DEVIL DRIVER
Self Titled
Roadrunner Records

Deriving their name from the bells witches used to drive away evil when casting spells, Devil Driver is the brainchild of Coal Chamber vocalist Dez Fafara. With the demise of CC Fafara has turned to a darker, blacker more classic metal vehicle to exercise his demons. The self-titled debut wastes no time getting to the core of Fafara’s emotional well spring. “Nothing’s Wrong?” rages in like a pissed off Rhino herd with the frantic pounding of Johnny B’s drums reaching full velocity at breakneck speed. Newly recruited guitarist, Evan and Jeff, mold Fafara’s vision - ripping open the song structure and loading it up with some serious riffing. Check out the throb in “Die”, the Megadeth-inspired “I Could Care Less” and the punishing rhythmic dance of “Devil’s Son”

Assembling the record with Coal Chamber producer Ross Hogarth the band allow bits and pieces of current trends to pepper their artistic plate. There is the chain-saw jerk in “I Dream I Died” with its palatable rap and melodic contortion. The Sabbath-like chug of “Cry For Me Sky”, a song Fafara admits he wrote for his own funeral. “Out of all the songs I’ve written- this would be my eulogy song” quotes the singer in the bands press release. Yet there is a considerable amount of freshness in the thundering battery of “The Mountain” and the devastating grind of “Meet The Wretched”

I wouldn’t go as far as saying the riffs here are defining but I do like the way the songs are built on an intensely furious spine. Three rise to the top in “Swinging The Dead”, “What Does It Take” and “Revelation Machine” - harmonizing razor-sharp guitar with migraine density. Unlike Coal Chamber this band is not interested in radio play or musical fades. It’s all about hard-hitting gruff metal dedicated to the brutal. The true test for the band will be their attack from the stage. They are currently on tour with Superjoint Ritual – a fitting pair if ever there was one.

Website:
www.devildriver.com or Roadrunner Records

THE SECOND WAVE
25 Years of NWOBHM
Communique Records

Finally after the dust has settled from the Saxon controversy (and lawsuit) original founders Graham Oliver and Steve Dawson are back at it with their rightful name emblazed across their monarch. A tour has recently been assembled in celebration with Tygers of Pan Tang and, believe it or not, Girlschool. Now admittedly it’s been awhile since I’ve listened to any of these bands, yet in high school they were among my faves. So it was with great anticipation that I put on this recent compilation boasting five all new recordings from each of these metal icons.

Smiles all around when the lazar struck “World Gone Crazy”. O/D Saxon are as heavy as ever with a lethal paring of “munchy” guitars and hammering bass. Fans of good ol’ headbangin’ could easily imagine the band rocking in unison as they storm the stage with “Nursery Crimes” ,“Reeder Aus Stahl” and a searing version of “Ghost” where the six-string axe takes complete control of the song. The Tygers prove just as energetic with revised versions of “Love Potion No. 9”, “Hellhound” and the mind-blowing “Firepower” – all a testament that these bands are playing better, harder and with true conviction.

Most surprising is the greatness that is Girlschool, a band which was almost completely obliterated from my vocabulary. Here, they come roaring back with a full-on guitar barrage and vocal prowess that almost surpasses the other two bands before mentioned. Their tight, clean, well-rehearsed harmonies showcase a female foursome in diva form after their own right. Knockout versions of “Passion”, “Mad Mad Sister” and the monster “Believe” prove that though the years have been quickly clicking by, these girls have not only maintained their chops but come ready for the fight – in exceptional shape. This disc is so much more that I hoped for and will remain in the disc changer for months to come.

Website:
Oliver Dawson Saxon, Tygers of Pan Tang, Girlschool

CHIGGER RED
The Hard Road
RoadTooth Records

Three records into their recording career, the LA-based trio Chigger Red have stuck on a formula that guarantees their share of free beer on the biker circuit for a very long time. A mixture of blues hard rock, southern boogie and ripped off ZZ Top riffs make up the primary “bag full of tricks” of what brothers Mike (vocal, guitars) and Chris (bass) Stansberry with drummer Leo Cuevas bring to the bar. The band’s debut (Self-titled 2000) hit with a foot-stomping mp3 track “Bitch” which got the boys noticed and, with 18 months of playing every dive up and down Sunset strip, landed them some substantial press.

