progressive metal

REVIEW: Circle II Circle – Watching in Silence (2003) #200wordchallenge

200 word

CIRCLE II CIRCLE – Watching in Silence (2003 AFM)

 

There are some good reasons why Circle II Circle’s debut album, Watching in Silence, is a dead ringer for Savatage.  First and most obviously, singer Zach Stevens is best known from the Florida progressive metallers.  When he left the band to form Circle II Circle, he had some Sava-help too.  Jon Oliva and Chris Caffery wrote or played on every single song.  Oliva co-produced.  They’re just a helpful kind of band.

Fans of Stevens-era ‘Tage will adore Watching in Silence from start to finish.  It has the heavy, it has the soft, and it has the drama.  There are even the layered operatic vocal arrangements (“Forgiven”), though used sparingly.  Circle II Circle utilise keyboards and piano, but don’t go for the full-on conceptual direction that Savatage did.

Though the album can drag from time to time, there are a number of exceptional tracks.  “Into the Wind” is the first to boast one of those unforgettable Stevens choruses.  The single “Watching in Silence” has the patented Sava-power, composed in equal measure of riffs, piano and killer vocals.  The easiest comparison is to “Edge of Thorns“, Stevens’ first single with Savatage.  Virtually every song has a memorable chorus to go with it.

3.5/5 stars

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REVIEW: Liquid Tension Experiment – Liquid Tension Experiment (1998)

LIQUID TENSION EXPERIMENT – Liquid Tension Experiment (1998 Magna Carta)

Liquid Tension Experiment is a supergroup on Magna Carta, which should tell you much.

Featuring not one, not two, but three guys from Dream Theater, plus Tony Levin, Liquid Tension Experiment is the progressive fan’s dream band.  Granted, keyboardist Jordan Rudess wasn’t in Dream Theater yet when they did this CD, but that’s where people know him from today.  Drummer Mike Portnoy and guitarist John Petrucci are the other driving forces behind Liquid Tension Experiment.

To use phrases like “mind blowing”, “insane”, “incredible” or “the shredder’s wet dream” don’t even begin to touch what the album Liquid Tension Experiment is about.  The liner notes by Mike Portnoy reveal that this project was assembled based on a wish list of players and their availability.  Rudess and Levin were on the list but guitarists just weren’t available, so that’s how Petrucci stepped in.  Together they had six days to write and record this album.  That it turned out so incredibly well says volumes about these guys as musicians.

Liquid Tension Experiment is not just an instrumental album with wicked playing.  The compositions are strong enough to make the album rise well above similar projects.  Magna Carta is loaded with insane projects by the best players in the world, but how many of those albums are good for repeated listenings?  The melodic and tonal sensibilities of Petrucci in particular really keep the album grounded, in a way that even lay people can enjoy.  Levin adds the Chapman Stick and a new agey flavour to the lighter material.  Check out “Osmosis” for a fine example of this.

Most of the album is heavy jammin’. It’s Mike Portnoy, and he does that so well. Together, they create a challenging sound but one with enough hooks that anyone can get into it. You might not realize how many time changes, weird chords and tempos you’re being exposed to, but you are, and you’ll be far better for it.

Together the album consists of nine songs and one spontaneous jam that exceeds 28 minutes! In fact, the tape ran out while recording, so the tail end of the song is from a DAT tape that Portnoy always runs when rehearsing. According to the notes, this piece ironically called “Three Minute Warning” was 100% improvised. “Not a single beat or note was discussed beforehand.” And no fixes or overdubs were made after the fact. It’s over 28 minutes of pure improvisation, and it came out brilliant. Everybody needs some of that in their life, to experience what pure free-form musical genius sounds like.

Must-hear pieces include “Paradigm Shift”, “Osmosis”, “Freedom of Speech” and “Universal Mind”.  It goes without saying that the 28 minute jam is essential as well.

This self-produced album also just sounds incredible.  The sonics are huge, but when the layers are peeled back, you can hear everything so clearly.  The Chapman Stick also adds a huge palette, sometimes heavier than lead and others lighter than a feather.  I’m sure the excellent audio is partly due to the mixing skills of one Kevin “Caveman” Shirley.  Don’t hesitate to pick up Liquid Tension Experiment if you see it.  There was also a second album made called 2, but this is the one to get if it crosses your path.

5/5 stars

REVIEW: Dream Theater – Master of Puppets (2009)

DREAM THEATER – Master of Puppets (2009 Yste Jam)

From Dream Theater’s acclaimed self-released series of covers albums, we have before us Master of Puppets.  This was recorded in Barcelona back in 2002.  Just as advertised, it’s Dream Theater doing the whole album live, in sequence, and pretty authentically too.

