Friday, November 18, 2011

Epitaph? Not Really

Judas Priest

Venue:Quicken Loans Arena
Date: November 15, 2011

"A lonely grave and soon forgot/Only wind and leaves lament this mournful song/Yet they shout his epitaph out clear for anyone" From the Gospel of Judas Priest, Book Sad Wings of Destiny, sec. Epitaph

Metal forefathers Judas Priest are in the midst of their final world tour that they have dubbed “Epitaph.” While the morbid title gives a feeling of dreariness and sadness, the band is not coming to an end and their performance shows they have a lot left in the tank. The best part is they covered their whole 40 year history as they showcased songs from all of their albums (minus the ones with front man Tim “Ripper” Owens).

The set opened with the hammering “Rapid Fire”, which flowed right into “Metal Gods” both from the album where Priest found stardom “British Steel.” Rob Halford has been belting out the high notes for decades and he has not slowed one bit. He let out the most ear-piercing screams anyone could imagine. Just a like a wolf to the moon, the Metal God brought out the intensity to tracks like “Painkiller” and “Beyond the Realms of Death.”

Judas Priest also showed why they are one of the greatest metal bands ever because of their ability to write head-banging songs and also the fist-pumping, sing-along songs. The band pumped out “Heading Out to the Highway” and then followed it up with the screeching “Judas Rising.” Stalwarts in guitarist Glen Tipton, drummer Scot Travis, and bassist Ian Hill still had the vigor as if they were still in their twenties. The Priest stayed on fire all night and the stage set backed it up with smoke screens and a video screen to compliment the songs. On a closer look at the group though, one of the main members was missing.

Original guitarist K.K Downing left the band just before the start of the tour and a replacement was found in young-blood Richie Faulkner. Faulkner did not disappoint as he looked the part decked out in studs and was very energetic rousing the crowd to sing or clap their hands. The guys definitely found a great replacement to Downing. Faulkner brought his acoustic chops also doing a slower, more emotional version of “Diamonds and Rust”, which erupted to the electric outburst. The different arrangement to the song was very effective and one of the many highlights of the night.

After a whopping 140 minute set, Judas Priest closed the grave after reading their epitaph to Cleveland. With crowd favorites like “Living After Midnight,” “Breaking the Law,” and “You’ve Got Another Thing Comin’” and the lesser known songs like “Starbreaker,” “Never Satisfied,” and “Nightcrawler”; any casual or devout Priest follower is sure to not be disappointed because after 40 years they can still deliver the goods.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Aces High

Ace Frehley

Venue: House of Blues Cleveland
Date: November 8, 2011

"Rock soldiers come/Rock soldiers go/Some hear the drum/Some never know/Rock soldiers, how do we know?/Ace is back and he told ya' so." From the Gospel of Ace Frehley, Book Frehley's Comet, sec. Rock Soldiers

Ace Frehley has just released a new book entitled No Regrets and this writer had no regrets seeing him in concert this past Tuesday. Lame jokes aside, Frehley has found new life after overcoming a long battle with alcoholism and his live performance shows he‘s still “got“ it. The best part is he played tunes to catch everyone’s attention from his KISS songs, solo songs, and some KISS songs fans haven’t heard live in a long time.

From the get-go Frehley was on a mission as he attacked the guitar with a spaced-out opener in “Rocket Ride” and then followed it up with the speedy and scrambling “Parasite.” The crowd was frenzied with Frehley’s stage presence and seeing him play the guitar up close. He also had the perfect backing band to suit him.

The three supporting members brought new energy to classic KISS songs and also had vocal chops to pull off some numbers. Drummer Scot Coogan delivered a great rendition of the bombastic “Love Gun” and brought the force with “Lover Her All I Can.” Bassist Anthony Esposito gave a devilish and more aggressive approach to “Strange Ways” from KISS’s second album “Hotter than Hell.” Newcomer guitarist Todd Youth gave a sterling performance of “Flaming Youth” and if there was any "Destroyer" song Frehley was going to play; one would think that song would be on the bottom of the list. It was a pleasant surprise to hear that track.

Frehley would keep the surprises coming with a rocking version of “Hard Times” from “Dynasty.” However, before that he proclaimed he would be playing a song that had never been played live. That song would be “What’s on Your Mind” from the 78’ solo record. Not to be outdone with that, he dusted off “She” and the riff driven song shined in the live setting. Old favorites still littered the set with “Shock Me” providing the electricity to the crowd and the audience clapped their hands to "2000 Man” which while a cover song; the lyrics kind of define the Spaceman.

