Monday, December 17, 2012

Dokken's latest offering is a pop metal powerhouse... and a whole lot more

Don Dokken's namesake band has just released its eleventh studio album, Broken Bones. Like its predecessors, Broken Bones features songs that are as hard and heavy as they are catchy. Along with this usual fare, the record contains some completely unexpected musical stylings.

The opener for Broken Bones is "Empire”. Its intro is fast and full of some very heavy guitar work. It sounds like classic Dokken right from the start. Don's vocals are perfectly dramatic and not overstated. Jon Levin--who will unfortunately always be known as George Lynch's "replacement"--provides a great guitar solo to kick off the album.

Title track "Broken Bones" immediately follows "Empire”. It has a deep, bass-heavy intro riff, and the low vocals have an almost mysterious quality to them. As the guitar becomes more prominent, the heavy bass line still looms throughout the song. While the chorus is a catchy one, this track has an overall dark sound. That shouldn't alienate Dokken fans though, because the underlying riff is highly reminiscent of "Dream Warriors" from Nightmare on Elm Street 3. The guitar solo from "Broken Bones" is much brighter compared the rest of the track, but it manages to fit in well.

I absolutely love the track "Victim of the Crime”. It has a trippy Eastern vibe and really reminds me of the stuff from Def Leppard's 1996 album Slang. It even contains some Leppard-esque backing vocals. "Victim of the Crime" is quite different from most of the songs from Broken Bones, but it still contains those powerful guitar riffs that Dokken is known for.

"Today" is a slower song with acoustic flavors. It almost has a '70s folksy rock style with its lyrics, vocals, and great harmonies. This track is even more different and surprising than "Victim of the Crime”. It's totally unexpected from a hard rock band like Dokken, but I must say I really dig it. It was a very ballsy move to include this on a metal record!

The track "For the Last Time" begins as an acoustic ballad--or what you think is going to be one. As the electric guitar joins in, it quickly becomes a hard rock song in the vein of classic Dokken. Not only that, the chorus of "For the Last Time" contains some nice harmonies and backing vocals to enhance this classic feel.

"Tonight", the final track from Broken Bones, features some ferocious metal riffs in the intro and the verses. The forceful rhythm and the smooth, yet powerful vocals lend this song its classic metal essence. The chorus with the lyric, "Tonight when I close my eyes…” has more of a pop rock sound, but it definitely still has a punch to it.

Dokken's Broken Bones contains many hard and heavy tracks, along with some very unique and unexpected moments. This band has done a fantastic job of bringing together a variety of rock, metal, and catchy pop styles to create an unmistakable sound that has continued to evolve from the 1980s to now.

7 out of 10 stars

Frontiers Records/Riot! Entertainment
Dokken Central

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Fozzy is still chasing rock and roll glory with 'Sin and Bones'

The words "growth" and "maturity" do not even begin to describe the musical partnership of Chris Jericho and Rich Ward. For a band that began its career doing mostly cover songs, Fozzy has exceeded critics' and fans' expectations alike by creating fantastic albums filled with solid original material.

Fozzy really started to gain a lot of momentum with the release of 2010's Chasing the Grail. From day one, it has absolutely been one of my favourite albums, if not my all time favourite. The band's musical talent and song-writing abilities--especially those of guitarist Rich Ward--could definitely not be questioned. But I kept asking myself this: "How could this album that I've been holding in such a high regard for the last two and a half years be topped?" The answer: Sin and Bones.

From the very moment I pressed play on Sin and Bones I was fascinated. The album's nightmarish opener, "Spider in My Mouth", begins with some creepy white noise much like a radio tuning in. Then suddenly, a music box starts playing the nursery rhyme "Itsy Bitsy Spider". As if it couldn't get any eerier, a child's voice singing the line, "Itsy bitsy spider crawled in my mouth again" joins the creepiness. Then the guitar hits, but it seems far away. The music feels like it is moving closer as it reaches its full volume. From beginning to end, the lyrics are macabre and graphic, describing a scenario fit for a horror movie. Musically, "Spider in My Mouth" is really heavy, especially during the verses. The choruses are much more melodic and very memorable. Jericho's vocals are powerful, and the guitar riffs are intense--complete with that signature Rich Ward growl. Frank Fontsere's drumming is absolutely thunderous--especially toward the very end. I can't imagine a better way to start an album!

Sin and Bones' lead single "Sandpaper"--which features guest vocals from M. Shadows of Avenged Sevenfold--comes next. Jericho's and Shadows's voices mesh so well that it is hard to tell where one ends and the other begins. This track cuts to the chase and is immediately heavy. It opens with the in-your-face chant of "A cat scratch / a whiplash / a witch hunt in black / SANDPAPER!" and the raging guitars of Ward and newcomer Billy Grey start to wail. This track is awesome, but it gets even better during the second verse. Jericho's emphasis on certain words keeps things interesting, and the bass line--courtesy another Fozzy newcomer, Paul DiLeo--is phenomenal. It is deep, heavy, and prominent, and it reminds me of something you'd find on KISS's Lick It Up record. "Sandpaper" features yet another one of the melodic choruses that Fozzy is known for, but this time, the notes come together in such a way that it briefly gives the song a prog metal-ish Dream Theater feel.

My favourite track from Sin and Bones is "Inside My Head". It's definitely not the hardest or heaviest musically, but this song--with lyrics about being trapped by unwelcome thoughts from a dark past--is deep and emotionally heavy. Chris Jericho's use of his lower register and the addition of more grittiness to his vocal performance really helps to further this song's darkness. Despite this perceived darkness, however, the chorus has a catchy rhyme scheme, and the bridge contains some Def Leppard-esque backing vocals.