Dream Theater are a very different band from Metallica.  This is bound to be interesting.

The most obvious difference is that Metallica have two guitar players, while Dream Theater has one and a keyboard player.  On this, Jordan Rudess does aggressive keyboard solos where Kirk Hammett may have laid down one with his axe.  He also plays the acoustic parts on keys.  From time to time, you forget it’s a keyboard.  In short, Rudess turns the prospect of Metallica with keyboards into a lesson on forgetting your assumptions about keyboards!

James LaBrie fits the silhouette of a young James Hetfield.  He sings a convincing Metallica cover indeed!  He cuts loose and goes for it.  Metallica requires a gritty singer, going for it 110%.  LaBrie handles it.  For Dream Theater, doing these cover albums (from a wide variety of bands in fact) must be a lot of fun.  They would have the chance to sing and play in a way that isn’t the usual for them.  Guitarist John Petrucci does not often get to riff on something for five minutes straight like Metallica do.

Lars haters are naturally going to ask “What do Metallica songs sound like with a real drummer?”  Hey, I’m no Lars hater.  (He can play better than I can…)  But in answer to that question I can only respond “fucking awesome”.

Dream Theater cover Master of Puppets without drawing attention to themselves.  Mike Portnoy does not grandstand and overplay.  Nobody does.  If the effort was to do an authentic version of Puppets, as close to note for note as possible, then I say mission accomplished.  Beat for beat, this is stunningly true to the original album.  The keyboards are the most obvious deviation, and that’s minor.  In anything, Dream Theater draw attention to the fact that these are great heavy metal songs.  Are they Metallica’s best-ever set of songs?  Some prefer Kill ‘Em All, some Ride the Lightning.  Any way you slice it, Puppets is metal immortal, a very important record in anyone’s collection.  Dream Theater painstakingly learned the album front to back so they could play it live for a few thousand people.  They did that because it’s a great album on any day.

Dream Theater’s live covers albums (and many, many other releases) can be found on their own Ytse Jam Records website.  Check out the multitude of stuff available (though some are out of print now) and try not to drain your bank accounts.

5/5 stars

 

REVIEW: Savatage – U.S.A. 1990 (bootleg CD)

scan_20170120SAVATAGE – U.S.A. 1990 (1994 Live Storm bootleg CD)

When a bootleg live CD just has a picture of the bass player on the front, you know you’re not in for a perfect listening experience (Motorhead, Kiss and Iron Maiden bootlegs excepted).  Nothing against Johnny Lee Middleton of course, but it would make more sense to put Jon or Criss Oliva on the cover.  U.S.A. 1990 (released 1994) comes from Live Storm in Italy, where many bootlegs originated.  It seems to consist of songs from multiple shows, due to the repeating “Of Rage and War” and “Hounds”.

Repeat aside, U.S.A. 1990 focuses on early heavy tracks with not a single ballad.  Fans of early ‘Tage are going to love getting live versions of “The Dungeons are Calling” and “City Beneath the Surface” from the Dungeons are Calling EP (1984).  There is also the amazing riff-tastic title track from Sirens (1983), to this day still one of their best tracks.  Interestly enough, this very same version of “Sirens” was released officially (and in official sound quality) as a bonus track on the long deleted Music For Nations pressing of Sirens.  You can tell when Jon screams “Danke schön! Hello Deutschland!  You are metal!”  It’s the same version…but wait a sec!  Last I checked, Deutschland is not in the U.S.A.!  Such is the charm of a bootleg release.

“Hounds” from Gutter Ballet (1990) is ominous and evil-sounding, made more so by Jon’s blood curdling screams and howls.  He calls it “doom music”.  Also from 1990, “She’s in Love” is just speed on top of riffs on top of screams.   Gutter Ballet was an ambitious album, and part of that was a three-song suite about insanity.  From that suite “Thorazine Shuffle” is lifted, a classic example of Criss Oliva’s style of snaky guitars. “Of Rage and War” brings another menacing riff, and a topical lyrical message:

Better listen to me you son of a bitch,
Better disarm those missiles sleeping in the ditch,
You have no goddamn right to do the things you do,
The world would be a better place if we were rid of you!

