Archive for January, 2015

Extreme – Live Review – Baltimore Soundstage (1/25/15)

Posted in Gig Reviews with tags , , , , , on January 29, 2015 by novametalreview

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The last time I saw Extreme was at the M3 Festival in Columbia MD, last year (see here for a reminder: http://wp.me/p2hj3p-6A), where they just about blew the place apart with a killer set and left the tattered remains for Kix to close the evening, which, in my humble opinion was a task far beyond their abilities. Why anyone would choose to follow Extreme still leaves me scratching my head to this day. I guess ego is a hard thing to swallow? Either way, Extreme were amazing last year and, as soon as I saw this show announced, I was ready for more. An extra enticement was the fact that this was the 25th anniversary of the epically good Pornograffitti record and the plan was to play the entire album end-to-end. So, off we set for Baltimore, despite dire warnings of grim weather and more. The good news was no support band, so the show time of 9PM meant we could have dinner before the show with no need to hang around waiting for some unknown support act to wrap up their set – with the added bonus of an anticipated reasonable finish time for whole evening. Despite the hour plus drive home a decent nights sleep seemed on the cards.

I wasn’t really sure what the turn out on a Sunday night might be, and previous shows at Baltimore Soundstage had what I will call a rather “soft” attendance, but as we turned into the very conveniently located parking lot (which is actually above the venue itself), there was a line that stretched from the entrance around the corner, so, despite the fact tickets were still for sale on the door, it was clear this was going to be a packed audience. After eating, despite the doors opening, the line was still around the corner, so interest in the show was high. As we entered, it was clear that the audience was almost exclusively of the older generation, presumably original fans from the 90’s. Apart from a few kids dragged along by their parents, I don’t think there was anyone in the audience under 30!

Once we made it inside, it was clear this was the biggest audience I’ve ever seen at Soundstage, so we shuffled our way all the way over to the far side and found a fairly decent spot wedged against the bar, maybe the equivalent of 6 or 7 rows from the front, which gave us a decent, if not optimum view. The only disadvantage of this was the fact that Nuno Bettencourt plays on stage left….the opposite side, but at least that would encourage me to tear my eyes off his fretboard and pay attention to the show.

A few minutes after the advertised start time of 9PM, the house lights dimmed and shortly followed by the background music from the PA, and before you could really draw a breath Gary, Nuno, Pat and Kevin were pedal to the metal into “Decadence Dance”. The advantage of not having to deal with a support-band messing up the sound was obvious from the get-go, with an almost perfect mix from the very first note. I say almost, because I did notice that Nuno’s guitar was a little buried in the mix for part of that first track, but that was quickly sorted, and I’m sure the difference between an empty venue and a near sold out one. From that point on the mix was as good as you could get.

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Obviously the track listing for this part of the show was no surprise, but the energy flowing off the stage was great to see and the band was simply on fire. It is easy to be distracted by Nuno Bettencourt’s blazing guitar playing, and rightly so, but from our stage-right vantage point I as able to soak in the equally virtuoso bass playing from Pat Badger and the quite exceptional drumming of Kevin Figueiredo. I’m not sure how Extreme manage this, but the drum sound is always exceptional, both live and on record, and tonight was no different. Equally impressive was the way all the instruments in the band had their own “space” to work within, which is less easy to achieve, but a good lesson for any band to think about. I was able to focus at will on the bass, guitar or drums, without at any time feeling they were stepping on each other, while still presenting a totally cohesive “sound”.

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Another most notable feature were the pin-sharp harmony backing vocals from Pat and Nuno, which is another art form that is getting harder to find these day. Of course, without the lead vocals from Gary Cherone the band wouldn’t be “Extreme” and Gary is in fine voice these days, but furthermore he is in fine frontman form and leads the inevitable crowd sign-a-long when they get to “More Than Words”. You can see my video of the track here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KHxTYLBZAoU&feature=youtu.be

Just to be sure you get a dose of the heavier side of Extreme, of which there was plenty on offer throughout the night, here’s a video of “Money (In God we trust)”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W-Qrd1cp494&feature=youtu.be As you can see and hear the band is sounding amazing and even from our offset position, which of course is less than optimum relative to the sound desk, the clarity and overall great mix made this a great night for all in attendance.

