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REVIEW: ECW Extreme Music – Various Artists (1998)

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ECW Extreme Music (1998 CMC)

There are way too many CDs in my collection that I don’t like, but I own for one or two rarities.  ECW Extreme Music is one of those many.  I have never watched an ECW wrestling match in my life.  I only know one of the wrestlers pictured inside, Bam Bam Bigelow, because he was in the WWF when I was a kid.  I don’t like the 90s version of wrestling with the blood and barbed wire.  And I don’t like much of the music they used.

First is the generic riff/loop combo of Harry Slash and the Slashtones, whoever that is.  Skip that repetitive crap to get to a White Zombie remix. “El Phantasmo and the Chicken-Run Blast-O-Rama” was a great groove from Astro-Creep: 2000.  The “Wine, Women & Song” mix by Charlie Clouser is from their remix CD Supersexy Swingin’ Sounds.  It’s an enjoyable remix, which is something best appreciated on its own rather than on a remix album.

Somebody named Kilgore did a carbon copy cover of “Walk” by Pantera, presumably because using the original would have cost more?  It’s embarrassingly copycat.  Your friends who don’t know will assume it’s Pantera.  Fortunately a great Megadeth tune is next.  Cryptic Writings is an underrated album, and “Trust” was probably the second best track on it (right after “A Secret Place”).   This instrumental mix is an exclusive and has emphasis on Marty Friedman’s lead guitar which replaces the vocals.

Bruce Dickinson (and Roy Z) is next with a lacklustre cover of “The Zoo” by the Scorpions.  There’s nothing particularly wrong with it, it’s just a cover, but it’s also a non-album track that collectors will want.  Too bad it’s not exceptional like most of Bruce’s output.  It’s just good not great.  Another cover follows:  Motorhead doing “Enter Sandman”!  It’s as bizarre and weirdly perfect as you’d expect it to be.  Grinspoon are next with their fairly stinky version of Prong’s “Snap Your Fingers, Snap Your Neck”, robbed of all its snarl.  John Bush-era Anthrax are more impressive with Metallica’s “Phantom Lord” from Kill ‘Em All.  It’s breakneck, and also very cool to hear a Big Four thrash band covering another Big Four group.

Pantera, minus Phil Anselmo, are here for their cover of ZZ Top’s “Heard it on the X”.  It’s both ZZ Top and Pantera at the same time, and that’s kind of remarkable.  That’s it for this album though — nothing worthwhile from here out. What’s the point of having a cover of “Kick Out the Jams” (courtesy of Monster Magnet) but then beep out the naughty words?  Somebody named Muscadine decided to do “Big Balls” by AC/DC, a pretty obvious bad idea.  Just awful.  Then it’s more of Harry Slash to end the CD with some more pure filler.

CMC International released a lot of low budget crap over the years, and this CD is pretty poor.  There are five pages of merch advertising inside, including one for a ECW Extreme Music 2.  I skipped that one.  This CD is collectable for the Bruce Dickinson, Anthrax and Motorhead tracks.  But these are cover tunes we’re talking about, so tread wisely.

1.5/5 stars

 

 

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REVIEW: Sebastian Bach – Angel Down (2007)

SIMULTANEOUS REVIEW! Check out Aaron of the KMA, who is reviewing this same album today!

bach angel down_0001SEBASTIAN BACH – Angel Down (2007 EMI)

You don’t have to like Sebastian Bach (the person) to like Angel Down. He may be a bit of a blow-hard, but damn, he made another great album. By my counting this is his third legitimately great album (Slave to the Grind and Subhuman Race being the other two.)

Baz’s voice is still powerful, and he still has most of his range. In fact, after the disappointing Bring ‘Em Bach Alive I thought it was all over for the voice. Not so! Angel Down proves it. Bach’s still got the goods. He’s got more character in his voice than he did when he was 19 or 20.  More grit.  But his lungs are as powerful as ever, absolutely mind-bogglingly so.