What we get with The Hard Road is the musical biography of how they weathered the journey to success. “Hangover Hotel” is the perfect opener. A ragged, guitar-heavy romp with a Molly Hatchet hook. Mike’s Billy Gibbons-like vocals lend the song plenty of edge as he tells the tale of growing up a Chigger man. “High Society”, “Runnin’ On Fumes” and “Death By Alcohol” are steeped in swagger in a Great White sort of way. A steady beat dancing around a fire-breathing solo gets your attention right away but it’s the dirty blues bursts in “Shoot The Moon” and “White Line Blues” that give this disc a real boost.

The boys slow down for a breather on “‘Till I Die”, an mid-tempo acoustic slice of reflection that kicks in once Cuevas locks on a steady back beat. The song builds to a nice little scorcher in four and a half minutes flat. The band take no chance with their lyrics keeping it simple and somewhat contrived but Mike’s tasty solos make up for any stolen Hanoi Rocks material. The disc closes with the killer “That’s A Crazy Bitch” a start-stop piledriver framed around an open E-chord, soaked in whiskey and dressed in tight leather. What else do you need?

Website:
www.chiggerred.com

THE GITS
Enter: The Conquering Chicken
Broken Rekids

A profoundly influential band, the Gits never realized their full potential. Known for writing aggressively gritty post punk and led by the wonderfully dark Mia Zapata (vocals/lyrics) the four piece delivered two records that still stand the test of time. Frenching The Bully was released in 1992 and hosted an amazing array of feedback-fused, feminist-tinged punk rage. Duking it out between the rising popularity of Hole and Pearl Jam Zapata’s combination of toughness and vulnerability projected her band the to the forefront of the Seattle musical windstorm.

Before the Gits' second album, Enter: The Conquering Chicken (1994), could be completed, Zapata was brutally raped and murdered, lending an atmosphere of solemnity to the recording. In conjunction with original label CZ Records, Broken Rekids has reissue an expanded version of the record to include several unreleased tracks and a live set (seven songs) from Portland (OR). The original sting is just as sharp from the bass-heaviness of “Bob (Cousin O.)”, the humor of “Italian Song” to the country-fied Sam Cooke cover “Change Is Gonna Come”.

Surprisingly fresh is Jack Endino’s (Nirvana, Mudhoney) remix, which brings out the subtleties overlooked the first time around. Joe Spleens guitar work is unbelievable, sparing with Zapata in shear volume. The punk density of “Guilt Within Your Head”, “Seaweed”, and “Sign of the Crab” are riveting. Juxtaposed to the delicate beauty of “Precious Blood” and new bass-funk track ”Daily Bread” reveals just how versatile this band was. The two other unearthed gems include “I’m Lou” and “New Fast One” - loud grinders of the highest order, fitting seamlessly into the original set. Zapata’s vision and emotion are clearly defined here, and in hindsight, sadly missed since her tragic passing.

The Gits were Mia Zapata (vocals), Joe Spleen (guitar), Steve Moriarty (drums) and Matt Dresdner (bass). After Zapata’s death Joan Jett stepped in for a benefit concert to raise money for the continued investigation into the killing. The band, with Jett, recorded one record, “Evil Stig” hosting the song "Whirlwhind" which has Jett singing a duet with Zapata’s pre-recorded voice. Dresdner went on to work with the post-grunge band The Presidents of the United States of America.

