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REVIEW: The Hellacopters – Head Off (2008 Vinyl Disc)

THE HELLACOPTERS – Head Off (2008 Wild Kingdom Vinyl Disc)

If you don’t know what a “Vinyl Disc” is, that’s OK.  It was a niche format that only last a year or two.  Essentially it’s a CD with an LP groove on the label side.  You could get over 80 minutes on a single disc this way, by placing a bonus track on the vinyl side.  The Hellacopters, however, aren’t an 80 minute album kind of band.  Head Off, their final CD, is only 35 minutes long, plus a 3:20 bonus track on the vinyl side.

Head Off is a covers album, but having heard none of the originals, that wasn’t immediately obvious.  They usually do songs you’ve never heard of.  Covers or not, Head Off is a pretty great collection of the kind of hard rocking melodic gems that the Hellacopters usually specialize in anyway.

The hands-down best track is the last one on the CD:  “Darling Darling” originally by The Royal Cream.  Hard rock with melancholy melody and a guitar solo that slays.  There’s even a Kiss “Easter egg” in the Hellacopters’ version.  We already know they are Kiss fans since they even have a track called “Paul Stanley”, using a bit of one of the man’s awesome riffs.  This time, the Hellacopters lifted a lick that Paul plays live on the intro to “Black Diamond”.  You can hear the lick in the outro, at the 3:00 mark in “Darling Darling”.  The original is found in “Black Diamond” at the 18 second mark, on Kiss Alive!  The Hellacopters turned it into one of the best hooks in “Darling Darling”, and it happens to fit like a glove.  A leather glove, with tassels.

Back to the start, the album opens with a punky rock and roll vibe.  “Electrocute” is by a Swedish band called Demons, and this excellent boogie-woogie will make you want to check ’em out.  Another killer, “Midnight Angels” (The Peepshows) is melodic rock nirvana.  How are these not the biggest rock songs in the world already?  “I’m Watching You” (The Humpers) is a blitz, heads-a-bangin’ along.  It slows a bit on “No Salvation” (The Turpentines), which turns towards down a darker alley, though just as ear-pleasin’.  “In the Sign of the Octopus” (The Robots) is like a vintage Kiss track circa Love Gun, lost to the ages but just as good as the songs you remember.  The Robots stole my love!  The New Bomb Turks are covered next on “Veronica Lake”, pure good time punk rock.  Boogie piano makes it accessible to even the strictest hard rocker.

The CD continues to rock through track after track of brilliance that you’re probably unfamiliar with.  Every song is stuffed with hooks and melodies, no ballads.  The Hellacopters treat each one with the kind of guitar thunder they’re known for.  There are no duds anywhere on the entire album, and even though it’s all covers, it’s not uneven or inconsistent.  You would completely believe that all the tunes were originals, if you didn’t know ’em.  “Rescue” (Dead Moon) could have been a Hellacopters song, easily.  Even the soulful “Making Up For Lost Time” (The Bellrays) sounds natural to this band.

The only track that is a letdown is “Straight Until Morning” (The Powder Monkeys), the bonus track on the vinyl side.  As discussed in the article about Vinyl Discs, the audio quality on this side is utterly atrocious.  Especially when compared to the sharp sounding CD side, this track is flat and noisy.  It is, however, the heaviest and punkiest song on the album, so perhaps this is appropriate?  Even intentional?

Ignoring the sonic issues on the vinyl side, which was really just a novelty factor, Head Off is worth a solid:

5/5 stars

This limited edition also included a pin and a patch, so if you’re looking for your own copy, make sure it’s complete!

 

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REVIEW: The Hellacopters – Grande Rock (1999 vinyl)

THE HELLACOPTERS – Grande Rock (1999 Sub Pop vinyl edition)

Personally, it all began with Iron Tom Sharpe and Joe Big Nose Perry.  By 1999, everyone was well aware that the big Kiss reunion album, Psycho Circus, was a diluted compromise of the album they should have made.  “The Hellacopters made the real new Kiss album, man.”  Come on, Tom, quit yanking my chain.  “You’ll love it.  This is the album Kiss should have made.  No man, seriously, they even have a song called ‘Paul Stanley’.”   Joe stepped in by offering to pick me up a vinyl copy, which had a bonus track, at the Orange Monkey.  I gladly took him up on his offer and hoped to hear what Iron Tom was talking about.  Grande Rock was the Hellacopter’s third LP, but LeBrain’s first Hellacopters.

