Thursday, November 24, 2011

This rocker is Kicking & Screaming, and it should get him the attention he deserves

Former Skid Row and Damnocracy frontman Sebastian Bach has just released his fourth solo album Kicking & Screaming. These 13 brand new tracks show off Bach's dynamic vocal talents and his ability to assemble the perfect combination of hard and heavy rockers along with some more sincere, heartfelt tracks.

The album starts off with its eponymous lead single "Kicking &Screaming". It is surely a fantastic way to start the album, as it is everything you would expect from a powerhouse such as Bach... and more! The guitar riffs go great with Bach's voice on this song, the lyrics fit well with his in-your-face personality, and it's really just an overall fantastic rock song.

The next track, "My Own Worst Enemy", is another heavy rocker. The vocals are highly theatrical, and Sebastian really explores his vocal range on it. The kick ass riff between the verses comes courtesy of Bach's guitarist Nick Sterling, who consistently does a great job on the whole album. The catchy chorus to "My Own Worst Enemy" almost has a power-pop feel to it, but it's still hard hitting.

"TunnelVision" features the work of eccentric guitar god John 5. It briefly starts out light and slow, but it instantly gets hard and heavy like most of the other tracks from Kicking & Screaming. Sebastian Bach makes use of his lower vocal range through some of this song, and steps up higher for the second verse. At this turning point, it's one of only a handful of moments that really sound like a Skid Row song. The gritty vocals leading into a killer scream after the second chorus and the exquisite John 5 guitar solo make this one of the more memorable tracks on the album.

The highly aggressive "Dirty Power" is autobiographical--it pretty much describes the reputation Sebastian has for being a notorious bad ass who's loud, explosive, and even getting himself into trouble. The nuance he adds to the ends of select words in this song adds an even more aggressive tone, as does the interesting groove during the bridge.

My favourite track from Kicking & Screaming has to be "Dream Forever"--which tells a tale of not wanting to live forever, because there is a certain peace that comes with being finished. It is heartfelt, emotional, and sincere, and it shows a more serious side of Sebastian Bach that rock fans generally don't get to see. He sings the lyric, "Think of all the things I could have been / just before I close my eyes", with such conviction! This song is very climactic, with the bridge of it being the most intense.

Another ballad of sorts is the album's finale, "Wishin'." It is somewhat slower than the previous one, and it is unusually sweet for something that's come Sebastian Bach. It has an acoustic intro and much softer vocals than any of the other songs from the album. In fact, Sebastian is nearly unrecognizable during the first few bars. It's a nice peaceful closer for an album that starts out so fiercely.

All in all, this album is great--It sounds current without trying too hard, and Bach's legendary vocals and his rock star attitude aren't forced either.

As I've said before, there are only a handful of times where it absolutely sounds like Skid Row. Bach's trademark vocals were a major part of Skid Row's sound and will always be a part of their legacy, so it would be nearly impossible for there to not be traces of the band's sound on this record. I thoroughly appreciate the fact that Kicking & Screaming is not an imitation Skid Row album--which is something that can unfortunately happen when a lead singer from a band goes solo--this album is truly Bach's own.

8 out of 10 stars

Frontiers Records/Riot! Entertainment

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Pushking recruits some rock legends to make a big introduction

They have been around since 1994, and they are popular in Russia, but few people outside of their native country have ever heard of Pushking. With many albums in both Russian and English, it's about damn time this great band was introduced to the rest of the world.

The World as We Love It is quite an interesting concept. It brings together 18 of the band's hit songs, which have been re-recorded as duets with some big name musicians. I'm usually not a big fan of when bands re-record their well-known songs, but if rock gods like Paul Stanley and Alice Cooper believe in this band enough to work with them, I shall give them my full attention.

After a 15-second intro of the band singing the album's title, the first two tracks on The World as We Love It are "Nightrider" and "It'll Be OK"--featuring Billy F. Gibbons of ZZ Top. "Nightrider" is a hugely energetic rock song with a driving beat. The parts leading up to the chorus take on a funky groove that adds a little something extra, making it more interesting than your usual Speedracer driving song.

Gibbons hands over some of his guitar duties to Nuno Bettencourt of Extreme for "It'll Be OK," but he continues to lend his gruff voice (and beard!) to The World as We Love It. This track is quite a bit different than the previous one. The band slows things down, incorporating more a bluesy feel. The song feels heavier, despite the fact that it's not as "hard and fast" as the last one too. Gibbons' vocals combined with Bettencourt's superb guitar work almost gives this song a Black Label Society quality.

I was highly impressed with Gibbons' vocal intensity on his two tracks. He still sounds so young and energetic, and it's great to see that side of him shine through by him collaborating with a much younger band like Pushking. There is even a music video for "It'll Be OK" featuring Billy, Nuno, and Pushking rocking out and kicking ass together.

