japanese imports

REVIEW: Alice Cooper – Flush the Fashion (1980)

ALICE COOPER ’80 – Flush the Fashion (1980 Warner, Japanese CD)

The early 80s were a tough time for the Coop.  His previous record, From the Inside, was written about getting clean in the loony bin.  Staying clean wasn’t easy and so we enter the “lost years”:  the records Alice doesn’t remember making due to being blackout drunk.  Flush the Fashion is a divisive album, with some fans loving its straight-ahead new wave direction, while others despaired Alice’s temporary abandonment of rock.  The truth lies somewhere in the middle.  It was the 80s and if that wasn’t obvious by the “ALICE COOPER ’80” title at the top, it definitely was clear by the keyboards and programming.  Roy Thomas Baker of Queen and The Cars fame produced.

With song titles ripped from the National Enquirer, Flush the Fashion contains a number of short, fast, punky new wave songs beginning with “Talk Talk” at barely two minutes long.  You will either love this tough nut of a guitar-driver, or you will be indifferent to it for being light on hooks and brittle in sound.

“Clones (We’re All)”, which was written by outsider David Carron, is the clear album highlight.  It was later covered by Smashing Pumpkins on the B-side to “Bullet With Butterfly Wings”, and has seen action in Alice’s live set occasionally over the years.  This fun, keyboard-heavy new wave song really nails the 80s sound Alice was going for.  Programmed beats, a bouncy keyboard, catchy words and you have a keeper.  It went Top 40 and evokes a smile and maybe even a little bit of fist pounding.

The ballad “Pain” is the second in a pair of keepers.  A piano-based mourner with a powerful pound, “Pain” possesses tremendous appeal.  Alice’s interesting lyrics provide a number of metaphors for your own internal pain.   “The loudest one laughing at the saddest wake,” for example, and “the lump on your head when you step on a rake.”  Not overly serious, but suiting the character of Alice the masochist.  There’s a simply wonderful dual guitar harmony in the middle that is worth rewinding several times on its own.

“Clones” and “Pain” together are seven solid minutes of Alice that you simply cannot help but sing along to.  The songs will burrow into your mind until they are a permanent part of your grey matter.  They are the proverbial keepers.  The same cannot be said for the rest of the album, which defies memorability at almost every turn.  Fortunately, all these songs are short.

“Leather Boots” isn’t a great song, but it is at least a fun twangy rocker.  Similarly, “Aspirin Damage” is fun if forgettable.  Regardless of the music, Alice’s lyrics always offer some interesting twist or perspective.  There’s probably something autobiographical happening in the back of his mind here too.

That’s side one in a nutshell, under 14 minutes of music.  Side two is over and out in under 15.  These are short songs!  “Nuclear Infected” has some unremarkable guitar crunch.  “Grim Facts” is cooler.  This steadfast stomper has a certain Cars-like vibe courtesy of Baker.  “Model Citizen” leans a bit more into a punky direction, until the chorus which is kitschy Alice with lush backing vocals while Alice does his sinister speak-sing.  For a more traditional Alice song, there’s “Dance Yourself to Death”, which would probably be a third keeper if you were willing to extend it that honour.  No new wave trappings here, just traditional rock like the Alice Cooper Band of old.  It just…it doesn’t stick.  It’s notable for being one of those good second-last tunes though.  The final song is “Headlines”, which has a variety of different sections and tempos, and one cool riff.

Another listener could probably make a case for a solid 3.5/5 star album.  Others will enjoy isolated moments, but will struggle through.  Which are you?

3/5 stars

RE-REVIEW: Iron Maiden – The X Factor (1995 2 CD Japanese import)

IRON MAIDEN – The X Factor (1995 EMI Japan 2 CD limited edition)

For this revisit, we will take a deep dive on the Japanese version of Iron Maiden’s controversial 1995 album The X Factor.  As the first new studio album in three years, anticipation ran high.  There was also a minor problem that needed sorting out.  Longtime vocalist Bruce Dickinson quit to go solo after more than a decade in Iron Maiden, leaving the remaining band with an air raid siren-sized hole to fill.  The band had already been rocked by the 1990 departure of guitarist Adrian Smith, whose songwriting and melodic solo construction was missed.  That’s not a knock on the guy who replaced him, Janick Gers.  Gers was a different kind of player, and the elements that Smith used to bring to the band were gone.  Fans had to endure an even more serious change when Wolfsbane vocalist Blaze Bayley was chosen to replace Bruce.