“Sirens” is the centerpiece, a stormy metal drama loaded with waves of guitar crashing against the rocks, wrecking everything in their way.  Jon’s shrieks warn away the meek and timid.  Only the strong will survive the “Sirens”.  You will find no refuge in the “Hall of the Mountain King” either.  This castle of stone shall offer no protection from the riffage pouring down.  Madness reigns, so just go with the groove and get your stomping boots on.  The final track is the upbeat rager “Power of the Night”, the title track from their 1985 album.  It’s a string of lyrical cliches backed by some serious heavy rock.  Raise the fist of the metal child!  Unfortunately the track is cut short.

U.S.A. 1990 is a fairly common bootleg, so if you find one in the $7-8 range, take a shot.

2.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Queensrÿche – Condition Hüman (2015 Japanese edition)

NEW RELEASE

QUEENSRŸCHE – Condition Hüman (2015 Century Media Japanese edition)

As if it was not abundantly clear on their last album (2013’s self-titled), Queensryche seem to have no intentions of abandoning their heavy metal roots again.  Furthermore when you have a significant lineup change, such as a new lead singer, you can’t just stand still.  You have to keep progressing forward.  The ‘Ryche used their last album to re-ground their sound, but for a followup you need more than that.  Condition Hüman pushes the boundaries out once more, but not without keeping the metal intact.

Indeed, “Arrow of Time” sounds as if the quintet had been ingesting nothing but classic Iron Maiden for breakfast.  Swift and viscous, “Arrow of Time” gets the job done in the requisite four minutes but not without exploring the exotic side of metal riffing.  Imagine an alternate reality where Queensryche did not go in the highly technological direction of 1986’s Rage for Order album.  Envision instead a timeline in which they followed The Warning (1984) with an album that continued to progress, but also go heavier at the same time.  That album would have been Condition Hüman.  “Hellfire” demonstrates this as well; the song would have fit on a heavier version of Rage.

“Guardian” demonstrates this even more clearly.  With the vintage-style screams and vocalizations (Todd La Torre for MVP), metal riffing, but also Mindcrime-like progressive rock, Queensryche have hit upon a satisfying balance.  Songwriting credits are various combinations of all five band members; all but “Eye 9”, written solely by bassist Eddie Jackson (a first, I think).  The album has a cohesive sound, like five guys all pulling in the same direction.  The production, by Zeuss, is punchy.   Queensryche have always employed elements such as sound effects and programming, and Condition Hüman has these fixtures as well.  

Moving on, “Toxic Remedy” is Mindcrime-like, but denser and massive sounding.  Pay attention to the way Todd La Torre layers his vocals on “Toxic Remedy”.  He has arranged the vocals in his own way; this is not a carbon copy of something else.  “Selfish Lives” is the same.  Yes, there are hooks and melodies that sound very Queensryche, but Todd is showing off his own personality more than before.   And he’s not taking the easy way out on any of it!  Sounds like he is really pushing his own limits, especially on “Selfish Lives”.  It’s quite remarkable how lucky Queensryche were to find a compatible guy like Todd, who is also able to stretch it out.

Another album highlight is the rhythmic “Eye 9”, the aforementioned Jackson composition.  This Queensryche-meets-Queens of the Stone Age track blows the doors wide open in terms of direction by putting the rhythm first.  It sounds like Queensryche, yet nothing like any prior Queensryche, simultaneously.  “Bulletproof” puts a new slant on the Queensryche power ballad, keeping the emphasis on the power.   La Torre makes it his own — listen to the last note he sings.  Sends chills up the spine.  Speaking of chills, crossing the acoustics with the heavy chunky riffing on “The Hourglass” did exactly that.  There are Pink Floyd influences coming up to breathe from time to time on Condition Hüman. This is most obvious on “Just Us”, which is also very much like the slightly psychedelic acoustic side of Led Zeppelin. Queensryche have never done anything like “Just Us” before.  “Silent Lucidity” this is not.  The soulful singing at the close of the song is also unlike anything on a prior Queensryche song.

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For fans of the technical, fast side of Queensryche, “All There Was” will scratch that itch.  With that pulsing technological rhythm and “Needle Lies” tempo, you are in for a ride.  Don’t forget the blazing guitar histrionics.  The final album track is “Condition Hüman” itself, 7:48 of dramatic progressive metallic rock.  Check out the “Astronomy Domine” section after the fifth minute, just before it goes into that deliberate Mindcrime riff.  If I had to pigeonhole the sound of this album, it would be “progressive metallic rock”, but pigeonholes are lazy.  Still, as Commander Pavel Chekov once said, “If shoe fits…”

Holding out for the Japanese edition of the album, the bonus track “Espiritu Muerto” is the bonus track worth waiting for.  Going sludgy for 3:40, but topped with a soaring chorus, the bonus track is in the mold of the album but different just the same.  It’s a long album though, and adding more material (even if good) can sometimes push a CD just a bit too far in terms of attention span.  “Espiritu Muerto” is close to this line, but because it has enough personality of its own, it’s worth staying around for.

