Archive for October, 2014

Judas Priest – Live Review – Baltimore Pier Six Pavilion 10/24/14

Posted in Gig Reviews with tags , , , , on October 31, 2014 by novametalreview

Just writing the title to this article feels a little intimidating – Judas Priest are as close to heavy metal royalty as any band that are able to claim a legacy reaching back 40 years. There may be pretenders to that throne, but Priest have a legitimate claim. Trying to review a band like this feels a bit like writing an automobile review of a Ferrari – sure the same principles apply as writing something for a Honda, but the bar is raised to a completely different level here. However, there is plenty to talk about, so let’s set the scene here.

The future of Judas Priest at one point, not so long ago, looked to be in question. KK Downing, founding member and guitar maestro, had decided that his time was up and walked off into retirement, seemingly happy to run a golf course and most recently putting his name to a line of heavy metal perfumes… The latter has still got me scratching my head. For a while the very existence of the band seemed in question, but a replacement was announced in the shape of relatively unknown (at the time) Richie Faulkner. Any time someone new walks into the shoes of a rock icon there’s going to be some resistance, and even to this day, now a World tour and half into his membership of Priest, I still see people questioning “the new guy”.

Well, let me get this over with: Richie Faulkner has without doubt stepped up and brought new fuel to the fire that was beginning to splutter. Priest are ‘back’ and have a new energy that flows from the stage with every beat, every note, every scream. To put this in context, I last saw Priest back in 2005 on the Retribution tour and despite memories of a great show; there was a certain mechanical quality to the whole thing. Of course every song delivered; you can’t fail with material as strong as Priest’s, but I think the seeds of KK’s departure were already sown. Prior to this I’d seen JP perhaps two or three times before back in the 80’s and, without doubt, those are classic memories of the band at their peak. So I’ve seen the band over a good span of time and feel qualified to offer an opinion.

The first thing to think through is that Judas Priest are somewhat obviously not going to just hire “anyone”, so it is fairly safe to assume Richie has a resume that qualifies him. For those that don’t know, prior to Priest, Richie most recently was playing guitar for Lauren Harris’ band – yes, Steve Harris’ daughter. Yep, “the” Steve Harris of Iron Maiden. Lauren Harris had toured most of the World with Maiden and naturally all the members of the band got to know the members of Maiden really well.

When Priest started looking for a KK’s successor, it would be natural to look for recommendations from bands of similar statue. Now I don’t pretend to know all the in’s and out’s of the hiring process that brought Richie into the band, but it is clear that Rob Halford and crew are more than happy with the chap they brought into the ranks. In fact one of the things you can see on stage is an appreciation for Richie’s playing and overall stage presence. This is further reinforced by the fact that Richie gets to deliver the only solo spot of the night, but now I am getting well ahead of myself. The bottom line is this; open your ears and eyes, and judge on performance.

The “Redeemer of Souls” album was released back in early July and my review for this album scored a solid, if not outrageous 8/10 – you can read it here if you feel inclined: Redeemer Of Souls. My main beef, albeit relatively minor, after living with the album for a few more months now, is the production, which speaks to me of a Protools by numbers effort, recorded over a period of many months – in plain words, the record feels ‘bitty’, with some tracks working like monsters and others a little less so. It’s just not a cohesive smash-you-in-the-face experience. Good, but could do better sort of report card. However, I still stand by my good words relating to the initiation of Richie Faulker to the JP discography.

When the tour was announced I was pleased to see the Baltimore date on the list, since the previous time I had seen them was in my least favorite venue in the local area; the soulless “Jiffy Lube Live” (or as it was in 2005, Nissan Pavilion), which may be in distance closer, but sucks for many reasons, not least being outrageous beer prices and horrific parking. The Baltimore venue was listed as “The Pier 6 Pavilion” which I had never been to before, but saw good things written about it. We ended up with seats in the 4th row, which was excellent, even though we paid a good deal over face-value through a reseller. This was one of the few time when I believe this was worth spending the extra – Priest aren’t exactly touring on a regular basis so there are times when you have to grab opportunities as they come by.

