Metal Blade

REVIEW: Savatage – Sirens & The Dungeons are Calling – all bonus tracks, all editions

Part Three of the Early Savatage series!

SAVATAGE – Sirens & The Dungeons are Calling bonus tracks

This is where things go a little off the rails, so make sure your seatbelt is fastened securely.  We are about to journey through 12 bonus tracks, which run the gamut in every vector.  In terms of quality and origins, it’s the proverbial “bumpy ride”.  Worst of all, if you wish to partake in this voyage, it will cost you dearly.  In order to acquire all 12 bonus tracks, you will need to purchase four separate CDs, and an Infinity Gauntlet.  Maybe.

When I first encountered the album Sirens and its accompanying mini-album The Dungeons are Calling in the mid 90s, they were on cassette, separately.  There were no liner notes but I surmised them to be the first two Savatage releases.  It was impossible to find quality discographies in 1993, so my first time learning they existed was when I bought them.  These were not the rare Canadian Banzai editions, but the standard US releases on Combat.  (Amusingly, the sides listed on Sirens were Side A and Side Z.)


Metal Blade CD (1994)

Just as nature has its rules, so does music collecting.  Everything owned on cassette must be upgraded to CD.  By 1994 I was working at the Record Store, and the day we received notice that these albums were being reissued on CD was the day I ordered them for myself.  The reissue, by Metal Blade, handily put both records on one CD, with four bonus tracks to boot.  The cover was even reversible.  You could display the CD with either Sirens or Dungeons as the front artwork.  On the back:  a live photo of late guitarist Criss Oliva just giv’n ‘er on a string-bending solo.

There are two bonus tracks tacked onto the end of Sirens, and two more after Dungeons.  They remain the champions of bonus songs in the Savatage ouveur.  One is a hellbent live take of “Sirens” from the Gutter Ballet tour in 1990.  It’s the same version as the bootleg CD U.S.A. 1990.  The amusing thing here is that Jon Oliva clearly addresses the crowd as “Hello Deutschland!”  Well, that ain’t in the U.S.A., just a note to you bootleggers out there!  It’s a little bootleggy and not the same lineup as the rest of the albums, but hey — it was 1994 and this “bonus track” thing was relatively new.  It’s a blistering memento with the classic version of the band:  Jon & Criss Olivia, Steve “Doc” Wacholz, Johnny Lee Middleton and Christopher Caffery.

The other three bonus tracks are studio demos, and two of them ended up reworked on the later album Fight For the Rock.  “Lady in Disguise” is thoroughly different, an acoustic-electric ballad superior to keyboard-inflected later version.  Similarly, “Fighting for Your Love” was reworked as “Crying for Love” on Fight for the Rock.  Demo quality aside, this original has more desperation & ferocity, while the remake sounds forced.  Finally “The Message” hasn’t been issued anywhere else in any form.  This very rough take sounds like a garage recording, but even through that you get one super-snakey Criss Oliva riff and a lung-bursting Jon Oliva chorus.  “The Message” flat out rocks, and could have replaced a number of inferior album tracks had it been better committed to tape.

Metal Blade did an awesome job with their 1994 CD of these albums, filling it to the brim with 76 minutes of metal including top-notch bonus tracks.  Eight years later, they decided to have another go at it.


Metal Blade “Silver Anniversary” 2 CD set – sold separately (2002)

Dipping their hands into the cookie jar once more, Metal Blade came up with seven more bonus tracks (though two are unlisted).  The tracks are remastered, and the covers updated to black & chrome, with the Savatage logo in bold, bright silver.  The original artworks are consigned to the CDs themselves, while the booklets contain (small) rare photos (in black & chrome) and half of a Savatage timeline.  Yes, half a timeline – driving the point home even further, you have to buy both CDs to get the entire timeline (and special note from drummer Steve “Doc” Wacholz).

