DC4 – Explode (2007)

DC4 – Explode (2007, independent release)

  1. Explode
  2. Rock And Roll Disease
  3. Experiment
  4. God Complex
  5. Cabin Fever
  6. This Is What You Wanted
  7. Candy Cane
  8. Long Hard Road To Lost
  9. Disturbed
  10. Hate Parade

Band Lineup:
Jeff Duncan – Lead Vocals & Guitars
Shawn Duncan – Drums
Matt Duncan – Bass & Backing Vocals
Rowan Robertson – Guitars

Producer: Joey Vera

Total Time = 42:04

DC4 MySpace page

I first heard about DC4 when I saw the news that Odin released a new E.P., Odin being the band that Jeff Duncan (Armored Saint) & Shawn Duncan famously played in on the Sunset Strip in the ’80s. Much to my surprise, the Duncan brothers recruited a third brother (Matt) for Bass duties and former Dio lead guitarist Rowan Robertson. I used to play LOCK UP THE WOLVES constantly way back when and the hype was huge that a then 18 yr. old guitarist would handle a Metal legend’s guitar slot. With that lineup, the band and album just had to be good.

Basically what we have here on EXPLODE is Hard Rock, the emphasis on “hard”. The guitar work is tremendous with both guitarists trading licks and solos and the rhythm section is tight, the comfort level there because they guys are brothers and know each other’s playing well. What I find very interesting is Jeff Duncan’s vocals, they sound similar to Jeff’s bandmate John Bush from Armored Saint. This gritty style fits the music well because the whole album is based on heavy, driving guitars.

The title track and ‘Rock And Roll Disease’ kick the album off with a Hard Rock bang that immeadiately showcases what DC4 is about: heavy Rock bordering on Metal. Both songs feature driving guitar patterns and solos that set the tone for the entire album. ‘Experiment’ is a little different, the song has a hook at the chorus that leans more towards the more modern style but the song as a whole still retains that old school Hard Rock vibe. I also like the big drum sound on ‘Experiment’, it really drives the song.

‘God Complex’ and ‘Cabin Fever’ continue the heavy pace while ‘This Is What You Wanted’ slows down to a mid-pace groove and is a welcome change. The first five songs hit you right over the head with their heaviness and, even though the guitars are still heavy, the song’s pace is slower and lends some variety to what was becoming a one-dimensional, albeit good, album. ‘This Is What You Wanted’ reminds me of a heavier Nickelback but better (I can’t stand Nickel back!). ‘Candy Caine’ returns us back to the straight forward Hard Rock approach but, even though it’s good music, I’m looking for something different because the songs are starting to sound the same.

There are some interesting guitar patterns of ‘Long Hard Road To Lost’ and there seems to be a little more groove than other songs on the record. Same with ‘Disturbed’, there is a different tone to the opening guitar with the vocal right up front and in focus, but the song moves back into line with the other rockers. ‘Hate Parade’ is another mid-paced song that is a welcome listen among all the fast rockers. There’s a cool acoustic guitar that starts the song with the vocal and remains throughout the song. It almost reminds me a little bit of Union with Bruce Kulick and John Corabi.

Bottom Line:
DC4 play straight forward heavy Hard Rock and almost every song on EXPLODE is just that…..straight forward heavy Hard Rock. Now there’s nothing wrong with that because good Hard Rock can be hard to find sometimes. The problem is that the songs start to sound too similar, the album gets more interesting when the band begins to stretch their wings and do some different things like on ‘Hate Parade’ or ‘This Is What You Wanted’. That said, I liked the album and it has received a lot of time on my stereo because the musicianship is top notch and the guitars are especially good. The band isn’t re-inventing the wheel with this album but they are keeping the car driving fast.

Favorite Songs: ‘Experiment’, ‘God Complex’, ‘Hate Parade’, ‘This Is What You Wanted’, ‘Explode’

Saints Of The Underground – Love The Sin, Hate The Sinner (2008)

Saints Of The Undergrond – Love The Sin, Hate The Sinner (2008, Warrior Records)

  1. Dead Man Shoes
  2. Tomorrow Never Comes
  3. All In How You Wear It
  4. Good Times
  5. Exit
  6. American Girl
  7. Signs Of Life
  8. Bruised
  9. Moonlight Mile
  10. Jimmy

Band Lineup:
Jani Lane – Lead Vocals
Bobby Blotzer – Drums
Keri Kelli – Guitars
Robbie Crane – Bass

Additional Musicians:
Chuck Wright – Bass
Rick Flores – Keyboards

Produced by: Bobby Blotzer, Keri Kelli, & Jani Lane

Total Time = 36:40

Saints Of The Underground MySpace page
Warrior Records

Sometime back in 2005, I read an article online that reported that this “supergroup” had begun preliminary work on a record. First thing I remember coming to mind was: “Is this a supergroup?”. You’ve got two big names in Warrant frontman Jani Lane and Ratt drummer Bobby Blotzer but would the average Hard Rock fan even know who guitarist Keri Kelli (Alice Cooper’s band) and bassist Robbie Crane (ex-Vince Neil, current Ratt) are? Even if this was the late ’80s/early ’90s, I’m not sure this would be considered a “supergroup”. Immeadiate comparisons to the ill-fated 1992 Contraband project come to mind, especially since Blotzer was involved in that one too. The other thought was when would Jani Lane’s personal demons force the project to implode and be abandoned? I’ll admit that when I put this CD in the stereo I really wasn’t expecting all that much. Turns out that this project is pretty good.

