Archive for the ‘Music’ Category

A Legendary Summer of Music

Posted: June 28, 2014 in Music

july While 2014 has already been a stellar year in music with great releases from new artists all over the scene, I found the last few weeks to be saturated with new offerings from some of the most legendary artists of our lives. No better time than the present to re-introduce to you a few recognizable names – all still rocking and rolling decades later. So without further adieu, let’s get down to business…

Peter-Murphy

Peter Murphy – Lion (June 3rd)

Legendary Bauhaus frontman Peter Murphy looks to his tenth solo album with the type of experimental fervor typically reserved for artists half his age and that’s a good thing. Written and recorded in record time (rumors are Murphy did the album in just over a week), Lion shirks its regal title with semi-improvised pieces that are fast, loose and moody. While usually dancing on the softer edge of the night, Murphy pulls an (almost) about face, putting together 11 tracks that are heavier and faster-paced than just about anything he’s done over his storied career.

Murphy has readily stated that he’s no longer letting outside influences in, stating that rarely does he follow the “gothic” genre he helped create. And this album proves it. The vocals are still haunting at times, but the moody, dread-filled vibe is mostly absent. If anything, the album feels more like a rebirth than a rehashing of the Bauhaus days – and has a strangely enjoyable uplifting vibe.

Even though the album was put together quickly, Lion’s layout is a very deliberate one and should be listened to start-to-finish, as some songs don’t necessarily translate as well when not sandwiched between their counterparts. But if you are only going to listen to a few tracks and then move on, I suggest the heavy opener “Hang Up”,  the electro-clash painted “Low Tar Stars”, and the pop-influenced “Eliza.” The entire album, despite a couple of missteps along the way, shows that the 2014 version of Peter Murphy is as good as ever, and continues his legacy as one of alternative music’s most important voices.

8/10

Phish

Phish – Fuego (June 24th)

When it comes to Phish, most people either love them or hate them. I am one of the miniscule few that can take them or leave them. Sure, they are probably THE best jam-band out there these days, but it’s hard for me to to get caught up in 15 minute free-flowing guitar and bass solos. Maybe I need to start smoking pot or tie my bandana a little tighter – as I’m finally starting to feel it a little with the band’s new album Fuego.

For a band that made its name being able to interact and change on the fly during their live performances, I’ve never felt that same level of cohesion on their studio albums – until now. This time around, it feels like the band bottled up the stage energy an passed it around the recording studio until everyone was drunk. It’s high-spirited, it rocks, and it actually sounds like the band had a blast recording it.

The title track opener spins from one style to another, capturing the vibe they have on their best moments on stage. “Sing Monica” and “Devotion to a Dream” are as catchy as they come, and swirl along playfully. “Wintergreen” evokes the memories of some of Phish’s quirkiest lyrics over the years, and “555” does a great Red Hot Chili Peppers impersonation. In fact, I see a lot of the songs off this record making their way into the live set, which will only add an unnoticeable 30 minutes or so to the show. If you’ve experienced Phish live, you know what I’m talking about.

So call me a convert, or a new-found Phish-head or whatever… This album needs a place in your CD collection, no matter what kind of music you listen to, and builds on a career that shows no signs of letting up anytime soon.

9/10

Yes

Yes – Heaven and Earth (July 22)

Progressive rock fans pretty much wet themselves anytime there is rumor of a new Yes album, and the time to change the sheets is on the horizon. Heaven and Earth features only 8 new tracks from the band, and features new vocalist Jon Davison, but is a Yes album through and through. For starters, Davison sounds so much like former vocalist Jon Anderson that you almost forget that their is a “new” singer. Secondly, the core group of Chris Squire, Alan White, and Steve Howe continue their legacy of being the most prolific writing team in rock music. Sure, they don’t take (as many) hallucinogenics these days, and the lyrical content has gone from whimsical to more refined concepts – but Yes has, over their career, pretty much written the book of prog rock.

The latest chapter takes a more pop-sensible approach. Instead of the winding progressive structures, the band take a more radio-friendly road throughout Heaven and Earth. There is still everything here you would expect from a Yes record – from Howe’s driving guitar solos to Squire’s perfect harmonies – but let’s be honest. Time is running out.

Considering most of the band is on the bad side of 60 years old, the end of Yes is fast approaching. Thankfully, the band has decided to burn off the fumes in the starship by putting it into overdrive, heading at breakneck speed to the black hole. Heaven and Hell might sound a little like 90125 and Big Generator, but that’s not a bad thing. The tracks flow effortlessly from one to the next, showcasing each member in their own personal spotlights along the way.

“Believe Again” focuses the attention to Geoff Downes keyboard mastery, while “To Ascend” and “In A World Of Our Own” show what perfect writing and harmonies can be. “Light of the Ages” proves Howe as still one of the best guitarists out there, and “Step Beyond” offers as memorable of a bass and drum track as Yes has ever recorded,

The culmination lies in the albums final track, “Subway Walls”. For all the criticism the album might get for being too “light” by its detractors, this track is old-school Yes both in performance and content.  Filled with tempo shifts and complicated structure, it was a great finish to what – for me – was a great album. Heaven and Hell might not please every Yes fan out there, but there is plenty of satisfaction to be found here for fans new and old alike.

