heavy metal

REVIEW: Stryper – Fallen (2016 Japanese import)

STRYPER – Fallen (2016 Frontiers, Marquee Japanese import)

As far as this writer is concerned, Stryper are the reunion kings.  Their 80s output featured fantastic singles like “Calling to You” and “Free”, but many of the albums were uneven and not as rocking as you knew they wanted to be.  Since their heavy-as-hell (pun intended) comeback album Reborn (2005), Stryper have been off the leash.  It seems they gave up trying to fit in to any specific mold and are just trying to be true to themselves through their music.  2016’s incredible Fallen could be the pinnacle of the reunion era.

Unabashedly Christian, the opening track “Yahweh” happens to be one of the most potently epic slices of rock I’ve heard.  A choir sings “Yahweh, Yahweh…” while lead wailer Michael Sweet spits out of his words as few singers in metal can do.  His range is still remarkable and he has lost none of his lung capacity.  There are Maiden-esque riffs, latter-day Metallica grooves, and some seriously epic solo work by Sweet and guitarist Oz Fox.  And that’s all in just the first 6:21 of the album.  It’s strange to say, but you could compare “Yahweh” to similar epic tracks by Ghost.

“Yahweh” may be the most impressive track on a very good metal album, but it’s certainly not the only one.  The cool descending riff that accompanies “Fallen” bites into your flesh, while Sweet’s chorus lifts the ceiling.  There is also material that sounds like old school Stryper, such as “King of Kings”, “Big Screen Lies” and “Pride”.  These songs boast big and classic sounding choruses and riffs.  Stryper even snuck in a Black Sabbath cover (not their first) of “After Forever”.  The words fit Stryper like a leather studded glove:

Perhaps you’ll think before you say that God is dead and gone,
Open your eyes, just realize that He is the one,
The only one who can save you now from all this sin and hate,
Or will you still jeer at all you hear? Yes, I think it’s too late.

A lot of people forget how Christian that particular Sabbath lyric is!  Very amusing how much flack metal took from the church in the 80s, all the while “After Forever” dated back to Master of Reality in 1971!  Granted, I’m certain that most Catholics wouldn’t appreciate the line “Would you like to see the pope on the end of a rope, do you think he’s a fool?”

Whether you are a believer (it’s not a requirement) or just a worshipper at the altar of St. Halen, Stryper serves up plenty of hot metal on Fallen.  The modern grooves of “Heaven” and “Let There Be Light” are two that should appeal to many, and long time fans of Stryper will go bananas for the emphasis on melodies and choruses.  And Stryper didn’t forget their ballad fans, either.  “All Over Again” is a typical bombastic Stryper ballad, but not with the extra saccharine they used to utilize in the 80s.  And if that is too bombastic for you, check out the acoustic version included as a Japanese exclusive bonus track.  I think I prefer the bare acoustic version, but I’m also getting tired of getting acoustic versions as my Japanese bonus tracks.  It seems the go-to bonus track lately has been the acoustic version.

Rest assured, Stryper have not Fallen.  Quite the opposite. They continue to soar on mighty wings of metal.

5/5 stars

 

 

 

 

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REVIEW: Deep Purple – In Rock (Anniversary edition)

In collaboration with 1001albumsin10years

DEEP PURPLE – In Rock (1970, 1995 EMI anniversary edition)

Deep Purple In Rock:  The title speaks mountains about the music.  They didn’t want there to be any question regarding what kind of band Deep Purple were.  The first version of the band, Deep Purple Mk I, made three psychedelic but still clearly rock and roll albums.  Wanting to rock harder, they ditched singer Rod Evans and bassist Nick Simper, and brought aboard Ian Gillan and Roger Glover.  However the first album released by Deep Purple Mk II was…Concerto for Group and Orchestra?  There was also a wishy-washy gospel rock single called “Hallelujah” that went nowhere.  Indeed, there was some confusion in terms of public perception.  In Rock was designed from the start to reaffirm.

With In Rock, producer Martin Birch commenced a long and fruitful relationship with Deep Purple.  The single was a track called “Black Night” which, oddly enough, wasn’t on the album.  It was a response to a record label request for a single, so the band nicked the bassline from Gershwin and wrote a simple rock track with nonsensical lyrics.  It was an immediate hit.  Appropriately, the original single version of “Black Night” is included on this 25th anniversary edition of In Rock.

The B-side to “Black Night” was an edited version of opening album track, “Speed King”.  The full length version was even edited down for some releases of the In Rock album, except in the UK.  Almost a minute of noisy instrumental freakout explosively starts the full enchilada.  This leads to a calming, light Jon Lord organ, misleading you into thinking the onslaught is over.  Think again.

“Speed King” is a quintessential Deep Purple track, cementing their instrumental prowess and lyrical credentials.  The sheer velocity of the track alone packs a whallop, but the sonics are just as powerful.  “Speed King” has a deep, gut-punching heaviness.  There is also a long instrumental section, custom built for the jam-loving audiences of the era.  The words are cut and pasted from classic rock and roll hits in one stream of consciousness.  The best word for “Speed King” is “exhausting”.  Listening through feels like you just finished a sprint.  The band were trying to capture the same vibe as Jimi Hendrix’s “Fire”, but overdid it just a smidge!

And what of that new singer?  Ian Gillan didn’t get to do much screaming in his previous band (with Glover), Episode Six.  In Deep Purple, his unmistakable wail sets world records for pitch and volume.  Without Ian Gillan, there would be no Bruce Dickinson, and therefore Iron Maiden could never have existed as we know it today.  In Rock features Ian at his peak powers.   Nobody can touch In Rock, not even Bruce in his prime.

