By Carl Begai
Former Blood Stain Child vocalist Sophia Aslanidou broke away from the band after only one album and sporadic touring due to personal and creative differences. An unfortunate situation, but rather than crawling into a corner to die a scorned artist’s death she picked herself up and invested all her time, energy and remaining sanity in a full-on solo project, Season Of Ghosts. The Human Paradox is in fact a collaboration between Sophia, Italian horror metal genius/composer Zombie Sam, and multi-instrumentalist NeroArgento, resulting in off-kilter album boasting equal parts metal and orchestral soundtrack (with occasional death metal growls scattered hither and yon) that never quite goes where you expect. It’s for this reason that when things slow down or become uncomfortably weird you can’t actually bring yourself to skip to the next track. A well crafted sonic adventure with a remarkable payload of earworm vocal melodies, The Human Paradox keeps you wondering what’s lurking around each corner as you weave your way through it.
Blood Stain Child fans may be pleased to know the trance elements that accompanied Sophia’s entrance for the Epsilon album, only this time out her voice isn’t auto-tuned to death. She’s able to explore her (surprising) full range, doing so right out of the box with ‘Genesis’ and ‘Time Travellers’, two of the heaviest tracks on the record. Hearing her low range on ‘Dream: Paralysis’ and ‘The Human Paradox’ is a welcome touch, the title track played out with the strength of any X Japan ballad right down to some spoken word (Sophia is welcome to read me the phone book anytime). Continue Reading
By Carl Begai
If you spend even a small amount of time on the internet you’re well aware that Hollywood has embraced geekdom as a cash cow. Constant updates and reports on how superhero-based films are in planning from here to 2031 make it clear that the suits intend to turn every goddamn comic book ever created into a multi-gazillion dollar movie between now and the end of days. As much as I love comics and film, no we don’t bloody well need an Ant Man movie or an installment of the Wonder Twins.
Thus, with said attitude firmly in place, when I stumbled across the first two episodes of Nightwing: The Series on YouTube they were met with a healthy amount of scorn. For one thing, even though I grew up with the Nightwing character in the ’80s I didn’t see the point of someone wasting time and money on a Diet Batman series. And, like everyone else who says he / she dislikes something I quite naturally clicked on Episode 1 with the expectation of being entertained by a car crash. After all, an independent production playing the superhero card? Guaranteed fodder for the keyboard warriors out to slam anything exhibiting even a small amount of suckitude.
I was expecting a disaster. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Continue Reading
By Carl Begai
October 12th, 2014 – Nuremberg, Germany
Born and bred in Toronto as I was, Helix is one of those bands that became a staple in my life as they did for many a budding Canadian metalhead. They were considered lightweights by some compared to the Van Halens, Mötley Crües and W.A.S.P.s being vomited out by the LA hair metal scene in the ’80s, but Helix was ours. Songs like ‘Rock You’ and ‘Heavy Metal Love’ were anthems everyone loved to hate to love thanks to perpetual radio and video play, heavier fare like ‘No Rest For The Wicked’ and ‘When The Hammer Falls’ were deemed worthy of a place in metal heaven, and we all knew ‘Deep Cuts The Knife’ smoked Dokken’s ‘Alone Again’ when it came to ballads.
I was too young back then to understand the marketing potential of a song like ‘Kids Are All Shakin’ (In The USA)’; the song ticked me off because Helix was a Canadian band, dammit (I didn’t see the problem with singing ‘Kids are all shakin’ in Canada, eh!’, but I digress…). All was forgiven when they unleashed Wild In The Streets in 1987, however, and I can proudly say I wore out two cassettes over the course of a year-and-a-half in mom’s car stereo. I remember seeing Helix tear it up a couple times in support of the album, the last time being at Toronto’s legendary Rock N’ Roll Heaven in 1989. I was never disappointed. Continue Reading
By Carl Begai
Massive Addictive won’t do anything to improve Amaranthe’s relationship with their haters, but the diehard fans will fall in love with the band all over again. The vast majority of fence-sitters, meanwhile, will find themselves drawn in by what is, quite frankly, a surprisingly addictive listen that justifies the wonderfully arrogant album title. Still pop metal to the core, Amaranthe’s all-important third album kicks off by putting the fans in the comfort zone with ‘Dynamite’, a track echoing the band’s previous album, The Nexus. It’s the neck-wreck-bounce of the following track and first single ‘Drop Dead Cynical’ – imagine Marilyn Manson’s ‘The Beautiful People’ as a song on the Grease soundtrack – that sets the tone for Massive Addictive. The vocal melodies are infectious to a fault, the riffs are bold, all supported by steel hard backbone seemingly yanked from Hypocrisy frontman Peter Tägtgren’s command center for his industrial-rocked metal outfit Pain.
