REVIEW: Blaze Bayley – Alive In Poland (2007)

BLAZE BAYLEY – Alive In Poland (2007 Metal Mind Productions)

Blaze Bayley had the honour of fronting Iron Maiden for two albums, and he’s not about to let you forget it.  Six of the 15 tracks on the double Alive In Poland are Maiden.  No fault there, if you were in Maiden you’d play those songs too, and probably more of them.  What Blaze did with his selection is quite adventurous.  Two of them were never played live by Iron Maiden — ever.

It’s no mercy, high octane, pedal to the metal from the get-go.  “Speed of Light” requires no description beyond the title.  It is what it says!  Throw some wicked Maiden-esque guitar harmonies on top.  Blaze is in great voice, full power, and with passionate delivery.  That goes for the entire show.

“The Brave” is borderline thrash but still with a Maiden-y flavour never too far away.  From there Blaze goes into a cranked-up version of “Futureal”, way faster than Maiden played it.  The double bass parts are insane.  It almost goes off the rails but stays intact.  The guitar harmonies somehow sound richer than the original.

One of the fun aspects of this live album is that Blaze was very talkative on stage that night.  Before “Alive”, he goes off on a great rant about a record label who advised him, “Don’t go out on tour Blaze, it doesn’t sell CDs.”  Thankfully he didn’t listen and this album is the fruit of his hard work.  “Alive” is a brilliant track, slowing it does to a mean groove like something out of the early 1990s.  From rhythm to riff, this thing just grinds along with an irresistible beat.  Dig those dissonant chords.

Wolfbane’s “Steel” is retitled “Tough As Steel”, but it’s the same track, only heavier!  Like Grim Reaper, Accept and Loudness rolled into one.  That rolls right into Maiden’s “Man On the Edge”.  Trying to get the festival crowd going, Blaze blasts ’em.  “Fucking wake up!  The gig has started, we have your money now and we don’t give a shit!”  That gets them up, and Blaze plays a pretty faithful version of the Maiden single.  No bassist sounds like Steve Harris, but Blaze’s bassist David Bermudez is able to play the challenging part.  Another lesser known Maiden single, “Virus“, is a total surprise.  This is the full length version with the long intro.  Not one of Maiden’s finest songs, “Virus” is much better live.  It has more life and Blaze really bites into the lyrics.

Disc 2 continues the spree of Maiden songs.  “Two Worlds Collide” was one of the better tunes from Virtual XI and one that Maiden only played on that tour.  “Look For the Truth” from The X Factor, on the other hand, has never been played live.  A shame that is, since the “Oh, oh, oh” refrain works best live.

Back to originals, “Kill and Destroy” is as heavy as it gets.  Post-Maiden, Blaze was unafraid to take things heavier.  Yet there’s still a melodic edge.  Changing pace, “Silicon Messiah” from Blaze’s first solo album is a prescient warning about technology, delivered with pure gusto and intent.  Choppy of riff, loaded with brilliant performances.  Into the brutally heavy “Tenth Dimension”, Blaze is still not letting up one iota.  He just keeps going at 11 the whole way.

A more direct arrangement of Maiden’s “Sign of the Cross” is the first sign of weakness in the voice of mighty Bayley.  He falters at the quiet intro, but recovers when bellowing the verses and chorus.  As the penultimate track, “Sign of the Cross” sets up “Born As A Stranger”, the wicked closer.  Good enough to be a Maiden tune itself, it’s a great track to go out on.  A solid banger, especially the outro.

Alive In Poland certainly isn’t Blaze’s only great live album.  The Andy Sneap-produced As Live As It Gets is also highly rated, where you’ll hear “Dazed and Confused” instead of “Look For the Truth”.  Both have their strengths, but Alive In Poland has a number of tracks that are not on the prior live album.  Buying one doesn’t make the other redundant.