"Dark Passenger" is one of two tracks co-written by Terry Chism, the singer for Rich Ward's Christian band, Walking With Kings. This song is also one that tells a story--one about being possessed and becoming someone other than yourself whom you despise. "Dark Passenger" begins with a piano and a subtle string arrangement. The sound becomes more layered as the guitar is added in. The opening line "Jesus is my co-pilot, or that's just what they say / but it's not the savior who guides me every day" conjures up religious imagery and introduces the theme of the possessed soul. The lyrics that lead up to the chorus, "Tick tock / it's only a matter of time," and they way they are sung really remind me of the song "It's a Lie" from the band's album All That Remains.

Sin and Bones ends with the eleven and a half minute "Storm the Beaches", also co-written by Chism. This finale is epic, not unlike "Wormwood" from Chasing the Grail. This is certainly not your typical verse/chorus/verse song. Actually, it's like a whole bunch of songs rolled up into one, but it all comes together and makes sense. "Storm the Beaches," as the title suggests, tells the story of a young soldier storming the Beaches of Normandy during World War II. The story is told in five acts, and it plays out much like a dramatic movie.

Because "Storm the Beaches" tells a story in acts, many different things are happening musically. The song begins with Chris Jericho reading the soldier's diary entry over piano. Soon after, the guitars hit, and the song becomes very hard and rhythmic. The vocals are rapid and extremely rhythmic as well.  In this aspect, the song is a lot like "Martyr No More" from Chasing the Grail. Like most of Fozzy's other songs, "Storm the Beaches" features a melodic chorus to accompany the heavy riffs. This song's  chorus really stands out, as it features the death metal-ish grunt of "first to go / last to know" followed by a bright and bombastic Children of Bodom-like keyboard arrangement. Another stand-out segment of this song is the mixture of woodwinds and the snare drum to create the feel of marching. I definitely see a trend here with Fozzy ending both Chasing the Grail and Sin and Bones on such an epic note, and I really look forward to what masterpiece they'll come up with for their next album.

Up until now, I didn't think Chasing the Grail could be equalled, but it certainly has. Sin and Bones is the perfect balance of heaviness and melody and classic and contemporary. It has been so thrilling to hear Fozzy develop their own unique sound and become what is now one of the great modern metal bands.

9 out of 10 stars

Century Media Records

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Emotional rockers The Used show their 'Vulnerable' side

Utah's The Used is back on the scene with their fifth studio album, Vulnerable--their first since 2009's Artwork. It was produced by Goldfinger's John Feldmann who is also responsible for producing The Used's first three albums. Vulnerable contains a similar balance of hard rock and emotional pop as the band's previous albums, but one thing that sets it apart musically is the prominent use of electronic beats and effects.

The aptly named opener "I Come Alive" is dramatic and full of life. Big and theatrical, it features an eerie choral arrangement sound accompanied by an electronic bell or chime effect. By the time Bert McCracken's vocals hit, the song takes on a more guitar-oriented rock sound. The electronics briefly come back after the first chorus, along with a very interesting dubstep-esque segment. The rock returns for the second verse and the remainder of the track.

"Shine" is one of the "poppier" tracks from Vulnerable. I wasn't a huge fan of the vocals in the beginning of it, as they seemed a bit whiny for my taste. However, the empowering and uplifting chorus of, "It's my time to shine / do it my way / 'cause it's my time baby!" totally makes up for it. A laid back, groovy bridge contrasts with the upbeat chorus. The song's verses feature many electronic elements, but the chorus gets its liveliness from the guitar.

One of the harder and heavier tracks from Vulnerable is "Now That You're Dead", in which electronic artist William Control contributes. It has a slow but heavy intro and begins with a female speaking voice that sounds as if it's been taken from an old movie clip. "Now That You're Dead" contains harsher vocals compared to most of the album. They are coarse and gruff and often screamed, rather than the often utilized bright, emo-pop sound. This particular song sounds pretty impressive to this metalhead. It was almost unexpected and sounds like it would come from a band like, say, Papa Roach.

"Kiss It Goodbye" is another hard rocker from Vulnerable. It features a drum and guitar-heavy intro with subtle electronic elements. The bass line is heavy, and the vocals are coarse, yet muffled. This song is strangely catchy, and what is even more strange is the very end of the track. The last few seconds of "Kiss It Goodbye" boast the phrase, "It's getting, it's getting, it's getting kinda hectic" repeated in an almost beatbox manner over some electronic beats.

Vulnerable's final track is the edgy pop masterpiece "Together Burning Bright." Rather than electronics or a hard rock guitar, the piano is most prominent on this one. The chorus of, "I think it's gonna be alright / I think it's gonna be ok" is  highly infectious and reminiscent of GOOD '70s pop/rock music in the vein of Elton John or John Lennon. "Together Burning Bright" is a fantastic ending for the album. It is very soothing after all the ups and downs of emotions--and the ranges of musical styles--that are present across the album and within each song. Even though I was nicely surprised by some of the harder rock tracks, this one is without a doubt my favorite. It is sincere and flat out pleasant to listen to.

