FROM THE VAULT

DECEMBER 2009

MAYLENE AND THE SONS OF DISASTER
III
Ferret Records

Third record by this Birmingham, Alabama six piece hits the nail right on the head. Having fine-tuned their craft at mixing southern rock with metalcore, the band freight train through eleven riff-roaring stunners that prove southern rock is still alive and evolving. Led by ex-Underoath vocalist Dallas Taylor, the fusion of three guitar players and a massive rhythm section bring together an immense barrage of texture filled hooks and fat juicy anthems. Flashes of Corrosion of Conformity, Down and Lamb of God. echo in tracks like lead single “Just a Shock” and the pumped up “Settling Scores By Burning Bridges” which has Taylor blowing out his vocals shouting “Revenge is pounding / I feel it cold in my veins.” It’s in the group’s lyrical content that the spirit of Ma Baker and her criminally minded sons takes full possession. Combined with relentless touring, MATSOD has become a well-oiled machine and with Three they roll out all the stops from a punishing metallic arsenal to Deliverance-inspired bayou ballads.

The sound of a swap after dark, complete with the mesmerizing hum of cicadas introduces the disc’s first track “Waiting On My Deathbed.” Like the dentist’s drill in Machine Head’s “Blistering” it cast the mood for the for the rest of the record, building unsettled anticipation and denoting an air of suspense. A banjo rings in the tale of the outlaw reflecting “Not proud of everything I’ve done / But at least you know I did it well” met out over a Molly Hatchet rumble spliced between scorching duel guitars. By track five the band have built up quite a froth when they launch into “Step Up (I’m On It),” a Skynyrd-inspire slide riff that breaks out as the album’s centerpiece. Complete with a wall of layered guitar, the track adds blues twists over banjo and a hardcore, throaty chorus. The vocal augmentation on the verses push the track into a moshpit rage – with a twang. Just as compelling is “The Old Iron Hills” with its line, “I’ll heal my wounds back in Birmingham,” that’s as much a band anthem as Bad Company.

Several times the Dixie-six break out into country territory. It’s simply a product of their DNA. “Listen Close” has a nasty little side-winding lick that opens up into a modern relationship-stained rocker. Taylor’s voice cleans up real nice and even the hook goes for FM rotation complete with Ritchie Sambora-like talkbox effect through the guitar. Both “Last Train Coming” and “No Good Son” cast a shadow over underground icons Alabama Thunderpussy with an Aerosmith swagger. The addicting “Harvest Moon Hanging” is a reference to Harvest Moon from Jeff Smith’s Bone comic series and uses the galloping bass for the root of it’s urgency. The last two tracks, Alice-In-Chains inspired “Oh Lonely Grave” with it’s haunting mood swings complete with violins and “The End Is Hear,” a poetic instrumental, round out the full scope of passion and emotion this group is capable of. Highly recommended!

Website: Maylene and the Sons of Disaster, Ferret Records



NOVEMBER 2009

U.D.O.
Dominator
AFM Records

Sebastian Bach of Skid Row said Udo has the best name in heavy metal. Rightly so, as the singer and his band return with another generous slab of German heavy/speed metal under the monarch Dominator. U.D.O., home to the ex-Accept frontman, has never settled for anything less than pure, metallic, brutal aggression. Turning corners with 2007’s Mastercutor the band, produced by Stefan Kaufmann (also ex-Accept), merge blunt guitar riffage and sonic rhythm hammering with a modern edge while still maintaining a core in early eighties mind-numbing metal. The disc marks the 12th in their monolithic career and carries with it 10 grinding tracks (11 in Japan and Europe) guaranteed to thrill. The eerie “The Bogeyman” gets things going with a palpable introduction. Surging guitars drive the verse into the chorus with an addictive hook on par with vintage Timebomb (1991). Comparisons to Judas Priest are acceptable in the undercurrent of title track “Dominator,” bike thriller “Doom Rider” and grinder “Speed Demon” – both revel in twin guitar harmony that stick like glue.

