The world probably doesn't NEED a new Marilyn Manson record, but when it’s this good it just might be worth it.

Last week, he (and his band of the same name) dropped his eighth studio album, Born Villain, and to put it bluntly: it boasts some of the best MM music in at least a decade. Granted, that isn’t really saying much, considering how uneven Eat Me, Drink Me and The High End of Low were, but this should please even the most disillusioned of fans.

If you dug albums like Holywood and Mechanical Animals, you might want to give this one a try.

The lead single, No Reflection, is pretty solid even if it’s nothing new stylistically, but its video is pretty badass:

http://youtu.be/DOj3wDlr_BM

Thematically, Born Villain is also a return to form: songs like Pistol Whipped, Overneath the Path of Misery, and The Flowers of Evil let Manson revisit the sinister approaches that made his best albums so memorable.

Slo-Mo-Tion sounds like a b-side from the late 1990s, which in this context is a compliment – it’s throwback Manson, from the fuzzy electro-guitars to the creeping rhythmic approach.

Of course, no Manson record is complete without his signature snarling, moaning and wailing, and on more than one occasion here his voice calls to mind David Bowie, who arguably was the original Manson, at least in terms of musical eccentricity.

Children of Cain, with ominous electric drums and a deliberate, chain-gang pace, provides the foundation for Manson to say things like don’t assume that I’m always with you/It’s just where my mortal body happens to be.

The best (or perhaps most surprising) moment on the album has got to be Lay Down Your Goddamn Arms. Have you ever wondered what it’d sound like if Marilyn Manson did a grunge song? Odds are you haven't, but you get to hear one anyway. It’s sublime – an off-time, Soundgarden-like tempo drives the song, which also features some Kim Thayil-esque guitars. If it sounds weird, it isn’t – it’s just awesome:

http://youtu.be/EeM3pS0sBmU

If you hadn’t ever expected Marilyn Manson to release anything impressive again, you ought to check out Born Villain. At 43, he probably could (and should, depending on your perspective) have hung up the black eyeliner and weird S&M bondage outfits, but if the result is this solid it might be worth sticking around a bit longer.

Oh, and there’s also bonus track featuring Manson and guest drummer Johnny Depp running through Carly Simon’s You’re So Vain

http://youtu.be/hIqe_lwKddw

When Keith Buckley screams “I want to be dead with my friends!" at the beginning of the relentlessly pummeling Ex Lives, you can’t help but feel his sincerity.

Every Time I Die’s sixth studio record, Ex Lives is a decidedly dark affair, both musically and thematically. The cover image, a guy in an ETID shirt being accosted by some kind of riot police officer, is a prescient foretelling of what’s to come on the record’s 11 songs (or 14, if you snag the Deluxe Edition – which you should).

By now, Every Time I Die have a distinct sound, perfected through years of touring, where they watched the scene die. Presumably, that’s what pissed them off so much this time around – there just aren’t a ton of bands like them, at least as far as integrity and earnestness are concerned. The trendiest “scene” bands these days, in addition to being indistinguishable from the next batch, ooze fabrication in the form of neon t-shirts with crude and pointlessly offensive slogans, churning out by-the-numbers mallcore devoid of creativity – all in the name of Hot Topic marketability, of course.

ETID, on the other hand, give a damn.

Underwater Bimbos from Outer Space, the aforementioned opening track, puts to bed any concerns about this album being heavy on the tongue-in-cheek, groovy Southern-tinged metal that ETID sometimes play around with – this is grimy, brooding stuff.

Keith’s words, always one of the brightest parts of an ETID album, are at their peak on this record – as an English major, I read poetry that had difficult themes buried in fancy talk, and when I read Buckley’s lyrics I feel the same – but in place of “fancy talk”, there’s passion, grit, and an impeccable knack for wordsmithery.

On Holy Book of Dilemma, a blisteringly short kick in the pants, Keith is at his most critical at the song’s end: Our mathematics and our faiths are just ways of devouring space while we continue to devolve/Separate hearts are the whole of the law, he screams, over and over, driving the point home.

But Ex Lives is incredible for more reasons than just Keith’s turn of phrase – it’s depressingly ominous. A Wild, Shameless Pain has an anxious, claustrophobic feeling, one that teems with purpose and chugging riffs, courtesy of Jordan Buckley and Andy Williams. Throughout the record, (recently departed) bassist Josh Newton and drummer Ryan “Legs” Leger provide a solid percussive backbone to the guitars-and-vocals-blitz that has long formed ETID’s calling card.

I need a new rock bottom/I’ve got to find a beloved back alley, I’m bored as hell in Sodom and Eden is just another dry county, Keith says in Typical Miracle, while another chunky-yet-catchy riff slams along in the background.

But it gets even better – I Suck (Blood) quickly took up residence among my favorite ETID songs (alongside INRIhab, We’rewolf and Wanderlust).

http://youtu.be/PY5uYvMDZ-0

The song blends Keith’s shouting with his melodic singing voice, charging along with a windmilling lead guitar riff until about ¾ of the way in, when Keith says to the target of his anger Hold your fire/WHAT DO YOU TAKE ME FOR? Did you think I could garner attention with tact?, all set to a delicious breakdown.

Partying is Such Sweet Sorrow (and its use of the banjo) is another highlight, channeling both the Southern touches of The Big Dirty with the twisty time signature maneuvering that characterized Hot Damn!

