Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Back on Track

Iced Earth

"torn asunder our destiny is in sight/this is the anthem to celebrate your life." From the Gospel of Iced Earth, Book Dystopia, sec. Anthem

Iced Earth has never been a band that could claim of having a stable lineup. After the release of their newest album “Dystopia”; I hope main man Jon Schaffer has found a group that will stick around for awhile. With a revolving door of members, it’s hard to imagine that happening, but anything is possible. However, new vocalist Stu Block brings an energy and fierceness to the band and brings the best of both worlds from previous vocalists Matt Barlow and Tim Owens. Lead guitar player Troy Seele utilizes some impressive lead work missing since the days of Randall Shawver.

While “Dystopia” is not a concept album, it has an underlying theme to it of resisting dominating government and to fight back against the injustices of the world. It is nowhere near the direct harsh criticisms towards the United States government in Schaffer’s side project Sons of Liberty, but this album instead uses movies such as “V for Vendetta” and “Dark City” to elaborate its point. All in all, it makes for a kick-ass heavy metal record.

Gone are the choirs, layered vocals, and the orchestral compositions that were featured on the Something Wicked saga. Iced Earth is back to sounding like Iced Earth and not Blind Guardian. Stu Block’s presence leaves a sneering imprint with his growls and piercing screams. He is also a great impressionist sounding like Barlow at times and with his deafening scream, he sounds like Owens. Its as if both morphed into one person. In fact, on the softer songs like “Anguish of Youth”, he has some Glenn Hughes come out of him in the verses.

Schaffer has been accused at times of ripping himself off and while the galloping riffs are still present; it sounds fresh and does not sound like a direct rip-off to anything he has done. “Dark City” is the best song on here because of the elongated solo section at the end courtesy of Seele and the aggression it has is remarkable. The last song “Tragedy and Triumph” is an awesome epic that has a very inspirational atmosphere to fight against the man and to stand up for what is right. It is a great closer and brings “Dystopia” to a proper end. The guitar solo parts are again really strong. It is refreshing to have good solos on an Iced Earth record again because they have been missing for awhile.

Ironically, it the fastest and thrashier songs that are the weakest. Both “Days of Rage” and “Boiling Point” are both short, to the point songs, but are given little time to develop. They are amongst the least memorable songs on here. It is also the only time where Block sounds too much like a tough guy and it is very off-putting. I can forgive that though because they are not even close to the worst found on the previous couple albums.

This is easily the best since “Horror Show” with its quality and having a running theme with the songs like on HS is awesome. I highly recommend buying the deluxe edition with the three bonus songs because “Soylent Green” and “Iron Will” are good tracks. However the string mix of “Anthem” is unnecessary and barely sounds different. The packaging is also stellar with artwork that fit’s the different songs and the poster of the cover art and the sticker are solid extras that come with the deluxe edition. If you did not enjoy the Something Wicked saga and were yearning for Iced Earth to get back to basics, then you will be happy with this record. Tracks like “Dark City”, “Dystopia”, and “Tragedy and Triumph” show that the band still have what it takes to bring some quality metal.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

My Kind of Temple

Michael Schenker
Temple of Rock

“…I run but there’s no escape/ heading out for better days, lights all over me/ all that I do is hanging on…” From the Gospel of Michael Schenker, Book Temple of Rock, sec. Hanging On

The great guitar mind of Michael Schenker is back with an all-star cast in “Temple of Rock”. This was not released under the MSG moniker because this is separate from that band as this is more of a collaboration with some of the greats and some of Schenker’s old working mates like Pete Way, his brother Rudolf Schenker, and Paul Raymond. “Temple of Rock” succeeds not because of the great cast, but because this album has something for everybody.

Right away it scores points with the opening speech performed by none other than William Shatner. The cover art is something to behold as well, with a bust of Michael being set upon a temple. It is something that would surely make the ancient Egyptians blush. While sounding quite serious, it bombards to the first salvo of “How Long.” It is a solid opener with strong guitar work from Michael and basically sets the tone for what the album is going to be: heavy hitting hard rock. Fortunately, there is a bit variation for how they attack.

One of the stronger numbers on here is “Hanging On”, with its ‘keep on fighting’ mentality. It’s a bit inspiring in a way and the underlying keyboards are a nice touch while vocalist Michael Voss does a great job delivering the urgency the track is trying to project. This song sounds like something that could have been in a “Rocky” movie, and that is a good thing. The up-tempo, fast volleys of “The End of an Era” changes the pace up a bit and the keyboard and guitar solo duel harkens back to the greatness of bands such as Deep Purple. This is one the strongest aspects of the record because with 13 songs, no two sound alike.

The band shows their softer side in “With You”. The soft ballad is a bit on the cheesy side, but the beautiful guitar makes up for it and the vocal delivery by Voss is touching. The use of violins is also a nice addition and adds to the mood of the song. When it seems like the listener is headed to the softer part of the temple, “Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead” kicks in full blast. This is definitely the most metallic track and former Rainbow singer Doogie White makes his presence felt with bombastic guitar and also an orchestral attack. This takes the cake for being my favorite song.

Unfortunately, not everything is crisp. With a lot of tracks, there is bound to be some missteps and there are. “Fallen Angel” is one of the few tracks that show little inspiration the standard rocking falls short of being interesting or good. “Scene of Crime” has loads of potential. A nice acoustic intro followed by some nice riffing, but the vocals do not catch on with. There is some weird background voice during parts of the verse and I can’t stand it. The final thing is while Voss does a good job and his rasp adds edge to the songs; I can’t help, but think that Gary Barden would have done a better job. He could have given these songs an extra character and he is a reason why the first two MSG records are excellent.

