wasp

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: 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?