Virtually unknown in North America, Blaze Bayley was a powerhouse baritone who wasn’t known for hitting the highs of Bruce Dickinson.  However, Maiden seemed to like change and the 1990s were a darker time.  In that context, Bayley was a better fit.  Bruce’s style of singing was on its way out, while Bayley could have fronted a grunge band had he chosen to go that way.  At the same time, Steve Harris was dealing with losses in his life, and Bayley’s voice suited the more pensive tone of the new music.  In another major change, producer Martin Birch stepped down leaving Steve Harris and co-producer Nigel Green to their own devices, for better or for worse.  You’ll notice the mix is quite bass-heavy….

The X Factor was released in October of 1995 to a lot of indifference.  Even the new cover art by Hugh Syme turned off some fans.  It was the longest Maiden album so far by a long shot at over 70 minutes.  In Japan, the CD came with a bonus disc of three original B-sides, boosting the length to over 82 minutes.  Maiden rarely recorded original material for B-sides (“Total Eclipse” notwithstanding), but this time they had 14 tracks to choose from in total.  A bumper crop of creativity.

“Sign of the Cross” has to be one of Maiden’s most impactful openers, though it takes a minute to get going.  If you thought you bought a CD of Gregorian chants (very big in 1995; even Van Halen used ’em), then that’s forgivable.  Maiden jumped on the chant bandwagon for the 11 minute epic opener, a very unique track in the catalogue.  A bass intro begins the song proper, and if there’s one flaw on The X Factor, it’s too many bass intros (see above comment about “left to their own devices”).  The clean guitars backing the bass are a nice touch, and there is no question that The X Factor is a brilliant sounding album.  The vocals finally kick in almost three minutes into the song, kicking the song into a slow determined march.  The evocative imagery recalls dark corners of Catholic history while the music goes through multiple thrilling sections, from speedy manic solos (Janick proving his worth to a song like that) to more complex rhythms.  The song eventually resolves as it began, in quiet contemplation accompanied by bass.  “Sign of the Cross” was considered good enough to keep in the set even after Dickinson returned to Iron Maiden at the end of the 90s.

Wisely picking up the pace for the next track, the single “Lord of the Flies” kicks it into higher gear.  The speedy riff rocker barrels along steadily, with a slamming chorus.  Co-written by Gers, you can hear his influence.  Blaze sinks his teeth into the meaty verses and the chorus delivers the kind of hooks that we’re used to from Iron Maiden.  Once again, Bruce sang this song when he returned.  In this case, Dickinson was able to elevate the tune by using his air raid siren to boost the chorus.  That’s not a knock on Blaze, who owns the tune with grit and bite.

“Man on the Edge” is an interesting song not because it was the poorly chosen first single.  It’s interesting because just six years earlier, the song could never have been written.  As a co-write between Gers and Bayley, it’s entirely composed by the newest members.  Based on the excellent film Falling Down, the song depicts the character of “D-Fens” gradually losing it over the course of a day.  It’s just not up to the quality of the prior two songs, but Bruce still performed it on the 1999 tour.  Be forewarned:  excluding the bonus disc, this is pretty much the last time Iron Maiden pick up the pace on The X Factor.

That’s not to say the rest of the songs are junk.  “Fortunes of War” (another bass intro) begins soft and ballady, although it does get moving towards the end.  In the 1990s, Steve Harris really leaned into repeating sections of his songs, and “Fortunes of War” is certainly one of those.  It’s also one of many tunes on the album based on, or including, war imagery.  There’s a neat guitar part stuffed between bass sections, but too many bass sections!  It’s not that interesting an instrument, Steve.  Janick Gers and Dave Murray lay down a pair of nice solos, and drummer Nicko McBrain plays it fairly straight.  Not a lot of elaborate drum rolls on this album.  Nicko lays back with the songs.

The last song on side one was “Look For the Truth”, a dark contemplative song about personal struggles.  The bass intro this time is at least accompanied by guitar.  “Look For the Truth” begins slowly but then slams into heavy.  Blaze really has this one firmly in his grasp, as he spits out the words.  “It’s my final stand, I make a fist out of each hand.  To the shadows of the past, take a breath and I scream attack.”  This is the first of four co-writes between Harris, Gers and Bayley.  (Gers has seven credits on the first disc, Bayley has five, and Harris ten.)  The main hook here is a simple “Woah oh oh,” which works fine and dandy, and did so in concert.

