streets”, this song is simply an intro to the story which is about to unfold. This time, Oliva and producer Paul O’Neill weave a tale about an abandoned insane asylum and the ghosts within its walls. On a whole it is a much less satisfying concept than some previous Sava-operas, but it backs up the music just fine. And to be honest, that’s why we’re here — the music.

From heavy rockers like “There In The Silence” (backed by a fat synth riff) to slow dramatic ballads like “Back To A Reason”, this is a well-rounded Sava-disc. It is comparable to previous in quality and direction to rock operas such as The Wake of Magellan or Dead Winter Dead, just without Zach.

As with the aforementioned rock operas, there is always a centerpiece on the album. There had to be a counterpoint-vocal-laden masterwork to make your jaw drop in awe and hit that “reverse” button to hear it all again. This time it is a 10 minute epic called “Morphine Child”. With Zach gone, Oliva sings with multiple backing vocalists but the song is no weaker for it.  I’ll confess that even though I usually listen to albums from front to back, I usually play “Morphine Child” three times in a row.  It’s that incredible.

Other standouts include the single “Commissar” which is loaded with guitar flash, keyboards and riffage.  It also features Trans-Siberian-style backing vocals.  “I Seek Power” sounds like classic Savatage circa Gutter Ballet.  “Awaken” is another number that brings to mind that mid-period Savatage sound.  If some fans thought they had strayed way too far into rock opera, then songs like “Awaken” will appeal to their tastes.  I still like hearing Jon screaming a chorus.

I was underwhelmed a bit by the acoustic “Rumor”, but the song does take off fully electric after a few minutes.   Then there’s “Surrender” which feels like an outtake from Streets, but I didn’t find it as memorable.  So there are a couple duds, who cares?

Poets and Madmen is an excellent album, and it fares well against the other rock operas that Savatage has done. Streets will always be the pinnacle, but Poets and Madmen can hold its own against The Wake of Magellan, and it easily out-does Dead Winter Dead.

4.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Extreme – Waiting for the Punchline (1995 Japanese/bonus track)

EXTREME – Waiting for the Punchline (1995 Polydor Japan)

Let’s start with the bonus track!  “Fair-Weather Faith” is only available here, on the Japanese pressing of Extreme’s fourth album.  And it is…well, it’s probably not controversial to say it’s the weakest of the 13 (12 plus one unlisted) tracks.  That’s why it’s a bonus track.  Is there anything wrong with it?  Hell no!  But do you absolutely need it in your life?  No.  You can live without it.  Be warned though that Gary sings his ass off, while Nuno plays it funky.  It sounds as if this is one of the tracks with Paul Geary on drums.  (Mike Mangini joined the band mid-album.)  Like many Extreme songs, religion is the topic.  Gary is critical of these who put on the act of believing for the benefit of those around them.  Decent bonus track, but not especially mind-blowing.

(The rest of this review was previously published in 2017)

Sometimes you just gotta laugh.  Extreme released two of their finest albums after grunge wiped the slate clean.  Extreme were the punchline, but that didn’t stop them from making a smokin’ fourth album.  In 1992 Nuno envisioned the next album as “really funky”, and there is some funk here.  However Waiting for the Punchline was much more straight ahead: stripped down, no orchestras, no rap, just guitar rock through and through.

“There Is No God” sounds like an odd title from a band as Christian as Extreme were, but Gary Cherone has always been a lyrical champion.  It’s not as simple as it appears, but the groove just lays waste.  The next track “Cynical Fuck” turns it up further.  It is pure smoke, and perfect for the decade it was written in.  “Tell Me Something I Don’t Know” takes the soft/hard approach with a loud droning Nuno riff.  It’s another brilliant song, and harder than what Extreme were doing before.  Much of Waiting for the Punchline is driven by the bass and drums.  The interesting thing about this is that drummer Paul Geary left during the making of this album, and was replaced by Mike Mangini who is now in Dream Theater.  You hear two very distinct drum styles through the CD.  Geary has a straight ahead approach, while Mangini is capable of just about anything.  His first track is the single “Hip Today” and you can hear how his beats are anything but basic.

