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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.

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.