If any of these songs sound intriguing to you, check out Condition Hüman.  Fans who wonder where Queensryche could have gone had they adhered to heavier roads will find much to enjoy.  They have never taken the easy way with any of their albums, but it is hard to imagine a fan of early ‘Ryche who won’t find something here to love.

4/5 stars

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REVIEW: Savatage – Gutter Ballet (Steamhammer remaster)

GUTTER BALLET_0001SAVATAGE – Gutter Ballet (1989, 2002 Steamhammer remaster)

Having first latched onto Savatage in ’87 with “Hall of the Mountain King”, I was primed and ready for Gutter Ballet.  What I didn’t expect was the heavy piano on the title track/first single.  But that was a pleasant surprise: I was heavily getting into piano within the context of hard rock at the time.  Savatage’s Jon Oliva has a tendency to write simple but very catchy piano parts.  “Gutter Ballet” was inside my head on first mindblowing listen.  All that was left for me to do was buy the album.

Savatage have reissued Gutter Ballet with different bonus tracks many times.  I have the 2002 Steamhammer release (the Earmusic version) which has an extensive booklet with ample liner notes.  Gutter Ballet was the post-rehab album for Jon Oliva, and this informs many of the lyrics (“Thorazine Shuffle” for example).  Upon beginning the album, Jon and his brother Criss wrote heavy guitar based metal songs which were later included as bonus tracks on various releases.   Not satisfied, producer/co-writer Paul O’Neill sent Oliva out to see Phantom of the Opera in New York.  This changed everything.  Meanwhile, the rehab stint ended up producing a three song mini-suite.  The road to 1991’s Streets: A Rock Opera was now paved.

Gutter Ballet commences with “Of Rage and War,” the bass hook of which reminds of “24 Hours Ago” from the last album.  It has one of those staggered Criss Oliva guitar riffs that I miss so much, and the unforgettable drum patterns of Steve “Doc” Wacholz.  The lyrics are not profound, but they’re catchy enough (especially when Oliva starts shrieking).  They’re also still relevant today.

You got Libya, you got the Russians
You got civilian planes crashing to the oceans
Airports full of terrorists, Nazi skins, anarchists
When are you gonna learn?

Lyrics aside, the strongest thing about “Of Rage and War” is the guitar riffing.  The six-string then takes a bit of a back seat (solo aside of course) on “Gutter Ballet” to the piano for the first time.  Oliva’s simple melody is one of the first that I learned to play on keyboard and I still have my old cassette demo somewhere!  A minute later things speed up and get dramatic.  As good as the piano part is, the guitar riff that comes in to compliment it is just as stellar.

Could “Gutter Ballet” be Savatage’s best song?  You could easily argue that, even though the band would later ramp up the drama and complexity on their albums.  I think the song is completely without flaw.  From Jon’s lyrics (inspired by a stabbing he witnessed while in New York) to the slightest piano accents, the track is perfect.  And it even manages to maintain its balls, which I’m sure helped longtime Savatage fans adapt to the new sound.

First video with Chris Caffery.

“Temptation Revelation” is a 3:07 instrumental track that really only serves to bridge “Gutter Ballet” to another piano based hit, “When the Crowds are Gone”.  The piano and guitar vibe is maintained throughout.  “When the Crowds are Gone” is a very special song, and undoubtedly you could call it a ballad.  It has heavy choruses, but the thrust of the song is based on Jon’s voice and piano.  Jon sounds tiny at first before using his full throat.  The song was first conceived by Paul O’Neill as part of  the later Streets rock opera, a project he had cooking for many years.  The song would have fallen after “A Little Too Far” on side one.  I think it’s another one of Savatage’s best-ever compositions, and Jon’s screaming at the end seems to really embody the desperation of the lead character.

I never wanted to know, never wanted to see
I wasted my time, till time wasted me
Never wanted to go, always wanted to stay
‘Cause the person I am, are the parts that I play.

So I plot and I plan, hope and I scheme
To the lure of a night, filled with unfinished dreams
I’m holding on tight, to a world gone astray
As they charge me for years I can no longer pay.

