heavy metal

REVIEW: Black Sabbath – The Best of MusikLaden Live at the Beat Club

BLACK SABBATH – The Best of MusikLaden – Live at the Beat Club (1970 television performance)

When Black Sabbath released their Black Box in 2004 featuring all the original lineup’s studio albums in remastered form, they also included a bonus four-song DVD.  This disc was the oft-released television broadcast of a German show called Beat Club (later MusikLaden).  Sabbath made two appearances in 1970, and the Black Box was the most official release of them.  Before upgrading to the Black Box, I owned an earlier, unofficial DVD release.  I taped that DVD to cassette, and that’s what I’m listening to right now.

“Black Sabbath” is torrential, as intense as the young band was able.  Ozzy sounds as if possessed, truly terrified and warning us that something foreboding and terrible is coming.  “Paranoid” is strangely echoey and distant, but still as incendiary as 1970 Black Sabbath should be.  Interestingly, in this version it really does sound as if Ozzy is singing “end your life” instead of “enjoy life”.  A sparse “Iron Man” announces its arrival with evil Gibson guitar sonic bends.  This version of “Iron Man” is a little stiffer than others, but not for long.  Towards the end, Geezer Butler unleashes the hordes and the song stampedes to a close.

Finally and most notoriously is “Blue Suede Shoes”, a performance pretty much everybody has since disowned.  It’s not terrible, although it’s certainly uncharacteristic.  It’s as if Black Sabbath were suddenly encroaching upon ZZ Top’s territory.  Tony’s speedy solo is interesting if not typical, and the band really stepped it up.  I get why some would mock it; it’s kind of goofy and definitely not as impressive as the Sabbath originals.  But it’s…fun?  Is Sabbath allowed to be…fun?

3.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Ozzy Osbourne – Ordinary Man (2020 Japanese import)

OZZY OSBOURNE – Ordinary Man (2020 Epic Japanese import)

Expectations were low at LeBrain HQ for a new album by Ozzy Osbourne.  In that regard, Ozzy delivered.  Ordinary Man is an ordinary album.  It is Hard Rock 2020 distilled down to 50 minutes.  Nothing on this album comes close to challenging anything from the first six Ozzy albums.  It’s most comparable to 2001’s Down to Earth, an overly-modern affair put together by suits.

This time out, the suits assembled a band consisting of Duff McKagan (GN’R) on bass, Chad Smith (RHCP) on drums, and Andrew Watt (California Breed) on guitar.   These guys, plus a smattering of strangers, are responsible for the songwriting.  The melodies are very deliberate and calculated rather than natural sounding.  While things with Zakk Wylde were getting stale, at least Zakk tried to keep Ozzy on track.  I’m not sure Ozzy is on track here.  “I’ll make you scream, I’ll make you defecate.”  Who wrote that?

The glossy production covers up some pretty stellar playing.  Watt is fantastic when soloing, but sounds a bit like he’s trying to ape the Zakk vibe.  In the vocals department, you can hear some telltale signs of autotune, which I guess is OK now in 2020.  If Paul Stanley can lipsynch live and get away with it, then Ozzy can autotune his albums.  I suppose.

Some of the better tracks include the ballads, and the surprising “Scary Little Green Men”.  This one features some awesome lickity-licks from Tom Morello.  Slash appears elsewhere, not sounding at all like Slash.  The single “Under the Graveyard” is not bad.  The worst track has to be “It’s a Raid”, possibly an outtake from Blink 182’s Neighborhoods CD.

Elton John sings on one track, and it’s not bad at all, sounding like a classic Ozzy ballad from the 1990s.  I didn’t recognise Reginald Dwight’s voice at first.  It’s deeper these days.  Regarding Post Malone, he’s fine, has a decent voice albeit also autotuned.  I don’t know what the guy sounds like without enhancement, but he sounds like he’s probably a better singer than Ozzy recently.  I could do without his song “Take What You Want”, but at least the Japanese edition of the album ends on a better note.  A blues track called “Darkside Blues” is brief, but actually sounds like something more real, more genuine.

