heavy metal

Playlist: September 2015

W.A.S.P., “Scream” (2015)

After six tumultuous years for Blackie Lawless (if the monthly feature on his website is anything to go by), the long-promised and long-awaited fifteenth W.A.S.P. album, Golgotha, is out on October 2nd – a very busy day for yours truly, as it turns out, with Clutch, Queensÿche, Eagles of Death Metal, the Winery Dogs and Federal Charm all dropping new records as well. Based on the strengths of this song alone, though, W.A.S.P. might be the one I’m looking forward to the most. It’s the typical W.A.S.P. formula, but if I had a formula this good I’d never break from it either. Loud, passionate, gutsy and insanely catchy.

More than a few commenters have pointed out its similarities to “Crazy“, the opening track from previous album Babylon, and I have to agree to some extent – they’re really very much alike, right down to the chorus lines: “scream if you love me” and “you’d have to be crazy to say that you love me”. I’d say “Scream” is a little better, though, if only for a better chorus and that infectious guitar figure between the lyrics in the verses.

LYNYRD SKYNYRD, “Saturday Night Special” (1975)

I’m going to tell you a little secret here: I first became aware of this song through the Armored Saint version which is, to put it lightly, a bit more gung-ho than the original. It’s also given me a newfound appreciation for Lynyrd Skynyrd, a band I’ve never really had much time for before, which is weird for a couple of reason: one, I’ve been reading Saving Country Music for over a year now, despite still not having much of a vested interest in the genre; two, I really enjoyed the new Blackberry Smoke album and they’ve been referred to as “the new Lynyrd Skynyrd” in the past; and three, Skynyrd’s music is surprisingly heavy. Even “Simple Man” has those crushing chords that border on, I don’t know, some sort of Southern metal – and of course, there’s “Free Bird” with its relentless, immortal solo.

This has to be a favourite of mine, though, with a bit more of a kick to its riff than their usual fare. Oddly enough, too, the “new” Lynyrd Skynyrd released a song a few years ago called “God & Guns” which seems to contradict the anti-firearm message of this song, though frontman Johnny van Zant (brother of their late vocalist Ronnie – funny, I always figured the latter was the former’s father) has explained that the song is actually not so – kind of. I don’t think the issue really needs any explanation, honestly, given that Johnny and Ronnie were and are different people. In fact even Johnny isn’t all that pro-gun by his own admission, though he does keep a few.

GENTLEMANS PISTOLS, “The Searcher” (2015)

I put Gentlemans Pistols’ new album, Hustler’s Row, in my Top Ten Anticipated Albums of 2015 list a little while back, and now we’ve had the lead single and opening track “The Searcher”, which Setlist.fm tells me the band have been playing for a good two years now (along with most of the songs from the new record). I wouldn’t have pegged it as an opening track, to be honest, but I’m not sure why. Maybe there’s just something I heard in their other openers “Just a Fraction” and “Living in Sin Again” that I’m not quite hearing here, or maybe it’s because the song as a whole took a little while to grow on me.

Make no mistake, though, it is growing on me – the riff is classic Gentlemans Pistols, and it’s good to hear James Atkinson’s wonderful vocals haven’t changed a jot, even if they sound a little buried by the guitars here. Still, it’s warm, joyous and raucous, and everything good timeless rock and roll should be. Meanwhile a couple of the morons in the YouTube comments can’t quite believe that their metal label Nuclear Blast has been invaded by something with comprehensible vocals, which is always funny to read.

EAGLES OF DEATH METAL, “Complexity” (2015)

And here’s where I have a little bit of a moan. The new Eagles of Death Metal album, Zipper Down, is out very soon, and it’s their first album in seven years. This is the first single from the album, “Complexity”, and if you’re a loyal reader of these playlists you might be having déjà vu right now. That’s because I mentioned the song months ago in my April playlist as a Boots Electric song, Boots Electric being the solo moniker for EODM frontman Jesse Hughes and the song being the lead track from his 2011 record Honkey Kong. I’m allowed to be disappointed by this, aren’t I? Especially as the track listing for the new record seems to suggest we’re getting a mere thirty-five minutes of music, one song being a cover and at least three others being reworkings from a four year old album.

Okay, so it’s difficult to really get truly angry about any of this. The song is still maddeningly catchy, and there are some minor changes made to the music: the electro-rock gloss has been stripped away, replaced with the candied scuzz-rock stomp EODM do so well, with an additional verse slipped in, while the instrumental outro that ended the original on a bit of a flat note has been capped with a repeat of the chorus, making for a more satisfying listen. In a way, too, it’s good that this is finding a wider audience as an EODM song, rather than fading into obscurity as it was probably destined to do as a Boots Electric number.

