heavy metal

REVIEW: Alice Cooper – “It’s Me” (1994 single)

ALICE COOPER – “It’s Me” (1994 Epic single)

The Last Temptation, Alice Cooper’s acclaimed 1994 concept album, spawned a couple collectable CD singles.  Collectable, because 1) they had unreleased live B-sides, and 2) Eric Singer of Kiss played drums on them!

As far as Alice ballads go, “It’s Me” is not particularly special.  The song fits into the story of the album, but it’s musically in the same vein as the ballads from Trash and Hey Stoopid.  The mandolin is a nice touch, but Alice has more fondly remembered ballads.  “It’s Me” works best as part of the album it was written for.

The two live tracks were recorded in ’91, which actually makes Eric Singer pre-Kiss in this case.  “Poison” is stunning sounding live, but still with rich backing vocals.  The chorus of “Poison” requires several backing singers and Alice’s bands are always equipped for the job.  You can’t tell if Eric Singer is one of the vocalists, but you can easily recognise his style on the drums.  That’s him alright!  “Sick Things” is a strange one live; always has been.  Here, it is inflamed by guitarists Stef Burns and Pete Freezin’ (Freisen).

Alice’s CD singles were hard to find in the early 90s, but thanks to the internet you can get them affordably.  If you’re a Kiss collector, this is one to consider.  If not, just enjoy a snapshot of Alice live during an era that is so far undocumented by a live album.

3/5 stars

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#768: Scanning the Notebooks

GETTING MORE TALE #768: Scanning the Notebooks

Mrs. LeBrain and I have been downsizing of late, and getting rid of old stuff we don’t need anymore.  In the process we have discovered lots of cool treasures we have been hanging onto.  In the last few months I’ve shown you a treasure trove of cassette and VHS rediscoveries, and things keep turning up all the time. The lady that helped us downsize, Elanda, didn’t understand why I needed to hang onto old yearbooks and CDs.  This kind of thing is important to me.  I’ve built an entire series of stories on nostalgia!  Preserving this stuff, to me, is preserving musical history.  It’s a part of the extended story of these bands.  It’s my autobiography.

Another great place to find old treasures is the parents’ basement.  I didn’t realize they hung on to some of my old, beat up highschool notebooks.  The covers are falling off, but like an archaeologist, I have to preserve this stuff for posterity.  Look what I found!

I didn’t just scribble band logos on my notebooks.  I painted them on.  My mother had a basement full of paints for her ceramics classes.  I had access to all the brushes, colours and textures you could ask for.  Most of the paints I used were water soluble, so I probably sprayed this binder with a clear coat to protect the paint.  30 years later, my artwork is still about 90% intact.

The Van Halen, Def Leppard, Dio, and Van Halen logos are self explanatory.  Look a little further.  I took the trouble of drawing Ratt’s titular mascot using three colours, including silver for his sunglasses.  The lightning bolts here are there are meant to be a reference to Frehley’s Comet.  (From looking over my homework inside, it seems I also signed my name with a lightning bolt.)  In the bottom front corner of the binder, “Dawn Was Here” was written on there by one of my sister’s annoying friends who took ceramics class at our house.

Digging inside, I discovered that I clearly put more effort into the front covers than my English homework.

Next to the very bored notes about American literature are more logos, more lightning bolts, a few grim reapers, and designs for multi-neck guitars.  More rats!  Cartoon portraits of Gene Simmons (no makeup; it was 1988) and Rob Halford.

Judging by my careless scribbles, it seems I was not a fan of Huck Finn.  The notes in English class are not legible and it looks like I didn’t do much homework.  That’s not to say I wasn’t working hard in class.  Some of the best sketches came from English class.  I obviously spent a lot of time on some of them.  A page called “Scenes of Death” looks alarming at first, until you look a little closer and notice that one guy is getting jumped by a giant Schnauzer.

 

And, of course, a giant page of logos.

Everyone had the giant page of logos.