The following track is "Troubled Love" featuring Alice Cooper and guitarist Keri Kelli. From the very first "Oh yeah!" this song absolutely screams Alice Cooper! I wish he would release it on one of his own albums. This hard rocker with a catchy chorus about a psycho girlfriend is fun, and it won't stay out of your head.

The very next song, "Stranger's Song", reminded me of a late '80s/early '90s Alice Cooper ballad, and during my first listen, I was willing to bet that Alice had contributed to another song on The World as We Love It. By the second verse, however, I could tell that it actually wasn't The Coop lending providing the vocals to this particular track--it was prolific rock and blues singer John Lawton who is famous for his work with the band Uriah Heep. Regardless, the vocals are great, but the highlight of this slow, dramatic ballad is Steve Stevens' guitar solo. It's crisp, clean, and clear, and helps to further the drama and story of this song.

There are several ballads on this album--most which are great and then a couple of which sound a bit dated if not cheesy. I've always liked Nazareth, but their ex-vocalist Dan McCafferty was handed some sappy love songs to sing. He's a talented guy, so he does well with what he was given.

One ballad that really stands out among the rest is the epic "My Reflections After Seeing the Schindler's List Movie".  Steve Vai plays guitar on this track, but there is no guest vocalist on this one. Pushking's vocalist, songwriter, and leader, Konstantin "Koha" Shustarev is on his own for this this one. He has a gruff, powerful voice much like Billy F. Gibbons--except he has a sweet Russian accent, adding a different flavor.

While the title is cumbersome, the song is exactly about the title says, "My Reflections After Seeing the Schindler's List Movie". The track is reminiscent of a more serious, thought provoking "Winds of Change" by The Scorpions--without the whistling. Instead, this reflection on the dark side of humanity (and changing it for the better) contains a beautiful chorus sung in Hebrew. It's absolutely gorgeous, but also illustrate the seriousness of Schindler's List and the horrors inflicted upon the Jewish people.

My favorite and the final track from The World as We Love It is "Kukarracha." It is the grand all-star finale to Pushking's 18-song introduction to the world. It features Paul Stanley (also on "Cut the Wire"), Glenn Hughes (who makes several appearances), and Steve Lukather.

I love this song because A) Paul f'n Stanley sings on it, B) It makes me grin from ear-to-ear, and C) The vocal harmonies are killer.

This hard rocking song is a about really being into this woman, despite her quirks and peculiarity. It's catchy chorus of, "Ku-ku-ku-ku-ku-ku yeah/ Ku-ku-ku-ku-ra-cha" is a lot of fun, and you can definitely hear the performers having fun in the studio on this one.

The World as We Love It features a ton of great songs. The songs themselves, performed by Pushking and their famous friends, are the main focus of the album. It shows everyone outside of Russia how good Pusking, especially Koha, are at songwriting. However, I am curious to hear an album performed entirely by Pushking to find out what they alone sound like on an assortment of songs.

Bringing together the rock royalty--including Graham Bonnet, Joe Lynn Turer, Jorn Lande, Udo Dirkschneider, and Joe Bonamossa, among others--was a brilliant strategy employed by Pushking and the producers to attract some attention to this project. With a number of diverse songs whose sounds change with each collaborating artist, there is no reason why The World as We Love It shouldn't gain Pushking that much-deserved attention it deserves.

8 out of 10 stars


Sunday, September 18, 2011

Mudvayne members work their magic on Nonpoint's latest release. Hellyeah!

Released in the U.S. last May, Miracle was unleashed on Australian audiences just this February as Nonpoint was gearing up to play the Soundwave Festival. For this newest album, Nonpoint has turned to Mudvayne and Hellyeah singer Chad Gray and guitarist Greg Tribbett to handle production duties. This team of Gray and Tribbett have heavily influenced Nonpoint to create a sound that is both unmistakable and undeniable.

Title track and lead single, "Miracle”, which features Gray as a guest vocalist, is lyrically about conflict and the "opponent" needing a miracle to save him from the fight. However, listeners wouldn't know this in the vocals, as Chad Gray and Nonpoint vocalist Elias Soriano sing together seamlessly--especially during the infectiously singable chorus. The opening riffs are pure no-nonsense hard rock, but the bridge leads back to Nonpoint's earlier nu-metal style.

"Frontlines”, which has been released as a single in The States, evokes an image of a battle. The steady beat that sneaks up in the song immediately takes listeners into a war--a violent inner struggle. This track begins slowly, with the vocals and guitars more delicate, but it gets more aggressive and intense as the battle goes on into the chorus.

While Miracle never completely slows down, it dabbles in some romance with "What You've Got for Me”. This song definitely isn't a ballad--the driving beat and bass line make that evident--but the chorus of "I wanna feel you, taste you, touch you”, is unbelievably sexy and shows a completely different side of Nonpoint's lyrics.