But I have one question: if they were always going to rework some of Jesse Hughes’s solo stuff, couldn’t they have at least considered tackling “Trippy Blob“?

JUDAS PRIEST, “A Touch of Evil” (1990)

September 3rd marked the 25th anniversary of Judas Priest’s Painkiller, the album that brought them back from the brink of irrelevance with a supercharged aggressive speed metal sound (which, in fairness, they’d already been hedging towards on previous release, 1988’s Ram It Down). It’s known as a fast and heavy album, but what’s probably not as well realised is just how dark it gets. Take “A Touch of Evil”, a high point on an already rock-solid set. Priest have always had a high sense of drama in their music, and here the sense of theatricality is elevated to magnificent heights with Don Airey’s swirling, creeping keyboards.

Lyrically it doesn’t stray too far from the Priest mold of kinky loving, but the words take on a much more ominous meaning when matched up with that marching groove and those wonderfully Gothic chords. The words “death approaches” leap to mind, probably because I have a strong image of listening to this song in my sixth form study room back in 2011 while reading The Girl Who Played with Fire and worrying about my own mortality. Don’t ask. Listen instead.

SCORPIONS, “In Trance” (1975)

Another anniversary inclusion, funnily enough falling on my 23rd birthday, so I had two things to celebrate that day. Lucky me, I guess. Scorpions’ In Trance turned 40 on September 17th, making 2015 the 50th anniversary of the band’s formation, the 40th anniversary of this album, the 30th anniversary of World Wide Live, the 25th anniversary of Crazy World, the 20th anniversary of Live Bites, the 10th anniversary of Moment of Glory, the 5th anniversary of Sting in the Tail and the 0th anniversary of Return to Forever. I might be a touch obsessed with anniversaries.

Anyway, this is the title track from that album and is often cited as one of the best songs Scorpions ever recorded, if not the best. I’m not so sure I’d agree completely. It’s certainly got one of the best choruses of any Scorpions song, right up there with “Rock You Like a Hurricane“, but the rest of the song is a little too reminiscent of their early psychedelic sound for me. In fairness they were moving away from that sound with songs like “Robot Man” and “Dark Lady“, and the moodier passages do build a nice atmosphere for the chorus to erupt from. The album artwork is also worth noting as being somewhat notorious, back in its day at least, for showing the cover model’s bare breast, a controversy that seems oddly quaint given their next bold choice of album art – and besides, would you expect anything less from the band whose biggest hit features the line “the bitch is hungry, she needs to tell / so give her inches and feed her well”?

Please also enjoy some complimentary naked ladies staring at you in blurry black-and-white, as provided by the video. I don’t get the concept myself. Are they entranced? Are they trying to entrance you? Who knows.

REVEREND AND THE MAKERS, “Black Widow” (2015)

I’ve been a Reverend and the Makers fan since “Heavyweight Champion of the World” first hit the radio and even I was surprised at the announcement of new album, Mirrors, even though it’s been nearly two years since the last one came out. With that album, ThirtyTwo, I kinda got the impression they were spinning on their wheels a little bit, eager to push themselves forward but unsure of where to go, and on the merits of “Black Widow” (and the other couple of free downloads you got with the Pledgemusic pre-order) they seem to have found a new direction: throwback psychedelic rock, a little like their second album A French Kiss in the Chaos but without any trace of the funk elements that made their name (which that album still tried to maintain to some degree).

In other words, they’ve completely overhauled their sound for their second decade of activity, and on the basis of this song I kinda dig it. It’d have been nice for them to come up with a more substantial hook, but the impression I get from this new album is that it’s going to be more of an atmospheric, immersive experience, rather than the big ol’ bag of songs The State of Things was, so it might be best judging it in context of the whole record.

BILL WARD, “Bombers (Can Open Bomb Bays)” (1990)

Have you guys ever checked out Black Sabbath drummer Bill Ward’s solo career? It’s probably the most interesting stuff put out by any of the original four members. I checked out his most recent album, Accountable Beasts, and it’s really experimental stuff, with elements of Gothic and classical music interwoven into some truly heavy metal. Ward isn’t the strongest of vocalists but I always enjoyed his singing on Sabbath’s “It’s Alright” and “Swinging the Chain“, and even on his newer stuff there’s a charming genuineness, like he’s putting everything he has into it.

Maybe it was best, though, that he handed the mike to old bandmate Ozzy on this tune from his first solo album, Ward One, because Mr Osbourne’s sinister tone really helps to sell the menace of the music in a way I’m not sure Ward’s voice could. And yet for a song about war it’s surprisingly hopeful, and don’t say you don’t well up a little inside at the simple beauty of lyrics like “don’t hurt them, just hold them, make someone happy” when set to those chords. Just lovely. As for the music, well, it’s just unmitigated awesomeness.

