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…)
ANNEKE VAN GIERSBERGEN – New Album Review: “Feels Like A No-Nonsense Live Set Laid Down In The Comfort Of Home”
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…)
DOUBLE CRUSH SYNDROME – New Album Review: “An Impressive Collection Of Garage-Band-With-Skills Songs”
By Carl Begai
With a library of albums under his belt – from Sodom in the early ’90s to Powergod, The Traceelords, and a few solo outings since then – vocalist/guitarist/producer Andy Brings seems to have finally found a place to call home.
Double Crush Syndrome is his new lease on musical life, a three-piece band hinting of everything from The Ramones to Baz-era Skid Row to The Mamas & The Papas. Yep, pretty basic three chord punch on the surface but big on the singalong hooks, with tracks ‘Yeah! Pain!’ and ‘She’s A Pistol’ sucking you in from the start even though you might be of a mind to dismiss it as pap. The You Filter is in fact a reminder that the Keep It Simple Stupid formula does work. ‘Blood On My Shirt’ and ‘Fuck You IS My Answer’ see DCS channeling Skid Row – ‘Get The Fuck Out’ and ‘Riot Act’ come to mind – while ‘I’m In Love With You’ and ‘With Me’ go in the opposite direction as two ‘60s cheese-flavoured tracks that deftly (thankfully) avoid the Travolta / Newton John Grease trap. An impressive collection of garage-band-with-skills songs, middle finger anthem ‘Die For Rock N’ Roll’, ‘We Cannot Be Ruled’ and ‘Blood On My Shirt’ coming in as the faves of the moments, all shred and attitude served up old school with choruses that stick. (continue reading…)
My Ruin have carved themselves a reputation for street level in-your-face bad-assedness, albeit only amongst those that look for their metal and mayhem outside the confines of big record label business. The ultimate do-it-yourself outfit led by vocalist/wordsmith Tairrie B. Murphy and guitarist/multi-instrumentalist Mick Murphy – the wife and husband team par excellence – My Ruin have slugged it out for the last several years as independent artists (even with a record deal), turning in some positively brash and pointedly aggressive work for the masses to swallow.
The Sacred Mood follows on the heels of A Southern Revelation’s ultra-violence, making the descent into the Murphy maelstrom somewhat slower this time out. ‘Monolith Of Wrath’ kicks things off with pulse, pound and Tairrie B.’s lush spoken word delivery, turning to My Ruin’s familiar up-tempo punk attitude for ‘Moriendo Renascor’ before giving the expected beating in ‘God Is A Girl With A Butcher Knife’, perhaps THE song to feature everything My Ruin has to offer. From there it’s a journey through all facets of the band’s personality, Mick Murphy churning out Tony Iommi / Zakk Wylde-flavoured metal or a welcome rock crunch (‘Hour Of The Wolf’, ‘Heretic Dreams’) depending on the mood set by Tairrie B.’s vocals. And the lady is all about her non-tweaked all natural scream (‘God Is A Girl…’, ‘Harsh Light Of Day’) when she’s not in her spoken word spotlight (‘Honey Of The Human Soul’). (continue reading…)
By Carl Begai
Being the first to embrace an original band with a unique vision takes balls, because doing so is an exercise in uncertainty and fear of “What will everyone else think?” Famous Underground is that road test, you’re the deer in their headlights, and the impact is a skull-rattling reminder that a stand-alone identity in the here and now overshadows past glories and current blood-sucking music industry trends.
Or, if you prefer your promo without the formality, Famous Underground is one of those present day rarities that defies being dumped in the genre box. Fangs and all. A cross between Guns N’ Roses when they were mean (Appetite For Destruction) and latter-day non-suck Metallica (‘Sad But True’, ‘King Nothing’), Famous Underground is a heady mix of ’80s attitude and ’90s grit with former Slik Toxik frontman Nick Walsh at the helm. The man’s voice is still a big fuckin’ deal some 20 years on since ‘Helluvatime’ – a bigger deal, actually – and the songwriting is darker with more muscle behind it; a lot less hit-and-miss compared to the Slik days. (continue reading…)
By Carl Begai
Twenty years is a long time to wait for a band to get its collective shit together. Funny how one ugly line-up change and nine new songs can wash away two decades’ worth of mind-numbing WTF frustration.
Gone is original vocalist Geoff Tate, and with him the fetters that seemingly/supposedly steered the band into realms they were better off not exploring if you grew up/into Queensrÿche’s debut EP and the four albums that followed (The Warning, Rage For Order, Operation: Mindcrime and Empire). Recharged with the entrance of ex-Crimson Glory singer Todd La Torre, the band was able to get back to doing what they do best, and the surprising end result is a record that falls nicely in line with the aforementioned 4.5 ‘Ryche classics. Call it Rage For Order meets Empire; an obnoxious claim to be sure, feel free to disagree, but it’s pretty damn hard to refute. (continue reading…)
By Carl Begai
It has taken Stratovarius three albums since their 2008 split with guitarist/songwriter Timo Tolkki to find solid footing again. Not that their “comeback” record Polaris (’09) and follow-up Elysium (’11) were particularly bad; they simply felt too tentative, as if the band was being extra careful about not stepping outside the box. Nemesis, on the other hand, sees Stratovarius throwing out their own rulebook on what makes for a solid album. Guitarist/producer Matias Kupiainen has fleshed out his role as Tolkki’s replacement, while frontman Timo Kotipelto and keyboardist Jens Johnasson have come into their own as songwriters, making for an album loaded with hooks and double-take moments. And with the entrance of drummer Rolf Pilve in place of Joerg Micheal, Stratovarius is back to sounding fresh and stoked about their collective day job.