4.5/5 stars


REVIEW: Wolfsbane – Live Fast, Die Fast (1989 cassette)

WOLFSBANE – Live Fast, Die Fast (1989 Def American cassette)

Blaze Bayley did not emerge from out of nowhere when he joined Iron Maiden.  Six years before The X Factor, Bayley released his debut album with Wolfsbane, produced by Rick frickin’ Rubin of all people.  Presumably this means Rick laid on a couch and didn’t wear shoes.  Let’s have a listen, then.

“Man Hunt” is Van Halen meets Iron Maiden; as bizarre as that concoction may sound is half as much as it is good!  It’s EVH and DLR, “Back in the Village”, hunting for painted ladies.  Blaze shows off some impressive pipes, but guitarist Jase Edwards showcases all the good things you can do with a speedily-played six-string.  Dirty Blaze must have hooked up with a bird according to “Shakin'”, which takes the sound back into the pocket.  A Dokken/Halen hybrid with a touch of sleaze, and certainly harder edged than what most American bands were doing in 1989.  “Killing Machine” sounds a bit like a lost Van Halen demo from 1977 but with a 1980s heavy metal drummer instead of Big Al.  There’s no break between it and “Fell Out of Heaven”, acting like one big multi-parted song.  Blaze is on the make again, sounding like a big dirty Ian Astbury.  Add in the absolutely blitz of “Money to Burn” and you have a definitive “lust” trilogy.

Side two opens with a punchy tune called “Greasy”, possessing an unholy scream that you wish they would have utilized in Maiden.  “I Like It Hot” is the funny summer cruisin’ tune, one the most commercial song on the album that is decidedly not commercial.  You can sing along to the terrific chorus on “All Or Nothing” but the blitzkrieg speed makes it clearly radio unfriendly.  The only power ballad “Tears From a Fool” is harder edged with a long solo, uncompromised and remote.  And with not even a breath’s break, “Pretty Baby” concludes this album-length treatise on picking up chicks in an accelerated manor.

The sonics of this Rick Rubin production are typically dry and crisp, but with an annoying snare drum sound that makes you question his hearing.  He arranged some cool gang vocals with both melody and rawness, but Live Fast, Die Fast doesn’t have any special sonic qualities that scream “Rubin”.

Wolfsbane happened an interesting niche here.  They blended the best aspects of American hard rock, tossed it with some heavy fucking metal, and a singer who didn’t sound like everyone else (with a dirty mind).  It was dangerous and it was different.

Was it good?  Yeah!  To quote the Heavy Metal Overlord, even Rick Rubin couldn’t fuck it up.

4/5 stars.

REVIEW: Wolfsbane – All Hell’s Breaking Loose Down at Little Kathy Wilson’s Place! (1990)

Welcome back to the Week of EPs! Each day this week, I’ll be checking out a variety of EP releases, both famed and obscure.

MONDAY: Aerosmith – The Other Side (1990)
WOLFSBANE_0001WOLFSBANE – All Hell’s Breaking Loose Down at Little Kathy Wilson’s Place! (1990 Def American)

I only own one Wolfsbane release on CD, and it’s this EP.  I remember that their Rubin-produced debut Live Fast, Die Fast didn’t sound as good as a Rubin production should.  This follow-up EP was produced by someone named Brenden O’Brian, who is presumably a different producer than the famed Bredan O’Brien.  Whoever it is, there’s little wrong with the production here.  It has guts and clarity.  The drums could use some more oomph.

The opening track “Steel” is one that I remember from Blaze Bayley’s live album.  Hearing it again, it’s fucking awesome!  “Tough as steel!” repeats the chorus which is appropriate for this razor sharp attack.  The guitars by Jase Edwards are choppy and aggressive, and they really sell the song.  I like when the rhythm guitar drops out during the solo, and all you have is bass and drums — just like it would be live.

