Archive for CD Review

Q5 – New World Order – Album Review

Posted in Album Reviews with tags , , , , , on July 11, 2016 by novametalreview

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OK, hands up who has heard of Q5 before? Yes, that is probably a pretty small showing; at least that’s my bet. Well, let’s do some catching up, since there isn’t a massive amount to catch up on.

So, Q5 were originally formed back in 1983 in Seattle, by smashing together two groups from the local scene, taking three members of TKO (guitarist Rick Pierce, bassist Evan Sheeley, and drummer Gary Thompson) and two members of C.O.R.E. (frontman Jonathan K and guitarist Floyd D. Rose – of Floyd Rose tremolo system fame). This line up released “Steel The Light” in 1984 and it was through this record that I discovered the band, and it has to be said it was the cool sci-fi spaceship cover art that really attracted my eye, rather than any knowledge of the band or music when I bought it. Fortunately the album was an absolute corker and kicked some serious butt. Hello Q5!

Following “Steel The Light”, their sophomore release in 1985, “When The Mirror Cracks”, was a little less heavy and seemed to me at least to have a little more keyboard than I would have perhaps liked. Unfortunately the band was already coming apart at the seems and split due the all too common “personal differences” soon after the album release. To be honest I assumed that was the last that anyone was likely to hear of Q5, but, surprise, the band popped up on the Sweden Rock Festival in 2014, with 3/5ths of the original line up, with Scott K. on vocals, Pierce on guitar and Sheeley bass, joined by new blood in the form of Dennis Turner on guitar and Jeffery McCormack on drums.

It seems the band had such a good time that they decided to keep the band going with an aim of putting out a new album, which is what I have in front of me right now. Released on Frontiers, “New World Order” turns in no less than fourteen tracks (one being listed as a bonus track on my copy) with a runtime topping just over an hour, and I have to honest there isn’t a duffer amongst them! It has been quite a long time since any album caught my ear quite as much as this did – so much so that I played it back-to-back straight through three times following the first listen!

So, Q5 really seem to have found their happy place with this record, and have adopted a solid power/heavy metal foundation here, which is just PERFECT in my book. Sure there is melody by the bucket load, but you will also find massive power-driving riffs and plenty of excellent playing from all contributors to keep you drawn in. I don’t really like drawing comparisons to other bands, but I’m going to break my own rules here just so you can get an idea of nature of these guys in 2016 – after the first couple of listens through I was starting to get infusions of Saxon, Judas Priest and recent Accept, but not in any derivative way.

Since I have only had my hands on this record for two days now I can’t claim to have any particular favorite track, but I think there would be something wrong with me if I didn’t mention “A Warrior’s Song/Mach Opus 206” which are listed as two separate tracks, but run into each other, and form an absolutely epic power metal trip. “Mach Opus 206” is in fact an massive riff-tastic monster of an instrumental track and I can’t help turning this one up to ‘11’ whenever this hits my ears. It’s honestly epically huge!

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention what a great recording this is too. So often these days albums seem to come out flat and lifeless, but this record has a real energy and feel behind it driving the whole experience along. The drums and bass sound massive and the guitar sound is just about perfect – cutting, but still heavy. Jonathan Scott K’s vocal sit perfectly within each track and it may be his lyrical phrasing that makes me think NWOBHM. All in all despite there being 14 tracks here – I WANT MORE.

So, to close – it doesn’t matter a damn whether or not you remember Q5 from before (though if you do, all is good) – if you like your rock on the heavier side, GO AND BUY THIS RECORD. I can’t believe anyone could be disappointed. And just to make things clear, it has been quite a long time since I felt motivated enough to write a review, but I could not let this pass. This is a killer album and a straight 10/10.

George Lynch – Shadow Train – Album Review

Posted in Album Reviews with tags , , , on July 22, 2015 by novametalreview

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Those that know me in person will attest to the fact that I am a big fan of George Lynch and have been ever since I was knee-high to a Marshall stack. In fact I was such a fan that the only ‘guitar tuition’ videotape I ever bought featured George Lynch. I think the booklet that accompanied the tape was almost worn to shreds (and I still have it and got it signed by George a couple of years back). It is true that the “Tooth and Nail” Dokken era is still perhaps my favorite, but George has managed to keen his wits about him and has continued to put out some great music over the years.

