Archive for March, 2013

Queensryche – Live Review – The Longbranch, Raleigh, NC – 3/23/13

Posted in Gig Reviews with tags , , , , , , on March 29, 2013 by novametalreview

The “Queensryche” story took a nasty turn last year, leading to an acrimonious split leaving Geoff Tate standing on one side of a courtroom, facing his three former corporation partners and band-mates, Scott Rockenfield, Michael Wilton and Eddie Jackson. I don’t intend to reiterate the story here, except to note for now there are two versions of Queensryche, one with Tate and a collection of hired hands, and the other with the original three members, plus Parker Lundgren who joined in 2009, and the most recent member, Todd La Torre on vocals. While the story will remain unsaid here, it would be impossible to ignore the situation, but trust me; I have tried to keep the animosity out of what follows.

Queensryche fans are a passionate bunch, with some falling hard on the side of Tate, while others have thrown their support behind the La Torre fronted version (from here onwards referred to simply as Queensryche in this article). The true diehard fans reading this will know that Tate was not an ‘original’ member and basically was brought in as a session singer for the self-funded/self-titled EP that broke the band. It was only after the EP had sold a significant number of copies and received worldwide praise that Tate would leave his band “Myth” and join Queensryche as a full member. Shortly after this the band were signed to a 15-year/7-album deal with EMI. My point here is that Queensryche were never the “Geoff Tate band” which the impression you get from some people when they discuss the current situation.

However you view it, the first five albums put out in the period 1984 through 1994 are classic metal albums that should have a home in every rock fans collection. Following this period and perhaps facilitated by Chris DeGarmo’s departure in 1997, the bands releases have become increasingly inconsistent, as have the live performances from the band. My opinion on this is that Geoff Tate was never a “metal-head” rocker at his core, and I think some of his solo work really takes us to a place he is more comfortable with, but that’s pure speculation on my part.

Anyway, Queensryche have been gigging consistently since the split with Todd La Torre out front, and have been receiving much praise and solid support. Despite a pretty busy schedule they also found time in the past 12 months to record a new album due for release this coming June. As soon as I heard my favorite promoter, Marty Burns, had booked Queensryche to play The Longbranch in Raleigh, NC, I was ready to hit the road and find out for myself. So, this is where we found ourselves last Saturday, making the 300 mile ride down I-95 to see what I hoped would be the re-born Queensryche.

Also on the bill were three other local bands, Devyce, Dark Design and Widow, but I’m going to save reviews for these for another time, since I think I have plenty to cover with Queensryche alone, however I will say they all did a fine job of warming up the crowd and by the time Widow left the stage The Longbranch was fired up and ready to rock.

Just to set the scene, I feel it’s only right to let you all in on a little background here – Queensryche have been consistently in my top 10 bands ever since I first discovered them in the pages of Kerrang! magazine back in 1984, and saw them on their first ever tour of the UK supporting Dio in October ’84. I vividly remember walking into Hammersmith Odeon a few minutes into their set and being totally stunned by how good the band was, the guitar harmonies and searing vocals. However, this is not to say that this is a blind addiction and with the exception of Mindcrime II (2006) I have been increasingly frustrated with the album releases starting with “Hear In The Now Frontier” in 1997. I’m not saying there isn’t some good music in this period, but you have to work much harder to find it.

Just prior to writing this review I revisited the most recent album from the Tate era, “Dedicated To Chaos” and it’s a good record… but it seems to have come from a different band entirely when you stand it up against “Rage For Order” or “Empire” for example. And I don’t think this is just 30 years of evolution – you only have to look at other contemporaries such as Iron Maiden, AC/DC, Y&T, etc, to see that a band can still grow, but not grow away from what made them successful.

Looking back, particularly to the show at the M3 Festival last year, which was the last time I saw Queensryche live, the writing was on the wall, and while the ructions were being contained below the surface, there was a painful vibe from the band that just couldn’t be hidden.

When I read all the details following the split, it all seemed to fit together, and I will close with the thought that I sincerely hope that Geoff Tate finds his place in the music industry – he is one amazingly talented vocalist – however the animosity and vitriol that continues to leak out to the press isn’t helping his case (at least for me) and trying to ‘compete’ the two versions of Queensryche is just sour grapes.