Note Doc Wacholz’s United Federation of Planets drum kit!*

Side one closed with an acoustic instrumental called “Silk and Steel” which is really a showcase for the underrated Criss Oliva.  It’s just acoustic guitars — nothing else — for four minutes.  Right on, and perfect for a side closer.

No punches are pulled whatsoever on side two.  A bruising tune called “She’s In Love” boasts a chugging riff and those speedy Dr. Killdrums snare hits.  As for Jon, he spends most of the song screaming in fury (but also in tune).  Musically, think “Loss of Control” by Van Halen, but metalized.  “Hounds” then opens with quiet picking, similar to Metallica’s “One”.  This doesn’t last, and before too long it’s a regal metallic plod with a little bit of Sabbathy organ audible in the background.  Then, “The Unholy”:  a stampede of tricky licks and screaming vocals.  There is no let up.

GUTTER BALLET_0003The aforementioned three-song mini suite is next, and it begins with “Mentally Yours”.  The character of “Timmy” is introduced, a disturbed character.  The insanity theme is immediately obvious by the piano intro where Jon sets the scene.  Think Alice Cooper’s From the Inside album.  This piano intro could even be considered a separate song, as it has nothing to do with “Mentally Yours” musically.  Intro aside, this is another heavy metal bruiser, guitars on the prowl.  It even changes to a speed metal thrasher by the end.

“Summer’s Rain” is the only thing resembling a ballad on side two.  If so, it’s a heavy ballad without piano.  It does feel spiritually connected to “When the Crowds are Gone” from side one.  Still, the best tune of this trilogy is “Thorazine Shuffle” which has an ominous opening.  Then the song really begins; a stuttering limping riff, evoking the Thorazine shuffle Oliva sings about.  Gutter Ballet ends on an appropriately heavy note.

This remastered edition has two live bonus tracks; unfortunately they are just from the album Final Bell/Ghost in the Ruins. As such I’ve chosen not to talk about them, since I’d rather just review that album later on.  So be aware, the Steamhammer remaster from 2002 doesn’t have any exclusive bonus tracks.

3.5/5 stars

* Savatage MUST be Trekkies.  The next album, Streets, featured the following lyrics:

And who’s to say what it’s all about?
When John Wayne took the last train out?
And Spock and Kirk have had enough,
And no one’s left to beam me up.

GUEST REVIEW: Dream Theater – The Number of the Beast (by Uncle Meat)

GUEST REVIEW by:  Uncle Meat

ST NUMBER BEAST_0003DREAM THEATER: The Number of the Beast (2002 Ytsejam Records, Covers Series)

For the most part, Dream Theater is a band you either love or you hate. Some Metal fans are put off by the keyboards perhaps, while many others find Dream Theater hard to listen to because of the effeminate tone to the voice of singer James LaBrie. On the other hand, music fans who are not into the sensibilities of progressive music would label Dream Theater as “pretentious,” or which have you. Most music fans though can appreciate the musical talent of everyone involved. They are also a very busy unit, often branching out into different projects between DT albums and tours.

While still in the band, and then after his departure from DT in 2010, Mike Portnoy has been the busiest of all the DT members. So much so, that while researching to do this review of Dream Theater’s Official Bootleg: The Number of the Beast, I was blown away with how many projects Portnoy has been a part of that I truly love. Simply said, Mike Portnoy comes off as the biggest music fan in the music business. On top of his resume of original music, his obsessively accurate tribute projects can only be pulled off by someone who is an authentic “music geek super fan”. Sound familiar, LeBrain? So yes, this review has morphed itself into a bit of a Mike Portnoy love fest. Check out this list of his accomplishments outside of Dream Theater.

LIQUID TENSION EXPERIMENT – The two studio albums with John Petrucci, Jordan Rudess and Tony Levin are fantastic albums. Their self-titled CD is one of my favorite progressive rock albums. With three subsequent live albums with that lineup and two albums with a name change to Liquid Trio Experiment, that makes seven albums with the great Tony Levin alone.

TRANSATLANTIC – Four studio albums and four live albums with this Prog super group along with Roine Stolt (The Flower Kings), Neal Morse(Spock’s Beard, Flying Colors) and the bassist from one of my favorite bands…Marillion…Pete Trewavas.

AVENGED SEVENFOLD – After the death of their drummer, Jimmy “The Rev” Sullivan, during the writing of a new album, Mike Portnoy stepped in and played drums on their 2010 CD titled Nightmare. He also joined them for a few shows over in Iran and Kuwait for American troops overseas.

ADRENALINE MOB – Two albums with this band consisting of members from Symphony X and Fozzy. I honestly do not think I have heard it so can’t say much really.