“Black and White” is a throw-back to old school Accept, a groove-center power metal track that has guitarist Stefan Kaufmann and Igor Gianola (Jorn) pairing up to in a tightly woven chugger. Even the leads are lyrical, never overplayed, yet effortlessly melodic. Rhythm section of bassist Fitty Weinhold and drummer Francesco Jovina reach epic proportions in the whirlwind that is “Infected”. Previously released this summer as an EP and package under the same name, the track snarls with spitfire. “Heavy Metal Heaven” continues the drum barrage with an almost Celtic backbone (similar to Gamma Ray). The song pays open homage to fans, old and new, that keep the metal flag flying. The orchestral “Stillness of Time” is an adventurous run into BIG production. It sounds absolutely massive and when the guitars kick in, it’s a blinder. Break out the top hats for “Devil’s Rendezvous” as it drags in the circus vibe if Mastercutor, breaks into two step and shamelessly borrows from vaudeville. A guilty please for sure. The real surprise is closer “Whispers In The Dark” a true ballad for U.D.O. showcasing the man’s pipes and flashing back to ‘79-era Accept and “Seawinds”. A must for all who still claim loyal allegiance. Check out our interview with the man himself by clicking here.

Website: U.D.O.



OCTOBER 2009

BLACKBERRY SMOKE
Little Piece of Dixie
BamaJam Records

We knew this band had serious potential when we saw them play a local biker rally several years ago. But just how much potential wasn’t evident until we heard Little Piece of Dixie blasting from the car stereo. Lord have mercy, this is what southern rock is all about - either it’s country with a rock swagger or rock with a country swagger. Either way it’s a rebellious joyride with blood on the knuckles and wind in the hair. Formed in 2001 with native Alabamian Charlie Starr (vocals/guitar) and two Georgian brothers Brit (drums) and Richard Turner (bass) prior to a recording session in New York City. The experience led to the three bringing in Paul Jackson (guitars) and eventually Brandon Sill (keys). Taking their que from 38 Special, Bad Company and Blackfoot the band toured relentlessly building a fan bass and rubbing shoulders with their heroes. It was actually Chris Robinson of the Black Crowes that christened the group’s name. By 2005 the band released their debut Bad Luck Aint No Crime and landed big tours with southern rock’s elite including Shooter Jennings, Cross Canadian Ragweed, ZZ Top and the mighty Lynyrd Skynyrd.

Currently based in Atlanta with a lot of time in Nashville, the group has spent the last four years polishing their songwriting, releasing two EPs and settling into the studio with legendary producer Dann Huff (Keith Urban, Rascal Flatts, Carrie Underwood). The growth within the band is substantial. Their lyrics are extremely well constructed and not only relevant but clever. The vocals are tight and the harmonies memorable. An appearance with Slash and featured spot on the coveted NASCAR ’08 soundtrack landed the bass-driven “Up In Smoke” as a bonafide hit before the record was even finished. With its street date of September 29, 2009 Little Piece of Dixie will be permanently etched in your minds. There’s the Free-inspired “Like I Am,” the honky-tonk “Restless” and the mid-tempo burner “I’d Be Lyin’” – all ripe and ready for mass consumption. Personal favorite, “Bottom of This” is the records winning prize. With a huge hook, smart lyrics and killer guitar - it could easily have fallen from the Skynyrd pile of classics as it drips with working man sweat.

Raw gusto and grit keep the disc firmly rooted in southern boogie with a nod to old school ‘70s outlaw country. Opening drinking song “Good One Comin’ On” tips it’s hat to RW Hubbard and Jerry Jeff Walker as the lyrics roll, “Throw in Ray Wylie Hubbard / singing along to Red Neck Mother.” The storytelling broadens in the open riff “Sanctified Woman,” which, along with “Shake Your Magnolia,” comes close to essential Georgia Satellites. The lyrical masterpiece, “Who Invented the Wheel” has more of an acoustic–based Marshal Tucker and proves the band’s ability to capture the spirit of a cross pollination between country, rock and rhythm and blues. Only one ballad finds it’s way onto this collection but it’s a good ‘un, the mandolin-laced “Prayer For The Little Man” about love lost and a child caught in the middle. The shadow of Zeppelin, Heart and Skynyrd are apparent throughout the disc but the emotion and passion of the tracks are unique to BBS. The five-minute “Freedom Song” closes the record and inches toward Blackfoot’s “Highway Song” minus the frenzied extending jam, yet it’s just a poignant. Live this could be a blinder! Check out our exclusive interview with lead singer/guitarist Charlie Starr by clicking here.