Pier 6 Pavilion is actually more or less an outdoor venue, with an open view from the stage looking out over the Baltimore harbor, which makes this a pretty unique venue. I would estimate the capacity at about 10,000 and of course the venue was full for Priest, but from looking back at the crowd from the 4th row I would imagine this is a great venue to see a band, no matter where you are seated. One minor complaint; security isn’t exactly well enforced and at the start of Priest’s set a lot of ‘extra’ people had pushed to the front that clearly didn’t have seats which was kind of annoying. Eventually this was sorted out. I don’t know why they don’t have a barrier around the seated area and a couple of staff at the entrances to keep things a little more under control.

Support for the show was somewhat disjointedly listed as “Steel Panther” and while they can be amusing, I wasn’t really interested in them in the context of a Judas Priest show. We actually arrived about two-thirds of the way through their set, and I wasn’t at all bothered at missing what we did. In another setting I would probably write good things about them and I realize they are only having fun, but their irreverence seemed forced and hard work, at least compared to the times I seen them before. Fortunately we only had to sit through three songs or so and they were done.

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A large Judas Priest drape hid the preparations taking place on the stage and this only added to the sense of anticipation that was clearly building throughout the venue. After about 20 minutes, it was show time and before we could blink, the drape fell to the opening riff of “Dragonaut” and the twin guitar attack led by Glen Tipton and Richie Faulkner was sharp and sliced through the night air. Immediately I was impressed by the excellent sound mix – loud and powerful – and there he was, Rob Halford in impeccable voice. The opening line of Dragonaut was a perfect entrance, “Welcome to my world of steel, master of my domain…”. He couldn’t really have put it any better. Now, Rob Halford has not been shy about talking about various medical issues that are affecting him (his back problems perhaps being the most notable, but not the only thing), but blow me down, he sounded better than I remember from any time I’ve seen him previously. You can make up your own mind with the videos I took, which are linked below.

The second track up was the classic “Metal Gods” from British Steel and this gave me a chance to look at the “new guy” in the context of the stage show. Basically I can keep this pretty short – Richie Faulkner is critical part of the Priest lineup and was always up front and center, constantly interacting with the audience, launching guitar picks into the crowd and firing everyone up. Not only this, but it is clear Rob and the rest of the crew are entirely at ease with the role he has taken. This comment totally overlooks his musical contribution, which is massive. Richie is a guitar hero right up with the best and if anyone questions why he is up on stage with the rest of JP, all they need do is go see the band – the answer is more than obvious from the notes flowing from the fretboard from whichever one of his many Gibson’s he happens to have in his hand.

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Turning to the remaining members, Glen Tipton basically is up there doing what he has always done, solid and tight. He may have stepped down the showmanship a little and, to be honest, I have always thought he was team-player rather than the guitar virtuoso, but I also have to remind myself that like Rob and Ian, he is on the wrong side of 60 years old now, so charging round the stage like a scalded cat probably isn’t on the books any more.

Ian Hill has the right rear corner of the stage locked down, exactly as he has done for the past 40 years pretty much. I think Ian definitely deserves more credit than perhaps is sent his way. While not an “in your face” player, without the drive he gives the band, the power that is evident flowing off stage, would certainly be missing. I have to add, he is also a super-nice bloke – we met him after the show and spent quite some time chatting. Rounding out things we have Scott Travis on drums and he was sounding in brutal but sharp form throughout the show. We were fortunate to meet him after the show and I was completely unprepared for that fact that Scott is easily 6’6” tall. He was very humble when told just how much a fan Michelle is of Racer X, which is another of Scott’s projects.

The set continued with “Devil’s Child”, which you can see on video here: http://youtu.be/zqjw3CmT32A. As you can see and hear, the band was killing it live. There is no doubt in my mind that Judas Priest will continue to tour for a good many years based on this performance and the Redeemer Of Souls album – there is a lot of music still in these guys – no matter what might have been said back around the time Epitaph was released on video. Too many bands go through this farewell performance/tour/album thing. I remember attending the Status Quo farewell show in London in the mid 80’s… they are still touring, albeit limited to dates in Europe, some 30 years later.

