Archive for April, 2013

Lizzy Borden – The Beautifully Demolished – Icarus Witch – Live Review – 4/27/13

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

“Spring Stampede” @ The House Of Rock, White Marsh, MD

This was one of those shows that kind of snuck up on me without a lot of prep or forethought, so I’m somewhat shooting from the hip here. I remember seeing somewhere that Lizzy Borden was coming to Maryland sort of soon, but it was the fact that D.K. Revelle (formerly of Jetboy) was coming over the East Coast with his new band, The Beautifully Demolished (TBD from here on), that got myself and the wife out of the house and on the road for the 1.5 hour drive over to White Marsh in Maryland. This would also be our first visit to The House Of Rock, which, with a name like that, built a certain expectation in my mind. An interesting evening followed and not all for the right reasons… read on!

The “Spring Stampede” event was more than I am covering here, and actually included a total of nine bands, with the show kicking off at 3PM. I suspect there were at least a couple of the early playing bands that I would have enjoyed (“Ghosts Of War” and “Modern Superstar”) but since this was our fifth show in two weeks, and with the specter of the M3 festival looming next weekend, dedicating another whole day was too much, so we picked our arrival time to coincide with the last three bands, with Icarus Witch scheduled to start at 9PM.

A quick prelude here – I have always considered myself to be a fair reviewer and base this on playing guitar at a semi-pro level for some 15 years through the 80’s and 90’s, which included touring much of the UK and releasing several CDs and many demo tapes and similar. Additionally, we always pay for every show we see, since I believe that is the only way to be a truly impartial reviewer and also want to support the bands and venues that are trying to bring live music to the fans. Why am I saying this…? Well, not to let the cat fully out the bag, but just to give you a quick peek, not all was wonderful this past Saturday night…

So, first up a quick review of the venue. The House Of Rock is situated on the Northern side of Baltimore, making it a 90-mile trek from the NoVAMetalReview homestead, which is a decent haul, clocking some 1 hour 40 minutes on the GPS. This puts it in the same ballpark as Rams Head Live, which is right in downtown Baltimore, another regular NoVAMetalReview venue. Rollin up to the site, you are greeted by a good sized parking lot, which is a very good thing, so bonus points for easy parking. Walking into the joint itself, reveals a good sized bar, with a half-wall separating it from the standing area in front of the stage, which is nicely raised such that anyone should be able to see the band. The stage area itself is pretty large, so you won’t find the band squished up against their backline – if you were to swing a cat (which I totally would not approve of by the way), I think you’d be fine. For this particular concert there was a decent sized drum riser too. Maybe that is a permanent fixture? The PA was of decent size too, which I also assume was the house rig. The only odd thing was the décor, which seemed to be themed on a Caribbean Island bar – may be this House Of Rock was more used to Reggae at some point…? Anyway, despite some odd little spaces off the rear and side of the bar area, this was pretty decent. If you wanted to sit at the bar you could still enjoy the show and the main floor area would accommodate perhaps 250-300 at a guess.

First up was Icarus Witch, who I had previously seen supporting Y&T a couple of years back and they had impressed me back then. In order to keep this review short-ish (haha!) I won’t attempt to unravel the bands history, except for one point: I believe Icarus Witch are currently on their seventh drummer… at least if Wikipedia has an accurate list of former members?! I can’t help but recall Spinal Tap here – I presume the real story isn’t as interesting as Spinal Taps’, which included a similar succession of drummers, all of whom are said to have died in strange circumstances: one in a “bizarre gardening accident”, another “choked on vomit, but not his own vomit”, and two from “spontaneous human combustion” onstage. Additionally, it is claimed that police described one of the deaths as “a mystery better left unsolved.” Haha! Well at least no one caught fire on-stage while I was watching last Saturday.

The last Icarus Witch CD (Rise) is a great record and one any self-respecting metal fan should treat themself to right now. It’s really good. Go on… buy it now! Based on the record and what I saw last time I caught them, I was looking forward to seeing them again and as we walked into the venue we were greeted with their tight, twin-guitar driven sound – we were running about 10 minutes behind schedule so I’m guessing we missed the first couple of numbers. Fortunately they had a decently long set, and the remaining nine songs were all delivered with drive and passion, particularly the guitarist pairing of Quinn Lukas and Dave Watson, who at times evoke strong hints of early Queensryche, with some deft harmony work here and there. Nicely done! The vocals of Christopher Shaner are powerful and he nailed each song. All of this was drawn together by the tight bass work of Jason Myers. I have no idea how long the latest drummer has been with the band but I don’t think it is all that long, so I’ll save comment on that until next time, but everything was perfectly functional, but perhaps not a feature at this point.

One thing that does enamor me to a band is how they interact with their fans after a show and Icarus Witch played that card perfectly. Michelle had snagged a setlist (Quinn’s I think) and the whole band graciously signed it along with a poster, but more importantly took time to chat with us. They also have a pretty cool “Zombie Witch” t-shirt design, so the wife picked up one of those too and very nice it looks indeed. My score for Icarus Witch was a solid 8/10. Well played indeed.