Put it this way; Stratovarius hasn’t sounded this good or this together since the Episode (’95), Visions (’97) and Destiny (’98) albums.
Off the top, gotta say it’s a huge pleasure having to wait 10 out of 11 tracks for the album’s lone ballad (‘If The Story Is Over’) to surface. Very un-power metal of them to make the move, and Nemesis is better for it. The band dishes out some out-of-character heavy on ‘Abandon’, ‘One Must Fall’ and ‘Stand My Ground’ – welcome Mr. Pilve – with ‘Halcyon Days’ marking Stratovarius’ most adventurous song to date thanks to some unexpected trance elements (that actually work). (continue reading…)
By Carl Begai
If you cut your teeth on ’80s Queensrÿche, be honest: you’ve been prepared to shitcan vocalist Geoff Tate’s new solo outing since word came down he was putting one together. Guilty as charged in this corner, especially considering the last 20 years of Tate-led ‘Rÿche sludge has barely made a dent in my grey matter. Hell knows many fans have given the band’s music post-Empire years more than a fair shake, but the hookless meandering metal of the last two decades castrated the band’s credibility beyond a nostalgia act in this office long ago. With all that in mind, it came as a surprise to discover Kings & Thieves is actually a decent listen in spite of some mid-album filler.
Unlike Tate’s 2002 solo debut – one man’s “experimental” is another man’s “directionless” – Kings & Thieves is a rock album. His vocals are gold, as expected, though he never hits that high-end metal register he’s known for (which would stick out like a nail in the eye here), and the wealth of hooks and memorable melodies is a welcome surprise. In fact, the album is very reminiscent of the softer shades on Empire like ‘Another Rainy Night’, ‘Hand On Heart’, ‘One And Only’ and ‘Jet City Woman’, making the whole experience oddly satisfying. (continue reading…)
By Carl Begai
German independent singer / guitarist / songwriter Florian Baessler – the original and only Wilderpilger – has earned himself a small but loyal following at home over the years both for his live cover act and his original music. The cover shows are always entertaining one-man-band displays of how far he can push (mostly) popular songs in directions one might not expect, while All The Things showcases Baessler as an artist capable of succeeding on his own merit. Big on country music influences (right down to a guitar twang) with a very slight dabbling of rock thrown into the soup, the album is a storyteller’s journey through everything from coping with that annoying person in the audience at any given show (‘All The Things’), the love / hate paradox of being a travelling musician (‘Really Like To Stay’), fatherhood (‘Your Love’, ‘Sleeping St. Salomon’), love (‘Mine’), fear (‘Breathe’), life ‘Down Down Down’)…. very down to earth. Musically it’s rock solid on a foundation of acoustic guitars and Baessler’s lush voice, backed by the organic warmth of piano, Hammond organ, upright bass and electric guitar as required. This can’t be stressed enough; All The Things sounds and acts like it was made by real people in a real studio, discussing and arguing and laughing with each other as the songs were brought to life.
It’s a bit of a surprise the album has the level of appeal that it does in my world given the noise I normally listen to on any given day. At this point I’m blaming it on the honesty of the music and the talent behind the songs. That and the fact many of the songs are catchy, pure and simple, and don’t sport that dreaded acoustic guitars = ballads stigma. (continue reading…)
By Carl Begai
Devin Townsend has never been shy about his love for, as he puts it, the “big dumb rock record.” Trace his career back to the beginning and even when his tripwires n’ landmines Strapping Young Lad playground was his ground zero, Townsend was plenty capable of taking a lighter approach to getting his message(s) across. Hell, his first real foray outside the box with Punky Brüster in ‘96 put the “F.U.” in “fun” for all eternity. Songs like ‘Life’ (Ocean Machine), ‘Bad Devil’ (Infinity), ‘Slow Me Down’ (Accelerated Evolution), ‘Vampira’ (Synchestra), ‘Sunshine And Happiness’ (Synchestra) and ‘Bend It Like Bender’ (Addicted) are solid examples of his upbeat tendencies – at least as far as the music is concerned – all of which are worthy starters as a build up to Epicloud’s monstrous rock n’ soul delivery.
And there’s nothing dumb about it.
Call Epicloud the bigger, more emotional, deeper, curveball-throwing sibling to the stellar Addicted record. In what amounts to theater for the ears, Epicloud is an album of scene-by-song contrasts. For all the heavy – and there’s plenty of it – Townsend takes the all too common “You can’t do that in metal” mentality and chucks it out the locomotive window. Case in point with the gospel choir that kicks things off with ‘Effervescent!’ and sticks around for a good chunk of the record: symphonic metal be damned, you’ve never heard a choral group sing on a summer cruisin’ pseudo-punk tune with “bullshit!” as part of their score.
Anneke van Giersbergen makes a grand return as Townsend’s female counterpart, dishing out lead vocals and trading backing harmonies as required, up front no less than 50% of the time. Even half way through the album it’s hard to imagine what Epicloud would sound like without her. It certainly wouldn’t be as in-your-face as it is, and that’s without taking anything away from Townsend’s vocal performance, his band (Waddell / Van Poederooyen / Young) or wall of sound production values. Hard to pick where she shines brightest, though I was partial at press time to her performances on ‘True North’, the pop-ish ‘80s feelgood groove of ‘Save Our Now’ (reminiscent of her latest solo album Everything Is Changing), and the crushing metal assault of ‘More!’ in particular. (continue reading…)