Anvil – Live Review – Café 611, Fredrick, MD (2/6/15)

Posted in Gig Reviews with tags , , , , , on February 19, 2015 by novametalreview

Lips w/Red Lips-O-Matic

Strangely I thought I had previously reviewed Anvil in a club setting, but now I’ve checked I see I’ve only reported on them once before as part of the bill of the “Heavy Metal Heaven” Sandy Hurricane benefit concert, so it definitely time to fix this. Now, I have to say this is the fourth time I’ve seen Anvil headline a venue, and all but one of these could have been a scene taken directly from the Anvil movie, “Anvil! The Story of Anvil”. If you haven’t seen the movie, I recommend you take care of that immediately – it’s definitely worth a couple of hours of your time, and reveals the raw underbelly of the ins and outs of being in a band. The harsh reality that so many musicians have to deal with is brought sharply into focus. Obviously you need to make up your own mind, but one of my most enduring thoughts after seeing it was the incredible friendship-bond that exists between Steve “Lips” Kudlow (guitar/vocals) and Robb Reiner (drums), which has survived some 37 years of Anvil ups and downs.

I won’t drag the entire Anvil history out for a retrospective here, but the debut release, “Hard ‘n’ Heavy”, in 1981, still remains to this day one of my favorite heavy metal records. It’s raw, uncluttered and relatively unsophisticated (as it should be), and gets right to the core of what heavy metal should be all about. The next two albums, “Metal on Metal” and “Forged in Fire” are seen as seminal roots for many heavy metal/thrash bands, often cited as hugely influential, but during this time, the band was basically screwed due to management and record company wrangling’s that took all the momentum from the band and basically ship-wrecked them. In fact I think if you ever wanted to award a trophy for the band that looked to be on the brink of massive success and then had it all thrown away, you’d find it hard to not list Anvil as a candidate.

Anvil are currently fifteen albums in now, but I have to say the last album, “Hope In Hell”, was a bit of a disappointment. The previous two, “This Is Thirteen” and “Juggernaut of Justice” were quite entertaining, so there’s definitely still life in the old dog. One thing that is often forgotten is that Anvil was originally a four-piece, with a second guitarist, but the band has been a 3-piece since 2006, which is relatively recent. I don’t know why, but whenever I think of them, it always seems to be the power trio that comes to mind. Now, personnel have been changing, really meaning the bass player… Over the past years I’ve now seen three different faces behind the bass, with the most recent departure being Sal Italiano, who I assume left shortly prior to this most recent tour. In fact, I wasn’t aware of this at all, for this most recent gig, so I was caught by surprise, when he didn’t take to the stage… In his place is “new guy” Chris Robertson, who I believe has been the man behind some of the more recent studio efforts by the band, though I may have that a little mixed up. However that came about, I will say that Chris did a great job and the band sounded excellent, and definitely are firing on all cylinders.

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Turning to the show, this was taking place not far from the NoVAMetal home base, up in Fredrick, MD, some 30 miles to the North of base-camp, which was a nice change from some of the longer treks we’ve been on recently. However, there seemed to be about seven bands on the bill for the night, so we targeted the 10:30PM set time (I think it was) listed for Anvil, and headed up there arriving around 9PM or so. According to the website, there was an hint that food at the venue (which is listed as a Café) should be OK, but in actuality, the menu, at least in the bar, seemed pretty wanting, so we headed out and went over the road to another bar to eat. Once that was taken care of, we headed back and caught the last half-set by Lord Dying, which I have to say sounded a way lot better then they looked – not a band to draw you in visually at all, but they had some nice heavy metal going on. Once their set was done we bought their two CDs and both are a good listen. Check ‘em out if you get the chance. They hail from Portland, Oregon, and you can find more about them here: http://lorddying.bandcamp.com/

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So, the stage was cleared, Robb Reiner’s twin-kick drum kit was installed, and after a brief sound check, Lips ambled on stage and yelled into his very sharp-looking Oktober Guitars (http://www.oktoberguitars.com/) “Lips-O-Matic” Flying V (which is a hollow-body guitar) asking if we were ready to rock! We were of course, but as I looked around, despite obvious enthusiasm, the reality that there was only may be 40 people total in the audience was obvious. Now, this never phases Anvil and I’ve seen them play to less, but WHY? They are a great band live, and certainly deserve better support. I guess I just don’t get it? Where are all you metal fans? This was a Friday night, so you can’t pull that “Monday night and I’ve got work tomorrow…” line on me here. May be nostalgia is coloring my vision here, but when Anvil have a full venue to play to, there is heavy metal magic in the air. I know they sell out venues in New York and up North, so it’s a pity more folks don’t make an effort. I guess I should call it “your loss”…

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I didn’t keep a set list, but I think they opened with “666” from Metal On Metal, and then pulled one of my favorites from Hard ‘n’ Heavy out of the catalog with “School Love”. The band were sounding very sharp and the “new guy” on bass was holding the bottom-end together very nicely, also throwing in some on-point backing vocals. I did mange to get some video from later in the set, the first of which was “On Fire” which you can see here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9Q75HVXRi00 from Juggernaut Of Justice. This is a nice show case for Robb and Chris, with some tight work on this double-kick drum driven track.

