Disturbed – Asylum Review

Posted: September 26, 2017 by kingcrimsonprog in Metal, Metal - Studio, Music Reviews, Rock, Rock Studio

Disturbed_Asylum_Album_CoverAsylum is the popular American Nu Metal band Disturbed’s fifth full-length studio album, it came out in 2010 on Reprise Records and was their final album before their hiatus and eventual reunion and sonic rejuvination. When this album first came out I gave it a miss and skipped over the album, having became a bit numb to the band or their charm but catching them live after their reunion warmed me to the much made-fun-of band again and I subsequently decided to see what I’d been missing.

Musically it is very much in the same direction as their usual formula. A lot of press at the time described it as a bit more elongated or progressive or mature, but basically, it sounds like a typical Disturbed album. The musicianship however has gotten stronger over the years with the drums getting more rhythmically complex and the guitar solos getting more masterful. Draiman’s vocal ability gets stronger and stronger with each release. I’d argue the lyrics are also stronger than they were in the beginning.

Overall, on first impression, the album struck me as pretty decent. Not perfect, but still stronger than I had been hoping for. I guess reviews at the time from neutral parties were fairly positive but all I’d been reading or listening to was from people who didn’t like the band to begin with really.

Disturbed have had a mixed history with cover songs, there was the very maligned ‘Shout’ but then there was the very successful ‘Land Of Confusion’ and five years after this album came the absolute smash hit in ‘The Sound Of Silence.’ On this record, they drop a U2 cover in the form of ‘I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For’ which for me doesn’t really work and is nowhere near as strong as the original material. I guess its a hidden track technically but still, I could’ve lived without it. Personal taste issue. Not for me.

The aforementioned original material however is pretty interesting though. The lead single, the environmentally conscious ‘Another Way To Die’ is pretty damn catchy and memorable. The holocaust-themed ‘Never Again’ is arguably one of their best to date (pretty lucky really, you wouldn’t want to fumble a song about such a serious subject). The title-track and the succinct ‘Warrior’ are typical but notably strong Disturbed fayer.

As with all of the band’s records, there maybe aren’t enough ideas to fill a whole full-length. There’s a little bit of filler and not every single moment is an immortal classic. There’s always about half an album’s worth of stuff that would be rousing and welcome live and would fit in any Best Of album or Playlist, and there’s always at least a quarter of the album that you overlook after the first few weeks. Asylum is no exception. I’d be lying to you if I said I loved every moment, or that there’s no song from it I wouldn’t want to see live.

What you do get on Asylum however, is another five or six really great Disturbed moments to add into the collection. Nothing to engage or convert non-fans and nothing to make you shout ‘best Disturbed album ever!’ but it is certainly a worthwhile and entertaining entry in their discography and not one that should be overlooked. ‘Never Again’ on its own is almost worth the price of admission. This is the band at their most practiced, developed, and perfected. At the height of their vocal and instrumental prowess, delivering another great bunch of songs. It isn’t their best and doesn’t have the raw charm of their earliest works or the renewed energy of their reunion album, but is certainly not a record that deserves to be forgotten or overlooked.

Flotsam & Jetsam – No Place For Disgrace Review

Posted: September 24, 2017 by kingcrimsonprog in Metal, Metal - Studio, Music Reviews

220px-NoplacefordisgraceNo Place For Disgrace is the sophomore full-length album by the cult US Thrash Metal band Flotsam & Jetsam. It was released in 1988 as their old bandmate Jason Newstead was working on Metallica’s …And Justice For All album.

The Phoenix, Arizona band’s musical style here is mostly more or less a direct continuation of that found on their fondly remembered debut album Doomsday For The Deceiver. Its quickfire but not Slayer levels of fast. Its not succinct but never progressive. Its got melody but isn’t overly sugary or radio-pleasant. It reminds me a little bit of Death Angel’s The Ultraviolence at times.