Think about your favourite Ozzy albums.  How often to do you spin Blizzard, Diary, or Tears?  Now think about how often you play Down to Earth, Black Rain, and Scream.  In two years’ time, you’ll be spinning Ordinary Man about as often as Black Rain, but you won’t be getting Wylde.

2/5 stars

REVIEW: Loudness – Thunder in the East (1985 US version)

LOUDNESS – Thunder in the Easy (1985 Atco, 2003 Wounded Bird reissue)

1984’s Disillusion album turned some heads, especially when Loudness re-recorded the vocals in English.  Now they were signed to an American label and worked with an American producer (Max freakin’ Norman), ready to break into that lucrative market.  Thunder in the East was their debut to many fans outside Japan.  For the occasion, the band shed some of its more challenging heavy metal arrangements in favour of mainstream rock and metal.

Out of gates first, “Crazy Nights” is a virtual sledgehammer.  The riff is trademarked “heavy metal” and the chorus has the galvanised sheen expected from a song like this.  The lyrics were designed for the concert stage, with lines like “Let me hear you all go wild,” and “Come on get on your feet”.   But the line that confused fans worldwide was the chant “M! Z! A!” after every chorus.   It turns out that “M-Z-A” stands for nothing.  It’s just some filler lyrics that were meant to be replaced in the final version, but left in because it sounded cool.  Fortuitous for Loudness, as it became a bit of a catchphrase.

Regardless, “Crazy Nights” is the one Loudness song you need to get if you only want one Loudness song.  The riff just bites, like a mean old dog.  It’s the “big hit” and deservedly so.  Lots of chances to sing, shout and headbang.  You are the heroes tonight.

A blistering “Like Hell” turns up the temperature in short order, with a fast blitz including melodic verses.  The chorus however is a simple shout:  “Like hell!”  Loudness founder Akira Takasaki is not only a master of the six string (usually compared to Eddie Van Halen) but also a hell of a songwriter (pardon the pun).  His knack for riff and melody resulted in a collection of songs running the gamut from vintage Priest to Dokken.  “Like Hell” could have been on Defenders of the Faith.  More on the old-school Scorpions side of things is “Heavy Chains”, a metal dirge with a foothold in early Maiden territory to boot.  This brilliant track showcases singer Minoru Niihara’s impressive range and power.  A frantic “Get Away” takes its speed and melody from Van Halen, but cranked up to 11.  Takasaki’s multitracked guitar solo is neoclassical nirvana right up Malmsteen Avenue.  Sheer melodic thrills embody “We Could Be Together”, a song Don Dokken could have felt at home singing, and with some licks that sound positively Lynchian.

The second side commenced with “Run For Your Life”, a complex track that sounds at times like a ballad and others like a heavy metal hurdle through a minefield.  It’s the first track that doesn’t have the same structural integrity as the others, though it challenges in other ways.  “Clockwork Toy” is more straightforward, solid riff and chorus, but not as memorable.

Things take a cool, funky turn on “No Way Out”, a very different track but also very addictive.  The guitar playing on tracks like this proved Takasaki could do a lot more than people assumed.  Impressive too is the chugging “The Lines Are Down”, which is located right in Dokken Town.  Except heavier, because make no mistake, Loudness are heavier.

The final track “Never Change Your Mind” is harder to categorize.  Ballady, with light and shade, it’s unique.  It sounds like an anthem at the halfway point…an anthem with guitar divebombs. It’s a dramatic way to end an impressive metal feast.

Since Thunder in the East contains Loudness’ best known hit, it comes highly recommended.  It’s a solid piece of metal history.  It might not be their pinnacle but it’s a damn fine album indeed.

4/5 stars

REVIEW: Def Leppard – Los Angeles 1992 (bootleg)

Gifted to me by the notorious Aaron of the KMA!