8.5/10

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4 Ahhh, summertime.  The sunny days, the mild, cricket-filled nights, the constant smell of barbecues and campfires.  No one likes the year’s best season more than me. Kicking on the flip-flops and kicking back a few cold ones in June is as traditional as decorating a fake tree in December for a mythical elf and a mythical holy man.

As a music writer, one of my favorite things about summer is the avalanche of new music. The summer festivals are in full swing, offering up chance after chance to see great acts (and usually tons of them together). Most of these acts time album releases around this time as well, ensuring the fans a new song or two to keep interest peaked, and revenue pouring in.

Here are a few early summer releases to wrap your ears around, with plenty more to come…

powerman5000

Powerman 5000 – Builders of the Future (May 27th)

Throughout the years (and throughout constant lineup changes) Rob Zombie’s little brother Spider 1 has continued to experiment with all kinds of different approaches to his music. It appears the web is finally complete with the release of Builders of the Future. The band combines elements from hard rock, club-based electro, and punk into ten songs of guilty pleasure. From the raucous opener “Invade, Destroy, Repeat” to the slowed down “I Want to Kill You”, Spider 1 has finally found the perfect elixer of sound. There isn’t a track to miss on this album as every guitar riff, synth blast, and drum fill will either have you banging your head, shaking your ass, or pounding your fist – and what’s more fun than any of that? 7/10

 

body count

Body Count – Manslaughter (June 10)

Way back in 1991, legendary West Coast rapper/gangster Ice-T  surprised crowds at Lollapalooza by finishing his hip-hop sets with a few down and dirty heavy metal songs with his band he dubbed “Body Count”. Fans and critics alike loved it, as well as the album the group released the following year. Recent history involving Ice-T, though,  has had more to do with television shows and the size of his wife’s breasts – so what better time than now to get back to being the bad-ass of yesteryear than by “getting the band back together”? Manslaughter is a kick-in-the-face reminder that Ice-T will always be one hard son-of-a-bitch, whether he’s doing rap or hardcore metal. Need an updated version of Suicidal Tendencies’ “Institutionalized” or a hood-smart version of Jay-Z’s “99 Problems”? – Body Count has you covered. Throw in a bucket full of messages from the street, a f*ck-all attitude and an in-your-face musical approach, and you’ll soon realize that Ice-T is still one of the greatest and most-feared musical forces of our time. 8/10

 

echo

Echo and the Bunnymen – Meteorites (June 3)

Ian McCulloch and Will Sergeant. They may not quite have the iconic status of other songwriting partnerships like Lennon & McCartney and Jagger & Richards, but since 1980 they’ve created a pretty sparkling legacy. If you wasted the 80’s listening to Madonna or Bon Jovi, Echo and the Bunnymen may have completely passed you by – but don’t feel bad. The band has endured as much dysfunction and tragedy as it has success, leading to a quite ride into obscurity the last decade or so. With McCullogh and Sargeant the last core members remaining, I wondered if there was even a need for a new Echo and the Bunnymen album when I heard rumors of it a few months back. Fortunately, the answer appears to be yes.

The duo have obviously not forgotten how to write great songs, as Meteorites takes the listener on a voyage of unusually personal lyrics and grand musical styles, ranging from the dark and haunting to the upbeat and poppy side of things. “Holy Moses”, “Explosions” and“Lovers On The Run” are in the classic Bunnymen mould with big choruses and Sergeant’s shimmering guitar riffs to the fore, while “Grapes On The Vine” and “New Horizons” showcase soft melodies and an almost epic approach. All in all, Meteorites is a decent, if hardly vital, album from one of Britain’s true national treasures. While we might not have exactly “needed” a new Echo & The Bunnymen album. it’s nice to have one anyway. 8/10

casualties
Casualties of Cool – Casualties of Cool (May 13)
I would be a fool not to mention this album, even though it came out weeks ago. Casualties of Cool is a alternative/country/rock/jazz album put together by Devin Townsend and Ché Aimee Dorval. I’ve oozed my love for the great Devin Townsend all over these pages in the past, and this time is no different. Where Casualties of Cool is different is that the vocals are mostly handled by Dorval, leaving Townsend to concentrate on the beautiful arrangements and smoothed-out style throughout. In describing the album, Devin stated “It sounds like haunted Johnny Cash songs. Late night music, completely isolated sounding and different than anything I’ve done. Che sings most of the leads, and it’s probably the truest reflection of who I am in life at this point.”
Standout tracks include the bluegrass-fueled “Mountaintop”, the upbeat “Ether”, and the new-age “The Bridge”, but the album – being a conceptual piece – is best listened to in its entirety. Ive always asked you to trust me when it comes to the vision and perfection of anything Devin Townsend gets his hands on, and Casualties of Cool is no exception. 9/10
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Check back soon for in-depth reviews of: Killwhitneydead – Suffer My Wrath  //  Night Ranger – High Road  //  The Phenomenauts – Escape Velocity  //  Killer Be Killed – S/T  //  Peter Murphy – Lion  //  Jack White – Lazaretto  //  Mastodon – Once More Round The Sun