Next up were The Beautifully Demolished (TBD) who are fronted by D.K. Revelle, who Michelle had previously met when he was with Jetboy. Exactly what the story is with respect to how D.K. and Jetboy split is a bit of a mystery, since I can’t find anything that reveals what happened, at least not on the web, so that will have to remain unexplained for now. However, D.K. was triumphing his new band, so we wanted to see what he had come up with this time. This show was announced as the debut for TBD, so I had high expectations. D.K. isn’t a beginner at this game, so I was hoping for an LA Guns/Faster Pussycat/Motley Crue sort of experience. Well….

After Icarus Witch had cleared the stage, various characters from the TBD crew and band started to swarm the stage and fairly soon the first guitar was plugged in and “WHAM”, it was clear that someone had found the volume control. I guess this one went to “11”. Really? More swarming on the stage and another blast I assume from the other guitar.… hmm? Next up was something I assume was the bass being sound checked, which included the bass drivers from the main PA hitting their end-stops. What was going on? To be honest, at this point I tried to convince myself that the characters up on stage were roadies or techs. I hoped so anyway. But I was wrong.

I honestly can’t really keep it all straight, but may be a couple of songs were played on the PA, while the drums were sound-checked and then it began. Yikes! What ‘began’ was the biggest shambles purporting to be a rock show I have ever witnessed. It was immediately clear that the bass guitar was some un-harmonically related tonal-step out-of-tune with everything else, which was only made slightly worse by the fact that both guitars were also out of tune with each other (but perhaps less obnoxiously so than the bass…). The resulting cacophony was of course made all the worse by the fact that every amp on stage was set to ‘11’, meaning that no matter what the poor sound guy behind the desk did, he could not turn the offending instrument down, to at least give the band a chance. Now, I’ve seen a LOT of shows over the years and what played out in front of us this night was by far the worst I have ever seen.

Let me make this clear, D.K. Revelle was clearly trying his best and what you could make out from the vocals was pretty decent – he came across as a cross between Dave Lee Roth, Vince Neil and perhaps Phil Lewis (LA Guns) – and has all the moves and swagger that you need from a front man. But… a band is the collection of the members and generally brought down to the abilities and performance of the least capable member and today that was the bass player. I have no idea who he was and really it doesn’t matter because he was just a disaster. Now, I’ve been to many shows where the sound is a little iffy for the first 2 or 3 songs and then finds its groove, but this just got worse. Being curious, I wandered up toward the front of the stage (which wasn’t hard, since many of the people who had been near the stage made a dive for the bar or went outside to smoke maybe 20 cigarettes while this train-wreck worked it’s way to some kind of conclusion), and I took a closer look at Mr. Bass-Player and it was clear that whoever was supposed to be inside had checked out a good while ago, and been replaced with Mr. Wasted. I don’t know if it was only booze or supplemented, but the eyes looking out of that head were not seeing reality.

Not only were there serious tuning issues going on, but to make matters much more painful all round there were some rhythm defying timing problems going on. When all else fails, grab the root note of the key you’re supposed to be playing in and bash away in time with the drums. But no, even that was asking way too much. If you can imagine an 8-cylinder engine, with 3 of the cylinders missing, you might be close. The word rough doesn’t do what we were experiencing justice. Now it wasn’t just me having a bad day here. There happened to be two world renowned bass players from internationally successful metal bands in the audience (and no, I won’t name them), but both were being driven nuts by the shambles in front of them. I think it only took 3 songs to give me a mind-numbing headache…

At some point during the set Michelle spoke to a couple of the TBD stage crew, and apparently they muttered something about “bad gear” and tried to blame the amp. Well, sorry fellas, but the band on before (Icarus Witch) had used the same bass amp and it had been just fine then. Toward the end of the set I swear there were two or three songs where it seemed that the two guitarists were playing different songs, so it wasn’t just the bass that was having problems, and the attempted twin-lead guitar harmony was soon abandoned as it was plainly obvious that the result was closer to standing on several cats tails all at once, rather than anything remotely musical. Apologies to any cats that may feel insulted by this. I agree. I’d rather listen to a howling cat. Even several howling cats.

At this point I believe you have gotten the picture. Not good. Not good at all. So, for a debut gig from a new band am I being horribly unkind? If they had been a bunch of 12 year old kids at a School Of Rock band competition then yes, this would be a terribly mean review. But, what we have here is supposed to be a professional band, expecting to get paid for their performance and in return, as a ticket paying member of the audience it is not unreasonable to expect to be entertained. For me at least, the headache they gave me lasted well past 3 Ibuprofens that I slammed as soon as I got home and the only, and I mean ONLY good thing about this performance was when it stopped. I’m not going to score them a level zero because I still believe that D.K. Revelle is a good front-man and the drummer really was pretty good, but unfortunately neither could save this mess: 1/10

OMG, can Lizzy Borden save the day? Confession time. I knew NOTHING about Lizzy Borden (LB) before this show. I don’t own any LB records and at best vaguely remember a few tunes from MTV in the mid-80’s, and in my head had them characterized as a glam metal also-ran. Pretty harsh, huh? However, if nothing else, I will always give a metal band a fair crack at the whip and, given many of the former glam-bands are turning out some great music these days, figured they could be interesting. Now there’s an understatement.

