Sunday, January 14, 2018

DEVOID "Cup Of Tears"

(c) 2017 Melodic Rock Records

  1. Soldiers
  2. Otherworld
  3. Collective Heart
  4. The Clock Is Ticking
  5. Killing Hands
  6. Religion
  7. Agony
  8. Final Breath
  9. Colours Fade To Grey
  10. Mind Keeper
  11. Cup Of Tears
  12. Hollow Point
Carsten "Lizard" Schulz--Lead Vocals
Shad Mae--Guitars
Jorris Guilbaud--Keyboards
Ben Toquet--Bass
Ben Wanders--Drums

Additional Musicians
Mattias IA Eklundh (Freak Kitchen)--Guitars
Henrik Danhage (Evergrey)--Guitars
Daniel Palmqvist (Beyond The Katacomb)--Guitars
Magnus Karlsson (Primal Fear)--Guitars

When I first got into hard rock and metal, I was constantly seeking out bands that no one else was listening to.  I would order demos and independent releases out of the back of magazines from bands, trade dubbed cassettes with friends, and buy anything from the small opening bands at the shows I would go to, just to have more!  When I got older, the internet made it easier...MUCH easier...to track down music that none of my friends were listening to, especially from bands in Europe, where metal was continuing to thrive even as grunge and alternative rock dominated the American landscape.  And while a lot of my friends were also discovering the great bands from Great Britain and Germany, I was focusing on finding bands from places like Norway, Italy, and most notably, France, where I found several bands that I had never heard of but instantly took a liking to.

Now that the world has shrunk even further with social media, bands now contact me to have their music featured and reviewed here.  And, wouldn't you know it, one of the most exciting releases I have heard in quite some time comes from...France!

Devoid is a melodic metal band that literally brought a smile to my face and goosebumps to my arms when I first played Cup Of Tears.  This...THIS...is what melodic metal should sound like, in my opinion.  Not since Balance Of Power, Magnitude 9, or Theocracy do I remember putting in a melodic metal CD...be it power metal, prog metal, or traditional metal...and having it just absolutely grab me the way Cup Of Tears did.  I have heard a lot of melodic hard rock albums over the past several years that have been incredible, but melodic metal albums seem to miss the mark much of the time.  Not so here, as Cup Of Tears manages to find that perfect balance between technical finesse and artistic flair, between insanely fast-yet-precise guitars and intricate-and-interesting keyboards, between break-neck, pulse-pounding bass and drum work and more subtle, more emotive fill work.  Heavier, faster, and more metallic than their highly talented label-mates, Fiction Syxx, Devoid combines both power metal and progressive metal elements on an album that most certainly would have made the Glitter2Gutter Top 17 of 2017 had it crossed my desk earlier.  However, it wasn't until January 6 of this year that guitarist, Shad Mae, contacted me and asked me to review this masterpiece of an album.  So, in retrospect, I have gone back and included the album in the "honorable mention" section, despite the fact that there is no doubt it would have made the Top Ten...heck, most likely the Top Five...had I just been able to hear it earlier.  Honestly, it is that good!

Highlights of the album for me would definitely be the insanely intricate and catchy "Religion", which features an absolutely stunning guitar solo and some darker, edgier vocals from Lizard, whom I find to be a particularly strong singer with a rather large range.  The album's opener, "Soldiers" really sets a nice tone for the record with its heft and punch, and the instrumental, "Hollow Point", really gives Mae a chance to show off his prowess on the guitar.  I also really like "Collective Heart", which perfectly combines the heavy crunchiness of "Soldiers" with a big, layered, melodic chorus that just screams catchy!  "Clock Is Ticking" is probably the most progressive track here...proggy in the early Queensryche or Fates Warning style...and the riffy "Colours Fade To Grey" has grabbed my attention since the first time I played the album...but then again, so has "Mindkeeper", which is a heavy, guitar-driven track with a really cool hook and memorable chorus.  However, since one of the main strengths of the album, as a whole, is its songwriting, it is very difficult for me to point to just one or two specific songs and say, "Those are the best!", because there is nothing here even close to filler or throw away. 

If I were forced to make a comparison between Devoid and some other band, it would be a bit tough.  At times, they remind me very much of Balance Of Power, while at other times, you can hear bits of Pink Cream 69, or perhaps even some Evergrey.  The guitars are a bit more technical here, I think, and the overall feel isn't quite as proggy as PC69 sounds at times.

I really don't know anything about the band's members, and I have no idea if this is a true "band" or a "project", but I think the combination of elements here is excellent.  Schulz is a very strong singer who is able to handle the most powerful tracks here, as well as the semi-ballads that pop up in a couple of places on Cup Of Tears.  The rhythm section is stunningly tight, and I am amazed at the talent of Wanders on the drums, who must be in some absolutely fantastic shape to play the rapid-fire tempos, patterns, and rhythms he plays throughout this record.  I was pleased that the keyboards here aren't too out front or AOR-ish, as I think that would have done some serious damage to a few of the tracks here.  Of course, it would be impossible to review this record without going on and on about the greatness of Mae on the guitars.  Whether its the acoustic work on "Final Breath", the Middle Eastern feel of "Hollow Point", or the numerous places throughout the album where he just screams across the frets, threatening to melt the strings.  I am seriously needing to seek out his work in other projects, as this guy is impressive.  I'll be seeking out Schulz's previous efforts, as well.

I was sent only a preview digital copy of the album, so I don't have any liner notes and I have no idea which guest guitarist plays on which songs.  When I get my CD, I will update this section of the review, as there are some solid guest names here, especially Karlsson.

The production on this album is excellent to my ears, as everything is very crisp and sharp, with no muddiness or over-powering by any particular instrument.  I have heard a few people say they don't think its mixed "metal enough", but I'm not really sure what they mean by that, as I love the mix here.  Again, Devoid is not a pure power metal band, nor are they a pure progressive metal band.  They lie somewhere in the middle, and they absolutely dominate this territory.  Here's hoping for a quick return from Shad Mae and Devoid, because there is nothing to not love about this record!

Rating:  The most crankable melodic metal album I have heard in some time!  9.5 for Cup Of Tears



Friday, January 5, 2018

HOUSE OF LORDS "Saint Of The Lost Souls"

(c) 2017 Frontiers Records

  1. Harlequin
  2. Oceans Divide
  3. Hit The Wall
  4. Saint Of The Lost Souls
  5. The Sun Will Never Set Again
  6. New Day Breakin'
  7. Reign Of Fire
  8. Concussion
  9. Art Of Letting Go
  10. Grains Of Sand
  11. The Other Option
James Christian--Lead Vocals, Keyboards
Jimi Bell--Guitars
BJ Zampa--Drums, Percussion
Chris Tristram--Bass

House Of Lords returns again with for what has turned out to be a nearly-annual appointment with the melodic hard rock world, with the 11th studio album...and third in 4 years...Saint Of The Lost Souls.  Following what I felt was a fairly lackluster album in 2015's Indestructible, and with the departure of long-time bassist Chris McCarvill, James Christian, Jimi Bell, and BJ Zampa regrouped with new bass player, Chris Tristram, and have put together quite possibly their best album since 2009's Cartesian Dreams.  

Indeed, it is a rare instance that a band maintains its style, its sound, its approach, and the great majority of its key players for a full decade.  House Of Lords, however, has managed to do even better than that, as Zampa and Bell have stood alongside Christian since 2005 and have produced seven albums that, even at their worst (the previously mentioned Indestructible and the largely maligned World Upside Down), are among some of the best melodic hard rock in the genre.  With this newest album, the band again proves why so many people point to House of Lords as the standard bearer for this type of hard rock.

The album starts with "Harlequin", which had me a bit concerned at the outset due to the plinky-plinky keyboards that were being used, but my fears were allayed about 1:30 into the track, as a maniacal laugh disrupts things and Bell's guitars come charging into the fray, bolstered by the always impressive drum work from Zampa.  It is nice that right off the bat, the impact of the bass from newcomer Tristram is felt, as sometimes bands have a way of overcompensating in other areas so that the "new guy" can get his feet wet.  Not here, as Tristram's bass is a definite impact player right here on the very first track.  Of course, the main draw for me is, and always has been, the supreme talent of James Christian.  His smooth-yet-slightly-raspy vocals have drawn me in since the band's debut nearly 30 years ago, and nothing has changed here.  An impressive solo from Bell is thrown into the mix for good measure, and it seems apparent from the get go that the band is out to make up for the last album...although I don't know that any member would indicate that they weren't fans of the last record.