“Paint the Town Red” is good time hard rock.  It still has a toughness to it, because of the basic guitar-based production.  There’s a radio-ready chorus and plenty of rocking melody, so if you had to pick one song as a potential hit, it’s “Paint the Town Red”.  Then it’s on to the ridiculously over the top “Loco”.  This time the guitars are almost a parody of shredding, so insane are they.  I can’t say I’m overly fond of “Loco”, but it sure does rip.

In 1990, you had to have an accessible song with acoustic guitars on your CD.  “Hey Babe” is that song.  Blaze’s flat vocals lend it some character, but otherwise it’s a pretty standard sounding 1990 rock ballad.  The dry guitars are very tasteful, the highlight of the track.  “Totally Nude” is a pretty dumb title, but it’s actually a pretty good hard rocker.  As the guitars blaze up and down the fretboard, song works its way into your head.

“Kathy Wilson” is a little bit of a mini-epic.  Based on the classic film Invaders From Mars, it’s a little corny but absolutely cool at the same time.  Blaze acts out some of the movie lines in spoken-word segments, but wails away on the choruses.  It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that this is an impressive little track.  It’s a little more complex than the standard rockers, but has the same blitzkrieg drive.

Consider picking up All Hell’s Breaking Loose Down at Little Kathy Wilson’s Place! at a reasonable price for a nice brief addition to your metal and Iron Maiden collections.

3.5/5 stars

Part 154: Cassettes Part IV – LeBrain’s Tapes (What Remains)


Cassettes Part IV – LeBrain’s Tapes (What Remains)

I used to have a lot of tapes.  So many, that T-Rev converted my closet doors to shelving, just to store my numerous cassettes!  It was quite a feat of engineering on his part.


If you’ve read the other three parts of this series on cassettes, then you’ve already seen some of the awesome artwork that T-Rev used to come up with for his tapes.  Doing those articles got me nostalgic, but very few of my own tapes remained.  A year or two before I met Mrs. LeBrain, I briefly dated this one girl who was getting into hair metal.  I had succeeded in replacing most of my tapes on CD (although still incomplete; I need a copy of Live Fast, Die Fast by Wolfsbane, and Phenomenon 1).  All my tapes were redundant, and I gave her boxes and boxes full of them.

God knows where those tapes are now.  I doubt she took them back home to Thunder Bay when it was all over, they probably ended up in a landfill.  No big loss really, the only shame of it is that, like T-Rev, I used to make a lot of my own custom artwork.

Mrs. LeBrain and I were visiting her mom yesterday, and I found some of my old Beatles tapes that I had made, at her place!  Her dad drove a delivery van with nothing but a tape deck inside.  He was more than happy to receive my old Beatles tapes, and he loved them.  And there they were, still at the house, complete with my computer generated J-cards.  Nothing elaborate, although I did paste the cover for Abbey Road onto that tape.

This inspired me to dig through some boxes here, and see if I had any of my own tapes left.  Surely there must be something here, with some of my own custom cover art!  There was just a handful left, stuff that I wouldn’t have parted with at the time, and lo and behold, there was my old artwork.  These sure brought back memories!

Back in the early record store days, cassette was my primary medium.  They were portable, you could leave them in the car and not worry about them getting banged up, so I recorded everything onto cassette.  It wasn’t until I had left the record store in 2006 that I got my first car with a CD deck.  Before then, I had one of those adapter kits to play a discman in the car, but it sounded shite.  I was glad to find the following treasures tucked away in a box!


Ahh, Spinal Tap.  A Spinal Tap Reunion was recorded from a 1992 TV special.  Unavailable on DVD today, as far as I know.  That’s a shame.


I bought Grande Rock by The Hellacopters on vinyl, to get that bonus track “Angel Dust”.  Or, more accurately, one of my record store compatriots got it for me at Orange Monkey Music in Waterloo.  I dutifully recorded it to cassette without making elaborate packaging, but I did put some effort into the cassette spine.


You Fat Bastards by Faith No More was the full show that was released on CD in truncated form on the Live at the Brixton Academy CD.  This was from a VHS release.

