Archive for May, 2013

M-PIRE of EVIL – Crucified – Album Review

Posted in Album Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on May 30, 2013 by novametalreview

My first exposure to M-PIRE of EVIL was at a less-than-well attended show in downtown Washington D.C. and these fellas damn near knocked my head off… This was a little over a year ago now and shortly after that show got hold of the then-current album, “Hell To The Holy” and have been thrashing it up ever since. I really need to catch-up and write a review because it is a great record, however today my focus is on their latest offering, “Crucified”. In many ways this would have been the perfect record for someone like me, with only a limited knowledge of their prior work, since this album includes nine re-recorded tracks from the “old days”, plus a couple of newbies. I think I need to do some explaining here first?

Sometimes words get confusing when trying to unravel the history of one or more bands but I’m going to try… Back in 1979 a dark force was formed in the world of heavy metal, something that would in fact spawn a whole new genre of metal, Black Metal, taken from the second album by the crushing force that was Venom. Now, my memory isn’t perfect, but I recall certain elements of the rock press not really giving Venom the props they fully deserved and it is only in retrospect their influence is now appreciated (and perhaps worshipped in some quarters). The trio included on guitar Jeff Dunn, later to be anointed with the moniker “Mantas”. Over time, the normal wear and tear suffered by so many bands led to line-up changes that brought Tony “Demolition Man” Dolan to join Venom on bass and vocals in 1988. Along with original drummer Anthony “Abaddon” Bray and a couple of rhythm guitar players that came and went, this line-up turned out three albums, Prime Evil, Temples of Ice and The Waste Lands. Following less than stellar sales figures, largely due to the grunge-era kicking in, Venom split-up for a few years. However this was but chapter one for this story.

Fast forward to the year 2010 and Mantas was playing in a band called “Dryll”, and found himself looking for a drummer, and recruited another former Venom member, Anthony “Antton” Lant to fill the drum stool. At that point a glimmer of brilliance sparked and the Demolition Man joined as the third member of the power trio. Originally taking the name “Prime Evil”, this was found to be ‘in-use’ by another band, so they came up with a slightly morphed variant, becoming known as “M-PIRE of EVIL”. Antton only lasted through the recording process of their debut EP and “Hell To The Holy” and departed just prior to the band taking to the road in early 2012. Fairly rapidly Marc Jackson stepped in and the line-up was complete. Shortly after completing the tour Jackson joined M-PIRE of EVIL as a full member and was anointed the name JXN. Fortunately we are now up to date.

So, what does “Crucified” give us? Well as noted earlier, we have mostly re-recorded tracks from the three Venom-era offerings featuring Mantas and the Demolition Man and a couple of new numbers. In fact for me this is perfect, since I am not at all familiar with the Venom back-catalog, and while live M-PIRE are able to include some of the other classic Venom numbers (such as “Black Metal” and “Countess Bathory”), I’m guessing those numbers have other writing credits to them one way or another, making them harder to re-record/release.

So the album opens with “Temples Of Ice” from the album of the same name, and this rips. With a classic half-pace opening intro, it takes a short 47 seconds to get to the meat’n’potatoes and as Mantas tears into the riff with a crisp precision, the vocals cut through and grab your attention. The Demolition Man is both vicious but melodic at the same time – none of that grunting or growling that afflicts so many bands that allude to a similar genre classification. This is the perfect combination of nasty while musical. To be honest I keep thinking that Tony reminds me of Lemmy (yes, from Motorhead…) with a little less rock’n’roll and more bite. Excellent! There is a neat bass intro to the solo and then we get some guitar heroics which really show how good Mantas is playing these days – he is both highly melodic, while pulling off some very technical runs. It’s about now you will wake up and start to pay attention to the pounding on the drums. Damn JXN is a monster… the double kick-drum work through the tail-end of the solo is just vicious, while over the top are some just amazingly executed fills. Wild stuff all round.

Up second is “Parasite” and this just reinforces the idea that the first track wasn’t a fluke. This is a band firing on all cylinders and, yes, this bad-boy is both turbo- and supercharged. Crank this up; it deserves to be played loud. Depending on what you’re playing this on, the louder it gets, the better it seems. Awesome. Incidentally this is very well recorded album, so top marks for that. The bass work on all the tracks is just excellent, while not being overblown which is a temptation with a trio sometimes.

I won’t run this track by track, since we’ll be here all week, but I really dig the crazy-fast double-kick drum work on “Kissing The Beast” (track #3), while the moody “Blackened Are The Priests” provides a bit of breather and a more atmospheric feel – I particularly like the bass section in the middle eight. I’m going to skip forward to track #8, “Wolverine”, which has a totally wicked double-kick drum fueled chorus section which meshes perfectly with the guitar riff and to me makes me think of machine guns. Wicked stuff all round.

“Crucified”, the title-track, taken from The Waste Lands, has a damn catchy melody to the chorus, which I don’t think is totally expected given who is delivering this, but it works extremely well. This might be my favorite track on the whole record to be honest. I really like the way the solo builds out of the middle-eight section and again is another example of how good Mantas is; there’s even some harmony parts in there, but it’s not over done in any way – tasteful even.

The two new tracks lead off with “Demone” and this is a power-thrash number. To be honest this has more than a nod in the direction of Slayer to my ears, at least until we get to the solo, which pulls the pace off a bit and has a more bluesy tint to it. Closing the album is “Taking it All” and this is a lot of fun, with a chanted “F**k You!” as the feature of the chorus. I believe this track is reason for a recent request the band put out requesting fans send in videos of themselves shouting, screaming and yelling “F**k You!”, so standby for a video release by the band for this track featuring an assortment of M-PIRE of EVIL fans. Should be a riot!

So let’s put this in perspective. There are only two new tracks here, so those of you that are hardcore Venom fans may get a little less out of this than I did, simply because you probably already have nine of the tracks here. But let’s not discount the fact that it’s nice to get an up to date take on this material and we are dealing with modern recording techniques, giving us better sound here. Whether you ‘like’ that is up to you. I really like this record and score this a hard metal 8.5/10.

Here’s a link to my previous live review of the M-PIRE of EVIL show in D.C. last year > http://wp.me/p2hj3p-R

MpireOfEvil_Promo2012_001

Rubicon Cross – Pre-Release Listen Review – 5/4/13

Posted in Album Reviews with tags , , , , on May 24, 2013 by novametalreview

Occasionally you just find yourself at the right place, at the right time, and one of those “alignment-of-the-planets” moments brought me to be sitting in CJ Snare’s hotel room along with the wife and a very select few good friends, with an opportunity to listen to the new Rubicon Cross CD. I’ve met CJ several times and know Chris Green (the mind-blowingly talented Rubicon Cross guitarist) from times of old, and the Rubicon Cross project has been one of those tantalizing mixes of great musicians, great songs and a long time coming!

Our first look at Rubicon Cross (RC) in recorded form came back in 2011 with the independent release of the “Limited Edition EP” which delivered four songs that were full of bite and swagger, and this quickly found it’s way onto many ‘best of 2011’ metal lists. Lacking new material, I keep coming back to the EP and in particular “Next Worst Enemy” is right up there as a staple of any playlist I might throw together. The combination of CJ Snare on vocals and the stellar guitar playing of Chris together, provides a platform for both to shine – all we needed was a full line-up…

The fact that CJ and Chris were back in the studio with enough material for a full album was some of the best news of 2012, only to be supplemented with the announcement that Simon Farmery was now officially a Rubicon Cross member, filling the bass player position. Facebook updates from the recording sessions provided more teasing hints of greatness (and to be fair a good deal of drinking to go with it…). So, with the recording in the can, how long can it take to get this thing released? Well, that question is still to be answered, and as I write this, that is still unknown, but I sincerely hope it isn’t long. The world deserves to hear this music!

Obviously in these days of digital downloads, there is a great risk that someone will post an illegal copy, so all involved in the project have been taking great care to ensure the album isn’t leaked, so the only way to hear the whole thing currently is in the company of one of the band members. At one point I suggested to Chris I was going to have to drive all the way from Virginia to Chicago such was my desire to hear the record! However, fortunately that wasn’t necessary, back to that hotel room….

