Q5 – New World Order – Album Review

Posted in Album Reviews with tags , , , , , on July 11, 2016 by novametalreview

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OK, hands up who has heard of Q5 before? Yes, that is probably a pretty small showing; at least that’s my bet. Well, let’s do some catching up, since there isn’t a massive amount to catch up on.

So, Q5 were originally formed back in 1983 in Seattle, by smashing together two groups from the local scene, taking three members of TKO (guitarist Rick Pierce, bassist Evan Sheeley, and drummer Gary Thompson) and two members of C.O.R.E. (frontman Jonathan K and guitarist Floyd D. Rose – of Floyd Rose tremolo system fame). This line up released “Steel The Light” in 1984 and it was through this record that I discovered the band, and it has to be said it was the cool sci-fi spaceship cover art that really attracted my eye, rather than any knowledge of the band or music when I bought it. Fortunately the album was an absolute corker and kicked some serious butt. Hello Q5!

Following “Steel The Light”, their sophomore release in 1985, “When The Mirror Cracks”, was a little less heavy and seemed to me at least to have a little more keyboard than I would have perhaps liked. Unfortunately the band was already coming apart at the seems and split due the all too common “personal differences” soon after the album release. To be honest I assumed that was the last that anyone was likely to hear of Q5, but, surprise, the band popped up on the Sweden Rock Festival in 2014, with 3/5ths of the original line up, with Scott K. on vocals, Pierce on guitar and Sheeley bass, joined by new blood in the form of Dennis Turner on guitar and Jeffery McCormack on drums.

It seems the band had such a good time that they decided to keep the band going with an aim of putting out a new album, which is what I have in front of me right now. Released on Frontiers, “New World Order” turns in no less than fourteen tracks (one being listed as a bonus track on my copy) with a runtime topping just over an hour, and I have to honest there isn’t a duffer amongst them! It has been quite a long time since any album caught my ear quite as much as this did – so much so that I played it back-to-back straight through three times following the first listen!

So, Q5 really seem to have found their happy place with this record, and have adopted a solid power/heavy metal foundation here, which is just PERFECT in my book. Sure there is melody by the bucket load, but you will also find massive power-driving riffs and plenty of excellent playing from all contributors to keep you drawn in. I don’t really like drawing comparisons to other bands, but I’m going to break my own rules here just so you can get an idea of nature of these guys in 2016 – after the first couple of listens through I was starting to get infusions of Saxon, Judas Priest and recent Accept, but not in any derivative way.

Since I have only had my hands on this record for two days now I can’t claim to have any particular favorite track, but I think there would be something wrong with me if I didn’t mention “A Warrior’s Song/Mach Opus 206” which are listed as two separate tracks, but run into each other, and form an absolutely epic power metal trip. “Mach Opus 206” is in fact an massive riff-tastic monster of an instrumental track and I can’t help turning this one up to ‘11’ whenever this hits my ears. It’s honestly epically huge!

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention what a great recording this is too. So often these days albums seem to come out flat and lifeless, but this record has a real energy and feel behind it driving the whole experience along. The drums and bass sound massive and the guitar sound is just about perfect – cutting, but still heavy. Jonathan Scott K’s vocal sit perfectly within each track and it may be his lyrical phrasing that makes me think NWOBHM. All in all despite there being 14 tracks here – I WANT MORE.

So, to close – it doesn’t matter a damn whether or not you remember Q5 from before (though if you do, all is good) – if you like your rock on the heavier side, GO AND BUY THIS RECORD. I can’t believe anyone could be disappointed. And just to make things clear, it has been quite a long time since I felt motivated enough to write a review, but I could not let this pass. This is a killer album and a straight 10/10.

Borealis – Purgatory – Album Review

Posted in Album Reviews with tags , , , , , , on August 28, 2015 by novametalreview

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I first ran into Borealis back in 2012 when they were on tour supporting Saxon on the “Call To Arms” tour and was immediately impressed by their progressive-leaning, symphonic power metal. Call me a “newbie” if you like, but this genre of meal isn’t really one that has been in my wheelhouse up until quite recently, so forgive me for my simple observation-based review. I am currently catching up on my homework with healthy doses of Symphony X, Evergrey and a few others.

So what do I know about Borealis… well, not much more than you could write on the back of a relatively small envelope. First off they are Canadian, so that immediately puts them in some good company, eh? They hail from Orangeville, Ontario and formed back in 2005, and originally were fronted by a female, delivering “opera-style” vocals… I can’t claim to have heard this line-up (there is a demo out there apparently). With the departure of their front-woman in 2007, Matt Marinelli took over the lead vocal, along with his original role on guitar, leaving them to operate as a four piece, the remaining three members being Jamie Smith on bass, Sean Werlick on keys and Sean Dowell on drums.

These four remain as the foundation of the band to this day, taking them past their 10 year anniversary. A second guitarist, Ken Fobert, was added back in 2009, who remained until mid-2011, to be replaced by current-day member, Michael Briguglio. I think the second guitar was an important step in establishing the band’s sound live, since without this, the band would have a hard time replicating the depth and power they bring to their recorded offerings.

So turning now to the album in question, “Purgatory”, is the third offering from the band and from what I can discern from some (admittedly brief) listens to the earlier works, it would seem that the band has found it’s groove and shows a nice progression from the previous album ,“Fall From Grace”, released in 2011. The album opens with what seems to be the obligatory intro-piece, which an atmospheric piece that appears to center around a heart monitor, that seems to signify the end of a life, which leads logically to “Past The Veil”. This is a majestic track and sets the scene for what’s to come. I will note that from the get-go Matt Marinelli delivers a great vocal performance acress the entire album.

As the opener gives way to “From The Ashes” you begin to sense the strong power metal foundation that the band uses to build on, and despite the various textures, this is a solid heavy metal recording. “From The Ashes” also brings a little twist to the mix in the form a very nicely executed male-female duet, with a guest vocalist going by the name Sarah Dee. Something else to note are the very nicely delivered lead guitar solos, which are never excessive but contribute significantly to the melodic edge the album carries through the 12 tracks contained here.

The fourth track, “Destiny” opens with a crushingly heavy riff, which gives why to an even heavier riff… but there is still texture here, and this perhaps something that has matured with this album, versus those that came before. The “Darkest Sin” is a nice contrast to the speed of the opening tracks, and gives the listener a chance to catch their breath. I was aware of a touch of auto-tune on the vocal, which is perhaps de rigor for all recordings these days, but just a bit of a distraction. The auto-tune is a little more obvious on “Rest My Child” another slower mostly acoustic number that comes later. Personally I doubt that Marinelli needs this treatment, so perhaps this is the one minor negative the band might consider when it comes to production treatments for the next album.

I would remiss if I didn’t mention the excellent drumming throughout the entire record from Sean Dowell, who also carried out all duties related to engineering the record. The album has a very crisp tight production feel to it and is a credit to Sean for his obvious attention to detail. I could have probably handled a little more bottom end to the overall mix, but this is a good sounding record from start to finish.

Most of the time my true litmus test is whether I can handle hearing the album from start to finish, played many times over while I write these reviews. Since this isn’t my day gig, it can take a lot of days to get a review done and this was no different – I am still happy to hear this record from the first track to the last! In fact after hearing this record I am now hoping to see the band out on the road with Evergrey in the next couple of weeks – Baltimore Soundstage – you have been warned! My score for the album is a healthy 8.5/10

  • Neil Waterman August 2015

Raven – Party Killers – Album Review

Posted in Album Reviews with tags , , , , , on August 6, 2015 by novametalreview

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Some would question the point of reviewing a limited edition album release – after all, most who read this will have no chance of getting hold of a copy. Well, I’d equate it to a car magazine reviewing a Ferrari… The greatest majority reading it will have no chance of ever owning such a car, but they can dream, right? What we have here is a limited edition recording issued as part of the Kickstarter campaign that fans were able to contribute to used to fund the recent (and excellent) Extermination album release by Raven. See my review of that gem here: http://wp.me/p2hj3p-9q

So the story behind this recording goes something like this… The Raven lads are in a studio in Richmond essentially to work on pre-production for the Extermination record, but as they are wont to do, they happened to jam a couple of covers, and, blow me down didn’t they sound killer? Before you could boil a kettle for a cup of tea, the idea of a covers album was in the making. And not just any old tracks, but the tracks the lads grew up with. The title of the record, “Party Killers”, was born back in the day, when the Gallagher brothers would take over the record player and spin their favorite tunes – and accordingly kill the party. At least that’s how I remember the story 🙂

Another nice aspect to this recording is this isn’t a ProTools digital recording, but a “real” analog recording and in my book it sounds amazing. The drums sound alive and everything has a warm sheen to it – none of that rather cold digital hardness that some modern recordings suffer from. Overall this a big sounding record and all the better for that.

