By Carl Begai
A Monster’s Life is a benchmark record that dictates just how high and how far The New Black has to shoot the next time they hit the studio. Four albums into their career, the German rockers have adopted The KISS Concept (Keep It Simple, Stupid) with unexpectedly mindblowing results. Not to say they’ve existed under a cloud of suckitude up to this point, but of the delightfully old-school 10-song romp of A Monster’s Life there’s really only one track (‘A Pill Named Ting’) that falls flat. The New Black have always been more rock than metal, big on melodies and the almighty guitar riff, and they’ve managed to take their best ideas and string them together while leaving most of the unnecessary fat on the studio floor. Best guess is that Volbeat producer Jacob Hansen had a valuable hand in the carving, but credit where it’s due to the band for having the balls to keep things compact in this bloated “more is more” world.
Folks following The New Black will be pleased to hear the familiar high speed Motörhead-isms, and they’ve always had the Rocktallica feel to their sound in the spirit of Volbeat that’s so pronounced on A Monster’s Life. ‘Long Time Coming’, ‘Dead In The Water’, ‘Blockbuster Life’ and ‘Better’ are the requisite supercharged headbangers this band is so good at, while anthems ‘With A Grin’, ‘That’s Your Poison, Not Mine’ and ‘Buddha Belly’ crush anything of their kind they’ve served up before now. Favourite track of the moment is ‘The Beer Of No Return’ for bashing out everything new about The New Black in the space of three-and-a-bit minutes. And ‘Send In The Clowns’ is one of those bluesy ballad-esque tracks every rock radio band desperate for airplay would kill for. Continue reading THE NEW BLACK – A Monster’s Life
By Carl Begai
Breaking Point is one of those on-the-fly releases meant to keep Amaranthe’s name in lights while they continue touring in support of their remarkably successful third album, Massive Addictive. Most fans will love it, but there’s a group of die-hard completists bound to be slightly pissed for having spent extra money on unreleased B-sides that appear here. Six acoustic tracks and two full-on metal assaults are offered up, all recorded after the respective sessions for the band’s self-titled debut, The Nexus, and Massive Addictive. Hearing concert favourite ballads ‘Amaranthine’ and ‘Burn With Me’ done up acoustic is neither amazing nor disappointing; they’re well written songs played effectively as reduced to their most basic elements. The acoustic rendition of ‘True’ from Massive Addictive, on the other hand, is a startling stripped down version featuring voices and piano up front with the spotlight (unexpectedly) favouring vocalist Jake E. It’s actually preferable to the original version.
The two full metal songs on Breaking Point, the title track and ‘Splinter In My Soul’, originally surfaced as bonus tracks for the Japanese version of Amaranthe’s self-titled debut and their 2011 single ‘Rain’, therefore featuring original growler Andy Solveström in place of current rage vocalist Henrik Englund. Again, not a bad pair of songs, but it’s easy to understand why the tracks were never tagged as final album cuts, as they lack that elusive “something” to make them click. It would, however, be interesting to hear ‘Splinter In My Soul’ in a live setting with all its rampant Soilwork-ishness. Continue reading AMARANTHE – Breaking Point: B-Sides 2011-2015
By Carl Begai
Twenty years ago I wrote a review for Slik Toxik’s second full length album, Irrelevant. It was a darker and dirtier record compared to their official debut, Doin’ The Nasty, written and released at a time when hair metal / cock rock bands were well into taking a beating from the grunge scene takeover. Irrelevant failed to make the same impact its predecessor had, and ultimately turned out to be Slik Toxik’s swansong. Looking back on said review in the wake of Perris Records opting to release a 20th Anniversary edition of the record, two things are readily apparent: I knew what I was talking about even as a wide-eyed newbie to the music biz, and Slik Toxik were way ahead of their time.
And thanks to the internet age I’m not restricted to a tiny column in trying to explain why Irrelevant works, units sold in the past be damned.
As stated in my original review (photo below), Irrelevant was a diverse platter that deftly avoided being a scene-sucking travesty with regards to their roots (that’s what I tried to say, at any rate). On the one hand Slik Toxik went from being cock rock to a nailgun-carrying metal band, quite unexpectedly bashing people over the head with ‘Twentysomething’, ‘I Wanna Gun’, ‘Kill The Pain’, ‘Fashioned After None’ and ‘Just Fade Away’. The bigger shock, however, turned out to be tracks like the introspective ballad ‘Liquid Calm’, the smokey bar blues of ‘Blue Monday’, and the acoustic led south bent ‘Mother Machine’. Less surprising was the drive towards Alice In Chains territory with ‘Dive’ and ‘Drained’ given the times, the latter being the weakest song on Irrelevant. Continue reading SLIK TOXIK – Irrelevant (20 Something Anniversary Re-Issue)
By Carl Begai
Best known as the voice and attitude of full-on traditional metal bashers Benedictum, Veronica Freeman has traded in the leather, chains and knee-high bitch boots for a romp with presumably tamer melodic rock/metal. Teaming up with a host of accomplished musicians / songwriters including Pete Wells (Benedictum), Jeff Pilson (Foreigner, ex-Dokken), Michael Sweet (Stryper) and Mike Lepond (Symphony X) to name a few, Freeman has put out a genuinely strong first solo effort boasting the ’70s / ’80s vibes and flavours of classic KISS, Dokken, a bit of AC/DC, and even present day Stryper. The 12-track album features Freeman pulling back on her raging Ronnie James Dio-esque voice just enough for a more soulful delivery suited for this type of rawk, but by no means does it soften any of the blows delivered. Think a pissed off Anastacia backed by walls of distortion and guitar shred, which is a very good thing. But, her familiar in-your-face roar is most certainly part of this production, unleashed as needed.