Website:
www.brokenrekids.com

TSOL
Divided We Stand
Nitro Records

Aptly titled 13th record from this heralded LA punk-hardcore outfit regurgitates a revered simple solution to the world’s musical (and political) quandaries. To poppy for punk, to punk for pop the foursome of Jack Loyd Grisham (vocals), Ron Emory (guitars), Mike Roche (bass), and an endless revolving door or drummers craft radio-friendly tunes that cross over to metal, goth and punk. Lumped in with the Cult, and the Mission but still winning the approval of Tears For fears and Depeche Mode fans was THE ticket for the band in the mid-‘80s. That combination made them an LA club favorite but never saw them achieve universal fame. This time maybe different with Jack Grisham’s bid for the Governorship of California.

Though he didn’t get the job, he did increase the profile of the band boldly stating what the True Sounds Of Liberty stand for – bold-as-brass rock anthems. Divided We Stand finds the band in fine form with the punch of “Fuck The Tough Guy” and the Ramones-ish approach to “Sedatives” and “American”. Grisham’s lyrics spout off about everything he hates from sour relationships, “I’ve seen your face before/that soulless window nightmare (Again)” to political trend of the week, “Animals and fascist kind/attack the world and sell their crimes. (See You Tomorrow).”

Though the lines of political satire wash over the disc, there is still plenty of sex (“you give me sex, sex, sex), drugs (“I’m pumped full of sedatives now”) and rock and roll (…I’m a punk ‘cause I hate my Government). And underneath their lyrical agenda remains the true soul of the band in wailing guitars and 10-ton bass/drum thump. “Serious” and “Being In Love” arch their back with a garage rock churn while ultra-tight “See You Tomorrow” comes straight out of the Steve Jones meets B52s songbook. Meaty guitars often layer on top of each other with a driving rhythm section occasional colored with piano curtsey of Greg Kuehn – check out “American”, hyper-toxic “Sex Not Violence” and the orchestrated “Loaded” for full effect. Great songs, great lyrics, great playing – can’t ask for more than that.

See them on the “Save The Boobies” tour 2003
Website:
www.truesoundsofliberty.com

MEAT LOAF
Couldn’t Have Said It Better
Sanctuary Records

Everything Meat Loaf does has to be spectacular, bigger than life and as close to a theatrical production as he can get. None of that has changed with his new opus Couldn’t Have Said It Better. Divided into two chapters with a cinematic Lord of the Rings-type intermission, the disc boasts the bloated songwriting talents of Motley Crue’s Nikki Sixx, arrangement of Todd Rundgren and over-the-top production of Peter Mokran (Christina Aguilera, NSYNC , R. Kelly). Clocking in at nearly an hour the disc picks right up where Meat’s last full length, Welcome To The Neighborhood (1995) left off some eight years ago.

The enormous sweeping sound of the record’s title track is a flashback of “I’d Do Anything For Love” – full-on orchestra, BIG chorus and a dialog/duet with Patti Russo, which has all the earmarks of a signature radio hit. The CD includes the video as well as one for “Did I Say That”. The big hits are jammed up front then after the “intermission” the band moves into a Queen-like swagger. Long time friend and John Mellencamp drummer, Kenny Aronoff is back as is Utopia bassist Kasim Sulton. Both make their presence know on the chugging “Do It” and the rocking “Tear Me Down”. Session guitarists Tim Pierce (Rick Springfield, Joe Cocker) and Mike Thompson (Celine Dion, Mariah Carey, Michael Bolton) get plenty of action from the blues stomp of “Testify” to the overblown “Why Isn’t That Enough”.

The remarkable Pearl Aday returns to lend her voice to the emotional tango of “Man Of Steel” while “Love You Out Loud” takes us right back to the campy days of Bat Out Hell. The ballads retain their charismatic texture as well in the Diane Warren-penned “You’re Right, I Was Wrong”, “Did I Say That” and the wistful “Forever Young”. With masterful planning, the weave of guitar-wrenching squeal, anguished vocals and concert-hall acoustics we might see Mr. Loaf riding high on the charts for the third time in a career spanning 30 years.