Bob Schipper had the idea of calling our “band” Paragon.  “Not Paradox,” he stressed, “but Paragon.  It means we’re among the best.”  Our logo is the centerpiece of the page, coloured in yellow highlighter.  The entire page is like a “Where’s Waldo?” of bands and references.

My science and history notebooks are much cleaner.  Fewer band logos, more meticulously taken notes.  Still,  found of portrait of Satan in my History book.  I was trying to copy the style of Derek Riggs.

I’m grateful my mom and dad hung on to these books.  It makes up for my dad throwing out my Chopper Strike board game and damaging my ZZ Top Eliminator model.  There is still a ton more stuff at their place for me to go through, including a mountain of cool T-shirts that I forgot I owned.  My original Judas Priest shirt is there, the one that got me in trouble at Catholic school.  Imagine if ol’ Mrs. Powers at the Catholic school had seen my later Satan drawing!  I’m certain it would have raised concern and probably a meeting with my parents.

I’m glad I switched out from a Catholic grade school to a mainstream high school.  My logo and Satan drawing skills certainly flourished there, even if my appreciation for Huck Finn did not.

 

REVIEW: Helix – Icon (2018)

HAPPY CANADA DAY from LeBrain and Superdekes! HELIX double feature!

HELIX – Icon (2018 Universal vinyl)

New Helix vinyl?  Yes please.

The Icon series of compilations used to be a budget CD line that you could pick up for $5 or under.  Now, you can even get ’em on vinyl.  Buy ’em direct from Helix mainman Brian Vollmer and he’ll sign it for you.  This copy is signed by all five current Helix members, including a pre-injury Fritz Hinz.

As far as Helix compilations go, you can’t do much with just 11 tracks.  Even so, Icon has some surprises and plenty of pleasers.  There’s also enough difference from 2016’s compilation Rock It Science to justify it.  Opening with the one-two punch of “Rock You” and “Heavy Metal Love”, Helix top loaded this thing with their best known songs.  Perfect for the newcomer, or just a great party.

From there it’s “The Dirty Dog”, a long time Helix concert favourite.  This is followed in quick succession by some great singles:  “Gimme Gimme Good Lovin'”, “Wild in the Streets” and the dark ballad “Deep Cuts the Knife”.  All three songs are considered to be Helix classics.  “Deep Cuts the Knife”, written by guitarist Paul Hackman, is a particularly powerful ballad.  The entire first side is from the Capitol Records years, featuring the best known Helix lineup:  Vollmer, Hinz, Hackman, Brent Doerner and Daryl Gray.

Side two has a different flavour.  Only the hit “The Kids are All Shakin'” originates in the 1980s.  This top Helix pop rock track is followed by the Helix of the 90s and today.  “Good to the Last Drop” is another ballad, but much brighter than “Deep Cuts the Knife”.  This is the original album mix, with minimal keyboards.  Then it’s “Runnin’ Wild in the 21st Century”, kicking your teeth in at lightspeed.  The last two songs feature some help from guitarist extraordinaire Sean Kelly.  A razor sharp “Even Jesus Wasn’t Loved in His Home Town” comes from 2014’s excellent Bastard of the Blues.  The aggressive rocker is based on the fact that Helix can’t even their new songs played on the radio in their home town of Kitchener, Ontario.  Finally, the 2016 single “Gene Simmons Says (Rock Is Dead)” tells the demon where it’s at!  Maybe Helix don’t get radio play in Canada but rock ain’t dead — not if Vollmer and Co. have anything to say about it!

When it comes to Helix compilations, they are so numerous that you can really take your pick.  If you really care about the band, then just buy ’em direct from Vollmer at Planet Helix.  There are loads to choose from, but only this one was ever made on vinyl.  Or, you can just go CD!  Either way, support the boys if you’re gonna buy some Helix.

4/5 stars

REVIEW: Dokken – Tooth and Nail (1984)

DOKKEN – Tooth and Nail (1984 Elektra)

Dokken always served up large helpings of cheese. Within the framework of 80s hard rock, their second album Tooth and Nail has been elevated to the status of classic.  Produced by Tom Werman and armed with nine great songs, Dokken were poised to move on to the big leagues.