“Bloodsucker” is a vintage, grinding organ-based groove.  In Rock has a very bass-heavy mix, but clear and defined.  This helps the low growling Hammond combine with Roger Glover’s pulsing bass to form a wave of sound.  Ride that wave on “Bloodsucker”, with a cool double-tracked Gillan vocal that keeps the thing slightly off-balance.  Drummer Ian Paice can never be underappreciated, and in 1970 he was one of the hardest hitters on the field.  “Bloodsucker” leaves  massive Yeti footprints because  of that beat.

One of the most important songs in the Deep Purple canon is “Child in Time”, a 10 minute composition of light and shade that transforms as you listen.  As it begins gently, Ian Gillan gets to utilize the soothing side of his voice.  “Child in Time” is almost a lullaby…until it is not.  Wait for the ricochet.  This album is called Deep Purple In Rock after all.  Not Deep Purple In Bed or Deep Purple At Church.

In 1970, this would have been the moment you get up and flip the record.  To do that, you would have to peel yourself from the floor.

The second side of In Rock features lesser played tracks, but no less impressive.  “Flight of the Rat” takes off amidst a Blackmore guitar rocket riff.  Though fast, it is a step off the pedal from “Speed King” and with enough vocal melody to keep one hanging on.  Lord and Blackmore both solo, fighting to be champion but with no clear winner.  All the while, Glover and Paice keep the pulse going through the time changes.  Then it is “Into the Fire”, a rarely played unsung classic that the band resurrected on tour in 2000 and 2014.  Bopping heavily along, “Into the Fire” will burn if you let it.  Then the drums of “Living Wreck” fade in, with a incredibly deep natural echo that you feel in the bones.  The snare sound rings sharp.  “Living Wreck” was actually one of the first tracks taped, and just listen to Ritchie Blackmore’s tone on the lead solo!  This is truly a triumph of studio recordings.

Finally “Hard Loving Man” closes In Rock with one of the heaviest Purple riffs in their history.  Deep Purple invented the heavy metal chug on “Hard Loving Man”.  Meanwhile Jon Lord contributes to the sludge by hitting as many keys simultaneously as he seemingly can!  What a track, and much like “Speed King” at the start, it leaves you beaten and out of breath.

No Deep Purple album has come close to In Rock for brute strength.  The band and Martin Birch truly captured something special in the studio, back when that meant finding the right amp for the right instrument in the right room.  It’s much like alchemy, only real.  In Rock is an artifact of the way they used to do it, and evidence of why it can’t seem to be repeated.  The monument on the album cover was an apt indicator of what the new Deep Purple sounded like.

The 25th anniversary edition contains a wealth of bonus material, interspersed with amusing studio chat, such as:

Jon Lord (singing):  “I smashed the microphooooone.”

Martin Birch:  “Are you going to hit it again?”

Jon Lord:  “I don’t think so.”

In addition to the original single “Black Night”, there is a fascinating alternate take of “Speed King”.  The band were toying with a version featuring piano instead of organ, which completely changed its character.  This version was recorded and accidentally released on a single instead of the proper one.  Here it is as a bonus track, showing you a work in progress and what could have been.

Then we have a Roger Glover remix of “Cry Free”, one of the earliest songs recorded (30 takes total) but ultimately rejected.  It was first released on the 1977 posthumous Deep Purple album Power House, one of many releases that EMI put out during the period the band were broken up.  Glover oversaw remixes of many of Deep Purple’s reissues beginning here.  The differences are subtle but not unnoticeable.  Glover also remixed “Black Night” (more on that later), “Flight of the Rat” and “Speed King” (including intro) for these bonus tracks.  They might be described as “fuller sounding”.  “Black Night” was expanded to include a previously unheard outro.  Then there is “Jam Stew”, an instrumental with a chicken-pickin’ lick that has been all but forgotten.  It was played for the BBC once with improvised vocals; that version can be found on BBC Sessions 1968-1970.  Ritchie used the riff later in 1970 for a side project album called Green Bullfrog.

With these bonus tracks, the In Rock anniversary edition is expanded from 43 to 78 minutes.  For fans that needed every last morsel, there was still one more release to be found.  To coincide with the anniversary edition in 1995, EMI released a limited and numbered CD single of “Black Night”.  (How many made?  I don’t know, but I have #2908.)  This three track single has two versions not on the In Rock CD:  a single edit of the “Black Night” Glover remix, and a “matching mix” by Glover of “Speed King”.  This “matching mix” seems to be an edited remix without the noisy intro.  They’re not essential except to the collector.

To date, this 1995 anniversary edition is still the only expanded edition of In Rock.  With the rare photos and expansive Simon Robinson essay inside, it is the obvious definitive edition, 22 years reigning strong.  They even tried to get Ritchie Blackmore involved with the reissue.  He offered one quote for the booklet:  “This is my favourite LP along with Machine Head.”  Be very careful if seeking out a mint condition copy of this CD.  The jewel case itself is very special.  The autographs and notes on the front cover are not on the front cover.  They are etched into the plastic of the jewel case.  Mine is safely enclosed in a scratch proof plastic sleeve, but finding an original jewel case intact will not be an easy task on the second hand market.