Website: Blackberry Smoke



SEPTEMBER 2009

SMALL JACKETS
Cheap Tequila
Go Down Records



Riding high on the heels of their last two imports Play at High Level (2004) and Walking The Boogie (2006) Italy’s most recent superstars the Small Jackets come out swinging with a loaded bottle of Cheap Tequila. High-octane rock cut from the same cloth as Grand Funk Railroad, AC/DC, Montrose and Humble Pie, the dynamic four-piece deliver 13 well cooked classics. Recorded and produced at Music A Matic Studios in Gothenburg Sweden with Chips K (Hellacopters, Millencolin, Sahara Hotnights) and mastered by Henryk Lipp (Union Carbide Productions) the disc brings together a lethal dose of funk, boogie, rock ‘n roll and hard rock. Where their first two records were more Faces meets The Stones, Cheap Tequila expands into the glory of the ‘70s with songs like the Aerosmith-tinged “Out The Rain Cries,” Survival-era Grand Funk in “Listen to the Rock” and the Deep Purple Hammond-fueled pop of “Let Me Be Your Man” complete with its killer guitar tone. The record boasts a wide range of textures and color while still keeping the energy upfront and personal.

At present, the band members include Lu Silver (vocals, guitar), Eddy Current (guitar), Danny Savanas (drums) and Mark Oak (bass, vocals). Oak’s has a raspy Steven Tyler vox, which is put to good use on the above mentioned “Out The Rain Cries” and the record’s closing jam “Too Late.” Lu Silver has more of a Hagar meets Steve Marriot wail that caps off the chest-beating “We Are Boozer,” hosting a delicious boogie riff. His take on the Grand Funk cover “Are You Ready” is a pure, convincing tribute while the passionate ballad “Goodbye Angel” comes with a smooth string / sax arrangement – and a voice reflective of Tom Cochrane. The duel guitar slash that erupts between Silver and Current is the true meat-and-potatoes of the band. The sexy swagger of “Long Way Home” cooks up a storm while the Tex-Mex styling of “Dancing With a Monster” is a spaghetti-western delight with some stunning slide work. Pseudo-instrumental “Lonely Man” also goes for that southern edge with some emotional slide and harmonica that’s more Marshall Tucker than Skynyrd.

Silvertide vocalist Walt Lafty joins in on his co-written, “We Got A Problem” with a modern rock edge that uses the guitars as a second layered chorus while the drumming of Danny Savanas takes over as the songs centerpiece. Already a hit on YouTube is the Faces-inspired piano boogie “Sweet Lady.” Like early Black Crowes or Quireboys, the track captures pub rock at it’s finest and blurs the line between blues-based rock and honky tonk. Big fans of Cactus, Molly Hatchet and even early Bon Jovi, the group thrives on loud guitars, hooks and licks. Each instrument knows its place and finds just the right spot to accentuate the music without becoming overcrowded or pompous. In an added tribute, the Small Jackets mimic Free’s silhouetted cover on Heartbreaker by adding their own splash of terra cotta to the background. This is modern rock n roll at it’s very best and signals a clear sign that Italy is quickly become a mecca for honest, gritty, power-chord rock ‘n roll. Check out our feature on a week in Italy with this lively bunch by clicking here.

 Website: Small Jackets, Go Down Records



AUGUST 2009

ABRAMIS BRAMA
Smakar Söndag
Transubstans Records

After three studio records and a live set, Swedish nationals Abramis Brama return with a powder keg of songs the catapult them into the heavy rock stratosphere. Stabilizing their lineup with Backdraft guitarist Robert Johansson and ex-Grand Magus drummer Fredrick “Trisse” Liefvendahl, original members Ulf Torkelsson (vocals), Dennis Berg (bass), Peo Andersson (guitar) have created a masterful working made all the more ambitious with guests that include vocalist Moa Holmsten (previously with Meldrum), Rolf Leidestad on keyboard and Grammy winning jazz saxophone Jonas Kullhammar. Fully fueled, the band’s heavy riffing in songs like the cowbell flavored “Kylan Kommer Inifràn,” the funky groove of Öga För Öga” and hook-filled “Enkel Resa” resonate a maturing drive that only thousands of road miles and endless gigs can capture. Influences like Mountain, Nugent, Cactus and Grand Funk are distinguishable but only as a reference. Interestingly they choose to sing in their native tongue (they tried English on their second record, but returned to Swedish shortly thereafter), yet their songwriting craft easily crosses over with amazing agility.

