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.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Killer Covers

Overkill has always exuded the “take no prisoners” perspective in their music with back-breaking thrash and excellent vocals brought to you by Bobby “Blitz” Ellsworth. It should be no surprise then when doing covers of some their favorite songs; they bring in the Overkill juice to spice up tracks some hold near and dear to them.

They perfectly capture the energy of the KISS track “Deuce” by letting the riff do the talking, but they sped up the tempo for a more thrash spirit. Blitz spits out the fury that Gene Simmons brought to one of KISS’s staples songs. I’m sure the Demon would be pleased with the quality put forth by the ‘Kill.

The same approach is done with “Space Truckin’.” The distorted guitars rattle off a thrashed up version of the Deep Purple classic. The drums were simplified because stick man Ian Paice is hard to match, but Tim Mallare lays a solid effort and makes it more in the Overkill style. It is also amusing hearing Blitz’s aggressive vocals go on about the wonders of space travel.

There is a host of Black Sabbath covers as they were an essential influence to Overkill, but then again, Black Sabbath is just about inspirational to every metal band. The best one is the amped up version of “Never Say Die” and guitarist Dave Linsk delivers the perfect solo as found in the original and a new energy is brought with a heavier mark on the guitars and drums. By far the most interesting and different is the cover of “Changes.” The ballad does not have quite have the somber tone, but Blitz’s clean vocals are striking and one of the best vocal performances he has registered. The last and least impressive is “Cornucopia” as the beauty of Tony Iommi’s guitar magic is blown up on this one as this Sabbath tune does not fit the Overkill style.

The cover that left the biggest impression was the Judas Priest cover of “Tyrant.” It sounds like a brand new song as Blitz delivers a gritty, aggressive vocal that accompanies bombast of instrumentation from the rest of the band. The only negative is that the production is muddled. However, the song is presented as if Overkill wrote it. If one wants the clean and high registers of Rob Halford, then opt for the Priest, but if one is in the mood for a raw energy and aggression, then go for the ‘Kill.

Overkill has also been influenced by a number of punk bands and those inspirations are brought to life with covers of some of those bands. I have a never been fan of The Ramones, Sex Pistols, or The Dead Boys, but I realize their importance and can appreciate what they have done. With that said, the attitude in the vocals and making tracks like “No Feelings”, “I’m Against it”, and “Ain’t Nothin’ to Do” thrash tracks are a fun listen. These songs show why they were huge for a developing band and how Overkill’s brand of thrash was influenced by them.

This is one of the better cover albums anyone is going to cross. Instead of doing faithful reinterpretations of classic songs; Overkill decided to do the songs as if they wrote them. The approach is rather successful and if do not sound as good; the effort can surely be appreciated. The vocal performance by Blitz is worth the listen alone. Be sure to check out “Deuce”, “Space Truckin’”, and “Tyrant” for solid doses and go on to “Changes” and “Never Say Die” if you crave for more. After giving this a listen, it is now known that Overkill definitely has all their bases…”covered.”