The record opens with the Deep Purple classic “Fireball” and the first thing that hits you is how un-convoluted this feels. If you had somehow never heard the original, there is no way you could tell this wasn’t a Raven track from the get-go. John Gallagher’s vocal just sits so well in the track it’s uncanny really, while Joe Hasslevander nails it on the drums. Another nice touch is how Raven fill the keyboard parts in the original with their own interpretation, in this case with some wacky bass effects.

“Fireball” is followed by a Thin Lizzy classic in the shape of “Bad Reputation” and again there is no ‘cover song sheen’ here at all – these are songs that have clearly found their way into the very being that is Raven. It’s hard to get over what this really means, but in so many cases, bands that try the covers album route simply end-up producing poor repeats of the originals, but that just isn’t the case here at all. While there is certainly an element of homage to the original artists, Raven have stamped their essence into each of the tracks presented here.

What follows is an eclectic journey though the musical foundations that brought us the band Raven we know to this day. Cheap Trick’s “He’s A Whore”, is followed by a Budgie rarity in the shape of “In For The Kill” with an infectious groove, which then gives way to a Status Quo number, “Is There A Better Way”, which had me reaching for YouTube to check out the original. Some of these are pretty deep cuts.

The rest of the track listing runs as follows: “Ogre Battle” (Queen), “Queen Of My Dreams” (Edgar Winter group), “Too Bad So Sad” (Nazareth), “Cockroach” (Sweet), “Tak Me Bak Ome” (Slade) and “Hang On To Yourself” (David Bowie). This latter track is perhaps the least obvious of the set, but every track here works wonderfully. It’s quite remarkable how well Mark Gallagher handles all the guitar parts here, because, although retaining the original character, it’s unmistakably Mark. It’s not Mark trying to be Ritchie Blackmore for example on the Purple track. Hopefully you will get the chance to hear what I’m trying to get across.

I believe the idea was that only 500 copies of the Party Killers album would be released on CD, so if I remember the number of people that signed up to back the Kickstarter campaign correctly, by my math there should be a two or three hundred copies of this CD still available. I suspect these will be sold at live shows, so if you want a copy check out the merch booth – you might just get lucky… My score for this album is a straight 10/10

George Lynch – Shadow Train – Album Review

Posted in Album Reviews with tags , , , on July 22, 2015 by novametalreview

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Those that know me in person will attest to the fact that I am a big fan of George Lynch and have been ever since I was knee-high to a Marshall stack. In fact I was such a fan that the only ‘guitar tuition’ videotape I ever bought featured George Lynch. I think the booklet that accompanied the tape was almost worn to shreds (and I still have it and got it signed by George a couple of years back). It is true that the “Tooth and Nail” Dokken era is still perhaps my favorite, but George has managed to keen his wits about him and has continued to put out some great music over the years.

Most recently I think the Sweet & Lynch album “Only To Rise” was a masterpiece and something I should have reviewed. May be I can find time to backtrack to that one. Of course there was also the Lynch Mob recording “Sun Red Sun” which was also an excellent release (late in 2014), albeit only seven tracks long – I suppose that was closer to an extended EP – but the new Lynch Mob release, “Rebel”, is due out in a few short weeks. George has been a busy boy recently.

So, the Shadow Train release is supposed to be the musical accompaniment to the Shadow Nation, which is a documentary about the Native American Indians in the modern world today. I’m not sure when that is due for release, or exactly what drove George to pursue that, but he did make the following comment on Blabbermouth: “I’ve spent over four decades of my life pursuing elusive musical aspirations. But for even longer than that, I’ve cared, studied and thought deeply about the human condition and how we interact with each other and the world around us. Fusing these two aspirations into one has been a challenge for me throughout my creative life. This is my attempt at bonding the music and the message into one cohesive whole.” Right-o. Now we know….

The Shadow Train album actually stretches to eighteen tracks, across two CDs, which is quite a mammoth offering. It seems that the first tracks recorded were the nine tracks that are included on CD number 2 in the set, so the presentation is actually chronologically reversed, and in my opinion the tracks on CD#1 are more accessible, which may be a result of the players becoming more familiar with each other. As for the line-up here we rather obviously have George Lynch on guitar, while on vocals we have Greg Analia, Gabe Rosales on bass, Donnie Dickman on keyboards, and Jimmy D’Anda on drums. Perhaps I’ve led a sheltered life, but I’m not familiar with any of the other players listed here, and certainly each does a fine job, but I would be hard pushed to say any one of them stands out as exceptional, at least within the constraints of this release.
So turning to the album itself, CD#1 opens with “Vulture”, which kicks things off with a pretty crushing riff, however the verse takes things in a bit of a different direction, perhaps more in-line with something from the “Souls of We” record from 2008. Once the track gets to the solo section, it’s clear this is a more restrained George Lynch and perhaps it’s less about the guitar, than the song itself.

The second track, “Currency Of Lies”, seems to take a more familiar path and I swear there are times when I could mistake the vocals for Oni Logan (Lynch Mob). This is definitely a track I could have seen making it on to a Lynch Mob record. With that out of the way, up next is perhaps my favorite from the eighteen included here – “Power And Resistance” – and it is one of those Lynch songs that gets inside your head and has you coming back again and again. The chorus has a great hook, and the verse a neatly melodic riff. This is right there in “the zone” that draws me to so many George Lynch records.

The following track, “Now It’s Dark”, is what I call a “plodder” in terms of pace, but…! That chorus vocal melody… this is another track that is hard to skip and digs its way into your subconscious.

Now the rest of the record actually does a bit less for me. I don’t want to imply there’s anything ‘wrong’ with what follows, but in the “CD in the car” test, this record fails – despite having this CD for nearly a week now, it has failed to inspire me to burn a copy and swap out any of the CDs currently sitting in the CD changer (yeah, up to date I am not…). Track 7, “Ghost”, has a sort of spoken/rapped vocal line, which again sort of reminds me of the “Souls Of We” record for some reason, but as things move on I’m less engaged with the album.

Moving on the second CD, there seems to be more of a blues influence to the tracks included here, which is certainly no bad thing, and the opening track “Believe” has a nice bluesy, almost Gospel vibe to it, and is really the first time I noticed the keyboards. The second track “Blinded” is definitely a blues stomp, and while there’s nothing ground breaking here it’s a track I want to hear again. This groove is carried into the next track, “Fallen”, but from here out I’m less enthusiastic; track 5, “Prayer Mechanism” comes across as a bit of dirge to me, while “Soux Wake Up” probably works in the context of the movie I’m sure, but this message laden track is probably the one I’ve skipped more times than I’ve felt compelled to listen through. May be I’m just missing the point here? I think this same comment also applies to the next track, “Trail Of Tears”, which carries a definite Native American Indian atmospheric vibe, but it’s a little heavy.

The final track, “World On Fire”, draws us up out of the funk that I can’t help feel from the previous four tracks, and get’s things rocking again with some nice melodic guitar work buried into the very frame of the track.

