graveyard

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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Albums I’m Looking Forward To in 2015 (Part 2 of 1)

Right. So, brief update before we get started: there’s another Playlist coming on Monday with some newer songs, as opposed to last month’s Eightes Metal Binge edition, and I’m hoping to get the pop and rock single reviews back in action sometime in August as well, with possibly a playlist of songs I missed out on while I was writing this dissertation of mine – you know, “Bad Blood”, “Cheerleader”, “Want to Want Me”, stuff like that. I’ve also got a few ideas rattling around for some new features I can work on, as well as new editions of Cover-parisons (jeez, one year on and that name is still a howler) and Second Spin. As for the Red Dwarf reviews? They’ll arrive when they arrive, I keep telling myself, but with series 11 and 12 coming up in 2016 and 2017 respectively it might be worth me revisiting that philosophy.

One thing that has become apparent to me, though, is the sheer groundswell of new albums arriving in the second half of 2015. Seriously, there’s a whole load of them, a lot coming out on the same day (21st August, in particular, is a very busy day for yours truly, with new LPs from The Strypes, Buckcherry, The Sword and Kadavar all seeing release at once). I did say last year that there wasn’t much point in me reviewing albums because, well, reasons explained here, but as I’m so excited about these new releases coming out I might actually have to find a method of talking about them that gives my informed, honest opinions in an informal manner without feigning any sort of critical authority. G’luck with that, right?

So to get ready for that potential swell I decided to come with this, a list of albums I’m looking forward to in the second half of 2015. There’s a bunch of them as well, but I’m keeping it to ten because it’s a nice, round number. As for the 2 of 1 part up there, that’s a reference to the fact that there really should have been another of these earlier in the year; and in fact, at one point, I think there was. So this is a part 2 despite there only being one of them. But what can you do? Go back in a time machine and make me write the first part? I’d like to see you try.

No, really, I would. That would just be impressive.

Note: though it should be fairly obvious, just to cover my back I’d like to point out that I don’t hold copyright on any of the images in this post – only the words are mine. I use the imagery purely for noncommercial, illustrative purposes. To make the post look a bit nicer, basically.

1. Megadeth, TBA (expected late 2015/early 2016)

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Image “borrowed” from Blabbermouth.

This is a no-brainer. Megadeth are one of my favourite metal bands of all time, so almost anything they put out is an instant purchase for me. The more melodic hard rock sound of their last album, 2013’s Super Collider, received what could kindly be called a mixed reception from fans and critics, and while it took a while to grow on me I ended up really enjoying it in the end. That might be because when I got into them their new album out at the time was Th1rt3en, which had a greater focus on melody and cohesive songs rather than the aggressive technical thrash they’re best known for.

They’ve apparently gone back to that aggression for the new record, and while I’m quite glad to hear that I do hope they haven’t done a pendulum swing away from the songcraft. In my opinion Megadeth were always the best songwriters of the Big Four and it’d be a shame for them to lose sight of their strengths for the sake of appeasing a metal crowd who aren’t exactly easy to please as it is. I’m also excited to hear how new guitarist Kiko Loureiro (of Angra) and session drummer Chris Adler (of Lamb of God) add to the Megadeth sound.

Also, they’re doing a cover of Budgie’s “Melt the Ice Away.” Budgie being another of my favourite bands, I’m understandably quite psyched.

2. Vintage Trouble, 1 Hopeful Rd (released 14th August)

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Image “borrowed” from Rock ‘n’ Reel Reviews.

I don’t know if there’s a band I love for their aesthetic as much as their music as I do Vintage Trouble. The music is great enough – a blend of rock, soul, blues and classic R&B – but their look is just fantastic: that classy Forties/Fifties style that makes me want to go play L.A. Noire again. If I thought I could pull off that look I’d never wear anything else.

They released their debut record, The Bomb Shelter Sessions, back in 2011, and it was really rather good. Aside from producing music videos for all ten songs from their debut (no, seriously, even the ones that weren’t singles, and I’m not sure if they’ve even finished) and touring relentlessly with the likes of Paloma Faith and AC/DC they have been gradually working on new music, firstly with last year’s very decent Swing House Acoustic Sessions EP and now with their second album, 1 Hopeful Rd.

Strangely enough the record is set to open with “Run Like the River“, a song that’s been around since 2012 and actually first appeared on an expanded version of The Bomb Shelter Sessions. It’s a great song, don’t get me wrong, and if you like that one you’re bound to love the rest of their stuff, so maybe this is just a case of being unable to keep a good song hidden in the shadows – a bit like how the new Eagles of Death Metal album opens with a rerecorded version of a solo track the frontman released four years ago.

3. Graveyard, Innocence and Decadence (released 25th September)

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Image “borrowed” from The Obelisk.

