heavy metal

REVIEW: Jim Crean – Greatest Hits (2018)

In a surprising turn of events, Jim Crean has been named the new singer for Vinnie Vincent! So it is a perfect time to review Jim Crean’s Greatest Hits.

JIM CREAN – Greatest Hits (2018 Visionary Noise)

Buffalo’s Jim Crean has four solo albums under his belt.   That’s a good minimum before you release a greatest hits.  There is enough material here for a solid listen, including two new songs from Crean’s forthcoming fifth album.

Several of the best tracks are hard rockers from Crean’s Insatiable. “Touch” remains a standout, a great song any rock songwriter would be envious of.  Not to mention Crean’s power-pipes lay waste to the chorus.  Check out the metal riffing on “Follow Your Heart”, too.  These taffy-sweet tracks claw into your cranium via your ear canal.  All you can do is surrender to it.

Crean’s also capable of standout ballads.  “Make It” and “Can’t Find My Way” (a duet with Mike Tramp) are fantastic.  Then he goes vintage Aerosmith on “She Goes Down”, a song that could have fit nicely on an album like Toys in the Attic.

There are a handful of covers on the 16 track album, and interesting choices too.  “Caught in the Middle” is, of course, Dio, performed with Jimmy Bain and Vinny Appice.  “Over the Edge” is early 90s L.A. Guns, an excellent groove.  Crean also covered fellow Buffalo band the Goo Goo Dolls with the acoustic “Cuz You’re Gone”, one of the Goo’s finest ballads.

What about the new songs?  “Scream Taker” sounds like a Ronnie Dio tribute, with the lyrics cut and pasted from Rainbow, Black Sabbath and Dio songs.  “Scream Taker” indicates that Crean has gone heavier on his fifth record.  The other new song, “Conflicted” has a strong traditional metal riffy vibe.  (Is that Billy Sheehan on bass?)  Both these new songs hint at a great album to come.  Guitarist Steph Honde, who plays on both new songs says that while the new Crean album will be a bit heavier, there will also be some great ballads.

Don’t have any Jim Crean yet?  Pick up his Greatest Hits to catch up.

4.5/5 stars

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REVIEW: Queensrÿche – Condition Hüman (2015 vinyl box set version)

As we gear up for this year’s release of the next Queensryche album The Verdict, let’s look back at a different edition of their last album Condition Hüman.  For our original 2015 review of Condition Hüman, click here!

QUEENSRŸCHE – Condition Hüman (2015 Century Media 2 LP, + 7″ single coloured vinyl box set)

It is almost customary now.  When a band comes out with a new album, there has to be a crazy deluxe edition with vinyl and CD.  The best of these editions are the ones that include exclusive music.  In the end, all the posters and booklets in the world add up to only paper.  Exclusive music is the thing of real value.

Queensryche did well with their Condition Hüman deluxe.  It was available in a variety of colours.  This one is yellow, number 659/1000.  There’s a cool turntable mat inside, and a double sided poster.  For music, the album is split onto two coloured 180 gram vinyl records, including the Japanese bonus track “Espiritu Muerto” on Side D.   (The D-side is also etched with the Queensryche logo in the empty space.)  For your convenience, the entire album including Japanese bonus track is duplicated on the CD inside.  Then for the diehards comes the true exclusive:  two more songs on a 7″ single, not on any other version of the album.  This is the real reward for spending the extra money on the deluxe.

“Espiritu Muerto” chugs heavily along, punishing the skulls of unbelievers.   On the 7″ record, the two exclusive songs are fairly non-descript. “46° North” is B-side-ish, like a leftover written for Empire but dropped in favour of something more commercial.  “Mercury Rising” is on the other side, with a vaguely psychedelic metal vibe and science fiction lyrics.

Condition Hüman itself is a strong metallic album, though with hindsight perhaps too “metal” for its own good.  There was a time, not so long ago, when fans would have begged and pleaded with Queensryche to write just one new song in the vein of Condition Hüman.  Now that we have two albums solidly back in the metal genre, it would be nice to hear real diversity in Queensryche again.

That said, Condition Hüman is a damn fine album for what it is.  The Queensryche of today, fronted by Todd La Torre, has been determined to retain trademark elements from Queensryche’s 80s heyday.  That includes strong riffs, dual harmony solos, and screamin’ vocals.  These are all delivered with gravy on top.