“Hip Today” is a good tune and a good indicator of what the album sounds like: Bass, drums, guitar. Listen to how the rhythm guitar drops out when Nuno solos. Just like the first classic Van Halen. The lyrics sound bitter as Gary warns the next generation of bands that their time too will end.  Things slow down a little on “Naked”, before the side-ending instrumental “Midnight Express”.  This is a truly brilliant track, proof that Nuno’s stunning plectrum practice has paid off.   When it comes to acoustic guitar work in rock and roll band, Nuno is among the very best.  “Midnight Express” gives me callouses just thinking about it.

Dark moods commence the second side with “Leave Me Alone”, a sentiment many of us understand.  Don’t worry about me — I’m happy alone sometimes.  Nuno uses volume swells a-la Van Halen’s “Cathedral” to create a nifty riff.  Into “No Respect”, Nuno makes his guitar purr, while the rhythm section throws it into overdrive.  “Evilangelist” tackles the religion questions again, with a funky riff and cool digitized chorus.  The dark and heavy vibes give way to light shortly on “Shadow Boxing” and “Unconditionally”.   Both tracks are brilliant but different.  “Shadow Boxing” might be considered the “Hole Hearted” of this album, while “Unconditionally” leans towards “More Than Words”.  Neither are re-writes, but those are the easiest comparisons.

One final surprise is the unlisted bonus track.  It wasn’t on the cassette version, but you will find the title track “Waiting for the Punchline” after “Unconditionally” (or “Fair-Weather Faith” on the Japanese CD).  There are two cool things about this.  One: it’s an awesome track, much like the angrier stuff on side one.  Two: it closes the album even better than “Unconditionally”.  Great little surprise so don’t hit “stop”!

The thing about Waiting for the Punchline is that it’s a grower.   The first couple listens, I thought “It’s not as good as their old stuff, but what is these days?”  The new stripped down Extreme didn’t seem as interesting as the lavish one from Extreme III or the flashy one from Extreme II.  After a few listens, different textures began to emerge, add their own colours and depth.  Particular with the guitar work, but also the rhythms, there is much delight to be discovered here.

5/5 stars

REVIEW: Hollywood Monsters – Thriving On Chaos (2020 Japanese/bonus track)

HOLLYWOOD MONSTERS – Thriving On Chaos (2020 Voice Music, Japanese import)

Supergroup?  Or just a good time?  Singer/guitarist Steph Honde, drummer Vinny Appice, and bassist Ronnie Robson gathered a load of friends and recorded a fun heavy metal album of originals and covers.  There is also a healthy helping of Canadian content (such as Robson in the core trio)!

Opener “A Scream Looking For a Mouth” is a raging heavy metal track along the lines of vintage high-voltage Motorhead.  Hell of an opener.  Add Deep Purple’s Don Airey on guest Hammond organ solo, which just hits the right spot amidst all that raging.  “Speak of the Devil” continues the heavy, though not the speed, thankfully, or you’d be seeing a chiropractor from all the headbangin’.  A catchy chorus and solid riffing make it another instant winner.  Solid metal.  A chunky riff kicks off “Something Wicked”, a really fun uptempo rocker.

Things get slower and darker on the monumental “Running Up Hill”, which is instant hit material.  Ted McKenna on drums.  Instant classic, with a chorus that kills.  Regardless of the daily struggles we face, Honde reminds us, “Never surrender!”  It’s a message of positivity, and the best track on the album.

“Numb” is another good one, grinding out a riff slow an’ easy.  The added keyboards provide texture.  Even better is the beautiful acoustic ballad “In This House”.  Honde has an excellent acoustic album called Empire of Ashes, and this track easily could have fit on it.  Though he’s a rocker, he is exceptional at tender acoustic ballads.

The first cover is “I Don’t Need No Doctor” featuring Jim Crean on backing vocals.  It kicks all the expected asses, and Honde’s guitar soloing is tasty as hell.  Next up:  Canadian content with the Goddo cover “Drop Dead”, featuring Greg Godovitz on co-lead vocals and Tommy Denander on lead guitar.  It smokes, and that lead solo?  Set phasers to stun!