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Magic MountainIt’s been a fast and furious 8 years for Kentucky rockers Black Stone Cherry, What started as simply teenage jam sessions between singer Chris Robertson and John Fred Young (son of The Kentucky Headhunter’s guitarist Richard Young), and quickly included classmates Ben Wells and Jon Lawhon, turned in to one of the greatest success stories of the twenty-first century.

And the timing couldn’t have been more perfect. Southern rock had remained a constant on rock radio thanks to staples as ZZ Topp and Lynyrd Skynyrd, and saw a bit of a rejuvenation on the 2000s thanks to acts such as Nickelback and Alter Bridge – but if the torch was going to be passed, it needed to belong to a band that was whiskey-soaked and deef-fried southern, and that’s exactly what Black Stone Cherry is.

In fact, it is this author’s opinion that the band has, through it’s three previous album releases, set the standard for the “new” southern rock sound and style: a style that pays deep homage to the predecessors, but quietly and almost inconspicuously takes the genre to new heights.

There isn’t a whole lot of anything new going on with the band with their latest release Magic Mountain (May 6th), but the band continues to move forward with their music, guns ablaze and rattlesnakes hissing. If there is anything different here, it is the fact that there is a little more “heaviness” to the album – and while not to be considered a heavy metal album, there is definitely enough here to get the attention of rock and metal fans alike. Part of that may be due to the band recently signing with Roadrunner Records, one of the most well-known metal labels in the history of music. When you walk the halls of a place that has released records from artists such as Biohazard, Type O Negative, King Diamond and Megadeth, I would expect a little bit of that to seep in to your blood, regardless of what style you play.

Whatever the case, Magic Mountain is thirteen songs of pretty much exactly what you wanted to listen to from a band that sounds great both driving down the road or lighting up the BBQ. There are messages, if you care to find them, but this album is best played one way and one way only – loud.

Some of the standout tracks for me were the opener “Holding On and Letting Go”, which opens with fuzzy muted guitar riffs, then cleans itself up nicely along the way. Halfway through, however, the band totally shifts gears into a tasty, nasty Black Sabbath-y riff of metal greatness before finishing up with their trademark choruses and soaring guitars.

black-stone-cherry

Already known as a bit of a “party band”, Black Stone Cherry make no secret about their favorite pastime – smoking pot. Two tracks, “Peace Pipe” and “Me and Mary Jane” are bound to be hesher anthems in the very near future, and while I’m not one for the “kind”, these tracks almost make a guy reconsider his recreational time.

The band has made a grand career of the “southern power ballad”, and you get a few along the way here. “Runaway”, “Sometimes” and “Remember Me” flirt a little to close to Creed territory for me, but they do give the record some depth of styles and the opportunity to catch ones breath along the way.

The title track “Magic Mountain” is a great arena rocker, “Never Surrender” features breakneck guitar riffs (as well as Robertson trying on a few metal screams for size), and “Blow My Mind” offers up some of the deepest blues vibes the band has ever recorded. The different styles from track to track really kept me listening, wondering what influence would pop its head out next, and when done right, makes an album great.

If there’s a misstep here, it is with the song that will probably be the most popular on the album. “Dance Girl” takes the listener on a guitar-and-bass-heavy ride through the world of strip clubs – but unfortunately, it’s almost exactly like “Let Me See You Shake” off their last record, which wasn’t a great track either. I guess if I’m hitting the strip club, I’d much rather hear Black Stone Cherry than, say, George Michael, so maybe they knew what they were doing all along.

All in all, though, Black Stone Cherry are perfecting the art of showing up, rocking your ass off, and leaving you to party – and that’s always been what southern rock has been to me. While Magic Mountain may not be their best record (which for me was their first) the band at least realizes that fans want a lot more of the same, and that’s exactly what they deliver.

This record is destined for commercial success, huge radio play, and will take them to even greater heights. Normally, that would bother me and turn me off of an album, but in this instance, I think it may be its greatest strength. Rock and mainstream radio needs a kick in the balls, and Black Stone Cherry have definitely strapped on their boots.

8.5/10

311-coverThere is no better way to introduce this month’s album picks than by simply stating the fact that March and April were filled with triumphs, surprises, and tons of great music in the alternative scene. While I’d like to write up about twenty records that have come across my desk, I’ll stick with what I feel were the best three, and let you do your own research on what has been the strongest four weeks of releases in a long, long time.

