||FROM THE VAULT
Formed in 2009 by four guys that just love to rock and hang out together, it easy to appreciate the concept of this hard rock party band. Considering their journeyman status they could all be retired, yet the music still burns inside and they feel compelled to get it out. That’s what makes Chickenfoot special; no corporate bullshit just unfiltered rock and roll, a way to exorcize the demons within and have a good time doing it. With a 2009 debut that fans saw more of a novelty act, the band consisting of vocalist Sammy Hagar (Montrose, Van Halen, Solo), bassist Michael Anthony (Van Halen), guitar player Joe Satriani and drummer Chad Smith (Red Hot Chili Peppers, Glenn Hughes) return with a major barnburner in 2011. Their sense of humor firmly intact, the band skip the sophomore jinx and go straight to calling the second long player III. Their songwriting has jelled this time around allowing each member to step forward with his own unique talent while still maintaining a band vibe. Nowhere is that more evident than on the record’s first single “Big Foot.” With a catchy Neanderthal riff, a thunderous beat and Sammy’s storyteller lyric, the song becomes an instant classic even without a hint radio play.
Chickenfoot Three isn’t all fun and games. The humanity of “Three and a Half Letters” with the chorus “I need a job!” see the group reaching out to blue-color America. The spoken words taken from a number of personal letters written to Hagar from folks begging for work in these poor economic times is made all the more fierce with Satriani’s snarling guitar and Anthony’s intimidating bassline. Hagar’s lyrics sting with honesty and truth. He approaches the same reality in “Come Closer” one of two ballads on the disc where he sings of a relationship frayed and pleads, “I’m worried babe, about going the distance.” During the recording of the record, Hagar’s long-time manager passed sparking the clever “Up Next” which follows his journey to the “Pearly Gates” arriving with his “swim suit on, flip flops and a pair of shades.” In typical party fashion the groove is upbeat with the staccato guitar driving its hypnotic march. The song plays out as tribute to “when the saints go marching home”.
Even in their darker moments Chickenfoot, like their monarch, are a fun-loving, summer in the sun, kinda band. They reek of fast food Americana that pushes all the buttons on arena rock nostalgia a genre they helped create. Its obvious they’re having a blast with the anthemic “Alright” where Satriani surf riff is accentuated by Anthony’s much loved high harmonies. “Last Temptation” harkens back to Balance-era Van Halen with its sexy thump and Hagar’s enticing line, “She’s all lubed up from her head to her toes”. Following a similar layout is the slow builder “Different Devil” a typical piece of Hagar lyric writing with “the same old hell, only the devil has changed.” A change in presentation happens in the organ strain of “Lighten Up” where Satriani does his best Jon Lord impression giving the song a mix of Deep Purple meets VH. “Dubai Blues” takes a shot at open riff sarcasm landing flat on it face - the only dud in the bunch while the blues-infused “Something Gone Wrong” adds a nice dimension to the quartet harkening all the way back to Montrose. Producer Mike Fraser (Metallica, AC/DC, Aerosmith) keeps the band from descending to far into their own self-indulgence with a clean, solid, in-your-face shiner.
In all our years running The Cutting Edge we’ve never picked two albums for “Record of the Month” until now. Both Michael Schenker’s Temple of Rock and Leslie West’s Unusual Suspects deserve this esteemed honor. Enjoy!
Temple of Rock
Blonde guitarist, phenomenon and extraordinaire Michael Schenker returns with his most comprehensive and electric recording in years. Temple of Rock celebrates the musician not only as an accomplished guitarist, but also as composer and arranger. The project of nearly three years took a creative and exhilarating leap forward when Schenker was joined by old friends, drummer Herman Rarebell (Scorpions) and bassist Pete Way (UFO), with the addition of new comers, vocalist Michael Voss (Mad Max) and keyboardist Wayne Findlay (MSG). The record boasts 15 tracks that paint a full range of emotions from the aggressive, “How Long” to the orchestrated, “Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead” on to the storming “Saturday Night”. Strong, memorable melodies are the intricate stitching that sews the whole thing together. Schenker exudes confidence with his distinctive guitar tone that allows for musical exploration while still rooted in his Euro-hard rock blues. As the disc begins Captain James T. Kirk (William Shatner) narrates a speech warning of the scars of war as the classic Star Trek soundtrack plays in the background.
“How Long” lunges forward with a power-surging riff and tuneful vocals of Michael Voss repeating, even punctuating Shatner’s words in song. The double impact focuses the lyric of “fighting out for freedom” in an inspired chorus. Throughout the recording Schenker enlists several singers to assist in the overall texture of the piece. Voss, a stunning melodic rock singer, handles the lion’s share of the vocals, however Doogie White (Rainbow, Cornerstone, Yngwie Malmsteen) steps in for the epic “Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead”. The return of ex-MSG frontman Robin McAuley is a welcomed applause in the bombastic “Lover’s Sinfony” as Schenker’s chugging guitar lays the bedrock for a stomping pub rocker complete with boogie piano in the chorus. A number of selective rhythm players give the record great momentum including drummers Simon Phillips, Carmine Appice, Chris Slade, Brian Tichy and bassist Neil Murray, Chris Glen and Elliott Rubinson. The cycle of players is what makes the recording more a Michael Schenker solo project than an MSG band effort.