The brief instrumental opener “Without Warning” leads directly into the full speed chug of “Tooth and Nail”.  George Lynch was the obvious star on guitar, but “Wild” Mick Brown certainly blows the doors off with his high speed drum work.  Don Dokken could hit the high notes when required, aided and abetted by bassist Jeff Pilson.  The quartet could go hard or soft, or right down the middle.  “Just Got Lucky” is perfect in the centre.  Not too heavy, boasting a chorus that sticks, and a fiery hot guitar solo.

The lesser known “Heartless Heart” gets by for its Lynch chugging, though its chorus is left wanting.  Even chuggier:  “Don’t Close Your Eyes”, which Lynch leaves a smoking ruin:  Don screaming over the wastes left behind by the incessant rocking.  And that’s side one.

Dokken were especially good at slower, heavy songs.  “When Heaven Comes Down” is one of those.  Lynch’s riff holds the fort while Don conjures apocalyptic imagery.  Then a classic:  “Into the Fire”.  This song has it all.  The chorus and riff are topped only by a killer middle eight and a flammable solo.  You can pass on the cliche “Bullets to Spare” which sounds like a Quiet Riot B-side.  But don’t miss “Alone Again”, one of the best ballads from the entire decade.  It defines the term “power ballad” all by itself.  From the words, to the melody, to the legendary Lynch solo, “Alone Again” sounds as good today as it did then.

Finishing it off you’ll get the incendiary “Turn On The Action”, a cross between Van Halen, Motley Crue, and 2/3rds of the Sunset Strip.  It’s a good closer, but derivative and absolutely a product of its time and place.

Tooth and Nail is two or three songs shy of 5/5 rating.  Though you may debate it among yourselves, Back For the Attack and Dysfunctional are superior albums.  Tooth and Nail, however, has something they don’t have, and that is a high percentage of Dokken concert classics.  “Alone Again”, “Just Got Lucky”, “Into the Fire” and “Tooth and Nail” are all cornerstones of a Dokken collection.

4/5 stars

REVIEW: The Sword – Greetings From… (2017)

THE SWORD – Greetings From… (2017 Razor & Tie)

This is one clean sounding live album.  Yes it’s live, and you can tell, but there’s not a lot of crowd noise or wasted time.  Opening with a full-on “Buzzards”, The Sword sound made for the stage.  The Sword may not have invented the guitar riff, but they have certainly mastered the art of creating them.

“The Chronomancer I: Hubris” (from Warp Riders) has a slower Sabbathy groove circa Ozzy, but rendered heavier on the metal scale.  They’re tight live, but there’s a certain rock n’ roll loosey-goosey vibe on this album as well.  “Maiden, Mother & Crone” is another hot riff, amplified by the live environment.

New material is rolled out, with “Tears Like Diamonds”, “Mist & Shadow”, and “Agartha” presented in sequence.  “Tears Like Diamonds” combines hook and groove into one steamrolling song.  The heaviest track could be “Tres Brujas” from the third album which flies at Warp speed.  Then they go into a cover of “John the Revelator” which works amazingly well as a heavy metal celebration.

The only track to appear from the debut Sword LP is “The Horned Goddess”.  It ends a pretty steady onslaught of riffs with…even more riffs.  If you’ve endured it, congratulations — you just might be a rocker!

No fluff, no filler.  Greetings From… flies by just as fast as the spaceship on the awesome cover art.

4.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Raw M.E.A.T 3 – Various Artists (1992)

RAW M.E.A.T 3 (1992 M.E.A.T Magazine)

It took a while to be able to review this CD for technical reasons.  From day one, this disc would not play smoothly in any computer.  Most CD players could handle it, but no PC could without skipping horribly.  Independent CD production had iffy quality in the early 90s.  Now using external components I’ve finally been able to rip the album to PC.  I have not played some of these songs in decades!