So, this show was part of the “30 years of American metal” tour and that had me interested. Really? They’ve been going for 30 years? Yep, a quick fact check shows they formed in 1983… Activity up on the stage included two large LB banners that basically blocked view of the stage, but soon enough they were drawn back and the show kicked off. Holy smoke, they sounded like angels playing gilded harps compared to the lot on before. My first reaction? Wow, the guitarist is AMAZING! My second reaction? WOW, the bass player is AMAZING! Yeah, the drummer was bloody good too, but the guitarist and bass player had me mesmerized! OK, they were worth the $30 ticket price alone, but suddenly both were eclipsed by the arrival of Lizzy Borden himself. If I try to describe this it will be lame, so all I’m going to say is to check out the pictures below.

What followed for the next, 90 minutes or so was a roller-coaster of amazingly played heavy metal, with a theatrical overlay that perfectly dove-tailed the show to something bigger than the sum of the parts. The music alone would have been good. The show aspect alone good. But together it was exceptional. Lizzy knows exactly how to work the audience and how to give the spotlight to the musicians and equally how to draw it back to himself. An exquisite showman indeed.

I’m not going to list out the set – I have included a picture of the setlist below, but I will mention a couple of high-lights. The first was the bass solo. What? Yes – the bass solo. Rarely will a bass player have the chops to even be worth the time for any kind of solo, but what we saw last Saturday nearly blew my mind – Marten Andersson is the bass player’s name – and he was stunningly good, playing sweep arpeggios and all sorts of hammer-on trickery. I sorely wish I had video of the solo, but it was a musical master-piece. I don’t think I’ve done this before, but this earns an individual performance score of 10/10. It wasn’t just the solo that was good though – the bass playing through the entire set was exceptionally good.

Next up is the guitar playing of Dario Lorina. Holy hell indeed, this young fellow can play the frets off his guitar. Holding back large gobs of jealously, this ‘kid’ is only 23 and I have to say he has to be one of the best ‘new generation’ guitarists I’ve seen in the past 10 years. He immediately brought the fluid playing style of Randy Rhoads to mind and has that same mix of wicked smooth technique combined with a vividly harmonic approach to soloing. He also brought memories of early Paul Gilbert with some vicious sweep arpeggios all over the fret board. His solo was just off the scale. (Yes, I begrudgingly award him an individual performance score of 10/10…).

And then we have Lizzy himself. To me, his vocals come across as a sounding like a better Bruce Dickinson with another octave in his lower register. Couple this with the stage-show that accompanies every song and we have a performance that just draws you in. For those that have seen LB before, I guess the performance for the song “There Will Be Blood Tonight” isn’t so much of a big deal, but the visual of Lizzy chewing through a young ladies neck and sucking her blood until she was dead was well played, and then dousing members of the audience with blood was close to an initiation ceremony for some evil metal worshiping sect. All in good taste of course.

This was one of those sets that as they draw to a close you wish would go on for another 40 minutes and then some more. I’m not sure if there is a current recording available featuring the band members as seen at the show here, but I sure wish there was. Overall this was a great show and one that is right up there as one of the best I’ve seen. Maybe it was the combination of the “less than good” previous band, smaller venue and great sound, but everything just seemed to work. I wholly recommend you go see this show if you get half a chance. There is no way you could be disappointed. My score for Lizzy Borden 9.5/10

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Icarus Witch in full flow

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Icarus Witch in full headbanging mode…

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I only included this because I’m a sucker for Jackson guitars….

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Our introduction to Lizzy Borden

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Marten Andersson on bass

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Dario Lorina with signature model Lag guitar – this sounded amazing

Lizzy Borden

Lizzy Borden

Signed set list

Signed set list

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Anthrax, Exodus, Municipal Waste – Live Review – Fillmore Silver Spring 4/14/13

Posted in Gig Reviews, Just Stuff with tags , , , , , , on April 21, 2013 by novametalreview

Metal Alliance Tour – w/ Municipal Waste and Exodus

Anthrax sure don’t seem to be afraid of hard work. This must have been the 3rd or 4th time I’ve seen them in the last 18 months and they played this same stage at the Silver Spring Fillmore about 16 months back, supporting Testament. The fact that the venue was packed (but not quite full, let’s be honest… but it was a Sunday…) just goes to affirm that Anthrax are still a strong draw. However, the overall bill for the Metal Alliance Tour is strong all the way down the order, which opened with Holy Grail, followed by Shadows Fall, Municipal Waste and Exodus, and topped off with Anthrax. Now I admit I know absolutely nothing about Holy Grail and Shadows Fall, so aside from noting that Holy Grail impressed us enough to buy both CDs they had on their merch stand, I’ll concentrate here on the final three.