The record was preceded by a YouTube video for “Saturday Night” a rousing number in the shadow of Schenker’s formidable band, UFO. The song came about while Way, Rarebell and Schenker were rehearsing a “Strangers in the Night” live set and captures the energy of a Hell-raising anthem. A family reunion of sorts shows up in “Hanging On” and “With You” where big brother Rudolf Schenker (Scorpions) steps in to lend a hand on rhythm guitar. Both songs also see the addition of UFO/MSG alum Paul Raymond on keyboard making for an early ‘80s flashback that packs a punch. “The End of an Era” is classic Schenker, melodic solos run with Don Airey (Deep Purple) contributing some tasty Hammond B3. With “Scene of Crime” the guitarist revisits UFO’s “Arbory Hill” using a flute for the melody line and combines a B-Vox to augment his voice. He also plays the guitar in a higher register to sound more like a mandolin. The Gaelic-fueled “Miss Claustrophobia” is massively addicting and ripe for the next single. Closing the record is a return to “How Long” with three generations of guitar heroes including Schenker’s idol Leslie West, (Mountain) and Schenker protégée Michael Amott (Arch Enemy, Spiritual Beggars) piling up the notes. A massive attack! To check out feature story with Michael Schenker click here.
Website: Michael Schenker
In the higher echelons of rock guitar few equal the power and versatility of the great Leslie West. When The Who were looking for a lead guitar player to play on their classic Who’s Next, Pete Townshend himself asked Mountain guitarist Leslie West to fill the spot. West began his professional musical voyage at 18 in The Vagrants, a R/B blue-eyed rock & soul band from Long Island, New York in 1965. After a couple minor hits West met bassist / producer Felix Pappalardi (who had worked with Cream) and formed the hard rock Mountain. The band played the second day of Woodstock ’69 and shortly thereafter, recruited Canadian drummer Corky Laing. Mountain pioneered heavy rock and is still considered one of the forerunners of heavy metal music. West did 11 records with Mountain and three with supergroup West Bruce and Laing. In addition, Unusual Suspects is the 14th solo album of his career. His guitar set up had always been straight forward, a Gibson Les Paul Jr. with a P90 pickup pumped through a stack of Marshalls (although Sunn Amps were his claim to fame). Dean guitars started making the signature Leslie West guitar in 2005 with the “Mountain of Tone” Humbucker pickup. West only used his Dean guitars to record the new record and the sound will send shivers up your spine.
To say this is the most complete Leslie West record is pretty damn accurate. There are several reasons: He used producer Fabrizio Grossi (Steve Vai, Alice Cooper, ZZ Top), he spent a lot of time in pre-production, he wrote some killer tunes and his playing is brilliant…and he enlisted a host of A-listers to guest on the record. Believe it or not, the disc starts off with a piano intro, which immediately is an attention grabber. First track, “One More Drink For The Road” features Steve Lukather (Toto) and takes a simple blues beat then turns it into a roaring West classic. It’s so hot, the label snatched it for the record’s first single. With no time to catch your breath comes the massive groove of “Mud Flap Momma”, a full on foot-stomper, with that dirty, swampy guitar tone that only West can create. Not only is the song written by West’s wife Jenni, but hosts a ripping solo by none other than Slash. Management hooked West up with the mighty Billy F. Gibbons (a.k.a Mr. ZZ Top) for “Standing On Higher Ground” a slide fest of the highest order and is the sidewinding, snakeskin, leather-clad, water-moccasin of all great swamp rockers.
What makes this record a real charmer is the vulnerability and occasional risks West takes. His collaboration with Stray’s Del Bromham in “To The Moon” has a superb dynamic build leading into a power guitar solo that’s absolutely blinding. Drummer Kenny Aronoff (Bob Seger, John Mellencamp, Meat Loaf) is pure magic with his subtle fills and masterful tempo. Songwriter Jon Tiven gets a nod in the Country-blues of “My Gravity” coming as close to the Allman Brothers as West is gonna get. Where the needle stops is on “Legend” as song written for West 30 years ago by his high school buddy Joe Pizza. The lyrics come to terms with the man and his destiny and is bone chilling especially in the phrase, “The wailing guitars / Make a man feel his scars.” It bares listening again and again. Zakk Wylde drops by to lay down a few licks for Father West in “Nothings Changed” and sticks around to join Slash in “The Party’s Over”. Joe Bonamassa, a fan of West Bruce and Laing’s “Third Degree” jumped at the chance to re-do the song with man himself, even sharing vocal duties. Fans of the Howard Stern show (of which West was the musical director) will recognize Beetlejuice and the spoof “I Don’t Know”, proving West sense of humor is firmly intact even in the face of an exceptionally tough year. Read our interview with “The Legend” by clicking here.
