Hardwired… To Self-Destruct: Metallica retains some fire in their bellies into middle age

Music reviews, Uncategorized

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image: metalinjection.net


Despite it being more than 25 years since their best works, anytime Metallica releases a another album it ends up being scrutinized under a hypothetical microscope to be dissected and picked apart. Anytime a band of Metallica’s stature has a new album out it’s an event. It’s exciting even if it disappoints.

It hasn’t been easy to be a Metallica fan for the last 20 years. Excuse me while flashes of eyeliner, Mamma Said and Kirt Hammett dramatically losing his smartphone hit me… It’s especially hard to sympathize when a band of millionaire cry and whine as they produce the poorest album of the career and exploit the distrous results on film in the form of Some Kind of Monster. Never mind suing Napster, questionable albums with Lou Reed, “hyped” 3D movies and expressing support for Justin Bieber. The last two decades have eaten at the Thrash-Metal giants’ cool cred. They also made it incredibly difficult for fans to defend their favourite band.

Okay, we’ll forgive them after heavy rotations of Kill ‘Em All and Ride The Lightning. 

How does Hardwired… To Self-Destruct fare? Surprisingly decent if you compare to the band’s outputs since oh, 1991. 2008’s Death Magnetic was a great attempt to recapture some of the fire of earlier-ish Metallica, something Hardwired almost achieves a little more organically and with less effort. Death Magnetic’s production gave it a raw sound but was heavily criticized. By contrast, Hardwired sounds much more natural.

 

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                                                                                                                    Album artwork.

All things realized, it’s Metallica sounding how they should in 2016. It’s not 1983 or ’88 or even ’91 for that matter. The Metal icons do a respectable job of staying true to their sound while taking cues from their past. As such Hardwired is a pleasantly effective Metallica album, in its better moments.

Hardwired is all over the place style-wise, and that’s a good thing. Some songs could fit on Kill ‘Em All and others would be right at home on the black album. When a band has a long history such as Metallica’s, fans will obviously have favourite eras and albums. Hardwired covers all ground; one moment its reminiscent of the black album, the next its Load. Now middle-aged men, Metallica prove they still have the fire necessary to come up with some adequate material.

Look, not everyone will be pleased with the whole album, but there’s something for every fan—or else they’re lying. The first disc is fast, aggressive and heavy. It stands strong with all 6 tracks.

The self-titled track is an indication of what fans are in for. Short, heavy and fast with an almost punk edge, Hardwired does fans of the band proud. Atlas, Rise! has subtle tinges of Iron Maiden in the guitar playing and a chorus just catchy enough. Now That We’re Dead sounds like the better parts of Load and Reload. It’s slightly more accessible Metallica. The single Moth to Flames is bold and uncompromising Metallica. It stands as possinly the best song on Hardwired and should please the majority of the band’s fans. Dream No More lurks on  like a Sad But True-esque epic complete with tremendous breakdown and solo, one of the album’s finest moments. Halo On Fire is on the more melodic side with great lyrics and one of the album’s best breakdowns and vocal deliveries by Hetfield.

Unfortunately this is where the album starts to unravel, its momentum shifting.The middle part of Confusion stands as one of the best moments on Hardwired. It’s when we get to disc 2 that the momentum turns. Songs like ManUNkind and Am I Savage have similar tempos and are weaker moments as a whole. Although Spit Out the Bone concludes the album on a brighter note, its hard to shake off the notion that the first part of the album is much stronger than the second.

Theren lies the problem. The second disc. The realization that it consists of mostly mid-tempo songs hits the listener sinks halfway through. The songs all sound similar. This is largely due to structure and tempo, slowing down the energy and momentum achieved with disc one.

James Hetfield is one of the genre’s most recognizable voices. On Hardwired, it’s almost as if more often than not Hetfield tries to sing beautifully. It works, but it’s not what one expects or wants from a band like Metallica. For all the hate he receives, Lars Ulrich is competent drummer. He gets the job done and proves himself to be quite capable here.

Guitars are heavy and crunchy when they should be and they’re melodic and dare I say, elegant when need be. The solos are some of the best we’ve had since the black album, but longtime fans know that’s not a huge benchmark. Breakdowns are well-executed and sometimes unpredictable in their candor.

In my book, Hardwired…To Self-Destruct is the most enjoyable Metallica release since the black album. Hardwired is a great moment for fans of the band, for the time being. The album will no doubt be celebrated and touted as “classic”for a short period of time following its release, a status it will never achieve. Its first 6 songs range from very good to excellent, but ultimately most of it bound to be forgotten in favour of the classics as time passes.