FLYING COLORS – One studio album and one live album playing with my favorite musician of all time… Steve Morse. Consisting of Neal Morse again and others, including the incredible Steve Morse Band bassist Dave LaRue. Maybe you should just read LeBrain’s review of this band right “here”.

WINERY DOGS – With a more straight ahead rock and roll approach, the Winery Dogs is his current gig with bassist Billy Sheehan and guitarist Richie Kotzen.  [Check out Jon Wilmenius’ excellent review hereLeBrain]

And that’s just the original music he has been a part of. He has gone to great lengths to put together live shows recreating the concerts of, and playing the music of, his favorite drummers. He has arranged one for Led Zeppelin called Hammer of the Gods. He has also done one for Rush called Cygnus & the Sea Monsters. I actually learned about these while researching the review that I haven’t even got around to yet (yes this has become a much larger project than initially thought), so I am curious to search these out. You should be as well. The one I can comment on is his Beatles tribute called Yellow Matter Custard, named from a lyric within the song “I Am the Walrus”.

Consisting of Matt Bissonette, Paul Gilbert and Neal Morse and himself, this unit recreates what it would have been like to see The Beatles live. A lot of the songs were never played by the Beatles live. I listened to this with a good friend of mine who himself is a great musician and huge Beatles fan. Listening to it brought the Beatles super-fan out of him, most especially loving the somewhat obscure tracks performed live by the band. I highly recommend checking this out if you are a Beatles fan. So that pretty much means everyone.

 

 

ST NUMBER BEAST_0002I can’t believe I am now just starting the intended review, but here goes. In 2002, while touring for the album Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence, Dream Theater went on a short club tour in Europe where they played a different album in its entirety, track for track. Among the albums covered in this tour were Master of Puppets – Metallica, Dark Side of the Moon – Pink Floyd and Made in Japan – Deep Purple. (Who covers a live album? And one of my favorite live albums of all time? Dream Theater does, that’s who).

On October 24, 2002 DT played a small club called La Mutualite in Paris, France. The album on the menu that night was The Number of the Beast by Iron Maiden. From the sound of the enthusiastic crowd you can clearly hear throughout the album, this was a well-appreciated re-creation of one of the greatest Metal albums of all time.

The show starts off with album opener “Invaders”. My first impression was how great it sounded. Lively version and a thick guitar sound. Another thing I quickly realized is this: say what you want about James LaBrie and his effeminate style. Not many singers, including Bruce Dickinson himself can sing these songs live. I have seen Iron Maiden play several of these songs live, and even in a reduced key it is a struggle for Dickinson to sing the songs how they are recorded on the album. The opening track just left me looking forward to the rest of the set.

“Children of the Damned” was a joy to listen to, again mostly because of the vocals. This is probably his best singing on the album. Bruce Dickinson would have to get himself on a Lance Armstrong-like drug program to ever have a chance of singing this song in this key again. This song is also where I first really noted one of the truly great and original things about this album. Iron Maiden is a classic two-guitar fueled machine. DT is doing this with one guitar and a keyboard. Check out the twin guitar/keyboard solo in this song and hear throughout as the guitar and keyboard trade solos. A magnificent treat for the ears and surprisingly seamlessly done.

The crowd revs up as the classic Patrick McGoohan intro to “The Prisoner” plays as it is on the album. Chanting along with the intro just before Portnoy launches into the classic Clive Burr drum beat, this makes for a great listen, hearing the energy of the crowd and their appreciation of this show. Awesome version as well I must say.

“22 Acacia Avenue” is another track that is a treat to hear live. Live favorites “The Number of the Beast” and “Run to the Hills” follow. These two Heavy Metal anthems go over with the crowd extremely well as you would think they would. A case could be made that these back to back songs are the two most popular Iron Maiden songs of all time. Agreed? Discuss….

Coming next is their amazing version of “Gangland”. This is easily the most ambitious moment of the show. Kind of making the song their own, they begin the song off as a piano ballad and then make a left turn and turn it into a progressive, almost jazz fusion-ish groove as the song closes out. Absolutely brilliant and is probably my favorite track on the album. The show ends with a perfect version of “Hallowed Be Thy Name”, and the performance is over.