So, we turn to Todd La Torre. What I knew about Todd prior to him joining QR could have been written in one sentence: “Current vocalist for Crimson Glory”. End. So, clearly he was an entity unknown, but when I heard about the Rising West project (which was essentially Queensryche without Tate), and that they were playing only material from the first five QR records, I started a little digging. Given that a lot of Crimson Glory material has similar underpinnings to QR, it wasn’t surprising to me that Todd could handle the QR vocals, but the question was how well? That question was answered emphatically in the first YouTube video I saw – he NAILED IT! Life was back in the QR ranks… What has happened in the past 10 months or so, and the transition from Rising West into the full-time position of Queensryche vocalist continues to be a bit of a roller-coaster ride, but it is great to see the members of Queensryche bind together and move forward, no matter what Geoff Tate might get up to.

So, back to The Longbranch and as Widow cleared the stage we get the first glimpse of the new QR. The stage backdrop was cool with a new skull logo covering both sides of the stage, and anticipation grew as the stage crew knocked off a quick sound check. You could feel the audience was charged with energy and it seemed these few minutes took far longer to pass. I managed to snap a picture of the set list taped to the stage and what a great list it was – see the photo of the signed list below (along with other goodies the band signed…).

So, the wait was over and the night opened with “Queen Of The Reich”, and immediately two things struck me; the first was how comfortable Todd La Torre was, and the second how relaxed the band was – wait a minute? They almost look as if they are enjoying this! In the past this was one of my biggest gripes, particularly in the last 10 years, where I can’t honestly recall anyone except perhaps Geoff Tate smiling. It was all so serious. But tonight there was a different vide altogether. Todd took command of the center stage and just nailed the song and it was hard not find myself drawn back to that first concert, back in 1984 and that feeling of experiencing something very special.

Next up was “Speak” from Mindcrime and at this point the ride was off and running, and it was clear the band were energized and firing on all cylinders, no holds barred. Anyone that had reservations about just how well Todd La Torre could fill Geoff Tate’s shoes should have just forgotten the question at this point since it is a question of no value. Todd is the real deal and the band in front of us is the Queensryche no questions asked.

Over the course of the following 15 songs we were treated to a showcase exclusively from the first five releases of the band that in total broke down as follows: EP 1 track, Rage for Order 2 tracks, The Warning 6 tracks, Mindcrime 5 tracks and 3 from Empire. Despite the new record being “in the can” and listed for a June release we’re going to have to wait for those to debut live. Overall I would say this was a very unique set list since in the future it is inevitable that fewer of the oldies will make it to the stage, so I for one feel privileged to have experienced this.

A few notes on the performances from the band. Scott Rockenfield has always been an exceptional drummer, but I think this show was the best I have ever seen him. There was an energy and dynamic that seemed to bring a particular snap to his snare drum and punch to the kicks. I’m going to lump Eddie Jackson and Michael Wilton together and say one thing – I saw them both SMILE. Not something I could have ever written from any previous QR concert, but they were clearly enjoying the new spirit of the band and what they were feeling from the audience. Nice.

And, last, but not least, for those with instruments on stage, Parker Lundgren. Now, I have to admit, previously I have not really been 100% convinced with regards to Parker in the band. The story regarding how he ended up in the band seemed to be more of the Geoff Tate shenanigans, having something to do with dating and subsequently marrying (and then later divorcing) Tate’s step-daughter, and lo, behold, Parker is in the band… but I was converted at The Longbranch. In the past, he seemed to operate in his own little space over on the left side of the stage, but for this show he was far more integrated into the show and his playing was spot on, perfectly complementing Michael Wilton.

So, this leaves Todd La Torre. Basically there is little to say. He already has become and integral part of Queensryche and I would attribute the energy and passion that the band is now displaying almost entirely to Todd and what he has brought to the band. Revitalized is the word I would use. His vocals were spot on all night and he never missed a note. Check out the video below – my wife was down at the very front of the stage and had the trusty iPhone out and was videoing as the band started “Eye’s Of A Stranger”. Todd noticed her, checked the camera was running and took it for a walk around the stage before carefully returning it to her. What a priceless moment.

At the end of the evening all I could think was this was by far the best I had ever seen the band since that very first time in 1984. Back then everything was new and the energy running through the band was brought about by the discovery that the music the band was bringing was being soaked up by the fans – a young band that was about to make it big. This time around we had that same energy back, with the band rediscovering that the music that launched them was still as vital and enthralling as it was nearly 30 years ago, but with the added bonus that nearly everyone in the audience knew almost every word of every song!

