Archive for December, 2008

Metal Church – This Present Wasteland (2008, SPV)

  1. The Company Of Sorrow
  2. The Perfect Crime
  3. Deeds Of A Dead Soul
  4. Meet Your Maker
  5. Monster
  6. Crawling To Extinction
  7. A War Never Won
  8. Mass Hysteria
  9. Breathe Again
  10. Congregation

Band Lineup:
Ronny Munroe – Vocals
Kurdt Vanderhoof – Guitars
Rick Van Zandt – Guitars
Steve Unger – Bass
Jeff Plate – Drums

Total Time = 57:23

Metal Church official website
Metal Church MySpace page
SPV USA
SPV USA MySpace page
SPV Germany

I have been a Metal Church fan from way back in the beginning with the debut album but I started to lose faith as the years went on and the band kept changing members. After the self-titled debut in ’84 and THE DARK in ’86,Metal Church just became another Metal band. Fast forward to 2004 and lead guitarist Kurdt Vanderhoof brought in new vocalist Ronnie Munroe and the core of a new Metal Church was born. Since then the band has released three albums that exemplify what American Heavy metal is all about: loud guitars, great vocals, and solid songwriting.

The new album, THIS PRESENT WASTELAND, is a continuation of the sound that the band has laid groundwork for with the last two albums THE WEIGHT OF THE WORLD (2004) and A LIGHT IN THE DARK (2006) with monster size guitar riffs, solid drumming, and impressive vocals.  Opening song ‘The Company Of Sorrow’ sounds like a speedy Judas Priest cut, it’s fast and aggressive with a twin axe attack from Vanderhoof and Rick Van Zandt and double bass pounding from Savatage/Trans-Siberian Orchestra skinsman Jeff Plate. Ronnie Munroe does a good job of channelling a cross between Tim ‘Ripper’ Owens and former Metal Church singer David Wayne (R.I.P.) with his deep voice and his splitting screams. When I reviewed A LIGHT IN THE DARK, I was thrown off by his style but now I like what Munroe brings to the mic…..he really puts on a top notch performance all over this album. ‘The Perfect Crime’ continues the assault with a more controlled pace: it starts out slow and Ronnie sounds almost Dio-ish but the tempo builds into the main riff. The song has more of a Hard Rock style than all out Metal but it sounds so heavy. Things slow down for ‘Deeds Of A Dead Soul’ with it’s Black Sabbath-like brooding plod. The downfall of this song is that it’s way too long and it gets repetitive after a while, it’s a change of pace though and shows that the Church can do some different things. I don’t really like the keyboard that gets sprinkled in a little as it sounds out of place.

‘Meet Your Maker’ is another speed demon rocker that shows off the pounding from Plate and the riffery from the Vanderhoof/Van Zandt duo. This song chugs along as Munroe adds some high pitch highs and a bit of a growl around the chorus. This is one of the more varied vocal performances of the album, Ronnie uses all his techniques and gives the song some different sounds. The song breaks down in the middle for the solo and it slowly builds up speed again. The fast pace continues with ‘Monster’, one of my favorites on the album. Vanderhoof keeps churning out big riffs and Munroe sounds completely in control of the song but the genius here is the rhythm section of Steve Unger and Jeff Plate, both the bass and the drums sound so thick and make a great foundation to build a song.

‘Crawling To Extinction’ has the same pace as ‘The Perfect Crime’ but it’s not as good…..it sounds like I’ve heard it all before. The opening of ‘A War Never Won’ sounds like early Queensryche with Ronnie doing a good Geoff Tate over an acoustic intro. The song builds into a more heavy guitar line but it’s a mid-tempo song that sounds all too familiar. Things kick in again with the faster ‘Mass Hysteria’ and ‘Breathe Again’. ‘Mass Hysteria’ sounds like the rest of the faster songs on the album but it has some melodic parts especially around the chorus while ‘Breathe Again’ has a breakneck main guitar and a soaring vocal. The song breaks down to a ballad in the middle and you’d swear you were listening to present day Queensryche because that lower vocal register sounds like Geoff Tate. I like the duelling guitars thoughout the song, they give that added punch that the last few songs lacked. The closer is ‘Congregation’ and I swear that I can hear a little ‘Sweet Child O’ Mine’ in the opening bassline! It’s brief but I swear it’s there! That aside, ‘Congregation’ continues the uptempo metal attack that has been deployed on all the faster songs but then there’s another breakdown mid-way through that also appears on many of the songs. This is where things gets repetitive and the album takes on more of a generic feel.

Bottom Line:
Overall, I would classify THIS PRESENT WASTELAND as a solid Heavy Metal record but not a great one. The first five songs are really great but the second half of the album, aside from ‘Breathe Again’, is just more of the same. You can almost predict what the band is going to do: some sort of intro, moving into a fast main riff, slow breakdown in the middle, move into the fast riff again. With four or five songs like this it’s obvious Metal Church is following their formula too closely…..a little diversity would go a long way. Even though there are some repetitive parts, I enjoyed the album as a whole. If you’re a Metal Church fan then you know what to expect, especially if you own the previous two records.

Favorite Songs: ‘The Company Of Sorrow’, ‘The Perfect Crime’, ‘Breathe Again’, ‘Monster’, ‘Meet Your Maker’

Royal Hunt - Collision Course - Paradox II

Royal Hunt – Collision Course: Paradox II (2008, Magna Carta)

  1. Principles Of Paradox
  2. The First Rock
  3. Exit Wound
  4. Divide And Reign
  5. High Noon At The Battlefield
  6. The Clan
  7. Blood In Blood Out
  8. Tears Of The Sun
  9. Hostile Breed
  10. Chaos A.C.