“The Aftermath” is another slow war song…but with no bass intro!  It’s a little unorthodox as it goes almost three minutes before we hit the first chorus.  It really takes a while to get to the point where they speed it up, but it finally does with a cry of “I’m just a soldier!” and another wicked Janick Gers solo.  Then it resumes its plodding pace to the close.  Not an album highlight, but a song that was performed live on The X Fac-tour.

A little peppier is “Judgement of Heaven”, another soul-searching number with lines like “I’ve been depressed so long, it’s hard to remember being happy,” and “I felt like suicide, a dozen times or more.”  That’s countered with the line, “But that’s the easy way, that’s the selfish way, the hardest part is to get on with your life.”  Then the music cranks into gear and you feel empowered by the music and Blaze’s gravelly delivery.  You got this — you can do whatever you need to.  You can survive.  That’s the message and it sounds great coming from Iron Maiden.  The uplifting chorus “All of my life, I have believed judgement of Heaven is waiting for me,” is a little Christian sounding for this band, but it does the job.  And Davey Murray then flies in with a wicked signature solo, and then Gers joins in for some harmonies.  Blaze even tries for a high note at the end!

The album dips a bit in quality at this point.  “Blood on the World’s Hands” is not of the finest moments on The X Factor.  It boasts the worst bass intro yet, and it goes on for-bloody-ever.  At some points it sounds as bad I do, just randomly hitting notes in random order.  Mercifully the song really begins at 1:15 but the damage has been done.  It’s a decent song from that point on…but see above about Steve being left to his own devices as co-producer with Nigel Green.  A different producer would have axed that intro.  Cool Murray/Gers solo though, and Nicko gets to play around with unorthodox drums patterns.

“The Edge of Darkness” feels as if we’re moving towards an ending.  A dramatic re-telling of Apocalypse Now with yet another bass intro, this is a good song.  How many war songs do you need?  Don’t worry, this is the last one.  Like most of the tunes (especially those with bass intros), it begins slowly before heavy-ing up partway.  When it gets galloping, it’s solid gold.  “I know Captain that you’ve done this work before, we’ve got a problem and you can help us I am sure.”  You know where it goes from there.  “Your mission, terminate with extreme prejudice.”  All he wanted was a mission and for his sins they gave him one.  Vocally, Blaze has his hands full here with rapid-fire lyrics and plenty of “Woah-oh” hooks.  The guitar solos are like old-school Maiden again, and the gallop recalls earlier days.  “And now I understand why the genius must die…”

The album goes dark with “2 A.M.”, the third of the contemplative songs of self-reflection.  On first listen it doesn’t stand out but it grows over time.  “Here I am again, on my own again…”  We’ve all felt that way.  This is a sparse, direct, morose tune but not without merit.  On past albums it probably would not have made the final cut, though the guitar sections are great.

The final track on disc one is “The Unbeliever”, another unorthodox tune, centered on a bassline, but at least without a bass intro!  A Gers/Harris composition of self-reflection, that has a very different rhythm and layering of instruments.  “All my life, I’ve run astray, allowed my faith to drift away.”  Interesting that there are so many songs on this album about losing faith:  “Sign of the Cross”, “Judgement of Heaven”, and “The Unbeliever”.  The three dominant themes on this album (often overlapping) are war, losing faith, and personal struggles.  Quite different from the Iron Maiden that wrote songs about mythology, killers in alleyways, and dying with your boots on.  If there was ever a time to turn inwards and reflect, it was the 1990s.  Later albums would find a stronger balance of lyrical themes, but there is no question that the music of The X Factor suits the lyrics perfectly and vice-versa.

“The Unbeliever” ends with just an audio snip of studio chatter.  “That’s the one!” somebody says after a good take.

Over to disc two, exclusive to Japan:  all three tracks were available on B-sides to “Man on the Edge”, but one was exclusive to vinyl.  All three are fast songs that would have dramatically altered the complexion of the album had they been included in the regular tracklist.