What’s this about Kiss then?  As “Action De Grâce” easily demonstrates, The Hellacopters can groove like the original foursome don’t even dare anymore.  This is Kiss circa 1976, but if they had taken a road other than Destroyer.  This is something like what they could have done if they wanted to take Kiss Alive! to the next step, and maybe taking some punk inspiration instead of disco.  “Move Right Out of Here” slams like Dressed to Kill on jet fuel.  “Alright Already Now” adds some harmonica, fuzz bass, and wah-wah.  The Hellacopters are not slavish like Klassik’78, they’re not trying to duplicate anything.  They’re going their own way with it, and it just so happens to be a lot better than Psycho Circus.  A lot of the vocals actually are closer to Steven Tyler circa Draw the Line.

A slower and darker vibe hits on “Welcome to Hell”, with some electric piano mixed in with Frehley-like solos and a little “Sympathy for the Devil”.  The punk rock builds on “The Electric Index Eel”, with stabbing guitar licks in under two minutes of length.  Clearly far beyond Kiss.  But then as if to get my attention back, there it is:  “Paul Stanley”, the song!  The riff must be inspired by Paul’s solo song “Tonight You Belong to Me”.  Wasn’t I telling you recently that Paul is one of rock’s most underrated riff writers?

The vinyl bonus track is right at the end of side one:  “Angel Dust”, which really sounds more like a top speed Appetite for Destruction outtake.  There’s a lot of Guns N’ Roses on this record too, particularly when there is a wah-wah solo or a blast of speed.

“The Devil Stole the Beat From the Lord” continues the rock and roll party on side two.  It’s pedal to the metal right through to “Dogday Morning”.  There’s a real gem in the middle of side two called “Venus in Force”, a big and grand riff with a song to go with it.  A more Kiss-like tempo in “5 Vs. 7” maintains a sense of variety.  Enjoy the flurry of guitars in the extended fade-out.  “Lonely” is a nice shorty by contrast, like a Gene Simmons love lament written in a hotel bathroom.  Closing position goes to “Renvoyer”, a killer outro jam.

Here is an interesting observation for you.  I used to think that Grande Rock had a great side one, but not much happening on side two.  However, I hadn’t actually listened to the vinyl for years.  I was listening to an mp3 rip of the 13 track album.  This time, I played the record and my perspective changed.  You have to get up and flip the record, and I happened to do something else for a few minutes before I dropped it back on side two.  That intentional break right there is everything.  There’s some sort of reset that happens, and you’re good to go for round two.

Grande Rock is damn near perfect for anyone craving a dose of the classic 1970s with a toe in punk rock too.  Vinyl is the way to go.  Don’t even bother with the CD, which taunts you with the fact that you bought the wrong version on the back cover by telling you that you’re not getting “Angel Dust”!  Awesome.

4.5/5 stars

 

REVIEW: Dynazty – Renatus (2014)

Thanks to Jompa Wilmenius for sending us this CD!

scan_20161218DYNAZTY – Renatus (2014 Spinefarm)

Renatus means “rebirth”, but this is the first Dynazty album to have made its way over to LeBrain HQ.  Being our first exposure to the band from Stockholm, what will their rebirth sound like?  Power metal, heavy on the syncopated beats, accented by keyboards and melody.  Like Savatage cranked up to about 15 without any restraint.  The stuttering bass drum can be tiring after a while, as can the bipping and bopping keyboard accents.  The vocalising and guitar solo breaks are absolutely highlights, bringing their sound back from the edge of overkill.