FEDERAL CHARM, “Hercules” (2015)

You know, I’d forgotten how much I loved these guys. A blues-rock band from Manchester, they released their first album back in 2013, which I’m not ashamed to say I bought solely on the strength of the band name. Federal Charm: sounds like a vintage whiskey, doesn’t it? The album actually didn’t do much for me at first, but I gave it another listen a while later and something just clicked, and it’s easily one of my favourite albums released that year. They’ve got another one now, Across the Divide, coming in October, and “Hercules” is the lead single.

It only struck me after a couple of listens just how simple this song is, and yet the repeated ideas never get old somehow. The riff is ridiculous in how catchy it is, the groove is smoking hot, and all in all it’s just a good old jagged, danceable blues stomp. You know, one of those. I still haven’t figured out what “so hot, she’s Hercules” means, either, and I’m not even sure I care. As far as I’m concerned this is a great primer for the new album.

BLACK SABBATH, “End of the Beginning” (2013)

“Is this the end of the beginning, or the beginning of the end?” Well, as if it was ever really going to be the former. Yes, after several mentions here and there from the band, Black Sabbath have finally announced their farewell tour for 2016. Now, if you know anything about “farewell tours” you’ll know they tend not to stick. KISS went on a farewell run at the turn of the millennium and they’re still packing stadiums. Scorpions spent three years on the road “retiring” before doing an about-face and calling the whole thing off. Even Ozzy went on at least one of those in the Nineties, and I’m pretty sure this isn’t Sabbath’s first farewell either. That said, the three band members left (Bill, we’re all rooting for your return, buddy) have a combined age of 199, and given Tony’s still tenuous cancer status maybe it’s best that this really be the end.

I’m not sure how long the tour will last – I mean, Mötley Crüe have been trotting out their farewell bash for two years now, and that’s with a contract over their head legally prohibiting them from playing together again after the tour’s over. There also doesn’t seem to be any mention of that mooted final album either, though to be honest I always found that prospect a little unlikely, given that a good chunk of 13 was clearly written as a send-off to their career. Still, it’s a shame to see one of my favourite bands finally hang up their hats, even if I’d only been following them since 2009 (hey, sue me for being born late, why don’t you?). The good news is that Rival Sons will be supporting them on at least one leg of this tour, which should expose them to the larger audience they deserve.

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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.

Playlist: July 2015

ORCHID, “Sign of the Witch” (2015)

If you thought the last Black Sabbath album didn’t sound Sabbath-y enough for your tastes, you should really check out Orchid, who are basically Black Sabbath if the synth-speriments of Sabbath Bloody Sabbath and everything that came afterwards never happened. This is the title track from their latest EP, another snaking beast of doomy blues metal with your typical raw riffage and squealing soloing, not to mention some cracking vocals from frontman Theo Mindell. It’s all quite evil and very tasty indeed.

Now, Orchid have had a fairly steady release cycle of alternating EPs and albums for several years now, so the release of Sign of the Witch could indicate a new full studio record for 2016. I hope it does. I didn’t care too much for debut album Capricorn, save a few tracks, but their last LP The Mouths of Madness was really rather great, so even if the formula doesn’t change much their songwriting does seem to be improving with each release, so the next album, should it surface, could be something really rather special.

BLACKWOLF, “Kiss the Fire” (2014)

Hard rockers BlackWolf recently kicked off a PledgeMusic campaign for their second album which I think is actually about done being recorded. This song, however, was released as a standalone single last October, and at present I’ve no idea if there are any plans to include it on the new record. I hope they do, though, because it’s an absolute stonker of a song. I don’t know if you can describe a riff as both “grinding” and “sticky”, but I like to think they apply to “Kiss the Fire” and its danceable, hummable grooves. In fact it’s always a sign of a good song when you don’t know whether to hum the melody or the guitar. For a three minute rock song there’s a surprising amount going on in here, from the softer bridges to the tambourine touches in the verses to the jazzy break towards the end, but it’s all very good indeed.

If you like what you hear, please consider supporting BlackWolf’s PledgeMusic campaign here and get yourself some goodies.

ARMORED SAINT, “Can U Deliver” (1984)

I meant to include this one in last month’s Eighties Metal Binge edition but it slipped my mind during the writing process. It doesn’t help that WordPress has a nasty habit of forgetting to save your drafts if you’re not careful. But it’s a shame I forgot to include this song because it was actually the song that made me decide I should put that playlist together in the first place. Weird how things work out sometimes.

I mean, come on. Bizarre replacement of “you” with that big dumb “U” aside (which somehow predates the Nineties pop craze of substituting words with letters and numbers by a good ten years, not to mention from an entirely freaking different genre), this song just is Eighties metal, from the lusty themes to the tough guitar sound and John Bush’s wailing vocals, and it’s all so, so much fun. For some reason the video version starts with a fifty second instrumental that isn’t on the record, but once you get past that and into the huge crunching riff it’s nothing but pure New Wave of British Heavy Metal bliss from there on in. Does it matter that Armored Saint are actually American? Probably, but let’s pretend it doesn’t.

