Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Featuring Tony Iommi

This has to be the goofiest title of a band ever. Seeing “Black Sabbath featuring Tony Iommi” is like if “The System Has Failed” had the title “Megadeth  featuring Dave Mustaine. There is no one else anyone would expect being associated with these groups so I can imagine the bewilderment or laughter when metal connoisseurs saw this record when it first came out. It is understood this was supposed to be an Iommi solo record, but Warner Bros. wanted the Black Sabbath stamp on it. With that fact, this is not your typical Sabbath affair with heavy guitars and doom laden lyrics. It actually has more an eighties feel which works at times and also does not while also showing Iommi’s blues background. The addition of another former Deep Purple singer, Glen Hughes, is welcomed and delivers a great performance. A deluxe edition was made available in 2010 and features a concert from the Hammersmith Odeon in England with Ray Gillen on vocals and it all bundles up as a nice package capturing a tumultuous period in Black Sabbath.

In addition to Hughes, Iommi armed the rest of the band with a couple of young guns in drummer Eric Singer and bassist Dave Spitz as Geezer Butler had enough and Bill Ward could not be found. The combination of the four all lead to this varied selection of songs on “Seventh Star.”

To all the hardened fans that keep a skeptical eye on this product, I urge to remove the veils and take this for what it is. This album is not going to conjure up memories of “Sabotage” or “Heaven and Hell”, but it holds up well in the lengthy and varied Sabbath discography.

“In for the Kill” is quite literally the killer opener with a low riff and Hughes declaring his prey by commanding “Thunder shattered the dawn.” This bit of lyric tingles the senses and I love the way Hughes delivers the lines. In fact, Hughes delivers an awesome performance on this record. The way he laments on “In Memory…” and conjures up images of ancient Egypt in the title track is remarkable and is attention grabbing.

This is all possible because of the other major player and who this record features in the guitar god himself with Iommi. It is hard not to appreciate the riffs on display and the song arrangements leave plenty of room for Hughes to do his magic. The title track stands out as a top song because of the gloomy atmosphere and once the background hymns kick in with the chorus; it never fails to send a shiver up my spine. Iommi lets his blues background shine in “Heart Like a Wheel” and the combo to round out the album in “Angry Heart” and “In Memory…” leave memorable guitar parts. The former also has some acceptable keyboard parts provided by Geoff Nicholls and the build-up of the riff to the vocal lines is impressive. I love the contrast provided as it segues into “In Memory…” with the depressing acoustic guitar and the way Hughes says “It’s still haunting me” really makes the listener feel his pain and regret.

The only clunker is “No Stranger to Love” with its cheesy synths, cheesier lyrics, and sounds very eighties. This has no place on a Sabbath record, Iommi record, or any record for that matter. The guys are much more capable than this. Funny enough, this deluxe edition includes a bonus track of this song presented as an alternate version. The song is worthless in both formats, but the music video is good for a chuckle.

The other songs that resemble the eighties are “Turn to Stone” and “Danger Zone.” They are both straight ahead rockers that some would say have a glam edge, but the songs have some delicious riffs. “Danger Zone” is the stronger song due to some awesome drumming by Singer and complimented by a trademark solo by Iommi. The way the guitar jumps out the riff in the middle is a nice touch added.

“Seventh Star’s” second disc is a concert taken from the Hammersmith Odeon with Gillen on vocals along with Spitz and Singer. Gillen took over for Hughes because of his massive drug problem and he suffered an injury which caused him to not be able to sing very well. This concert is basically a glorified bootleg, so the sound isn’t strong, but it is nice to have Gillen featured on a Sabbath release and the guy has a great voice.

Gillen has the energy and passion of Ronnie James Dio, but he also can conjure up demons and doom like Ozzy Osbourne could. He sounds more natural on the Dio songs as songs like “Mob Rules” and “Neon Knight” seems more suited to his style. However, on the tracks “War Pigs” and “Black Sabbath” he sings with a higher tone because of his wide range, but he makes it work and keep the spirit of the original intact. In fact, his performance on “Black Sabbath” is remarkable because he sounds strangely similar to Osbourne in the beginning and the way his voice changes with a slight growl in when the song picks up shows he can be very diverse.

This extra concert is also a neat extra because you can hear two songs that will most likely not be heard in concert again in “Danger Zone” and “Seventh Star.” They work well in the live setting, especially the latter song. The keyboards are also more prominent in these songs as well as the whole concert.

Black Sabbath was in a time of great change in this period, but it still results in a good album. It is not Iommi’s best, but it has a lot of strong songs to take great enjoyment too. The deluxe edition also has plenty of pictures and the story of how this record came to be. The live concert with Gillen should provide extra incentive to procure this copy. The sound has been improved a little bit, though the bass could have been nudged up, but the sound levels are consistent and retain its balance. This would not the last collaboration between Hughes and Iommi as his guitar playing along with Hughes’ voice are a perfect match. The title on the cover is strange, but any Sabbath fan should take a dive into this album that features Tony Iommi.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Reborn Again

Black Sabbath was back into rebuilding mode after the mighty Ronnie James Dio and drummer Vinny Appice left the band due to some miscommunication and poor handling of the “Live Evil” album. Tony Iommi went into his bag of tricks and turned heads with the announcement of Ian Gillan coming into the Sabbath fold. Purple and black mixed together sounded intriguing and it culminated in the release of “Born Again” with the one of the most infamous artwork ever created. The demon baby from hell is definitely eye catching and may also induce vomiting, like Gillan stated when talking about the cover. Finally, after all these years of trying to find a reliable copy, a deluxe edition was bestowed upon the masses in 2011 with the baby in all its glory along with a studio outtake and a live show from the Reading Festival in 1983.

The most noticeable aspect of the original release of “Born Again” was the poor production which had a very flat sound and muddy guitars. The deluxe edition remedies the problem as much as it could as the original tapes could not be found, but there are some noticeable improvements as each instrument is distinguished as the drums give a sharper snap, bass lines are  recognized, and Iommi’s guitar is clearer.

As for the songs themselves, it’s like Sabbath received a shot to the system. Ozzy Osbourne and Dio never really used their voices wildly like Gillan does here. He carries an attitude and does not use his screams judiciously. In the opening moments of “Trashed”, Gillan sends a shriek to announce that he means business. The track itself is a solid opener featuring a driving riff with Gillan seeming to enjoy himself singing about how he took Bill Ward’s car for a joyride and wrecked it.

Iommi pays back Gillan’s eagerness by conjuring up some of his most sinister riffs. The crashing cymbal and snare provided by Ward act as a crescendo to Iommi’s hellish guitar in “Disturbing the Priest.” Gillan laughs like a madman and provides some vocal theatrics to one of the standout tracks. Iommi provides another gem with the most famous song from this album, “Zero the Hero.” The song seems like the successor to “Iron Man” as they both have that signature riff, interesting characters, and are very memorable.

The meld of Deep Purple and Sabbath comes into play with the final tracks “Hot Line” and “Keep it Warm.” The titles don’t exactly seem something one would see on a Black Sabbath album, but with Gillan penning the lyrics, there are some tongue-in-cheek sexual moments, but it works well with the content. Iommi lets the blues roll on the latter track featuring a great jam at the end with him, Geezer Butler, and Ward letting it fly. “Hot Line” has the as expected energetic vocal performance and a very catchy riff to knock your head to. Iommi nails down a gritty solo to round out a very cool song.

