AXEL RUDI PELL
The Ballads III
SPV Records

Sadly, most in the US have no idea who Axel Rudi Pell is. Having never toured or “officially” released a single record in the States, it’s a wonder his fan-base claims so many of us. At least we have the internet. The ex-Steeler guitarist has been pumping out solo records for almost 15 years now. Compared to the likes of Blackmore and Malmsteen, Pell has retained his German roots and puts his own stamp on classic hard rock. Bundled within each annual release, Pell sticks to the formula of a good mix of ballads and rockers. Over the years the ballads have gained notoriety; hence the reason we now have three ballad discs to choose from.

The Ballads III pulls from the guitarist last three long players including The Masquerade Ball (2000), Shadow Zone (2002) and Kings And Queens (2004) also adding three new numbers: “Don’t Say Goodbye”, an acoustic version of “Forever Angel” and a brilliant cover of Rainbow’s “The Temple of The King.” Supported by Hardline’s Johnny Gioeli (vocals), Mike Terrana (drums), Volker Krawzcak (bass) and Ferdy Doernberg (keys), Pell create some engaging moments well worth the investment.

“Don’t Say Goodbye” is straight out of the Scorpion power-ballad book, massive hooks, swelling chorus and emotionally driven lyrics. Both versions of “Forever Angels” have their charm – the acoustic being a bit more raw allowing Gioeli to soar. The muscle in “Sea of Evil” is magnificent as it brings power-hungry riffs to an otherwise subtle sea shanty. There’s also the rough and ready “The Line” fully fueled with Pell’s heavy hand and overlaid with acoustic lace. The star is clearly “The Temple of The King” – a masterpiece if ever there was one.

Website: SPV Records, Axel Rudi Pell

BILLY IDOL
Devil’s Playground
Sanctuary Records

Lot’s of folks are breathing a sign of relief as the laser makes it’s way through Billy Idol first proper release in 12 years. Many wondered if this day would ever come as Idol claimed to have made his way through years of drug and alcohol addiction – a lethal mixture that almost claimed his life twice. One has to wonder if it was Idol himself that brought the man back or the shear distain of an aging punk rocker for the industry that shunned him.

One thing’s for certain, it helps having Steve Stevens back in the copilot chair ready to whip some fury into Idol’s immensely recognizable voice. After several plays it’s fair to say Devil’s Playground falls more in line with octane-fueled rock than Punk-edged sauce. Sure there’s plenty of swagger but it’s controlled, methodic and looking for a comeback. It also doesn’t disappoint. Lead single “Scream” is a white-knuckle joyride back to beefy guitar glory and leather pants. Fitting for a cover that sees Idol ripped, in full sneer and ready to bite.

Stevens’ guitar chops its way through Idol’s retrospective, “Super Overdrive,” bows to the ‘80s heyday in “World Comin’ Down” and takes another swing at “Eyes without a Face” in the acoustic-driven “Rat Race”. Midway in we get “Yellin’ at the Xmas Tree” which sits as an odd ditty better reserved for a closing or hidden track. “Romeo’s Waiting” and “Body Snatcher” spring back to life with chainsaw riffing and self-assured metal drumming. Thankfully this is nowhere near his pop past, instead we get treated to the mature Doors-esque “Evil Eye”, the country-tinged “Lady Do or Die” and Neil Diamond-infused “Cherie” before closing out with the drifting-to-crescendo “Summer Running.”

Website:
Sanctuary Records, Billy Idol

KINRICK
Sense Your Darkness
Leviathan Records

Fueled by the voice of ex-Firewind vocalist Stephen Fredrick and guitar powerhouse Corbin King, Kinrick fuse together as true heroes of majestic rock. Sense Your Darkness adds to the long history of Leviathan’s quality releases and, on many levels, is representative of Graham Bonnet-era MSG – wicked guitar weaving through a monster voice with a dynamo backend. With gargantuan licks we have the theatrical equivalent to a raging blockbuster as the record moves through arena anthems like “Throughout All Time” and the fist pumping “Dressed Up as God” with ease and confidence. Then there is the title cut, “Sense Your Darkness” which not only defines the record, but reminds the listener of a bygone era that begs revisiting.

Considered somewhat of a label Super-group, Kinrick, with bass duties by James Martin (Zanister) and drums by Stian Kristoffersen (Firewind), bring a formative element to a genre that for years has been dominated by their European contemporaries. That original stamp can be heard in “Stand up and Fight” and the memorable “Make Me a Man” where retro-metal meets the nimble fingers of King’s Slayer-like density. Flashes of Malice, Rough Cutt and even Dio reach in and twist a stranglehold on “The Empire Falls Again,” “I Fight Alone,” and “Call of Honor” in tone and delivery. The combination is intoxicating as they hail all that’s pure in powerful rock – sledgehammer riffs, tasteful solos, stunning vocals and one of the best drums sound yet.

