Tuesday, October 04, 2016

REVIEWS: W.A.S.P. - Golgotha

After their longest ever gap in between albums, shock rock icons W.A.S.P. have released their 15th studio album, Golgotha. This long awaited follow-up to 2009's Babylon is named for what is commonly referred to as Calvary or "The Place of the Skull" - the area outside of Jerusalem where Jesus Christ was crucified according to the Gospels. W.A.S.P.'s notorious leader, Blackie Lawless, has been pretty forthright about embracing religion on the past few albums, and this one is no different. He produced this album, as he has most of the band's albums.

Golgotha is the band's first for Napalm Records, and W.A.S.P.'s line-up has stayed constant since their 2007 Dominator record. However, drummer Mike Dupke left the band upon the release of Golgotha.

"Scream" opens Golgotha, and this hard rocker with a classic metal sound is perfect for this purpose. It's a surprisingly fun song for an album with otherwise heavy subject matter, and the chorus of "Come make it scream if you love me / And make it bleed if you want me," is catchy. The rest of the song is filled with religious imagery, such as mentions of graven idols, prayer, and gods. "Scream" is a great choice for an album opener, and it would made a killer opener for a concert as well.

Other rockers such as "Last Runaway" and "Shotgun" follow. "Last Runaway" features strong bass playing from Mike Duda and lyrics about embarking upon the rock 'n' roll glory days and then coming home to rest. It also alludes to an autobiographical tale of redemption in which Blackie Lawless lives a rough rock star life and later turns to God. "Shotgun" is highly rhythmic and has a big, bright '80s sound to it. The subject matter is more socio-political than religious. The line, "Grab a torch, a pitchfork, and get your guns," tells of a political uprising. In the chorus, the cheesiness of the line "Tonight, got a rock 'n' roll shotgun," makes me take it a little less seriously though. There are several negative mentions of a king in the lyrics, and I'm thinking it may be a jab at U.S. President Obama.

"Miss You" is the heart wrenching ballad that follows several heavy and energetic rock tracks. It is highly emotional, and Blackie's vocals are top notch, and Doug Blair's guitar solo is fantastic. However, it clocks in at 7:42, which is about three and a half minutes too long. By the end of "Miss You," I groaned to myself, "I get it. He misses somebody".

"Fallen Under" starts off slowly, and you think it's going to be another ballad that hopefully doesn't drag on like "Miss You." It ends up being more of a mid-tempo song and one of the best on Golgotha. The line just before the chorus, "Save me from crawling in darkness / Save me so blind," is memorable and something you'll be waiting for each time you listen to the album. "Fallen Under" is heavily based on religion, as Blackie is begging for Christ's salvation as he sings. It also contains lyrical themes of slavery and chains that carry over into the next track, "Slaves of the New World Order." It opens with ominous "oohs" that show a nice side of Blackie's vocal range, and the guitar riffs are quite reminiscent of Iron Maiden. I even initially heard the opening line as, "Show me the Brave New World," and thought "Woah, that really is like Maiden!" After further research, it appears the line is "Grave New World." "Slaves of the New World Order" is one of the longer songs on Golgotha, just a couple of seconds longer than "Miss You." It's almost a multi-movement kind of thing with a lot of variation, so it does not get boring.

The album ends with its title track "Golgotha." "Golgotha" begins slowly with subtle synth sounds, but it builds into a heavy rocker. It is very openly religious, possibly even more so than previous tracks, "Eyes of My Maker" and "Hero of the World." The chorus of "Jesus I need you now / Free me I'm lost somehow," is a sincere plea for salvation. Because of the song's title and the line, "Are you who they say you are?" this song would be fascinating for someone who is spiritual, or at least intrigued by the Crucifixion, to further reflect on during Holy Week before Easter.

Golgotha is a great modern album from a classic metal band. It should not be dismissed as a lame "Blackie cleaned up and found Jesus" sort of thing. Golgotha is certainly heavy and dark, and the blood, guts, skulls, and other more violent aspects of the Bible have proven to be be very "metal." The Christian imagery that is presented by W.A.S.P. on Golgotha is very well done and fits well with the band's hard rock style.

Napalm Records/Rocket Distribution
Official WASP Website


REVIEWS: Pop Evil - Up

On the heels of 2013's Onyx, which spawned the three #1 U.S. Mainstream Rock singles, "Trenches", "Deal With the Devil", and "Torn to Pieces" and then "Beautiful" which was still charting earlier this year, Pop Evil is on top again with their latest release, Up.

