the strypes

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: May 2015

W.A.S.P., “Babylon’s Burning” (2009)

W.A.S.P. have been talking about their new album, Golgotha, for a while now and it looks like it might finally see the light of day this summer. I’ve really been digging W.A.S.P. recently and, although my focus has been largely confined to those first five albums, I’ve heard good things about their last LP, 2009’s Babylon. For some confounded reason the album is now out-of-print, despite only being six years old, but the video to its lead single is still available on YouTube. Every time I hear it I’m reminded that W.A.S.P. never really deviated too far from their OTT metal sound, which for many I presume is a sticking point. As someone who hugely enjoys that sound, though, I’m fine with this. The band are tight, Blackie’s sounding great… it’s all good.

MILLION DOLLAR RELOAD, “Roll the Dice” (2015)

Million Dollar Reload holed themselves up in Rockfield Studios (in Wales, boyo!) for what we were originally told was an EP, but given that the band hasn’t released a new studio record in three years I’m hoping they might have changed their minds in the meantime and put together enough material for a full LP. The L.A. Guns-style hard rock template is still in place but the addition of piano to the band’s sound really expands the music nicely as well as adding to the sense of drive, making for a rollicking little number that promises good things for the upcoming release, whatever it turns out to be. Plus if you like the song yourself you can download it for free from their website here.

FAITH NO MORE, “Superhero” (2015)

So that new Faith No More album finally came out. As I expected in my post about the announcement from last year it largely expands on the moodier sounds of their last record, 1997’s Album of the Year, but to call it a direct progression wouldn’t be doing it justice at all. There’s some great stuff on here, particularly “Separation Anxiety”, “Cone of Shame”, “Matador” and this song, “Superhero”, which stands as one of the punchier cuts on an album of dark and sombre textures. It fits in well here but it could have also slotted in nicely on their 1992 masterstroke Angel Dust, which is always a good sign.

QUEENSRŸCHE, “Jet City Woman” (1990)

I’ve made up my mind: this is going to be the first song at my wedding. Sorry, future bride. You can have the rest of the playlist to put in whatever disco hits from yesteryear you want the in-laws to shift about to on the social club dancefloor but we’re kicking off proceedings with this. If gran wants KC and the Sunshine Band then gran can wait.

HALESTORM, “I Like It Heavy” (2015)

The first in a quartet of tracks in this playlist where my prevailing sentiment has been “hm.” I talked about Halestorm’s new album in last month’s playlist but its vaguely pop-rock direction is still bugging me, particularly this closing song. It has enough of the trademarks of bro-country, like a cod-Southern stomp and inane lyrics that namedrop “big bass drums” and veteran artists for no good reason, to raise red flags in my head. In fact I half-expect Lzzy Hale to start dropping rhymes about sun tans, dirt roads, tail gating and Daisy Dukes any minute. It could also do without that weird bit at the end where Hale waffles on about being taken to church (but it’s a church of rawk, or something). It’s still one of the best songs on the album and I still enjoy it immensely – how could anyone not? It’s catchy as sin – but I’m no less bugged.

ART OF ANARCHY, “Small Batch Whiskey” (2015)

I’m torn on this – not just the song but Art of Anarchy in general. It’s a “supergroup” similar to last year’s White Appice Mendoza Iggy project, though instead of one famously self-destructive singer and one guy from Guns N’ Roses backed by a bunch of nameless hands, that project featured as its talents a trio of highly competent veteran session musicians as well as a young rising talent. So naturally that project sank without a trace while this one rides its little wave of controversy all the way to… well, wherever it’s going.

In fairness I don’t mind this song. It’s got a decent grind to it and Bumblefoot puts in some good guitar work but Scott Weiland just sounds bored, which does tie in with his out-and-out rejection of this band. I do like that album artwork, though. Couldn’t tell you why, just do. In fact I might pick the album up sometime just for that.

THE STRYPES, “Eighty-Four” (2015)

The Strypes released another EP this month, Flat Out, and the two new studio songs it features (alongside a cover of M5’s “Kick Out the Jams”) are softer, smoother and more melodic than their previous material, which kinda worries me. I like The Strypes for their rowdy, throwback rhythm and blues sound, not whatever this is trying to be. We have enough faceless indie bands aping The Replacements right now. I do like the funky bass work, even if it is a little derivative of Arctic Monkeys’ earlier work, and the chorus is certainly infectious, so overall I’d give it a thumbs up. They’ve also got a new album, Little Victories, coming out in July and I anticipate there’ll be some rawer material on there. I still worry, though – if they’re not careful they run the risk of turning into the Vaccines, and nobody wants that.

ZAC BROWN BAND, “Heavy is the Head” (feat. Chris Cornell) (2015)

I don’t know what to make of this. I’m not a country guy so I’ve never really given the Zac Brown Band too much attention, but it seems the guy’s trying to appeal to people like me with his/their new album, Jekyll + Hyde, which from what I gather is a strange mixture of country, alt-rock and dancier tunes. This is the big scratchy alt-rock number of the album – they even finagled the mighty Chris Cornell into doing some vocal work – and honestly it isn’t too bad. The initial triumvirate of distorted bass, climbing riff and Cornell’s vocal hook is admittedly sick (I also really appreciate the Soundgarden-esque shifting time signature), while Brown has a decent stab at playing the rocker, but ultimately something about it doesn’t quite click for me. And yet I couldn’t count how many times I’ve listened to it this month. Weird, that. It’s almost as if you can criticise a piece of art while still earnestly enjoying it. Anybody mind telling the rest of the internet about this breakthrough?

WOLFMOTHER, “Colossal” (2006)

I find it strange that Wolfmother were criticised for openly displaying their heavy Sabbath/Zeppelin influences back when they first hit the scene, even though nowadays everybody in rock music is doing that and nobody cares. I mean, how did it turn out that a band with such a “retro” sound made the mistake of being too ahead of their time?

Anyway, Wolfmother have been writing their fourth album recently with plans to put it out on Universal later this year after the independently-released New Crown hit Bandcamp and iTunes back in 2014. I’m not sure how much good that’ll do them – after all I was one of the three people who bought Stockdale’s 2013 solo album Keep Moving, which was also a Universal release – but if it means they can start rebuilding a wider audience then I’m all for it. Let’s just hope they can write more songs like this instead of the raw stoner jams that characterised New Crown. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed those jams, but they still can’t beat the craft, the fullness and the epic scale of that first album.

STEREOPHONICS, “C’est La Vie” (2015)

The ‘Phonics recently announced that their latest album, Keep the Village Alive, will be released this September. It’s their ninth studio record and first since 2013’s Graffiti on the Train, hopefully returning them to their classic biennial release schedule, as well as their second album whose title begins with “keep” after 2009’s Keep Calm and Carry On. This is the lead single and it’s probably the loosest, most fun thing they’ve put to plastic in quite some time.

NOTE: The song starts about a minute into the video, so just skip past that douchey Welsh bloke and enjoy.

ROBIN ZANDER, “Say You Will” (2011)

I finally got around to “locating” Robin Zander’s mysterious second solo album Countryside Blvd., an album that was out for a whopping two days in April 2011 before it was pulled from sale. Why? Nobody knows. Well, maybe Zander and his management do. It has more of a country sound than his previous solo record, released nearly twenty years earlier, and this is one of the livelier songs on what is, as it turns out, a rather lethargic set of music.