“Thriving On Chaos” is another impressive original.  It has a slow, dramatic riff that is somehow familiar.  Excellent songwriting, and hard to pigeonhole.  It’s followed by a very Maiden-esque song called “Fortune Teller”, which has a vibe very similar to some of the tracks on Fear of the Dark.  Fred Mika plays drums on this tempered-steel monster.

The final cover (and Canadian guest) is the Thin Lizzy cover “Cold Sweat”, as sung by Danko Jones.  Danko is the perfect guy for it!  He nails the Phil vibe, yet with his own snarl.  And the Steph Honde guitar solo?  Call the fire department!  This alchemy of Jones/Honde/Appice/Robson is pure combustion.  You can seldom go wrong with a Thin Lizzy cover, but here everything goes so, so right.

Always a surprise when the Japanese bonus track is one of the highlights.  The heavy, thumping “I Am the Best You Can Get” slays!  “Heavy” is an understatement!  Vocalist Steph Honde goes from scream on the verses, to growl on the chorus.  The droning chorus is the best part!  This one features (Canadian) Glen Drover on lead guitar and Alexis Von Kraven on the relentless drums.  The Japanese CD even comes with a printed interview with Steph Honde – though I cannot read Japanese!

Pick it up – shell out for the Japanese if it’s within your means.

4/5 stars

REVIEW: KISS – Off The Soundboard – Poughkeepsie NY 11.26.1984

 – Off the Soundboard – Poughkeepsie NY 11.26.1984 (2023 Universal)

Are you getting sick of reading all the same complaints about the new Kiss Off the Soundboard CD from Poughkeepsie NY 1984, the fifth in this series?

Me too!

If you can’t appreciate the historical value of a Mark St. John show with Kiss, then I can’t help you.

If you didn’t know Kiss played these songs at lightspeed in the 1980s, then you never saw Animalize Live Uncensored.

And if you don’t know what an official bootleg is, then this CD is not for you anyway.

Actually, the only thing I’m really sick of is typing “Poughkeepsie”!

There are Kiss bootlegs with Mark floating around out there.  I can’t vouch for the audio quality on those.  This, I can tell you, is soundboard quality, which in my opinion is the best way to hear a live album.  Unpolished, the way it was that night on the board.  I love hearing the band make mistakes.  I have no problem with the fact you can barely hear the bass on some tracks, and too much on others.  The vocals are clear and each member is distinct in their singing.  Whether you think Paul is too “erratic” or not, that’s personal taste.

The setlist is similar to Animalize Live.  You won’t hear any Animalize deep cuts that were not on that video.  Two songs are incomplete (“Young and Wasted” and “Rock and Roll all Nite”) due to tape issues but are included for their historical significance.  No issues here.  In fact, “Rock and Roll all Nite” might be better this way…it often drags on too long at the end of a show!

The jazz-influenced Mark definitely added his own style and twists to the solos, even simple ones like “Detroit Rock City”.  There, he inserted an extra note or two to make it his.  Mark was a shredder, and that was the direction Kiss wanted to go in at that time.  It was the 80s.  Bands had to have shredders if they wanted the kids to take them seriously.  Mark wasn’t even Kiss’ first shredder, but he was certainly unique.  There’s a lot of whammy bar, and some pretty wicked licks on songs like “Fits Like a Glove”.  Now, before you get too excited, the “Guitar Solo” listed on the back cover is Paul Stanley’s familiar solo that he was playing during that era.

Mark aside, Eric Carr is a star on this album.  He was a busier drummer than Peter Criss and he goes to town on songs like “Cold Gin” and “Under the Gun”.  Fox fans will not want to miss this CD in their collection.  Peak Eric.  His drum solo will be familiar, yet will also most likely sound better than any version you currently own.  Unfortunately he stops singing on part of “Young and Wasted”, which is one of the partial songs anyway, so no big deal.  We have him singing that on Animalize Live.