The only truly weak song is the goofy titled “Digital Bitch.” The vocal lines are weak and the guitar isn’t as strong. It does not help both as the chorus is not memorable and hearing Gillan sing these lyrics as well as the song title is too silly to take seriously. The title track also just falls short of being very memorable as it has a slow, dooming atmosphere, but it does not go anywhere. It has potential, but a stronger chorus and more interesting instrumentation could have helped. The last bit of quibbles is the two little tracks of sound effects in “Stonehenge” and “The Dark.” “Stonehenge” has eerie effects similiar to "E5150", and then segues into “Disturbing the Priest”, but serves little purpose and “The Dark” is some low, strange noises that transition into “Zero the Hero.” This leaves only seven actual songs on the album.

Apart from the record is the gem on the second disc of this deluxe edition. There is a studio outtake of a song called “The Fallen” which shows Ward flexing his muscles on the drums and the guitar puts together competent notes when it hits the chorus. An extended version of “Stonehenge” is also included and it’s basically three more minutes of eerie, spacey sounds.

The live concert at the Reading Festival is when business picks up. All I can say is Gillan is a beast singing the Sabbath classics. His performances of “Iron Man”, “War Pigs” and “Paranoid” are stellar. He unleashes spine-tingling screams to go along with the riffs in instrumental parts and injects new life to tracks associated with Osbourne. These moments make me wish that this lineup stayed together, but then “Perfect Strangers” would not have happened.

Bev Bevan filled in for Ward on the tour and does a competent job. He does not have all the groovy fills that Ward provides, but he certainly did not detract from the performance. “War Pigs” gives the indication that he knows what he’s doing.

The “Born Again” tracks receive some good pub too as “Hot Line” comes across well, but I was not too fond of “Digital Bitch” in the set. “Zero the Hero” retains oozy guitar and a wonderful solo from Iommi. In the encore, the boys throw a nod to Gillan’s previous band by pumping out “Smoke on the Water.” I could only imagine how awesome it was seeing the Sabbath guys playing a Purple classic with Gillan. The crowd was electric during this performance and definitely gives that feeling of wanting to be there.

The deluxe edition of “Born Again” also contains notes on the album came into being and also an essay by the man who created that darn devil baby explaining its origin and how it was accepted as the design. The live show is worth the purchase alone and serves as a time capsule for that period of Black Sabbath. Any fan curious of this collaboration and looking to finally get their hands on this album should take the plunge into Purple Sabbath.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Magic and Maiden

The early years of the nineties saw Iron Maiden go through some changes. Guitarist Adrian Smith left the band and Bruce Dickinson recorded his first solo album. Janick Gers, who played with Dickinson on first solo album “Tattooed Millionaire”, replaced Smith and then Maiden soldiered on until the end of Dickinson’s tenure. This culminated in an event broadcast on MTV in North America and on pay-per-view in Britain as Iron Maiden played their last concert with their famed singer. However, this was more than just a concert as illusionist Simon Drake shared a stage with band performing ridiculous magic tricks. It all adds up to some very cheesy and crazy moments, but it’s very fun to watch.

The set list consists of 17 tracks covering all Maiden’s career up to that point. Other than taking in the band’s performance, Drake pulls some shenanigans during some of the songs. The most ridiculous and comical trick is during “From Here to Eternity.” Drake’s assistants kidnap Dave Murray and then Drake proceeds to cut off Murray’s hands. When it came time for the solo in the song, Drake walks with the hands onto the main stage with Murray’s guitar and plays the solo with his hands. It’s so cheesy, but it’s awesome.

This Drake character is something else. He is dressed in a leather jacket with a tough guy shirt on and his hair is a perfect do. He reminded of the Andrew “Dice” Clay minus the sunglasses. The facial expressions he makes are humorous as well as his horror magic tricks. He tortures some members of the audience who anger him. The neatest trick is when he grabs a member of the audience, puts a sack over his head and cuts if off.  The devious Drake then proceeds to toss the head to his assistants and play soccer with it. To finish the trick off, he grabs a mannequin's head and draws a clown face on it. He then puts the head in the sack and on the beheaded victim and then voila, the guy has his head back, but with a clown face on it. It sounds a bit silly, but it's sweet seeing it.

With the band itself, most of the Maiden classics are present like “The Trooper”, “Hallowed Be Thy Name”, “Fear of the Dark”, and “Number of the Beast.” It was especially menacing when Dickinson began “Hallowed Be Thy Name” singing on a part of the stage with a hangman’s noose. It was a nice touch and I give much credit for singing a tough song flawlessly.

Some Maiden bites that are not heard that often like the instrumental “Transylvania” and “Bring Your Daughter…To the Slaughter” were a joy to hear, especially the gliding tones of “Transylvania.” I don’t think there is any way the band would want to play “Bring Your Daughter…” live today. “Be Quick or Be Dead” was busted out as the show opener and the aggression is still in place in the live setting. It’s is a really underrated song too; Maiden needs to dust off in the near future.

The last part of the concert is when the cheesiness is taken to another level. Iron Maiden finishes with the song that bears its namesake and as they are taking their final bows, Drake kidnaps Dickinson. Drake then puts Dickinson in an “iron maiden” and kills him! Eddie comes out with a sword and chops off his head and puts it on a spike right next to Paul Di’Anno’s dome. It’s very ridiculous, but it happens except the part about Di’Anno’s head.

The only improvement this special event needed is the sound. The vocals are way too low in the mix for the first few songs and the guitars are way too loud. There were some parts where I could barely hear Dickinson sing and that was frustrating.

“Raising Hell” showcases Iron Maiden at a time of change and at a volatile point of the band’s history. Dickinson sums up it perfectly at the end of the show when he tells the crowd “Well, we’ll see you sometime.” Drake’s horror magic tricks are good for a laugh and some of it is way over the top, but in the end its magic and Iron Maiden. I would definitely watch that on pay-per-view.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Singled Out


Yes, the title of this review is a terrible pun, but the collection presented today is anything but. Judas Priest is a landmark heavy metal band. Some regard them as part of the holy trinity of metal bands along with Black Sabbath and Iron Maiden. Columbia Records celebrated the legacy of this band by releasing their single collection starting with “Sin After Sin” and ending at “Painkiller.” In total this collection has 51 songs presented on 20 CDs. This is a must have for any Priest fan and collector.            
The discs are presented as mini-LPs complete with faithfully restored packaging and sleeves just as they were when released as records back in the day. All the CDs fit firmly in the box and are compact and easy to carry around. Going through the single history of the band makes for intriguing listens by seeing what they were trying to do spreading certain tracks to the audience.

The b-sides on these singles are usually other studio songs or live cuts. The live tracks are fruitful listens as there some energetic performances of “Freewheel Burning” and “Exciter.” My personal favorites were the tracks regarded in my hometown of Cleveland in 1978 with “Beyond the Realms of Death”, “White Heat Red Hot”, and “Starbreaker.” The live version of “Starbreaker” is much faster and has more aggressive drums and “Beyond the Realms of Death” shows Rob Halford’s godly vocals. He is the Metal God for a reason.
There is one quirky aspect of this collection though that I don’t understand. After reaching the singles from “Turbo”, the next ones found are for “Painkiller.” The singles from “Ram It Down” are missing. There were four singles from “Ram It Down”, but none are here. In reality, this really isn’t the complete collection and there is no excuse to leave them off.

Besides that omission, to round out the set are a pack of album magnets to proudly represent Judas Priest fandom on a refrigerator and also a booklet detailing each single and the songs found on each along with chart positions and so forth. There are also some neat pictures to stare at to keep each listener entertained.

Even though the “Ram It Down” singles have been rammed out of this collection, do not let this deter a purchase. It is a limited set and since this came out last year, I suggest any Priest fan to pick this up before there isn’t a “single” one left.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

For the Newer Edguy Fan

I was late to the Edguy party. I didn’t enter the Theater of Salvation until about 12 years after that album was released and as I was seeking out their albums, I stumbled upon this set which features “The Savage Poetry”, “Mandrake”, and some bonus material featuring live songs and b-sides. Besides the music, the set comes in the form of an old tome with the inside containing golden discs (hence golden edition), full lyrics, and comments from the band on the songs from the two full-lengths.