DEF LEPPARD – Los Angeles 1992 (Red Line bootleg CD)

It’s the Seven Day Weekend tour!  Def Leppard brought back the “in the round” stage concept from their previous tour and played a set of hits with a few deeper cuts.  This audience recorded bootleg captured the Los Angeles date permanently.

Wasting no time, it’s straight into the first single “Let’s Get Rocked”.  I have never particularly felt this song was as strong as past efforts, but Def Leppard had overcome such tragedy.  I was willing to forgive them for painting by numbers a bit with the new songs.  One thing apparent on a bootleg with no post-production sweetening:  Def Leppard’s vocals are 100% live.

Right into something better, it’s “Tear It Down”, better because it’s originally a B-side from the inspired Hysteria sessions.  Speaking of Hysteria, onto “Women”!  You can hear that new guitarist Vivian Campbell fit right in, seamlessly.  A couple seriously great tunes follow — “Too Late for Love” from Pyromania and Hysteria‘s title track.  Two of Leppard’s most accomplished singles.  Slower, ballady, and not at all weak.  “Hysteria” live begins just a little differently, but quickly becomes familiar and authentic.

I never cared for “Make Love Like a Man”, but it’s a temporary speedbump before a deeper track.  “White Lightning”, the tribute to the late Steve “Steamin'” Clark is very hard to find live.  This is the first version I’ve owned.  It’s every bit as epic as it deserves to be.  The stone cold classic “Foolin'” follows, and the Los Angeles crowd goes nuts when the track explodes.  They are just as excited for “Animal”, sounding brilliant in live form, although hampered on audio by a loud talker in the crowd.  New guy Vivian Campbell gets a big showcase solo next.  I’m sure this show is edited down to fit on CD, since Phil usually gets a big solo too.*  Viv’s is impressive and he gets to show off his shred a little bit, though his solo is more of an instrumental composition that sounds delightfully Vai-ish.

Another big epic, “Gods of War” from Hysteria is a serious thrill and chill.  Say what you will about Leppard’s more pedestrian material.  When they wanted to do something a little more challenging, they nailed it.  A big long version of “Rocket” including the “Whole Lotta Love” segue closes the CD prematurely, which is a shame, and one can hope that the second half of the set was issued elsewhere.

4/5 stars

*Here is the full setlist that night according to setlist.fm:

  • Let’s Get Rocked
  • Tear It Down
  • Women
  • Too Late for Love
  • Hysteria
  • Make Love Like a Man
  • Guitar Solo (Phil Collen)
  • White Lightning
  • Foolin’
  • Animal
  • Guitar Solo (Vivian Campbell)
  • Gods of War
  • Rocket (
  • Acoustic Medley Section
    Enter Sandman (Metallica cover) (Vivian)
    Back in Black (AC/DC cover) (Phil)
    Tonight (acoustic)
    You Can’t Always Get What You Want (The Rolling Stones cover) (acoustic)
    Bringin’ on the Heartbreak (acoustic/electric)
  • Have You Ever Needed Someone So Bad
  • Armageddon It
  • Rock of Ages
  • Pour Some Sugar on Me
  • Encore:
    Love Bites
    Photograph

#818: Alive and Wandering through the memorabilia bin with Gypsy Jayne

GETTING MORE TALE #818: Alive and Wandering through the memorabilia bin with Gypsy Jayne 

I wouldn’t have heard of Gypsy Jayne if not for Raw M.E.A.T.  Volume 1, specifically.  That compilation of underground bands from Ontario included one called “Wildside” with a killer, pro-level track called “Ready, Willing & Able”.  They had a guitarist, Johannes Linstead, that could really wail.  Their sleazy rock vibe had more in common with Roth-era Van Halen than current bands.