Website: Leslie West
Call To Arms
Militia Guard Music
35 years delivering quality metal is exactly what we expect from NWOBM founders Saxon. With their 19th album they prove that no tread has been lost on their wheels of steel. With fists in the air, the Yorkshire five-piece live, eat and breathe British metal. Forged from the ashes of Son of a Bitch in the mid ‘70s they eagerly joined Motörhead, Iron Maiden and Judas Priest in igniting a unified front of tough, denim and leather biker rock with elements of punk, speed and power. Call to Arms plays out like it’s still 1979 with the almighty power chord, tasteful solos and melodic soaring vocals courtesy of Mr. Biff Byford. The band still write songs of war, the clash of titans and a warriors cry - true to the death. They puff their chest out and bang their head with the conquering pride of a Norse legion on the verge of battle. “Hammer of the Gods” is their crusaders wail. As the opening track, it rallies the troops with guitarists Paul Quinn and Doug Scarratt setting fire to their fret board while drummer Nigel Glockler and bassist Nibbs Carter roll out the thunder.
The record is built around its title track Call To Arms, a four and a half minute epic that tells a soldier’s tale through a series of letters. It begins with a balladry intro then explodes into a chugging riff. Though mid-paced it hold steady allowing for a moving solo and atmospheric refrain. The song reappears at the close of the record with a full orchestral reworking. Muscle to iron return in the piledriving “Afterburner” (which bears an uncanny resemblance to Judas Priest‘s “Freewheel Burning”), “Surviving Against the Odds” and “When Doomsday Comes” (featuring current Deep Purple keyboard maestro Don Airey). The polish of “When Doomsday Comes” may sound a bit out of place amongst the barrage of metal. The reason, it’s slated for the upcoming Hybrid Theory movie soundtrack, which explains its slick edge. Along the same line is the cinematic “Mists of Avalon” which reaches back through the pages of history to spin a tale of Arthurian myth and legend. Think Uriah Heep, Magnum and Iron Maiden rolled into one.
Pulling from classic Saxon, “Chasing the Bullet”, “No Rest for the Wicked” and “Ballad of the Working Man” whip up a storm of heavy metal thunder that brings to mind the power and the glory of yesteryear. There’s even a song structured just for such a flashback called “Back in ’79”. Though thinly veiled as a re-write of “Denim & Leather” it gets the blood pumping and brings to mind the thrill of a Saxon show. A masterly crafted, well balanced and fluid record, Call to Arms is tailor made for Saxon’s return to America. They are one of the few that have stayed true to their colors and outlived nearly four decades of musical trends. Over the last four to five years they have built from strength-to-strength proving they are just as vital, potent and metal as ever. Though they honor their past, the disc sounds fresh, modern and relevant. Leading the charge is Byford whose lyrics are well researched, smart and timely. As a 60-year old singer, his voice is strong and fitting for the cacophony and meylay that carries on behind him. Check out our exclusive interview with Mr. Byford by clicking here.
Dedicated to Chaos
Queensryche return with their 13th album to date marking the 30th anniversary of the Seattle-based group. After two concept albums back-to back (Operation Mindcrime II and American Soldier) the band return to Empire-like majesty while covering a range of topics with their signature musical landscape. Sticking to their progressive metal roots, the band fuse a delicious pallet of tastes and textures that blend in the mix. The 12 songs encased under the title of Dedicated to Chaos are drum and bass driven, rather than the power guitar fans have come to expect. The switch in mood gives the record more groove allowing the guitar to function as an accent while the vocals remain bright and looming. With the rhythm up front, the disc comes off more modern than the brash clanging of retro metal. Lead singer Geoff Tate calls it “very rhythmic and moving.” The punch of “Get Started” is an unrelenting power-surge that kicks the record off in fine fashion. The anthem has already been adopted by the Seattle Seahawks for advertising this season and for good measure, it’s the driving tempo and catchy chorus leave it embedded permanently.
The group worked with producer and ex-guitarist Kelly Gray (of Tate’s old band, Myth) who helped pen four songs. Third Eye Blind guitarist Jason Slater co-wrote five with Tate’s name on every track. The mixed bag of themes represent the voice of outside writers whose names pop up here and there primarily Randy Gane, keyboardist on Rage For Order (Candlebox) and Jeff Carrell (from Tate’s solo band). The allegations that this is a Tate solo project miss the point. The band has evolved and changed taking the listener on the ride through their exploration. Case in point is the lusty “Wot We Do” created during the band’s successful Cabaret show last year. The track jumps forward as a clear departure from the classic Queensryche sound; however, the jazz arrangements follow a swing beat that tie into the group’s early experimentation with color and sound while flaunting a provocative shimmer. “Hot Spot Junkie” and “I Take You” should please fans with driving guitar and a progressive arrangement.