Highlights include the Title Track, especially when it breaks down to a soft section where singer Eric AK describes a man killing himself via hari kari (hence the album’s artwork) as well as the brief instrumental ‘The Jones’ and ‘I Live, You Die’ which is perhaps the fastest song on the album and has some of the finest guitar work.

On an interesting note, there is a rather odd decision here to cover Elton John’s ‘Saturday Nights Alright For Fighting’ which does hold some gimmick value but doesn’t really match the rest of the material.

Compared to some of the more famous bands like Exodus or Anthrax or Overkill or Megadeth, Flotsam & Jetsam are maybe lacking something in character, however they are far from the most generic or forgettable band to play Thrash. A possible exception to this would be the very fun, PMRC-baiting track ‘Hard On You’ which is arguably the catchiest track they’ve made to this point. For me this track, as well as the improved production job, arguably tip this album over their debut, which admittedly was more charming than this at least.

If you like Thrash and want to try something less obvious, this is definitely worth checking out. If you are interested in the band, this is definitely the first album of theirs I’d recommend for you check out (unless you’re just in it for the Newstead connection in which case although some songs were still co-written by him here, the debut he actually plays on is the more obvious way to go).

Anthrax – Live The Island Years Review

Posted: September 24, 2017 by kingcrimsonprog in Metal, Metal - Live, Music Reviews

220px-AnthraxTheIslandYears_ImprovedLive: The Island Years is a live album by the American Thrash Metal legends Anthrax, it was released in 1994 as a sort of finale or closure of the band’s successful and critically acclaimed Joey Belladonna era, as the band had recently started a new era with John Bush.

It is not one continuous concert all the way through but rather it is two sections; firstly the soundtrack to their Live Noize video, recorded in concert in California in 1991 and then there is a second section which was recorded for radio in New York, live in the studio, added on at the end. You can think of it as two shows cobbled together or you can think of it as them adding some extra value for money onto Live Noize… its up to you.

It is a bit jarring the change between one show and the next, and again the change in sound between the two recordings and productions and mixes, but this is still less jarring than one of those live albums where there’s a different show from a different city as every track, and you do get two well flowing shows in and of themselves.

In terms of track listing, there’s two tracks from their ‘Killer Bs album (A Kiss cover in ‘Parasite’ and the smash hit Public Enemy cover/collaboration ‘Bring The Noise’ fleshed out by Flava Flav who guests here singing part of his own ‘Too Much Posse.’). There’s also one Neil Turban era tune in the form of ‘Metal Thrashing Mad’. The rest of the material is drawn from their four Joey Belladonna era albums. There’s thirteen tracks in total, although annoyingly Spreading The Disease era gem ‘A.I.R.’ is for some reason randomly split across two tracks in an awkward way, which also makes the track order on the back wrong as it doesn’t take this split into account. There’s still thirteen songs however because ‘Too Much Posse’ is not on its own track by itself.

I guess you could complain that four of the tracks are covers (if you are counting ‘Too Much Posse’) or that maybe some of your favourite songs aren’t included but then that’s offset by having a lot of the big singles and concert favourites from Among The Living and Persistence Of Time such as ‘Caught In A Mosh,’ ‘Indians,’ ‘I Am The Law,’ ‘In My World’ and ‘Keep It In The Family’ and a few surprises too. (Hey, who’d have expected a deep cut off of State Of Euphoria? But the album closes with ‘Now Its Dark’).

That’s some great live Thrash Metal from such a classic band during their golden period. In terms of performance, things are accordingly entertaining. Its got a great live feel and isn’t slick or heavily overdubbed and squeaky clean. It feels fun and raw and realistically live (without sounding rough or ramshackle either by the way). The guitar solos have a real energy and aren’t exactly the same as on the albums, Joey singing Neil’s song is interesting, the band having fun geeking out to Kiss is interesting, its all got a sort of atmosphere of fun. I guess they were the band who were noted for always laughing and for example dressing up in beach shorts instead of making themselves grim and serious.