From “Cross the Line” over to “Starlight”, the speed does not let up.  It’s as if you took the fastest songs by Ronnie James Dio, injected them full of caffeine and watched them go.  (Throw in some early Queensryche, too.)  “Dawn of Your Creation” departs slightly from this trajectory but not without a purely-Yngwie lead guitar solo.  “The Northern End” is the first break in the storm, allowing the song to slow down enough for its power to impact.  This defiant anthem is an album highlight.  “Incarnation” too is a little different, bringing back the Savatage on steroids vibe.

There’s a natural spot for a side break right at “Run Amok” which restarts the engines going full speed.  “Unholy Deterrent” might be the most aggressive of the tunes, like the front of the battle lines, stampeding everything in its way and rendering the land burned and scorched behind.  Then, if there is music that backs up an army of Orcs marching out of Mordor, it should be “Sunrise in Hell”.  The lines have formed and the charges are about to begin, and the beats continue to thunder below.  “Salvation” provides the silver lining, a triumphant power rock tune.  Closing on an ominously heavy note, “A Divine Comedy” completes the album without once letting up on the metal assault.

The album sounds technically flawless to the point of sterility, except when it comes to the vocals which have all the edge.  Not a bad album or even a bad sound, just too close to the edge of parody.  There is a very fine line between clever and stupid.  Fortunately Renatus never falls over the edge.  Within its powerful tracks you will find several favourites.  Best of all the album never overstays its welcome.  This is a point more bands need to pay attention to.  Less is often more, especially when you’re as relentlessly heavy as Renatus.

3.5/5 stars

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Nils Molin – lead vocals
Rob Love Magnusson – lead guitar
George Egg – drums
Mikael Lavér – lead guitar
Jonathan Olsson – bass

REVIEW: Europe – Almost Unplugged (2009)

scan_20161012EUROPE – Almost Unplugged (2009 MVD Audio)

Almost Unplugged“?  The devil is this?

This was a special show in Sweden, with Europe playing some of their best material (with a few covers) in a largely acoustic setting.  There are strings, but there are also keyboards and electric guitar.  The best of both worlds!

The band were riding a high wave then, which has really not dissipated since.  They had done a couple well received reunion albums (Start From the Dark and Secret Society) and were working on music that many fans consider a peak (Last Look at Eden).  Europe have long been an under appreciated band, but Almost Unplugged should win over even the staunchest critic.

“Got to Have Faith” opened Europe’s reunion album Start From the Dark, so it works triumphantly as a concert opener.  Here, it is laid back, bluesy with slippery guitars.  “Forever Travelling” from Secret Society follows hot on its heels.  The string quartet adds drama to this song, which works naturally in the acoustic setting.  From the same album is the killer track “Devil Sings the Blues”, highlighted by some splendid John Norum electric guitar noodling.

Every time Europe does a cover, it becomes an album highlight.  The acoustic “Wish You Were Here” is beautiful and not at all overdone.  Thin Lizzy’s “Suicide” is full on electric, and pretty spot-on, especially considering that Lizzy were a two-guitar band while Europe has a guitar and a keyboard.  Covering Led Zeppelin is always risky but “Since I’ve Been Loving You” is surprisingly great.  Joey doesn’t try to copy Robert Plant, but he certainly can sing the blues just fine.  (Hey!  Maybe the devil really does sing the blues!  Oh, you devil you!)  Just as importantly, Norum plays some electrifying guitar blues over this monster of a cover.  The most brilliant cover however is a UFO song:  “Love to Love”.  More than any other, this one sounds like Europe owned it.  It’s very well suited to their dramatic rock stylings, and they absolutely kill it.  If there was one track worth buying the CD for, you just found it.

The Europe originals that make up the bulk of the album span the entire history of the band.  From the first LP is “Memories”, which in its original version was a brutally heavy stampede.  Here, it is an acoustic gallop, just as aggressive, but with subtlety.  The piano ballad “Dreamer” comes from the second album, an unsung classic that was a few years shy of fame.  The fame and fortune finally came on 1986’s The Final Countdown, and of course the title track is played.  In its acoustic version there is no synth hook; it instead played by the string quartet.  It’s trippy to hear it done like this; a little strangeness for fun.  “Superstitious” (from 1988’s Out of This World) sounds more natural in this format.  It’s also refreshing to hear Joey’s voice crack in a couple places.  That means this is really truly live.