Band Lineup:
André Andersen – Keyboards & Guitars
Mark Boals – Lead Vocals
Marcuss Jidell – Guitars & Cello
Allan Sorensen – Drums & Percussion
Per Schelander – Bass

Additional Musicians:
Ian Parry, Doogie White, Kenny Lubcke, Henrik Brockmann, Marta McTurk, Soma Allpass, Michelle Raitzin – additional vocals
Patricia Skovgaard – Violin
Soma Allpass – Cello
Erik Rosenqvist – Woodwinds & Accordian

Producer: André Andersen

Total Time = 51:40

Royal Hunt official website
Royal Hunt MySpace page
Magna Carta

Royal Hunt has been around a long time (since 1993) but they have had the unfortunate luck of being a victim of their own success. After changing vocalists in 1995 (Henrik Brockmann out, D.C. Cooper in), the band created their two landmark albums with 1995′s MOVING TARGET and 1997′s PARADOX. Those two excellent melodic Prog/Power records propelled the band to international success and set the creative bar extremely high. Tensions within the band led to another change at the mic (Cooper out, John West in) but it seemed that the band had reached it’s creative peak. Albums like THE MISSION (2001), EYEWITNESS (2003) and PAPER BLOOD (2005) were good but it seemed as if the band had lost some of their fire.

This time around Royal Hunt is a totally different band as only mastermind & keyboard wizard André Andersen is left from the classic lineup and another change at the singer position brings former Yngwie Malmsteen/Ring Of Fire vocalist Mark Boals to the table. COLLISION COURSE: PARADOX II is the sequel to the landmark PARADOX, it’s hard enough to follow-up a band’s best album and continue a specific concept 11 years later, add another lead singer and it could all be a recipe for disaster. Fortunately the personnel changes have renewed Royal Hunt’s creative juices because COLLISION COURSE is the album fans have been waiting for over the last decade.

Just like it’s counterpart, COLLISION COURSE is a concept album based on how society views religion, specifically the idea of God. The twist is the differing beliefs and the clash between Western religions (Catholicism/Christianity) and Eastern religions (Islam). I wonder where they got this idea? The different philosophies of both religions and the struggle to coexist provides the “collision course”, a serious topic that is playing out in our world society at this very moment. The album is classic Royal Hunt: swirling keyboards, solid guitar work, a solid rhythm section and an astounding vocal performance. Add big sounding harmonies and orchestration with good songwriting and COLLISION COURSE becomes an album on par with it’s predecessor.

‘Principles Of Paradox’ opens the album as an instrumental but it does have a very melodic vocal from Mark Boals that only last about a minute. The other four minutes of the song showcase the different instrumentations and time changes that Royal Hunt have been applauded for in the past. The song moves directly into the guitar heavy ‘The First Rock’, a song that features a powerful and melodic Boals. After hearing Boals belt this song out it’s obvious that he is a natural fit with the band and can easily match both D.C. Cooper’s and John West’s range. The music never stops as ‘The First Rock’ seemlessly flows right into the melodic ‘Exit Wound’. This song reminds me of the really big sound that Royal Hunt captured in the mid-’90s with D.C. Cooper: the keyboards and guitars work in perfect harmony while the main vocals and backing tracks elevate the sound to new heights. Royal Hunt has always had excellent background vocals and there is no question that the various guest vocalists like Doogie White, Ian Parry, and original Royal Hunt frontman Henrik Brockmann add to the overall performance.

One thing I noticed is that the music never stops between each song, they all continue into each other, so the album is actually one big song with ten distinct parts. This can be a problem for sometimes but the music easily flows and retains it’s uniqueness. ‘Divide & Conquer’ is another lengthy jaunt driven by Per Schandler’s (House Of Shakira) bass, Allan Sorensen’s double-bass drumming and Boals’ high screams that moves into one of the album’s best track, ‘High Noon At The Battlefield’. ‘High Noon’ starts off with an acoustic guitar/piano intro with a very subtle vocal that brings the overall pace of the music to mid-tempo/ballad range and includes a spoken word speech that highlights the division racism places within religion. It’s a nice diversion from the constant Prog/Power musical embellishments that are in the uptempo songs, it shows a different side of the band. Moving into ‘The Clan’, the racism theme continues but the song is faster like ‘The First Rock’ and ‘Exit Wound’. The one thing I noticed right away is that the music is almost identical to ‘Wasted Time’ from 1994′s CLOWN IN THE MIRROR. It’s not a cover but a reinterpretation of the music as both songs are very catchy and melodic but with different lyrics and some slightly different musical passages. I had to put both songs on to compare and I could easily sing ‘Wasted Time’ over ‘The Clan’ in some parts. It’s interesting…..

Some Middle Eastern rhythms are prominent in the darker ‘Blood In Blood Out’ and a female vocal starts off the keyboard heavy ‘Tears Of The Sun’, another song that sounds like older Royal Hunt (I’ve tried to find a song similar but I haven’t found it…yet!). ‘Tears Of The Sun’ sounds like typical Royal Hunt musically but Boals delivers another album highlight with his soaring vocals hitting all the high notes. I think the reason I think this song sounds so familiar is the interplay between the male and female vocals, I always thought that this was a key to the band’s classic sound especially during the D.C. Cooper years. The pace slows down again as ‘Hostile Breed’ begins but it slowly builds with the emphasis on Andersen’s keys adding the Middle Eastern flavor again. The guitar solo is a little too clean here but still good and the drums begin to quicken around this time also. The pace changes throughout but some striking parts of the song are the operatic female vocals and the gang vocals that sing “Jihad” during the chorus. ‘Hostile Breed’ flows seemlessly into the keyboard heavy ‘Chaos A.D.’, a song that is more of an ending piece to the whole concept of the album, and incorporates part of the opening ‘Principles Of Power’.