It’s obviously difficult to provide a full review from a single listen, so I’m not going to attempt that here, but hopefully I can provide sense of what we are dealing with here.  I can’t remember exactly how many tracks there are, but I think it was eleven, of which two I would classify as heavy ballads, another track is a radio friendly, almost ‘punky’ 3-minute slash’n’dash, while the remainder are more in-line with the melodic metal core and deliver everything from mid-paced rockers to out-right head-bangers. The record includes the EP tracks, which have been given a fresh cost of paint and all of these benefit from the big studio treatment and come out sounding fresh, but comfortably familiar.

Rubicon have cleverly teased some more, with samples of the new songs on their Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/pages/Rubicon-Cross/196675117028954?fref=ts) and the first of these was “Bleed With Me”, which is a nicely up tempo thrasher, that includes an incredibly tasty solo from Chris. Those that know Chris from Furyon (which seems to be a chapter in Chris’ career that is now turning another page – yes – new Furyon material from the fingertips of Mr. Green coming soon…) will instantly recognize his wickedly flowing style as soon as the solo kicks off with a screeching feedback-induced howl. Hearing the entire track only goes to reinforce the idea that this band will be bad-ass live. In some way the recording feels very much like watching drag racing on TV – all the excitement and energy is there to be seen, but the crazy ground shaking power of the live event just isn’t there. And that isn’t in any way a criticism of the recording, it’s as good as they come; I just believe live there will more. Way more.

The other partial track on the Facebook page is “You Will Remember Me” which is prophetic –you will remember these guys! This track showcases how good CJ is sounding these days. Many of the 80’s/90’s rockers aren’t aging quite so well, but, if anything, CJ is sounding better than ever; perhaps it is the excitement brought about by new material? Whatever it is, it’s working really well.

The band has recently announced the final two official members, with Robert Behnke taking the drum stool and Jeff Lerman on second guitar. It would seem that Jeff is another fret-meltingly good player, so I can only imagine the pairing of Chris and Jeff on stage together. This is going to be fun. I know the band is now rehearsing regularly, so I am hopeful that we will get some live dates toward the tail end of the year.

So, walking away from hearing the whole album what were my impressions? You know it’s interesting, but for a long time I have had this feeling that melody that was so fundamental to much of the 80’s hard rock scene would be coming back to what we know as heavy metal, but reinvented in some way. Could this be it? May be that is a bit presumptuous of me after hearing this record one time through, but there is a huge fan-base out there, and many are stuck in the 80’s and early 90’s, not because they don’t like new music or have closed ears, but simply no one has delivered the right product. Could this be the opening of a new chapter in the history of heavy metal?

Rubicon Cross

Rubicon Cross

Heavy Metal Heaven – Old Bridge Metal Militia Reunion Concert – Lords Of Mercy, The Rods, Raven, Twisted Sister, Anvil, T.T. Quick – Live Review 5/11/13

Posted in Gig Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 17, 2013 by novametalreview

When this show was first announced I believe it was just Raven, Anvil and Twisted Sister, and that in itself already seemed like a “can’t miss” event, so the final line-up as listed really was exceptional. A night that many heavy metal fans perhaps thought they would never see, particularly T.T. Quick and The Rods, who are playing almost never and rarely, respectively. First though I should point out that the cause behind this event, namely hurricane Sandy, and the devastation left behind, is still a horrible reality for many people, so the spirit and intent behind this show was a motivation of great passion – all the bands donated their time, the organizers, Eddie Trunk and the boys from That Metal Show, the various production companies, etc – everyone involved deserves great kudos and recognition for making this happen. The show was fully sold out the day before and, combined with the money raised through a raffle of donated guitars and basses, over $40,000 was raised, that will basically be going directly to people in dire need. Metal gives back, or just gives, since I don’t think it ever “took” anything in this case.

Now I don’t know the full back-story behind the Old Bridge Metal Militia or the Heavy Metal Heaven record store, but between them they were the organizers of this exceptional event, and they did a fine job considering everyone was basically a volunteer. Pulling off something like this is by no means a cake-walk and at the end of the day I’d like to offer my thanks for putting the event on – notwithstanding the good cause, this was a heavy metal night to remember, and this is likely one of those nights that becomes legendary, at least in rock history.

Rather than string this out in my usual fashion, with a little history lesson here and a tale from the “old days” there, I’ll try and keep to the meat’n’potatoes of the night as much as possible, but first a word on the venue. Hailing from Northern Virginia, the Encore Center in Freehold, NJ, meant absolutely nothing to me, and when we arrived it seemed we were at a rather non-descript strip mall… not very heavy metal at all. Fortunately the sheer amount of long-haired, leather clad metal fans confirmed we were in the right place. Entering the venue, we were greeted with a variety of guitars and basses up for raffle, a display from Oktober Guitars (http://www.oktoberguitars.com/), who had donated two of the raffle entries (an 8-string bass and a Raven MGT guitar), event t-shirt sales, plus a Raven merch stand. Despite all this, I suspect this hall was more used to wedding receptions, than metal shows. Not that mattered once we made our way into the main hall, which was dominated by a wide, high stage, flanked by a serious looking PA with a back-drop of two large video screens. I think the venue capacity was 1500 and at its peak the floor was packed, but not ridiculously so. In other words the organizers got it pretty much spot on.

The running order was Lords of Mercy, The Rods, Raven, Twisted Sister, ANVIL and topped off with T.T. Quick. I managed to snap a photo of the official running order and set-time list – see below. Basically everyone was scheduled with a run-time of 40 minutes, which seemed fair, even if didn’t seem to run quite like that later. I was surprised by the start time listed for Lords of Mercy as the tickets stated “Doors 7pm, Show 8pm”, so anyone taking a late entry probably missed what was an exceptional kick-off for the evening. I can’t claim to know anything about Lords of Mercy except they were the local team and came out swinging. Front-man ‘Brandon Sweeny’ is a power-house and despite only catching a couple of numbers from front-of-house, if there was any need of an energy injection to light the night off, he was the man to do it. They did plenty more than enough to be sure I will be in the audience if they make their way down south anytime soon. Thinking about it they would be a good addition to the Rock Harvest II bill, due to take place at The House Of Rock (White Marsh, MD) in November. Before we leave Lords of Mercy, I have to say Brandon is a very personable chap and we were fortunate to meet him back-stage, and he even insisted on taking some pictures with our kids (yes, we turned this into a family outing!). Great PR.

With the evening off and running, the energy level in the whole venue was raised to ‘11’ and this was further stoked by Eddie Trunk, Don Jamieson and Jim Florentine, from That Metal Show, who were comparing, and next up they introduced The Rods. I had never seen The Rods before this night, but everything I had read told me to expect a much heavier show than their recordings, and boy, was that an understatement. It was interesting to me that tonight there were three true three-piece bands appearing, The Rods themselves, Raven and ANVIL, with each of them bring a serious slice of heavy. It’s somewhat poignant that I happen to be writing this on the 3rd anniversary of the passing of Ronnie James Dio, and that date was in my mind as I looked across the stage at the diminutive in height, but hugely talented guitarist, David “Rock” Feinstein, Ronnie’s cousin and band-mate during his time with ‘Elf’. I can’t help but think, had Ronnie been alive on this day, this would have been exactly the kind of benefit performance where we may have been blessed with a guest appearance. Somehow I know he was there in spirit, of that, I have no doubt. Their 40-minute set time passed way to fast and I was left wholly impressed with their power and overall heaviness. Again, another band to add to my list that I would travel a considerable distance to go see.

Now the venue was *really* heaving, and with the clock ticking past 9 o’clock, expectation was growing for the imminent arrival of rock legends ‘Raven’. Those who track the NoVAMetalReview blog will know I saw Raven a few short weeks past in Springfield, VA (Empire) and should recall I was raving (uhg, pun totally intended) about their raw energy and sheer outright musicianship. From the mighty Joe Hasselvander on the drums, who, for me, defines power and drive, to the outright insanity of Mark Gallagher on guitar (who, I swear, makes his instrument sound like there are two guitarists in the band) and incidentally easily wins the insane guitar face-pulling competition by several miles (sorry lads, thanks for playing…), to the hypersonic vocal abilities of John Gallagher, who I should also mention is easily capable of melting the frets off his bass, whether it has 4-, 8- or even 12-strings! Raven are one of those bands that don’t need written set-lists and use some kind of on-stage telepathy to know what song is up next. Looking round the hall, and not claiming any kind of science beyond “eye-balling it”, there seemed to be a very high percentage of the audience with Raven shirts on, so they either did a storm on the merch stand or they have some seriously loyal fans.

