Monday, November 28, 2016

DIMINO "Old Habits Die Hard"

(c) 2015 Frontiers Records

  1. Never Again
  2. Rockin' In The City
  3. Can't Stop Loving You
  4. The Rain's About To Fall
  5. Even Now
  6. Tears Will Fall
  7. Mad As Hell
  8. Sweet Sensation
  9. Tonight's The Night
  10. The Quest
  11. Stones By The River

Frank Dimino--Lead Vocals
Justin Avery--Keyboards
John Miceli--Drums
Danny Miranda--Bass

Guest Musicians
Oz Fox (Stryper)--Guitars
Punky Meadows (Angel)--Guitars
Jeff Duncan (Armored Saint)--Guitars
Eddie Ojeda (Twisted Sister)--Guitars
Ricky Medlocke (Blackfoot)--Guitars
Pat Thrall (Hughes/Thrall)--Guitars
Paul Crook--Guitars

Every now and then, I get releases that completely seem to come out of left-field, totally unannounced, and 100% unexpected.  DIMINO did exactly that for me when it was sent to me for review, and this was for a couple of reasons.  First, the album is over a year old (didn't know that when I got it), and was just NOW sent to me.  Second, I hadn't heard ANYTHING from Dimino since his days in Angel, although I had heard he has made an appearance or two with the Sin City Sinners out in Las Vegas.  Other than that...nothin'.

Then Old Habits Die Hard shows up out of the blue.  And, I have to say, I'm actually pretty glad it did!

The first thing that most people will grab onto is the fact that this is essentially Dimino with an all-star backing band, of sorts.  Not only does he have a total Who's Who of guitar players on board here, but even his "band" is a bunch of recruits from Meat Loaf.  Secondly, with the addition of Punky Meadows as a guitar player here, there are likely to be those who wonder if this record will sound anything like Angel.  The answer is a short, sweet, but emphatic...NO.

One thing to note immediately is that Dimino has brought his vocal range WAY down from the rafter-scraping heights it sometimes reached in Angel.  Yes, he can still belt out a pretty good, high-pitched scream, as evidenced in "Sweet Sensation", for example, but on this record, Dimino uses a much more blues-based, mid-range tenor than the falsetto some people will remember him for from the 70s with Angel.   Think of the range of Biff Byford from Saxon, Dave Meniketi from Y&T, or possibly David Reece from Bangalore Choir/Accept/Tango Down as far as where his vocals tend to center themselves pitch-wise.  

What we have here is a nice collection of bluesy hard rock that runs the range from galloping rockers, like the album opener, "Never Again", the straight out of the 80s metal scene, "Rockin' In The City", to the amped-up, hard-charging "Mad As Hell", which reminds me musically of a classic mid-80s Y&T.  All really, really good stuff that had me grinning from the get-go, but nothing even remotely Angel-esque in its approach.  

In fact, a lot of this record has a solid 80s-era Y&T feel to it, which may be why I find myself digging it so much, as Meniketti and Co. has long been a Top15 band for me.  Take the previously mentioned "Sweet Sensation", for example.  We have some really good, hard power chord rock here, a soulful-yet-edgy vocalist who can let a wail rip when he wants to, a conservative use of the organ in the background, all running atop a simple bluesy rhythm section with a nice hook and a fairly impressive guitar solo.

"Tonight's The Night" liberally borrows from "Johnny B. Good" in its guitar approach on the intro and leading into hyper-simplistic chorus sections, and is a fun, if not overly memorable, rocker that flashes one of the catchier guitar solos on the record.

For those who are looking for a bit of 70s nostalgia, there are a couple of songs that will likely fit the bill.  "Tears Will Fall" has a definite 70s classic rock sound, but it has more in common with Rainbow than Angel, in my opinion, both musically and vocally.  "The Quest" is going to be another nostalgic choice here, and it is done very, very well and is probably my second favorite song on the record.  The driving guitar riff and harmonic solo, the excellently integrated Hammond in the background...and then on a solo of its own...the layered "dreamy" vocals on the bridge, and the simple-yet-sharp drums all hearken back to a time when Angel was making it's cult presence know, but Angel, this is not, as once again, Dimino's vocals are huskier and, dare I say, more powerful than they ever were in Angel. 

Album closer, "Stones By The River" starts off with a really cool blues rock riff and a simple kick drum leading in a song that has something of an old time gospel song feel to it.  Once again, Dimino's vocals are directly in their wheelhouse here, as his new bluesy rasp fits perfectly on this slower, more laid back number.

Dont' go into this album expecting a resurrection of Angel or that style, and I can pretty much guarantee you are going to love it, especially if you love blues-based 80s -era hard rock (NOT hair metal) like Y&T, Whitesnake, Deep Purple, etc.  However, if you are looking for a throwback to the Angel days, you are bound to be sorely disappointed, as this is NOT the record for you.

Not sure why it got here so late...but really glad it got here!

Rating:  Really good stuff here.  Crank this up to 8 and let the rocking begin!

Saturday, November 26, 2016

OTHERWISE "From The Roots: Volume 1"

(c) 2016 Another Century/Century Media

  1. For The Fallen Ones 
  2. Love & War
  3. Crimson
  4. Vegas Girl
  5. Die For You
  6. Never Say
Adrian Patrick--Lead Vocals
Ryan Patrick--Guitars
Tony Carboney--Bass
Brian Mederos--Drums

So...apparently the MTV Unplugged movement didn't die with the Stripped series which featured a lot of the hair bands of the 80s offering up acoustic renditions of their biggest hits.  Las Vegas rockers Otherwise have also decided to...not rock?  Well, kind of.  From The Roots: Volume 1 is an all-acoustic set or songs from the foursome, featuring three new renditions of songs from their major label debut, True Love Never Dies, plus three from their most recent studio effort, Peace At All Costs.

One thing to note on these acoustic re-workings here is that they are just  The arrangements are altered, which was more than necessary in a couple of places, and more for effect in a couple of others.  So, if you are a purist who only wants to hear songs in their original format...why the heck are you even picking this EP up in the first place?!  Anyway...

The first two tracks come from Peace At All Costs, with "For The Fallen Ones" and "Love & War" getting the first run at things.  Both are done very well, with the interplay between the Patrick brothers being a focal point not only here, but throughout the record.  "For The Fallen Ones" has some of the coolest percussion on this entire EP, with the tambourine and snare being the main instruments used, but it also sounds like some maracas or shakers of some sort are also being utilized, giving the track a bit of a Latin percussive element.  "Love & War" is an interesting turn on a pretty hard rocker, and I think it works pretty well in this format.  It has something of a country rock feel to the track in this format, although Adrian doesn't slip into any twang territory vocally.  Obviously there are some dynamics that are changed when you venture into the acoustic realm, but I think the band handled it very well on these first two tracks, as well as follow-up, "Crimson", from True Love Never Dies.  Here, Adrian softens up his vocal approach, giving an extra bit of emotion to the track and really driving home the feeling on one of my favorite album cuts from the band.

The only real stumble for me comes on track 4, as "Vegas Girl" comes across like an acoustic lounge song, although the arrangement allows for the song to morph entertainingly into "Horse With No Name" for one verse and a chorus, before flowing seamlessly back into the original track.  I will guarantee this is a hit in a live setting, but here, while cute a few times, it wears itself out after repeated listens.  And, while it's humorous to hear Adrian drop the f*bomb in this track (he REALLY emphasizes the "ck" at the end of the word with just makes it completely pop out of the acoustic setting it is surrounded by), as I've stated before, I can easily live without a bunch of swearing in songs...especially this word...and it sounds rather juvenile after a time.  That being said, I can't deny it made me chuckle the first couple of times I heard it.

"Die For You" stays the closest to its original song structure, and probably works better than any of the re-recorded material presented here in that aspect, which makes sense since it is the biggest hit the band chose to rework on this effort.  Ryan uses a flamenco-sounding style on the solo here, which is really cool, and Adrian, again, shows just how powerful his voice can truly be.  Also, Tony's bass work is a bit more noticeable here than on other cuts.  I'm not sure if he's using a traditional acoustic 4 string...I'm assuming it's not an upright...but he definitely gets some feel going here.