One should always familiarize with the originals first, but even if you don’t have them, Almost Unplugged should be well enjoyed by any discerning rock fan who doesn’t mind when the acoustics come out.

4.5/5 stars

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REVIEW: Europe – Europe (1983)

EUROPE_0001EUROPE – Europe (1983 CBS)

Summer 1989.  My buddy Bob showed up at the door.

“Mike!” he began.  “They have a Europe album you don’t have down at Sam the Record Man.  You should get it, but it’s only on record.”

I knew Europe had albums prior to The Final Countdown, but I had never seen nor heard them.  Since my primary format was cassette back then, I passed on the vinyl version.  A few weeks later, Europe the album showed up in the new Columbia House catalog, so I ordered it on tape.  I had reasoned out that this was their first album, but the 1989 date on the back made it look like a new release.  In fact Martin Popoff even reviewed it as such in Riff Kills Man!, stating that the poodle hair and keyboards were “gone” and replaced by sheer heavy metal.  He’s right about the heavy metal, even if he had the order of the albums wrong.  Europe resembles the band of “Carrie” and “Rock the Night” only superficially.  This is a metal album, and a damn fine one at that.

The regal, thunderous riff of “In the Future to Come” should warn away anyone expecting power ballads.  This speedy UFO/Priest hybrid certainly took me by surprise.  Singer Joey Tempest’s voice was not the soulful powerhouse it would later become, but he was just a kid at the time.   The metal here is pure: no frills, no excesses, just steamhammer rhythm and a howling lead singer.  Throw in some ace John Norum guitar work and you have something to talk about.  His double-tracked solo might be reminiscent of Thin Lizzy.

“Farewell” is straightforward heavy metal, on the hard rock side of things.  Some may be off-put by the flat lead vocals, but I say, “Hey, it’s rock n’ roll.”  The song slams and the chorus is memorable enough for me.  Then “Seven Doors Hotel” changes the scene with a haunting piano opening…but it’s merely a fake out.  The speed metal riffing and wailing Norum are back.  Norum makes his Les Paul howl like Joey does at the microphone.  Even though there’s some neoclassical finesse to some of the music, I hear a bit of Phil Lynott in there too.

My favourite song then and now is probably “The King Will Return”.  The lyrics aren’t very good, but English wasn’t Joey’s first language.  I still enjoy the words, as it’s one of those medieval story-telling songs that I’m a sucker for.  This softer song is still pretty epic and wouldn’t be considered wimpy by anyone.  Side one was closed by the Norum instrumental song “Boyazont”.  I don’t know what a “boyazont” is, but who cares?  Norum instrumentals are usually ballsy and catchy, and this is no exception.

The second side is commenced by “Children of this Time”, which continues much in the vein of songs like “In the Future to Come”.  Then for a respite, “Words of Wisdom” has an acoustic verse.  That doesn’t make it a ballad!  No, this picks up speed for the chorus and continues to storm the gates of Valhalla like the rest of the album.  It’s a bit slower in pace, but the drums still hit like hammers while Joey howls at the thunder.  I think I can even hear timpani.  “Paradize Bay” (not sure why they spelled it with a z) is one of the album’s strongest cuts.  It’s a relentless battering ram with a chorus that hints at the grandness of Europe in the future.  Norum’s solo is sloppy but delicious.  “Memories” then closes the album on a frenetic note.  There are plenty of  “woah woah” vocals to go around, and drummer Tony Reno seemingly pulverizes his kit.  There’s another voice singing with Joey on the outro of the song; is this John Norum?

This album was self produced, and as such it sounds very raw.  But heavy!  Not all bands who self produced early in their careers managed to get results as good as those on Europe.   For 1983 and just a bunch of kids, this is damn fine work!  And it holds up.  It’s a headbanger.

5/5 stars

REVIEW: Iron Maiden – Revenge Is Living In the Past (2006 live bootleg CD)

Part two of a two-part series on live bootlegs. For part one, click here!