Most recently I think the Sweet & Lynch album “Only To Rise” was a masterpiece and something I should have reviewed. May be I can find time to backtrack to that one. Of course there was also the Lynch Mob recording “Sun Red Sun” which was also an excellent release (late in 2014), albeit only seven tracks long – I suppose that was closer to an extended EP – but the new Lynch Mob release, “Rebel”, is due out in a few short weeks. George has been a busy boy recently.

So, the Shadow Train release is supposed to be the musical accompaniment to the Shadow Nation, which is a documentary about the Native American Indians in the modern world today. I’m not sure when that is due for release, or exactly what drove George to pursue that, but he did make the following comment on Blabbermouth: “I’ve spent over four decades of my life pursuing elusive musical aspirations. But for even longer than that, I’ve cared, studied and thought deeply about the human condition and how we interact with each other and the world around us. Fusing these two aspirations into one has been a challenge for me throughout my creative life. This is my attempt at bonding the music and the message into one cohesive whole.” Right-o. Now we know….

The Shadow Train album actually stretches to eighteen tracks, across two CDs, which is quite a mammoth offering. It seems that the first tracks recorded were the nine tracks that are included on CD number 2 in the set, so the presentation is actually chronologically reversed, and in my opinion the tracks on CD#1 are more accessible, which may be a result of the players becoming more familiar with each other. As for the line-up here we rather obviously have George Lynch on guitar, while on vocals we have Greg Analia, Gabe Rosales on bass, Donnie Dickman on keyboards, and Jimmy D’Anda on drums. Perhaps I’ve led a sheltered life, but I’m not familiar with any of the other players listed here, and certainly each does a fine job, but I would be hard pushed to say any one of them stands out as exceptional, at least within the constraints of this release.
So turning to the album itself, CD#1 opens with “Vulture”, which kicks things off with a pretty crushing riff, however the verse takes things in a bit of a different direction, perhaps more in-line with something from the “Souls of We” record from 2008. Once the track gets to the solo section, it’s clear this is a more restrained George Lynch and perhaps it’s less about the guitar, than the song itself.

The second track, “Currency Of Lies”, seems to take a more familiar path and I swear there are times when I could mistake the vocals for Oni Logan (Lynch Mob). This is definitely a track I could have seen making it on to a Lynch Mob record. With that out of the way, up next is perhaps my favorite from the eighteen included here – “Power And Resistance” – and it is one of those Lynch songs that gets inside your head and has you coming back again and again. The chorus has a great hook, and the verse a neatly melodic riff. This is right there in “the zone” that draws me to so many George Lynch records.

The following track, “Now It’s Dark”, is what I call a “plodder” in terms of pace, but…! That chorus vocal melody… this is another track that is hard to skip and digs its way into your subconscious.

Now the rest of the record actually does a bit less for me. I don’t want to imply there’s anything ‘wrong’ with what follows, but in the “CD in the car” test, this record fails – despite having this CD for nearly a week now, it has failed to inspire me to burn a copy and swap out any of the CDs currently sitting in the CD changer (yeah, up to date I am not…). Track 7, “Ghost”, has a sort of spoken/rapped vocal line, which again sort of reminds me of the “Souls Of We” record for some reason, but as things move on I’m less engaged with the album.

Moving on the second CD, there seems to be more of a blues influence to the tracks included here, which is certainly no bad thing, and the opening track “Believe” has a nice bluesy, almost Gospel vibe to it, and is really the first time I noticed the keyboards. The second track “Blinded” is definitely a blues stomp, and while there’s nothing ground breaking here it’s a track I want to hear again. This groove is carried into the next track, “Fallen”, but from here out I’m less enthusiastic; track 5, “Prayer Mechanism” comes across as a bit of dirge to me, while “Soux Wake Up” probably works in the context of the movie I’m sure, but this message laden track is probably the one I’ve skipped more times than I’ve felt compelled to listen through. May be I’m just missing the point here? I think this same comment also applies to the next track, “Trail Of Tears”, which carries a definite Native American Indian atmospheric vibe, but it’s a little heavy.