"Oceans Divide" continues down the hard-rocking-yet-melodic path, with Christian actually lowering his range a bit more on the verse sections than I would say is typical, and it works very well.  A big, sweeping chorus, one of the HoL hallmarks, is present here, of course, and Bell again works his magic on some serious fret burning runs, and the rhythm section is, again, in fine form.

"Hit The Wall" betrays its name a bit, as this turns out to be the first slower, AOR-ish number on the record.  Ah, were this to have come out about 27 years ago, I have no doubts that it would have been a player for Top 40 attention, as this is such a smooth, perfectly performed mid-tempo track that it would have crossed over perfectly.  Bell offers up a truly inspired solo run between the last two choruses, and the catchy, sing-along chorus would have been on the lips of anyone who had snagged this album before going out to see the band live.  Just a great, great tune for a summer night...

Speaking of slower numbers, "The Sun Will Never Set Again" is one of those ballads that bands throw into the concert mix for the couples in the crowd.  You know the type...the ones that are so smooth and so chock-full of AOR sweetness that Zippo lighters seemingly spontaneously spring from their owner's pockets and burst into flame as Christian croons "the day will come, the day will come my friend, when this will end...and when my soul transcends, the sun will never set again..."  A nice mix of acoustic and electric guitars, a sing-song backing vocal section, and excellent, clean production add even more to this noteworthy tune that I am guessing will become a live staple for the band.

The rocking returns with "New Day Breaking" and "Reign Of Fire", with the latter track utilizing some of the harder-edged guitar tones the band has recorded in a several years.  Don't let that fool you into thinking this is some sort of metal turn by the band, however, as this is still pure melodic arena rock of the highest form, with some interesting keyboard moments mixed in with Bell's dominating work on guitar.

While on the subject of Bell's work, the shredding solo on the title track is one that simply must be heard, as it is a great piece of art on probably my favorite song of the record, even if the atmospheric keyboard intro takes a bit too long to bring the full band blistering into the mix.  Easily the fastest, hardest rocking track on the record, this is the type of song that I would absolutely LOVE to hear the band tackle for an entire record....okay, minus one of their big ballads.  True greatness here, my friends!

Concussion" is a bluesy, bump-and-grind styled rocker, which is pretty cool to hear the band work with, while the three closing tracks are all solid, mid-to-uptempo numbers, with the closer, "The
Other Option" being another of my favorites from the record.  I was expecting a ballad with that title, but it turned into one of the better rockers here.

The production from Christian and Zampa is excellent and serves the overall feel and sound of the record extremely well.  I do wish the keyboard intros on a few of these tracks had been trimmed back a bit, as that's really not my thing, and in a couple of places they are almost distractingly long ("Harlequin" is a perfect example).  There is a bit of a tempo drop-off in the second half, so maybe a slight track rearrangement would benefit the overall flow of the record, but these complaints are minor.

All in all, I would have to say that Saint Of The Lost Souls likely clocks in as my fourth or fifth favorite album by the band in their 11 album catalog, so that says something about how good it is.  It will take a lot to displace the likes of Sahara, Cartesian Dreams, or the self-titled debut record from the top of the House Of Lords heap for me, but Saint Of The Lost Souls puts up a decent fight.  Definitely a contender for a slot in the Top 17 of 2017, but with so many great albums out already this year, that will be a tough list to crack. 


Rating:  Definitely a crank-worthy return!  Spin this up to 8!

Thursday, January 4, 2018

THE TOP 17 OF 2017!!!



Hard to believe it, but another year has passed and it is 2018 already!  Over the course of 2017, I had the opportunity to hear so much new music, by so many different bands...sometimes weeks or months before anyone else, that it has been a true blast for me and Glitter2Gutter!  First time bands busting out of the gates...established bands still blazing on...reunited bands making the comeback album...we've heard it all this year, and so much of it has been great stuff!  So, let's get things started with....

THE MOST READ REVIEWS OF 2017

2017 was a big year for people reading Glitter2Gutter!  The top 3 most-read album reviews this year had so many reads that they have joined the Top 10 of all time!  That's some serious reading, folks!  This category is purely data driven...no opinions, no guesswork, just pure, raw data.  These 17 albums had the most "unique hits" during the year, which does not factor in people re-reading a post from the same IP address, scroll-through reading, etc. 

17.  OWL COMPANY - Horizon  

16.  QUIET RIOT - Road Rage

15.  BABYLON A.D. - Revelation Highway

14.  SHAKRA - Snakes And Ladders


12.  THOUSAND FOOT KRUTCH - Untraveled Roads: Live

11.  DOLL HAZARD - Transatlantic Meltdown

10.  GOLD, FRANKINCENSE & MYRRH - Identity Crisis

9.  GROUPIE HIGH SCHOOL - ...Ladies & Gentlemen

8.  LIVESAY - Frozen Hell

7.  FICTION SYXX - Tall, Dark Secrets

6.  EMPERORS & ELEPHANTS - Moth


4.  DELIVERANCE - The Subversive Kind

3.  ROMEO RIOT - Sing It Loud

2.  BOBAFLEX - Eloquent Demons

...and with more than 1140 unique readers, the most read review of 2017....

1.  SHALLOW SIDE - One


NEW ARTIST OF THE YEAR

Not a lot needs to be said here, as all of the artists on this list released their first album in 2017 (we don't hold demos against the New Artist of the Year nominees).  A couple of these releases were sent to me relatively late, so reviews are not yet up...but they will be soon!  Even so, it was an absolute dog-fight for the Top Three spots, with each likely deserving of being the top...err....dog, and this order may even change tomorrow if I were to re-write this ranking!  Congrats to everyone on this list, as all hopefully have bright futures!


8.  VINCE VOLTAGE  (Review To Come)

7.  GOLD, FRANKINCENSE & MYRRH  (Band of sisters brings edge and grit to this set, while also managing to show a softer, sweeter side when the moment calls for it.  Looking for big things from these girls in the future.)

6.  GRETA VAN FLEET (Review To Come)

5.  SILKED & STAINED  (These Greeks may own the surprise album of the year for me, and I can't stop playing Love On The Road, even 5 months after first spinning it!)

4.  TEQUILA SUNRISE  (Spaniards show a flair for 80s inspired rock that would likely had them charting 25-30 years ago.)

3.  FICTION SYXX (Insanely talented band with beautifully crafted songs.  Check our lists and you will see Fiction Syxx had an amazing year for a debut act!)

2.  DOLL HAZARD  (Transatlantic Meltdown is, in my opinion, a modern sleaze masterpiece that simply must be heard!  Hopefully these two guys will figure out the time and place to record a follow-up in the not-too-distant future!)

...and the Number 1 New Artist of the Year is...

1.  ROMEO RIOT  (A label-family supergroup, Romeo Riot's debut effort contains some of the catchiest hooks and most memorable melodies of all the albums I reviewed this year.  Hopefully this won't be a "one and done" effort, as Sing It Loud is simply a great record!)



COMEBACK OF THE YEAR

There were a handful of nice comebacks this year, so picking our Top 8 was a bit of a challenge.  That being said, the Number One comeback of the year...not really all that close....

8.  STEPHEN PEARCY Smash  "It's not completely Ratt, and it's not really Arcade, but it's definitely solid, hard-edged rock, and Pearcy hasn't sounded better on a solo effort...ever."

7.  12 STONES - Picture Perfect  5 years between albums, a new record label, and the band manages to pull off what may be their best album ever...

6.  JACK RUSSEL'S GREAT WHITE - He Saw It Comin' The first album from Jack's version of the legendary band contains a few classic-sounding cuts along with several new twists to keep the band musically interesting in 2017!

5.  LA GUNS - The Missing Peace  Included here due to the "comeback" of the Guns/Lewis duo, The Missing Peace is an excellent return to form.