If you haven’t been paying attention to Graveyard these past few years, you really should be. The mid-European/Scandinavian “retro-rock” scene is really ablaze right now with bands like Kadavar, Blues Pills, Horisont, Spiders, The Vintage Caravan and Witchcraft all leading the crowd for well-crafted songwriting with a classic rock vibe, and Graveyard are definitely leaders in this field of… leaders. I didn’t care much for their debut album but the follow-up, 2011’s Hisingen Blues, is up there with my favourite records of the past decade, while 2012’s Lights Out was also very good indeed.

At the time of writing no music has yet been released from forthcoming fourth record, Innocence and Decadence, so we only really have the head-bending artwork to go on for now. We do also have the track listing, which tells me that I’ll soon have a song called “Magnetic Shunk” in my music library. I can’t wait.

4. Buffalo Summer, TBA (expected mid to late 2015)

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Image “borrowed” from the Buffalo Summer website.

Countrified blues-tinged rockers Buffalo Summer released their debut self-titled album in 2013, and if I’d put together a Best Albums list for that year it almost certainly would have topped it. It’s a great album, top notch. Here, go buy yourself a copy. Go do that now. Done that? Good.

Anyway, they’ve now finished recording their second album, produced by none other than Barrett Martin (former drummer for Screaming Trees and Mad Season). Funny thing is I saw them back in October last year, when they were supporting The Treatment, and they said then the album was finished for an early 2015 release, so presumably they weren’t quite as finished as they thought they were. I recall a tweet around January or February mentioning that they were recording a cello part, so maybe they were just throwing in some spices while the broth was still simmering. Or something.

That said the band do seem to be absolutely positively finished with the record, and by all accounts it just needs a record label to distribute it through (the first album was released on their own label, Retrobution Records, and presumably they don’t want to go that route again). Now, I can only speculate, but they’re touring the UK and Europe later this year with Crobot and Scorpion Child who are both Nuclear Blast signings, and given how that label’s been snapping up promising new bands recently I wouldn’t be surprised if Buffalo Summer were brought on as well. Earache and Napalm would also be decent labels to sign to, but again until there’s an announcement made we can only speculate, and speculate I shall.

5. Diamond Head, TBA (expected late 2015)

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Image “borrowed” from Blabbermouth.

Another of my all-time favourite bands, Diamond Head were hyped for huge things back in the early Eighties but somehow never made the break through to the big time, and to date they are best known for being one of the primary influences behind Metallica and the thrash metal scene. Their most recent album, What’s in Your Head?, came out in 2007 and for a while it seemed that the band was done with releasing new music, but a post on their website back in June stated they were “midway” through writing sessions while another in July confirmed that they had started recording.

I mentioned in my last playlist that long-time frontman Nick Tart recently left the band because he wanted to make a new album but the rest of the guys didn’t, and the fact that now he’s gone they jump into album sessions still strikes me as a little strange. If I wasn’t so happy that we’re getting new Diamond Head music I’d call shenanigans. I also mentioned last time that they played some new songs at the gig I went to that month. What I didn’t mention is that they actually opened with one as well, a ballsy move for a band that, until a few months ago, had seemingly resigned themselves to a legacy act. The new songs are good, too, and much more reminiscent of their Lightning to the Nations/Borrowed Time sound than anything else they’ve done in quite some time.

So yeah, I’m hyped for this. A late 2015 release has been mentioned but, given that they’ve only been recording for a few weeks now, I imagine that could change.

6. Cheap Trick, TBA (expected mid to late 2015)

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Image “borrowed” from Billboard.

The most recent Cheap Trick album, aptly titled (at least for now) The Latest, came out in 2009. Although it lacks the harder edge of their earlier sound, I really love that album – to me it might be the best thing they’ve done since One on One, or at least Standing on the Edge. The six years that have passed since its release haven’t been without incident, the most notable and infamous of these being a legal feud between the band and drummer Bun E. Carlos, a feud that has since been resolved with Carlos’s status as an official bandmember intact despite him not touring or recording with them. The law is weird.

Anyway, a new album has been mentioned several times in those seventy-two-odd months. Robin Zander mentioned in his interview with Eddie Trunk for the latter’s podcast (which, if you have any vested interest in classic hard rock and heavy metal, you should really consider subscribing to) that the record was about half-done (this was back in February, so I assume more work has been done on it since then) and that they expected it to be released around late summer/early autumn. In fact the band’s management cancelled an appearance that had been planned for Zander on Trunk’s VH1 Classic series That Metal Show back in the spring because they wanted to reschedule and time it for around the album’s release. No news has emerged since, but given that new That Metal Show episodes are currently being optioned for “the fall”, as the Yanks put it, I choose to remain optimistic.