From the moment they opened with “Take Control”, the thing that struck me more than anything was the audience were singing along with every song, and heck, they knew every damn word. It was very cool to just stand there in the massive crowd and feel that happening. Up second was “Live at the Inferno” and the crowd went nuts. Personally, my favorite of the night was “Firepower” from the Wiped Out album, which I have previously stated is firmly in my top 10 records of all time, followed by “Rock Until You Drop” which perhaps was more appropriate this evening than many others, given the expect late close. Where The Rods scored with “heavy”, Raven went with “power”, just about evenly balanced with “energy”, and they brought it by the truck-load. Actually several silly-big trucks. Full trucks… Now, there was a little ‘odd moment’ at the tail-end of their set, when the stage manager (I assume that was his role?), basically ran onto the stage and announced ‘time’s up’ and cut the set short? WTF? I’ve never seen that at any show, at least as blatantly and just as it was clear that the lads were about to start what was presumably their last number, which I am guessing would have been “On and On”, since that hadn’t been played yet. We shall never know. I have a strange perception that Twisted Sister were getting slightly preferential treatment (more on that to follow) and this was a ploy to ensure T.S. got to hit the stage at their anointed set-time, but let me be clear, this is purely conjecture on my part. However, as Raven departed the stage, a huge chant broke out throughout the crowd: “RAVEN! RAVEN! RAVEN!…”, that echoed throughout the hall and far backstage I’m sure. Raven were the only band to receive this sort of adulation all evening.

Backstage, not one of the Twisted Sister members had ventured into the hospitality area, which certainly set them apart from all the other bands. If you look below you will see a photo of a poster that I bought to commemorate the evening, and every member of every other band signed that poster, but there are no T.S. signatures to be found. For me, as a fan of metal and wanting to be part of an evening that wasn’t about any one band or performance, T.S. did not enamor me one little bit and later this only got worse. But I am getting ahead of myself by about 40 minutes.

When TS hit the stage they certainly delivered musically and Dee Snider appears quite disturbingly the exact same as he was 30 years ago, vocally and appearance-wise, less the make-up. I’m not going to try to pretend I’m a fan and know any more than the standard TS MTV hits, but basically that was their exact set last Saturday. Good stuff, well played and, not surprisingly, the audience knew every song. We got several feel good moments just listening to the audience singing along to music they grew up to. A very well received little extra came in the form of Dave “The Snake” Sabo from Skid Row, who joined the band for a ripping version of “Under The Blade”. I couldn’t hope to captured this verbatim, but during one of the song interludes, when in times past Dee Snider has been know to let rip at the crowd, he turned this around and tore into the “authorities” for the situation left behind in the aftermath of superstorm Sandy, and based on the intensity and sincerity in his voice I really felt his passion. Of that, I have no doubt. Their set closed with ‘I Wanna Rock” and this had the crowd totally hooked, belting it out and loving every moment – it was amazing to be part of this.

At that point, I was headed backstage and despite a badge that said “All Access” apparently this didn’t mean “all” when T.S. are leaving the stage area, and security were blocking everyone, no matter what badge or reason. Something about this ‘privileged’ behavior left a bit of sour taste and it wasn’t only me that noticed this. Where every other performer worked around the chaos, little that it may have been, it seems T.S. were above all this. So, this ‘fuss’ and the rather obvious “get Raven off the stage, or Twisted are going to have a hissy…” were perhaps the only two downers throughout a wickedly good evening. Well that and the fact that the venue ran out of alcohol at some point…

Up next we got the mighty ANVIL, a band I have a particular soft-spot for, having been a fan since “Hard ‘n’ Heavy”, with that particular signed album cover taking pride of place in our ‘music room’ up on the wall, alongside an ever growing collection of memorabilia. I’ve seen ANVIL several times in the past 2 years, ranging from a terribly advertised show at Jaxx (Springfield, VA), where there were perhaps 25 or so people in the whole place, to sold out shows in Vienna (VA). The one thing you can never say is they don’t deliver, no matter what size crowd. Of course, that was not a problem for this show.

However, following TS was not perhaps the easiest and opening with ‘March of the Crabs”, they simply did what ANVIL does. While they may have closed with “Metal on Metal”, in many ways this is the band mantra. Turn it up to ’11’, feel the power and go with the metal. If you ‘get it’ you’ll be head-banging with the best of them, otherwise go find a spot at the bar and chill. Robb Reiner is a monster on the drum kit and in many ways I have felt he is the power-plant of the band – he is the musical master, from which everything flows. While Lips is no doubt a showman, he is certainly not the most technically appointed player and there are times when I wonder what a few less ‘weed sessions’ might have given us? On any other day that thought probably wouldn’t have crossed my mind, but when you’ve got master musicians like Mark Gallagher, Dave Feinstein and Dave DePietro to measure up to, it isn’t hard to see who’s got the chops. However, Robb, on the kit, is more than a match for anyone on any given day, and for me it was his performance I noticed.

It was great to see Sal Italiano pumping it out on bass. Even though he is truly the “new guy”, he brings more to the band than previous bassist, Glenn Gyorffy, ever did in my opinion. I am very pumped for the new ANVIL album, “Hope In Hell”, due to hit the streets at the very end of May, which will be the first to feature the current line-up. From what the guys were able to tell me and from the few pre-release reviews I have read, we are in for a treat, taking us back to the true roots that brought us “Metal on Metal” and “Forged In Fire”.

At this point it was noticeable that the crowd had begun to thin a little and I’m sure the combination of TS having been on relatively early and the fact the venue was out of beer at this point, and perhaps not everyone present knew who T.T.Quick are, was to blame, but, for me at least, I was pumped at this point. Mark Tornillo has been doing a fantastic job with Accept and I have been fortunate to see them twice in the past 2 years or so. I know many Accept fans find the lack of Udo up front a problem, but Blood of the Nations (2010) was an exceptional heavy metal record and Mark does a fine job on the older Accept material. The idea that we were about to see T.T.Quick was now almost reality, something that I never thought I would see.

After a few more words from Eddie Trunk, T.T.Quick hit the stage and despite some initial mic issues (which were not the first of the night; we had witnessed at least two other instances where a mic ended up being thrown across the stage because it wasn’t working), the band hit the stage with a power and bite that showed they were here to deliver some serious metal. David DePietro is a guitar monster and I had been primed to pay attention – anyone that was involved with teaching Zakk Wylde must have some serious chops and from what I saw in the first couple of numbers had me convinced! Revisiting “Metal of Honor” after the show really had me wondering why T.T.Quick never achieved more success? Sometimes the music industry just has me shaking my head. The entire set was a power-play and for me I think it was ‘Front Burner’ and ‘Metal of Honor’ toward the end of the set that really had me doing my nut, but there wasn’t a weak number in any of the seven numbers they delivered. Eddie jumped up on stage and incited the audience to call them back for more and we were treated to “Go For The Throat” and then a crushing version of “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath” that included an impromptu ‘all-star’ appearance by John Gallagher from Raven who delivered a couple of lines and was off again! And then we were done. I don’t remember looking at the time but it must have been around 1.30AM and one of my most memorable moments in my heavy metal life was over, but the memories will live on.

Since the show I have seen many great pictures of the night, but I have yet to see any really good quality video footage – hopefully there is some. Overall I had a blast and I have only seen good things said about the show. Scoring this seems a little pointless, since how do you score something that is unique? But for completeness this was a straight 10/10.

Running order for the show

Running order for the show

Backstage there was cake! Metal cake!

Backstage there was cake! Metal cake!

The Rods

The Rods

Raven doing crazy Raven-things!