The Dungeons are Calling

This time, Metal Blade placed The Dungeons are Calling first in line, before Sirens.  (You can tell this by the lower catalogue number and the first half of the timeline included.)  It contains three “lost tracks”.  The first, “Metalhead” has a slick vibe, like 80s Judas Priest on speed.  Criss’ solo is a burner, with these super-wide note sweeps that make your head spin.  “Before I Hang” is lo-fi, solid headbangin’ fun.  Nothing particularly memorable, but unquestionably Savatage.  Purely filler, the kind of track that didn’t get finished because they had better stuff to work on.  The last of the three “lost tracks” is a ballad, “Stranger in the Night”.  If you listen carefully, you can hear that this was completed as something else later on — a little epic called “Follow Me” on 1993’s Edge of Thorns!  Now that’s some serious cool.

Didn’t I mention unlisted bonus tracks?  This one is a gentle acoustic number with spare accompaniment.  It sounds like it was recorded much, much later.  You’ll find it at track #99.  How quaint.

Sirens

The second CD in the 2002 has two more bonus tracks, and one more unlisted…something.  It’s something.  We’ll get to that.

“Target” sounds like idiosyncratic Savatage from the start:  The Criss riff that can sound only like Criss Oliva.  The haunting vocals from his brother Jon.  It’s hard to say definitively when it could have been recorded, but it sounds circa Gutter Ballet in structure, tone and performance.  “Living on the Edge of Time” is sonically thin but is clear enough to deliver a screamin’ chorus.  If that chorus only could have been housed in a finished song!  It’s killer.

What is far, far from killer is the novelty rap that sits at #99.  It’s…about a fat old guy who sits around all day doing coke?  It’s…fucking terrible is what it is.  It’s the kind of terrible that actually stains the CD it’s on.  Like you will have to hit “stop” before anyone hears you listening to it.  One has to conjecture that this “song” originated when Jon Oliva was deep into the white stuff, but it’s the kind of all-advised joke that should have stayed on the inside.


Ear Music “The Complete Session” CD (2010)

Another eight years after Metal Blade butchered these releases, Ear Music took a shot with “The Complete Session”.  What does “The Complete Session” mean to you?  I’ll tell you what it means to me.  It means all the tracks.  All the fucking tracks!  Not “none of those tracks but oh here is a new acoustic version from Jon”.  Not that.

Ear music reissued the entire Savatage catalog in 2010 as an attractive looking set that, when combined, form a Savatage logo.  The albums are remastered by Dave Wittman and feature new liner notes by Jon Oliva.  What’s really pesky are the new acoustic bonus tracks recorded to make you buy these albums all over again, in this case the fourth fucking time.

Originally from 1985’s Power of the Night (their very next album in fact) is the ballad “In the Dream” performed on piano by Jon Oliva, with an (uncredited) acoustic guitar solo to match.  It’s a good ballad; great in fact.  There’s no critique being laid at the feet of the song or the new version.  Just at the damn record companies for not giving a fuck for how many times I’ve had to buy this to get “all the tracks”.


Most people only want to buy an album once and be done with it.  Here’s a rating system below to determine which suits your needs best, price notwithstanding.

  • Metal Blade 1994 – 5/5 stars.  Maxed out the CD’s time with four worthwhile bonus tracks.
  • Metal Blade 2002 – 2.5/5 stars.  Consumer forced to buy two discs separately instead of one to get new bonus tracks, but losing the four previous ones.  Felt like gouging.
  • Ear Music 2010 – 3/5 stars.  Artwork will match the rest of the CDs in the set, but thin in terms of bonus tracks.  Does not even contain a picture of the artwork for The Dungeons are Calling.

Purchase accordingly!

 

 

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REVIEW: Talas – If We Only Knew Then What We Know Now… (1998)

scan_20161211TALAS – If We Only Knew Then What We Know Now… (1998 Metal Blade)

The Talas story did not end with the breakup of the band.  Of course not; bands both famous and obscure like to reunite for nostalgia shows.  Talas did that in 1997 with the original power trio lineup:  Billy Sheehan on bass, Paul Varga on drums, and Dave Constantino on electric guitar.  With classic material (from the first two Talas albums) and a few unreleased songs, they memorialized their reunion with a brand new live CD.  Billy even pulled his old platform boots out of the closet for this one.