Bottom Line:
Royal Hunt has survived another round of personnel changes and the band lineup is as strong as I’ve ever heard. Adding Mark Boals as the lead singer is a smart move, he is a very underrated singer and fits the dramatic Royal Hunt style. The band has continued the concept of the first PARADOX album from eleven years ago and built a solid sequel that is much better than their last three studio albums (ask Queensryche how hard that is to do!). There are a couple of average songs but the overall album ties it all together in one solid package. One of the best albums I’ve heard all year!

Favorite Songs: ‘The First Rock’, ‘Exit Wound’, ‘High Noon At The Battlefield’, ‘The Clan’

Alice Cooper - Along Came A Spider (2008)

Alice Cooper – Along Came A Spider (2008, SPV)

  1. Prologue/I Know Where You Live
  2. Vengeance Is Mine
  3. Wake The Dead
  4. Catch Me If You Can
  5. (In Touch With) Your Feminine Side
  6. Wrapped In Silk
  7. Killed By Love
  8. I’m Hungry
  9. The One That Got Away
  10. Salvation
  11. I Am The Spider/Epilogue

Musicians:
Alice Cooper – Lead & Background Vocals
Calico Cooper – Background & Spoken Word Vocals
Bernard Fowler – Background Vocals
Chuck Garric – Bass & Background Vocals
Greg Hampton – Guitars, Bass, Keyboards, Strings & Background Vocals
Jason Hook – Guitars on ‘(In Touch With) Your Feminine Side’
Keri Kelli – Guitars
Whitey Kirst – Lead Guitar on ‘I’m Hungry’
David Piribauer – Drums
Stefen Presley – B3 Organ on ‘Wrapped In Silk’
Danny Saber – Guitars, Keyboards, Bass & Background Vocals
Eric Singer – Drums
Slash – Lead Guitar on ‘Vengeance Is Mine’

Produced by: Alice Cooper, Greg Hampton & Danny Saber

Total Time = 44:24

Alice Cooper official website
Alice Cooper MySpace page
SPV USA
SPV Germany

2008 has been one of the biggest years for one of the most overdone ideas in Metal…..concept albums. So far this year we have had concept albums from Avantasia, Ayreon, Judas Priest and Iced Earth to name just a few. Metal’s godfather of shock and horror, Alice Cooper, has unleashed his latest terror tale about a serial killer named Spider and his pursuit of female victims. The concept doesn’t stray too far from the Alice norm does it? It’s a natural persona for Alice to portray and the Spider character mirrors an old one (Steven) from the glory days.

ALONG CAME A SPIDER is an album that follows the same formula as 2005′s DIRTY DIAMONDS by bridging Alice’s classic ’70s shock rock sound with a more modern updated sound. Most of the band that creates the musical blueprint has been a part of Alice’s touring ensemble for a number of years: Keri Kelli, Jason Hook, Chuck Garric and Eric Singer…..all are accomplished Hard Rock musicians that have collaborated on Cooper albums over the last decade. There are also a couple of guest musicians here with Slash adding guitar to ‘Vengeance Is Mine’ and an unlisted Ozzy Osbourne providing some harmonica to their writing collaboration on ‘Wake The Dead’.

Opening number ‘Prologue/I Know Where You Live’ sets up the maniacal journey as Spider lets his victims know that he’s watching them…..closely. The prologue is more of an opening intro to set up the overall story and features Alice’s daughter Calico while the proper song sounds like an updated WELCOME TO MY NIGHTMARE album cut. The song sets up the story as Spider stalks his victims. The most Heavy Metal song on the album is ‘Vengeance Is Mine’ and includes the guest appearance by Slash on lead guitar. ‘Vengeance’ has that modern heavy bite to it even when it breaks down halfway to allow Alice to have a spoken word segment to add the sinister aura. ‘Wake The Dead’ offers a more modern, lightly industrial, style to an upbeat almost danceable mid-’60s to early ’70s Pop tune. The contrast between the concept, lyrics and music put the visions of Spider dancing around taunting and torturing his victims to his delight. Same thing goes for ‘Catch Me If You Can’, the song has its roots in the early Alice Cooper albums but has that modern guitar sound keeping it fresh. You can picture the psychotic Spider gleefully taunting his victims, and the authorities, while he performs his evil deeds and battles his own mind.

‘(In Touch With) Your Feminine Side’ isn’t my favorite song on the album but it keeps the sinister feel going as Spider speaks to one of his victims in an almost “getting to know you” and reassuring tone. Of course, it’s all a ploy to capture yet another unsuspecting innocent female. I like the spiderweb theme with the title of ‘Wrapped In Silk’ and the song reminds of early Alice from KILLER (1971) through GOES TO HELL (1976). The guitar tone sounds like it came straight from that early era and the drums just pound away uneasily. Another song inspired by the classic Cooper era is ‘Killed By Love’, a ballad that sounds strikingly similar to ‘Only Women Bleed’ and ‘I Never Cry’ with Alice actually singing in a more melodic style. Just like the older ballads, ‘Killed By Love’ has that emotional fragility to it that gives the protagonist Spider a more human quality despite his horrific persona.

