Spitfire

REVIEW: Dio – Angry Machines (1996)

DIO – Angry Machines (1996 Spitfire)

I have never liked Angry Machines.  Right from the moment it came out, to today, I do not like Angry Machines.   It’s not because I don’t like this Dio lineup.  I’m quite fond of the Strange Highways record, which features the same band (Jeff Pillson – bass, Vinny Appice – drums, Tracy G – guitars).  Given my fondness for that previous record, and the awesome cover art emblazoned upon Angry Machines, I was looking forward to this album.  Now, all these years later, even cranked to max volume it has failed to grow on me and remains my least favourite Dio album by a fair margin.

When Dio gets his hands on a treacherously slow heavy metal song, he can sometimes wring great things from it.  Angry Machines, however, is bogged down with many agonizingly slow, soundalike trudgy songs.  The opener “Institutional Man” almost resembles Born Again-era Sabbath at times for sheer slow chug, but it lacks any sort of hooks.  Ronnie is bellowing as incredibly as he always has, but he’s grasping for a melody to hang his powerful voice on.  The saving grace is a razor sharp guitar solo by Tracy G.

Thankfully “Don’t Tell the Kids” is a speed metal rocker.  I didn’t expect Ronnie to take it to Motorhead tempo, and that’s cool.  Lack of hooks is the problem again, so you’re left with little but the smoking instruments to carry you through.  MVP: Vinny Appice who has never sounded so lively!

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The disc gets stuck in the mud after “Don’t Tell the Kids”.  The atonal “Black” doesn’t do anything for me, although I do admire the stripped-back production (by Ronnie and engineer Wyn Davis).  I dig Jeff Pilson’s bass hook on “Hunter of the Heart”, and the chorus is pretty good, but the song is mostly forgettable.  Then is the slow and boring “Stay Out of My Mind”, a real snooze.  A 7-minute snooze with an extended keyboard segue!  Continuing with the mind control theme, “Big Sister” isn’t much to write home about either, except in terms of Vinny’s relentless sticks.

“Double Monday” has cool acoustic segment, very unlike typical Dio.  Unfortunately this one section does not save the song which is otherwise dreary and grating.  Up next, I enjoy the vintage groove of “Golden Rules” but again there’s not much of a song here.  Same goes for the penultimate track “Dying in America”.

You may already be familiar with the best song on Angry Machines, a piano ballad called “This is Your Life”, that was re-released on the 2014 tribute album of the same title. When I reviewed that excellent CD, I had this to say of “This is Your Life”:

Fittingly, the album ends on a ballad: Dio’s own somber “This Is Your Life”, performed by the man himself in 1996. I did not like the Angry Machines album, but if there was one song I would have picked as a highlight it would be “This Is Your Life”. Performed only by Dio and Scott Warren on piano, it is unlike anything else in Dio’s canon. The lyrics speak of mortality:  “This is your life, This is your time, What if the flame won’t last forever? This is your here, This is your now, Let it be magical.”

The always lucky Japanese fans received a bonus track with the cool title of “God Hates Heavy Metal”.  Although I am intrigued I have not been motivated enough to search it out.

2/5 stars

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REVIEW: Deep Purple – The Book of Taliesyn (1968)

It’s Purple Week at mikeladano.com!  It’s all Deep Purple and Deep Purple alumni, all week.  This is Part 2.  

Part 1:  Shades of Deep Purple

DEEP PURPLE – The Book of Taliesyn (1968 EMI, 2000 remaster)

I’m not a big fan of The Book of Taliesyn, and that’s not because I don’t like Deep Purple Mk I. I do like Deep Purple Mk I, or at least some of it. I think the third Purple album from ’69 is one of the band’s all-time best, and an underrated classic. The Book of only scratches the surface. The band had yet to find their sound, which would emerge fully formed a year later on Deep Purple In Rock. This album does represent significant growth, but not in the heavy metal direction that Purple would co-pioneer.  Instead, Book of travels further down the orchestral roads with Jon Lord.