IRON MAIDEN –  Revenge Is Living In the Past (2006 live bootleg CD, The Godfatherecords)

Astute metal fans know that there have been couple very special Iron Maiden tours of late that were not commemorated with a live album. That’s shocking considering how many live albums Maiden’s done since reuniting with Bruce and Adrian in 1999 (four). The one I had been seeking the most was the Matter of Life and Death tour. On that tour, Maiden played every song from that excellent album in sequence. Some moaned and complained about the shows being loaded top-heavy with an album 70 minutes in length. Those people did not appreciate what they were witnessing, which was the only time you were going to be hearing most of these songs live. And what great songs they are. I am on record with A Matter of Life and Death being among my favourite Iron Maiden albums.

Then, at the Toronto Musical Collectibles Record & CD Sale 2014, I found it: A soundboard recorded double CD from Stockholm, November 18 2006. This was the second of two nights at the Globe arena. (They would return to Stockholm again a week later on the 25th!) I do not pay money for “burned” (CD-R) bootlegs, and one vendor had hundreds of beautifully packaged, factory pressed live bootlegs. They had many from this label, The Godfatherecords, all in lovely digipacks. I paid $40, the most I paid for any single item at the CD show. This was well below the $60 that I paid 15 years ago for the awful Virtual Lights Strikes Over France, also by Iron Maiden. I think $40 was a fair price for a double bootleg CD of this quality.

MAIDEN REVENGE_0006

How does a live performance of A Matter of Life and Death hold up?  Remarkably well!  In fact there was only one song that I felt didn’t work well, which was “The Longest Day”.  It’s a great song on album, but live, Bruce’s vocal is more erratic.  Still, it is hard to be critical since this is but a blip in the course of the CD.  The songs are remarkably album-accurate otherwise, with Steve and Adrian providing backing vocals where needed.

“Different World” is a brilliant opener, and the crowd is immediately fired up.  Also well received was the single “The Reincarnation of Benjamin Breeg”.  At the conclusion of A Matter of Life and Death, Maiden break into “Fear of the Dark,” and the crowd sings along to every word, as they often do.  The set closes with classics:  “Iron Maiden,” “2 Minutes to Midnight,” “The Evil That Men Do,” and “Hallowed Be Thy Name”.  All brilliant of course.  It is good to have an excellent sounding commemoration of this tour.  I had never really understood why Iron Maiden did not release their own official CD.  That’s why the world needs bootleggers.

The Godfatherecords generously filled out the second CD with four songs from another very special show:  Rome, October 27 1981.  Why is that special?  It was only Bruce Dickinson’s second show with the band!  Ever!  Paul Di’Anno’s final show was only a couple weeks prior, on the 10th.   From this show, we get “Iron Maiden,” “Transylvania” (what a bizarre song to include since it’s instrumental), “Drifter” and “Prowler”.  I don’t think I have a copy of Bruce singing “Drifter” on anything else I own!

The sound quality is not that great, as expected.  The lineup then was Bruce Dickinson, Steve Harris, Dave Murray, Adrian Smith, and Clive Burr.  Immediately obvious is that the band were playing much faster back then, and Bruce’s range was greater.  It’s very cool to hear Steve Harris himself do the song introduction on “Transylvania”!  I don’t think I’ve ever hear him speak so much on stage before.  (He also introduces “Prowler” with Bruce.)   And Bruce singing “Drifter”?  Very different.  The audience “Yo yo yo yo’s!” along to Bruce, but it sure sounds weird to hear anybody but Paul Di’Anno doing it.

This is a great CD, and if you happen upon it, I recommend you add it to your collection.

4.5/5 stars

Top Five(s) of 2013 – Part 3: 2013’s Rockin’ Stats

What Do the Stats Say?

I always enjoy doing these year-end lists.  I’ve compiled some of the stats from the last 12 months for you, and for my own amusement.  For the 2012 installment click here.

2013 was an exciting year for me.  I enjoyed reviewing some great albums, although I only did one real “series” in 2013 — Ace Frehley.  I did some mini-series such as the Week of Singles, but nothing as epic as the 50 part Maiden series from 2012.