The band is playing the same set list at each gig, but you can see the list here: http://www.setlist.fm/setlist/judas-priest/2014/pier-six-concert-pavilion-baltimore-md-4bcccb6a.html

I am hard pushed to pick a favorite track of the night, since every song, be it new or old was delivered with such power and passion, but it might just have been to classic “Breaking The Law” simply from the energy you could fell both from the stage and audience together. I managed to snag part of it on video here: http://youtu.be/cN9fmR8w5K4. Another monster was the new track “Halls Of Valhalla” which is a favorite of mine from Redeemer Of Souls. It would be hard to ignore “Hell Bent For Leather” which of course opened with the arrival of Rob Halford sat astride a Harley. You can see this here: http://youtu.be/04B2RmQnLrg

Towards the end of the set, and I honestly can’t remember exactly where this fits exactly, Richie gets to take the spotlight with a brilliantly executed guitar solo, which is another commendation and affirmation of his position within the Priest ranks. This not only gives him a chance to shine musically, but also showmanship wise. We came to be entertained, not sit and politely clap, and Richie does not disappoint. I absolutely lost count of how many guitar picks he launched into the crowd with a flick of the wrist and a big smile every time. He is clearly having fun and wants to make sure everyone in he audience does too.

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The set closed with “Defenders Of The Faith” from the album of the same name and I know I could have sat through another hour or more without a tiny bit of a complaint, but the hour and half we were given was a definitive demonstration of why Judas Priest are in the top five metal bands of all time in my book. Some might argue that this or that track was missing from the set, but this is one of those cases where no matter what they picked, someone would find their particular favorite missing. When you have such a deep catalog of material, picking 16 songs from a 100+ possibles is always going to be a tough job. To close, this will go down in my book as one of my all time favorite shows. The band really gave off a great vibe – they were psyched to be up on stage, just as much as the audience was to be out in front of them. No doubt – 10/10.

– Neil Waterman

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King Diamond – Live Review – The Fillmore Silver Spring 10/13/14

Posted in Gig Reviews with tags , , on October 15, 2014 by novametalreview

King Diamond is one of the most iconically enigmatic characters of the metal scene and, until last night, was an experience that I had never had the opportunity to sample. In fact thinking about it, while always being keenly aware of both Mercyful Fate and King Diamond back in the mid 80’s, I just don’t recall ever seeing them pass my path. In fact it was the recent LP re-release of “Abigail” and “Them” on 180gram colored vinyl that inspired me to go out and buy the entire King Diamond back-catalog (or nearly so, I think I’m missing three out of the twelve studio releases), so this tour was perfectly timed.

As soon as the Silver Spring date was announced, I snapped up tickets since there was a definite buzz for the tour. Some of the shows sold out within a few hours (I think NY sold out in three), but by the time the Silver Spring doors opened all tickets for the show were gone, so this was definitely packed to the rafters and that was easy to see from just looking around the venue. The only other time I have seen The Fillmore this full was for Guns’N’Roses a year or two back, but this show may have topped that by a couple of hundred – I strongly suspect it was in fact over-sold. There were also some odd balcony seats sold on Ticketmaster that were not honored at the venue which added to the confusion, at least upstairs. Through a combination of circumstances we ended up watching the show from the balcony, which considering the crush on the main floor seemed like a good idea and certainly helped with the video I was able to take (see later).

Before we get to the King, first a quick word on the support band. Until some time after the gig I had no idea who the heck the band that took the stage first was, which probably isn’t too clever a move by the band themselves. I think the point of supporting a name act is to get exposure, which is a tough thing to claim you have achieved if no one knows the name of your band after you have finished your set. Anyway, after poking around the internet I figured it was a Finnish outfit by the name of “Jess and the Ancient Ones”, fronted by a female who was none other than someone called “Jess” (ah, clever these Finnish…). In total I counted three guitarists, a bass player, a keyboard player, drummer and of course “Jess”… quite a stage full.