4.  PROJECT 86 - Sheep Among Wolves  Hardcore/metalcore legends prove they still have plenty left in the tank, releasing not only a new album but a killer covers EP, as well!

3.  AUTOGRAPH - Get Off Your Ass  We're going to go ahead and include these guys as their new release includes the material from last year's EP.  This is a band that I had truly left for dead, yet it comes back with a new singer and the most complete record since their sophomore effort.

2.  BABYLON A.D. - Revelation Highway  Sure, some of these are old Persuaders tracks, but they are re-recorded and mixed with several tracks of new material making the project, as a whole, an amazing return for a band that kind of just evaporated after 2000's third album...

...and the Number One Comeback Album Of The Year....

1.  GALACTIC COWBOYS - Long Way Back To The Moon  Not really a contest, LWBttM is a simply spectacular return to form for a wildly underappreciated band!  Let's hope its not another 17 years between albums!


GLITTER2GUTTER'S TOP 17 OF 2017!!!

This year G2G reviewed 58 albums, and have another dozen or so written and simply needing final editing, so I heard a LOT of music...and most of it was really, really good!  It is safe to say, at least for me, that 2017 was one of the better years in recent memory for hard rock and metal, and I am hopeful that 2018 will hold similar greatness!

HONORABLE MENTIONS:  

BIGFOOT Bigfoot (Review To Come)  Melodic hard rockers Bigfoot definitely bring their "A" game to the table on their debut album, with big rockers, smooth melodic delivery, and a sweeping epic to close things out that is one of the better tracks I've heard this year.  Maybe a song or two too long, I'm hoping for another Bigfoot sighting of in the near future (yeah, yeah...I know....)

BLACK BAMBI Black Bambi (Review To Come)  I never thought this album would properly see the light of day, despite the multiple bootlegs that circulated on the music-trading underground, but Black Bambi is finally here and it is dang good!  Nicely produced and very well performed, it still leaves me wondering why this band never got the chance to break out on radio and MTV.

DEVOID Cup Of Tears  Had this CD crossed my desk earlier, there is no doubt it would have made the top ten...perhaps even top five...heck, maybe even grabbed the top spot for the year!  I simply love this record and am filled with anticipation for the band's next release, hopefully not too far in the future. This is EXACTLY what melodic metal should sound like to my ears!  An amazing, must-hear record.

EMPERORS & ELEPHANTS Moth "Picking up right where their debut album left off, Moth features heavy, down-tuned, grungy guitars, big, punchy drums, and thick bass work along with the unmistakable vocals of Andrews who can exude hurt, pain, and anger with his style in a way that not many others appear able to do these days."

HOUSE OF LORDS Saint Of The Lost Souls  Probably my favorite album by the insanely talented and vocally-charismatic James Christian since Cartesian Dreams, and a definite step-up from the relatively disappointing Indestructible, with excellent work from Jimi Bell on guitars, BJ Zampa on drums, and newcomer Chris Tristram on bass.  If the Top 17 was expanded to a Top 20 or 25, this record would definitely be there.

IRON SAVIOR Reforged: Riding On Fire   Despite the fact that this is an album of re-recorded material, it deserves mention due to the superb work done here.  "The performances here are top-notch, with blisteringly fast rhythm guitar work, blazing solos, and some excellent drumming from brand-new drummer, Klose, along with Sielck's voice as snarling and menacing as ever...as it stands, this is a nearly perfect collection and an amazing primer for any new fans who want to check out the band's earlier, classic material without paying ridiculous prices."  

JACK RUSSELL'S GREAT WHITE He Saw It Comin'  "Crank this eclectic collection, but give it time to grow on you organically.  Don't try to force the record into being Psycho City II or Shot In The Dark II, because you will be being unfair to yourself and to the record."

MANAFEST Stones  A modern rocker with hints of rap mixed throughout the record, Manafest will not be everyone's cup of tea, but Stones deserves a nod.  Currently on tour with Adelita's Way, you may want to check Manafest out if you get the chance in a live setting, as you may be pleasantly surprised with what you ear, even if it's not your regular style of music.

OTHERWISE Sleeping Lions  "Definitely the band's most complete album, and their most interesting, it might not have the big, stand-out tracks like "Soldiers" or "Darker Side Of The Moon", but I feel it is the album that is going to stick with listeners.  Intricate and detailed in places, blazing with anger in others, Sleeping Lions pretty much runs the gamut for the band musically, with hard, crunchy numbers and even a couple of mellower, more laid back moments."  

SILKED & STAINED Love On The Road  "There is no way I anticipated enjoying this record as much as I do, and I find myself returning to it time and time again.  Here's hoping the band gets some recognition in the States and throughout Europe...maybe even Japan...and is able to continue on, as I think they have quite a bit to offer."

SKARLETT RIOT Renegade (Review To Come)  Mixing the angst of modern rockers like Bullet For My Valentine with melodic female vocals and a few hints of 80s-era attitude and edge, Skarlett Riot could really find themselves building an audience in the metal world in 2018 and beyond!

STEELHEART Through Worlds Of Stardust (Review To Come)  Forget everything you thought you knew about Steelheart, as this is 70s-inspired classic rock with some 80s attitude thrown into the mix.

SWEET & LYNCH Unified (Review To Come)  Not quite as solid as their debut, but a very good record, nonetheless.  Sweet is in top-classic Stryper vocals form, and Lynch...well, it's George Lynch!

TEQUILA SUNRISE Danger Zone  "All in all, I found myself really enjoying this record, and the talent is obviously there in large quantities, especially in the guitars and the vocals.  I found it to be a really fun nostalgia trip without the songs all sounding like rehashes of 80s classics.  In all honesty, I think this band could have been a player in the 80s/early 90s, as they have a definite feel for the songwriting, the structure, and the performances of that era."

UNRULY CHILD Can't Go Home The best of the band's output since the reunion of the classic 1992 line-up.  Not the best record in their catalog, but probably Top 3.


And now...THE LIST....


17.  OWL COMPANY Horizon  "Horizon is one of those records that should get massive heavy rock radio attention...and possibly even Grammy-type attention...but it is likely going to fly under the radar of those "in the know" morons who think they know what metal and heavy rock fans want.  Trust me, if you want actual old-school metal, soaked in whiskey and filtered through the doomy sludge of the 70s, heavy rockers Owl Company are exactly what you have been searching for." 

16.  LIV SIN Follow Me  "Generally heavier, and certainly faster in several places than with Sister Sin, Liv Sin has enough elements of her previous band to carry fans over, but there is even more metallic goodness here than in her previous work, and metalheads who may have dismissed her in the past are likely to sit up and take notice now."  

15.  HELL IN THE CLUB See You On The Dark Side (Review To Come)  Slightly different from the Euro-sleaze fans have come to expect from this band, yet still oozing with enough raunch and filth...and absolute fun...to place this record solidly among the best I have heard so far this year.    

14.  LA GUNS The Missing Peace  " No skippers, no filler, no pointless intros, outros, or interludes, just a snarling collection of sleaze-drenched rockers and a couple of big power ballads fashioned from some really good songwriting and musical execution.   Edgy, sleazy, gritty...and yet still allowing for a bit of fun...The Missing Peace is everything I could have hoped for in an LA Guns reunion album, minus, of course, a full reunion with Steve Riley, Kelly Nickels, and Mick Cripps..."

13.  NIGHT RANGER Don't Let Up  "While it doesn't reach the level of the band's first three records, Seven Wishes, Midnight Madness, and Dawn Patrol, Don't Let Up is a definite keeper, with all of the classic hard rock elements in place...minus the power ballad...even if all of the classic players are not.  The additions of Levy, and especially Kelli, bring a freshness to the familiar feel of this great band, and that "magic" feel has returned that I felt so connected to back in the 1980s.  The songs are well-written and nearly perfectly played, and the production is absolutely spot-on throughout the record.  Try as I might, I have a hard time finding any major flaws, and only a couple of "lesser" songs (which really aren't bad songs, at all...), keep me from pushing this all the way to the top."

12.  INGLORIOUS II (Review To Come)  While claims that Inglorious may be "the best band to come out of Great Britain since Led Zeppelin" seem a bit over-the-top and, quite frankly, WAY too early, II is definitely catchy as hell and a great, great record with tons of energy and top-notch performances.