I will go and see the Geoff Tate band in a couple of months when they make it through the D.C. area, because to judge without witnessing would be hypocritical, but it will be an incredibly tall order to get anywhere near what Queensryche managed to bring last weekend. I do wish Geoff Tate the best of luck, but Queensryche are back, they are on fire and I anticipate the new record with great expectation. My score for the show 10/10.


Swag signed by the band after the show



Live Review – Lexx Luthor – The Berkley Café, Raleigh, NC – 3/16/13

Posted in Gig Reviews with tags , , , on March 20, 2013 by novametalreview

With Dark Design

Occasionally I stumble upon a band that I just cannot understand why great things have not happened to them and that is exactly what I feel about Lexx Luthor. However, there is one important point about Lexx (we’ll keep it short ‘cause we’re friends ok?), and that would be they are a cover band. Uhggg! Normally I would stop right there but let me explain…

I’ve hinted at my disdain for tribute bands in previous reviews and it might be hard to see why that might be any different for a band playing exclusively covers, right? Well, for me, a tribute band is a bit like taking a Toyota Corolla and tearing off all the bodywork and grafting a Ferrari-like body kit on top. Give a quick glance and it seems about right, but any closer inspection reveals the truth. Sure, it’s fun party-time entertainment, but even if done extremely well, it doesn’t excite me. The necessary horsepower just isn’t there. I’m surely not going to drive 600 mile round-trip for that. However, I’ve seen Lexx Luthor three times now and for the most recent show they were the headline act. To be fair there was another good reason to make that trip, but I surely wouldn’t be writing this review if the band headlining had been one of the tribute acts making the rounds.

So, that still doesn’t explain why a “cover band” might be treated any differently? Well, to continue my car analogy, what we have here with Lexx is a home-built sports car, but in this case every bit as good as a Ferrari, Porsche, Aston Martin, you name it, and in fact appears to be any one of those cars depending on when you happen to look at it, horsepower and all! Now, I will grant you there is one aspect missing and that is the home grown creativity you find in a original act, but, kind of like iTunes, sometimes ‘shuffle-mode’ is just what you’re looking for. That’s what Lexx delivers and they deliver with style.

But, before we continue with Lexx, a quick mention for the opening act, “Dark Design”. This was my first introduction to them, and the sum total of my knowledge about them was that I will be seeing them again in a few short days when they on the bill to support Queensryche when they play Raleigh, NC on March 23rd. My first impression of them was a good one, with the band being a tight technical thrash/power-thrash sort-of-thing. At times some of the guitar interplay reminded me of Iron Maiden on mega-steroids. Their singer, Andrew Bertrand was energetic and powerful, and at one point was off the stage into the crowd singing and then sprinted off to the bar to fetch the bass player a much-needed Rolling Rock. That’s taking care of your band-mates! Since this was such a quick intro to them, I’ll reserve a few more column inches when I write the Queensryche review for the coming show this weekend.

Turning back to Lexx now, this band has existed for almost 30 years, having originally formed back in 1984! That’s some history for a band of this type. Now, I’m far from qualified to write Lexx’s bio, having come very late to this particular party, but my understanding is that Todd Jackson is the surviving original member in the current line-up, and it may be that for some part of the last 29 years Lexx didn’t exist or was dormant. Anyway the current line-up is a killer one comprising, Tony Rock (lead-vocals), Todd Jackson (guitar and part-time lead-vocals), Danny O’Rourke (guitar), Scott Davis (bass and part-time lead-vocals) and Greg Evans (drums). The life-blood that runs through the heart of Lexx is extremely well played heavy metal covers – anything from Metallica, Motorhead, Metal Church, Megadeth… wait, it’s not just bands beginning with the letter ‘M’! Throw in some Iron Maiden, Deep Purple, Saxon, Dio, Thin Lizzy, Queensryche, Judas Priest and more. You get the idea, right?

If I had to write a one-line sentence to explain Lexx Luthor it would be this: “Seeing Lexx Luthor is like going to a concert where 20 of your favorite bands all get to play one killer song”. If I was allowed a second sentence I would add: “You’ll walk out of the gig with a big smile, a sore neck and have lost half your voice from singing along, but man, you will have had a blast!” And that in a nutshell sums up last Saturday. Now I have the setlist from the gig, well actually it is two setlists since all the songs wouldn’t fit on one sheet of paper, but it’s not to hand as I am writing this (I’ll add a picture to this article when I get a chance), but unless I’m mistaken they played for some 2 hours or perhaps it was more and every song was awesome. The band is tight, heavy and smacks you straight between the eyes with power and passion. It’s hard to explain, but many bands playing covers seem to defer to the original in a way that just comes over as timid, but Lexx have none of that, and deliver great versions of everything they tackle. Below you will find some links with video taken by our good friend David McGowan from the show, so you can see what I mean.