Opening track ‘Dead Man’s Shoes’ is a solid Hard Rock tune with a great gritty vocal by Jani Lane and a melodic hook that really gets the album off to a rockin’ start. The song goes back to Bobby Blotzer’s 2002 project, Twenty 4 Seven, with John Corabi & Robert Marcello. ‘Tomorrow Never Comes’ keeps up the pace with another solid vocal by Jani and some cool guitar from Keri Kelli. I’ve never really heard much work from Kelli but what I’ve heard two songs in was pretty good and he also shines on ‘All In How You Wear It’. The opening riff from Kelli sounds very Guns ‘N Roses and it gives the song a sleazy feel when added to Lane’s dirty vocals. It’s easy to notice that Mr. Lane’s voice seems to have gotten lower as he’s aged, making him sound stronger and harder than his glory days in Warrant.

‘Good Times’ is the second song taken from Blotzer’s Twenty 4 Seven project and continues with the melodic Hard Rock while ‘Exit’ is a little lighter and more Pop-oriented. I’m not sure why the band decided to cover Tom Petty’s ‘American Girl’…..lack of original material maybe? It’s a good straight on version of the song but, with two Blotzer songs already recycled, wouldn’t original material be better served? One thing I noticed is that the drumming is a little heavier by Blotzer here than on the original but the song as a whole is still spot on. ‘Signs of Life’ continues the pure Hard Rock with a heavy mid-paced groove that, along with Lane’s vocal, sounds similar to Warrant circa the DOG EAT DOG/ULTRAPHOBIC/BELLY TO BELLY (1992/95/96) era.

‘Bruised’ is probably the heaviest song on the record with the Blotzer/Crane rhythm tandem in top form and Keri Kelli laying a solid guitar foundation for Lane to sing over. I still can’t get over Lane’s performance, absolutely much better than expected. Cover #2 (or #4 if you count the two Twenty 4 Seven songs) is of the Rolling Stones track ‘Moonlight Mile’. It’s decent, I like the acoustic guitar but I’ll stick with the original by Mick, Keith, & the boys. Last song is ‘Jimmy’, an interesting song that sounds like a Thin Lizzy tune. A little research finds that ‘Jimmy’ is a Lane penned number from back in the beginning days of Warrant and now it finally sees a proper release on the Saints album. This is probably my favorite of the album with it’s ’70s groove and the best melodic guitar of the record/

Bottom Line:
I’m pleasantly surprised. Like I mentioned earlier, I expected this to be a disjointed fiasco based on what was going on with Jani Lane’s addivtive life but this album has Lane and company fully focused on bringing some decent Hard Rock to the fans. Jani Lane puts in a really solid performance with his vocal work and Keri Kelli puts some solid leads and solos down. The Blotzer/Crane tandem is solid after 10 years together in Ratt so they keep everything together nicely. My only disappointment is the covers and retreads: I’d have rather had fresh material than two cover songs and the recycling of an old Warrant song and re-recording of two Bobby Blotzer songs (from another project) makes things a little disjointed. The music is fresh to most ears but diehard fans will recognize the songs and may ask if this was a real band collaboration or just a quick one-off for a check. Still a solid album and one of the good surprises this year.

Favorite songs: ‘Dead Man’s Shoes’, ‘Jimmy’, ‘Bruised’, ‘Good Times’, ‘All In How You Wear It’

 

Asia – Phoenix (2008)

Asia – Phoenix (2008, Froniters)

  1. Never Again
  2. Nothing’s Forever
  3. Heroine
  4. Sleeping Giant/Now Way Back/Reprise
  5. Alibis
  6. I Will Remember You
  7. Shadow Of A Doubt
  8. Parallel Worlds/Vortex/Déyà
  9. Wish I’d Known All Along
  10. Orchard Of Mines
  11. Over And Over
  12. An Extraordinary Life

Band Lineup:
John Wetton – Lead Vocals & Bass
Geoff Downes – Keyboards
Steve Howe – Electric, Acoustic, and Steel Guitars
Carl Palmer – Drums and Percussion

Produced by: Asia & Steve Rispin

Total Time = 1:04:52

Asia official website
Asia MySpace page
Frontiers Records

Back in 1982, I was a kid possessed by music: when I wasn’t listening to the radio, I was glued to this new TV channel that started on cable a few months earlier…MTV. I had already started down the Metal path but I got hooked to what was popular from listening to the local Rock stations. Add the amazing visuals and magic of music videos and even the most syrupy, candy-coated love song would become interesting. One day I heard this heavy guitar pour out the radio speaker and I took notice, it was Asia’s ‘Heat Of The Moment’. Then I started seeing the video almost every hour on MTV, the song was burned into my brain. I followed the band from ASIA (1982) to ALPHA (1983) but the Metal took over by the time ASTRA (1985) was released and both my interest, and the general public’s, in Asia disappeared. Twenty five years after the original lineup splintered, the original members of Asia Steve Howe, Carl Palmer, John Wetton, & Geoff Downes) have reunited to bring us PHOENIX.