The final track, “World On Fire”, draws us up out of the funk that I can’t help feel from the previous four tracks, and get’s things rocking again with some nice melodic guitar work buried into the very frame of the track.

So, in summary, not a total success, at least in my book. There’s a part of me that wants to blame the length of the whole thing on my funk here, but that’s not really it. I can’t help but think there was more rockin’ going on here and less intellectual posturing, the overall vibe would be more upbeat, but the bottom line is this just isn’t a record that I feel I will be reaching for to often, unlike the Lynch Mod, Sweet & Lynch or T&N albums which I continue to spin with great anticipation. All-in-all, I would say this is a record that hard-core Lynch fans will embrace, but otherwise there isn’t a great draw here. My score overall here is a muted 7.5/10

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

Kix – Rock Your Face Off – Album Review

Posted in Album Reviews with tags , , , , , on September 23, 2014 by novametalreview

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So, those of you that know me fairly well will already know that I am not perhaps the World’s biggest Kix fan, haha!… And indeed I have been less than complimentary in some of my live reviews of the M3 Festival. Unfortunately it seems M3 will yet again, for the yawningth time (yes, I know that isn’t a real word), have to suffer through another Friday night Kix-off set for 2015. Hopefully they close the night, so we can hit the bar early. That aside Kix have recently released their latest studio album after a hiatus of some 19 years.

Those with an elephantine memory may just recall the prior album, “$how Bu$ine$$” from 1995, which was basically a “flop” and led to the band disbanding that same year until 2003, when they reformed without their primary song writer, Donnie Purnell. Despite this, Kix got back on the road and have essentially flogged the same set drawn from the first five decently successful albums, covering the era 1981 through 1991, and it is this lack of creativity that has driven me to my stance on them live – well, that and the silly jokes between songs and rather childish stage show (please don’t mention popping balloons!).

While Kix do indeed have a decent catalog of songs from their early material, it all becomes a bit “tribute band-like” without at least some attempt to come up with some new material. So, I guess I have to shut-up moaning about that aspect at least now with the release of “Rock Your Face Off”, which delivers 12 new tracks.

Firstly, credit where credit is due – some people were surprised I spent $10 on this band, especially given my prior comments. Ah ha! Fooled you… Well, no, this doesn’t indicate any great change in my opinion, but I DO want to support all bands who are prepared to get their finger out and bring us, rock and metal fans, new material. So, enjoy the $10 Kix (or at least the share you finally get after all the blood-suckers have a slice of the pie).

So, my first curiosity was who the heck had written the songs on the record? Well, new bass player, Mark Schenker (no, not related to THE one and only Michael Schenker I believe), gets a co-writing credit on 10 of the tracks, along with another name from outside the band who also appears listed (I don’t have the CD in front of me right now to get the exact details), with a mix of other members of the band listed as co-writers on various tracks. Mark Schenker is also listed as engineering the record, and that is definitely one aspect I have absolutely no compliant about – the production is top notch.

OK, deep breath, how about the record itself? Well, let me be clear it’s not a bad record at all. Phew! In the grand scheme of things it’s better than I expected, but it is let down by a few tracks. The CD opens with “Wheels in Motion” and this immediately brings a recognizable vibe, that I’d be hard pushed to say was anything other than Kix. I will note one thing – Steve Whiteman seems to have adopted a different style from the earlier material and if you play some of the new material back-to-back with the old, you will see what I mean. It’s by no means a criticism, just something anyone paying attention should spot. I guess we’re all getting older, perhaps? So, the opening track cranks along at a pretty decent pace and at times it may be seems as if the lyrics are a bit of a squeeze to fit, but in the end the track works.

The next track up, “You’re Gone” is a straightforward rock’n’roll song and perhaps where the current-day Kix excel best. This track works very well, as does “Can’t Stop The Show” which follows. May be the teen boys in the audience will gravitate to the next track, which has the teasing title “Rollin’ in Honey” which is slathered in sexual innuendo, however in this case Steve Whiteman’s voice just gets a shade to thin and whiney in the chorus. Also the guitars here seem just a shade to thin for my liking and closer to the Rolling Stones and a touch to much from AC/DC. Too much Telecaster and not a whiff of a Gibson SG or Les Paul. Or more simply too much twang and not enough overdrive for my liking. However, my real beef with this track is that I think I can sing “Bump The La La” from the 1991 Kix “Hot Wire” album. Come on guys, you thought no one would notice?