So far, ALONG CAME A SPIDER is a fairly serious and sinister piece of work and ‘I’m Hungry’ continues that trend but with a fair bit of humor. Spider sings “Gimme, gimme, gimme something to eat…” and we delve into the possible cannibalistic side of the character as he descends further into madness. Listen to the opening guitar line, it reminds me of ‘Refrigerator Heaven’ (1970) and ‘Is It My Body?’ (1971). The end is near as Spider battles with himself as he is stalking another victim during ‘The One That Got Away’. Before he approaches the girl mid-song, Spider goes through all the things that he could do to her, building up to the eventual communication. Calico Cooper guests again as the girl who gets away as Spider uses a similar tactic that Buffalo Bill used in Silence Of The Lambs when he kidnapped the senator’s daughter…..asking for help to his car. The piano based ballad ‘Salvation’ reminds me more of early Alice around the WELCOME TO MY NIGHTMARE/GOES TO HELL era with the orchestration and melodic singing. ‘I Am the Spider’  finishes the descent into the madness of the serial killer’s mind and the second half, ‘Epilogue’, is spoken word by Alice who sums up his crimes just like a spider behaves: “You trap. You kill. You eat.”. I also like the reference Spider makes to the Steven character that first appears on WELCOME TO MY NIGHTMARE and makes sporadic appearances throughout Alice’s career.

Bottom Line:
The serial killer concept really isn’t a new one, even for Alice Cooper, but he pulls it all of perfectly. The sense of evil, deceit, and horror mixed with emotion and a touch of humor all plays into the usual Alice Cooper shock rock theme.  Musicianship and production are top level and the songs retain the modern 2008 technique while drawing inspiration from the ’70s Rock heyday. Overall, a really good album with a simple concept that gets a little extra attention with the comparisons to spiders and their behaviors. Of the five albums Alice has released since 2000, ALONG CAME A SPIDER is the best.

Favorite Songs: ‘Vengeance Is Mine’, ‘Catch Me If You Can’, ‘Wrapped In Silk, ‘Killed By Love’, ‘Salvation’

From Melodicrock.com:

Frontiers Records is pleased to announce the release of the long awaited Jorn Lande DVD Live In America on January 23, 2009.

jorn-lande-live-in-america-dvd-2009

Live In America was recorded live during Jorn’s first ever concert in the USA, at the ProgPower VII Festival in Atlanta, where he performed as headliner of the day on September 16th 2006. The incredible set saw Jorn offer a wide selection of songs taken from his solo albums, collaborations and a mindblowing Whitesnake medley, who made him one of the most successful acts ever in the history of the festival.

Jorn Lande is one of nowadays vocal Rock gods: he has a vocal capability that is world class, distinctive, rich and spanning a large range. He cut his teeth with such internationally renowned acts as: Masterplan, Ark, Millenium, Vagabond, The Snakes and many more. He has also established himself with his own band under the name “Jorn”, releasing so far seven increasingly successful solo albums. “Live In America” is a visual testament to Jorn’s capabilities as an entertainer and to the incredible power and strength of his now legendary shows and a perfect complement of the CD release which came out in September 2007.

DVD Contents – Jorn Live at ProgPower VII Festival: We Brought The Angels Down; Blacksong; Duke of Love; Are You Ready; Cold Sweat; Drum Solo; Out To Every Nation: Guitar Solo; Straight Through The Heart; Godless And Wicked; Soulburn; Devilbird; Perfect Strangers; Gonna Find The Sun; The Whitesnake Medley: Come on/Sweet Talker/Crying in the Rain/Here I Go Again/Give Me All Your Love / NTSC Region Free – 16:9 / Stereo Mix 2.0.

From Bravewords:

The complete list of nominees in the Hard Rock, Metal, Rock Instrumental and Rock categories for the 51st annual Grammy Awards have been announced and can be viewed below:

Best Hard Rock Performance:
DISTURBED – ‘Inside The Fire’
JUDAS PRIEST – ‘Visions’
THE MARS VOLTA – ‘Wax Simulacra’
MÖTLEY CRÜE – ‘Saints Of Los Angeles’
ROB ZOMBIE – ‘Lords Of Salem’

Best Metal Performance:
DRAGONFORCE – ‘Heroes Of Our Time’
JUDAS PRIEST – ‘Nostradamus’
METALLICA – ‘My Apocalypse’
MINISTRY – ‘Under My Thumb’
SLIPKNOT – ‘Psychosocial’

Best Rock Instrumental Performance:
DAVID GILMOUR – ‘Castellorizon’
METALLICA – ‘Suicide & Redemption’
NINE INCH NAILS – ’34 Ghosts I-IV’
RUSH – ‘Hope (Live For The Art Of Peace)’
ZAPPA PLAYS ZAPPA – ‘Peaches En Regalia’

Best Rock Album:
COLDPLAY – Viva La Vida Or Death And All His Friends
KID ROCK – Rock N Roll Jesus
KINGS OF LEON – Only By The Night
METALLICA – Death Magnetic
THE RACONTEURS – Consolers Of The Lonely

Best Rock Performance By A Duo Or Group With Vocals:
AC/DC – ‘Rock N Roll Train’
COLDPLAY – ‘Violet Hill’
EAGLES – ‘Long Road Out Of Eden’
KINGS OF LEON – ‘Sex On Fire’
RADIOHEAD – ‘House Of Cards’

Nominations for the 51st Annual Grammy Awards were announced last night (December 3rd) by The Recording Academy.