THE STRYPES, “Get Into It” (2015)

Now this is more like it. In May’s playlist I mentioned my fears at The Strypes diluting their sound to appeal to a wider indie rock/mainstream market, and while I can’t say recent single “A Good Night’s Sleep and a Cab Fare Home” has done anything to assuage those concerns with its mellower sound and generic, teen-pleasing “one night stand” theme, “Get Into It” is a more promising offering, its coarse guitar tone, syncopated bass and strutting melody finding a neat middle ground between the throwback R&B of their first album, Snapshot, and the indie rock direction they seem to be pushing towards.

I haven’t had the pleasure of seeing them live yet but apparently they’re a ferocious stage presence, and you can tell from these videos of theirs that these guys have serious musical chops that deserve to be shown off. Why on earth Catfish and the Bottlemen are getting so much attention when these guys are out there ripping it up is completely beyond me.

SHINEDOWN, “Cut the Cord” (2015)

And of course, in keeping with the need for balance that permeates the very fabric of our existence, as the lessening of my anxiety for the future musical direction of one artist alleviates, so must it intensify on another. I should first make it clear that I actually do like this song a lot – it has some great vocal and guitar work, a sick groove, and the message is a welcome one – and it isn’t as though Shinedown haven’t flirted with this sort of quasi-rap rock before (“Sound of Madness“, anyone?).

It’s just… I don’t know. I guess I feel that rock has already had to cede so much ground to rap already over the past couple of decades that the few bands that do enjoy that wider audience, like Shinedown, should be fighting to preserve its identity rather than blurring the lines further. The world left nu-metal behind for a reason, after all. I mean, “I’m gonna make it rain?” Really? And what’s with those hand gestures Brent Smith throws out at about 1:46? (Though I suppose you could write a small book on the weird stuff Smith does in this video.) As a one-off on the album I can take this gladly. If the whole record ends up sounding like this, though… hm.

SPIDERS, “Shake Electric” (2014)

Have I mentioned how healthy the European rock scene is right now before? I could write an entire Playlist based on bands solely from that scene (and I might just do so) because I’m constantly discovering new and awesome bands from the continent. Case in point, Sweden’s Spiders, whose single and title track from their second album, “Shake Electric”, is a wonderful little slice of candied scuzz rock, like a less bluesy Blues Pills.

Like a lot of the bands from this scene it’s very retro – there’s a touch of that yearning Sixties baroque pop sound to the riff and melody, while the harmonica solo at the end is pure Dylan – but there’s something about the sheer, youthful vibe of the thing that, for me, brings it right into the twenty-first century. I will admit that Ann-Sophie Hoyles’s vocals took a little bit of time to grow on me, as strong as her voice is, for the way she intones some of the words, but after a few listens they bed in perfectly to the sound. Great stuff.

DIAMOND HEAD, “Helpless” (1980)

I had the opportunity to see Diamond Head at the Chester Live Rooms back in June with their new frontman, Rasmus Bom Anderson. I can’t say I was ever too bothered about “Helpless” but they played it as an encore at the show and, somewhere in that performance, I found a love for the song that I’d never felt before. From that initial riff to the little bass lick halfway through to the shifting time signatures and constant sense of propulsion, you can hear thrash metal being born in seven glorious minutes. I got into Diamond Head the way I imagine most people did, through Metallica’s cover versions, but I can honestly say I prefer the originals. They might not have the sheer heaviness of Metallica’s recordings but they do have Sean Harris’s vocals, and you can’t fault those.

In some surprising news, too, it’s been announced that Diamond Head are recording a new album after years of stating explicitly that they weren’t going to do that. Obviously I’m thrilled, especially as I got to hear two of the new songs at the gig (spoiler alert: they’re great), but I’m also a little concerned about how former frontman Nick Tart must have taken that news, given that the very reason he left the band (back in 2014) was that he wanted to record a new album and the other members didn’t.

JACKAMAN, “You Can’t Take Back” (2015)

I don’t suppose you remember Saint Jude, this bluesy soul rock band that Classic Rock Magazine were pushing intensely around 2010-11? I couldn’t tell you what the current state of the band is. Their guitarist Adam Green passed away in 2012, and though they released a new EP in 2013 it doesn’t seem like anything else is happening on that front. In fact according to Wikipedia the band broke up last year, though there’s no source cited to back that up, natch.