No stranger to cover songs, Nonpoint tackles Pantera's "5 Minutes Alone" on Miracle. On this track, the band's new guitarist Zach Broderick not only has to fill the shoes of his predecessor Andrew Goldman, he has to channel the "Dimebag" Darrell Abbott. He does very well achieving the former, but since few guitarists are as god-like as Dime, vocalist Soriano steps up to the plate to make this song as good as it is. The attitude of the frontman becomes the focus of the song for Nonpoint. Every time I listen to their take of "5 Minutes Alone”, I imagine a dynamic singer taking charge of a stage and completely owning a crowd of thousands with his swagger.

Closing out Miracle is the catchy "Lucky #13”. It's full of rock star attitude in its music and lyrics alike. This song is basically about being a Hell-raising maniac, and the lyrics contain imagery of a madman at the wheel of a dangerously fast car. The screaming guitar solo is quite impressive and a nice added bonus to such an overall fun song. When this song is over, don't think the fun stops there. There's a hidden track you don't want to miss!

Miracle is a solid album, and a huge part of its sound and feel was definitely cultivated by producers Chad Gray and Greg Tribbett of Mudvayne and Hellyeah. The record sounds like a more laid back, but still emotionally intense, version of something either of those bands would put out. Hellyeah's Stampede was one of my favourite albums of last year, and it is a great model for what hard rock should sound like--and the attitude it should convey--in this day and age. Nonpoint picked great producers who have really helped shape their sound and let them evolve from a nearly 15-year-old nu-metal band to a good hard rock band with wider appeal.

7 1/2 out of 10 stars

Warner Music Australia/Riot Entertainment

Thursday, September 08, 2011

White Collar Lies are spreading from the Emerald Isle

Irish rockers Kopek may have been together for nearly a decade, but this trio have only recently released their debut album to the masses.

White Collar Lies is a diverse album that contains elements of hard rock, blues, alternative, and just about every shade in between. It definitely sounds like a fresh modern rock record, but its edgy '60s/'70s retro feel makes it all the more interesting.

Kopek unleash the sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll right from the start.  Opener "Cocaine Chest Pains" just happens to be one of the album's more gutsy hard rock tracks. As the title suggests, the song is about cocaine, and it compares being addicted to falling in love with a woman. The lyrics seem to take a dismal view of the drug use, but the chorus along with the beat make this song quite catchy regardless. It's filled with heavy, distorted guitar riffs that give the song a raw vintage sound that's present through most of the album.

Kopek immediately slows down with their next song, title track "White Collar Lies." Compared to the in-your-face "Cocaine Chest Pains," it's not what I'd call a hard rocker. It is politically charged, heavy on emotion, and perhaps it would feel more at home on alt rock radio.

Even though this band calls Ireland home, I still feel like this song has a universal theme that resonates with me as someone from another country. Corruption, greed, economic collapse, unrest, and war are universal themes. The title "White Collar Lies" is a pretty good way to sum up that frustration with government and big business, no matter what corner of the world you're in.

It actually took awhile for this song to grow on me. At first, I found it to be kind of whiny and repetitive. I'm not big on political or "save the world" songs, and if I wanted to hear one, I'd gladly listen to something by Ireland's established rockers, U2. On further listens, I discovered a certain beauty in it--especially in Daniel Jordan's vocals. In the chorus, and the even more so in the bridge as the song escalates, Jordan gains intensity and sings with a heartbreaking plea.

My absolute favorite song from White Collar Lies is "Fever." It's one of the rockers, but its bluesy rhythm really gives it it's personality. This track is incredibly sexy, especially when it builds up to the chorus. Each time I hear "I bet your dying to show me Everything that you know I just can’t keep my hands off You give me fever," I wish I could be at a concert dancing with the hot rocker guy next to me.

The acoustic track "Sub Human" incorporates something you don't find every day in rock music--the didgeridoo. You read that right... I said didgeridoo. Oddly enough though, it works, and it works well. The instrument serves as the underlying hum to the acoustic guitar and vocals. The dark lyrics aren't political like those of "White Collar Lies," but they do vividly illustrate the hate and hypocrisy that exists in the world.

"Bring It on Home" retro rock style channels the Rolling Stones on steroids. (Which is an odd concept once you think about it, because steroids are probably the only drug Mick and Keith didn't indulge in during their heyday. Look how skinny those guys still are... they did a lot of stuff, but probably not the 'roids.)

This track's heavy bass line is something straight out of a danceable late '70s/early '80s Stones song. The vocal acrobatics really add something special to it too. Daniel Jordan beautifully accents certain lyrics with his airy falsetto but still maintains his gritty rocker composure through much of the song. The falsetto was a nice reminder of Justin Hawkins, the lead singer for one of my favorite, but unfortunately defunct bands, The Darkness.