This was (by far) the heaviest album that Baz had made to date. This is way heavier than anything Skid Row has done with or without him. Bach’s working with great people on this, including Roy Z and members of the old Halford band. It doesn’t get much more metal than this. It’s heavier than most Priest albums, and the songs are all strong. They won’t sink into your skull on first listen, or even the third. It’s a challenging listen, the pummeling of guitars and drums are constant and brutal. Having said that, eventually the melodies, riffs, and Bach’s vocals will worm their way into your brain like a virus.

Highlights for this listener included:

  • “(Love Is) A Bitchslap”, which you may have heard in preview form on season 7 of Trailer Park Boys.  This smoker is a duet with Baz’s buddy W. Axl Rose!  You can literally smell the rubber burning.
  • “Back In The Saddle”, the powerful Aero-cover, and another duet with the reclusive Axl Rose. To hear Axl and Baz singing together again is awesome; two rock gods shattering the glass and gargling with it after.
  • “You Don’t Understand” with its patented Roy Z guitar riff (which really is just a patented Maiden riff).
  • “Falling Into You”, a Skid-Row-esque ballad along the lines of “Wasted Time” with some gorgeous strings (synth?) and guitar harmonies.  Another standout ballad is “By Your Side”, along similar lines.
  • The brutally heavy “American Metalhead”. Ignore the fact that Baz lived most his childhood in Canada and considers himself Canadian. I can appreciate that singing “Canadian Metalhead” wouldn’t have the same impact to his core (American) record buyers. Either way, it’s a brutal assault of the ears, as Baz screams his way out of your headphones.
  • “Angel Down”, the title track, which starts atmospheric like a Sabbath opener before hitting that pummeling Pantera riff;  Baz ripping the vocal cords again.

14 songs, and that’s just a handful of favourites listed above. There are lots of great moments on this CD. I can’t praise it enough, songwriting and performance wise.  It really surprised me.  I didn’t expect something this solid.  Top it off with another of his dad’s paintings on the cover, and this was the comeback album that fans were hoping for but never expecting.

Think you can handle it? Buy Angel Down.

4/5 stars.

DVD REVIEW: Bruce Dickinson – Anthology (2006)

I acquired this DVD for ridiculously cheap at my old place of employ via their web order service, but after I left their employ so no staff discount.  Its condition is impeccable!  Very impressive.

BRUCE DICKINSON – Anthology (2006 Sanctuary)

Bruce Dickinson is that rare kind of artist, one whose solo work has the same level of quality, integrity and emotional impact as the work with his better-known band. I think it is safe to say that most Iron Maiden fans have enjoyed Bruce Dickinson’s solo work, or at least most of it. This DVD Anthology is a complete collection of all of Dickinson’s solo video material in one 3-disc package.

Up first is Bruce’s live video supporting his first solo album whilst still in Maiden, Tattooed Millionaire. This video, which was extremely rare when it first came out (I never located a copy), was called Dive! Dive! Live! and featured Maiden guitarist Janick Gers. It also features every song from that Tattooed Millionaire performed live, plus several B-sides and a handful of covers.  No Maiden.  As Bruce was proud to say, this video is very raw. Also on the first DVD is the video Skunkworks Live, which was released in the mid 1990’s. It featured Dickinson’s new solo band, also called Skunkworks, featuring guitarist Alex Dickson. I was not a huge fan of Skunkworks, as I found their style (particularly the bass by Chris Dale) not to mesh so well with Bruce’s songs. Most of the Skunkworks album is performed live, plus some older songs and B-sides, and one Maiden cover (“The Prisoner”). This is another very rare performance as once again, the original video was very hard to find.