6/5 stars

Yes, 6/5 stars

REVIEW: Judas Priest – Ram It Down (Remastered)

JUDAS PRIEST – Ram It Down (Originally 1988, 2001 Sony remaster)

Judas Priest seemed pretty lost in the late 80s.  They were bigger than ever, but they lost focus of their musical direction.  Producer Tom Allom had cursed them with a robotic plod, far removed from the lively firepower of yesteryear.  When they released Turbo in 1986, they had gone as far down those roads as possible.  It was am ambitious departure, but 100% a product of the 1980s.

For Turbo, Priest had written enough songs for a double album.  Twin Turbos, as it was to be called, was supposed to reflect all facets of metal, but the record comany got cold feet and a single disc was issued.  It contained the most techno-commercial tracks, while Priest held onto the rest for another day.  That day came in 1988 when Priest (again with producer Tom Allom) released Ram It Down, largely made up of Turbo outtakes.  The album was hyped as a return to the heavy Priest of yore, and this was at least partly true, but fans were unconvinced by it.  In comparison with Turbo, yes, Ram It Down was heavier.  But Priest had gone as far as they could with Allom.  Ram It Down was too sterile and bogged down with filler.

Certainly the title track opens Ram It Down on a thrash-like note.  As if to silence to critics, it was a proud metal statement with an opening Rob Halford scream that curdles the brain.  The weakness is drummer Dave Holland on his final Priest outing.  Only when Scott Travis joined Priest in 1990 did they acquire a drummer who could play the kind of beats at the speed they needed.  On Ram It Down, Priest were held back by the drummer and clunky production, two mistakes they fixed on 1990’s Painkiller.  The lyrics also seem dumbed-down for the 80s.  “Thousands of cars, and a million guitars, screaming with power in the air,” is cool but cliche.

“Heavy Metal” is more of the same lyrically, an ode to the power and glory of power chords.  Rob Halford’s performance is fantastic, and the man has rarely sounded as fantastic as he does on Ram It Down.  You can’t say the same for the words, the highschool equivalent of poetry.  On the music front, Priest were now following rather than leading.  They were on the same clunky metal trip as bands such as Scorpions at the same time.  There audible Kiss and Whitesnake influences on the album, with Rob sometimes sounding like he was trying to write a Gene Simmons tune.  “Love You to Death” on side two sounds right out of the Demon’s closet.  The embarrassingly terrible  “Love Zone” and “Come and Get It” both sound as if Coverdale co-wrote them on the sly.  Whether Priest were consciously copying other bands or just lost, who knows.  (“Love Zone” is one of the few songs that Halford almost seemed to write gender specific.  “With your razor nails and painted smile” are not specifically referring to a female, but certainly that was the general assumption.)

There are definitely a few cool tracks that deserve mention.  The first is “Hard as Iron” which had to be one of the fastest Priest songs to date.  It’s still held back by the production, but has some serious energy to it.  Like metal espresso injected right into the brain!  The other standout is “Blood Red Skies”, a forgotten highlight of this album and indeed of the Priest catalog in general.  (I actually used “Blood Red Skies” in a poetry project for school.  A girl liked it so much she asked for a copy of the lyrics.)  Using the synth effectively, “Blood Red Skies” paints a Terminator-like future with humans hunted by beings with “pneumatic fingers”, “laser eyes” and “computer sights”.  Halford  pours power and anguish into it, as a human freedom fighter.  “As I die, a legend will be born!”  Cheesey?  Absolutely.  Priest perfection?  Yes indeed!

There are also two mis-steps on Ram It Down that must be addressed.  The first and most obvious is “Johnny B. Goode”, from the 1988 movie Johnny Be Good starring Anthony Michael Hall and some guy named Robert Downey Something.  This track should have been kept off the album.  As a novelty single, sure, you can dig it.  It’s a stereotypical cliche-ridden metal cover, and that’s fun for a goof.  As a Priest album track, it only serves to completely destroy any momentum that Ram It Down managed to build.  Then there is “Monsters of Rock”.  This awful excuse for a song is only 5:31 long, but seems twice that.  It is the prototype for the even more awful “Loch Ness” from Angel of Retribution.  Most buyers probably didn’t finish listening to the album because of this bloated and aimless track.

The Priest Re-masters collection had two bonus tracks per studio album.  Ram It Down provides two completely unrelated but great tracks:  live versions of “Bloodstone” and “Night Comes Down”.  The liner notes don’t state when they were recorded, but live versions of either are always welcome in any Priest collection.  It’s interesting that bonus tracks from these actual sessions, such as “Red, White and Blue”, were used on other CDs but not Ram It Down.

Priest may have known Ram It Down wasn’t the metal album they hoped to make.  They cleared house afterwards.  Dave Holland and Tom Allom were done, and there is no question that Painkiller was superior to Ram It Down because of that.

2/5 stars

 

REVIEW: Judas Priest – Turbo 30 (2017 deluxe 3 CD set)

JUDAS PRIEST – Turbo 30 (2017 Sony Legacy 3 CD set)

It is sheer delight to see Judas Priest’s once maligned Turbo to finally see some vindication.  There was a time this album was shied away from completely.  They played no tracks from it on the 1990-91 Painkiller tour.  In 1990, Priest finally pulled themselves out of a slide into dangerously commercial territory.  For a long time, Turbo was considered a musical detour that did more harm than good.  However the frost thawed quickly and Priest began to put the title track back into the set around 2001 for their Demolition tour with Tim “Ripper” Owens.  Today there is no longer any shame in cranking Turbo while hoisting a tall cool one.

The 30th anniversary edition of Turbo contains a freshly remastered edition and two live discs.  The sound is greatly improved from the 2001 version from the Priest Re-masters series.  As you can see by the waveform below, the 2001 version at bottom was a victim of the “loudness wars”, and much of the dynamic range was lost by pushing it to overdrive.  The 2017 version at top has more peaks and valleys.  The new version wins for overall for having more warmth.