The lead single and track that opens Up is "Footsteps". The song takes some time to build, with its 40-second intro made up of some distorted echoes and electronic effects that are somewhat difficult to describe. Leigh Kakaty's vocals kick in, then so do the drums, and shortly thereafter, the bass--courtesy of Chachi Riot and Matt DiRito, respectively. The guitar-driven hard rock element does not become prevalent until the first chorus, which has a highly memorable "woooooo" to it. "Footsteps" has a catchy pop sensibility to it, and it boasts lyrics about knowing you are destined for something greater.

"Core" follows, and with its heavy bass and big riffs, it is much more of the hard rock you would expect from Pop Evil. The lyrics "You can't hold me down / You don't own me / You're done to me," perfectly sum up the song's attitude. "Core" also has a great guitar solo with some thick bass layered on top. In a similar vein, "Take It All" has classic hard rock-inspired riffs in the intro. The repetitive "I'm comin' gonna take it all / I'm comin' gonna take it all" in the chorus leaves a lasting impression. Kakaty's vocals are aggressive, and there is also good use of backing vocals from the other band members.

Although it's not the heaviest song on the album, and it's definitely not a ballad either, "Ghost of Muskegon"--which is named after a city in the band's home state of Michigan--is absolutely my favourite track from Up. It's one of those songs that immediately draws you in, and I could see this one as a potential single. The beginning is rhythmic, with some slight electronic elements to the beat. The vocals are fantastic as Leigh Kakaty sings the chorus of "I'm just a ghost / It's starting to show / I've been on the wrong side searching for love," in such a hard-hitting and profound way.

As Up rolls along, "Lux" is the heaviest song as of yet, especially with its thick bass intro. It has a sexiness to it, as the lyrics tell the story of a likely enticing woman, "She got me walkin' on a thin line / She said 'Come come over to the dark side'." "Vendetta" shows even more of Pop Evil's metal side with its thrash-inspired opening riffs. Its verses are quite rhythmic and forceful, but "Vendetta's" melodic, powerful chorus is primed for rock radio.

"Dead in the Water" is another favourite, as it begins with bright NWOBHM-style intro riffs, followed by more bombastic modern metal riffs. Much like "Vendetta" the verses are aggressive, but the chorus is catchy and lyric-driven. The muffled vocals on the bridge are so fitting, as it cleverly simulates drowning. "Dead in the Water" is an eclectic song with many elements that mesh together perfectly. As it slowly and quietly ends, it fades into the ballads that create finishing touches for Up.

Up ends with two ballads, but they are at opposite ends of the spectrum. The first is "Seattle Rain," which is an acoustic country-flavoured track with hints of mandolin. It is unlike anything else Pop Evil has ever done, but it is beautiful and sincere. Then, with "Til Kingdom Come," the album is done. It is heavy on the bass, and the chorus is filled with the remarkable guitar work of Nick Fuelling and Dave Grahs. Although it is slower, it is still pretty heavy, and it ends at a climax of squealing guitar riffs. When Pop Evil is ready to unleash a ballad from Up as a single, I'd bet money this will be the one.

Pop Evil's Up is a diverse record with no shortage of hard and heavy rock moments--but also balanced with ballads and a touch of pop nuance. Each track is catchy and memorable, and most--if not all--are worthy of being future singles, particularly rockers "Ghost of Muskegon" and "Vendetta" and ballad "Til Kingdom Come". Since they all can't be on the radio--even though they probably should--rock fans should do themselves a huge favour and get Up.

eOne Music
Official Pop Evil Website


REVIEWS: Kadavar - Berlin

Germany's three-piece retro rock outfit Kadavar continues to dig down to the earliest roots of hard rock and heavy metal with their latest release, Berlin. Named for where the band was formed and found a great deal of influence, Berlin is Kadavar's third studio album and the follow-up to 2013's Abra Kadavar and 2014's Live in Antwerp. It is the first full album of new material with bassist Simon "Dragon" Bouteloup, who played on part of the previous one after original member Philip "Mammoth" Lippitz left.