This was followed by Thumb Hang (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=69dxghFInA8) and then, what for me is a highlight of the evening, Swing Thing which includes one of the most entertaining drum solos you will hear in rock, from the mighty Robb Reiner (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_BuOfJurL0s). At some point, I think before the start of Thumb Hang, Lips switched to a brand new, just delivered by the Oktober Guitars crew, beautiful red Lips-O-Matic Flying V – this was the most stunning looking guitar I have seen in a long time. Outstanding work there! Unfortunately, due to the poor light in the venue I don’t have a picture that does the guitar justice, but it is a great looking instrument.

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The set continued with a “Hope In Hell”, “Eat Your Words” (I think) and closed with “Metal On Metal”, which was an obvious crowd pleaser. There was a half-baked call for an encore, but it was fairly clear that the thinned out crowd would have to make a truck-load more noise to entice the fellas back out and the evening’s entertainment was done. After the show, the band did a paid meet’n’greet which I think was a $30 experience (or was it $40?), which seems a bit steep, but then again I understand the band is trying to make money, however, the very people that have already driven to see you, paid their entry money, bought food and drink and may be some merch, then gets screwed again… I think three people paid for this honor. However, we hung out and as I pretty much expected, Robb wandered out of the band area and we had a great chat with him, then spoke with Chris for a bit and finally talked guitars for few minutes with Lips. To be fair we’ve met Lips and Robb several times before so they know us, which helps, but bands might want to re-think this paid-for-meet-n-greet, because it’s not really a fan winner. I think I’d be much more inclined to spend more on merch if I knew the band would be out after the show to chat and sign stuff, without the $30 cost. When all’s said and done, I had a good time. I do think that Anvil would benefit from going out with an ‘equal’ on the bill, to draw a bigger combined crowd, which is no ‘disrespect’ to Lord Dying in this instance, but something like Anvil and Raven, or Anvil and The Rods for example, where the combined draw would double up and more in terms of audience. For now though, if you get the chance go see the mighty Anvil, they won’t disappoint. My score is a steady 8/10.

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Blue Oyster Cult – Live Review – Tally Ho, Leesburg (1/31/15)

Posted in Gig Reviews with tags , , , , , , , on February 13, 2015 by novametalreview

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There are very few metal/hard rock bands that somehow have managed to successfully miss my attention over the years and Blue Oyster Cult (BOC) is one of those in this elite. To be honest, aside from “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper”, I think I would be hard pushed to name any of their songs, let alone albums… Yep, I’m sure most of you just crossed me off your Christmas list and quit reading this about a sentence back. I know, I know, shame on me!

Well, fortunately I have been able to rectify this, with the recent BOC show at our fast-becoming-favorite-venue, the Tally Ho in Leesburg, VA. First a plug for the venue – if you haven’t been to a show at the Tally Ho yet, don’t be shy – this is a GREAT venue to see a band. The stage is nice and high, the sound system is loud and clear, and the main floor area slopes nicely from front to back, allowing pretty much anyone to get a decent view of the stage and parking is right next door. And, if you want to spend a little more, you can splurge on VIP tickets and enjoy a table and seats on the balcony, which I think gets you drinks service to boot.

BOC are one of those near ‘fixtures’ of the hardrock/metal world, having been around since 1967 (originally as Soft White Underbelly… catchy, eh?) and then BOC from 1969 on. Now it’s not surprising, given that period spans 48 years, that the band isn’t made up of all original members – that would be an almost miracle – but the band in fact does retain two originals who I regard as the core and roots – namely Eric Bloom (lead vocals and guitar) and Donald “Buck Dharma” Roser (lead guitar). One aspect that bothers me is it does seem disappointing that BOC have essentially been dormant on the recording side for a very long time now, with their last album release being back in 2001.

Anyway, pretty much as soon as the show was announced I snapped up a pair of tickets – a piece of advice – the Tally Ho seem to have a habit of notching up the price of tickets, the closer to the show date you purchase them, so if you can, be sure to get them at the “advance purchase” price, which seems to typically save you something like $5-$10 off the regular price and even more of the “day-of-show” door price.

Of course, I also had some listening to do, to catch-up on my lack of BOC album collection… thank you YouTube ‘complete album’ videos that seem to exist for nearly every band in the world now.