7. Living Colour, Shade (expected late 2015)

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Image “borrowed” from Karsten Staiger and USA Today.

Definitely one of the most underrated heavy metal bands of all time, since their reunion in the early 2000s Living Colour have only put out two new studio records: 2003’s Collideoscope, a weird record marked by one of the best, prettiest and downright darkest songs the band ever wrote, “Flying” (about the 9/11 attacks); and 2009’s The Chair in the Doorway which, though not bad at all, felt a little cold and uninspired to me in its sound.

So I’m curious to hear what they’ve come up with for their sixth studio album, Shade, which was supposed to be released last autumn but has since been pushed back to this year (and could easily be pushed back again, though they did finish recording the album some time ago so hopefully an official announcement is imminent). Living Colour were always a socially-conscious band, especially when it came to black issues, and recent events in America will no doubt have given them plenty to talk about. There are at least two covers to be expected as well: Robert Johnson’s “Preachin’ Blues” and Notorious B.I.G.’s “Who Shot Ya?”, both of which the band have been performing live for some time now.

8. Gentlemans Pistols, Hustler’s Row (expected later this year)

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Image “borrowed” from Metal Blade.

Every music fan has at least one artist or band where it seems unfathomable, almost cruel, that they don’t have a wider audience. I have a list of about eight or nine or those, and while I can’t say Gentlemans Pistols are actually at the top of that list they’re pretty freaking close. A Leeds based band who count Carcass guitarist Bill Steer among their number, they’ve only released two albums since 2007 but they’re both well worth a listen: cracking slabs of bawdy, swaggering blues-tinged rock and roll.

The band have been performing new songs live for a couple of years now and a spurt of tweeting back in January confirmed the album was about done. Now a recent press release confirms the band have signed to Nuclear Blast (after spending many years on Rise Above) for their new album Hustler’s Row, joining a healthy roster that includes Anthrax, Crobot, Death Angel, Scorpion Child, Orchid, Blues Pills and Graveyard. With the sort of profile this deal can offer them, who knows? They might just get that wider audience they deserve.

9. Iron Maiden, The Book of Souls (released 4th September)

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Image “borrowed” from Consequence of Sound.

News of a new Iron Maiden album is a bit like news about Bigfoot: even if you want to believe it you can’t really bring yourself to until the thing’s sat in front of you. Is that right? I don’t know. Point is, even a serious health scare for frontman Bruce Dickinson couldn’t fell these titans, and now we have a new Iron Maiden record stampeding towards us this September, one which is looking to be a doozy. Not only is this their longest LP, a double-album clocking in at 92 minutes, but it also features their longest song yet, “Empire of the Clouds”, a whopping eighteen minute long epic to close the album out (beating previous record holder, 1984’s “Rime of the Ancient Mariner”, by a good four-and-a-half minutes). That’s a lot of new Iron Maiden to digest and I personally cannot wait.

(Also, am I the only person who’s noticed that they’ve brought back the “classic” font with the pointed R, Ns and M for the album cover? That would make The Book of Souls the first studio album to feature it since The X Factor back in 1995. I think that’s pretty cool.)

10. Queensrÿche, Condition Hüman/Operation: Mindcrime, The Key (released 2nd October and 18th September respectively)

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Image “borrowed” from Bravewords.

This is a two-fer. Queensrÿche’s self-titled 2013 album, the first with new frontman Todd La Torre, was a good album in many ways – “In This Light” possibly being one of my all-time favourite Rÿche songs, it’s that good – but its kinda-rushed delivery (in the context of a legal battle with former frontman Geoff Tate over the band name) and relatively brief running time made it feel more like a primer for greater things to come. Now that La Torre is fully bedded into the band mechanic those greater things are beginning to surface. Condition Hüman, the band’s fourteenth studio album (fifteenth if you count Frequency Unknown, which I’m sure many Rÿche fans would rather not) is set to be released 2nd October, while new song and album opener “Arrow of Time” can be streamed here, and it’s very good indeed.

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Image “borrowed” from Music Enthusiast.

On the other hand, Tate has been working on a trilogy of records with his new project, Operation: Mindcrime (named after the classic Queensrÿche album), the first part of which, The Key, is set to be released 18th September. It’s a conceptual piece with what so far sounds like a pretty intriguing story, while an official teaser (see below) released to YouTube a while back suggests a heavier, more progressive sound than the material Tate was making with Queensrÿche shortly before he was fired. Though it’s had, to put it kindly, a mixed reaction on YouTube, I’m actually digging some of the stuff in that teaser. It’s certainly closer to the classic Queensrÿche sound than anything they put out with Tate in the last twenty years or so.

Obviously the close proximity of these two released will probably have some people trying to make some sort of contest out of it all. For the rest of us there are two promising sounding prog-metal albums coming our way this autumn.