A quick word on vocals with this band. You will have noticed that I listed three vocalists and this is one of the exceptional things about the band. All three are A-list vocalists, but the band cleverly fits the songs to the style best suited to one of the three, so for a Queensryche number Tony will take center-stage, while Todd will take Metallica and Scott Megadeth for example. Now, I have to say that Tony is an exceptional vocalist and is one of the few vocalists I have ever seen that can nail “Queen of the Ryche” by Queensryche for example. Not an easy song to pull off. However, as you will see from the videos, it doesn’t matter who is taking the vocal, they all are excellent.

Another highlight for me is the gentleman on the lead guitar – Danny O’Rourke. If he would just stand still long enough I’d take and post a picture (actually I might have a couple I managed to sneak), but Danny is a superb guitarist and nails so many solos from bands and guitarists with a wide variety of styles. That’s not to say Todd is any slouch when it comes to the guitar either and they trade licks across the stage in songs like “2 Minutes To Midnight” in perfect balance. Holding down the rhythm section is Scott Davis on bass and the exceptional Greg Evans on drums. With Scott on vocals I particularly like his version of ‘Dave Mustaine’ on “Peace Sells, Who’s Buying”, complete with Mustain ‘snarl’, and I have to say he’s a wicked bass player to go with it.

As I sit here writing this, I’m trying to find any negatives, but this lot are one of those rare breeds that simply are what they are. There’s no pretension or expectation of greater things, there’s no ego (in fact you would be very hard pushed to find a nicer bunch of people in ANY band) and a genuine desire to entertain to the maximum. About the only thing anyone could complain about is that they didn’t do a song from a band that they particularly wanted to hear. My response to that would be “go ask them!” Lexx have a set list that, if they played every song, would run about 4 hours or so, and it’s my bet they probably do know something by that band you so desperately want to hear, at least if you can legitimately call it heavy metal. Anyway, to close, if you ever get the chance to see Lexx Luthor my recommendation is GO SEE THEM. I cannot imagine anyone being disappointed. Currently Lexx Luthor really only play around the Raleigh, NC, area so your options to see them might be limited, but they are surely worth it. My score for the show this weekend: 9/10

Tony Rock - lead vocals

Tony Rock – lead vocals

Saxon – Sacrifice – Review

Posted in Album Reviews with tags , , , , , on March 12, 2013 by novametalreview

Release: 26 March 2013 in the United States

There’s a part of me saying “Don’t bother, it is what it is…”, but the Saxon fan inside won’t let me pass up the chance to offer an opinion on the 20th studio album from one of ‘the’ iconic NWOBHM bands still making music. While many would argue that Iron Maiden and Judas Priest took the NWOBHM to the highest level, the last 5 or 6 album releases from Saxon have easily eclipsed anything from Maiden or Priest in the last 10-15 years, at least in my book. The previous Saxon release, 2011’s “Call To Arms” was an exceptional record and the tour that went with it was a showcase for all that is good with live heavy metal.

While Saxon are far from a stadium band in the USA, this provides an amazing opportunity to see one of the world’s greatest heavy metal bands up close and personal. Saxon may be headlining festivals like Wacken in Germany in front of 86,000 fans (2011), but in the US they were touring venues with a capacity of 500 or so – and blowing the roof of everywhere they visited, if the two dates I saw were any measure of the tour. I can only hope we see the same again in 2013.

Prior to the release of Sacrifice there were a few pre-release interviews that indicated the band was taking a ‘back to the roots’ approach, which I must admit I was a little confused over since, for me at least, Call To Arms had already done that. In thinking about writing this review I obviously went on an all out Saxon binge session for a few days, and I have to say that Call To Arms (CTA) was an extremely good record. I’m going to resist the urge to re-review that record, but I will say if you don’t have a copy, GO BUY ONE RIGHT NOW!