11.  SHALLOW SIDE One "For a band I have never heard of prior to this, Shallow Side seems to have hoarded some fairly significant musical talent for their little band and stashed it away so that they could unleash it upon the listeners at the time of their own choosing.  This band knows who they are and are unapologetic about it.  I can appreciate that as a listener because while the sounds and styles vary from track to track, never do you feel like you have a bunch of CDs on shuffle here as the band changes things up.  Rather, you feel exactly like the band intends for you to feel...entertained, a bit challenged, possibly a bit physically exhausted, and still wanting more."

10.  BOBAFLEX Eloquent Demons  "...as much as I have thoroughly enjoyed their previous efforts, especially Charlatan's Web and Anything That Moves, there is no doubt in my mind that Eloquent Demons has taken the band to a new level."

9.  TOKYO MOTOR FIST Tokyo Motor Fist  "To my mind, this has the feel of a best of record, because there is no truly weak song here. The flow is flawless, there are no weak songs, and the musicianship is top notch.  And as to Ted Poley, I do not think he has ever sounded better anywhere, including the Danger Danger or Poley/Rivera releases, which is saying something, in my mind.  The production is crystal clear, the mix is stellar...I honestly don't have much negative to say about Tokyo Motor Fist other than I have no clue what the name means!"

8.  FICTION SYXX   Tall, Dark Secrets  "Combining an obvious love for the melodic style of the 80s with a somewhat progressive approach to several songs, Fiction Syxx sounds at times to be very familiar and very comfortable...in spite of the fact that nothing here come off as clones or copies of anyone else's music or style."

7.  SHAKRA Snakes And Ladders  "This is a great record from start to finish, and one that I constantly find myself spinning again and again.  What a truly great return for Fox and for Shakra.  Perhaps now the band will get the due that it is deserved!"

6.  ECLIPSE Momentum (Review To Come)  Continuing with the melodic hard rock excellence that this band has brought to the scene for the past few releases, Momentum may be the best album these guys have released, and could easily have slipped into the Top 5 were it not for a couple of surprise hits ahead of it.

5.  BABYLON A.D.  Revelation Highway  "All five of the original band members are here for Revelation Highway, which adds even more to the overall greatness of this record.  No one sounds as if they have lost anything to my ears.  The guitars are edgy yet melodic, with blazing solos and chunky rhythm sections, Davis' voice, while perhaps a touch lower in register than previously, still has grit, power, and range, and there is a tightness to the band that can only be attained through years of playing together.   I absolutely love this record, minor production flaws notwithstanding."  

4.  GALACTIC COWBOYS  Long Way Back To The Moon  "I don't know that this record will be the one that "breaks" the band to the world, as I'm not sure that is even a possibility now, with the way radio and internet music outlets operate.  But it is a record that should give musicians and artists hope that creativity still counts for something and that perhaps perseverance can be its own reward of sorts."  

3.  DOLL HAZARD  Transatlantic Meltdown  "Doll Hazard is an absolutely must-hear for fans of this style of music, and the incorporation of the men's influences and respective bands has created an album that will be hard to match for just about any band who runs on the sleazier, dirtier side of rock n roll.  Regardless of the distance between them, the two men managed to pull off what should be pointed to as a modern standard for the sleaze-punk genre." 

2.  ROMEO RIOT  Sing It Loud  "No question that Sing It Loud is a Top 17 for 2017.  The question is just how high in that Top 17 of '17 it will finish!"  Pure, unadulterated melodic hard rock goodness from start to finish, with huge hooks and amazing songwriting, Romeo Riot sounds as much like a family having an absolute blast as it does a band!  Here's hoping for more in the near future!

...and the Number One album of the year for Glitter2Gutter....

1.  RIVERDOGS  California  "There is very little I can say negatively about this record, and I find myself drawn to just put it on "album repeat" and let it run over and over in the background...except that I keep finding myself stopping to appreciate the overall musical experience the album brings.  This is a mature rock record, to be sure, with deeper thought levels involved in the lyrics of the vast majority of the songs, but that doesn't mean it isn't catchy or inspired.  Quite the opposite is true, in my opinion, as something about every track here definitely catches my attention and pulls me in its direction.  To say that this is a candidate for Record of the Year for me is not an overstatement..."


So there you have it!  The Top 17 of 2017, as voted on by...well, by me.  Here's hoping that 2018 will bring even more hard rock/metal greatness and that everyone finds something that they simply can't stop listening to in the upcoming year!

Thanks for reading!!!

Saturday, December 30, 2017

DELIVERANCE "The Subversive Kind"

(c) 2018 Roxx Records

  1. Bring 'Em Down
  2. Concept Of The Other
  3. Center Of It All
  4. The Black Hand
  5. Epilogue
  6. Listen Closely
  7. The Subversive Kind
  8. The Fold

Jimmy P Brown II--Lead Vocals, Rhythm Guitars
Glenn Rogers--Guitars
Victor Macias--Bass, Vocals
Jim Chaffin--Drums

Additional Musician
Greg Minier--Lead Guitars on 1, 3, second solo on 4

First off, let me say that I am not 100% certain of the track order on this album, as I have seen it in print like I have it listed above, but then the downloads came with a completely different order outside of tracks 1 and 2.  So, if I discover that my listing is in error, I will change it as soon as I have the physical CD in my hands, which should be some time in early 2018.

Regardless of the tracking order, it is safe to say that this is easily the heaviest and fastest record that the Christian thrash metal pioneers have recorded in twenty years or more...perhaps going all the way back to the debut record, or even the Greetings Of Death demo!  While 2013's excellent return, Hear What I Say! was a mixture of the thrashier parts of Deliverance melded with the more melodic approaches of albums like Learn and Stay Of Execution, this new record makes no bones about what it is, which is full-on thrash.  Referred to by some as Deliverance's Reign In Blood, a direct nod to the Slayer album that many people put at-or-near-the-top of the thrash metal heap as far as sheer ferocity and brutality goes, Deliverance's new record definitely has turned the band back a few chapters to the type of speed and aggression they played with when they first burst upon the scene.

For more than twenty years, it seems every fan of the band continually poses the question, "when will you do another real thrash album?"  Seemingly everyone wants a Weapons Of Our Warfare, Pt. II, or another What A Joke.  With The Subversive Kind, the band not only returns to the musical roots of Deliverance, it does so with a virtual who's who of Christian thrash history now in the band.  Besides founding vocalist and rhythm guitar master, Jimmy P Brown, II, this new incarnation of Deliverance features sharp bursts of machine gun drumming from Crucified drummer, Jim Chaffin, rumbling bass lines from Victor Macias (Tourniquet), and blistering lead guitar from Glenn Rogers (Vengeance Rising/Deliverance)...and guest lead work from Christian punk/thrash crossover legend, Greg Minier of the Crucified/Minier/Applehead!  If ever an album had a pedigree for success, it would seem to be The Subversive Kind. 

Musically, this album, as I have mentioned is extremely fast for the most part, but each of these eight songs also features multiple tempo changes within the song itself, creating some unique and interesting dynamics.  You can hear the individual contributions, as well, as several songs feature something akin to a hardcore breakdown in places, but not at the expense of a blistering guitar solo, which every song here features.  No, this is not nu-metal or metalcore, this is pure thrash at its finest.

Jimmy's voice takes on a much more gruff, barked style on this record than on previous efforts.  Gone are the high, soaring screams of Weapons..., What A Joke, or even Stay Of Execution.  To be honest, I'm perfectly fine, as the vocals laid down by Jimmy here fit the aggressive nature of the songs which are far more thrash metal and less speed metal than, say Weapons... was.  With so many of the songs here coming off as rather angry with the observations Jimmy is making, this harsher vocal approach fits the tone perfectly and brings a further fierceness to each of these songs.

Unlike their first few records, Deliverance is not out to beat you over the head with chapter and verse theology, but that does not mean that they have slid in their faith or their stances on touchstone social issues in the world today.  Take for example, "Concept Of The Other", which is about people who use false Christian interpretations to justify prejudice and hatred, with Jimmy singing/barking, "They seem to think we serve the same God, All rolling out their mats or sealed in their pods.  If only I've seen Christ in the way some live, The more we push and take, the more we make them give."