What the 2017 version does not have are the two bonus tracks included on the Priest Re-masters version.  They were a live version of “Locked In” (which would be somewhat redundant here) and an unreleased studio track called “All Fired Up” which sounds like a Ram It Down outtake.  For a complete review of Turbo and these bonus tracks, please refer to our review of the Turbo 2001 CD edition.  The rest of this review will focus on the two live CDs inside Turbo 30.

The Fuel For Life tour that followed Turbo was one of Priest’s biggest.  Their stage featured a riser that “transformed” from a race car to a robot that would lift Glenn Tipton and KK Downing in the air with its claws.  It was commemorated by an album (Priest…Live!) and a separate home video from a concert in Dallas, Texas.  This new double live comes from a show in Kansas on May 22 1986.  It is 100% superior to Priest…Live! by every measure and could supplant that 30 year old album in your collection.

The set list varies a little from Priest…Live! but hits the same key tracks.  The ballsy synth ballad “Out of the Cold” still opens the set, a brave move even in 1986.  It is certainly the most unexpected of all Priest’s openers, so bravo.  “Locked In” is restored to its spot in the set; it was not on Priest…Live!  A version from an unknown concert (the liner notes are vague) was on the prior edition of Turbo as a bonus track.  “Locked In” isn’t a major track but still important due to its place as part of the “Turbo Lover” music video duology.  This live version is the best yet, loaded heavy with plenty of guitar thrills not present on the studio original.  From there it’s on to “Heading Out to the Highway”, nicely in the pocket.  Rob Halford’s screams are ferocious.  Next is the march of the “Metal Gods”, another version far more lively than the one on Priest…Live!  Seems there is much less mucking around with the recordings this time.

“Breaking the what?  Breaking the what?  Breaking the what?”  It’s that silly yet tried and true song intro.  Post-British Steel, you just can’t have a Priest live concert without “Breaking the Law”.  But always remember, that in the dead of night, “Love Bites”.  From 1984’s Defenders of the Faith, “Love Bites” was very different for Priest but still a set highlight.  (Incidentally, British Steel and Defenders of the Faith are the other Priest albums that had recent triple disc deluxe editions with live albums.)  Then more from Defenders:  Two killers in a row, “Some Heads are Gonna Roll” and “The Sentinel”.  Two songs that fans never tire of, and some credit must be given to the mighty guitar duo of Tipton and Downing.  Their trade-offs are sublime, and Halford curdles the blood.

Back into new material, “Private Property” was one of Priest’s more obvious grasps for a hit.  It’s far from a must-have, but better at least than the version on Priest…Live!  A mere five minutes later you will be transported to the “Desert Plains”, a Point of Entry deep cut that was excluded from Priest…Live!  It is far faster live and stay tuned for a long voice-shredding breakdown by Halford.  (Rob was clean at this point in his life.  Rob Halford recommends vocal rest between shows, menthol eucalyptus gum, and herbal tea to maintain a strong voice.)  A frantic “Rock You All Around the World” from Turbo ends the first disc with a filler track that is again better here than on the prior live album.

Screaming for Vengeance brings the fury for disc two, “The Hellion” (taped intro) and “Electric Eye” bring the focus clearly back to heavy metal, just in time to go for a spin with “Turbo Lover”.  This song is now a beloved classic, finally appreciated for its sharp songwriting and adventurous production.  Downing and Tipton pushed synths into heavy metal in a big way, but with integrity and ingenuity.  Better run for cover indeed, and fast…for next is “Freewheel Burning”, a natural for keeping with the theme of turbos and the like.

As the disc roars to its close, we are treated to some serious historic Priest.  The oldest track is “Victim of Changes”, from the immortal Sad Wings of Destiny (1976).  This most dramatic of Priest compositions is always welcome in the set, yet was not on Priest…Live! probably to avoid overlap with 1979’s Unleashed in the East live album.  This one boasts a blazing hot guitar solo and some of Rob’s most impassioned wailing.  This stretches out for nearly nine minutes of pure metal brilliance at its most vintage.  But the vintage metal gift-giving is not over, because “The Green Manalishi” (1979’s Hell Bent for Leather, via Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac) delivers the greatest of all riffs.

It’s nothing but the hits from there:  “Living After Midnight”, “You’ve Got Another Thing Coming”, and “Hell Bent for Leather”, the standards that everyone knows.  “Another Thing Coming” is stretched out with Rob’s annoying back-and-forth with the crowd, but it is what it is.  “Heavy metal communication”, he calls it.  Nobody is buying this CD for another version of that song anyway.

“You don’t know what it’s like!”  So get this package, the triple CD set, and you will!

5/5 stars

For Superdeke’s amazing review including some tidbits about who the drummer(s) on this album really is(are), check it out:  superdekes.wordpress.com/2017/02/06/judas-priestlive-in-kansas-city1986

REVIEW: Dust – Hard Attack / Dust (1972/1971)

The KISS RE-REVIEW SERIES Supplemental:  Kerner and Wise.

DUST – Hard Attack (1972) / Dust (1971) (2013 Sony Legacy)

fans know the names of Richie Wise and Kenny Kerner.  This production team laid down the first two Kiss records, and although their production was not the best, they were the first.  But where did they come from?  A little trio called Dust.  Wise was the singer and guitar player.  Kerner was the manager, co-producer and co-writer.  They released two records as Dust, also featuring legendary Derringer bassist Kenny Aaronson and drummer Mark Bell.  These two albums, Hard Attack and Dust, were remastered and compiled as one CD by Sony in 2013 (presented in reverse order).