From beginning to end, Vulnerable features a wide array of musical styles. There's pop, hard rock, electronica, and even some dubstep thrown in.  I would recommend The Used's Vulnerable to heavy music fans who aren't afraid of having some electronic elements mixed in with their rock, or rockers who are just looking for something kind of different. The Used's label of "emo" made me hesitant at first, but after a couple of listens, Vulnerable really grew on me. Their lyrics and musical expressions did reveal a wide range of emotions, but it never once brought me down or became unenjoyable.

7 out of 10 stars

Hopeless Records

Thursday, September 06, 2012

A team of rockers assembles for The Avengers movie soundtrack

The season's biggest blockbuster is complete with an explosive hard rock soundtrack. Marvel Avengers Assemble contains music from and inspired by the film and is spearheaded by the brand new Soundgarden song "Live to Rise".

"Live to Rise"--the theme song for The Avengers--is Soundgarden's first new song in 15 years. It boasts a mature sound for the recently reunited band, but it is still very much in the realm of the sound they are most known for. The song fits so well with the plot of The Avengers, but it stands on its own as well. The lyrics are emotional and contemplative, yet the song is hard rocking enough to fit such an action packed movie. "Live to Rise" is the only song on the soundtrack to actually be in the film, but that doesn't stop the rest of the tracks from keeping with its theme.

The following track is "I'm Alive", Shinedown's contribution to Marvel Avengers Assemble. The boldness of the guitar riffs and the lyrics--which are about saving someone--are especially fitting for the movie. My only disappointment is that this song was not featured in The Avengers! "I'm Alive" contains all of the intensity and passion one can only expect from Shinedown, and I honestly believe their music would translate very well to film.

"Unbroken" by Black Veil Brides full of energy, much like The Avengers, and is filled with classic metal sounding riffs. It has gravelly vocals, a blistering guitar solo, and the chorus is backed by what sounds like an eerie choral arrangement. This catchy track with lyrics like "If we stand together / we will be unbroken" really sums up movie in the simplest of terms.

Bush's "Into the Blue" is quite unique and begins to break from the other songs from the soundtrack. The choruses are very much hard rock, but the verses are set to a super laid back guitar and bass groove, making it almost feel like a Cure song.

"From Out of Nowhere" by Five Finger Death Punch is arguably the hardest and fastest song on Marvel Avengers Assemble. The intro riffs are especially heavy, evoking an image of Thor swinging his hammer--creating a perfect addition to the soundtrack.

The international (outside of North America) release of Marvel Avengers Assemble features a bonus track, "Pistols at Dawn" by Kasabian. Much like the Bush track, it veers from most of the other songs, but even more so. "Pistols at Dawn" has a certain '60s/early '70s sound. The fuzzy, distorted, feedback-laden song is slow and definitely has a "stoner rock" feel. This track is great, yet so different from all the other songs from Marvel Avengers Assemble.

Other bands and artists with tracks featured on Avengers Assemble include Rise Against, Papa Roach, Scott Weiland, Redlight King, Evanescence, Pusherjones, Buckcherry, and Cherri Bomb.

Marvel Avengers Assemble is a fantastic album and complements The Avengers film very well. It is a very cohesive soundtrack. The songs that aren't even in the movie are still consistent with the film's theme and message. Each each song invokes a certain image of the movie, and the lyrical themes about banding together to save the world really help The Avengers stick with you long after leaving the theatre.

8 out of 10 stars

Hollywood/Marvel Music
Official Soundtrack Website

Friday, July 06, 2012

Guitar legend Slash shows fans some 'Apocalyptic Love’

The wait is over for Apocalyptic Love--the much anticipated follow up to 2010's Slash. Rock and metal fans should remember this as the debut solo album which featured a wild array of vocalists, one being Alterbridge's Myles Kennedy. This time around, Slash has chosen Kennedy to sing on each of the 13 tracks. He also plays rhythm guitar with the band who has become known as The Conspirators.

The album's opener is "Apocalyptic Love", the highly sexy track with lyrics about spending the end of the world making love. A groovy "wah-wah" effect is present throughout entire song, permeating the guitar solo. The vocals are intense right from the start, as Kennedy sings in his higher register. This hard rocker slows down at the bridge, which offers an interesting change of pace.

"You're a Lie"--which is getting considerable radio airplay stateside--has the classic "Slash sound"--gritty but modern vocals, and plenty of attitude. The ultra heavy guitar intro is very suitable for Slash. Myles Kennedy's vocals start out lower, gradually get slightly higher in the chorus, and then return to low in verses. The song's lyrics about finally cutting somebody off who has wronged you and let you down really resonated with me and will touch a lot of listeners.

The following track, "No More Heroes", has an underlying riff that contains what I like to call the very noticeable "blistering Slash tone". On this song and many of the others Kennedy's vocals range from delicate to intense. "No More Heroes" is instantly memorable, especially the ends of the verses and how they lead into the chorus containing the lyrics, "when your heroes turn to the enemy".

One of Apocalyptic Love's standout tracks is "Halo". It has a guitar and cymbal-heavy intro that quickly turns into a real driving force. When the vocals hit, the song begins to sound like a big seventies rock production. It is full of attitude and immense energy, and when Kennedy sings in his higher register, the song is dramatic and captivating. I honestly believe this guy is the next Steven Tyler!

Slash switches to an acoustic guitar for the beginning of "Anastasia" but soon goes back electric. This track features blazing fast notes and high vocals. The chorus of "All my love Anastasia / Anastasia this could be our last goodbye" is extremely catchy and one of my favourites. The guitar solo on "Anastasia" is easily my favourite and also the longest. Those unique, lush tones sound like they could only come from Slash.