If pushed to choose a favorite track or two, it would be a fairly difficult task.  "Center Of It All", a track about being self-absorbed and drawing all attention to oneself, is an absolute mosh pit churner, featuring some serious speed and is a track that really recalls "Greetings Of Death" from the debut record as far as tempo and approach.  Its awesome to hear Minier rip into the solo on this track, as well, with the middle section slowing down a bit, with a nice thick groove setting the stage for Greg to go to town.  "Concept Of The Other" has some of the best lyrics on the album (see above), and I love the tempo change that is dropped after the second chorus, which allows Glenn to lay down a wicked solo before Chaffin kickstarts the track back into hyperdrive.  The albums' lead single, "The Black Hand" has a definite Weapons Of Our Warfare feel to it, particularly in the guitars, which is very cool, and "Listen Closely" does a nice job of combining the debut record's speed with some Stay Of Execution-styled phrasing used in the vocals.  But if it came right down to it, I'd have to say "The Fold" challenges "Concept Of The Other" for my favorite track here, and is a brilliant way to close a fantastic, breathtaking album, as a bit of singing returns to Jimmy's vocals, and the full-throttle riffing of the rhythm guitars drag the listener ever-so-slightly back to Weapons... one final time.  I also really like the gang-shouted sections, one right before an absolutely blistering solo leads the track into the final chorus, and one just before the outro of the song.  Cool, cool stuff. 

If there are any drawbacks to this album, it would seem to me that clocking in at just 31 minutes is going to be a sticking point for many people.  That being said, let me assuage the angst of some of you by telling you it is a fast, furious, brutal, thrashy 31 minutes that is among some of the heaviest thrash metal I've ever feasted my ears upon in years.  Truth be told...I don't know if I could survive more than 31 minutes in a single sitting!  

Rating:  Starting off 2018 with a crankfest!  Find something to hold onto and crank this up to 9!  The Mighty D is back!

Friday, December 29, 2017

DOLL HAZARD "Transatlantic Meltdown"

(c) 2017

  1. Cat's Got Your Tongue
  2. Rock N Roll Prostitute
  3. Fire Gasoline
  4. No Valentine Cards
  5. Walk On Water
  6. Transatlantic Meltdown
  7. 21 Grams (Off My Shoulders)
  8. Doghouse
  9. You're In My Head
  10. Sci-Fi Child
Chris Damien Doll--Vocals, Guitars, Bass
Sandy Hazard--Vocals, Drums

Additional Musician
Roger Salloum--Piano

The miracle of the Internet has allowed for so many great things to come into being.  And while a lot of people may say that a modern sleaze-punk album may not qualify as a "great thing", fans of the genre would disagree and point to this collaboration between Chris Damien Doll and Sandy Hazard as an example of what greatness truly sounds like.  And I would be one of those in the final group...

4500 miles is a long distance to be separated by when you are working with your "band", but that is exactly what Doll and Hazard were faced with when putting together this record.  Regardless of the distance, however, the two managed to pull off what should be pointed to as a modern standard for the sleaze-punk genre.  Two years in the making, Transatlantic Meltdown takes the best part of the men's main gigs, Suicide Bombers and Dirtbag Republic, respectively, and meld them into something even grimier and grittier, dripping with snot, spit, sass, blood, and booze.  

The Canada-Meets-Norway duo kicks off the disc with a jacked up Faster Pussycat-styled sleaze/punk number in "Cat's Got Your Tongue", which utilizes mostly drums and bass to drive the verse sections, while Doll keeps his guitars in reserve for the chorus parts, save for the lead-in riffage, a couple of buzzsaw interjections here and there on the verses, and a big string-bending solo between the second and third chorus sections.  I really like the sparse nature of the verse sections here, as it adds that much more energy to the chorus parts.

The two take turns on the microphone as lead snarlers, and both work well. with Hazard being the lower-ranged, snarlier Gene Simmons to Doll's higher-ranged, sleazier Pual Stanley, if you want to break it down in something of a relatable fashion.  Hazard is at his best on the sassy, punked-up "Rock N Roll Prostitute", where he is supported by a seriously hard-charging guitar riff and simple-yet-solid drum line that feeds directly into the angst-filled shout-along chorus of "I'm just a rock n roll prostitute!"  "Walk On Water" is another stand-out with a big guitar solo melting its way through the sludginess of track, with Hazard's barked vocals reminding me quite a bit of those used by Zodiac Mindwarp on their hit, "Prime Mover".

Doll more than holds his own in the vocals department here, with my two faves from him being "21 Grams (Off My Shoulders)" and "Fire Gasoline", which are both high speed affairs, with a lot of the sleazy attitude of the Suicide Bombers incorporated, albeit at a higher rate of speed than several of the Bombers songs.  Sounding like Faster Pussycat on steroids, "Fire Gasoline" is an incredibly catchy song with some nice rockabilly guitar work for the main parts of the song, along with a Sunset Stip styled solo thrown into the mix.

My favorite track here would be fairly hard to pin down, although I have to admit to hitting repeat on "No Valentine Cards" more than any other song here.  This punky anti-love song is just so dang much fun to listen to, is insanely catchy, and the lyrics about the teasing vixen that is the subject of this track perfectly sum up the attitude of the track.  The two-man gang chorus chant of "no Valentine cards" works absolutely perfectly with the rhythm of the track, and the brief rip of a guitar solo has enough sass and grit to grab you by the ears and plant your butt back in the seat you may have found yourself dancing out of.  The title track, "Transatlantic Meltdown" is a contender, as well, with its frantic pace and "haven't I heard this before" catchiness, along with its big "whooa oh oh" backing vocals, and jangly solo.  And, the sudden car-hits-wall change in pace and style that is "Doghouse" absolutely has to be mentioned in the favorites here, as there is no way the listener can't feel slapped in the face by the piano-laced, smokey barroom two-step approach, and yet still keep begging for more because it is so well-executed musically.  Nothing before and nothing after this song gives you any inkling of its inclusion, yet it is so perfectly placed and performed that I find myself drawn back to it time after time.  Excellent work right there, no question.  Absolutely love it.  

"You're In My Head" is a fun track, if a bit repetitive in the chorus, and it has some of the cleanest guitar playing on the entire record, sounding a bit like Hanoi Rocks to me.  The album's closer, "Sci-Fi Child" is a last blast of speed, and while it is a good song, it is probably my least favorite track here; it just doesn't grab me like the rest of the material here, but it does manage to squeeze one more nice guitar solo out of Doll and finds Hazard absolutely attempting to kick his way through his drum kit.  It says something to me that the weakest track on this album would serve as one of the better tracks on other records.

Not enough can be said about the musical contributions of both men here, as I would imagine it has to be hard to match up musical styles and approaches without ever getting the opportunity to sit down in the studio with your recording partner.  Somehow the two manage to make it work, however, and the sleaze world is all the better for it, as this is one excellent album that I can't seem to pry out of rotation in my CD player.  The same can be said of the production, which is extremely good considering the way this thing was put together and the style of music it is working with.

As a fan of both bands, I was a bit concerned about what would happen when the two collided.  Turns out I didn't need to worry at all.  Doll Hazard is an absolutely must-hear for fans of the sleaze-punk genre, and the incorporation of the men's influences and respective bands has created an album that will be hard to match for just about any band who runs on the sleazier, dirtier side of rock n roll.

Rating:  Extremely crankable!  9.0 for Transatlantic Meltdown and Doll Hazard!