Yes it came out a bit too late and might’ve appeared either like a cash in or like a snub to the Bush era to some fans. Yes, the packaging may seem a bit rushed and cheap. Yes it is two shows mashed together and one of those is in a studio not a proper concert. Yes, 30% of the setlist wasn’t written by Anthrax. However if you like Anthrax and want to hear the band live back in their heyday its still an absolutely worthwhile addition to your collection. There’s some great tunes, some fiery performances, a fairly decent amount of content and a more than adequate live sound job. I feel it does a good job of sitting as a nice full-stop on the Belladonna era.

There are better Anthrax live albums available nowadays; Music Of Mass Destruction (with Bush circa We Have Come For You All) and Alive 2 (from the 2005 Belladonna reunion tour) are particularly recommended. If you only have a limited interest or amount of money then this wouldn’t be the main one I’d recommend, but if you do have an predisposition to check this out I’d definitely state ‘don’t be put off, give it a go!’

220px-BlackCountryCommunionIVI absolutely loved Black Country Communion and was gutted when they split up. Their music was so fresh, vibrant and energetic despite its obvious homage to the past and they really were just about the best Hard Rock band doing the whole ’70s-worship sound of recent years. All three of their albums from before their split have at least five songs that are among my favorite ever songs and which are better than just about any of the classic ’70s band’s modern output for my personal taste.

How happy was I then, when I heard they were getting back together. I remember reading on Blabbermouth all around the time of their split (and yet again when California Breed, a band with some of the same members, formed) about how lead guitarist and occasional singer Joe Bonamasa was too famous and busy in his own right to give Black Country Communion the time, as his schedule simply wouldn’t allow it. I remember hoping for the day he’d have the time again. Well, thank goodness its all sorted and we have more from this band. You can see the phoenix on the cover illustrating the band’s reformation.

There’s a certain magic when Glen Hughes, Jason Bonham, Derik Sherinian and Joe Bonamasa get together, (only heightened by ‘fifth member of the band,’ producer Keven Shirley). The bass and drums match styles perfectly, the keys accentuate the vocals so well, the guitar and key solos fit well together, both vocalist’s styles gel, the guitar works so well with the rhythm section. Its all so perfectly balanced, and thanks to the roomy production it all sounds so big and warm.

Basically; this reunion record has a lot of expectations to live up to. On first listen its nice to hear they are keeping up the same style of music and doing the same sort of thing. Its not suddenly taken a rap or electronic turn, they haven’t chucked it all away and went pop or something. Its exactly what you’d hope for, stylstically.

There’s plenty of depth, characther and a fair bit of variety. A lot of the tracks stretch out a bit, many lasting seven or eight minutes. There’s a nice balance of slow and fast, of hard and soft, of thoughtful and of instantaneous. There’s moments that lean a bit more into each of the member’s individual territories and there’s moments when its a mixture of all.

After knocking you over the head (no pun intended) with two mid paced Hard Rockers, for example, they drop a very interesting folky number. If you liked ‘The Battle Hadrian’s Wall’ then you are sure to dig ‘The Last Song for My Resting Place.’ If you like things a bit slower, sexier and well, blusier then at the album’s midway point they drop ‘The Cove’ which has some seriosuly good guitar and very atmospheric keys. Eight-minute album closer ‘When The Morning Comes’ starts out on a slow and sombre note before kicking off.

If you like the band at their faster and heavier however (think ‘The Outsider’ or ‘Confessor’) then they’ve got that here too, on ‘Sway.’ ‘The Crow’ does it too, sounding initially like a rip-off of RATM’s ‘Bulls On Parade’ before hitting the gas and running away with the speed.

I think my favourite track has to be either ‘Over My Head’ with its fun stop-start verses and its catchy ‘yeah-e-eah’ hook, or else ‘Awake’ which doesn’t really sound like anything they’ve done before, it starts off jaunty and almost indie rock but has a kind of ‘Achilles’ Last Stand‘ vibe in the verses and then goes into a full-on Yes meets Dream Theater solo-trade-off.