“Mandrake” is the definite superior album with the operatic bombast of “Tears of a Mandrake”, the epic ode to the great Egyptian kings with “The Pharaoh”, and the acoustic campfire storytelling of “Jerusalem.” The “Mandrake” disc contains two live bonus tracks in the aforementioned “Tears of a Mandrake” and “Painting on the Wall.” The former retains the grand atmosphere in the live setting and “Painting on the Wall” makes for a nice listen as it manages to remind me of “Super Mario 64” because Mario jumps into paintings to start levels.

It would have been a better call putting “Theatre of Salvation” as the first disc because then the best of Edguy would have been featured in this set, but AFM Records decided to go with “The Savage Poetry.” This is the full re-recording of the first album that came out in new millennium and has two versions of songs that were originally recorded in 1995 with “Key to my Fate” and “Hallowed.”

The bonus content has some hits and misses. I don’t understand the need to include single edits of songs as extra content. The edit of “Painting on the Wall” and “Tears of a Mandrake” are unnecessary. The listener already knows they will not be superior versions, so it’s just a waste of space. The normal version of “Painting on the Wall” is on the third disc too for whatever reason.

On the other hand, there are some cool b-sides to discover. “For a Trace of Life” is ballad and it’s a little depressing with the lyrics and melancholic acoustic guitar line. “But Here I Am” sounds like it was recorded in a garage and is silly with how many times the chorus is repeated. The final one is “La Marche Des Gendarmes” which is a goofy song combining an Irish beer party with Motown. To round off the bonus, a flat, live version of “Walk on Fighting” is included as well as “Wake up the King” live. This live rendition is much more energetic.

If you already own “The Savage Poetry” and “Mandrake” than there is no need to buy this edition unless you are a big fan and want to read the linear notes and stare at pictures. For the new entries into the Hellfire Club, this is a great introduction to the band. I would have preferred the inclusion of “Theatre of Salvation” over “The Savage Poetry”, but as they say beggars can’t be choosers.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Full Crimson Platter

Crimson Glory was one of the leading progressive metal bands in metal’s most beloved decade, the 1980s. Originating from the sunshine state, their silver masks that shadowed their faces was ironic as their music was vibrant with enthralling guitar lines and powerful, emotional vocals of the one and only Midnight. Metal Mind Productions has now released a set compiling their four studio albums along with one EP featuring “Astronomica” demos and also some live bonus tracks from a 1989 concert. This set is limited to 1000 and if you’re a new fan of the band or are no stranger to them, the set is a worthwhile purchase.

The five discs come in digi-packs similar to the limited ones released a few years ago, each with the same bonus tracks featured in those releases as well. The self-titled debut has “Dream Dancer” attached to it while “Transcendence” has a remix of “Lonely” as well as the music video for the song. All the albums were digitally remastered and they sound great. Loudness is not an issue and I found the bass to have a more pronounced effect to enhance the listening experience.

The standouts are the extra live bonus tracks featured in the last disc. While the original EP had two live bonus tracks, three more are tacked on and is very entertaining. Hearing Midnight belt out “Lost Reflection” live sent shivers down my spine and his introduction to songs were filled with vigor. I smirked to the intro to “Queen of the Masquerade” when Midnight spews “This is for all the bizarre, strange women out there.” The thumping bass solo beckoning the crowd to shout “Hail” in the middle of the song added some great interaction for the audience.

A 60 page booklet is included in the set featuring a biography of the band chronicling their beginnings up until Todd La Torre’s arrival in the group in 2010. All album credits are also issued as well as lyrics for all the songs and some band pictures to look that. There are also snippets of magazine articles and there was one that caught my attention for the wrong reason. Seeing as this is a box set celebrating the band’s career, I don’t know why there is part of a magazine article mocking and ripping the band after their release of “Astronomica.” It sticks out like a sore thumb and I have no idea why it was included in the booklet.

“In Dark Places…” is a wonderful boxset and it is great to have their full discography in a convenient set. It is a shame that they didn’t break through the barrier and become a huge success like Queensryche would, but they certainly left their mark on the scene. The price tag might be a little iffy considering it is a limited set, but there are outlets selling these for respectable prices. It’s Crimson Glory though, so it should not be a tough decision.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

A Nice Collection

Helloween’s single box collection features the eras started by main man Kai Hansen transitioning into Michael Kiske help birthing the power metal genre. The singles contained here are sort of a like time capsule taking you back to the days where roaming record shops for these items was fun and also available. If you are a young listener like me who missed out on those times, then it’s awesome to be able finally have versions of these and being able to stare at the cool artwork when more effort was put into releasing singles.

The biggest addition to this box set is the inclusion of the “Helloween” EP. The tracks are featured on the expanded edition of “Walls of Jericho”, but it is nice to finally have the item and letting the tracks stand on their own merits. “Victim of Fate” is a great speed metal number where Hansen really wails with his vocals, while “Starlight” will always be a favorite because of the little jingle from the movie “Halloween III: Season of the Witch.” The other standout is “Warrior” which has hurdling guitar part and then some aggressive riffing that warrants head banging.

It is nice that some of the b-sides get their time to shine as Helloween have some strong songs that unfortunately did make some full-lengths. The best out of the bunch belongs to “Save Us” from the “I Want Out” single as the sticking riff and the drumming from Ingo Schwichtenberg is very impressive. The Markus Grosspoff penned “You Run with the Pack” is also a standout with some great guitar parts and should have definitely made “Pink Bubbles Go Ape.” By far the goofiest track is the cover of “Blue Suede Shoes”, but it is a fun listen and Kiske puts forth some good vocals for a song that really does not suit his talents.

The box set is rounded out by a booklet containing linear notes and separate credits for of all the singles presented in the set. All the discs are in slipcase form, but are not loose to the point where they come right out. All in all, there are seven discs with just over two hours of music. This is a must have for any Helloween fan and the price for this set is not bad either. Since this came out in 2006, it’s a shame that a second box has not come out covering the last of the Kiske era and the first half of the Andi Deris era. At least we can savor the riches when the pumpkin crew was starting to make their mark.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The Battle Drags On

The last Deep Purple album to feature both Ian Gillan and Ritchie Blackmore is unfortunately a pedestrian affair. Former Rainbow singer and Blackmore’s running mate Joe Lynn Turner came into the fold for a spell, but Gillan returned for a final go-around with Blackmore. “The Battle Rages On…” seems to be long forgotten and for good reason as the band sounds tired and Gillan sounds disinterested.

However, the opener and title track leaves a false impression as the battle rages with a strong riff and background keyboards by the great Jon Lord. A melodic chorus and the typical Blackmore guitar solo start the proceedings off on the right foot.

Problems begin immediately with the next track and slither in throughout the rest of the album. “Lick it Up” is a straight-up rocker with not one of the most memorable guitar parts and is mediocre by Deep Purple standards. “Talk About Love” and “Time to Kill” suffer from the same banal attributes and the worst part is Gillan sings like he knows these songs are crap.

Gillan delivers the most disappointing performance on this record. He sounds like he does not want to be there. The passion and character of his voice is not there. His singing on the next Purple record is way better than his work on here. On the aforementioned “Time to Kill”, his voice sounds tired and the closer “One Man’s Meat” he is completely emotionless. He at least shows some life and character on the cowboy rocker “Ramshackle Man” with some gun-toting vocal lines.

Amidst the boring tripe emerge two Purple gems that save the record from tanking. “Anya” is a beautiful song with maybe some foreshadowing by Blackmore showing where he was headed with his music. The acoustic, midnight fire guitar part transforms into a great riff featuring graceful chorus lines and perfectly conjures up the image of the mystical woman in the song. The other winner is another song about a woman with “Solitaire.” An enchanting, escalating guitar part immediately caught my attention and Gillan sings like a drone. I’m not sure if that’s what he was going for, but it goes well with the brooding tone.