The vinyl experience of Condition Hüman is actually superior to that of CD.  It was always a long album, with the standard edition being 53 minutes of pretty relentless stomping.  On vinyl, you’re forced to pause and flip the record three times before even getting to the single.  These brief respites allow you to breath and absorb.  What I’ve absorbed is that Condition Hüman is still a damn fine collection of songs, if a bit too single-minded.  One gets the impression from this album that, though good, Queensryche can still do better.

4/5 stars

LP-A1 Arrow Of Time
LP-A2 Guardian
LP-A3 Hellfire
LP-A4 Toxic Remedy

LP-B1 Selfish Lives
LP-B2 Eye 9
LP-B3 Bulletproof
LP-B4 Hourglass

LP-C1 Just Us
LP-C2 All There Was
LP-C3 The Aftermath
LP-C4 Condition Hüman

LP-D1 Espiritu Muerto

7″-A 46° North
7″-B Mercury Rising

REVIEW: Chickenfoot – “Divine Termination” (2017 single)

CHICKENFOOT – “Divine Termination” (2017 Edel coloured 7″ single)

For a band with only two albums, Chickenfoot sure do milk it.  After a single debut album, they did a live DVD called Get Your Buzz On.  Two albums in came a live album called Chickenfoot LV.  (Get it?  LV can mean both “live” and “55”, Sammy’s notable hit.)  Then another package called Best + Live, mixing the “greatest hits” with a new song and an audio release of Get Your Buzz On — which, by the way, was mined for five songs already on the previous LV album!

It’s all too much.  We like Chickenfoot here; really we do, but enough is enough.  Instead of buying all that stuff, we decided to just go for a 7″ single for the one “new” song called “Divine Termination”.  That seemed the most logical purchasing option, all things considered.  It’s a nicely packaged 45, on clear pink coloured vinyl.  The side A label depicts Sammy Hagar and Michael Anthony.  Side B has Joe Satriani and Chad Smith.  It feels nice and heavy in hand.

Unfortunately, it’s not all rose-coloured.  These guys had five years to come up with one good new song.  “Divine Termination” is not it.  Although it does have a neat, vintage sounding Deep Purple riff, the Chickenfoot hooks and harmonies are missing.  The chorus has no meat.  “Divine Termination” is forgettable even though Joe Satriani plays as brilliantly as ever.

On the flipside is another release of “Highway Star”, the Deep Purple cover.  It’s available on Best + Live, but its first issue was on Re-Machined, the Deep Purple tribute album.  Too bad the B-side isn’t something exclusive, but it does blow away the A-side.  Listen to Joe somehow make his guitar resemble Jon Lord’s Hammond Organ.

Maybe Chickenfoot were too creatively spent after years of solo and other projects to come up with a memorable new song.  There’s talk of a third Chickenfoot album in the future.  If so, it has to be better than “Divine Termination”.

2/5 stars

 

REVIEW: AC/DC – Can I Sit Next to You Girl (1974 radio broadcast)

AC/DC – Can I Sit Next to You Girl (1974 radio broadcast on Laser Media)

Very few things in this world kick as much ass as vintage live AC/DC.  If you need a taste, or everything you can get your hands on, then Can I Sit Next to You Girl will help.  The sound quality is alright, feedback notwithstanding.  The five included tracks are solid classics.

“She’s Got Balls” takes too long to get going (two whole minutes) and suffers a bit from feedback throughout.  Once you tune out the noise, you can appreciate one of the greatest rock frontmen of all time in Bon Scott.  “Soul Stripper” is slinky good, with Bon at his sassy best and Angus ripping it up delightfully.  On with the show:  a very raw “Show Business”.  Angus Young has solos after every verse, the energy palpable.  Moving on, next it’s “Can I Sit Next to You Girl” (the band’s first single with Dave Evans on vocals).  Bon snarls and Angus shrieks.

Perhaps best of all is the extended jam of “Baby Please Don’t Go”.  When AC/DC play for 10 minutes straight, it’s not like other bands.  It’s the relentless AC/DC groove machine, with Angus doing his thing as no other guitarist can.

Pick it up (cheap) and rock on, baby.