So, in summary, not a total success, at least in my book. There’s a part of me that wants to blame the length of the whole thing on my funk here, but that’s not really it. I can’t help but think there was more rockin’ going on here and less intellectual posturing, the overall vibe would be more upbeat, but the bottom line is this just isn’t a record that I feel I will be reaching for to often, unlike the Lynch Mod, Sweet & Lynch or T&N albums which I continue to spin with great anticipation. All-in-all, I would say this is a record that hard-core Lynch fans will embrace, but otherwise there isn’t a great draw here. My score overall here is a muted 7.5/10

Raven – Extermination – Album Review

Posted in Album Reviews with tags , , , , , on July 15, 2015 by novametalreview

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The band Raven represent one of the foundations of much of what we regard as “heavy metal” these days, but sadly, many fans of the genre simply don’t understand just how influential Raven were when they broke into the mainstream in the early 80’s. I have previously written about my first Raven gig at Brighton Dome back in early ’82, which was the only full UK tour Raven carried out before leaving for the USA in ’83. That gig will always remain as one of my most enduring early metal smashing experiences… three impossibly young looking lads, creating such a powerful sound and doing it with so much passion and fun. The first two albums, “Rock Until You Drop” and “Wiped Out” remain favorites of mine to this day.

After arriving in the US they toured with Metallica as their support act… the history of the band in the following years can be left to the reader as homework, but some of the record company-led decisions in retrospect probably did the band less good than might have been otherwise, however there is still great music to be found in the Atlantic-era album releases, in particular “Life’s A Bitch”.

There is one thing that seems to have been missed by many so called ‘fans’ – Wacko (Rob Hunter) left the drum-stool back in 1987… Joe Hasselvander has been the permanent drummer ever since, which clocks his membership within the ranks at 28 years. I still cannot believe how many times I’ve seen people act surprised that Wacko isn’t with the band any more. Come on people – 28 years!

There is a dark period in the history of the band; In late 2001 Mark Gallagher suffered a very serious injury to his legs following the collapse of a wall at a construction site, that left him lucky to have not lost at least one of his legs. Despite contrary opinion from several doctors, Mark showed incredible will and fortitude, and was back performing with the band from a wheelchair in 2004 and then back on his feet! The album that followed this, released in 2009, “Walk Through Fire”, the title of which is perhaps a reflection of the trials the band has suffered, was a beaut and brought back the raw energy that the band delivers every time they hit the stage.

Now, admittedly there is a good long time between 2009 and today, but 2015 brings the release of the latest Raven album – Extermination – and it might just be the best ever Raven album… Sure, I am getting ahead of myself, but it really is a massively great piece of heavy metal music. Another quick note – production duties were once again awarded to Kevin Gutierrez of Assembly Line Studios, who was also at the helm for the previous record, and this album is another killer job. The production is crisp, heavy and alive with groove – avoiding the all to common-these-days ProTools flatness. Nice job Kevin!

So, turning now to focus on Extermination, the album opens with a short 42 second piece called imaginatively “Intro” which flows directly into the opener, “Destroy All Monsters” which is a double kick-drum fueled thrasher –the opening guitar riff is annoyingly catchy and the vocals announce themselves by tearing themselves out of the speakers with what I can only call “The John Gallagher Scream”. This track is a masterpiece of power through the verses, coupled to a hook-melody in the chorus that you can’t forget. There isn’t anything you could point to here and change for the better. This is heavy metal at it’s best. Exterminate!

Now I’m not going to run through this track by track, so don’t imagine for one second any that I skip over are any less worthy – I can only afford to spend so much time on this review – but the following are perhaps my favorites.

“It’s Not What You’ve Got” – This is a mid-paced stomper of a track, but with one of those “oh, shit, I can’t get this out-of-my-head” vocal melody lines, particularly in the verses. This track also has a short-but-sweet signature Mark Gallagher going nuts on guitar solo.

“Battle March/Tank Treads (The Blood Runs Red)” – What a crushing riff! And again John on vocals sounds in tip-top form. This track allows Mark to cut loose through an extended solo section, and it really shows what a unique approach he has to tearing the frets off his guitar.

“Thunder Down Under” – A fitting and well executed tribute to Bon Scott. Just a great heavy metal song, that cleverly rolls in so many classic AC/DC song titles. With a great overdriven bass intro into the solo section.

“Malice In Geordieland” (bonus track) – A celebration of John and Mark’s roots. Just magic stuff… of course being from the UK, despite being from ‘down South’ I can understand what this song is all about, but some may struggle!

Overall this is a slice of heavy metal that deserves to be bought by every single fan of heavy metal, heavy rock, thrash metal, you-name-rock-metal-whatever! Raven have captured all the power and energy that comes with a Raven live show and shoved it into the bits encoded on the CD or in the wiggly groove of the LP if you happen to be a vinyl addict. This may be the 41st anniversary of the bands formation (yes, they formed back in 1974…), but this is as fresh sounding and power-driven as you could ever wish. A cracking good album and easily worthy of a 10/10 score.

M3 Festival 2015 – Day 2 – Killer Dwarfs, Tyketto, Vixen, Black’N Blue, LA Guns, Krokus, Warrant, Y&T, Queensryche, Europe – Live Review (5/2/15)

Posted in Just Stuff with tags , , , , , , , , on June 13, 2015 by novametalreview

So, following on from a decent Day 1 kick-off, Day 2 of M3 rolled around with the early attraction all being on the Festival stage, at least for me. The Festival stage was moved to the very back of the Merriweather site last year, and hence is almost exactly facing the main Pavilion stage, but separated by quite a decent hill. On the Pavilion side this forms the ‘lawn’ area, while on the other, the slope provides an almost perfect view, no matter where you are, to see the action down on the stage, however we got there nice and early and were on the front rail. The only down-side to the Festival stage location is the surprisingly long walk to get over to the Pavilion, so be prepared for some hiking through the day if you plan on hopping from one to the other more than a couple of times.

As we walked in we could hear “Bad Seed Rising” who opened the day on the Pavilion stage. They are a young, mid-early teen band and did a decent enough job, considering no one was really interested, but their female singer could have cut back on the f-bombs which seemed to make up every other word between songs…

Killer Dwarfs
Now I have to confess, despite the fact we have at least one Killer Dwarfs LP at home, I hadn’t heard anything by them (at least consciously), but for some reason I had a good buzz waiting for their set to begin. This was totally on the money and from the moment Russ Graham bounced onto the stage to the last riff I was greatly entertained.

To me they came across as a sort of NWOBHM-infused AC/DC, very much in the vein of a heavier April Wine (to pick a Canadian comparison) – strong melodic riffs, with tight vocals, and perhaps the most energetic vocalist of the weekend. Russ spent nearly as much time flat out on the stage, as he did rolling around, as he did singing. I’m not sure quite why, but Russ also smashed a perfectly serviceable three-wheeled kiddy scooter into lots of little pieces… Overall this was a perfect start to the day and the six-song set delivered a solid slice of metal to earn them a score of 8/10.

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Rhino Bucket
Over on the main stage Rhino Bucket kicked of the ‘real bands’ on that stage, but I knew less about them than I did the Killer Dwarfs, so we remained firmly glued to our spot up front and watched the proceedings on the video screen. Fortunately the audio was also piped over the PA, so this was a decent comprise. I’m sure there are plenty of Rhino Bucket fans, but to me they seemed a touch too close to Kix in style – basic rock’n’roll – but with a rather strained scratchy vocal style. I did a quick video search using “Rhino Bucket M3”, and I think my memory was spot on – the vocals just don’t work for me. Admittedly this is a sort of phoned in score, but for me it’s a 4/10.

Tyketto
Now, in all fairness I have to confess a little bit of “insider trading” for this review, since my good friend Chris Green (also of Pride, Furyon and Rubicon Cross) is now the guitarist for the band, but my affection for Tyketto rolls all the way back to the debut release of “Don’t Come Easy” from 1991, with the opening track “Forever Young”, being a sort of anthem at the time. I still get a kick out of the opening guitar riff of that song, no matter where or when I hear it. However, friend or otherwise, I had high expectations for the band based on reports from the MOR cruise and performances from last year’s UK tour, and this would be my first chance to see them live. The fact they were appearing so early in the day was a concern, but come about 12.30 the Festival stage area was packed as far as the eye could see, so clearly I wasn’t the only one expecting good things. We were not disappointed!