In the end, there is not enough good songwriting and fails to capture the merits of a great band like Deep Purple. Blackmore and Lord do not even trade solos and have any moments together until the eight track “Nasty Piece of Work.” Blackmore even rips himself off with “One Man’s Meat” by taking the main riff from “L.A Connection” and inserting it here. The only time he lets loose with furious riffing and guitar theatrics is with “A Twist in Tale”, which shares similarities with “Dead or Alive” from the last Mk II album, but is not as good.

I don’t know if the boys decided to name “The Battle Rages On…” to describe how Gillan and Blackmore were working together again yet still hated each other, but no listener would win this struggle. On the band side of things, Gillan would win as Blackmore would quit mid-tour and since then he hasn’t looked back. With this final Mk II installment, the title track, the wonderful “Anya”, “Solitaire”, and “Ramshackle Man” will provide healthy listens. However, insipid rockers and a tired Gillan drag the album down as the band was clearly waiting for the battle to end.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Maiden Toronto

Friday the 13th is usually held up as a day of bad luck and the movie franchise that depicted the serial killer Jason Vorhees. However, up in Toronto, Canada, 15,000 metalheads didn’t come together at Camp Crystal Lake for horrors, but they congregated for the appearance of Eddie, the mascot for Iron Maiden. This tour was to celebrate the time when one of their greatest albums was released, “Seventh Son of a Seventh Son.” The band set to recreate the video “Maiden England” that was produced around that time along with the set and of course the songs.

The night started off with a different beast though as Alice Cooper opened the festivities with a 45 minute set and wasted no time moving through his songs. It’s unfortunate he had to come on early as there is something wrong seeing Alice Cooper play while the sun is still gleefully shining. The most blatant tune left out was “Welcome to My Nightmare”, but he made up for it by blasting through favorites like “The Black Widow”, “Billion Dollar Babies”, and “Poison.” He also pulled two tracks from “Brutal Planet”, which is arguably Cooper’s heaviest album and it struck the right notes with the audience. “Hey Stoopid” was a nice inclusion, but my personal favorite from that album and of the show was “Feed My Frankenstein.” Of course, the song was featured in “Wayne’s World” and who could forget the classic scene when Wayne and Garth meet the band.

Cooper also seemed to take a page out of the Maiden playbook by employing three guitarists including a woman and she was most impressive. Though abbreviated, Cooper still was tied up in a strait jacket and still had his head chopped off. It was my first time seeing Cooper and he did not disappoint. I hope to see his full, headlining show someday.

Cooper whetted the crowd’s appetites for a bit, but it was so long before the “Maiden” chants started. The lead track off of “Seventh Son” led off the set in “Moonchild.” Bruce Dickinson is incredible after all these years. He keeps getting stronger and it’s unbelievable how he runs around the stage for two hours.

An unexpected inclusion was “Afraid to Shoot Strangers.” Usually, it is only the title track played from “Fear of the Dark”, but this was nice swerve. When the song picks up in the middle with the guitar break, the crowd began to roar after the stoic intro.

Two life-sized Eddie risers made their appearance and also one walked out during the “The Trooper” trying to attack guitarist Janick Gers. There were quite a sight to behold and along with a flawless set made this just about the best concert I have ever been to. “The Prisoner” was dusted off and intro along with video from the television show played. “Phantom of the Opera”, “Wasted Years”, and “Run to the Hills” all met with approval and most importantly, five of the eight “Seventh Son” songs were played. I personally would have loved to see “The Prophecy” live, but beggars can’t be choosers.

I highly encourage any Maiden fan to see this show. It is worth the price and it will be an unforgettable night. This Friday the 13th was not filled with bad luck or crazed killers; there was only a monster named Eddie, Alice Cooper, and Iron Maiden.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Jon Lord: Master of the Keyboard

I am grateful that my dad introduced me to Deep Purple. He is responsible for bringing my attention to many wonderful bands as a kid. As my tastes matured and I started looking for music on my own, I became a bigger fan of Deep Purple and always marveled at the great musicianship all the band members possessed.

The passing of Jon Lord hits hard because he was one of the greats and of the musicians I grew attached to. As with many bands that came before my time, I wished I could have been alive in the seventies and experience “Machine Head”, “In Rock”, and “Burn” when they first came out. The way Lord attacked the keyboards and was able to create something so memorable was always astounding to me. There are also not too many people that could play alongside the great Ritchie Blackmore and dare him to come up with something that the master keyboardist couldn’t match. The interplay on the title track to “Burn” is the prime example of how those two would go at it and remains my favorite Deep Purple song.

There would be no Deep Purple without Lord. The man is responsible for making the ivories heavy and being like the Neil Peart of drumming. Both of them are the absolute best at their craft. The intro to “Lazy” remains a landmark moment on how to create a slick organ groove and the somber tone of “Child in Time” are memorable moments that I cherish as avid fan of the purple sound.

I never had the privilege of meeting Lord or seeing him live, but the comments from those who knew him and played with him say he handled himself like he handled the ivories: with class and dignity. It may seem silly to feel sad for someone you did not know personally, but Deep Purple were one of the foundations of me becoming a heavy metal fan and I have memories of sitting in the basement with my dad discovering Deep Purple for the first time. Thank you for the countless memories Jon Lord and your music will always be alive with this fan.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Purple Rainbow

After the famed Mark II lineup of Deep Purple came back together, all felt right again and they delivered an all-time classic in “Perfect Strangers.” Grand record sales and a successful tour ensued and they churned another album, but this time a bit uneven in “The House of Blue Light.” Throughout that time, vocalist Ian Gillan and guitarist Ritchie Blackmore decided they didn’t like each other again and now it was time for another incarnation of Deep Purple. Gillan was out and Blackmore turned to the guy he hired to bring his other band Rainbow commercial success, Joe Lynn Turner. Essentially, this was now a band mixed like a pack of Skittles. Bassist Roger Glover also played with Rainbow as Ian Paice and Jon Lord were the only members not to ride the spectrum.

In essence, this album is a mix of material that could be found on the last albums of Rainbow and also songs that still fight with the Deep Purple spirit. The opener “King of Dreams” has thumping keyboards and mystical guitars that suit Turner’s voice perfectly. In fact, Turner puts some of the strongest performances on this album.

Turner receives some unfair criticism at times about his voice and while he can croon with the best of them, he knows when to insert attitude and enhance the songs. “Fire in the Basement” has the blend of attitude and sharp singing that is also one of the stronger cuts on the album. “Truth Hurts” has Turner oozing emotion that is a combination of one of Purple’s best songs from the David Coverdale and Glenn Hughes years in “Mistreated” and Rainbow’s “Can’t Let You Go.” The team of Turner and the melancholic rhythm sparked by the bass and keyboard make for a great song.

Musically, Blackmore shows bite with his guitar work on the closer “Wicked Ways” with a driving rhythm and a nice touch of the violin sprinkled in to deliver a more striking gesture. “The Cut Runs Deep” did not connect with me the first couple times I listened to it, mostly because of the awful sounding voice shouting “the cut runs deep.” Otherwise, the guitar effects and the drumming make it a winner. “Fortuneteller” has a brooding, mysterious atmosphere about a lady who wields the cards of the future. The bombast of the chorus and the string of keyboard notes further add to the aura and is a very memorable song.