The Book of Taliesyn, like Shades of Deep Purple before it, is built with cover songs as its cornerstones. It contains one of my favourite Deep Purple Mk I tracks: their version of Neil Diamond’s “Kentucky Woman”. Energetic, ragged and rocking hard, “Kentucky Woman” is the absolute best track here.  Ian Paice is the MVP, but singer Rod Evans is well suited to this kind of tune. Other standouts include “Wring That Neck”, the legendary instrumental (also called “Hard Road”) that the band continued to play through the decades even after Blackmore left the band in the 90’s.  “The Shield” isn’t bad, as it features a long instrumental break featuring Jon and Ritchie.  There is also the track “Anthem”, a Jon Lord helmed piece that delves into classical, forshadowing the “April” suite from the third album, as well as the Concerto for Group and Orchestra itself. So, the band was certainly stretching out here. There is a definite growth from the first album. Unfortunately, the album is bogged down by another slow, boring Beatles cover (“We Can Work It Out”, this time) and also “River Deep, Mountain High”, a whole 10 minutes thereof, which does nothing to help the band.  The only notable thing about it is Jon’s “Thus Spoke Zarathustra” intro.

DP BOOK OF TALIESYN_0003Like the other two albums in this series of remasters on Spitfire, there are five previously unreleased bonus tracks. All are valuable in their own way. Keep in mind that these tapes are old and may not sound as good as you’re used to. But, “Playground” is a bright instrumental from BBC tapes, and “Wring That Neck” is presented live. “Hey Bop a Re Bop” is buried treasure, an early version of what would become “Painter” on the next album.  There are two more cool covers to boot.  “Oh No No No” is a studio outtake, but I don’t recognize it.  It’s a mid-tempo pop rocker with splashes of Jon’s organ that quench the thirst.  Nicky Simper demonstrates some impressive bass chops, but he just wasn’t the right fit for the band.  A BBC Top Gear session yielded a song called “It’s All Over”, a slow country blues ballad that Thin Lizzy could have done at the same time.  This is a great tune, and it’s a shame that Purple never recorded it properly.

The colourful cover art is a quaint reminder that once upon a time, album covers were 12.375″ x 12.375″ and you could gaze upon the finer details for hours.  CD just doesn’t cut it.  This cover was so different for the band.  Their name and the album title appear on it several times, and each band member is credited (first names only) on the front.  The bizarre landscape foreshadows the Hieronymus Bosch painting on the next album.

2/5 stars. Not quite the band we know and love, but slowly getting there.

REVIEW: Deep Purple – Shades of (1968)

It’s a late start, but welcome to Purple Week!  It’s going to be all Deep Purple and Deep Purple alumni all week to Saturday, with at least two Epic Reviews lined up.  Let’s go!

DEEP PURPLE – Shades of (1968 EMI, 2000 remaster)

I’m not a big fan of Shades of Deep Purple, and that’s not because I don’t like Deep Purple Mk I. I do like Deep Purple Mk I, or at least some of it. I think the third Purple album from ’69 is one of the band’s all-time best, and an underrated classic. Shades of only scratches the surface. In 1968, these five guys didn’t have the road experience together yet to really gel as a unit. They had just formed and almost immediately began recording demos that landed them a record deal.  Ritchie Blackmore, a session player, had yet to emerge as the confident axeman that he is, still shyly putting together his solos while Jon Lord takes the forefront more often than not.

SHADES OF DEEP PURPLE_0003Deep Purple opened their very first vinyl with an instrumental.  “And the Address” is remarkably recognizable as Deep Purple, particularly because of Ian Paice and Jon Lord.

“Hush” was and is still an extraordinary version, and my preferred take over the 1988 Ian Gillan version. “I’m So Glad” isn’t bad, but “Mandrake Root” is not what it would later become live. “Help” has been slowed down to a crawl (reportedly, the way the Beatles wanted to do it) but it doesn’t rock. “Love Help Me” is 60’s pop rock goodness, as is “One More Rainy Day”, but “Hey Joe” is another one that would come across better live.  It doesn’t help that Shades of Deep Purple doesn’t really sound that great.