Singer and frontwoman Lynne Jackaman (who you might also remember from her co-lead vocal spot on The Answer’s “Nowhere Freeway“) has been very busy indeed, however, performing gigs and releasing a new EP, No Halo, under her own name. “You Can’t Take Back” is the closing track (which was also released as a single earlier this year) and it’s fantastic. Not just Jackaman’s vocals, which are amazing, but everything from the melody to the groove to the atmosphere of the thing… I’m not going to say too much else in case I start embarrassing myself. Just know that this is probably my favourite song of 2015 so far, and it’s going to take something extraordinary to take its place.

OPERATION: MINDCRIME, “Re-Inventing the Future” (2015)

Ever since the whole Queensrÿche v Geoff Tate soap opera came to an end last year, with the Wilton-Rockenfield-Jackson-etc. line-up getting to keep the name and Tate getting… some other stuff that I forget, the latter’s been working hard on a conceptual trilogy of albums, the first of which, The Key, is set to be released 18th September. Geoff Tate’s telling stories again? I’m game.

Frontiers Records released an album teaser to YouTube a little while ago with snippets of four songs from the album and the reaction was pretty divisive, at least going by the comments and rating the video received. However the video for new single “Re-Inventing the Future”, while still not overwhelmingly positive, does seem to be getting a better reception. Turns out it’s a pretty good song and, as I pointed out in my “Albums I’m Looking Forward To in 2015” list, more reminiscent of the classic Queensrÿche sound than anything Tate put out with the band since at least Promised Land. I’m even getting a whiff of “The Mission” in that riff.

I’m not sure about Tate’s vocals, though. I appreciate his voice isn’t what it used to be, but couldn’t it have been given a bit of a punch-up in the mix? I feel as if it just disappears into the noise when the chorus kicks in. Then again, this is only a YouTube video played through my cheap PC speakers, so hopefully the album played through a set of decent headphones will have that missing boost.

RUSH, “One Little Victory” (2002)

I’ve been giving Rush’s back catalogue a bit of a closer look recently and… actually, you know what? Sometimes words just won’t do it. Sometimes you just need to sit back, press play and enjoy.

Playlist: June 2015 – Eighties Metal Binge Edition

Right, so the new releases I’m paying attention to have dried up for the time being. That’s not to say there aren’t new albums being released or that I won’t eventually check them out, but I’ll have to let them slip by me for now. I’m also expecting a large influx of new releases around August, by which point this dissertation of mine should be reaching a final draft, so that should be a good time to pick up on new music again.

So I thought I’d treat yourself and myself to a finely-picked bumper playlist of a genre I’ve been rediscovering these past few months: Eighties metal. This is an interesting period of music that only occasionally gets the credit it deserves in the public eye. Most of the time it just gets scorn for being preoccupied with sex, drugs and good times, because apparently rock and roll at its best is all about tea parties and polite discussion of current events over a game of cribbage.

TWISTED SISTER, “You Can’t Stop Rock and Roll” (1983)

I’d always disregarded Twisted Sister as being a doofy band with a doofy frontman singing doofy teenage angst anthems about wanting to rock and not taking it. Listening to Dee Snider’s interview with Eddie Trunk on the latter’s podcast (as well as Snider’s own excellent new podcast) and the outpouring of grief that met longtime drummer AJ Pero’s death, though, made me reconsider my long-held prejudice, so I gave their stuff the time of day. What surprised me was just how heavy and dark this band could be behind the more obvious pop hits: stuff like “Burn in Hell” and “Like a Knife in the Back” are downright vicious. This is one of my favourite TS standards: a simple, propulsive hard rocker with a sound and aesthetic straight out of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal.

QUEENSRŸCHE, “Eyes of a Stranger” (1988)

I haven’t listened to the new Muse album, Drones (and not being a Muse fan I have no pressing intention to do so), but what struck me most was how similar its concept and approach was to Queensrÿche’s 1988 concept album Operation: Mindcrime. Think about it – an ordinary man indoctrinated into a system where he is trained to kill without remorse but instead falls in love and turn against his masters, only to lose everything? I might have hedged a couple of the details there but I maintain there’s a similarity. That said I haven’t seen anybody else make this connection, which is funny considering that Operation: Mindcrime is pretty much the grand slam of concept albums and Drones is… well, it’s getting okay reviews from what I can see.

Was there a point here? Well, if there wasn’t here’s one now: this song is everything Muse wish they could be.

W.A.S.P., “Wild Child” (1985)

This is the epitome of Eighties metal right here: a driving beat, crunching guitars, mad outfits, sleazy lyrics intended to convey romantic intention and a chorus so infectious you’ll need to see your GP afterwards (insert joke about rockstar VDs here?). Blackie Lawless’s vocals take a little while getting used to, but once you do they’re actually pretty endearing. He has a good command of melody while the throaty rasp maintains the metal credentials required for a song as cocksure as this (come on, who else could cry “naked heat machine” like that and pull it off?). Possibly the best song they ever wrote.