Paul Stanley’s performance is pure rock and roll, and especially expressive on “I Still Love You”, but many have complained about the F-bombs dropped during his intro to “Love Gun”.  Hey…check out the Animalize Live version for something naughtier than an F-bomb!

If you’re Kiss collector, this is ending up in your library regardless.  Choose your format and go wild like the animals.

3.5/5 stars for the quality

3.5/5 stars as a “Kiss show”

5/5 stars for historical value and significance to the Kiss army

Neurotic Outsiders on Grant’s Rock Warehaus TONIGHT!

Tonight I will be LIVE on Grant’s Rock Warehaus to discuss a forgotten 90s supergroup: the Neurotic Outsiders!

The 90s were a weird time.  For all intents and purposes, one of the biggest bands in the world was gone:  Guns N’ Roses.  We had to settle for solo albums from Duff, Slash, Gilby and Izzy.

Matt Sorum and Duff McKagan teamed up with Steve Jones from the Sex Pistols, and John Taylor from Duran Duran, to form the punky supergroup Neurotic Outsiders.  They made one album.  One and done!  But what an album it was.  We’ll be discussing all this and more tonight on Grant’s Rock Warehaus!

7:00 PM EST


I just want to send all my support and love to California Girl today as she completes her marathon that she has spent months preparing for!  I know she was nervous and I’m hoping today goes as brilliant as possible for her.  I got your back California Girl!  (No, she’s not running in the silver boots, unfortunately!)

#1045: The Lost Chapters: Doctor Kathryn

The original title for this chapter was “My Sister, Age, and How Things Change”.  It was originally Chapter 8.

RECORD STORE TALES #1045: The Lost Chapters: Doctor Kathryn

My sister had some distinct musical phases.  Early on, she decided that she was going to like most of the music that I liked.  At first that meant Quiet Riot, Kiss, and Motley Crue.  Motley Crue was her favourite, but not for the right reasons.  They were her favourite because a) Nikki and Tommy were really tall, and b) they both had spikey hair.

There was further evidence that my sister was bordering on wimp territory.  One was that she didn’t like W.A.S.P.  In fact she hated W.A.S.P.  I’m not sure if it was Blackie Lawless’ voice, or if it was the fact that he drank “blood” from a “human skull”.  Either way, I liked W.A.S.P. a lot, and if she didn’t like them too, this demonstrated an unhealthy streak of independence.

Then, the proverbial shit hit the fan.  (We didn’t have air conditioning back then, just fans.)  One day in 1985, she decided that she liked The Pointer Sisters.  And Cyndi Lauper.  And Corey Hart.  She always liked Bryan Adams, but I forgave her this.  Bryan wore jeans and T-shirts, so he was still firmly in rock territory, even if he wasn’t heavy metal.  (I didn’t find out for a while yet that Bryan did in fact have some metallic roots.  He wrote several songs with Kiss, including the heaviest material on the Creatures Of The Night album.)  The music that Kathryn liked was incorrectly labelled by us as “New Wave”.  We didn’t know that New Wave was a term usually used for bands like Blondie, Devo, or the Talking Heads.  We just assumed all crappy pop music with synthesizers was New Wave.  And New Wave was bad.  Very very bad.

Back then, life was simple.  Life was black and white.  Whatever MuchMusic’s “Power Hour” played was good.  Everything else was bad.  The only exceptions to that that rule were Kim Mitchell and Bryan Adams.  I’m not sure why Kim was an exception, except that he and long hair, and that I liked him, and so did the next door neighbour.  If you wanted to boil it down further, stuff with guitars was good.  Stuff with keyboards was bad.  And the stuff Kathryn listened to didn’t have any guitars, just lots of keyboards, fake synth drums and people with really silly clothes and hair.

There were a few exceptions.  I had never known a Van Halen without keyboards, so I accepted them.  They were clearly a heavy metal band.  The Power Hour played them all the time, David Lee Roth had wicked hair, and everybody was talking about that guitar player.  Even if I didn’t know the difference between a guitar and a bass, and thought that Michael Anthony was in fact Eddie Van Halen, I decided that Van Halen were cool.  You were allowed to like them.  Eventually I sneaked ZZ Top into the list of music that was allowed as well, because one of the neighbours said they were like Van Halen.