Taking the stage with an air of confidence, vocalist Danny Vaughan and rest of the boys kicked off the set with “Lay Your Body Down”, and immediately the first thing that hit me was Danny doesn’t appear to have aged one damn minute. The second was his voice… absolutely on the money! Unlike rather too many of the vocalists from the 80s/90s, Danny has clearly done a fine job of holding onto his vocal chops, and I swear he sounds exactly the same as back in 1991, at least as far as the album recording goes. But that comment also applies across all members of the band, from Michael Clayton on drums, to Jimi Kennedy on bass, and the newer members of the line-up, Bobby Lynch on keys, and of course Chris on ripping guitar.

Given they only had a 30 minute set, it was always going to be a case of squeezing in as many crowd favorites, which basically meant tracks from “Don’t Come Easy”, which will see it’s 25th release anniversary next year, and we were not disappointed, with four of the six total coming from that recording. There was a slight lull in the energy from the crowd with “Dig In Deep”, the title track of the latest album and fourth track of the set, which I am sure skipped over the heads of most attending M3, but it is perhaps one of the more accessible rockers from the latest record. The set closed with a strong pairing of “Wings” and “Forever Young” from “Don’t Come Easy”. You can see my video of “Wings” here: https://youtu.be/bbi1NEgUM3g I dare anyone to try to claim Danny doesn’t sound EXACTLY like he does on the original recording…

And that was the set done. In the aftermath of the weekend there were lots of polls and “best of M3” lists, and it was rare to see any without Tyketto being listed in the top 3 or so bands of the weekend. I would totally agree with this and certainly hope to see them back at the next M3 on the main stage, later in the day and with a longer set. My score is an easily earned 10/10.

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Vixen
Next up on the main stage was Vixen, who I know bring out great gobs of affection from certain members of the metal community, but, at least to me, seems quite unwarranted. This was convincingly demonstrated when most of the members appeared back at the 2013 M3 as JSRG, which I scored a weak-to-pathetic 4/10 – least anyone of you reading this forgets – the 2013 set included a cover of a song by ADELE…WTF? Why anyone would include a cover song of a modern pop artist in a set at M3 still baffles me… Anyway it was clear there was no reason to walk over the Pavilion stage, so again we watched the video screens.

All I will say is the performance was painful. Just as Dokken the day before demonstrated, just because you are still willing to perform, doesn’t mean you SHOULD still perform. Now, I’m sure you die-hard fans are just about wanting to kill me or something, but, before you do, watch this video first: https://youtu.be/x2WF4HhW47c OK, assuming you are still alive, can you honestly tell me this was anything other than horrible? And this was their big “hit”? I’ve heard cats fighting that are more melodic. My score 3/10.

Black ‘N Blue
Next up on the Festival stage were Black ‘N Blue, and I have to say Jamie St. James was perhaps the friendliest ‘star’ of the weekend, seemingly appearing at all the hot spots over the weekend, including the bar and lobby of the Sheraton at all times of the day and night, and over at Clyde’s, the de-facto post-gig watering hole for all the event. He was always welcoming and happy to take pics and sign stuff – a good way to build fan rapport, so score one for B’N B.

So B’N B hit the stage and opened with “Get Wise To The Rise” from the 1988 release “In Heat” which is a great rocker and set the scene for a solid dose of 80’s hair metal. This was followed by “School Of Hard Knocks” from their 1984 debut release, and we were rockin’. The two newest members happen to be both guitarists (Shawn Sonnenschein and Brandon Cook), and they did a solid job, while original members Jamie, Patrick Young (bass) and Pete Holms (drums) rocked out and seemed to really having a great time up there. The seven song set closed with the crowd favorite “Hold On To 18”, which was perfect. My score 8.5/10.

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LA Guns
So, now we’re off to the main Pavilion stage, but by this point starving hungry, so a bit of an extended food stop delayed us a bit, so we missed perhaps the first three or four songs of their ten song set. However we could still hear them and, no surprise, they were sounding in great form. If you follow this blog you will know we’ve seen the ‘Guns’ a few times including a couple of times at our local venue, the Tally Ho, in Leesburg VA, so we are pretty familiar with the lads in the band, with the one exception being the recently returned bass player, Kenny Kweens (though we did end up meeting him briefly backstage to the very end of the night).

I’ve seen a few on-going comments complaining that Michael Grant (guitarist, since early 2013) doesn’t play the solos exactly like the originals… which to me is a bit like complaining that Ronnie James Dio didn’t sing Paranoid the same as Ozzy Osbourne did. Well, may be he doesn’t, but it’s time to get over that. Obviously Phil Lewis and Steve Riley are happy enough with the way they are being played, so let’s put that one to bed – the band consists of the members on the stage, and they play the songs the way you hear them now. Not the way some former member did. Deal with it!

Basically the band looked like they were having a great time up there, which always is an encouraging sign, and that for me that was echoed in what my ears were hearing. I did miss hearing anything from the latest release, “Hollywood Forever” which is a great album, but of course there was no way we could get away without “The Ballard of Jayne”, which to be honest I could go my entire life without hearing ever again… The set closed with a pretty riotous version of “Rip and Tear”. I think LA Guns have played M3 every year now, and I’m pretty sure they did enough to come back next year. I think they were a solid 8/10.

Krokus
These guys were one of the bands I was looking forward to seeing, particularly since the 2013 release, “Dirty Dynamite” was a decent offering. Krokus have always carried an AC/DC-wanna-be label, and notwithstanding this, they seem to have turned out solid records, though it would be misleading of me if I did not make it clear I am far from their biggest fan, with not much more than a recollection of a few tunes from Headhunter (1983), aside from the aforementioned latest recording. This was the first time I’ve seen them live I believe.

When they took to the stage I must admit there seemed to be a lack of energy in the Pavilion generally. I’m guessing most people were not big Krokus fans, and were in a similar frame of mind to myself – interested in the novelty of having them there.

To cut to the chase, to me, they came across as sort of a cross between AC/DC and Accept, and were tight and functional, but the spark just seemed to be missing. I was a little confused by the cover “American Woman” (originally by “The Guess Who”, but later Lenny Kravitz), until someone more knowledgeable than me explained this was a hit for Krokus in 1982… I think we made it through another two songs before deciding to head back to the VIP area for the Queensryche meet’n’greet. All-in-all I scored them a middling 6/10.

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Warrant
We headed back to the Festival stage around 6PM in order to get a good spot for Y&T, which meant we missed Bang Tango and the Winery Dogs entirely, so I can’t comment on them from a performance perspective, but I did hear reports that the Winery Dogs delivered a ripping set, although I am rather confused why they were at M3 at all – since the Winery Dogs were not around in the 80’s/early 90’s…

Once established down the front of the Festival stage again, we turned our attention to the video screens, which were relaying Warrant’s set from the Pavilion stage. I had previously seen Warrant with Robert Mason back in 2013, and despite all the right moves, couldn’t help but feel there was a sense the band were going through the motions. Unfortunately this time around nothing appeared to have changed, and, if anything, things were a little worse. I don’t think this opinion was helped by seeing Robert Mason stumbling into the hotel late the night before, more than obviously the worse for wear, and it may be the case that there was a little too much partying in the hospitality before there set, but the vocals were definitely iffy all through the set. This was not helped by an obviously out of tune acoustic guitar during the intro to “Heaven” and a multitude of wonky guitar parts throughout the set. For those that don’t agree, take a look at any of the videos that have been posted on YouTube from the show – the end of “Heaven” is a veritable train wreck of epic proportions. My score 4/10.

Y&T
Now I am happy to confess I am a big fan of Y&T and have never seen them deliver anything other than a killer show, no matter when or where, so I must admit I had high expectations for Dave Meniketti and crew, and I am happy to report there was to be no disappointment. The nine song set they delivered was absolutely on point from the opening riff from “Don’t Stop Runnin”, through to the last notes of “Forever” from the classic Black Tiger album that closed the show.