In 2013, I took a bigger leap into making videos.  Three this year that I was particularly proud of:

1. Toronto Record Store Excursion 2013
2. Sausagefest XII Video Report
3. Top Five Discs that Got Us in Shit at the Record Store

Not including these end-of-year lists, 2013 had only 9 Guest Shots.  I’d really like more in 2013, so drop me a line if you are interested in contributing.  Uncle Meat was the most prolific contributor this year, with notable work also posted by Mrs. LeBrain, Lemon Kurri Klopek, and Tommy Morais.

In 2013, I posted 103 installments of Record Store Tales, 12 editions of the ever popular WTF Search Terms, and a whopping 275 Reviews.

My biggest personal blogging achievement this year however was the completion of a massive project:  A Table of Contents!  It was a mind-numbing task in its monotony, but rewarding in its final form.  Finally all Record Store Tales and Reviews are listed and easy to find in a couple clicks.

TOP FIVE  LeBRAIN-READING COUNTRIES

WHERE DID THEY COME FROM

United States FlagUnited States 31,256
Canada FlagCanada 24,154
United Kingdom FlagUnited Kingdom 9,884
Germany FlagGermany 3,479
Sweden FlagSweden 3,080

TOP FIVE REVIEWS by hits

Queensryche absolutely dominated this year, their combined hits overshadowing even the mighty Iron Maiden.

1. Iron Maiden – Maiden England ’88 (2013 CD reissue)…1,391
2. Marillion – Radiation 2013…1,240
3. Queensrÿche – “Redemption” (2013 single)…927
4. Queensrÿche – Queensrÿche (2013 Japanese edition with bonus tracks)…907
5. Geoff Tate’s Queensrÿche – “Cold” (2013 single)…737
6. (Runner-up) Brian May & Friends – Star Fleet Project…691

TOP SEARCH TERMS

1. marillion radiation 2013…145
2. queensryche redemption…127
3. 69porn…118
4. paul stanley voice problems…90
5. mike ladano…75

TOP COMMENTORS

1.  Aaron! 1047 comments

2.  Heavy Metal OverloRd 817 comments

3.  Deke 407 comments

4.  Jon Wilmenius 355 comments

* Because of a glitch I only have a Top 4

Tomorrow, we’ll be back to our regularly scheduled programming with a new Record Store Tale. Thanks for reading in 2013, and I promise more fun in 2014!

REVIEW: Deep Purple – “Above and Beyond” (CD and 7″ singles)

It’s THE WEEK OF SINGLES!  Each day this week I’ll be bringing you reviews and images of a recent CD or vinyl single acquisition.  Today’s is fresh hot off the presses!  I received this single on Saturday (the 16th).

Yesterday:  Van Halen – “Best of Both Worlds” 7″ single

DEEP PURPLE – “Above and Beyond” (CD and 7″ singles, Edel)

This has been a banner year for Deep Purple singles!  We’ve had “All the Time in the World”, “Hell To Pay”, “Vincent Price” and now “Above and Beyond” from the excellent new album NOW What?!  There’s a “gold” edition of NOW What?! coming soon, and I believe most of the B-sides from these singles will be on it.  Most, but not all…

“Above and Beyond” is one of two songs on the new album dedicated to Jon Lord.  It’s probably the most progressive sounding of the new songs.  It’s certainly one of the most epic.  I think Jon would have loved it.  Canadian producer extraordinaire Bob Ezrin adds his shine on “Above and Beyond”, you can really hear it in the arrangement.