For the first time, nominations were announced on prime-time television as part of The Grammy Nominations Concert Live!! – Countdown To Music’s Biggest Night. The one-hour special – broadcast live on CBS from Nokia Theatre L.A Live – featured past Grammy winners and nominees reading nominations in several categories, as well as performing songs from the Grammy Hall Of Fame in celebration of the grand opening of the Grammy Museum.

Grammy ballots for the final round of voting will be mailed on December 17 to the voting members of The Recording Academy. They are due back to the accounting firm Deloitte by January 14, 2009, when they will be tabulated and the results kept secret until the telecast.

The 51st Annual Grammy Awards will be held on Grammy Sunday, February 8, 2009, at Staples Center in Los Angeles and once again will be broadcast live in high-definition TV and 5.1 surround sound on CBS from 8–11:30 p.m. (ET/PT).

benedictum-seasons-of-tragedy

Benedictum – Seasons Of Tragedy (2008, Locomotive)

  1. Dawn Of Seasons (instrumental)
  2. Shell Shock
  3. Burn It Out
  4. Bare Bones
  5. Within The Solace
  6. Beast In The Field
  7. Legacy
  8. Nobodies Victim
  9. Balls To The Wall
  10. Steel Rain
  11. Seasons Of Tragedy

Benedictum - Seasons Of Tragedy lineup 2008

Band Lineup:
Veronica Freeman – Vocals
Pete Wells – Guitars
Jesse Wright – Bass
Paul Courtois – Drums

Additional Musicians:
*** There are a lot of special guests on this album including Jeff Pilson, George Lynch and Craig Goldy. There are many musicians credited in the liner notes for different instruments on different songs, in some cases just a guitar solo. Please refer to the Benedictum website or the liner notes for the extensive credits.

Producer: Jeff Pilson

Total Time = 59:04

Benedictum official website
Benedictum MySpace page
Locomotive Records

SEASONS OF TRAGEDY is the sophomore effort from California metallers Benedictum and it is a U.S. Power Metal feast! The band’s 2006 debut, UNCREATION, laid the groundwork of blazing Power Metal/Thrash riffs and a pummelling rhythm section combined with the powerful shriek of lead singer Veronica Freeman. This formula solidified Benedictum as a solid force on the U.S. Metal scene and the new album continues the assault.

The opening track is a minute and a half instrumental called ‘Dawn Of Seasons’ that has a very Euro-Metal feel to it but it’s deceiving in it’s calm approach because ‘Shell Shock’ starts out with a drum barrage that signals the Thrashy main riff from Pete Wells. Veronica Freeman is yelling her guts out with a serious power that separates her from her counterparts in bands like Lacuna Coil, Nightwish, and After Forever. There is nothing but pure aggression in Veronica’s vocals. The assault continues with the heavy ‘Burn It Out’, a song full of solid guitar and pounding drums. Freeman’s vocals are still aggressive with a bit of a harmonized backing track around the chorus while Wells duels it out with Grave Digger’s Manni Schmidt for guitar solo supremacy.  Benedictum gives us a small break from the pounding with the groove laden ‘Bare Bones’, a track that is much more melodic than the straight forward approach of the first two songs. ‘Bare Bones’ is still a heavy song but the keyboards from producer Jeff Pilson (ex-Dokken) add that melodic touch that takes the song to another level. The song is still heavy on guitar with the keys enhancing the sound, another ex-Dokken bandmate George Lynch trades off solos with Pete Wells while Freeman lays down her best melodic vocal. Even though she tones down her power for more range, she still sounds very powerful. The unsung part of the song is Jesse Wright’s groove heavy bass line.

The band gave us our break and they come back heavy on ‘Within  The Solace’. The main guitar sounds very Sabbath like but there is that double bass drumming keeping the song fast while maintaining that Doom Metal crunch. Add the keyboards in for the eerie effect and Freeman has enough room to show off a few different styles from soaring high and bottom dwelling lows to snarling growl. ‘Beast In the Field’ sounds like DEFENDERS era Judas Priest (with more effective drumming) and melodic European Metal. The song goes along well with it’s Power Metal surge but the band changes pace at the halfway mark, slowing it down to give Veronica more room to sing rather than shriek. Even though the song is more melodic, it’s still very heavy and sits alongside the first two barnburners very nicely in terms of overall power. ‘Legacy’ would fit into the same framework as ‘Beast In The Field’ with more of an emphasis on melodic parts and keys enhancing the overall power. The pace is pretty much the same as the rest of the songs, as are the solos, so the overall song sounds a bit predictable. The piano sequence that ends the long though me off, I didn’t expect it. Unfortunately, ‘Nobodies Victim’ falls into the “I’ve heard this before” category as ‘Legacy’ did. There is a little more groove to the song than straight out speed but the song does get fuelled by the rhythm section and the vocals. The song slows for the keyboard laden chorus but the power is still there with Freeman’s high screams.