"Shots Fired" starts out slow and low, but it instantly becomes heavy and upbeat. It has a heavy rhythm guitar and bass line and yet another catchy chorus--one that would be perfect for a live crowd to sing along with. This aggressive, ultimately hard rocking track is a great way to round out the album.

Apocalyptic Love features the perfect matchup of Slash's legendary guitar playing and Myles Kennedy's fantastic vocal range. I am thrilled that Kennedy was selected to sing on this entire record, as the tracks he sang on 2010's Slash were arguably the best.

Slash is still heading in a great direction with Apocalyptic Love, and I really hope it continues. He is definitely making his mark outside of the Guns N' Roses realm and has released more new music, and most importantly higher quality music, than Axl or his other peers.

8 1/2 out of 10 stars

(Dik Hayd International/Sony Music Australia)

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Finally... The first "Maidengreen"!

from Night Ranger's "Sister Christian"...

The real lyric:  Motorin' / What's your price for flight?

Me:  Motorhead / What's your price for flight?

Fates Warning re-releases another album with remastered tracks and loads of extras

In 2010, Fates Warning delivered a special remastered version of their highly successful album Parallels. Now, the band is back with their re-release of the Parallels follow-up, Inside Out.

Like its predecessor, the remastered Inside Out comes with a plethora of bonus material--some of it previously unreleased. Since Inside Out was first released in 1994, I immediately decided to put my main focus on this bonus material. The original ten tracks of Inside Out have probably been reviewed hundreds of times, so I'll leave those alone. I will say this though; the remaster does sound great and is not far removed from the original.

The extras from Inside Out include the live versions of "Outside Looking In", "Down to the Wire", and "Face the Fear". There are also live performances of the Parallels tracks "The Eleventh Hour" and "Point of View". I really enjoyed the live version of "Outside Looking In". Ray Alder's vocal abilities shined through and remained intense throughout the entire song. Also, I like the drumming on this version more so than I do on the studio version. For whatever reason, there seems to be a distracting sound in the drumming on the studio track. It is much less apparent on this live recording--making an otherwise amazing song even better. The rest of the live tracks are decent. The instrumental parts of the songs sound fantastic, but almost too fantastic. The vocals are often overpowered and at times difficult to understand. In the slower, more delicate parts of "The Eleventh Hour," the vocals are pretty clear.

Following the live material are the demo versions of some of the Inside Out tracks. For the most part, the demos sound a lot like the finished products the fans are used to hearing. However, there are some subtle differences and little nuances that one may pick up on. For instance, on the "Outside Looking In" demo, there is a creepy echo in the very beginning of the first verse. It sounds kind of cool, but it sadly didn't make the final cut. There is also a demo of my favourite song from the album, "Shelter Me". It is very similar to the album version, but it is about a minute longer. Some parts of it--especially the intro--sound like they might be a bit lighter and more ethereal.  

One demo that breaks away from this pattern is "Face the Fear". It is quite a bit longer than the final version, and it is an instrumental. It is very different from the version that made the final cut of Inside Out, but you can definitely hear the framework for a great song. 

If the bonus audio material wasn't enough, this re-release of Inside Out includes a DVD. Inside Out Live has concert footage of nearly every track from the album. There are also live versions additional Fates Warning songs and more--such as a performance of "Guardian" featuring Mike Portnoy and a rare MTV Europe interview from 1994.

Oftentimes, when a band remasters or re-releases a classic album, it is hard for even the most diehard of fans to think about spending the money on something they probably already own. This really isn't the case for Fates Warning and Inside Out. This remastered version is enormously expanded and contains so many extra sights and sounds that Fates Warning and progressive metal fans will greatly appreciate.

7 1/2 out of 10 stars

(Metal Blade Records/Riot! Entertainment)

Terry Ilous steps up to the plate and brings real intensity and rock and roll grit to Great White

After a split with long time vocalist and founding member Jack Russell, Great White--with original guitarist Mark Kendall--is back with their 12th studio album Elation.

Elation's first track "(I've Got) Something for You" begins with a rapid drumming intro and a real driving rhythm that lasts throughout the song--which is about a one-night stand. It maintains Great White's classic bluesy sound with an added '60s or '70s rock vibe, and Terry Ilous's vocals mesh really well right from the start.

The following song "Feelin' So Much Better" is quite a bit heavier than the first track. The vocals, especially the backing vocals, sound very much "80s"--but with a modern twist. The guitar solo, with it's killer sustain, is fantastic!

Another hard rocker with the '80s feel is "Just for Tonight." It features a heavy bass line, especially in the chorus. The vocals are quite sexy, especially the lyric of "lay down just for tonight"--which is sung with a lot of attitude. This track also has a the modern sound, but I could still imagine it having an '80s style video, complete with a "video vixen."

The very blues-based "Love Train" is definitely not a cover of the soul classic! Great White's "Love Train," which is heavy on the harmonica, evokes an image of an old southern railroad. I instantly enjoyed the down and dirty groove that accompanies the "welcome to the love train" lyric in the backing vocals.

"Hard to Say Goodbye" is Elation's first ballad. It features the acoustic guitar, and I absolutely love how the intense and emotional vocals contrast with the softer vocals in many parts of the song. The guitar solo is highly electric, and the mellow backing vocals at the end add a nice touch.

"Lowdown" really struck me as interesting. The intro riff is full of a heavy and low guitar and bass sound. It is almost as if it sounds like metal and blues all at these same time. This track, which is about a cheating wife or girlfriend, has some intense bluesy vocals and has a killer distorted hard rock guitar solo.