Website:
Sanctuary Records

RUE
Self titled
Shifty Records

Ohio natives Rue fuse together a hardcore blood bath on their self-titled debut. Establishing themselves as a underground phenomena in less than a year the frenzied foursome have laid waste to the Midwest and East Coast touring with the likes of Bongzilla, Goatwhore and Weedeater. Veterans of the Hardcore/Stoner scene Rue’s basic make up is defined in the cesspool of their membership stemming from Hate Theory, Sofa King Killer and Fistula. Together they capitalize on the sonic vandalism and molten agony of gut-wrenching heavy music.

All bets are off when you cram nine songs into 30 minutes. First track in, “The Escapist”, decapitates with buzz-saw effect as the guitar of Mike Burns churns in time with the perpetual pounding of drummer Corey Bing. Jeff Fahl’s anything-but-subtle vocals rake across the rhythm section clawing to survive. By the time we get to “Flathead” Burns and Bing are going full speed in a race to be heard. Bassist Bahb Branca wins out and claims the intro to “Complacence” for his own. The tempo change brings the quartet to a plodding slow lumber - perfect for Ohio doom.

It takes the record a couple more tracks to perk up. “Quash” actually takes a step into punk riffs with a more sonic guitar tone but it’s back to fuzz with “Born With Frostbite”. The vocals move from throaty growls to a refined baritone exposing Fahl to be a charismatic frontman with diversity and punch. The song also moves Branca closer to the mic for a scratch at harmonies.

“Stonersaurus” jumps out as a clear favorite. Locked into a meander groove the band plod through a total fuzz storm complete with sinister vocals and total pandemonium as the song runs to the end. “70 mg” takes you by surprise as the boys drag out their Opeth collection and embrace a friendlier more acoustic beheading until they just can’t stand it anymore and finish you off with one quick chop. Wrapping this hell spawn is the exquisite art of Scott Stearns. Perfect music to belch to.

Website:
Shifty Records

FIREWIND
Burning Earth
Leviathan Records

Readers of this site will be familiar with Greek guitarist Gus G and his amazing contribution to the world of Power Metal both in Dream Evil and his other side project Firewind. Last years record “Between Heaven And Hell” with its nod to classic Priest meets Scorpions made our “Record of the Month” for January 2003. With Burning Earth we see a more contemporary push with a darker edge. Sharing writing credit with both David Chastain and vocalist Stephen Fredrick, Gus G. continues to explorer melodic power chords, mind-numbing choruses and passionate solos.

The most noticeable difference is the heavy-handed song structure bordering on the density of Black Sabbath and even elements of Cradle Of Filth especially in the bass lines. “Steal The Blind” charges out of the gate with horns lowered and eyes glowing red. The song sets the rapid-fire direction of the disc, which reaches its zenith on the 5:30 instrumental “The Fire And The Fury”. Drummer Stian Kristoffersen gets a full workout with the galloping “Immortal Lives Young”, "Burning Earth" and “Waiting Still”.

Track fave “Brothers Keeper” brings back the bands best Judas Priest imitation with a monster riff, a slick chorus and a brilliant delivery by Fredrick sounding more like Graham Bonnet in his prime. Gus does have a tendency to get a bit wibbly in places. With “Waiting Still” he pulls a bit much from Malmsteen but redeems himself in the Whitesnake-ish “The Longest Day”. For Stephen Fredrick this maybe his vocal highlight – both in lyrics and performance he matches Gus with fervor and stamina.

Website:
Leviathan Records

ZEN
The Sound Of Shit Happening
Museentities Records

This is one of those CDs that takes a while to get into. In my openion the first track (also the title of the record) is complete rubbish. So annoying, in fact, that I have programmed it out completely. However, “Losin” redeems the disc and frames a much better introduction. Imagine for a moment if pop icons America were to smoke a ton of hash, bring in psycadelic keyboards and fuzz out their guitars. Simply put, that would be Zen – a through back to the hazy days of the late ‘60s – early ‘70s with a low fi production, slippery songs and tasteful harmonies.