Kopek's raw rock 'n' roll energy is intense enough for the serious subject matter that is offered in abundance on White Collar Lies, but they still know how to have fun with their lively, dance-worthy tracks. I thoroughly enjoyed this album, and I can't wait to hear what will come next from this band. As a fan of other "retro rockers"--those who overtly pay homage to their classic rock idols, I'm excited to see another band do this well and keep a unique identity in the process.

8 out of 10 stars

Red Label/Sony Music Australia

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Design the Skyline Debuts With "Nevaeh"

Design the Skyline debuts with ten new tracks... are they STILL the "worst band ever"?

I don't think I've ever Googled a band and found so much hate--then Victory Records signs Design the Skyline.

The experimental band from Corpus Christi, Texas, released a video earlier this year for their song "Surrounded by Silence" to a swarm of harsh criticism from metal fans and music bloggers all over. A columnist for a local indie newspaper The Portland Mercury even went so far as to ask the question, "Is Design the Skyline the 'worst band in the history of music'?" and followed it with, "[Their sound is] akin to the noise a litter of puppies would make if forcefully shoved through a wood chipper." Ouch!

The first song Design the Skyline unleashed onto the masses is not on their debut album Nevaeh, but I just had to watch the video for "Surrounded by Silence" to see what all the rage was about.

To even think about taking this song seriously, I had to listen to it without even making eye contact with the video. Design the Skyline has to be the most ridiculous looking band I've ever seen. The band members each had straight black emo hair (some with skunk stripes) covering at least one eye in a "the world is too cruel to look at" manner. The girly guys in their skinny jeans and neon colored accessories were just too painful to look at. However, the drummer was wearing a flannel shirt and had his long hair swinging all over as he pounded away. It was almost as if the band hired some random '90s grunge band drummer to stick out like a sore thumb. The band's look is beside the point, but it's definitely something Design the Skyline catches a lot of hell for.

The song in question begins with an electronic element, which the band uses heavily. Then the screaming vocals, pounding drums, and wailing guitars bring in a heavy metalcore flavor. It briefly sounds promising, then a whiny, melodic, Auto-Tuned chorus (well, it sounds like it's a chorus) kicks in. It's all downhill from there. The two vocalists begin to scream and growl on top of each other, and the electronics create what sounds like some bizarre techno metal remix. It's absolutely chaotic.

Now that I've seen and heard the worst possible thing that could come out of this band, it could get better--right?

"Crystal Swords Kill the Hordes" is the very metal sounding name of the album's opening track. It begins with beastly vocals that are surely not as whiny or screechy as the ones in "Surrounded by Silence." There is a heavy electronic element to the chorus, which is where the more melodic (but unfortunately pleading and whiny) vocals kick in. This stark contrast in vocals is due to Design the Skyline having two vocalists--Daniel "Dani Doom" Garza screams and wails as Eric Azure takes over on the lighter melodic choruses.

There is a small but interesting hip hop piece to "Crystal Swords Kill the Hordes." Every so often, one will notice something that sounds like record "scratching." The guitar and drum sounds get much better as the song progresses, and at the very end of this track, there is a fairly impressive guitar solo.

The lead single from Nevaeh is "Break Free From Your Life" which is quite different from the band's other attempt at a single. It begins with some feedback and heavy drums, then goes immediately into what almost sounds like 1990s pop-punk guitar riffs. When the vocals are added, Dani Doom and Azure alternate lyrics. The more melodic part of the chorus sounds like it has been Auto-Tuned, so this is sure to piss off a great deal of hard rock and heavy metal purists. Keyboards and electronic synthesizers can be great when used appropriately, but the Auto-Tune killed this track for me. This inspirational song about letting go of fear is upbeat, but it is far less heavy than many of the album's tracks.

Nevaeh includes two instrumentals--one of which is "Reverie." It starts off with a jazzy bassline and keyboard grove, but a slightly more "rock" vibe takes over in the middle when the heavier drumming is. There are also subtle electronic elements in the middle, and these elements become a lot more prominent as the song finishes. As the album's sixth track, "Reverie" is a huge change of pace from all the songs that come before it. The band's electronic programmers James "Keebler" Lemos (keyboards) Matt Ryan (also on guitar) really showed the diversity of their skills here.

One song that really did grab me is "Witch of the Woods." It is bombastic and traditionally metal sounding for the most part. The guitars and drums in the intro are loud and heavy, and so are the vocals! Even Eric Azure, who generally comes off as whiny to me, does a good job of shrieking in this song. I have to give him credit here for conveying the idea of a cackling old "Witch in the Woods." There are some electronic keyboard elements interspersed through out this song, but the great guitar-work courtesy of Matt Ryan and Julian "Reckless" Ibaniez is what stands out.