Disc 2 is the Scream For Me Brazil show, featuring my favourite lineup of Bruce’s band. Roy Z and Adrian Smith on guitars, the hulking Eddie Casilias on bass, and the talented tribal and bizarre Dave Ingraham on drums. This to me was Bruce’s finest moment as a solo artist. The performance itself was never meant to be released at first, this is a rough and raw video feed. However, as grainy as it is, the raw energy and sheer performance chops of Bruce and his ace band come through. The tracklist is a mix of songs from the three albums featuring Roy Z (Balls to Picasso, Accident of Birth, and Chemical Wedding).

Disc 3 is my personal favourite disc, seeing as Bruce’s music videos were rarely shown on Much. Every video is included here. There are some really off the wall videos directed by Storm Thorgerson (check out “Tattooed Millionaire”! Shoes for hats?) and some really cool horror-chiller-theater-type videos directed by Julian Doyle. Further on, I loved “Accident Of Birth” (directed by Bruce himself), mainly because Dave Ingraham makes awesome faces while playing the drums, and is wearing this funny leather aviation hat through the whole thing. But that’s nothing, wait until you see “Road To Hell”. Ingraham is now wearing a gas mask through the whole thing! Julian Doyle’s “Abduction” video is also cool, as Bruce himself is captured by mysterious Men in Black, and experimented upon….

But there are some pretty bad videos too. “Tears of the Dragon” comes to mind, a great song, but a terrible video. Here’s Bruce, looking all pensive…then there’s some weird sumo wrestler looking guy…fire…a beach…Bruce wrecking stuff…I would have preferred to see his band. It was the early 90’s, and this was the kind of video that people were sick of seeing, pompous and self-important. Awful video.

Lastly as a bonus there is an old Samson video directed by Julian Temple. I don’t even know what to say about Biceps of Steel except it’s an odd one! There is also a lot of supplimentary bonus material, including some introductions and explanations from Bruce himself….

This package was extremely well assembled, and is very enjoyable for all Bruce Dickinson fans. You won’t be let down.  Completists in particular will appreciate that Bruce is very hands-on with his product and tends to give the fans what they wanted along with stuff they didn’t know existed.  Full endorsement from LeBrain.

5/5 stars

More BRUCE DICKINSON at mikeladano.com:

Accident of Birth (1997) Man of Sorrows EP (1997)
Balls To Picasso (1994 & deluxe edition)
The Chemical Wedding (1998 Japanese import)
Skunkworks, Skunkworks Live EP (1996)
Tattooed Millionaire (1990, 2005 Sanctuary 2 disc set)
Tyranny of Souls (2005, Japanese version)
RECORD STORE TALES Part 148: Navigate the Seas of the Sun

REVIEW: Halford – Resurrection (2000)

Part 5 in a miniseries on Rob Halford’s solo career!  Missed the last part?  Click here!

HALFORD – Resurrection (2000 Japanese edition, 2008 remastered edition)

Note:  There have been several versions of this CD.  The original CD and Japanese import versions had a certain tracklisting, but the track order was changed up a bit for the Remastered edition (see tracklists at bottom).  Since that’s the version that’s out right now, that’s what I’ve decided to review.  I got mine in a combo pack with the DVD, Resurrection World Tour Live at Rock in Rio III.  Rob has also retroactively started to number his solo albums; as such the remastered version is technically Halford 1: Resurrection.

Voyeurs by Two was not a mega seller regardless of the association with Trent Reznor and Nothing Records.  Rob needed to return to heavy metal or risk alienating his fanbase.

RESURRECTION_0005I think pretty much everyone was enthused by the title track and lead off single, “Resurrection”.  This wasn’t techno wizardry with whispery vocals.  This was heavy metal, with screams!  Although Rob was already headed in that direction at the end of Two, while working with Bob Marlette, it is Roy Z that drives this one single home.  Yes, Roy Z, the Roy Z that Bruce Dickinson utilized to collaborate on many a great solo album.  With Halford now drinking at the well of riffage that is Roy Z, “Resurrection” was bound to smoke.  And it does.  Take the sound of classic Judas Priest circa Painkiller, adjust for 10 years of sonic trends, stir in Roy Z, and you have “Resurrection”.  Rob makes sure you know he’s serious from the very opening, screaming as only he can.