Raven doing crazy Raven-things!

Twisted Sister

Twisted Sister

ANVIL from side of stage

ANVIL from side of stage

T.T.Quick

T.T.Quick

The 'Poster'

The ‘Poster’

M3 Festival – Love/Hate, Steelheart, Trixter, JSRG, Great White, Loudness, FireHouse – Live Review – Day 2

Posted in Just Stuff with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on May 11, 2013 by novametalreview

Merriweather Post Pavilion – 5/4/13

For those who attended the festival, the list of bands in the title above clearly isn’t complete; there were some fifteen bands total playing on the second day of this 2-day festival, but I am going to fully cover those listed, simply because they killed it and I like them! However, they weren’t the only bands I saw, and, as you will discover, not all passed the M3 “rocked-it” test.

For those that blinked and missed my Day 1 Review here’s a link: http://wp.me/p2hj3p-3Y

The Saturday for M3 is always a bit of a marathon, with both stages in use and bands scheduled from 11AM all the way round the clock dial to 11PM. What most people don’t realize is the sheer distance you can end up walking in a given day, especially if you happen to like bands on the main Pavilion and Festival stages that keep you switching back and forth. Add in a little bit of midday sun and a few beers…

For me the schedule was front-loaded with bands I wanted to see starting early with Love/Hate on the main stage at 11.50AM and a planned early exit prior to 9.40PM to ensure we missed the (lame) headliner, “Bret Michaels”. I know a lot of people planned similar early getaway strategies. I’ll try to keep my rhetoric under control, but this is by a long, long, long-way the weakest headliner that M3 has offered up and if they pull such a limp move again, you can be sure my $200+ ticket money will not be heading their way. Value for money isn’t hard to calculate. Most of the acts on the bill this year can be seen at venues such as Empire in Springfield, VA, or Soundstage in Baltimore, MD, for a $15-$30 ticket price, so it takes a full line-up from the headliner down to make that ticket price stand up. I gave them a pass this year and went to see the bands I cared about, but next year I suspect I will be more critical.

Love/Hate

You pretty much have to be on your A-game in the world of hair-metal to know much about Love/Hate, but those that were fortunate to discover them at the very beginning of the 90’s will typically be strong fans and both albums that received US-release were exceptionally good. “Blackout In The Red Room” (’90) and “Wasted In America” (’92) both have a pretty cool metal-funk-sleazy-vibe going on that demands the volume to be cranked up to ‘11’. Who knows what great music we would have enjoyed had grunge not come along and slapped down everything before it?

The vocals from Jizzy Pearl have an edge and character that are somewhat unique in my book and I had previously seen him performing with one of the 48 variants of LA Guns (one of the now-defunct Traci Guns versions I believe) back in 2011, at Jaxx (now Empire, Springfield, VA). The only LA Guns recording to feature Jizzy (“Shrinking Violet”, ’99) is a great record too, so I have a lot of respect for him as a vocalist. The remainder of the line up was made of the excellent Robbie Crane (Ratt/Lynch Mob) on bass, Keri Kelli (Alice Cooper, Slash’s Snakepit) on guitar and drummer Matt Starr (Ace Frehley).

We made sure we arrived in plenty of time to ensure we did not miss any of their set since they only had a 45 minute slot, meaning a short set of perhaps 25-30 minutes tops, and pretty much right on the dot of 11.50AM Jizzy hit the stage and they slammed into “Why Do You Think They Call It Dope” from Blackout’. Immediately it was clear that Jizzy had come to bring it, with all the character in his voice per the albums. The PA was nicely cranked up, with a clear powerful sound – hey! What the hell do you expect? We are at a rock-show dummy! If it’s too loud, you’re too old… haha!

Unfortunately I was right regarding the set-length, and a short 25 minutes took us through “Tumbleweed”, “She’s No Angel” (both from Blackout’), “Wasted In America” (from the album of the same name) and closed with “Blackout In The Red Room”. By this time most people had shaken the sleep out of their ears and realized they were at a metal show – hello people, you just missed one of the highlights of the weekend. Basically they slammed it and I scored them 9/10. It will be a crying shame if they don’t tour the East Coast sometime again real soon.

Steelheart

Another latecomer to the hair-metal scene, Steelheart delivered their self-titled debut album in 1990 to much critical acclaim and significant sales in the Asian markets (33,000 sold on the first day in Japan alone) and quickly achieved platinum status. The second album, Tangled In Reins (’92), was a slightly more dirty sounding record and was not nearly as successful in the US due to the arrival of the dreaded ‘grunge’, but in Asia the ballad  “Mama Don’t You Cry” was a massive #1 hit and is still to this day a staple of cover bands throughout the region.

The band is still led to this day by vocalist Miljenko Matijevic, who provides the key character to the Steelheart sound with his wide-range and piercing high-notes. So, the number one sniff test for the show at M3 was could he still deliver? I must admit I never realized until recently that the primary reason Steelheart stopped playing and disbanded in 1992 was a serious injury to Matijevic that occurred during a concert in Denver on the Tangled In Reins tour, when a 1000lb lighting truss broke free and knocked him to the ground, breaking his nose, cheekbone and jaw, and leaving him with a back injury that would take several years to fully recover. The original guitarist, Chris Risola, is still in the line-up, completed by Rev Jones on bass and Mike Humber on drums.

Another odd fact I never paid any attention to was Matijevic provided some of the vocals behind the lead character in the movie “Rock Star” (2001), for the fictitious band “Steel Dragon”, and the set here for M3 kicked off with “Blood Pollution” from the movie. It was quickly obviously that Matijevic still has that amazing vocal range, and as soon as they broke into “Gimme Gimme” from the debut record, I was rockin’ it. Live they came across as a much heavier band than perhaps is obvious from their records.

Again they were fighting the clock and were only able to play six songs, with the breakdown being 3 tracks from the Steelheart album, “Blood Pollution” and “We All Die Young” from the movie (the latter track was also re-recorded on the “Wait” album released in 1996), and a new track called “Cabernet” that I don’t believe is on any recording to date. Missing from this list is anything from the quite excellent “Good 2B Alive” album which is their most recent recording released in 2008. Also nothing from Tangled In Reins. So much good material left untouched!

Their performance was top notch and the band was firing on all cylinders, with the guitar work from Risola being tight and meaner than I anticipated, while the whirling stage presence from bassist Jones was quite a show. At one point he was playing a vicious looking 6-string Dean bass that I swear looked about 6 feet long. Again, anyone that missed them should be slapping themselves as they were excellent. I’d score them level with Love/Hate at a 9/10. So far so good, eh?

Trixter

Up next were Trixter, who I was intrigued to see for the first time. I picked up their most recent release, “New Audio Machine” (’12) earlier this year and it’s a pretty decent record, spoiled by a couple of seriously lame and limp ballads that are so yucky I have to skip them any time they sneak onto my iTunes playlist. Perhaps I should just delete the damn songs? Without the two offending tracks it’s a pretty good listen. While Trixter have a history pretty much that parallels both Steelheart and Love/Hate that preceded them, they really didn’t achieve quite the same level of success, so I was rather perplexed as to why they were playing later and indeed might have seen them as a better fit for the Festival stage really. What is interesting is the band retains the same line-up today, as they did back in early 90’s during the peak of their success.

Their set opened with a backing track, I think from the latest record, but pretty much as soon as they kicked off it was apparent that things were a little bent out of shape. Oh dear. Now, as a guitarist of some 35 years experience, any time any one is having any kind of issue with gear or their instruments I tend to pick up on it, and it was obvious to me that the guitar of Steve Brown wasn’t in tune with the backing tape or the bass of P.J. Farley. Not good. I don’t know what it is, may be we can blame pollen or something, but this is the second show in as many weeks where we’ve experienced a bit of a mess, with instrument tuning issues. This then went from bad to worse, when the guitar rig cut out entirely. I fully understand the pressures of the festival environment, but come fellas, no one else seemed to have a problem all day.