The album's final instrumental, title track "Nevaeh," wraps up the album. It is even further off the metal map than "Reverie." It's not bad though--I've just heard heavier music in massage parlors. Filled with the sound of an acoustic guitar and keyboards, it has a very relaxing, spa-like feel. Due to the frenzied energy that pours from this album, the band probably included this subdued song just so listeners could recover.

After listening to Design the Skyline's Nevaeh numerous times, I concede that they are probably not the "worst band ever," nor is their album the absolute worst ever. They and their album are certainly different and definitely not what I'm used to listening to for pleasure. There are a couple notable tracks that are worth revisiting such as "Witch in the Woods" and another hard rocker called "Under the Blood Driven Moon." Other than that, the coolest thing about this album is its cover with the bad ass bird of prey and the Pink Floyd-inspired prisms on it.

All jokes aside, I do admire this band for keeping on doing what they're doing and maintaining their diverse sound despite all the criticism. Design the Skyline is a very young band with all the time in the world to progress and find their best sound. This band has talent, but they are stuck in a place where the individual elements sound much better than the whole. As of right now, their debut Nevaeh just isn't something that will give them a wide appeal, but Design the Skyline may have the potential to gain some younger fans who could better relate to them and stand their musical chaos.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Nikki Sixx's wildly decadent life story continues to unfold on the latest Sixx A.M. album

Nearly four years after the release of The Heroin Diaries and its companion album The Heroin Diaries Soundtrack, Nikki Sixx has penned a new book, and his band Sixx A.M. is back with an album to go along with it--This is Gonna Hurt.

Like the band's previous album, This is Gonna Hurt is autobiographical for the Sixx A.M./Motley Crue bassist, Nikki Sixx. It doesn't retell the same sordid story of his heroin-fuelled excess, however. This album doesn't stick to as much of a storyline as the last either, being more about life during recovery rather than a drug-induced spiral out of control.

The album opens with "This is Gonna Hurt", which is definitely well-suited. The title says it all. It plainly illustrates the point that Nikki's path to recovery will not be easy. In fact, it will prove to be painful.

Don't think this track is hopeless though. It is actually uplifting--a "call to arms" as the lyrics say--as it is more about reclaiming life in the face of addiction rather than feeling sorry about it. This fist-pumping hard rocker draws the audience into a new phase of Sixx's life, not to mention this new phase of Sixx A.M.'s life as a band.

The opening riffs that set off This is Gonna Hurt are as much Motley Crue as they are Avenged Sevenfold. This marriage of an enduring classic sound to the relevance of the modern rock world is present on this song and on the entire album.

I love the theatrics presented in the next track, the album's lead single, "Lies of the Beautiful People." The opening lines, "Well this ain't no sideshow / This is the great unknown / This is the poison we take / Yeah..." gets me all stirred up no matter how many times I hear them. When James Michael sings "Yeah..." in his higher register and trails off, it is dramatic and chilling. The heavy guitar riffs from DJ Ashba perfectly complement this song about external beauty being a facade for something more sinister.

Though hard rock prevails throughout This is Gonna Hurt, tucked in the middle of this new album are the laid back "Sure Feels Right" and the sweet, sincere ballad "Smile".

"Sure Feels Right" paints the picture of driving through L.A. and thinking about that special someone who makes you so happy. This relaxed song has very rhythmic verses, almost like James Michael is talking his way through them--especially when he sings about the highway numbers. The chorus, however, is much smoother, reminiscent of a radio-ready Bon Jovi-esque number from the last decade. This song is quite different from anything I have ever heard from Sixx A.M., but it still struck a nerve with this rocker because I first heard this song while driving to meet the very special someone I recently met.

While "Sure Feels Right" is romantic in it's own right, "Smile" is definitely the sweetest song from This is Gonna Hurt. On this track, DJ Ashba slows it down by playing an acoustic guitar, and James Michael sings intensely and emotionally. "Smile" describes a joyous relationship that one seems to wait an entire lifetime for. The lyric "What's an angel like you, ever do with a devil like me?" is a question that often surrounds the romance between a hard living rockstar and his beautiful blonde actress girlfriend or wife. I'm sure that is something Nikki Sixx has encountered more than once.

My favourite hard and heavy track from the album is "Deadlihood". Dark, muffled vocals slowly introduce this song which builds into a roaring rocker. These effects give it a bit of a Mudvayne or Breaking Benjamin quality, and I could definitely imagine hearing this song on modern hard rock radio. The chorus is unbelievably catchy, and it would make a great single.