As usual the set opens with “Sink Your Teeth Into That” and an enthusiastic home town crowd.  Talas only sounded better with age.  The original voices are there and just as strong as they were in 1982.  It actually sounds like everyone has improved over the years.  A speedy “High Speed on Ice” is in the second spot ensuring no loss of momentum.  Material from the first self-titled Talas album is included too (unlike the last live album Live Speed on Ice).  “Expert on Me” is very pop in construction, but clearly not as great as the songs from album #2, Sink Your Teeth Into That.  Speaking of which, the slow rumbler “Never See Me Cry” is brilliantly adapted to the stage.

“Power to Break Away” is one of the previously unrecorded songs, and it kicks it just as hot as anything from Sink Your Teeth Into That.  It’s taut with hooks and the prerequisite bass workouts.  “Tell Me True” is the second unreleased song, a slow non-descript dirge ballad that takes a while to get going.

Imagine Billy Sheehan plowing his bass right through a funky Led Zeppelin riff.  That’s “Thick Head”, an awesome track from Talas (1979).  “You” has a cool vibe, almost like an unheard Aerosmith demo from the Done With Mirrors era.  A few other tunes from the first Talas (“Most People”, “Any Other Day” and “See Saw”) are adequately entertaining.  Back to Sink Your Teeth Into That, “King of the World” is still one of the best Talas tunes, overshadowed by only a few like “Shy Boy”.  Here, “Shy Boy” is preceded by a Paul Varga drum solo.  The sheer velocity of “Shy Boy” itself makes me wonder how Varga did it.  It’s just pedal to the metal, blurring the lines and smoking the minds.

Nothing like a good cover to help draw a live album to a close.  Talas did two:  “21st Century Schizoid Man” and “Battle Scar”.  The King Crimson cover is a daring one to attempt.  They somehow manage to strip it down and pull it off with integrity.  As for “Battle Scar”?  Total surprise there!  Max Webster were just across the border from Buffalo, and Billy Sheehan nearly joined Max at one point late in their career.  Introduced by a Billy Sheehan bass solo, this Max/Rush cover is the set closer.  As a final addition, “Battle Scar” surely makes this one hell of an album for the history books.  (The Japanese version has a bonus track called “Doin’ It Right” — this shall be reviewed at a later date.  Our copy is on order but will not arrive for several weeks.)

Since this is a more recent release on a well known label (Metal Blade), it turns out that If We Knew Then What We Know Now is an easy CD to find in the shops.  Fortunately this is a good first Talas album to add to any collection.

4/5 stars

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REVIEW: King’s X – Black Like Sunday (2003)

quiz

Complete studio albums (and more!), part 15


 

KING’S X – Black Like Sunday (2003 Metal Blade)

After a couple albums that were…well, they were pretty far out, man…King’s X may have needed to get back to basics a little bit.  Mr. Bulbous was undoubtedly a very experimental beast, and then Manic Moonlight introduced the drum loops.  A number of fans had dropped off the train, this one included.  It is only now that I have purchased 2003’s Black Like Sunday.

The concept of the album was pretty simple.  Fans had been begging for Jerry Gaskill, Doug Pinnick, and Ty Tabor to re-release their very first indi album when they were still known as Sneak Preview.  It is estimated that fewer than 500 copies of this album exist, but the band have never been eager to release it again.  Indeed, rumour has it that the band destroyed over half of the original 1000 themselves.  What they chose to do instead was re-write and re-record some of the old Sneak Preview songs, and release them as King’s X.  There is no explanation of this inside the CD, so unless you were paying attention to the press, you might just think this was an ordinary everyday King’s X album.*  Armed with 14 mostly shorter songs, they once again switched gears.

Laying it down right from the start, “Black Like Sunday” kicks rumps and gets ’em shakin’.  Without having a clue what these songs might have originally sounded like, “Black Like Sunday” is admirable for its stock solid rock groove.  Nobody in rock can groove like King’s X, but this is more straight than they normally play it.  Jerry Gaskill is uncharacteristically laying down simple 4/4 drums and Ty has a nice rockin’ riff to hammer out.