Elation is an enjoyable hard rock album. Great White has really stuck to their blues-based roots with this one. It contains a great mixture of upbeat rocking songs and acoustic ballads. Because Great White is known almost exclusively as an "80s band," I didn't really know what to expect from this 2012 album. However, I am quite impressed with it! It does not sound dated in the least, and I really think Terry Ilous is a great fit for the band. Elation is not what I would call "metal", but it does have some "hard and fast" moments that blues-loving metal fans are bound to appreciate.

7 out of 10 stars

(Frontiers Records/Riot! Entertainment)

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The Duke of Metal takes a "Leap of Faith" with his latest band

Rich "The Duke" Ward of Fozzy and Stuck Mojo fame met worship leader Terry Chism at Noonday Baptist Church in Marietta, Georgia, and after becoming part of the church's worship ministry himself, Rich decided to pursue a new musical project with Terry--one that "focuses on "focuses on contemporary rock styles, soaring vocal melodies, and bringing a positive message to a troubled world." With Christian rock bands such as Stryper and Skillet in mind, the two formed the band Walking With Kings and have released a self-titled debut album.

Walking With Kings' opening track "Mention of Your Name" rocks right from the very first riff, then goes into more of a laid-back pop groove. The chorus is catchy, yet inspirational, and I can't help but think of Jon Bon Jovi when I listen to Terry Chism sing. His vocals are crisp and clear, especially during the spirited "Hallelujah" part of in the song's bridge.

The second track, "Here I Stand", is quite a bit heavier and faster than the first. It prominently features keyboards, and the synth sound makes me imagine bombastic strobe lights. "Here I Stand" contains some muffled vocal effects, but there are some killer crystal clear notes that Terry Chism holds out--especially during the last part of the song. "Leap of Faith", the first single the band promoted with a video online, has a bluesy rock intro riff courtesy of Rich Ward and contains a wide vocal range from Terry Chism. What I really like about this song is how the "ballady" Dennis DeYoung type vocals contrast with the hard rock guitar instrumental, and not to mention the rapid drumming from Frank Fontsere. "Leap of Faith"--which is about taking chances to change for the better--is hugely inspirational, and the extensive "na-na-na's" make it so much fun.

"Autumn Brings" is definitely a divergence from the upbeat track "Leap of Faith" that comes before it. It begins with an operatic sounding choir that features a low, looming voice that subtly infiltrates the rest of the song. Instrumentally, the low, heavy guitar tone from The Duke complements the keyboards very well. "Autumn Brings" has a dark and ominous feel that isn't present on the rest of Walking With Kings, but it is inspiring nevertheless.

There are two VERY different renditions of the song "Home" on Walking With Kings. Both have the same lyrical content about being small and humble compared to the enormous love offered by Jesus Christ. The title "Home" itself refers to Heaven--and having to spend a long time on Earth before getting there to experience its peace.

The electric version of "Home" is very much an upbeat, guitar-heavy rock song like "Mention of Your Name" and "Leap of Faith." The vocals are often big and theatrical (more so toward the end), which I really enjoy. Also, the backing vocals sound really cool as the word "home" is sung.

The other version of "Home"--which is the "unplugged" version--is the last track on the album. It boasts only a piano and vocals, with a subtle orchestral string arrangement hiding in the background. This song is truly beautiful and stunning, and it is a deep and emotional finish to such a lively album.

As a long time fan, I was pleasantly surprised when I found out Rich Ward was taking part in a Christian music project. Oftentimes rock 'n' roll and Christianity are at odds, but the band Walking With Kings really beats those odds. Never once while listening to this album did I ever get that "You're going to Hell because you listen to Slayer" vibe. Walking With Kings' debut album is filled with some solid rock songs that are exceptionally inspiring without being preachy or sanctimonious.  I highly recommend it to rock fans who want some honest, spiritually uplifting music with a hard rock edge.

7 out of 10 stars


Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Handpicked rock classics get a modern metal makeover by Three Thirteen

Shortly after the release of their debut album Full Tilt, Randy Weitzel and Jimmy Shultz recruited guitarist Steve Marshall and bassist Elaina Bangma to their band Three Thirteen. To better familiarise themselves with each others' music styles and abilities--all while paying tribute to their rock idols--they recorded the cover song EP Devil Music.

The grand introduction of the EP begins with a static radio tuning noise that goes into, "Hey metalheads, strap yourselves in for a non-stop metal block...this is Three Thirteen Devil Music!" Then, in a very tongue-in-cheek manner, there are voices yelling "Hail Satan!" sounding like they come from a vintage horror flick.

The first cover Three Thirteen unleashes upon us is "It's a Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock 'n' Roll)". Nobody can be Bon Scott other than Bon Scott, so the vocals on this song are more subdued here than in the original. They do not lack in attitude, however, and the "huah!" grunts add a certain amount of ballsiness. There aren't any of the infamous bagpipes here either, but who else besides AC/DC would gamble with the bagpipes? In lieu of the bagpipes, the blistering and squealing guitar fills in quite nicely.

Next is "Rocket Ride," which has never been one of my favourite KISS songs, but I actually enjoyed Three Thirteen's cover of it. Coming from KISS, the song just always came off as nasty and weird. This version is performed with a smarmy attitude that better suits the song, making it sexier and edgier. The explosive guitar work of Weitzel and Marshall give this song the Ace Frehley-inspired explosive firework playing this song deserved, and overall, the band does a good job of putting their own spin on the sound of such an iconic band. If you've listened to their debut album Full Tilt, you can tell KISS is a major influence on Three Thirteen.