It’s unfortunate that all the songs could not be as good as “Breakfast in Bed” tries to sound like “Lazy” in the beginning with the keyboard, but quickly devolves into an inoffensive, AOR that is rather underwhelming. However, when “Love Conquers All” hits, I found myself in a true face-palm moment. Deep Purple doing a power ballad? Say it ain’t so. Deep Purple is much better than this and for them to try to hop on that train for more success is pathetic. Needless to say, the song is super cheesy and super sucks. The last bit of badness arrives in the form of the commercial, poppy “Too Much is not Enough.” It sounds like a Rainbow reject and I had enough after one listen.

“Slaves and Masters” is a solid Deep Purple album and Turner provides energy to a band that lost some spark with the last effort “The House of Blue Light.” I can’t see Gillan singing the material on the album, let alone the power ballad, but that’s a good aspect as Turner was not forced to sing something that may not have been comfortable for him. “Wicked Ways”, “Fortuneteller” and “Fire in the Basement” provide incentives for repeated listens and enjoy yet another version of Deep Purple.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Purple and Blue Don't Mix

“Perfect Strangers” was a stellar comeback album for Deep Purple. The return of the famed Mark II lineup did not disappoint as Ritchie Blackmore’s familiar leads and Ian Gillan’s vocals were back together and it just felt “right.” The album would be a huge success for the band commercially and critically, but now they had the challenge of trying to match the greatness of “Perfect Strangers.”

Ultimately, the songwriting is not as strong and the songs are less memorable in the blue house. There are also a couple instances of bad moments like the lame lyrics and uninspiring chorus of “The Unwritten Law” and the biggest offender in the poppy “Call of the Wild.” During the track, Ian Gillan sings “operator, this is the call of the wild.” I don’t know how Gillan could manage a straight face singing that cheesy line, but I give him credit for doing so. Thankfully, those are the only painful moments lyrically.

On the musical side, there are a couple stellar tracks to be found. The opener, “Bad Attitude” has all the ingredients of great song. The epic keyboard opening by Jon Lord, a pounding rhythm of drums and bass by Ian Paice and Roger Glover, a strong vocal performance, and of course a memorable solo by the esteemed Blackmore. The keyboard ending by Lord too is very catchy and all in all a grade A song. “Mad Dog” is a riff driven song with a riff that will stick in your head for days and showcases some more theatrics from Lord and an awesome Blackmore solo to close it. The other two great songs are “The Spanish Archer” and the closer “Dead or Alive.” The former features an adventurous desperation in the guitar and showcases Blackmore at his finest as he just wails and bends the notes at the perfect times. The clarity in Gillan’s voice almost serves as a calming presence due to the nature of the song. The latter ups the tempo with the characteristics being similar to “Burn” as the musicians keep going at it with the solos and do not let it up.

However, the quality drops with some tunes that are different from what listeners expect from Deep Purple. “Black and White” utilizes the harmonica and the song sounds like something you would hear in a movie during a bar brawl. I like the bass line by Glover, but overall the track does not have that purple charm one would expect. “Mitzi Dupree” has a lounge band type feel with a strong vocal performance by Gillan to keep me interested. The song has a certain charm, but it may turn others off. A track that could have been great, but fails in a couple areas is “Strangeways.” The tickling of the piano creates a mysterious atmosphere, but is thrown out when the chorus comes in and breaks the mood of the song. It does not help that the song runs too long either.

What made “Perfect Strangers” great is that the band was on a mission to rock and show they still got it. The songs kept coming at you and provided an experience you wanted to return to. “The House of Blue Light” wavers between its sounds and it does not help when the second and third songs are stinkers in “The Unwritten Law” and “Call of the Wild.” The guys find their legs in the best song on the album “Bad Attitude”, “Mad Dog”, and “Dead or Alive.” While the stay at the house might not be the most comfortable, it certainly will not leave you feeling cold.

Friday, June 8, 2012

This Is a Comeback

When Deep Purple lost its shade after “Come Taste the Band”; it was the perfect time for the band to end. The Mark IV lineup with new guitarist Tommy Bolin provided an album that didn’t live up to the Deep Purple name with the simplified songs and a huge blues influence. By 1984, the stars had aligned for the famed Mark II lineup to comeback. Ian Gillan had just finished his stint with Black Sabbath and Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow had reached the end of the spectrum. Bassist Roger Glover, master of the ivories Jon Lord, and drummer Ian Paice were all back on board to give the fans what they craved; the Mark II lineup back in action.

The boys do not disappoint either delivering a great dose of hard rocking tunes and Blackmore once again regaining his edge after some poppy Rainbow albums. Songs like “Knockin’ at Your Back Door” and the well-known title track will stick in your head for days. Blackmore shows his knack for writing memorable riffs and to highlight a solo with the former and the title track is a great piece of songwriting with an awesome keyboard intro and a soulful vocal performance by Gillen.

There are no tricks or venturing of the purple mark on this record as any listener can tell how the guys were rejuvenated and genuinely happy being back together again. The neoclassical meanderings of “Hungry Daze” and the up-tempo, keyboard driven “Gypsy’s Kiss” are reminders of just how good these musicians are and the music they create. My version also has “Not Responsible” which reminds me of “A Light in the Black” from the famed Rainbow “Rising” album and that certainly is not a bad thing.

The only misstep is the ballad “Wasted Sunsets.” While I adore Blackmore’s guitar performance, the songs does not fit in with the rest of the album and breaks up the rocking, no-holds-barred pacing that was carrying on. The song is also not that good and the least memorable. Some flack is also given to “Mean Streak” for the lame chorus, but that is more of a minor quip than anything.

“Perfect Strangers” is the definitive example of a comeback album not being a failure. In fact, this is one of the best Purple releases. The songs are full of inspiring writing, memorable songs, and the formidable tandem of Lord and Blackmore dueling with the keyboard and guitar. “Knockin’ at Your Back Door” and the title track will keep you coming back for more because this is how a comeback  should be.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

A Bitter Taste

It is very easy to believe that this album would be a failure. Arguably, the main cog of Deep Purple, Ritchie Blackmore left because of his unhappiness towards the more funky, blues based sound the band was beginning to develop on “Stormbringer.” The band was just about done after this happened, but vocalist David Coverdale and bassist Glenn Hughes wanted to push on and push on they did when they found guitarist Tommy Bolin to fill in Blackmore’s big shoes. Bolin’s style is more straightforward and has a funky edge to it than the classical leanings of Blackmore. Adding on to that, the cover art is very seventies. I’m sure some people thought it looked “happenin’” and “groovy”, but seeing the band’s faces plastered in a glass of wine creeps me out a bit.

It's evidently clear that Coverdale, Hughes, and Bolin had the biggest imprint on this album because it is a lot more bluesy and funky. Songs like “Lady Luck”, “I Need Love”, “Gettin’ Tighter” have the funky edge and lyrics trying to court the ladies. There is no “Child in Time” or the emotional outreach of “Soldier of Fortune” found on here. In all honesty, I would have reacted better to this album if it was a Whitesnake release rather than a Deep Purple record. It makes sense too because Ian Paice and Jon Lord would join Coverdale in Whitesnake after this.

Amidst all the mid-tempo rockers are some great tracks. The opener, “Comin’ Home”, has an upbeat tempo, driving keyboards and guitar, with an energetic performance by Coverdale. The true highlights occur with “This Time Around” and “Owed to G” as Lord is allowed to show his keyboard skill with an array of notes dancing as Hughes channels his inner Stevie Wonder and busts out an awesome vocal performance. It’s a perfect tune to go strolling through the city streets with. At least, that’s the images that go through my head while listening to it. Another stellar tune is “You Keep on Moving” with a cool bass line and another inspiring vocal performance by Hughes. The somber tone by Hughes and the keyboards work effectively and the middle part where the music picks up and Coverdale joins in makes for a memorable moment. Bolin closes with a great solo and it makes for a perfect song.