“Rock Pile” is…different…takes some getting used to…but once you do?  It’s in your head.  It’s like two songs jammed together.  A weird Van-Halen-esque unmelodic spoken word chunk, welded to a chorus from a corny Beatles song.  On first impression, I thought “This is awful”.  On third listen, it was, “Oh yes, this song!  The heavy one with the catchy chorus…” and I was hooked.  “Danger Zone” is also on the weird side, melding an oddly melodic vocal with a hair metal ballady electric chug.  Much like “Rock Pile”, initial impressions are not good.  Further listenings reveal that these songs stick in the memory, and that Ty’s rich guitar sounds are an absolutely highlight.  His solo on “Danger Zone” is right out of the Neil Young book of awesome.

It has nothing to do with Rush, but “Working Man” rocks at mid-pace with many shades of the 80’s.  “Dreams” has an odd reggae vibe, but grafted onto a heavy detuned King’s X riff.  It’s not the greatest tune and probably the first that really fails to make an impact.  Up next is “Finished” which is a pleasant pop rock tune.  Nothing special once again, but instrumentally King’s X always have something to offer, and this time it’s Doug’s busy bass runs.  Then things do get black like Sunday, on “Screamer”, an exotic vintage-Sabbathy stormer.  Deep Iommi string bends meet tribal drumming meets Doug Pinnick.  It’s a challenging listen but it has plenty to offer.  “Bad Luck” is more down the alley of traditional King’s X, and it kills with its heavy groove.

King’s X have always been capable of tender ballads, so though unremarkable, “Down” will appeal to fans of that side.  In contrast, “Won’t Turn Back” is stuttery chunky heavy metal.  All of these songs have some strangely melodic vocal parts, and “Won’t Turn Back” is like that.  It often feels like a chorus from a pop song has been  transplanted onto a heavy metal song on this album.  It’s one of the factors that makes Black Like Sunday hard to digest on first listen.  At times it’s hard not to ask, “What the hell were they thinking?”

Steering the ship back on course once again, the song “Two” could have been on Tape Head since it has that bass-heavy stripped back kind of sound.  “You’re the Only One” does not sound much like King’s X, but it does sound like quality hard rock.  Maybe even pop punk.  The Beatles harmonies work well here overtop a song that could have been written by Weezer.  I wouldn’t doubt that Rivers wishes he wrote this song!

Scan_20151121 (3)

The only long song on the album is the incendiary, 11-minute-plus “Johnny”.  Very Rush-like, “Johnny” is smouldering King’s X goodness with a big fat bow on top, so get ready to get down.  Most of the 11 minutes is a long jam, a laid-back one in fact, but just listen to the interplay.  Fantastic stuff.  After an exhausting listen like that, what you really need next is the pop-punk-country-funk of “Save Us”.  Ending the album with a short pop rocker really snaps you back to attention, and then it’s all over.

Assigning a rating to a King’s X album is difficult when you haven’t had years to absorb them and grow into them.  Having said that, Black Like Sunday” makes a good impression.  The songs are adventurous if a bit awkward, and there are enough gems here to warrant a purchase.  Added bonus:  the booklet doubles as a 2003 calendar!  An amusing touch.

3.5/5 stars

*There’s no such thing as an ordinary everyday King’s X album.

Part 1 – Out of the Silent Planet (1988)
Part 2 – Gretchen Goes to Nebraska (1989)
Part 3 – Kings of the Absurd (split bootleg with Faith No More)
Part 4 – Faith Hope Love by King’s X (1990)
Part 5 – “Junior’s Gone Wild” (from 1991’s Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey soundtrack)
Part 6 – King’s X (1992)
Part 7 – Dogman (1994) + bonus “Pillow” promo single review
Part 8 – Ear Candy (1996)
Part 9 – Best of King’s X (1997)
Part 10 – Tape Head (1998)
Part 11 – POUNDHOUND – Massive Grooves from the Church of Psychofunkadelic Grungelism Rock Music (1998 Doug Pinnick/Jerry Gaskill)
Part 12 – Please Come Home…Mr. Bulbous (2000)
Part 13 – PLATYPUS – Ice Cycles (2000 Ty Tabor)
Part 14 – Manic Moonlight (2001)

REVIEW: King’s X – Manic Moonlight (2001)

quiz

Complete studio albums (and more!), part 14


Scan_20151107KING’S X – Manic Moonlight (2001 Metal Blade)

Around this time, I stepped off the King’s X train.