Dave Meniketti is a sorely under-rated guitarist and there are few that can touch him when it comes to blues-based hard rock; he has an innate ability to deliver crushing riffs that you just can’t avoid rocking out to, but his solos are off-the-scale. Sure, there are players that are technically more proficient, but Dave has the ability to select and deliver a sequence of notes that are just ripping and, when it comes to some of the slower ballads he is one of the few players out there that can deliver such emotion through the strings of a guitar. Perhaps Gary Moore was on the same level, but let Dave loose with a Les Paul and a hot amp, and he’s deadly.

It would also be a travesty to overlook Dave’s vocal abilities, which are also excellent –if you haven’t seen Y&T live, check out their recent live album “Live At The Majestic” which is a excellent representation of what you will experience at any live show, and pay attention to Dave’s vocals. Awesome.

Of course the band is more than Mr. Meniketti, and the newest member, Brad Lang on bass, does an awesome job of locking down the groove that is so important to the overall Y&T sound. I remember seeing Brad at his first show with the band, at Jaxx (sadly now closed…), who basically learned the set on the flight over from the West Coast back in 2010, following Phil Kenmore’s diagnosis with cancer. Brad has an undeniable energy and passion for the band.

John Nymann on rhythm guitar is the perfect partner for Dave Meniketti and is no guitar slouch when he is let loose to solo, and let me not underplay Mike Vanderhule on the drums. He hits hard and was also quite a hoot at the bar later in the evening. It’s good to meet a band who are not only great players, but also know how to have fun.

All-in-all Y&T delivered a nigh-on perfect set and it would be difficult to score them anything other than a 10/10.

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Queensryche
Once Y&T were done it was time to make the rapid transit from the Festival stage back to the Pavilion, and despite hustling, Queensryche didn’t wait for us! However, we had already had a massive dose of the ‘Ryche earlier in the week after a quick, 250 mile, there and back trip to Pittsburg to see them headline the Altar Bar on the Wednesday. That was a killer show, but not the subject of this review, however we were pumped from seeing them so recently.

Last year Queensryche were perhaps the surprise of the show for many people, and turned most of the audience from indifferent to captivated, so this time around I think more people were clued into what to expect.

Now, it is true there will always be those with their head in the sand and refuse to accept Todd La Torre in place of Geoff Tate, but to be honest they cannot be fans of the band. I’m sure there are some of you reading this now and are already yelling obscenities at the screen, but face facts – Geoff was not interested in Queensryche the band, he was interested in Geoff Tate, and the last 10 years had seen the band in a sad and steady decline, in both recorded music and live. If any of you have the chance to talk to Michael Wilton or Scott Rockenfield or indeed Eddie Jackson, ask them about the band before and after Todd joined and you will see the fire is back in their eyes. I have seen QR perhaps five times now with Todd and the energy he brings to the stage, particularly when delivering the classic material from the first five albums is like stepping back in time to the late 80’s when QR were at their peak.

The set opened with “Nightrider” from the debut EP, which is an absolute killer track and was followed by “Breaking The Silence” from Operation Mindcrime, which is just about when we found our way to our seats. It’s very hard to really review Queensryche in their current form because they are simply so good. “En Force” followed from The Warning and I think it fair to say, any true Queensryche fan was simply locked in the groove at this point. There are so many great songs from the first five QR releases that you could almost pick a set at random and see an amazing show. However, I must admit I missed the inclusion of “Where Dreams Go To Die” from the latest album, which we had heard at the Altar Bar show. I guess that was a concession to the nature of M3, which focused the set on the older material, and probably was the material the vast majority of the audience wanted to hear.

One thing I also want to mention is the way the Parker Lundgren on second guitar is really coming to life in these more recent shows. I remember seeing Parker on his first tour with the band back in 2009, and there was an undeniable “outsider” feel to his inclusion on stage, and this was probably due to the way he was brought into the band (a story I need not repeat in detail here, but will only mention it involves Geoff Tate, his daughter and a marriage that is no more…). However, Parker has always stuck to the original guitar work on the older material and keeps all the solo work true to the originals, which is more than can be said for Mike Stone and Kelly Gray who preceded him. These last couple of shows really show Parker as a fully integrated and key member of the Queensryche line-up, and, I should also mention, if you happen to meet him he’s a nice chap to boot!

The twelve-song set closed with “Jet City Woman” and an absolutely crushing version of “Take Hold Of The Flame” and as far as I have seen, again Queensryche were widely reported as taking the title of “band of the day” – and no, don’t shoot the messenger, I am simply reporting what I have seen online since the show, however I totally agree…. My score is a maxed out 10/10.

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Tom Keifer
Some reading this may be a little outraged that I skipped Tom Keifer’s set on the Festival stage, but by this point we were some 8 hours or so in, tired, and I was pretty disappointed that it wasn’t Cinderella performing. Of course Tom cranked out a Cinderella-loaded set with 9 out of 14 songs being Cinderella “covers” (haha, what else can I call them…?), and did them justice by all accounts, but there just wasn’t any impetus to get me up out of my seat and over that damn hill. One thing that was a little odd was this was the only set of the day that overran and they had not finished by the time Europe hit the Pavilion stage to close out the day.

Europe
I think it would only be fair to say that most of the attendees at M3 probably know Europe for one album – The Final Countdown – and unfortunately this is quite a travesty, because once you set away from this record you will find a band with a great maturity and depth of material, and that is where the true fans will be found. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the great proportion of the audience at M3. In fact anyone reading this really should get themselves a copy of the latest Europe offering, “War of Kings” which is a phenomenal record. Very much in the vein of classic Deep Purple or Uriah Heep, but with crushing riffs and massive production – it truly is a masterpiece.

Europe currently consist of the “classic” Final Countdown line-up, with Joey Tempest on vocals, sounding better than ever, John Norum on guitar, who is an absolute guitar hero, John Levin on bass,  a groove master if ever there was, and Mic Micheli on keyboards, who really pulls some showman moves up there, leaving Ian Haugland as the final member on drums, who hammers his kit with great authority. Both on record and live these guys really deliver.

So, was it a mistake to open the set with the title track from the latest record, “War of Kings”? Well, for me it was the best opening, but it was clear from many around me in the audience it was going straight over their heads. Next up was “Hole in my Pocket” another War of Kings track and I felt there was a definite sense of frustration in the audience… Bring on the hits! Fortunately, the day was saved with “Rock The Night” from the Final Countdown, but at this point I would say perhaps 5-10% of the audience had decided they were done and it was tangible that there were fewer people watching than was true for Queensryche for example.

The audience thinning continued with the fourth track, which was a rather deep cut, coming in the form of the rather obscure title track from the 2009 release, “Last Look at Eden”. For me, and any real “Europe” fan, all this was a great set, but that is difference between a festival set-list, and a headline-of-our-own-show set-list. These are two different things. I’m not sure anyone had explained this to the band perhaps, or maybe they just didn’t care?

However, this is perhaps the problem with a festival like M3, where most of the audience is there because of the nature of the festival, not so much the specific bands, and perhaps more so the headliner. There isn’t one aspect of Europe’s performance you could point to that wasn’t absolutely on point, but the end result, which was reflected in comments on various forums after the show, wasn’t a slam-dunk for the band. You will definitely find people like myself that have most of the bands releases (but not all mind you) who thought they knocked it out of the park, but there will be those who don’t quite agree, I’m sure. Of course, The Final Countdown tracks got the biggest reaction all night, and this included “Carrie”, “Cherokee” and of course the final… track, “The Final Countdown” which was greeted with an absolute roof-rousing roar. In fact, this track probably had the highest audience participation of any played all day, and was a stomping good way to end the day. On reflection, I loved Europe’s set, but it wasn’t the best of the day by any means – for me they were a decent 9/10.

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The End
So, there we had it, another M3 was done. There’s always a post-M3 let-down, where you suddenly realize it’s over for another 363 days…. They pass fairly quickly, but I find myself wondering can they keep this up? Can the organizers keep finding enough bands that will keep the venue full? I think so, at least for the next 5 years or so, but these bands won’t keep playing forever, and, as noted, some really should quit while they are still more or less ahead… For me the top three bands of the weekend (in no particular order) were: Y&T, Tyketto and Queensryche. All three delivered killer performances. Of course, I’d be happy to see any of them back at M3 next year, but I’d be especially happy to see Tyketto over on the Pavilion stage and later in the day – they deserve the exposure and would get that place rockin’ hard. ‘Til next year then!