The cool thing is the Dust albums actually sound better than the Kiss albums.

Dust were a hard rockin’ band, distinguished by having loads of slide and pedal steel guitars (handled by Aaronson).  Dust were travelling the same roads as other bands such as Aerosmith, Cream, Free or Zeppelin, but with less of an identity.  The songs were good.  “Stone Woman” is slippery slick blues rock, while “Goin’ Easy” is a laid back southern acoustic blues.  And they could get heavy.  “Love Me Hard” is the kind of proto-metal that Budgie, Sabbath and Purple were doing on the other side of the Atlantic.

3.5/5 stars

This was a 200 word review in the tradition of the #200wordchallenge.

 

 

REVIEW: Faith No More – “Cone of Shame” (2016 RSD single)

scan_20170303-3FAITH NO MORE – “Cone of Shame” (2016 Reclamation Recordings 7″ single for Record Store Day, gold vinyl)

All hail the mighty JHUBNER, decorated hard-core hunter…of records.  Raise your Romulan ale (or what have you)!  Somewhere somehow, the subject of limited edition Faith No More singles for Record Store Day came up.  Mr. Hubner kindly took note that he had seen some at his local establishment.  With great care and expense, he packed it well, armored in a shell of cardboard that could withstand any wayward bombardments.  Thusly, I have acquired “Cone of Shame” on limited edition clear gold vinyl.  Had I thought this through, I would have asked for green, to compliment this burning green alcoholic beverage that Scotty below is hoisting to Mr. Hubner.

scotty

This is a gorgeous 45.  The cover art is quite funny: a pug (with eyes blacked out for anonymity) wearing a doggie “cone of shame”.  Would have been better with a miniature schnauzer, but pugs are fine.   The vintage style label is starkly awesome in black & white.  The pristine yellow disc is a piece of beauty indeed, clean and clear and rich with awesome music carved into its grooves.

The A-side is the standard album version of “Cone of Shame” from Sol Invictus.  This is a song I have strongly warmed up to in the last year.  I didn’t care for it at first, but I have since fallen for its weirdness and Patton’s vocal heroics.  Flip over to the B-side and you will find J.G. Thirwell’s “Calcitron Mix” of “Motherfucker”.  I love what he did with it.  Most of Patton’s voice has been wiped leaving only Roddy Bottum’s hypnotic verses.  The word “motherfucker” is chopped and looped to become the main hook.  There is very little of the original song left.  Essentially a new song has been created with Roddy’s “get the motherfucker on the phone, on the phone” hook, chopped up and given the Max Headroom treatment.  The techno backing feels like a bunch of idiots at a rave, but that’s not my thing.  I’m easily amused so the rearrangement and repetition of the word “motherfucker” keeps me entertained.

Remixes are what they are.  You either like them or you don’t.  I usually lean towards the opinion that an original is better than a remix, 99% of the time.  There are the odd exceptions.  I think you need to use a different measuring stick when talking about remixes.  Instead of “did it make the song better”, perhaps the question should be “did it make the song different?”  In this case “Motherfucker” has been reimagined as something new, and that’s pretty cool.

3.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Stephen Pearcy – Smash (2017 with bonus track)

NEW RELEASE


scan_20170226-2STEPHEN PEARCY – Smash (2017 King records, Japanese bonus track)

Everybody needs a little Ratt N’ Roll in their lives.  How much is up to you.  It’s like salt & pepper — season to taste.  But it’s been a while since Ratt released the fine comeback Infestation (2010), and we’re getting the cravings again.  Ratt’s lead throat Stephen Pearcy must’ve known this, because here comes his excellent solo album Smash.

You can hear Zeppelin bleeding through the intro to “I Know I’m Crazy”, and the word “Zepp-ish” comes up again and again when listening to this CD.  Much of the time this is due to the big big performance by ex-White Lion drummer Greg D’Angelo.  “I Know I’m Crazy” has a bit of the new and a bit of the old:  modern drony guitars, but a punchy Pearcy chorus.  Stephen is wise to not just copy Ratt (there are enough people trying that), but to go beyond that sound and into something a little out of left field.  Then if you’re craving those big rawk guitar riffs, “Ten Miles Wide” offers one o’ those and a brilliant chorus to boot.  Guitarist Erik Ferentinos nails a cool George Lynch vibe on one hell of a smoking solo.  But then it’s fully down Zeppelin alley with slippery slide guitars on the impressively authentic “Shut Down Baby”.  “What Do Ya Think” also has that swampy Zep vibe, very Page-y.

With 13 tracks on the standard CD edition, there is plenty of rock, but an artist can always run the risk of an overly-long album.  Not so with Smash!  Stephen Pearcy has the goods, and a diverse batch of songs.  None drag or overstay their welcome; the standard album runs at 47 minutes of diverse rock.  Check out “Dead Roses” for a tune with a heavy Skid Row grind.  “Jamie” and “I Can’t Take It” too rock hard, with roots still in 80s metal.  Then there’s a sleazy Aero-Ratt called “Lollipop” that fits right in.  You can count on a thick, strong sound throughout — check out the slamming and riffy “Want Too Much”.  Bassist Matt Thorn co-produced the album with the band.  Track after track, expect meaty guitars, full sounding drums, and sassy signature Pearcy lead vocals.  There even a power ballad:  “Rain” is awesome, tough and would have been a massive hit in 1985.  Closer “Summers End” is less a ballad and more music for a dark sky.