Nuno Bettencourt delivered a ripping version of “Flight of the Wounded Bumblebee” which of course is the intro to “He-Man Woman Hater”, and despite having seen this last year at M3, it never get’s old. He is such a natural player and never seems to struggle in the least. However, for me, it was Nuno’s masterful display on the acoustic guitar later in the set with a blinding version of “Midnight Express” from the Waiting for the Punchline album that had me spellbound. With some guitar players taking the spotlight for a solo is a bit like watching a high dive at the Olympics, with an intense sense of anticipation, a moment where you seem to hold your breath and then a short burst of concentrated energy, but with Nuno, the whole experience flows in a very organic, natural way – there’s much less drama, and way more involvement somehow. Ultimately he makes everything he does on a guitar look ridiculously easy, which, of course, it totally isn’t. I don’t really go for “best” lists, but I will say that Nuno is certainly in my top five when it comes to guitar players.

Once the Pornograffitti set was complete, the night was finished off with an “encore” of six additional tracks (including the afore mentioned “Midnight Express”), which opened with “Play With Me” and closed with personal favorite “Cupid’s Dead”. When all was said and done we had roughly 2 hours of excellent entertainment, from a band that clearly were enjoying themselves. So, to close this was a great evening, and I can only encourage anyone who has the chance to go and see Extreme to make the effort – you won’t be disappointed. If there is one negative I can think of bringing up, it would be the desire for new material. There was talk of a new album, originally slated for 2011, that was then delayed to 2012… I guess that is still a work-in-progress of sorts. Anyway, a great night and my score is close-to-perfect 9.5/10.

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Iris Divine – Karma Sown – Album Review

Posted in Album Reviews with tags , , on January 15, 2015 by novametalreview

IrisCoverIt is rare that the first play of an album from a band has me glued to my speakers, almost speechless in disbelief at what I am hearing, and this would be an even less common with a “local band”, but I am still struggling, several weeks after receiving this CD in the mail, to coherently express my impressions in way that captures how truly excellent this album is. This isn’t just good, great or stunning… It is all of these and way, way more. Let me reset and get my feet back on the floor for a second here and give you the lay of the land first.

Let’s start with the obvious – who the heck are Iris Divine? What we have here is a three-piece outfit, with Navid Rashid handling vocals and guitar, Brian Dobbs on bass and Kris Combs taking care of drums and keys/programming. The band declares their hometown as Centreville, VA, which puts them about 12 miles from the NoVAMetalReview homestead, and I have to declare that I have managed to skillfully miss them playing at various gigs over the past two years – a fact I am kicking myself very hard over right now. Style-wise my immediate go-to would be Dream Theater and Fates Warning, with perhaps a good squeeze of Rush for good measure, but I think you could find quite a diverse set of influences if you wanted to pick at it. Personally, other than to get some sort of stylistic footing, I don’t feel there is any need to compare them, since as soon as you get this album spinning you will immediately have them on level pegging with any band you care to name. Yes, they aren’t just in the same bucket as <name band>, they are equal to any you might pick, including those with millions of album sales… (let that sink in OK?).

Despite missing them live (facepalm again, uhg!) all these times, I have bought tickets for gigs from them (I forget supporting who…), have at least one t-shirt, and also funded their Kickstarter campaign that provided some of the funds behind this album, which is how I came about receiving the CD. That was good move. At least I got that right. So, come December, an innocuous padded envelope arrived in the mail with another CD in it. The cover art was intriguing, so it was clear some effort had gone into the packaging at least – you can see the artwork at the top this article.