Overall; BCCIV had a lot of high expectations to meet, and luckily it holds up really well. They do what they do best, they try some new things, they balance all the different shades of their sound well and present an entertaining record that keeps you guessing but that fits together into a stylish hour long journey. The quality of the material is damn strong, the musicianship is exemplary, the production job is of course perfect and even though I’m biased and just glad to have the band back, I’d say this is absolutely good enough to sit alongside their previous work. I’d recommend checking it out if you’ve ever been a fan!

Frontvr2Keeping on the theme of bands whose third album is excellent in my opinion but not as fondly remembered as their first two are…

After putting out two of the most outstanding and essential Thrash Metal albums of all time in the form of 1989’s classic Alice In Hell and 1990’s Never Neverland; Canada’s best Thrash band (well, in my opinion anyway, we can debate it another time) took their time getting a third album out. The first two albums were largely written in demo form before the band were even signed or (at least before their second record was out) and just perfected over time. An album a year. Nice. Next time round there was more time needed to build up a full record’s worth of material though.

Always a band for constant line-up changes, Annihilator once again saw a big shift in membership. Jeff Waters, band leader, lead guitarist and occasional singer basically IS the band in the way Trent Reznor is to Nine Inch Nails or Josh Homme is to Queens Of The Stone Age or Dave Mustaine is to Megadeth. Jeff obviously stayed, as did bassist Wayne Darley even though he supposedly didn’t actually play on the album. This album features however their third singer in three albums (Coburn Pharr replaced here by Aaron Randall, though Pharr still gets writing credits on some of the songs) their third Rhythm-guitarist in three albums (Neil Goldberg replacing Dave Davis) and their second Drummer in three albums (the lovable Ray Hartman replaced by Mike Magini – now of Dream Theater fame!) and even then, he’s one of three drummer on the album because Ray is still on two tracks and there was yet another drummer on the ballad. With all these line up shifts its like watching Cradle Of Filth’s early career or something!

I suspect that there are some reasons why a lot of people didn’t receive this album as well at the time and again why it isn’t remembered just as fondly as the first two. First reason; constant line-up shifting can give an impression of being muddled and unfocused. Second reason; ballad included, can give impression of selling out. Third reason; came out in 1993 after the glory period of Thrash was over and everyone either sick of it or was told to listen to something from Seattle instead by the press.

Do you know what’s not a reason though? The music. This album is bad ass! From the heavier tracks like the stomping Title Track, the crazy-ass technical workout ‘Brain Dance’ (an absolutely amazing song spoiled only slightly by its silly comedy section in the middle) as well as the speedy ‘No Zone’ to the more shreddy, softer, hard rock jams like ‘Sounds Good To Me,’ ‘Snake In The Grass’ and ‘The Edge’ which show a different side of the band, this stuff is all gold! I remember the first time I read the back of their Greatest Hits CD it said ‘Canada’s Answer To Metallica/The Van Halen Of Thrash Metal’ and I thought well I get the Metallica reference but this album is the first time where I really hear the Van Halen coming out… ‘Don’t Bother Me’ is some serious guitar workout, with that skiffly off-the-rails Van Halen feel, only with the chug and power of Thrash behind it.

The absolute best moment on the album for me however has to be the incredible ‘Knight Jumps Queen’ which is tied with Exodus’ ‘Braindead’ as the catchiest and most memorable Thrash song ever released! That main riff! It sticks in my head for days!

For me, Set The World On Fire is a great record. Its a bit more varied than their previous work. Not just as heavy as often, but in terms of songwriting quality, in terms of musicianship and in terms of fun it ticks all the right boxes. This album is a real winner and vastly underrated. If you haven’t already go on, give it a go! If you have before, give it another chance!