Website:
Leviathan Records

JOE STUMP
Shredology
Leviathan Records

Readers of our site will be well schooled in the legend that is Joe Stump. Having appeared on a number of records over the past 15-years, the man has certainly left his signature on the world of thundering shredders. Note: this is not for the lighthearted – this IS a two-fisted, double-barreled shred-a-thon with more notes coming at you than a Spanish inquisition firing squad. Disc 1 collects some of Joe’s most intense guitar work from his past studio recordings including the all out assault of “In For The Kill” on the Guitar Dominance LP (1993) and “The Sorcerers Apprentice” from Night of the Living Shred (1994). There are plenty of lighter, intimate moments as well including the tender “Jetaime” and the melodic “Hurricane X”.

Several tracks sandwiched together, work intensely well – there’s personal favorite “Demon’s Eye” moving into the Golden Earring-like “R.B.N.C.S.F. No II”, also the surrealistic “Rapid Fire Rondo” and “Pharaoh’s Delight”, the former awash with texture-building keyboards. Interesting to hear Stump’s many different guitar sounds which become quite alluring over the course the discs 15-tracks. Bonus track “The Drill” has a spontaneous basement feel almost liked a demo capturing the guitarist’s true speed.

Disc 2 is a live outing from what is billed as the Midwest Shred-fest. It is here Joe struts his live chops flawlessly. The excellent choice of “Demon’s Eye” to begin the disc stretches out to seven and a half minutes, which is actually par-for-the-course through the redcord's eight tracks. The power-metal “Wrecking Machine” follows with the more melodic and chunky “Paganini’s Revenge” – classic speed at it’s most ferocious. The magnificent ten-minute “Thrill of the Chase” is straight from the racetrack, while the blacker “The Dark Gift” wonders close to old Candlemass. Of course there is a jam as the CD fades – sonic guitar wizardry at full tilt – short, sweet and to the point.

Website:
Leviathan Records

ELECTRIC EEL SHOCK
Go USA!
Gearhead Records

Top ranking Japanese garage band Electric Eel Shock sum up their western invasion in the song, “S.O.S.” off their US debut Go USA! “I’m sorry, I can’t speak English well/But I wanna sing this song for you guys,” screeches guitarist/vocalist Akihito Morimoto. While a grin may grow across your face, EES are the real deal. Raised on a diet of Sabbath, Ramones, Fishbone and Wishbone Ash this earthy trio plug in and let the feedback do the talking.

Tight, compact, and Detroit purists Akihito Morimoto (v,g), Kazuto Maekawa (b) and Tomoharu “Gian” Ito (d) create a universal language singing in both English and Japanese all the while their dingy ‘60s guitar and heart thumping rock rakes through “Japanese Meets Chinese In USA”, the squealing “My Tiger” and the wake-up-call of “Punctured”. What English they do muster is repeated in short phrases and sometimes really all you need. “Suicide Rock ‘N’ Roll” and “Waaaa” are among the most dynamic where lyrics are cosmetic to the giant wall of sound hurled from the speakers.

14-solid rockers fill this disc right to the top. Vintage Stooges riffs converge with chunks of metal to alter the pace between bloodthirsty numbers like “Do the Metal” and “Puma” with the garage infested “Rock ‘N’ Roll Can Rescue the World” and the hammering “Vegas Night”. Gearhead continues in the tradition of finding off shore imports and exposing them to the masses – this is one not to be missed.

Website:
Gearhead Records

NRA
Machine
Gearhead Records

Amsterdam’s veteran rockers NRA prove punk isn’t just a young man’s game. At it since 1989, the gutsy four-some illuminate energetic, heart stopping ditties in much the same way as their US comrades The Lazy Cowgirls. Packing catchy hooks, memorable choruses and clever/funny lyrics keeps the band charming and addicting. Made for radio “N28” has a slight Green Day feel to it complete with grinding riffs and should be the next FM hit. “Missed my Slot” which sounds a lot like “Missed My Slut” takes a humerous spin depending on how you hear it.

11 out the sixteen songs on Machine finish under 2-minutes keeping the pace anxious and power-packed yet, NRA keeps it interesting with the occasional tempo change. “Shot One” snags a bass-easy groove with the drums upfront while “Machine” finds its voice in a steady guitar grumble. The frantic “Bang Bang”, “Knife” and intro track “Why Did I Listen to You” fall in line as Ramones’ tributes with vocalist Rziz’s barnstorming baritone. Reviewer favorites include the erratic “Lines” with big, beefy open chords, the garage-centered “Wasted My Life” with its Smithereens edge and the hammerhead “Friend”. Essential.

