japanese import

REVIEW: Stryper – Live at the Whiskey (2014 Japanese import)

STRYPER – Live at the Whiskey (2014 Avalon Japan)

Stryper kill it live.  This is evident right from the starter’s gun on the band’s 2014 album Live at the Whiskey.  Pulling no punches, they tear immediately into the Priest-like “Legacy” from the acclaimed No More Hell to Pay.  Anybody who showed up that night expecting frills and lace hasn’t been paying attention.

Another newbie, “Marching into Battle”, which sounds as if it could have rolled off the same assembly line as Soldiers Under Command, wields riffs like swords.  Vocal sweetening is unfortunately obvious.  Most fans would prefer to hear bum notes or missed words over two Michael Sweets singing at once.

The first oldie is a goodie for sure:  “You Know What to Do”, followed immediately by “Loud N’ Clear”, both from the original Yellow and Black Attack.  As if trying to cram all their best early hooks into this one segment of the show, the trinity of “Reach Out”, “Calling to You” and  “Free” are rolled out one by one.  Robert Sweet (Stryper’s “visual timekeeper”) is far heavier live, imbuing the songs with more tonnage.

Heavier metal returns on “More Than a Man” which could have been Iron Maiden if the lyrics weren’t about receiving Jesus in your heart.  After “The Rock That Makes Me Roll”, Stryper returned to their present day with the awesome “No More Hell to Pay”, riffy and slow, like soaring Dio-era Sabbath. “If the dawn reveals the end of days, I’ll follow You till there’s no more hell to pay.” It’s a catchier chorus than it reads, and it’s followed by “Jesus is Just Alright With Me” which is basically all chorus and guitar solo!

Stryper didn’t ignore their most pop album, 1988’s In God We Trust.  The hit single “Always There For You” is stripped bare of its keyboards and re-arranged for blowing speakers.  Even Against the Law, from a brief period when Stryper dropped religion from their lyrics, is visited.  “One For All” was one of the heavier tracks from that great LP, and the lyrics maintain a positive outlook.  Focus then returns to the first cluster of albums with “The Way”, “To Hell With the Devil” and of course “Soldiers Under Command”.  No more mistaking the message now!  “Oh, oh, oh, what did you say?  Oh, oh, oh, Christ is the way!”  In the early days, Stryper were far less poetic, but they sure were heavy.

As is the norm, Japan received a bonus track for their pressing of Live at the Whiskey, and it’s actually a studio song. “All of Me” is the only ballad on the album, a spot-on re-recording from To Hell With the Devil.  Aside from the lower key, it’s almost identical.  One has to assume it’s an also-ran from 2013’s Second Coming album.  Can’t have too many ballads on one album, of course.  Valuable bonus tracks are always appreciated.  This one came as a bit of a surprise.

3.5/5 stars

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REVIEW: Stryper – Second Coming (2013 Japanese import)

STRYPER – Second Coming (2013 Avalon Japan)

Re-recordings?  Who needs ’em?  Well, in Stryper’s case, you might!

Let’s be blunt.  There are some 80s bands who sound better today than they did when they were the most popular.  Voices change, skills improve, but production values have also evolved.  Stryper’s early albums were great but they don’t have the gut-punch sonics of Stryper today.  What’s wrong with some older, wiser and heavier versions?  It’s not as if Stryper were foisting these upon the fans instead of writing new music.  They never stopped writing and releasing new albums.  Second Coming is a nice treat, and also a way to get consistent versions of the old songs that can sit on a mix CD with the new ones.

Second Coming begins with the first EP (The Yellow and Black Attack), and the songs “Loud N’ Clear” and “Loving You”.  They’ve never sounded heavier, and Michael Sweet’s voice is still a powerful one.  Shame “You Know What To Do” wasn’t updated as well, since that’s such an awesome song.