Now Or Never features two songs co-written with Michael Sweet, with ‘Again’ kicking things off and ‘Love Should Be To Blame’ surfacing mid-album; both could have made the cut for Stryper’s recent No More Hell To Pay record. ‘Roller Coaster’ is reminiscent of classic Destroyer-era KISS, ‘Kiss My Lips’ (featuring Chastain singer Leather Leone guesting) has more groove than every track on the new AC/DC record, and the (real) album-closing salvo of ‘Ready To Run’ is reminiscent of early, early Dokken’s classic ‘Live To Rock (Rock To Live)’. Continue reading THE V – Now Or Never: “Proof That VERONICA FREEMAN Has The Chops To Handle Anything Thrown Her Way”
When Kamelot released Silverthorn in 2012 it was a make-or-break affair as they navigated the debris left behind following the ambitious yet ultimately stagnant Poetry For The Poisoned album and the departure of vocalist Roy Khan. A record loaded to the teeth with every weapon in the Kamelot arsenal, Silverthorn was perhaps too epic for its own good at times, but it succeeded in winning over the vast majority of fans left heartbroken and skeptical by Khan’s departure. Haven finds Kamelot trimming away a lot of the Silver-fat in favour of a sound more in line with The Fourth Legacy, Karma or The Black Halo, beefing up the guitar / bass / keys / drums while reducing the symphonics to a Use In Case Of A Damn Good Idea capacity. Vocalist Tommy Karevik is given far more space to shine on Haven compared to his Silverthorn debut, making for a much stronger album on that score alone.
All that said, fact is nobody is going to be mindblown by Haven the first time through (if you say you were, you’re a bullshit artist). It’s a gradual build with lead-off tracks ‘Fallen Star’ and ‘Insomnia’ – which don’t have the blow-the-doors of speed of previous album openers ‘Center Of The Universe’ and ‘Forever’ – groove-pounding the listener into the new Kamelot comfort zone (with no done-to-death orchestral track to kick things off… thank you). Interesting as well that the band waits four tracks to unleash Haven’s first stormer, ‘Veil Of Elysium’ – which sounds like the less evil twin to Silverthorn’s ‘Sacrimony’ – one of only two (!!) to be had on the entire album. And this is the addictive nature of Haven; for all the threads you can weave back to previous album, Kamelot keep you guessing as to what you’re going to get, and how and when it’s going to be served up. Unexpected and bloody impressive at this stage of the game. Continue reading KAMELOT – Haven: “Unexpected And Bloody Impressive At This Stage Of The Game”
By Carl Begai
Ingolstadt, Germany: March 10th, 2015
So, show #1 of Rock Meets Classic 2015 is in the books. As expected there were the usual first show glitches, missed cues and general stiffness, but it promises to be one of the best RMC tours yet (and the last two years are pretty damn hard to top). Looking forward to see how this monster grows.
Noteworthy bits and bites:
– by far the best intro performance Rock Meets Classic has ever had. Doing up ‘Thunderstruck’ Apocalyptica-style = brilliant.
– Marc Storace of Krokus singing ‘Long Stick Goes Boom’ backed by an orchestra? Gold.
– Asia frontman John Wetton sounds exactly the same as 30 years ago. Killer.
– Mat Sinner smiles a lot.
– Mr. Big vocalist Eric Martin has way too much fun for one person. By mid-tour ‘To Be With You’ is going to be epic. The backing vocalists blew the roof off on ‘Green Tinted Sixties Mind’ (nice going Amanda, Tiffany, Kolinda and Sascha… mind blown).
– hails to guitarist Oliver Hartmann for remembering “the note” during the solo for ‘To Be With You’. Continue reading ROCK MEETS CLASSIC – Purple, Green, And Everything In Between…
By Carl Begai
With each Danko Jones release it’s not an issue of whether the new album is point blank good or bad, but rather how well it stacks up against its predecessors. Like KISS, AC/DC or Motörhead, Danko Jones have made a career of avoiding the use of rocket science in favour of the keep-it-simple-stupid vocals / guitars / bass / drums formula, and new (seventh) record Fire Music continues this tradition. While some folks may chafe at the idea of the Canuck trio being mentioned in the same line as rock / metal royalty, there’s no escaping the fact frontman Danko, bassist JC, and the latest drummer of choice (Rich Knox, please stick around) have earned their longevity rather than living off of YouTube views and Facebook likes padded by Beliebers.
It’s gotta be said that lead-off track ‘Wild Woman’ is standard fare for any Danko Jones release; no great shakes on the one hand but a smart move easing the fans into Fire Music as all bets are off from track #2 onwards. Frontman Jones has gone on record stating that a several songs on the album were inspired / influenced by the Misfits, and it most certainly shows. ‘The Twisting Knife’ followed in rapid succession by ‘Gonna Be A Fight Tonight’ and ‘Body Bags’ amount to almost 10 minutes of punk energy gift-wrapped in singalong attitude, echoed later on the album with equally speed-crazed ‘Piranha’ and ‘Watch You Slide’. Continue reading DANKO JONES – Fire Music: “Punk Energy Gift-Wrapped In Singalong Attitude”
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 SEASON OF GHOSTS – The Human Paradox: “Keeps You Wondering What’s Lurking Around Each Corner…”
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 NIGHTWING: The Series (2014) – “Worthy Of A Nerdgasm”
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 HELIX – 40 Proof: Still Wicked After All These Years