I think we tried to hang in their for the second song, but the fire was out for me, and we decided to make a run for it and scout out the merch stands. Later we found out that the temptation of a little too much backstage hospitality was probably to blame for the issues we had just walked away from, though I need to be clear and state that is entirely rumor. Personally, I’d rather it was that, than a fundamental and basic cock-up – I can excuse a rock band hitting a couple of six-packs hard, but screwing up sober is harder to understand. Sadly I scored them a 3/10.

JSRG

Let me be clear, just because you are a ‘girl band’ does not excuse you the necessity of performing at the exact same level as a ‘guy band’, so I’m assuming that we all agree on that? I say that, because there seems to be some exceptions to the rule, perhaps more so recently, with a few ‘girl bands’ that seem to think the less clothes you wear, the less it matters how well they play or write songs (or don’t write them to be more accurate). Now, there have been some great ‘girl bands’ – Girlschool and The Runaways – and some great musicians – for example “Orianthi” is an outstanding guitarist, and when we saw her with Alice Cooper she shredded like the very best. So, what we have here are the remains of “Vixen” who were hailed as the “female Bon Jovi” back in the day. Hmm? Yeah, right…

Vixen put out two albums in ’88 and ’90 and then imploded. When you dig a little deeper you find that the biggest hit they had, “Edge of a Broken Heart”, was co-written and arranged by mega-songwriter Richard Marx. Unfortunately for some, image triumphs over substance.

Let me keep this brief. We walked back from the merch area and JSRG were already into their set. I don’t know how many songs in to be honest, but somehow it seems they were allocated time to fit nine songs into their time. We took our seats and listened to the song in progress, as I said, I have no idea which one. Then the next one started. Odd, the vocal melody seemed exactly the same as the previous one, give or take. To be fair, the crowd seemed to be into it, but I must have been missing the point or something. Then the next song started. Er, hello, didn’t this one also sound the same as the one before? Well, not quite, because this was a cover of an Adele song! WTF? An ADELE song. Seriously? Is that what M3 has become now… an opportunity for 3rd tier bands to turn out cover songs of current pop stars? Bloody hell, that was lame. I will say, Roxy Petrucci, the drummer was good and that was about as far as I can take it. Everything else was sort of, blah, whatever. My score for them 4/10.

Great White featuring Jack Russell

After leaving the Pavilion and stopping for a beer or two in the VIP area, we wondered up the hill to see what was going on at the Festival stage and found Great White absolutely swamped with people, and they sounded great. I won’t drag out the “this or that Great White” debate… There is enough of that with Queensryche to last all year currently, but this version of Great White sounded right-on, and Jack Russell clearly still has it vocally. We saw the last two songs of the set, which were “Rock Me” and “Once Bitten, Twice Shy” and both were rocking. I’d score them 7/10.

Loudness

Last year Loudness just blew apart the Festival stage and most people regarded them as the best band at the show, so expectation was high. This would be the third time I’ve seen Loudness in the last 2 years or so, and they are in my top 10 bands to see live. I was excited to see them again! But… in the week preceding there was a lot of conjecture as to whether they would be at the show. There were all sorts of rumors circulating and a string of club dates were cancelled. Allegedly there were problems with work visas. Not good. All this “will they, won’t they?” was answered on Friday night, when we walked into the hotel reception and found Akira (guitar God!) and Masayuki Suzuki (drums). Obviously they were very tired, but pleased to be here at all. Yes, visa problems!

We found our seats well ahead of the 4.20PM kick off time and waited with great expectation as their gear was set-up, and just slightly later than scheduled they ran an opening intro tape. This quickly became “Fire Of Spirt” from the Metal Mad album  from 2008. Holy hell, Loudness have released no less that 28 studio albums. Yes. Read that again. Twenty-eight studio albums. That’s damn close to one per year (just short, they formed in 1980). It was clear that there were some problems with the sound at this point. There was NO bass guitar at all and it was clear from the scuttling around on stage that the sound crew was well aware of this. However, Akira on guitar is a monster and his sound is always so awesome that I was dealing with this.

Some people have a problem with Minoru Niihara’s vocals, but those who are hardcore long-term fans understand that once you go with the flow this is not an issue. To be fair the mix could have given us a little more vocal, but Minoru was in fine voice and worked the crowd as best he could given English is a long way from his first language. By about the third track (“Crazy Nights”) they sound crew had found the bass and the mix suddenly caught fire. Loudness easily score the “heaviest band at M3, 2013” award of the weekend. Sounding both heavy and melodic Loudness slammed us with power and a display of out-right master craftsmanship on all of their respective instruments.

Up fourth was “Crazy Doctor” which is a crowd favorite, even for those less fanatical fans and they tore this one up. Akira is perhaps one of the worlds top 10 guitarists in my book and he was on form today. He has a mesmerizing ability to mix melody with just crazy technique and today was no different. There were times when he let rip with riff upon riff that just pummeled you into submission – and then he tore the fretboard off his guitar with a solo that most guitarists could only imagine in their most out-of-world dreams. This guy is a *master*.

Next up they destroyed “Heavy Chains” and then we were hammered by a vicious drum solo. OK, I’m not a fan of drum solos. Give me a guitar solo and I’m smiling, drums not so much, but this was heavy and a part of pretty much every Loudness show. Even so, this was the only part I would have skipped if I were writing the set list.

To close out the set we were hammered with “King Of Pain” (title track of the 2010 release), followed by “Survivor” (Eve To Dawn, 2011) and the classic “SDI”. Of course this track is a must-have for any Loudness show and had the audience fully powered up. And that was it. Loudness were easily the heaviest band of the show and that in itself is a challenge for many in attendance. For me it was perfect. Looking at it in retrospect I would still rate their performance from 2012 better than this time around ,and that may be a function of the intimacy that the Festival stage brings, versus that of the more distant Pavilion experience. Despite this, I still rate them a 9/10.

FireHouse

Ok, at this point I am horribly out of sequence… what the hell happened to Kings X and Steel Panther? Well, we did catch the very tail end of Kings X and they sounded good. I can’t claim to know anything much beyond how to spell the band’s name, so I will leave it that they sounded tight and very musical.

Turning now to Steel Panther… haha! They take what Kix allude to do and wind the comedy dial all the way past ‘11’ and much more. So, Kix tried to be funny, while Steel Panther ARE funny. Since we had seen them a few months back at Rams Head Live in Baltimore, I figured they would pretty much roll out the same set. They did, but shorter. They are both a parody and enigmatic at the same time, primarily because they can play the hell out of their instruments. On a certain level they frustrate me, because I suspect they would be a damn good serious band. Looking at it from a purist perspective you could argue they are wasting a slot a serious band could be playing in, but lets not loose perspective – this is the entertainment business.

So, while Steel Panther did their thing, we waited right up the front of the stage for FireHouse who are one of my all time favorite “hair bands”, whether that hair still applies or not! So, like several of the earlier bands who played earlier, FireHouse arrived on the scene in 1990 with the self-titled debut that spawned three massive hits, including “Love Of A Lifetime” which is one of those hits that any self-respecting musician would love to write and ensures that paying the bills for the rest of their career is not so challenging. This was then followed by the album “Hold Your Fire” which delivered another top 10 hit in the shape of “When I Look Into Your Eyes”. Lightning does strike twice.

From the moment FireHouse hit the Festival stage they were firing on all cylinders and delivered a basically faultless performance from the first note to the last. The sound up front was heavy and pounding, and I will say that FireHouse always come across as a heavier band than their records might have you believe. They opened with “Hold Your Fire” (title track of the second album) and from then on it was a master class from every member of the band.

CJ Snare is still nailing those high notes despite the 23 years that have elapsed since the first record, and you’d have to look hard to see any evidence of that time having passed. Bill Leverty is a seriously good guitar player and he was note perfect throughout the set. There wasn’t a hammer on out of place. Excellent. Michael Foster on the drums is a riot to watch. He is constantly twirling sticks or throwing them impossibly high into the air and still pounds out a vicious rhythm on his super low-slung kit. Allen McKenzie fills out the line-up with tight bass-lines and some super sharp vocal harmonies.