It’s unfortunate the songs did not become as adventurous as this as “Drifter” and “Dealer” meander in mediocrity and fail to conjure anything memorable. However, I have to give an honorable mention to “Love Child.” Besides the goofy title, the opening riff is very catchy and manages to hold my attention throughout the song.

“Come Taste the Band” ends up leaving the listener with a bitter taste. If the band had concentrated their efforts on creating more songs like “Comin” Home” and “This Time Around” it could have been truly special, but unfortunately it fails to live up to its potential. However, it is by no means a bad record. If you are going to purchase this, I highly recommend the 35th Anniversary Edition which features remixes by Glenn Hughes and two studio outtakes where you can hear a Bolin and Paice jam where Bolin wails on the guitar more than he did on the rest of the album and “Same in LA” is a neat keyboard driven rocker. You also get the story of how this lineup was formed, how the songs were put together, and what led to their breakup. Even though as a whole, the taste is sour, there are some fine sips inbetween.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

The Electric Age Dawns in Columbus

Venue: Screamin' Willies
Date: April 23, 2012

Thrash metal titans Overkill charged into Ohio’s capital city firing on all cylinders in support of their new opus “The Electric Age.” Overkill scorched an unrelenting 90 minute set full of some classics and some recent cookers to whet the appetites of those in attendance.

The set started with the first track from the new album in “Come and Get It” and the crowd responded favorably followed by “Bring Me the Night” which sounded fiercer in the live setting than it did in the studio. However, when the ‘Kill belted out “Elimination”; it whipped the crowed into a frenzy.

Even though his voice has been wrecking necks for nearly 30 years, vocalist Bobby Blitz still retains his whisky fueled pipes sounded great. He greeted the crowd by stating that we smelled bad, but we looked good. I must also add to that I liked that during the solos of the songs, he would crouch in the corner and then coming running back out when it was time to sing again.

The band ripped into “Electric Rattlesnake” which came off really well live and the middle part where the song slows down a bit was awesome. Guitarists Dave Linsk and Derek Tailer were tearing it up and were on target. They played “Save Yourself” from the new album as well and I thought that track was not that good, but found the extra intensity live more enjoyable.

The 90s catalogue was not left out either as they pulled out a couple groovier tracks in “Gasoline Dream” and “Necroshine.” I have never been that big fan of the latter or the album itself, but the way the stage lit up when Blitz did the short screams was awesome as the lights flashed quickly which it seem like Blitz was bursting out of the dark.

“Old School” received great crowd support and sing along opportunities and then “Wrecking Crew” almost turned into a wreck as Ron Lipnicki was bashing the drums like there was no tomorrow and he knocked over one of his cymbals.

Bassist D.D Verni may be greying around the edges a bit, but he still performs with the vigor and energy required at a thrash show. It was done successfully because someone was carried out of the club for reckless behavior. Overkill rounded out the performance with “Deny the Cross”, arguably their best song ever “Rotten to the Core” and the classy “Fuck You.”

One minor complaint I have is they did not play anything from “Horrorscope.” Other than that, it was a great show, full of energy and intensity. There is no room for fancy guitar solos, or elongated drum mashing as Overkill kicked ass from beginning until the end. After all these years, they still got it and will deliver a spark with “The Electric Age.”

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

March to Stalingrad

After Accept regrouped and finally realized their longtime vocalist Udo Dirkschneider was not coming back, they enlisted vocalist Mark Tornillo from little known eighties band T.T Quick. Tornillo’s ruff and gruff attitude and vocal style combined with Wolf Hoffman’s meaty guitar riffs rounded out an impressive comeback album talking about nations’ bloodied histories. The German heavy metal stalwarts have now focused their efforts on a single nation and put a stamp on the city named by the tyrant in honor of himself, Stalingrad.

The first salvo, “Hung, Drawn, and Quartered” starts the proceedings off with a bang with a great guitar intro followed by an aggressive riff. The boys pick up where “Blood of the Nations” left off with a strong, thick guitar tone and Tornillo sounds more aggressive in his vocal delivery. He even has some resemblance to the little man with the mighty voice who preceded him. The chorus in the up-tempo “Flash to Bang Time” and “The Quick and the Dead” showcase the Udo-side of Tornillo.

Hoffman is one the most underrated guitar players to wield the axe. The riffs he writes and the melodic solos he delivers are some of the best one could write. The solo in the title track sounds like the red army taking its march to its national anthem and the outro to “The Galley” provides some serenity to a furious album. He comes back with a biting riff in “Hellfire” which has stuck with since first giving it a listen. This is definitely one of the highlights of the album.

The best song is the fist-pumping “Shadow Soldiers.” It has a great, prideful riff and an inspiring vocal performance by Tornillo. The chorus is remarkable and I can see this going over very well in the live setting. The aforementioned “The Quick and the Dead” has a riff similar to Motley Crue’s “Livewire”, but it works and the drum performance by Stefan Schwarzmann is a highlight.

All the tracks flow at a steady pace, but the only ones that failed to grab me are the drab “Against the World” and “Twist of Fate.” The former is basically a standard metal cooker, but there is nothing of note that stands out. The latter is a slow burner which features some nice bass work courtesy of Peter Baltes, but it never reaches its full potential as it tries to strike an emotional chord, but it doesn’t happen.

When it’s all said and done, you cannot go wrong with this album. If you liked “Blood of the Nations”; then this will not disappoint and it does not overstay its welcome as the last one clocked in at long time while “Stalingrad” finishes at just under an hour. The German boys have hit their stride since regrouping with Tornillo as any listener will have no problem head-banging through the streets of Stalingrad.

Monday, April 2, 2012

The Age Has Begun

Overkill is back and they must have felt a jolt in their system. The New Jersey boys now have 17 albums under their belt and they sound better than ever. It was going to be tough to top their last output in “Ironbound”, but they have found a way to meet expectations.

The two main men, vocalist Bobby Blitz and bassist D.D Verni have cooked up ten monsters that doesn’t let up until after the last note is played. “Come and Get It” storms through with crushing riffs and a shredding solo from Dave Linsk. The first single in “Electric Rattlesnake” has some Black Sabbath moments and the ascending rhythm part with a slicing bass and pumping drums near the end combined with the final solo is memorable and drives a great song.

The production is again outstanding on this album. Overkill has, with a couple exceptions, always brought the best sound out of their instruments from “The Years of Decay” to “The Killing Kind” to “Ironbound.” The drums by Ron Lipnicki and the riffing by Derek Tailer are in your face just as they were on “Ironbound.” The top-notch production puts other heavyweights such as Slayer and Metallica to shame.

The thrashing continues with “Drop the Hammer Down” which would make the mighty Thor proud. It features a nice melodic solo and Blitz delivers an awesome chorus as if he’s about to bring the pain with his weapon. The verse also has a beautiful transition to that chorus and another one of the standouts. “All Over but The Shouting” has a title that wouldn’t look strange on a Cannibal Corpse album. The backing guitar theatrics with Blitz delivering the narrative is a nice touch.

However, there are a couple instances where the songwriting is not as strong. “Save Yourself” is a generic thrasher with not much going for it. The riff is bland and it fails to develop into something great. The other track that does not deliver is “Old Wounds, New Scars.” The song is homage to their New Jersey background, but the chorus is awkward and when it seems like the song is going to pick-up steam, it doesn’t.

With that being said, “The Electric Age” is a winner. Even though his voice has been through a lot, Blitz’s vocals are as charismatic as ever and Verni is still delivering bass lines that make him one of the best in the business. The fellas have really hit their stride after the disappointment that was “Immortalis” back in 2007. Blitz ends the proceedings in a fitting way uttering “Good night.” Thank you Blitz and the rest of the ‘Kill; I will have a good night’s rest after taking in the shock of “The Electric Age.”