They ambled onto the stage around 8PM or so and then some technical issue seemed to hold things up for what seemed like a long 5 minutes, following which we were treated to some rather unremarkable intro recording. I suppose that was the cause of the delay? I could have survived without it. Once things got going they sounded to me like an early 70’s cross between The Doors, some Deep Purple-influenced not quite hippy version of something that might have touched the edge of Lynyrd Skynyrd at times. Generally quite good, but certainly not remarkable and eventually I wished it was their last song, which arrived about one song too late. Perhaps the anticipation of seeing King Diamond had me a little edgy and I might be being a little unkind. Opening for King Diamond is probably not an easy thing to do no matter, so I’ll give them credit for pulling that off at least adequately.

So, Jess and crew cleared the stage and then constructions began on-stage, which were quickly hidden behind a full front-of-stage curtain… intriguingly! As time passed the tension in the air continued to build, as did the audience on the main floor space, which was packed. In fact every viewing spot was occupied upstairs and down. I found myself passing the time by scoring Kind Diamond make-up attempts out of 10; most were rather grim efforts that struggled to get past a 3, but there were a couple that were worthy of a 7 or 8 perhaps.

As the clock ticked past 9.30, the background music, which was largely 70’s Deep Purple and the like, faded and a momentary hush hit the crowd before the curtain obscuring the stage dropped to reveal a pretty adventurous stage set-up, with a full walkway all the way around the back of the drummer and most imposingly an 8-foot railing ‘fence’ all the way across the front of the stage, as if it were necessary to separate the band from the audience.

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The “King” had arrived! The opening keyboard intro of “The Candle” rang out, and then that voice… there’s no chance anyone can mistake King Diamond, and my immediate impression was he was nailing it. Now, as I confessed earlier, this was my first KD show, so I really don’t have anything to compare this to, other than the albums, but my first vibe was he was spot on. I’ve since read some reviews of previous shows from past tours where things perhaps weren’t always so good, but from start to finish he was basically as close to note perfect as makes no difference. Excellent.

The band, comprising original member Andy LaRocque on guitar, Mike Wead guitar (who we met after the show, nice guy), Pontus Egberg on bass (who wins some kind of prize for the name most likely to have been almost a Roman Emperor) and Matt Thompson on drums, were exceptional – tight, heavy and entertaining in their own right. In a way it must be hard to play in what must seem at times the dark shadows when you are in the presence of someone like King Diamond, who is clearly the center of all attention on stage, but these guys have it figured out and never seemed out of place or lost in the background. To be honest I was pleasantly surprised with how heavy they came across.

We were treated to a set comprising sixteen songs which spanned the breadth of the KD catalog and included two Mercyful Fate tracks, namely “Evil” and “Come To The Sabbath” both of which are more or less fixtures of the KD set and welcome additions. You can see the set list here: http://tinyurl.com/n56nufk. My personal favorite KD album is “The Puppet Master” and I took the following video of the title track: http://youtu.be/O7hHii1QPd8

I think everyone at the gig would say they would have happily had another hour or so added to the set, but the one and hour 40 minutes we got was all Grade A and the entertainment factor of the whole experience was exceptional. It made me remember that going to a concert is supposed to be a “show” in the biggest meaning of the word, and that is definitely something that King Diamond understands and delivers. Of course not all bands need or would make sense of the sort of elaborate stagecraft and additional actors used by KD, but there is a lesson for all bands here.

Since the show I’ve seen a number of somewhat disparaging comments from a few folks bemoaning the fact that a small proportion of the audience were “hipsters”, allegedly only there to have a “cool” story to tell their less-cool buddies about that “metal show” they went to during the week, but to be honest, I’d rather have a full venue, than the pathetic turn out I’ve seen at some shows recently. We need to encourage venues to get the bands through the load-in doors and as many people as possible through the entrance doors.

For me, this was one of the best ‘shows’ I’ve been to, especially in terms of the overall epic-ness of it all. In fact in the context of the material, the ‘fit’ was better than many other metal bands that drag around a big stage set – I think Alice Cooper is perhaps the only other I’ve seen that works truly in concert with the themes running through the music. Anyway, there really isn’t anything I can say negative about the show. Sure you can bemoan leaving out or including this or that song, and argue for a longer set, but the bottom line is King Diamond delivered 100% on the day and I can only score this a straight 10/10.

