ARTHUR NEILSON
Moan and Cry
Dixie Frog Records

Hailing from the streets of New York City, Arthur Neilson stands as a technically amazing, dynamic blues player. His Popa Chubby produced “Moan and Cry” embraces the concrete jungle with personal warmth that, when delivered through Neilson’s flying V, rings with emotion and clarity. From the refreshing, bright launch of “Tried To Make You Stay” to the slow grinding Deep Purple-like riff of “Sleeping In My Clothes”, Neilson captures the listener and hold steady through the bar room boogie of “At The Bottom Of A Glass” and the beautifully crafted, Latin-tinged instrumental “Come Home Baby”

Arthur Neilson taught himself to play guitar on an electric Teisco Del Rey at age fifteen. It was after he bought a Harmony acoustic that he honed his folk repertoire and fingerpicking skills. “I Just Want To See Your Flame” showcases the guitarist ability to squeeze different levels of feeling sometimes one note at a time, sometimes in a cluster. “Clarksdale Blues” takes the spirit of “Crossroads,” rocks it up a bit and puts the Neilson stamp across it with bold confidence. In his younger years, Arthur spent many a late night playing with local rock ‘n roll bands. The fire-in-the-belly of reworking meaty power chords shows up in the swagger of “I’m Just Your Fool” where the vocal augmentation and distorted studio wizardry heard in the title song, “Moan and Cry” seasons the experience.

In 1979, Arthur caught the attention of the Blue Angel band fronted by Cyndi Lauper. His rootsy, aggressive guitar playing helped them land a recording deal with Polydor. The colorful way Neilson paints with the guitar can be heard throughout “Please Stay” and his ability to shift gears, had Arthur gigging in seven bands including Oxford Blues, Kid Java, Felix and The Havanas and The Guitar Guys from Hell. That versatility rings clear in the tender “When It’s Over,” the up tempo swing of “Riding The Blue Highway” and the traditional “You Don’t Have To Go.” Neilson’s 2001 release, “A Piece Of Wood, Some Strings and a Pick,” is just as intoxicating and well worth tracking down. For Arthur’s rich history visit his website.

Website:
www.arthurneilson.com.

ZEBRA
IV
Mayhem Records

It’s been nearly 17 years since Zebra last recorded and delivered a record under their striped monarch. Resting firmly on the shoulders, voice and guitar calisthenics of Randy Jackson the record breaths with a revitalized gusto lacking in much of ‘80s metal comebacks. Often compared to Rush, in tone and texture, the Long Island trio waste no time setting the pace of the record with the hard driving “Arabian Nights” followed in quick session by the dense riff of “Light Of My Love” which comes close to the classic echoes of their 1983 debut and its Led Zeppelin-esque muscle. This song is also quickly becoming the office favorite.

“Who Am I” remembers the balladry of Zebra radio-friendly side complete with lush harmonies and a hook-friendly chorus. The progressive bend that links Zebra to their ‘60s and ‘70s forefathers is also retained in “Angels Calling,” the Beatles influenced “So I Dance” and even the Jazz-like wondering of “Waiting To Die.” However, it is the Hard Rock nature of “K.K. Is Hiding”, “Free” and the layered “My Life Has Changed” that merit this record critical acclaim. Unashamed of political, personal and mythical imagery Zebra attack each of the CD’s eleven tracks with vibrancy and zeal creating a very convincing return to their former self.

Website:
Official Zebra site

ZZ TOP
Mescalero
RCA Records

A brilliant return to their blues roots, the Texas trio shelve their layered ‘80s presentations for a stripping down affaire. “Mescalero” returns to what made these guys such a hot draw in 1970 when they debuted with “First Album”. From the minute the laser hits the title track, it’s clearly obvious these boys mean business. Retooled and re-energized, the same three banditos Billy F Gibbons (guitars/vocals), Dusty Hill (bass) and Frank Beard (drums) dig up some old bones, dust ‘em off and rattle ‘em harder than ever.

Tuning their guitars down to a thick Rio Grand sludge they resurrect dense wooly fuzz that feeds back from the speaker with a dangerous rumble. Perfectionist in writing clever tales of long-legged women, outlaw ramblings and bar room yarns, “Mescalero” does so with chunky riffs, Mariachi steel and a mix of punk country and crypto-zydeco. “Two Ways To Play”, “Piece” and the gruff “Alley-Gator” force their way through with menacing dark power-chords where “Me So Stupid” and “Punk Ass Boyfriend” capitalize on the bands sense of humor.