The album closes with "Never Say" from Peace..., and, again, the band tinkers with the song structure a bit, but the punch of this rocker still shines through more than on any of the other tracks.  I would actually go so far as to say I prefer this version, to be honest, and I am anxious to see if it makes it into the band's live set, as I think it most accurately conveys the personality of this typically high-energy, high-interaction band.

The name of the album leads one to believe that there will be a second acoustic EP at some point in the future.  If they do decide to go this route, I hope the band steps a bit out of their comfort zone and tackles some of the harder/heavier songs in their catalog.  I would be particularly interested to hear "Coming For The Throne", "Darker Side of the Moon", and "Soldiers"...maybe even "Demon Fighter"... given the acoustic make-over, just to see where they decide to take the tracks.   

Musically, this EP is extremely clean, with no squeaks and squawks from the acoustic guitars, and Ryan really gets the chance to showcase just how good of a guitar player he is.  That's one thing about an acoustic record that I love; your strengths and your weaknesses are really laid bare for the listener, without a lot of production tricks to cover up mistakes or musical deficiencies.  Likewise, Adrian's vocals are very strong and very clear, with no real backing vocals used anywhere on the record.  I'm guessing that this album was tracked and not just recorded as a single in-studio jam session, so there could be a good deal of cleaning up that was done here, but it doesn't bother me either way.  The quality of the final product is what matters, at least to me.  The band has nothing to "prove" to me with this set.

The packaging is very simplistic, with just a simple thank you list to the bigger contributors to this fan-funded effort, and a single black and white band photo under the clear disc tray.  My copy is autographed by the band (my scanner is down at the moment, so I had to snag this picture from the 'Net), and, yes, I was a campaign contributor.

All in all, this is a cool little set that I have played several dozen times already.  Will it become a long-laster for me?  Honestly, I doubt it, as acoustic albums don't do a ton for me unless there is new material on it, but I can see myself putting it in from time to time, much the same as I do with Alice In Chains' or Godsmack's acoustic efforts, or even Bon Jovi's, for that matter.  There is certainly nothing wrong with the performances here that would deter me from popping it in when the mood strikes.

Rating:  Taken for what it is, rock this at a really good 6.5.  Once the shine is off the humor of "Vegas Girl", it drops things for me just a bit, otherwise this EP would likely have reached crankable territory.  Still very much worth picking up, especially for fans of the band or for fans of acoustic rock in general.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

SCATTERED HAMLET "Swamp Rebel Machine"

(c) 2016 Buck Moon Productions

  1. Battle Hymn
  2. Whip-Poor-Will
  3. Stonewall Jackson
  4. Four Barrel Mojo
  5. White Trash
  6. Swamp Rebel Machine
  7. Green Bastard (featuring Johnny T. Crash)
  8. Outlaw Breed
  9. Rimfire
  10. Buckshot
  11. The Lesson
Jake Delling Le Bas (Drums, Percussion, Vocals)
Adam Joad (Vocals, Harmonica, Guitar)
Adam Newell (Lead Guitar, Slide Guitar, Vocals)
Richard Erwin (Bass, Vocals)

Okay, before you read any further, I want you to do three things.  1)  Look at the album cover...I mean really look at it.  2)  Check the names of the songs here.  3)  Look at the instruments played by band members.

Got all of that done?, the image you get in your mind is probably nowhere near as sleazy, swampy, or southern as Scattered Hamlet actually is!

To best describe this band, all I can say is imagine taking a southern rock band, with the Confederate Rebel flag AND the Don't Tread On Me flag both in tow, mixing in a handful of Harley Davidson motorcycle grease and about 10 gallons of swamp water, a thick dollop of sleaze metal....and then stirring it up with the moan of a slide guitar...and you have a decent idea of where Scattered Hamlet is coming at you from, musically.  And even then, you may find yourself blindsided by this band whose members probably only come to town every now and then because there's electricity to plug their instruments into!

The CD opens with some swamp sounds...frogs, birds, water, etc...leading into the marching drum cadence you would likely expect from a song called "Battle Hymn", but it also utilizes the type of horror movie vocal overlays that Rob Zombie likes to infuse into his songs to such great effect.  When I first popped the disc in, I thought I was probably looking at another intro, which we all know I'm not that into, but then a shotgun blast hits and Joad's vocals come snarling up from beneath the green film of the swamp these guys have crawled out of, with guitars gurgling right up alongside that voice, chug-chug-chugging their way to the surface to grab you by the throat and commands you to sit your ass down and listen.  

"Whip-Poor-Will" continues the gut-wrenching sludginess, with Joad's vocals at times recalling a slightly less pissed off Phil Anselmo if he fronted a biker band in a dive bar in the deep south.  Some classic guitar rock elements combine nicely with metallic edginess to churn the sound to an angry, sleazy froth with a solid nod to the drumming of LeBas here, as he labors fast and furious to keep the track thumping along, not allowing it to drift off course at all.  "Stonewall Jackson" one of my favorite tracks, musically, follows suit, as the slide guitar solo, alongside the much more punkish-sounding guitars that are also utilized on the solo, really give it a southern-fried metal sound that serves the band well.

"Four Barrel Mojo" is the required metallic shuffle song on the record, although the chorus section breaks out of the breakneck two-step pace and into more of a mosh-pit mentality.  Joad's vocals here carry hints of Taime Downe from Faster Pussycat at times, especially in the way he phrases the verses and the little snarl he adds to the end of certain words.

"White Trash" is another fun rocker that is a definite nod to the sleaze rock of old, again utilizing a Faster Pussycat approach to the spare use of instruments underneath the verses before fully ripping into the chorus sections.  Easily one of my two or three favorites here,

The title track revisits that swamp scene I mentioned at the outset of the record, but it doesn't take long for the bottom end of the guitars to start muddying up the serene scene, churning up the waters and leading the vocals into the slowly building mosh that is stirred up to full force by the time the chorus hits.  There are a lot of moving parts musically on this track, with tempo changes, a breakdown of sorts, and a pretty cool guitar solo to boot.

"Green Bastard" is as much punk as it is biker rock or metal, especially in the chorus section, while "Outlaw Breed" drives the band back to the more sleaze-styled approach used on "Four Barrel Mojo" and "White Trash".  The harmonica intro to "Rimfire" doesn't do anything to warn you of the full-throttle fist-pumper of a biker-boogie track that is to follow just 30 seconds later, and "Buckshot" revisits the Anselmo-lite vocal style of vocals in a slow build of a track that eventually breaks out into a pretty cool bluesy-metal guitar solo in a rather surprisingly uptempo track.

The album closes with the band's epic track, "The Lesson", which clocks in at nearly 8 minutes in length. Opening with a very "For Those About To Rock" AC/DC styled riff and build, the band backs off to give Joad's angry vocals room to build and name-drop Johnny Cash, "Folsom Prison Blues", Waylon Jennings, Lynyrd Skynyrd, "Simple Man", and all things southern-fried country...but with a bucket of sludgy metal thrown in for good measure.   As unmatched and unrelated as all those things may seem, "The Lesson" has a definite Outlaw country feel to the lyrics and to the meaning behind the story, while the music allows the band to showcase any number of musical influences without ever letting the listener forget that this is deep-south biker metal, not Nashville-slick country or LA styled glam.  Surprisingly good and again, one of my top three tracks here.

The mix is very well done here, and the production is a sleaze fan's delight, particularly in the treatment of the guitars and vocals.  The packaging is every bit as simple as you would likely expect it to be, with a simple single-fold insert with a band photo and credits, but no lyrics.  

Not sure what I expected when I popped this in, but what came out was NOT my expectation...and that's a good thing.  Scattered Hamlet is so much more than I anticipated, and deserves your attention...and will demand it if you don't give it willingly!  There is really very little to not like here, but if I had to drop a track, it would be "Green Bastard"...and that's only if I was absolutely required to make some sort of change.  

Rating:  Crankable, no doubt.  If the sleaze and sludge on the dial doesn't keep you from being able to grab hold, make sure to turn this up to 8!