Get in line, you soldiers, for up next is “Soldiers Under Command”.  Sure, the voices aren’t as high as they once were, but sometimes an older voice has more character.  That’s certainly the case for Michael Sweet, who is twice the singer now.  “Soldiers” can stand proudly next to the original as a slightly different but no less excellent monument.  There are a generous number of songs (six) from Soldiers Under Command, including a stunning “Reach Out”.

The beloved To Hell With the Devil album gets five more inclusions, including “Free” and “Calling On You”, though not “Honestly”.  Second Coming is light on ballads, with only “First Love” representing them.  In one way it’s cool that Second Coming is kept heavy.  In another, it’s too bad we didn’t get new versions of tracks like “Honestly” or “I Believe in You”.  There is also nothing from In God We Trust or beyond.  (Granted, they already re-recorded that title track on 2005’s Reborn.)  In essence, Second Coming collects some of the best and heaviest material from the first EP and two albums.

And new songs too!  Since their triumphant reunion, Stryper have scarcely slowed down, releasing a constant stream of acclaimed heavy metal albums.  The two new songs here are “Bleeding From the Inside Out” and “Blackened” (not the Metallica song).  The heavy vibe continues.  “Bleeding” has a solid, groovy riff and an adventurous arrangement including piano and patented harmonies.    “Blackened” just slams.  Robert Sweet’s one of the hardest hitting drummers out there, and that’s what he does on “Blackened”.  Tim Gaines gets a bass groove going off that and it’s a slamdance from there.  Count on melodies, solos and harmonies to help soften those jagged guitars.

Japan always gets the bonus tracks, and they got a good one this time.  Second Coming needed more ballads; Stryper’s success always had a foot in ballads.  “Together As One” is the added bonus track, a simple version with Michael accompanied by piano and strings.  Lucky, lucky Japan!

4/5 stars

REVIEW: Stryper – God Damn Evil (2018 Japanese import)

STRYPER – God Damn Evil (2018 Frontiers Japan)

Timothy Gaines ejected from Stryper, unfortunately not on the best of terms.  He was swiftly replaced by Perry Richardson of Firehouse, who fit into the rock regime smoothly and easily.  God Damn Evil is Stryper’s first with the new bassist, but latest in a long string of credible and crucial Christian metal albums.

But first a word about Walmart, who refused to stock this album based on the title alone.

This exemplifies two huge problems in society today.  One:  the inability to think for oneself.  Two:  pandering in fear to the whims of the general public.  Walmart were afraid they’d get complaints about an album called God Damn Evil, and so refused to offer it.  It’s patently obvious what the title means; just look at the cover art.  God is damning the evil.  Spelling it out even further, the evil is clearly depicted as “money”.  (Maybe the corporate mega-giant doesn’t like this anti-capitalism message.)

Maybe Stryper should have titled this album God Damn, People Are Stupid.  You can’t buy God Damn Evil at Walmart, but you can buy Night of the Demons on Blu-ray.  Go figure.

The music is what matters most, and the word on the street is that God Damn Evil is their best album yet.

That’s a tough claim.  After all, Fallen and No More Hell to Pay are both excellent metal albums, and surely rank among Stryper’s top five.  God Damn Evil shares a similar heavy direction, and even matching cover art, forming an ad-hoc trilogy.  The new one is the heaviest of the three.  Fans were taken aback by lead track “Take It to the Cross”, the closest Stryper have been to thrash metal.  From guttural grunts to screams so high they border on self-parody, “Take It to the Cross” is aural shrapnel of the best kind.

The only other track that comes close to “Take It to the Cross” in terms of speed is the Priest-like closer “The Devil Doesn’t Live Here”.  There is no question that Stryper can make metal as gleaming as their heroes do.