The second track on the CD version is “Things I Never Said” from some editions of Rapture of the Deep.  It was originally from the Japanese CD, and then the “special edition”.  It’s one of the better songs from Rapture, and I’ve always liked Steve Morse’s guitar riff.  I just didn’t need to buy it again on a single…

IMG_00001462Brand new live recordings are the real bait on this single.  The CD has two; I don’t believe either is going to be on the “gold” edition of NOW What?!.  “Space Truckin'” (Rome, Italy 07/22/2013) doesn’t seem as peppy as other live versions I’ve heard.  I suppose that’s why some versions are destined for B-sides, right?  A pair of covers close the CD:  Booker T. and the M.G.’s classic Hammond organ instrumental “Green Onions” and Joe South’s “Hush”.  “Green Onions” serves as an intro to “Hush” essentially.  It’s a great song for a band like Purple to do anyway.  These come from Sweden, 08/10/2013.  Gillan’s struggling a little bit on “Hush”, but Airey and Morse get playful during the solo section, and it’s very reminiscent of how Blackmore and Lord used to interact.

The exclusive bonus track on the 7″ vinyl single is a different recording of “Space Truckin'”.  This one is from Majano, Italy, two days after the other version.  I actually prefer this version to the one from Rome.  I’m not sure why; maybe it’s just that audio illusion of warm vinyl.  Maybe Morse just sounds dirtier.   This single is absolutely beautiful, on purple clear vinyl complete with limited numbered stamp.  Mine?  #1934 of 2000.  I’ll consider myself lucky.  It’s kind of mind blowing to think that there’s an exclusive Deep Purple live recording out there, only 2000 copies made, and I have one of them.

4.5/5 stars

More Purple at mikeladano.com:

Live at Inglewood 1968Deep Purple (1969), Machine Head (40th Anniversary Deluxe Edition + vinyl + In Concert ’72 vinyl), Perks and Tit (Live in San Diego 1974), Stormbringer (35th Anniversary Edition), Come Taste the Band (35th Anniversary edition), Power House (1977), The Battle Rages On (1993), Shades 1968-1998, Collector’s Edition: The Bootleg Series 1984-2000 (12 CD), Listen, Learn, Read On (6 CD), Rapture of the Deep (2 CD Special Edition), “All the Time in the World” (2013 CD single), NOW What?! (2013) Record Store Tales Part 32: Live In Japan, STEVE MORSE BAND – StressFest (1996), ROCK AID ARMENIA – Smoke on the Water: The Metropolis Sessions.

REVIEW: Evilyn Strange – Mourning Phoebe (2013)

EVILYN STRANGE – Mourning Phoebe (2013)

I’ll be the first to admit that I rarely listen to new bands anymore, even though 20 years ago I was on top of every new band coming out, good or bad.  It was a pleasure to hear a strong album like Mourning Phoebe.  Then I found out that the band Evilyn Strange aren’t newcomers, although Mourning Phoebe is the first release under that name.  When they first started releasing hard rock as Double Eclipse, it was the height of Brit Pop, grunge, and all that.  Thankfully times have turned since then.

E STRANGE_0002I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect based on the artwork.  What I ended up getting was a pretty solid mix of hard rock, heavy metal, grunge, pop rock, and other assorted loud music.  The first song “The Ballad of Evilyn Strange” is a perfect example.  The verses have an Alice In Chains drone-y vibe to them, while underneath I hear a guitar hook reminiscent of “Tower’s Calling” by Europe.  With that already in the mix, the choruses blast out in singalong fashion.

There’s a lot of great playing here, particularly the guitar playing.  The solos sound like a great mix of shred and composition. I also hear a lot of that 80’s LA metal sound that I like.  It’s mixed up with more progressive moments, piano breaks and plenty of hooks.

I found the album to drag a tad towards the beginning.  “Your Eyes Give You Away” and “Everything”, while both great songs, are a bit slow for me at the start of an album.  To say they’re ballads would be selling them short though, they’re more dramatic songs with heavy moments as well.  “Everything” picks up at the end, and goes into something almost like Poets and Madmen-era Savatage for a minute!

There’s an epic quality to many of the songs, and others just rock out. “Just A Little” is a good example of a solid hard rock song that delivers hooks directly and immediately. “Love Finds You” also rocks solidly with a slippery slide guitar. I’m a sucker for the slide. Good song, great chorus.

The only other thing I would criticize is the drum sound. I’m not a big fan of it, but the truth is you get used to it and it doesn’t detract from the songs. Songwriting is more important than a snare drum sound.