Revival Mode is to Ex Lives what Wanderlust was to New Junk Aesthetic, the type of song that brings out the band’s versatility – a down-tuned, reflective lead guitar melody and Keith’s singing voice are the stars here, eventually erupting oh-so-slightly, due to the steadily increasing tension that climbs and climbs until the song’s finish. Oh, and it has a gloriously dark and bizarre music video:

http://youtu.be/AEp-Owhqbr0

Drag King and Touch Yourself should please longtime fans with their aggression and hardcore stylings, while the last track of the Standard Edition, Indian Giver, lets ETID spread their proverbial wings a bit. Two minutes in, a slow, infectious riff, accentuated by a haunting chorus of background voices, takes over, bringing the song to a rousing finish.

If you snag the Deluxe, you’ll be treated to three more gems: Grudge Music, Business Casualty, and Starve an Artist, Cover Your Trash, bringing the final tally of songs to fourteen.

Reducing all these words to one sentence, Ex Lives is flat-out amazing. It was hard to imagine Every Time I Die outdoing themselves after the last few records, but they’ve found a way – this record incorporates their best heaviest material AND  their most impressive melodic passages seamlessly.

If all these words are too much, let me make it clear: you won’t find many albums this year (or decade) that come close to rivaling the precise, vitriolic fury that is Ex Lives.

Sometime in the distant future, when the world is overrun with strange creatures, thoughts are currency and humans are a thing of the past, I imagine some curious young slug/cat/robot/(enter future species here) will stumble upon some sort of 2010 time capsule, giving the futuristic society a glimpse of what we were like today.

Musically speaking, when they unearth that ancient relic of yesteryear, I hope they find a copy of The Sword’s new album Warp Riders, which was released this week. It is my hope that these future beings (Giant slugs? Dogs walking on two feet?) will be able to sift through the detritus of today’s “popular” music to find what we REALLY were (or should have been) listening to. This record, folks, is the answer to that question. Throw your bubblegum pop records and AutoTuned commercial jingle music into the trash bin and get your grubby mitts on this behemoth of a record right now.

The Sword, a heavy metal band out of Austin, Texas, have, on their previous two records, released collections of unbridled heathenry in the form of sludgy, Sabbath-esque aural assaults about things like Vikings, “HyperZephyrians”, wolves, wizards, and other such mystical creatures. They opened for Metallica on their 2008 US tour, and had a song (Freya, off of Age of Winters) featured in one of the Guitar Hero games.

With Warp Riders, though, The Sword has really honed in on rhythm and precision, something that I thought was lacking from their past records. Before, every song was a dark, densely-instrumented blast of crazy riffs and jarring vocals courtesy of singer/guitarist JD Cronise. This time around, though, the band changed things up a bit, and the result is much more focused on groove and tasty, crunchy guitar licks. What’s more, this album is a concept album. As the band states on their website,

Warp Riders tells the tale of Ereth, an archer banished from his tribe on the planet Acheron. A hardscrabble planet that has undergone a tidal lock, which has caused one side to be scorched by three suns, and the other enshrouded in perpetual darkness, it is the background for a tale of strife and fantasy, the battle between pure good and pure evil. How it's told – through the dueling lead guitars of J.D. Cronise and Kyle Shutt, and the concussive rhythm section of bassist Bryan Ritchie and drummer Trivett Wingo – underscores the narrative with molten steel and unreal precision.

So yeah….a sci-fi concept album by a heavy metal band, complete with Star Wars-ish cover art. If that doesn’t get you in the mood, then I’m convinced you are just a jerk who can’t appreciate mind and soul-altering badassery of this quality. You can go back and listen to your watered-down bro-tastic Avenged Sevenfold records if you wish.

If you think Warp Riders is for you, then by all means dive in. I wouldn’t necessarily say you have to be familiar with The Sword already to dig this record; in fact, Cronise has said in interviews about this album that it will alienate a portion of the band’s pre-existing fanbase, due to its more groove-heavy approach.

Personally, I say fuck ‘em if their jaws don’t drop, Tex Avery style, at what the band did with this album. Songs like the instrumental prologue Acheron/Unearthing the Orb set the mood for the following ten tracks, all with similarly nonsensical/amazing titles such as The Chronomancer I: Hubris, Astraea’s Dream, Night City, and epic album-closer (The Night and the Sky Cried) Tears of Fire. Behind the song titles are excellent heavy metal songs with blazing guitars and propulsive drums that are mixed to perfection. The band’s first two albums were generally fuzzier affairs, but this time around (thanks to the help of producer Matt Bayles, marking the first time the band has used an external producer on an album) everything is much more crisp and sonically pleasing.

I know there’s a big convoluted sci-fi story going on about Ereth and Chronomancers and things of that nature, but each time I listen to Warp Riders (and it’s been about four times thus far) I get more caught up in the blistering riffage and insanely thunderous rhythms on the songs than the actual lyrics. I’ll work on that.

Tres Brujas is the first “single” from the album, and it’s also going to be part of a music video trilogy from the album (with the other tracks being Lawless Land and Night City). Given the nature of the band’s songs themselves, I can only imagine how mind-bending a “music video trilogy” will be, especially given the fact that the songs are from a sci-fi concept album.

I haven’t really called out specific songs as “highlights”, because this is a concept album that really works as a whole. It’s also split into two halves, with both instrumental tracks (Acheron/Unearthing the Orb and Astraea’s Dream) beginning each half. All ten tracks meld together cohesively to form one brutally savage whole piece, and while a few of the tracks (such as Arrows in the Dark and the last track) can be considered among The Sword’s most impressive songs to date, this entire collection is really worthy of “highlight” status.