Raw M.E.A.T 3 was different from the first two volumes.  The first focused on hard rock, the second on thrash.  One band from Raw M.E.A.T 2 went on to big things, that being Varga.  Volume 3 combined all genres of heavy music together on one disc.  From the heaviest of bands (Mindrape, Sinister Fiend, Hanker, Vertical After) to pop rock hooks (Deadline, Raw Trixx, Tryton) and progressive (Destiny, Justin Sane), all bases are covered.  The bands span several provinces from British Columbia to Quebec, whereas the first CD only had groups from southern Ontario.

Highlights are numerous.  Perhaps Russian Blue came in strongest with opener “Mama’s Love”, a modern twist on hard rock.  Deadline were right up there too, with a re-recording of “Friction Addiction” from their excellent first CD.  Raw M.E.A.T 3 is the only place you can get the re-recording, which is slicker and punchier than the original.  Tryton, the only female-fronted band, kicks serious ass on “Burning the Cradle”.  Singer Nina Zzo had the lungs for it!  (They later made an album as Loudshine.)  “A Wonderful Day” by Tempted Fate is another genius track, sounding a bit like “When Death Calls” by Black Sabbath before exploding into a punk rock chorus.

It’s a very diverse CD.  The bands Raw Trixx and Stone Valley both put in strong entries with “Time” and “Forever Gone” respectively.  These groups employ older hard rock sounds in spite of the changing tides of rock.  Slam Glory’s “Say It Like You Mean It” also fits that mold.  Fans of early Queensryche and Scorpions might enjoy Destiny’s “Man Alone” which brings to mind the trademark sounds of those bands.  Old-school thrash fans will dig the traditional speedy chug of Hanker and Vertical After.  The Cult-like No Morals had an enjoyable, unconventional 90s edge.  For Faith No More funkiness, it’s Sinister Fiend.  Overlord’s “Never Enough” has a tough metal punch but with punk-like recklessness.  “And if I sound bitter, it’s because I am!”  Even Christian rock makes an appearance.  Thunder Rider’s “For Christ’s Sake” isn’t bad, but the Quebec band had an early unfortunate image including swords, shields and hammers.

My favourite track of them all is “Illusion” by Justin Sane, which should have become a massive hit in 1992.  The four piece band combined modern metal grooves with quality lead vocals and musicianship to create a nearly seven-minute behemoth of a song.  It was recorded (like several of the songs here) at the renowned Metalworks Studios in Mississauga.  Shame the band had a jokey name, as it does not accurately depict their music.  There is a Justin Sane EP out there, reissued in 2006 as a split album with a band called Native Tongue, but it’s impossible to find.

I also approve of the names of the members of Vertical After:  Kick, Stu, Rhys and Odd.  I definitely want to be friends with anyone named Odd.

For the variety of quality hard rock, heavy metal and miscellaneous good stuff, Raw M.E.A.T 3 serves as an enjoyable listen and gateway to some bands you’ve never heard of before.  Off to Discogs to look for more!

4/5 stars

#758: Len Mix Vol. I and II

GETTING MORE TALE #758:  Len Mix Vol. I and II

In the early 2000s, the best way to “share” music (note the quotations) was to burn a CD for your friends.

I had a customer, now friend, named Len. I knew him originally via some mutual highschool pals. I recognised him because he was in a Kiss air band when I was in grade 10.  I befriended him later on as a customer at the Record Store, and I learned more about his taste in music and his collection. We were on the same page in virtually every way musically.

Len had a neat way of tracking his music, in the days before computers made this easy. He made a black and white photocopy of every CD cover, and filed them all in order, in a huge binder with title, year and tracklist. A work intensive process I’m sure, but it benefited me tremendously as you’ll soon see.

Len loaned me the book and said “pick anything you want me to burn for you.”

I still have all the CDs Len burned for me! One was a Kiss rarities disc (we’ll look at that another time), and another was all Bon Jovi B-sides. He made me a CD copy of the first Hurricane EP with a non-vinyl bonus track. And he put a whole ton of miscellaneous songs on two CDs that I titled, obviously, Len Mix!