Having fine-tuned their retro ‘70s thunder, Smakar Söndag, adds subtleties and finesse that are on par with bands like the Allman Brothers, Fleetwood Mac or even Chicago. That emotional investment and the group’s twelve years together characterizes some beautiful transitions like the prog-jazz instrumental that slides in at the end of “Sista Morgonljuset” after a pounding rhythm setup, or the Folk-inspired “Nej” which uses vocal layering and the duet with Moa Holmsten to create a Buckingham Nicks vibe. The ten-minute epic “Med Ont Försåt” is a prog rock classic that does for heavy rock what Opeth did for Death Metal. Framed with a thick, almost stoner bass/drum bottom end, the song twists and turns licking up Sabbath elements, Pink Floyd and sinister ELP. The mid-section grinds to a halt giving way to a country folk break shadowing the better moments of Curved Air. The country flare continues on “Långsamt” with magnetic shared vocals before being steamrolled by a crashing drum beat, pile driving guitar and serpentine bass.

“Smakar Söndag” is the record’s crowning jewel with its ’74-era Sabbath riff and hook-infested chorus. The texture it embraces is everything from Doobie Brother chord changes to an early Chicago Transit Authority horn section - all in the span of three minutes. “Vägskäl” (translated as “Crossroads” in English) drops in the center of the record and though starting with a subtle bass line soon finds itself in a wicked call-and-response guitar duel with Andersson and Johansson enjoying the dance. The magic of the disc is shear musicianship - that push and pull to get the best performance with skintight arrangements. The chugging “Förbjuden Frukt” is a ripe example with a bludgeoning Deep Purple focus and just enough Schenker in the solo to make it truly titanic. The disc closes with “Kommer Hem” a seven-minute gem that could easily be heard in a late night jazz bar. The suspended keyboard adds much to the track’s haunting mood, yet it isTorkelsson's passionate voice that caresses the melody and leaves a memorable impression. This is a classic opus for AB, one that should not be overlooked.

Website: Abramis Brama, Record Heaven



JULY 2009

CHICKENFOOT
Self-titled
Redline Entertainment

If anyone could pull this off, Sammy could. A throwback to old school rock ‘n’ roll, super group Chickenfoot comprising vocalist Sammy Hagar (Van Halen, Montrose), bassist Michael Anthony (Van Halen), guitar virtuoso Joe Satriani and drummer Chad Smith (Red Hot Chili Peppers, Glen Hughes) have resurrected the good-time rock record. We waited for Metallica, Guns and Roses and Aerosmith to give us a decent summer slammer but they wasted it on pretension. It took two Bay-area natives; an iconic LA bass player and a mid-western funk drummer one jam session to put the fun back into rawk. What’s the difference? They’re all on the same page, have been playing arenas for years and are totally about the music. Take the party-time, full-throttle masterpiece “Oh Yeah,” a classic Hagar romper with a sticky riff and pounding rhythm section. It’s that kind of fist-pumping anthem that hearkens back to sunburned afternoons at the Day on the Green. Boasting they’re as good as Led Zeppelin may not be entirely accurate, however they are the most exciting band to happen this year.

Since we’re listening to the UK LP version it’s only appropriate we discuss it in terms of side 1 and side 2. After a month of listening, side one has proven to be the stronger one, with an all killer, no filler mentality. “Avenida Revolution” introduces the group with a power-hungry Satriani riff that growls like a wild beast. When Hagar steps up to the mic it’s like Balance-era Van Halen, complete with Sam’s political diatribe as the song fades. “Soap on a Rope” is as close to Montrose as we’re gonna get in 2009. There’s even a splash of Sabbath with Anthony’s signature backing vocals layered over his muscled-up bass groove. “Sexy Little Thing” is where the Led Zep comparison comes in primarily due to Page-like picking into a chugging rhythm. The lyrics do get a bit sophomoric but then again it’s Sam’s party. “Running Out” gets back into the ring lyrically while the guitar just roars specifically in the solo break - memorable and tasty. The side closes with the more metallic “Get It Up” giving the drums lots of room to swallow the song in tempo changes and rolling texture.

No doubt the record wouldn’t work near as well without Satch. The man is a house ‘a fire keeping the structure tight and well formed. Even when he lets it fly he has total control in the solos and extended breaks. Side two opens with “Down the Drain” another Zeppelin-like picking sequence that slows to a grinding beat with Hagar talking over the guitar. The groove is insane as it plods along with a sexy, funk beat. When the solo kicks in – forget about it! Fodder for road stories, Hagar pulls from experience in the grinding “My Kinda Girls.” His line “Backstage without a pass / ‘This one’s for you’ tattooed on her ass” is far too convincing not to be first hand. The band even take time out for a ballad dedicated to Hagar’s young daughter called “Learning To Fall” with a vocal that is raspy, passionate and emotional. Anthony and Smith are sewn together in an amazing weave that sounds decades old. Whether it’s the rhythmic bed under Joe’s chainsaw riffing in “Turnin’ Left” or the powerhouse strut in “Future in the Past,” they are the engine in boiler room.