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Blues Taking Over

If one were to expect an album simliar to "Burn" then that person is going to be thrown in for a loop. The remarkable thing is that both "Burn" and the album being reviewed, "Stormbringer", were released the same year yet both have significantly different sound and style to them. It may have something to do with the amount of drugs being taken by Glenn Hughes and David Coverdale, but that is a discussion for another day. The one aspect that is evident is the amount of blues and soul infused into the songs and it is understandable why master axe man Ritchie Blackmore would be upset.

The songs that shine on here are the ones Ritchie goes full force with his famous Fender Stratocaster and when his riff playing is the main component featured. His catchy, intricate up-tempo riffing is the main highlight found here. This also brings out the brilliance of Jon Lord because the double team of his keyboards and Ritchie's guitar playing is unmatched by any other band.

The dueling vocals of David Coverdale and Glenn Hughes return and again they are very impressive to hear. Hughes shows his soulful vocal chords on "Holy Man" and "Hold On" and Coverdale's screeching, bluesy voice complements it perfectly. The way they play off each other is impressive and unique to this version of Deep Purple.

However, where "Burn" succeeded is where "Stormbringer" failed. For one, the drumming of Ian Paice is severely toned down, mostly doing a simple, blues type of beat and is not the wild, frantic kind we all know and love from him. The guy is a great musician, but you would not know it from this album. Another is the prevalence of the funky bass playing by Glenn Hughes. It just sounds annoying and is not enjoyable. "Love Don't Mean a Thing", and "Hold On" just drag the album down with no awesome riffing and having an overload of blues in them. Then "You Can't Do It Right" is a pure funk song and it is embarrassingly bad especially with the trippy chorus.

While a listener of this album maybe frustrated on what is going on, the last song will cure a lot of it. "Soldier of Fortune" is an acoustic track song sung by Coverdale and it is very melodic and beautifully done and might bring on a few tears. It is very melancholic and the inclusion of the violin in the background furthur adds to it and is one of the best Deep Purple songs.

"Stormbringer" is an album that will frustrate listeners as it is rather hit-and-miss. There are some very enjoyable moments found on here though and is worth the purchase. Some may like the bigger inclusion of blues and funk, but it just does not fit Deep Purple. With that being said, this still gets a good score and is still a good Purple record. This would be Ritchie's swansong as he would go on to form Rainbow because he did not like the direction of the band. Don't let that fact deter you from buying this though as it is certainly something to listen to.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The Deepest Purple

When a band loses a key member or members; it usually spells doom for the soldiers who carry on. With Deep Purple losing the wonderful talent in Ian Gillan and dropping Roger Glover; it could easily be concluded that this was just the beginning of the end for one of hottest rock bands of the 1970s. Further proof in the pudding was the choice of replacements in little known David Coverdale and this funky bass player from Trapeze, Glenn Hughes. In fact, the “Burn” cover art with the members’ heads as wax candles could be a symbol for their careers melting away.

However, what we have here is the finest Deep Purple album. The songwriting is top notch and the inclusion of Coverdale and Hughes as vocalist brings a great mix of bluesy and soulful singing. Ritchie Blackmore always had an eye for talent and he didn’t miss here. The title track and the opener is one the best Purple songs. From the insane drumming of Ian Paice to the back and forth solos between Blackmore and keyboardist Jon Lord; this is the definition of a perfect song. The world is also introduced to the blend of Coverdale and Hughes.

The Brits keep the music flowing with the bluesy and slow rocker in “Might Just Take Your Life” which transitions to the walloping guitar riffing in “Lay Down, Stay Down.” The guitar solo is done well with a clean piano in the background to keep the beat. The back and forth between Hughes and Coverdale is also enjoyable as this is one of the standout tracks of the album.

One of the other positives is that each track is unique. “Sail Away” brings a funky edge to the proceedings with the bass riff and the Blackmore closing solo which features many wavy guitar notes sounds similar to Blackmore’s future band Rainbow’s epic “Stargazer.” Another one of the standouts is “What’s Going On Here” which sounds like a barroom rocker as I can see Lord doing the piano part while Coverdale and Hughes are enjoying the devil’s fuel in the background.

A final masterpiece is found with “Mistreated.” This is the only track with a single vocalist as Coverdale takes the helm and delivers his finest Purple performance next to “Soldier of Fortune.” His bluesy voice blends with the depressing riff provided by Blackmore perfectly and the emotional solo drives it home safely. Soothing bass and trembling drums really drive the sad mood it goes for. This is a grade A song from a grade A band.

“Burn” shows how a band can change members and deliver great music. The new blood in Hughes and Coverdale a perfect combination of soul and blues and combined with Blackmore’s trusty guitar wonders makes this an awesome album. My only quip is “You Fool No One” does not fit the Purple mode of hard rock as it is way too funky and groovy. However, the title track is I daresay the best Deep Purple song ever written. Don’t believe me? Just put this song on and feel the “burn.”

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Chosen Ones: Love Songs

Now that Valentine’s Day has come and gone like a rose in the spring time; there are plenty of love songs from bands yearning for a woman or lamenting a breakup. While some miss the mark due to the cheese factor, others prosper because of catchy guitar part, well-written lyrics, or a mind numbing chorus. Here some of the best love songs to swoon your significant other.

Scorpions: Born to Touch Your Feelings
Everyone’s favorite Germans have many awesome ballads. No one writes a love song like they do. They can easily conjure moments of being romantic and becoming intimate with the person you’re with. “Born to Touch Your Feelings” is no different with some of the best lyrics the band has produced and combined with the epic feel makes this the best Scorpions ballad. The flawless vocal performance by Klaus Meine coupled with strong guitars and a bombastic ending must be heard.

KISS: Every Time I Look at You
The Knights In Satan’s Service saw this as the follow up hit to 1989’s “Forever”, but it ultimately failed as a single. However, I find this song to be the stronger of the two because of the acoustic guitar part and Paul Stanley realizing this is the woman he wants to be with. It begins with a hint of sadness, but then blossoms to something uplifting and it works wonderfully. “Forever” is just too cheesy and this song is to, but it has the right amount without being saturated by it.

UFO: Love to Love
There is nothing cheesy or crooning going on here. British rockers UFO wrote this song for their seminal album “Lights Out” and guitar hero Michael Schenker delivers a hard guitar part before it develops into a majestic radiance with one of the strongest vocal performances by Phil Mogg. The orchestral accompaniment adds a nice touch to the proceedings and the emotional solo by Schenker caps off an already impressive song.

Vinnie Vincent Invasion: Love Kills
While this may not be classified as a track to perk your woman, this song is just too awesome to leave off. Featured on “ A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master”, this haunting ballad contains a creepy, acoustic riff while a Mark Slaughter wails like a man on fire in the chorus. The electric solo is very memorable and the track remains a standout on “All Systems Go.” Plus, the appearance by Freddy Krueger in the video scores some extra points.

Lynch Mob: Through These Eyes
After George Lynch left Dokken, he formed Lynch Mob with the wonderful singer Oni Logan. The ballad is very catchy and the vocal performance by Logan is excellent. The guitar part will stick in your head for days. It is also certainly better than most of the ballads Lynch’s former band produced too.

Helloween: In the Middle of a Heartbeat
One of the forefathers of power metal, the pumpkin heads has never really been that good at writing ballads. “A Tale That Wasn’t Right” and “Number 1” are downright awful and have soiled the pumpkin stew. That trend changed in vocalist Andi Deris’ first album with the band “Master of the Rings” as the classical approach works really well. The song seems a little melancholic, but it works and you can be sure to console your loved one if they shed a tear.

Paul Stanley: Tonight You Belong to Me
This standout from the 78’ solo album is the Starchild at his best. An acoustic intro building to the bombast of an awesome guitar riff works perfectly. Stanley has professed how he loves songs that start low and become loud. The song is beautiful with Stanley telling his woman that while she may be leaving; he still has her for one night and he plans to make the most of it.

