December 9, 2015

Over the past month or so I’ve picked up some great releases. I’ll narrow it down to some of my key recommendations that I have enjoyed immensely.

Danzig’s Skeletons
Rush’s R40 Live
Trans-Siberian Orchestra’s Letters from the Labyrinth
Devil You Know’s They Bleed Red
Magnus Karlsson’s Free Fall’s Kingdom of Rock

My acquisitions of vinyl also proceeded, with the Rush reissue’s of Presto, Roll the Bones, Counterparts, and Test for Echo, and Queensryche’s last two releases, Condition Human and the self-titled album preceding it. As I’ve commented before, Rush’s reissues have been immaculate in terms of quality and these are no exceptions. I’m particularly excited as I had none of the albums mentioned in vinyl format. Listening to these 4 on vinyl was a wonderful sonic experience. The Queensryche vinyl releases were also well done and both are strong releases, especially the newest, Condition Human. Todd La Torre has certainly had a good effect on the band with the sound embracing the earlier era of Queensryche, my favorite for sure.

Danzig’s Skeleton’s release is exceptional. It is a covers album, but every song has a definitive Danzig feel to it. My personal favorite is Danzig’s cover of “Rough Boy” by ZZ Top. The songs range from “Lord of the Thighs” by Aerosmith to “N.I.B.” from Black Sabbath, and more from the likes of Elvis Presley, The Everly Brothers, and the Troggs. Diverse, fun, and every song has a true Danzig presence. I recommend this one all the way. Ahhhhhhhh… DANZIG!

Rush’s R40 documents the possible final tour by Rush. My version has the DVD of the show plus 3 audio CD’s, which chronicle songs from throughout the band’s storied career. The flow of the show goes from the last studio album, Clockwork Angels, to their first self-titled release. As with Rush live albums, the production is great and the energy comes through wonderfully. A great document of what could be their final major tour.

Trans-Siberian Orchestra is a fantastic group that emerged from key members of the legendary metal band Savatage. Their latest release, the first in about 7 years, is very strong. I’ve enjoyed all of TSO’s releases with their fusion of rock, metal, symphonic and orchestral elements. Live, they are unbelievable, with a stage show in the class of bands like Kiss. Lots of different vocal elements, including some real surprises to me like Lzzy Hale of Halestorm fame!

Devil You Know features former Kill Switch Engage singer Howard Jones. The first album by them was very strong, but this one hits an even stronger level, from the first single, “The Way We Die” to their incredible cover of Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger”. Hard to believe sometimes that this sonic storm is just 3 guys. Has enough melodic elements, in vocals and music, to really draw me in alongside the heaviness. Usually band’s first release is stronger than the second, but I’d argue the exception in this case.

Magnus Karlsson, guitarist for the awesome power metal band Primal Fear, has a great solo project called Free Fall which has two releases, the latest of which is called Kingdom of Rock. The album is melodic hard rock with a dash of power metal, and features a variety of tremendous vocalists, including the awesome Jorn Lande, Tony Martin (one of my all-time favorite vocalists, and HUGELY underappreciated for his tenure in Black Sabbath), Joe Lynn Turner, Tony Harnell, and many more.

October 21, 2015

The past couple of weeks have seen some very good releases by some veteran acts in the hard rock and metal world.  I’ve picked up a few that I wanted to comment about here:

Stryper’s Fallen
W.A.S.P.’s Golgotha
Circle II Circle’s Reign of Darkness

I also picked up the reissue of Rush’s Signals in their vinyl reissue campaign. Signals is one of my favorite Rush albums, featuring the classic tune “Subdivisions” among many other fantastic tracks. These reissues are simply stellar. Sound quality is phenomenal and hearing Signals in this format was a true pleasure. Haven’t been disappointed yet during this Rush reissue campaign and word just came out that they are reissuing the albums from 1989-2007 as well. Count me happy!

Stryper’s Fallen is, quite simply, a gem. I’ve always loved Stryper since the first days of the “yellow and black attack”. Michael Sweet’s voice is simply amazing, and I’ve always admired the fact that this band has not been shy about playing in mainstream markets and venues with their faith-centered lyrics and message. Fallen certainly continues that essence right from the first track, “Yahweh”. The thing that caught me right away about this album is it’s heavier edge. The heavier edge blended with the melodic elements and Michael Sweet’s amazing vocals produce what I feel is possibly Stryper’s strongest album ever. My favorite track on the album at the moment is “Heaven”, but there really aren’t any weak spots anywhere on this. Kudos to the Stryper guys on a job extremely well done.

Continuing on the theme of bands with faith-centered messages is W.A.S.P.’s Golgotha, which might come as a surprise to those who followed the band during their first few albums in the 80’s. Blackie Lawless has taken a definite focus with the lyrics and his personal faith. The music on this one evokes more of the “Crimson Idol” type of W.A.S.P., which was evident on the last two releases Babylon and Dominator. I love the rocker “Shotgun”, and songs like “Scream”, “Last Runaway” and “Slaves of the New World Order” top-notch too. While it may not be my favorite W.A.S.P. album (that honor goes to The Last Command), it is a great new release and highly recommended. Blackie is releasing solid albums these days.