After what will likely be a triumphant and succesful tour in support of the album, Metallica will go right back to setlists mostly consisting of material their classic albums. There’s no point for Metallica to compete with their own legacy and they shouldn’t have to. They prove they still have the energy and gave us a couple decent songs, there’s no real need to release another studio album after this one. ***

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They did it again— Horror inspired Goth-rock with a misunderstood romantic flavour

Music reviews, Uncategorized

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Universal Monsters, The 69 Eyes, Nuclear Blast America, 2016.

The 69 Eyes are back it again. With their last two albums, Back In Blood and X, the band seems to have found a balance in both sound and style that works quite while for them. On Universal Monsters however, the Helsinki Vampires take a step back and take a slightly more vintage approach that harkens back to a sound reminiscent of the Paris Kills days.

If anything, the album title cover are very indicative of Universal Monsters’ musical direction: good old horror inspired goth-rock— with a a misunderstood romantic flavour, it’s what the 69 Eyes does best.

“Dolce Vita” is vintage 69 Eyes complete with the slow, dark, ominous goth-rock ambiance and feel of old. This should have been the first choice of single.

I wasn’t overjoyed by the first single “Jet Fighter Plane”. It sounded like something from X which isn’t bad in itself but felt a little political. It’s a good song but perhaps not single-worthy.

“Blackbird Pie” is with some choice acoustic guitars in certain places (intro, breakdown) that complement the song surprisingly well. One of the finest songs on Universal Monsters. Jyrki’s voice just like this song is memorable and haunting. A monster of a song.

“Lady Darkness” is a moody piece that would be fit for a classic Universal monster movie. The song even sounds black and white. It’s as melodic as it is delightful.

“Miss Pastis” is the weakest song in my opinion. It has a punk edge to it but a very weak “Salut, sa va, miss Pastis” chorus sang in French. I like the accompanying French-sounding elements, but l didn’t too care much for the fake accents.

“Shallow Graves” is a ghostly number featuring a menacing riff, rather upbeat with strong gang vocals.

“Jerusalem” features beautiful musical arrangements and a passionate vocal delivery. Melancholic with an interesting progression.

“Stiv & Johnny” has a decidedly punk flavour to it. From the riffs to the drum beat this one screams punk yet it also features elements that are completely different and it works to great effect when everything is put together.

“Never” is perhaps the catchiest song on Universal Monster with it’s doomy chorus and a lifted-from-a-movie instrumentation. This is one made for the repeat button.

“Blue” is a soft, slow gothic prose. Very poetic.

“Rock And Roll Junkie” is a satisfying song but l was surprised to see it close the album. To me, it’s a very fun and upbeat song that l would put for track number 2 or 3. Doesn’t take away that it’s a good song, very rock’n’roll like it’s title implies.

Universal Monsters sees The 69 Eye displays different musical flavours and styles in the context of Goth-Rock/Metal—with stunning results. This feels like a natural direction for the band. The Helsinki Vampires are expanding their sound while going a bit retro and keeping their edge and personality.

Jerky 69’s voice is as deep and pleasant as ever, guitars sound wonderful, the rhythm section is tight and the array of instruments and accompanying background music used enhance Universal Monsters. I’m not disappointed and neither will you be 4.5/5 stars.

Packs a punch

Music reviews

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Prayers for the Damned Vol. 1, Sixx A.M., Sony Music, 2016.

Nikki Sixx sure isn’t wasting any time. Barely four months after completing Mötley Crue’s farewell tour he’s back at it again, this time with a new studio album with his now-main focus, Sixx A.M. 2016 looks to be a very prolific year for the band with their new album Prayers for the Damned to be released in two parts.

I wasn’t a big fan of the band’s last effort, Modern Vintage (2014). I can appreciate that certain aspects were very experimental and diverse, but Prayers for the Dammed Vol. 1 feels much more like a Sixx A.M album. With it’s heavy, anthemic in-your-face lyrics and attitude, the album is everything a Sixx A.M. album should be

“Rise” is a strong opener and choice of first single. It’s everything Sixx A.M. tries to be; uplifting and powerful. A kick in the face.

“You Have Come to the Right Place” is a heavy fist pumper that packs a punch, I see this song working well in a potential live setting .

“I’m Sick” is one of the catchier songs on the album, featuring a blistering guitar solo courtesy of DJ Ashba.

The title track “Prayers for the Damned” is very slick and modern. The song is carried by James Michael’s passionate vocal delivery and constitutes a high point for the album lyrically.