Stryper: Calling On You
Ok, this song is very cheesy, but I love it. God’s favorite band produced this hit back in 86’. The song is poppy and Michael Sweet sounds like a puppy dog, but the track is undeniably catchy and I can’t help myself to sing along to the chorus. Other than that, it’s a sweet song (no pun intended) to play for your lady to call on her to love you.

W.A.S.P: Forever Free
W.A.S.P may be known for gritty and unapologetically gruesome with their stage antics and sex infused songs, but this track off their most mature work “The Headless Children” shows a different side of Blackie Lawless and co. It talks of a loved one who has passed on, but is now free to flow along with nature, but will always by their loved ones side. It’s a beautiful song, and it rocks too.

Cinderella: Coming Home
This is another cheesy tune, but it’s my kind of brand. I like the guitar part a lot and there is no other feeling like returning to a person who means much to someone’s life. “Coming Home” speaks for itself in the title and on top of that, the execution is flawless.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Mild Tribute

Cover albums can be successes that pay respect to a band’s influence or be a mildly amusing affair that have faithful renditions of songs, but nothing more. Take Overkill’s “Coverkill” for example. The thrashers took their style of music and integrated it into some classic tracks and it made for a fun listen. With Iced Earth, their mix of power and thrash metal could translate well with some songs, especially with superb vocalist Matt Barlow in tow. Seeing Jon Schaffer dip into the well of his influences and some of his favorite bands is very intriguing, but we are left with something more fit for a jester, rather than the gods.

There is nothing offensively bad on here, it’s just there is nothing interesting added or spiced up to make the songs “feel” like Iced Earth. I suppose that makes sense for the Iron Maiden covers because Schaffer’s vision was derived much from them. “The Number of the Beast” and “Hallowed Be Thy Name” are a couple of the most iconic songs not just for Maiden, but for heavy metal. One or two listens are nice, but in the end they are not even close to being superior to Bruce Dickinson’s wailing vocals and the dual guitar treat of Dave Murray and Adrian Smith. It also doesn’t help that Richard Christy’s mantic drumming has been reduced to keeping the beat and nothing more.

However, I was expecting some interesting developments in the AC/DC tunes and the Blue Oyster Cult tracks. The AC/DC songs totally miss the mark and it is odd hearing Iced Earth doing straight-up, hard rock songs. The BOC ones are more forgiving and I like the delicate vocal performance by Barlow and the nice guitar solo laid down by Larry Tarnowski. The thick guitar tone on “Cities on Flame” brings an extra edge to the chorus and provides an enjoyable listen.

The best cover is the Alice Cooper song “Dead Babies.” The creepy atmosphere is captured perfectly and the brooding bass by James MacDonough is capable of making the hair stand on the back of your neck. Driving guitars and Barlow’s range are spot on and is worthy of a five-star stamp. Schaffer dons the head microphone for “God of Thunder.” The KISS classic is made into the metal song it always wanted to be. Schaffer’s raspy vocals work well and the main riff slaughters just as it’s supposed to. This version is a little bit scarier than the original.

The metal forefathers make an appearance in the presence of the songs that bears their namesake “Black Sabbath.” The song “Black Sabbath” is known for its creepy atmospheres and shivering tones. Unfortunately, Iced Earth fails to replicate what the song goes for and simply does not do justice to the original. However, I do enjoy the amped up guitar kick at the climax of the song.

In the end, these covers are a disappointment. With a couple exceptions, they did not add to the songs that came before them. Instead of making these songs “theirs”, they simply did faithful versions. I wished they went outside the box and experimented more with their interpretations of some metal classics. With that said, the KISS covers and the Alice Cooper cover are exceptional and definitely worth listens. If the covers were as good as these, then Schaffer and co. could take their place next to the gods, but unfortunately they will have stick to being mere mortals.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Pumpkin Jukebox

Cover albums can be tricky sometimes. There is the chance that a band goes for a simple cash-in or puts a quick release to escape a record contract. This usually leads to faithful renditions to a song with little to no improvisation. On the other side of the spectrum, an album full of covers gives an opportunity for a band to showcase its influences or just completely show another side of them. Helloween falls into this category. Any pumpkin fan would be delighted to see them put the Helloween magic on some metal favorites from maybe Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, or Black Sabbath. However, if one takes a look at the cover art for “Metal Jukebox”; the pumpkin man dressed as a hippie gives an odd impression of what exactly is going to be found.

The jukebox lifts off to a rousing start with a Scorpions tune of “He’s a Woman-She’s a Man.” Andi Deris’ gritty vocals serve as nice contrast to that of Klaus Meine from the original version. The punchy guitars give this the aggressive tone the song invokes and is a pleasant sting to open the proceedings. A grounded version of “Locomotive Breath” ensues minus the flute styling of Ian Anderson. It definitely has a metal edge by letting the percussive elements shine.

Things become weird when ABBA makes an appearance. Yes, THAT ABBA. “Lay All Your Love On Me” is undeniably catchy and I give them credit for trying to put a metal on it, but it just doesn’t work. It is also downright weird hearing Deris crooning to lay all your love on him. Another cover that misses the mark is The Beatles song “All My Loving.” Helloween manages to make this a speed metal song somehow and the duel solo between Roland Grapow and Michael Weikath is cool, but it just doesn’t capture the lovable spirit of the original. The lyrical content also does not match the amped tempo either.

A cover that ended up working that I was first apprehensive about was “Space Oddity.” Helloween perfectly captures the spacey, eerie atmosphere and Deris shines as a vocalist. The acoustic guitar has a radiance that measures exactly what the song entails as well. I am confident David Bowie nodded in approval when he heard this version of his tune. The one pleasant surprise was the inclusion of a Faith No More cover. The spirited, uplifting tone of “From Out of Nowhere” does fit the Helloween mantra of having fun, but this was still unexpected. Deris has a firm grasp of his voice, which unfortunately I can’t say for Mike Patton’s cracking pipes in the original track.

The best cover is “Hocus Pocus” by Focus (try saying that five times fast.) The simple, repeated riff is a joy to listen too because of the continued yodeling of Deris and the quirky, odd sound effects that jump out on the middle section. It’s a song that easily becomes trapped in your head and the humorous noises are good for a laugh or two. The wailing solo by Grapow breaks up the ongoing nuttiness for a spell before it goes back to the madhouse, but the silly nature and the catchy and roaring riff works perfectly.

The latter half of the album features basically hard rock tracks made into metal. I like the moodiness and the creepy vibe of “Faith Healer” from Alex Harvey. It’s a definite change of pace from “Hocus Pocus” and puts the listener into a different setting. “Juggernaut” is crushing and the drumming from Uli Kusch is outstanding. The way Deris sings “it’s a juggernaut” is amusing too. Cream’s “White Room” sounds much better as a metal song and the melodic solo keeps the tune to its psychedelic roots. Finally, “Mexican” is a cool and fast closer from Babe Ruth. Who knew the famous baseball star had some music ability?

“Metal Jukebox” is the finest cover album I have heard. Everybody’s second favorite Germans (Scorpions being the first) captured the perfect guitar sound as found on their albums from the late nineties. “Hocus Pocus”, “Space Oddity”, and “He’s a Woman-She’s a Man” should provide incentive for repeated listens. With all that said, I wish they would have taken on some metal tunes, like maybe “Freewheel Burning” from Judas Priest or “2 Minutes to Midnight” from Iron Maiden. Tracks such as these would have made this even better, but unfortunately it does reach its full potential with covers of The Beatles and ABBA. However, this is a very well done album and is in no way a simple cash-in; so slip a coin into the jukebox and have a hell of a time listening to Helloween.