The five bonus tracks are all valuable, as these are some of Purple’s earliest live performances. Something like “Hey Joe” live (from the BBC) begins to show what the band would make of it. There’s also the rare track “Shadows” which is better than some of the tracks on the album itself.  This outtake probably could have used a little additional polishing, but it is what it is, and it’s worth checking out if only for Ritchie’s solo.  The audio fidelity on these tracks is sketchy, be forewarned.  That shouldn’t be unexpected for demos of this age.

2/5 stars. Hold tight, rock fans — a year later, the best of Mk I was yet to come!

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REVIEW: Twisted Sister – Love Is For Suckers (1987)

Bought in 1997 at an unknown HMV store in Calgary Alberta, on import, for like $25.  For Aaron’s take on this CD, click here!

TS_0001TWISTED SISTER – Love Is For Suckers (1987 Atlantic, Spitfire reissue)

If the year was 1987, I would have given this CD 5/5 stars easily. When it came out in the summer of ’87 I was really into it. My best friend Bob and I used to play it all the time during that long hot summer, we had all the lyrics memorized. Unfortunately this album has not aged well, certainly not compared to their classic early albums.

One problem with the record is that it’s not actually by the band Twisted Sister! Even as a kid I wondered why people with names like “Reb Beach” or “Kip Winger” were listed in the credits. That’s because Love is For Suckers was written and recorded as the first Dee Snider solo album. Record company pressure forced Dee to release this as the next Twisted Sister album, even though no Twisted members appear on it (aside from new drummer Joey Franco). This only hastened the breakup of Twisted Sister in October of that year.

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The album is produced by Beau Hill, a guy also known for Warrant and Winger albums (that’s why Reb and Kip are on here). Beau Hill is one of my least favourite metal producers of all time. He over-produces, uses too many samples, and glosses everything up. As such I find most of his albums pretty hard to listen to today. On Love is For Suckers, all the drums are samples and you sure can tell by that awkward gated sound, and identical snare hits.

Like when we used to climb the rope in gym class

As an 80’s glam metal album, the songs are not that bad. “Wake Up (The Sleeping Giant)” could have been a Twisted Sister song with its themes of rebellion and youth angst. “Hot Love”, the first single, was the song that got me to buy this album. A catchy pop-rocker with irrestible guitars courtesy of maestro Reb Beach, “Hot Love” was as commercial as it gets. Other standout songs included “Me And the Boys”, which was our theme song that summer. “I Want This Night (To Last Forever)” was a Van Hagar sounding pop-rocker with another great chorus. I think, if anything, Love is For Suckers sounds mostly like 5150-era Van Hagar, but with gang vocals and way more glossed up.

Love is For Suckers was reissued a while ago with 4 bonus tracks, demos from these sessions that fit right into the sound of the album. They’re just not as good. “Statuatory Date” for example suffers from extremely bad lyrics.  One of them, “If That’s What You Want” is an early version of an album song, in this case “Me And the Boys”.  Consider looking into these 4 bonus tracks when you’re choosing to purchase Love is For Suckers.

As an added little “insult to injury” following this album’s failure, producer Beau Hill took Dee Snider’s scream from one song, “I Want This Night (To Last Forever)”, and used it as the opening scream on Warrant’s smash hit album Cherry Pie.  Uncredited! I’m sure 99.9% of Warrant fans assume it’s Jani Lane.

If this album description sounds good to you, check it out. You may enjoy it as much as I did all those years ago.  For me, the years have not been kind.

2.5/5 stars

More TWISTED SISTER at mikeladano.com:

TWISTED SISTER – Live at the Marquee (2011 Rhino limited edition)
TWISTED SISTER – Stay Hungry (25th Anniversary Edition)
TWISTED SISTER – Under The Blade (1985 remix)
TWISTED SISTER – “We’re Not Gonna Take It” (1984 Atlantic single)