Archive for April, 2014

Queensryche – M3 Festival 2014 – Live Review (Merriweather Post Pavillion 4/26/14)

Posted in Gig Reviews with tags , , , , , , on April 30, 2014 by novametalreview

Normally I wouldn’t write a single artist review for a particular performance at any given festival, generally preferring to keep the flow of the day in context, but in this case I am driven to make a very worthy exception. The on-the-day performance from Queensryche at this years M3 Festival in Maryland at the Merriweather Post Pavillion was head-and-shoulders the hands-down performance of the day, so I am compelled to put my thoughts down in an individual review piece. And, you will notice quite unlike my normal crafty keep the ‘score’ for the review to the end – not today – this was a perfect 10/10 performance. Now let me justify that!

For those looking for a review of the whole M3 Festival end-to-end will have to wait a day or two while I get those written, but for now I am focusing on Queensryche. The last time Queensryche appeared at M3 was back in 2012, and that was the second-to-last performance before Geoff Tate was fired from the band and the lid was lifted off the freak-show that Tate seems to drag around with him these days. I don’t want to dwell too much on this rather painful part of the band’s history, but some points need making.

The first point that is entirely relevant to M3, was that previous 2012 performance was decidedly lackluster and flat, with Tate stalking the front of the stage more like a caged wildcat than a lead singer, at one point throwing a mic stand across the stage narrowly missing the front row of the audience, while the remainder of the band seemed nailed to a spot at the back of the stage. This was definitely the weakest performance out of the 5 or 6 times I’ve seen them, and at the time we remarked it was a strange and limp performance.

Geoff Tate was fired immediately following the show that followed M3, and Todd La Torre, formerly of Crimson Glory, was brought into the band, while Tate went off and formed his own version of Queensryche, which left many fans confused and split. To this day many refuse to accept a non-Tate fronted band can be Queensryche, however I take huge issue with this – Queensryche was NEVER Tate’s band, and those that know the original history will know that Tate only agreed to join the band as a member after the original ground-breaking EP was released independently to great success and the band were looking at a large multi-album contract. While Tate had written the lyrics to one of the tracks on the EP (actually in the studio while the recording progressed), the original quartet of Wilton, DeGarmo, Jackson and Rockenfield spent over a year working on getting the EP released while Tate continued other projects. At the time the EP was recorded Tate was not a member of the band, and essentially was brought in a session musician. I’m not going to say that Tate is a creature of opportunity, but it wasn’t his hard work that broke the band, and while integral in the signature sound that followed, those that claim he was a founding member have their facts wrong.

The legal “battle” that followed the firing of Tate and the tale of two Queensryche’s is now over (as of 4/27/14) with the original triplet, Wilton, Jackson and Rockenfield, retaining ownership of the name (since Chris DeGarmo has long been out of the band). Therefore the 2014 M3 performance was the last of the dual-Queensryche era.

So, let’s get back to the matter of the moment, the 2014 M3 performance. Queensryche were scheduled exactly in the middle slot of the day on the main stage, due to start at 4.10PM, and as that time approached, it was clear the pavilion area was less than packed, and while some of that might be attributed to Jake E. Lee appearing on the Festival Stage at the other end of the venue, I suspect there were a significant number of people that were playing the “Todd La Torre isn’t Queensryche” game.

After a short intro roll, the band burst onto the stage headlong into “Nightrider”, from the debut EP, which is back in the set after a hiatus of 26 years. Todd La Torre has taken these early Queensryche songs, dusted them off with the band, and given them a new lease of life that, unfortunately, Tate would have no part of previously. The fact that these early songs have sat un-played in a live setting for so long is a travesty in my opinion. These were the songs that brought so many fans to the band, and the EP certainly remains one of my favorite Queensryche records. I was fortunate to see QR last year with Todd in Raleigh, NC (see my review here: http://wp.me/p2hj3p-2G), so I was fully prepared for a great performance from him, but it was immediately apparent the whole Queensryche machine was in top gear, with the sound mix being nigh on perfect from the very beginning (not something I can say for some bands at M3 by the way).

Next up we were treated to “Breaking The Silence” from Mindcrime, followed by “Walk In The Shadows” from Rage To Order. At this point it was clear the audience had woken up and there was special vibe in the venue. Seats were filling rapidly. “Warning” was up next and this classic had Todd with a vice-grip hold on the song and totally made it his own, no question. He totally nailed this and the crowd was in full voice singing along with every chorus. At this point the crowd was just electrified and there was a tangible buzz, with people looking at their neighbors with the sort of look you can only get from seeing something special taking place in front of you. It was the look that says “Wow! These guys are on fire!”