Guns N’ Roses did a couple cool TV specials.  I recorded Live at the Ritz off T-Rev, who stuck on some demos for bonus tracks.  The cover was made by adapting an old Appetite For Destruction J-card.  I think this turned out pretty cool.  Invade Paris! was a TV special from 1992.

These two Maiden tapes were from VHS releases.  It’s a shame that Raising Hell was never released on a CD.  Here’s hoping the band will put that out on a future box set.  It was Bruce’s “final” show.  I just edited out the crap sections with “magician” Simon Drake.   Maiden England is also taken from VHS, but this is the full show.  The CD release omitted two songs:  “Can I Play With Madness”, and “Hallowed Be Thy Name”.  My cassette didn’t!  I thought my J-card for Maiden England turned out pretty cool, using an old Seventh Son cover as its basis.

Unfortunately, this is all that remains of my old cassette art.  I did some much more elaborate things, which Thunder Bay Girl probably tossed out.  One was for Savatage’s Dead Winter Dead.  When I recorded that one to cassette, I actually painted the gargoyle onto a J-card.  Wish I kept that one.  Rush’s Test For Echo may have been the most elaborate one I’ve done.  Using some old cardboard and a full-page ad for the album, I created my own digipack for that cassette.  It would be nice to still have.  Ahh well.

It seems funny, in today’s age of mp3 files and players, that a format as crappy as cassette was anyone’s main format.  But there you go.  Before I could play CD’s in the car, they were the best way to bring music with me.  I’ve always believed a music collection was for showing off as much as listening to, plus I enjoyed making the artwork.  I’m glad some still survives today!

Part 79: Physical Product

Loyal rock fans,

You’ve seen me say it here many times:  I love physical product.  I hate being forced to download something.  I hate paying money to own…what?  1’s and 0’s floating on a magnetic disc, a fragile thing that can die just because it wants to.  Know what I mean?

I like packaging.  I like knowing who wrote the songs, who produced them, who played what.  I like artwork, I like lyrics, heck I even like the thank-you’s!  Ever read the thank-you’s inside Def Leppard’s Hysteria?  Extensive and hilarious!  Mostly though, I think you gain an appreciation of an artist’s body of work, the more you know about it.

I like CD’s, and I’m fortunate to have worked in a CD store for pretty much the entire age of CD domination.  When I began in ’94 we still sold tapes, and I was actually still buying tapes, if the price was right.  Cassette was my primary physical product for another year, before I began the slow (still incomplete) process of re-buying all my tapes on CD.

For example, Wolfsbane’s first album.  Still don’t have that on CD, very hard to find in this part of the world. 

My CD collection increased approximately by 50 times, over my years there.  I love physical product!

I like to keep them in good shape, and for that reason, I’m glad about the improved quality of digital media and players these days compared to back then.  I don’t have to haul my discs around with me anymore when I’m heading to the cottage.  I used to pack 15, 20 discs for variety.  Now I just load up a 64 gig flash drive, and throw it in the car.  When I get to the cottage I have my mp3 player at the ready.  I don’t have to worry about breaking the cases, scratching the discs, or anything.

You know something?  When I was a really young fella, like 13 or 14, we used to go to the cottage for 2 weeks at a time in the summer.  When you’re 13, you get bored pretty easily at the cottage, so I began bringing my entire tape collection, my record collection, and my turntable with me.  Incredible!  Granted my collection wasn’t big, it was two cases of tapes and about 5 records, but still.  Today, flash drive, MP3 player.  Done.

But I’ll always keep my physical product, and at home I will listen to nothing else.  I think my buddy Marko Fox at 107.5 Dave FM said it very well:

Technology is my mistress as well…and I love her…but I still must be surrounded by records, tapes and CDs for my soul to survive.

That’s it right there.

I’ve posted this video once before, but I don’t care, it rocks.