More traditional is “Sorry”, a metal groove with a slaying chorus on top.  It’s one of many contenders for “favourite song”, along with a swaggering “Own Up”.  “Lost” reduces the tempo, but not the power.  The message is there too, but not overwhelming.  Anyone can headbang along.  The title track “God Damn Evil” is unexpectedly different, being a straightforward hard rock tune with an anthemic chorus.  Stryper fear no evil in “The Valley”, a heavy metal retelling of Psalm 23 (“the valley of the shadow of death”).  Another top track is “Beautiful” which bears a Sabbath groove the likes of which is the basis of the genre.  It’s melodic, but not a ballad.  There’s only one of those:  “Can’t Live Without Your Love”, available in Japan in two versions.  The standard 80s-sounding power ballad would stand proudly next to “Is This Love” by Whitesnake.  The Japan-exclusive acoustic version is even better.

The highlights are many, and filler nonexistent.  Without giving up a shade of their integrity, Stryper have managed to remain true to their origins and yet evolve into higher, heavier grooves.  The key is the eternal youth of singer Michael Sweet.

Although some still think Stryper are a synonym with bad 80s bands, you’d be wrong to discount them now.  Stryper may well indeed have done their best album in 2018.

5/5 stars

REVIEW: Dokken – Return to the East Live (2018 Japanese CD/DVD set)

DOKKEN – Return to the East Live (2018 Frontiers Japan CD/region 2 – DVD set)

Even the most devout Dokken fan must acknowledge that Don is not the be-all and end-all of singers.  A good singer, yes, but never in the top tier.  Now that age has taken its toll (as it always does), Don relies on the backup singing of Jeff Pilson, Mick Brown, and George Lynch to hit those high notes.  The classic Dokken lineup reunited for some shows in Japan, and even recorded a new song to go with it.  Fortunately Dokken were up to the challenge, even with the shortcomings that age creates.

Some of the audience looks too young to have known Dokken when they first rocked Japan back in the 80s, but most are die-hards.  Don himself looks cool as a cucumber, with George and Jeff on either side holding down the fort.  Most importantly it seems they had a good time.  Lynch is simply compelling to watch, as he plays impossible licks while making it look so easy.

There’s no messing around with this setlist.  All classic Dokken, all 80s, no filler.  They focused on what the fans wanted and they delivered.  The band sounded great.  Pilson’s all-important bass is given enough room in the mix to be effective.  Songs like “It’s Not Love”, “The Hunter” and especially “Alone Again” buzz with electricity.  Vocally, with great backup singers like Jeff, the band were able to pull it off.  It’s a high energy reunion show.  It’s just too bad so many people in the audience spent it on their phones.

The DVD and CD tracklists are, strangely, not in the same order.  You can hear some obvious vocal overdubs in places, most notably “Kiss of Death”.  There are some sloppy edits on the video.  Don’s lips don’t always match the words, and there are annoying graphic overlays, but it’s a good show with plenty of closeups.  Jeff Pilson is a dynamo on stage, but Wild Mick has lost nothing over the years either.  He hammers on his kit as if he’s still 25 years old!  There is little interaction between the members on stage, except for Jeff who is all over the place, including the keyboards.  Don grins like a Cheshire cat when George lays down those familiar solos.  He picks up the guitar himself for oldies like “Breakin’ the Chains”.

Both the CD and DVD portion have unique bonus content.  After the main feature, you will find 45 minutes of behind the scenes footage, directed by Don.  Shaky camera work aside, this is fascinating fly-on-the-wall stuff.  Chatterbox Don is full of energy, even when losing his fedora hat. Eagle-eyed Trailer Park Boys fans will recognise road manager Tom Mayhue, their nemesis in the Out of the Park series.  As the band pick apart the set and put it back together again, you get a real sense that they just wanted to get it right but not at the expense of fun.

You will find two exclusive bonus acoustic songs on the CD.  “Heaven Sent” (with congas) and the obscure “Will the Sun Rise” are studio re-recordings, giving both songs a fresh, mellow gleam.  That’s not the main feature, however.  For obvious reasons, the brand new song “It’s Another Day” is the centrepiece, and as such it is presented as the very first track on the disc.  While the live set is undoubtedly a very significant memento for fans, nothing really excites them like a brand new song — their first together as the classic lineup two decades.  And it’s a solid B+.  Grooving with a head of steam, “It’s Another Day” is very reminiscent of the excellent and underrated Dysfunctional album from 1995.