“Higher” embraces a more R&B vibe complete with a cool sax section where the guitars follow the horn lines. For those stuck in a Mindcrime universe, this exploration of sound may come as a shock, but therein is the flavor of the record. Personal favorite “Around the World” grows from a lush orchestration that catches a techno beat only to be followed by a guitar riff sounding similar to G&R’s ‘Sweet Child of Mine’. Its love and peace message may seem too sugary sweet, but is soon swallowed up by the marching drums of “Drive”. The songs host a number of relationship themes like the starfucker “Got It Bad” with its middle-eastern flare and the obsessive “Retail Therapy” which takes the piss on our current media culture. Tate’s lyrics continue to pound away at the nightly news with “At the Edge” where he comments, “Got gasoline, ammunition, like 911, a controlled demolition”. Then there’s “The Lie” where he purges the toxins of political pollution. Bassist Eddie Jackson and drummer Scott Rockenfield come off as heroes while Michael Wilton steals the spotlight with shards of metallic guitar. Read our exclusive interview with singer Geoff Tate by clicking here.
Website: Queensryche, Roadrunner Records
Into The Wild
The wonderful thing about UK band Uriah Heep is that they still know exactly what they are. They’re not a metal band, not a hard rock band, not a prog band but an amalgamation of all the above with their own footprint and their own legacy. The beauty is, with 23 studio records under their belts, they are still moving forward, developing and pushing individual merits as musicians. Three years after their last effort Wake The Sleeper (considered a return to form), Heep purge their demons and resonate with strong melodic hooks, beautiful harmonies, sonic brilliance and an air of class. In keeping with their heritage, vocalist Bernie Shaw, guitarist Mick Box, bassist Trevor Bolder, drummer Russell Gilbrook and keyboardist Phil Lanzon recreate the magic of yesteryear with bombastic majesty. They get right to it with funky opening track “Nail On The Head,” a pounding organ-fed monster that sends hands in the air and feet stomping. The keyboard sound brings to life an anthemic chorus with a headbangin’ beat. Throughout the record Lanzon rises as the main songwriter with founding member Box setting pace with first class riffs and soaring solos. Yes, the Heep are in the house.
Unafraid to trod back to their rich history, Into The Wild boldly brings back the “70s with the Hammond heavy “Believe” an archetypical Heep rocker with pop flavor. An edge of fantasy returns in “Southern Star” where storytelling and showmanship weave an epic tale FM ready. The second BIG number is “Kiss of Freedom” with the atmosphere of a power-ballad deeply rooted in traditional prog-rock. A wash with passionate vocals, heavenly guitar and lush organ, the song showcasing Lanzon phenomenal skill in capturing the true Heep essence. A more modern flare is added to the driving “I Can See You” where Shaw’s vocal prowess takes full hold of the song belting out a fitting tribute “You taught me how to live a life that’s full / I never realized what it means to be cool,” as the band take full flight with a brisk tempo, heavy guitar and roaring organ. They carry progressive rock that much further with the heavy “Lost” where vocal harmonies and a middle-eastern flavor punctuate a global crossover showcasing the band’s international appeal.
Bassist Bolder and drummer Gilbrook fuse together in a hard-hitting fury of sonic origami. They breathe fire into the title track “Into The Wild” the pure essence of 70s-style heavy prog with thundering organ/guitar and a dark, thrilling vocal performance. More ground-shaking moments come in “Money Talk” a tune that almost feels like Deep Purple especially in song’s final moments of Hammond madness. Personal favorite is the beefy “I'm Ready,” a frenetic rock’n’roller with flash and pizzazz. It, along with “T-Bird Angel,” puff out their chest and strut like a peacock in proper Heep fashion. Telling a modern story is “Trail of Diamonds” demonstrating the band’s ability to craft a fantasy tale with visual enlightenment. The six-minute opus builds emotion with a balladry-like opening layered with acoustic guitar. Then, two minutes in, Box springs like a lion with a massive riff of “The Magician's Birthday”-styled grandeur. Celebrating 40 years has only warmed this group up. Into The Wild lets us know there’s much more to come. Check out our interview with guitarist and founding member Mick Box by clicking here.
Website: Uriah Heep, Frontiers Records
Nuclear Blast Records
Born in the nurturing retro haven of Sweden, Graveyard have developed into a goliath among the dinosaur sounds of Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath and Pink Floyd. Hisingen Blues is a blast from the past with a warm embracing vibe, transcending boundaries of early prog, stoner grooves and jazzy interludes. This is new and fresh at the same time old and familiar. To declare the band’s second offering as a classic maybe a bit impulsive yet it certainly has the potential for leaving a lasting impression. When the needle rests on the opening vinyl rut of “Ain’t Fit To Live Here” with its urgent drive, it’s clear the Gothenburg four-piece are committed to an earthy sound somewhere between the reefer-filled haze of doomy folk rock and bone rattling biker blues. The old school demons rise up with Joakim Nilsson’s Robert Plant-like caterwaul while the drums of Axel Sjöberg and bass of Rikard Edlund are profound and eruptive. The musicianship in the band is showcased when guitarist Jonatan Ramm joins Nilsson, who plays guitar as well as sings, in the twin-guitar rampage of the devils dance.