311 – Stereolithic (March 11th)

Placing a label on Omaha, NE natives 311 is like trying to explain the theory of relativity to a 5-year old – absolutely impossible. Over a span of 11 albums, the band has crossed over between rock and metal, to punk and rap – all the while maintaining an alternative edge with reggae-influences and soaring vocals. While 311 was definitely more “edgier” early in their career, the dedication to create fresh, left-of-center music has not only earned them a HUGE fan base, but well-deserved respect from the music writers of today. Even their last record, the less-than-stellar “Universal Pulse”, got more acclaim than it probably deserved, but I credit that to the fact that the band has put together a rock-solid career that gets a free pass now and then in light of their otherwise outstanding body of work.

This, did, however, prompt me to give the band’s latest release “Stereolithic” a more careful listen than usual. One bad album could be cited as just an accident, but two in a row would be a trend, and if 311 were on the downward spiral, I wanted to be sure to let my adoring public in on it.

Thankfully, such is not the case. The band is still the same, the inspirations are unchanged, and 311’s lineup reads the same as it did back in 1991 – yet somehow the group has found a new energy and passion that pushes “Stereolithic” to even new heights. Maybe they took the few bad reviews of “Universal Pulse” to heart, but whatever the reason, the band’s new album is nothing short of amazing.

Tracks like “Showdown,” “The Great Divide”  and “Boom Shanka” find the band returning to a more funky, rap-filled groove, while “Ebb and Flow” and “First Dimension” are straight-ahead rockers that showcase the vocals harmonies of Nick Hexum and SA Martinez, and crunchy guitar/bass combos from Tim Mahoney and P-Nut Wills.

What pushed the record past a typical 311 release, however, is the great “chill-out” moments showcased in tracks like “Sand Dollars”, “Tranquility” and “Friday Afternoon” – displaying great songwriting and tempo shifts that feel more like a musical vacation than just a song on the radio. In fact, the whole record feels like a great journey through the past present and future of 311 – and it’s a trip well worth taking.

9/10

foxy shazam coverFoxy Shazam – Gonzo (April 2)

When buying records – whether it be at the store or online – “price” does factor in. The luxury of being a music writer has its perks, as rarely do I have to buy an album (although I DO try to pick up records and support the bands I like the best). For most, the best price on anything is “free” – and that’s exactly what you have to pay for the new album from Ohio’s Foxy Shazam. Riding a wave of popularity and success after 2012’s “The Church of Rock and Roll”, the band that is so hard to explain did something that is so hard to understand. They self-released their latest album, and opted to make it free to the public via their website. This could be seen as a quite noble move, perhaps – or maybe they felt it only fair. You see, stylistically “Gonzo” is a huge departure from the album before it, and giving it away might have been the best approach, as fans won’t see this coming – and that usually means bad news. But maybe not in this case.

If you think 311 is a diverse sound, just wait until you get a load of these guys. Lead singer Eric Nally cites everyone from Evel Kneivel to Iggy Pop as influences, and his high-pitched vibrato challenges the likes of Freddie Mercury and Meatloaf. Who do they sound like? Absolutely nobody – and everybody. The title track might remind you of Sly and the Family Stone, or something out of the Rocky Horror Picture Show, depending on which part of the song you are paying attention to. “Brutal Truth” almost sounds like a disorganized Joan Jett song, and  “In This Life” could easily be mistaken for a David Bowie classic. But this is no tribute album. The oddity of the structures and scrambled lyrics make for one strange-yet-beautiful soundscape – and defines Foxy Shazam the best way possible. By defining nothing at all.

While not as shiny and clean as its predecessor, “Gonzo” succeeds in being honest and true (the band recorded the album together in one-room recording sessions earlier in the year). It may not have the production value they spoiled us with last time around, but the energy and grit more than make up for it.

If you’re looking for something a little unusual, a bit chaotic, and teeming with brilliance, go download this album immediately. It’s not like it’s going to cost you anything. Worth noting is the band is going to be touring pretty much everywhere the rest of the year, so keep your eyes open for a Denver gig, an Aspen appearance, or dare I say a possible Grand Junction sighting in the not-so-distant future.

8.5/10

 

pixies_coverThe Pixies – Indie Cindy (April 19)

Alternative music has seen its share of legends over the years, but maybe none more mysterious and revered than The Pixies.  While grunge music was changing the way we listen to music in the late 80s/early 90s, The Pixies quietly went about business, releasing five albums in five short years. College radio loved them, discerning critics raved about them, and even more popular acts like Nirvana and Pearl Jam credited them as influences. Kurt Cobain even went as far as to openly state that his band’s biggest hit “Smells Like Teen Spirit” was a blatant Pixies rip-off.

Despite their growing popularity, The Pixies were faced almost immediately with one of the biggest problems in rock and roll – they couldn’t stand each other. Founder and lead singer Frank Black had one of the most interesting voices and songwriting skills of the time, but also was a complete asshole. He and bassist Kim Deal often fought over the groups musical direction, and arguments often led to Deal refusing to perform shows, skipping rehearsals, and other typical rock-and-roll behaviors. Their love for one another came to a head during a show in Germany, where Black threw his guitar at Deal mid-performance and walked off stage, bringing an end to a band that had seemingly just gotten started.