AUTOGRAPH "Get Off Your Ass"

(c) 2017 EMP Music Group


  1. Get Off Your Ass
  2. Every Generation
  3. All I Own
  4. You Are Us, We Are You
  5. Meet Me Halfway
  6. I Lost My Mind In America
  7. All Emotions
  8. Watch It Now
  9. Ready To Get Down
  10. Turn Up The Radio (Live)
Simon Daniels--Lead Vocals, Guitar
Steve Lynch--Lead Guitars, Vocals
Randy Rand--Bass, Vocals
Marc Weiland--Drums

So, Autograph....where do I start?  Basically one-hit wonders thanks to the success of their debut album, Sign In Please, and the crazy popularity "Turn Up The Radio, Autograph was a California-based 5-piece band that, despite a large amount of talent and a decent fanbase, never was able to fully turn the corner and become a radio/MTV mainstay like so many of their hairy brethren.  Sure, there were two more studio albums (That's The Stuff and Loud And Clear) and several other well-known songs, especially among fans of the hair metal genre, with my favorites being "Blondes In Black Cars", "Send Her To Me", "That's The Stuff", "Take No Prisoners", "She Never Looked That Good For Me", and the semi-obscure "Winning Is Everything", which was only released as part of the soundtrack for Youngblood (anyone remember that flick?).  They flirted with the charts a couple of times, but could never recapture the lightning in a bottle that "Turn Up The Radio" brought them.  As a result, the band left RCA Records after just three albums, and before the band would see their seventh anniversary as a unit, they would be completely disbanded.

When the calendar turned from the 1900s to the 2000s, a lot of 80s bands found themselves regrouping and finding various levels of success as nostalgia acts.  The members of Autograph likely saw this as a chance to give things one more go, especially since they already had most of their fourth album recorded and ready to go.  However, co-founder and original frontman, Steve Plunkett, didn't see eye-to-eye with guitarist and bassist, Steve Lynch and Randy Rand, and decided to strike out on his own with his version of the band, Autograph 2.0.  He released a collection called Missing Pieces which, it turns out, were most of the songs from that unreleased fourth album, but it didn't really capture the attention of old Autograph fans (and it wasn't really all that good, in my opinion).  2002 saw Plunkett release a new album, Buzz, with his version of the band, but again, the album didn't do anything and, quite frankly, also wasn't very good, and Plunkett reportedly left the touring and recording side of music to open his on publishing company.  

Meanwhile, rather than sitting on their hands, Rand and Lynch headed in another direction and picked up former Jailhouse frontman, Simon Daniels, and, reportedly with the blessings of Plunkett (who I imagine still owns at least some rights to the name) released an EP of their own in 2016, called Louder, which was more guitar-driven and punched harder than nearly anything the band had released previously....and featured none of the overly-present keyboards that ruined about half of the material on the band's first three albums for me.  While the new music didn't really capture the same style and sound of 80s Autograph, the music was pretty good and garnered some attention for the band.  So this year, with the new lineup firmly in place, the band re-released the Louder EP with a handful of new songs on this full-length effort, the first Autograph album since Plunkett's "Buzz" effort.

So, first what is new here?  The album is a perfect split of material from Louder and new material.  Even-numbered tracks 2, 4, 6, 8, and 10 all come from the EP and appear here in the exact same form as they did on that recording.  That leaves the odd numbers, 1, 3, 5, 7, and 9 as new songs for this release.

The album starts off with a new song in the title track, "Get Off Your Ass", and immediately it is obvious this is not the Autograph of the 80s.  There are zero keyboards on this record (or at least none that play a prominent enough role that they are distinct in the mix), and Daniels has a much lower range than Plunkett did.  That being said, I would have to say that "Get Of Your Ass" may be one of the ten best tracks the band, in any version, has ever written and recorded.  Seriously.  Rocking hard straight out of the gates, the band sounds tight and punchy with a really good guitar tone from Lynch, and some solid drum work from newcomer, Weiland.  Tongue planted firmly in cheek, the lyrics are humorous while also delivering their point, and Daniels sounds right at home in the range he works at here.  Lynch launches into a really good solo about halfway through the track, and the new...dare I say improved...Autograph is off and running in a big way!

"All I Own" starts off with an unaccompanied Daniels working through the first verse on his own before the band comes crashing in on this power ballad-leaning number.  Rand's bass rings clear throughout the track, and again, Lynch's guitar work is top-notch.  The one problem I have with this track is that the drums are pretty loud in the mix, and when combined with Rand's bass, they really make the song sound rather plodding in places, particularly on the first verse section.  Still, it's not a horrible song at all, and again, Daniels sounds in fine form here, adding a bit of an edge to his bluesy vocals on the bridge section which leads right into another really good solo from the "other" Lynch from the 80s/90s hard rock world.  The backing vocals are tight here, as well, and overall this is another good effort from the returning Autograph, although not the best of the new bunch of songs.

Daniels starts off the next new track, "Meet Me Halfway", belting out the song's title just before the band breaks into a bouncy, shuffle-styled rocker that is my favorite track of all ten presented here.  I love the sass and attitude of this song, and the backing "na na na na" vocals work very, very well with the overall feel of this number.  Again, the drums are very solid, Rand brings the thump throughout the song, and Lynch absolutely dominates the solo he tackles here, sounding at times like he is tinkering with a slide guitar, although I don't think he actually is, and Daniels delivers vocally on a track that Plunkett likely never could have handled properly.  In fact, taken as a singularity, this song is a perfect example of the difference between versions of the band.  Had this been the old Autograph, there would have been an overabundance of keyboards (keytar, anyone???) thrown into the mix, and Plunkett would have turned the song in more of an AOR direction than what is presented here.  As it is, this is a foot-stomping rocker with bite and snarl, and the song is the better for it, in my estimation.

"All Emotions" had me thinking ballad with the title, but I couldn't have been more wrong.  This is an uptempo rocker with some nifty lyrical acrobatics employed by Daniels on the verse sections, as he rips through the lyrics in run-on sentence fashion while managing to get the rhymes to match up with the beat of the track despite it sounding like there may be too many words thrown in there.  Lynch lays out another solid solo here, although it isn't his best work on the record, and the bass of Rand is prominent in the mix, giving it a heavier-feeling bottom end than pretty much anything the band did in their storied past.

The last new track here is "Ready To Get Down", which teases at sounding more like classic Autograph at the start, with some distant, ringing guitar tones leading the way, before Daniels kicks off the first verse and Rand's bass pulses to life.  By the time we get to the chorus, all thoughts of Autograph 1.0 are gone, and we are treated to yet another lively, blues-tinged rocker with a catchy hook and one more really good, fret-tapping solo from Lynch who, in particular, sounds extremely energized with this reinvention of the band.  Daniels works slightly higher in his range here and handles it well, although I think the lower end of his vocals is where he does his best work.  All in all, a fifth new song that is a worthy addition to not only the record but also to the band's catalog.

Of course, I would be remiss if I didn't mention the live version of "Turn Up The Radio" that is included here (and on the EP).  Rather than relying on the keyboards of the original, this new, live version feeds off the bass of Rand and the interplay between Daniels and the crowd.  I'm not 100% positive that there aren't some pre-recorded keys in the live mix here, but a lot of the keyboard work of the original is replaced by the second guitar that Daniels brings to the group.  Speaking of the new vocalist, kudos has to be given to him for not trying to sound like Plunkett, which would be virtually impossible to do as the two men have very little in common as far as style and range.  I know it is likely heresy to say this, but I actually prefer this live version to the classic at this point, as it sounds alive again, and not old and tired after 10,000 plays throughout the years.

Perhaps that alive feeling is the real crowning achievement for Get Off Your Ass.  The band sounds fresh, they sound like they are having fun, and they aren't trying to live off of past formulas for any success this album may or may not find.  This Autograph is doing things their own way, in spite of the well-known name attached to the band.  The new songs here meld perfectly with the carryovers from the EP, and the addition of the live rendition of the band's pinnacle moment ties the whole package together, bringing the past forward to meet the present.  Honestly, my expectations for Get Off Your Ass were decidedly low, so maybe my impression of this record skews a bit higher than it might otherwise, but I find myself really, REALLY liking this record more and more with each spin.  While likely not album of the year, Get Off Your Ass has to be in the running for comeback album of the year, and Autograph may be the surprise band of the year for me.  