So, skipping over a couple more perfectly adequate tracks, we land on track number 8, “Inside Outside Inn” which takes the pace down with an acoustic guitar intro and leads us to the ballad. OK, so now I let loose… this is a HORRIBLE song. From the rather wavering lead vocal, to the horrid backing vocals… “yeah, yeah, yeah”. Uhhhg! The lyrics are wrapped in a painfully convoluted way around the title of the song and clearly this is sole reason the song is here. I have already deleted this from my iTunes library.

Following this we have “Mean Miss Adventure” which is another perfectly competent rock’n’roll song. The next track is another overloaded with sexual references, but in this case it actually works, “Love Me with Your Top Down”. This song almost made me smile…

But…then we get to “Tail on the Wag” which unfortunately I find has an uncanny resemblance to the main riff of “Same Jane” from Hot Wire. Wait it IS the same riff, but not quite as good. If you like try interchanging the lyrics. Yep….

The album closes with another perfectly acceptable rock’n’roll track, but when I put my super critical ears on this track just doesn’t seem as tightly executed as the rest of the album, and I might venture it comes across as rushed a little.

So, how was my $10 investment? Well, I think there are eight tracks here that are perfectly fine. Nothing exceptional, and not better than some of the earlier material, but in the same ballpark. Then we have one track that to my ears is just a little loose. I’ll give that one a concession since it is probably just personal perspective. Now we turn to the two re-cycled tracks. Sure, this happens sometimes, especially with a band that hasn’t been song writing for such a long time, but it is a little too blatant. Finally that horrid ballad – sorry, but that song just sucks. So I think I got about $7 value, which to be fair isn’t a complete loss is it? I’m sure if these tracks cycle through my iTunes library on shuffle I won’t be reaching for the ‘skip’ button, so they pass that test. But will I ever be pulling the CD from the shelf to give it a dedicated listen on the home hi-fi system? I doubt that very much.

If you believe you are a Kix fan and would drive a 100+ miles to see them, then by all means buy this, but for anyone else you will live a very happy life without ever hearing the record. I’ll score this the same as the $ value = 7/10, but only if you delete that ballad from the play list.

 

A Sound Of Thunder – The Lesser Key Of Solomon – Album Review

Posted in Album Reviews with tags , , , , , , on August 22, 2014 by novametalreview

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So, less than a blink of an eye seems to have passed, and ASoT continue their prodigious output, with the release of their fourth full-length album, “The Lesser Key of Solomon” (henceforth TLKoS). Regular followers of the this site will know ASoT are local to the NoVA region and indeed are good friends of ours, however friendship be damned, when I started writing this blog I vowed several key ‘things’ that would keep this train on the rails, namely: pay for everything (gigs, CDs, whatever…), write what I believe and above all else be constructive. I’m mostly reminding myself, here, but it is clear that ASoT have reached a critical juncture in their forward progress. So let’s see where we are, eh?

The debut album, “Metal Renaissance”, was an impressive opening swipe that most almost any band would be proud to deliver and set a marker for what would follow, if not strictly a “blew me away” sort of album. However, what followed, “Out Of The Darkness”, was a monster and remains high on my play list. The blend of strong song writing, great playing/vocals and tight production, established ASoT as a true metal force. In fact I can’t point to a weak song on the album to this day. Skipping over the “Queen of Hell” EP, which itself was awesome, we come the previous release, “Time’s Arrow”, which I scored a riotous 9.5/10, and stated “this is the first must-have album of the year”. You can re-read that review here: http://wp.me/p2hj3p-33

So let’s get to the “main course” here and take a look at TLKoS. ASoT have penchant for longer tracks and albums clocking at almost exactly 60 minutes, and here TLKoS meets the criteria, delivering 10 tracks at 60 minutes… well, to be honest I’d really have to say 9 tracks and an “intro”. I don’t know when this came in vogue, but I’ve noticed the last Saxon album, the last Loudness album and now ASoT seem happy to devote a couple of minutes at the start of their album to some “composition” that clearly is destined to be used as the opening for their live show. So the album opens with the cryptically named “Nexus of Realities” which, as noted, seems likely to kick things off at live shows and I suppose does the same for the album here, but, would I miss it if it weren’t here? Nah, probably not. Perhaps I’m missing some cleaver creative twist?