Up second is the massive “All She Wrote”, which still sounds fresh to this day, followed by “When I Look Into Your Eyes”, which of course has all the couples in the audience groping each other… This was soon put to rest with the rocker “Overnight Sensation” which is a wicked head-banger of a track. Keeping the hits coming, we then slowed back down to fit in “Love Of A Lifetime” and sadly the set closed way too soon with “Don’t Treat Me Bad”. Something is wrong when a 3rd tier band like JSRG can make it to the main stage and have time for nine songs, while a top tier act like FireHouse only gets time for six songs. Hello M3 organizers are you listening? My score for the superb FireHouse 9/10.

And We’re Done….

And at this point my M3 was done… huh? What the hell? No Twisted Sister? No Bret Michaels review? LOL, well, no. For the latter, you’d definitely have to buy me several 6-packs of a good IPA to get me to even consider listening to him. In fact I might just pour that IPA in my ears for Bret Michaels. Funny, I never noticed until now, if you shorten Bret Michaels you end up with B.M., which also stands for… Enough! No B.M. for me, not tonight or ever. There are plenty of other Poison cover/tribute bands, that another one is unnecessary.

So why no Twisted Sister? We had already decided to head up to New Jersey for the Old Bridge Militia Reunion show on the next weekend featuring Twisted Sister, Raven, Anvil, The Rods and TT Quick, so we knew we were going to see Twisted Sister a short seven days later, and what a killer line-up the rest of the bill indeed! So, we decided that a tactical retreat to a civilized dinner would be a better way to close the evening. On reflection we could have probably stayed for a couple of T.S. numbers, but all the reports were they nailed it and were one of highlights of the weekend. I totally believe it. I will report from the Old Bridge Militia show.

As for B.M. I am so pleased we didn’t even get a whiff of the ol’ bandana himself. From the fact that he felt he could keep the crowd waiting and come on late, to the Skynyrd cover and the fact he only delivered eight songs, it all leaves me with a sense of relief that I was in a ‘not crowded’ bar knocking back Guinness with some good friends and eating a decent meal at that time. I bet the temperature had dropped something wicked too…

So, closing thoughts? For me Loudness, FireHouse, Love/Hate and Steelheart (in that order) took the day, though I should probably award Twisted Sister a virtual tie with Loudness. Unfortunately this year was a definite step down compared to last year, and that in itself was a step down from the previous, so there is a slide in the wrong direction taking place. M3 needs to step it up next year, or we can begin to count the event out pretty soon. My overall score for day 2 was again a 5/10. It might have been lower had I actually suffered to hear any of B.M., so be thankful!

M3Day2 007

Jizzy Pearl – Love/Hate

Steelheart

Steelheart

Loudness

Loudness

Loudness

Loudness

Akira - Guitar God

Akira – Guitar God

Michael Foster - FireHouse

Michael Foster – FireHouse

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CJ Snare – FireHouse

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Bill Leverty – FireHouse

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Allen McKenzie – FireHouse

M3 Festival – Danger Danger, Kix, W.A.S.P. – Live Review – Day 1

Posted in Gig Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , on May 8, 2013 by novametalreview

Merriweather Post Pavilion, Columbia, MD – 5/3/13

This is the fifth year that the M3 Festival has been held and it is perhaps the premier festival for those looking for a dose of 80’s “hair-metal” music. This is third year that the festival has split over two-days, with an opening on the Friday evening, followed by a day-long event on Saturday, divided across two stages, the main Merriweather Pavilion stage, and second stage known as the Festival stage, at the top of the hill overlooking the Pavilion. Hard to explain in words, but simple enough when you are there. This review will focus on the shorter of the two days, the Friday night.

For Day 2 see my review here > http://wp.me/p2hj3p-4h

Of the three bands here, “Kix” has played every year that M3 has been run. These boys are a local favorite, hailing from Baltimore, MD, just a few miles up I-95, and unofficially claimed Friday night as their own, headlining the previous two years, naming the evening show the M3 “Kix-off party” or something yucky and similar.  However this year they lost the headline slot and were second on the bill to the mighty W.A.S.P., led by Blackie Lawless. I will be totally honest here – I don’t really get it when it comes to Kix? Sure, they put out a handful of albums in the 80’s and 90’s (6 total, from ‘81 through ’95) of which “Blow My Fuse”, from 1988, was most successful and the only one I personally own, but have released nothing since ‘95 (Hmmm? That’s 18 years folks…), and actually disbanded in the period ’95 through ’03 following a distinct lack of sales for the final album. Anyway, more of my misgivings later. As you will see, the fall from the mighty headline position was not received quite as graciously by Kix as it might have been.

Whether Kix deserve a slot on the bill every year is debatable anyway. My opinion would be to switch it up and give another band time on the main stage, since basically all Kix do is roll out the same show, year-in, year-out. To be honest, what else can they do? They don’t have any new music…  In the earlier years of the festival I suppose they were a local draw that ensured a certain audience attendance, but I fail to see that is relevant five years on now. But I am getting way ahead of myself.

Danger Danger

“Danger Danger” were actually the second band to hit the stage, having been preceded by a young school of rock band called “Bad Seed Rising “ who sounded pretty good, but we missed in the scrum to claim our VIP passes. This is an aspect of M3 that I don’t like, since the line can be long, but was made worse for many people because the organizers required the original purchaser to be present. I realize this is an attempt to keep the ‘scalpers’ at bay, but at the point you go to collect your VIP package, it is way too late to teach people a lesson. Many people that had either bought VIP tickets from resellers or even their friends, could not get their VIP passes or packs, which, given they have the ticket in their hands, seems pointless. The problem is at the time of purchase M3 organizers, not the day of the show…

Ignoring that fuss for now, we made our way to our seats at the sound of the opening chords to “Boys Will Be Boys”. First impressions were the sound was good, the stage was clear of stacks and stacks of gear (so that meant they were clearing the stage between acts) and giving everyone a fair amount of stage room, and that Danger Danger were sounding great! The band consists of three of the original members from the days of the first two albums (their most successful), with Ted Poley on vocals, Bruno Ravel on bass, and Steve West on drums, with new-boy Rob Marcello on guitar.

Over the course of the next six songs we were treated to a run through of the most popular tracks from the first two albums, including “Monkey Business”, “Beat The Bullet” and “Rock America”. They also squeezed in the soppy ballad “Don’t Walk Away”, which is a nice change of pace and I suppose one of Danger Danger’s ‘standards’, but I can’t help but think the 5 minutes it soaked up could have been used to play something from the latest DD release “Revolver” (2009) which is a great record and was untouched for the duration of their set. Shame. The set was brought to a close with the audience being invited to choose between “Bang Bang” and “Naughty Naughty”, with the latter winning out by a good cheer and a half.

Ted Poley sounded great on vocals and seemed to have brought his A-game this particular night, leaving me wanting to hear more for sure. A particularly endearing moment was when Ted jumped off the stage and took a tour through the crowd. I think it was during “Rock America” and actually ended up right in front of me, despite being 20 rows back! Rob Marcello also impressed on guitar and was tight, keeping the solos pretty much note perfect to the recorded works. Nicely played. Overall, given their short set time, it’s hard to fault them, and they delivered a strong performance. I scored them an 8/10, and would definitely go see them if they toured. Basically the only complaint I had was the lack of recent material in the set.

KIX

At this point in the proceedings we met some friends, so we headed to the bar, as any self-respecting festivalgoer will do between sets. Now it wasn’t planned, but that was exactly where we stayed for the duration of Kix’s set, so I can only comment on what I heard from the bar and second-hand comments from other friends who did watch them. Not much of a reviewer you might think, but perhaps it was just as well. Now I did see Kix at the very end of 2012 at a smaller venue in Raleigh, NC, and to be fair, they brought it that night, and delivered an entertaining set. One of the better things that particular night was Steve Whiteman seemed to have left his between-song comedy show at home, however, I had previously sat through that experience at the 2012 M3 and kind of hoped he kept it locked away this time around. Unfortunately not.