The band hails from Sweden yet the music sounds closer to vintage SoCal with a bit of pre-grunge Seattle thrown in - the garage “No IOU’s” even comes complete with Seagulls in the background. As a three piece they hold together a slow, churning mixture of Mudhoney meets Blue Cheers but with a remarkable pop sense. “In The Shade”, “Save Me” and “Suncircle” take full advantage of the records staled tempo letting the drum and bass move the songs along. That being said, there is still plenty of guitar. Listen to the Ted Nugent (Stranglehold) riff of “Soulcollector” with harmonies that are a deadringer for Dan Peek and Gerry Beckley (of America).

The trippy “Modern Sex Machine” harkens back to ‘60s acid party where free love and mind altering liquid refreshment was the order of the day. ”Dreamin” stretches the whole experience out for another four minutes. “On My Way” brings the rock back with Hammond organ and retro fuzzed out dance beats. It also boasts the best guitar solo on the record. Proving that when they rock they are a real scorcher!

Official website:
Zen

KING KARMA
Self Titled
Independent

Steeped in blues-soaked Southern rock comes the tried and true sound of King Karma. Based out of Vancouver, BC the Canuck four-piece garnered the attention of famed producer/sessionman Jimmy Johnson (Lynyrd Skynyrd, Rolling Stones, Aretha Franklin) who flew the boys to Muscle Shoals and recorded one of the best debuts to ever come across our desk. Combining the astounding talents of vocalist Shaun Williamson, guitarist Markus Wolfe, bassist Todd Ronning and drummer Rick Fedyk the record plays like a lost treasure from 1976. Ringing up a familiar sound both in tone and texture to Cry of Love (due to Steve Melton, engineer, co-producer) we have a blues hard rock band treading dangerously close to stadium superstars Bad Company.

“I consider this CD to be our best rock product since we worked with Lynyrd Skynyrd back in the 70’s,” writes Johnson who was sold on the band three years ago when handed a rough demo. However, shortly after winning over Johnson King Karma lost their original singer. His replacement was found in the dynamic Shaun Williamson whose contribution to songs like “Blue Monday”, “Heaven’s Burning” and “Shake My Bones” make this release as exciting to classic rock fans as outtakes to Deep Purple’s “Burn”. Williamson’s voice runs the gamete from Glenn Hughes and Joe Lynn Turner to Paul Rodgers and even Chris Cornell yet he still retains his personal signature. In combination with Wolfe’s inspired Mick Ralphs-like riffs each song retains an element of lasting dominance.

Fueled by a wall of fierce power-chords “Into The Everlast”, “Devil’s Road” and “Mamas Pride” embrace a magnetic groove that capitalizes on a thick bottom end, a blues bass and an element of magic not heard in years. But it is “Revolution Man” that separates this band from the rest o f the pack. Building from an acoustic backdrop the song locks on a melodic subway and rides it into a musical storm with the lyrics, “Rage against the change”, echoing all the way home. Tasteful solos like the lead break in “I’m Listening” the tender strain in “Twilight Child” and the Clapton-esque “Midnight Sunshine” abound. All twelve songs mark considerable maturity in both lyrics and composition. A stunning debut if ever there was one. Big guitars, big vocals and rumbling rhythms all make this an essential release.

Websites:
King Karma and CD Baby

BRIAN SETZER
Nitro Burnin’ Funny Daddy
Surfdog Records

It was Setzer cover of “Luck Be A Lady’, the theme song to the new hit TV serious Las Vegas, that caught our attention on this one. Never a big Setzer fan the combination of his version of the Sinatra classic and his return to his rockabilly roots in last years Ignition pulled me right in. That’s not to say Setzer hasn’t found success since his hillbilly days fronting the Stray Cats. In 1994 he formed a 17-piece big band for a series of club dates and for the next eight years piled up a mountain of critical praise and chart success.