Nothing like a cover song to break the continuity of a solid album of original material but I’m going to go against my personal rules and give Benedictum a pass with their performance of Accept’s ‘Balls to The Wall’. This song fits the band’s heavy style and Veronica gets to stretch out a bit vocally. Former Dokken bandmates Pilson and Lynch guest on this track on bass and guitar and they help do the song proud. The backing vocals sound strikingly similar to the original, giving the song the added power. ‘Steel Rain’ is a slow moody song that is the album’s ballad. Veronica sings in a more melodic voice that follows the Lacuna Coil, Nightwish, and After Forever formulas this time, although not as operatic. The song has a Dio influence to it with the heavy guitar, swirling keyboards, and choral background vocals. I was impressed that the band could change gears and slow it down to ballad form, they can obviously do more than put on a speed showcase. The almost 12 minute title track ends the album in epic fashion with a ton of riffs pushed around through time changes and soaring vocals. Definitely a combination of Power and Progressive Metal without the overbearing keyboards in the same style as a heavier Royal Hunt, After Forever or Kamelot. The song ends the album with a look into what could be the future as Benedictum expands on their style.

Bottom Line:
I’ve had this album since it came out in March and I have been listening to it regularly, Benedictum has become one of my favorite newer bands. SEASONS OF TRAGEDY is an album full of really good fast Metal songs but the album gets better as the band adds different layers to their overall sound. Benedictum strikes hard with their straight forward power delivery but some of the songs start to sound the same toward the middle of the record. If you want to hear some really good U.S. Metal with an aggressive female singer then Benedictum is the band to check out. This is one of my favorite releases of the year.

Favorite Songs: ‘Seasons Of Tragedy’, ‘Steel Rain’, ‘Shell Shock’, ‘Burn It Out’, ‘Within The Solace’, ‘Bare Bones’

we-wish-you-a-metal-xmas-2008

We Wish You A Metal Xmas…And A Headbanging New Year (2008, Armoury/Eagle Rock)

  1. We Wish You A Merry Xmas – (Jeff Scott Soto, Bruce Kulick, Bob Kulick, Chris Wyse, Ray Luzier)
  2. Run Rudolph Run – (Lemmy Kilmister, Billy Gibbons, Dave Grohl)
  3. Santa Claws Is Coming To Town – (Alice Cooper, John 5, Billy Sheehan, Vinny Appice)
  4. God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen – (Ronnie James Dio, Tony Iommi, Rudy Sarzo, Simon Wright)
  5. Silver Bells – (Geoff Tate, Carlos Cavazo, James Lomenzo, Ray Luzier)
  6. Little Drummer Boy – (Dug Pinnick, George Lynch, Billy Sheehan, Simon Phillips)
  7. Santa Claus Is Back In Town – (Tim Owens, Steve Morse, Juan Garcia, Marco Mendoza, Vinny Appice)
  8. Silent Night – (Chuck Billy, Scott Ian, Jon Donais, Chris Wyse, John Tempesta)
  9. Deck The Halls – (Oni Logan, Craig Goldy, Tony Franklin, John Tempesta)
  10. Grandma Got Ran Over By A Reindeer – (Stephen Pearcy, Tracii Guns, Bob Kulick, Billy Sheehan, Greg Bissonette)
  11. Rockin’ Around The Xmas Tree – (Joe Lynn Turner, Bruce Kulick, Bob Kulick, Rudy Sarzo, Simon Wright)
  12. Happy Xmas (War Is Over) – (Tommy Shaw, Steve Lukather, Marco Mendoza, Kenny Aronoff)

Executive Producer: Wendy Dio

Produced by: Bob Kulick & Brett Chassen

Total Time = 51:15

Eagle Rock Entertainment

It seems that Xmas Metal records are the new trend of the last few years with releases from Bobnoxious, Twisted Sister and Helix. From the minds of Wendy Dio and Bob Kulick, now we have an all-star Xmas Metal record with such legends as Ronnie James Dio, Alice Cooper, Tony Iommi, Billy Gibbons and Lemmy Kilmister all bringing us holiday cheer.

At first glance, WE WISH YOU A METAL XMAS looks like many of the tribute albums that flooded the market in the late ’90s. You had the all-star lineups of diverse musicians, from different genres, collaborating on many of the biggest hits from the likes of KISS, Queen and Alice Cooper under the watchful eye of producer/guitarist Bob Kulick. Now that I think about it, tribute albums were a dime a dozen in the ’90s and Kulick produced many of them, the difference is that he seems to have the right touch when putting it all together.

‘We Wish You A Merry Xmas’ starts off the album and I have never liked this song because of the line about “figgy pudding” and sounds silly to hear Jeff Scott Soto (one of my favorite singers) sing it. If I put that line aside, the overall song is pretty good with solid guitarwork from the Kulick brothers but Soto does sound a little restrained. Up next is the Chuck Berry standard ‘Run Rudolph Run’ with Mr. Kilmister’s scratchy vocals and ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons offering up his superb guitar. The track works well because it has that basic Rock ‘n’ Roll feel, the guys don’t try to do too much with it because it’s just a simple Blues-based tune. Best song on the album has to go to the Alice Cooper sung ‘Santa Claws Is Coming To Town’. It’s one of those simple traditional favorites that everyone knows but Alice makes it his own by changing a few lyrics and the arrangement to give it that eerie, sinister, tongue-in-cheek Alice Cooper vibe. There’s a great rhythm section here with Billy Sheehan (Mr. Big/DLR) and Vinny Appice (Dio/Black Sabbath).