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

IN THE VERSE "Transformer"

(c) 2016 Independent Release

  1. Compassion
  2. Dying Words
  3. Already Are
  4. Shatter To Pieces
  5. Alone
  6. Your Sacrifice
  7. Transformer
  8. Final Days
  9. Mid-life's Night
  10. Afterlife
Dave Hanson--Guitars, Bass, Guitar solo on "Shatter To Pieces"
Noah Hulbert--Vocals, Bass, Guitar solo on "Already Are"
Chris Cerfus--Keys
Devin Schumski--Drums, Bass

Christian rockers, In The Verse, return with their first full-length album on December 9 with Transformer, a GoFundMe fan-funded effort that finds the band expanding to a full compliment of four members with the addition of Schumski on drums.  Combining elements of modern hard rock with smaller doses of classic rock and some nice keyboard sections, this Wisconsin-based quartet seeks to expand upon the surprising-to-some success of the band's EP Hostage, and it's single, "Disaster", which continues to garner large Christian rock radio support.

One of the most noticeable things about In The Verse has to be the rich tenor of Noah Hulbert, which seems to glide effortlessly across the fuzzed-up guitars and pounding rhythm section.  Not a screamer, at least for the most part, although I do wish he would cut loose just a bit more than he does (we'll get to that in a minute).  He's also not one of those pseudo-death singers who scrape the bottom-end of their range only to completely lose those of us who actually care about what is being sung.  Hulbert instead focuses on staying solidly within his comfort zone and actually sings a lot of the vocals on this record.  That's right...sings.  Now, that doesn't mean he steers completely clear of adding some edginess to his vocals in places, but never are his lyrics unintelligible, and never does he drift into that "I'd rather hear a cat scratching a chalkboard" emo-whining that continues to be popular with so many bands today.

The album starts off on a huge note with my second favorite track of the record, as "Compassion" leads-in with some cool synth tones from Cerfus, soon to be greeted by the chunky rhythm guitar of Hanson and the pounding of Schumski's kick drum and some really tight snare rolls.  When I first heard this song, I had a mixture of 70s arena keys interwoven with current guitars and drums from the 80s and 90s combine, and I think that this still stands as a fairly accurate representation of what "Compassion" does musically.  I really, really enjoy this track, although I would be lying if I said I didn't wish Hanson would cut loose with a totally ripping guitar solo during the bridge section, but as it is, this is a really nice table-setter for the record that is to come.

"Dying Words" changes the tempo up, utilizing more of a piano sound than a synth sound on the keyboards, and Hulbert has to negotiate some lyrical acrobatics to get through the verses, but I really like the different musical approach utilized here.

As far as the rest of the songs go, there are any number of really good radio rockers here, but for my money, nothing touches the aggressive, metal-infused churning of the debut single "Shatter To Pieces", my favorite track on the record.  The track kicks off with some excellent rhythm guitar work from Hanson, along with some jackhammer drumming from Schumski, before  a nice chord progression leads Hulbert's vocals into the fray.  This song is the most logical follow-up to "Disaster", and is a song that was instantly embedded in my brain within a couple of listens.  There is a ripping guitar solo near the midpoint of the track, as well, and "Shatter To Pieces" is a perfect example of the band blending more classic rock/heavy metal sounds into a modern hard rock number.  Love it!

"Final Days" is another solid rocker that actually features some true harsh vocals from Hulbert, and I think the contrast between his regular singing vocals and the screams actually works very well.  This is a song that I can hear in my head in a live setting, with the power chords of the chorus just exploding from Hanson's guitar as Schumski wails away and abuses his drum kit...all before Cerfus provides a calming, soothing keyboard interlude for about thirty seconds before the band comes crashing back in.  This is another track that I would imagine has to end up garnering some significant Christian rock radio airplay.

One thing that I really think speaks volumes about In The Verse is the way they can jump from the hard and fast aggression of "Shatter To Pieces" only to flow directly into the piano intro of "Alone", a much more radio rock sounding track, without missing a beat or making it sound forced or out of place.  Similarly, "Your Sacrifice" shows a band that is able to really downshift from an uptempo, charging rocker through the verses into a much more sweeping, melodic approach on the choruses, with little effort.  Cerfus is a huge part of holding the sound together on a track such as this because his keys are such an integral part of the musical tapestry on a song like "Your Sacrifice", without trying to force their way to the front and dominate the song...which they absolutely shouldn't do.  It's also nice on this track to hear Hulbert cut loose a couple of times with the angst vocally, which adds yet another nice contrasting element to the song.

"Mid-life's Night" is a song totally unlike anything the band has done on this record or previously, at least that I have been exposed to, as it has a very 90's alternative-yet-melodic feel to a good chunk of it, with some solid keys and a definite musical flow that has more in common with music of that time period than the buzzy, chunky riffs and crushing drums of today's hard rock scene.  Dont' get me wrong...I really, really like the fact, I'd put it in the top 3 or 4 tracks on the record.  It's just so different it really stands out and bears special mention here, in my opinion.  It is also the perfect lead-in to another really melodic modern rocker in "Afterlife", which features some sweeping keyboard melodies in the verse sections, and a couple of mini-synth solos, of all things, following chorus sections, with the guitars being the underlying support here rather than the driving force.  It sounds backward in my description, I know, but the juxtaposition of instruments here is actually very cool to hear, and is a unique...and promising...way to end the record.  Total proof in these last couple of tracks that In The Verse is not a band that is going to be easy to pigeonhole as far as style goes.

Lyrically, In The Verse remains very open about their faith, not hiding behind obscure "is he singing about the love of God or the love of a woman" type of lyrics, with songs touching on the listener really taking stock of where he/she stands in their relationship with God and whether or not that is where they want to be if the End of Days should come.  A great lyrical example here is found in the opening verse of "Dying Words" when Hulbert sings:

"Specifically, to those who've expelled
The idea of a god that's not themselves...
Well for you then, this isn't gonna end well...
Promises that you can't keep,
Sowing seeds that you won't reap,
Wasting everybody's lives...
Who believed in your lies..."

Great stuff that speaks directly to the listener, challenging our own worldview and our own opinions of ourselves and where we place our relationship with our Creator versus our self.  Lyrics such as these are found scattered throughout this record and are refreshing to hear for those seeking true Christian lyrical themes in these days of politically-correct "positive rock" versus "Christian rock". Sure, topics like loneliness and despair are covered as well, such as in the previously mentioned "Alone", but they are tackled in a manner that shows the performer reaching out to God and His love, and not to human love, to fill that void within.

Is this a perfect record?  No, not at all, but I have yet to find more than a handful of records that even bump up against that ceiling.  There are a couple of tracks that sound a bit too similar for me to really separate them in my mind, but fortunately they are not seated side-by-side in the tracking of the record.  The title track is a bit plodding for my tastes, and something seems to be missing from it that would really make it pop.  The production is slightly thin in a couple of places, but not to the point of distraction at all, and some minor manipulation of my EQ to bump up the bottom end a bit totally compensates for this.  The mix is very nicely done with great separation between the guitar and keys, and the bass and drums, as well.

For a sneak peek...err...listen, In The Verse has allowed us to post this link to their latest single, "Shatter To Pieces" for you to download and check out yourself.  If you like what you hear, you are still able to pre-order the record, Transformer, at their GoFundMe page, which can be found here.

Solidly performed, with some really, really good, aggressive guitar rock in places, followed by truly musical, keyboard infused modern melodic tracks, Transformer is a nice step for the Milwaukee rockers.  Hanson definitely plays to his strengths with his buzzsaw approach to rhythm guitar, and he rips off several nice solos and fills, although the metalhead in me is always down for a couple more truly aggressive guitar solos in a song or two, but overall, very little to complain about on this debut full-length from In The Verse.  I have to say that Cerfus really surprised me here, as I am NOT a keyboard guy in general, as most who have read this site can attest to, but his understanding and interpretation of where the band is going with these songs, and the way he infuses his instrument into these tracks, is a definite enhancer for any number of the songs here, whether hard rockers or more laid back, melodic numbers.  And, it goes without saying that the addition of a live drummer is always a big-time plus, and Schumski handles his place behind the kit very, very well.

Rating:  A solid effort, crank this to 8 and keep your fingers crossed that we will be able to see these guys out on tour in the near future.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

SWEET CREATURE "The Devil Knows My Name"

(c) 2016 Diet Records

  1. Not Like Others
  2. Time To Move On
  3. Burning Midnight Oil
  4. The Devil Knows My Name
  5. Purpose In Life
  6. Away From You 
  7. Our Life
  8. Fifteen Minutes
  9. Perfect Day

Martin Sweet--Vocals, Guitars
Michael TxR--Drums
Linus Nirbrant--Vocals, Guitars
Tin Starr--Bass

With Martin Sweet being one of the founding members of Crashdiet, and with members of Gemini Five (Starr),  and Toxic Rose (TxR), it would be easy to guess that Sweet Creature would be an extension of the modern style of glam/sleaze that the represented bands play as their main style (we won't cosider that Nirbant's main gig is in a death metal band...).  And while that would not be wholly wrong, Sweet Creature is definitely not a sound-alike duplicate of any of the aforementioned bands, with more of a 70s classic rock sound mixed in with obvious 80s influences such as Motley Crue, for example, while also tossing in minimal doses of the 90s.