Circle II Circle has been releasing some great melodic metal for well over 10 years. Zak Stevens emerged into the radar of metal/hard rock fans as the lead singer of Savatage from 1993 until the end of the decade. I really love his voice, which fits the Circle II Circle sound really good. Heavy, dark edges to the music, with enough melody to produce some catchy passages, define the style of this excellent band. The new release, Reign of Darkness, is one of their stronger ones. “Untold Dreams”, “Deep Within”, “Ghost of the Devil” and other tracks deliver beautifully. Definitely recommend.

This has been a great year for new hard rock and metal, as well as vinyl reissues. Let’s hope the momentum continues as we near the final stretch of the year!

October 7, 2015

Last week was definitely a trifecta in terms of new releases.

Queensryche’s Condition Human
The Winery Dogs’ Hot Streak
Sevendust’s Kill the Flaw

I also picked up the vinyl version of Slayer’s Repentless. Already had the cd, and as reported before, I found it to be their strongest since Divine Intervention. My only slight disappointment was that this was not issued on the good heavyweight, 180 gram vinyl like most bands are doing these days. But it sounds awesome on vinyl and was glad to add it to my collection.

As far as the new releases. Queensryche’s Condition Human is awesome. Takes me back to the earlier phases of Queensryche. Heavier edges, melodic and not any bad tracks on this one. Really shows a band that is firing on all cylinders right now. Todd La Torre delivers an amazing vocal performance and the production on the album is a big improvement over the previous album featuring La Torre, as this one doesn’t sound brick-walled at all.

The Winery Dogs’ debut was great, but this one hits another level. Right from the first track “Oblivion” this album takes hold and doesn’t let go. This is what is possible when you combine great musicianship with great songs. Billy Sheehan, Ritchie Kotzen and Mike Portnoy simply shine all throughout. Ritchie’s voice has a Chris Cornell-like quality that fits perfect and The Winery Dogs avoid the pitfall that many progressive bands fall into in that the high level of technical ability is displayed on this album without losing the strength of the songs themselves. All too often progressive bands come across as just showcasing technical ability…in other words, becoming “long-winded” in a musical sense. The Winery Dogs have none of that. This CD rocks hard and is filled with infectious hooks, melodies, and riffs.

Sevendust, in my opinion, is one of the most underappreciated bands in heavy music. I’ve always loved how approachable they are to their fans and how hard they work, touring relentlessly. But the fact remains that they release solid album after solid album. A signature sound with no duds. This is why I’m thrilled to say that “Kill the Flaw” is, possibly, my favorite Sevendust album of all. The lyrics carry a lot of angst, but I find myself connecting with quite a bit of it. Heavy and melodic, catchy and riff-rich, this CD delivers in spades. A truly great band who has built an excellent legacy at this point. I sincerely hope they get the level of success and respect that they deserve. First class all the way.

September 26, 2015

Been listening to quite a variety of things lately!   As far as new releases, here are a few newer titles I’ve been enjoying:

Five Finger Death Punch’s Got Your Six
Leaves Eyes’ King of Kings
My Dying Bride’s Feel the Misery
Lynch Mob’s Rebel
Shinedown’s Threat to Survival
Disturbed’s Immortalized
Pop Evil’s Up
Motorhead’s Bad Magick
Slayer’s Repentless
Buckcherry’s Rock N’ Roll
Iron Maiden’s Book of Souls
Operation Mindcrime’s The Key

As far as remasters/reissues:
Rush’s Exit Stage Left on vinyl
Ratt’s Invasion of Your Privacy and Reach for the Sky (Rock Candy Records editions)

And noteworthy other pickups:
Like a Storm: Awaken the Fire

Comments: Of the new releases, I couldn’t be happier. Iron Maiden’s Book of Souls is my favorite since Seventh Son of a Seventh Son, Slayer’s Repentless is my favorite since Divine Intervention, FFDP’s Got Your Six may well be my favorite of theirs of all (such a killer balance of heavy and melodic..well done!). Disturbed and Motorhead’s new ones are solid as can be, these are two bands you can count on not to disappoint. Buckcherry’s rocks. Pop Evil and Shinedown show that modern hard rock has great life in it. Lynch Mob’s Rebel delivers George Lynch awesomeness in spades and Oni Logan sings wonderfully. Leaves Eyes is powerful symphonic metal and My Dying Bride is probably my favorite doom metal act. Geoff Tate’s new project Operation Mindcrime has a solid effort in The Key that often has touches of Empire-era Queensryche. No duds in this batch, all are good to great.

Of new acquistions, Like a Storm has leaped to the top end of my favorite new and upcoming band list. Fantastic group out of New Zealand that rocks, has hooks, melody, and really delivers in their CD Awaken the Fire.

On remasters and reissues, Rush’s Exit Stage left I just got and it, like the other Rush vinyl reissues, is top quality. 200 gram vinyl, perfect packaging, remastered for vinyl…just a delight to the ears. Rock Candy Records delivers in spades again with Ratt’s Invasion of Your Privacy and Reach for the Sky remastered reissues. They do a fantastic job with remasters and I snap up pretty much any band I like that I see being reissued by them. Remasters can be a mixed bag…some are just brickwalled and sound terrible, others are well done. Rock Candy Records is a company that can be trusted to do a job exceptionally well. They focus on melodic hard rock acts for the most part, but I’ve had a blast with their reissues of bands like Ratt, Dokken, Winger, Vicious Rumors and others.