So if the music Kathryn liked was bad, and the music I liked was good, you can imagine the arguments.  They were glorious and often ended in physical injury and/or destruction of property, and not just by me.

Her awful taste in music even held back my own progress.  She liked Bon Jovi first, therefore I had to dislike Bon Jovi—until they released that damned “Wanted: Dead Or Alive” song.  The song was so good, so undeniable, I had to let Bon Jovi into my life.  I still think it’s a fantastic song, well written, well played, with some beautiful 12 string guitar.  (Another reason Bon Jovi didn’t make the grade at first was due to their keyboards.  This does not explain why Europe did make the grade.  There were many inconsistencies.)

Kathryn’s rebellion worsened.  Her taste in music declined.  I won’t even begin to list some of the awful music she listened to, but I will say that she bottomed out in 1990 with New Kids On The Block, MC Hammer, and Vanilla Ice.  Obviously, this was a person who had no clear idea about integrity within music.  However, like a junkie who hits rock bottom, she eventually started to rise up again, with a little encouragement from Her Loving Brother.

The turning point was when Vanilla Ice cancelled his Kitchener tour date in early 1991.  His reason stated was that he was too big a star to play a town like Kitchener.  There was an instant hatred for the man all over town.  Kathryn sold her Vanilla Ice tape immediately.

There were some other clear signs of improvement.  A newfound obsession with Cheap Trick was good.  Sure, they weren’t metal, but they were definitely rock!  Hell, they even worshipped Kiss within their song lyrics.  I happily encouraged this love of Cheap Trick, and even bought her Cheap Trick tapes.  I think most of her Cheap Trick collection was courtesy of moi.

Rod Stewart came next.  I feel that perhaps Rod snuck in the door due to his enormous hair, but I didn’t care.  Rod still had a rock pedigree.  I encouraged her love of Rod.  I asked her questions about him and his music.  It was like carefully manipulating a mentally ill person back to health, and I was succeeding in a marginal way.  I felt that she’d never come all the way back to metal, even though she owned tapes by Bon Jovi, Def Leppard and Poison.  Yet I was satisfied with the progress we were making.

Now, 15 years later, I own Rod Stewart, Cheap Trick, Bryan Adams, The Payola$…all music that she introduced me to.  She got the last laugh.  I’ll never admit that she was always the smarter one (I can’t, since she never understood any movies we watched) but I’ll admit that she got the better of me on this one.  We even attended concerts together.  It started with Blue Rodeo, then we saw Jann Arden and Amanda Marshall.  While I still won’t own any albums by Arden or Marshall, they both put on excellent shows.  Blue Rodeo blew us both away and now they’re one of my favourites.  I’ve never seen any band more often than Blue Rodeo, and I’ll argue that they’re Canada’s best band, with Rush as a close second.

Even my parents get points.  They sure hated “Big Balls” by AC/DC, but now I own more Johnny Cash and Gordon Lightfoot than they do.

Now, I certainly can’t allow Kathryn to come off as the winner in this chapter.  So here’s a punch in the arm for you.  There, now we’re even.

REVIEW: Saigon Kick – The Lizard (1992)

The reviewer formerly known as LeBrain comes out of retirement for this one-time-only event in collaboration with 2loud2oldmusic.comFor John’s excellent review, click here.

SAIGON KICK – The Lizard (1992, Rock Candy Remaster)

Saigon Kick was ahead of the curve compared to most of the spread of 1992 competition.  They were heavy, diverse, unafraid, daring, and extremely skilled.  Boston’s Extreme had similar talents but were treading different waters to Miama’s Saigon Kick.  Going for broke on their second album The Lizard, produced by guitarist Jason Bieler, Saigon Kick really demonstrated they were not messing around.