Take for example the album's lead single, "Not Like The Others".  The song is instantly catchy, with the chanted chorus leading off the track in a very Crashdiet-sounding way, but the guitars are much more straightforward, with no crazy antics or soaring leads to take away from the almost grungy take on song structure, with thick chugging riffs, while the thumping bass and drum lines fall more in line with bump n grind songs like "Pour Some Sugar On Me".  In fact, it's really only that insanely catchy chorus that even teases the listener with an idea of where some of the band's members come from.  Its an odd combination, I know, but you know what?  I really, really dig this track and I was hooked right from the get go.

"Time To Move On" has some quirky tempo changes that make it a fun listen, and one of the more Crashdiet-like songs on the album, as it reminds me of some of the stuff they put onto their second record.  "Burning Midnight Oil" is another really good hard rock number with a definite nod to The Crue in the guitars department, especially on the intro and the pre-chorus sections sounding very much like what Motley was writing in the Girls, Girls, Girls era.  

The title track is an interesting combination of Jane's Addiction and Crashdiet, as the verse sections have that acoustic guitar base that Jane's Addiction used to such effect in songs like "Jane Says", (and Sweet's voice even takes on a slightly Perry Farrell tone as he works through the verses), while the heavier guitars scream in on the chorus sections.    

"Purpose In Life" is quite possibly the peak moment on an already solid debut record, and is one of my two or three favorites here, with a sweet acoustic guitar lead-in and a big, power ballad feel that is easily the most reminiscent of the 80's scene that Sweet and his previous band, Crashdiet, have always been most closely linked with.  That being said, there is also a 70s classic rock vibe going on throughout this track that is really cool, and the guitar work here is nicely underplayed so it doesn't dominate the entire track and turn it into a big, over-produced mess.  Despite the lackluster effort at rhyming some of the verses here (possibly a language issue), this is a really, really good song that will likely slot in as one of the best ballads of the year.

The rest of the album is much the same: a very solid, if not overly flashy record, that shows Sweet taking tiny, baby steps away from the tried-and-true mold of the hugely successful Crashdiet.  Will Crashdiet fans find plenty to like here?  There is no doubt about that, but don't expect a carbon copy of Rest In Sleaze or Generation Wild because that is not what you will get here.  What you will get is a fun, slightly diverse record with some really big rockers, an excellent ballad, and a couple of slight-misses ("Our Life", for example, really doesn't grab me for some reason...), that equate to an overall enjoyable listen that is well worth seeking out.  There is no doubt that the first half of the record is stronger than the second, but "Away From You" and "Fifteen Minutes" are solid efforts that hold the record together in the later stages.

The production is very good throughout the I mentioned, not flashy, not sugary, and not bloated...and the overall performance of the band is what you would likely expect from a group made up of members of previously noteworthy bands.  The interplay between Sweet and Nibrant on guitar is especially strong, which is actually the area I was most concerned about since Nibrant's death metal background is a LONG way from where this record goes!  It will be interesting to see if this is also the touring version of the band should Sweet Creature hit the road, and I'm imagining that gigging together will only make the band that much tighter on a follow-up record.

I look forward to further growth from Sweet Creature in the future, and feel that if Sweet's old band is truly dead and buried, then this band is a suitable successor, even if there is likely little chance of supplanting a once-in-a-lifetime band like Crashdiet.

Rating:  Crank-worthy, but with room for growth.  Crank this to 7.5 and keep your eye on Sweet Creature in the future.

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Friday, October 21, 2016

DISCIPLE "Long Live The Rebels"

(c) 2016 Tooth & Nail Record/BEC Recordings

  1. First Love
  2. Long Live The Rebels
  3. Secret Weapon
  4. Erase
  5. Come My Way
  6. Underdog Fight Song
  7. God Is With Us
  8. Spirit Fire
  9. Forever Starts Today
  10. Black Hole
  11. Spinning 
  12. Empty Grave
Kevin Young--Lead Vocals
Josiah Prince--Rhythm Guitars, Bass
Andrew Stanton--Lead Guitars, Bass
Joey West--Drums

Additional Musicians
Ethan Luck--Bass
Cody Drigger--Bass
Matt Aracaini--Bass

As an early Halloween treat, modern Christian rockers, Disciple, have returned with their latest offering, Long Live The Rebels, a crowd-funded effort which may be their strongest complete set of material to date.  Following 2014's well-received Attack, and 2015's digital-only EP release, Vultures, the band has returned with 12 brand new songs that are similar in style and approach to those of Attack, meaning a strong sense of melody combined with heart-pounding rhythms, buzz-saw guitars, Young's alternately clean-and-scream vocals, and a heavy dose of adrenaline.  

As the sole remaining member of the original version of the band, which has been together since 1992, Young has really found his voice, not only lyrically, but stylistically, in the past few years.  Always bold spiritually, Disciple nonetheless played the genre-hopping game to a degree, starting off as something of a rap-rock band before fully embracing nu-metal, then more of a metalcore sound, before finally settling into their current, and most successful sound, with heavy modern radio rock. Starting in 2010 with their MASSIVE hit "Dear X (You Don't Own Me)", Disciple has really found their musical niche, still embracing their older, heavier styles, but also incorporating a more mature element, as well, particularly in the way the songs are put together.  Make no mistake, the guitars still churn away, chock full of angst and aggression, the drums are as thunderous as ever, and the lyrics are just as bold as longtime fans will recall, but there is an accessibility that has really shown itself over the past 5 or 6 years, allowing a broader fanbase to attach themselves to the band than ever happened in the past.  This is plainly evident in the fact that the last two full-length releases, Attack and now Long Live The Rebels have taken in over a quarter of a million dollars in fan-funding through Kickstarter, which is a number nearly any mainstream band would struggle to match.

On the new record, the band comes out firing on all cylinders, right from the start.  While possibly not quite as kick-you-in-the-gut aggressive as, say, "Radical" was on Attack, "First Love" is still an incredibly powerful song about finding one's way back to Christ after living a life of deceit, deception, and hypocrisy.  There's a really cool breakdown in the middle of the song, as well as an exceptionally catchy chorus (which so many of the tracks here really feature to a high degree), and some cool interplay between the two guitarists that set the stage for a truly great album.

The title track is up next and its our first chance to hear Young really get aggressive with his vocals on this album, and he does not disappoint.  Churning, swirling guitars abound throughout, and again, there is a really cool tempo changing breakdown at about the two minute mark before the track come crashing back in with the angst-filled chorus.  I really hope that this song makes the setlist for the next version of the City Rockfest Tour, as it is one of my favorites from the new album, no question."Secret Weapon" keeps the metallic aggression turned up with break neck drumming, blistering rhythm guitars, and a pummeling chorus informing the listener that with Christ in your corner, there is very little anyone can actually do to you as a person, as Young bellows, "You can knock me down, destroy my name, But my power comes from a Higher Place".

At this point, the band steps back the tempo just a bit with "Erase", which, for my money, is this album's "Dear X" moment.  A killer tune with a truly powerful message, the chorus alone will hook just about any rock fan, as Young passionately tells the listener that Christ "will erase, your yesterdays, you'll be okay, My Love is greater than your mistakes".  The guitar work on this track is absolutely perfect, and the rhythm section is tight and controlled, so as to not let the song spin out of control into a more aggressive animal than it needs to be.  Its this restraint...this maturity...on this record that speaks volumes about how much Disciple has grown, especially since this version, dubbed Disciple 3.0, has taken the reins of the band.

The difficulty for me in reviewing an album like this one is the desire to break down every single track, which not only makes for an incredibly long review, but also takes away some of the fun in the discovery for people who seek the album out.  That being said, there are just so many excellent moments here, that it is really hard to not lay them all out, whether it be the lyrical wallop that Young hits you with on "Come My Way" ("can you feel my fingertips on the chalkboard of your soul?"...brrrr....goosebump material there!), to the machine gun drumming and aggressive rhythm guitars of "Forever Starts Today", to the haunting structure of "God Is With Us", which was instantly a favorite with my kids due to its insanely simple-yet-uber-catchy chorus.