The year after, M.E.A.T magazine informed us that Wildside were now Gypsy Jayne and had a demo tape called Alive and Wandering for sale.  This demo tape, good enough to be a major release EP, showed Gypsy Jayne had world class songs:  Seven tracks including one classical guitar instrumental as good as anything coming out of California in the summer of ’92.  I’m fortunate enough to know that, since I ordered the tape upon the magazine’s recommendation.

On August 10 of 1992, guitarist Johannes Linstead wrote me a thank-you note, packed up my tape and mailed it from Oakville, Ontario.  A few days later it arrived here in Kitchener, and I was seriously impressed upon first listen.  I played it a couple times in quick succession.  Gypsy Jayne were exactly what I wanted to hear out of a new band in 1992.  No grunge, no dark depressions, just grooves and riffs and hooks and incredibly solid performances.  Even in the present, I still ranked their demo at 4/5 stars when it came up for review.

I kept just about everything I ever got in the mail from a rock band.  While searching for memorabilia, I found the letter from Linstead still inside the original mailer for the Gypsy Jayne cassette.

“Dear Mike, glad to see you support original metal.”  If you get a chance, we’d appreciate comments you might have on our music or musicianship.”  Signed, Johanne Linstead.  Not only could the guy play guitar, but his penmanship was impeccable.  Of course I wrote him back immediately.  I believe the words I used regarding the musicianship were “blown away”.  Johannes never wrote back again but I was obviously happy to have received his note in the first place.

Just recently, I received two separate inquiries about Gypsy Jayne in one week.  Johannes Linstead is now an established world class flamenco guitarist.  But I hope he hasn’t forgotten his metal roots.  Perhaps Gypsy Jayne is primitive compared to music he performs today, but it is certainly an accomplished recording for its genre.  Nothing to be ashamed of, surely.  There is a demand for a Gypsy Jayne CD reissue.  My old cassette is barely listenable and the only reason to listen is the incredible music.

It’s very pleasing to hear from fellow Gypsy Jayne fans, so if you have heard this band and also wish for a CD reissue, leave a comment below!  Songs like these should be available for anyone who likes classic rock to buy and enjoy.  They deserve to be recorded in rock history as one of the great “shoulda-woulda-coulda” stories of the Canadian 1990s.

 

 

REVIEW: Tenacious D – Post-Apocalypto (2018)

TENACIOUS D – Post-Apocalypto (2018 Sony)

I don’t know how this is supposed to work. Do you have to watch an animated series in order to “get” Post-Apocalypto?  I’m not doing that.  I’m listening to an album; I’m reviewing an album.

21 tracks, half an hour.  Most of the tracks run a minute and a half.  So what’s the concept?  Humanity has destroyed the Earth in a nuclear holocaust.  Tenacious D survived, though their songwriting abilities did not.  Richard Branson, Elon Musk and Yo-Yo Ma have been saved, and now live on a space station.  Kyle Gass wasn’t good enough to make the cut and now has a two-headed dog named Hope to keep him company.  Unfortunately the KKK seems to have taken over security on what’s left of Earth.

Post-Apocalypto is part uninspired sketches, part uninspired songs.  Some are decent, or half-decent, like “Take Us Into Space” and “Woman Time”.  Most are too soft, light and forgettable, and the sketches are tired.  Jack Black’s “Arnold” accent isn’t bad, but the joke wears out.

Bottom line:  as stated by Uncle Meat, “18 minutes of music isn’t an album.”  Iron Tom adds, “Although I’ll listen to some tunes individually, I don’t see myself listening to it again as an entire album.”

1/5 stars

REVIEW: The Darkness – Easter is Cancelled (2019 Japanese import)

THE DARKNESS – Easter is Cancelled (2019 Canary Dwarf, Japanese release)

I’m baffled.  I’m truly baffled this time, and I’ve followed The Darkness through thick and thin!  From brightest days to darkest nights.  From Stone Gods to Hot Leg.  And for the first time, The Darkness have thrown me for a loop.