Closer to the album's end, "Help is on the Way" gives off more of an alt rock vibe than a metal one, adding to This is Gonna Hurt's diversity. In the intro and verses, a slight distortion of the vocals and the infectious "Dooo oooh oooh oooh" that emanates from the background, reminding me of something by The Killers.

This track is one of the most obviously autobiographical for Nikki Sixx. His previous flirtation with death is referenced--"And when I hear the sirens coming / My tempature begins to drop / I'm so unaware / That my heart's about to stop," followed by his newly discovered vulnerability and a need for help.

Nikki Sixx may be the leader of this band, and his name certainly stands out to give them credibility, but each member of Sixx A.M. shares songwriting credits. This helps to make each of the songs from This is Gonna Hurt stand out and become unique memorable in some fashion. This band has largely made its mark by writing songs based on Nikki's life, but has done so without sounding like a broken record or coming off as some kind of a gimmick. The autobiographical songs actually accomplish the opposite--they make the songs very real, heartfelt, and sincere.

8 1/2 out of 10 stars

Eleven Seven Music/Sony Music Australia
Sixx A.M. Music

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Theatrical intensity, heavy melodies and high emotions come together to create this modern metal masterpiece

Released in September of 2010, Flotsam & Jetsam's tenth studio album The Cold is impressive to say the least. In a time when many seasoned bands put out material that seems stale or contrived, these veteran thrashers prove they can break this ugly cycle.

While most of the tracks on The Cold feature consistent themes of being angry, let down, and left feeling alone, each song on this album stands out and instantly becomes ingrained in the listener's memory.

The opening number "Hypocrite" sets the stage for the emotions that are poured out for the duration of the record. It begins with an ominous keyboard intro and slow, clean vocals. Screaming guitars kick in, and a typical thrash style continues through the verses and the chorus. The vocals, although they become louder and faster, do not get lost in all the heaviness. Eric "A.K." Knutson's singing ability really shines on this album. Powerful drums and bass liven up the chanting of "hypocrite" that ends the choruses--making this song incredibly mosh-worthy.

The seven-and-a-half minute title track "The Cold" is climactic and theatrical, and sounds "big." It does not sound like something a thrash metal band would normally put out, because even the heaviest parts of the song aren't particularly fast. "The Cold" takes awhile to build up to the chorus, but when it does, it roars. The chorus is catchy, and the guitar solo is almost like something straight out of a power ballad. The sounds of someone shivering that come before the bridge do a wonderful job of conveying the atmosphere and the feeling of coldness.

"Blackened Eyes Staring" starts off with a bombastic, thrashing riff and a fast beat. Just before the chorus, a keyboard delivers a rapid melody that adds just a little something extra. The dark lyrics may be about a girl who is dead inside, but as "A.K." sings the words, "an evil little smile that gets me high," there is just something sinister and sexy about it.

"Better Off Dead" is truly an epic work, and it definitely stands out the most. As the album's centrepiece, this song succeeds at painting a perfect picture of desperation with its music and lyrics. Due to the intensity and subject matter of this track, it's almost like it could be Flotsam & Jetsam's modern take on "Fade to Black." Like The Cold's title track, "Better Off Dead" is also dramatic and climactic. Once again, "A.K." does a masterful job of powerfully delivering the lyrics, even adding some gritty snarls at the ends of the words. It's as if he's an actor delivering the lines of a play's most important scene on a stage. The note he holds out at the end is just killer!

Like the vocals, the guitar work on The Cold--courtesy of Michael Gilbert and Mark Simpson (who has since been replaced by original guitarist Ed Carlson)--is brilliant, especially on the title track. The explosive rhythms of this album would not have been complete without bassist Jason Ward and drummer Craig Nielsen.

I can't speak highly enough of this album. It has some great thrash metal moments, but it really transcends into all the sub-genres of hard rock and metal music. The melodic beauty combined with with the dark, sinister, and introspective moments really makes The Cold something special, in that will appeal to the ears and souls of most metal fans and not just those who are hardcore fans of "The Flotz."

10 out of 10 stars

Nuclear Blast Records/Riot! Entertainment

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

This Canadian band's debut EP is a time capsule back to heavy metal's heyday

Toronto's Skull Fist aren't kidding when they say, "We live for heavy metal, and we quest for world domination. We fight for glory and forever ride the beast!" Not only are those words plastered all over their MySpace page, but based on this band's sound, look, and attitude, you can tell these guys (and girl!) are metal to the core. Heavier than Metal is their debut EP, and Skull Fist set out to be just that. Their sound is a mix of power metal, New Wave of British Heavy Metal, and glam--and each song is filled to the brim with this retro metal thunder.

Opening track "Sign of the Warrior" has a major power metal feel to it; more so than the rest of the EP.  The vocals are screeching, the guitar riffs are crisp, and it's FAST! It really prepares the listener for all of the balls out metal that is to come.