There really are no weak songs here at all, with only the second-to-last track, the quirky "Spinning", being the only track that even hints at being a bit out of its element on this record.  Even then, I will say that the nearly 180 degree style change, from a mid-tempo rocker to angst-riddled, scream-infused headbanger is a fun one, and Young's lyrical twists ("my life is just a burned out cigarette") make it a fun listen, much like "Kamikaze" did on Attack.  And for anyone who thought that the band maybe strayed a bit too far on that track, the album closer, "Empty Grave", brings the focus back front-and-center on Christ, His resurrection, and the miracle that it is for humanity, in truly powerful fashion.

The band still does not have a full-time replacement on bass, so multiple people step up in that capacity here, but the overall chemistry of the band and the record do not suffer in any way.  The production is top-notch, as is typically the case with the highly professional Disciple, and the mix is stellar to my ear.  Again, the interplay between Prince and Stanton is truly great to hear, and the drum work from West throughout the record is spot-on for me.  And of course, Young's abililty to run the gamut as far as vocal approaches goes, gives Disciple a musical depth a lot of bands of this style don't have, especially with Josiah Prince adding some excellent backing vocals to the mix.

Is Long Live The Rebels a clone of Attack?  No, not by any stretch, although fans of that record, or any of Disciple's records since Horseshoes And Hand Grenades will definitely find moments of comfortable similarity and enjoyable familiarity.  Is it better than Attack?  That's a tough call, also.  While I don't know that I would say it is better, I would say that this new record is definitely on par with that excellent record, and a great return to tru form for the band who may have thrown a few people off a bit with the sometimes odd-sounding material that was cobbled together for the digital Vultures EP.

Rating:  Definitely crankable and an instant candidate for record of the year.  Spin this one up to 9!

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Friday, October 14, 2016

DIRKSCHNEIDER "Live: Back To The Roots"

(2016) AFM Records

  1. Intro
  2. Starlight
  3. Living For Tonite
  4. Flash Rockin' Man
  5. London Leatherboys
  6. Midnight Mover
  7. Breaker
  8. Head Over Heels
  9. Neon Nights
  10. Princess of the Dawn
  11. Winterdreams
  12. Restless And Wild
  13. Son Of A Bitch
  14. Up To The Limit
  15. Wrong Is Right
  16. Midnight Highway
  17. Screaming For A Love Bite
  18. Mosterman
  19. TV War
  20. Losers And Winners
  21. Metal Heart
  22. I'm A Rebel
  23. Fast As A Shark
  24. Balls To The Wall
  25. Burning
Udo Dirkschneider--Lead Vocals
Sven Dirkschneider--Drums
Fitty Weinhold--Bass
Andrey Smimov--Guitars
Kasperi Heikkinen--Guitars

The 1970's and 1980's music scene conjures up many things for many people, of course depending upon what you were into.  There was disco, guitar rock (what we now refer to as classic rock), the Outlaw country movement, the Urban Cowboy country movement, glam/hair/sleaze metal, speed metal, death metal, thrash metal, and of course, the New Wave of British Heavy Metal.  It seems to me that no other time frame really matches the stylistic output of about 1975-1987, and if you could't find something to listen to, it was largely your own fault for having your head in the musical sand.

Of course, being a hard rock and metal review site, we focus upon those genres, from the now-classic rock sounds of bands like Triumph, Rainbow, Foreigner, Journey, etc., to the hair, speed, classic, and thrash metal of the 80s, to grunge in the 90s, and on up through today's modern metal scene.  And while there are so many different styles and sounds to choose from, two things are largely considered to be essential if a band is going to succeed in these genres:  a great front man, and a great guitar player.

We all know about the guitar gods of the time, but for me, the most powerful and most unique voices of the hard rock/metal world came out of that 1975-1987 time frame I referenced earlier.  Lou Gramm, Steve Perry, Paul Stanley (or Gene Simmons, depending upon your KISS preferences), Rob Halford, Bruce Dickinson, Ronnie James Dio, and on and on.  But one name that I have always said was criminally underrated...possibly because no one could pronounce it...was Udo Dirkschneider, the diminutive powerhouse that was the true face and sound of the similarly underrated German metal band, Accept.  Considered by many to be one of the true precursors to speed and thrash metal, Accept was one of the first metal bands I discovered on my own after branching out from KISS in the 70s and the hair metal of the 80s that pulled me fully into the hard rock world.  From the moment I first put Balls To The Wall into my cassette player, I was hooked.

Of course, Dirkschneider left the band in 1987 to form his own side project, U.D.O., which basically allowed the man to continue on with the more metallic style and sound he preferred on his debut album Animal House, while Accept headed in a more MTV/radio friendly sound with their new vocalist, David Reece, and the ill-received (but very strong) record, Eat The Heat.   There was a brief reunion with Udo in the 90s, along with three very solid new albums, Objection Overruled, Death Row, and Predator, but the band went their separate ways once again, with Dirkschneider returning to his U.D.O. projects, and Accept recruting former TT Quick lead vocalist, Mark Tornillo, to continue on their own way.

Even so, Dirkschneider could never shake his Accept roots...nor did he try.  Dirkschneider has always openly embraced the songs of his Accept past, and always incorporated a good number of Accept songs into his live set-list.  However, with the massive catalog that Dirkschneider has compiled with his own band, and the age of some of the Accept material now pushing 40 years, Dirkschneider has decided that it is perhaps time to part with many of the songs of his past.  So, casting aside both the Accept name and the U.D.O. name, Dirkschneider has released this double live CD set under his surname, with a band that is actually the current line-up of U.D,O, (got all that?).

This massive undertaking is, in my opinion, a nearly perfect way to put to rest a lot of these classic numbers, with the band sounding spot-on throughout the record, and Udo belting his way through these songs in his unique, inimitable raspy snarl that has maintained its power and punch for all these many years.  Sure, he's still a bit hard to understand in places...especially when he is trying to talk in English between songs...but the vast majority of these songs have been heard so many times now that singing along is second nature and not at all a problem for long-time fans.

It seems almost crazy that it takes roughly two hours to get through just the "hits" of the Accept catalog, but virtually nothing is left off of this comprehensive collection.  "Fast As A Shark", the underrated "Monsterman", "Neon Nights", and of course "Metal Heart", "London Leatherboys" and "Balls To The Wall"...they're all here and executed to near perfection by the current version of the band, which now feature's Udo's son on drums.  Early tracks like "I'm A Rebel", "Breaker", "Son Of A Bitch", and "Flash Rockin' Man" are all given a full charge of new energy and urgency on this recording, each sounding better, at least to me, in this live form than in the rather dated-sounding recordings they are taken from.  For me, while all of the most common faves are here, the real treats were the lesser-known songs like "Screaming For A Love Bite", "Losers And Winners". and one of my all-time favorite Accept tracks, "Head Over Heels".   Of course there are a couple of songs that I would have loved to hear in this live setting, but none are songs that most people would consider to be essential parts of the Accept legacy, so I won't even delve into those.

If this is the way that Dirkschneider has chosen to put to rest a huge part of his musical legacy, he has certainly done a top-notch job with this massive live set, and I would imagine that I will find myself turning to this set over any "best of" collection of Accept tracks that may be available.  It is really that well done.  I can even stomach the intro here, since it is an intro to a live show, but I do believe I will likely skip it 8 out of 10 times I spin the first disc of this set.  The production is very solid, with band is in fine form, and the mix is really good for a live record, with the guitars and drums each given their own voice throughout the recording.

I have a hard time believing that Dirkschneieder won't still pull "Metal Heart", "I'm A Rebel", or "Balls To The Wall" into the live set...I just don't see how he could get away with that...but I think trimming some of the other material out will give U.D.O. fans a chance to hear some of that band's songs that maybe have had to be left on the shelf in the past.

If you want to catch the Dirkschneider tour, there are some North American dates in 2017 that you may want to check out, especially if you want a full-fledged journey back into the metallic 1980s with one of the truly defining vocalists of a musical generation.  There will never be another Udo Dirkschneider, of that I am quite sure.