The only Dave Murray co-write (with Harris) is the speedy “Justice of the Peace”.  This tune is about the decline of modern society.  “It must be the cynic in me, but I don’t really like things now.  The violence, the attitude, aggression that you see every day.  Sick society looks the other way.”  It has a similar vibe to “Man on the Edge” though not as manically paced.  Murray lays down a classic Beast-era sounding solo to top it off.  It’s over and out in just 3:34, the shortest song of them all.

“I Live My Way” is special because this is its only release on CD.  The only other way to get it is on vinyl.  Most Iron Maiden fans simply do not own a copy. As another speedy tune written by Harris/Gers/Bayley, it’s probably the least remarkable but certainly a special rarity.  You can count this as another one about self-reflection, though more headstrong and confident.

“Judgement Day”, the second song written by Blaze and Janick without involvement from Steve, is a fast blazer continuing the critique on modern society.  When the bonus tracks are considered, commentary on humanity could be considered the fourth dominant theme.  “There are no marks upon a man, that can say he’s good or bad.”  The lens is focused this time on the evil people living among us.  Musically it is most similar to a previous Maiden single called “Be Quick or Be Dead”.

The X Factor is a long album to start with, but the bonus disc here adds incredible value not only for the collector, but also for the listening experience.  The album needed more pep, less slow songs and fewer bass intros.  You could make a pretty incredible vintage-sounding X Factor “greatest hits” CD by including some of these B-sides, and capping the run time off at 45 minutes.

Japanese releases often got bonuses but this one has more than just extra music.  The old style “fat” CD case conceals additional booklets, some not included in the international releases; four in total.  They include:

  • Japanese lyric sheet for the album.
  • Japanese lyric sheet for the bonus disc.
  • Regular CD booklet, same as the international release.
  • Bonus 22 page full colour booklet exclusive to this release.

This bonus booklet is a real treat, featuring tons of album and single art, with band photos.  It includes a discography and list of Japanese tours, including the setlists.  It’s great even if you can’t read the notes in Japanese; all the titles are in English.

The X Factor is a deeply personal album that Steve Harris is very proud of and considers one of his best.  Fans have been split on this, with most considering it inferior to almost all the prior albums.  That’s not fair.  It’s very different, less aggressive, darker and slower.  It was an experimental evolution made possible by lineup changes and the shifting sands of the musical tastes of the 1990s.  There are deeper songs and the material fit the downbeat mood of the time.  Many of the songs were more energetic live.  Overall, not one of Maiden’s top five, and not a commercial success, but it can be a rewarding if overly long listen.  The inclusion of the B-sides on the Japanese set dramatically improves the experience.

3.75/5 stars

 

 

2 years later: “LeBrain’s Covid-19 Message”

This did not age well. The comment about hoarding toilet paper is funny. I remember my dad didn’t like this video. He found it too “angry”. It did start the whole “VoiVod!” thing with Rob Daniels though! This is just after lockdown began, but before the LeBrain Train launched. Interesting from a certain point of view. Where’s that Queen shirt now? Can’t find it anywhere!

Originally posted March 18 2020.

Unboxing Four Japanese Imports – live!

Sometimes the easiest way to make a video is to do it live. Last night I unboxed four new arrivals from Japan!

There’s one seller in Japan who has dozens of items on my wishlist. They’ve helped me add many long-sought items to my library over the years. This time, I added to my Scorpions and ZZ Top collections, while taking a chance on a serious Iron Maiden rarity that was priced inexplicably cheap.

Wanna see how it turned out? Watch the short video below.

#967: Dilemmas of Buying

RECORD STORE TALES #967:  Dilemmas of Buying

Mixing friends with work is always a tough balancing act.  When you work retail, it’s even harder.  The friends come to you, and they’d like to do business with someone they are familiar with.  Who wouldn’t?  At the Record Store, it was particularly difficult to maintain a stable counterbalance when buying used CDs from people who consider you to be a friend.

One thing always said when training new staff on buying used CDs was that “every customer thinks their CDs are gold.”  They don’t really understand why certain ones are worthless to you.  When buying from the customer, we went into detail explaining the why’s and wherefore’s of the offer, breaking it down disc by disc.  “These ones I can’t take because I already have two or more copies of each right now, and the other stores are well stocked too.”

When it’s a friend coming in to sell their discs to you, they don’t necessarily expect any special treatment, but they do expect you to “do your best” with your offer.  And that wasn’t always possible.