What I dislike are the lyrics.  “I walked alone into a Fight”?  Rob, you weren’t alone, you had Scott Travis with you!  “I tried to look too far ahead, and saw the road lead to my past instead.”  In other words, sorry about the Two album, this is what I really want to be doing.

The first three tracks totally smoke, all falling somewhere in a Defenders/Painkiller vibe of Priestly goodness.  At first I didn’t like “Night Fall”, the fourth track, too much.  Its redeeming value is a great chorus, totally in the Defenders mold.

“Silent Screams” is one of the songs that Rob was working on with Marlette at the end of Two.  Rob was especially proud of this lengthy number, and he released a demo version of it for free on his official website.  The demo version is an evolution from Two.  It has screams (appropriately enough) and heavy guitar riffs.  The album version has a more emotional lead vocal and tones down the keyboards.  The song is a bit slow and ploddy to start with but it is epic in quality and it sure does rock by the halfway point!

The big gimmick on the album was the duet with Bruce Dickinson, “The One You Love to Hate”.  The connection is Roy Z, but obviously a matchup like this would generate much hype.  Arguably the two best singers in metal, together at last.  Bruce sounds great, holding his own against the Metal God, who sounds vintage 80’s.  I have to say I enjoyed this one a lot.  Shortly thereafter, there were rumours of a coming supergroup called the Three Tremors – Rob, Bruce, and Geoff Tate of Queensryche.  All three artists were touring together at the time, but this idea was never meant to be taken seriously.

RESURRECTION_0002“Cyber World” is fast and heavy but unfortunately also boring and skip-worthy.  Likewise, the groovier “Slow Down”.  Dull title, dull song.  I tend to think of Resurrection as losing steam on side 2.  I guess that’s why the remastered edition inserts the Japanese bonus track “Hell’s Last Survivor” right here.  Sounding something of a Screaming for Vengeance outtake, I think this was placed here to compensate for some of the weaker tracks.

“Temptation” is a little on the boring side, so two new tracks are inserted at this point for the remastered edition:  “God Bringer of Death” and “Fetish”.  In my opinion it doesn’t sound like they belong here.  Rob’s voice had changed a lot in the 8 years since, and the sound is more like later Halford albums.  Neither song is particularly notable.

On the other hand, “Sad Wings”, which was previously only on the Japanese version, is awesome.  It has a sharp riff and a chorus that is designed to remind you what band he was the singer of.  This is followed by “Twist” which sounds like maybe it had its origins in Two, but I like it a lot.  “Drive” is also pretty decent, and the album ends with “Saviour” which has an anthemic chorus.

Bottom line:  Pretty decent if a bit safe comeback.  Rob wasn’t treading any new ground here musically, but Roy Z never fails to class up any album he’s on.  His tasteful and blistering solo work is just marvelous.

3.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Bruce Dickinson – Tyranny of Souls (2005, Japanese version)

Part 37 of my series of Iron Maiden reviews!

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BRUCE DICKINSON – Tyranny of Souls (2005, Japanese version)

I spoke about this album’s lyrics at length previously in a Record Store Tale called Navigate the Seas of the Sun.  Part of the reason I love this album so much is due to the lyrics.  As good as The Chemical Wedding was, science fiction is much more my speed than is William Blake.  Therefore, given that slight edge, I actually do prefer Tyranny of Souls.  If you’re curious about the lyrics then do please check out that aforementioned Record Store Tale.

Lyrics aside, Bruce Dickinson has had a pretty consistent decade as a solo artist, Maiden notwithstanding. Ever since his Accident Of Birth CD, he’s done nothing but truly excellent heavy metal music. Tyranny Of Souls, however is unique among them: It is Dickinson’s first solo album since rejoining Iron Maiden in 1999. Would anything be different this time? After all, usually when one does a solo album, it is to get ideas of one’s chest that are not appropriate for that band.  Sometimes, that can lead to misguided genre experiments that are pleasing to few but the artist.