Most concept albums are scattered, or filled with extraneous nonsense to help push across the “story”, but Warp Riders is a complete, not overly long (the run time is 48 minutes) exercise that should help establish The Sword as one of the best heavy metal bands currently fighting the good fight every day.

Check this out if you like their other albums, but be warned that it’s decidedly different than their buzzy, sludgy older work. That said, if you dig bands like Priestess and Baroness you will probably (hopefully) like this as well.

I think I’ll find myself re-listening to this over and over, as it’s one of my favorite releases thus far this year. I wasn’t expecting that, but The Sword really blew the doors off my expectations.

On that fateful day in the future when the Lizard People excavate that 2010 time capsule, I really hope they find this album inside.

Late last year, 90s rock suddenly found itself relevant once again thanks to an astonishing comeback album by grunge stalwarts Alice in Chains. Of course, this wasn't a success of a the genre so much as a triumph for the band - subsequent 90s returns have not even come close to Black Gives Way to Blue in stature. The most memorable thing about Hole's recent return to recording music was a twitter tiff with Billy Corgan over whether or not she stole (more) music he had written. Creed? Eh... let's not get into that. Which brings us to Stone Temple Pilots, an unquestionably large part of 90s rock. Putting out their first album of new material in nine years, the new self titled release isn't as bad as the two records I've just mentioned, but sadly it doesn't come anywhere near Alice in Chains' last album either.

What it really comes down to here is a matter of inspiration - STP had absolutely none to make this record. This is largely what made Black Gives Way to Blue so great; it was a towering reminder of what a great band they've always been, but more importantly it paid tribute to their deceased original vocalist. It's almost as if Scott Weiland took note of this and thought, "Well that's pretty cool. But I think I'd rather just swing my hips and sing about the drugs I used to take, used to take." This is not the kind of album you want to hear from a band who has been silent for a near decade; it's nothing more than bland pop entertainment. There's nothing to walk away from this with other than maybe a passing thought of how fun one of the singles sounded. Up to this point, none of STP's records sounded quite like each other, yet still quintessentially theirs, an admirable feat for any band. Here, it sounds like a watered down version of their last album, 2001's Shangri-La Dee Da, except with maybe a bit more 60s influence. Which gets a bit too apparent at times - Huckleberry Crumble's bluesy groove is dangerously close to that of Aerosmith's Same Old Song and Dance, the melody on Dare If You Dare is clearly lifted from All the Young Dudes, and so on.

Even the songwriting feels weaker than usual; though there are parts where Weiland and the Deleo brothers are spot on (the admittedly infectious single Between the Lines, Take a Load Off, and Hazy Days are all quite strong), for every great song there are a few bland, forgettable ones. Cinnamon gets too poppy for its own good with its almost boy band sounding verses ("Hear me can ya hear me, hear me can ya hear me" wears out its welcome pretty damn fast), As Fast as I Can comes across as a half-hearted retread of No. 4's Sex & Violence and MC5, and the most memorable thing about Bagman is mishearing the chorus as a reference to a certain DC superhero. Peacoat stands out in the second half, boasting melodies in the chorus that best nearly anything else on the album, and Maver serves as a fairly good closer, but in addition to the previously mentioned strong tracks, this doesn't even account for half of this record, with the remaining seven songs being about as imaginative as their parent album's title.

It would be unfair to call this a bad album, and it would be especially unfair to suggest that it hits the depths that Hole or Creed recently have, but the fact that it isn't bad just isn't good enough. Given the long wait for this record, and the knowledge that they are capable of far better, Stone Temple Pilots feels like little more than another typical rock band reunion album. There's no passion, no inspiration, and they seem to be simply going through the motions. It's worth hearing, but it's easily the worst thing they've released.

In Avanti album cover There are a few things I look for when I’m looking for new music. The first is female vocals. While male vocals are fine, I always prefer female. The second thing is the rock feel. After all, what is music without guitars and drums? Most important, there needs to be passion. Preferably anger. Alexx Calise delivers on all points. Despite being a hybrid of hard rock and electronica, her music seems to transcend genre borders. While listening to her first album, “Morning Pill”, I was surprised that at times I was reminded of Tracy Bonham, K’s Choice, Alanis Morissette, and even Vanessa Carlton. Her voice doesn’t sound out of place whether the music is low tempo or rocking. This is a good thing.

“In Avanti”, her recently released album, is a hard rock album that occasionally takes a break for something more heartfelt. “Anything Goes” brings you into AC’s world, complete with electronic background noise, light drums, and lyrics promoting hedonism. The next song, “Break Me” hits with significantly more passion and anger. It’s also much harder. Hard hitting drums and a powerful guitar combine with vocals that create a song that makes me glad I’m not whatever boyfriend this song is about. An immediate switch comes with “Cry”. The song is sad and slow, as it should be.

Morning Pill album cover

Following “Cry”, we have “Get Used to It” which is another hard rock song. But, this one is different, and might be my favorite on the album. Everything just seems to work together to make for something special. Next, we have “Good Enough”.  The lyrics are typical of any relationship song. “It doesn’t matter what I do, cause everything’s always been about you. Nothing’s ever good enough for you.” Boring, right? Not quite. The instrumentation wins and makes you forget about the lyrics, bringing you into a world of anger and resentment that I just adore. It’s followed by “My Song” which could almost certainly be a dance hit.