Upper management really kept an eye on my interactions with my regular customers.  They often complained to me that I paid too much for stuff when it was somebody I “preferred”.  That may be true in some instances, but I believe that upper management were too focused on dollars and cents, and not maintaining good relations with a regular customer.  A customer — somebody who spent money in our stores or supplied us with used stock that we in turn sold and made a profit on.  The managers were always hammering us on COGS – Cost of Goods Sold.  We had targets to aim for, and strategies for buying stock.  Unfortunately, this ran contradictory to “doing your best” when buying stock from somebody who knows you.

Just because somebody considers you a friend doesn’t mean they won’t go somewhere else to sell their discs to get better money.  They will.  They did!

“Come on Mike, this was twelve bucks when I bought it from you!  You can only give me three?”

“Fine, fine, I’ll give you four.  Just don’t say anything.  The bosses really hound me if they see me giving more than I should.”

Another factor is that every customer felt their CDs were in great shape even if the store didn’t.  That was another source of conflict.  We had a regional manager who was so picky that she would deduct money from a customer’s total for the lightest hairline scratches, even off the actual playing surface of the disc.  When you answer to someone like that, it was hard keeping your regulars happy with your offers.

And they really did watch me.  More than once they gave me shit for treating my regulars better than they thought I needed to.  Conrad, for example.  The guy bought in so many Japanese imports.  I don’t know how he had so many, but I tried to give him the maximum.  He could have taken them downtown, but he came to me.  He chose me because we both liked heavy metal (especially Bruce Dickinson) and both understand the value of Japanese imports.  He pissed off management because if I wasn’t working, the person who was usually offered him less, which he would complain about.

To me it didn’t matter that my COGS would take a hit by offering Conrad top dollar.  What mattered more was keeping Conrad loyal.  Where in Kitchener are you going to buy Japanese imports?

At Encore Records, that’s where, if Conrad thought he wasn’t getting enough money.

I’m sure, given the opportunity, the old management could run off a litany of reasons why I’m wrong.  But the fact is they had their own preferred customer.  They called him “Scottish Man” and only a limited number of employees dealt with him because he expected top dollar.  Now, upper management would always tell you that “Scottish Man brought in better stock and was more pleasant than gum-chewin’ Conrad.”  That sounds like a bias against heavy metal and chewing gum to me.

Just my opinion.  Just my opinion from my position at the front counter.

Let’s just say that if Conrad was bringing in rare Van Morrison and Stones imports instead of Axel Rudi Pell and Helloween box sets, their opinions might have been different.  With or without the chewing gum.

GUEST REVIEW: Anthem – Ultimate Best Of Nexus Years (2012) by Thunder Blackmore

By Thunder Blackmore

ANTHEM – Ultimate Best Of Nexus Years (2012 King Record Co.)

In the world of metal, there is no short list of underrated bands from every corner and country of the world. Specially with long-standing bands that are still going strong to this day. Would it be bands like E-Z-O from Japan, Pretty Maids from Denmark, Thor from Canada, or Helloween from Germany, everyone regardless of nationality has a favorite band, who did well for themselves, but could’ve, would’ve and should’ve gone big. And while my choice for most underrated metal band ever would go to my fellow countrymen Pretty Maids (national bias has its moments), Japanese metal legends Anthem earns the runner-up spot, easily.

The band, led by bassist Naoto Shibata, who are perhaps more famous for his work with Loudness and Crush 40 in the 90’s, had a tough time in the 80’s with success in their homeland and even a small US tour in ’87, but also with internal struggles which prevented the band to go beyond like their fellow and more successful countrymen, Loudness. Ultimately the band would be disbanded in 1992 until they reunited in 2001 and have been going strong since then. A band considered by many to be part of the big four of Japanese Metal (with X Japan, Loudness and Flatbacker/E-Z-O) with mostly consistent excellent releases throughout the years, who just now are getting released to the west on streaming services and (hopefully) physically by Nuclear Blast. So far, there’s two options for getting into Anthem’s discography, which just so happen to be compilations. For their new era, there is Nucleus, released by the aforementioned Nuclear Blast. But as for their classic period, the import to buy is this one. Ultimate Best Of Nexus Years.