Reassuringly, Tyranny Of Souls is not a drastic departure from the music Bruce made on his last solo album, The Chemical Wedding. Tyranny uses that album’s sound as its starting point, but actually grows and progresses as you listen to it.  It starts just as heavy, but then starts to explore light and shade.

“Mars Within” is an instrumental bit that sets up the first song, “Abduction”. It’s one of Bruce’s heaviest, but then he takes it even heavier with “Soul Intruders”. This is metal just as awesome as Bruce’s best work.

Then we get a little anthemic with “Kill Devil Hill”, easily one of the best melodies Bruce has ever written.  The Wright brothers’ first flight is the subject here.  We all know Bruce is a pilot and aviation is a passion of his.  The passion ended up producing one of his best tunes.  Just a great, incredible singalong anthem.  I challenge you to get the chorus out of your head.

“Navigate The Seas Of The Sun” is a Maiden-esque power ballad, it could have fit right in with anything on Dance Of Death.  Every bit as good as “Kill Devil Hill” with thoughtful lyrics to boot.  More awesome songs follow:  another anthem called “The River of No Return”, a fast metal tune called “Power of the Sun”, and the insanely catchy “Devil on a Hog”.  Despite the silly title, this is simply a great groover, a ride you do not want to end.

The dull sludgey “Believil” is the only stumble.  Skip worthy and dumb-titled, I consider this one to be filler.  It’s one of those slow dirgey songs that tries to sound modern and fails. Luckily it’s also short, and it is followed by the monstrous title track, which ends the domestic album on a rather sudden note.  I prefer the way the Japanese CD ends, with the epic power ballad “Eternal”.  Roy Z’s incredible guitar soloing propels this one to the clouds, ending the album on a much more satisfactory note.

Speaking of Mr. Z, he does co-write and produce once again.  The drums are ably played by a chap named David Moreno, who replaced the very talented David Ingraham in Z’s Tribe of Gypsies.  The bass is handled by a couple guys named Ray Burke and Juan Perez.  I miss the recognizable character of Ingraham and original bassist Eddie Casillas, but this album is still strong without them.

Tyranny of Souls is a triumph in many ways.  One is that Bruce managed to make a heavy metal record different from Maiden, but just as good.  Another is that Bruce made an album worthy of his own back catalogue.  Whether you agree with me that it tops Chemical Wedding is not important.  I realize that’s a tall order.  Hopefully, you will agree that Bruce made yet another winner, a staggering string of great records.

And with this under his belt, Maiden returned to the studio refreshed and renewed, ready to take on A Matter of Life and Death

5/5 stars

REVIEW: Bruce Dickinson – The Chemical Wedding (1998 Japanese Import, single)

Part 27 of my series of Iron Maiden reviews!

BRUCE DICKINSON – The Chemical Wedding (1998)

Disclaimer:  I know nothing of the writings of William Blake.  Curious because of this album, I decided to take a crack at them.  I did not get far!

Suffice to say The Chemical Wedding is a swirling Blake-inspired non-concept album, a distinct up-ratchet from the excellent Accident of Birth.  Upon hearing The Chemical Wedding, I said, “Well that’s it — Bruce has buried Iron Maiden, and his own back catalogue too!”

Seriously heavy, much heavier than anything Bruce has done before or since, The Chemical Wedding is an absolute triumph.  The lineup remains the same:  Bruce and Roy Z with Adrian Smith, Eddie Casillas, and David Ingraham.  With a little bit ‘o narration from Bruce’s hero Arthur Brown (The Crazy World of Arthur Brown).  The lyrics range from alchemy to the legend that Christ once went to England during his missing years, it’s a spellbinding listen, as long as you don’t hurt your neck from all the headbanging you’re going to do.