After this, we get another stylistic shift. “Out of Sight” reminds me of a thousand other songs where women are whining about a broken relationship, except that it still has the hard rock influence. I’m not sure if that makes it awesome or not. It might. “Saying Goodbye” might also be a song about relationships, but you’d never be able to tell since it’s so hardcore it might as well be metal. The album ends with “See You Again”, which is actually a low tempo slow song, devoid of any hard rock influence. It’s not bad.

I think the only problem I have with this album is that it feels too safe. It's music that you feel like you’ve heard before. There was nothing that made me instantly fall in love and know that I will cherish it forever. But, I still like it, quite a bit actually, and maybe that's why. She’s taken something familiar, and mutated it into something that is hers, like Plato stealing from Socrates.

For the too long; didn’t read version: Alexx Calise’s “In Avanti” has a uniqueness and goodness that I can’t quite explain. While I wouldn’t call this album a musical masterpiece, it’s fun to listen to and will certainly end up in my music rotation. It's as if Evanescence and Linkin Park got together and decided to not suck. I apologize to Alexx Calise if mentioning either of those two bands have offended her.

Posted
AuthorPsych
CategoriesHard Rock

Released last week on Victory Records, Taproot’s fifth album, the aptly named Plead the Fifth (though it’s the band’s 7th album if you count independent releases), starts out with a bang with the abrasive, Deftones-ish Now Rise. Stephen Richards’ shrieking voice, set to dissonant, downturned guitar riffs start out the record with quite an explosion of noise. The song soon changes back to familiar Taproot territory after the dramatic opening, with Richards alternating between his customary passionate screaming and melodic vocal delivery.

In a way, the song helps announce that Taproot has finally returned to their roots. Plead the Fifth is an album much more in tune with their older sound. With their last two records, 2005's criminally under-appreciated Blue-Sky Research and 2008’s decent but unremarkable Our Long Road Home, the band had mellowed considerably since 2000’s breakthrough album Gift.

Taproot rose in popularity amid the immense success of the rap/rock and “nu-metal” movement of the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, which of course was dominated by bands like Limp Bizkit, Korn, and the Deftones. Taproot emerged during that timeframe, and while their sound was never terribly groundbreaking, they had a certain melodic edge to them that always made me pay attention to what they were doing.

I saw them open for Linkin Park in January 2000 at the Fillmore in San Francisco, and Richards dove from the balcony seats back to the pit, a feat that made me think “wow this guy is NUTS!”, and also that I had better keep track of this band.

Anyway, back to this album – it’s more than apparent that Taproot tried hard to recapture the raw, in-your-face sound that put them on the map. The guitars are fuzzy and very down-tuned, creating the same feedback-y, sludgy sound that was prevalent on Gift.

The album’s lead single, Fractured (Everything I Said Was True) starts with the same kind of echoed guitar tone as Linkin Park’s huge hit Somewhere I Belong, before going into a bouncy riff with Richards’ standard scream-for-the-verses and sing-for-the-chorus thing. While it isn’t as memorable as past singles like Poem, Again & Again, Calling or Wherever I Stand, it’s still a good, strong song by the band.

Release Me begins with a weird almost Rammstein-esque vocal chant that leads into a pairing of Richards’ voice and more dark guitar buzz. The chanting continues during the verses, giving the song a pretty cool atmospheric feel. The song has one of the album’s strongest choruses, too.

Stolage, the next tune, continues the chanting/buzzy guitar thing, building up to a great crunchy guitar riff. The song has a familiar sound to it that I can’t quite place, and in the end it’s one of the highlights of the album. All the great Taproot qualities are on display, the high-energy beat and riffs, Richards’ unique voice alternating from screaming to melodic singing, and an overall aggression that I’m sure makes the song a fun time in the mosh pit.

The interestingly-titled 911ost slows things down a bit, but not to the same mid-tempo level of the songs that made up a large part of Welcome. 911ost has a strong chorus, with an accelerating guitar riff giving it a powerful energy. The riffs offset Richards voice, which utters lines such as emergency, this blood on my hands isn't killing me…take these broken reins, away from me. The song is another of my favorites, as I really like the way it builds from the slower, quieter beginning to the layered, emotional chorus led by some great guitar work by Michael DeWolf. It’s a great mix of both sides of Taproot’s sound, blending the aggression and melody very efficiently.

Trophy WiFi sounds like it belongs on the lost album between Gift and Welcome, with more fuzzy guitars and a solid overall structure that exemplifies the band’s sound.

Pounding drums announce the arrival of Left Behind, before breaking into another mashup of screaming and melody. The song has a bit of a schizophrenic feel to it, changing tempos and sound frequently.

Overall, Plead the Fifth really surprised me. I was already shocked that Taproot was still around, as their popularity seems to have diminished since rap-rock and “nu-metal” have declined in popularity. No one really seemed to care about Blue-Sky Research or Our Long Road Home, so I wasn’t really expecting any more albums by the band. Plead the Fifth, though, is basically everything I could have expected. Whereas most bands, when saying that an album will be a “return to our roots”, are doing little more than hyping up underwhelming records, Taproot delivered in a big way.

The hard-edged songs that helped the band gain notoriety are on display on the record, balanced nicely with the frenetic aggression and spastic screaming that Richards employs on songs like album-closer Stares.

I never gave up on Taproot, and even though their last album didn’t impress me greatly, they have won me over again with Plead the Fifth.