This show was as near a home-game for Municipal Waste (MW), short of being in Richmond VA itself, so there was a good turnout of MW fans ready to thrash it up. Keeping it honest here, this was my first time seeing or even hearing anything from the band, but I had previously met Ryan (guitar) at a Death Angel show late last year and had him tagged as a “good guy” from the get-go. The band didn’t disappoint. From the moment they hit the stage it was clear they were there to have a good time themselves, and this naturally spread to the crowd without any hint of resistance – I’ve seen the band labeled as a “party thrash band” and from what I saw that’s not an unfair label.

I didn’t keep a close eye on the set list but recall songs with fun titles such as “The Thrashing of the Christ”, “You’re Cut-off”, “Beer Pressure”, “Headbanger’s Face Rip” and “Born To Party” (disclaimer here… I am certainly missing at least an equal number of songs, and may have some mixed up in my thrashed up head). No matter what, they were tight, made me laugh between songs, and bang my head during. Good metal. They also got a pretty big ol’ mosh pit going, which is certainly not my thing (too old for that game), but everyone taking part seemed to have riot. Definitely worth seeing again.

Next up was Exodus, another band that amazingly I have never seen before – good grief these guys have been together since 1980, that was some nifty avoiding on my part! I have no idea how that happened, but I can assure you it was not intentional. Now I have a lot of respect for Gary Holt as a guitarist, and I was lucky enough to see Slayer last year (Mayhem Fest) with Gary standing in for Jeff Hanneman, with Gary doing an excellent job – Slayer were awesome. Another thing – I definitely need to catch up on the Exodus back-catalog.

Anyway here they were in front of me, and the set opened with “The Ballard Of Leonard and Charles” which was the only song they played from the most recent Exodus album Exhibit B: The Human Condition. The remainder of the set was drawn from the older material with three tracks from their debut Bonded By Blood (1985), these being “A Lesson In Violence”, “Bonded By Blood” and “Strike Of The Beast”, “War Is My Shepard” and “Blacklist” from Tempo of the Damned (2004) and “Fabulous Disaster” and “The Toxic Waltz” from Fabulous Disaster (1989). All in all this was a tight set that seemed to be just spot on with the fans.

My impression from the moment they hit the stage was Exodus were here to deliver and were tight with everything sounding sharp. Almost immediately the mosh pit was in mad thrashing form and it was full scale assault all round, with much crowd surfing to boot. Having heard some mutterings before, I was paying attention to the vocals, but there was nothing to complain about here with Rob Dukes delivering a vicious performance. It was just right. I can’t really point any particular highlight, but the overall impression for me was like some turbocharged earth-moving machine that was cranked up and running at full speed ahead – crushing all before it. I really enjoyed Exodus and have them on my list as a must-see-again.

Now it was headliner time, and while The Fillmore had certainly been less than full earlier in the evening, I guess the bars and restaurants in the locale had emptied out, and the venue was now comfortably filled. Anthrax had decided that the 26th anniversary was a good point to celebrate the release of Among The Living, which is one of my all time favorite Anthrax records, but I’m still not sure why they choose this moment to do this? Was it a reflection on missing the 25th anniversary or a sign of impatience they couldn’t wait until 30? Anyway, the intent was to play the entire album through the course of the night’s set and ultimately that was exactly what they did, though not without interleaving the odd other track in here and there. Take a look at the photo below for the set list!

There have been some ‘ructions’ in the Anthrax line-up over the last few months with Rob Caggiano (guitar) leaving in early January. Despite words from the band indicating there are no hard feelings, the fact he first stated his departure was to allow him to focus on producing was soon turned on it’s head with him joining Volbeat a short four weeks later. On reading the story it could be entirely coincidental and just a result of circumstance, but it all seems very convenient. Anyway Anthrax quickly reacted and recruited Jon Donais (who is the full-time Shadows Fall guitarist and founder member of that band) as a temporary replacement for the tour dates. Quite what this all has to do with the addition of Shadows Fall for the last leg of the Metal Alliance tour and the dropping of High On Fire I don’t know, but it all seems a little iffy to me… The ructions don’t stop there in the Anthrax camp, as Charlie Benante (drums) was reported to be unable to tour Australia in February, with the band citing “personal reasons”. To cover this loss, Jon Dette (of Testament/Slayer fame) was brought in to fill the drum stool. How Charlie is now back in on the drum stool, but it seems a bit confusing…

As soon as the first cords of “Among The Living” rang out, two things were clear to me; the first was indeed that album is excellent and a lot of fun, and second Anthrax were determined to have a blast delivering it live. I have always been a fan of Joey Belladonna and tonight he was right on song and commanded the stage with a ton of energy and presence. Scott Ian of course is iconic in look and performance, and was clearly having a great time, as was Frank Bello on bass, but what of new boys Jon Donais and Charlie Benante? Starting with Charlie, his first appearance was standing on the shells of his double bass drums saluting the crowd; so check that box, here’s a fella set to deliver and deliver he did! Turning now to Jon Donais, who happened to be directly in front of my second row position on stage-right, I can’t really say the same thing. To be clear, Jon’s playing is exemplary and I believe he nailed every solo and song. But… was he enjoying it? Well, put it this way; he was rather serious. I understand the desire to get the playing right, but there’s definitely a trade-off in entertainment, and he came over a bit somber. This wasn’t the first or second show in the tour, so I would have thought any nerves that might have served as an excuse would be well dispersed. Anyway, not to dwell, a smile here or there would have gone a long way.