Evilyn Strange are an English/Swedish band consisting of twins Phillip and Al Strange (vocals & bass, drums & keys respectively) and guitarist Mikael Johannesson. Lemme tell you, Johannesson smokes! I don’t know his exact influences, but I think I can hear a bit of Dio-era Vivian Campbell. Either way, he absolutely cuts it.

Finally, I think the cover art is cool and eye-catching, and I like that they included a guitar pick in the CD. To me it’s a touch like this that keeps physical product interesting in the face of downloading.

I like this album. I wish them success.

4/5 stars
For more info:
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REVIEW: Europe – The Final Countdown (1986)

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TFC FRONT

EUROPE – The Final Countdown (1986, 2001 Epic remaster)

I remember back in 1986/1987, all the rock magazines were playing on the same angle: Who’s better, Europe or Bon Jovi? Hard to believe that the two bands were once considered on the same playing field, now that Bon Jovi are permanent megastars. Not to mention their music sounds nothing alike!

Everybody knows “The Final Countdown” which received a new life thanks to TV shows shows like Arrested Development. (Gob Bluth uses it as his theme song during his ill-fated magic acts.)  What you may not know is that this album had three other classic singles (“Rock the Night”, “Carrie”, “Cherokee”) and 6 great album tracks with no duds. As an added bonus, this remaster also includes three live tracks from 1987’s Final Countdown World Tour.  These may in fact be the same tracks as the Extended Versions release, but I don’t have that one to verify.

The synth-y title track kicks off the proceedings, its regal anthemic melody setting the mood. A science fiction themed song, the people of Earth have departed for Venus (let’s ignore that Venus is 460 °C). The lyrics…not super great on this album, but let’s not forget that English was their second language and they were still kids at the time. Regardless, “The Final Countdown” is a complete success as a song, from insanely catchy verses to chorus to intricate guitar solo courtesy of John Norum.

“Rock The Night” follows, another catchy song, this time with the guitar handling the meat of the tune. Then, the hit ballad “Carrie”. It’s a bit soft by today’s standards but is still a well written keyboard ballad with a great melody. This is followed by another great rock song, “Danger on the Track”. Vocalist Joey Tempest tells us of a journey followed by “strangers on my back”.  (See, because “back” rhymes with “track”.)  Again, not a great lyric, but it is a great song. Side One of the original LP was finished with the fantastic “Ninja”, which in my own personal world was a single in its own right. The lyrics: “If I were a noble ancient knight, I’d stand by your side to rule and fight.” OK then.

PHANTOM ZONE

Apparently the phantom zone wasn’t just for General Zod.

Side Two kicked off with a riff and a smile, and probably the best tune: “Cherokee”.  The lyrics here are not bad, a tale of the demise of the American Indian. However it is the riff that holds the song down, a typical Norum burner of great integrity. Still can’t tell what that voice says at the beginning of the song, though! The next track is “Time Has Come”, a mid-tempo soft one that I considered filler back then but like quite a lot now. “Heart Of Stone” has a bit more meat to it. This is followed by the fastest and heaviest song on the album, “On The Loose”, which has some of Norum’s best playing. In fact it was this song that brought Norum to my attention as a monster shredder in the first place. After hearing this song, I continued to watch his career with great interest, from solo albums to Don Dokken back to Europe. The album closed with another mid-tempo soft song, “Love Chaser”, which has a keyboard melody reminiscent of “The Final Countdown” itself, bringing us full circle. It is another great tune with killer melody and vocals from Joey Tempest.

The three bonus tracks are live takes of “The Final Countdown,” “Danger on the Track” and “Carrie”. Clearly, Europe could always cut it live.  These are from the Hammersmith Odeon in 1987, and feature Norum’s replacement Kee Marcello on guitar.  Marcello is no slouch, and had a different style to Norum’s, therefore adding another element to the songs.

The Final Countdown is the kind of album that I think should be owned, rather than just pick up a hits disc. You won’t go wrong with any of these ten tracks. The live stuff is just an added bonus.

5/5 stars