Also, this video has eleven million views. Sure, it’s been up for nine years, but still, somebody out there must really like them some W.A.S.P.

QUIET RIOT, “Don’t Wanna Let You Go” (1983)

Kevin DuBrow was another Eighties metal singer whose voice was something of an acquired taste. Anything less than a foot-stomping anthem like “Metal Health” and his quintessential rattling shriek threatened to outstay its welcome. However it proves to be really quite effective on this laidback, surprisingly tender ballad, a song with a steady, grooving pace that you might not have expected from the band that essentially broke Eighties metal to the mainstream (when the Metal Health album displaced The Police’s Synchronicity at the Billboard 200 #1 spot).

L.A. GUNS, “Showdown (Riot on Sunset)” (1989)

It’s definitely questionable as to whether L.A. Guns deserved as much credit as sister band Guns N’ Roses (whose original guitarist, Tracii Guns, made up the “guns” part of both band names), but I don’t know, those first two records are still pretty terrific, and if you took the best moments from both and put them on one album you’d probably have something that could rival Appetite for Destruction for sheer Eighties sleaze wonderment. Also, L.A. Guns occasionally used horn sections in their songs (such as this one), which Guns N’ Roses, to the best of my knowledge, hardly ever did. So there’s one point to L.A. Guns already.

JUDAS PRIEST, “Freewheel Burning” (1984)

I figured this list needed some Priest, so I chose a prime cut from the underrated classic Defenders of the Faith. Funny thing is, as much as people go on about British Steel and Screaming for Vengeance those albums both have their fair share of filler (“Pain and Pleasure”, “You Don’t Have to Be Old to Be Wise”, “(Take These) Chains”, etc.). Defenders has none, and the sheer ferocity of opening track “Freewheel Burning” gets you absolutely pumped from the off. Killing Machine (or Hell Bent for Leather, for all you Yankee doodles) is still my favourite Priest record, but Defenders is a close second.

DEF LEPPARD, “Die Hard the Hunter” (1983)

Opening with a gentle yet haunting guitar line, “Die Hard the Hunter” lulls you into a false sense of security before slamming into its headbanging groove, complete with deceptively simple and contagious chorus. The guitar tone cooks and the drums pound, while Joe Elliott’s raw vocals are a joy to listen to. Pyromania might just be their best album as well, a neat bridge between the tough, riff-driven melodic metal of their pre-breakout era and the giant pop hooks, huge production and gang vocals of Hysteria.

IRON MAIDEN, “Caught Somewhere in Time” (1986)

Given the recent announcement of Iron Maiden’s new album, The Book of Souls, coming this September, I thought it’d be worth revisiting some of their vintage stuff. This is an overlooked gem from an overlooked album. As Maiden moved into the late Eighties they started incorporating synth guitar into their increasingly progressive sound, combining the best and most gloriously over-the-top elements of each into a shiny, roaring metallic beast of a record. I’m just putting it out there: this album is better than The Number of the Beast and Piece of Mind.

CINDERELLA, “Bad Seamstress Blues/Falling Apart at the Seams” (1989)

Cinderella were one of the bluesier bands to emerge from the late Eighties metal crowd, as evidenced by this classic track where a brief acoustic section eventually kicks into the song’s main driving groove. Kiefer is another singer, like Lawless and DuBrow, whose rasping vocals can either be highly fitting or woefully out of place. Thankfully here they fit the huge, stomping blues swing perfectly.

As for the band’s current state I have no idea. They haven’t released any new material since the early Nineties, frontman Tom Kiefer’s been doing his solo thing for a while now… I’m not even 100% sure they’re still together. At least Twisted Sister managed to put out a few stray tracks over the years.

MÖTLEY CRÜE, “Wild Side” (1987)

It makes perfect sense that ’87 was around the time when the Crüe peaked in terms of sheer ruddy decadence, because the Girls, Girls, Girls album, despite its slightly/suitably daft cover, was where they really showed their teeth, with some of Mick Mars’s leanest, nastiest guitar work and Vince Neil’s most aggressive vocals probably to date. I was going to go with one of my favourites, “Dancing on Glass“, here until I figured, you know what, let’s end the playlist on a classic. You have to love the part where the song slows down and almost becomes this high-kicking cabaret showtune… or is that just how I’m hearing it?

Archbudgie’s Top 10 Albums of 2014 (Part 1)

We’re approaching the end of the year, now, and I’m just going to put this out here right now: I can’t wait for 2015. I might even have to come up with another list of just how many ace records there should be out next year. Anyway, you may have noticed the music zines beginning to spit out their “best-of-year” lists and, in the spirit of the season, I thought I’d come up with one myself.