Three Thirteen's version of "Beer Drinkers and Hell Raisers" is a bit heavier than the original ZZ Top version, but they're a heavier band--so that's to be expected. It seems a little bit faster too, and it's almost like the underlying riff and bass line have a '80s Ozzy feel to them. The impeccable Billy Gibbons and ZZ Top originally recorded this song during their bluesier, grittier period of the 1970s, but I think this cool cover is what this song might have sounded like, had it been written and recorded in the '80s.

When I read that a cover of Anthrax's "Caught in a Mosh" would be included on Devil Music, I was really intrigued, because I always get excited when a band covers Anthrax. This track starts out faster and more aggressive than the original, and it also has more of a "driving" rhythm. Parts of this cover sound tighter and more precise than the original, especially the refrain of "What is it? Caught in a mosh!" This part is almost monotonous, but not bad. This song really kicks into high gear during the last two minutes, which really helps to project the image of the mad dog from the album cover. The last verse is very interesting, because a lyric change incorporates part of Led Zeppelin's "Black Dog," then it goes straight back into the original Anthrax lyrics.

Speaking of Zeppelin, right after they make an appearance in "Caught In a Mosh," there is a cover of "Ramble On". It is definitely mellow compared to the previous tracks, but I instantly enjoyed it and think it is the best track from Devil Music. Three Thirteen has taken this laid-back rock classic and added some heavier riffs and grittier vocals. It really stands out, and it doesn't sound like a Led Zeppelin impostor. I've always believed for a cover song to be truly great, it must be spot on to the original or be DIFFERENT. Three Thirteen's "Ramble On" certainly achieves that goal.

The last song from the EP is "We're Not Gonna Take It". I've really been digging Twisted Sister lately, so the inclusion of this song was a pleasant and fun surprise. It is MUCH faster than the original, and it almost has a punk feel--especially in the drumming. The song is heavy on the cowbell, and the vocals are somewhat muffled and distorted as well. Punk is not my cup of tea in the least, but I can see how this musical style fits the message and lyrical themes of this song. This is a different interpretation, especially for a metal band to take on, and I totally applaud that.

The Devil Music EP ends with a nice horror-inspired "Welcome to HELLLLL" followed by a concert advert repeating the band name and the members names-- Weitzel! Marshall! Bangma! Shultz!" If you didn't know the names before, you'd know them now. This outro features the same static radio tuning as the intro, and this really helps to tie the mix of songs together.

Three Thirteen's Devil Music EP is a good re-imaging of each of the songs--all with some added heaviness. Upon hearing this variety of songs, one can definitely tell that band listened to (and enjoyed) these songs from the '70s and '80s. It really ties into their debut album Full Tilt, which is heavily influenced by these songs and the bands that were covered on the EP. Three Thirteen's rendition of the Led Zeppelin classic, "Ramble On", is surely a stand-out track and worth checking out!

7 out of 10 stars

(Phantom Republic Music and Design)
Three Thirteen on Facebook

Thursday, April 19, 2012

COMING SOON: "Maidengreens"

I've heard a lot of music in my lifetime. I've also MISheard a lot of music in my lifetime. Because of my possible deafness (damn loud rock music!) or my utter stupidity, I've decided to add a new series to this site. I'm calling it "Maidengreens." This will be my version of "mondegreens." For those of you who aren't familiar with that term, a "mondegreen" is a misheard song lyric or misinterpretation of a song lyric. Mondegreens get their name from the mishearing of "laid him on the green" as "Lady Mondegreen" in an old Scottish ballad. My friends and I have heard some pretty stupid stuff in songs over the years, and I thought it would be fun to share.

Please feel free to post your own misheard lyric experiences in the comments section!

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Thrash metal veterans usher in The Electric Age

Overkill is back in full force with The Electric Age--their first album since 2010's critically acclaimed Ironbound. Right out of the gate, The Electric Age delivers the thrash metal intensity fans know to expect to get from the New Jersey band.

The leading track "Come and Get It" opens with explosive riffs and thrash metal greatness. Right from the start, it is clear that Overkill remains true to their roots and their classic sound. Not only is "Come and Get It" a vastly appropriate title for an opening number, the song contains a blistering fast guitar solo and a cool Accept-esque chant that goes perfect with Bobby Blitz's vocal style.

The next track "Electric Rattlesnake" has a much shorter intro and gets right into the rhythmic lyrics and aggressive vocals. The lyrics are heavy in their rhyming and are sung with major energy and primal intensity--especially the title. I'm also greatly amused by the content of the lyrics, because I'm pretty sure I heard the phrase "shake and bake." (Hey now, it DOES rhyme with "rattlesnake"!) I absolutely love the way the song slows down to this interesting groove--almost like it's a completely different song--then speeds back up to a more typical thrash metal pace.

Both "Come and Get It" and "Electric Rattlesnake" appear to make use of different stereo channels to create a certain atmosphere that can be found on the rest of the record. It is very apparent when listening to the album on headphones, and it really creates a multidimensional sound.

My absolute favourite track from The Electric Age is "Black Daze," which is near the middle of the album. The intro riff is reminiscent of something by Metallica's from the early days of thrash. The vocals, guitars, and rhythm section all mesh together so well on this song. The backing vocals are great and add a nice effect to the chorus, and D.D. Verni's bass line during the guitar solo is heavy--which makes this hard-hitting song even harder.