Berlin, which was in fact recorded there, begins with the energetic track "Lord of the Sky". The guitar riffs instantly hearken back to the '70s and are reminiscent of the earliest KISS records. It's just a little less dimensional since there is only one guitarist in this case. The vocals are okay, and they definitely aren't my favourite aspect of the song. Christoph "Lupus" Lindemann is not a vocal powerhouse like the legends from the era Kadavar is trying to recreate. He's also the band's guitarist, so those skills do make up for that.

"Last Living Dinosaur" is one of the album's singles for which band has made a video. It starts slowly and steadily but gains a heavier energy just before the vocals kick in. It's not as upbeat as "Lord of the Sky," and it has a thick Black Sabbath feel to it, with a hint of Blue Öyster Cult. Lindemann's singing improves a bit for "Last Living Dinousaur," as his style and cadence becomes imitative of a young Ozzy Osbourne.

While still very much retro rock, "Pale Blue Eyes" and "See the World with Your Own Eyes" go in a different direction, taking on a slightly earlier era. "Pale Blue Eyes" boasts electrifying intro riffs and has a fuzzy Hendrix vibe. It is rhythmic and catchy, and the chorus of, "Mysterious lady in you purple dress you look so fine / I want to have you by my side / Mysterious lady whatcha doing with your pale blue eyes? / I can't get you out of my mind," is memorable. The guitar solo in "Pale Blue Eyes" is fantastic, and it seems to be one of the most authentic moments on the album. Similarly, "See the World with Your Own Eyes" is super '60s. Right from the start you can hear the Rolling Stones influence, and it is also evocative of the Eric Burdon & War song "Spill the Wine."

"The Old Man," another single with a (fittingly pre-MTV looking) music video, is a wonderful re-creation of early metal. The repetitive guitar riff has the familiarity of Black Sabbath and Iron Maiden. I would consider it the darkest song on Berlin, and while the song is near perfect I have mixed feelings about Christoph Lindemann's often muffled voice meshing with the song. I would love to hear it be sung by someone a little more sinister. An Alice Cooper or Ozzy type would fit well with the darkness of "The Old Man". Lindemann might want to revisit his vocal performance on "Last Living Dinosaur".

Finishing out Berlin is the rapid rocker "Into the Night". With its heavy drumming from Christoph "Tiger" Bartelt, this track pays tribute to the pre-thrash proto-punk of Iggy & The Stooges and The MC5. "Into the Night" slows down toward the end, making what was once a brash garage rock song much more melodic. This serves as a good transition to the bonus track, "Reich der Träume."

Originally by Velvet Underground/Andy Warhol collaborator and heroin chic fashion model Nico, "Reich der Träume" is the only song on Berlin that is in German, despite the fact that the band is German. It is ethereal and contains space age electronic sound effects. Although the rest of Berlin is so guitar heavy, a fuzzy hard rock guitar only makes a brief appearance in the middle of "Reich der Träume". However, the bass is so deep in parts you can practically feel it rattle your chest.

Berlin seems to be less blues-based than Kadavar's previous offering Abra Kadavar, and the band is bent more toward a fuzzy, weighty, garage rock sound. The vocals were better on the last record, as they were stronger and more soulful, and the lyrics could be heard a little more clearly. The abundance of solid, prime hard rock riffs make that easy to overlook. I personally like when Kadavar leans toward the Sabbath end of the spectrum, but I can appreciate that they do not necessarily stick to one facet of the '60s and '70s period of heavy rock 'n' roll.

Nuclear Blast Records/Universal Music Australia
Kadavar on Facebook


REVIEWS: Luca Turilli's Rhapsody - Prometheus, Symphonia Ignis Divinus

In 2011, Italian symphonic power metal band Rhapsody of Fire moved in two separate directions. Guitarist/co-founder Luca Turilli, bassist Patrice Guers, and long-time session guitarist Dominique Leurquin amicably split from Alex Staropoli and the original Rhapsody of Fire to create what is now known as Luca Turilli's Rhapsody. Turilli considers the new Rhapsody to be a continuation of Rhapsody of Fire. Drummer Alex Holzwarth initially played for both Rhapsody iterations and recorded on Luca Turilli's Rhapsody's 2012 debut album, Ascending into Infinity.