I had one customer who was a Christian.  He asked me what was good in new metal, so I put The Chemical Wedding on for him.  He ripped the headphones from his ears — couldn’t stand the lyrics!  He told me they were “too demonic”, particularly the lead single “The Killing Floor”:

Satan has left his killing floor

Satan – hellfires burn no more

Although there is also a line about “Panzer divisions burning in the mud” so to me this is another commentary on the evil present in the world.

Going through the album track by track would get monotonous.  So choose from the adjectives below:  “fast”, “powerful”, “scorching”, “heavy”, “grinding”, “wailing”, “throbbing”, “headache-inducing” for the various songs.

There are numerous highlights, but my two favourites are:

“The Tower” – this one has a unstoppable pulse thanks to Eddie Casillas, and is one of the more melodic songs on the album while retaining its heaviness.

“Book of Thel” – with velocity comes the album epic, this one picks up where “Darkside of Aquarius” left off from the last album.  I don’t know what a book of Thel is, but judging by the heavy evilness coming from my speakers, maybe I don’t wanna know!

Not to be outdone are the scorching opening “King in Crimson” (does not seem to be about a Stephen King character!) and the melodic Maiden-esque Japanese bonus track “Return of the King”.

The single for “The Killing Floor” had two unique B-sides, “Real World” and “Confeos”, neither of which are as strong as anything on the album.  These songs plus “Return of the King” have been collected on the Bruce Dickinson deluxe editions.

When Accident of Birth came out in 1997, I said, “This is incredible, Bruce is back and better than Maiden are.  How the hell is he doing to top this one?”  Unlike previous solo albums, Bruce didn’t do a complete 180 and change direction.  Instead he simply added more fuel to the fire and created one of the best albums of his entire career, one he should be very proud of.

But again, I had to ask the same question, “How the hell does he top The Chemical Wedding“?  I couldn’t see him turning up the gas any hotter without foraging into thrash metal territory, or losing what melody he still had.  Luckily, fate intervened.

It turns out that Iron Maiden themselves were looking for another new singer.  And Bruce was looking to finish his career off doing arenas, not clubs.  A phone call was made….

5/5 stars

…And it is here that we shall pause again. Stay tuned for more Maiden in the days to come.

REVIEW: Bruce Dickinson – Accident of Birth (1997) Man of Sorrows EP (1997)

Part 25 of my series of Iron Maiden reviews!

BRUCE DICKINSON – Accident of Birth (1997)

As mentioned in the last chapter, Bruce Dickinson was eager to get back to metal, and he brought Roy Z with him.   Together they forged a great modern steel beast of an album.  But there was an additional surprise in store:

Bruce had also teamed up with his old Maiden alumnus Adrian Smith!  The classic writing partnership was back, and Adrian was playing those trademark melodies again.

And then, just to stick it in Steve Harris’ nose, Bruce hired on Derek Riggs to do the cover art.  He came up with a mascot:  Edison!  Get it?

The opening track, “Freak”, slams the listener right in the face with a modern metallic riff before the classic Bruce wail forces you to admit this is the kind of music he’s best at.  And while it’s not the same as Maiden, you will be delighted to learn there are guitar harmony parts once again.

You have to give Roy Z credit where it’s due, the guy is great at writing metal riffs.  He’s also a great soloist and a nice contrast to Adrian.  Also not slouches are the badass rhythm section:  Eddie Casillas (bass) and David Ingraham (drums), both back from the Balls To Picasso album.

“Starchildren” is an absolute stunner, a fucking brilliant song that combines programmed samples with traditional metal riffery.  I also love that Bruce has continued on with the sci-fi lyrics, something he’s quite good at.

Although “Taking the Queen” is another great song, it is overshadowed by the epic track “Darkside of Aquarius”.  At almost 7 minutes long, “Darkside” combines multiple parts together with guitar harmonies into one cohesive, stomping whole.  This to me is the jewel on a fine album.  I think this would have made one fine Maiden number (finer than what Maiden were releasing at the time).