Website:
Gearhead Records

GITOGITO HUSTLER
Gitogito Galore
Gearhead Records

This is an insanely hyper four piece from Tokyo proving that punk chicks can muscle up serious chops while still keeping it seductive, pop-friendly and fun. Gitogito Galore is six songs all under three minutes, one just as catchy as the next. “Muscle Body Ecstasy” burst forth like a raging storm proving that good things do come in small packages. Keeping ‘60s pulp shtick as a relevant factor in their music, any one of these retro-songs could work in a Bond film. Both “Ambition” with its GoGo’s beat and “Melon Sherbet’s” snake-charming Dick Dale surf riffs prove these girls are doing their homework.

“Hyper” is the most exhilarating of the set with it’s tin-drum intro and swashbuckling guitar, followed by a sugary-sweet chorus – a bit like a bubble-gum commercial really. “Sunflower” is pure Slade complete with a driving lick, swelling harmonies and that killer backbeat. All this pop punk adds up to “Natural Love Love Star” a quick cab ride through neon strip clubs and karaoke bars. Lots of flash, flailing guitars and seat drenched drums.

Website:
Gearhead Records

GLENN HUGHES
Soul Mover
Sanctuary Records

Mr. Hughes is extremely comfortable in his own skin these days. Soul Mover has been a long time coming emotionally for him but he’s definitely hit his groove and wants to exorcise his musical union with Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Chad Smith. Joining Hughes and Smith are long time collaborator JJ Marsh (guitar), Ed Roth (organ) and special guests Dave Navarro – who also makes an appearance in the video of the album’s title track. Like all Hughes solo outings, this one is diversified - full of soul, rock and groove.

“Soul Mover,” the song, is quintessential hard rock as only Hughes can do it - heavy, distinctive and catchy as hell. Navarro’s contribution is lasting as he uses tone and texture to paint versatility into the song’s rock structure. “High Road” has a similar effect with Smith’s in-your-face drums locking in with Hughes’ bass for an infectious foot-stomper. The record then takes a lighter more experimental turn for its mid-section. True, “Orion” packs a punch with some nice riffing but here Hughes moves in instrumental soundscapes to add to his palette.

The lighter moments of “Change Yourself”, “Let It Go”, “Don’t Let Me Bleed” and the rockier “Isolation” embrace Glenn’s soulful voice almost moving into a ‘70s Steely Dan, Doobie Brothers, Ambrosia realm. Yet, for those who ever doubted his ability as a singer will be mesmerized by his magnificent range and emotion. Never to far from his funk roots Hughes pours into “Dark Star” and “Land of the Livin’” with Hendrix-powered groove. Hughes proves he’s just hitting his stride in creating gorgeous harmonies, emotional fantasies and passionate chart toppers. Stay tuned.

Website:
Sanctuary Records, Glenn Hughes

GZR
Ohmwork
Sanctuary Records

There’s something to be said about Sabbath never sitting down to sort out a new record. With no immediate plans it frees up everyone to pursue solo projects. If everything comes in on time Bill Ward will have his record out in June, Tony Iommi and Glenn Hughes in July, Ozzy’s box set is still hot on the shelf and on May 10th this monster, from GZR will hit the streets in brutal fashion. Geezer Butler has long been heralded for his immense contribution to the Sabbath sound. With the release of Ohmwork, he continues his long association with legacy while voyaging toward a new breed of heavy metal.

Ohmwork is the third GZR record, the first in eight years, and without a doubt the strongest of the suite. Where before the Sabbath veteran seemed disjoint and almost reduced to guest spotlight on past GZR releases, here we see the bass master take complete control and breathe fire into the wonderfully heavy “Misfit”, “Pardon My Depression” and “Pull The String”. Not to be considered Nu Metal, it certainly shows Geezer is listening to the radio especially P.O.D.

Butler is joined by vocalist Clark Brown and guitarist Pedro Howse - long time collaborates - and new drummer Chad Smith (not the Chili Pepper).
The four bring a spirit of spontaneity to the record’s 10 songs, which are highlighted, in the single, “I Believe” a melodic acoustic-based scorcher. Thundering “Dogs Of Whore” and the chain saw buzzing “Don’t You Know” are shear metal delights feeding off classic Ozzfest staples. Funny how the only track remotely considered “stoner” is the spaced out “Alone”.