Japanese releases has a reputation of not being a very cheap options, so getting this compilation is definitely a good starter point. It collects songs from the band’s initial 80’s era, starting with the self-titled debut and ending with their final album before their hiatus, Domestic Booty (you’ll be the judge for the supposed meaning of “booty”). Given that the compilation is split into two cd’s, it also reflects the times with the singers Eizo Sakamoto and Yukio Morikawa representing disc 1 and 2, respectively. This decision, coupled with the track list being in chronological order, can be difficult at first listen. Not necessarily with the tracks themselves but more with the unevenness with the production, as the first Anthem albums sound pretty rough. Granted, that’s not a problem exclusive to the band, but that also means that you’ll have to skip to track 13, “Bound to Break”, if you are somewhat put off by the roughness.

If you can hang with it, you are in for 2 hours of kickass catchy melodic metal majesty from glorious Nippon with no noteworthy duds. Even with my nitpicky desire to swap out some tracks for others, I’m still absolutely happy with this purchase. Standouts have to be “Venom Strike”, “Shadow Walk”, “Bound to Break”, “Hunting Time”, “Night After Night” and “Show Must Go On”. The latter being their first original song with English lyrics (courtesy of the late Chris Tsangarides) and being their first to be featured in the Anime OVA, Devilman.

Until Anthem can finally release their back-catalog on physical media for a much more affordable price (CD, vinyl or otherwise), this one will do wonders in the meantime.

4.95/5 stars

Thanks to Thunder Blackmore for this awesome review.

 

 

REVIEW: Loudness – Metal Mad (2008)

“Forever, carry on!  Turning up the sound and let it roll.  Raise your fist up in the sky!  The spirit of metal will never die!”

LOUDNESS – Metal Mad (2008 Tokuma Japan)

Loudness reunited their original lineup in 2000, but little did they know it would not last a full decade.  Drummer Munetaka Higuchi was diagnosed with liver cancer only two months after the release of the 2008 album Metal Mad.  He passed away in November of that year.  Although they had enough drum tracks recorded to make one more record with Higuchi (2009’s The Everlasting), Metal Mad was the last in his lifetime.

Metal Mad is the 21st Loudness studio album, recorded in the midst of a flurry of studio activity, as Loudness never slowed down, and guitarist Akira Takasaki was pounding out solo work on top of it.

One certain thing about Loudness:  just because they reunited the original lineup doesn’t mean they wanted to backtrack musically.  Metal Mad is heavy.  It continues the sonic experimentation that Loudness began in the mid 90s.  Though it does contain one undeniable anthem, this album is a heavy grind of metal styles, all very loud.

The opening instrumental “Fire of Spirit” sets the tone with a heavy riff that could have come from one of Loudness’ thrash contemporaries like Megadeth or Metallica…but with far more weight, and with an absolute master on the drums.  There’s a hint of the St. Anger snare, but it does not persist through the album.  Instead the track fades into the anthem of the album:  “Metal Mad”!

“Metal Mad” is a fast, simple track, but damn does it get the job done!  “Forever! Carry on! Turning up the sound and let it roll. Raise your fist up in the sky! The spirit of metal will never die!”  Custom built for the festival crowds.  Akira takes a couple bananas solos as the perfect icing on this sweet piece of metal cake.

But that’s it for that style of metal on this album.  They thrash through “High Flyer” with singer Minoru Niihara’s voice filtered through distortion.  Then it’s a hint of rap metal on the very aggressive “Spellbound #9”.  Funny thing is, Minoru can pull it off.  This is heavy stuff, certainly strong enough to compete with the big name heavy bands that Loudness inspired in the first place.  “Crimson Paradox” takes on groove metal, with a touch of exotic guitar added for spice.

The metal is heavy on “Black and White”, but with lyrics like “bullshit bullshit”, it’s a little too much of the “nu” variety.  Same with the droning guitar and vocal of “Whatsoever”, though the melodic chorus isn’t bad.  “Call of the Reaper” takes things back to centre with a riff similar to “Be Quick Or Be Dead” by Iron Maiden, but within a song that goes in a different direction.  Mental solos!  “Can’t Find My Way” starts promisingly, with quiet experimental guitars, and focuses strongly on vocal melody despite the heavy riffing going on.  In fact the only thing wrong with it is one particular riff that too strongly resembles (ugh) “Loch Ness” by Judas Priest.

The end of the album is heralded by two interesting final tracks, “Gravity” and “Transformation”, both experimental with grooves and great guitar work.  Akira uses so many different tones on this album, often within the same song.  “Gravity” is guitar player nirvana, while “Transformation” even goes a little funky.