The Japanese bonus track this time is the early Dokken classic “Paris is Burning” live, which is also on the DVD but not the standard CD or download versions. Don’t you hate when a track is missing that is only on the DVD? Sure you do.

Jeff Pilson says that he wanted Dokken to end (if this is the end) on an up note.  “Just a really positive  exclamation point to a great career.  Wouldn’t that be wonderful?”

4/5 stars

Intermission: Mail Call!

The mailman has been busy this last week or so.  Just look at the goodies!

LED ZEPPELIN – “Rock and Roll” / “Friends” Record Store Day single

DEF LEPPARD – Live at Abbey Road Studios 12″ Record Store Day EP

RAINBOW – Memories in Rock II Japanese CD – 2 bonus tracks

STRYPER – God Damn Evil Japanese CD – bonus track

STEPH HONDE – Covering the Monsters 

DALE SHERMAN – Mel Brooks FAQ: All That’s Left to Know About the Outrageous Genius of Comedy books – one for me, one for my dad’s 80th birthday!  SHHH don’t tell.  He doesn’t read this!

 

 

 

 

 

#673: Message of Love

GETTING MORE TALE #673: Message of Love

The old saying goes “Better late than never”.  This is often true, especially in music.  It is never too late to discover an old band.  Be it Led Zeppelin, Thin Lizzy, or Queen, it has been pretty easy for me to catch up.  As is my modus operandi, when I discover a band I tend to jump in headfirst and not look back.

I took a similar path with Journey.  Journey were never considered “heavy metal”, and although metal magazines did cover them, I was never exposed to their music as a kid.  If they were not on the Pepsi Power Hour in the 1980s, then chances are, I didn’t hear them until later on.

Prior to official “discovery”, I think I only knew two Journey songs.  “Any Way You Want It” was used on the Simpsons in a memorable scene.  I also remember hearing “Wheel in the Sky” on the radio while eating out with my sister and my grandmother.  “Who is this?” I kept asking.  The song was incredible!

I didn’t find out for many years that it was Journey, although I did form an idea of what Journey sounded like otherwise.  Dream Theater covered “Lovin’ Touchin’ Squeezin'” on their Change of Seasons EP.  “I hate that song!” said T-Rev upon seeing the EP.  I didn’t care for it either.  But I was still curious why Joey Belladonna from Anthrax counted Journey as one of his favourite bands.  Something to do with the singer?

I really had no idea who Steve Perry was.  I heard of him.  I didn’t know he was one of the most influential singers of the 70s and 80s!  In 1994, his solo album For Love of Strange Medicine was released.  It was my first year at the Record Store and I still didn’t really know who he was.  I remember stocking the CD, but I kind of blew it when I sold my first copy to a customer.

“This is supposed to be great,” said the lady buying the Steve Perry CD.

“Yeah,” I said, trying to make conversation where I shouldn’t have.  “He’s a great guitar player.”  Wrong guess.

“He’s also an amazing singer!” said the lady with class, trying not to embarrass me.

I will never forget calling Steve Perry a great guitar player.  What a clueless poser I was!

My moment of discovery finally came in 1998.  T-Rev, Tom and I were in a mall in Burlington, as I recall.  The new Journey song came on:  “Remember Me”.  This was one a one-off track from the Armageddon soundtrack.  It was credited as “Journey (featuring lead vocals by Steve Augeri)”.  As I would later find out, Steve Perry quit the band and was replaced by a similar sounding Steve.  I didn’t care about that, because the song was incredible!  I looked forward to eventually getting the CD, which I would have been buying anyway for new Aerosmith and Our Lady Peace.

That was my gateway:  a soundtrack song with a replacement singer, from a shitty Michael Bay movie.  Embarrassing yes, but the truth it is.