Even the ballad “Goin So Good” has Gibbons vocals scrapping the bottom of the barrel with his best Howlin’ Wolf while a lap steel caress the country side of the boys Tex-Mex. 16 tracks is a heavy load to commit to a single piece of plastic, especially one with no filler. “What Would You Do “ and the Spanish “Que Lastime” drag their feet but eventually find there way especially when the harmonica pastes a tasty lick over the top. The groove of “Dusted” and “Tramp” never forget Southern roots even when they bring elements of country, distorted desert rock and the occasional crunch of metal.

Supporting the disc with their Beer Drinkers and Hell Raisers tour, ZZ Top prove all the more lethal with a summer pairing including Ted Nugent in the US and The Rolling Stones in Europe. The tour is already boasting “Buck Nekkid” and “Piece” as hits off the new disc. Spanning 34 years of American rock and roll and 13 records, the Texas trio break down the essence of their beginnings, woodshedding, experimenting and recording where they are in 2003. Listen for the hidden track “As Time Goes By” delivered via Louie Armstrong style.

Website:
zztop.com

WALTER TROUT BAND
Relentless
Ruf Records

From the figures of New Jersey native, Walter Trout and his band of radicals comes 14 fire-breathing blues gems packed with soul and delivered fully amplified. Eleven records in to the game including playing sideman to John Lee Hooker and Big Mama Thorton as well as stints with John Mayall and Canned Heat, Trout maintains his ability to craft precision melodic blues with a bite.

Compared by some to British blues-rock maestro Gary Moore, Trout moves easily from the keyboard-tinged “Jericho Road” to the heavy-riff “I’m Tired” and “Work No More.” His lyrics link the passion and anguish of life (Cry If You Want To, Collingswood) to the volt of time on the road (The Life I Chose) with a lethal dose of shotgun swagger and 4am whiskey. Standout tracks like “Talk To Ya” which braces a full-on blues shuffle, with piercing shards of electric notes, and the Hendrix-inspired “Chatroom Girl” infuse Trout’s dedication to the blues by embracing his influences and making them his own.

Recorded live in the Netherlands (Amsterdam) at a club called Paradiso, the disc benefits from a spontaneous, organic texture that not only elevates the playing but stretches out several of the solos and band jams without compromising the integrity of the songs. “My Heart Is True” and “Helpin’ Hand” are just two examples of how great this band is live realizing they recorded the whole disc in one day with little pre-production. Says Marie Trout about her husband in the liner notes, “The boy grew up, but the guitar still expresses his deepest emotions.”

Website:
waltertroutband.com

CARLOS GUITARLOS
Straight From The Heart
Nomad Records

Critical hailed as one of this years best blues records “Straight From The Heart” tells the story of a guitar god, hailed as one of LA greatest to a street survivor playing for food. In the early ‘80s Top Jimmy and the Rhythm Pigs were the meanest punk band to hit the Hollywood scene. They were known around town as a superb house band with the attitude of a rattlesnake. Record labels were scared of them but everyone wanted to jam with them form Van Halen’s David Lee Roth to Dave and Phil Alvin of The Blasters, to Exene Cervenka of X and Ray Manzarek of The Doors. Yet, through it all it was the sound of their guitar player, a one Carlos Guitarlos that raised the hair on the back of your head.

That was years ago. In the time that followed, while the folks that jammed with Top Jimmy went on to fame and fortune, Guitarlos moved from LA to San Francisco clinging to a fractured relationship with his ex-wife and daughter. His ability to play several parts on the guitar at once made him an ideal street musician helping him gather just enough money for food and lodging. Diabetes crept into his life and remained undetected untill he drifted into a diabetic coma in 1990 which lasted three days, however his reputation precluded sympathy or trust from others. Then in 1994 Guitarlos was named “Street Musician Of The Year” by The San Francisco Bay Guardian.

