blues pills

Playlist: August 2015

KADAVAR, “Last Living Dinosaur” (2015)

Did you feel that? That was the earth rattling beneath your feet. Kadavar’s third album, Berlin, was released this month and it’s a wonderfully meaty slab of riffing, roaring rock ‘n’ roll, and while it doesn’t have the immediate charms of their debut it’s a lot better and tighter than previous album Abra Kadavar. “Last Living Dinosaur” is an early highlight that sets the pattern with a simple but infectious riff riding a terrific, headbanging groove. The vocals are a little murky in the mix, though, which makes the lyrics difficult to hear – an ongoing issue I have with Kadavar albums – but regardless it’s a great little number.

BLUES PILLS, “High Class Woman” (2014)

I took a trip out to Liverpool recently to see Blues Pills perform at the O2 Academy 2. I’ll tell you something: these guys are something else. Guitarist Dorian Sorriaux might be young but he’s already on another level of playing, not just in terms of skill but the sheer electric atmosphere he conjures in a crowded room, and if you thought Elin Larsson kills it on record, wait till you see her on stage. Weird venue, though, the Academy: the floor in front of the stage was raised slightly, so half the time I could barely see the band over a sea of silhouetted heads.

Anyway, I thought I’d revisit their debut album, released last year, while I was at it. I put it at #4 in my Top Albums of 2014 list back in December and, despite the samey-ness of some of the bluesier songs, I think it deserves to keep that spot, partly on the sheer trippy thrills of opener “High Class Woman”. They opened the gig with this as well, the band transcending the restraint of the recorded version and pulling it apart into what felt like a fifteen-minute storm of psychedelic electricity (psychedelictricity?). The record gave me a glimpse of their Sixties influence and that performance took me right back in time to the decade. If you haven’t already, go check them out live.

BUCKCHERRY, “The Madness” (2015)

This isn’t the first song to be released from Buckcherry’s new album, Rock ‘n’ Roll. That would be “Bring It On Back,” but I decided not to include that in a playlist because I haven’t yet decided whether I like it or whether it’s the worst lead single Buckcherry have ever released. It’s not bad, I guess. It’s just so average that I have nothing to say about it.

“The Madness” is a little better. It’s faster, certainly, which always works in their favour, with a touch of menace conveyed by those descending chords in the riff, and the rhythm is just the right tempo and beat to stomp your feet and bang your head to, provided you’ve downed enough Stellas in preparation. The verses aren’t too memorable but the chorus is pure Buckcherry, striking the neat balance between rock rawness and pop infectiousness of their last great album, 15.

RUBY THE HATCHET, “Heavy Blanket” (2015)

A recent discovery for me and one I’m thoroughly glad I made, Philadephia stoner/doom rockers Ruby the Hatchet released their second album, Valley of the Snake, back in February. The album immediately grabbed me with opening track “Heavy Blanket”, a massive, groovy and insanely catchy number that sets the bar high straight away. The fuzzy marching guitar riff is accented nicely by the electric organ, but it’s Jillian Taylor’s haunting and strangely soothing vocals that take the charge. A lot of bands in this genre go for a more sinister, ominous sound (Mount Salem comes to mind), but there’s something wonderfully warm about Ruby the Hatchet’s approach that makes for an epic and psychedelic journey that would fit both dark and sunny days.

CLUTCH, “X-Ray Visions” (2015)

Remember in last month’s Playlist when I said that Jackaman’s “You Can’t Take Back” was my favourite song of 2015 and that it was going to take something “extraordinary” to replace it? Well, I think I might have found it. The song wastes very little time with its opening, pounding chords before bounding right into a raging, rip-snorting blinder of a heavy rock tune. The Earth Rocker template of no-nonsense riffage is very much in place, but seeing as it’s the template that arguably brought Clutch back to relevance in the rock community I don’t fault them one bit for sticking with it. The chorus is surprisingly catchy but it’s Neil Fallon’s glorious bellow that sells it for me, riding that galloping riff like a Norman warrior charging across the field of Hastings on his majestic steed. Fun with a capital F-U to anybody who thinks otherwise.

GRAVEYARD, “The Apple and the Tree” (2015)

Hm. Well, this is certainly a change of pace. The Seventies vibes are still there in the ringing guitar and cooing backing vocals, so this is still unmistakably Graveyard, but even the moodier, mellower Lights Out wasn’t as laidback as “The Apple and the Tree”. Joakim Nilsson takes a very different approach to his vocals on this track, too, opting for something approaching spoken word rather than his usual, glorious bluesy bluster (which, to be fair, does come in towards the end of the song). I don’t mind it too much, but Graveyard work best when they’re either conjuring an atmosphere or kicking up a storm, neither of which I hear going on here. Yeah, yeah, I know, “musical evolution”, but if that means sacrificing the strong melodies that make listening to this band such a joy then I don’t want any of it.