My bosses and co-workers cringed as I jumped right into my new favourite band.  First up:  Greatest Hits, remastered of course.  Bought it, loved it.  It was a little light, with all those ballads, but I expected that.  It was songs like “Only the Young” and “Separate Ways” that slayed me.  To me it sounded as if Bon Jovi ripped off every trick he had right from Journey.  Early Bon Jovi, for sure.  Not everyone agreed with me on that, particularly Bon Jovi fans, but I don’t think it’s a stretch.

Next I acquired their Time3 box set, at which point I finally got a proper Journey education.   From their progressive jam band beginnings to a bitter ending at the close of the 80s, the Time3 box set got me up to speed.  Almost.

One thing was missing:  Journey’s 1996 reunion album with none other than Steve Perry.  Fortunately for me, one of my regular customers (whom the bosses hated because he chewed gum when he spoke) brought me a mint condition Japanese version of Trial By Fire, complete with bonus track.  Something about the album clicked with me, and to do this day — do I dare say it? — I think it’s my favourite Journey.  Trial By Fire is exceptional.  It is diverse, perhaps even more so than prior Journeys.  It is passionate, and Steve Perry’s seasoned voice is the real journey.

Of course all this new Journey love meant I was playing them in store, constantly.  One kid named Matty K absolutely loathed every time Steve Perry sang “Whoa-oh-oh oh” in any form.  Everybody else probably thought I lost my shit.  What can I say?  Journey’s music actually made me feel good.  Of course I wanted to play it often, and I’m sorry the others hated it.  And hate it they did!

Steve Perry didn’t want to tour after Trial By Fire and so was replaced by Steve Augeri for a couple releases…who was then replaced by Jeff Scott Soto in a killer lineup that didn’t last…and Soto was replaced by current singer Arnel Pineda.  His remarkable story is the stuff for a whole other article, but I still love Journey.

Since I missed out the first two times around, I would love to hear a Journey reunited with Steve Perry once again.  It doesn’t matter that his voice has changed.  There is nothing quite like hearing him sing.  Or play guitar?  I can’t remember!

REVIEW: Quiet Riot – Road Rage (2017 Japanese version)

QUIET RIOT – Road Rage (2017 Frontiers Japanese version)

We’ve always been honest but truthful Quiet Riot fans here at LeBrain HQ.  We’ve been banging our heads for almost 35 years now, and they included some ups and some downs.  The death of Kevin DuBrow was heartbreaking.  Some of our Quiet Riot reviews haven’t been the most popular, but we have always maintained an open mind.  Frankie Banali’s resurrected Quiet Riot with no original members left a bad taste in the mouth, especially after management attempted to re-write the band’s history on WikipediaPages were edited to indicate that the Metal Health album was Quiet Riot’s debut, seemingly in order to qualify Banali as an original member.  Ugly and undignified; but music talks and bullshit walks.  Quiet Riot’s first post-DuBrow always was 2014’s 10, with Love/Hate singer Jizzy Pearl taking over as the band’s sixth lead singer.  It wasn’t that good and it’s conceivable that the band know it.  No physical edition was ever released, and you can’t even buy a download anymore.

So, it’s delightful to be able to say that the new 2017 Quiet Riot album called Road Rage is…not bad at all!  Actually quite good!

It’s even been rocky since 10.  Jizzy Pearl left amicably, to be replaced by ex-Steven Adler singer Seann Nichols.  They recorded a new album, even released one full song online…and then suddenly Nichols was out!  American Idol alumnus James Durbin was hired in short order, and re-wrote and re-recorded the entire album.

Skeptics, be silent.  Our fair and balanced take on Quiet Riot in the past should speak volumes for the review you are about to read.  It would be far easier to mock Quiet Riot for their choice of a TV show contestant as a frontman, but it would be grossly inaccurate.