Least I come over as a total Todd-fan-boy, the entire band was on par with him, with Michael “Whip” Wilton and Parker Lundgren ripping some great harmony guitar, Eddie Jackson locking down the bottom end on bass, and of course the intense and awesomely good Scott Rockenfield on drums. I particularly liked the interplay between La Torre and Rockenfield in the instrumental sections of several songs with Todd taking charge of Scott’s left front china cymbal, and subsequently sent several drum sticks flying into the depths of the crowd.

The most recent Queensryche CD is a great record and next up we were treated to cracking version of “Where Dreams Go To Die” which was the first single released from the CD. Live it came across even better than it does on the record, with a heavy yet soulfully melodic vibe, and of course Todd La Torre is able to really sit back and let rip without the concern of comparison.

For me the next track was a transcendental moment, with a just perfect version of “Eyes Of A Stranger” from Mindcrime. Queensyche will always have a particularly special place in my musical heart because it was a joint love of the band that brought my wife and I together many years ago, in a place quite frankly I wasn’t expecting to find a hardcore Queensryche fan at all, let alone that special person to share my life with. That is a piece of history that will forever tie my life to the band. A very special moment passed between me and my wife this past Saturday during this song – sometimes music can be truly magical. Fortunately I videoed this particular song so you can experience this here > https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SvD9FBrezSY

The whole venue was literally electrified at this point and there was no holding back with a crushing version of “Empire” followed by a perfect “Queen Of The Reich” which has been a backbone of the set since Todd arrived and all the better for it. The set was closed out with “Jet City Woman” and a triumphant version of “Take Hold Of The Flame”. I managed to grab video of the last 3 minutes of the set here > http://youtu.be/lR2BLWsH1Jo

There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that anyone who was in the audience who was on the fence regarding Todd being in the band would have to cry defeat following this performance; it was simply outstanding, a tour-de-force and a perfectly structured set to boot. The point has been made. Given the announcement the following day closing the dual-personality existence of the variants of the band, leaving the one-true-Queensryche to move forward, we are now in a new era. There have been many, many bands that have moved forward with new singers – Deep Purple, Sabbath, Rainbow, Van Halen, AC/DC – and now we have Queensryche.

We were fortunate to be able to speak to Eddie Jackson, Michael Wilton, Todd La Torre and briefly to Parker Lundgren, and all of them were clearly excited and empowered by the show. It is clear there is a new energy running in the Queensryche veins these days and that spark is exciting to see. Personally I would love to see a live album consisting of much of the older material currently being played in the live shows – I think it would close the chapter very nicely to have Todd place his stamp of authority on the older material, but whatever comes next, this show was pivotal in getting the new line-up in the faces of so many people in a great venue, with great sound. Again – no question – this was 10/10 performance.

– Neil Waterman

 

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BAT – Live Review – The Metro Gallery, Baltimore MD (April 16th, 2014)

Posted in Gig Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , on April 21, 2014 by novametalreview

In my last review of SATAN (which you can find here >http://wp.me/p2hj3p-63) I mentioned that BAT, who were the direct support at that show, deserved their own review, so here it is. First, as is my custom, let me set the scene here starting with who the hell is/are BAT? That is the easy part of this story – BAT comprises Ryan Waste on bass and vocals (also of Municipal Waste and Volture), Nick Poulos on guitar (also of Volture) and Felix Griffin (formerly of DRI).

The slightly harder question is how did they come about – in essence the ‘why’? To understand this we need to travel back in time to 2007, when Ryan met Felix met at a Municipal Waste gig in Austin Texas, and the story goes the two immediately hit it off, both having a very similar punk/metal taste. As time passed the idea of doing a project together became more than a passing topic shared over a beer or three whenever Ryan would pass through Texas; initially the vision was for a studio thing with Ryan handling all the vocal, guitars and bass, with Felix taking care of the drums. Fortunately for the rest of us, the idea grew and the desire to take the project on the road, in other words a ‘proper band’, became reality with the recruitment of Nick who is also guitarist in another Ryan Waste band, namely the heavy metal monster that is Volture.