If you were a fan of the band back when Gift came out, if you heard and liked the hit song Poem, or if you generally like hard rock with a melodic edge, check out this album. While it may not be 2000 anymore, Taproot’s sound is still fresh, especially given the majority of what is considered “good” rock music today.

On their second album for Daykamp, rock & roll heroes Dirt Mall broaden their attack a bit by incorporating some more influences than were immediately apparent on their 2007 debut, Got the Goat by the Horns. The raw "good ol' boy" rock is still their trademark, but the sound has grown to encompass seventies hard rock, nineties grunge, and the garage subgenre of the current era. There is also a stronger sense of melody abound, and a more brisk feel to the songs - Pacifuego's eleven tracks fly by in a quick half hour - that keeps the record's energy well in tact. While vocalist Johnny Anguish's voice has a great raspy yell, which fits the style perfectly, it's the guitar and drums that steal the show. The twin attack Anguish takes with Jason Murray yields some outstanding riffs and solos, while Derek Madeiros' powerful drumming propels the whole affair splendidly. Even Jamie Griffith's bass comes to the forefront here and there (especially on You've Got the Whole Thing Wrong), and with the company he keeps, it's impressive just being able to keep up.

While the overall instrumentation is towering, the vocals are able to hold their own. On tracks like the opening Building a Case and Rats, Anguish makes great use of power pop melodies, and they almost sound like Cheap Trick with a raw edge. And raw is definitely the word to describe the band's sound; listening to Pacifuego (and especially Goat) brings to mind images of beer soaked pool tables, whiskey pounding broads, and tattoo clad chain smokers pissed off because the juke box cut off right in the middle of gawd damn Skynyrd. Interestingly, some of the finesse comes from cleverly placed organ and electric piano parts by co-producer Mike Quinn (who shared production duties with the band), which are subtle enough to be missed on the first listening.

The pacing is impressive as well, particularly seeing as the album has no real ballads. In fact, the closest Pacifuego comes to balladry is probably Pearl and Buried by You, neither of which anyone would call gentle. The former sounds like an updated Bad Company song, with Buried serving as a prime example of not only the dual guitar technique's effectiveness,  but how good a drummer Madeiros is. Alternately stomping and pacing, and with great cymbal work to boot, he gives the song a lot of its energy and depth.

The only real shortcoming of Pacifuego, and Dirt Mall in general, is that the sound is a bit dated, and it lacks a certain timeless quality that some of the band's influences had in places (Back in Black and Appetite for Destruction come to mind). Still, given the step up that they've shown from their debut, things are falling into place nicely for the band, and the fact that their songs are getting both catchier and more complex shows that the substance is successfully taking over the style.

With Pacifuego, the Boston rockers show a great deal of growth, and have developed a knack for writing catchier songs without sacrificing their edge, and while improving their musical prowess as well. Dirt Mall's second album is largely the band still finding their footing and establishing their sound, but it's something that still provides a damn fun listen.

Posted
AuthorDagan
CategoriesHard Rock

I’ll admit, I didn’t even know Slash released an album last week until I received a text from a friend about his signing at Amoeba in Hollywood. Intrigued (albeit mildly), I looked it up and realized the album was already out. I tracked it down, and began listening, not expecting a whole lot, honestly.

Truth be told, the album is pretty good. It’s the equivalent of what I would expect to happen if Slash had a BBQ party at his house and all his superstar celebrity rock musicians (and Fergie) came over to hang and jam on some tunes. Since Slash isn’t a singer, he gets by with a little help from his friends: Ian Astbury, Ozzy Osbourne, Fergie, Chris Cornell, Andrew Stockdale of Wolfmother, Adam Levine of Maroon 5, Lemmy from Motorhead, Dave Grohl (yes!), Kid Rock, Rocco DeLuca, M. Shadows, and Iggy Pop, as well as Duff McKagan, Izzy Stradlin, and Steven Adler, the rest of the real Guns N Roses. I guess Axl was too busy getting in fights in airports and hiding out in Europe to lend a hand. Oh, darn.

Of course, since this is Slash’s album, guitar solos and fancy flourishes abound, starting out with Ghost, featuring The Cult’s Ian Astbury on vocals. The next track, Crucify the Dead, with Ozzy, is alright but wasn’t one of my highlights from the record. Ozzy sounds really old, and while the melody is nice (and features background vocals by Taylor Hawkins of the Foo Fighters), the song is a little bit too meh. Slash’s guitar passages are pretty slick, though.

I expected to hate the next track, Beautiful Dangerous, since Fergie is on vocals, and she has a knack for annoying me with pretty much everything she does. Somehow, someway, though, she works well with the song, adopting a snotty and pretty brash “rap” style that explodes into an arena-rock chorus that almost sounds a bit like Axl Rose territory, which is amusing for obvious reasons. It’s a big, soaring, sweeping chorus, and it’s one of the more memorable moments on the album.

Most of the album works in the way that it’s a big rock and roll party meant to be fun. Promise, with Chris Cornell, is a solid exercise in Cornell’s signature vocal style and some less flashy but still enjoyable Slash-ness on guitar. By the Sword, with Andrew Stockdale of Wolfmother, sounds a bit bluesy and soulful, which is a nice touch. He does his Wolfmother-y vocals, and while it’s one of the more subdued tracks on the record it’s not bad.

Doctor Alibi, with Lemmy doing the singing, is a gritty, fast-paced romp kicked off with another signature powerful solo from Slash. Lemmy’s customary abrasive voice suits the song, an equally dirty and riff-heavy cut.