Opening track ‘Never Again’ brings the early ’80s back with an uptempo song with beautiful interplay between Downes’ keys and Howe’s guitar. John Wetton sounds like he hasn’t aged at all in 25 years, his voice is melodic perfection despite years of substance abuse and health problems. ‘Never Again’ has that uplifting hook that the band is well-known for but it is a bit subdued when compared to big hits from the past ‘Heat Of The Moment’ & ‘Only Time Will Tell’. Keeping the melodic tradition alive is ‘Nothing’s Forever’, a mid-tempo song that is well done but is too Lite Rock for me. It has that mid-tempo balladry thing going with grand orchestrated keyboard textures and sedated background vocals but not a lot of guitar. It’s in there…..somewhere…..found around the solo break when Howe shows up with a neat and clean quick offering. ‘Heroine’ is PHOENIX’s first proper ballad and it sounds like it came straight from the early ’80s and the top of the charts. Very well done with a melodic beauty that Asia was known for back in their younger days.

The band starts to flex their Progressive muscles a little with the three part epic ‘Sleeping Giant/No Way Back/Reprise’. Part one is a keyboard rich instrumental that has a very big sound kind of like those opening keys to ‘Only Time Will Tell’ from back in the day. Part two is the song proper ‘No Way Back’ that sounds like typical Asia with bigger background vocals, again, just like the old days. What the song would benefit from is a harder guitar or at least a more prominent and ballsy guitar. So far on this record, that seems to be the problem for me, the guitar is too subdued and clean. Anyway, Part 3 (‘Reprise’) quickly extends the instrumental. Asia starts to show what made them an ’80s success with ‘Alibis’, an uptempo track that mirrors ‘Never Again’ in quality and pace. Definitely one of the best songs on the album chock full of great vocal melodies and big sounding harmonies and Mr. Howe shows up with a decent, albeit very clean sounding, solo. The second solo break has quick interplay between Downes’ keys and Howe’s guitar, something old Asia did well. Everything slows down at the end for an extended jam and it’s a little disappointing because it seems like the band found that old spark.

Proper ballad #2 floats in with ‘I Will Remember You’ and, even though it’s a very good Pop love song, it just seems like it’s too much already. ‘Heroine’ was just on two songs previous and this song is almost exact. I guess I’m just not digging the laid back approach that seems to permeate the entire record and a ballad just doesn’t satisfy. A fine vocal from Wetton again though. ‘Shadow Of A Doubt’ picks the pace up again but is too keyboard lite Pop. There is a really good melody line there but nothing really stands out and keeps my attention. Another triple threat epic from the band with ‘Parallel Worlds/Vortex/Deya’ and it really seems like more of the same. ‘Parallel Worlds’ is another Wetton ballad with a solid vocal, ‘Vortex’ is an instrumental with a beautiful acoustic guitar and some quick Palmer power on the kit, ‘Deya’ is just an extension of ‘Vortex’. I’ve listened to this record enough times to know when to hit the <skip> button because the instrumental passages are nice but are taking away from the actual proper song. Both epics are heavy on instrumentals but one has to ask why they are necessary especially when both three-parters are just over 8 minutes each!

‘Wish I’d Known All Along’ is more clean, subdued Pop…..’Orchard Of Mines’ is another safe pomp ballad that has some interesting keyboard orchestrations and a choir effect…..’Over And Over’ is another mid-tempo song bordering on a ballad that benefits from the piano more than the keyboard even though both are present. Palmer has a couple of flashes but remains subdued and Howe comes in with a couple of quick simple flashes. Honestly, you’ve already heard ‘Over And Over’, well, over and over on PHOENIX. The album mercifully ends with ‘An Extraordinary Life’, an autobiographical song by John Wetton that is basically a chronicle of his difficult journey over the last 25 years. After all the slow songs, the uptempo beat of this Wetton showcase is very welcome. I would put this in the same league with ‘Nothing’s Forever’ as far as tempo but this could easily be transported back to ’82 or ’83 with it’s big layered harmonies.

Bottom Line:
PHOENIX is an album that you would expect Asia to make: solid musicianship and songwriting alongside excellent production. Every song is full of melody, beautiful instrumentals, and superb lead vocals. What is missing is the big bombastic hooks that Asia made their name with in the early ’80s. There are flashes of that brilliance in each song but I found myself waiting for that defining moment each time and being disappointed except for a few songs. Maybe age and time has taken that drive away from these guys? First question is: where is Steve Howe? Second question is: where is Carl Palmer? I know that they play on the album, I can hear them, but their presence is so subdued and powerless that it makes you wonder if Wetton and Downes could have just put this out as their previous incarnations: Wetton/Downes or Icon. If you are looking for the big time sound of ‘Heat Of The Moment’, ‘Don’t Cry’, or ‘Only Time Will Tell’ then you are listening to the wrong album. If you want contemporary melodic pop rock with an ’80s AOR sensibility, then this is for you. For me, too “lite Rock” and not enough rockers. Best part of this album is John Wetton’s timeless vocals.

Songs I enjoyed: ‘Never Again’, ‘Nothing’s Forever’, ‘An Extraordinary Life’, ‘Alibis’

Zero Hour – Dark Deceiver (2008)

Zero Hour – Dark Deceiver (2008, Sensory)

  1. Power To Believe
  2. Dark Deceiver
  3. Inner Spirit
  4. Resurrection
  5. Tendonitis
  6. The Temple Within
  7. Lies
  8. The Passion Of Words
  9. Severed Angel

Band Lineup:
Chris Salinas – Vocals
Jasun Tipton – Guitars
Troy Tipton – Bass
Mike Guy – Drums

Producer: Dino Alden

Total Time = 44:43

Zero Hour official website
Zero Hour MySpace page
The Laser’s Edge Group

When the latest CD from Zero Hour crossed my desk, I really had no idea what to expect. First, I had never heard of Zero Hour. Second, Progressive Metal isn’t my usual headbang. One look at the cover art and I new that the album would be interesting. A couple of things to remember about Progressive Metal: be prepared for a lot of music in each song and each song’s duration may vary.