M3 Festival 2015 –Day 1 – Trixter, Dio Disciples, Quiet Riot, Dokken – Live Review (5/1/15)

Posted in Just Stuff with tags , , , , , , , on May 20, 2015 by novametalreview

This is the seventh year for M3, which is probably the best festival if 80’s “hair metal” is your thing. If you need to review the history of this festival then see my review from last year and indeed the review from the year before that! This time around I’m skipping the intro waffle and getting more or less straight into it. The only thing I will say is M3 is a 2-day event and this review covers the shorter Day1.

As a VIP ticket holder (meaning you pay a lot more for the chance to be somewhere near the front), there was a VIP-only acoustic performance by Jack Russell’s Great White at something like 3PM or so, but that in itself wasn’t enough of a draw to get us over there early, and in fact we finally made it over to the venue around 4.15, which meant we missed Korupt. I think I have them confused with the band who opened the second day, so no more comment either way…

Tixter

Last time Trixter played here in 2013 things did not go well, so I was hoping for a better experience, and indeed we got much more what I was expecting. We didn’t see the whole set (missed the first 3 songs of 7), but what we did see was tight, well delivered and without any pretention for a band early in the day. Nothing really to write home about, but job well done. (Score: 7/10)

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Dio Disciples
For me, this band was in the wrong position in the running order. DD are essentially the remains of Ronnie James Dio’s band “Dio” and do an admirable job of keeping Dio’s music alive. The band has very much an open door as far as members are concerned, but generally consists of players who were at one time or another in Dio with Ronnie. Vocals for this show were handled by Joe Retta (Heaven and Earth) and Oni Logan (perhaps best known with Lynch Mob). Personally I think I preferred Joe who cut a pretty convincing Dio, but Oni also did a great job – for me though he has a little more character to his voice, meaning he sounds more like Oni Logan and less Dio…

On guitar Craig Goldy (Dio, Giuffria, Rough Cutt) played a blinder, even though he isn’t really the most visually exciting player around. Simon Wright held down he drums, while keys were handled by the somewhat over-the-top Scott Warren (though maybe he was making up for Craig…). I’m not sure who the fella on bass was, but he did a fine job.

The set opened with Holy Diver, which basically opened the flood gates, filling my mind with thoughts of Dio concerts at Hammersmith Odeon in London through the 80’s. These songs really are metal classics and despite the tribute band feel, Dio Disciples are doing a worthy job of keeping this music alive. Stargazer, The Last In Line, Man On The Silver Mountain and Heaven and Hell were all highlights for me, but all eight tracks player were delivered with conviction and with a great crowd reaction all round. I would have been happy for them to keep playing for another hour… (Score: 9/10)

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Quiet Riot

Trying to summarize the history of this band in a few paragraphs isn’t going to work, so all I will say is there is no one from original line-up of the band at all (1975-1980), and only Frankie Banali remains from the 1982 “Metal Health” era line-up. When Kevin DuBrow died in 2007, it seemed the band was finished, but come 2010 auditions were held and Mark Huff, first of four subsequent vocalists were hired, only to be fired while waiting for brain surgery… Two more vocalists later, Jizzy Pearl (ex-Love/Hate/LA Guns) was hired in late 2013. This show was the first time I saw QR with Jizzy out front.

Overall it was just “all right”. There was nothing particularly memorable or exciting about the set, which finished with the strongest song pairing of “Cum On Feel The Noize” and “Metal Health (Bang Your Head)”, but despite this it felt flat, and certainly paled in comparison with Dio Disciples. (Score: 7/10)

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Dokken

Back in the 80’s Dokken was one of my favorite bands and “Under Lock and Key” would have been in my top ten albums back then for many years to come, so let me make it clear, there’s no lack of love for Dokken siting here. However, sadly I can’t say this performance did anything good for me at all unfortunately.

First let’s cover the good stuff – Mick Brown is still pounding the skins on the drums and he was most entertaining back there. Equally entertaining was Jon Levin on guitar, who has the not so enviable job of filling George Lynch’s shoes on those classic songs – he does a fine job and pretty much nailed what was needed every time. I don’t remember the bassist (Mark Boals) at all, and it seems he is relatively new to the ranks, having joined in late 2014, but he clearly did a fine job. So well done band members…

Now turning to Don Dokken, it is sometimes hard to accept that time hasn’t been kind, but in this case, when you are the frontman of a band, and a band that carries your name, I think you need to be very realistic about how things are going. In this case, Don’s voice just isn’t up to snuff on many of these songs. For example, “The Hunter” and Dream Warriors” in particular were both vocal train-wrecks. To be honest I kind of zoned Don out for the rest of the performance which perhaps was just a coping mechanism kicking in. For me, my lasting impression was one of disappointment with Don letting himself down like this. It was a bit like watching a Karaoke show, where the music was spot on, but the vocals ranged from just about OK, to dismal… (Score: 4/10)

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The End

And that was the end of day 1 for us… Wait you are screaming! WHAT ABOUT KIX? Didn’t Kix headline? This was the M3 Kix-off party after all, wasn’t it? Ah, yes, this is true, but the fact of the matter is if you’ve seen Kix once (let alone every M3 plus a few other shows out and about), then you’ve basically seen the show that is about to happen. Now I do like their recorded music, I do like the live music, but…not so much the in-between banter and jokes. Cringe. Also the fact that the M3 folks felt that Kix deserved 1 hour and 40 minutes for their set, longer than the main headliner the next day and anyone else at the whole festival seemed a bit excessive. Would this festival suffer if Kix did not appear at all? How about Tom Kiefer/Cinderella headline Friday night? I think that would have been killer… I would have stayed for that.

Next up – M3 Day2!

Anvil – Live Review – Café 611, Fredrick, MD (2/6/15)

Posted in Gig Reviews with tags , , , , , on February 19, 2015 by novametalreview

Lips w/Red Lips-O-Matic

Strangely I thought I had previously reviewed Anvil in a club setting, but now I’ve checked I see I’ve only reported on them once before as part of the bill of the “Heavy Metal Heaven” Sandy Hurricane benefit concert, so it definitely time to fix this. Now, I have to say this is the fourth time I’ve seen Anvil headline a venue, and all but one of these could have been a scene taken directly from the Anvil movie, “Anvil! The Story of Anvil”. If you haven’t seen the movie, I recommend you take care of that immediately – it’s definitely worth a couple of hours of your time, and reveals the raw underbelly of the ins and outs of being in a band. The harsh reality that so many musicians have to deal with is brought sharply into focus. Obviously you need to make up your own mind, but one of my most enduring thoughts after seeing it was the incredible friendship-bond that exists between Steve “Lips” Kudlow (guitar/vocals) and Robb Reiner (drums), which has survived some 37 years of Anvil ups and downs.

I won’t drag the entire Anvil history out for a retrospective here, but the debut release, “Hard ‘n’ Heavy”, in 1981, still remains to this day one of my favorite heavy metal records. It’s raw, uncluttered and relatively unsophisticated (as it should be), and gets right to the core of what heavy metal should be all about. The next two albums, “Metal on Metal” and “Forged in Fire” are seen as seminal roots for many heavy metal/thrash bands, often cited as hugely influential, but during this time, the band was basically screwed due to management and record company wrangling’s that took all the momentum from the band and basically ship-wrecked them. In fact I think if you ever wanted to award a trophy for the band that looked to be on the brink of massive success and then had it all thrown away, you’d find it hard to not list Anvil as a candidate.