Girlschool – Screaming Blue Murder Review

Posted: September 21, 2017 by kingcrimsonprog in Metal, Metal - Studio, Music Reviews

220px-Girlschool_sbm (1)In recent years I’ve been more and more into NWOBHM bands. Oh yes of course I loved Iron Maiden since before I needed to shave, but I wasn’t really exploring any of their contemporaries until I started this blog about six or seven years ago. I stuck my head down the Thrash and Prog rabbit holes for so long that I sort of neglected this stuff. The real foundations of Metal. The moments when Rock that was a bit Metallic really ran off and became its own distinct genre.

Bit by bit I started exploring the likes of Diamond Head and Angel Witch and Venom. Motorhead too (if you count them as NWOBHM, I know some people get testy about them counting as their debut album was out too early). Boy was I late to the party on them. In so doing I found one of my now favourite ever bands in the mighty Saxon. I’ve found some disappointing bands like Samson and Witchfynde who aren’t just as satisfying for what I was looking to get out of this music. I’ve found some really severely underrated bands like Tygers Of Pan Tang and Tokyo Blade who’s early records are comparable in quality to some Priest and Maiden material! One of the bands I’m glad I’ve found are the muscular Girlschool.

I caught Girlschool live supporting Saxon about a year ago and that lead to a boxset of early albums and that lead to some happy listening times. I mean sure I’d read about ’em for years, since getting into Motorhead (and there’s the ‘Please Don’t Touch’ collaboration between the two which I had because of Motorhead) but seeing them live was what really pushed them from the ‘maybe’ pile into my Amazon basket.

Screaming Blue Murder is the London band’s third full-length studio album, and for me, my favourite so far. I think I’ve read somewhere that the previous two records are more popular because the photoshoots and music videos got a bit more glamourous around this stage and people accused them of following Def Leppard out of Metal and into the mainstream or whatever (and listening to their next album that definitely was a little closer to the truth there) but all these years later the only thing that matters to me is the music.

For me a track like ‘Wildlife’ with its infectious chanting chorus, jaunty bouncing rhythm and lead guitar quality is just undeniable. The band have a bit of a Hard Rock sound, a bit of a Punk sound and a bit of a Heavy Metal sound. All three elements are well balanced. If you want something anthemic and ready for radio there’s the retro sounding rock n’ roll of ‘It Turns Your Head Around.’ If you want something a bit more Metallic to sink your teeth in to, then there’s ‘Don’t Call It Love’ which could be on any of the first four Dio albums to my ears. Hey, what diversity in those three tracks alone! I think that’s why this album just pips the previous two badass ones as my favourite. Its almost as fierce but the diversity makes it even more interesting.

Ok. I get that some people won’t love it a much as the previous records. Some people prefer Kill ‘Em All to Master Of Puppets too. Diffrent Strokes and all that. Screaming Blue Murder is indeed a bit more sophisticated than the two albums which preceed it, which are more raw and charming, which have a bit more ramshakle Motorhead vibe to ’em. This one tries on a few more hats. Its not always pounding speed. ‘Flesh And Blood’ is the kind of rolling tribal prog thing Queensryche would be exploring the other side of the milenium! The guitar solos are a bit more ‘feel’ than ‘flash.’

…But that’s all just an extra layer to like. Its still got the hard stuff when you like to just bang around the room (‘Hellrazor’ has that in spades. As does the bonus track ‘Don’t Stop’ if you get a special edition or reissue). Nigel Grey’s roomy and open production job also keeps this sounding hard and rocking. There’s punkiness in the distorted bass on ‘You Got Me.’ This isn’t exactly a Bananarama album now is it? Its like Motorhead, Sex Pistols and AC/DC blended together, with a fat reverb and a unique vocal style.

For me, this 1982 gem, their third in as many years by the way, is a very strong record. It stands up well alongside the better releases of their contemporaries like Raven, Grim Reaper and Bitch’s Sin. Its not just at that untouchable layer as Maiden, Saxon or Motorhead but its definitely belonging of a spot in the collections of any fan of those bigger bands (alongside their previous two, which are less diverse but more energetic and raw and no less worthy of your listening time!).