I absolutely loved the title track "Heavier than Metal" immediately. The vocals aren't as high pitched as on the first number, except for in the chorus, when lead vocalist Jackie Slaughter sings the line, "heavier than metal for meeeee." I'm convinced those are some of the greatest notes to be sung and recorded in recent metal history. The guitar riffs and rhythm section of this track have a real NWOBHM sound to them.

"Ride the Beast" and "Blackout" are the reason I say this EP has a glam metal feel to it. They both remind me of the heavier earlier Motley Crüe stuff. In these songs, Jackie Slaughter sounds like a young Vince Neil--but much better, because he actually enunciates the lyrics. His "woahs" and "yeahs" are spot on. The guitar riffs and solos in both of these songs have an early Crue vibe to them as well, and "Ride the Beast" especially shows off drummer Alison Thunderland's thunderous skills.

EP ender "No False Metal" is definitely a huge middle finger to those bands out there who Skull Fist sees as "false" metal. It sums up this band's attitude-- they want the classic sound. Skull Fist obviously likes the vintage '80s metal, and they deliver that sound they laud so much.

As someone who is predominately into '80s metal, I find Skull Fist to be a promising new act. I will admit though, when I first saw their song titles and names (Sir Shred, anyone?), I was skeptical. I thought they might have been exaggerating and parodying the music and time period I hold so dear. But after intently listening to the Heavier Than Metal EP, I have I begun to take seriously their "denim and leather" attitude. This pure rock 'n 'roll attitude is sure to make their metal predecessors proud, and I hope it inspires a new generation of metalheads to create new classics.

9 out of 10 stars

Skull Fist on MySpace

Friday, June 10, 2011

Thursday, April 21, 2011

"Sounds like all your favourite bands!"? Let’s see about that

I recently spoke to a friend who referred to the metalcore sub-genre as "emotional death metal”. After several listens to Farewell to Freeway's latest release Filthy Habits, I can see why he said that. While the sounds began to paint a musical picture inside my head, I've picked up on elements of death metal such as the overall heaviness of guitar riffs, harsh vocals, and pounding drums.  I've also noticed that metalcore generally contains elements not heard in your traditional death metal. For instance, Farewell to Freeway uses two vocalists. Adam Lambert (not to be confused with the glam pop-rocker of the same name) is the main vocalist, and guitarist Chris Lambert share vocal duties.  The vocals can be harsh, but they can become highly melodic and "clean" in an instant. Melodic guitar riffs seem layered on top of the blazing heavy riffs, the songs are angsty, and in Farewell to Freeway's case, the song titles themselves are more humorous or ironic than dark.

The album's opener "Liquor? I Don't Even Know 'Er" begins with a retro sounding feedback effect followed by a heavy bass line and drum sequence. The amp feedback especially makes "Liquor? I Don't Even Know 'Er" very memorable as the lead-off song. As the "liquor" in the title suggests, this track is a tale of drinking to the point where you can finally bear to have sex with someone you feel like you don't even know.  I thought it was extremely clever of the band to include a brief breakdown immediately after the lyric, "Night after night /Maybe we could break it down”. In addition to the intro and musical qualities that make this song memorable, the emotional lyrics and the angry, heavy riffs that paint the picture of the relationship struggle set the tone for the rest Farewell to Freeway's Filthy Habits.

"Usurper" is another standout track, and it became an instant favourite during my first listen to Filthy Habits.  It has quite a complex melody featuring a higher pitched guitar riff over the rest of the much heavier instrumentation. I really like the feel of this one, with its aggressive lyrics and a rhythm that's perfect for moshing.

Another unique touch to Filthy Habits is the slower instrumental track "Bones and Tissue" that falls near the middle of the album. It is brief, but it offers a nice change of pace--almost relaxing--after hearing the wailing vocals, blast of the drumming, and insane guitar riffs.

"Dharma's a Bitch" is one of Farewell to Freeway's songs with a title that shows of the band's sense of humor and irony. I've always heard that karma's a bitch, but apparently Dharma is one too! This tracks starts out heavy on the cymbals with some lighter drumming along with it. The clean vocals are probably used more on this song than any other song on Filthy Habits. This almost makes it "catchy", but sometimes I feel like the singer gets a bit whiny too on this one when he's not screaming. With all the songs on this album about life experiences, love, and personal relationships gone bad, I sort of expected for even the clean vocals to be sung with power and an angry confidence.

Another one of my personal favourite tracks from Filthy Habits is "Token Ain't Weezy”. Although I first thought the intro riff sounds a lot like Framing Hanley's cover of "Lollipop," that shouldn't fool you into thinking the rest sounds like it too. This song has a great beat for the moshpit, but it has several changes of pace--ranging from the heaviest metal to the most chilled out rock.