‘God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen’ is Sabbath-ed up with Dio & Iommi doing their best to add the Doom to this traditional Christian song. Joing them in the task is Dio band alums Sarzo and Wright but all they really do is keep time. This cover is just plain awful. First, Dio sounds like he’s trying too hard to add his own style to it, especially with his inflection of the words. It works on ‘Children Of The Sea’ and ‘The Sign Of The Southern Cross’ but on this song? Second, the song  just keeps going and you get the idea pretty quickly. Iommi’s heaviness actually fits the song well but it still seems out of place because of the vocal. Another subpar vocal shows up on ‘Silver Bells’ because Geoff Tate’s voice hasn’t sounded good since Queensryche released PROMISED LAND in 1994, it’s been obvious over the last 14 years that he has lost a lot of range in the higher register. I did like former Quiet Riot axeman Carlos Cavazo’s guitar solo though. Moving on to ‘Little Drummer Boy’, Simon Phillips puts in a solid performance on the skins and Sheehan is there to help keep it together while George Lynch shows some flash. I was a little worried about Dug (Doug?) Pinnick’s vocal because his voice sometimes puts me off. The cool thing is that he did a great job and put in a better performance than some of the more recognizable singers (Soto, Dio, Tate). I thought I would hate this track but it turns out it’s one of the ones I like the most.

‘Santa Claus Is Back In Town’ is metalled up with Ripper Owens hitting his trademark Halford highs and Agent Steel’s Juan Garcia ripping it on guitar. This an OK song, I don’t like it or dislike it, it just doesn’t stand out. The only thing I thought stood out was the backing vocals that sang “Christmas” over and over. For some reason, I thought that was cool. Now if this song didn’t stand out, the Thrash version of ‘Silent Night’ certainly does. Testament’s Chuck Billy adds his snarling Metal growl to Scott Ian’s (Anthrax) frenetic guitar while John Tempesta pounds his double bass kit. It’s definitely a different take on a religious classic. I liked ‘Deck The Halls’ even though it’s really just a simple interpretation of the original. I have always liked Craig Goldy’s guitar playing and he adds a little DREAM EVIL Dio-era playing to the song while Oni Logan (Lynch Mob) still sounds so smooth on the mic. Add the solid rhythm section of the legendary Tony Franklin and Tempesta and the performance sounds the most like a real band.

I have never liked the Elmo & Patsy version of ‘Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer so I knew that I wouldn’t like this song right off the bat. The weird thing is that the music is pretty good with Bob Kulick and Tracii Guns trading leads and former Diamond Dave cohorts Billy Sheehan and Greg Bissonette handling the back end but who is that singing? At first I had no idea it was Stephen Pearcy because he didn’t sound anything like his former Ratt ‘n’ Roll self. His voice is shot but the silliness of this novelty tune fits his personality…..I was right, I still don’t like it. ‘Rockin’ Around The Xmas Tree’ is sped up a bit with the Kulick brothers doing their thing and the Dio alumni rhythm section of Sarzo/Wright keeping time, the best thing about this song is Joe Lynn Turner’s smooth delivery. I’m not surprised by JLT’s performance, his vocals have always been top notch and he seems to just keep getting better. The closing song is the John Lennon classic ‘Happy Xmas (War Is Over)’ done by the team of Tommy Shaw (Styx), Steve Lukather (Toto), Marco Mendoza (too many bands to name) and Kenny Aronoff (more than Marco Mendoza). The original is overplayed and I get sick of the children’s choir, this simple remake is a little more to my liking. It’s good to hear Steve Lukather, he’s a great guitarist, and Tommy Shaw is a solid singer but the thing missing is some vocal harmonies. Tommy Shaw is always paired with another strong singer and that adds to his overall sound when is comes to harmonies and backing tracks. I think that this song would benefit from some contributions from another proven singer just to enhance things.

Bottom Line:
Overall, a good album. The music is very good on every song, that’s what happens when you get all-star musicians, but it’s the vocals and arrangement that make the songs stand out. I don’t like putting it all on the singers but the most identifiable part of any song is how it’s sung and that can make or break any musical performance. There are enough good versions of these holiday classics to make it worth checking out but be aware that there are a couple of duds. It’s a fun album and that’s the whole point.

Favorite Songs: ‘Run Rudolph Run’, ‘Santa Claws Is Coming To Town’, ‘Rockin’ Around The Xmas Tree’, ‘Deck the Halls’

gnrchinesedemocracy

Guns N’ Roses – Chinese Democracy (2008, Geffen)

  1. Chinese Democracy
  2. Shackler’s Revenge
  3. Better
  4. Street Of Dreams
  5. If The World
  6. There Was A Time
  7. Catcher In The Rye
  8. Scraped
  9. Riad N’ The Bedouins
  10. Sorry
  11. I.R.S.
  12. Madagascar
  13. This I Love
  14. Prostitute

Musicians:
Axl Rose – Vocals

*** There are so many different musicians that have been in an out of GnR during the last 13+ years of production and I am not going through the entire booklet. It’s not the original GnR, only Axl remains from that era. Go to the GnR website to see who contributed to this record and who is in the band right now.

Produced by: Axl Rose & Caram Costanzo

Total Time = 1:11:26

Guns N’ Roses official website
Guns N’ Roses MySpace page
Geffen Records

Well it’s finally here! After close to 14 years, Axl Rose has come out of his protective shell and delivered the most hyped Hard Rock album of all-time: CHINESE DEMOCRACY. It’s the first new material from Guns N’ Roses since 1991′s USE YOU ILLUSION albums with a whole new cast of bandmates surrounding the enigmatic Axl. I’ll be honest, I never thought that the album would be released and I have always thought that either the album will be the greatest album of all-time or the biggest flop, there will be no middle ground. The burning question is will anyone care? It’s been so long since the band was at the top of the charts and the music business has changed dramatically from how artists make music, to how we buy it, to how we listen to it. Is this the time to release CHINESE DEMOCRACY or was it 10 years ago?