The opening track, ‘Power To Believe’, kicks everything into high gear with a seven minute plus barrage of over-the-top (OTT) technical guitar, wild bass, and pounding drums. Add in some time changes and it’s easy to get confused as to where the song is going but somehow it all manages to come together in a dark, brooding mood emphasized by Chris Salinas’ vocals. To me, I hear some Tate, Halford, Allen, and Englund all mixed in…..Salinas is at his best with his dark lower register. The title track continues the assault with some very heavy riffing from Jasun Tipton and some really cool high end screeches from Salinas. Midway through the song, the pace shifts to a solo more melodic tone, and then picks up again into the whirlwind of sound, until it ends with the same slow moody passage. 

Track #3 is a 12 minute opus called ‘Inner Spirit’. Usually, when I see a song’s time over 8 minutes, I wonder just how much is instrumental and necessary. The first 2 minutes of ‘Inner Spirit’ firmly establishes that the foundation is pure instrumentation but then Salinas comes in with this dark, low voice that sounds like a devil rising from the fire, with a cleaner, higher vocal over the top. Solo after solo, pounding drums, bass thumping, riffs a plenty…..there’s a lot to absorb in 12 minutes and the song is jammed full. ‘Resurrection’ slices close to 8 minutes off the previous song and gives Zero Hour one of it’s shortest songs on the record but still maintaining the superb musicianship. Bassist Troy Tipton gets his 1:20 of pure bass soloing on ‘Tendonitis’, an appropriate title but an unnecessary inclusion for the record. We’ve already heard the guys play…..and play…..and play, it’s easy to figure out these guys can play circles around many musicians.

Best song for me is ‘The Temple Within’ with it’s Queensryche vibe during the more subdued melodic moments and it’s technical ability. Same goes for ‘Lies’, there’s a Queensryche/Geoff Tate style in the vocal delivery that appeals to me. There’s also a little less music to absorb with the basic riffing and bass lines, more like Power Metal at times, until the end when the band starts to cut loose again. ‘The Passion Of Words’ starts the barrage again with a really cool vocal and a very heavy feel until midway through where the band quickly stops…..only to start up again pummelling the listener with complex passages. The last song, ‘Severed Angel’, is a pure instrumental that provides a quick 2 minute plus burst of technical angst that ends so abruptly you aren’t sure that it’s the end of the album. I must have sat waiting for a good minute before I got up and checked the stereo to be sure it was over.

Bottom Line:
Like I mentioned before, Progressive Metal isn’t really my thing but I have dabbled in the genre so I know what to expect. DARK DECEIVER is high on musicianship and mood, the best songs being the slower ones with the darker, more brooding sound. Listening to each song, you can’t help but notice the band’s technical abilities but sometimes I got a bit lost in the whirlwind of sound. Some of the songs are a bit long and you wonder when it’s going to come to an end and some of the others are short (normal length for most of us) but jam-packed full of instrumentaion. What tied everything in together was the vocals, Chris Salinas doing a great job of blending different ranges and styles and proving he is also a solid performer alongside his bandmates. Only seven proper songs here with two instrumentals, normally that would be a problem for me but both were a total of less than 4 minutes combined so they didn’t take away from the rest of the album like some instrumentals do in the Prog Metal scene. All in all, DARK DECEIVER kept my interest and makes me want to check out some of Zero Hour’s earlier work – there are five other albums to investigate.

Favorite Songs: ‘Inner Spirit’, ‘The Temple Within’, ‘Lies’, ‘Dark Deceiver’

 

Def Leppard – Songs From The Sparkle Lounge (2008)

Def Leppard – Songs From The Sparkle Lounge (2008, Island)

  1. Go
  2. Nine Lives
  3. C’mon, C’mon
  4. Love
  5. Tomorrow
  6. Cruise Control
  7. Hallucinate
  8. Only The Good Die Young
  9. Bad Actress
  10. Come Undone
  11. Gotta Let It Go

Band Lineup:
Joe Elliot – Lead Vocals
Rick Savage – Bass, Backing Vocals, & additional guitars
Phil Collen – Guitars & Backing Vocals
Vivian Campbell – Guitars & Backing Vocals
Rick Allen – Drums & Backing Vocals

Special Guest:
Tim McGraw – Vocals on ‘Nine Lives’

Produced by: Def Leppard & Roann McHugh

Total Time = 39:23

Def Leppard official website
Def Leppard MySpace page

So Def Leppard is back with a brand new studio album fresh off their surprisingly successful covers record YEAH!. It’s been a long time since the boys from Sheffield did a proper studio record, the last one was 2002′s X. X was an top flight album that mixed the best of the ’80s with the Leps more modern Pop tendencies. So what would a new record six years later bring? You can never be sure because the band downplays their Hard Rock roots all the time and they have recently become overly enamored with their influences from the late ’60s/early ’70s.

Opening the album is ‘Go’, a song that has a guitar intro with a very familiar tone. Listen to ‘Women’ off HYSTERIA (1987), that guitar intro has the same tone as the one starting ‘Go’. The intro is one of the main underlying riffs through the entire song. It’s a good enough song to open, sort of a mid-paced moody track. Lead single ‘Nine Lives’, with special guest Tim McGraw on co-lead vocals, is a decent pop rocker…..if fans want the old school Def Leppard then this song is as close as they’ll get. There’s a good hook to the chorus, big vocals, solos…..everything that you can imagine. Listen for the quick recycled guitar part from ‘Armageddon It’ off HYSTERIA.