The title confused a few people.  I remember I had a girl over and she saw the CDs.  “Are those all songs by the band Len?”  At that point I may have realised I should have picked another title.

I made a list of songs that Len had that I wanted.  They were generally big singles from bands I liked, that I didn’t own the album.  A lot of songs I was exposed to on the Pepsi Power Hour in the 80s.

Let’s have a listen then, shall we?

LEN MIX Vol. I

Autograph’s “Loud and Clear” is a killer rocker, far less commercial than “Turn Up the Radio”.  I do have the album today (on CD), but I don’t own the Krokus that follows.  “Midnite Maniac” is still enjoyable, especially since I haven’t played it in over 10 years.  Kingdom Come’s “Get It On” is one I own a couple times over now, and I think I like it more today than I did in the beginning.  Y&T’s “Summertime Girls” is horribly cheesy, and yet so much guilty fun.  It’s bright, it’s catchy and I don’t give a fuck!  I still don’t own it properly on album.  Nor do I own “Run Runaway” by Slade, a song I have liked since I was a little kid.  I should pick up a Slade compilation, shouldn’t I?

According to MSG, “Love Is Not a Game”.  I have this one on vinyl today, but Len Mix is still my only CD copy.  Next, a very important song for your Ozzy collection.   “Close My Eyes Forever” is by Lita Ford, featuring Ozzy in a stunning duet.  Yet it may as well be an Ozzy song featuring Lita if that’s what you prefer.  You can’t get it on any of the Ozzman’s albums.  Today I have it on a Lita CD.  Then King Kobra advise us to “Never Say Die”…”Iron Eagle”, baby!  I still don’t have this album, and the song is a guilty pleasure.  Not one of King Kobra’s proudest moments.  You gotta admire that they all cut their hair for the music video, though.

I was always jealous that Len owned a four track copy of Def Leppard’s “When Love and Hate Collide” CD single. Mine only had two tracks! So I requested that Len burn me the demo version of the song that I did not yet own.

“Why Do You Think They Call It Dope?” asked Love/Hate. I ask myself why I still do not own Blackout in the Red Room!  It was rare back then, but there is no excuse today in the age of Discogs.  The Blink 182 song that follows it sticks out like a sore thumb, but I still like a lot of Blink.  Travis Barker is a tremendous drummer, and these guys wrote some great pop punk.  Then Kingdom Come are back with their tremendous ballad “What Love Can Be”, followed by the incredible British band Thunder.  They had a number of great tracks on hard to find albums.  “Low Life in High Places ” classes up the CD by several increments, but then Y&T are back to crash the party.  “Contagious”, like “Summertime Girls”, sounds a bit dated today.  Yet it’s just so damn catchy.

The next two songs are ones I have happily acquired on CD.  Actually, Keel’s “The Right to Rock” is here on LP and CD.  It’s an old classic I grew up with, and so very 1980s.  So is Aldo Nova’s “Fantasy” but in a completely different way.

Len had some extra space on the end of this CD and so threw on Axel Rudi Pell’s “Tear Down the Walls”.  I have not played this song in over a decade, but it sounds great!  Far more modern than anything else on this disc, but Len was right to add it!  Discogs tells me that the stunning lead vocal is by Johnny Gioeli of Neal Schon’s band Hardline.  Of course!

LEN MIX Vol. II

That’s it for Len Mix Vol. I.  The rest of the songs went onto Vol. II, which like Vol. I, begins explosively.  Kingdom Come had a few bangers, and “Do You Like It” is the best of them.  This one comes from their underappreciated second album In Your Face.  (Legend has it that some stores thought the band was called “Kingdom” and the album Come In Your Face, and refused to stock it.)

The next three songs in a row are ones I still need to own on CD or LP:  More Y&T, Autograph and Krokus.  So far, all the Y&T songs have been pretty weak (though catchy and fun).  “Mean Streak” is anything but weak!  Y&T’s heavy metal roots are on full display with a riffy blast.  Then it’s Autograph’s return, with the previously mentioned “Turn Up the Radio”!  This song is probably better known today then it was in the early 2000s, thanks to video games and radio nostalgia.  Krokus’ “Ballroom Blitz” cover was one that, like “School’s Out”, I grew up thinking was a Krokus original!  Fortunately in time I learned the truth.