3/5 stars

#724: Balls to Picasso

GETTING MORE TALE #724: Balls to Picasso

In 1993, Iron Maiden announced the departure of Bruce Dickinson, and my world was shattered.

“Oh no.  Not Iron Maiden too…”

I found out via M.E.A.T Magazine, and because of print magazine lead times, the actual announcement came weeks before I found out.

All the big bands seemed to be losing their key members.  Both Motley Crue and Judas Priest were dealing with it, and nobody knew if those bands would survive.  Maiden hurt the most; they had been with me the longest.  What could Maiden do without Bruce?  What could Bruce do without Maiden?

The band tried to keep up appearances, but the split was not amicable.  We wouldn’t know this for years.  In the meantime, my life changed when I was hired at the Record Store.  Though I loved the job, it was starkly obvious that in 1994, heavy metal was passé.  Nobody was buying it, while Soundgarden dominated our rock sales.  No matter how it panned out, both Bruce and Iron Maiden would be facing uphill climbs.

Bruce’s solo outing Balls to Picasso was released in June.  I was surprised that we were carrying it at all, but it wasn’t selling.  I hadn’t got it yet; the review in M.E.A.T stated that the Japanese version had a bonus track.  Drew Masters claimed the bonus acoustic version of “Tears of the Dragon” was better than the album cut, so I was trying to hold off until I could find the Japanese.  All I knew is the album in general was supposed to be very, very different from Iron Maiden.

I never found the Japanese version.  In 1994 it was virtually impossible to find Japanese imports, though I asked the boss to try to order one for me.  HMV in Toronto carried rare imports, but I didn’t know that.

When a used CD copy of Balls to Picasso was traded in, I waited for the boss to leave for the day and then I eagerly put it on the store player.

Where are you going?
What are you doing?
Why are you looking,
At the cameras eye?

By the first chorus of the first track “Cyclops”, I knew I was going to like the album.  Different indeed!  Growling guitar sounds backed by exotic percussion were new twists.

There were two songs that sold the album to me immediately.  I did not want to live my life any longer without the songs “Change of Heart” and “Tears of the Dragon”.  Both songs spoke to me.  I was dealing with the fallout from a nasty breakup and the lyrics seemed to apply to my life.  Not to mention, the music was brilliant!  If Bruce had to leave Iron Maiden to put out a song like “Change of Heart” then so be it.  I played the song over and over.  I even told the boss how good the album was.

“I was playing the new Bruce Dickinson in the store the other night,” I said, “and it’s really good.  Not what you’d expect.”

“Isn’t that too heavy for the store?” he semi-scolded.

“No,” I semi-lied.  “It’s pretty light.”  I obviously didn’t tell him about the white hot “Sacred Cowboys”!

For some reason I chose to buy the cassette, and I played that tape everywhere.  I jammed it in the car for my buddy Aaron.  He particularly liked “Shoot All the Clowns” because he’s terrified of clowns.  Shooting all the clowns was a sentiment he could get behind.

What I liked about the album was that it was modern sounding (“Shoot All the Clowns” had funk and rap!).  I could get away with store play, but yet it had the sterling musicianship and guitar solos that I craved.  I could play it for younger friends like Aaron, who would appreciate the modern production and maybe get past the operatic vocals.

Playing “Change of Heart” today is not the same.  I’m no longer the heartbroken sad sack of shit.  It’s still a brilliant track but I don’t hang on every word anymore.  In 1994 it seemed like every line was for me to sing.  The feelings it used to stir don’t exist anymore.  But man, what a song!  The unusual drumming, the guitar work, the singing…it is one of Bruce’s very best, including those he wrote in Iron Maiden.

I can’t say that I am as passionate about Balls to Picasso in 2018 as I was in 1994.  I still love it, but I daresay Bruce has made better solo albums in his amazing career since.  Still, Balls to Picasso is historically important.  It introduced many of us to Roy Z for the first time, and it may have put him on the map.  Roy’s work in metal since has been highly respected by connoisseurs worldwide.  And then there’s that personal history.  I played this album so much during that cold, depressing winter.  It still stands up today, with a timelessly clear production and some very strong material.