Rating:  For me, its impossible not to crank Get Off Your Ass!  Give it an 8.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

UNRULY CHILD "Can't Go Home"

(c) 2017 Frontiers Records

  1. The Only One
  2. Four Eleven
  3. Driving Into The Future
  4. Get On Top
  5. See If She Floats
  6. She Can't Go Home
  7. Point Of View
  8. Ice Cold Sunshine
  9. When Love Is Here
  10. Sunlit Sky
  11. Someday Somehow
Marcie Free--Lead Vocals
Bruce Gowdy--Guitars, Bass, Drums, Backing Vocals
Larry Antonio--Bass
Jay Schellen--Drums
Guy Allison--Keys, Bass, Drums, Backing Vocals

Unruly Child returns for their sixth proper studio album (along with one demos collection, 2002's The Basement).  All of the original players from the stellar 1992 self-titled debut return once again, so I was particularly excited to give this one a spin, as I have enjoyed...to varying degrees...everything this incarnation of the band has put out. 

The album starts off with the led single, "The Only One".  Catchy right out of the gates, this track is a bit more directly a poppy-AOR track than a true melodic rocker, at least to my ears.  Free's vocals are still strong, and there's enough guitar-vs-keyboard tradeoff to keep me interested, but I can't help but hear bits of Fleetwood Mac's '77 classic "Go Your Own Way" in the vocals and the structure, which is not a good thing for me (can't stand Fleetwood Mac...sorry...hate me...).  Still, this isn't a bad track, and the Gowdy solo here is a tasty bit of guitar goodness, so the album seems to be off to a decent start.  Check it out below...



Things pick up in a big way for me with the darker, heavier, chunkier, "Four Eleven", as in having the 4-1-1 on someone.  Now this is more like it!  There are still plenty of layered vocals and some interesting musical ideas mixed in between the chorus sections, and a cool guitar solo from Gowdy really hearkens back to that debut record for me that I still hold in amazingly high regard (heck, I used a song from that debut album in my wedding!).  The keyboards are still present but in much more of a supporting role, and Free is particularly powerful in how she extends her exit from the final chorus.  Great stuff here.

"Driving Into The Future" brightens things back up a bit, but remains firmly in melodic rock territory.  Gowdy delivers another big, soaring solo, and Free adds a bit of rasp to her vocals here that again send me back to that first album. "Get On Top" scales the tempo back for the verse sections before building up a bit on the chorus sections.  This change in tempo is interesting and well-played, but the chorus itself finds itself in odd territory, somewhere between catchy and annoying.  Its a simple three-note progression on the three words of the chorus, and it is definitely is singable and catchy, but something about the tone and pitch of those three words just about grates on my brain after several listens.  I don't skip it because...well, I can't!  The rest of the vocal work from Free here is really strong, and Gowdy has some cool guitar work here, but if there was some way to take the edge off that "get on top!" portion of the chorus, I would gladly welcome suggestions.  

"See If She Floats", drifts back into solid mid-tempo goodness, with Gowdy beefing up the verse sections, while simultaneously letting the chorus sections remain a bit more open, utilizing acoustic guitars and softer keyboard undertones.  It reminds me of some of my favorite mid-tempo moments from The Storm's debut effort, which I also hold in very high esteem.  Good stuff, even if it isn't 100% what I anticipate from Unruly Child.

"She Can't Go Home" is the album's ballad moment, although it isn't a proper, lighter-in-the-air power ballad, but more of a slower-mid-tempo number that derives a lot of it's "softness" from the sentimentality of the lyrics.  The guitar riffs are simple in the verse sections, and even in the chorus, really, although there is some nice punch in the bridge section, giving the song a bit of a build up before it slides back down into the emotive chorus supported by some excellent backing vocals.

Returning to that self-titled debut once again, "Point Of View" reminds me a LOT of "On The Rise" in the way it's structured, but the instrumentation is different enough that it isn't a blatant rip-off.  The tempo is a definite pick-up from the last couple of tracks and its harder-edged nature gives the album a bit of a momentum boost heading into the final leg of the record.   Gowdy again delivers several nice, meaty guitar chunks to chew on, and the supporting vocals here are as powerful as anywhere else on the record.  The same can be said of the next two tracks, "Ice Cold Sunshine" and "When Love Was Here", both of which have MASSIVE layers of backing vocals that actually threaten to overpower the strong leads from Free.  "...Sunshine" intros with a futuristic sounding computer voice giving the listener instructions before it slips into that comfortable mid-tempo pace that so much of this record...and, really, much of the best Unruly Child material...finds itself settling into.  Gowdy's guitars keep this track from becoming too airy or fluffy, which could be a definite possibility with the way these backing vocals are stacked up sky high.  The same can be said for "When Love Was Here", which again lays on the saccharine in the backing vocal area, but a nice bass line and some nice supporting work from Allison on keys on a track where Gowdy's guitar isn't the central instrument.

"Sunlit Sky" finds the band in 70s prog territory, which is something they actually pull off very well.  Starting with a slowly building intro, the track is really driven by the progressive drum patterns and throbbing bass line, along with more Allison keyboard wiazrdry (sounds like he's rocking a classic Hammond in a couple of spots), and perfectly 70s-inspired backing vocals that sound like they were ripped right out of the Styx playbook.  I like the use of this track to act as a kind of change of pace to the rest of the record, but I'm not sure I could handle an entire album of this style of extremely-retro rock, no matter how well it's performed.

The album closes with another rocker in "Someday, Somehow".  Gowdy's guitars and Free's punchy vocals give a real boost to the rather repetitive and unimaginative chorus which gives me get the feeling that this may have been more of an add-on track than anything else here.  There's a definite clap-along quality to the track, to be sure, and the uptempo attitude is fun, but the fake crowd noise (What the heck is that doing in there?  Am I supposed to believe this is a live track?) is a definite turn-off for me.  My five-year-old loves the song, however, and as I said before, it has a catchiness to it that is impossible to deny.

As with so many Frontiers releases, the quality of the mix and production is going to be largely in the ear of the listener.  I like the way the album is produced, personally, as I think it is rather crisp with no obvious muddiness or instrumental domination, but I know some people don't think there's enough separation between the highs and lows in the mix.  Maybe my nearly 50-year-old ears don't have the EQ quality they once had, but I'm not hearing the flaws that some do, and there is definitely nothing here that makes me mark this album down quality-wise.

Rating:  Not the best record in their catalog, but probably Top 3 and still crankable.  Give "Can't Go Home" a 7.5

TEQUILA SUNRISE "Danger Zone"

(c) 2017 Perris Records

  1. Day By Day
  2. My Way Or The Highway
  3. Bad Side Of Love
  4. Stay On The Wild Side
  5. Danger Zone
  6. Coming Home
  7. She
  8. Carry On
  9. Risk It All
  10. Fallen Angels
Jorge Cortes--Lead Vocals
Ramon Blein--Guitars
Cecilio Sanchez-Robles--Guitars
Jesus Acosta--Bass
Ruben Santos--Drums

Tequila Sunrise is a new Spanish band that has a solid grip on the 80s hair metal sound, combining elements of Winger, Dokken, and even bands like Danger Danger and, in a few places, Mr. Big or 80s KISS (mostly in some of the song structures).  

The album kicks off in a near speed metal frenzy of guitar flash and flury, and I was seriously second-guessing the type of band I thought I was reviewing here!  Seriously, there is some note density on the intro to "Day By Day", and even more impressive is the clean way in which these guitars are played.  A similarly driving rhythm really kicks this song into high gear as Tequila Sunrise comes out all guns blazing, setting quite the tone for the album.

"My Way Or The Highway" would have been the radio hit for the band back in the 80s, as it has just enough pop to the song structure that I think it would have crossed over into Top 40 territory.  Highly melodic with a catchy guitar hook and big, "whoa"-styled backing vocals, "My Way..." pays definite homage to this band's days-gone-by heroes.  The guitar heroics continue here, as there is a tasty little solo thrown in before the bridge that fits perfectly with the melodic nature of the track.  I really wish I had a full CD to review here, rather than this digital copy, as I would love to give proper credit to the axe-slingers and their solo works, as they are top notch.

"Bad Side Of Love" has a sleazier, bump-and-grind type of rhythm, and Cortes vocals work particularly well here, not sounding quite as muffled by the production.  A bit edgy, a bit nasty, this mid-tempo track just kind of smolders along, building to yet another big, soulful solo, and a nice little vocal bridge leading into the final chorus.  