So the band was off and running and basically played all of ‘side 1’ of the LP, which was a pure riot to see and hear. There was a (slightly less) significant mosh pit, lots of crowd surfing and loads of signing along. See below for a picture of the set list. Now, the latest CD release from Anthrax is the “Anthems” EP, which contains six cover songs, but oddly they are all played nearly exactly the same as the originals, which for me is not the most exciting approach to a set of cover songs – if I want to hear the originals, I can. I would much prefer to hear “Anthrax-ed” versions of the songs, but that is not what they did. Odd. So from this recording we got a version of AC/DC’s “TNT” which is a great song. It was fun live and I took a recording with the iPhone. Assuming the audio is half-decent, I will post it to YouTube.

Following “Madhouse” it was back to Among and they tore through side 2 of the LP up to “Horror of it All”, at which point they snuck in another cover, this time Joe Jackson’s “Got The Time” (which is much more an Anthrax song now), finishing off ‘Among’ with “Imitation of Life”. We were treated to “I’m The Man” to close the set, followed by a well planned encore of “Antisocial” which is yet another cover song…

No matter what, I really enjoyed the set, and despite my gripes regarding Jon Donais demeanor, I had a blast. Quite sensibly, everything was done and dusted by just after 11PM, which was smart for a Sunday evening show.  So my score for the show was a solid, but not crazy, 7.5/10. Worth seeing if the show runs through your town, but not one to necessarily drive 300 miles to go see.

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Anthrax setlist – 4/14/13

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Municipal Waste giving some!

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Exodus

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Scott Ian = METAL

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Anthrax in a pretty shade of blue…

A Sound Of Thunder – Time’s Arrow – Album Review

Posted in Album Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on April 11, 2013 by novametalreview

Regular readers here on NoVAMetalReview will know very well that A Sound Of Thunder (ASoT) are a local favorite of mine and good friends to boot, but before I get to the “meat’n’potatoes” of the review I’m going to remind myself that the point of this blog was to be true to the music and, as a result, provide something of a service to those who bother to spend their time to read what I have to say. In other words, I will always say it like I see it, honesty above all. Uh oh!, you might think, where is all this heading? Don’t panic, this is just as much a reminder to me, as it might or might not be anything more sinister… read on!

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Firstly, I must say a big thank you to ASoT for honoring me with the privilege of providing me with an advance copy of the album, since it is often true that the first few reviews to hit the screen can set the scene for many that follow. Bearing that in mind, I decided that taking my time with this was the right thing to do, but I did scribble some notes to catch my initial impressions following the second or third play through. I have used these to compare against now I have lived with the record for a few days.

So let’s set the scene here a little, “Time’s Arrow” is the third full length album release from ASoT and in the grand scheme of things, especially for a relatively young band, follows pretty closely on the heels of the previous release, “Out Of The Darkness”, from 2012. In fact ASoT also managed to slip in an EP between these two, released in early 2013, which served as something of a sampler for “Time’s Arrow”, featuring “Queen Of Hell” as the EP title track, which also appears as the fifth track on the album. Check out my review of “Queen Of Hell” here: https://novametalreview.wordpress.com/2013/01/17/a-sound-of-thunder-queen-of-hell-ep/

In order to deliver a quality product, and like many other unsigned bands these days, ASoT ran a Kickstarter campaign to partly fund the record, which raised a little over $9.5K, which is a good amount for a relatively new band, and perhaps a pretty accurate reflection of how good “Out Of The Darkness” was. Without satisfied and hungry fans, raising such an amount of cash would have been a challenge. But notice, I said “partly fund”, so you can be sure ASoT have invested a significant chunk of their own money into the record, which I think is a strong incentive to keep everything honest, with a level of effort at or beyond 100%. When you think about it, spending other people’s money is easy – your own, less so…

One thing that did stay the same from “Out Of The Darkness” was the studio and producer, with a repeat performance from Kevin ‘131’ Gutierrez (While Heaven Wept, Shinedown) at the control console. This was a smart move in my opinion and one reason for the success of “Out Of The Darkness” was the crisp production, with I think an emphasis on ‘production’ being important. Today it is relatively easy to get your hands on recording equipment that in the past would have been the realm of $Million studios perhaps as recently as 10 years ago – now the same quality of equipment can be bought for under $10K or so with a bit of care – but that does not diminish the skill necessary to bring the best out of the equipment and more importantly get the best performance and composition for any particular song and artist. In my opinion ASoT and Kevin are very much “in tune” and as a result there are some nice production touches to the 11 tracks presented here. Leaving this topic for now, we’ll return to this briefly a little later.