Anvil are currently fifteen albums in now, but I have to say the last album, “Hope In Hell”, was a bit of a disappointment. The previous two, “This Is Thirteen” and “Juggernaut of Justice” were quite entertaining, so there’s definitely still life in the old dog. One thing that is often forgotten is that Anvil was originally a four-piece, with a second guitarist, but the band has been a 3-piece since 2006, which is relatively recent. I don’t know why, but whenever I think of them, it always seems to be the power trio that comes to mind. Now, personnel have been changing, really meaning the bass player… Over the past years I’ve now seen three different faces behind the bass, with the most recent departure being Sal Italiano, who I assume left shortly prior to this most recent tour. In fact, I wasn’t aware of this at all, for this most recent gig, so I was caught by surprise, when he didn’t take to the stage… In his place is “new guy” Chris Robertson, who I believe has been the man behind some of the more recent studio efforts by the band, though I may have that a little mixed up. However that came about, I will say that Chris did a great job and the band sounded excellent, and definitely are firing on all cylinders.

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Turning to the show, this was taking place not far from the NoVAMetal home base, up in Fredrick, MD, some 30 miles to the North of base-camp, which was a nice change from some of the longer treks we’ve been on recently. However, there seemed to be about seven bands on the bill for the night, so we targeted the 10:30PM set time (I think it was) listed for Anvil, and headed up there arriving around 9PM or so. According to the website, there was an hint that food at the venue (which is listed as a Café) should be OK, but in actuality, the menu, at least in the bar, seemed pretty wanting, so we headed out and went over the road to another bar to eat. Once that was taken care of, we headed back and caught the last half-set by Lord Dying, which I have to say sounded a way lot better then they looked – not a band to draw you in visually at all, but they had some nice heavy metal going on. Once their set was done we bought their two CDs and both are a good listen. Check ‘em out if you get the chance. They hail from Portland, Oregon, and you can find more about them here: http://lorddying.bandcamp.com/

LordDying

So, the stage was cleared, Robb Reiner’s twin-kick drum kit was installed, and after a brief sound check, Lips ambled on stage and yelled into his very sharp-looking Oktober Guitars (http://www.oktoberguitars.com/) “Lips-O-Matic” Flying V (which is a hollow-body guitar) asking if we were ready to rock! We were of course, but as I looked around, despite obvious enthusiasm, the reality that there was only may be 40 people total in the audience was obvious. Now, this never phases Anvil and I’ve seen them play to less, but WHY? They are a great band live, and certainly deserve better support. I guess I just don’t get it? Where are all you metal fans? This was a Friday night, so you can’t pull that “Monday night and I’ve got work tomorrow…” line on me here. May be nostalgia is coloring my vision here, but when Anvil have a full venue to play to, there is heavy metal magic in the air. I know they sell out venues in New York and up North, so it’s a pity more folks don’t make an effort. I guess I should call it “your loss”…

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I didn’t keep a set list, but I think they opened with “666” from Metal On Metal, and then pulled one of my favorites from Hard ‘n’ Heavy out of the catalog with “School Love”. The band were sounding very sharp and the “new guy” on bass was holding the bottom-end together very nicely, also throwing in some on-point backing vocals. I did mange to get some video from later in the set, the first of which was “On Fire” which you can see here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9Q75HVXRi00 from Juggernaut Of Justice. This is a nice show case for Robb and Chris, with some tight work on this double-kick drum driven track.

This was followed by Thumb Hang (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=69dxghFInA8) and then, what for me is a highlight of the evening, Swing Thing which includes one of the most entertaining drum solos you will hear in rock, from the mighty Robb Reiner (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_BuOfJurL0s). At some point, I think before the start of Thumb Hang, Lips switched to a brand new, just delivered by the Oktober Guitars crew, beautiful red Lips-O-Matic Flying V – this was the most stunning looking guitar I have seen in a long time. Outstanding work there! Unfortunately, due to the poor light in the venue I don’t have a picture that does the guitar justice, but it is a great looking instrument.

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The set continued with a “Hope In Hell”, “Eat Your Words” (I think) and closed with “Metal On Metal”, which was an obvious crowd pleaser. There was a half-baked call for an encore, but it was fairly clear that the thinned out crowd would have to make a truck-load more noise to entice the fellas back out and the evening’s entertainment was done. After the show, the band did a paid meet’n’greet which I think was a $30 experience (or was it $40?), which seems a bit steep, but then again I understand the band is trying to make money, however, the very people that have already driven to see you, paid their entry money, bought food and drink and may be some merch, then gets screwed again… I think three people paid for this honor. However, we hung out and as I pretty much expected, Robb wandered out of the band area and we had a great chat with him, then spoke with Chris for a bit and finally talked guitars for few minutes with Lips. To be fair we’ve met Lips and Robb several times before so they know us, which helps, but bands might want to re-think this paid-for-meet-n-greet, because it’s not really a fan winner. I think I’d be much more inclined to spend more on merch if I knew the band would be out after the show to chat and sign stuff, without the $30 cost. When all’s said and done, I had a good time. I do think that Anvil would benefit from going out with an ‘equal’ on the bill, to draw a bigger combined crowd, which is no ‘disrespect’ to Lord Dying in this instance, but something like Anvil and Raven, or Anvil and The Rods for example, where the combined draw would double up and more in terms of audience. For now though, if you get the chance go see the mighty Anvil, they won’t disappoint. My score is a steady 8/10.

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Blue Oyster Cult – Live Review – Tally Ho, Leesburg (1/31/15)

Posted in Gig Reviews with tags , , , , , , , on February 13, 2015 by novametalreview

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There are very few metal/hard rock bands that somehow have managed to successfully miss my attention over the years and Blue Oyster Cult (BOC) is one of those in this elite. To be honest, aside from “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper”, I think I would be hard pushed to name any of their songs, let alone albums… Yep, I’m sure most of you just crossed me off your Christmas list and quit reading this about a sentence back. I know, I know, shame on me!

Well, fortunately I have been able to rectify this, with the recent BOC show at our fast-becoming-favorite-venue, the Tally Ho in Leesburg, VA. First a plug for the venue – if you haven’t been to a show at the Tally Ho yet, don’t be shy – this is a GREAT venue to see a band. The stage is nice and high, the sound system is loud and clear, and the main floor area slopes nicely from front to back, allowing pretty much anyone to get a decent view of the stage and parking is right next door. And, if you want to spend a little more, you can splurge on VIP tickets and enjoy a table and seats on the balcony, which I think gets you drinks service to boot.

BOC are one of those near ‘fixtures’ of the hardrock/metal world, having been around since 1967 (originally as Soft White Underbelly… catchy, eh?) and then BOC from 1969 on. Now it’s not surprising, given that period spans 48 years, that the band isn’t made up of all original members – that would be an almost miracle – but the band in fact does retain two originals who I regard as the core and roots – namely Eric Bloom (lead vocals and guitar) and Donald “Buck Dharma” Roser (lead guitar). One aspect that bothers me is it does seem disappointing that BOC have essentially been dormant on the recording side for a very long time now, with their last album release being back in 2001.

Anyway, pretty much as soon as the show was announced I snapped up a pair of tickets – a piece of advice – the Tally Ho seem to have a habit of notching up the price of tickets, the closer to the show date you purchase them, so if you can, be sure to get them at the “advance purchase” price, which seems to typically save you something like $5-$10 off the regular price and even more of the “day-of-show” door price.

Of course, I also had some listening to do, to catch-up on my lack of BOC album collection… thank you YouTube ‘complete album’ videos that seem to exist for nearly every band in the world now.

The opening band for this show… I think I better stop. As a young lad I was told, if you can’t say something nice, better to say nothing at all. Let’s just leave that I was glad when they stopped…

The moment BOC stepped on stage, there was magic to seen and heard. The sound was sharp from the opening number, backing vocals and harmonies were spot-on and most importantly, at least for me, the band genuinely looked like they were having a fun time. The crowd was immediately with the band and the venue was sold out and perhaps a little more, so it was full, but not unpleasantly so. I did notice toward the end it did thin out just a little, but then again this is suburban Leesburg (bites tongue!)!