What follows next, “Uduroth” is a great slice of power metal and follows very nicely in the tire tracks set in both Out of The Darkness and Time’s Arrow. The opening power cord and riff that follows is classic ASoT and for me takes some cues from “The Queen of Hell”, with massive, chanted backing vocals from the “Thunder Choir”. This is one of the shorter numbers on the record, clocking a respectable 4 minutes 32 seconds, and might be my favorite on the record.

Next up we have “Fortuneteller” and it is at this point I get to my first, “hmmm?” moment. Let me try to find some words to pad what “hmmm?” means – I think the best I can come up with is “I’m just not super excited”. The song is solid, the playing is solid, but I’m not being drawn in. It’s not engaging me and for once I’m slightly distracted by the production. There’s just a little too much double-tracking on the vocals, whispered vocal lines, and harmony stuff happening here there and everywhere. There’s also some odd keyboard things going on during the bridge before and after the solo, that I can only describe a bit like monkeys grunting… (Am I loosing it here?). Overall it just seems over-loaded in a way that Time’s Arrow wasn’t. To cap it all, I think the track could have easily finished around the 5-minute 25-second mark and had no less entertainment value. Wow, I am having a grump here you are probably thinking? To some extent that might be true, but then again, I have re-listened to the entire ASoT catalog perhaps 4 times or more straight through, in order to write this review and I think my feet are really on the ground here. I do really like the vocal bridge part that follows the guitar solo… but overall I can’t imagine this track working in a live setting and I think that is where I believe there is a divergence from what has come before – there isn’t a track on Out of the Darkness or Time’s Arrow that I wouldn’t be happy to hear on stage through a crankin’ PA system.

Moving on, next is the intriguingly titled “The Boy Who Could Fly”, which kicks off with a nice simple acoustic guitar, with Nina’s vocal floating over them with an almost ethereal vibe and very catchy melody throughout the song. Overall a very tasty and classy solo tops off the track. So you can put this one on the “winner” list.

Following on, we meet “Elijah” which is the longest track on the album, clocking in at 9 minutes and 30 seconds, which makes it the second longest track of the ASoT catalog behind “Time’s Arrow” (9mins 50secs). This is perhaps best described as a mini-opera, involving Elijah, his mother who has him trapped in the house and I think a ghost… who may just be “The Boy Who Could Fly”. Now, truth be told, this track is a grower, so give it time. The first few plays through it seemed to wash over me and came over a little disjointed, but as you start to absorb the story it gets inside your head and it all fits into place. Another winner.

Track six, “Master Of Pain” has a killer title, but just doesn’t quite live up to the potential – it’s just a little to “nice”, despite the lyrics. Again I am suspicious that there’s just a little too much in the production department happening, double-tracking, harmonies and so on. It needed to be nasty. More burning cauldrons of oil, nasty leather contraptions and painful devices. It needed to crush and I’m just feeling a little squished.

Again, with a perfect “10” score for the title of the track, “Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb” had me filled with expectation and this time I’m closer to getting satisfaction. My one thought is this could have been so much heavier? I get an Iron Maiden vibe with the song title, but not the guitar/bass meat’n’potatoes…I needed a couple more clicks on the “meat” eq and an extra helping of potatoes here, or at least more bass guitar. Perhaps it’s the glockenspiel sort of keyboard (or is it tubular bell percussion?) part that pops up around the guitar solo that irks me? I’m nit picking, so don’t take this as anything other than constructive input.

“Black Secrets” opens with a Deep Purple-ish vibe from Josh’s on guitar, but is soon driven to a classic ASoT mid-paced stopper of a track and this could have probably been included on any of the preceding two releases. Following this comes “One Empty Grave” and again this is another track that I can’t imagine in a live set, but in the context of the album setting works nicely and is another “grower”. It kicks off, once you get past the intro, with another guitar part which again reminds me of recent Deep Purple, however in this case this theme continues deeper into the track, which is cool. I will note this is perhaps the first ASoT track that uses a fadeout to end the track.