The Luca Turilli's Rhapsody lineage carries on with their latest release, 2015's Prometheus, Symphonia Ignis Divinus. Prometheus features Alex Landenburg on drums, as Alex Holzwarth was unable to fulfill commitments with both bands. Also, Prometheus, Symphonia Ignis Divinus marks the return of guitarist Dominique Leurqin, who was unable to tour supporting Ascending into Infinity after severely injuring his hand with a saw and spending months recovering.

Prometheus, Symphonia Ignis Divinus opens with "Nova Genesis (Ad Splendorem Angeli Triumphantis)". Along with the symphonic and metal elements one would expect from a Rhapsody album, there is also heavy use of feedback and an electronic beat. Male and female operatic vocals join the mix, and more string-based instrumentation builds. A deep voice, much like the one from movie trailers, narrates into the next track. Luca Turilli's music is often described as "cinematic metal" so this booming voice is fitting to introduce Prometheus, Symphonia Ignis Divinus.

"Nova Genesis (Ad Splendorem Angeli Triumphantis)" serves mainly as an introduction, so "Il Cigno Nero" is the first full-bodied song from Prometheus, Symphonia Ignis Divinus. It begins with piano. Guitars, drums, and a crystal clear glass-like synthesizer are slowly added. "Il Cigno Nero" starts with both male and female operatic vocals, but the man soon overtakes the woman. The lyrics are in Latin and Italian, and the guitar solo is blazing fast and pure metal.

Prometheus, Symphonia Ignis Divinus' lead single is "Rosenkreuz (The Rose and the Cross)". It is also the first track on the album to contain chiefly English lyrics, but some are in Latin as well. The intro reminds me of that popular '90s album with the chanting Benedictine monks. (It went platinum. Twice.) After the Gregorian introduction, "Rosenkreuz (The Rose and the Cross)" becomes fast paced with soaring operatic vocals from Alessandro Conti. The ballad-like lyrics tell the story of Christian Rosenkreuz, the founder of a secret medieval philosophical society.

While Prometheus is never dull, some of its most interesting moments come with "Anahata" and "One Ring to Rule them All." The intro to "Anahata" is reminiscent of the theme from Star Trek crossed with something straight out of Zelda. The lyrics are mostly in English, and the vocals are soaring. The string arrangement has a darker side, and the vocals get darker in spots as well. "Anahata" gets faster and brighter, then it goes back to the darkness. It even has a bit of a Middle Eastern vibe toward the middle. It is a fantastic song, but there is definitely a lot going on--making it difficult to process the first few times you hear it.

"One Ring to Rule them All" is Luca Turilli's ode to Lord of the Rings. Its lyrics are also English, aside from the lines that are in Black Speech, taken from the Elvish inscription inside the eponymous One Ring. Filled with literary references and adventure, this track also has the most overall power metal feel to it--particularly in Alessandro Conti's vocals. It is not short on symphonic grandeur either. Adding to the band's penchant for cinematic flair, a sinister voice calling out, "My precious!" will sound familiar to anyone who has seen the Lord of the Rings films.

Completely switching up the pace is "Notturno". With solely Latin and Italian lyrics, this song feels the most like like opera instead of hard rock or heavy metal "with operatic extras." Conti is joined by a female singer, and their voices blend perfectly. "Notturno" builds into something quite heavy that isn't metal--but is certainly majestic.

In contrast, "King Solomon and the 72 Names of God" is very much metal, or Luca Turilli's version of metal, that is. This track is raw and tribal, and it boasts a great deal of Middle Eastern influence. It has huge metal riffs on top of the existing symphonic bombast. "King Solomon and the 72 Names of God" is a bit of a spiritual journey, with references to the Kabbalah branch of Judaism. There are lyrics in Latin and English, but the substantial use of Hebrew is the most fascinating.

As if Prometheus, Symphonia Ignis Divinus weren't colossal enough, it finishes off with the 18-minute multi-movement piece "Of Michael the Archangel and Lucifer's Fall Part II: Codex Nemesis." It is the sequel to "Of Michael the Archangel and Lucifer's Fall" from Ascending into Infinity. Like the opener "Nova Genesis (Ad Splendorem Angeli Triumphantis)" this track features some electronic elements and the narration from the big movie voice. Each movement is quite different. Some have Latin lyrics, some have Italian, and some are English. One named "The Astral Convergence" has no lyrics at all. The portion IV called "The Divine Fire of the Archangel" contains some of my favourite vocals from Prometheus. They seem to be the most theatrical, and Alessandro Conti sings with such an attitude that summons the spirit of the great Freddie Mercury. The final part, "Of Psyche and Archetypes (System Overloaded)" includes some blistering guitar riffs that fill this unconventional symphonic number with metal distinction. The simplest way to describe it all would be "Queen on steroids and in Italian".