The exact quote from Biff (Saxon lead singer, as if you didn’t already know…) was this: “Less tricks, more power! My brief to the band was to be raw, be real and not be afraid to look back at the old classic material for inspiration.” I’m not sure I really understand why this was felt to be necessary? If there were any “tricks” on CTA, then I’m blind-sided by them and if “Back in 79”, “Chasing the Bullet” (one of my all time favorite Saxon live tracks) and the opener, “Hammer of the Gods”, aren’t back to basics then I clearly am misreading what Saxon are all about. Well, it is either that or perhaps Sacrifice didn’t quite meet Biff’s guidance.

So, what do we get with Sacrifice? Well to start the basic record lists 10 tracks, of which the opener is a 1 minute and 46 second long intro… so in reality the main disk only contains 9 tracks with a run time of 37 minutes and 45 seconds or thereabouts. In one respect this is back to the old classic material, at least in terms of run time. One bright spot – the tracks will easily fit onto an LP… The CD version I bought was the “deluxe” that included an additional 5-track ‘bonus’ disk, which carries a selection of re-recorded tracks, giving us another 22 minutes of music. I will say that the booklet format for the deluxe edition is extremely well executed and is a very nice piece of work.

Once we are past the extended intro, we are into the title track, “Sacrifice”, which is a mid-pace stomper and I’m guessing will be the opener for the live shows. This is good stuff. Solid Saxon, with a crisp and sharp modern edge to the guitar sound, while the double kick-drum work from Nigel Glockler punches through nicely. Holding everything together we have the excellent bass work of Nibbs Carter. All in all the production on the record is tight, as you would expect at the deft hands of Andy Sneap who produced the last two Accept albums, the exceptional “Dark Roots of Earth” from Testament and a long list from Megadeth, Exodus and many more. So, no complaints on that front. I should mention that the video for Sacrifice is really good and certainly gives much more than a nod in the direction of classic MTV video offerings from “back in the day”. Well worth checking out on YouTube if you haven’t already. See:

Next up we have “Made in Belfast” which certainly follows in the tradition of storytelling that Biff has often used before, this time the subject is the shipyards of Belfast around the time when the Titanic was built. Pulling on the workingman background that runs so deeply through the blood in Biff’s veins, this is another mid-paced number, that is lifted by the addition of a mandolin both as the lead-in intro and mid-way through the track.

“Warriors of the Road” brings us a theme that was previously explored a little in the Nigel Glocker/Doug Scarett side-project, “Mad Men and English Dogs” with the track “Hello Murray!”, namely motor racing. This is a faster track with a neat hammer on sort of riff on the main guitar part. Nigel Glocker is a big Formula One fan and wears F1 style driving boots when he is drumming… I think he is a big fan of Felipe Masa (Ferrari), if I recall correctly.

Now it’s about just about here in the proceedings when the wind seems to slacken off. Perhaps a better way of putting it would be that the autopilot was switched on… Now, don’t get me wrong, nothing that follows the third track is a bad song and by most bands standards the remaining six tracks would be ‘good stuff’, but, while on Call To Arms we had nice change of pace, in the shape of “Mists of Avalon”, which was then followed by the poignant “Call to Arms”, here on Sacrifice we continue with a series of five roughly mid-paced tracks, none of which pops me between the eyes. I hate to even think of the term “fillers’ but for a band of the caliber of Saxon, I was expecting more.

Finally we get to the last track on the main CD, rather bizarrely titled “Standing in a Queue” (translated into American, “Standing in a Line”) – yeah, like at an amusement park or at the bank, or something. I’ve seen other reviews compare this track to something AC/DC might write, but I don’t see it. Personally I’ve got this image of Biff standing inline at the Post Office or supermarket and getting a little pissed off. It just seems so trivial. It’s such an odd way to close the album, and has the feel of a B-side for those that can remember 45’s, or something released on the websites for fan club members.

I won’t spend a lot of time here on the bonus disk, and I’m sure the true fans will suck this up for the change in perspective this gives, but again it’s not all sweetness and light. I was pretty excited to see this CD opened with new orchestral version of Crusader, since the orchestral version of “Call to Arms” was quite magnificent. Unfortunately where Call to Arms was so well executed, I’m not convinced the same was carried out with Crusader. To me the orchestral parts simply seem like a nice digital keyboard, which is a far cry from a full or even partial orchestra. It comes across as a tad tacky to my ears. I think this would be amazing with an real orchestra, but here it falls flat. I’d give it an A+ for potential, but a C for execution. The rest of the bonus disk is all perfectly good stuff.

As you can probably tell, overall I was disappointed. Where “Call to Arms” blew my socks off, here my socks are firmly attached. As I said, the overall impression isn’t bad in any identifiable way, but it certainly isn’t one of great excitement. My score overall 7.5/10.