Conjuring up ancient spirits is “No Good, Mr. Holden” where backward tracking makes its comeback in the melody and dynamic tension of a traditional folk / blues snake charmer. The Zeppelin/Sabbath-inspired Hisingen Blue is as solid and infectious as blues rock gets. A prog masterpiece that uses a cosmic intro to seduce the listener into a hook-laden groove while Nilsson goes on screaming “Oh Lucifer, please take my hand” in his best Chris Cornell howl. The track is spooky yet vivid casting a spell like the misty wooded forests of Ömmern. “Uncomfortably Numb” is a mind blower with a Lynyrd Skynyrd-like jam that extends the song out to six-minutes plus. Filled with beautiful balladry and lyrical artistry the song’s mournful message is steeped in the words, “I’ve been leaving you since the day we met and it feels like you have too.” It’s the emotional heart and soul of the first half of the record clothed in reflective romance and rooted in passionate playing.
“Buying Truth” enters side two with a driving fuzzed-out guitar. Its’ garage rock vibe, cowbell and backing vocals take the record in a slightly different direction than side one. The listening experience changes with the moody instrumental “Longing” that pulls from Pink Floyd with a shadow over the cinematic production of an Ennio Morricone soundtrack. A big organ fills “Ungrateful Are The Dead” hailing the greats like Emerson Lake and Palmer or Uriah Heep. Returning to the electric blues is “Rss,” an all-out boogie number that’s fueled by “the dog that bit me back.” The subtle embrace of a lover’s demonic possession gives “The Siren” a steady build into a big riff while bonus track “Cooking Brew” takes a more organic approach with echoed guitars, a loose shuffle and bewitching vocals. Produced, recorded and mixed by Don Alsterberg (Soundtrack of our Lives, The International Noise Conspiracy) whose skill was able to create an analogue experience while still maintaining a powerful modern sound. The cover art harkens back to the days of Hipgnosis when vinyl ruled the world and the artwork on the jacket was just as important as the music within.
Go Down Records
The Sade are one of the new breed of rock and rollers coming out of Italy’s premier record label, Go Down Records. Led by guitarist Andrew Pozzy (of stoner band OJM) and the fierce rhythm section of bassist Mark Kimberly and drummer Mat Zoombie, the three young guns are quickly becoming major movers and fan favorites. A bludgeoning inferno of red-hot licks, thundering riffs and mind-numbing power chords make The Sade a buffet of blues, glam and sleaze played loud and dirty. The thirteen-track Damned Love kicks in with the instrumental “Sadism” boasting the brute force of Motörhead, the greasy hooks of Mötley Crüe and the swagger of early Guns ‘N’ Roses. They waste no time planting infectious grooves permanently into your cerebrum with songs like “Run For Me Darling,” the twin-guitar mayhem of “ New Fetish Revolution” and the bone-rattling, six-minute sludge fest that is “Alcoholizer.” It’s a marvel three guys can make such a racket yet they pull it off effortlessly with energy to boost.
Among the standouts is “Dead Man’s Bones (The Dead Man Blues),” featuring Lou Silver of the Small Jackets on harmonica. Embracing a snarling slide intro, the song quickly moves into country-blues territory complete with ZZ Top grit and a baritone vocal conjuring up ghosts from the dust. “Borderline,” “Demon’s Heart” and “Live You Again” hearken back to the Hellacopters heyday with full on guitars, organ/piano, a hammering bass line and subatomic drumbeat. Picking up where the Scandinavians left off, The Sade have embraced the reverence for all things Detroit including the attitude of the MC5 and energy of the Stooges. “Love Lies,” changes the playing field with a song that resonates SoCal’s Social Distortion with an Americana Latin punk-vibe and Pozzy doing his best deep-toned Mike Ness. The production on the record is thick and rich giving the music a chance to breathe with authenticity. A rare thing to accomplish on a debut.
Some of the songs on Damned Love were recorded on The Sade EP in 2009. One of the highlights is a different take on the Italian love song with “Dream On” built around a repeated staccato riff, dry kick drum and chanting backing vocals. The lyrics accentuate a contrast with, “I wanna love you baby, if that’s alright, I wanna leave you honey, cause daddy needs his life” while enveloped by a seductive lead guitar break. Our favorite track to really crank is “Deaf Love” with its eerie almost Danzig vibe. The production of the guitar scratching over the drum/bass backbone and the open space with in the song adds tremendous color. The build up is charged with tension so when the trio hit the chorus it explodes with all guns blazing. They even use a delicate piano bridge that gives it a huge dynamic push. Absolutely killer! These guys know how to arrange an album with lots of different textures for listening enjoyment; we especially like the hammering “Nice Trash” followed by the Ennio Morricone-like “Celebration.”