The best part of this concert was hearing Frehley pull out “Rock Soldiers” from his first Frehley’s Comet record. The thumping and pounding drums makes this song an instant classic, and the crowd delivered every word. Hearing Frehley say “Ace is back and he told ya so” was awesome and a personal highlight. The other major positives was the band bringing energy and heaviness to songs of old like “Snowblind,” “Rip it Out,” “Shout It Out Loud,” and especially “Deuce.” Hearing the ending solo to the song live was awesome and they also played added a solo section to “New York Groove,” which Frehley changed to “Cleveland Groove.”

Without a doubt, this is one the best shows I have seen and it is great to see Frehley bring the goods and being back on track since becoming clean and sober. Near the end of the show he joked with the crowd “As Paul Stanley would say ’give yourselves a round of applause’.” Frehley was laughing as he said it because he knew that the statement is as goofy as it sounds. Rest assured I gave an applause, but it was not for myself; it was for seeing one of the greats on stage giving a performance one would never forget.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Guns, Drugs, and Megadeth

“At thirteen I started down this path/fueled with anger, music was my wrath/Years of clawing at scars that never healed/Drowning my mind, the thoughts are too real” From the Gospel of Megadeth, Book Th1rt3en, sec. 13.


Since Dave Mustaine regrouped his baby in Megadeth in 2004, they have released a steady string of albums which has been seen as a return to form for the band since the majestic days of the 80s and early 90s. Their last output, “Endgame”, saw the band go back to their speedier side, but also strong songwriting which made it a great effort. “Th1rt3en” has a tough act to follow, but luckily it stands up to the groups name.

“Th1rt3een” sounds mostly like a cross between “Countdown to Extinction” and “Youthanasia.” There are more hard-pounding guitars surrounded by dark melodies that resonated in those releases. It is no coincidence either seeing as two tracks from those sessions made it on this album in “New World Order” and “Millennium of the Blind.” Both of these songs could be found on the “Youthanasia” remastered edition as extra tracks. Hearing these songs receiving their proper release is a great to hear, especially “New World Order” with its awesome lead guitar part before the chorus and the thrashing ending at the end, but I actually like the demoed version of this song better. A grittier, raw sound fit this song perfectly, but the clean version on here takes away from the destructive nature of this song. “Millenium of the Blind” has been built to a full song and the chorus songs like zombies marching towards slowly. I’m not sure if that is a good thing, so I’ll leave it at that.

The production on here is too clean, too polished. Everything sounds too neat. There is nothing that resembles the chaos of “This Day We Fight!” or “Burnt Ice” from the past two Megadeth albums. “Th1rt3en” could benefit more from a more dangerous, more chaotic sound.

With that being said, Mustaine delivers his signature snarl in the fashion everyone knows and love and hearing him rage about the injustices of the world, and the joys of driving fast never becomes old. It is wonderful to hear Dave Ellefson back in the fold because he just makes Megadeth be Megadeth again. His signature bass sound always held the backbone of the older releases. Tracks like “Public Enemy No. 1” and “Wrecker” relish in his grooves.

By far the best songs on here are “Never Dead” and “Public Enemy No. 1”. The brooding intro followed by the snarling riff are awesome. The verse passages and the chorus flow brilliantly and it has stuck in my head since listening. “Public Enemy No.1” resembles something from “Countdown” and has a great driving riff and Mustaine is great in the delivery of the vocals. Other standouts include “Guns, Drugs, and Money” which makes the listener imagine being in a Mexican action movie. The theme and rhythms of the song match perfectly. The other highlight is the closer “13” which is mostly a short biographical account of Mustaine’s life. The moody, mid-paced riff sticks through and is strong closer to this superstitious album. Another plug to “Whose Life (Is it Anyways?)” has a chorus that will stick in your head for days and the rocking, fast paced guitars meld with the fueled charged grievances towards people for not accepting who someone is or think they what’s best for someone.

In the end though, the songwriting is just not as memorable as “Endgame”. That album was going to be hard to beat, but still it is what it is. “Sudden Death” was taken from the Guitar Hero video game last year with blazing leads and solos, but it seems that the verse structures were just an afterthought and is a poor opener to the album. “We the People” is a politically charged rant with a flat chorus, but I suppose it is to resemble a political speech given by some candidate. However, we the people say this song is no good.

As a huge Megadeth fan, I am both pleased and somewhat disappointed with this album. I feel like the band has been stuck in neutral since “United Abominations.” While the band has hit a groove with solid metal tunes, I don’t feel that necessity to go back and listen to it like “Endgame” or the interesting and creative songwriting of “The System Has Failed.” I would like to see the band progress more in the future instead of relying on the past to illustrate its future. Overall, any Megadeth fan should like this and tracks like “Never Dead” and “Public Enemy No. 1” show the band still has the chops to be awesome. If the songs were stronger and the pacing was steadier then it would be a standout, but in the end, we have an above average, but not quite great Megadeth record.