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…)
SEBASTIAN BACH – Give ‘Em Hell: “Stands Toe-To-Toe With Kicking & Screaming, If Not Crushing It Entirely”
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…)
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…)