Website: Chickenfoot



JUNE 2009

UFO
The Visitor
SPV Records

Celebrating their 40th year as a band, the classic line up of Phil Mogg (vocals), Andy Parker (drums) and Paul Raymond (keyboards, guitars) prove they can still write stadium-sized, hard rock anthems. The Visitor is the group’s third pairing with wonder kid Vinnie Moore and the first since 1992 without bassist Pete Way (bass duties were handled by an undisclosed German session player). Some of the signature bass nuances, characteristic of Way, like his broad sense of melody, are missing - so too is the distinct European flavor that captivated listeners in the 70’s. Yet, there’s still enough left in the engine room to elevate The Visitor to a credibly high marking. Where 2006’s The Monkey Puzzle was more of a drum-based affair, the new disc returns to the glory of the guitar with chunky riffs like those found in “Hell Driver” and the brilliantly penned “Villains & Thieves.” Moore’s confidence as a player within the UFO camp has obviously reached its stride as he feeds the group a mixed bag of blues, country and blue-collar rock.

It’s immediately apparent this is not a band calling in the songs just to slap something together before the summer festivals. The writing is spread throughout with Parker contributing the Deep Purple-styled “Stranger in Town” with a gritty Mogg vocal. Raymond adds three including the laidback almost Clapton-like “On The Waterfront” and The Rolling Stones/Faces “Forsaken” with what sounds like a lap steel just before the rollicking’ chorus. Moore stuns as he dishes up a set of fine delta blues in the meaty “Saving Me” and the mid-tempo tribute to Memphis “Rock Ready”. Those still questioning the band’s decision to bring Moore on board with his past prog fusion shredding will be delighted in his skill to write within the boundaries of the UFO legacy. “Living Proof” is one of those defining moments where a captivating drum rhythm, a hint of jazz and a growling vocal come together in a mature swagger, completely out of left field, which interestingly becomes one the record’s highlights.

Mogg’s soulful yet stinging vocals have always defined the group’s sound. As a lyricist he has fine-tuned a street sass, outlaw banter that makes for epic storytelling and with The Visitor he’s at the top of his game. “Got rights down in Mexico, got no friends and no one I know,” he sings in the drug smuggling “Hell Driver”. The plot thickens in the chugging “Can’t Buy a Thrill” when he croons, “If the girls and drugs don’t get ya, the liquor surely will.” Though the song is dedicated to “Jodi,” one wonders if Way is in there somewhere. Guitarist and keyboardist Paul Raymond delivers the record’s highlight in the melodically addicting “Villains & Thieves”. A Jessie James storyline plays over a thick guitar riff with Raymond’s piano dropping in from an old Western bar. With a sticky chorus made from the same glue that gave us “Too Hot to Handle” and “Cherry Cherry”, we might have another classic on our hands. The Visitor rings of a new UFO; one that has successfully revitalized themselves with turbo-charged energy and captivating phrasing, reminiscent of a younger much hungrier band. Check out our exclusive interview with Paul Raymond by clicking here.

Website: UFO, SPV Records



MAY 2009

HEAVEN AND HELL
The Devil You Know

Rhino Records

It’s finally here! For fans of the band Heaven and Hell, the wait has been almost tortuous. Two tantalizing tours since their reunion in 2006 only baited the hook for the salivating masses. It was obvious the chemistry was back in full force during their stage show and with the three new songs added to the Black Sabbath: The Dio Years box set. For the four-piece of Ronnie James Dio, Tony Iommi, Geezer Butler and Vinny Appice, the unfolding of new material has been a natural evolution. They worked between tours and shared ideas more freely then before. That positive atmosphere obviously led to the overall vibe of The Devil You Know returning to the roots of the band’s first writing days in 1979. Lyrically, the songs put Dio back in his true character as the sinister elf watching the world implode on itself with cynical commentary. Iommi plays the minstrel with plodding dark riffs equally menacing while Butler and Appice carry the load of the dense bottom end. In it’s first week of release, the disc charted at # 8 on the Billboard charts – the highest ranking of any Black Sabbath record and equal to 1971’s Master of Reality.