I never bothered to listen to any of the leaked tracks that have popped up over the years so I really didn’t know what to expect. The opening title track is heavy on guitar and layered Axl vocals and it’s an obvious nod to the earlier incarnation of the band. It’s an aggressive song but it sounds like Axl is trying too hard to grab the older fans from the outset with a familiar APPETITE FOR DESTRUCTION tone. I’m one of those fans who bought the debut before the band was huge so I got hooked right away. The exclusive single for the ROCK BAND 2 video game, ‘Shackler’s Revenge’, starts to show some diversity in direction with elements of Hard Rock, Techno, and Industrial combining for an interesting listen. I’m not digging the deep vocal Axl puts on this but the song picks up steam with the chorus, sounding like current Hard Rock. ‘Better’ is the actual lead single that Geffen sent to radio and it’s my favorite off the record. The song follows a melodic mid-tempo line until the chorus gets a little more aggressive and the song builds from there around the solo break. There is some good clean guitar mixed with a distorted/synth type guitar that brings the song a traditional feel while exploring different melodic tones. The first ballad arrives in ‘Street Of Dreams’ and I had to breathe a sigh of relief because I would have crucified this record if it was a cover of the Rainbow classic! The song follows a great piano melody and builds as the guitar joins in. Remember ‘November Rain’? It may not be as over the top but ‘Street Of Dreams’ does have that grand feel to it, following the Guns N’ Roses tradition of great ballads. Four songs in and I’m not disappointed at all. The songs have a diverse sound and both ‘Better’ and ‘Street Of Dreams’ would have easily fit on either USE YOUR ILLUSION albums.

The first low point comes with the mid-tempo ‘If The World’. I’m not really sure what to make of this song because I hear the guitar and the piano leading the way but it sounds like ballad with a touch of Funk, Jazz, and Latin. It’s ambitious, I wouldn’t expect this kind of musical blend to be on a Guns N’ Roses record. ‘There Was A Time’ has some interesting guitar parts but not enough to keep me interested. Add some orchestration and a dash of electronic backgrounds and the song does build up nicely, it’s just that this marks the fourth song in a row that leans more to the melodic and slower side of life. I understand Axl’s penchant for making grandiose epics but how many do we need in a row? We need another obviously because the almost six minute ‘Catcher In The Rye’ follows the same formula minus the electronics. ‘Catcher’ sounds almost like a cross between GNR and Elton John with only the guitar solo reminding you that this is technically a Hard Rock record.

‘Scraped’ redeems my faith that Axl can make solid Hard Rock. This is an overdue guitar driven rocker that Axl shrieks all over. It’s more modern than what old GNR is like but it’s pretty cool, the intro needs to be dumped though. Same thing goes for ‘Riad N’ The Bedouins’, lose the 45 second instrumental intro and kick right into the song because it kicks things up a notch! There is more experimental guitar sounds surrounding the traditional guitar but it’s a fast tempo and there’s a tasty solo in the middle. That Axl shriek is carried over from ‘Scraped’ as well as a driving drum sound. Obviously this band can still rock so it’s a total mystery why ANOTHER mid-tempo/ballad type song has to be offered with ‘Sorry’. The song is totally experimental, Axl channelling his inner Pink Floyd to create a soundscape that sounds so out of place and outer space! I’ll give the guy his due for creating something so out of the box but if I want to hear DARK SIDE OF THE MOON I’ll put it on! There is another Industrial/Electronic influence on ‘I.R.S.’ albeit a small one. ‘I.R.S.’ is following the same formula as all the other slower songs on CHINESE DEMOCRACY: follow a simple mid-pace rhythm and build to the chorus, repeat and build to the solo. Same thing goes for ‘Madagascar’, another of these type of songs. I think trying to recreate the success of ‘Don’t Cry’ and/or ‘November Rain’ with similar epic just isn’t what the doctor ordered. I could also do without all the sampled audio during the solo too.

‘This I Love’ is a piano ballad with orchestration and not much else. The vocals are pretty good but I’m so disappointed with the lack of power on this record that it’s a small consolation. The lone bright spot on this song is the Scorpions style power ballad guitar solo. This song is just over five and a half minutes and it’s way too long. My hope was hinged on ‘Prostitute’, a  sleazy Hard Rock song title to be sure! Unfortunately, it’s another song that follows the epic formula with a piano lead, orchestration and guitars that only seem to appear when the chorus hits. At this point, I don’t need a six minute song that sounds like the rest of the album.

Bottom Line:
It’s been 14 years in the making, with millions of dollars spent on production, and CHINESE DEMOCRACY is as overblown as the hype surrounding it. The album started off promising with the first four songs but, with the exception of ‘Scraped’ and ‘Riad N’ The Bedouins’, the rest of the album sounds like different variations of the huge classic hit ‘November Rain’. Maybe I was wrong to think that a new Guns N’ Roses album would rock because only 4 out of 14 actually do. It’s as if Axl and his band are trying to recreate the USE YOUR ILLUSION era of diversity but the problem is that there were some kick ass rockers on those albums. You can only have so many epics, ballads, and mid-tempo songs before it all sounds the same. I was expecting GNR to go for the throat with at least half of the songs but only a few break out. I’m not saying that CHINESE DEMOCRACY is a bad album, it’s just not as good as it should be after the years put in and I’m disappointed.

Favorite Songs: ‘Better’, ‘Street Of Dreams’, ‘Shackler’s Revenge’, ‘Chinese Democracy’, ‘Scraped’, ‘Riad N’ The Bedouins’