Another standout track from is the driving and forceful "Drop the Hammer," which is also the longest track on the album. The vocals on this song kind of caught me off guard at first, because some parts are quite a bit lower than others--lower than Bobby Blitz's ear piercing scream. It must be said, and often--the man has versatile style and range! I particularly enjoy the way the title is sung in the chorus as "Drop the hammer dooooowwwwn!" The last half of the song, including the guitar solo, has an almost power metal feel to it, but the thrash returns in full force toward the end.

One very unique song is "21st Century Man." It starts out with a driving hard bluesy rock beat, then it blends with a heavier thrashy sound just before the vocals hit. The poignant lyrics to "21st Century Man" tell of some of the trappings of 21st century life--technology (iPhones), trends (flash mobs), war, limited attention spans, and flat out disregard for others. One line that really sticks with me is "too much info here to stay." It really puts into perspective the sheer volume of information--much of it very personal--that people may carelessly post to the Internet.

Overkill's The Electric Age contains one great metal song after another. The whole album has a very classic sound, while sounding and feeling brand new at the same time. It seems like this can be a rare feat for bands to accomplish nowadays. The vocals along with the instrumentation are strong and relentless, track after track. The lyrics are clever, relevant, and well-suited for the current landscape of metal. Thrash metal fans--especially metal fans looking for something new, exciting, and most importantly, solid--should pick up The Electric Age.

8 out of 10 stars

(Nuclear Blast Records/Riot! Entertainment)

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Fozzy! Fozzy! Fozzy! Oi! Oi! Oi!

Fozzy's high octane Brisbane concert--which was recorded back in 2005 after the release of All That Remains--is finally available worldwide. Initially, only Fozzy superfans could get their hands on Remains Alive by purchasing the awesome and pricey "survival pack"--a plethora of Fozzy merchandise that would make even Gene Simmons jealous of this band's branding skills. Now this album--complete with a name that evokes the era of '70s live album greatness--can be found packaged with a special edition of Chasing the Grail and separately on iTunes.

Fozzy's live spectacular begins with the All That Remains album opener, "Nameless Faceless." It starts off with the low and heavy riff, and the audience goes wild! Fozzy frontman Chris Jericho briefly pumps them up, then shoots straight into the song. Right from the start, the band sounds fantastic, and the vocals are spot on and easily understood. (Side note: One of my biggest complaints with live albums is that the music can often overpower the singer, or the singer will just sound plain awful live. This definitely isn't the case with Fozzy.)

I was pleasantly surprised to find out that the song "Don't You Wish You Were Me" was included on Remains Alive. Interestingly enough, "Don't You Wish You Were Me" is not a Fozzy album track--it was penned by Chris Jericho and Fozzy guitarist Rich Ward for the WWE Originals album. Released during one of Jericho's stints with World Wrestling Entertainment, this album was a compilation of songs performed by the WWE Superstars themselves. As the album's second track, "Don't You Wish You Were Me" is dynamic, sexy, heavy, and fun, and it is perfect for the start of a concert when the band is working hard to engage the audience.

My favourite moment from Remains Alive is the band's live interpretation of their song "Crucify Yourself." I've always liked this heavy and powerful song from the Happenstance album, but it sounds even better live. The chorus is much more melodic in this version, and you can really hear the conviction with which Jericho sings it. "Crucify Yourself" contains what is sure to be Rich Ward's finest guitar playing on Remains Alive.

When Fozzy first formed, they were chiefly known for doing cover songs, and a couple of those made onto Remains Alive. One of these covers is the Judas Priest classic "Freewheel Burning." Metal fans everywhere would probably agree that it's pretty ambitious for a band to cover Priest--especially from a vocal standpoint. This song is very fast, has tongue twister-like lyrics, and it really requires the singer to fill some major singing shoes if it's to be done right. Fozzy successfully pulls this off without a hitch and without sounding like a Priest copycat. Jericho puts his own spin on the vocals, and he never sounds like he's struggling with the Rob Halford vocal acrobatics.

Fozzy has never been a stranger to comedy (Moongoose McQueen, anyone?), and Chris Jericho has never shied away from addressing a crowd. Remains Alive has the right amount of fun and engaging between-song banter--particularly before the band rips into the number "To Kill a Stranger". Chris Jericho addresses the crowd about how rock bands always leave the stage before the encore, but the crowd will keep cheering because they know the band will come back for more. With his humorous arrogance, Jericho insists that Fozzy will not leave the stage before their encore, but the crowd should cheer for them anyway. Fozzy's "encore" for Remains Alive is "Enemy"--the band's hit single at the time. Throughout the performance, the band sounds just as strong as they were at the beginning of the show. This nine minute long grand finale is moving and intense, and it leaves the audience cheering and begging for more.

Everyone who has seen Fozzy live always raves to me about the energy and intensity that radiates from them from the time they hit the stage until the they leave--without missing a beat. Remains Alive certainly proves this claim, and Fozzy's musical talent and showmanship are evident throughout the entire album.

9 out of 10 stars

(Riot! Entertainment)

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Former Flatline guitarist Randy Weitzel is back and better than ever with his new project Three Thirteen

Three Thirteen's Facebook page describes the band's work as, "Balls out, pedal to the metal, high octane, rock & fucking roll!" After listening to their debut album Full Tilt, I now know that statement could not be more accurate.