House of Lords albums were hard to come by at the time, and back then I didn’t own any but their first.  On this CD is the ballad “Remember My Name”.  This is from the second album Sahara which I now happily have.  I don’t particularly care for this one, as it has that overly saccharine faux-romantic sound that was too common in the late 80s into 1990.  But then like a kick in the face, it’s an Udo-less Accept with “Generation Clash”!  Though David Reese’s tenure in the band was brief, this song is a triumph.  I am happy to own the oddly titled album Eat the Heat today, because this darkly sparse prowl is still ace. What a voice on Reese, who could reach for those Udo screams when necessary.

Hey mom,
Have you always followed the golden rule?
Cause this just happens to be my first love.
And that being a must – a must.
That being playin’ my guitar!

It’s hard to come down from such a peak, and unfortunately the fall is broken by an out-of-place Blink 182 song.  “All the Small Things” is such a diametrically opposed song, it’s like cold water dumped on your head!  Two older goodies are not far behind:  “Blackout in the Red Room” by Love/Hate, and the amazing acoustic ballad “Loving You” by Kingdom Come.  It’s oh-so-very Zep, but what the hell.  Zep weren’t making that sound in 1989 and there was obviously a demand for it.

The aforementioned “School’s Out” by Krokus marks their last song on this set, meaning that via Len Mix I got all the Krokus songs that I knew as a kid.  Then it’s Y&T’s final song, the ballad “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark”.  It’s not one of their finest moments, but I would have requested this one because I had it on VHS but nothing else.  With the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, Y&T were obviously aiming to score that “hit ballad”, but Meniketi’s always perfect voice is still a pleasure to listen to.

Thunder’s “Dirty Love” from their first album reminds me that I really need to buy some Thunder.  Then comes a band from whom I only know one song.  It’s a good’un called “You’re So Strange”, though the band had a silly name:  Kik Tracee.  Their ace in the hole was singer Stephen Shareaux.  What a set of lungs on this guy!  He was one of many who auditioned for the vacant vocalist role in Motley Crue in 1992.  Gotta wonder what kind of music they could have made with a pair of lungs like Stephen Shareaux’s.

Moving on to the end, it’s the final Autograph song “Blondes in Black Cars”.  I don’t think it’s their best moment, but I sure have a lot of childhood memories associated with the music video. I pretty much discovered what puberty was all about thanks to that video. I must have worn out that pause button.

MSG’s “Gimme Your Love” was their other single from Perfect Timing, an album I now have on LP but would like on CD for the bonus tracks.  I’m getting the feeling an Amazon order order is forthcoming.  Following MSG is a remix of “Armageddon It” by Def Leppard, from the same since-acquired single as “When Love and Hate Collide”.  At 7:44 it’s a bit much, but I’m a Def Leppard completionist.  Once again Len had a little bit of space at the end of a CD and so wisely included the brief Dokken instrumental “Without Warning”.

It’s important to note that these CDs would have taken Len a bit of time to put together for me.  Few of us kept our music on computer.  Len would have been painstakingly switching discs in and out of his computer to make these for me.  The addition of bonus tracks shows how much care he put into it.

For Len Mix Vol. I and II, I’d say the verdict is clear.  These were a blast to listen to again.

5/5 stars

REVIEW: Gypsy Jayne – Alive and Wandering (1992 cassette)

GYPSY JAYNE – Alive and Wandering (1992 independent cassette)

There is still way too much music that was only released on tape.  Gypsy Jayne (formerly Wildside) were from Oakville Ontario. What they lacked in originality, they compensated for in classically trained guitarist Johannes Linstead. He ‘s a Juno nominee with several flamenco albums today.  Back in the early 90s, he shredded the electric.  We talked about this band briefly during Record Store Tales, but they deserve a closer look.  They were a solid quartet, with a great singer and musicianship.  All that exists of Gypsy Jayne today is their sole cassette:  six songs and a guitar instrumental.