A while after this album came out, a friend of mine from London (Ontario) named Edith-Rose came to help paint the new condo and hang out.  As part of the deal I was to take her record shopping in all our decent stores.  She bought a shit-ton of CDs.  From the HMV up in Waterloo that doesn’t exist anymore, to Encore Records, to our own stores, she spent a lot of money that day.  I came home with a few discs as well.  Among them was Manic Moonlight by King’s X.

I bought it because it was used and it was the first time I’d seen it used.  Truthfully, Mr. Bulbous lost me.  Buying their next album didn’t seem a priority.  We took the CD back to my place and gave it a spin.  Edith-Rose liked it, especially the track “Static”.  As for me, “Static” was the only song that stuck out.  I have not listened to the CD in well over a decade.  All I can really remember is that this is when Jerry Gaskill and the band started experimenting with drum loops.  That is not a bad thing, but that is all I can remember about this album.  Reviewing it with fresh ears, let’s have a listen, shall we?

The drum loops opening “Believe” are unlike anything on prior King’s X albums.  Fortunately, the steam-powered real-life Jerry Gaskill comes in soon enough for this funky slam-dunk.  The funk is emphasized by clavinet, and of course Doug Pinnick’s perpetually soulful voice.  This slow funkster is bass-heavy and melodic, with just enough of those heavenly King’s X harmonies.  There ain’t nothin’ wrong with this song, no!  Computer-ish loops open the title track, “Manic Moonlight”, which aside from the modern production isn’t a far stretch from the classic King’s X sound.  The psychedelic side of King’s X is out to play; lush 1960’s hippie vocals over a heavy 2001 rhythm.

There seems to be a theme playing out.  Songs seems to open with loops, every time, and this is becoming a predictable drag.  Fuzzy electronics open “Yeah” which basically a chorus without a song.  It’s a great chorus, and if only it had some more meat on that bass heavy skeleton, it could have been a King’s X classic of the ages.  It is cool to hear King’s X digging deep into the funk; Doug slappin’ da bass as best he can.  The soft sounds of tabla are the loop of choice on the dreamy “False Alarm”.  The production of the day seemed to be to distort Doug’s deep voice, which is a shame.  Anyway, “False Alarm” is a King’s-Beatles-X strawberry field in the sky with diamonds, and it’s just shy of being great.  Very close to the mark but not quite there.

“Static” is just as intense as I remember.  You can hear why it jumped out to Edith-Rose and I years ago.  For the first time on the album, the loops (tabla again) seem to be an integral part of the song rather than just an intro.  Tense and direct, “Static” is bare-bones and absolutely nothing like King’s X of old, and good on them.  Music is not about standing still.  Music is about emotion, and “Static” is not short of those.  Without a doubt, “Static” is the centerpiece of Manic Moonlight, and coincidentally (?) this is at precisely the point where an album would be split between side A and side B….

Down with the funk again on “Skeptical Winds”, plenty of new ground was being broken with this band.  Strangely this song has a vibe similar to a 1994 Kim Mitchell rap-rock song called “Acrimony”; coincidental I’m certain but if you know the song then you can imagine “Skeptical Winds”.  Doug’s spoken word vocals (distorted again, but that’s OK this time) are reminiscent of Kim’s, but the sparse and uber-funky bassline is 100% Doug.  It’s a very different song, but cool.  Although it isn’t loaded to the gills with time changes and riffs like King’s X of yore, it is still a long bomber jam session at almost seven minutes.

Having a knack for ballads, “The Other Side” has some beautiful moments built into it.  It doesn’t hit the ball out of the park, but it has quality and ambition to spare.  “Vegetable” has more cool funk, and importantly a soulful chorus that kills.  “Jenna” has one of the heaviest riffs on the album, but doesn’t stand out…which is a shame as it is the last song.  The final track, “Water Ceremony” is a joke track, closing the album on a burp!  That’s…odd!

Of note: the always lucky Japanese fans got two bonus tracks.  These were longer versions of “Believe” and “Vegetable”.

Manic Moonlight was a surpise to revisit, and with only a few sluggish moments (“Jenna” among them), it’s certainly a lot better than I remember.