“Better Man” is my favourite song on the album, it has that depth and raw honesty the band’s best songs possess. It’s slightly more stripped-down than the rest of the album and in that sense it’s effective.

“Can’t Stop” is a good song but it gets lost in the shuffle to better songs.

“When We Were Gods” has one of the album’s best choruses and solid riffing from Ashba, very heavy.

“Belly of the Beast” has an industrial feel to it which adds a different dimension to the album .

“Everything Went to Hell” features some furious riffing, swearing and all-around anger. I feel the passion. Definitely a highlight.

“The Last Time (My Heart Will Hit the Ground)” doesn’t stand out in any way to me, but it has a cool breakdown after the halfway point.

The closing “Rise of the Melancholy Empire” is the longest song of the album at 6:08. It had a soft start and builds up quickly and with interesting breakdowns manages to engage the listener. The first thought that came to mind after listening was how well the title fit. Melancholy indeed.

A few observations:

In my eyes, Modern Vintage was ambitious, but all over the place experimenting and throwing ideas against the wall— waiting to see what sticks. Prayers for the Damned is self-aware, loaded, heavier, loud, bold, and confident. This approach works better for the band.

It’s fantastic to hear Asha let loose on Sixx A.M. album. I always had the feeling he was holding back, here he shreds on multiple occasions. Sixx A.M. was never known for having a whole lot of guitar solos, until now that is. It took me by surprise I must say.

Sixx A.M.’s first official drummer, Dustin Seinke,makes his first studio appearance. I wouldn’t classify the drumming as phenomal, but Seinke does the job well and there are moments where he shines.

The album features a lot of God and Christianity-related themes. Songs like “Belly of the Beast” are a little more obvious with their stances, but it’s a found throughout the album almost as a concept.

Is it a masterpiece that will blow your mind? Unlikely. However, Prayers for the Damned Vol. 1 is a great slice of modern rock that boasts very good songs and has me anticipating Vol. 2. Well done, Sixx A.M. 3.5/5 stars.

The spaceman delivers once more, rock soldiers will be pleased~

Music reviews

 

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Origins Vol.1, Ace Frehley, Entertainment One Music, 2016. 

 

Ace Frehley has been on a roll. His most recent efforts, Anomaly (2009) and Space Invader (2014) were both excellent. Frehley hopes to continue this upwards trend with Origins Vol. 1.

Originally, the album was conceived as a backup plan in case Frehley didn’t release Space Invader in time to capitalize on KISS’ 2014 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction. Ace delivered on both counts as Space Invader came out in due time and we get this album as a bonus. Origins Vol. 1, like it’s title implies, sees Ace going back to his roots covering artists he grew up listening to. The likes of Cream, Jimi Hendrix, Thin Lizzy, Led Zeppelin, Free and Steppenwolf are covered and in some instances, Frehley’s own body of work with KISS.

“White Room” starts the album with a bang. Under Ace’s wing, the classic Cream tune sounds great. Edgy playing, shredding solo and l like the alternating vocals between Frehley and his drummer Scott Coogan (who has a very pleasant voice I’ll add).

I was expecting a Rolling Stones cover and “Street Fighting Man” is a fine choice for the Spaceman. It also harkens back memories of Dynasty where Ace covered “2000 Man”.

The cover of Free’s “Fire And Water” has people talking with good reason. An appearance on lead vocals by Paul Stanley is significant in the scope of the KISS universe. “Fire And Water” marks the first time Paul and Ace are featured on a song together since Psycho Circus in 1998. It’s a solid cover, Paul sounds good and it’s fantastic to have these two on the same song once more.

“Emerald” is an in-your-face bombastic all-out guitar attack. The tune sees Ace trading solos with Slash who does a terrific guest appearance here.

“Bring It On Home” was one song that I thought could have gone either way. As it turns out, I underestimated Ace. His playing is spot-on with some of his own flavour with his drummer again doing an excellent job on the lead vocals.

I wish Ace made a less obvious choice than “Wild Thing”. To his credit it’s a very good version -featuring Lita Ford, no less- but I would have loved to see him tackle a song like “All Along Watchtower” or something else and see him give that a go instead of a song that’s already been covered to death.

“Magic Carpet Ride” is a pleasant, upbeat, feel-good song and Frehley’s take on the song is slowly becoming one of my favourite songs of the album. I also really enjoy Ace’s vocal performance on this one.