Website: The Sade, Go Down Records
The mighty Rods return with their first record in twenty-five years. Over the decades the New York-based trio have become the stuff of legends. Rabid fans have been clamoring for a new opus and Vengeance delivers. Not only does it seriously rock, but it includes one of the last tracks recorded with the great Ronnie James Dio. Guitarist / vocalist David Rock Feinstein of ‘70s group Elf (featuring Ronnie Dio) founded the group with drummer Carl Canedy and after a couple rotating players, settled in with bassist/vocalist Garry Bordonaro. Feinstein, cousin to the late Ronnie James Dio, told us last year that he and The Rods would return to their former glory with a Vengeance. Indeed they do, as this disc sounds HUGE with the drums, guitars and vocals charging from the speakers’ intent to do serious damage to the ears. The disc attacks with the crushing riff of “Raise Some Hell.” Rock’s guitar tone is thick and dangerous as his menacing growl barks a convincing anthem. Bordonaro bass is subtle, yet effective while Canedy’s drums bounce from left in right in a barrage of pounding rhythms.
Splitting vocal duties between Feinstein and Bordonaro has always giving the band its metal color. “I Just Wanna Rock” sees the first duet between the two as they swap verse lines allowing gruff and melodic to mix into a headbanger’s delight. The guitar solo is mind blowing with a shred facture that’s off the charts. It’s only appropriate The Rods keep to the theme of bikes, babes and rock. Titles like “Livin’ Outside The Law,” “Let It Rip” and “Fight Fire With Fire” all build into the epic presentation of a group that doesn’t compromise when it comes to what works at ear-bleeding volume. Feinstein’s guitar dips into Hendrix territory on “Ride Free or Die” as he belts out the classic tribute, “like Jimi said, ‘Let your freak flag fly.” Drums and bass work together to create the chugging gallop that sends “Rebels Highway” down an asphalt river of three-chord mayhem while “Running Wild” is pure old school Rods.
A lot of attention will be directed to the Canedy penned track, “The Code” featuring vocals by Ronnie James Dio. The Heaven and Hell singer stopped into the Rods’ studio several years back to lend a hand and polish off the ambitious tale in basically two takes. Dio adds just the right amount of mystic story telling to the five-minute legend that combines Canedy’s fascination with the books The Da Vinci Code, The Holy Blood and The Holy Grail. Fans will not be disappointed hearing one more treasured gem from the heroic singer. “Madman” may be Canedy’s most adventurous credit as he delves into the minds of serial killers. Treated with Alice Cooper-like zeal it’s a drummer’s delight and, if we’re not mistaken, is Canedy’s first time on a ragged vocal front. As in the past, songwriting is shared between Canedy and Feinstein, bringing out the best of The Rods collaboration. That comes into clear focus on the record’s title track “Vengeance” boasting all the snarl and bite of a caged demon. With old wounds healed, the power trio breathe new life into a genre long over due for another day in the spotlight. Check out our interview with Rods' drummer Carl Canedy by clicking here.
Website: The Rods, Niji Entertainment
Chorus Of One Records
Even though their name sounds Spanish, Gonzales is an Italian rock band founded in 2004. Their second album Checkmate was released in their home country in 2008 and is now finally making it to American shores. Checkmate is an entertaining affair. The band plays dirty, amped-up rock and roll where you can literally smell the sweat. Stylistically, they fall somewhere between Social Distortion and Motörhead offering an array of aggressive tunes including a blistering cover of the Johnny Cash classic “Ring Of Fire” that flashes back to Social D’s version from their self-titled (1990) LP. The song “Gö Tö Hell” shows quite clearly that this is a tribute to Lemmy and Co. while opening track “Nothing To Lose” borrows a bit from the Hellacopters including a nice use of boogie piano. At times, Gonzales don’t hesitate to sound more punk with “Heaven Gone Wrong” and “Fiesta” showing a definite Misfits influence.
The Italians are unafraid to torture their guitars over the rumbling bass, with the somewhat spent vocals fitting perfectly into the mix. They come to us with a lot of experience. Vocalist Markey Moon and bassist “B” hail from Italian instrumental psychedelic garage surf band Cosmogringos, drummer Malcolm B. Cobra steps out from rockarolla band Meat Torpedoes and guitarist Mark Simon Hell has played in various hardcore bands including La Piovra, Ohuzaru and Nab. The twin guitar attack of Moon and Hell give the disc’s 10 track plenty of energy and packs a real punch especially on the title track “Check Mate” where the attitude and the amplitude are fully cranked. Cobra’s drums are insanely ferocious pounding a hole in the floor with a monstrous backbeat. There is also the subtle western swagger they add to the rhythm giving the whole thing a splash of color.