The first visible output of the band was the Primitive Age recording which is labeled a demo, but can be heard via the BAT bandcamp website (see here > http://bewareofthebat.bandcamp.com/) you can stream the five tracks here, or you can step-up and contribute a ‘donation’ of your choice and download the tracks at higher quality. This was a truly retro affair with all the recordings going down on analog tape, just like the “old days”! Most modern musicians would find this a very anarchic move, but it gives the recording a really cool old-school warmth. Initially Ryan and Nick put the tracks down as a demo with Garage Band drums, and sent it to Felix to work on. Eventually all three would find themselves in a rehearsal space in Richmond VA for a few quick rehearsals and then spent just one short day in the studio laying down the recording. Obviously you can judge for yourself, but my immediate reaction to the demo was a Motorhead-meets-Venom groove, with my personal favorite being “Rule Of The Beast”.

So enough of the history lesson, fast forward to now, and notwithstanding the awesome news that the mighty SATAN were doing a limited tour of the East Coast, more good news was slipped in to the announcement; the last three dates of the tour would have BAT appearing as support and performing their first ever live dates. Excellent!

I have already covered the venue and other bands that appeared this night, so I can skip all that and address BAT directly. When we arrived at the venue we met Ryan at the merch table and he immediately indicated he was nursing his voice…! However, fear not, you’d have been hard pushed to know this from what followed, aside from mentioning it between tracks later on. BAT have pretty damn cool logo, so it is hard not to want some BAT merch! We picked up a copy of the demo (on cassette!!!! Yes people, cassette!), a patch and some stickers. BAT also has a cool t-shirt design (which I don’t think was on sale at the show, but can be found here > http://tankcrimes.merchtable.com/search?utf8=%E2%9C%93&q=bat).

So after enduring a local opener who seemed hell-bent on either blowing my ears out with their bass amp or blowing up their bass amp (neither of which happened, the latter being a bit of a shame really…), BAT took their place on stage, and with little more than a quick line check for sound, were off. Opening with the first pair of tracks from the demo, we had BAT and Total Wreckage, and immediately the sound in the room was clear and tight, with the drums cutting through nicely and we were rockin’. Any concerns regarding Ryan’s vocals were immediately put to rest. My immediate impression was more on the Motorhead side of the fence, but others I spoke to were clearly hearing the Venom influence, though I should be clear that isn’t all that’s going on here. BAT certainly have their own groove and I suspect this is going to come into more focus the more time they have together.

The set comprised nine tracks total with one being a cover of the Motorhead song “Speedfreak” from the Iron Fist album. One thing I particularly noticed which was more evident live than from the recordings, was the tight and fast guitar playing of Nick, who was really tearing it up. There’s some pretty fast riffage in some of these songs and he totally had it all under control. Felix was just a complete master behind the kit, and you would have been hard pushed to know that this wasn’t a seasoned band with a hundred gigs behind them. With the three-piece format, there isn’t any room for error, and none was evident from start to finish. My description of BAT live would be a speed rock’n’roll band with a light sprinkling of thrash. For me they have a mercilessly crushing sound but with an old school r’n’r groove that makes you want to bang your head. My score for gig was a solid 8.5/10

P.S. Beware of the BAT!

– Neil Waterman

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Satan – Live Review – The Metro Gallery, Baltimore MD

Posted in Gig Reviews with tags , , , , , , on April 18, 2014 by novametalreview

So, continuing on with the the theme of British NWOBHM bands, here we meet SATAN, originally formed back in 1979 and my guess is for many you’d have to classify them as obscure, particularly since they only released two albums “back in the day” under the SATAN name. Notwithstanding this, for those “in the know”, they were considered groundbreaking for their style of near-thrash/speed metal, and have always brought an interesting twin-guitar melodic metal blend. It’s always tricky trying to follow the history of a band that jumps through a series of name changes; after all, what could possibly be wrong with the name SATAN for a band…? To be honest SATAN aren’t the demonic, blood-drinking, hell-spawn that might be inferred, and if you get to meet them in the flesh, a nicer bunch of ‘normal’ English lads from the North of England you’d be hard pushed to find.

Now, fast-forward to 2013 and the excellent “Life Sentence” CD release announced to the World that SATAN was back and hitting hard. Unlike many reformed bands, this reunion was 100% original; bringing the original five members from the debut release (‘Court In The Act’ from 1983), comprising Steve Ramsey (guitar), Russ Tippins (guitar), Graeme English (bass), Sean Taylor (drums) and Brian Ross (vocals). If you haven’t got a copy of Life Sentence I thoroughly recommend this as a slice of modern heavy metal with a nice NWOBHM retro vibe. It’s about as good a come-back as you could ever get; there isn’t a bad track to be found and just gets better and better the more you play it.