“Cold Gin” seemed like a no-brainer, Frehley wrote the song on the KISS debut and Gene sang it. It’s the spaceman going full circle. I’ve heard Ace in interviews many times saying how much he wished to re-record that song. And you know what? It works quite well. The song has a faster pace and Ace sounds good covering himself (ha!).

Same with “Parasite”, he wrote the song and finally sings it and it sounds great. It gives those songs a completely different life with an updated guitar sound. If you wondered what those KISS songs would have sounded like if Ace sang, here it is.

“Rock And Roll Hell” came as a complete shock. Ace covering a Gene song? From an album he didn’t even play on? Yep. I’m glad someone convinced him to take a stab at it because the result speaks for itself. The original is one of my all-time favourite KISS songs and Ace does it justice by putting his own spin on it.

I was delighted at the album’s sound and production. This is a guitar album as well as a rock ‘n’ roll album, representative of Ace. To be honest, I wasn’t expecting a whole lot here and albums by artists covering other artists don’t usually hold much interest to me. That said, upon reading about the project and seeing the selection I decided to give Origins Vol.1 a chance. Well, that and the fact that Frehley delivered on his last two solo outputs.

The selection of artists covered are for the most part ones you would expect from Ace given how much recognition he has already given them. The choice of songs is not all that startling either. With Paul Stanley, Lita Ford, Slash, John 5 and Mike McCready are all more than capable guest who add depth to album. The highlight of the album is inevitably the guitar work’s strong, heavy approach. Ace seems to struggle vocally at times, but he’s not a young chap anymore and vocals were never exactly his forte either. For his age he sounds fine, and at 65 he delivers a great product.

Origins Vol.1 completely took me by surprise. I wouldn’t say it’s mind-blowing, but admittedly with this album being a covers project, it’s much better than I could have possibly imagined. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining about this being a covers album; my hat’s off to Ace who has effectively released 3 excellent albums in a row. The songs sound great, the guitars are fantastic and the list of guest adds to the project. Well done Ace, you made your rock soldiers proud once more. Makes me wonder about an Origins Vol. 2, hmmm. 4/5 stars.

“It’s better to burn than to fade away”

Music reviews

 

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Def Leppard, self-titled, Mailboat Records,2015.

It’s been 7 years since 2008’s Songs from the Sparkle Lounge when Def Leppard last released a studio album. For a long time it seemed like it wouldn’t happen again. Then it seemed like a new album would happen sometime after the live album Mirrorball was released, but making a new album was a long, slow process for the British rockers. With that said, what does a Def Leppard album in this day and age sound like? After all the band has been known to aim for their classic sound again in the past (See Euphoria) and at times followed trends (See X). The band’s new self-titled album sounds like, well, Def Leppard. I know, shocker.

“Let’s go” is exactly how I pictured Def Leppard sounding in 2015. It’s something that will fit well next to their classics songs live. It’s catchy and it starts off the album in a convincing way.

Up next is “Dangerous” my favourite song on the album. The album peaked early for me as this song sees Def Lepp sounding rejuvenated with this full-on guitar attack. If I didn’t know better l’d think it was a young up and coming band at first, it only became clear who it was during the chorus.

I quite like bass heavy “Mad Enough”, it’s likely to be compared to Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust” but it’s different for Def Leppard and it’s surprising effective and dare I say, sexy.

“We Belong” sees all five members of the band sharing lead vocals -a first for them- in a very decent ballad. Def Lepp has done some incredible ballads in the past, but this one had a uniqueness factor going on with all the band’s voices sharing leads.

“Invincible” is a mid-paced rocker with very strong vocal work, I like this one very much.

“Sea of Love” sounds to me like Def Leppard’s “Sweet Home Alabama”, I can’t quite put my finger on the why.

“Energized” is a little too mainstream sounding and by the numbers for me. It sounds like their attempt at being current, except it would be better fitted for the X album.

“All Time High” is a little better but it’s not my cup of Leppard.

“Battle of My Own” has traces of The Beatles in the first part of the song and later echoes Led Zeppelin. It obviously pays tribute to these two bands, but you’d never imagine Def Leppard sounding like that.

“Broke ‘n’ Brokenhearted” wouldn’t have been out of place on Songs From The Sparkle Lounge. Excellent guitar playing that stands out.

“Forever Young” is on the right track but it’s also quite short at 2:22. “Last Dance” is a radio-friendly ballad. It’s ultimately pleasing although my first thought was that it would fit 2003-2009 Bon Jovi tremendously well.

“Wings of an Angel” is one of my favourite songs of the album, all the trademark signature Leppard bits are present. Joe Elliot sounds particularly good here. I’d like to see the band perform this one live.