Sister Sin – Now And Forever – Review

Posted in Album Reviews with tags , , , on March 5, 2013 by novametalreview

One of the best things about touring with a well established act is the opportunity for ‘new people’ to discover your music and turn into raving fans, and that’s exactly what happened here. Several months ago the Doro tour was announced and this was immediately nailed to the NoVAMetalReview calendar, despite being on the same day as the Superbowl. Having missed Doro on her last pass through Northern VA, I was determined to see her this time around. Also on the bill were NoVAMetalReview favorites “A Sound of Thunder” and I really only paid lip-service to the other act listed, namely “Sister Sin”. Ok, I admit it – silly me…

So on the night of the show A Sound of Thunder opened the night and blew out all the cobwebs in fine fashion, and as soon as they were done, we retired to the back bar to grab something to eat and sample a beer or two. At some point Sister Sin started their set, but for some reason it took about 4 songs before I made it back into the main hall. Damn it… these guys can play! Since I missed so much of the set, I’ll reserve a live review until I get the full story, so let’s catch up on the most recent Sister Sin release.

First, who the hell are “Sister Sin” (S.S.)? Well, they formed back in 2002 and hail from Gothenburg, Sweden, and are a 4-piece. Most notably though, they are fronted by a female singer called Liv Jagrell, who bucks the all too-common, semi-operatic wailing, for a very up-front and conventional in-your-face metal style of vocal. More on that to come. The rest of the band are Jimmy Hiltula on guitar, Strandh on bass (presumably his other name is so unpronounceable to be pointless… my guess!) and Dave Sundberg on drums. None of these names have much of a past as to warrant any great discussion. To date S.S. have four albums to their name, with the first two being independent releases, while the most recent were released on Victory Records worldwide.

“Now And Forever” was actually released last October so I’m running about 4 months behind here, but the big picture is this is an EXCELLENT record. There, I don’t usually let the cat out the bag this early, but I have to say this is one of a very few albums I have on almost constant rotation in the car CD player that I enjoy every time it comes around. Inevitably I find myself cranking it up. And up…

I have struggled to find a good comparison to what S.S. are doing right now and the closest I can find musically is very early Motley Crue – think “Too Fast For Love” and you’d be about right. Taking a technical timeout for a moment, the overall recording quality and mix is excellent. This record works when played quietly and roars when cranked up.

It would be very remiss of me to not mention the excellent lead vocals of Liv Jagrell, because I think without her up front the band would likely be another competent, but not so special metal act. As noted previously, unlike so many female vocalists currently, Liv does not attempt the en-vogue, semi-operatic style, which I find mostly an epic-fail. It can work on one or two tracks, but, once I’m three tracks in, it’s grating and annoying. Fortunately, Liv appears to have been listening to early Vince Neil and perhaps Phil Lewis from LA Guns, and it damn well works. Obviously singing in a foreign language is never easy, but Liv does a fine job and where her accent does make itself heard, it adds a nice twist to the delivery.

As for the 10 tracks on the CD (there are 11 listed, but the first is really just an extended intro), my picks are “End of the Line” which deals with the collapse of society, “Fight Song” which opens with the following, “Fuck you, fuck them and fuck the world too, do I look like some kind of bitch to you…” (awesome and hard to argue with!), “Hang ‘Em High”, and for a change of pace, “Morning After” which starts as a simple piano/vocal affair that allows Liv’s vocal ability to shine in a simpler setting. While I mention these particular songs, there really isn’t a weak number to be found. One thing I do really like is that these are all 3 or 4 minute tracks, with not pretension of grandness. They smack you in the ears, hit hard and know when to quit. Sometimes less is more.

You might note I haven’t really mentioned the musicianship of the individuals in the band (well, OK, excluding lead vocals…), and this isn’t an oversight. While everyone is totally competent, this isn’t a band built around a guitar player or similar; Sister Sin is a rare commodity, such that the sum of the parts, far exceeds to individual contributions. Taken out of context this might be seen as some sort of criticism, but it is meant in the exact opposite; here we have a band where all the pieces fit perfectly and the result is exceptional – so the preceding comment is meant as a complement of the highest standing.

To close here, my recommendation is: GO BUY THIS RECORD. If you like straight forward, no frills metal, in the classic sense you will not be disappointed. For me it’s hard to see how this could be a better record and I’m scoring it a 9.5/10 (the missing 0.5 I’m holding back for the next recording!).