‘C’mon C’mon’ is very boring even though it’s uptempo. I’ll be honest, I hate the song! The lyrics are too easy and too rhymey and the chorus is just “C’mon, C’mon” repeated over and over. The song sounds like a ’70s Gary Glitter leftover! All is made up for with ‘Love’, a very pretty acoustic based ballad that comes right out of the Freddie Mercury/Queen playbook. Just like the Scorpions, Def Leppard does great ballads, and ‘Love’ shines with excellent vocals and lush backings. The orchestrated backing vocals are trademark Queen and I’d like to know if that is actually Brian May on the guitar solo because, if it isn’t, Viv Campbell or Phil Collen do a superb mimic. ‘Tomorrow’ has a very groovy bass line that really moves the song while the band channels a combination of sounds from their last album, X, and 1999′s EUPHORIA for this mid-paced song.

‘Cruise Control’ is another mid-paced affair that is, well, on cruise control. Aside from some cool solos, I’m not really digging it. ‘Hallucinate’ bounces back by rocking harder with the trademark backing vocals and duelling guitars, nice to finally hear Viv Campbell let loose a little! Usually Phil Collen takes all the leads but the song calls for the guitarists to trade off. ‘Hallucinate’ has that ’80s feel to it but it would be better fit on EUPHORIA or X because Joe’s voice isn’t as high pitched as it once was. Def Leppard has a solid niche carved in the mid-paced songs with big choruses and ‘Only The Good Die Young’ (the 2nd of three Viv Campbell compositions) fills the void. Again, the band does these type of songs well: solid guitars with nice fills and solos, Joe is in fine mid-register voice, and the gang backing traxks flesh it out. High on melody and hooks.

The pace picks up again with the fast rocker ‘Bad Actress’. The Leps always say that they would rather be considered a Pop Rock band than a Hard Rock band but, when they want to cut loose they do it well. The solos here are some of the fastest I’ve heard the boys play in almost 10 years! Hitting the mid-pace hard again, ‘Come Undone’ follows the Lep formula to a tee. The guitars sound heavy and the backing vocals help Joe Elliot out quite a bit. There’s a hook in there that has me liking the song but we’ve already heard it before becasue the album is chock full of this kind of song. Still, the song has that special Lep quality that draws you in. Same with ‘Gotta Let It Go’, there’s a certain Lep-ness to it that draws you in and you enjoy the song. I like the little falsetto action Mr. Elliot drops in just before the chorus and the guitars really drive the song home.

Bottom Line:
Def Leppard stopped being a Hard Rock band after PYROMANIA. If you can deal with that, then you will like this record. The guys have always said everything they could to keep Def Leppard from being cornered into that genre and they back up their talk by updating their sound. If you take the last three Def Lep albums (EUPHORIA, X, and YEAH!) and combine them, that’s the sound you get on SONGS FROM THE SPARKLE LOUNGE. You get the big ’80s (EUPHORIA), the ’70′s influences (YEAH!), and the modern touches (X). Each song has melodies, hooks, solid guitar, great solos, big backing vocals, and competent lead vocals. It’s obvious Joe Elliot has lost some of that high register with age but he can still sing and does so very well on every song…..I’d prefer to hear him do ‘Nine Lives’ on his own. Aside from the one repetitive mess of a song in ‘C’mon C’mon’, I liked every song on the album. When my year end picks come out in December, don’t be surprised if this is record is up there, I really enjoy it!

Favorite songs: ‘Nine Lives’, ‘Love’, ‘Hallucinate’, ‘Only The Good Die Young’, ‘Bad Actress’

 

Testament – The Formation Of Damnation (2008)

Testament – The Formation Of Damnation (2008, Nuclear Blast)

  1. For The Glory Of…
  2. More Than Meets The Eye
  3. The Evil Has Landed
  4. The Formation Of Damnation
  5. Dangers Of The Faithless
  6. The Persecuted Won’t Forget
  7. Henchmen Ride
  8. Killing Season
  9. Afterlife
  10. F.E.A.R.
  11. Leave Me Forever

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Band Lineup:
Chuck Billy – Vocals
Eric Peterson – Guitars
Alex Skolnick – Guitars
Greg Christian – Bass
Paul Bostaph – Drums

Total Time = 49:40

Testament official website
Testament MySpace page
Nuclear Blast USA

It’s been nine long years since San Francisco Thrash legends Testament released THE GATHERING (1999) but the band has remained in the public’s eye: vocalist Chuck Billy fought and won his battle with cancer, Eric Peterson formed Dragonlord, Alex Skolnick kept his solo career alive, and Greg Christian played with Havochate for one album. Testament released FIRST STRIKE, STILL DEADLY in 2001, an album of re-recorded songs from the first two Testament albums, and LIVE IN LONDON in 2005 as a document of the band getting back together after so many years and a reunion with the original lineup. Still, even though they were still active, fans all over wanted a new record.

Testament does what Testament does: they play old school Thrash with high energy and pure musicianship. Chuck can growl with the best of them and sing aggressively clean and the guitar attack of Skolnick & Peterson has to be one of the best put to record this year. These two guitarists shred and solo all over this album that would make some other (former) Thrash guitarists (Hetfield & Hammett) quake in fear. I think the Jazz/Fusion music that Skolnick creates with his Alex Skolnick Trio keeps him fresh for creating heavy Thrash riffs. Of course there’s also the tight and driving rhythm section that includes the thumping bass provided by Christian and the precision rapid fire double bass attack of Paul Bostaph (Slayer) on the kit. Put all these elements together and you get a monster machine battering your ears!