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Slash, featuring Myles Kennedy and The Conspirators – World On Fire – Album Review

Posted in Album Reviews with tags , , , , on October 7, 2014 by novametalreview

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The previous Slash album to this one, “Apocalyptic Love”, was a killer record, so I was pretty psyched when I heard the next installment from Slash and crew was about to be released and I had this on pre-order for a couple of months just to be sure I got my hands on it the moment it came out. The combination of Slash and Myles Kennedy has worked like a charm and they kill it both live and on record.

Slash of course is perhaps best known for his involvement with Guns’N’Roses and the material from “Appetite for Destruction” will forever live on as classic and, if anything, seems to grow stronger with each listen as the years pass by. Despite the incessant overplaying of “Welcome to the Jungle” at every sports arena around the USA (which impacts me not one bit, ha!), there is no doubt Slash personally stamped an indelible signature across that record, which continues style-wise through to his latest material. Occasionally I see suggestions that a G’N’R reunion might be on the cards, but, having seen the current incarnation of that band last year, and having to suffer the ridiculous antics that Axl Rose continues to impose on his audiences, I suspect there is more chance of seeing Bon Scott fronting AC/DC than Axl and Slash appearing on the same stage ever again.

Whenever I write a review I tend to find myself reviewing the relevant history of the subject band or key players, and in this case it strikes me that Slash only recently seems to have achieved a level of maturity and stability which appears to come across so well in his playing these days. His childhood was clearly one of turmoil and the craziness of the G’N’R days appear to have been both massively enabling, while at the same time leading to addictive distractions that could have been terminal, resulting in a diagnosis of cardiomyopathy (congestive heart failure) in 2001 caused by the years of drug and alcohol abuse. Incredibly he was originally told he had less than 6 weeks to live when diagnosed, which fortunately didn’t come true and he made it through with a combination of physical therapy and the implantation of a defibrillator. At some point I must make an effort to pick up a copy of his autobiography published in 2007 – that has to be a wild read.

Turning to the latest album, “World On Fire”, I was first pleasantly surprised to see it runs a total of 17 tracks, with a running time of around 78 minutes. Now, if truth be told some longer albums outstay their welcome, but that is something I cannot say here – I would have taken more. The CD opens with the title track and you are immediately greeted by a signature Slash riff, and an instantly recognizable guitar tone. Given Slash is still playing a Gibson Les Paul through Marshall 100Watt heads, which is far from an unusual rig, his sound must be coming from his fingers, which is the difference between a good player and great one in my book. Now, there’s nothing revolutionary about the opening track here, but immediately it feels so damn comfortable – like pulling on your favorite pair of jeans or leather jacket. Miles Kennedy fits perfectly and Brent Fitz on drums and Todd Kerns on bass and backing vocals are well up to the job. Another observation is the production is just about perfect, with a nice space for each instrument and vocal in the mix. This is an art that sadly seems to less common in these days of increasingly automated and computerized studios.

I’m not going to run a track-by-track review here, since with 17 tracks I’ll be here all day, but my high spots include “Automatic Overdrive” (which has a damn catchy hook in the chorus), “Beneath The Savage Sun”, “Avalon”, “The Dissident” (which has a decidedly quirky intro!) and my final pick “Safari Inn” which is an fairly jazz-infused instrumental that I can’t get enough of. The latter track wins a repeat play most times it rolls around and really does highlight what a great guitarist Slash really is. However, picking out these tracks is really just a reflection of my mood right now and I’m pretty sure I could have come up with a different list without trying too hard – though “Safari Inn” would still be there, no matter what I’m up to.

So, rarely for me, this review is less of an epic and doesn’t need a million words to explain itself. This is a very satisfying album and unless you have something against Slash or Miles Kennedy, or are one of those people that only listen to one tiny musical sub-genre, I can’t see any reason for any metal fan to not find something to like here. So to score this, I’m all in here – 10/10

 

 

Grave Digger – Return Of The Reaper – Album Review

Posted in Just Stuff with tags , , , , , on October 1, 2014 by novametalreview

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Based on a pretty decent sample size, I have to say that the majority of bands that have survived since the 80’s are turning out some pretty amazing music these days. I don’t know if this is simply a result of all those years of experience, or an ability to get the best out of today’s recording technology without letting it dominate, or likely both, but there have been some cracking good albums in the past 2 or 3 years from bands that are now able to claim 30-plus years. I’m happy to report that Grave Digger have joined these ranks with a crushing offering in the shape of “Return Of The Reaper”.