Watch This, with Dave Grohl on drums and Duff McKagan on bass, is an ominous instrumental jam that really demonstrates the talent of these three dudes – Dave annihilates the drum kit as usual, McKagan’s bass is top-notch, and Slash’s guitar solos are, well, Slash guitar solos. Which is to say, great.

I Hold On, with Kid Rock, sounds like the soulful, almost country-rock folk stuff that Rock has used to stay relevant for the past few years. Nothing to Say, with Avenged Sevenfold’s M. Shadows, is just as butt-rock as you’d expect, with Shadows delivering his snarly, whiny voice. Still, the song sounds pretty good, and has a crunchy driving rhythm and chugging guitars that would be pretty challenging on Guitar Hero/Rock Band (if those are still popular games).

In fact, the entire album sounds perfectly suited for Guitar Hero, which wouldn’t be surprising considering Slash’s involvement in the game a few years ago.

I was surprised at the quality of this record – sure, it’s little more than a rock star exercise in excess, personified in the glitzy star quality involved in the songs, but it’s a fun record that I can tell they all had a great time making. This is basically a big huge super group of rock legends (and Fergie and Adam Levine) coming together to make an All-Star record.

Slash can definitely still rock, and it’s on display full-force on this record.

Besides, it’s a hell of a lot better than Chinese Democracy.

Hard rock heroes Wolfmother revived their genre with a surge of energy widely unexpected from the masses; however few imagined that not only could this momentum be capitalized upon properly, but that it could be topped. Thanks to the Guitar Hero franchise, to which Wolfmother largely owed its success, it all flourished; however, Canadian quartet Priestess was able to display a far superior songwriting prowess, and given that they emerged about the same time as their Australian counterparts, Priestess truly assert themselves on their briskly advancing sophomore effort. Wow. They're practically begging nerdy gamers to eat this shit up.

Lady Killer gives Prior to the Fire an excellent, blazing start, with simultaneously complex and fist-pumping hooks. There's an immediate feel somewhat different from that on their debut, however; whereas the debut was chock full of quick and snappy hard rock, here there's a slightly more progressive quality. The following Raccoon Eyes is more suggestive of Hello Master, with its rapid, punchy delivery, though it still sounds just right where it is. The Firebird perhaps is the first to truly establish the album's mood, as it makes the previous two songs sound better together by successfully combining the best of both in four compelling minutes of intricate stadium rock.

Next is Murphy's Law, written about what vocalist/guitarist Mike Heppner has stated to be his favorite movie (Robocop). This revelation renders the lyrics as slightly... okay, very cheesy, but since this is the obvious intent, you can't help but be charmed by the oddly gentle song's personality; as is said in both the song and (almost) the film, "that's some fancy shooting, kid." The band wastes little time busting out The Gem, an eight minute epic sounding slab of hard rock that sounds as though it should have been saved for Prior to the Fire's latter portion. Still, the band is able to make nearly ten minutes go by very quickly with clever hook-ridden progression, especially in Heppner's shouted vocal patterns. However, what is clearly intended as the album's centerpiece eventually gets too self conscious to reach for greater heights, and almost as if aware of this, it ends with a very unfitting abruptness.

Nerds? Would nerds have beards and leather jackets??

The extremely dynamic Communicating Via-Eyes isn't particularly remarkable but boasts an outstanding solo and keeps the record's propulsion going until Lunar kicks in, which is one of the moments in which drummer Vince Nudo shines; namely in his magnificent cymbal work. Heppner isn't exactly left out of the money himself, as his vocal hooks here are among the best the band has shown yet. In fact, Heppner's vocals steal the show again on the following It Baffles the Mind. He may not be a technically proficient singer, but he can flawlessly carry a melody, and his powerful voice unquestionably takes command here. The song's tangled bridge only serves to further compliment the slick songwriting.

While Heppner may not be at his most convincing shouting "I'm a demon" with his high register, the song is musically worth all its effort. The beat changes so frequently that one can't help but be impressed by how the song's personality is unchanged by the numerous time signatures found within, as well as, again, Nudo's great drumming. We Ride Tonight's sliding guitar riff carries an impressive amount of charisma on its own, but combined with the rest of the band's efforts, proves to be nothing less than a highlight of the band's admittedly short catalogue. The closing has difficulty keeping up with all that has preceded it, but while it shows a chink it the album's consistency, it's very forgivable, considering its fearlessly aggressive beat and ferocious melody.

Unfortunately the States will have to wait until February 2010 (god, that year's not even a month away and it still looks futuristic.. maybe THEN we'll finally get our hoverboards) for an official release due to a few label related conflicts, but Priestess' highly anticipated follow up is well worth the wait. The added progressive rock influences have only helped Priestess sharpen their sound, and it's become evident that if any band can top Wolfmother in the arena rock department in this era, it's them.

Wolfmother-Cosmic-Egg It's been three years since Wolfmother put out their stellar debut album. Some haven't taken notice. Some wondered if Wolfmother were just flash-in-the-pan classic rock shucksters who were riding the retro garage throwback wave which as we all know came crashing down in late '07 (shortly before reports, still speculatory at that point of the fragility of our economy started to seep through). Rumors would run rampant. Had they broken up? I heard somewhere down the electric grapevine they were involved in a grisly tour bus crash. And a plane crash. Of course, none of these things are true, and Wolfmother come back assertive and more focused on Cosmic Egg, though this is an easy enough feat when traversing familiar territory. Solid hard rock album? Oh yeah. Led Zeppelin/Black Sabbath revivalists? Sure. Possibly the next great Stadium Rock act? It's sure startin' to sound that way, kids.