Obviously things eventually worked out between Bruce and Iron Maiden.  He’s been back fronting them for almost 20 years.  Things worked out OK for me too.  Balls to Picasso was a step in both Bruce’s journey, and mine.

 

WINNER WINNER! Max the Axe CD draw!

“Hey Winner winner, love that chicken dinner, put it in a briefcase to go!” – Max the Axe, “Next Plane to Vegas”


WE HAVE A WINNER the Max the Axe CD draw!  Congratulations to…

LEAH from Waterloo, age 8!

 

Way to go Leah!  She was even able to name Max the Axe by his real name, Mike Koutis!  We’re not saying she had any help with this, but even if she did, it wasn’t against the rules!

Your Max the Axe Status Electric CD and Nancy Vicious button are on their way!*

* Mail strike notwithstanding!

CONCERT REVIEW: Max the Axe and guests, Dec 8 at the Boathouse + CD GIVEAWAY!

The Boathouse was rocked again this past weekend as Max and his legendary Axe stormed the place with heavy riffing, some friends, and a brand new album called Status Electric.

Opening the show was singer was former Max singer Mickey Straight (“from Guatemala” as he was introduced, but I think Guatemala is Toronto).  Mickey has a rock star stage presence and together with Max the Axe, they played some of their oldies such as “Mutant Mind” and “Belljar Party”.  Mickey played bass as a trio with Max and Dr. Dave Haslam on drums, which we quickly learned was going to be a common theme going forward.

Second up was the biggest surprise of the night: Nancy Vicious and the Nasty Bitches.  Punk rock was expected, and punk rock we had (including some Pistols and Stooges with originals).  On drums…the newly rebranded “God Damn Dave” Haslam.  Guitarist Mike “Mitch Bitch” Mitchell surprised us by ripping off his shirt revealing a corset.  But the real surprise was Nancy Vicious herself, a young powerhouse with lungs of fucking stainless steel.  Classic punk mixed with new-breed bands like Dilly Dally.  I learned that Nancy has been playing the bars for years, though only 19 years old.  No CDs for sale unfortunately — Nancy told me their first album was “really bad” but that they are working on a second one with (hopefully) about 13 songs.  They did have merch for sale in the way of stickers, buttons and postcards.

We were under the impression that the Hellen Keller Band had changed their name to the Delusionals.  This was Fake News.  What is the Hellen Keller Band?  An instrumental trio led by Mike Mitchell on guitar, God Damn Dr. Dave on bass, and Eric “Uncle Meat” Litwiller on drums.  Mitchell’s incredible picking was quite stunning to watch.  He’s got chicken pickin’ going on, and plenty of ability.  And it turns out Dr. Dave is even better on bass than he is on drums.  This trio was plenty of fun to watch, as they mixed covers and originals.  They closed the set with a blistering Dead Kennedys “Holiday in Cambodia”.

Finally the game of Musical Chairs came to the end when Max the Axe hit the stage.  Lineup:  Max on lead guitar, with Eric Litwiller’s voice, Dr. Dave’s drums and Mike Mitchell’s bass.  He played his entire new album, the stellar Status Electric in sequence with a break in the middle.  Now, we’ve been quite clear here how great Status Electric is.  Hearing it played live for the first time?  Brilliant.

Litwiller opened up his powerful lungs on “River Grand”, a grungy rocker.  He blasted consistently through all of “side one” while Max ripped hot licks on his Axe.  After the vocal tour-de-force “Sick of Living”, they played “Mexican Standoff” from Trillion Dollar Threats, some Black Flag, and then gave Litwiller a break as Mickey Straight was invited back for two oldies.  “Daddy Was a Murderin’ Man” and “I Don’t Advocate Drugs” (also Trillion Dollar Threats) were a treat.  The final side of the Status Electric album was then laid out, with “Gods on the Radio” and “Scales of Justice” being the obvious best tracks.  Unfortunately by this time all four band members had already played full sets with other bands, and they flubbed a few lines in “Uptite Friday Night” and “Scales”.  Not that this detracted from the show.  It seemed everybody was aware of how hard these guys had been playing all night!

4.5/5 stars

 

CD and MERCH GIVEAWAY!

WIN YOUR OWN COPY OF STATUS ELECTRIC!  Bonus NANCY VICIOUS STICKER AND BUTTON!

 

How, you ask, do I win?