Rating:  Expertly executed and completely crankable.  Live greatest hits package or not, I can't recommend anything lower than cranking this to an 8...maybe even an 8.5.

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Saturday, September 24, 2016

WILD SOULS "Game Of Love"

(c) 2016 Lion's Pride Music

  1. Game Of Love
  2. Dirty Mind
  3. Shame On You
  4. Pretty Babe
  5. Riding 
  6. Rock My World
  7. Moonlight
  8. One More Night
  9. I Need Your Love
George Nikolaou--Lead and Backing Vocals
Kostis Tsiligiris--Guitars
Nikos Tsiligoudis--Drums
Tasos Karapapazoglou--Bass, Backing Vocals

Additional Musicians
Manos Skaramagkas--Keyboards

Greece is not the most common location for really good, 80s-inspired melodic hard rock, but Wild Souls is one of the exceptions to that unwritten rule.  With a solid grasp of melody, strong lead and backing vocals, some excellent guitar work, and just enough keys to satisfy the sweet tooth of the more AOR-minded fans, Wild Souls has put together a solid package of mostly uptempo, guitar-driven hard rockers that is among the best I have heard this year.  

On top of the top-notch musical performances, the songwriting here is of a caliber not commonly heard in more retro-styled projects.  So often, bands that are looking to emulate the 80s sound find themselves sucked into songwriting and lyrical cliches, but Wild Souls largely avoids this trap.  I know that the song titles don't necessarily bear proof of that, as most of the titles are pretty standard 80s fare, but musically, the band takes their inspirations and then updates them, adding some little musical twists that keep the listener interested and not feeling like they are listening to a cover band mimic and maul the tunes they grew up loving.

Particularly strong tracks here are the album's opener and title track, "Game Of Love", the hyper-catchy duo of the album's lead single, the hard-charging guitar rocker, "Dirty Mind", and my personal favorite, "Shame On You", which also showcases yet another in the long line of unknown-yet-amazingly talented guitar players, with Tsiligiris absolutely dominating the fretboard here.  I also really dig the exceptionally-well-executed bump and grind of "Pretty Babe", which has some great bass work from Karapapazoglou.  "Riding" is another really good rocker, with some more nice guitar acrobatics from Tsiligiris, who really gives the listener a comfortable feeling with his tone and approach, but comes off as uniquely original at the same time when he goes of on extended solo runs.  The one true ballad here is the beautifully performed, piano-based "One More Night". Good, good stuff right there, even if it doesn't particularly rock at any given point.  In fact, it is far more like a true, melodic AOR ballad than an 80s hair metal power ballad. even when Tsiligiris slides in with his guitar on a spectacular solo, or when the solid and underappreciated Tsiligoudis finally gets around to thumping his drums into the mix. 

Also worth mentioning here is the top-notch vocal approach of Nikolaou.  To be honest, I wasn't 100% sure I would love his voice upon hearing the opening track, but after hitting track two, I found myself really enjoying his style and range, and after repeated listens, I can truly state that he has one of the better mid-range tenors I have encountered in this style of music in recent memory.  Rich in tone and never coming across as strained, Nikolaou's voice runs like smooth whiskey over the more soulful numbers, like "Pretty Baby", but can also add a bit of edge when necessary to give a bit of extra oomph to a rocker like the Deep Purple-meets-Whitesnake romp of "Rock My World".  

The band was wise to keep the album trimmed to just the best nine songs they had composed at the time,  Every song here is solid, with not a single "filler" track for my money. Even the album closer, the slightly key-heavy rocker, "I Need Your Love" is of top quality musically, although this is the one track that is probably a bit weak in the lyrical department, leaning a bit more on the cliched title as part of the chorus than the rest of the songs here.  Even so, it doesn't come off as tired or forced and does nothing to detract from the surprising overall quality of this release.

Set to be dropped on Halloween of 2016, this album is definitely one that falls into the "treat" category.  A pleasant surprise for me from start to finish, I find myself returning to this album time after time for a melodic pick-me-up on par with the best material of this style and sound that I have been sent for review this year.

The band has released a video for "Dirty Mind" to help promote the release of the album, and you can check it out here to get an idea of the excellent quality of this record.

Ranking:  Some excellent, crankable material here.  Crank this to 9!  I really, really enjoyed this record, even though I honestly went in with less than high expectations.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

TESLA "Mechanical Resonance Live"

(c) 2016 Frontiers Records

  1. Rock Me To The Top
  2. EZ Come EZ Go
  3. Gettin' Better
  4. Comin' Atcha Live
  5. Changes
  6. Before My Eyes
  7. 2 Late 4 Love
  8. We're No Good Together
  9. Love Me
  10. Cover Queen
  11. Little Suzi
  12. Modern Day Cowboy
  13. Save That Goodness (new studio track)
Jeff Keith--Lead Vocals
Frank Hannon--Guitar, Bass, Mandolin, Keys, Backing Vocals
Brian Wheat--Bass, Piano, Keyboards, Backing Vocals
Dave Rude--Guitars, Backing Vocals
Troy Lucketta--Drums, Percussion

Live albums.  I love them...or else I want to love them and they end up letting me down.  Those two options are really it for me, at least that's always been my experience.  It often comes down to whether or not I have actually heard the band live, to be quite honest.  If I've seen a band live, I tend to be more critical of the live album because I know what they sound like live, and usually that isn't what comes on the record.  As we all know, most live albums aren't actually all that "live" now, as they are filled with studio overdubs, Pro Tools edits, and songs taken from multiple concerts then edited together to create one "concert" filled with seemingly flawless performances.  In theory, it may be sound practice because, let's face it, a band doesn't want to put out garbage, especially now that so many bands are releasing these albums themselves with little or no label money to back them.  If they are going to release something, they want it to sound as good as possible so that they can actually sell the albums and recoup their costs.  Like I said, it makes sense.  But it's still disappointing for me because I want an element of genuineness when I buy a live record.  This is especially true of a band I have never seen live...and may never get the chance to see live...because it gives me a bit of that experience I have missed.  Maybe I'm weird like that, but that's just how live records do...or, in my opinion.

Now, Tesla is a band that I have seen live...a few times.  I have NEVER been to a bad Tesla show.  Ever.  They are one band that has always left me feeling like my money was well spent after I leave one of their shows, so when I heard they were releasing (another) live album, I was immediately interested.  When I heard their intent for this new live album, I went from interested to almost obsessive.  Why?  It's simple.  What Tesla does here is an interesting twist on the live album concept, as they play one album...exclusively...on this live record.  Of course, I am talking about one of my all-time favorite albums, the truly remarkable debut record, Mechanical Resonance.  Def Leppard recently did much the same thing, re-recording their massively popular Hysteria album live, as well, although I am admittedly not a huge fan of that album (in fact, I think Viva Hysteria: Live At The Joint is pretty much garbage).  Why do I bring this up?  Hang in will make sense.

It has amazingly been 30 years since Tesla released their debut record, but despite that lengthy span of time, they are one of the few bands of that era that not only still records and releases new material, but has also survived largely intact as far as members go.  Only Tommy Skeoch is no longer with the band, having been replaced by Dave Rude a full decade ago.  As such, you know that the band has performed the majority of these songs so many times over the years that it would likely be easy to phone the performances in...and many people wouldn't even blame them.  After all, thirty years of performing "Changes", "Little Suzi", and "Modern Day Cowboy", among others, would likely become a bit less than exciting.  But that is not how the band comes across on this record.  Sure, you can hear some years on the band, especially in a bit of additional scratchiness in Keith's vocals, but for my money, this only serves to add to the authenticity of the performances here.  Besides, it's not the hits that I was most interested in hearing here; it was the deeper album cuts that never get pulled out now that I was most keen on hearing.  I have tried and tried, but I can't remember ever hearing "Right Before My Eyes" or "Cover Queen" live, although I have to believe "Cover Queen" has been tackled at some point throughout the years.  The same thing can be said for me of "We're No Good Together"; I know it has to have been played live at some point, but I just don't know that it has ever been at a show I have attended, personally.  Regardless, I am happy to say that I was not let down by the live renditions of these songs, as the band performed them for this record like they have been doing them day-in and day-out for the last three decades.  It is really a treat to hear these songs given the chance to shine on the stage, at least for me.