IRON MAIDEN, “Speed of Light” (2015)

The new Iron Maiden album, The Book of Souls, has been getting extremely warm early press, as has lead single “Speed of Light.” At first listen, though, I’m not sure how I feel about this. The opening riff has promise but the verses feel a little off to me, though the chorus is tremendously catchy and feels a lot like classic Iron Maiden – perhaps a little too much, actually. I also have to give credit to the dual guitar solo, which isn’t just a great bit of noodling but also comes off as a dead ringer for Thin Lizzy’s signature sound (which puts Maiden in with The Sword and The Strypes for bands taking a more-than-generous dose of Lizzy influence recently).

People are calling this one of the best Maiden singles in years but I’m not quite hearing it. I do like it but  there are parts that feel a little too Maiden-by-numbers for my tastes. It’s also caused a weird number of people to start dumping unceremoniously on 2010’s “El Dorado“, which personally I think is a far better and more interesting song than “Speed of Light.” Kudos to Bruce Dickinson, though, for still delivering the goods with a then-undiagnosed tumour on his tongue.

CHRIS CORNELL, “Nearly Forgot My Broken Heart” (2015)

We all remember Chris Cornell’s last venture as a solo artist, right? Or has your brain deleted those memories to save you the grief? Well, it’s been six years now since Scream and… this, and one Soundgarden reunion later Cornell is back with a new solo album, Higher Truth. It’s said to be mostly acoustic, so already we can see a different direction being moved in here, but it also helps that the song is just so freaking lovely. The guitar is gentle but crisp and sharp while Cornell’s voice is as commanding as ever, albeit with its new husky tone, but the song’s strengths lie in its folksy swagger and simple, Beatlesesque melody, resulting in probably my favourite Cornell solo song since “Mission“. Terrific stuff.

SHINEDOWN, “Black Cadillac” (2015)

You might recall my gripe about “Cut the Cord”, the lead single from Shinedown’s new album Threat to Survival, in last month’s Playlist and how I worried it was going to set the precedent for the album. Well, thankfully that fear has been assuaged by new song “Black Cadillac”, a complete departure from not only the rap-rock of “Cut the Cord” but the typical Shinedown sound in general. The electric organ, Brent Smith’s spacey vocals and the thumping drums all cry change for what ends up being a moody but weirdly uplifting song, a little like Slash’s “Back from Cali“. I’m actually having a trouble coming up with a reference for this style they’ve gone with, though. I know I’ve heard it done before but I can’t put a name to it, so for now let’s call it “space cowboy homesick honky-tonk.”

In all honesty I wish they hadn’t released this as a preview track. That’s not a comment on its quality… well, actually it is, but in the best sense, because this is such a cool departure for Shinedown I kinda wish I’d been able to discover this as I listened through the album for the first time.

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Archbudgie’s Top 10 Albums of 2014 (Part 2)

Told you part 2 would be up before too long. Here’s part 1 if you fancy catching up.

#5. The Treatment – Running with the Dogs

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I already reviewed this album when it came out, so there’s not much to add here. Running with the Dogs is a tougher, heavier album than This Might Hurt with strong hints of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal to its sound, something I only actually noticed as I was coming up with this list. Like Toseland you could argue that it’s the same ride you’ve had a thousand times before, but what a ride, right?

#4. Blues Pills – Blues Pills

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Another great Nuclear Blast signing (that lot are on a roll right now, aren’t they?), Blues Pills’ sound is, like a lot of the stuff I’ve been listening to recently, very much entrenched in the middle of the last century. The Sixties influence is undeniable and, I would say, so is the songwriting craft on here: these are some marvellous blues-rock songs, matched to some stunning vocals from singer Elin Larsson. If anything, I’d argue this is an even better experience than listening to something taken directly from the Sixties: a blasphemous statement, perhaps, but the production is clean, the performances are punchy and the whole record has a warmth to it that a lot of the albums that likely influenced it couldn’t match (due to technological insufficiency and all the white rabbits the engineers were seeing, I imagine). The guitars are fuzzy, the melodies are cracking, the grooves are lean but punchy… ah, gee, it’s all just so good, y’know? As for favourites I’d probably go with “Black Smoke”, “High Class Woman”, “Jupiter” and their smashing cover of Chubby Checker’s “Gypsy”. Another great debut this year, not to mention a wonderful introduction for anyone to the mid-European/Scandinavian retro-rock scene, which is really on fire at the moment.

#3. Rival Sons – Great Western Valkyrie

Great Western Valkyrie

I still can’t decide if this is slightly better than, or a little under par from their last album, 2012’s Head Down, but it’s still a great record. They’ve mellowed a bit on this one, putting aside the mystic swagger of that record for a bluesier, more vintage feel, though they’ve kept the groove, the swing and the fuzz guitars around. “Good Luck”, “Secret” and “Open My Eyes” are as good as anything they’ve ever written, but the real sensations of the album are its slow-burners: “Good Things,” an understated but wonderful bit of soul rock; and “Destination on Course,” a ballad that starts off muted and builds into an absolute monster. Cracking stuff. I should also point out “Belle Starr” which is probably the most complex song they’ve ever written, even if I can’t decide whether I actually like it or not. Despite that, though, it’s a highly accomplished record with a plethora of future classics and a stylish progression of their sound that maintains the key blues and rock elements which define it. Now it’ll be interesting to see how they carry this sound forward again.