Then, “Road To Hell”, a co-write between Bruce and Adrian.  You can tell by the catchy guitar parts and singalong chorus.  It is followed by the anthemic ballad “Man of Sorrows”.  This one was chosen for release as its own EP later.

The single “Accident of Birth” is next, yet another great tune, but also a standout among great tunes. Once again the samples are back, blasting this piece of sheet metal into a pulp.  The guitar melodies ground it in familiar territory as Bruce’s wail assaults the listener.

Why is Ingraham wearing that pilot hat?

“The Magician” comes somewhat awkwardly afterwards, as it is more upbeat than the previous material.  But “Welcome to the Pit” (also co-written by Smith) sinks deep into a sludgey morass.  “Welcome to the Pit” is filler, the first obvious such track on Accident of Birth.

The US edition of the album was elevated by another Smith co-write, the Maiden-esque “The Ghost of Cain” which restores the melody and guitar harmonies to the forefront.  The UK edition skipped this track but made it available on a single (which we’ll get to).  But it is a song like “The Ghost of Cain” that reminds the listener of the kind of magic that Iron Maiden lost when it lost Adrian Smith.

“Omega” and “Arc of Space” form a sci-fi duo.  The sun is about to go all red-giant on Earth’s ass, and most people have left.  But many remain behind.

Now it’s Omega-Zero day
The red star shines its last rays
The sun that gave us life yesterday
Is now the sun that takes our lives away

It’s this kind of lyric that gets my nerd-blood pumping.  Arthur C. Clarke would have been proud.  I’m sure Bruce has read The Songs of Distant Earth.  But even musically it’s a winner.  At first it sounds like a ballad before the band hits the gas and it turns into a blazing rocker with twin guitar harmonies.

And finally “Arc of Space”, an acoustic number (with cello!), and a perfect ending to a fine album.  The choruses soar.  Roy Z’s acoustic solo is perfect.  The album ends as a triumph.

 

There were also singles to be had:  “Accident of Birth” parts 1 and 2.   Part one added “The Ghost of Cain” to the lineup for those who didn’t get it on the UK album.  Both parts contained demo versions, basic stripped down recordings of “Accident of Birth”, “Taking the Queen”, and “Starchildren”.  It sounds like these were most likely recorded using drum machines.  In the case of “Accident of Birth” itself, in a lot of ways I prefer the more mechanical demo!

The Japanese even got their own exclusive EP from the albums called Man of Sorrows.

BRUCE DICKINSON – Man of Sorrows EP (1997)

Man of Sorrows is an awkward 5 song collection, essential only to the obsessed or the lucky ones able to find it at a good price.   It has three versions of the title track:  A radio edit, an orchestral mix, and a Spanish version (on a CD released only in Japan.)  The orchestral version just mixes those instruments in higher.  The Spanish version, “Hombre Triste”, is especially poor since the backing vocals in the chorus are still in English.  You can also hear edits, as if the vocal recording was probably spliced together piecemeal line by line.

The saving grace to the EP (but not worth the $30 price tag to the average collector) are two more demos:  “Darkside of Aquarius” and “Arc of Space”.  Much like the other demos, these are fully fleshed out arrangements.  “Darkside” features that drum machine again, but “Arc of Space” sounds like Bruce and Roy just doing the song live in a room.  The liner notes reveal that Roy Z plays all the instruments on the demo versions.

Incidentally, all these songs plus the “Accident of Birth” single B-sides are now available on the deluxe edition of the album.

Bruce made a hell of a comeback on Accident of Birth, showing up Iron Maiden, and proving that he was built to sing heavy metal music.  The cynical said that Bruce was just cashing in, but the next album would prove to be an even more powerful statement.  Stay tuned.

For Accident of Birth:

4.5/5 stars

For Man of Sorrows:

1.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Bruce Dickinson – Balls To Picasso (1994, deluxe edition)

Part 20 of my series of Iron Maiden reviews!