The opening band for this show… I think I better stop. As a young lad I was told, if you can’t say something nice, better to say nothing at all. Let’s just leave that I was glad when they stopped…

The moment BOC stepped on stage, there was magic to seen and heard. The sound was sharp from the opening number, backing vocals and harmonies were spot-on and most importantly, at least for me, the band genuinely looked like they were having a fun time. The crowd was immediately with the band and the venue was sold out and perhaps a little more, so it was full, but not unpleasantly so. I did notice toward the end it did thin out just a little, but then again this is suburban Leesburg (bites tongue!)!

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They opened with “OD’d on Life Itself”, which got it’s first live play back in 1973, which when you stop to think is quite amazing – this song has been making the rounds for over 40 years, which was then followed by “Before the Kiss, a Redcap” which reaches back one year earlier to 1972. Even I was a young kid when these songs were first played, which I think makes me feel somewhat old now. Uggh!, I need to shake that off sharpish. But, the great thing was none of these older tracks seemed to be carrying the years and sounded bright and cranking’ in a very rock’n’roll way. I think it was from the second song on that Buck switched to his “Cheeseberger” Steinberger guitar, which is cool looking.

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Initially my attention was focused on Buck and Eric, who both sounded great incidentally as they swapped lead vocal roles, but it wasn’t long before I started paying attention to Richie Castellano who I had initially pegged as the keyboard player (being a BOC newbie…), but was blown away by his lead guitar playing. Wow, can he shred! Obviously Buck takes the majority of the lead work, but Richie is a monster in his own right. Having figured that out, I then noticed the bass work was pretty damned awesome too – Kasim Sulton is the fella behind the four string (or was it five?) and here’s a chap with a musical history that would fill a fairly large book, and not a page would be anything other than mesmerizing – Meatloaf, Joan Jett, Patty Smyth, Todd Rundgren, Steve Stevens Atomic Playboys, Indigo Girls, and many more, fill his resume to the brim. Of course all this is tied together by the drummer and here Jules Radino does an excellent job. The following video from the show includes both Kasim and Jules being featured during their solo spots: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R2UrEdXRTzo

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As you can see and hear from the video the band is sound amazing these days and there’s really not much to say other than if you ever get a chance to see them – DO IT. You can find the full set list here: http://www.setlist.fm/setlist/blue-oyster-cult/2015/tally-ho-leesburg-va-3cad9ef.html

Here’s a couple more videos – ME262 (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xH3o7veAUr8) and the majority of (Don’t Fear) The Reaper which closed the set (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ier-czm7QKk&feature=youtu.be). I think anyone would be hard pushed to say they weren’t anything other than sounding amazing.

After a short break and a lot of yelling and stamping of feet from the crowd, the band were back on stage for another 3 tracks, which started with “In Thee” which I think was a crowd request and pretty much unplanned, given the band seemed to have to figure a few things out before getting started – it sounded killer. Overall I think they played for over 1.5 hours and I didn’t see a single person after the show with anything to say other then gushing greatness. Scoring such an iconic band is a little meaningless, but since that’s what I do, it’s simple – 10/10

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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

Marseille – Unfinished Business – Album Review

Posted in Album Reviews with tags , , , , on December 9, 2014 by novametalreview

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The music business is full of stories of unfulfilled destiny and at times some of these leave me just shaking my head. As you may well guess, the subject band of this review, Marseille, are a prime example of this. My bet is there are very few who will read this who will have even heard any material from this band. So first a history lesson….

Marseille were formed in Liverpool, back in 1976, a time that was spawning many of the roots of what became know as the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM). Originally garnering attention by winning the very first UK Battle of the Bands, being judged by Brian May and Roger Taylor from Queen at Wembly Arena in 1977, they signed a record deal with Mountain Records, which was an off-shoot of the band Nazareth I believe. Recently I had the privilege of having dinner with Andy Charters (rhythm guitarist from the band), and learned that the unbeknown to the band, the CEO of Mountain died in a plane crash two weeks before the band signed their deal. This unfortunately set a sequence of events in motion that would not do the band any favors.

The bands first release, “Red, White and Slightly Blue”, was produced by Nazareth guitarist Manny Charlton, and did not receive the promotion or distribution it needed to really blow up, but the second album, simply titled “Marseille” from 1979, broke the band to a much larger audience and most importantly was the first NWOBHM album to get released in the USA on RCA. At this point I don’t think it unreasonable to have anticipated a rise that may have rivaled that of Def Leppard, Saxon or Iron Maiden.

However, this story has a twist that would suck the life from the band. Following the US release, the band were invited to tour the USA in 1980 along with Nazareth and Blackfoot, which seemed like the next and most logical move up the rock’n’roll ladder, and indeed the tour was successful. However, behind the scenes, the bands record label Mountain, due largely to completely inept management (remember that plane crash…), was drawn into bankruptcy and the moment the band returned to the UK they were dropped into a two-year legal battle, leaving their equipment stranded in the USA and unable to move on with another record deal until all the lawyer stuff was done with.