Black went on to record several solo albums, Deal joined her sister and formed The Breeders, and fans were left hung out to dry. But the music of those five albums lived on. It almost seemed as though radio and pop culture appreciated The Pixies far more after they disbanded, and after a long stint on the sidelines, Black decided to take a trip down memory lane and reform the band for a reunion tour of colleges and festivals. What was originally slated for 15 semi-exclusive shows turned in to several years of touring, as the media and fans alike welcomed the band back with sold out venues and high praises of their performances. Due to the success of these tours, Black and Deal agreed that the band should start writing new material, and while Deal left the band again in June of last year, the band has released three EPs over the last nine months, all containing new music.

If you missed these releases, don’t feel bad. The band has decided to combine them into a full-length titled “Indie Cindy”, hitting record stores later this month. The question is out there, though. How would the band’s creative forces sound after 23 years of not writing music together? Would their sound go to new places or would it rehash over new ground?

The answer? Both. “Indie Cindy” is undeniably a Pixies record throughout, with Black’s unique vocal stylings continuing to pair well with the often out-of-tune guitars and screeching feedback of bass. There is, though, a refined, refreshing feel to it all. While “What Goes Boom” opens the album in an expected frenzied nature, tracks like “Greens and Blues”, “Silver Snail” and “Andro Queen” show a much softer side to The Pixies than even I expected – and I’m one of their biggest fans.

Also, there were plenty of new tricks up Black’s sleeve. “Bagboy” is a nice fusion of guitar heavy rock with an almost hip-hop beat, “Blue Eyed Hexe”  has a distinctive underlying southern rock vibe to it, and “Jamie Bravo” might be the poppiest punk song the band has ever written – all a pretty far departure from their usual “spaghetti-western-soundtrack-on-acid” approach. While I enjoyed the fresh approach the band has taken on this record, there have been plenty of my peers that have not. Some reviews blast the band for “merely cashing in on their past success” or “making a mockery of their legacy one guitar line at a time” – but I have to disagree. Having been a long-time fan of the band, there was a high level of expectation to this release, but the flip side of that coin is that the music world has changed quite a bit over the last 20 years and getting another album like “Doolitle” simply was not going to happen. Instead, we get more Pixies music, new Pixies music, and I – for one – couldn’t be more happy about all of it.

9/10

pusa2Last issue we gave you a sample of a half a dozen or so albums that had recently been released, and the response – three text messages, 17 Facebook “likes”, and one drunken conversation at 3:00 in the morning – was so overwhelming that I thought I’d follow the trend and load you up with a few more of the latest and greatest releases over the last few weeks.

It may have been the shortest month of the year, but that didn’t stop it from having an avalanche of new releases from artists from every corner of the soundscape. There were quite a few “decent” records and a fair share of forgettable ones as well, but there were plenty of great albums from all kinds of bands. I’m only highlighting three here, but do yourself a favor and hit your favorite music store and check out all the new releases, as 2014 is shaping up to be one of the best years ever in music.

Adrenaline Mob – Men of Honor

adrenaline coverAdrenaline Mob was formed a few years back as a result of longtime drumming legend Mike Portnoy losing his day job with prog/metal icons Dream Theater. Portnoy joined forces with Symphony X frontman Russell Allen, guitarist Mike Orlando, with bassist Paul Di Leo and guitarist Rich Ward (both of Fozzy fame) filling out the roster. The band released a better-than-average effort dubbed Omerta in 2012, and seemed to be destined for a long run of success in the world of metal. And then came the monkey wrench.

Portnoy – almost inexplicably – quit the band abruptly in 2013, citing scheduling conflicts, and it seemed the Mob was gone before they even had a chance to get things started. After all, in a school of big fish, he was definitely the shark. Somehow, though, the remaining members (which now included Disturbed bassist John Moyer) rallied the troops, found a replacement for Portnoy (in the form of former Twisted Sister drummer A.J. Pero), and moved on like nothing ever happened – and somehow got even better.

Men of Honor (released February 25th) shows that Adrenaline Mob aren’t making any excuses, and – instead – are just making chest-pounding, bone-shaking rock and roll. The absence of Portnoy is noticeable (if you compare it to the first album), but almost in a good way. Gone are the technical fills and intricate patterns, replaced by the type of in-your-face anthems that define everything good about hard rock.

adrenaline mobTracks like “The Mob Is Back”, “Let It Go” and “Feel The Adrenaline” keep it simple, but still knock your teeth out with raw energy, The softer of side of “Behind These Eyes” and “Crystal Clear” bring back the glory of the power ballad, and the experimental “House of Lies” might remind you of early Foo Fighters stuff. All of it is very good on the surface, and making it even better is the emergence of Mike Orlando.