So, enough scene setting, let’s get to the point here. “Time’s Arrow”, has a run time of an hour and 5 minutes, and a track count of 11 songs, so the average track runtime works out to just about 6 minutes, which is just about the same as “Out Of The Darkness”, so you can safely assume no great leap or change in approach has occurred. Overall running through the record in order everything seems to flow quite nicely, but I do wonder why the title track isn’t the opening track? In these days of iTunes and playlists it is very easy to re-order things and simply swapping the opener with “Time’s Arrow”, which appears second in the running order, seems to work just fine to me. However, the album opens with a slick track called “Power Play” which leaps out of your speakers (or ear buds…) with a pretty attention grabbing bass and drum riff, which is then joined by guitar in harmony. After a nifty, if brief, lead-off solo, Nina Osegueda’s now familiarly exceptional vocals kick in and we’re off and running. Do look out for the “Thunder Choir” who make their first appearance in the chorus of this song. The choir is made up of about twenty ASoT fans, many of them who contributed a certain amount to the Kickstarter fund campaign, who were invited to a recording studio for an afternoon of fun with Kevin Gutierrez and the band. The result of all this is massive chanted backing vocals in several of the songs, to great effect.

Second up we get the title track, “Time’s Arrow”, which is an opus! Clocking in at whisper under 10 minutes can ASoT pull this off? The answer is a resounding “Yes!” and to be honest it seems effortless. This is no mean feat by any standard, since the attention span of most folks these days seems to just about match that of a Goldfish… This song tells a story written by drummer Chris Haren and was originally produced as a demo by guitarist Schwartz as far back as 2008. The box set edition of the CD includes an expanded version of the song lyrics as a short story which I think is pretty darn cool. One thing I think we can safely say is ASoT songs are a far cry from the song-factory mill that churns out so much of the ‘radio rock’ bogging down the radio-waves these days. Despite its length, “Time’s Arrow” never feels the 9 minutes and 50 seconds that the track runs, and it has a darned catchy chorus that I have caught myself humming. A good sign indeed.

“I Will Not Break” up next is the first ‘single’ release from the album (released April 8th) and is a potential anthem for anyone and all that are in the need of a dose of self-empowerment.  ASoT have always delivered lyrics with a twist and any band who is able to weave in the word “wrath” (a sorely underused emotion…) as in “You are not worthy to feel all of my wrath” gets automatic high praise from me at least, and the line “I won’t the silent, but I might be vi-o-lent” in the context here is a winner. This is one of the short tracks on the record and at 3.57 might even count as radio friendly.

At this point we’re off and running, and I’m not going to dissect each individual track, since (a) this will become a short-story in it’s own right and (b) I don’t want to spoil all the fun. However there are few comments on specific tracks that I refuse to leave unsaid. “Queen Of Hell” pops up as the fifth track and it is like coming across an old friend (at least for those of us who bought the EP) and hearing it again only serves to remind me how damn GREAT this track is. A modern anthem for all that love classic metal; if this track doesn’t become entrenched in everyone’s top 10 tracks for 2013 it will be a travesty. From the moment the Thunder Choir kick in with the chant “Hail, Queen of Hell”, followed by Nina’s skull-scalping opening scream, this song begs you to crank the volume and play it again, only louder.

Rather surprisingly one of my favorite tracks after many repeated plays of the album is the much slower paced “I’ll Walk With You” which allows Nina a chance to back off and showcase her awesome dynamic range, taking us almost from a whisper in the verse, to an emotion wrought chorus. I believe this song is take on “The Walking Dead”, so it’s a sort of twisted zombified love song. I particularly like the way the song drops to an almost dead-stop around the 4 minute mark and then takes off with a really nice guitar solo from Josh.

ASoT have now established what I will declare to be a tradition, that of pitting Nina against some of the best established metal vocalists, and, while on “Out Of The Darkness” we are treated to a duel between John Gallagher of Raven, here Nina is given a workout with none other then ex-Iron Maiden singer Blaze Bayley on “My Disease”. It’s no surprise that Nina more than holds her own and if there ever was a need to reaffirm just how powerful her voice is, this answers that question emphatically in the positive. A feature of this track is a very deftly executed bass solo from Jesse Keen, which I believe is a first in the ASoT catalog.

So far I have avoided comparing any of the songs to this or that established band, simply because I really don’t think I hear that applying – I would hope this is taken as a massive complement, because I truly feel that ASoT have carved their own sound. Clearly there are influences, but they are classic influences and in the main I would say draw to the root and are not hanging on the coat tails of other bands that have already “done that”. So despite the band mentioning Sabbath, Priest, Maiden, Purple and others as influences, they deftly avoid the trap of replicating anything that I can point to as derivative. Well played. Now, having said that, “End Of The Road” is as near a 12-bar blues standard as I think ASoT can ever get, and in this case I don’t think it at all unfair to compare it to something that Deep Purple or Whitesnake might have recorded, since both bands themselves draw hard on the blues. I particularly like the way the middle-eight breaks into an up-paced section that takes us to one of the most free-flowing solos that Josh Schwartz rips off his fret board.