Website:
Sanctuary Records, Geezer Butler

WILD WEST
One, Second To None
Brennus Records (France)

Who would think one of the best southern rock outfits on the books today are from western France. True story. Let us introduce Wild West, an amalgamation of Molly Hatchet, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Tesla and Aerosmith. If you think about it – it’s not so strange. Some of our best westerns were filmed in Italy (hence the term Spaghetti Westerns) and also Spain. Actually there are parts of Spain that look more western than New Mexico. Note: the band’s shots of Wild West were shot in Spain. Guitarist Erik Dominech, bassist Stephan Dugue and drummer Deny Felicite merged with vocalist Andre’ Fuciarrelli in May of 1998 to record One a record that would launch their western forte.

Considering Wild West had only been playing a year, One is remarkably cohesive. “Boothill” opens like a Clint Eastwood movie, complete with an old church bell and wind-swept, sagebrush infested, landscape. 45-seconds later “Outlaw” swaggers in with Dominech’s guitar coming in chunky and thick while Felicite sets a fierce drum beat. Straight away there are similarities to Riot and Van Halen, even some Headpins in the guitar sound, yet most noticeable is the quality as the musicians gel. Riff-centered, chorus-ridden and extremely catchy see “Freewheelin’”, “Fist In Your Face” and “Headhunter” stand out. Power-ballads make a comeback in the Bon Jovi-styled “Rocky Mountain” and “Mary’s Song.”

Working with producer J.F. Moreau on the band’s sound album Second To None gave Wild West a more heavier, conceptual sound. This time we hear more ‘80s metal under their broad-brimmed hats. “Unleash The Beast” is straight out of the Kix camp where Dokken and AC/DC can be heard in “Cross Bones Banner” and the Black Velvet-imitation “Spread Your Wings.” Fuciarrelli’s vocals come into there own especially on “Calico”, “Desert Plains” and “Loneliness Of The Wolf” sounding slightly like a combination of DAD’s Jesper Binzer or TNT’s Tony Harnell. Wild West picks up where Philly’s Tangier and LA’s Tattoo Rodeo left off, keeping the vibe of southern rock alive and well.

Website:
www.recordheaven.net, Wild West, Brannus Records

DIRTY AMERICANS
Strange Generation
Liquor and Poker Records

It’s interesting to note that though this is an American band from Detroit the record has been out in Europe for almost a year. Produced by Paul Ebersold (3 Doors Down, Saliva) Strange Generation does not have your typical Stooges meet MC5 sound we’ve come to expect from the Motor City. On the contrary, here are four guys more akin to Ted Nugent, Grand Funk Railroad and Blue Oyster Cult than the White Stripes and Kid Rock. Focusing on ‘70s guitar sound and Kiss-like choruses, the band put 13 of their best on celluloid to prove that Detroit still makes relevant rock and roll.

Guitar-master Jeff Piper and Paul Stanley-sound alike Myron lead the way with bassist Pete Bever and drummer Jeremiah Pilbeam. All prove ready for balls out, high-octane rock. When “No Rest” comes thumping from the back of your Camaro, you get it right away. Guitars a-blazing take us straight into “Strange Generation” the fuzzy “Burn You Down” and the distortion of “Control.” There are times the band crosses into a more stoned-out sphere like the moody, Doors-inspired “Dead Man” and the drifting “Time In Space” which could easily be a Monster Magnet track. But that’s not all - for your money you get plenty of cowbell, head bangin’ bass/drum rhythms and hum able tunes bouncing around in your brain. As a bonus you also get the country acoustics of “Deep End”. Yee haw!

Website:
Liquor & Poker Records, Dirty Americans

THE HIDDEN HAND
Mother, Teacher, Destroyers
Southern Lord Records

Led by the heroic doom-figure of Scott “Wino” Weinrich, Hidden Hand releases their third long player since forming in 2002. Slightly more focused than Divine Propaganda, Mother, Teacher, Destroyers seems to have found the band’s true niche. Sure the Stoner/Doom element is still there (it must be, it has to be, ed.) but this time it’s special, really special. There is a new sound rising in songs like “Currents” and “Half Mast” where the melody is crossing into ‘70s California rock. Then there’s “Travesty As Usual,” and the Bruce Falkinberg’s bass spotlight “Coffin Lily” as well as “The Crossing” which could easily be what Jethro Tull would sound like if they were a contemporary stoner band.

It’s texture that separates this record from other doom slabs. “Black Ribbon” is so refreshing with its sweeping intro, converging guitars and Dave Hennessy’s subtle percussion roll. This one is a chiller from the first listen. And Wino’s voice never sounded better moving from Ozzy to Roger Waters. Dig into “Desensitized” and “Sons Of Kings” to feel the depth of the reverberation producer J Robbins is able to pull from this impressive trio. Spacey, psychedelic elements still abound as in “Draco Vibration” and “The Deprogramming of Tom Delay,” but the way they progress into heavier funeral dirges is impressive. By far the best thing Wino’s been associated with.

Website:
Southern Lord Records