With a second album in tow, Luca Turilli is continuing his interpretation of the Rhapsody band and his unique brand of cinematic metal. Prometheus, Symphonia Ignis Divinus is a magnificent collection of symphonic and operatic music, combined with hard rock and metal--all centred around diverse, intelligent, and captivating subject matter performed in seductive language.

Nuclear Blast Records/Universal Music Australia
Official Luca Turilli's Rhapsody Website


REVIEWS: Armored Saint - Win Hands Down

Despite being together since 1982, Armored Saint does not have the most expansive discography in metal. With members' equally notable projects, such as John Bush's tenure with Anthrax and Joey Vera having been in Fates Warning since 2000, when do they find the time to make it happen?  It's been five whole years since Armored Saint released La Raza, but the wait for more has been worth it. Win Hands Down, the band's seventh studio album, is an onslaught of classic metal sound mixed with some less-than-conventional aspects and emotional revelation.

Win Hands Down begins with the lead single and titular track, "Win Hands Down". It has a strong bass line from Joey Vera, particularly in the intro. The bridge sees some ethereal prog rock influence, but the song goes back to pure metal by the end. With its hard and heavy riffs and John Bush singing a catchy and inspirational chorus of ‘Just maintain / then drop the reins / and place my crown / win hands down,’ this song is everything you could want from an album opener.

"Mess" follows and is another hard rocker, but it is a bit more experimental. It has a mostly thrash feel, especially when ‘annihilate!’ is chanted. Then, out of nowhere, it goes into a Middle Eastern style, then transitions back into full on metal after the first chorus.

Also in unadulterated metal fashion is "That Was Then, Way Back When". It features a classic Iron Maiden style galloping bass riff throughout. The guitars rage heavily, and there is a fun groove in the middle followed by a blistering guitar solo. The lyrics are quite novel for a metal song, as they are about reliving the glory days of youth through social media.

Win Hands Down has its share of slower, more thought-provoking tracks as well. "Muscle Memory", at 7:14, is one of the album's longer songs and has lyrics about keeping on for your family's sake and leaving a legacy. It is far from fast, but it still has a certain heaviness to it. The bass is prominent, and Gonzo Sandoval's drumming is the song's steady backbone. "Muscle Memory" is an emotional vocal masterpiece from John Bush, and the considerable use of backing vocals complements this well. The guitar solo is good, and it adds the perfect amount of hard rock flavour to an otherwise serious song. "Muscle Memory" stands out among the other tracks from Win Hands Down, and it is definitely one of the best.

"In an Instant" also slows things down. Inspired by the tragic Boston Marathon Bombing, this song has an acoustic intro and verses--but turns to a fast paced electric rocker for the choruses. The lyric ‘The fragility of life / it can change within the blink of an eye’ sums up the theme. It features another great groove before an absolutely fantastic guitar solo. Just when you think "In an Instant" is going to end, it builds back up for another three minutes and contains another guitar solo that has a classic rock feel to it. Overall, this track probably has the album's best guitar work from Phil Sandoval and Jeff Duncan.

Win Hands Down ends similarly to how it began. The finale, "Up Yours", boasts John Bush's grittiest vocals so far over subtle guitar strumming. It quickly becomes raucous metal as a driving rhythm and heavier riffs are added in. The memorable ‘no more what ifs... no more what ifs...’ and kids shouting ‘up yours!’ make this song playful and nicely tongue-in-cheek after a few serious ones. The opener was so catchy, so it's only fitting that the closer is too.

With Win Hands Down, Armored Saint does not necessarily stick to any formula. On some tracks, the whole verse/chorus/verse deal goes out the window to make room for extra guitar solos and bridges. This album obviously has that Armored Saint sound that no other band has, but you can certainly tell the band is doing exactly what suits them. They do not worry about trends or critics, and Win Hands Down is a big "up yours" to those outside forces. Armored Saint knows how to stay true to themselves and can still deliver a product that fans will appreciate.

Metal Blade Records/Rocket Distribution
Official Armored Saint Website