Of course you don’t have to buy the Japanese version to get Smash, but when you just can’t get enough Pearcy, the import offers an acoustic mix of “What Do Ya Think”.  The song works very well as an acoustic jam session.  Fans would be advised to check it out and choose which version they like best.  However you get it, be sure to get Smash, a fine start to 2017.

4.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Budgie – Budgie (remastered)

scan_20170211BUDGIE – Budgie (originally 1971, 2004 Noteworthy Productions reissue)

In the early 1970’s, a new young band was rumbling out of Europe with a fresh, sludgy heavy rock sound.  With a debut album produced by Rodger Bain under their belts, they peddled that new style of music often called “heavy metal”, known for its loud distorted guitars and long-haired musicians.

Black Sabbath?  Not this time.  Let’s not forget Cardiff’s own Budgie.

Budgie’s 1971 self-titled debut album demonstrates that the band had already found their own niche.  Lead throat Burke Shelley had the looks and the voice of a young Geddy Lee, but three full years before Rush’s first album in 1974.  They had obvious Sabbathy elements, but without the doom and evil overtones.  They wrote long, groove oriented songs unlike anything Ozzy & co. were writing.  Shelley’s lyrics and song titles ran from unusual to bizarre.  The opener “Guts” is a great example of the strangeness and groove coming together in one addictive sludgy confection.

Budgie were also known for soft acoustic interludes.  “Everything in My Heart” is one, clocking in at less than a minute.  (According to the liner notes, Shelley recalls he wrote this for some girl he liked.)  This acts as a sort of prelude to “The Author” which combines the quiet side with the sludge.  The droning heavy riffage, switching lanes with softer sections, make for a pretty epic Budgie track.  As a power trio, Shelley’s bass becomes the deliverer of many hooks.  However on “Nude Disintegrating Parachutist Woman” the bass joins forces with Tony Bourge’s distorted axe to build a wall of riff.  Both the album and single versions are included on the 2004 deluxe CD edition.  One is over twice as long as the other!  The album cut contains a long Purple-like instrumental section.

“Rape of the Locks” (a satire about a hair cut, get it?) commences with a very Blackmore guitar freakout.  The riffs are more Sabbath, while its jammy aspects remind of the first album by the Scorpions.  Burke Shelley continues the groove on “All Night Petrol”, both punishing and catchy.  “You and I” is another acoustic interlude, 1:42 of Burke trying to be lovey-dovey.  It acts as a reset before the final onslaught:  “Homicidal Suicidal”.  Soundgarden covered this one in 1991 on an obscure B-side.  Perhaps it is the definitive example of the early Budgie sound.  Almost seven minutes of heavy Budgie, drums hammering at the walls while Burke rumbles the foundation.  Meanwhile there’s Tony Bourge with the riff of riffs.

The bonus tracks on this edition are well worth seeking.  In addition to the above mentioned single edit of “Nude Disintegrating Parachutist Woman” there is its B-side “Crash Course in Brain Surgery” which Metallica covered.  This is an unreleased alternate mix of one of Budgie’s best known metal thrashers.  Finally there are 2003 re-recordings by the reformed Budgie composed of Shelley, Steve Williams and Simon Lees.  “Parachutist Woman” and “Guts” are very different from the originals, although the arrangements are pretty much the same.  It’s just a matter of different musicians and 32 years!

The Budgie remasters can be expensive to track down, but well worth it.  May as well get all the extra tracks if you’re going to hunt for some Budgie.

4/5 stars

REVIEW: Faith No More – Angel Dust (deluxe edition)

Previously on mikeladano.com….

Faith No More’s deluxe edition reissue program began in 2015.  Two years prior to that, we reviewed two editions of Angel Dust:  An Australian 2 CD set with a bonus EP called Free Concert in the Park, and the 2 LP version with a “MidLife Crisis” remix.  For this Angel Dust deluxe edition review, we will be incorporating old text from that review into this new one.  We also reviewed the 2 CD single for “Everything’s Ruined”.  Those tracks are also on this deluxe, and we will borrow text from that review as well.

scan_20170205FAITH NO MORE – Angel Dust (originally 1992, 2015 Slash deluxe edition)

Incredibly anticipated, and massively misunderstood:  Angel Dust separated the fans from the wannabes.  Reviews were mixed.  M.E.A.T Magazine’s Drew Masters awarded it 2/5 M’s and failed to grasp the genius that is the chaos within.  It certainly is an ugly duckling and will take more than a listen to reel in anyone.  Faith No More wearied of the “funk metal” tag and sought to distance themselves from it.  Importantly, Mike Patton dropped the nasal tone he utilized on The Real Thing.  Instead he unleashed his full voice in all its extremes.  With enviable range and power, Patton pushed his capabilities to their furthest limits.  Meanwhile, guitarist Jim Martin and the band were butting heads, and most of the songs were written without him.  Mike Bordin, Roddy Bottom and Billy Gould would send him virtually complete songs, which he then “grafted” guitar parts onto.  In a guitar magazine interview, Martin stated that he thought some of the songs were better before he added his own parts.

Angel Dust commenced with double shot of weirdness:  “Land of Sunshine” and “Caffeine”.  Patton pieced together the lyrics to “Land of Sunshine” from a collection of fortune cookies.  Musically it is dramatic, keyboard heavy and foreboding.  “Caffeine” is dark and aggressive, but is Patton’s first bonafide knockout vocal on the album.  From the ominous, gravelly lows to off the wall screams, Patton delivers it.  His voice knew no limits on Angel Dust.  A year prior, he released the debut album by Mr. Bungle.  There is little question that this must have demolished any vocal inhibitions he had with Faith No More.