If Omerta was drumming showcase, Men of Honor is the absolute introduction to one of rock and metal’s best-kept secrets on guitar. Orlando absolutely tears this album apart. If you needed a new guitar hero, you may just find it in this album, as the fret work and solos are out of this world throughout. Which only adds to an impressive effort across the board, and makes me believe that if this unit can remain cohesive, we will be hearing lots from Adrenaline Mob for years to come. 8.5/10

Hatriot – Dawn of the New Centurion

DOTNC-cdFor most of you, experience with true American thrash metal is probably pretty limited, Outside of a few Metallica songs and being able to draw the Slayer insignia, not many followed the scene which was popularized by acts such as Megadeth and Anthrax in the late 80’s and disappeared back into the shadows shortly thereafter.

But thrash has been going strong all these years. While now more of an “underground” scene, some of the best albums over the past twenty years have been released by these bastard children of the more popular sub-genres of metal. Some bands, like Annihilator, Metal Church, and Testament (to name just a few) never put down their guitars the last thirty years, while newer bands like Toxic Holocaust, Municipal Waste and Skeletonwitch have taken the torch and brought thrash metal into the new age of metal. Somewhere in between the old and the new lies this author’s new favorite band, Hatriot.

hatriot-ps04xWhile not yet one of the most known bands in metal, Hatriot does showcase one of thrash metal’s most known alumni – vocalist Steve  “Zetro” Souza, who’s work with Exodus is legendary. Zetro is joined by shredder extraordinaire Kosta V (and apparently some younger family members) and delivers not only a definitive reinvention of his classic Bay Area style, but puts him right back on the map of the thrash metal scene. When this type of music is done right, it leaves a devastating path of destruction along the way, and this record is nothing short of a nuclear bomb.

From the opening riffs of “My Cold Hands” all the way to the pummeling conclusion of “Consolation For The Insane”, Dawn of the New Centurion is a thrash fan’s wet dream. Is “Honor In The Rise And Fall” every bit as good of a track as “Master of Puppets”? You bet your ass. And that’s only one song out of a list of a dozen that is executed with insane perfection, making you wonder why all thrash metal isn’t this damn good. If you pick this up, get the deluxe edition that includes a great bonus track – a cover of the classic Krokus track “Midnight Maniac”. 9/10

The Presidents of The United States – Kudos To You!

pusa-coverRemember the song “Peaches” from the 90s? Are you already singing it in your head? The song that made no sense, and was so overly hip that it ended up being one of the most annoying songs of all-time? The guilty party behind that song was Seattle’s The Presidents of the United States of America, whos self-titled album also gave us the eccentric “Lump”, the awkward “Kitty”, and somehow sold millions of records with their punk-meets-folk lo-fi approach to “alternative music”. Not unlike their brethren Cake and Weezer, The Presidents… made a career of often-confusing, tongue-in-cheek lyrics and thigh-slapping ditties that dug their fingers into your brain like a commercial jingle and refused to let go. Success was unfortunately fleeting, as the musical landscape focused more towards the serious “grunge” scene – and after the suicide of Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain, there didn’t seem to be much place for joking around in the world of rock and roll.

Not long after recording “Cleveland Rocks”, the theme for television’s “The Drew Carey Show” (yes, that was them), the band called it quits in 1998. Vocalist/bassist/songwriter/founder Chris Ballew wanted to spend more time with his family, and drummer Jason Finn sought out other musical avenues. After a decent layoff, the band reunited in 2004, adding Seattle area guitarist Andrew McKeag, playing a few shows here and there, and writing a new song or two along the way – but it wasn’t until the 2008 release These Are Good Times People that the band really seemed to truly be back. That album received great critical response, but failed to catch on outside of college radio, and the band was again in the position of asking themselves “what next?”

Fast forward to November 2013. The band wasn’t really planning on recording another album (and didn’t have the money to self-produce), but after a succesful PledgeMusic campaign (a program which artists are using these days to fund albums from donations from fans), decided to hit the studio with little to no expectations. What those sessions produced was pretty damn impressive.

pusaYou could never place an exact label on the style of The Presidents… and Kudos To You! is a glaring representation of this hodgepodge style.  There are songs about bugs (“Slow Slow Fly” “Flea vs. Mite”), the supernatural (“Crappy Ghost”), apathy (“Poor Little Me”), and all other sorts of simple-yet-nonsensical topics. The flow is all over the place, incorporating honky-tonk rockabilly, sensible pop/punk, alternative rock and everything in-between, yet somehow coming all together for 40 minutes of pure fun. While it lyrically is pretty simple and straightforward (my 5-year was singing along to most of the choruses on the first listen), the hidden depth of the verses makes it worth listening to over and over again.