Last year, congestive heart failure threatened to end Guitarlos’ life. Laying on a hospital bed, he decided to transform his lifestyle and with the help of his nephew started to record again. Crafting over 3,500 songs along his minstrel journeys, Guitarlos chose 17 to resonate from “Straight From The Heart”. The disc is pure Americana, a mixture of country, blues, jazz, Cajun, Motown and Rock, played with great effect, through the soul of the man. “Every element of every song I ever wrote is in my head” Guitarlos told Cosmik. From the horn arrangements on “Ain’t That Lovin’ You” to the juke-joint blues of “Women & Whiskey” the musician claims to know “every single part”. Guitarlos’ style is an all encompassing display of a masters understanding of root blues in “Damn’ Atchafalaya”, rockabilly in “Poppin’ & Bumpin’” (featuring Dave Alvin) and the broad horn arrangements of “You Don’t Know What Love Is.” Says Guitarlos, “If Muddy Waters was alive today, he would be pushing the edge just like I am.”

Website:
carlosguitarlos.com

KMFDM
WW III
Sanctuary Records

“After we came off the road from last years ‘Attak’ tour we wanted to regroup and take stock in how we wanted to approach a new recording,” says Sascha Konietzko lead singer, keyboardist and creator of industrial giant KMFDM. “We wanted something that reflected every member of the band and what they have to say – but we also wanted to write a new chapter in the KMFDM book.” The band, which presently consists of seven members has always played layered, sinister, machine metal over galvanized melodies and hypnotic beats. With WWIII they come out with fangs dripping and ready to pounce.

From the hillbilly country intro of the opening track to the pulsating beat behind “Revenge” we see a band entering the rock arena in fine shape, well sculpted and fully armed. “We’ve always been a political band. We write songs about the world and lately there’s been a lot to write about” says Konietzko, who claims the band’s largest fan base is in the States. “I grew up with unrest in Germany. What’s happening in America with the fear of terrorists and war is what I’m familiar with. America is only now starting to feel what the rest of the world has for years.” Joining industrial metal pioneers Nine Inch Nails and Ministry, KMFDM preach from their iron-clad pulpit social and cultural decay with savage guitars and chest-beating intensity.

The increased use of ex-Drill vocalist Lucia Cifarelli adds a high pop finish to the music hitting a familiar almost tortured Pat Benatar chord in “From Here On Out”, “Last Things” and “Stars & Stripes”. The controversial “Jihad,” the lustful grind of “Pity For The Pious” and the U2-esque “Revenge” fuel the bands ongoing relationship with metal and machines. Fans will be happy to see post-Dada artist Aidan Hughues (aka Brute) continuing to creative stunning cover art for the group. To borrow from the press release, “This is rock with a conscience”

Website:
kmfdm.net

NEBULA
Atomic Ritual
Liquor and Poker Records

Putting the balls back in Power Trio, ex-Fu Manchu stalwarts Eddie Glass (guitar, bass) and Ruben Romano (vocals) take the ROCK from last years “Charged”, mix in some psychedelic space jams and offer up one of this year surprise attacks on the tympanic membrane. Bellowing ghostly haunts from a cathedral organ, the disc begins its 49-minute journey through pure adrenaline, rushing fusion and thundering fuzz rock. “Working with Chris (Goss – legendary Kyuss/Queens of the Stoneage producer and member of Masters Of Reality) was one of the best experience we’ve had making records,” says Glass calling in from the road. “He helped us out a lot adding parts of songs, playing on some and just being there to guide us.”

“Atomic Ritual’s” maturity is heard in the crunch of “So It Goes” (especially in its brutal final moments), the hook in “Carpe Diem” and the ‘70s Deep Purple-esque “The Way To Venus”. Carved from the same mountain as their pioneering influences, Nebula continue to expand past their Sabbath, MC5, Hawkwind days to land squarely on a solid formula that not only works well on record but is quite invigorating live. “We started touring weeks before the record came out,” continues Glass. “A lot of the songs have grown and changed since we started playing them live. Especially the bass parts - Dennis (Wilson) just joined before this tour. We wanted songs that worked well live as well as on the CD.”

Glass goes on the say, “These songs have a warmth to them. We’ve created them over a long time and wanted the record as a whole to reflect where we are as musicians.” Part of that is in the cover art, one of the best this year, depicting the placement of the inner universe (down to the atomic level), within the solar system – a theme which is continued through the riff-heavy “The Beast”, the Middle Eastern flavored “Out Of Your Head” and acoustic (almost Oasis-like) “Paradise Engineer”. By the time the lazar gets to “Strange Human” the band has come full circle and drifts into a Pink Floyd-like trance - which continues with a piano-surging “Fin”. Exceptional!