The first single “MidLife Crisis” was about as close as it got to a commercial track.  You can certainly hear every nu-metal band in the world (Korn! I’m looking at you Jonathan Davis!) ripping off Patton’s gutteral vocal stylings.  But he lets it soar in the choruses.  The bizarre pseudo-rapped  verses, the samples, and the anthemic, layered choruses all pointed to new directions for Faith No More.  The ingredients had never really combined like “MidLife Crisis” before, although 1991’s “The Perfect Crime” hinted at some of these elements.

Perhaps the most bizarre song (there are many more coming) is “R.V.”  The lullaby-like piano backs a grizzly soliloquy from Patton, via Tom Waits, playing a trailer park trash character.  “Somebody taps me on the shoulder every five minutes.  Nobody speaks English anymore!  Would anybody tell me if I was gettin’…stupider?”  Once the novelty value wears off, it’s still a memorable tune due to the powerful choruses.  Patton nails another awesome lead vocal.  “Smaller and Smaller” returns somewhat to more conventional song arrangements.  A repetitive piano hook backs a hypnotic Patton vocal.  The choruses are a bit on the insane side, and then the song deviates into a sample-laden section of challenging rhythms.  Yet somehow the song remains memorable and catchy.  This is followed by the single “Everything’s Ruined”.  It must have been chosen because it is a solid mix of aggressive rapping with a memorable soul-influenced chorus.  While it doesn’t sound like it would have been on The Real Thing, it’s about as close as Angel Dust gets.

“Malpractice” is one of the most delightfully messed-up tunes on the album, a mixture of disjointed sections, noisy guitars, smooth keyboards, feedback, all simmered to perfection.  By the time Patton’s screaming, “Applause, applause, applause, APPLAAAAAUUUUUUSSSSE!” we’re already clapping.  This song was a Patton baby, which explains it.  Certainly, the lullaby after the two minute mark is designed to lull you in before they hammer you with more guitars, samples and screams.  This closed side one.

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“Kindergarten” introduced side two with the sound of Patton barking thoughts about the ol’ schoolyard.  There’s no guitar solo, but Mike Patton muttering musically into a megaphone fills the void where the solo would go.  This is followed by Billy Gould throwing down a bass solo, and into the final verse.  The weak-willed will shudder before “Be Aggressive”, a graphic series of metaphors about swallowing.  This discourse is accompanied by a cheerleader chorus.  Jim Martin turns in a sloppy, Pagey guitar solo, the only one on the album.

After assaulting the listener with a song like that, “A Small Victory” is a welcome respite.  Its simple but bountiful melodies are perfect to soothe the ear canal.  This is also to prepare you for “Crack Hitler”, another bizarre sensory overload.  Funky bass meets distorted rapping, until it swerves into this weird, evil march.  Patton’s vocals run the gamut from light, to dark and monstrous. Even so, Jim Martin’s contribution “Jizzlobber” is the most extreme song of them all.  It has those creepy Friday the 13th keyboards, heavy guitar riffs and pounding drums, and Patton’s most aggressive lead vocal yet.  You don’t know what the hell he’s singing without the lyric sheet, so just be enveloped.  It’s just a pummeling assault, and unprepared listeners may find themselves overwhelmed and perhaps turned off from the album by this point.

The standard album ended with “Midnight Cowboy” supposedly because of some obsession that Billy Gould had with its storyline.  It’s a perfectly appropriate ending given the rollercoaster ride that preceded it.  It’s you, wandering off into the sunset, too wasted to really know if you’re headed in the right direction.  Just keep walking.  Some editions of the album (including this deluxe) added the cover of The Commodores’ “Easy” as the final track.  There are a couple different mixes of “Easy” out there, and this is one is from The Very Best Definitive Ultimate Greatest Hits Collection.  The horns are missing, the drums have more echo added, and Mike Patton speaks at the beginning.  The song is rendered remarkably straight, and it’s a performance like this that truly demonstrates Mike Patton’s vocal mastery.  The original version (the “Cooler Version”) with horns opens disc two, the bonus tracks.  It can also be found domestically on the EP Songs To Make Love To.

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Also from that EP is the bizarre German-language speed-polka “Das Schutzenfest”.  This is a novelty track, shits n’ giggles, nothing more.  A good laugh but unimportant.  The Dead Kennedys’ “Let’s Lynch the Landlord” was also released on the Songs To Make Love To, but it was originally on a compilation called Virus 100.  Jim Martin wasn’t there and the song is performed as a quartet.  An underwhelming acoustic performance, it sounds a little like the Faith No More of the future as Patton adopts a lower singing style.

The real treasure on disc two and rarest of the all is “As the Worm Turns”, a Japanese bonus track for that long out of print edition of Angel Dust.  “As the Worm Turns” was one of the most stunning songs on Faith No More’s debut We Care A Lot, with Chuck Mosely on lead vocals.  A full-throated Mike Patton re-recorded it for this bonus track.  Sacrilege?  It is the superior version now.