From our bar spot, the decent songs that Kix have were clearly obvious, including “No Ring Around Rosie”, “Don’t Close Your Eyes”, “Cold Blood” and “Blow My Fuse”, while most of the others come across as also-rans, at least to my ears. But, it was the lame comedy that drew most comments. I mean there are only so many references to “cornholes” and similar, until it just becomes lame, and it appears to all intents and purposes that the jokes were pretty much the same ones as last year. And was it really necessary to throw in a drum solo? At the best of times this seems like a ploy to give the rest of the band a couple of minutes off stage, but with the best will in the world, does anyone really think that Jimmy Chalfant is worthy of a drum solo? However, the comments from Steve at the lead-in to the final number that gave the game away. Now I don’t have it word for word, but it was something about having to play the ‘short version of Yeah, Yeah, Yeah since they were pressed for time’ which was clearly a dig at the promoters for not having them headlining this time around. Sheesh! Does anyone think Blackie Lawless would agree to have Kix headline over them? Do Kix think they could follow WASP?

For a band that has played M3 every year since it started, perhaps a little dose of reality would be appropriate. Sure, Kix are entertaining and have a pretty loyal following, but would anyone NOT buy tickets, simply because Kix weren’t there next year? Really? There are a long list of bands I would rather see other than Kix on the main stage next year, so I really hope the organizers have a long hard think about this next time around. Nothing personally directed at the band, but I believe their time is past. To close this I won’t score them, since I didn’t watch them.

W.A.S.P.

With a legacy stretching back to 1982 and fourteen full-length studio albums to their credit, sales over 12 million copies (mostly in the 80’s and very early 90’s), W.A.S.P. represent a true headliner in the M3 criteria sense, but even so they are not perhaps a household favorite for the average hair-metal fan. Personally I lump WASP in the same bucket as Mötley Crüe in their early days (up to about ’85) and then Crüe went the “Girls Girls Girls” route (decidedly more glam), while WASP kept on the same path (heavier and nastier), until ’92 when “The Crimson Idol” took them on a darker course, with a strong dose of introspection.

Trying to make sense of the former members of W.A.S.P. is next to impossible, and it is simpler to just state that Blackie Lawless is the lynchpin around which a revolving assortment of musicians have ebbed and flowed. Certainly Chris Holmes on guitar was a key member from ’83 through ’90, but despite returning in ’96, his presence did not bring back the former vibe and he finally left (again) in ’01.  I’m sure there are true WASP-ophiles that will point out the criticality of other members, but to me it’s Blackie and the rest, and I’ll stick by description with the line-up today, even recognizing that Mike Duda has been on bass since ’97.

I’m not what you would call a massive W.A.S.P. fan, but I was looking forward to seeing them, the last time being sometime in the mid-80’s in the UK, so as show time approached, expectation was growing. I also noted the temperature was dropping fast, which wasn’t so good, since I was only wearing my cut-off denim over a leather waistcoat and t-shirt. Why didn’t I bring my leather jacket? Ahhhggg… For folks that had lawn tickets things were about to get chilly pretty fast.

Finally we dragged ourselves out of the bar, just as the house lights dimmed, and bam!, there was Blackie and crew, opening with “On Your Knees” which immediately segued into “The Torture Never Stops”. The band sounded powerful and pumped, with an interesting backdrop of perfectly sequenced videos from back-in-the-day. Now, that rather gave the game away that there was a lot of technology at work here, and there were several “Is it live or is it Memorex” moments (if you were anything more than a baby in the 80’s, you’ll get that, otherwise Google it!) through the show. But, to be honest none of that really bothered me, since Blackie was hammering out the lead vocals and doing his thing. As I sit here writing this, I really can’t remember much about any other members of the band at all. I don’t know if that was some kind of tunnel vision on my part (perhaps due to the encroaching cold), or some magic that Blackie was weaving, but it’s the way it sits in my memory.

Following the opening pair of songs, next up was “The Real Me” (which is a Who cover, but a staple of the W.A.S.P. set), followed by “L.O.V.E. Machine” and “Wild Child”. At this point we’re sitting pretty and the crowd is going nuts, but just about now Blackie announces that 2012 was the 30th anniversary for the band and this concert was part of the “30 Years Of Thunder” tour and that the set was to be split into three parts. The part we were in now (oldies), then a 30-minute medley featuring of The Crimson Idol album (’92) and then, well, the end, I guess. At this point Blackie kind of had me worried. “The Crimson Idol” is a great record, don’t get me wrong, but it’s a concept album and one that has a rather dark story line, ending in the suicide of the main character. Not really cheery festival fodder…

Another couple of oldies slid by and we are treated to a kick-ass version of “I Wanna Be Somebody”, which personally felt should have been the ‘closer’ for the evening. And then we get to “The Crimson Idol” medley. As a W.A.S.P. fan, I was totally cool with this and it was great to hear these songs, but it really wasn’t festival music, and by about half-way through it was clear that the combination of cold and this mostly unfamiliar music was driving folks to leave. So the drama unfolds on stage and the video backdrop continues to entertain, but clearly this wasn’t M3 mainstream material and the lawn in particular was pretty much thinned out when this section concluded. I think it fair to say WASP have always played what they wanted to play, and there are plenty of stories from the early 80’s, where WASP snubbed other bands by dropping in a 2 hour set, while only being a support band for example.

With the Crimson Idol set out of the way, we were then rather bizarrely treated to a drum solo. Oh, great. As noted before, unless you are well known as a master of the kit, a drum solo seems a little superfluous and that’s what I think this was. At this point I was pretty cold myself, so the idea of wasting my time with a drum solo is still stuck in my head. I realize Blackie Lawless isn’t in control of the weather, but the drum solo or not, yes. The show closed with “Heaven’s Hung In Black” from the ’07 Dominator album, which is unknown by me at least. After a brief exit from the stage, signifying the show was “over”, there was enough yelling and screaming from those left in the crowd to get the band back on stage for an encore of “Blind In Texas” which is a dead certainty for any WASP show, but that was it. Day 1 over.

What we got here was a W.A.S.P. show. Not a festival show, but a straight-up W.A.S.P. show for the fans, and damn anyone who wasn’t up for it. Since I would put myself in that classification, I enjoyed the set and spent much of the time going nuts. It was reported that we even made it to the video screens – several times, since we were up front against the first tier railing and easily spotted. However, I can totally understand anyone who isn’t a big fan of the band being way less than enthusiastic about the evening’s headliner.  Personally I scored them a 7/10 and was glad I got to see them, but I suspect they will not be high on the return invite list.

So to close this Day 1 review, how would I score the overall experience? Danger Danger were great and I have no problems there. Kix are a recurring 3rd tier band that have shoehorned themselves to become part of the scenery for this event, but add very little for anyone that has been to M3 previously. You get the same songs (well, actually 9 out of the 13 songs were the same, but of the others only “Hot Wire” is much of a song), the same jokes, and the same balloons. And of course, W.A.S.P. weren’t playing to the festival at all, so that doesn’t help. Not a totally convincing start to the 2013 M3 then. Well, I think overall for Day 1 I can only get to a 5/10.

Danger Danger

Danger Danger

Ted Poley right next to me!

Ted Poley right next to me!

W.A.S.P.

W.A.S.P.

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Raven – Live Review – 4/19/13 @ Empire, Springfield VA

Posted in Gig Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , on May 2, 2013 by novametalreview

Just writing the band name “Raven” in the context of a live review takes my mind back over 30 years, to a smallish English town by the sea called Brighton, inside a mid-sized venue called The Dome, recalling a vivid memory of a stage that seemed to dramatically shrink in size as three young lads whipped up an energy storm that swept the crowd into a head-banging frenzy. And they were supposed to be the support act! This tour was, I believe, the only full UK tour that Raven completed before leaving for the USA in 1983, so it was either late 1981 or more likely 1982 and they were supporting Girlschool. Wow! Those were some kickass days…I still remember hand-embroidering the Raven logo on my denim vest the day before the show. I still have and wear that vest to shows this day!

The second Raven album, Wiped Out, released in 1982, has always been one of my favorite records of all time, and recently I tracked down a copy on CD, which was not an easy task, so, if you see a copy on Amazon or similar I highly recommend snapping it up. This record, released on the now legendary, low-budget rock label “Neat Records” from Northern England, has such an amazing raw power to it, and captured both the high-energy of the live show and exceptional playing from all three musicians. This record is still seen to this day as a ground-breaker that led the way for thrash and speed metal bands around the world. It’s hard to pick favorites from this record, but I’ll take a stab and take “Live At The Inferno”, “Faster Than The Speed Of Light” and “Firepower”, but really there isn’t anything close to a filler-track to be seen on this record.