"Stay On The Wild Side" has a definite Mr. Big-collides-with-Bon Jovi feel to it, especially in the opening riffing, the shuffling groove set up by Acosta and Santos, and the nice, big backing vocals on the chorus sections.  This song is particularly catchy and fun, and is definitely one of my two or three favorites here, really giving me a nostalgic feel with the way the song is structured and performed.  I'm not sure who is doing the solos on this song, but they sound like they are being traded off between Blein and Sanchez-Robles, and there is some seriously fast string bending going on here!  The guys really sound like they are enjoying themselves here, and I'm betting this would be a great song to catch live!

The title track is another excellent rocker, with Cortes managing to rise above some of the production limitations of the record and really expand his range, pulling off some nice top-end screams.  The gang-shouted "Danger Zone!" chorus is fun, and the guitar work is top notch, as well.  

"She" is another Mr. Big-esque rocker that revs you up just before transitioning into the highly melodic "Carry On", which carries a lot of the sounds and stylings of today's melodic rockers.  The cool thing is that it slots in nicely here, not sticking out like a sore thumb or anything.  Yet again, we are treated to some nice guitar acrobatics, albeit a bit more restrained than in some of the other spots on the record.

"Risk It All" doesn't hold such guitar reservations, as there are all sorts of tricks and techniques employed on this high-energy rocker.  Once again, this is one of those songs that has a solid grasp on the 80s era as far as structure goes, but it has a bit more polish...and less rasp or grit...on the vocals than a lot of the 80s bands did.  Cortes definitely reminds me of someone with his vocal approach here (and throughout the album, really), but I'll be danged if I can put a finger on who he sounds like specifically.  Maybe it will come to me later.

The album closes with the very cliche-sounding "Fallen Angels", but it manages to close the album on a very solid note, not falling into the same-old-same-old trap that the well-worn title would seem to threaten.  One final time we get to hear the guitar wizardry of Sanchez-Robles and Blein, and Cortes is definitely well within his wheelhouse vocally here, sounding comfortable and in command.

I only have one real complaint about the album, and that is the production.  The vocal production here, specifically, is less-than-stellar, sounding a bit muffled in several places.  I really think the album would have benefited from having the lead vocals brightened up a bit in several songs, which I think would have given them that much more bounce and life.

All in all, I found myself really enjoying this record, and the talent is obviously there in large quantities, especially in the guitars and the vocals.  While the songwriting may come off as a bit cliched to many people, I found it to be a really fun nostalgia trip without the songs all sounding like rehashes of 80s classics.  In all honesty, I think this band could have been a player in the 80s/early 90s, as they have a definite feel for the songwriting, the structure, and the performances of that era.  Here's hoping for more from these talented Spaniards in the very near future!

Rating:  A definite cranker here, checking in at 8!

Monday, December 18, 2017

REBEL BEAT "Steel Dust"

(c) 2017 Pavement Music

  1. I'm The Law
  2. Swinging Around
  3. One Man
  4. Red Rock
  5. Steel Dust
  6. Melody
  7. Away 
  8. Ferguson
  9. Rain Check
  10. Braindown
  11. Dead President (Live)
  12. Rebel Beat (Live)
Yaroslav Vozvyshaev--Vocals
Stas Opitin--Guitars
Sergey Baybakov--Guitars
Vlad Voloshko--Drums
Slava Parshin--Bass

Hailing from Russia, Rebel Beat is a modern rock band that draws heavily from bands such as Linkin Park, Limp Bizkit, and even some Deftones in places. along with the most electronic moments of a newer band like Red, for most of the album, with doses of Red Hot Chili Peppers thrown into the mix.  While that may sound like an interesting mix, I'm hear to warn you, not all is as it might seem on Steel Dust, the debut album from this quintet.

The album starts off decently with "I'm The Law" as the band treads in familiar sounding territory, with the Linkin Park comparisons coming to the forefront almost immediately, with the industrial guitar approach and programmed elements laying a foundation for vocals that vary from rapped to sung.  There isn't anything that is ground-breaking here, and to be honest, this style is starting to become more and more dated sounding, but the song itself isn't bad, and the musical performances are decent.  "Swinging Around" is easily one of the catchiest songs on the album, and I would actually venture so far as to say I like it, although the rappish vocals do grate on my nerves a bit.  The music is interesting, however, with some hints of 90s alternative thrown in with the nu-metal style and the programmed elements.  "Melody" might be the most complete song on the record, and it is one that I could honestly hear getting serious rotation on modern rock radio, as it is the one that steers the hardest away from the rap-rock vocals, and uses the most aggressive riffing and drumming on the record.  Heck, I'll go so far as to say I like this song for what it is, and I think an entire record of this style of rock would be one that would likely sell fairly well.  Sadly, there isn't another moment on this entire record that matches this one as far as quality goes, and it's not really all that close....as in pretty much everything else here is just plain not good.

Oh, sure, there are hints of okayness in a couple of places.  "Red Rock" is a pretty good rocker, and the military-barked "left, right!" is a cool touch that is thrown into the mix, and the title track has a pretty decent bass line for an intro, and Vozvyshaev spends more time singing here than rapping, which is good.  However, there are few Fred Durst moments on parts of the verses, which is highly annoying, and the song lacks anything of any real musical value.

"Ferguson" is so nu-metal/hip hop that I can't even stomach it...which is odd, considering how bland it is, overall.  Part Rage Against The Machine, part Limp Bizkit, all garbage, this track is just mind-numbingly boring as these Russians try to make a political statement about an American incident.  Yawn. The police sirens in the background do nothing for the track, and the guitars are mundane and repetitive, with no real variation in tempo or tone, and absolutely nothing melodic about them.  Moving on...

"Rain Check" tries to jump-start the album again, but its modern-edged guitars and attitude actually comes across as rather tired and derivative.  Rather than incorporate something cool like, I don't know, an actual guitar solo, the song features several spots of electronic scratching (do they still call it scratching?) and programming that just suck the life out what could have possibly, at one time, been a semi-decent song.  And I don't know what the heck is going on with album-proper closer, "Braindown", as it uses 80s hip-hop beats...as in the programmed drums sound like something Sugarhill Gang or Grandmaster Flash might have used...to try to prop up more droning guitar riffing and programming that by this point have me seriously questioning why I haven't just shut this thing off already.   

The two live tracks here are pointless inclusions here, unless the band was just trying to show that they can sound every bit as boring live as they do on record.  At least the drumming sounds live on the live tracks, and the guitars have more bite to them than they do on the majority of the main album.  Vozvyshaev sounds fairly strained on the singing portions of the songs, particularly on "Dead President", and the backing vocals are out of key with the lead vocals, which just becomes a brain-ache.  The self-titled live track is absolutely horrid and is just a bunch of Dr. Seuss-sounding lyrical nonsense verses over the top of a bunch of random electronic noises, all leading to the big chorus of "Rebel Beat Rebel Beat, Rebel Rebel Rebel Beat", or some such nonsense...followed by acoustic guitars and some more Red Hot Chili Peppers-inspired vocals before we are treated to the inane chorus one more time.  My God why am I still listening to this?!

What blows my mind the most about this whole mish-mash is that is produced by...are you ready for this...Jack Russell.  Yeah, THAT Jack Russell, as in the Great White lead singer that is in my profile picture with me!  Never in a million years would I have predicted Jack sitting in the producer's chair on a project such as this, as it is so completely removed from anything he has ever done.  I guess I could hear him singing on a song like the semi-sorta-okay ballad, "Away" if he ever wanted to go in a modern rock direction, but other than that one possibility, which is admittedly a pretty decent stretch, there is nothing even remotely Jack Russell/Great White about this record...and really, nothing remotely good about it, either, other than "Melody".

Oh, Jack...why have you forsaken me...???

Overall, this record really lacks direction as it tries to bring in too many influences, many of which come across as tired and dated, and brings absolutely nothing new to the table.  "Melody" is a decent track, but I hope no one who hears it thinks it is an accurate representation of what the rest of Steel Dust sounds like, because it simply is not.  My fear is that people will hear that song, like it, and then actually buy this record, which would be a horrible waste of money and shelf space ( or hard-drive space if you're a digital type of music collector). 

 Rating:  Turn this thing down...WAY down...to a 3.