“Blind Faith” is slow-building but it’s a grower that goes places. I don’t think it works terribly well in bringing the album to a close though.

It was great to hear the band pay tribute to some of their influences and l have to hand it to them, they explored a lot of new territory while doing so. Some songs are pure Def Leppard, some see the band pay homage and some just sound plain different. It’s hit and miss in regards to some of the songs, but there’s far more good than bad. It sounds cliché to say it grows on you with every listen, yet I find the saying more than appropriate here.

When I first listened a few songs grabbed me, but with repeated listens l found a lot to like. That’s not to say the album doesn’t have it’s flaws and low moments but the band can definitely still rock out and deliver solid songs.

“It was great to hear the band pay tribute to some of their influences and I have to hand it to them, they explored a lot of new territory while doing so.”

My main grippe is the number of songs. 14 songs might have been too big a serving. Everyone will have their favourites, but if they kept the length to about 9-10 songs it would have been a much tighter and concise effort, therefore better. Sometimes less is more.

Album of the year? Not quite. Dud? Nope. I don’t think it’s a five star, magnum opus release but they clearly put effort into it and l think just about any fan would find things to enjoy about this self-titled album. It’s not revolutionary, but it’s Def Leppard doing what they do in the 21st century and doing a darn good job at it. Some sound classic, some of it sounds new, some in the middle. For the most part is sounds just like it’s title implies. 3.5 stars out of 5.

Unplugged? Thanks, Tesla.

Music reviews

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Live from Lexxi’s mom’s Garage, Steel Panther, Kobalt, 2016.

And yes, that’s the Cherrie Pie girl adorning the cover, the one and only Bobbie Brown.

When l first heard the news of a Steel Panther live album in early January, I thought,”That’s great, now is the perfect time!”. With three albums of comedy gold and infectious Heavy Metal under their belts, the band’s ever-dedicated fanthers are more than ready for a live album. I’ve personally witnessed the band in concert a few times on different tours and they always deliver the goods live. Then l read the album – then untitled – was to be an acoustic performance l had mixed feelings (and flashbacks of Tesla and Mr. Big). Knowing how talented and fun the guys in Steel Panther are l was sure they would somehow pull it off and that Live from Lexxi’s mom’s garage would be a hit… At my place.

Sure there’s been the British lnvasion DVD (2011), but this counts as the band’s first proper live album. Live from Lexxi’s mom’s garage is a dual CD/DVD package. The DVD also features some video skits with the band’s trademark humour on display in between songs (not so much in the live set). I’m not much of a tech guy, but l can tell you the visuals and quality of the DVD are excellent. Likewise, the audio CD sounds great in the car and is not heavily edited from the concert.

Michael Starr is – to me – one of the best frontmen in rock, present or past. The man delivers night after night the way some of his older peers can’t. Ever the highly energetic frontman and ringleader, Starr commands attention with his undeniable charisma. Satchel proves he is one talented guitar player, making the move from electric to acoustic smoothly, playing his butt off and his backing vocals complement Starr’s perfectly. Stixx Zadinia has to hold back a little on the drums in an acoustic setting, but does a great job of laying the foundation hard without overshadowing the rest of the band. Lexxi, plays what needs to be played on bass (I still think he doesn’t enough credit for his playing and backing vocals) and as usual, is the target of many jokes.

Bobbie Brown making an appearance on the album cover and during the show is great and helps cement Steel Panther’s association with Hair-Metal. Having the “Cherry Pie” girl be a part of the show was a nice touch (Tawny Kitaen would have been s suitable choice as well). She delivers on her role as Lexxi’s mom and contributes to comic moments.

From time-proven tunes like “Community Property” and “Fat Girl (Thar She Blows) to new songs like “That’s When You Came In”, the band is giving the packed garage a healthy serving of their best songs and the audience is eating it up. Even though this is an acoustic performance and little more mellow than the usual Steel Panther show the crowd is on fire and it’s a great sight to behold.

A lot of the songs already lend very well to the acoustic setting such as “If You Really, Really Love Me”. Some of the songs have a different flavour acoustically such as “The Burden of Being Wonderful” which came as a great surprise. Even one of their heavier offering, “Death To All But Metal”, has a nice twist to it and ends up sounding unexpectedly unique in an acoustic setting.

Live from Lexxi’s mom’s garage is comprised of 13 songs, a live CD and a DVD in one fun and inexpensive package. For the Steel Panther fan, this is worth a look as it offers interesting twists on beloved songs and all the fun, crude humour you can handle. 4/5stars