Durbin’s youthful enthusiasm will either win you over, or leave you complaining that he’s “not enough like DuBrow” and it “doesn’t sound like Quiet Riot”.  Here’s the truth — that’s good.  We’ve endured one soundalike singer after another.  Durbin has a fresh spin, and there’s little question the guy is just pleased as hell to be fronting this band!  he gives it all on “Can’t Get Enough”, a new uptempo Quiet Riot party tune.  Co-writer Neil Citron must have written the riff with a classic Quiet Riot vibe in mind.

Then it’s down weird street a little bit with the Indian-flavoured intro to “Get Away”.  It takes a moment, but once you realize “Hey, this isn’t the same old Quiet Riot”, you will be able to realize that “Get Away” is a damn good song.  It’s actually quite melodic rock, but with a Zeppelin groove.  Then it’s the pro-weed “Roll This Joint”, which has a seriously decent Zep vibe too.  The lyrics are pretty cheesey (“I’m with Cheech and Chong and Willie and Marley!”) but you gotta cut Durbin some slack.  He’s young and it’ll connect with some of that crowd.

The thing is, you just can’t dislike Durbin.  He wins you over, especially on the lead single “Freak Flag”.  This is the most Quiet Riot sounding track of the disc, but with Durbin it’s no carbon copy.  “Freak Flag” kicks ass and you can imagine it working great live.  Same with “Wasted”.  That chorus (“Take a shot!”) grows fast.  Even the ballad “The Road” doesn’t suck.  Through the 11 tracks, it’s clear who the star on this album is.  The new frontman rose to the challenge.  In the back, Frankie Banali’s providing the Quiet Riot backbeat; the linkage between past and present.  Guitarist Alex Grossi also turns in a worthy performance, and Chuck Wright (bass) has a co-write on the slippy-slidey “Still Wild”.  Despite the circumstances in the making of the album, Quiet Riot sound more focused than they have in decades.

Frankie’s revival of Quiet Riot has been going seven years straight, through five singers before getting James Durbin on board.  Only the singer has changed; Grossi and Wright have stood by through thick and thin.  No matter what, Quiet Riot will continue.  Fans should be advise that the first album with Durbin has turned out great, and let’s hope this is a long-term lineup.  He’s got the necessary range to sing vintage DuBrow, but in his own voice.  And that voice is growing quite compelling.  Not every song is killer, but the majority of the album gets the job done.  Enough to justify putting your money down.

The Japanese version of Road Rage has an exclusive bonus track.  It is an acoustic version of “Make A Way”, one of the heavy album tracks.  This isn’t a crappy remix, but an entirely new recording of the song in acoustic arrangement.  It’s different enough that it actually seems like a new song.  Bonus track:  win!*  

As Durbin sings, “Take a shot!”  Give Road Rage a road test.  Just don’t “Knock ‘Em Down”, or you will have to “Get Away”.  The quality of this album in terms of sound and songs gives the new Quiet Riot a level of credibility they didn’t have before.  Easily their best album since 1993’s Terrified or even before.  Let your “Freak Flag” fly, James Durbin!

3.75/5 stars

*  Former singer Seann Nichols made a comment in an interview that implied the version of Road Rage with his vocals was released in Japan; this is unfortunately not the case.  If you have any Seann Nichols versions of the Road Rage songs, please contact us here.  We are dying to review them in contrast to the final album!

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

REVIEW: Deep Purple – To the Rising Sun…in Tokyo (2 CD/1 DVD + Japanese bonus tracks)

The Deep Purple Project is a massive, ongoing series of in-depth reviews.  This is the last for now as we take a break, but Purple will return.  

DEEP PURPLE – To the Rising Sun…in Tokyo (2015 Edel 2 CD/1DVD set, Japanese CD with 2 bonus tracks)

Purple live releases have been in strong supply lately.  Last year, Purple released a matching set of double live albums, each with a complete DVD of the show in one package.  The first set, In Wacken, was reviewed yesterday.  Today, we look at In Tokyo.  In order to “get it all”, I added the Japanese 2 CD set with bonus tracks to my collection.  The bonus tracks are on the CD portion of the package.  As we did yesterday, we’ll get the bonus material out of the way first.