Cosmic Egg starts off with the sonic blitz, "California Queen". The quick tempo and steady and heavy drumbeat never let up and make sure to grab your attention. Even if you're not a big Wolfmother fan, you're sure to find yourself shocked to see you tapping your feet or pumping your fat little fist. It's definitely a promising start to the album and prove thus far that Wolfmother are gonna stay the course set by their first LP. Anthemic and primed for radio play, the next song "New Moon Rising" doesn't disappoint and sheds light down an avenue of rock and roll traversed by other legendary stadium rock bands such as Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, and Stone Temple Pilots. It becomes quickly evident that Wolfmother know what their good at, have a formula, and are sticking to it. Folks, let's be clear now: you ain't gonna be hearing any new fangled experimenting or masturbatory analytical guitar work here. But that's not why you listen to Wolfmother, is it? The only shame is that the big bombastic songs are so good, it makes the less impressive and mid-tempoed "White Feather" and "In The Morning" sound dull and unimpressive. These songs are easily forgettable and sound more like filler than anything else, relying mostly on a half-hearted vocal melody and Houses Of The Holy era guitar work. If Wolfmother were attempting to write their "Rain Song" or "The Ocean", the effort was hackneyed and unimagined. Veering off into slightly different and sludgier territory, "In The Castle" and "10,000 Feet" follow the Black Sabbath/Soundgarden riffbook to a T. At this point it's clear they have no intention of developing a new sound or if they are, just can't seem to get away from the Stadium Rock Rubric. Though by the end of the album, they sound like the stopped listening to Led Zeppelin and decided to picked up Masters Of Reality along the way, the album remains mostly consistent and has no real surprises to offer, nothing unexpected around the corner. The closer, "Violence Of The Sun" resets the pace and clocks in at just over six minutes, the longest song on the album. Considering that most of the songs averaged at about three and a half minutes and is slow to get the point, it tries your patience being the final song on the album. By the time the hit the chorus nearly three minutes in, you may have lost interest, which is a shame since this song sounds more like their own than any other on the album. Atmospheric, thick, and heavy, it's a fitting if not pedantic closer.

Fans of stadium rock will not be disappointed by this album. In it's entirety it plays well, is paced predictably if not consistently and surely sounds great live. Those of you expecting a touch of experimentation, a bit more creativity, a little less derived musicianship, turn right the fuck around and pick up "10,000 Days", or the last masturbatory piece of garbage The Mars Volta are trying to tell you is an album an not their collective spurt dedicated to disc. In these low and trying times, that type of pedantic shit takes up too much space and wastes too much time. Unimagined, yes, derivative yes. But fuck if this album ain't fun, which is exactly what I expected. Whether you agree or not, that's the point and it always has been. Wolfmother break no ground, set no new rules or antes, traverse no new avenues. But they never attempted or pretend to. If The Mars Volta are to this generation what Pink Floyd was 30 years ago, then we've found our Led Zeppelin, our Deep Purple, our Bad Company. In a time where experimental and creativity are lauded by the indie music hordes, even when they fail miserably,Cosmic Egg is refreshing and familiar territory. Break this one open, kids, and bask in the Cosmic Egg. You'll be glad to know you've seen and heard what's inside before.

When Chevelle popped up on the radar back in 2002 on the strength of singles The Red and Send the Pain Below, they came across as an Opiate/Undertow era Tool with slightly emo tendencies. While this approach gained them a substantial following, it also saw them ending up written off by a large chunk of the alternative metal audience as... well, an Opiate/Undertow era Tool with slightly emo tendencies. While it is true that their M.O. is a double-edged sword, Chevelle offered very creative songwriting on their major label debut (though second overall) Wonder What's Next, which they sadly weren't able to recreate on their subsequent efforts. While This Type of Thinking (Could Do Us In) and Vena Sera were at no loss for great songs boasting monster hooks and a solid piquancy, they were at a loss for consistency. Like fellow Maynard James Keenan disciple Will Martin's band Earshot, they were putting out albums that felt more like outstanding singles cluttered with an overabundance of B-sides.

Tom had successfully escaped the alien's flying saucer; however, he was not looking forward to explaining to the town why he was now a skeleton.

On Sci-Fi crimes, not only do the songs sound great, but they do so unfailingly; there's no lull in the songwriting's quality, nor is there an overwhelming urge to simply skip ahead to any particular track. Even the lyrics have gotten better; true, there's still a lot of Gavin Rossdale reminiscent gibberish (though nothing as bad as Greedy Fly; I'd be impressed with the song that could top "I'm screaming daisies from fourteen miles away") but genuinely clever moments as well. "[Jars] is kind of a play on words," says drummer Sam Loeffler. "It’s saving the environment. It’s a joke about saving the environment and it’s about literally taking the earth, and putting it into jars to save it for later."