A quick mention for “Wastelands” (track 10), which features a wonderful break-down section in the middle, that really stretches into jazz territory, and then builds with some nice solid bass lines from Jesse. As I sit here writing this, I can’t help but feel excited about this whole album. There’s an awful lot of really good stuff to go round.

The final track is an out and out homage to Hawkwind, and if you miss the hint in the music itself, the song title might do it for you – “Reign Of The Hawklords”. I have to be honest, this song has a very, very catchy opening riff and I keep finding it creeping into my head. The lyrics are a clever mix of Hawkwind song titles, and add this to the use of a Theremin which is a rather odd instrument that generates tones in response to hand movements around a couple of antennas, and the result is a modernized 70’s sounding track. Hard to explain, but great to listen to.

A couple of closing notes. One thing this record did for me, more than “Out Of The Darkness” did, is establish that Josh Schwartz is a guitarist of significant note and in particular he has his own recognizable ‘sound’. For me this is one of the most complementary things a guitarist can be anointed with, particularly with so many ‘rock radio’ players out there sounding like they all bought the same amp/effects unit. Throughout the entire length of this record Josh stamps his sound with authority over each and every song, and that is one of the key reasons that ASoT are carving such a recognizable sound.

Of course Nina Osegueda is another of those reasons, and “Time’s Arrow” allows her to reach beyond the confines of “Out Of The Darkness” and continue to deliver vocal acrobatics with such compelling ease. Now it would be wholly unfair to skip a further mention of Jesse Keen on bass, and as already noted this album provides more than a few feature spots for the bass to lead things, but underlying each and every song is some nice work. Finally Chris Haren on drums just powers all this along and makes it seem effortless – which probably means he’s working incredibly hard. It’s tricky to really feature the drums in a metal band, but there are some really nice touches throughout this album, and I really like the snare drum sound Kevin captured. It has a punch and snap to it that leaps out of the mix.

So are there any negatives? In my review of “Out Of The Darkness” I questioned the direction the band was taking – progressive or heavy metal – but this time around that seems to be an entire non-issue. If I really try hard, the only thing that did bug me initially, and still does to a much lesser extent, is the overall mix is a little low-end light – I found myself reaching for the bass control on the car stereo. Using controls from my guitar processor, I would have preferred a little more “growl” and a shade less “crunch” which would probably lend a warmer, punchy overall feel, but I am really splitting hairs here.

So, last comment aside, this is an exceptionally great record, but what is astounding to me is the fact that after doing all the hard work, paying for the recording (with a great studio and producer), with finished masters in hand, ASoT could not find a record label that was prepared to release this… at least at anything beyond a joke deal. What? What the hell has happened to the music industry? The comment received back was in essence “I personally love the record, but from a label perspective it doesn’t fit…” Huh? I assume that every band out there now has to fit into one of the neat little niche slots that guarantee the label a certain revenue or you’re out of luck. Anyway, ASoT has taken the bold (but perhaps only option) of forming their own label, Mad Neptune Records and the album will be released in the USA on June 4th, with the ‘rest of the World’ getting the record one day earlier on June 3th.

So to close, I just reminded myself to re-read my opening paragraph. Yes, ASoT are friends of mine and I am honored to say that. Yes, they are local favorites on mine and I am lucky that they are based in the Northern VA area – it means I get to see them a lot. But, without any bias whatsoever, this is a truly great record, one that is high on entertainment, powerful and through and through metal. I listen to a lot of metal and try to cast my net far and wide, but in this case A Sound Of Thunder have produced the first MUST HAVE album of the year for 2013. There isn’t one weak song here, the playing is exceptional and the vocals hit it every time – buy it. My score 9.5/10

You can pre-order the album through the band’s own web-store right here: http://asoundofthunder.bigcartel.com/category/cds

T & N – Slave To The Empire – Review

Posted in Album Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , on April 3, 2013 by novametalreview

George Lynch is one busy guitar player, no doubt about it, in fact so much so that I’m lagging quite a bit behind his release schedule. Today I am going to try to catch up and write a review that is something a little shorter than an episode from Lord Of The Rings in the hope that I can catch up some…

So, confession time. Rewinding the clock, George Lynch was without doubt the most influential guitar player on myself back in the days when I was playing guitar. I still have a George Lynch VHS guitar tuition video and booklet that was released in the early 90’s, and I remember vividly learning every song from “Tooth and Nail” and “Under Lock and Key” note-for-note. Well, almost note-for-note… Now is not the time or place for a full history lesson, since the George Lynch and Don Dokken story is pretty complex, however, it is impossible not to give it a passing mention since it is the catalyst for the band before us – T & N.