It’s simple!  Just answer the easy question below by submitting it directly on the form.  All correct answers will be put in a hat and one lucky winner will be drawn at random!  Please remember to include your complete mailing address so we can send your prize!*

QUESTION:  Name all four current members of Max the Axe.

This contest will run for one week, from December 10 to December 17, when we will draw the winner.

Good luck!

*Disclaimer:  Canada Post is on strike and we can make no delivery guarantees.

MAX THE AXE CD release tonight!

Heed the “Call of the Wild”!  Max and his legendary Axe are hitting the Boathouse in Kitchener TONIGHT (57 Jubilee Drive, Kitchener, Ontario) for the release of his sixth record Status Electric.  Though a late arrival in 2018, Status Electric is so bloody good that it’s likely to (spoiler?) make our Top 5 of 2018 list.  When nine songs get stuck in your head for weeks on end, that’s a good sign.

Opening acts include Mickey Straight (ex-Max the Axe singer), Nancy Vicious and the Nasty Bitches, and The Delusionals (formerly the Hellen Keller Band).

$5 at the door, $10 for a CD.

If you’re anywhere near the “River Grand”, you won’t need the “Next Plane to Vegas” to join Max the Axe at the Boathouse.  Even “Randy” may be there, screaming the “Call of the Wild”.  If you are “Sick of Living”, don’t go to “The Other Side”!  “You Gotta” go to the Boathouse instead.  If you had an “Uptite Friday Night” then the best cure will be to rock with Max on Saturday.  Witness the “Scales of Justice” tip forever in Max’s favour.

At the very least, you’ll hear the cautionary tale of why “Only a fool owns a deadly snake, let alone two.”  That’s how it goes…so go to the Boathouse and catch them live.

 

REVIEW: Max the Axe – Status Electric (2018)

MAX THE AXE – Status Electric (2018 Mutant Music)

Two simple words:  “You gotta”.

Max the Axe is back with possibly his most potent lineup yet.  Led by Max and his thrilling axe, the band now boasts Dr. David Haslam on drums, Mike Mitchell on bass, and powerhouse lead vocalist Eric “Uncle Meat” Litwiller.

Full disclosure:  I know these guys.   I love these guys.  But I also just love hard rock and heavy metal.  So, out of integrity, I swear that if I did not like their new album, Status Electric, I would be straight up and tell you.  But I do like it.  A lot.  How much of that is due to friendship?  I don’t know.  Read the review and decide for yourself.  This is a good album.  I have bought way worse albums, for way more money.

I’ll give you some honesty right from the start.  “River Grand” is a good song, but not for an opener.  I rarely like when an album opens on a slow grind like this.  It’s enough to throw some people, but the song kicks by chorus time.  Eric Litwiller pours it all on, his lead vocal being the highlight of the track.  What’s he sound like?  He’s like an amalgam of many.  You can hear some Tenacious D, some Anvil, some Maiden.

As for Max, his solos are simple, memorable and to the point.  Pure rock and roll with a side of Ace Frehley.  His lyrics almost steal the spotlight though, as many are clever for the genre, and catchy as fuck.  “Next Plane to Vegas” is one such example, a pure blast…win place or show.

Who is “Randy”?  What’s your real name, Randy?  One of the weirdest choruses you’ll ever hear also happens to be one of the catchiest.  I can’t help it though.  I was sitting at my desk going, “Randy!  Randy!  What’s your name, Randy?”  Musically, we’re at debut-album Maiden, or reasonably close to it.  This is one of two semi-epic tracks on the album.

Max the Axe goes pop metal on “Call of the Wild”, nothing but a Motley Rokken good time.  The decent chorus is mashed up with a verse that doesn’t quite mesh.  But then things go full-on metal with “Sick of Living”.  This fuel-injected track has Eric singing at his most Bayley with a dash of Dickinson.  Litwiller’s roots include thrash metal, and there are healthy doses of that along with his best David St. Hubbins screams.  “Sick of Living” smokes the competition, besting several tracks on the great new Judas Priest album!  More great metal:  “The Other Side”.  The lead riff sounds as if bequeathed by Lord Iommi himself, with a modern slice.  And like any good Iommi track, it boasts two solid riffs, and a smokingly Sabbath solo.