Two of the most dynamic songs land right in the record’s middle. “Kiss The Sky” showcases a mind-blowing solo run over a huge riff. The bass bludgeons its way into the hook and powerdrives the whole thing into another dimension. Augmenting the vocals through a squawk box creates a soulful howl as the band sing of “getting’ it on, getting’ lazy in the sun and kissin’ the sky.” Next track, “Xtatic Failure” is a frantic surge that pulls from SoCal punk with a greasy lick that “sets the soul on fire” and knocks around a garage beat juiced up on steroids. Last song, “My Son” captures a great vibe as the guitar tones hearken back to the ‘60s with the drum and bass locking into hip-shakin’ groove. The band has released a string of singles and been featured on compilations Desert Sound: The Seghetti Sessions Vol 1 (’04), La Nostra Scelta (’06) and The Heavy Psych Italian Sounds (’08). This spring (2011) Gonzales will release a 7” EP split with Norway’s Bloodlights (featuring Capt. Poon of Gluecifer). Buy it
To read more about these crazy guitar-slinging Italians, click here.
Website: Gonzales, CD Baby
Small Stone Records
So I dropped this number into the CD changer of my bitchin’ cherry-red ‘73 Camero and cranked it full volume heading down ‘95 from Philly to Richmond. The road-trip is usually a double-reefer ride with a stop at Uncle Tonys pizza outside Baltimore. Due to dense traffic, there’s lots of time to absorb the new ROADSAW. No doubt about it, this mother’s a ball buster. When Timmy Catz plugs in the bass and J. Hemond lays into the drums it’s pure bliss. Then there’s Ross’ guitar - wooly, heavy and groove-laden, perfect for Craig Riggs’ cosmic howl. This is the fourth record by Boston’s own bastard sons and hits ya with that same feeling ya get listening to Sabbath IV or Blue Cheer’s Outsideinside a complete guttural reaction as it ‘s coming through the speakers. Gotta be the best record these guys have put out yet. The whole thing starts with a tuned down riff in “Dead and Buried” setting a new level for heavy guitar, pounding drum and rumbin’ bass. The chorus fires up with such a memorable hook that ya sing it louder each time around.
The same wall of fuzz follows through with the southern rocker “Long In The Tooth” that gives off this Monster Magnet vibe - part stoner, part hip-shakin’ groove. The song’s lyric “Too old to rock and roll and to young to die / Too late to save my soul so don’t even try” is my current mantra as a fat guy with thinning hair and aging beard. Another song called “Motel Shoot Out” tells the story of a dude locked up in a hotel room ready to take on the law. The narration is sung over a wicked-ass chord that drives through the song with that Sabbath-like Neanderthal dirge. Riggs’ lyrics are so visual it’s like watching a movie with your ears. The longest track, “Electric Heaven” has this real slow, quite start as the band build up the verse with Riggs moaning, “I’m gonna climb into the spotlight and come alive ‘cause I’m amplified.” Boom! Then the band kick in and the song thunders along like a herd of stampeding elephants. When it’s all over ya realize it’s about celebrating life on the stage and pulling the listener into the sensation of playing live. Killer lyrics, too.
You can hear the band using different pedal sounds and subtle pacing, which give the whole record a wide, dynamic range. There’s the headbangin’ “So Low Down” and the twisted “Thinking Of Me” that gives a whole new meaning to heavy. The fuming “Weight In Gold” has this wooly riff that consumer you. The song is turbo-charged picking up a tone that’s echoes back to old school Soundgarden and a solo that’s a fret fest ripping through the cosmos with the brilliance of a blazing comet. Personal favorite is the bass-monster “Too Much Is Not Enough” moving Catz and his four strings right to the front. The track moves along with a wave of sonic fury as a blazing solo runs over a sludgy rhythmic hook. It’s volatile with a caterwaul sting. After being around for nearly fifteen years these guys know when to ease back on the gas and just let the rhythm sink down deep. “Song X” is one of those dark, brooding, sledgehammer tracks where the drums crash against the guitars in a roaring sea of feedback. Closing the 11-track disc is the chugging “The Thrill Is Waiting” where stoner meets riff rock on the highway to the sun. Amazingly brilliant!
Website: Roadsaw, Small Stone Records
Fargo Records (France)
After some 20 years together the Bellrays return with Black Lightning, their 14th record…and a revelation, to say the least. The album spins off the dynamic title song with a massive garage-metal riff, and a wallop to the chest as bass and drum bring in the thunder. Taking nearly two years to write (the longest so far for the group) the album radiates a sophisticate style and balance a reflection of their growth and songcraft. Formed outside of LA (Riverside, CA) in the early ‘90s, the four-piece are known for their love of all things Detroit - merging the MC5 with Motown. They are also marked for their independent streak. Principal songwriters, singer Lisa Kekaula and guitarist Bob Vennun have stuck with it making their way through thirteen records, lineup changes and a stubborn US market. They bill themselves as “Maximum Rock and Soul,” and set fire to an original blast of soul-punk.