Grave Digger are able to trace their roots back to 1980, and notwithstanding a brief 4-year period between 1987 to 1991, when the band was officially defunct, have been knocking out albums at a rate of about one every two years, which is pretty respectable. “Return Of The Reaper” (RotR) represents the seventeenth studio album from the band and it delivers a riff-heavy dose of German-flavored metal with a definite NWOBHM under-current. One particularly redeeming feature is the avoidance of anything too obviously triggered or programmed, which for me has been the bane of too many recordings coming out of the mainland-European metal scene recently.

The album opens with what seems like the obligatory ‘intro piece’ these days, which in this case is actually the title track, and clocks in at 1 minute 16 seconds, but I will note that the track does sequence directly into the first real song, “Hell Funeral”, which smashes out of your speakers with a very-metal riff. It took me a moment or two to get comfortable with the very mid-range-scooped guitar sound (almost like a wha-wah pedal at half-open), but it works. Now, I will caution some of the lyrics are almost into Spinal Tap territory, but I’ll give that a pass… “Rider from hell, with an evil smell”. Haha! After all, if I was trying to write lyrics in German for example, I’m sure they wouldn’t be the most elegant.

Track number 3 also brings a pacey and catchy opening riff, backed by a pounding double kick-drum section that blasts the song into your face. There’s definitely some pretty nice guitar work on this record – nothing ground breaking and certainly with a nod in the direction of Zakk Wylde and a good dose of pinch harmonics, but it all works in a very satisfyingly heavy metal way.

The fourth track, “Tattooed Rider”, opens with a definite hint of Judas Priest’s Turbo Lover, but this ends up in another place and is right up there fighting for consideration as “most catchy track on the album”. Overall, even though there is no question this is a heavy-ass record, there is a lot of melody reaching inside your head and drawing you to play the thing over and over. I really like the use of the backing vocals on this track.

There is no relent in the pace and “Resurrection Day” brings more crushing riffs, but again manages to sneak in a line in the vocal using the phrase “nasty smell” which is rhymed with “straight out of hell” on the following line. Shame on me, but again I have thoughts drifting toward Spinal Tap… The following track, “Season of the Witch” is a definite slower number, and to my ears evokes echoes of classic Saxon and in some parts even some Angel Witch (or is that just because of the track title?).

The next two tracks, “Road Rage Killer” and “Grave Desecrator” are my two personal favorites, and both are annoyingly catchy. Once you hear them it’s very hard to get them out of your head. The chorus to “Grave Desecrator” is impossible to not sing along with in my opinion, and I find it strangely necessary to hit the repeat button for this song more often than not.

The next three tracks roll along pretty much like those that came before. Kind of like a battle tank at full speed, there’s not much that could run this album off the rails and indeed that is true here. The only surprise might be the very final song, which opens with a classy bit of piano and builds to a fairly mega ballad. Now Chris Boltendahl, who has been the stalwart of the band on vocals since 1980, doesn’t have anything you might mistake for subtlety when it comes to his singing style, but it all works out just fine here. At times I am reminded of Chuck Billy from Testament, while at others, a sort of more musical Lips from Anvil.

There is a “however” coming, but only if you happen to shell out and purchase the deluxe version of the CD, which includes a second CD of bonus material. The first two tracks on the bonus CD are welcome additions, however the remainder are acoustic live renditions of various tracks with I think just guitar and piano, and to be honest are not always that well executed. This is a little disappointing, to say the least, and I think to be honest they would have been better off not including them, or at least not including all eight of the tracks and perhaps picked the best three.

Overall I really enjoyed this album, with the main disc offering up a total of ten crushing heavy metal tracks, one strong ballad and of course the intro tune. I’m going to ignore the bonus disk, because to be honest I suspect most people wouldn’t play it much anyway, and taken this way I score it an enjoyable 8.5/10