Sometimes you hear an album and know right away which song should be the single.  That is “Gods on the Radio”.  Punctuation error aside, this track is winning 110%.  It shall henceforth be known as “You Gotta”, since that is the vocal hook that will be rattling inside your head for days.  The lyrics (Litwiller’s first writing credit) are borderline genius for being so goddamn memorable.

God’s on the radio,
With the world in his video,
Phil Collins in the studio,
Phil Collins in the Su-su-su-su-sudio.

The song itself is punky Queens of the Stone Age, with vintage 1977 Ace Frehley lead guitar and maybe a hint of Mike Patton.  Yes, this is the single, absolutely.  I’ll say it’s one of the best songs to come out this year.  At least, if the amount it’s stuck in my head is anything to judge by.  In fact I’m gonna go back and play it again.  “You gotta,” as the man says.

Yeah, even on repeat listens, it remains as fun as the first.  I only wish for a better sounding recording; it would be brilliant with full-on studio fidelity.  “You gotta turn it up louder,” says the man, so that helps.

Garage rock is embodied with the sloppy “Uptite Friday Nite”.  Stupidly catchy, it’s not one of the best tracks but it’s the noisiest.  This is the kind of jam you’d put on before going out for the night.  It sounds like the guys shoutin’ out the chorus are already halfway there.

The second, and superior album epic is “Scales of Justice”, Litwiller’s other co-write.  Vintage 1976-era Judas Priest (circa Sad Wings) meets a slick Zeppelin groove.  Jimmy Page definitely sounds like an influence in parts, while others are jagged riffs of metal.  Max uses his Axe to carve music from pure granite, and it’s all very satisfying.  The song snakes in and out with different sections and grooves.  As a closer it is suitably climactic and leaves you wanting more.

I played some tracks for some friends.  One disagreed with my praise of “You Gotta” and thought “Scales of Justice” was far better.  Another commented, “You know what this sounds like?  A bunch of 40 year olds in a basement.”  And I responded, “What’s wrong with that?”  Here are some guys in their 40s that are still passionate about rock, and after many years, have written a collection of nine good songs.  With regular-Joe money, they made an album.  And it’s a good album.  I hear things on this album that keep me coming back.  I ask myself, “am I biased”?  Of course I am.  But I wouldn’t have to listen to it if I didn’t want to.  I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve played this album in totality.  It’s a lot.  You don’t do that unless you like it.  Whatever it is that I am hearing on Status Electric by Max the Axe, I can only hope that you can hear it too.

4/5 stars

REVIEW: Fu Manchu – Clone of the Universe (2018)

FU MANCHU – Clone of the Universe (2018 New Damage)

First the first time in a long time, “I’ve Been Hexed” by the brand new Fu Manchu album.

Clone of the Universe sounds cut from the same cloth as classic albums such as King of the Road and The Action is Go.  Aside from the mind-bomb that is the 18 minute track “Il Mostro Atomico”, each song is short, riffy and to the point.  “(I’ve Been) Hexed” is an immediate thumbs-up, a reminder of what we liked about Fu Manchu when we first heard them.

You can’t tell if “Don’t Panic” has anything to do with Douglas Adams, but it’s as fast and relentless as the UFO-themed “King of the Road”.  Maybe the Sabbath-crawl of “Slower Than Light” is also about space travel; maybe it’s not.  The fun is in the guessing, but by the end the song is at moving at warp.  Both “Nowhere Left to Hide” and “Intelligent Worship” boast riffs carved from the stones of Mt. Iommi, contained with in the Fu Manchu groove.  The title track “Clone of the Universe” is like a heavy metal hammer, or a stoner rock Mjölnir.

Despite the strong Fu Manchu grooves throughout, it is undoubtedly the side-long “Il Mostro Atomico” that is the centerpiece.  Suddenly from somewhere left of center comes the “Snow Dog”; Alex Lifeson of Rush with his own style of lead guitar.  Lifeson always had a knack for finding cool artists to work with outside his normal sphere.  Hearing him rip and make noise with Fu Manchu is so right.  Not to mention, this jam which keeps going on and on has plenty to offer when you listen all the way through.

Clear winners:  “(I’ve Been) Hexed”, “Il Mostro Atomico”.

4.5/5 stars