BRUCE DICKINSON – Balls To Picasso (1994, deluxe edition)

I remember working at the record store, and a guy asked to listen to Balls To Picasso, by Bruce Dickinson.  I put the disc on the player and he slid on the headphones.

About 2 minutes later, he took off his headphones.  “You put on the wrong CD.  This isn’t the right one.”  I went over and checked — Balls To Picasso.  Sometimes, though, CD’s could be misprinted with the wrong music, so I put on the headphones.  “Nope, this is it.  This is the right album,” I told the guy.

He responded, “It can’t be.  I know this singer.  That’s not him.”

Just one of many reactions to Bruce’s second solo album (and first since leaving Maiden)!

Regardless of the weird title and cover, Balls To Picasso is an album that I loved immediately.  Right from the opening grind of “Cyclops” and its vicious lead vocal, I was hooked.  Yeah, it does throw me from time to time (rapping, on “Shoot All The Clowns”) but this is a solid album by Bruce.  Fans have grown to appreciate it more over the years.  And you can’t fault its lineup, Bruce’s first album with Roy Z, Eddie Casillas, and Dave Ingraham from Tribe of Gypsies.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LYu1tCuLNqA&w=560&h=315]

The album had a torturous birth.  He started it once using the British band Skin, and aborted.  He tried again with Keith Olsen.  I suspect that this is the “very different” Peter Gabriel-type album he’s spoken about.  It is very different, with a lot of drum programs and keyboards, and very lush, polished production.  To me it is very Fish-like.  It is definitely not metal in any way, which is fine, but for whatever reason,  Bruce opted to shelve this album. Then he finally completed the task with Tribe of Gypsies, the only song making it to all versions of the album being “Tears of the Dragon”.

The end album sounds like alterna-metal, the kind of thing that a lot of metal artists were doing at the time to stay relevant.  It is bass heavy, 90’s sounding, and not very Maiden at all until you get to “Tears of the Dragon” itself, which could have easily been on a followup album to Fear of the Dark.

While not every song here was universally loved by the fans, there are many that were. “Change of Heart”, “Cyclops” and especially “Tears” are now considered fondly by Maiden fans. Tribe of Gypsies were a latin-flavored rock band, and they really lent Bruce a cool vibe for this record. There’s a lot of nice percussion stuff going on, and the occasional bit of flamenco guitar thanks to Mr. Z.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QO2tIqkBMfY&w=560&h=315]

I think “Change of Heart” is the best tune on the album.  Perhaps it reflects Bruce’s feelings on leaving Maiden.  Perhaps not.  Either way it is a side of Bruce we’d never seen before, and he shows it with depth and taste.

“Tear of the Dragon” has got to be about Maiden.  It seems so on the surface:

Where I was
I had wings that couldn’t fly
Where I was
I had tears I couldn’t cry

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=shfZzTJYZWs&w=560&h=315]

The remastering job on this 2 CD deluxe is stellar. I can hear some percussion parts on songs that I didn’t know existed before. I’ve played this album a hundred times in the past, and this time it sounded really fresh.

And of course the real reason I buy this stuff:  a second CD of B-sides. I really love it when somebody puts out a quality reissue like this. They have gone to the care of putting on a complete set of every B-side associated with this album. Present are the tracks for the CD singles, as are the tracks that were exclusive to 7″ and 12″ vinyl.

I would have had to buy 8 singles total in different formats to get these songs.  Thus far I’d only managed to get 4.  So I’m cool with this.  The B-sides were songs from the Keith Olsen album, live stuff featuring his new band Skunkworks, and remixes.

4/5 stars

Also seen below:  A rare 1994 promo CD featuring a “Shoot All The Clowns” club mix. (!)

…but what you hungry readers are really waiting for is the next Maiden.  Well the wait is over.  Next time, we’ll get X rated…