Metal Mad ain’t bad.  Its strength is the musicianship.  Metal Mad has the title track going for it, but not a lot of actual memorable songs besides that.  By focusing so much on being heavy, it loses distinction between the songs.

3/5 stars

Easter Memories: Quiet Riot, GI Joe, Alice Cooper, Def Leppard & More!

Just a short show tonight, for those stuck at home this Easter weekend with nothing much else to do! Music, toys, happy memories. Lots of audio/visual aids. Great comments and audience participation.

Quiet Riot, Black Sabbath, David Lee Roth, Def Leppard, Aerosmith, and rare Japanese imports.

Bonus: Couldn’t resist playing some music so we closed with the show with Uncle Meat singing “Fairies Wear Boots” back in 1991 with Heavy Cutting. Thank you for watching!

 

NEXT WEEK:  ANDY CURRAN!

REVIEW: Loudness – Live-Loud-Alive – Loudness in Tokyo (1983)

LOUDNESS – Live-Loud-Alive – Loudess in Tokyo (1983 Columbia)

Like many classic rock bands, Loudness waited three studio albums before going double live.  The Birthday EveDevil Soldier and The Law of Devil’s Land were ripe and ready for live album immortality.  English is minimal, but you don’t need a Japanese dictionary to enjoy the metal within Live-Loud-Alive.  It is the most galvanized of the metal; Loudness’ integrity uncompromised, with Akira Takasaki in lead shred mode.

With a double length album so early in Loudness’ career, they played plenty of non-album material to fill it.  And it’s good!

Opening with a recording of Holst’s “Mars, the Bringer of War” the band rip right into the riff for “In the Mirror”.  That guitar sounds so classic, you’ll be questioning which Scorpions or Metallica album it’s from.  A heavy chug named “Road Racer” (originally a non-album Loudness single) is paired with one of Minoru Niihara’s most melodic lead vocals.  Only the thick and shimmery (probably embellished) chorus is in English.   On guitar, Akira Takasaki’s solo sounds like he is re-entering the atmosphere after an alien/robot conference in space.  “I Was the Sun” has a slower beat, pounding sheet metal into lethal form, with an elementary riff.  Ordinary as the riff may be, it isn’t the highlight this time.  The chorus takes center stage.  The first side of the original vinyl ended on “Fly Away”, a mammoth of a song mixing the delicate and the heavy.

“Black Wall” opens on what sounds like bass synth, but Akira soon takes command with a melancholy and precise guitar pattern.  Then, like any good Sabbath song, he breaks into a completely different lick, just as catchy.  An instrumental track from Akira’s solo album follows, including a wicked drum solo by Munetaka Higuchi.  This side of the record blows out with “Mr. Yesman”, a complex track like “2112” crossed with “Children of the Damned”.

On side three, a new song is previewed:  “Exploder”, a Van Halen-like guitar instrumental destined for album #4.  This transitions into another instrumental called “Heavenward”, similar to Akira’s solo work.  It’s all just good music that flows track intro track.  Guitar shrieks tell us that “Loudness” is next, a brilliant mid-tempo rocker of radio-ready nature.  It sounds like vintage, early 80s Scorpions.  Another killer riff in “Sleepless Night” brings the side to a solid close.

“Speed” does what it says.  That’s no surprise.  What may be surprising is the quality of the non-album B-side “Shinkiro”.  This cool track has some great melodic twists and an absolutely brilliant and varied Akira solo.  One of his best!  From volume-knob twists to full-on speed, it’s brilliant.  The only way to end it is by going back to the beginning, and “Burning Love”, the first non-album single by the band.  It’s a blistering way to go out.

Though not singing primarily in English yet, their musical influences were clearly the same ones from North America and Europe that we know and love too.  While you may not recognize the songs, many will sound familiar because they draw from the same pool.  It’s the best of early Loudness, void of commercial ambition.  While you do lose the ability to sing along, you can at least slam to the riffs.  One can hear why this album is held in such high esteem by the faithful.  It sounds like an experience.

4/5 stars

REVIEW: Corey Taylor – CMFT (2020 Japanese version)

COREY TAYLOR – CMFT (2020 Warner Japan)

I’ve never particularly cared for Slipknot and I don’t own any Stone Sour.  However I’ve been aware of Corey Taylor since 2014’s Dio tribute, and “Rainbow in the Dark”.  That side of Taylor landed right in my ballpark.  So did his solo single “Black Eyes Blue”.