Jars, the lead single, is at the tail-end of a bruising opening, with the only breathers coming in Shameful Metaphors' verses. There's an ardent charisma to the fierceness though, primarily because the songs are so catchy. Some even have an almost post-hardcore sound, like Fell Into Your Shoes, which sounds like latter-day Deftones with more focus, or the furious, Helmet-recalling Roswell's Spell. Still, the most crushing moments are given their power from the record's impressive dynamics. In the softer moments, particularly on the acoustic Highland's Apparition, Pete Loeffler sounds more like Keenan than he probably ever has, which isn't a criticism so much as a less charitable way of saying he sounds pretty good. The song benefits from the spare arrangement, and it produces a very haunted atmosphere. The interlude, Interlewd (ha-ha), is a great break from the brutality as well, almost as well placed as Sevendust's Insecure from the Home album.

Granted, Sci-Fi Crimes isn't going to top any year-end lists, it hasn't revolutionized the genre, and it isn't any kind of departure from their already established sound. It is, however, a great showcase of all their strengths, and presents them in an accessible package on par with Wonder What's Next with a consistency that just isn't found that often in this genre.

AWay_LP1_stndCDbook_EDIT.qxd:CDbook_8pgPrinter301e_Q7.qxt This just in! Have you watched WWE Superstars lately? That band that does the introduction music had me scratching my head as to who it was. I’m all about discovering the themes of songs or entire albums, I believe that Invincible, the intro track on Las Vegas band Adelitas Way nailed it on this one.

This made me want to walk into the arena like a badass, introduce myself to the crowd, and then proceed to kick a grown man in the throat to take him down. Apparently this is all in a day’s work for the boys in Adelitas Way, as they will soon march their way into the arena of over 20 cities on their tour.

Their self titled album was released today, and will follow with a tour with The Sick Puppies, and Saliva around the country to (hopefully) body slam people in the mosh pit. While being a fresh new band, they are making a lot of headway in the eyes of hopeful legends such as Robert Knight (whom I had the honor of meeting recently); who believe this band will set its cornerstone in the music world this summer.

Chad Lehner over at EMI hit me in the head with this album not long ago, and I’m glad, as I’m again broadening my horizons in the rock album section of my collection. This seems like quite a versatile album to me, with songs like Invincible chopping my swiftly to the larynx; with a shift to songs like Last Stand to remind me of 3 Doors Down. Even so, this band stands on its own two feet, while building its name in the ranks in all the right ways.

The theme is the classic embodiment of rock meets love; and while there’s no Bret Michaels around, it does the trick for me. The ladies will jump all over the last track on the album, Brother, with its piano entrance, and personal touch to it, while the guys will put the first track, Invincible on repeat whilst riding around looking tough.

All said and done though, the third track, Dirty Little Thing got me hooked with its muffled, catchy-ass chorus in the intro, with country hints throughout the song. And I’m happy to hear that this rock album isn’t overly produced, and retains a legitimate amount of organic feel to it, just to lock in the personality of the band.

It’s important to understand, as I said with The Sick Puppies, it’s not mainstream that bothers me; it’s when it’s done incorrectly. This band did its homework before pushing forth their envelope. Fans of Papa Roach, 3 Doors Down, or even Guns N’ Roses will want to hear this album. Consider it a contender for the wave of bands trying to accomplish a worldwide re-up for rock music. Again, this one is out in stores today, to go out and cop yours to bump with the windows down.

Hell, even stop at a light to get out and kick a dude in the throat (you don’t need the spandex though).

Until next time my friends,

~Flak

sick_puppies_tripolar_album_art

I’ve been meditating on the idea of what to call my submission articles on the albums I receive from record labels, bands, and other media outlets. Finally it hit me tonight while driving home: This Just In.

Perfect right? I know. How is it different? Basically I will be writing articles in a slightly different format, because these are albums that were given to me, instead of the usual me seeking out albums before coming up with something for you to salivate over and gander upon.

It’s only fitting that I christen this process with a band that I have grown to love over the last couple of months, The Sick Puppies.

Today, the band releases their third studio album, Tripolar. Big up to Jules Exum for her hard work down there at Virgin Records, and getting me acquainted with the band. Originally from Australia, the band has done a little relocating, and now resides here in good ol’ Los Angeles.

The album hits you in the face with the song War, which is also featured in the Street Fighter 4 soundtrack. Any song that has a hard drum fill intro, followed by yelling “Let’s do this!” is going to be badass. That’s the best way to describe the bad, simply badass.

After hanging out and interviewing the band, I learned they are real, professional, and quite talented. From Mark Goodwin’s solid drumming, to Shimon Moore’s transforming voice (from Aussie to hard rock…never knew how accents disappeared like that), to the numbing bass pulse of Emma Anzai’s Warwick slapping.

The theme of the album seems to revolve around the idea of, as Shim told me, “losing your shit”…particularly on that bully that you’ve been itching to beat down for years. Put simply, this is the quintessential underdog revenge album. And this is where the originality lies; an album about us underdogs finally experiencing the idea that (as Evidence from Dilated Peoples says) ‘success will be the best revenge’.

I think one of the biggest challenges in the music industry today, is to make something that the mainstream will love, while still bring something original to the table. This is one of those bands that have a rough story; having trodden down to the depths of near failure, to then soar back to the top.

What’s important to note, is that the band has softer songs, with choruses that reminded me of Finger Eleven (particularly the last track, White Balloons) whilst also incorporating songs that are going to rock your face off (perfect example being War). This creates an original journey that parades past the mind’s eye.

At the end of the day I can say that first time listeners like myself will need to drop your bias of thinking that all mainstream is terrible. Believe it or not, bands are still having amazing stories of their ascension to the top of the rock world. Such is the case with the Sick Puppies, and I hope you make this album one for your collection as I did.

Until next time my friends,

~Flak