#2. California Breed – California Breed

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I’d been anticipating Hughes’ new band since they recorded their debut album in Nashville last Christmas and, fortunately, the results didn’t disappoint. There’s an acid-laced, psychedelic feel to much of the music here, particularly the buzzing guitars of “Invisible” and “Days They Come”; if Hughes’ previous band, Black Country Communion, took direct influence from Seventies rock music, California Breed goes back a little further to the early Seventies and mid to late Sixties: the glam trot of “Sweet Tea”, the Stones gospel kick of “Midnight Oil”, the Sabbath crawl of “Chemical Rain” and the New York strut of “Spit You Out” all sound as if they’ve been plucked straight from that era. Should it apologise for not being particularly original? No, because at the end of it all these are just some stonking good rock songs, retro or otherwise. Hughes is on ridiculously fine form – that voice! – Bonham’s drumming is as terrific as ever (which makes it such a shame that he’s since left the group to join Sammy Hagar’s band) and newcomer Watt plays his axe like a veteran in the making. It’s tight, it’s loose, it’s fresh, it’s raw and it’s colourful.

If you’re looking to get this for yourself, I highly recommend you shell out for the deluxe edition for another great track, “Solo”. As for Watt, if you’ve got time and a bit of spare cash, check out his 2011 solo EP, The Mulberry Tree. Not quite the same sound as the Breed, but great stuff all the same.

#1. Sixx: A.M. – Modern Vintage

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Yep, you’re reading this right: Nikki Sixx’s side-project came up with my favourite album of 2014. I just utterly loved this record from the first listen. For Sixx: A.M., Modern Vintage is a complete musical 180 away from the overwrought, highly-emotional gloom rock of their first two albums as they dive into a landscape of upbeat melodies, infectious hooks and sheer wonderful bombast. The album is like a mirror reflecting all my not-all-that-guilty pleasures: there’s stomping glam-flecked rock (“Gotta Get It Right”, “Let’s Go”), funk (“Miracle”), disco (“Let It Haunt You”), dramatic Goth-rock (“Relief”), some sort of old West-y shuffle (“Get Ya Some”, “Before It’s Over”) and I love it all.

What’s interesting, though, is that it doesn’t completely sacrifice their original sound – the emotive vocals and heavy guitar of This is Gonna Hurt are still here – but the dark skies have cleared and, for once, Sixx: A.M. actually sound like they enjoy being in a band. And there’s another thing: they actually sound like a band instead of a side-project, possibly because this is the first record of theirs to not be a companion piece to one of the bassist’s books, but also possibly because they’ve opened up the writing process to include new sounds and ideas. Sure, they might be pop songs when you dig deep enough, but they’re ruddy brilliant pop songs. Why can’t any of the Top 40 cretins write stuff as bracing and joyous as this?

A couple of other things: I know there have been grumbles about their covering The Cars’ “Drive” but, if I’m honest, I don’t particularly care for the original anyway, so the fact the band have got me to enjoy it through their version says something in my books. Also, Sixx has made it fairly clear that once Mötley Crüe’s final tour is over, his main concern will be Sixx: A.M. That’s how much of an effect this record has had on me: it’s actively made me look forward to the demise of a band I love, just so I can get another Sixx: A.M. record like this.

I should probably bring up some honourable mentions because, at least for me, 2014 was a pretty decent year for new music:

  • Vandenberg’s MoonKings – MoonKings: Adrian Vandenberg returned to the music scene this February with a great blues-rock album, very reminiscent of early Eighties Whitesnake (which is interesting, considering that Vandenberg joined the band in the late Eighties when they were at their absolute poodle-permiest).
  • Various Artists – Ronnie James Dio – This is Your Life: what’s more surprising than the fact that this tribute album finally dropped this year is just how solid it is. A fitting tribute with some very worthy names.
  • Black Stone Cherry – Magic Mountain: a much better album than their last, punching up the riffs and cutting down on the ballads with just a slight polish to keep things modern. Probably my favourite album of theirs since the debut.
  • John Garcia – John Garcia: after two decades of band-hopping Garcia finally releases a solo record. Solid, catchy desert rock with elements of all his previous efforts: the stoner sprawl of Kyuss and Slo Burn, the riffy stomp of Unida and Hermano and the dusty crunch of Vista Chino. Good stuff.
  • Black State Highway – Black State Highway: the debut album from a new band with a crisp, groovy hard rock sound, some tasty riffs  and an excellent vocalist – and at just over half an hour long, a short and thoroughly satisfying listen. Well worth your support.
  • Orange Goblin – Back from the Abyss: following on from the success of 2012’s A Eulogy for the Damned comes another great album of pure, red-hot heavy metal, keeping the grooves nice and steady with a faint touch of space rock, hearkening back to 2000’s classic The Big Black.