The album closes with “House of Bones” which runs with an extended intro that takes about 1 min 40secs to get going at which point there’s another 50 seconds of jazz inspired guitar intro solo (very tasty) until finally the vocal kicks in. I’m not sure what the first 1 minute 40 seconds adds to the track? Personally I would have ditched it. The track itself is solid and includes quite a bit of ‘hammond’ organ, but then again keys and ASoT go hand-in-hand (for example take a listen to “The Day I Die” from Out of the Darkeness) and runs through a number of fairly crushing riffs on it’s way to it’s conclusion.

Of course you re-read my Time’s Arrow review didn’t you? Well, if you did, you may well be wondering where’s the gushing praise for Nina on vocals, and of course Josh, Jesse and Chris respectively on their instruments? Well everyone does a superb job, and essentially I’m just going to say all that I said previously still applies. The crux of this review revolves around the songs. Now I did miss one specific thing and that was the duet track – previously we have had John Gallagher from Raven on Out of the Darkness and Blaze Bayley (ex-Iron Maiden) on Time’s Arrow. I suppose you could argue that breaking the mold is a good thing and there are only so many vocalists worth trying that with, but I did enjoy the previous offerings.

To put this review in its place, I think this album represents maturation for ASoT and, as with all growth, there are points where there is some pain that comes with the process. Here, we have some gems that are easily equal to the best that have come before, but in my opinion (as a fan and supportive observer) we also have some ‘ok’ tracks. Nothing bad so banish that word from your mind, because it just doesn’t apply, but, may be experimentally some of the ideas just don’t hit the nail on the head. Close, but not square on.

So to close, should you buy this record? ABSOLUTELY. And doubly so if you are already an ASoT fan, but even if you are not, this is as good a place as any to start, but do be sure to sweep up the back catalog at the same time or soon after. To score this I’m comfortable with a very solid 8.5/10.

Loudness – The Sun Will Rise Again – Album Review

Posted in Album Reviews with tags , , , , , on August 18, 2014 by novametalreview

SunWillRise

I first discovered Loudness with the purchase of “Lightning Strikes” in 1986 and since that day they have easily remained my #1 favorite Japanese heavy metal band (and in my top 10 all time bands overall), and are easily in my top 5 live bands, most recently blowing me away in 2013 at the M3 Festival. The guitar playing of Akira Takasaki has always been like watching fret board fireworks and that statement is just as valid today in the middle of 2014, just as it was the first time I heard “Lightning Strikes” and everything that followed since then.

The release of “The Sun Will Rise Again” brings the album count for the band to a pretty staggering count of 29 studio albums… boy, do I have some catching up to do! Given they are currently in their 33rd year as a band, and have remained active throughout this time; they are one of a few bands that have survived without some kind of hiatus during this time, unlike the majority of their contemporaries.

Despite some line-up changes in the very-late 80’s and 90’s, the band is back with the original line up, except for original drummer, Munetaka Higuchi, who passed away after a brave fight to cancer in 2008. So we have Akira Takasaki on guitar, Masayoshi Yamashita on bass, Minoru Niihara on vocals and new-boy Masayuki Suzuki completing the line-up on drums. I had the fortune to see this line-up up close and personal at Empire (Springfield, VA) on June 3rd, 2011 and that concert will remain one of my most enduring heavy metal memories – we were front row, 3 or 4 feet from one of my favorite bands of all time, while they ripped through a set of classic and more recent killer tracks. It would be almost impossible to forget the mastery that Akira presented during his spotlight guitar solo that night.

So turning to recent releases from Loudness, most have been Japan-only releases and this includes “The Sun Will Rise Again”, so I have resorted to devious means to get each one shortly after release via import. If you want a recommendation I have been using http://www.yesasia.com/us/en/home.html who offer free international shipping and have been reliable.

I have seen comment that some find the heavier, more thrash oriented, direction that Loudness sometimes edges toward lately doesn’t sit quite as well as the more mainstream melodic metal numbers, but to be honest I really like the edgy mix that the band is currently experimenting with. Don’t get me wrong – those melodic riff-oriented numbers are still up front and center (check out the track “The King Of Pain” from the album of the same name for a classic riff-driven killer), but there is definitely a hint of heavier to many of the more recent tracks.