‘For The Glory Of…’ opens up as a quick heavy insturmental and leads right into ‘More Than Meets The Eye’. If there were any doubts that this new offering from Testament would be in the same line as their mid to late ’90s records then they should be erased. Chuck growling, the guitars riffing and soloing, and the backline galloping with precision. This is what I want to hear! Right away the band throws the gauntlet down and challenges all the current bands out there. ‘The Evil Has Landed’ (inspired by the unfortunate events of 9/11) continues the battering and adds some melody while the title track speeds things up and Chuck goes for the old school Death/Thrash growl.

‘Dangers Of The Faithless’ slows the pace down a bit but maintains it’s heaviness until the Metallica-esque chorus while the opening of ‘The Persecuted Won’t Forget’ signals another old school speed machine that has some very interesting drumming and guitar lines, maybe Akolnick’s Jazz/Fusion influences showing underneath a little? This song is in the same direction of later Testament on albums like DEMONIC (1997) & THE GATHERING (1999) but in the context of this album it works better. My favorite so far is ‘Henchman Ride’…..you’ve got to hear Bostaph’s kit smash around those licks to believe it. Great fast driving song with a big chorus and then a frenetic mid-section with some absolutely amazing solos!

There’s a late ’90s groove to ‘Killing Season’ that I can’t put my finger on but it sounds like I’ve heard it before, the twin leads are solid though. ‘Afterlife’ would be a European Power Metal song with less aggressive vocals. I could hear the Hammerfalls and Primal Fears of the world doing this song with the higher soaring vocals over the top of the blistering riffs that are present. ‘F.E.A.R.’ is a speed showcase until it slows for the chorus, the drumming is insane making you wonder how many arms Bostaph actually has. The last song, ‘Leave Me Forever’, pounds (literally) the music home and Chuck uses that growl to perfection.

Bottom Line:
Not only is THE FORMATION OF DAMNATION the album that Testament fans have been waiting for, it’s the album that sets the standard for Thrash bands this year. The last few Testament albums were considered too modern but this new record blends both the newer Thrash elements with the old school ’80s glory years. Seriously, if Metallica released this album, we would calling it a return to form…..so Testament has thrown down the gauntlet and set the standard high for Thrash Metal with this awesome record. It’s heavy as hell with searing solos and artillery styled drumming, what more could you want? One of the best albums this year!

Favorite Tracks: ‘Henchman Ride’, ‘More Than Meets The Eye’, ‘The Evil Has Landed’, Killing Season.

Coming this week…..

All the momentum gained with Whitesnake Week was lost last week when my laptop died and went in for service. Of course there was always the home terminal in the music room but my ISP (Cox Communications) decided it was time to have a service outage. With barely any connection to the Net & email, I decided to take some time out and relax…..listening to CDs of course!

I’m looking to catch up on last week’s schedule right away…..

  • Testament  – The Formation Of Damnation (2008) review up today (Sunday)
  • Def Leppard – Songs From The Sparkle Lounge (2008) review (Monday)
  • the rest of the reviews scheduled for last week will show up sometime this week – Zero Hour, Asia, and DC4

What I have planned for this week…..

  • Saints Of The Underground review
  • Anvil – This Is Thirteen (2008) review
  • Tyr – Land (2008) review
  • Swashbuckle – Crewed By The Damned (2006) review
  • Shannon – Angel In Disguise (2008) review
  • Engel – Absolute Design (2007) review

I will also post any news that comes my way plus anything else that comes my way.

Pharaoh – Be Gone (2008)

Pharaoh – Be Gone (2008, Cruz Del Sur)

  1. Speak To Me
  2. Dark New Life
  3. No Remains
  4. Red Honor
  5. Buried At Sea
  6. Rats And Rope
  7. Cover Your Eyes And Pray
  8. Telepath
  9. Be Gone

Band Lineup:
Tim Aymar – Vocals
Matt Johnsen – Guitars
Chris Kerns – Bass
Chris Black – Drums

Total Time = 47:11

Pharaoh official website
Pharaoh MySpace page
Cruz Del Sur Music

U.S. Traditional Metal masters Pharaoh caught my ear back in 2006 with their second album, THE LONGEST NIGHT. What I discovered two years ago was that pure Traditional/Power Metal in the same vein as Judas Priest and Iron Maiden was being forged by this Philadelphia band. I was under the impression that Pharaoh was a European band because of their Italian label, Cruz Del Sur, and the ease in which they play this brand of Heavy Metal. With the Power Metal surge coming from overseas, I was more than surprised that Pharaoh was from the U.S. BE GONE is the band’s third record and could be their ticket to Metal’s upper echelon.

‘Speak To Me’ opens the album with a distinct Iron Maiden style riff  moving into Primal Fear territory as the song progresses. Right away you notice Matt Johnsen’s masterful guitarwork that sounds like a twin axe attack and Tim Aymar’s (ex-Control Denied) attacking throat. The pulsating riffs of ‘Dark New Life’ recall Maiden again but there is a more sinsiter feel to the music kind of like another Maiden band disciple, Iced Earth. The solos feature a couple of guests from another U.S. Traditional/Power Metal band, Riot’s Marke Reale & Mike Flyntz. ‘No Remains’ is a galloping metal feast with superb drumming from Chris Black and a Aymar vocal that evokes power and emotion. Johnsen’s layered guitar carves it’s way through the song using different tones.