Now, this is the second full length CD from the band, but since their debut release, “Convergence” (available from the band’s Bandcamp page: http://irisdivine.bandcamp.com/album/convergence), the line-up has changed, with Navid and Brian remaining at the core, but seemingly greatly benefit from the addition of Kris to the line-up. The newly trimmed line-up seems to provide a tighter and heavier vibe than was evident from the debut. It’s certainly not a great change, but is a positive re-focusing. For those who like to dig deep, the band put up two tracks from Karma Sown as demos in mid-June of 2013 (again on Bandcamp), so it is clear the gestation period for this album has been well over a year, and to be honest, quality will always win over quantity. The demos certainly capture the ‘soul’ of the tracks as they appear on the final album, but the leap in production quality is immense, but now I am ahead of myself!

The album opens with “The Everlasting Sea” and the first thing that hit me was just an amazing production job. It isn’t just “good”, it’s bloody amazing, OK! Now, I don’t have the CD in front of me, but I believe this was self-produced (if I got that wrong… apologies), but whatever/whoever, they did a fantastic job. The sound is modern, tight, and heavy, but avoids what I will call the ProTools sheen, that all too many recent releases seem to drag along for the ride. Basically I can crank this album through my studio monitors, my car stereo, my reference system at home, or slammed on ‘11’ on the old iPhone earbuds and it sound fantastic everywhere. Great start.

“The Everlasting Sea” was one of the two demo tracks from the 2013 teaser, but the updated version here has a vitality and energy that is entirely new. It is immediately apparent that the core track retained its form, but the performance from the players is top-notch and all instruments have a nice “space” in the mix, but perfectly integrate. What set’s the album apart for me are the vocals. They sit so damn well in the musical “picture” that they knit the whole thing together in a way that is entirely “right”. It seems a little unfair now I’ve written that to single out a particular piece of this jigsaw, because the whole here is definitely the sum of the parts and more. The opening track clocks in at 6 minutes 20 seconds, but at no point do I feel any track on the entire album is anything other than well timed.

Up next is “Fire Of The Unknown” which breaks into a pretty crushingly heavy riff from more or less the get go, but even with this, the track is lifted by some very subtle but clever programming/keyboards. The more you listen, the more you get back. Now I don’t know how easy/hard it is to do this, but the attention to these smaller details and the care in getting the mix down right has paid off magnificently. Make sure you pay attention to all that is going on – there is some pretty spectacular bass playing to be had here, the drumming is spot on and the guitar work is stellar. Well done indeed!

I could go on and on, but I think you get the drift here… right? If I have any complaints at all then they are simply a request for more! The first request relates to the fact that there is only eight tracks on the album, which is perfectly OK, since the runtime for the record is around 48 minutes, but I would have happily enjoyed a couple more. Second, I would have been quite happy to hear more solo guitar from Navid. When he does let loose it is a good time, but I suspect there was an element of restraint in place here which can be backed off next time around. Let the man play!

Now there is one final twist in this story. Shortly after releasing the album, the band somewhat mysteriously pulled the recording from their Bandcamp page and all other sources, with a cryptic message that this was good news… Now, as far as I can ascertain (without any further official word from the band or any other source), the situation is that the band has interest from a significant label, which will come as no surprise to anyone that has heard this album. Iris’ certainly deserve to have this album released to the global market, which is something much harder to do on a self-basis. I can only hope this happens sooner rather than later, because this is a record that needs to be “out there”. I am certainly more than grateful to have the physical CD in my collection right now.

Most often I would pick a couple of tracks as favorites, but in this case that is a pointless exercise. All the tracks are standout and I can play them in any order and still walk away with a smile on my face. I do enjoy the instrumental “In Spirals”, but that is probably my inner musician sneaking out and applauding a band with the chops to drop a true instrumental track on a record and pull it off so excellently. All in all there is little else to say other than to hope for great things for these guys – they turned out a cracking good record here and it is a no-brainer to score this a straight 10/10.

– Neil Waterman 1/15/15