This is not just re-hashing of a great album. This was a well thought out and rehearsed celebration of this album, allowing true Maiden fans to hear what these songs may have sounded like when the album was toured in the 80’s. A friend of mine scoffed at the idea of DT covering this album and I may have shared some of his trepidation before I heard this recording. After listening to it now several times it has become obvious that this is not only a very relevant capturing of Number of the Beast, but it makes a very simple statement. Love ‘em or hate ‘em, the players in Dream Theater have a higher level of musicianship than really any of their peers in popular music. And as listed earlier, it seems that everything Mike Portnoy does comes from the heart of just another music fan like you and I. So who is gonna come along and play one of Dream Theater’s albums track for track? Well Dream Theater of course. Who else possibly could? Good luck with that, Three Days Grace.

5/5 stars

REVIEW: Voivod – Infini (2009)

Part 2 of a 2 part series.  Click here for part 1, Katorz.

INFINI_0001VOIVOD – Infini (2009 Sonic Unyon)

Who would have thought that little band from Quebec, VoiVod, could have survived so much adversity. The death of Denis “Piggy” D’Amour (guitar) in 2005 should have been the end, but yet the band has soldiered on with two albums utilizing his guitar parts recorded just before his death. In addition, unbelievably, the band has even continued on with returned original bassist Blacky (Jean-Yves Thériault) and new guy Chewy (Dan Mongrain) on guitar!

For those who don’t know, shortly before Piggy died of cancer, he had been working hard at recording every idea he had onto a hard drive. He explained to the band, that if they went into his PC they would find hours of meticulously recorded music and detailed instructions on how to use it. From there, Away (drummer Michel Langevin), Snake (singer Denis Belanger) and Jasonic (bassist Jason Newstead, ex-Metallica) buckled down and created the surprisingly awesome Katorz. Incredibly there was still enough music left to create one more album, 2009’s Infini. The fact that both albums are excellent, coherant pieces that add to the already rich VoiVod body of work is nothing short of astounding. It is a tribute to Piggy as an artist and as a person.

INFINI_0004What VoiVod have created here is yet another astounding progressive metal headbanging experience. Loads of droning Piggy chords, odd Piggy solos, insane time changes, and cool lyrics abound. Snake’s lyrics are both thought provoking and cool sounding through a Francophone lens. Even the song titles alone evoke multiple images.

I’m pleased that the band has continued on with Blackie and Chewy.  Their last album, Target Earth was also challenging and excellent.  But that’s another review.  For now I am blown away and grateful that the band have created two monstrously great albums in a row after the death of the man who seemingly defined their sound. As a metal fan, and as a fellow Canadian, I am proud of our metal heritage. I feel Piggy is a huge part of that heritage (the CD itself has Maple Leafs and Fleurs-de-lis emblazoned upon it), and I hope his music continues to live on in the new VoiVod.

Highlights:

“God Phones,” “Destroy After Reading,” “In Orbit,” and “Earthache”.  I love the thunderous chorus in “Earthache”:  “Blah, blah blah, is that all you say?”

Infini is not quite the album that Katorz was, it’s more challenging and abrasive, but it’s definitely one to be proud of.  Very few bands could produce an album of this complexity and intensity.

4/5 stars

REVIEW: Voivod – Katorz (2006)

Part 1 of a 2 part series

KATORZ_0001VOIVOD – Katorz (2006 The End records)

When Piggy (Denis D’Amour) passed away of colon cancer in 2005, I thought it spelled the end of VoiVod. It was such a sudden, unforeseen tragedy.  He was only diagnosed that year; the cancer had spread so rapidly that any operation was deemed impossible.  However, Piggy loved VoiVod and he loved music. Knowing his end was near, he recorded hours of new music with his guitar onto a computer. Before passing he instructed the band on how to access the music he’d left them, and they realized the VoiVod dream was not dead. Away (Michel Langevin), Snake (Denis Belanger) and Jasonic (ex-Metallica bassist Jason Newsted) painstakingly went through his final recordings and realized there was an album there. (In fact there were two albums there, but that’s another story.)

Katorz (“fourteen”, their 14th release) was assembled from these parts. It is a loving tribute to the man who defined the VoiVod sound, and it is a gift to us, the fans. As Canadians, we should be very proud of VoiVod. They never made it big like Rush, although Rush certainly took them under their collective wings on the Presto tour. Their sound is anything but commercial — it’s a stunning, disorienting array of unusual droning chords, complex themes and precision drumming. The band have also inserted some of Piggy’s beautiful final acoustic passages in between songs as transistions, all of which are haunting statements about his impending death. Piggy was not known for his acoustic work, until now, which makes it that much more powerful. (The band has suggested in the past that there may be an entire Piggy acoustic album to come.)