Easter is Cancelled sounds like their rock opera, their big concept album, with gentle acoustics turning into loud bombast.  It looks brilliant on paper, but in practice it sounds more like Tenacious D.  That’s it — this isn’t a Darkness album.  This is what the D should have released instead of whatever Post-Apocalypto was.

Where I used to shout with glee as one gleaming riff gave way to another and then another, now I hear only fragments.  Only portions of great tunes, not completely brilliant tracks front to back.  The top track is actually one of the bonus songs, called “Different Eyes”.  The guitar work on Easter Is Cancelled is consistently stunning, at least.

This review has been painfully hard to write.  I take no pleasure in this.  It took months of agonising to get here.  I don’t want to hate The Darkness.  I want to embrace them — all four of them! — with open arms and heart.  Perhaps one day, I will again.  With all due apologies to Justin, Dan, Frankie and Rufus, this one wasn’t for me.

2/5 stars

I would be neglecting my rock and roll duty if I didn’t report on the Japanese bonus track, “Dancing House”.  It’s only a minute long and it’s…umm…about people dropping in for a party.  It sounds like bad B-52’s.  Really bad B-52’s.  I cannot discern its purpose or reason to exist.

 

Hated this review?  Then click here for a much better one by 2loud2oldmusic!

REVIEW: Loudness – Disillusion (1984 Japanese version)

LOUDNESS – Disillusion (1984 Nippon Columbia)

For a few albums starting with their fourth record Disillusion, Loudness began recording English lyrics for outside Japan.  For the Japanese versions, the lyrics are a mixture of both languages with the choruses usually sung in English.  Whichever version you hear, Disillusion will satisfy your craving for memorable heavy riffs, brilliant vocals, and incredible guitar shredding.

Guitarist Akira Takasaki was considered the Japanese Eddie Van Halen and you can hear why on Disillusion.  Though Loudness are heavier than Van Halen, Takasaki employs techniques similar to King Edward.  Disillusion opens with the thunderous “Crazy Doctor”, on which you can hear the Van Halen chords loud and clear, though the track sounds more like heavier vintage Dokken.  As outstanding as Akira is, also unmistakable is singer Minoru Niihara.  The original Loudness frontman could really sing with all the necessary panache and metal inflection.

The opening guitar shreddery on the speed metal “Esper” recalls St. Edward once again, but Loudness could have given Metallica a run for their money on this one.  Completely over the top!  A number of fans think that Loudness softened their sound when they released their American major label debut Thunder in the East in ’85.  You can understand why they think that when you hear “Esper”.  However this is a balanced album, and the more melodic “Butterfly” slows things down so you can catch your breath.  Unfortunately “Butterfly” is the closest thing to a mistep on this otherwise brilliant disc.

There’s a Maiden-y vibe to “Revelation” circa Piece of Mind, but not just because of the name.  I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that Loudness were influenced by Maiden.  We do know that both Loudness and Maiden were influenced by Deep Purple so there might be some convergent evolution going on.

The parallels to Sir Edward continue on side two with an instrumental called “Erupt…” err, sorry, it’s called “Exploder”.  Whatever the similarities, Takasaki is an enticing guitar player and he came to public attention exactly when this kind of playing was most popular.  “Exploder” blows away most of the competition.  Only a handful of players could do stuff like this and they usually had names like “Rhoads” and “Halen”.

Vocals return on “Dream Fantasy”, another blazing hot metal extravaganza, with solid chorus intact.  It’s worth noting that Takasaki was not alone in musical excellence.  Drummer Munetaka Higuchi (R.I.P.) was a heavy-hitter who could thrash it up and come up with interesting fills.  Masayoshi Yamashita has a knack for a busy, melodic bassline, though mostly holds down the fort so Akira can fly.