It’s easiest to compare Gypsy Jayne to Illusions-era Guns N’ Roses; they probably had a similar set of influences.  Their namesake song “Gypsy Jayne” opens the tape with a mid-tempo Izzy-like vibe and a hell of a chorus.  Singer Andy Law had a good glam rock voice, but it’s clear right away the guitarist is something special.  The solo is carefully composed and serves the song.  “Whiskey Blues” also has a Guns vibe, particularly the Axl-ish vocals.  The guitar playing is more Van Halen than Slash, but the song smokes.  “As Good as it Gets” boasts some cool slippy slidey intro guitars before going full Guns.  Great tune, blistering solo.  Influences are quickly forgotten as the song repeatedly kicks your ass.

Beginning side two, it’s a new version of “Ready, Willing and Able”, the song they recorded as Wildside on Raw M.E.A.T. #1.  Sleazy rock, L.A. infused.  You can’t tell these guys are from an upper class town in Canada, except perhaps by the schooled guitar approach.  “So Wild” takes it slow, crawling in your ear canal and letting the groove do the work.  “Leave You Now” is acoustic nostalgia, a song about “Chasing all our dreams” and “living crazy nights, lazy days.”  For composition, this could be Jayne’s best song.

The final track is “Romanza”, a lovely solo classical guitar piece by Linstead.  This foreshadowed where he’d be going in his future.  It’s a nice coda, like Randy Rhoads would have done.

This one’s going to be hard to find — there is no listing on Discogs.

4/5 stars

 

 

REVIEW: Four By Fate – Relentless (2017)

FOUR BY FATE – Relentless (2017 The End)

“Supergroups” are everywhere these days.  Four By Fate is best known for its former members of Frehley’s Comet:  Tod Howarth and John Regan.  When they first formed, they also contained drummer Stet Howland (W.A.S.P.) and guitar master Sean Kelly.  Pat Gasperini replaced Kelly, and A.J. Pero played drums on half the album before his untimely death.  The band was completed by ex-Skid Row skinsman Rob Affuso.

Relentless is a beefy album, with 13 tracks including a handful of covers.  The opener is John Waite’s “These Times Are Hard For Lovers” (co-written by maestro Desmond Child), and it’s decent.  Frehley’s Comet fans will recognise Howarth’s lead vocals, though this band is harder than the Comet.  Blasting through “Moonshine” and “Hangin’ On”, they got a nice heavy drum sound.  It’s  good to hear Affuso on an album again.  Track four, “Levee Breach” is the first of six with A.J. Pero.  It’s a little like a Stone Temple Pilots clone.

The next cover is a remake of “It’s Over Now” from the Comet’s 1988 album Second Sighting.  Nothing is ever as good as the original, but if you wanted a heavier version of that power ballad, here ya go.  (You can really hear those low piano keys.)  Onto “Follow Me”, another one that sounds grungy.  They went with such a “modern” sound on this album.  Some might have expected more influences from the pop-smart 80s, the era most of these guys were rockin’.

“On My Own” has a cool Howarth riff and some befitting hooks.  Grunge emerges again on “I Give”, and a partly acoustic song called “Don’t Know” is similarly dark and out of the 90s.  Relentless almost sounds like an album written in 1994 or 1995, and not recorded until 2017.  Then suddenly, “Back in the 80’s” has a Dio-like chug, and of course A.J. Pero on drums.  Then it’s “Rock & Roll Hoochie Koo”, a really fun Derringer cover.  They close the album on a strange patriotic ballad (two versions) called “Amber Waves”

The strength in Relentless is the musicianship.  Howarth and Gasperini make a formidable guitar team, and we all know the reputations of guys like A.J. Pero and Rob Affuso.  Musically, Four By Fate can face off against the big boys.

3/5 stars

#752: Chip Away the Stone

GETTING MORE TALE #752: Chip Away the Stone

I didn’t have any childhood friends who were into Aerosmith.  I had to get into them on my own.