Truly the evils ones are back in fighting form and up for the task of sparking hellfire. For most the record, the songs are slow and grinding more akin to late sixties Sabbath. Even the lyrics wreak of Old Testament doom and despair consumed with fear and doubt. It further hammers home that this is a new entity of its own – an exciting chapter in dark, melodic heavy rock. Leading the way is third track “Bible Black” online in March. The song takes its structure from the original “Children of the Sea” with Dio’s embracing tenor over Iommi’s acoustic guitar leading into a doom-filled dirge that rocks the very foundation of what we thought the quartet were capable of. The quality of the song sets the standard for the rest to follow and ‘Rock and Roll Angel”, the “NIB” bass-heavy “Double the Pain” and medieval organ pace of “Follow the Tears” etch out a mammoth sound. It’s not until “Eating the Cannibals” and later “Neverwhere” two-thirds of the way through that we get the “Neon Night” moments of a quicker pace.

Appice’s drum run is colossal in the pounding “Atom and Evil” a number that woefully sings of the perils and misguided use of the world’s most destructive force. The crushing riff bears the weight of all the pain and agony that has stood in the wake of nuclear warfare. Appropriately placed is “Fear”, the next in line, that pulls from the bowels of “Falling of the Edge of the World” for inspiration. Instead of Dio’s usual warning, he growls “we wear the mark, fear”. The melodic “Rock and Roll Angel” already considered by some an equal match to “Heaven and Hell” with a hair-raising solo and an added flamenco acoustic outro at the end. Butler has his say in the groove of “Turn of the Screw” while along with the gothic, haunting, cathedral organ in the flogging “Follow the Tears”, the song parades the album’s best lyrics. “Breaking Into Heaven” is the Genesis tale of the war in heaven sung from a fallen angel’s perspective and ends with the chilling “We’re just outside your door, beware!” - a definitive conclusion for a band that calls itself Heaven and Hell.

Website: Heaven and Hell, Rhino Records



APRIL 2009

IMPELLITTERI
Wicked Maiden
Metal Heaven Records

Reuniting the team of axe shredder Chris Impellitteri and vocalist extraordinaire Rob Rock, Wicked Maiden is about making a statement of legendary proportions. The disc packs on ten heavy hitters of blazing guitar gymnastics guaranteed to show the boys in Dragonforce who did melodic speed metal first. Roll back the years to 1986 when the two cut Chris’s solo EP before Impellitteri hired Graham Bonnet fresh from MSG and produced the career-defining opus Stand In Line. Rock continued with a number of projects including Driver, Joshua and Angelica as well as his own solo work. Both Chris and Rob are devout Christians and apply their musical efforts in that general direction. Rock rejoined Impellitteri in 1993 for the EP Victim of the System when the guitarist was signed to an exclusive Japanese deal. For US fans, collecting Impellitteri records became a very expensive hobby. Rock stuck around for five more albums including the critically acclaimed Crunch, but left again in 2000.

It’s nice to hear the two back in full swing especially on the leading track “Wicked Maiden” where Rock is hitting those piercing high notes and Impellitteri shreds with lightening speed. It’s no wonder the guy is heralded as the fastest guitar player in the world. However, it’s also important to note the playing remains melodic, catchy, well structured and inspiring - not just a flurry of notes in a swirling hurricane of music and muscle. “Garden of Eden” has a familiar ring to it and could easily have fit on Rock’s Eyes of Eternity. The riff is fresh and exhilarating with a hint of Dokken in the phrasing. Brandon Wild’s drummer is supersonic filling any empty hole with his double-kick beats. It does make for a more thrash-based affair but the melodies are so well worked out that it fits right in. When things do slow down like in the Rainbow-inspired “Eyes of an Angel” the band embraces a fuller sound complete with surging keyboards and a layered chorus. Only one track, “High School Revolution” misses the mark and the fault lies more in the lyrics than the song structure.

Wicked Maiden took three years to complete creating a sonic freight train as the band burns through the marching “Last of a Dying Breed” the politically-charged “Weapons of Mass Destruction” and the bass-driven “The Vision” where four-string thumper James Pulli takes the lead in a plodding, almost blues stomp. Impellitteri’s guitar squeals and whines as he coaxes out some of the best metal riffs of his career. Rock is no slouch either. His last two solo albums proved his voice is still a force to be reckoned with. His soaring chops are what legends are made of. Check out the upper scale on “Holyman” or the harmonies in “Wonderful Life” – astonishing. Production is big and thick, which adds a powerful kick to the songs - but on “The Battle Rages On” it really comes together. A slower tempo gives Impellitteri a chance to dart and dance with his solos - almost taunting in places. It’s hard to beat Crunch but Wicked Maiden comes mighty close.