I don’t want to claim the record is over-produced, but it is obvious that every detail on the record was spit-shine polished bright enough to match Bellew’s hairless head, and it’s this type of perfection that only makes a great listen even better. While Kudos To You! may or may not end up being the last album recorded by these guys, it would certainly be a fitting farewell, as it is undeniably their record, recorded on their terms, with a spirit that can’t be called anything but genuine. It probably won’t be the most popular album of 2014, but for my money, it is definitely one of the best. 10/10

crystalSo January happened. In case you missed it (and I’m sure you did), yours truly took a break from the rigors of writing last month. Blame it on the turkey/eggnog induced coma brought on by the holidays. Blame the freezing temperatures we’ve endured here in the Grand Valley. Blame an overall lethargy brought on by the flipping of the calendar. Whatever the case, it’s time to get back to business.

Instead of the normal, drawn-out review of just one record, I’m going to throw a few condensed reviews at you this month of some of the highlights of January, as well as a couple of sneak-peeks of some records coming in February, so buckle up and pay attention – this is going to be a lot to swallow.

The Crystal Method – The Crystal Method:

crystal-methodThe Grammy Awards just happened, and to a lot of people’s surprise (myself included) the DJ team of Daft Punk took home the gold for both album and artist of the year. Normally house/electronic music doesn’t get a lot of chatter in the overall industry, but we may have a repeat Grammy shocker in 2014. Ken Jordan and Scott Kirkland are collectively known as The Crystal Method, and released their ninth (and self-titled) record January 14th. The electronic music world has changed a lot in the past two decades (The Crystal Method are celebrating their 20 year anniversary in 2014) from the days when acts like Moby, KMFDM, The Prodigy and others pushed boundaries and challenged listeners. But the scene has scene a resurgence of late, and who better to keep the momentum going than these guys.

The album itself stays true to the duo’s roots, but freshens itself up to the modern craze, moving from dubstep beats to electro-funk guitars to smooth vocal tracks with seamless effort. Guest appearances are all over the place, including country/pop star LeAnn Rimes, Dia Frampton (of Meg & Dia fame) and former Scars on Broadway guitarist Franky Perez. If you liked The Crystal Method all along, this album will exceed your expectations, and if you are new to electro/house, you’ll get a quick lesson on perfection from one of the best in the business. 8.5/10

Throwdown – Intolerance:

throwdownIt’s been five years since frontman Dave Peters and his hardcore band Throwdown have released an album, and with good reason. Peters hasn’t really had a band. The revolving door of talent has spun at breakneck speed for the band over the last twelve years (who’s list of “ex” band members reaches double-digits), and frankly, the music world seldom waits around for people to get their shit together. But together the shit has gotten.

Throwdown’s new release Intolerance is one of the band’s strongest efforts to date, filled with mosh-inducing blast beats, and the angry, Pantera-influenced vocal stylings Peters has been known for. Lyrically, Peters goes a little off the deep end at times in his proclamation of his straight-edge lifestyle (which, for those that don’t know, involves being drug/alcohol free, amongst other things), but the album is a powerful assembly of everything good about hardcore metal. If you want to feel like your being chased by a crazed pitbull that just broke off his chain, tracks like “Fight Or Die” and “Without Weakness” are just the ticket. It’s hard, it’s aggressive, and it’s about as good as it gets. 9/10

Red Dragon Cartel – Red Dragon Cartel

red-dragon“Who the hell is Red Dragon Cartel?” you are probably asking yourself. Well, the answer is simple – it is the new band from former Ozzy Osbourne and Badlands guitarist Jake E. Lee, and that’s kind of a big deal. Lee has pretty much spent the last twenty years in recluse, surrounded by unfounded rumors of his demise, addictions, and even death. In all actuality, he was simply hiding out in Las Vegas.

His emergence from hibernation is as much of a surprise to me as anyone, as Lee had stated in the few scarce interviews over the last two decades that he was “done” with music (although he had hinted on VH-1’s That Metal Show in 2011 that he might return at some point). Apparently Jake didn’t leave his guitar too far behind over the years, as he sounds as triumphant as ever on the band’s debut, eponymous release.

reddragoncartelThe album’s opener “Deceived” will immediately remind you of  “Bark at the Moon”, and that style of fretboard assault continues throughout. There are other moments of brilliance as well, the first being “Feeder” which features Robin Zander (Cheap Trick) on vocals. This song has a trippy, Cheap Trick feel to it which unsurprisingly suits Zander’s voice. This track is also the first to be released for radio play which is a clever move. Another track of note is “Wasted” which again features guest vocals, this time supplied by Paul Di’anno. Again the rough nature of the track suits Paul’s gruff delivery well. Main vocal duties for the album are supplied by D.J Smith who is more than capable of carrying things off himself alongside Lee’s excellent fretwork. Overall, though, this is a good album rather than a great one. What is great though is to see Jake E Lee back in the rock fold where he rightly belongs. Hopefully Red Dragon Cartel can grow and deliver something special in the future, as they certainly have the talent to do just that. 7/10

Behemoth – The Satanist:

behemothWhile I understand that black/death metal isn’t necessarily everyone’s cup of tea, February 4th is a great day for fans of Poland’s Behemoth. The fact that this album even exists is a bit of a miracle, as lead singer Negral has overcome all odds and won a life-or-death battle with leukemia. The fight took from him his long, windmill-ready hair, but gave him something far more valuable – a second chance.