Now, not being in possession of infinite time or money I obviously haven’t listened to everything (or even a tangible fraction of everything) released this year, so these will all be taken from the pool of albums I’ve shelled out for, all ranked in order of how-much-I-enjoyed-them-ness. As a result this should not be taken as an authoritative document on the sonic landscape of 2014, whatever that may or may not have actually been. There’s no particular science to this, either: it’s really just the stuff I liked most this year and a few thoughts and notes on why I enjoyed each record mixed into something of a mini-review. Enjoy.

#10. Kasabian – 48:13

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I ended up enjoying this album far more than I thought I would. 48:13 is a looser, dancier record for Kasabian after the tough, experimental aggro-rock of Velociraptor!, hearkening back to their electronic roots but with a fuller, more polished sound. For all the band’s guff about being one of the last remaining rock bands out there, the songs here are mostly pop in construction with a coat of rock attitude, but after it’s all said and done they’re mostly really good songs. The instrumental interludes aren’t necessary and the odd snoozer messes up the consistency of the thing, but “bumblebeee”, “stevie” and “treat” are what Kasabian do best: dance-flecked stadium rock with attitude. Velociraptor!, to me, remains their best work, and if you didn’t like Kasabian before I couldn’t tell you how this album might change your tune, but I enjoyed it.

#9. Manic Street Preachers – Futurology

manicsfuturologySomething of a companion to 2013’s Rewind the Film (well, not really, but they were recorded at the same time), Futurology contrasts the melancholy acoustic sound of that record with a brash, explosive and experimental, but still very melodic album. There’s a definite sense of propulsion here that’s been missing on their last couple of releases, with a greater, more expansive palette of sounds, styles and rhythms that combine together well to make it an eclectic, if not completely consistent, piece of work. The Manics are still firmly entrenched in both their intellectual pursuits and their musical roots and, as a result, Futurology is an album that looks back as much as it does forward, both symbolically to the art and architecture of the twentieth century and sonically to Seventies Krautrock (“Europa Geht Durch Mich”) and Eighties New Wave (“Walk Me to the Bridge”); at the same time, lush, orchestrated pop songs like “Black Square” and “Divine Youth” could easily have slotted in somewhere on Everything Must Go. The guest vocalists are back again and, while Georgia Ruth and Nina Hoss are both excellent, I have to say my favourite outside contribution is Green Gartside and his wonderfully understated vocals on “Between the Clock and the Bed”. Another successful reinvention for the Manics, then. The only question now is, where do they go from here, if indeed there is anywhere left to go?

#8. Toseland – Renegade

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I pre-ordered this from PledgeMusic on the strength of their Life is Beautiful EP and thoroughly enjoyed it from the off, something fairly rare with me. I suppose my appreciation for this record is largely based on just how pleasantly surprised I was by it: former biker turns rock star is not something that should really have worked, but sometimes it’s the ones who break expectations that remind us how little we should rely on our assumptions. Toseland is a fantastic vocalist with a great band behind him and the songs are just pure rock bliss: the energetic “Singer in a Band”, the strutting “Comin’ to Get Ya”, the grinding “Good Eye Blind” and the wonderful title track are all worth checking out, but I don’t think there’s a single song on here I’d say I disliked. That’s all there really is to it: simple, muscular, melodic hard rock with some excellent vocals and well-crafted songs. Meat and potatoes it might be, but do you know what else meat and potatoes are? Freaking delicious, not to mention a satisfying and nutritious meal. Argue with that.

#7. Judas Priest – Redeemer of Souls

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I might as well point out now: this list is going to be pretty heavy on rock and metal because that’s mostly what I listen to, so if you’re looking for someone else to sing the praises of Perfume Genius or FKA Twigs you won’t find much love here.

Anyway, Redeemer of Souls is an interesting album because, as much as it recalls the Priest sound of the past, it also takes it in a new Gothic/power metal direction which Priest have never really dabbled in before, at least not to the extent they do here. It’s both a typical and atypical record, perhaps in part due to the replacement of longtime guitarist K.K. Downing, who retired in 2011, with newbie Richie Faulkner (who boasts quite possibly my favourite name ever). It must be said that he certainly brings a new energy to the band: where Angel of Retribution, the first Halford-reunion record, often felt a bit stiff and unsure of itself, this record is vicious, brash and confident. “Dragonaut”, “Halls of Valhalla” and “Battle Cry” are thoroughly stirring stuff and, as long as you don’t take your music too seriously, a lot of fun. The one song that actively gave me chills, though, was “Beginning of the End”, which manages to capture in a bottle that late Seventies, pre-“Hell Bent for Leather” sound more than anything they’ve put out in the last thirty-eight years. It’s not a perfect set of songs, but Redeemer of Souls is easily the best Priest album since Painkiller.