“Why not spend some dollars and get his album, see what he’s up to?” I said to myself.

“Oh wait,” and a pause.  “I need to know if there are any bonus tracks so I can buy the most complete version,” replied my Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.  Some typing.  C-D-J-A-P-A-N into the search engine, a short wait and — confirmed.  “Black Eyes Blue”, acoustic bonus track.  In stock.

“It’s only money,” said the idiot in the middle of a pandemic.

A few weeks later, a Japanese CD of Corey Taylor’s solo debut CMFT , bejewelled wresting belt on the cover, had hit Canadian shores and was on its way to my post box.


The scene is set when the laser blasts aluminium.  A southern rockabilly vibe on “HWY 666” takes us on a heavy car trip in the forbidden zone.  This is what Nickelback was wishing they did with “The Devil Went Down to Georgia”.

The big single is in the welcoming second slot.  It’s hard to describe “Black Eyes Blue”, except that the beat swings in a danceable way while the chorus delivers big hooks.  Just like a classic Bon Jovi rocker, a guitar solo blasts out Sambora-like with a complimentary hook.  It’s all over but the crashing chords in just over three minutes.  Picture yourself on the highway going on at a good clip with the windows down, but the music blasting louder than the wind.  Classic in the making.

Taylor goes for a punky hard rock vibe on the next one, “Samantha’s Gone”, just a blast in a pickup truck on a dusty highway.  “We all got nothin’ to lose because the cash is gone,” goes the the thick chorus.  Some bright blasts of mean guitar melodicism keeps the hooks-a-flowin’ like booze.  It goes full-on punk rock with “Meine Lux”, but still in southern territory.  Filler perhaps; fortunately “Halfway Down” has a broader appeal.  It’s from the same Sonic Temple that the Cult built in 1989.  Straight-ahead hard rock with fat trimmed and bone-in.  

Corey opens and lets sentiment out on the sixth number, a dark exploration called “Silverfish”.  It’s a big ballad that sounds akin to some of the radio staples of the early 90s, but the surprising next twist is a splash of nice acoustic on “Kansas”.  This bright pop rocker recalls the big sounds of the Goo Doo Dolls on some of their biggest albums.  Clearly, Corey Taylor is dialled into the pop side of his music collection on this album.

Suddenly, like the car has hit the brakes to save a scared animal’s life, the tone changes and you’ve got whiplash.  “Culture Head” gets topical and aggressive.  It’s detuned and pissed off.   The speed picks up on a tangent with “Everybody Dies on My Birthday” which recalls the drum stylings of Matt Sorum.  The metal is strong with this one, as are the “We are!” singalong vocals.

The car you’re driving pulls into a diner on the roadside, and that’s “The Maria Fire”.  There’s a local band with a southern twang playing electric guitars.  Though the band is hot and the guitarist is smoking the fretboard, this is rough place and the tension feels like a fight could break at any moment.  Time to go “Home”.

“Home” is a beautiful piano piece, just Corey and keys.  The heartfelt tone and vocals could have been a perfect ending to the album here.  It’s one of those moments that maybe should be left as-is, and just walk away.  Instead we’re treated to the rap-rock closer “CMFT Must Be Stopped”.  Not my kind of thing, but I’m not Corey’s core audience and admittedly it’s fun to bop along to.  Listen for some cool percussion stuff in the background.  I’m oblivious to his guest rappers Tech N9ne and Kid Bookie; one of them has a very cool speed rap flow.  This is the point at which I roll up the windows of the car because I don’t wanna look like Michael Bolton in the movie Office Space.  This goes into a hardcore Anthrax-like thrash punk rocker “European Tour Bus Bathroom Song” which ends the album on an unnecessary jokey note.

It turns out that, though financially stupid, my choice of buying the Japanese version of the album was the correct one.  They end with the acoustic live version of “Black Eyes Blues”, a sparse version that leaves you feeling refreshed when the album’s over.

You know what lane I’m in musically, and where Corey Taylor comes from.  You can divine from this review whether you will like the album or not.  I think there’s a good chance that many of you would like most of it, but few would love it all.  Certainly not a bad investment since songs like “Black Eyes Blues”, “Samantha’s Gone”, “Everybody Dies on My Birthday” and “Home” have potential to stick around in your head for years.

4/5 stars