‘Red Honor’ continues the assault of hard and fast Metal, almost like old school Thrash. The song is marked by some incredible axe-slinging by Matt Johnsen, especially come the solo, and the distinct pain riddled shriek of Aymar. Things slow down a bit with the beginning of ‘Buried At Sea’ but the power and speed is still there, just a little more controlled and melodic. ‘Buried At Sea’ reminds me a little of Manowar but without the high pitch vocals. Things speed up again with ‘Rats And Rope’ with it’s Euro Metal main riff recalling Dragonforce, this is the fastest burner on the record.

The acoustic intro to ‘Cover Your Eyes And Pray’ hides a heavy mid-tempo groove with solid riffs and a consistent double bass pounding from the kit. The pace is considerably slower from the breakneck pace of ‘Rats And Rope’ but the song owes it’s deceiving speed to Johnsen’s fluid delivery and Black’s pounding drums. There’s some room to breathe here, room enough for the band to stretch a little. ‘Telepath’ covers more of speed riffery of the previous songs while the title track ends the album with a bit of Progressive flair.

Bottom Line:
Traditional Metal is alive and well in the U.S. and one of the bands forging ahead in this overlooked genre is Pharaoh. BE GONE is full of high powered riffs and precision drumming layered within a pumping bass and a vocal full of power and despair. The solos are fantastic and the production flawless. So what is the downside? Not much really, the only problem is that the band continually rams the songs down and doesn’t take time to explore different styles and paces. After the first four songs, you get the idea, but when the band does stretch out, it adds more variety to the album. For fans of Power and Progressive Metal. Favorite songs here: ‘Buried At Sea’, ‘Dark New Life’, ‘Speak To Me’, ‘Cover Your Eyes And Pray’.

Teach’em All – A High School Tribute To Metallica (2008)

Teach’em All – A High School Tribute To Metallica (2008, independent release)

  1. Master Of Puppets
  2. Seek And Destroy
  3. Sad But True
  4. The Thing That Should Not Be
  5. Enter Sandman
  6. For Whom The Bell Tolls
  7. I Disappear
  8. Am I Evil?
  9. Welcome Home (Sanitarium)
  10. Eye Of The Beholder
  11. Creeping Death

 

The Singers:
(L-R Top) - Cassandra Markey, Nicholas Maurais, Dakoda Drouin, Jessica Scalabrini
(L-R Bottom) – Cassandra Goudreau, Maxime Riendeau, Bianka Fontaine, Jimmy Roy-Rodrigue, Nadia Goudreau

The Band:
David Bérubé – Bass (except #5), additional vocals
Ghislain Fecteau – Drums (except #5 & #6), additional vocals
Pascal Madore – Guitars

Special Guest Musicians:
Angelo Coppola – Drums (on #5 & #6)
John JD DeServio – Bass (on #5)

Producer: Patrice Beaudette (and additional vocals)

Total Time = 1:16:29

High School Tributes
High School Tributes MySpace page

Teacher/Producer Patrice Beaudette and his group of talented young men and women have come back again with another tribute album: TEACH’EM ALL – A HIGH SCHOOL TRIBUTE TO METALLICA. The concept is simple and unique: take talented high school students, put them in the studio, and have them play and sing cover versions of a particular band’s songs. It worked well for both KISS tributes (Christine Sixteen and Christine Sixteen 2) and now the kids have taken some of the recorded works of Metallica and put them to CD.

Now I know some of you are going to point out that my biggest pet peeve is cover songs and/or cover records. So why have I been a big supporter of the High School Tribute projects? Simple. For once, actually three times now, there is a unique approach to doing a tribute record. Who would have thought to take high school students and put them in the studio? A project of this kind shows a committment of a teacher to his students and the students to their teacher. With all the news about music programs being cut here in U.S. schools, it’s pretty cool to hear the result of hard work and dedication from these Canadian students.

Let’s take the concept aside and look at the music…..

First, I like the tracklisting. The first five Metallica albums are represented, nothing from LOAD, RELOAD, or St. ANGER, the only post-black album track being ‘I Disappear’ from the movie “Mission Impossible 2″. Nice to see the inclusion of ‘Am I Evil?’. I’m a big Diamond Head fan and it’s always good to hear that song…..it’s a cover of a cover! The musicianship on all of these songs is top notch, the band is tight and absolutely nail every song note for note. Listening to the opening ‘Master Of Puppets’, I found myself wondering who was playing: the kids or Metallica? It was the same way on the two KISS tributes, the band is tight and dead on to the originals. The vocals are solid, each vocalist bringing their own intepretation to the song while staying true to the original form. These young men and women are not professional Metal singers, they are students who are learning, and they are doing a fine job. As are all the students involved in the project…..they may not be be professionals (yet) but they are learning the craft and putting in a superb effort!

Bottom Line:
I rarely listen to Metallica anymore. They get tons of radio airplay in my area and it is very common to hear any/all of these songs at least once or twice every few days. Then a project like this comes along and provides a fresh outlook on the music and making me take a good listen once again.

In the grand tradition started by the Christine Sixteen Tributes to KISS, TEACH’EM ALL has once again exceeded expectations. I admit to preferring bands doing original material but I do enjoy a good tribute album, especially one that is done as well as these young people have done. Each and every individual involved has put every ounce of energy and talent into making a superb album. It makes me wonder just how many of these young adults will be the part of the next wave of musicians. If you are a fan of Metallica, or you have heard the previous two tribute records, then this is a must have. If you are a supporter of music programs in schools across the world, then it is essential that you check this CD out. The next great talents have assembled, hear what they can do. Favorite songs here: ‘Am I Evil?’, ‘Master Of Puppets’, ‘The Thing That Should Not Be’. Actually, I like all the songs, they are performed at the highest level with great enthusiasm.