A couple included remixes are only a sampling of what is actually available on singles. The “Scream Mix” of “MidLife Crisis” is the extended, bass-heavier mix from the 2 LP edition of the album.  The “Revolution 23 (Full Moon) Mix” of “A Small Victory” is only one of four versions from a remix EP they released.  Then it is on to the live material, and there are some treasures there.  The live EP Free Concert in the Park, (recorded in Munich) is expanded from four to six tracks.  Mike Patton dedicates “Easy” to “everyone with hemorrhoids this evening!”  The guitar solo spot in “Easy” remains a Jim Martin favourite.  Even heavier and more chaotic versions of “Be Aggressive” and “Kindergarten” follow, replete with surprises.  The early obscurity “Mark Bowen” is another Mosely song given the Patton treatment live, adding his own spin and abilities.  Two tracks are added to the proceedings:  “A Small Victory” and “We Care a Lot” from the same show.  These live versions really hit the spot, as they are really cranked up, and “We Care a Lot” contains a segue into “Jump Around” by House of Pain.  It’s a shame the live recording is so tinny.   These tracks were also released on CD singles for “Easy” in Europe.

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Up next are the four live songs taken from the double “Everything’s Ruined” single, all recorded in September 1992.   “MidLife Crisis” is growly and impressive, and “Land of Sunshine” is amped.  “Edge of the World” is the point when the audience is asked to sing along, with Patton yelling “Fuck me harder!”  The trailer-trash-talk of “R.V.” sounds a little laid back live; something’s missing.  It would be much better with the full visuals of a Mike Patton performance.

The deluxe edition concludes with an outtake finally restored to the album it was written with:  “The World is Yours”.  It was originally made available on Who Cares A Lot? The Greatest Hits in 1998.  Like Angel Dust itself, it is sample heavy.  Marching soldiers and trumpeting elephants join Roddy Bottom’s ominous keyboards in a symphony of WTF.  It is a fully formed recording, with effects-laden vocals fully mixed and finished.  It would have fit the more experimental and anti-commercial direction of the album perfectly, but not without making the album overlong.

Angel Dust, unlike the more successful The Real Thing, has a timeless sound.  It is a once in a lifetime album, a perfect meeting of disparate elements.  Jim Martin was ejected after this, and never again would his heavy metal guitars be grafted onto the sonic experiments of Faith No More.  A pity, but they have since moved on even more expansive sounds.  Angel Dust in some respects can be considered the real debut of Mike Patton in Faith No More.  A triumphant one it is.

5/5 stars

 

REVIEW: Helix – Rockin’ in My Outer Space (2004)

ontario-bands-weekWelcome back to Ontario Bands Week, presented by BoppinsBlog,  Keeps Me Alive, Stick It In Your Ear, 1001 Albums in 10 Years, and mikeladano.com.  

KITCHENER.

scan_20161215HELIX – Rockin’ in My Outer Space (2004 Dirty Dog)

This album was a long time coming. The last “true” Helix studio album (eg: not live, greatest hits or previously unreleased songs) was the excellent It’s A Business Doing Pleasure, twelve years previous to this one. A lot happened in those twelve years, including member changes, management and record company splits, and even a Brian Vollmer solo album (When Pigs Fly). That Helix came out with an album this good with no warning was a pleasant surprise.

Almost every song here is quality stuff, with only the instrumental opener “Space Junk” and the jokey closer “Sunny Summer Daze” not fitting in with the serious rocking going on here. A couple of these recordings had previously appeared on Vollmer’s solo CD (with Brian Doerner on drums), but this sounds more like a proper Helix album. The title track features a killer chorus (reminded me of “Rock You” a bit) with those recognizable Helix backing vocals. It’s also the most “party” of all the new songs, some of them being a little darker.  Glen “Archie” Gamble (drums) utilizes some interesting cymbal work, a little different from what you usually hear on a Helix record.  His playing gives this version of Helix a different rhythm.

“Six Feet Underground” has some nice acoustic work, and is extremely catchy. “Panic” has some irresistible vocals. “It’s Hard To Feel the Sunshine When Your Heart is Filled With Rain” might have an overly long title, but the song is amazing, as heard live in concert.  A wicked harmonica solo fills the spot with a guitar solo might normally fit.  “The Ballad Of Sam & Mary” is a jokey lyric as Helix have done before, but with some serious kick behind it. (Listen for a cameo by Brian’s wife Lynda Vollmer.)  It’s only when you get to the closer with its Hawiian guitar that you feel like the album just hit a speedbump. The final track’s saving grace is a guest appearance by former member “Doctor” Doerner on guitar.

This album represented a muscular return for Helix, one that kicked off a stream of new Helix records.  The band seemed revitalized even as lineups changed, as they continued to follow through with more quality rock and roll.  Rockin’ in My Outer Space is a pleasure for fans because it’s different. This is not party music. There are audible dark clouds and angry riffs.  The changes in heavy metal over the previous decade are obvious here.  The guitars are chunkier and dirtier, and no song has a party-hardy chorus like the days of old, though the title track comes close.  Helix are known for a certain brand of rock, and it’s nice when they choose to stretch out.

Fear not Helix fans. Brian Vollmer and his gang of little-known but excellent players did not disappoint when they finally decided to release a new album under the Helix Band banner. Aside from the first and last tracks, this is one you’ll be playing all the way through.

And heck, you get used to the the first and last tracks after a while.

4/5 stars

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Bonus:  In 2005, Helix returned to Sweden to play Sweden Rock.  iTunes have one song from their set available for download: “Rock You”  This track features the short-lived but very cool six-piece lineup of Brian Vollmer, Archie Gamble, Jeff Fountain (bass), Jim Lawson (guitar), Rainer Wiechmann (guitar and producer) and Cindy Wiechmann (vocals and other instruments). This is the version of Helix that supported this album, and fortunately it was captured live. Check it out for an idea of what this great lineup sounded like live.