The two Japanese extras are instrumental versions of “Hell to Pay” and “Apres Vous”, newer songs from Now What?!  I am happy to report that these instrumentals are not live.  Since both songs are complete and live on the album proper, I was pleased to find these two are instrumental mixes of the studio cuts.  This makes sense, since the instrumental “Hell to Pay” is used as the main menu backing music on the live DVD.  As with any instrumental mix, it is interesting to pay attention to the musical interplay.  Since it’s Deep Purple we’re speaking about, it’s that much more enjoyable.

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Moving on to the live part of the set, the recorded intro of Holst’s “Mars: Bringer of War” has the Budokan crowd in Tokyo excited for the return of Deep Purple.  The band bravely opened with “Apres Vous”, the new cut from Now What?!  It works surprisingly well by setting a mood.  Ian Gillan keeps it from getting too serious by wearing one of those tuxedo-printed shirts.  I want one of those.

Gillan’s hoarse on “Into the Fire”, but overall he’s stronger than he was in Wacken.  The added grit makes the song tougher and closer to the 1969 original.  Also from way back then is “Hard Lovin’ Man”, a pairing that always works well.  Don Airey takes an extended Hammond solo, and the song gallops in a way that set the basis for Iron Maiden’s career.  Thrills and chills abound, but Morse is smiling so much that you know we’re all in for a good time.  What a contrast with the moody and unpredictable Ritchie Blackmore!  This breathtaking assault of a song absolutely needs to be played live.  It’s no surprise that they need to lay back with something slower after that.  “Strange Kind of Woman” does the trick with that unforgettable groove.  Morse pulls off a jazzy solo that just kills.  This is a far better version than the one in Wacken.  Speaking of women and strangeness, it’s odd that “Woman From Tokyo” wasn’t played this time.

“That was the end of the jazz part of the show,” says Ian.  Back to new songs, “Vincent Price” is rolled out next.  Brought to life on the stage, “Vincent Price” is heavier and chunky.  The spooky keyboards are intact and Gillan injects the song with extra terror.  Steve Morse is on a roll now, and it’s time for his solo.  It’s chopped up a bit compared to how they played it earlier in the year.  “Contact Lost” is still first, but this time that goes into “Uncommon Man”.  I love watching Steve Morse playing volume swells with his pinky on the knob, while hammering out a complex melody.  There are plenty of hand close-ups here.  Copy if you can!  (I can’t.)  When “Uncommon Man” begins, Ian Gillan whispers in Steve’s ear.  I like to think he just said, “That was incredible.”

“Uncommon Man” is powerful live, by the way.  Steve goes again with his playful “The Well-Dressed Guitar”.  The dexterity here is quite unbelievable, but you knew that already.  Once again I’m grateful for plenty of hand close-ups.  I have no prayer of being able to play this but I love to watch and see how it’s done, and just marvel.  During a break in the keyboard part, Don Airey claps and dances along; quite amusing!

The Fireball oldie “The Mule” is always welcome out of the mothballs.  A drum workout, Ian Paice is given a chance to show that time has not lessened his abilities one iota.  It’s a busy drum song, and quickly descends into a mad solo.  At one point, the lights go out and Ian plays with glowing sticks, Sheila E style.  He gets to slow down a little on the Jon Lord tribute “Above and Beyond”.  Jon’s image behind them on the big screens of the Budokan, you can sense the emotion of the moment.  His successor Don Airey plays a Hammond tribute to Jon, before the band return to the sound of “Lazy”.  It’s just a seamless blur of one incredible piece of music after another.

“Hell to Pay” continues to prove its worth as a stage-ready, fun rocker.  You can tell that the formalities are over now, because Gillan has changed out of his tuxedo print shirt!  Don Airey dominates on the Hammond.  He gets a spotlight solo next, a chance to do his own thing.  Like his solo in Wacken, this includes a snippet of “Mr. Crowley”, a song that Don played on way back in 1980, and the ensuing Ozzy Osbourne tours.  His solo runs the gamut from tender piano, to classical passages, to spacey synth.  He quotes the melody of “Woman From Tokyo” which the crowd clearly appreciated.