For those that need a reminder (really..?), when Raven broke into the mainstream in 1980 they were a three-piece, with brothers Mark and John Gallagher on guitar and bass respectively, with Rob “Wacko” Hunter on drums, though in earlier years they had various line-ups as a four-piece, and originally formed way back in 1974 (yes, you read that right, 1974, nearly 40 years ago). Lead vocals have always been handled by John and to this day his “harmonious-cat-wail-like” high-pitched scream is an undeniable trademark of any Raven recording or live show. This line-up persisted until 1987 with the departure of Rob, and the arrival of Joe Hasselvander on drums, who technically retains the label “new-guy”, despite having held the drum-stool for some 26 years now. Joe is a master musician and has a list of album appearances, including four solo-efforts, on which he plays anything and everything from drums to guitar to bass and maybe even a touch of violin.

Currently Raven have twelve studio albums to their credit and their most recent offering, “Walk Through Fire” (2009), was something of a reflection on the return of Raven after a studio absence of some 9 years, largely as a result of a very serious accident in 2001 when a wall collapsed and crushed the legs of guitarist Mark. This accident was so serious that at one point it was questionable whether he would ever walk again. I don’t think his doctors had factored in this was a tough lad from the North of England and that a little inconvenience like nearly loosing his legs were going to stop him? No way! To see him now on the stage, I think you’d be hard pushed to even guess this had occurred, though now I’m getting ahead of myself.

I actually saw Raven performing for the first time since that show long ago the UK just last year, in a small bar in Raleigh, NC, but I purposefully held back from writing a review since I knew their were a few things coming down the pipe for the band and now seems like perfect timing. The most relevant is the forthcoming release of a retrospective DVD covering the history of the band, entitled appropriately “Rock Until You Drop”, set for release a little later this year (June I think?). Next up is the Old Bridge Metal Militia concert due to take place on May 11th in Freehold, NJ, featuring Raven, Twisted Sister, Anvil and The Rods – wow, that’s a serious slice of metal and I think a night that will go down in metal history. Yes, we have tickets!

This year is the 30th anniversary of the “All For One” album, so the band put together a short series of three dates in the mid-Atlantic region, including the subject gig at Empire in Springfield, VA, follwed the next nigh at The Dead Horse Cantina in Pittsburg and wrapping up in Brooklyn, NY at Saint Vitus Bar. Hopefully more dates around the country (and locally again, please!) will follow.

Empire is one of my favorite local venues, but it isn’t always the easiest place to get the sound right, but my fears were all put on ice when I found out that Kevin Gutierrez, who was the producer for “Walk Through Fire”, was running the sound board that night. Perfect! Also appearing on the bill were locals Cab Ride Home, and recurring favorites and NoVAMetalReview favorites A Sound Of Thunder, but due to crappy weather we didn’t make it through the doors until ASoT were well into their set, so they will have to contend themselves with a mention and a note that they sounded “awesome” this time around (and, yes, I am kicking myself for missing your whole set).

Turning now to Raven, as soon as ASoT’s gear cleared the stage, it’s the lads themselves setting up gear and sound checking without all the fuss and bluster that sometimes seems to go with bands dragging techs/roadies around with them, and after a short wait, we’re off. I think it was a scream of “Are you READY!” from John and the energy-ball that is Raven exploded on stage. Opening with “Take Control”, which is the lead track on the All For One album, immediately it’s clear that Kevin has control of the mix desk and everything is sounding as good as it ever could in Empire, with both John and Mark playing signature Oktober guitars (http://www.octoberguitars.com/index.htm). John was in fact taking his spanking brand new Explorer-styled, JG8 signature 8-string bass for its first gig, which Tony Leicht (founder of Oktober) had literally just handed over to John. It sounded really good, with a deep, full tone that perfectly fills below Mark’s guitar. Tony hadn’t even had time to take any pictures for his website! Mark on the other hand, had his Raven MGT “tele-style” guitar cranked to just about 11 despite not having his Mesa Boogie amp and was using borrowed gear, and it too sounded wicked that night.

Glaring over the rims of the drum kit we find Joe Hasselvander, who despite not being totally fit that night, is a monster behind the kit and has a way of hitting the skins with an incredibly musical, but powerful touch. It’s hard to put into words, but despite the fact he’s pounding the hell out of the kit, it never comes across as over-hit. It’s a bit like a racing driver that can perfectly clip the apex of every corner and kisses the lip of every curb, but never gets the car out of line.

With the first number out the way, we’re off on a wild ride with “Live At The Inferno” up next, which of course is a crowd favorite, followed by “All For One”, “Breaking You Down” and, one of my personal live favorites, “Firepower”. Normally I avoid listing out set lists and include a photo of the actual setlist from the show, but Raven are one of those bands that use telepathy or some other magic on-stage, and generally don’t have written setlists (though I did grab the hand-written one from the Raleigh gig last year!). Next up we were treated to “Rock Until You Drop” and then Mark got to let rip with a guitar solo that seemed to have his guitar begging for forgiveness at the end of it all. Mark really is a wildly talented guitarist and, ever since the release of “Wiped Out”, I have held him in high regard. He is still a monster on the fret board, and it is clear his “sound” is coming not from the equipment, but directly from his fingers, and how he hits the strings with the pick.

Highlights from the rest of the set for me were “Faster Than The Speed Of Light” and “On and On” which took us to the end of the ‘set’ proper, but it didn’t take much yelling from the crowd to bring John back out onstage with his classic “custom” red explorer, trem-equipped, bass. Now, there’s a bit of story behind this bass, which recently took a solo tour of Europe – yes, without John. To keep the story short, the bass ended up as “lost luggage” after a trip to a gig in Greece turned into a weather-driven nightmare of missed and re-routed connecting flights. I think it was almost a week before John received a phone call declaring the case had found its way back to Washington-Dulles. There was a collective out-breath from many, many Raven fans around the World when John reported on Facebook it had returned. So, despite being even more beaten up, which seems a stretch considering this bass has survived at least one house fire and years of abuse on the road, John tears into a bass solo that has the bass both screaming and growling at the same time. There aren’t many bass players that can pull off a solo that isn’t a good excuse for a trip to the bar, but no matter how thirsty you might think you are, you don’t want to miss a John Gallagher bass solo.

Following this, Mark and Joe found their way back to the stage and we’re taken on a medley of covers that give us a glimpse into some of the musical foundation that Raven leans on, including UFO (Rock Bottom), Steppenwolf (Born To Be Wild), Montrose (Rock Candy), Black Sabbath (War Pigs/Symptom Of The Universe), The Who (I think it was Won’t Get Fooled Again) and Judas Priest (Genocide). Hopefully I got that right! Finally the evening was brought to a close with “Break The Chain”. I noticed that Mark had switched to an older ESP guitar (I think it was an ESP…eek?), and with John on the 4-string, I did notice a little thinning of the sound in the encore section; some of the “balls” was gone, which is probably a comment more on how powerful the 8-string bass/MGT Oktober guitar pairing was for the main set.

What the above fails to convey is the overabundance of energy that comes with a Raven show. There’s always something going on, with guitars being crashed together, Mark and John running this way (greatly facilitated by the headset mic that John uses), screams and yells, and just general rock’n’roll mayhem. Raven lay claim to be “the wildest band in the f**kin’ world!” which may be a little stretch of the truth, but I definitely would agree with the “wildest band in the f**kin world still playing after nearly 40 years”. That is true by a long, long stretch. Raven may not be one of the first bands you think of when you think early 80’s NWOBHM bands, but they really should be, and if you get the chance to go see them DO NOT PASS; they are a riot and epitomize all that was, and still is, good about a good heavy metal band. My score for the show, a riotous 8.5/10.

Note:  Most of the photos below were taken by Michelle , who is by FAR a way better photographer than I am! Great shots. There are more, just too many to post here.
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