shinedown

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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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.