With that being said, this is a great rock record. Clocking in at just under an hour, the album does not hold on too long. Thankfully the all-star cast did not falter. The standouts include “Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead”, “The End of An Era”, and “Storming In.” Those three are also the most metallic songs. This temple is one I will be visiting often.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

A Look Back...

Iced Earth
Crucible of Man: Something Wicked Part II

“…I am the weapon that strikes in the hearts of man I thrive, feeding their fear with lies; I will devour I will divide…”-From the Gospel of Iced Earth, Book The Crucible of Man, sec. Divide Devour

With the dawn of a new Iced Earth album coming next week; let’s take a look back at the previous release “The Crucible of Man.” This is something I will be doing regularly with bands about to put out new albums. Anyways, this is the last album to feature the great Matt Barlow on vocals. He replaced Tim Owens after the first part of the Something Wicked saga and basically every fan received the news with great enthusiasm. It’s not that there was anything wrong with Owens, but Barlow IS the voice of Iced Earth.

While Barlow’s presence is delightful to the ears, the music falls flat. The whole Set Abominae thing was enough for one album, but dragging it out for a two albums is overreaching to some extent. I mean, the guy is a cool mascot and he looks badass on the covers he is represented on, but the whole story should have rested with the previous album. The album sounds pretentious from mastermind Jon Schaeffer, but I can look past that because Set is trying to take over the world…or something like that. There are big choruses, orchestral arrangements, and middle-eastern rhythms here. There is some epic stuff going on here. It’s like as if the Russians were taking over eastern Europe or the Civil War was on its last heels. However, it is apparent Set can’t inspire awesome, crushing riffs because there are not much present here and that is sad to say because there are a whooping 15 songs on here. Some are little interludes, but still that is a lot.

It might not sound like there much positives found on here, but alas there are! Barlow for one is wonderful, bringing character to the songs as only Barlow can. The opener “In Sacred Flames” is a cool opener to “set” the tone of the album (see what I did there?) “Crucify the King” actually has some decent riffing to it and is a major part of the story as I recommend this song as well. “Harbinger of Fate” has some arrangements that go back to the original trilogy and hearing the continuity go into the songs is a perk. With what the story is about; there should be much more aggression and thankfully “Divide Devour” provides that. There are finally some driving guitar parts and a sense of serious stuff going down. Overall, the second half the album is much stronger, but that is not really saying much.

The last thing to add is this would make an awesome to learn about in history class or some music class. Imagine learning about the great Set Abominae wreaking havoc on the human race because the of the way his people were wronged by the evil humans. Damn the human race! I feel like a total ass for being human now. Having this kind of revenge story should make for awesome music like when Iced Earth attempted to do the same with Spawn for “The Dark Saga.” Unfortunately, the whole Something Wicked story would make for a better comic book than an album.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Dio Disciples Come to Preach

Dio Disciples

Venue: House of Blues Cleveland
Date: September 28, 2011

“…you watch their faces, you’ll see their traces of the things they want to be, but only we can see…”-From the Gospel of Dio, Book Last in Line, sec. We Rock

It is has been about 17 months since Ronnie James Dio’s death that shook the metal community. However, his spirit and the power of his music has remained as a new venture was created by Dio’s last band members to tour and play his music from Rainbow, Black Sabbath, and of course his solo band. The singers they recruited are no slouches either as Tim “Ripper” Owens and little known Toby Jepsen joined the fold.

The band was electric right from the get-go with an energetic performance of “Stand Up and Shout” followed by “Holy Diver.” The Ripper was spot on with his vocals and did made it look effortless. Jepsen made his first appearance with the first Rainbow tune of the night in “Kill the King.” Jepsen possesses a very good vocal range and did the Dio songs justice. To add the aura of the songs, Owens and Jepsen would shoot back and forth on vocals and sometimes one would do the harmony in the background. The Rainbow classic “Stargazer” utilized this and was one the highlights of the night.

Craig Goldy was on fire all night with the guitar. Having to cover Ritchie Blackmore, Vivian Campbell, and Tony Iommi is no easy task, but he was on spot and very impressive. Whether it was the fury of “Kill the King”, the prodding of “Egypt (The Chains are On” or the majestic “Heaven and Hell”; Goldy nailed it.

The rest of the band was awesome too. Veteran bass player Rudy Sarzo still erupts energy as if he was still 25 and the way he wields the bass is fun to watch. Scott Warren provided the atmospheric keyboards and gave the amp “Rainbow in the Dark” and showed the catchier side to “Long Live Rock and Roll.” Behind the kit, Simon Wright was a beast all night pounding away like a rabid animal and was in a heap of sweat when it was all said and done.

When you get down to it though, it’s all about the songs and the expected classics were there like “We Rock”, “Mob Rules” and “Rainbow in the Dark.” A surprising omission was “Neon Knights” and that only two Sabbath songs were played. A few surprises were also included like “The Shed (Subtle)” and also the overture and “Lord of the Last Day” from Magica.

The best one-two punch of songs was “The Shed” and “Kill the King” because not only are they amongst my favorite songs of the whole Dio catalog, but the sheer ferocity and actually hearing these songs live was a true privilege. With the Holy Diver cover draped in the behind the band it was clear they were going to deliver a heavenly performance. After 90 minutes, the Disciples called it a day and I am happy to say I am a follower.