Website:
nebulamusic.com

SPARZANZA
Into The Sewers
Water Dragon Records

All hail the return of Swedish five-piece Sparzanza! Serving up a beefy slab of retro- Steppenwolf riding on an Iron Maiden bass line, the band deliver a knockout punch of melody and thunder rolled into one. Backed by France’s Water Dragon Records “Into The Sewers” marks the bands second full-length release following 2001’s “Angels of Vengeance” and their debut split with Superdice (2000). The record wastes no time building a series of heavy hooks breaking in 10 tight hitters and harvesting the full power of two guitars, bass and drums. Vocalist Fredrik Weileby does his best Jim Morrison and the added Sabbath sludge makes for a warhorse killing machine.

Catchy as hell, “Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things” kicks off with a nice garage/Stooges intro before a wall of fuzz levels the neighbor’s house. The song is ripe with chugging guitars and accents in all the right places. Both the title track and “Pay The Price,” with its first line lyrics “Hand me a jacket and I’ll make it look cool/make me a star so that I can fall,” leap out as radio favorites - menacing yet tasty. Elements of head on stoner days in “Son of God”, “Euthanasia” and the thrilling “Sparzatan” give the disc plenty of lower end but the real maturity is in the steroid-fused “Kings On Kerosene” and the Def Leppard-like “Little Red Riding Hood”.

With the lineup of brothers David (guitar) and Calle Johannesson (guitars), Johan Carlsson (bass), Anders Aberg (drums) and the afore mentioned Weileby (vocals), the quintet have built a mesmerizing, dense, hard rock sound elevated by a clean production. “Anyway” sets the bar as the most repeats - wide open frenzied riff, frantic drums, Cult-ish chorus, thick bass - all bursting with energy. Magnificent!

Website:
sparzanza.com

COAL CHAMBER
Giving The Devil His Due
Roadrunner Records

“All of the pain and all of the games/I hope you all feel the same/I gave you the good you gave me the bad/I give you the hurt today/Your all headstones, headstones now/I’m the one left/The walking dead.” For fans of LA’s alt-metal scene, this is a must have. Within its 20 tracks are every rare, alternative remix and demo the band has recorded. There’s even a live version of “Big Truck”. “Headstones and the Walking Dead” from which the above lyrics were lifted, define the superior quality of the disc. Unearthed and earmarked as the records kick off track the song went through a vocal re-dub to shine as a crowning moment.

Critics of Coal Chamber have never been too kind, especially in the younger days of the band when their brand of metal fell out with the diehard. But Roadrunner believed in the five-piece and put them on the Ozzfest ticket (1997) a move that nurtured their growing popularity. What makes this record unique is the way the songs have been sequenced and reworked (in some cases) to breath new life into unpolished gems. The original production of “Pig” and “Not Living” present the songs at their spontaneous best where as “El Cu Cuy” and “Blisters” benefit from a good wash and spitshine. The pulsating outtake “Wishes” holds it’s own as does “Apparition” which was originals conceived as an interlude but had since been fleshed out into a stirring, haunting melody.

Tracks 15-20 are all demos. These six songs are not here to compete with Coal Chamber’s legacy – they are simply an honest look at the development of a band reaching out, experimenting, seeking to find their voice. Oddly, the drums have a similar sound to the new Metallica – very brassy, yet the guitars launch into full aggression surgically sewing up each song airtight. The use of layered texture from bongos to white noise guitar haze work with the hypnotic rap-vocal - a production technique heard in everything from Rob Zombie to Linkin Park.

Website:
Roadrunner Records

ASSROCKERS
All Inputs
Independent

DC-based quintet Assrockers muster up a healthy dose of Vanilla Fudge retro-rock with wailing guitar, sturdy bass and heart-bounding drums. Vocalist Bison Roughbottom is an acquired taste but eventually finds a place just under your skin. Picking up their call-to-arms from the dark, humid clubs entrenched in the Nation’s capitol, the band combine elements of ‘70s guitar flash and arena-rock presentation. Their shows have the reputation as being a total sweatfest complete with crowd favorites “MILF”, “We Will Rock Your Ass (‘Til U Bleed)” and “I May Be A Hussy (But I’m No Whore)”.

“All Inputs” perpetuates the bands fist-pumping, sex-charged onslaught with 6 barnstorming essentials. “Loosen Up” establishes the bands guitar focus with a sledgehammer riff and a set of tasty solo furies. About three minutes in the song slows for a quick breather before nailing you between the eyes as the band jumps back in. “Satan Built My Hotrod” takes note of metal’s early years with it’s best Grim Reaper twin guitar. Both “Nymphomaniac” and “24 Hours” cater to the bands sex prowess, saucy lyrics riding an avalanche of chugging rhythms.