From beginning to end (or as I like to use the vintage "cover to cover"), Full Tilt is pure ass-kicking energetic hard rock. With it's obvious heavy influence from bands like KISS, Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Ozzy, and everything else that is holy in the metal world, this album is sure to please rockers the world over.

The album's first two tracks, "Blaster" and "One for the Road" are very similar in the fact that have a driving bluesy flavour reminiscent of ZZ Top, Deep Purple, or Cactus--but with a much heavier edge. The screaming guitar riffs combined with the gruff vocals and lyrics evoke images of fast cars, hard partying, and living the exciting life of a rockstar. The chorus of "Hey man / I am doing the best I can" from "One for the Road" may be catchy and memorable, but at the same time it keeps the down and dirty blues feel alive.

Those first two tracks are heavy, but if they're not hard-hitting enough for you, the title track sure will be. "Full Tilt" begins with the sound effects of a pinball game, and the theme of pinball completely infiltrates the rest of the song. Lyrics like "We got a motherfucking full tilt," "We got a motherfucking high score," and "We got a motherfucking ball launch," make this song about the classic game seem very aggressive. Fast-paced "Full Tilt" features heavier and darker riffs than those from the two previous tracks, and these riffs sound very much Iron Maiden influenced.

"Watch It Go!" is another heavy track that really caught my attention on first listen. It is heavy and dark like "Full Tilt," but not quite as fast. This song, which carries themes about not letting anybody hold you back, contains what is possibly the best guitar work--including the best solo--on the album. Three Thirteen's leader Randy Weitzel is incredibly talented, and this song really shows of that talent. "Watch It Go!" also features some very distorted vocals. I noticed this distorted effect is common throughout Full Tilt, but in this song, it is definitely the most obvious.

The album's penultimate track, "Living in Stereo," has a funky rhythm and some great wah-wah riffs. The infectious chorus of, "We sold our souls / Long live rock and roll/ We're flying high again / American British steel/ 7-inch leather heels / On our way to Hell," really shows Three Thirteen's love and respect for the legendary hard rockers that came before them. The band cites their long list of influences, while the song itself sounds very original.

Three Thirteen's Full Tilt is filled with classic rock riffs and fun lyrics, but each moment of it is truly unique. This band-- especially lead guitarist and vocalist Randy Weitzel--is very good at bringing a classic metal sound to the 21st Century. I highly recommend Full Tilt to any fan of the heavier side classic rock and metal, and I am really looking forward to Three Thirteen's next album which is entitled Devil Music.

9 out of 10 stars

Phantom Republic Records

Thursday, January 26, 2012

White Wizzard continues to bring their brand of traditional heavy metal to the masses

After numerous line-up changes, White Wizzard is back with their second full-length album, Flying Tigers. It features returning lead vocalist Wyatt "Screamin' Demon" Anderson who had previously left the band shortly after their first album Over the Top was released in 2010. Unfortunately, he left the band again in June after the new one.

Flying Tigers is filled with a retro metal sound that is neither cheesy nor contrived. It is full of sounds that sound like they are from hard rock's heyday in the '80s without being too over the top. The album's first half stays true to this, while the latter shifts into a more progressive style.

Album opener "Fight to the Death" introduces White Wizzard as a band that isn't going to take shit from anybody. The first line starting out with "Don't preach to me..." is the perfect way to begin this song about being free to choose your path and not having religion and beliefs forced on you. The rhythm of the intro riff seems very punk-ish, which threw me off at first, but the backing vocals at the bridge and the guitar solo add a nice '80s touch to the song.

The following track, "West L.A. Nights," is not as serious or rebellious as the opener. This one is all about fun--evoking images of denim, leather, and the L.A. Sunset Strip. The crisp, screaming guitar riffs and lyrics like "The Rainbow's rockin' / and the boys are ready to go," (Followed by an epic metal SCREEEEAM!) make this track the most nostalgic from Flying Tigers.

My personal favourite from the album is "Night Train to Tokyo". It's heavy in a sense and bluesy, and the tone of the vocals especially reminds me of Jeff Keith of Tesla. The guitar solo is absolutely wailing too! "Night Train to Tokyo" is sexy and mysterious, and it is surely one of the more memorable tracks.

In the middle of Flying Tigers,  "Fall of Atlantis" leads the album into more of a progressive metal sound. The intro is fast and bass-heavy. The lyric themes begin to focus on a more mystical subject matter at this point, and the vocals become a lot more powerful. The drumming becomes heavier, and overall the riffs are faster.

The very prog instrumental "Dark Alien Overture" is even heavier on the bass, especially in the beginning. The first few times I heard it, I almost felt like I was listening to a Rush jam session. (It even has "Overture" in the title!) As "Dark Alien Overture" goes on, it gets heavier with more guitar being gradually added.

Flying Tigers, filled to the brim with '80s nostalgia, is a great album for traditional metalheads who want a slight taste of progressive metal with some power metal thrown in. It took me awhile to find many of the songs to be "catchy," but after awhile, the ones with the memorable choruses like "West L.A. Nights" and "Night Train to Tokyo" began to stick.

I am definitely into what White Wizzard is doing. The band's bassist, leader, and chief songwriter Jon Leon seems to really know how to pull off this "retro" thing and sound serious at the same time. I really hope this band can just get their shit together when it comes to personnel issues so they can continue to put out more hard and heavy rock records like this one.

7 1/2 out of 10 stars

Earache Records/Riot! Entertainment
White Wizzard on MySpace