KATORZ_0003Through all the hardship, VoiVod have only perfected their art of songwriting. The songs on Katorz are among the best of the VoiVod back catalogue. They have come far from their thrash metal n’ studs roots. From the band that once did a thrash version of the “Batman” theme, their music is still heavy. The complexity that they gradually began integrating in the mid-80’s is tied together with more melody and groove. Certainly, you can find few drummers as talented as Away, and his drumming here is astounding. Away jumps from time change to time change effortlessly.

The always nasal whine of Snake will not appeal to all, but it is part of the VoiVod sound and identity, and his lyrics are as jittery and potent as ever. To me it’s like Megadeth. I can’t handle a lot of Mustaine’s singing in a day, but in small doses it’s quite palatable.

Perhaps the most impressive thing about Katorz is that you cannot tell that anything is wrong with Piggy or the band.  His playing is as unique as ever, pushing the boundaries as he always has.  Check out the noise solo on “Mr. Clean” and you’ll see that Piggy was stretching out to the very end.  Song-wise, Katorz is seamless.  It sounds as if the band wrote and recorded it together, as they always have.  There is a certain coldness to Katorz, but that’s VoiVod.

Katorz is thinking-man’s metal. It is over-caffeinated, constantly pushing the extremes (X-Streams?) and restless. More importantly, it is a tribute to one of the great guitarists that made Canada proud. Piggy was great not because of his speed or dexterity, but because of his sonic uniqueness. Piggy’s sound was like no other, droning and headache-inducing, just like VoiVod’s music. Our country is a sadder place without him.

Highlights:
The whole album, but especially “The Getaway”, “Odds & Frauds” and “The X-Stream”.

A beautiful noisy mess. 4.5/5 stars.

Part 268 / REVIEW: “Lie”

Part 2 of a 2 part series.  For yesterday’s part, a review of the AWAKE album, click here.

Not only is this Part 2 of the Dream Theater review, but also a nice way to introduce THE WEEK OF SINGLES 2!  From Monday through Saturday, we’ll be taking a look at some rare singles.  Today’s is Dream Theater’s “Lie”.

RECORD STORE TALES Part 268: Lie

DREAM THEATER – “Lie”:  This single was given to me by a customer named Ed. He was one of my earliest customers, very much intro progressive rock and heavy metal. He was a couple years older than me, with ginger hair and big big “Bubbles” glasses.

I had seen a copy in Toronto, at the big HMV store at 333 Yonge St. For whatever stupid reason, I chose to pass on it. Maybe it was the price. When I got back to Kitchener, I tried to order a copy from Encore Records but they reported to me that it was deleted. I then tried to order it from Amazon.com, who had it on back order for months before they too told me they could not get any more.

There were a couple good reasons to need this single:

1. The unreleased bonus track “To Live Forever”.

2. The hard to find live track “Another Day” which was only on the very rare (very expensive) Japanese release of the Live at the Marquee EP.

While discussing Dream Theater albums with Ed one day in ’97, I explained my frustration at not owning this single.

“I have two copies,” Ed said. “I bought it when it came out, and there were two CDs in the same case.”

“Really?” I exclaimed. “Any chance you want to let one go?”

“I’ll think about it,” Ed said. “I don’t have two cases, just two CDs, and I don’t need the second one.”

“I’ll be happy to take that off your hands,” I answered.

Ed did indeed give me his extra copy of the CD. Even without the case and cover art, I was satisfied. I bought an empty 2 CD case to put my copy of Awake in, with the “Lie” single as a “bonus CD”. Not exactly the ideal for a collector like me, but it’s an original physical CD copy and that’ll do.

DT_0002“To Live Forever” was an obvious choice as a B-side, in comparison to the better tracks on Awake. It’s similar to, but not as spectacular as the mellow songs like “Lifting Shadows” or “Innocence Faded”. The live “Another Day” on the other hand is every bit as good as the Live at the Marquee CD. This single saves me from having to track down a Japanese copy!  Thanks, Dream Theater.

From the album itself comes the incredible Kevin Moore song “Space-Dye Vest”.  As mentioned in yesterday’s review, that is my favourite song from Awake.  It defies categorizing, and it has a dark but glowing soul.  Also included is the single version of “Lie”, which is nice if you plan on making a mix CD.  The album track didn’t lend itself well to that, since it melds into other songs on the album.

I don’t know what happened to Ed. He’d mentioned he was losing interest in rock music. I guess that can happen, inconceivable as it is to me!  He bought a bit of classical stuff, but I stopped seeing him towards the end.  Maybe Ed will stumble upon this blog, and I can thank him again for this great CD single.

Thanks Ed.

5/5 stars