“Et Tu Brute” is the records most progressive song with attention to pace and structure. Taking a well-worn story and painting in hypnotic melody lines, the song flourishes under the magic of guitarist Riff Rokkwell and Killer-T Roxx. The closing track “Thor” follows a similar pattern sticking more to the Iron Maiden school of writing. A mythological character - perfect for a heavy metal song, add a ton of feedback with a wah wah wash and you’ve got yourself a genuine opus.

Website:
assrockers.com

ROB ROCK
Eyes of Eternity
Massacre Records

“Eyes of Eternity” is Rock’s second solo CD and follows closely to last years “Rage Of Creation” An established veteran in the world of power metal, Rock’s cv is quite impressive. His years with Impellitteri, Alex Rudi Pell, Joshua, Petra and Warrior among others has fine-tuned his voice into a stellar instrument which he uses to perfection on the records nine tracks. Produced by Roy Z (Halford, Dickinson) the record features Rock’s support band “Rage of Creation” including Stephen Elder (bass) Tracy Shell (drums). Rick Renstrom and Bob Rossi (guitars). Together they create a defining set of molten classics set a blaze with some of the best shredding guitar heard.

Rock’s unique ability to match vocal styles to fit the emotion of each song is uncanny. In “Eyes of Eternity” he uses a melodic Gamma Ray approach, “Fields of Fire” has him putting on his best Dio hat, where as in “Rock The Earth” (which features Cage’s Sean Peck) he comes out as a power metal giant. However, it is the overwhelming density of the riffs that set this record apart. “Rage of Creation”, “Stranglehold” and the acoustic “The Everlasting” (which has an artful Scorpion base) emphasis a heavy handed chord progression. The 12-minute opus “The Hour of Dawn” is destined to put you on ear starting off with a caressing melody before spinning into a showdown of guest guitarists including Howie Simon (Tamplin), Tom Naumann (Sinner) and Gus G. (Dream Evil, Firewind).

Artist of the moment Marc Sasso creates a mystical cover depicting marble statues on a stormy Northwestern coastline. The entire mood swells into an epic visual when held next to “Conqueror’s Hymn”. With huge hooks, melodic phrasing and accomplished musicianship Rock has come damn close to a masterpiece.

Website:
robrock.com

RICKSHAW
Sonic Overload
Devil Doll Record

After several singles, splits and one other full-length platter (Tender Songs of Love - 2000) Sweden’s outlaw rough riders return with yet another can of whupass calling it “Sonic Overload”. Having undergone a number of band changes in the past 18 months, the four-piece have unified with drummer Macke, bassist Carlos Santanos, singer/guitar Jocke and lead guitar Bobby Dawn. Repeated tours of Scandinavian and Europe have swelled the bands fan base selling 20,000 + of their debut CD.

“Sonic Overload” is easily the band’s most cohesive effort to date. Santanos comes from a classic rock background and already had a reputation from playing in local Gothenburg metal band Abandon. His ability to write and play sonically fierce riffs with tasty melody is all over the new release but especially on “Get You Down”. The addition of Markus “Mackahbuzz” Nordberg also beefs up the records sound. Formerly a pioneer in the Swedish death metal scene, Markus was one of the forces behind the infamous “Gothenburg Sound” playing in both Cemetary and Ceremonial Oath. The latter consisted of the future members of Hammerfall and In Flames. His sledgehammer drumming gives the disc a serious kick in the ass.

Much like the Hellacopters, Rickshaw are all about testosterone, loud guitars and high-octane delivery. “Lick My Flames”, “Last Man Standing” and “White Light” move at the speed of sound with supersonic guitars, rapid-fire bass and rumbling kick drum. There are moments Jocke’s vocals are reminiscent of Udo from Accept complete with growl and howl. MTV2’s Extreme Rock Show has already got a hold of “I’m Ready” putting it into heavy rotation and giving the band a penetrating visual. The bass dominated “Get You Down” lifts stoner elements in the guitar sound and vocal echo hailing it as one of the heavier tracks among the 12. Rickshaw mix it up with the unique tones of “Kitten Natiuidad” and “Perfect Crime” but keep it simple and balls out. Even their cover of “Islands In The Stream” has sharp teeth.

Website:
Devil Doll Records or Rickshaw