“Milky Way” boasts a cool, smoother style of riff and another exemplary Minoru Niihara chorus.  It’s a challenging arrangement with different rhythms and textures.  Loudness were not simply banging out metal riffs for your rock and roll crazy nights.  They were stretching the boundaries of their abilities, playing intelligent metal like the Scorpions and Priest did in the 70s.  But they also weren’t afraid of getting down n’ dirty, as they do on “Satisfaction Guaranteed”.  Though you can’t tell without the lyric sheet, it’s the only song that is completely sung in English.  It’s not the lyrics, but the riff that will hook you.  Note the passing Maiden-esque gallop.

This version of Disillusion concludes with an epic “Ares’ Lament”.  It’s a cross between early Maiden and Scorpions with a touch of darkness, with a long shadowy outro reminiscent of “Child in Time”.  It’s a brilliant end to a pretty stunning album.

Disillusion is not immediate, except for “Crazy Doctor” which will hook you at first listen.   It’s a busy record, so you need to give it a couple proper listens to let the riffs and hooks come to the fore.  Once they do, you will uncover many elements of pleasure in the grooves within.  It sounds uncompromised and is more unique than the albums that followed.  It’s a fine example of metal forged in integrity.

4.5/5 stars

Just Listening to…Storm Force – Age of Fear (2020)

The first great album of 2020 is upon us.  Brighton Rock guitarist extraordinaire Greg Fraser has returned to the recording studio and emerged with Storm Force, a hot new band born out of the roots of the 80s.

I am hesitant to do a full-on “review” of Storm Force just yet.  Why?  It’s simple really.  Some albums sound as if purposesly concocted for certain environments.  I sense that Storm Force is going to sound bloody perfect this summer in the car with the windows down.  In fact, I cannot wait to do it that way.  I think this album demands it.  Just like certain hard rock classics of the past just sound better on a warm afternoon on the highway.

Though the band has no weak links, it’s important to single out the strength of vocalist Patrick Gagliardi.  (Check out Superdekes’ interview with Patrick by clicking here.)   His power and range is reminiscent of singers such as Jack Russell and Axl Rose.  There’s grit, soul and there are vocal acrobatics aplenty.  Whether he’s singing a ballad or screaming a road-burner, Patrick is on point!

It cannot go unsaid that Greg Fraser has pulled some killer riffs out of the bag.  These are classic hard rock riffs, and would have been at home on any Brighton Rock record from 1987-1991.  Not to mention his lead work is still fantastic.  Frase has a recognizable style and you can hear it on Age of Fear.

You won’t find a weak track inside, and they run the entire range that a hard rock album should.  Closer “Ringside” is burning hot metal, but “Marshall Law” has a vibe akin to Lizzy’s “Jailbreak”.  For a commercial “rock single”, check out “Because of You” which pushes all the buttons.  “Different Roads” features piano like a classic Aeroballad from 1987.  Hard to pick a favourite among these great tunes.

Full review to come summer 2020.  Check out the official Storm Force Facebook to get the CD (signed or unsigned).

REVIEW: Corrosion of Conformity – “Seven Days” (1995 promo single)

CORROSION OF CONFORMITY – “Seven Days” (1995 Sony promo CD single)

COC’s landmark album Deliverance spawned three singles, the least known of which was “Seven Days”.  The promo CD single contains a rarity that makes it worth tracking down.  It’s not expensive, and thanks to online stores not hard to find.

Deliverance is a heavy album even with a few slower songs on board.  “Seven Days” is one such track.  A slow, heavy dirge can often make for a good single.  This CD has two versions, the full-length album cut and a shorter single edit with a truncated fade-out.

The special track here is a “jam box tape” of “Fuel”, a track that was as yet unreleased.  COC recorded it properly for their next album, Wiseblood.  This early version is an identical arrangement, but way way more ragged.  Pepper sounds like James Hetfield on this one, but it has far more balls than the Metallica song of the same name.  Total smokeshow.  This is the proverbial “song you buy the single for.”

3.5/5 stars