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They opened with “OD’d on Life Itself”, which got it’s first live play back in 1973, which when you stop to think is quite amazing – this song has been making the rounds for over 40 years, which was then followed by “Before the Kiss, a Redcap” which reaches back one year earlier to 1972. Even I was a young kid when these songs were first played, which I think makes me feel somewhat old now. Uggh!, I need to shake that off sharpish. But, the great thing was none of these older tracks seemed to be carrying the years and sounded bright and cranking’ in a very rock’n’roll way. I think it was from the second song on that Buck switched to his “Cheeseberger” Steinberger guitar, which is cool looking.

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Initially my attention was focused on Buck and Eric, who both sounded great incidentally as they swapped lead vocal roles, but it wasn’t long before I started paying attention to Richie Castellano who I had initially pegged as the keyboard player (being a BOC newbie…), but was blown away by his lead guitar playing. Wow, can he shred! Obviously Buck takes the majority of the lead work, but Richie is a monster in his own right. Having figured that out, I then noticed the bass work was pretty damned awesome too – Kasim Sulton is the fella behind the four string (or was it five?) and here’s a chap with a musical history that would fill a fairly large book, and not a page would be anything other than mesmerizing – Meatloaf, Joan Jett, Patty Smyth, Todd Rundgren, Steve Stevens Atomic Playboys, Indigo Girls, and many more, fill his resume to the brim. Of course all this is tied together by the drummer and here Jules Radino does an excellent job. The following video from the show includes both Kasim and Jules being featured during their solo spots: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R2UrEdXRTzo

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As you can see and hear from the video the band is sound amazing these days and there’s really not much to say other than if you ever get a chance to see them – DO IT. You can find the full set list here: http://www.setlist.fm/setlist/blue-oyster-cult/2015/tally-ho-leesburg-va-3cad9ef.html

Here’s a couple more videos – ME262 (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xH3o7veAUr8) and the majority of (Don’t Fear) The Reaper which closed the set (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ier-czm7QKk&feature=youtu.be). I think anyone would be hard pushed to say they weren’t anything other than sounding amazing.

After a short break and a lot of yelling and stamping of feet from the crowd, the band were back on stage for another 3 tracks, which started with “In Thee” which I think was a crowd request and pretty much unplanned, given the band seemed to have to figure a few things out before getting started – it sounded killer. Overall I think they played for over 1.5 hours and I didn’t see a single person after the show with anything to say other then gushing greatness. Scoring such an iconic band is a little meaningless, but since that’s what I do, it’s simple – 10/10

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Extreme – Live Review – Baltimore Soundstage (1/25/15)

Posted in Gig Reviews with tags , , , , , on January 29, 2015 by novametalreview

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The last time I saw Extreme was at the M3 Festival in Columbia MD, last year (see here for a reminder: http://wp.me/p2hj3p-6A), where they just about blew the place apart with a killer set and left the tattered remains for Kix to close the evening, which, in my humble opinion was a task far beyond their abilities. Why anyone would choose to follow Extreme still leaves me scratching my head to this day. I guess ego is a hard thing to swallow? Either way, Extreme were amazing last year and, as soon as I saw this show announced, I was ready for more. An extra enticement was the fact that this was the 25th anniversary of the epically good Pornograffitti record and the plan was to play the entire album end-to-end. So, off we set for Baltimore, despite dire warnings of grim weather and more. The good news was no support band, so the show time of 9PM meant we could have dinner before the show with no need to hang around waiting for some unknown support act to wrap up their set – with the added bonus of an anticipated reasonable finish time for whole evening. Despite the hour plus drive home a decent nights sleep seemed on the cards.

I wasn’t really sure what the turn out on a Sunday night might be, and previous shows at Baltimore Soundstage had what I will call a rather “soft” attendance, but as we turned into the very conveniently located parking lot (which is actually above the venue itself), there was a line that stretched from the entrance around the corner, so, despite the fact tickets were still for sale on the door, it was clear this was going to be a packed audience. After eating, despite the doors opening, the line was still around the corner, so interest in the show was high. As we entered, it was clear that the audience was almost exclusively of the older generation, presumably original fans from the 90’s. Apart from a few kids dragged along by their parents, I don’t think there was anyone in the audience under 30!

Once we made it inside, it was clear this was the biggest audience I’ve ever seen at Soundstage, so we shuffled our way all the way over to the far side and found a fairly decent spot wedged against the bar, maybe the equivalent of 6 or 7 rows from the front, which gave us a decent, if not optimum view. The only disadvantage of this was the fact that Nuno Bettencourt plays on stage left….the opposite side, but at least that would encourage me to tear my eyes off his fretboard and pay attention to the show.

A few minutes after the advertised start time of 9PM, the house lights dimmed and shortly followed by the background music from the PA, and before you could really draw a breath Gary, Nuno, Pat and Kevin were pedal to the metal into “Decadence Dance”. The advantage of not having to deal with a support-band messing up the sound was obvious from the get-go, with an almost perfect mix from the very first note. I say almost, because I did notice that Nuno’s guitar was a little buried in the mix for part of that first track, but that was quickly sorted, and I’m sure the difference between an empty venue and a near sold out one. From that point on the mix was as good as you could get.

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Obviously the track listing for this part of the show was no surprise, but the energy flowing off the stage was great to see and the band was simply on fire. It is easy to be distracted by Nuno Bettencourt’s blazing guitar playing, and rightly so, but from our stage-right vantage point I as able to soak in the equally virtuoso bass playing from Pat Badger and the quite exceptional drumming of Kevin Figueiredo. I’m not sure how Extreme manage this, but the drum sound is always exceptional, both live and on record, and tonight was no different. Equally impressive was the way all the instruments in the band had their own “space” to work within, which is less easy to achieve, but a good lesson for any band to think about. I was able to focus at will on the bass, guitar or drums, without at any time feeling they were stepping on each other, while still presenting a totally cohesive “sound”.

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Another most notable feature were the pin-sharp harmony backing vocals from Pat and Nuno, which is another art form that is getting harder to find these day. Of course, without the lead vocals from Gary Cherone the band wouldn’t be “Extreme” and Gary is in fine voice these days, but furthermore he is in fine frontman form and leads the inevitable crowd sign-a-long when they get to “More Than Words”. You can see my video of the track here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KHxTYLBZAoU&feature=youtu.be

Just to be sure you get a dose of the heavier side of Extreme, of which there was plenty on offer throughout the night, here’s a video of “Money (In God we trust)”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W-Qrd1cp494&feature=youtu.be As you can see and hear the band is sounding amazing and even from our offset position, which of course is less than optimum relative to the sound desk, the clarity and overall great mix made this a great night for all in attendance.

Nuno Bettencourt delivered a ripping version of “Flight of the Wounded Bumblebee” which of course is the intro to “He-Man Woman Hater”, and despite having seen this last year at M3, it never get’s old. He is such a natural player and never seems to struggle in the least. However, for me, it was Nuno’s masterful display on the acoustic guitar later in the set with a blinding version of “Midnight Express” from the Waiting for the Punchline album that had me spellbound. With some guitar players taking the spotlight for a solo is a bit like watching a high dive at the Olympics, with an intense sense of anticipation, a moment where you seem to hold your breath and then a short burst of concentrated energy, but with Nuno, the whole experience flows in a very organic, natural way – there’s much less drama, and way more involvement somehow. Ultimately he makes everything he does on a guitar look ridiculously easy, which, of course, it totally isn’t. I don’t really go for “best” lists, but I will say that Nuno is certainly in my top five when it comes to guitar players.

Once the Pornograffitti set was complete, the night was finished off with an “encore” of six additional tracks (including the afore mentioned “Midnight Express”), which opened with “Play With Me” and closed with personal favorite “Cupid’s Dead”. When all was said and done we had roughly 2 hours of excellent entertainment, from a band that clearly were enjoying themselves. So, to close this was a great evening, and I can only encourage anyone who has the chance to go and see Extreme to make the effort – you won’t be disappointed. If there is one negative I can think of bringing up, it would be the desire for new material. There was talk of a new album, originally slated for 2011, that was then delayed to 2012… I guess that is still a work-in-progress of sorts. Anyway, a great night and my score is close-to-perfect 9.5/10.

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