With Nitro Burnin’ we see the darker side to Setzer. Gretsch in hand he rolls up his sleeves and turns up the amp as the record jumps right into the riff-heavy “Sixty Year.” Full of dirt and grit the guitarist finds a home for his leaner, meaner persona both in the sting of his lyrics and the rumble of songs like "Don't Trust a Woman (In a Black Cadillac)" with its scorching Dick Dale essence. Easily one of Setzer’s hardest-rocking albums since his mid-'80s the tomcat keeps the record a well-rounded affair in the highly spirited banjo-driven “When The Bells Don’t Chime”, the acoustic “That Someone Just Ain’t You” and the lightning fingered instrumental "Rat Pack Boogie".

"Ring, Ring, Ring" reminds us of the Stray Cats past Setzer proudly wears tattooed on his arm. The guitar stays up close and personal as we reach “Drink Whiskey And Shut Up” and the blazing “Smokin And Burnin’” with it’s classic line ”If you see me with another woman/I’m only window shopping.” There’s the big Marty Robbins western epic “Wild Wind”, the delicately raspy “St Jude” and driving the ball home is the doo wop “To Be Loved”. A fine outing covering Setzer’s love of a number of musical styles and influences. The CD ships with a second disc containing Setzer’s current TV hit “Luck Be A Lady’.

Website:
Brian Setzer or Surfdog Records

SPEEDEALER
Bleed, Burned Alive
Dead Teenager Records, Radical Records

This Lubbock, TX quartet first made headlines when their original name REO Speedealer caught the attention of the law office representing ‘80s AOR heavies REO Speedwagon. After a nasty legal battle the band shortened their name to simply Speedealer and has since released four records undisturbed by anyone’s lawyer. On Bleed the band have fine-tuned their meat and potatoes, redneck speed rock. From the wild, flailing guitars that kick-start the record to the full-throttle closing moments of “Rise Up And Fall” we hear a band let loose with full control of their future.

One part Hellacopters, one part Motorhead and one part pure Speedealer the speakers scream for mercy as they hemorrhage an ear bleeding barrage of recklessly abandon.
Years of touring with bands like Zeke, Fu Manchu and Nashville Pussy have chafed the four in all the right places. Both the title track and “Rock And Roll” fuse like molten steel before “Choked” comes in with a killer drum sound. Metallica should take note – this is how you record drums – brassy, ballsy and fierce to the last drop. “Wasted” feeds off a wicked nocturnal groove - pairing guitars converge on a single riff with vocalist Jeff Hirshberg screaming his way through it all. The frantic “When The Demon Is At Your Door” breaks the disc in half with its Black Flag-like barrage of feedback and pounding bass.

“The Inventor Of Evil” eats its way in your brain and will eventually win as the best song on the disc. Built over a throbbing guitar chug, the song lumbers through a stoner landscape with astounding arrogance. In three minutes the result will leave you breathless. But don’t get to comfortable ‘cause “Gone” fuses your spine to a raging bull. Then there’s “All Night Long” and “Tomorrow” that hook an open chord, add some tasty frills and club their way through a punishing set of rhythmic thunder. Closing out the record “Rise Up And Fall” shines as another highlight with exquisite guitar, razor-sharp leads and lyrics that would make the devil proud.

Not to add too much confusion to your holiday wish list but a live record has also just been released on Radical Records. Burned Alive was recorded at CBGBs July 4th, 2003. A crisp and clear – and heavier than ever affair, the 17-track opus finds the band in tight form regurgitating such classics as “CCCP”, “Gotterdammerung” and “Pigfucker”. Speed is key word when describing the band’s live show. They hold nothing back roaring into “Hit It And Run” the one minute “You Lose, I Win” and the tantalizing “Fractured”. Banter with the audience is kept to a minimum letting drummer Harden Harrison, guitarist Eric Schmidt, bassist Casey Orr and Jeff Hirshberg (guitar/vox) sustain full control. Both the production and mix are surprisingly clean giving the listener a front row seat to the stoner meets grindcore attraction that is Speedealer.

Website:
Speedealer, Dead Teenager or Radical Records