This short 6-date US tour is unbelievably the first ever for SATAN in the USA and took in a slice of the East Coast from Montreal QC at the Northern peak, down to Richmond VA, which was the furthest South the band reached. Fortunately for the rest of the country SATAN will be back in the USA in the Fall to cover the West Coast and Midwest, so keep your eyes peeled for details.

Despite the best intentions, we were unable to make it down to the Richmond date, so it was Baltimore and the last night of the tour or bust! The show was actually quite late, so despite the 1.5-hour drive, we arrived at around 10PM with plenty of time before the set start-time of Midnight. The Metro Gallary has a capacity of 250, and I reckon it was about half-full or so, which was a pretty decent turnout for a late show on a Wednesday. I know quite a few people didn’t go simply because of the late set-time. I don’t really know why they went on quite so late really, and moving everything up by an hour to start at 11PM may have made the show possible for quite a few people.

This was my first show at The Metro Gallery, so a couple of words about the venue. It was suggested the venue was in an iffy part of town, and that may be true, but no more so than you’d find at various venues in and around DC. I’m not suggesting wandering around the streets would be a smart idea, but we parked right next door in the “theater parking lot” ($7) and walked perhaps 20 yards to the door. No worries. The venue isn’t quite as slick as it came across on the website… haha! Now there’s a surprise – not. The stage is pretty small, but just enough for a 5-piece like SATAN to do their thing. It’s a shame the stage isn’t higher though – it’s only raised about 14 inches, which makes seeing the band from the back of the room tricky, even with the place only about ½ full. The PA seemed pretty decent, and overall the sound was good. The bar is at the back of the room and had a few beers on tap and decent selection in bottles, but it’s not outstanding by any means. No food!

When we arrived the opening band, who I believe operate under the wonderfly attractive name of “Cemetery Piss”, appeared to have just finished, which wasn’t a great loss as far as I can tell from those folks that were there. Next up was another noisy mess, called “Extermination Angel”, who seemed intent on seeing just how loud their bass amp could go. Pretty loud was my take on that experiment. Although they weren’t entirely dreadful, there wasn’t much else to note, so moving on…. Direct support to SATAN for the last three dates of the tour was by “BAT” which is a new band, these dates being the first live shows for the group. BAT comprises Ryan Waste on Bass/Vocals (also of Municipal Waste), Nick Poulos on guitar (also of Volture) and Felix Griffin on drums (formerly DRI). These guys tore it up, and I will write a separate review to give them full justice. But I will say – Beware of the BAT!

So, approaching Midnight we snagged a front row spot and SATAN got their backline sorted out. Nothing fancy here and at just about 12 o’clock the intro tape rolled. Immediately the twin guitar mix of Russ and Steve brought that classic NWOBHM sound to the front and “Trial By Fire” (from their debut “Caught In The Act”) opened the night’s proceedings. It was clear Brian Ross was able to deliver exactly the same vocal performance live, as he does on record, and given this was a pretty raw venue with no fancy production this was a joy to behold. Up next was “Blades Of Steel” (also from CITA) and everything just clicked into place – what followed was lots of head-banging, fist pumping, and the horns were thrown at every opportunity.

Overall we were treated to a set of 11 songs, followed by 2 more for the encore, of which 6 were from the latest record “Life Sentence”, 5 from “Caught In The Act” and 2 from the “Early Demos” release. I’m hard pressed to name a favorite track from the night but I might be tempted to call it “Twenty Twenty Five”, though it’s a close call with “Incantations”. The whole set was solid and I thought the whole band played a blinder – I particularly enjoyed the guitar playing of Russ Tippins. Russ was playing a Fender Strat, which contrasted nicely with the Gibson SG that Steve Ramsey played, giving them each a nicely distinct tonal split. This was a ‘trick’ a lot the classic British NWOBHM bands used and gives a lush and full guitar sound without sitting on top of each other.

The set finished up about 1.30AM and the lads jumped off stage and were only too happy to meet with everyone and sign all manner of memorabilia. To a man, each of them seemed genuinely pleased to see everyone, which rounded off a great night. It might have taken them over 30 years to get around to touring the United States, but I get the definite impression that they had a great time and will be back for repeated visits, which is excellent news for all fans of heavy metal. My score for the show is a very easily won 9/10.