If ‘08s Hard Sweet and Sticky was the Bellrays nod to the Who, Black Lightning is their tribute to AC/DC. “Hell On Earth” is a 2-minute frantic attack packed with sex-drive and thumping drums. The riff’s a stunner as Kekaula belts out the fury of a burned lover. She shifts gears in “On Top” letting us know she’s in charge and using her tongue as a whip. The old garage sound creeps in for the engine-revving ‘Power to Burn” with the all- girl backups, Pussydelic’s (Jenn, Natty, Maya and Mimi) harmonizing like sweet honey. “Living A Lie” jumps out as our favorite. The guitars have a Judas Priest density and a metallic solo break that fries the brain. Taking a bit from the Joan Jett school of anthem writing comes “Everybody Get Up,” a perfect crowd pleaser. Todd Westover (of LA supergroup Doorslammer) is the only outside composer contributing the cosmic guitar-bass heavy “Close Your Eyes.”
Produced by Vennum, Kekaula and Matt Radosevich (The Hives, All American Rejects) the record has a bright sheen yet still smells musky, sweaty and independent. Kekaula, often compared to Aretha Franklin, showcases her built-in power singing soulful ballads alongside heavier rock. The scorcher “Sun Comes Down” a tune that captures the essence of Thin Lizzy’s “The Sun Goes Down” gives Peggy Lee’s “Fever” a run for its money. The hook is seductive and makes room for the piano highlights of Chris Leroy with the Pussydelics back under the spotlight. Add “Anymore,” a Motown Soul classic in the making, and the ‘60s throwback “The Way” (complete with a twangy guitar and that old stax beat) and you have a real hit on your hands! Check out our expanded feature and interview with Bellrays guitar god Bob Vennum by clicking here.
Website: The Bellrays
THE DIRTY CALLAHANS
Stepping On Toes
Sounds of Unity Records
Norway may be dark and cold most of the year, but the adverse conditions do breed some of the best rock ‘n’ roll. Oslo continues to impress with the rise of The Dirty Callahans, an ass-kickin’, high-octane, rock ’n’ roll machine of the finest order. Formed in 2002 and named after “The Enforcer” himself, the five-piece nailed down an impressive debut back in ‘04’with “Fucked Up and Standing.” They gained serious momentum in 2009 when they hooked up with Texan’s Bexar County Bastards for a whirl-wind tour of the US. Chasing the exhaust of their rented van was a trail of first-rate reviews salivating over the Norwegian quintet. With fire in their belly, the band jumped back in the studio and captured the sonic power that is Stepping on Toes, a full-throttle, road-bred hurricane. No sophomore slump here just adventurous, bone-rattling punk ‘n’ roll. For a visual, go to YouTube and checkout their mini-film/video for leading single “Can’t Get Far,” and a live version of the classy “Lick My Fingers.”
In fact, “Lick My Fingers” kicks off this magnum force with a hypnotic drum patter, thundering bass riff and a layered triple guitar ménage a trois. A raucous opening that sets the pace for the next eleven tracks. Singer Kjetil is a commanding force with a melodic undertone. He has that burly biker growl that can nail down a hook and pull the most out of a chorus chant. On either side of the ominous front man are guitarists’ Dr. Love and Pech locking horns in a slash and burn, no mercy assault. “Like A Dog,” “Sweet Talkin’ Junkies” and “Don’t Try to Fight It” have as much in common with Motörhead and the MC5 as they do the Ramones and Hellacopters. “Tip of Your Tongue” is all groove with drummer Lars and bassist, Sniz finding that sweet spot in an old school blues riff. The song is one of the heavier ones on the record and comes off like Godzilla in a theme park. “Where Do You Get Off” is just as heavy with the guitars driving the song through an anthem salute with the band joining in on the universal chorus rant that we can all relate to.
“Can’t Get Far” was picked as a single for a reason. The sudden impact of a roaring riff that repeats itself throughout the track keeps it forever imbedded in the cerebral cortex. The change in vocal dynamics from a squawk box to a throaty chorus gives the song massive texture and appeal. The bass playing is stunning and even the psychedelic bridge keeps the whole thing interesting allowing the solos to turn and burn. Oh yeah, and that’s Raldo Useless of Gluecifer fame on the psychedelic guitar solo. Amidst the loud and proud is “Fair Aming,” a slow burner that injects a healthy dose of soul into the band’s power-amped barrage. It’s here we get the title in the lyrics, “no stepping on toes /with everything to hide…and nothing to live for” among the distorted guitars and haze of feedback. It’s emotion on eleven. Stadium rockers “Get Up,” “Take It All Off” and “Dead Women” are in need of a big stage with sonic density and enough fuel to light up the night sky. Check out our interview with the band by clicking here.
Website: The Dirty Callahans
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