A final word for any guitar players that might be reading this, before I get to the review proper… I was most interested to learn that Akira is a big fan of the Marshall JMP-1 rack-mount preamp. Why? Just because it happens to by my favorite and current preamp to this day, as it has been since 1992, just as it was and still is for Akira. Perhaps this is why I am such an Akira fan-boy! If anyone knows what external effects he is using, particularly how he gets that deeply modulated, “not quite a flanger” sound he uses for a lot of his rhythm playing please drop me a note.

“The Sun Will Rise Again” opens with a short two-minute intro-piece, which certainly seems to be the ‘de rigueur’ these days. I’m now loosing count of how many bands have done this recently. I suppose it makes sense, but it sort of irks me when a band claims there are 10 tracks on their album, but in fact it’s really 9 tracks and a 2 minute intro… I’m not mad at Loudness because they put 11 tracks on this record – 10 tracks and an intro!

The album for real kicks off with “Got To Be Strong” and this is Loudness firing on all 12-cylinders, with a monster riff, that just washes over you and pins you to your seat (assuming you are sitting… otherwise you are going to be pummeled into the wall behind you)! Sure, it’s a pacey double-kick drum driven number, but I challenge anyone who claims to like heavy metal to not like this track. The bridge that leads to the solo is a thing of beauty with Akira tearing some crazy runs off the guitar neck.

Next up is “Never Ending Fire” and I remember sitting at home the first time I heard this record sitting with a slightly insane grin on my head, when this track blasted out of the way too loud stereo system – I seem to remember yelling “Loudness are killing it”, which got an enthusiastic nod from Michelle. Track 3, “The Metal Man”, is from the “short, but sweet”, school of song writing, clocking in at 2 minutes 45 seconds, and is the perfect vehicle for one of my favorite solos from Akira, who backs off the overdrive and delivers a master-class in hammer-on tapping. His guitar tone is just magic here.

One, thought before I loose it: one of my subconscious thoughts every time I listen to this record is that Akira’s guitar playing here is exactly what Joe Satriani would deliver if he simply let his heavy metal demons loose. I might seem like an odd statement, but technically Akira is right up there with the guitar-playing elite, but with a hard and heavy edge that seems missing from many that achieve technical supremacy.

Skipping forward to track 6, we are greeted with an intro that is a little different and definitely has a bit of a Rage Against The Machine vibe I think. Certainly there is a 90’s groove running through this whole track, which also clocks in as the longest on the album at 8 minutes 20 seconds. Often I find longer songs, end up dragging, but Loudness manage to avoid this, and this is perhaps a function of the funk-infused bridge section that pops up around the 6 minute point.

The title track, despite drawing out an intro that keeps you in suspense for tad over a minute, has one of those classic Loudness riffs and is one of those songs you just want to hear blasted at you live. The same can be said for the next track, “Rock You Wild” which is another that just punches you in the head with the opening riff. Smack! Listen to this sucker… At this point I must mention the perfect combo of Yamashita on bass and Suzuki on drums – these two are so tightly locked together it’s easy to take them for granted, but totally unfair.

Track 9, “Greatest Ever Heavy Metal” doesn’t pull any punches with the title now does it? And, neither does it with the riff that drives this song forward, which just incites you to crank the volume. To be honest this is quite a complex song, since it ties together about four distinctive riffs, which sometimes isn’t the easiest thing to do, but Loudness has both technique and vision that allows them to pull-off things that lesser bands would probably stumble over. Again this is a longer track, clocking 8 minutes and 13 seconds, but I am surprised to write that down, since it doesn’t seem that long when I’m cranking it in the car for example.

The album draws toward a close strongly with track 10, “Shout” which is just about the only slower paced song on the record, followed by “Not Alone”, a mid-paced number, which has a melody that seems to worm into your head and forces you to play the entire album over again. At least it works that way for me… This is the perfect moment to mention the excellent vocal performance from Minoru Niihara, who continues with his imperfectly accented English – without which Loudness looses a key characteristic that in itself is a critical part this makes this all so perfect.

So far I have lived with this record for a couple of months and it is showing not sign of loosing it’s magic with me. From the very first play I had a heavy metal grin on my face and that is still there every time I hit the play button. At this point I might have to award this album of the year? My score: 10/10