The band’s new album – The Satanist – is an extraordinary statement of renewed intent from a band that already had the respect of the metal world. Behemoth has perfected the art of taking the listener through the abyss and back with epic structures, dark, evil lyrics, and pristine production, and The Satanist is all that and more.  The standout moment, however, lies in the title track. The guitar line is beautifully haunting and there’s a good thick tone throughout. It’s an incredibly striking song that requires a few listens to fully take in because there’s just so much to it. A truly beautiful piece.

Granted, The Satanist (and Behemoth as a whole) isn’t not something you want your youngsters to listen to – and your grandma won’t approve of the message, but if pitch-black grandeur is what you seek, you’ll find it here. 8/10

Beck – Morning Phase:

Beck-Morning-PhaseIt’s been a while since we heard from the messy haired “loser” and college radio darling Beck, but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t been keeping busy. While he hasn’t had a record of his own since 2008’s Modern Guilt, Beck has been filling up the last six years writing songs, producing albums, and basically just being himself – a chilled-out father-of-two keeping his ear on the music scene.

Morning Phase (to be released February 25th) finds Beck in familiar territory – crafting songs with stunning harmonies, laid-back attitude, and heavy emotions – and sounding all the wiser along the way. The quirkiness and hipster vibe has taken a back seat to a more mature, free-flowing style. While the tracks may remind you of such bands as Pink Floyd, The Grateful Dead and others, the album is definitely his.

The record, as a whole, has a warm and comfortable feeling, but the biggest selling point in Morning Phase is that it is absolutely beautiful. It might not be profound or deep or daring, but it’s as embracing as it gets. In this day and age of indie music, making something sincerely and simply beautiful seems either incredibly difficult, or something artists are not just as interested in doing. But Beck pulls it off almost effortlessly, so much so that it’s hard not to listen to this album over and over again. 8.5/10

metallica-posterYou know the history of California-based thrash rockers Metallica, and with good cause. In a storied career of thirty five fast, furious years and nine studio albums, the band has pretty much built the Taj Mahal of heavy metal, and has been living comfortably in it for decades. Conquering adversity has also been one of the band’s strength’s over the years – from the death of bassist Cliff Burton in 1986, through the fight against file-sharing pirates Napster at the turn of the century, to the inexplicable musical direction taken with the head-scratching releases of St. Anger and Lulu (which the band collaborated with the late Lou Reed). Metallica still takes the stage proudly, middle-fingers in the air, and struts their stuff with an attitude and perseverance unmatched by almost any other band.

So it was no surprise when the band took on a few new challenges in 2013. The first was starting their own independent label – Blackened Records – and acquiring all of their intellectual rights to their back catalog and properties. The second? Creating a “ground-breaking” movie/concert film mash-up titled “Through The Never” that hit IMax and theaters late last year. That film is now available on DVD and BluRay, but before rushing out to buy/rent what sounds like the most amazing thing a metal fan could ask for, take warning.

It’s not.

Unless, of course, your idea of a good time is watching a band slam through nothing but their pre-2000 hits while throwing in a ridiculously fictional story that never should have been their in the first place. There are really two things at play here: the “story” and the “concert” – so let’s address these separately before we get to far down the rabbit’s hole.

metallicaThe story: Dane DeHaan plays a roadie named “Trip” who is sent out on a mysterious, important mission at the beginning of the film just as the band is taking the stage in front of  sold out crowd in Canada. While driving his far-too-ironic, beat-to-shit van, Trip wrecks his vehicle and comes across director Nimrod Antal’s vision of post-apocalyptic something-or-another in pursuit of a duffel bag, whos contents are as much of a mystery as the rest of this head-scratcher. The “story” breaks contain some good visuals despite the narrative, but are too few and far between, as most of the film is devoted to the band and their performance – so much so, that tying any of it together was an exercise in futility. I even tried to correlate the story line with the lyrics to the Metallica songs they coincided with, but to no avail. The “story” just didn’t make sense, and all I really wanted to see was more of the “concert”. Or so I thought.

The concert: Huge stage, amazing lighting, massive pyrotechnics, and million-dollar effects. All of this was pretty cool for the first 45 minutes or so, until I realized the unfortunate truth that Metallica hasn’t had a song worth its weight in pastrami since around 1995. They performed with machine-gun precision, but considering they have played these tracks about a hundred million times, it wasn’t nearly as impressive as I had hoped. Add to that some obviously rehearsed and somewhat corny “accidents” on stage (Were they supposed to tie in with the story? Did they really set that guy on fire?), and what started with a lot of promise quickly fizzled out in to something lost, disjointed, and completely average.

You can’t blame Metallica for trying, though. The concept was there, and the premise looks good on paper – but the end result is something that mirrors the last ten years of the legendary bands career…

Completely forgettable.

3.5/10