Live Review – FireHouse – The Longbranch, Raleigh NC – 2/22/13

Posted in Gig Reviews with tags , , , , on March 1, 2013 by novametalreview

Also featuring “Brooks Paul”

FireHouse are one of those iconic bands most often associated with the 80s, which is only just true, since they formed in 1989, releasing their namesake debut album in 1990, which by rights disqualifies them from being truly classed as an 80s ‘hairband’. However, no matter what you want to label them, the first two FireHouse albums (“FireHouse” and “Hold Your Fire”) are amazing slices of class rock/metal and certainly in my collection were subject to literally being played to death (I think “FireHouse” is just about the only CD I have actually worn out from overplay and had to buy a second copy!).

FireHouse have continued to be successful over the years and despite the grunge scene pulling the rug from most similar bands, FireHouse have continued to release records and tour the world, particularly finding great success in Asia. All credit to the band for keeping at it and making a living doing what they love doing. To date FireHouse has a discography that totals eight studio albums and one live offering.

This particular concert was an all ages special event, since it was a benefit concert, meaning many folks, FireHouse included, donated their services and time, essentially for free. However this blog isn’t a campaign platform, no matter what cause and how worthy, so moving on to the music, we had a total of four bands appearing, namely “Brooks Paul”, “Out Of The Cellar (Ratt tribute band), Mostley Crue (Motley Crue tribute band) and FireHouse. I’m not really a big ‘tribute band’ fan to be honest, so I’ll keep my thoughts on the middle two bands to myself, but first a word or two about Brooks Paul who opened the evening.

So, Brooks Paul? Who the heck is that? I’m sure the majority reading this haven’t the faintest idea… well let’s start with the eye-popper first: Brooks Paul is 11 years old. Yes! Next… This kid can SING. Really sing. I first became aware of Brooks through a friend posting links to videos of him singing classic rock songs including Led Zep, Foreigner and Journey on YouTube, and he was nailing them. Then some live videos started appearing where the real story was laid bare, and, yes, the kid really can deliver. Having said that, this would be the first chance I had to see Brooks in the flesh, so let’s get to it.

Brooks plays with a full band of adult musicians (which is a good thing in my book), but I can’t help but note that they are not exactly spring chickens. I haven’t really figured out whether this helps or hinders, but the impression visually is a little odd. Brooks himself hit the stage with mirror shades, bandana and blonde hair almost to his waist, and image-wise he’s already hit the nail on the head. Clearly it hasn’t escaped the notice of a few young ladies that he’s as cute as a button and by the end of the first verse there was a clutch of early teen (and younger) girls giving Brooks adoring looks and swooning… nothing wrong with that at all, and perhaps a marker for what is more or less sure to come as his career progresses. I will note though it wasn’t just young ladies watching and the area front of the stage was packed with rock and metal fans of all ages – young to old.

I didn’t keep a track listing and forgot to grab a setlist, so I won’t attempt to list off all the songs Brooks ran through, but we were treated with a selection of Led Zep, Guns’N’Roses (“Welcome To The Jungle”), Journey, and AC/DC (“Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap”). This latter song was for me the best of the night and was as near perfect as you could hope without AC/DC themselves being up on stage.  Brooks obviously is hugely talented and has a natural affinity with the stage and performing. And to wrap this up, included in the set was a Brooks Paul original song, “Rock This Town Tonight”, which is a solid blues-based number, now available on CD as a single. If you want to check this out it’s available on Amazon > .

So, to close the Brooks Paul section of this review, I can only say, “watch this space”! Baring some oddity (not impossible with the music industry), I predict seriously great things for this young man. For me he comes over vocally as a cross between Axl Rose and Bon Scott, minus the bad attitude and affection for a drink or three (Doh! Well obviously…), with a drop of Lou Gramm for good measure. Obviously at age 11 there is a lot of growing up to come, but all the signs are there for stardom. If you get a chance to see Brooks definitely take it.

So, turning to the headliner of the night, there was a definite uptick in anticipation from the crowd as the lights dropped and as the intro for “Hold Your Fire” kicked in over the PA I was certainly ready to be rocked. With not much more than a blink of an eye Allen McKenzie (bass), Bill Leverty (guitar) and Michael Foster (drums) were pounding out the opening riff and there was the man, CJ Snare sounding exactly like he did some 21 years back when the album Hold Your Fire was released. Despite the fact that the band had not played for at least 2 months, everything immediately slotted into place sounding tight and polished.