220px-Atrophy_socialized (1)This album won’t be for everyone, but if you like the following sentence, I’d recommend giving it a square go: 20% Coma Of Souls, 20% Forbidden Evil, 10% Handle With Care, 50% The Legacy. …Interested? If so, read on.

 

Atrophy were one of many late ’80s bands pumping out Thrash Metal. They were sometimes associated with Sacred Reich and Flotsam & Jetsam due to geography, although they had more of a Bay Area sound (and specifically, Testament worship) with some Teutonic Thrash tinges and the tiniest wee bit of a crossover Thrash influence.

 

Now, if you know your Thrash, you’ll know that there’s several tiers of both quality and when-you-should-check-em-out that most fans can broadly agree on. Individual preference and media exposure in your territory may make you disagree on some placements but the overall theme is usually agreed upon. There’s of course the very Top tier of Thrash, the stuff you usually get into first, is probably objectively the best and the stuff that makes you fall in love with the subgenre. Stuff like Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer, Anthrax, Overkill, Exodus, Testament and Kreator. The definition of Thrash for many.

There’s then the second-highest tier, the stuff that you bought purposefully because it was Thrash and that is still fairly successful and famous but not just as much; stuff like Annihilator, Forbidden, Heathen, Vio-lence, Death Angel, Dark Angel, Sodom, Destruction, Early Sepultura, Sacred Reich, Nuclear Assault. The real guts of Thrash fandom for many.

 

There’s a third that only real Thrash fans love, you’ll find it in list of best Thrash albums ever, but not in the general lists as much. When major outlets cover Thrash this stuff is ignored but when people in the know really nerd out on Thrash this stuff comes up. Stuff like Whiplash, Razor, Onslaught, Paradox, Devastation, Rigor Mortis, Morbid Saint, Toxik, Xentrix and Hirax. And; of course, Atrophy. Then there’s a tier or three below that of diminishing fame (and some say diminishing quality, others vehemently deny that however) but you get my jist by now.

 

I bring this up really to illustrate where Atrophy fit in and in so doing also how likely you are to enjoy them. If you like Thrash enough to get into multiple bands from the third tier then this is worth serious investigation. If you only want the absolute best or most famous stuff this may seem a bit too derivative for you. If you don’t like Thrash at all then never worry your pretty head about Atrophy because I don’t think they’ll be your cup of tea anyway. How could they be really? They are basically one of the purest distillations of the Thrash formula ever to form a band.

 

Atrophy don’t play the kind of Thrash that’s closer to NWOBHM in sound, nor the kind that is a direct close precursor to Death or Black Metal, nor even the kind that’s Punky and ramshackle. They aren’t a progressive variation on Thrash. They don’t have any happy melodic Power Metal tendencies. Its pretty straight down the line Thrash with no thrills and little diversity (but done perfectly!).

 

What it lacks in a unique sales pitch (hey check out the band with the funk influence or the orchestra etc.) it makes up in consistency, quality and ferocity. All the compliments you can level at Testament’s debut album The Legacy all work for Atrophy’s Socialized Hate. The razor-sharp riffs, the creative and powerful guitar leads, the intros, the barked hard low vocals, the relentless drumming. Atrophy also specialize in really good lyrics (well, except the silly one off joke song Beer Pong, but you can let that slide as the rest is so good).

 

Songs like the Title Track, the opener ‘Chemical Dependency’ and the fabulous three-song run of ‘Product Of The Past’ ‘Rest In Pieces’ and ‘Urban Decay’ are just really strong, really entertaining and really pure Thrash Metal, and if that’s your bag then Socialized Hate is worth adding to your collection. Sure, it might not be your first Metal album or your first Thrash album (or even your fifteenth) but if you love this stuff and want more, but more that is still great and not just more for the sake of it, then… y’know… Socialized Hate, innit.