‘Drop Dead Cynical’, ‘Unreal’, ‘Trinity’, ‘Massive Addictive’ ‘Skyline’ and ‘Digital World’ are guaranteed to become fan favourites, charged with more adrenaline than some folks give Amaranthe credit for. There are two ballads to be had this time out – ‘True’ and ‘Over And Done’ – both of them loaded with radio potential and too smart for the suits making programming decisions. The album winds down with the heaviest song of Amaranthe’s career to date, ‘An Ordinary Abnormality’, featuring the sextet pulling out all the stops and crushing any ridiculous notions that pop metal has no balls. Continue Reading
By Carl Begai
The departure of vocalist Angela Gossow should have and probably would have destroyed Arch Enemy had the situation not been handled with the elegance and intelligence that it was. Fact is her entrance in 2000 is what yanked the band out of the underground and put them through the roof, and only the devout Johan Liiva followers from way back wanted to see her gone. She left the ranks gracefully, and with the ultimate parting shot: choosing singer Alissa White-Gluz (ex-The Agonist) as her successor. It’s amazing what a lack of drama and a new focus can accomplish; in this case, the creation of Arch Enemy’s strongest album since Anthems Of Rebellion, possibly their best ever. Beg to differ all you want, but to these ears the Arch Enemy war machine has sounded increasingly tired in recent years, not quite spinning its wheels but definitely in need of a tune-up. War Eternal is the battle cry of an armed-to-the-teeth new model strike force.
Simply put, War Eternal epitomizes melodic death metal; emphasis on “melodic.” There are truckloads of melody woven, stacked, and layered through the full length of the record, to the point of guitarist / braintrust Michael Amott being wonderfully obnoxious about it. Even the heaviest tracks on the record – ‘Never Forgive Never Forget’, ‘As The Pages Burn’, ‘No More Regrets’, ‘Stolen Life’, ‘Avalanche’ – are built around miles and miles of melody-based hooks that never get dull. And even when it sounds like there’s potential for cheesy softness around the edges, as on ‘You Will Know My Name’ and ‘Time Is Black’ (thanks to the latter’s symphonic / keyboard backbone) the damn hook-and-melody attack works wonders. And there’s the title track, a bloody anthem for the ages that I daresay may be one of the finest Arch Enemy songs ever written, second only to ‘Nemesis’. Depends on how you like your AE, of course, but what may sound like head-in-the-clouds accolades will at least give you an idea of the infectious high quality of the material. Continue Reading
By Carl Begai
Some folks might remember Mötley Crüe frontman Vince Neil’s debut solo album from 1993, Exposed, put together after he ditched the band. It was a scorcher featuring Neil backed by the likes of Phil Soussan (ex-Ozzy Osbourne), Jack Blades (Night Ranger, Damn Yankees) and Steve Stevens (Billy Idol) as songwriters and / or players, pretty much stomping on everything the Crüe did following Dr. Feelgood (which still holds true to this day). Former Skid Row singer Sebastian Bach’s new solo record, Give ‘Em Hell, is similar in that he’s surrounded himself with greatness and coughed up music that stands at least toe-to-toe with his previous outing Kicking & Screaming, if not crushing it entirely. Time will tell.
Fact is a lot of people thought Bach was screwed after firing guitarist Nick Sterling, one of the main songwriters on Kicking & Screaming. Instead, he and his backbone – producer Bob Marlette and drummer Bobby Jarzombeck – went into the studio all guns and speed dial blazing, calling on Duff McKagan (ex-Guns N’ Roses / bass), Steve Stevens (guitars) and John 5 (Rob Zombie / guitars) to join the party. As a result, Give ‘Em Hell is ballsier, more aggressive and much darker than Kicking & Screaming, with more than a few eyebrow-raising moments thrown in to induce shit-eating grins amongst the diehard fans.
You’re not going to find anything as over-the-top and raging as ‘Slave To The Grind’ on Give ‘Em Hell, but there’s no shortage of fireworks. Opening track ‘Hell Inside My Head’ is distinctly Baz and perfect for the jump start, but it’s the Subhuman Race-era Skid Row-ish tracks ‘Harmony’ and ‘All My Friends Are Dead’ (the demented sister of ‘Eileen’) that set the tone for the album. Continue Reading
By Carl Begai
Reviewing a power metal band is no more rocket scientific than the music itself. Babble on about divine guitar shred, godlike vocals, throw around terms like “old school” and “traditional” and you’re done. And while this formula has been applied to Primal Fear in the past, to do so in discussing their new outing, Delivering The Black, would be a huge disservice to the band and the fans. Primal Fear is one of those rare acts that, 10 studio albums into their career, are more vital and vibrant than they were at the beginning, and anyone that’s been following them since 1998 will have one hell of a time arguing the point in 2014. Picking up where Unbreakable (2012) left off and leaving said record choking in the dust, Delivering The Black is a brilliant energetic romp through familiar territory on a level that will make it a go-to classic of the genre 20 years from now.