An opening anthemic bit called “Cruelty” cannot be called an instrumental due to the psychedelic, otherworldly shouts and yelps by singer Matt Kramer.  (Similar to the later work of Canada’s Paul Jago from the Ganharvas.)  This leads into a pounder:  “Hostile Youth”.  Skid Row may have been about the youth who were going wild in 1989, but in 1992, Bieler and Kramer were appealing to the anger of the next generation, complete with lethal, deliberate groove topped by silky smooth Beatles-esque “ooh-oohs” and a buttery guitar solo.  “We don’t like our homes!  It’s nothing but a joke!”

From there into a bass groove.  “Feel the Same Way” mixes singalong hard rock with a slightly psychedelic edge.  Sing along, you might like it.  Upbeat and different from the mainstream.  The aforementioned Extreme do come to mind on “Freedom”, with its funky bass backing and groovy tempo.  The trademark Kramer/Bieler vocal mix sets it apart.  A semi-acoustic number “God of 42nd Street” recalls the Beatles plain and simple, but it also captures them in a way that most bands fail.

A bonkers bit called “My Dog” verges on Faith No More territory, which is not a bad thing, it just proves something about diversity.  It’s over quickly though and supplanted quickly by a stompingly heavy groove called “Peppermint Tribe”.  The lyrics and vocals seem right out of the Dee Snider playbook, but Dee never grooved like this.  There’s even a bit of Smashing Pumpkins in some of the guitars.

At this point, the world stops spinning, for it is the stunning ballad “Love Is On the Way”, and it just feels like 1992 all over in some inexplicable way.  Hard to explain, hard to pinpoint, but the heart knows.  It’s lonely yet triumphant.  Its power is in its restraint.  Where it could wail away like the Scorpions on maximum hairspray, it sticks to an acoustic bass.  The vocals are the power.  Bieler’s solo has a rare touch that only certain guitar players can claim to have mastered.

From there, to one of the heaviest grooves:  “The Lizard”!  Drummer Phil Varone goes for something more tribal while Bieler and Kramer harmonize over the grinding riff.  This is truly Saigon Kick doing their own thing.  This band defies expectation, especially when “The Lizard” goes into Neal Schon territory on the guitar solo.  Things get grimier on “All Alright” which has a biting menace of its own.  Lethal as it may sound, the chorus harmonies really defy it.  Speaking of lethal, the guitar solo might be one of Bieler’s best.

A beautiful guitar instrumental called “Sleep” recalls Joe Satriani’s tender moments.  This serves as an introduction to the fine “All I Want”, which burns bright with an acoustic guitar and loads of cloudy, floaty music.  Naturally this must be followed by something heavy, so it is the choppy blast “Body Bags”.  This one was co-written by Varone, which might explain the tempo.  It cools off a little bit on “Miss Jones”, an excellent deeper cut.

Track 15, second to last on the original running order, is a co-write by bassist Tom DeFile and has an exotic, Eastern flavour.  Plenty of stringed instruments layered differently on “World Goes Around”, a late album highlight.  It has the feeling of a perfect penultimate track.  It takes things down to a simmer.  The surprise is the closer “Chanel”, like something from a barbershop band in the 1930s!  Unexpected yet delightful.  What a strange twist.  Check out the jazzy guitar solo!

Rock Candy CD buyers get the Beatles cover “Dear Prudence” as the final closer.  Very few bands get away with covered the Beatles, but it’s little surprise that Saigon Kick do it so well.  It’s actually a perfect song for them to cover.  I have a feeling they all owned the White Album.

Of course, Rock Candy aficionados know to expect excellent packaging, sound, and liner notes besides the bonus track.  It’s all there for you to dig in.

5/5 stars

You can also dig in to the interview that John T. Snow and I did with Jason Bieler in the summer of 2022!  We discuss The Lizard and much more.

Youtubin’: PS Audio – High end heavy metal

Here comes Paul McGowan with a question for you audiophile metalheads!

As a non-audiophile, this will never be my bag, but it’s interesting anyway. “Wall of sound” – that’s what I want. He’s right that most of those albums are loud and compressed. Here’s how to maximize the sound of your heavy metal.