Well, that might not be entirely true.  Next door neighbour George may have been into them, but the rest of us ignored Aerosmith because they were “the band with the singer with the weird lips”.  They weren’t “metal” enough to be in my wheelhouse at that young age.  There wasn’t much Aerosmith being played on MuchMusic in the early 80s.  Maybe “Lightning Strikes”, but that was about it.  The music video with the greasers didn’t appeal to us metal kids.  The Joe Perry Project didn’t do it for us either.  The video with the pink saxophone?  (“Black Velvet Pants”.)  Not metal enough!  We were strict metal heads as kids, and pink saxophones were not metal.

What was it that finally caught my Aero-attention?  Joe Perry’s plexiglas guitar.

This all seems silly from an adult perspective, but we were just kids.  We loved metal, not just for the music but also that all-important image.  Videos were so important to us.  A band not only had to sound cool, but they had to look it.  Aerosmith didn’t look cool to us, with the tights and the lips.  That changed in early ’86.

Ironically enough the video was called “Let the Music Do the Talking”.  It was and is a killer song.  I didn’t know, or care about its history as a song by the Joe Perry Project.  What caught my eye was that guitar.  A transparent guitar?  I’d never seen anything like that before.  My best friend Bob and I were obsessed with unusual guitars.

“I have to tape this and show it to Bob,” I said.

The video itself was pretty cool.  A group of bootleggers snuck a camera into a concert to make their own video.  It was a glimpse at an adult activity we’d yet to experience: the live concert.  “Let the Music Do the Talking” made concerts look just as cool as we imagined they would be.  There was even a twist ending.  And like that, Aerosmith began to chip away the walls around me.  Once they got me to pay attention, I was loving the song!  Sure it wasn’t “metal”, but it was fast and rocked hard.  The singer may have looked kind of weird, but the guitar player was cool as hell!  I’d never seen anyone use a slide before.  Watching Joe Perry hammering away at that clear guitar gave me a million new air guitar moves.

What came next was “Walk This Way” with Run DMC, Permanent Vacation and mainstream recognition.  Before long everybody was into Aerosmith (again).  “Angel” came out when I was really into ballads, and it was a fantastic ballad.  On a kid’s allowance, I wasn’t able to get the album for many years, but Aerosmith were still on my radar.

Only a year after Permanent Vacation came the song that I grew to love the most.  What came out a year after Permanent Vacation, you may be asking?

Many people didn’t catch the 1988 release of Gems.  It was on their former record label Columbia and didn’t get a lot of notice.  What Gems had wasn’t a new song, just an obscure one dusted off:  “Chip Away the Stone”.

Written by Richie Supa, “Chip Away the Stone” is one of a few hit songs the guitarist gave to Aerosmith.  Others like “Amazing” might be more well-know, but “Chip Away” is special.  When the music video hit in late ’88, Supa was featured in it via archival footage (look for the guy with the moustache).  If anyone knew “Chip Away” in ’88 prior to Gems, it would have been through their album Live! Bootleg.  The studio version was only available on a rare single!  If you were a kid living in Kitchener in the late 80s, good luck finding it, or even knowing it existed.  For us, and the majority of fans, “Chip Away the Stone” was a brand new song.

I was getting into piano in rock songs around this time too.  “Chip Away the Stone” had just a hint of boogie-woogie and it hit the right chords for me.  Even though I was expanding my musical horizons slowly but surely, the music video still had a huge impact.  Considering it was made up of old live footage, it was surprisingly well edited, fresh and cutting-edge.  The shots of the piano were spliced to look like somebody was playing on one super-long piano keyboard.  I assumed it was Richie Supa playing piano:  the credits are unclear.  Either way, that video got me deeper into Aerosmith.  Way deeper.

Today my two favourite songs are “Chip Away the Stone” and “Let the Music Do the Talking”.  I have plenty of others — “Seasons of Whither”, “F.I.N.E.”, “Draw the Line” — but those first two just stick with me.  Part of that is nostalgia, but the other is that they are just great fucking songs.