3.5/5 stars

Part 1 – Out of the Silent Planet (1988)
Part 2 – Gretchen Goes to Nebraska (1989)
Part 3 – Kings of the Absurd (split bootleg with Faith No More)
Part 4 – Faith Hope Love by King’s X (1990)
Part 5 – “Junior’s Gone Wild” (from 1991’s Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey soundtrack)
Part 6 – King’s X (1992)
Part 7 – Dogman (1994) + bonus “Pillow” promo single review
Part 8 – Ear Candy (1996)
Part 9 – Best of King’s X (1997)
Part 10 – Tape Head (1998)
Part 11 – POUNDHOUND – Massive Grooves from the Church of Psychofunkadelic Grungelism Rock Music (1998 Doug Pinnick/Jerry Gaskill)
Part 12 – Please Come Home…Mr. Bulbous (2000)
Part 13 – PLATYPUS – Ice Cycles (2000 Ty Tabor)

REVIEW: PoundHound – Massive Grooves from the Electric Church of Psychofunkadelic Grungelism Rock Music (1998)

quiz

Complete studio albums (and more!), part 11


Scan_20151022 (2)POUNDHOUND – Massive Grooves from the Electric Church of Psychofunkadelic Grungelism Rock Music (1998 Metal Blade)

You have to give Doug Pinnick credit for many things, and one of them is his prolific musical output.  The same year as King’s X Tape Head album, Doug released this solo project under the band name PoundHound.   Massive Grooves (the shortened title) featured Doug playing all instruments except drums.  His King’s X bandmate Jerry Gaskill, and Shannon Larkin of Ugly Kid Joe helped out in the percussion department.  The result isn’t that dissimilar from Tape Head itself.  As the title suggests, these are indeed massive grooves.

The Reverend Hershall Happiness is your host for this heavy celebration.  “Jangle”, the opening song, isn’t that much different from the groovy side of King’s X at all, and just listen to that bass!  Doug lets it ring low, and boy oh boy does it sound good.  “Jangle” is as catchy as it is groovy.  “Shake” puts the emphasis strictly on groove.  “Everybody, shake your thing,” sings the Reverend.  It probably surprises nobody that Doug is a good enough guitar player to nail some cool solos too.  Is there anything he can’t do?  (Just the drums, apparently!)

The songs are mostly short and to the point.  Don’t expect the progressive metal of King’s X.  Do not think you’re getting simply good time party groovers either.  A great song called “Friends” for example is pretty blunt.  “Kevin is a razorhead, he says the cutting numbs the pain.”  Just like King’s X, Doug is not afraid to paint a stark picture of some parts of real life that we often want to bury.  “My world just got darker,” he sings on “Darker”.  If you were expecting an entire album of good times, this is not it.  But good rock and roll?  Absolutely.   The direction is more or less the same from track to track.  It’s heavy groove based rock with the best soul singer in metal.  The variety that you get from King’s X (and their multiple singers) is not present here, but if you like Doug then you will love PoundHound.

Doug’s bass and guitar sound amazing (you will rarely hear such a full bass sound), but the drums are fairly dry and a little thin (compared to the last few King’s X discs).  This does not hamper enjoyment of the disc.  The songs and sound are consistent enough.

Best tracks:  “Jangle”, “Shake”, “PsychoLove”, “Friends”, “Hey”.  Only semi-stinker in the bunch:  “Supersalad” (too much grungy grunting vocalizing).

Doug released a second album as PoundHound, before shortening his name to Dug and putting out proper solo albums under his own name.  For all intents and purposes though, Massive Grooves is the first Doug Pinnick solo album and a damn good one it is.

3.5/5 stars

Part 1 – Out of the Silent Planet (1988)
Part 2 – Gretchen Goes to Nebraska (1989)
Part 3 – Kings of the Absurd (split bootleg with Faith No More)
Part 4 – Faith Hope Love by King’s X (1990)
Part 5 – “Junior’s Gone Wild” (from 1991’s Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey soundtrack)
Part 6 – King’s X (1992)
Part 7 – Dogman (1994) + bonus “Pillow” promo single review
Part 8 – Ear Candy (1996)
Part 9 – Best of King’s X (1997)
Part 10 – Tape Head (1998)