When comparing this album to the works of the more established metalcore bands, Farewell to Freeway has the potential to join their ranks. I don't think this band or album would be the best at explaining "this is what all metalcore is supposed to be like," but I think both perfectly illustrate the diversity among all the bands that exist in this popular--and still growing--area of metal. Farewell to Freeway's Filthy Habits should not disappoint for fans of melodic metal that are looking for a unique spin on their usual fare. I especially recommend it to those who are into bands such as Shadows Fall and All that Remains.

7 out of 10 stars

Victory Records/Riot! Entertainment

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

One California band is bringing a rich and diverse brand of metal to the masses

The Warriors are getting ready to release their fourth album See How You Are just as they set out on their North American Tour with The Ghost Inside, Set Your Goals, and Australia's own Parkway Drive. On their second release for the Victory/Riot label The Warriors prove once again their brand of metallic hardcore is relevant in an era where more melodic subgenres such as metalcore dominate the heavy rock scene.

The title track "See How You Are" is the very brief but memorable album opener. It begins slowly and quietly, but it gradually builds up to a heavy, angry song. I like the effect with the backing vocals during the chorus, which is one of the many "retro" or classic hard rock elements that appear on this album. You can almost picture this band sitting around, listening to Def Leppard as teenagers and thinking, "This is cool, but how can we make this stuff heavier?"

When "See How You Are" abruptly ends, my immediate favorite track from this album, "The War Unseen", begins. The intro riff is fantastic, and before the middle of the song hits, a Slayer-esque feel takes over the song. I think it may be the bass line and the fact that lead vocalist Marshall Lichtenwaldt channels the heavier side of Tom Araya into his singing. The "hey, hey" part of the chorus is extremely energetic, and it takes me directly to a Warriors live show on my first listen to See How You Are.

"Mental Chains" is probably the next biggest stand-out track, and it really changes the pace of the album. It has a hard and fast intro with a straight-up, ass-kicking hard rock vibe. After the intro, you can definitely hear The Warriors go back to their early days with the Rage Against the Machine-influenced groove that takes over this song.

After a few tracks, including the Hellyeah-on-roids sounding "Here We Go Again", "Subirse El Muerto" brings the album back to the crossover thrash The Warriors are also known for. When I first heard "Subirse El Muerto", I was pleasantly surprised. I thought the song sounded like members of Slayer formed a hardcore punk band. Again, Marshall Lichtenwaldt looks to Tom Araya for vocal influence, but this time a throaty, shouting punk sound takes over. This all may sound odd, but believe me - it works. This song is put together very well.

In fact, all of See How You Are is put together very well. The tracks are diverse, and many metal styles including thrash, groove, and hardcore come together to create this album. It also has some very classic hard rock riffs that seem to be styled after a wide array of bands all the way from metal acts such as Slayer and Pantera, hardcore punk bands like Black Flag, and alternative rap-rockers Rage Against the Machine.

While some of the songs - namely "The Enforcer" (it does have some intense lyrics, and I love the Judas Priest-sounding title!) and "Seize the Fire" - come off as monotonous and repetitive, I think this heavy album has something on it for rock fans who are into many musical styles and like to see creative fusions of them.

7 1/2 out of 10 stars

Victory Records/Riot! Entertainment
The Warriors on MySpace

Monday, January 17, 2011

10 Picks For '10

Here are my picks for the ten best albums of 2010. Several have already been reviewed by The Rock Maiden, so please check out previous posts for further details!
#1 and #2 (tied) Chasing the Grail By Fozzy & Order of the Black by Black Label Society
(Note: Maybe I'm completely biased toward these two bands, but I honestly can't pick between these two albums for who takes the number one spot. Both albums have had a major impact on me this year, and I think they show promise for hard rock and heavy metal albums for the coming decade.)

#3 Slash by Slash

#4 Nightmare by Avenged Sevenfold

#5 Stampede by Hellyeah

#6 Scream by Ozzy Osborne

#7 Hands All Over by Maroon 5
(Note: I know this isn't the usual fare that's covered on The Rock Maiden, but this upbeat pop-rock album was produced by the legendary Mutt Lange who is probably most famous for working with Def Leppard and AC/DC. It's a fun CD to pop in for a party due to its mass appeal, and it comes from one of the few bands I can tolerate and actually like when I'm forced to listen to Top 40 radio in somebody's car.)

#8 Black Country Communion by Black Country Communion

#9 The Gracious Few by The Gracious Few

#10 Dio at Donington UK: Live 1983 & 1987 by Dio
(Note: Although this double album was recorded live more than 20 years ago at two different Monsters of Rock festivals, it was not see the light of day until 2010--as the first official release on the late Ronnie Jame Dio's and wife Wendy's very own Niji Entertainment Group--to commemorate the life and death of the legendary metal singer.)