First off, what a crap name. Sorry but it is. However, to explain this some history is unavoidable. The ‘classic’ Dokken line-up is most often regarded as Don Dokken (vocals), George Lynch (guitar), Jeff Pilson (bass) and Mick Brown (drums), which came together in 1983. While the band achieved great commercial success, creative and personal differences led to the band splitting up in 1989, and while they did reform in 1993 and struggled on until 1997, they really only managed to put out one decent album in this time (Dysfunctional, 1995), until the final split, with Don continuing Dokken, while George went off to reform Lynch Mob (which had put out the exceptionally good “Wicked Sensation” release in 1990). If you’re confused by this, good, so am I, because it is confusing.

At various times a reunion has been touted as “just around the corner” but has never happened. Most recently this was heavily discussed back in 2010, with official announcements saying it was on, and then retracted. Oh, what a flippin’ saga! Finally though, something real did come from all this rumor, with Lynch, Pilson and Brown announcing the formation of “Tooth and Nail” which was 75% of the classic Dokken line-up, obviously minus Dokken himself, who did not want to derail his current plans with “Dokken”. Of course things could not just go smoothly and it turned out that another band had a prior trademark claim to the name “Tooth and Nail”, so they took the simple expediency of shortening the name to “T & N”.  I don’t like the name at all, but it is what it is. OK, I won’t mention that I don’t like the name again, OK?

Finally I can move on and talk about the music. So, with this album we get a split of five Dokken covers/re-dos, and seven new tracks. Despite the announced line-up, confusingly Mick Brown only plays drums on the Dokken covers, with Brian Tichy playing on all seven originals. At this point, and with no obvious or simple explanation in anything I have seen or read, I don’t know why. For the new material we get Jeff Pilson on lead vocals and I think he does a fine job. The title track has a catchy hook, that, after a few plays, becomes lodged in your head and, at least for me, seems to draw me to crank the volume.

On the re-do tracks of the five, we get four ‘guest’ vocalists which mixes things up nicely. The first track we meet is “Tooth and Nail” with Doug Pinnick from King’s X giving it a bit more edge than the original, and I must say the guitar solo George delivers is a monster. Next up is “It’s Not Love”, sung by current Warrant singer Robert Mason (also previously of Lynch Mob) and he gives it a new edge, though it’s pretty faithful to the original overall. Jeff Pilson handles the vocal on “Into the Fire” and I’d say this is pretty much a straight rendition, although they have added a new bridge section which pulls the energy down and adds a nice dynamic to the track. “Alone Again” is sung by Sebastian Back, who I must admit isn’t particularly one of my favorites (tending to come across as trying just too damn hard much of the time), but here he does a fine job. Given this is a pretty laid back track, it wasn’t obvious to me this would be the best fit, but Bach gives it a nice edge, while letting the melody do it’s work through the chorus. Well played sir! Finally, the last of the re-dos is “Kiss Of Death” with Tim “Ripper” Owens (formerly of Judas Priest and Iced Earth) and he tears into this with venom. To my ears he gives this track a Ronnie James Dio type feel and on hearing this it would have been a perfect track for Dio. Well that isn’t going to happen now is it… Owens here does a perfect job. This might be my favorite of the repeats.

George Lynch has matured a lot as a guitarist over the years and now uses a lot more texture in his guitar sounds compared to the super-overdrive of the classic Dokken days, and despite the old ESP guitars still making an appearance, you are just as likely to see George with a Telecaster in his hands these days. With T & N things are a little closer in sound and tone of the old Dokken days, at least to my ears, compared say to the recent Lynch Mob “Sound Mountain Sessions” which has less overdrive and more ‘blues’ in his playing. It is very revealing to play the original Dokken recordings of the five re-dos included here, and you realize very quickly how good those songs were, how good the playing was, but also how damn good George is playing these days. He’s able to add almost another layer to each song. Listen hard and you will catch a lot of subtle licks and kicks that sneak in. For me these songs and solos in particular are almost like gospel, and the idea of messing with them left me with some trepidation initially. Trust me, George hasn’t strayed far from the path, but has done just enough to keep everything fresh and interesting.

Of the new tracks on the record there isn’t really anything I don’t like, and I have already mentioned the title track, but a couple of stand-out tracks for me are “When Eagles Die” and “Mind Control”. Taking the former, “When Eagles Die” opens with an annoyingly catchy acoustic guitar riff, with an equally catchy vocal riff, which then progresses into showcase for the song writing excellence that is T & N. This is a great track to crank up on the car stereo. With “Mind Control” this is a more conventional barnstorming number that I like perhaps more than anything for the cranking bass line from Pilson that drives the whole thing alone.

To close, I will say that it took a few spins to get this record under my skin – initially the re-do tracks seemed to stand-out and poke me in the ears a bit simply because they weren’t the old favorites I was used to, but once I got over the idea change isn’t all bad (sheesh!), the simple enjoyment that is evident in playing these songs again and re-exploring the vocals with alternate singers drew me in and currently this is one of my favorite CDs to spin. Obviously for Dokken and/or George Lynch fans this is a must buy record, but if those are the only people that buy this it would be doing the band an injustice, since this is truly a very good chunk of heavy metal. My score 8.5/10.

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