Delivering The Black grabs hold immediately with ‘King For A Day’, seals the deal with ‘Rebel Faction’, and digs its claws so damn deep it’s a shock, especially if you’re expecting ho-hum power metal-isms. The guitar riffs are huge at the hands of Magnus Karlsson, Alex Beyrodt and founder/producer/bassist Mat Sinner, while drummer Randy Black delivers some of the best steel backbone work of his career (‘King For A Day’, ‘Inseminoid’, ‘Rebel Faction’, ‘Delivering The Black’). As for vocalist Ralf Scheepers…. pffffff… the man has come a LONG way since his days with Gamma Ray and Primal Fear’s early albums. He still has one of the best high-pitched shrieks this side of Tim “Ripper Owens, Rob Halford and Kai Hansen, and his low-end voice now boasts grit, balls and character that sets him well apart from his aforementioned peers. Fact is it’s hard to pick Scheepers’ crowning moment on Delivering The Black because there are so damn many of ‘em (although ‘Rebel Faction’ is probably the best track to sum up his overall performance). Continue Reading
By Carl Begai
Maybe it’s the sense of nostalgia that makes The Alcohollys so damn attractive, or it could be the wave of relief caused by hearing real music in an age when the tripe that passes for pop rock lacks brains, soul and integrity. A clever mix of The Go-Go’s, The Cars and The Ramones, the Canadian all-female quartet surfaced earlier this year with the three-songs-delivered-as-two Flashback EP, and the thing that immediately hits home is how bloody ’70s / ’80s organic authentic they sound. Title track ‘Flashback To ’93′ is guaranteed to rivet fans of pop-punk to the floor thanks to the in-your-face delivery and what’s become their trademark synth backhand courtesy of vocalist Kimber Heart. ‘Death Riot / Demolition In Speed City’ is a slick mix of The Ramones and ’70s prog (seriously), ranking for the moment as the best track The Alcohollys have released to date. A matter of taste to be sure, but it’s an unexpected kick in the balls.
Released this month (December 2013), Girls Night is the second tease from the band as they (hopefully) gear up for a full length record. The title track is a straight-up punk ditty too smart for The Offspring crowd and somehow reminiscent of The Vincent Black Shadow, while the mid-tempo ‘Lock Stock Lola’ is a top-to-bottom Go-Go’s / Cars flavoured anthem. Biggest surprise of the moment is ‘Nobody’s Perfect (But This Is Getting Ridiculous)’ which somehow manages to channel the Foo Fighters yet keeps the brazen sunshine-and-happiness vibe that’s woven through all five tracks. Continue Reading
By Carl Begai
Gotta admit, with all the online babble from the band about how No More Hell To Pay would be the heaviest Stryper album ever, it’s something of a disappointment being eased into the proceedings rather than cracked in the teeth by a wall of aggression. Not that tracks ‘Revelation’ and the title track (tracks 1 and 2) are weak by any means – quite the contrary, actually – but I was expecting riffs in the spirit of ‘Makes Me Wanna Sing’ and ‘The Way’ to kick things off. Along comes track three ‘Saved By Love’, however, and it’s clear the band was not in fact blowing holy smoke, just biding their time before giving the fans a righteous ass-kicking. No More Hell To Pay is loaded with guitar shred – riffs and solos – from top to bottom and frontman Michael Sweet’s high-end vocals are as strong as ever, with brilliant production to match (as in bassist Tim Gaines can actually be heard for a change), making for one of Stryper’s best albums to date.
‘Legacy’, ‘Te Amo’, ‘Renewed’ and ‘Saved By Love’ are instant standouts as the fastest / heaviest tracks on the record (even though the titles read like a bloody chick flick soundtrack), and the songs where Sweet offers up a welcome rougher edge to his voice. They’re a stark contrast to the brazen ’80s flavour of ‘Water Into Wine’ and ‘Sympathy’, which probably would have saved the sadly over-Styx-ified In God We Trust album (1988) had they been written way back when. Fulfilling the expected To Hell With The Devil-ism requirements are ‘No More Hell To Pay’ and ‘Sticks & Stones’ (the album’s ‘Calling On You’), while their cover of The Art Reynolds Singers’ 1966 gospel hit ‘Jesus Is Just Alright’ kills their 1990 rendition of Earth, Wind & Fire’s ‘Shining Star’ dead. Continue Reading
By Carl Begai
If you’ve ever seen Anneke van Giersbergen perform live, you know that her set is loaded with positive energy regardless of whether she’s performing something heavy, pop-oriented, or melancholic / atmospheric / goth flavoured from her days with The Gathering. Drive ranks as Anneke’s strongest solo outing to date (including her Agua de Annique records), bar none. Sure, that’s the rock n’ roll metalhead talking, but there’s no denying Drive feels like a no-nonsense live set laid down in the comfort of home.
Guitar, bass, drums, occasional keys, and Anneke’s bloody awesome voice are the magic behind Drive. A completely rock-driven package (with the exception of ballad ‘My Mother Said’), tracks ‘We Live On’, ‘Treat Me Like A Lady’ and ‘She’ are neatly arranged to ease the lister in before hammering things home with soaring trademark Anneke choruses. Title track ‘Drive’ is crafted for exactly that purpose – top down, pedal to the floor – and ‘You Will Never Change’ is a step up from ‘Drive’ in tempo and intensity; also the heaviest track on the record… although ‘The Best Is Yet To Come’ surprises with a ballsy footstomp groove. Anneke still has one of the strongest and most identifiable voices around. Continue Reading