It’s all business from here.  “Perfect Strangers”, as usual the only song from the 80’s, is as timeless as always.  Back to Machine Head for “Space Truckin'”, Roger Glover seems to be having a great time rocking it for the crowd in Japan.  Gillan’s sounding a bit knackered, but he’s still going for it.  No retreat, no surrender.  The classic riff, “Smoke on the Water” explodes in the Budokan, as we draw close to the end.  You can tell they still have fun playing this song, loose and never the same twice.  Two encores are still to be had:  the medley of “Green Onions”/”Hush”, and “Black Night”.  “Hush” is given a neat slinky jam section, because they’re Deep Purple and why the hell not?  After a brief Glover bass jam, “Black Night” commences as the final song of the night.  Gillan’s sounding tired, but that’s rock and roll.  They’re finally done, Roger lingering to make sure he’s thrown out every last pick.  That too is rock and roll.

These two sets were time consuming but very entertaining.  I think they are both worth having, but if you are not the Purple diehard that needs as much as you can consume, be aware that these are men in their late 60’s.  They are not spring chickens, so don’t expect To the Rising Sun…in Tokyo to be the equal of Made in Japan.

3.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Royal Blood – Royal Blood (2014 Japanese version)

ROYAL BLOOD – Royal Blood (2014 Warner Music Japan, three bonus tracks)

Bass and drum duos are all the rage, but it’s all about the songs.  You can do a lot with just those two instruments as it turns out.  Royal Blood’s palette of sound is also of the bass and drum duo persuasion, and they have the songs too.  Their 32 minute (43 minute on the Japanese with bonus tracks) debut album has enough good tunes that you won’t notice there are only two guys playing.  The tunes are all short, tight and to the point.

Mike Kerr (bass, vocals) and Ben Thacker (drums) have been praised by luminaries such as Jimmy Page for this fine debut album.  When someone like Jimmy Page excitedly declares he’s a fan, I don’t care who you are — you gotta check them out.  Royal Blood composed a series of tightly arranged riffy songs, with some serious heft.    Riffs such as the one on “Come on Over” sound nothing at all like bass.  Kerr squeals high notes out of his bass like it’s nothing, all while pouring it all into his singing simultaneously. The dude possesses the pipes necessary to infect his songs full of angst.

Check out the tense “Figure it Out”, their best single so far. Thacker keeps himself busy on the drums, working with the song not against it. Everything these guy do serves the song. “Figure it Out” had to be one of the best rock singles of 2014, expertly crafted for maximum rigidity and plutonium hooks. Every song delivers sturdy riffs, understated vocal melodies, and plenty of taut rock action.

The songs are on such a level that only a few stand out above the others. “Figure it Out” is the obvious one, but a few others impress as highlights. “Little Monster” (also a single) isn’t forgettable, and “Ten Tonne Skeleton” immediately reminded me of Them Crooked Vultures. “Loose Change” shakes things up by going slightly funky with some electronic drum effects. These guys don’t waste their time farting around. They slam you with the riffage, bang bang bang, and they’re done. Of course with a band of this configuration, the songs are composed with plenty of space between the instruments, and that adds to the heft of it all.

When the CD ends after “Better Strangers” we are treated to three Japanese bonus tracks. “Hole” is from the first Royal Blood EP Out of the Black. Its slow Soundgarden-Nirvana grunge is notably less crisp sounding than the album at large, but holy cow — this is heavy shit! Right out of 1992. “You Want Me” was lifted from the single for “Come on Over”. This is upbeat hard rocking fun. The final track “Love and Leave it Alone” is from the “Figure it Out” single, and it may be one of the best songs here. It’s interesting that the bonus tracks offer more variety than the album itself, which is a good enough reason to own them. Each of these tracks is different and deliciously good.

Get some Royal Blood in ya.

4/5 stars