 Website: Impellitteri, Rob Rock



MARCH 2009

BALANCE
Equilibrium
Frontiers Records

Balance was one of those stellar ‘80s melodic rock bands that could have easily ruled the airways along with Journey, Foreigner and Survivor. They had the aggressive guitar, thunderous rhythm section and soaring choruses that were like candy to the ear. They were even dubbed the East Coast Toto made up of top session musicians Peppy Castro (The Blues Magoos, Wiggy Bits, Barnaby Bye), classically trained keyboardist Doug “the Gling” Katsaros and guitarist Bob Kulick (KISS, Paul Stanley, Meat Loaf). Their 1981 self-titled debut contained their biggest hit, "Breaking Away" and the hard rocker, “It's So Strange.” It did steady business but never reached mass acceptance. A second album In for the Count (1982) followed with an expanded lineup that included bassist Dennis Feldman (Speedway Blvd.) and drummer Chuck Burgi (Brand X, Rainbow, Red Dawn). With heavier guitars and a stronger sense of direction, the record erupted as a stadium rock masterpiece. It should have catapulted the band into superstar status along with Aldo Nova, Billy Squire and Def Leppard, but lack of label support had the band frustrated and eventually splitting.

After years of begging, Frontiers president Serafino Perugino was able to convince the original core of Castro, Kulick and Katsaros into writing and producing another slab of melodic rock for a modern audience - almost 30-years later. Equilibrium is the result of that effort showcasing a band still relevant and capable of writing gorgeous harmonies, sonic riffs and layered keyboard passages. Castro’s voice has matured and casts a raspy shadow over intro track “Twist of fate,” the Stallone-like “Winner Takes All” and the emotionally biographical “Old Friends”. Yet, if it’s hard rock hooks with passionate solos and throbbing bass lines you’re looking for, the disc certainly stands up to the band’s legendary past. Kulick puts his love for big guitars to use on “Crazy Little Suzie” and the strutting, “Who You Gonna Love” which has a crunching melody over a swaggering backbeat. “Liar” is the record’s showpiece with solid lyrics, a chanting chorus and cocksure attitude. It’s the one track that comes closest to capturing the spirit of Balance as if it was written back in the day.

If this were a vinyl LP, side two would be the strongest with addictive compositions that leap out of the speakers. The synthesized “Walk Away” is meticulously crafted with a stomping drumbeat and arena-sized guitars that push the lyric, “the devils gonna come and getcha” into overdrive. With all the challenges that faced the trio in assembling this record (apparently taking four years to record), it’s a wonder the cohesion is so prevalent and, for lack of a better word, balanced. Producers Kulick and drummer Brett Chassen tenaciously set about capturing a hybrid sound that echoes the past while maintaining punch and volume. That attention to detail is heard in the lyrically powerful, “Breathe” and the dance soundtrack “Forever.” Closing the disc is “Rainbow’s End” that actually sounds like Joe Lynn Turner-era Rainbow meets Eye of the Tiger. A snappy, almost urgent pulse drives the song with Castro delivering one of his best vocal performances. Forgiving the wait, Equilibrium stands proud as another chapter in the band’s growing legacy. Check out our exclusive interview with Balance guitarist and producer Bob Kulick by clicking here.

Website: Frontiers Records



FEBRUARY 2009

THE LAST VEGAS
Self-titled
Independent Release

What a marvelous trip this band’s been on over the past year. Beating out 8,000 bands for the coveted opening slot for the 2009 Mötley Crüe tour, this obscure Chicago quintet are now living their dream. We’ve watched the four-piece (now five-piece) tour relentlessly across the country preaching the devil’s music. Over the past three independently released records they’ve built upon their strengths as a rough and ready twin-guitar killing machine. Winning the praise of several high profile European bands including the Hellacopters and Backyard Babies helped get them massive exposure across the pond and landed them several tours with the foreign nationals. Brothers Nate (drums) and Adam Arling (guitar) started the band in 2002 adding guitarist Johnny Wator (guitar) and bassist/vocalist Tanner. For years Tanner’s gruff voice was a signature for the band, but in 2007 Michigan native Chad Cherry showed up with a dynamic set of pipes and after adding bassist Danny Smash to the mix, the line up set off to conquer the sleaze, glam, punk metal market.