Speaking of treats, the brand new studio track, "Save That Goodness" is a definite high point and a really nice add-on for an already impressive record.  A mid-tempo bluesy rocker that treads that Aerosmith territory that Tesla has so respectfully and respectably called home, this new track is easily one of the best songs the band has recorded in years.  And this is where we flash back to that Def Leppard reference I made earlier, as this song was co-written by none other than Lep guitarist, Phil Collen, who will also be producing Tesla's upcoming ninth studio album.  Never a hair band, which is the label that seemingly haunted them back in the 80's and early 90's, much as it did Aerosmith, Great White, and other bluesy hard rock bands, Tesla knows exactly what type of music they work best with and what their fans expect from them, and this new track is a perfect example of that.  Filled with interesting backing percussion, Keith's instantly recognizable rasp, some soulful female backing vocals, and a catchy-as-heck rhythm, "Save That Goodness" is exactly the type of song that represents Tesla when they are at their best, which is where this one...album finds them.

If I had any real complaints about this record, it would be that they tinkered with the track order.  I know, I know..."Little Suzi" and "Modern Day Cowboy" have to be encore material, especially from this record, and I could probably forgive those tracks being shuffled.  But why change the order of all the other songs?  That I don't get at all.  At least they didn't pull a Foreigner and give us a live album that makes allusions to being an album performed in its entirety, then leave tracks off and add in songs that don't belong (see my review of Best Of Foreigner 4 & More).  Other than that, the band's performances here...which I have no doubt have been touched up at least to a degree...are really good and very reminiscent of the live experiences I have had with this band.  Add in the really, really good new studio of their best in many years...and I am happy to say that overall I am very happy with my purchase of this live record from Tesla.

Rating:  Definitely crankable!  I give this a solid 8, which is about as high as I think I could ever go with a live album.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

7HY "Stories We Tell"

C) 2016 Lionspride Music

  1. I'll Survive
  2. Break The Spell
  3. Don't Believe A Word
  4. One More Day
  5. Only Human
  6. Church
  7. Into You
  8. Broken Man
  9. Driving Me Crazy
  10. I've Been Waiting
  11. Sweet Sensation
  12. Wasn't Always Like This
  13. Driving Me Crazy (Duet)
Alan Kelly--Guitars, Bass, Drums, Keys, Backing Vocals
Shawn Pelata--Lead Vocals, Backing Vocals

Additional Musicians
Dave Martin (Marshall Law)--Lead Guitar
Pete Fry (Farcry)--Lead Guitar
Calle Hammer (Houston)--Lead Guitar
Danny Beardsley (Emperor Chung)--Lead Guitar
Elliot Kelly--Lead Guitar
Paul Kelly--Lead Guitar
Martin Walls--Bass
Tom Dwyer (Marshall Law)--Bass
Robyn Kelly--Duet Vocals on "Driving Me Crazy (Duet)"

7HY (shortened from 7 Hard Years) returns with their sophomore effort, following the well-received 2014 effort, No Place In Heaven.  Once again, 7HY is largely a two-man effort, with the "group" composed of former Shy drummer, Alan Kelly, and Oracle/Line Of Fire/Livesay vocalist, Shawn Pelata.  Don't let Kelly's previous gig...or the band logo's eerily "Shy"-like appearance (come on...7hy...Shy...) fool you into believing that this band is a Shy clone, because it is not.  Incorporating bits of the 80s, a healthy dose of 90s progressive melodic rock, some modern elements, and the influences of Shawn's former bands, 7HY is an animal all its own.  Besides, this time around, you could almost jokingly refer to 7HY as the Kelly Family Band, as no fewer than FOUR Kellys make appearances on the record...alongside Marshall Law members Dave Martin and Tom Dwyer, guitarist extraordinaire Pete Fry of Farcry, and several other top-notch the contributors each bring a bit of themselves to the overall feel and style of this record.  The result is nothing short of a spectacular collection of hook-filled, powerfully delivered melodic hard rock/melodic metal that seems destined to occupy a slot in many a reviewer's Top 10 list for 2016!

The album opens with the amazing "I'll Survive", which sets quite a high bar for the album. The intro, which features Pelata's voice and a piano, teases a far slower song than what "I'll Survive" ends up being, as the guitars and drums come driving in and the expertly layered vocals provide a sonic depth not present in many other releases I have heard this year.  Perhaps bands are getting more away from this stacked approach, but it is to their detriment, as this type of highly polished production is one of the things that drives this style of music, in my opinion.  There's a nicely placed, expertly performed guitar solo here, as well, although it is far from the highlight of this track.  In fact, it is the overall interplay between what Kelly wrote and how Pelata interpreted it that is the true power on this, and several other tracks, on this powerfully performed record.

"Break The Spell" follows up with a somewhat slower tempo, although it doesn't begin to approach ballad territory by any means.  Again, Pelata's vocals are allowed room to really soar, and the backing vocals on the simple-yet-catchy chorus, are perfectly executed.  There is a blistering fret-run of a solo embedded here, and the rhythm guitars throughout this melodic track are a driving force in keeping the track moving along.

"Don't Believe A Word" starts off with some interesting keyboard effects, and once again teases being a far slower song than it actually ends up being.  This track reminds me of some of the material Queensryche was tackling on their Promised Land and Hear In The Now Frontier period, which is among my favorite from that band.  Tempo changes, electronic sounds, screaming guitars, and powerful vocals all meld together in fine fashion, and Pelata really stretches his range here, piercing the ceiling of his range with seeming ease.  One of my favorite tracks on the album.

"One More Day" is as close as the album comes to an 80's-inspired throwback, reminding me a bit of something the Scorpions may have tried in their Savage Amusement days, not overly far removed from a track like "Rhythm Of Love", for example.  The track incorporates a sexy bass line, some nicely placed backing keys, and solidly paced drum line, all coursing beneath a layer of melodic guitar work and Pelata's emotive vocals.

"Only Human" has a haunting, ethereal quality to it, and while it is not my favorite track here by any stretch, something about it draws me back to it time and time again.  The ending feels a bit abrupt on this track, but Pelata's vocals really shine here, saving the track from becoming just another track amid so many great songs.

"Church" is easily the heaviest track on the record, actually pushing to the fringes of metal, especially with the frenetic guitar runs and the jackhammer-styled drumming utilized here.  Pelata adds a touch of an edge to his vocals here, which is effective, but the polished production and layered backing vocals keep the tune from driving itself out of the grasp of fans seeking music of a more AOR/melodic hard rock variety.

"Into You" keeps things clicking right along at a nice pace with solid rhythm guitars and a tight bass/drum line.  The chorus is catchy and easy to sing along with, and once again, there is a smoking guitar solo dropped nicely into the mix here.  However, there are some odd keyboard effects in the background of this song that I find distracting and which keep me from really considering this one of the better songs here. 

"Broken Man" scales back the tempo a bit and is one of my favorites on the record, without question.  Again exploring material similar in style to the previously mentioned Queensryche albums, 7HY really shines on this type of song, with some outstanding, and not overplayed, backing vocal work supporting one of Pelata's strongest performances on the record.  Good, good stuff here.

"Driving Me Crazy" appears in two different forms here, with the solo vocal version coming first. Again, I can't help but hear a kinship musically with 90s-era Queensryche...and even more modern releases from House Of far as the songwriting style goes.  This is not a knock in any form, as I love the material on those albums, and I feel the same here.  This song is expertly done in both versions, but I think I prefer this version to the duet, largely because I think the backing vocals are more of a presence here and there is so much the song.  The duet version, while nicely performed, doesn't rock in any sense of the word for the first half of the track, as it transforms this previously powerful rocker into a more emotional ballad-styled song.  There is a powerful build at the middle of the song with a wrenching guitar solo, and Ms. Kelly has a really strong, emotive voice, but I just prefer the edgier, harder rocking version of "Driving Me Crazy".  Neither is a skip track, by any stretch, however, and I am sure there will be many that prefer the duet take here.

"I've Been Waiting" is a really mid-to-slower tempoed cool track that just reeks of epicness to my ears.  The bass relentlessly throbs throughout this track which courses with an sense of urgency which is actually enhanced with some nicely placed keyboards and effects.  The backing vocals are big, the rhythm guitars edgy, the solo absolutely spot-on, and Pelata's vocals are perhaps at their peak on this track, which I would have to say is my favorite overall number here.