#6. Crobot – Something Supernatural

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A bit of a whim purchase, this, but a much welcomed one, Crobot have a heavy, groove-driven rock sound with a great balance of melody and riffage, making a wonderful new entry in the genre of what I like to call “beard rock.” The vocals often remind me of Myles Kennedy’s recent work with Slash while the songs have a gut-punch clout reminiscent of recent work from Clutch and Orange Goblin. “Nowhere to Hide”, “Legend of the Spaceborne Killer”, “Chupacabra” and “Cloud Spiller” are all loud, fun and catchy with some really cool lyrics based in science fiction and folklore (if you’re into that sort of thing, which I am). There is actually a ballad on here, too – final track “Queen of the Light” – which is surprisingly sophisticated and well-balanced, incorporating both the heaviness of the previous tracks and a lightness of touch that I wouldn’t mind seeing developed further in future material. Overall a very strong debut which, as all good debuts should do, has thoroughly whetted my appetite for more.

Part 2 will be up before long.

Rock Song Review: Orange Goblin – “The Devil’s Whip”

It’s about time I reviewed another rock song, isn’t it? Today I’m reviewing “The Devil’s Whip,” the new single from Orange Goblin.

First impressions: Liked that. Can’t say it was particularly complex or original, but I liked it. Fast, loud, heavy – why can’t pop music be more like this? My job here would be so much easier.

The music: This might be a shorter review than the usual 1,000+ word leviathans I usually put out because there isn’t a terrible amount to talk about with “The Devil’s Whip”: pounding drums, a raucous, raging riff, all set to Ben Ward’s beer-soaked bark… typical Orange Goblin, for the most part. That said, there’s something refreshing about this new song: the arrangements seem a little looser, the production has more punch, the guitars have more bite – it’s like Orange Goblin on turbo drive. When was the last time the band had this much energy in them? For that matter, when was the last time the band had this much fun? I’ll just put it out there now: this is the most fun Orange Goblin song in quite some time, and that makes me happy.

There’s an obvious Motörhead influence on here, most notable in that simple, galloping riff, the relentless rhythm and the grizzled vocals (Ward even drops an “iron horse” reference at one point). Now, Orange Goblin have always had a little Motörhead in them, going back at least to 2002’s Coup de Grace album, so this isn’t a new coat of paint they’re using here. That said, the sound on “The Devil’s Whip” is darker and more menacing than previous attempts at this sound – hear that bridge where Ward sings “let’s ride, let it loose, let rip? Them’s some mighty nasty chords right there – which gives it a greater sense of danger. This is a song that’s tight and loose at once, reckless and fully in control, where the wheels could fly off at any moment but you don’t care because the ride is so exhilarating. This is a long-winded way of me saying that I quite enjoyed this song.

The lyrics: “That’s right / you can’t escape the devil’s whip.” Anyone else thinking of the Balrog from The Lord of the Rings? Well, actually, a little internet research tells us (read: me) that the Devil’s Whip is actually a road in North America  renowned for its popularity with motorcycle and sports car drivers. Given the speed and ferocity of the song the subject matter makes sense, though in typical OG fashion they dramatise and metalise it quite a bit, referring to a “dead planet growing old” and mentioning how “the devil’s whip will eat your heart and take your soul” (are we talking about an actual whip now?). It’s all lovely and violent and fun – the sort of stuff great heavy metal is made of. Admittedly lines like”it’s far too late to run / the devil’s at your door” don’t quite make sense given the context, but you know what? It’s such a great ride I’m not even going to pick on the lyrics too much this time.

Verdict: I suppose really I should give this a 3 because it’s essentially a Motörhead pastiche, but the sheer fun of it all warrants it a good 4 out of 5 from me. It’s simple but direct, lean but aggressive, heavy but fast – in short, a great rock and roll song, nowt more, nowt less.

Today’s double-up is “Devil’s Road” by Hughes Turner Project. It’s not as violent or energetic as “The Devil’s Whip”, but it does have Glenn Hughes and Joe Lynn Turner on vocals. You can thank me later.

New Faith No More Album, Eh?

Nearly twenty years since they released their last record, 1997’s Album of the Year, Faith No More have announced that they’re working on a brand new studio album to be released in April 2015, with plans to tour afterwards. This is seriously good news: Faith No More were one of the most fascinating bands of the Nineties and it’s fantastic to see this reunion of theirs finally amount to some new material. As bad a rep as Album of the Year got at the time, it’s actually a pretty great little record and the two songs they played at Hyde Park in July sounded to my ears like an evolution of the warmer, more polished sound of that album, which I wouldn’t mind hearing at all (assuming that’s where this new stuff is headed). That said, if they can replicate the sheer insanity of Angel Dust it’ll easily make for the most interesting release of 2015. Needless to say, I’m looking forward to this.