Lick ‘Em And Leave ‘Em (2005), Seal The Deal (2006) and High Class Trash (2007) each had their memorable moments but the latter landed the boys on the 10-million seller Guitar Hero II with their track “Raw Dog.” The band’s current disc The Last Vegas pulls from the their AC/DC, Ted Nugent, Stooges influences, then spices it up with more Mötley Crüe. What perfect timing as is was songs like “High Class Trash,” the Stones-ish “Loose Lips” and the thunderous “Room At The Top” that put them head and shoulders above the final six bands that played the Whiskey a Go-Go in LA before all four member of Mötley Crüe. “We were all real nervous,” said Chad Cherry in our recent phone call. “But we knew we had good songs and our live show is what we’re known for.” The new disc captures that notorious live aspect of the band with “Another Lover” destroying the speakers. Chugging guitars grind out whiskey-fueled riffs with a bass that rattles the pictures right off the wall.

It can easily be said Cherry’s dynamic vocal phrasing was the missing link to the band’s newfound stardom. His delivery packs a punch with a snarl and wad of spit. “Storm on the rise, coming on strong / has the beat of Babylon / Louder and louder you can hear it coming / hearts beating louder like a big kick drum” is his war cry in their new single “Love Me (When I’m Bad),” a song that owes as much to Angus Young as Iggy Pop. “Good Deals For Bad Times” and “So Young, So Pretty, So What” have a seventies vibe with modern muscle. The guitar’s work is in fierce tandem riffing off one infectious hook after another. Bass and drum gallop along with full purpose of groove capturing songs like “Velvet Cream” and “Outta My Mind” as they steamroll over your cerebral cortex. A Southern swagger finds its way into the only ballad amongst the twelve rockers. Titled “Just One Look,” it has that straight ’80’s shell paying homage to Cinderella and Tesla. If there’s one record you get this month, make sure this is it. Check out our exclusive interview with lead singer Chad Cherry by clicking here.

Website: The Last Vegas



JANUARY 2009

WINO
Punctuated Equilibrium
Southern Lord

For what seems like an eternity, the faithful have been clamoring for a solo album from ex-Obsessed, Spirit Caravan, Hidden Hand guitarist Scott “Wino” Weinrich, Judging from the overwhelming praise heaped upon Punctuated Equilibrium, the man who is credited with bearing the torch of doom metal has hit the mark. Baltimore native Wino has been in bands since his high school years in the mid-to late seventies. Experience and the lessons learned are critical to the way this disc plays out. Having stamped his unique voice and signature riffing to dozens of records including tracks with Lemmy, Dave Grohl and Clutch, the singer/guitarist takes the listener on a voyage similar to the one that has mapped his life. There is the Sabbath-influenced “Release Me,” the bluesy progginess of “Smilin Road and the trippy Hendrix-like jam in “Wild Blue Yonder”. All are admirable and creatively constructed, some more easily digested than others, but all equally absorbing.

Wino uses Clutch drummer Jean-Paul (JP) Gaster and Rezin bassist Jon Blank to lay down some thick and sometimes mathematical grooves. As solo records go, the man gives us lots to listen to as he empties his head of a myriad of ideas lurking about. There are the heavy-handed rumblers stacked at the end of the disc like the bone-crushing “Silver Lining, the politically charged “Gods, Frauds, Neo-Cons and Demagogue” and the sledgehammer pounding instrumental “The Women In The Orange Pants”. The title track is equally sinister, but with a thrash rhythm complete with a quick-fire baseline and aggressive drumming. The guitar jumps from clean solo to dirty riffing with Wino’s higher octave voice balancing on top and sometime falling back in the mix. It’s interesting to note that much of the record is devoid of vocals allowing the instrumentation of fill and in some cases bulge at the seams.

One never feels Wino is locking himself into any one particular direction, but is studying the songs architecture for himself. It’s a liberating tact for the musician and a musical carnival for the listener. Personal favorites are the progressive nature in “Eyes Of The Flesh” and “Secret Realm Devotion.” The lyrics from the latter are perfectly shaped and reminiscent of a reefer-filled, black light experience. “The patterns on the wall / send messages to me…my heart’s like a bird in a cage / darkness obscures the display/emotion causes reason to bend.” Deepening the mystique is the exotic two-minute refrain “Water Crane”. The dry production and tracking order give the record a serious 70’s vibe akin to BÖC’s Tyranny and Mutation. No modern effects, no pro tools just pure emotion and mind-numbing beauty cranked to eleven. Check out our feature interview with Wino by clicking here.

Website: Southern Lord


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