Setlist and Gig Poster

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Grim Reaper – Live Review – Ragnarokkr @ Reggie’s Chicago

Posted in Gig Reviews with tags , , , , , , on April 11, 2014 by novametalreview

It may seem strange to some, but the legend that is the heavy metal band “Grim Reaper” appears, to me at least, far greater now in 2014, than it did back in the midst of the NWOBHM hey-day itself. As a Brit, that experienced the peak of the NWOBHM first hand, I certainly was well aware of Grim Reaper, but to be honest, they were one of many fighting for my hard earned cash when it came to the end of the week and time to pick the next LP to join the collection. For all the coverage Kerrang! and Sounds may have given them, I think they were focused more on MTV and the USA, than back home in the UK.

Fast forward to about 2010, and something reignited that dormant seed – it might have been an appearance by Steve Grimmett as a guest vocalist on some other record, but holy cow, discovering the original three albums by GR was a bit like realizing there’s actually another couple of 6-packs in the back of the fridge – awesome! If you know Grim Reaper at all then you don’t need me to tell you what a superb combination of heavy riffage and melodic stuck-in-your-head tunes are contained on those records. Personally my favorite is the last album “Rock You To Hell”, but it’s very hard to pick. It’s actually getting somewhat tricky to find these on CD or vinyl, so my advice if you see a copy of any of the catalog and have any interest at all, don’t quibble, just buy them.

If you add the slightly strange and coincidental twist that Charles Grimaldi (GR bass player since 2008) happens to be a good friend of a friend, hailing from not so far away in Maryland… yes, the world is a lot smaller place than it seems. We happened to meet Chaz last year at a Lizzy Borden show when he popped back to the USA for a visit (he currently lives in the UK) – what a great chap he is indeed!

Enough preamble, as soon as the line-up for Ragnarokkr was announced a trip up to Chicago was almost a dead certainty; Grim Reaper headlining the Saturday, with Riot V (the remains of the mighty Riot following the passing of Mark Reale) headlining the Friday night. I’ll cover Riot V in another review to follow… haha, promise! This trip became a dead-certainty when it was announced that original guitarist Nick Bowcott would join the band for a special one-night reunion after 27 years away from the band. Ah, metal history in the making.

Reggie’s is a great venue to see a metal band – it’s not so big that you get lost in the place, but the sound is great and the stage high with a sloping floor that means no matter where you are in the crowd you will probably have a pretty decent view. Since this weekend was a bit of festival (I think something close to 20 bands played over the two days), the place was completely packed (I believe it was sold out and had to turn away over 100 people at the door).

It was about 11.30 when Grim Reaper hit the opening cords to “Rock You To Hell” and it was clear the crowd was 100% behind the band, and from that moment on every chorus was a sing-along. It’s always an experience when you’re at a show where the audience knows every word of pretty much every song. Despite the fact that Nick and the rest of the band had only limited time to rehearse everything just seemed to fall into place. Below you will see a picture of the set list from the night and yes, every song you might expect to see is there. What was a very nice surprise were the two new songs from the forthcoming album, which I believe is called “From Hell” (tracks were “From Hell” and “Blue Murder”). Also in the set was a very nicely executed version of the Dio classic “Don’t Talk To Strangers”.

A few comments – it seems that Ian Nash is a pretty tasty guitarist in his own right and despite taking the backseat to Nick (as might be expected). I can imagine if there was any chance of more dates as a five piece the twin guitar attack of both Nick and Ian would be a thing of beauty. Chaz Grimaldi totally locked down the bass parts and looked like he was having a veritable party on stage, and Mark Rumble, well he did exactly what his surname (real or otherwise…?) implies. Steve Grimmett of course carries a lot of the spotlight, as he well should, and vocally he’s still delivering fireworks, and deluxe helpings too. It’s always hard to fly in, do one date and leave, and I’d say that is perhaps even harder for a vocalist, but we got “grade A” prime Grim Reaper.

Currently there is a bit of an on-off chance of a US tour in June – the band desperately want to come back, and judging by the audience this past week there is a good demand to see the band, but promoters and all the other backroom stuff needs to fall into place. Hopefully this will happen. If it does, my advice is definitely go see them.

And yes, the show itself was just like realizing there’s actually another couple of 6-packs in the back of the fridge – awesome! My score for the Ragnarokkr show was a solid 9.5/10.

Signed LP - thanks you lot!

Nick Bowcott

Reaper in action

Set list from Ragnarokkr