I don’t often spend many words on individual members of bands I am reviewing (since they are a band…duh!), but this time I’m making an exception. Firstly I must acknowledge just what an amazing drummer Michael Foster is. While the FireHouse recordings clearly capture the essence that Michael brings to the band, this kicks up several notches live. As a guitarist myself I rarely spend too much time focused on the drummer (sorry all you drummers out there…), but not so this time – Michael hits incredibly hard and is so tight timing-wise that he literally powers the band along. No slacking allowed. Unlike some others I could name, he’s not an extrovert in an overly flashy way, but even so he’s twirling sticks and throwing them up with the best of ‘em, but it’s the underlying drive he imposes that is so impressive. I believe he was introduced as Michael “machine gun” Foster at the opening of their set and that’s as good a description as any – certainly his double kick-drum work felt like a machine gun in delivery.

Turning now to Allen McKenzie on bass, we have the only non-original member, being the new-boy of the quartet, having been offered a permanent place in the band back in 2004. Basically Allen takes the foundation laid on the drum kit and adds groove – it’s hard to put into words, but it’s that toe tapping, head-bangin’ thing that ties the bottom end of a tight band together. I think it’s more apparent when this is missing from a band, but FireHouse has plenty. Another important contribution to the sound that is FireHouse comes from the backing vocals and again Alan has this nailed down. I will also add Alan contributed the only laugh of the night, when in the middle of “Here For You” (just after the guitar solo…) CJ stopped the track and announced Alan would now play “the shortest bass solo ever heard”, leading to an 8-note bass break. Ha!

As for Bill Leverty on guitar; he is an exceptional guitar player and, being honest, is much better in the flesh than I might have given him credit from the recorded works. Of course the guitar work on every album is impeccable in delivery and technique, but it’s only when you see him live will you truly appreciate how effortlessly Bill delivers every note. Despite the fact that Bill was on the opposite side of the stage to my vantage point, I followed every riff and every solo, and at least to my ears, he nailed every single song spot on. I had previously seen Bill perform some of his solo work when he opened another benefit concert late last year, and in that setting it was just Bill, his guitar and a backing tape, and, even in this rawest of forms, he all but tore the fretboard off the guitar.

Finally we turn to the front-man of FireHouse , CJ Snare. CJ is something an enigma when compared to many other lead vocalists from the same time period, but only in the most positive of senses – he still sounds exactly the same to this day as he did in 1990 on the debut record. Unlike many others that have run into painful vocal problems (Tom Keifer from Cinderella and Don Dokken, for example), or resorted to reality shows to keep relevant (hello Bret Michaels), CJ is still hitting the high notes and holding the audience in the palm of his hand with raw emotion when delivering tracks like “Love Of A Lifetime” and “When I Look Into Your Eyes”, and pumping it out on “Hold Your Fire” or “All She Wrote”. There is always a risk when the lead vocalist ties himself to the keyboard, but for the couple of songs where this happens it’s hardly noticeable and thinking back now it’s hard to remember any apparent change in momentum or focus.

Taking the sum of the parts, FireHouse delivered a performance that seemed to be just as much fun for the band, as it was for the audience and that is a great vibe to experience. One thing to point out is that FireHouse always come across as a much heavier band live, than you would necessarily think from their albums, particularly some of the more recent offerings. I believe FireHouse have plans for a full (World?) tour later this year so hopefully all reading this will have a chance to see the band. I know there are already some festival dates up on the band website including the M3 Festival in Maryland in May, which will be the next chance I personally have of catching up with the band, and I am really looking forward to it.

There have also been some mutterings about a new FireHouse recording and that would something I would look forward to with great anticipation. A number of other bands with similar backgrounds have turned out some seriously good albums in recent years (Winger – Karma, Night Ranger – Somewhere In California, etc) and I could easily see FireHouse pulling a similar trick. Something reaching back to the roots that gave us “FireHouse” and “Hold Your Fire” would be awesome.

To close, what did I score this show? Well my only compliant would be we didn’t get a long enough set… 9 songs was barely enough, but given this was a benefit concert and coming off a two month layoff I’ll give FireHouse a pass on that… 9/10. Don’t miss them given the chance!


An over-exposed Allen McKenzie and CJ


Michael Foster’s entire collection of drumsticks from the night (all signed – he is a true gentleman!) and setlist and poster signed by the entire band – thanks!