Faced with this, the original band more of less disintegrated, with lead guitarist, Neil Buchanan, moving on and finding a successful career in kids TV, Andy Charters moved the USA and Paul Dale (vocals) simply quit. The remaining two members, Keith Knowles and Steve Dinwoodie continued on and recruited vocalist Sav Pearse and guitarist Marc Railton from local Liverpool band Savage Lucy to complete a third album entitled “Touch The Night”, which I must say is a cracking good record and strangely is the album I first bought back in 1984 and how I first discovered Marseille. If you ever see a copy, immediately snap it up – it’s a must have for any NWOBHM fan, even if it isn’t really the “real Marseille”… Unfortunately, times had moved on and the record industry largely ignored the band leading to their split.

After a successful career in TV, Neil Buchanan reunited the original line-up in 2008, which in itself is no mean feat. However, Paul Dale left after about a year and was replaced by Nigel Roberts, who remains the vocalist to this day. In 2010, Keith Knowles and Steve Dinwoodie stepped down to be replaced by Gareth Webb (drums) and Lee Andrews (bass). This is the line up that recorded the album being reviewed hrere! To complete the history, Gareth Webb, left the band in 2011, with his drum stool being filled by Ace Finchum (also of Tigertailz). Lee also left and currently the bass positioned isn’t permanently manned. So, the original two guitarists and founding members, Neil Buchanan and Andy Charters, continue to lead the band, and while not active on a regular basis (mainly because of the 3000 mile stretch of Ocean that separates the members), they continue to play festivals and the odd small mini-tour mainly in mainland Europe.

So, turning to the album that is supposed to be the subject of this review, the first thing to point out is that you’re probably only going to find this as download, with the CD being out of print now (unless perhaps you are prepared to find a copy on one of the “used” sites out on the internet). As you might guess from the title, “Unfinished Business”, this album basically continues on from what might have followed the second album, but here we have the benefit of some very nice production.

As soon as the title track “Unfinished Business” kicks off, the band is firing on all cylinders and I’m talking at least a V-8 here. There is a classic NWOBHM vibe stamped all over this record, but it doesn’t drag along a dated feel at all, sounding fresh and charged with energy. In fact it’s as if the band has stored up all those missing the years worth of rock and released it in one hit. The double guitar line up brings some very nice interplay and the vocals are strong and remind me of several great British bands – Thunder and Little Angels come to mind, but there may be others.

The second track, “I Believe” continues the theme that the music is still relevant and the rock’n’roll dream is still alive, and really could be my personal theme song, haha! Having just gotten back from a 600-mile weekend round trip to see bunch of great metal bands I can’t really argue. “Rock Radio” is a somewhat humorous comment on the sad state of music on the radio these days…! Spot on I’d say. What I can’t really convey in these words is the great upbeat vibe all the tracks on this record bring. “Wanna Get High”, the fourth track here, is a slightly faster number, and, again is a ‘let’s live life to the full’, positive number. There’s some great guitar work in the middle of this track. Solid heavy metal, rock’n’roll.

With track five, there’s a definite hint of Def Leppard (from the good Def Leppard days…) but better than anything that particular band has put out for a long time. This song carries a great melody and it really digs into your brain, such that it’s almost too annoyingly catchy! Skipping over track six, “Blown It”, which is fine, but perhaps my least favorite, we get to “Raise Hell” which is a nicely mid-paced rocker, and just one of those songs you want to crank to ‘11’ when your driving down a nice stretch of highway.

The album closes out with “Everyone Dies Young”, “In For The Kill”, both of which are fine songs, but take us to “The Game” which is another strong number with a cool drum-driven riff through the verse. I found myself leaving this CD in the car player for multiple plays on my most recent trip and was sneakily jacking the volume up as the tracks played through.

So who’s going to like this? Well, least I don’t misrepresent anything here, this isn’t NWOBHM in the vein of Maiden, Saxon or Priest, but more on the Def Leppard, Tygers of Pan Tang and later British bands such as Thunder, so, if those bands ring a bell with you, you will most likely really dig this. There’s definitely a blues edge here, leading me to feel a little more denim, as opposed to leather, but overall it is a really great album and now I have a copy, it feels like one of those that I will always want to hear from start to finish, no matter I’m in shuffle mode on the ol’ iTunes. Again, another testament to music of the late 70’’s/early 80’s, a crackin’ good come back album – how this didn’t do better when it first came out in 2010 is a mystery to me, but then again I’ve only just discovered it myself. My rating for this is a strong 8.5/10.

You can find this on Amazon (http://www.amazon.com/Unfinished-Business-Marseille/dp/B0045JB5H4) and iTunes.

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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