Special thanks again to my friend Patrice Beaudette for including me in the liner notes and also posting a banner and link for Heavy Metal Addiction. When a project this special comes around, it is an honor to help spread the word. My congratulations to all the kids involved, another great project! I can’t wait for the next one…..

Only 600 copies were pressed, so this is a limited edition release. You can order a copy directly from High School Tributes.

Looking back & coming this week…..

I had fun doing Whitesnake Week last week. I thought I put up some decent reviews, and I’ve gotten more than a few emails regarding some of my choices, so at least I generated some discussion. I’m hoping to do another Band Week soon, not sure when, but it won’t take a year like this last time.

Taking a look back at April…..it was my best month for posting in the history of my site. I published 58 posts in April and I actually kept a consistent schedule! My previous high was 43 back in August ’06 and I have averaged anywhere from 15 to 25 posts a month since. One of the reasons I started posting more was no more sportstalk radio. The local station changed formats a couple of months ago and I have been playing more CDs than being glued to sports call-in shows. Another helpful reason is that my work schedule changed slightly and I have an extra day off every week. A little more free time to listen to albums and write!

So what’s coming up?

I have a pile of CDs that is growing faster everyday. Some are new releases I bought recently, some are promos from bands & labels, and some are albums I picked up months ago that I haven’t given a proper listen. I need to catch up on the promos at least so the next two weeks are going to be very focused on album reviews. This week I am planning on posting reviews of the following:

  • Pharoah – Be Gone (2008)
  • Testament – The Formation Of Damnation (2008)
  • Teach’em All: A High School Tribute To Metallica (2008)
  • Zero Hour – Dark Deceiver (2008)
  • Asia – Phoenix (2008)
  • DC4 – Explode (2007)
  • Def Leppard – Songs From The Sparkle Lounge (2008)

I’m looking to post a review every day this week but I don’t know which one on which day. I also have a couple of quick posts ready to go:

  • another “catching up” edition of CD Scavenger Hunt
  • WANTED
  • a quick Ebay Madness

I’m also trying to catch up on responding to everyone’s comments and I am in the middle of answering questions sent to me for an interview. This will be the first time anyone has interviewed me so I think it’s pretty cool and I’ll post the link when it’s online.

That’s all for now…..cheers!

My thoughts on Whitesnake

My first exposure to Whitesnake was seeing a vinyl copy of LOVEHUNTER (1979) on display at Good Vibrations back in the early ’80s. Good Vibrations was my favorite record store and it was my weekly stop while my Mom did her food shopping at the super-sized supermarket in the same plaza. I was flipping through the vinyl and there it was!

I remember thinking to myself that I couldn’t get buy this and get it by my Mom but it was a discovery that I kept looking at every week. I’m not sure how long it was after my discovery but I finally heard a Whitesnake song on 94 WHJY, the local Rock station in Providence. It was ‘Slow An’ Easy’ and I remember listening to my boombox on the patio and cranking that sucker when I heard the DJ announce: “And here’s the new Whitesnake…..on HJY!” I was hooked!

All I could imagine was a bunch of long-haired guys in leather getting all the naked girls…..with big snakes all around them! I was a kid, what do you expect? I had a pretty good imagination! there was something about the song, something cool. At the time I couldn’t put my finger on it, now I know it was sex. Anyway, from then I saw the video on MTV and I knew what the band looked like. The next shopping trip, I picked up a cassette of SLIDE IT IN (1984). I got exposed to ‘Love Ain’t No Stranger’ & ‘Slide It In’ quick because they were on Side 1 of the tape. I used to listen to Side 1 of tapes until I knew every part by heart, then I would flip’em and do the same with Side 2. I wore that tape out.

So now I had a new band to listen to but new bands were coming out of the woodwork in ’84 so i kind of put Whitesnake on hold until their new album. Three years later, the band explodes because of the WHITESNAKE (1987) album.

This is the record that propelled the band into U.S. superstardom and I, like the rest of my friends, ate it right up. I bought this tape right away just like everyone else did when ‘Still Of The Night’ blew across MTV but I tried to get my friends to check out SLIDE IT IN too. I remember they couldn’t have cared less and I got mad because here was my “secret” band being “discovered” by everyone but no one cared about the previous album. I still get that way with bands. I was about a dozen rows from the stage when Motley Crue came on the GIRLS, GIRLS, GIRLS tour with the ‘Snake opening in early ’88. What a cool show that was! I still remember punching a friend in the arm when they played ‘Slide It In’ & ‘Slow An’ Easy’. Then I remember Coverdale introducing a song from “his Deep Purple days“…..he was in Deep Purple too? Not only did I have a mission to check out older Whitesnake records, now I had to hear Coverdale in Deep Purple!

From those formative years, I have remained a Whitesnake fan. I’ve collected almost all of the albums and I was lucky to have seen the band tour with the Scorpions and Dokken a few years ago. I still enjoy the mega-sellers from the ’80s but I like to take a trip back to the earlier records most of the time. Now we have GOOD TO BE BAD (2008) and the future is bright again for fans of the ‘Snake. A new record means a new tour. A new record & tour means success. Success means they will make more new records…..making this fan for the last 25 years very happy.