"Sweet Sensation" has a big 80's melodic rock feel to it, especially with the fat bass line rumbling along beneath the verses with keyboards and power chord guitars beefing up the chorus and bridge sections in fine fashion.  Some really nice, fun sass to this track.

I would say "Wasn't Always Like This" is the most Shy-like track on the album, and the band saves it for last on the album (not counting the duet mix of "Driving Me Crazy").  Not a clone of anything you will find on any of the Shy albums by any means, but definitely more 80's melodic rock in its approach than the rest of the songs here that feature a bit more of a progressive feel or a more modern style, at least to my ears.

Overall, this is an inspired effort filled with moments of sheer musical brilliance and some excellent performances.  Definitely a step above the debut effort (which was really, really good, by the way), Kelly and Pelata...and the whole Kelly clan!...have found their niche, in my opinion.  The solid songwriting, spot-on guest work, and some of the best vocals I have heard from the gifted Pelata, make Stories We Tell an album that will definitely occupy G2G's best-of-the-year list when 2016 closes.  One of the few melodic hard rock releases of the year that I would apply the label "must hear" to.

Rating:  Just an excellent record throughout, Stories We Tell is a definite cranker!  A solid, unquestionable 9 for 7HY!

Thursday, July 21, 2016

3D IN YOUR FACE "Lost In The Volume"

(c) 2016 Retrospect Records

  1. 2 Miles Down
  2. Moscow Queen
  3. Loud
  4. Memphis Mile
  5. Sound of Recklessness
  6. This Isn't Goodbye
  7. Ringing In My Ear
  8. Baptized By The Radio
  9. Static Renegade
  10. Show Me How To Love Again
  11. The Unknown Frequency
Alan "Hot Rod" King--Vocals, Keys
Chris "Sniper" Hineline--Lead Guitars
Sam "Spade" Morris--Bass
John "The Hammer" Lovings--Drums

I love the underdog.  I really do.  I love the fact that there are small bands out there that are busting their guts to keep the style of music that they love alive.  I salute all those bands out there slogging it out in small, sweaty bars, playing county fairs, and doing whatever they have to do to keep the fires stoked for the music they have a passion for.  As such, I have a soft spot for 3D In Your Face, a four piece hard rock./hair metal outfit from my home state of Nebraska.  

These Omaha natives have been around for many years now, and if you have caught their live show, you know that they are a full-scale entertainment package, with a big sound and light show, true-to-the-era costumes, and, yes, the "hair" of the time...albeit in wig fashion.  However, don't think that 3D In Your Face is a farce cover band, as that is not the case.  Yes, they do play some excellent covers of music from all of the biggest bands of the 80's and early 90's, but they are also serious musicians and artists with their own material as well.  This new release, Lost In The Volume is their fifth studio album of all new material, in fact, and their follow-up to 2014's well-received Midnight Devils.  

The album kicks off with some thick, heavy guitar riffing of the angry variety, before the drums come thumping in and King's lower-register snarl claws its way into the mix.  There's a nice, heavy guitar solo from Sniper on this track, and while the backing vocals could use a bit of a boost from an additional couple of layers, the song is catchy enough and likely one of the new songs to find their way into the live show as it is one that fans could easily catch hold of and sing along.

"Moscow Queen" is not my favorite track on the record by any stretch, and is really one of the few filler tracks on this disc, in my opinion.  I just don't care for the happy-yet-punky vibe on this track, although there are still some nice 80's-influenced guitar flashes here and there.  Be that as it may, I'm not going to lie...I skip this track every time.

"Loud" quickly makes up for the misstep of "Moscow Queen", and is one of the two or three best songs here.  An urgent, George Lynch-esque guitar riff (think the first couple of Dokken albums as far as style goes) opens things, and King's snarl is in its most comfortable range zone here, as he neither plumbs the depths of his range, nor does he try to reach the upper stratosphere with screams or falsetto.  This is a really, really good hair metal track with a nice, aggressive guitar line running throughout, and Spade's bass work is in top form, as well.  Sniper scorches a killer solo at about the 2:10 mark here, before giving way to the lone King scream of the track, and then the final verse kicks in.  Again, this track is pure early Dokken-worship musically, but vocally it reminds me more of the aggressive approach used by bands like Loudness, for example.  Truly love this track.

"Memphis Mile" keeps the pace rocking as they name-drop their hometown on this rollicking track that has a bit of a Poison feel to it.  Sniper has a couple of more blues-inspired drops under the verses in this track before again smoking his way through a high-speed shredder of a solo.  One of the fastest pure rockers here, this is again a song that I think fans will instantly gravitate toward in a live setting, as it is catchy, upbeat, and easy to follow.

"Sound Of Recklessness" is another track that really challenges "Loud" for best song on the album.  Again, we have a strong, churning rhythm guitar to get things started, with a heavy backbeat from Spade and The Hammer plowing the way forward so that King can come blasting through with a confident, snarled tenor that suits him well.  Sniper tears up the fret board once again on his solo as The Hammer churns away on a machine-gun styled snare march tempo, before the band backs way off, allowing Spade to set the stage for King to moan and wail for a moment before Sniper rips back into another blistering run.  Awesome stuff to hear!

"This Isn't Goodbye" is more of a mid-tempo rocker, and while not my favorite number here, it is not a bad track.  I'm just not a fan of this tempo.  Think GnR's "Sweet Child of Mine".  A LOT of people love it, but I never did, as it has a tempo that just never resonated with me.  Same with "This Isn't Goodbye".  It just lacks the aggression and punch that the band incorporates into its best material.  A lot of great 80's albums had tracks that fit this sonic style, and it is performed well overall, although again, the backing vocals could use some beefing up here.

"Ringing In My Ear" kicks the pace back up with a high-octane pace that keeps the album from bogging down at this point.  A churchy keyboard intro leads the band into "Baptized By The Radio" which is a decent track, but comes off as a bit bloated at nearly six and a half minutes.  

"Static Renegade" is a nice, fast rocker that opens with...what else...static, as the subject of the song fiddles with a radio dial, trying to find something to listen to, before a roaring guitar comes ripping out of the speaker.  Released as a video by the band, you can get an idea of what 3D In Your Face brings to the table below:

"Show Me How To Love Again" is the album's ballad, and it is executed pretty well.  A piano is the only instrument at the outset of the track, accompanying King's more upper-range vocals through the first verse, before the entire band kicks in to back the chorus and the following verses.  Something about this song sounds familiar, but I'm not certain what it is.  Anyway, it is a nice ballad in the power ballad style of the 80's, and while it's not "Is This Love", "Something To Believe In", or the epicness of "November Rain", it is definitely better than a lot of what passes for balladry these days.

"The Unknown Frequency" closes the record in fine fashion, returning to the driving hard rock that I feel is 3D's strong suit.  Sniper's guitars lead the track in, and the solid backline of Spade and The Hammer (sounds like a hardware store chain...), keeps the song thumping along in a song that, in places, has a "Gypsy Road" feel to the guitar stylings, although it is in no way a rip-off or sound-alike song.

If there's one real complaint here it would be one that the production, especially on the drums, is a bit thin in places.  I'm not sure if it was a microphone set-up issue, or perhaps this is the sound they were going for and I'm just missing the point.  It just feels like the drums could be a bit bigger in spots, especially the toms and the kick.  Also, as I mentioned in a couple of places, the backing vocals could utilize a few extra layers of "oomph" here and there, but these are relatively minor issues, especially when one takes into consideration the fact that this is an independent project likely put together on a relatively small budget.  I am more than willing to bet the best songs here sound even better live, as I have seen 3D In Your Face live on several occasions and, as I mentioned before, they bring a huge sound and show with them in whatever venue they are playing, as well as an energy that compliments their material even further.  

3D In Your Face is not the best band you have ever heard, but they are also not a group of clowns that are out there making fools of themselves with parody songs and running jokes filled with juvenile locker room humor.  Yeah, they are a bit tongue-in-cheek in places, but they have a passion for what they do and it shows in the work they put into both their live show covers and their original material. 

The liner notes come with full lyrics, band photos, thank-you's and writing credits, for those interested in such things...such as myself.

To get a copy of this album, or the equally well-done Midnight Devils, head to the band's website, and check out the band's store.

Rating:  I can't help but crank this record, as I love the effort, the style, and the majority of the songs here.  Crank it to 7, and be sure to track this band down in a live setting!