THE WHITE BARONS
Up All Night With
Gearhead Records

Psychobilly was never really our cup of tea but with the voluptuous image of Eva Von Slut falling out of her leather laced corset, who could resist. Actually this slab of San Francisco plastic is more West Coast bad-ass rock n’ roll than anything else. Some may be familiar with Von Slut’s work in Maxim, Skin and Ink magazines but less acquainted with her vocal prowess. For baptism by fire, drop the disc in and go straight to “Mercy, Mercy,” a full-throttle, cranked up bastard of a song featuring Slut’s growling larynx as she begs for well…mercy. Next, jump to “Wicked Ways” for a second dose and let her raspy voice gurgle its way into your heart. Out of this world guitars spank this bad boy. The mix between punked-up riffing in “Suicide Mission” and the throbbing bass of “I’m Not Sorry” bob and swirl, chug and rumble, through a roller coaster ride of quintessential combat-boot rock. 

But hold on to your seat. We haven’t even got to the drums yet. Where did they get this guy? From the opening cut, “You Never Were” the drums are in-your-face with magnetic frills, double kick bass and hi-hat frenzy – all delivered at warp speed. The rat-tat-tat in “Reckless” lays the foundation for what becomes a ripping romp through street hustler heaven. Mixing in a couple different guitar tones keeps the whole thing fresh and exciting, even reminiscent of Pat Todd and his boys in The Lazy Cowgirls. The guitars stir it up in “How High” with a Misfit’s vibe and chorus chant. Solos dive-bomb in with erratic precision following a simple blues pattern of open-chord, solo fill, open chord. Check out how that power structure is used in “Never Enough”. Slut keeps her lyrics simple and mostly autobiographical like the humorous “Champagne & Cocaine” and “Life Ain’t Fair”. Of course the crowning achievement must be the closing track “Drank Myself Back (To You)”, a muscled up banger so punk, so rough and ready, so perfect for closing the bars.

Website: Gearhead Records

GRAVE DIGGER

Liberty or Death

Locomotive Records

 

No, not the monster truck. Grave Digger are ‘80s German power metal giants who’s back catalog spans from 1984’s Heavy Metal Breakdown to last year’s greatest hits 25 to Live - 16 records in all. Originally appearing on the metal landscape at the height of the NWOBM, the band had a knack for storytelling and unleashed pure adrenaline-soaked slabs going toe-to-toe with UK bands like Saxon and Iron Maiden. Their sound was more raw, more European with harsh drums and chainsaw guitars. A number of line up changes plagued the group throughout the next decade. However, even when their brand of rock fell out of fashion they produced some of the most dynamic, pulsating and, over all, solid records of their career including such classics as The Reaper (1993) and Knights of the Cross (1998). The new millennium has seen the band surge in activity releasing nearly one album a year since Y2K.

 

Just out on Locomotive Records, Liberty or Death is lead singer Chris Boltendahl’s ode to freedom, a familiar topic, reflective of 1996’s Tunes of War. In fact, songs like “Highland Tears’ and “Shadowland” seem to almost continue the saga in musical majesty and lyrical content. Inspired by a Cretan book of the same name, Boltendahl’s lyrics tell the tale of how liberty is built on death. The record is more Judas Priest in structure driven by addictive, supersonic hooks like those found in “The Terrible One”, “Silent Revolution” and “Ocean of Death,” crowned with a rumbling production. Though the gallant chants of dying for liberty, defending the innocent and a host of noble call-to-arm wears thin, “Until The Last King Died”, “March Of The Innocent” and “Forecourt to Hell,” certainly have a entertaining edge. No one can accuse Grave Digger of re-writing the book on power chords however, what they do – they do well. Enjoy. 

 

Website: Locomotive Records


KILL VAN KULL

Edge of Sunrise

Independent Release

 

We had some time over the holidays to go through the boxes of independent releases sent to us over the last year. Some made our regular play list - we just never had the time to give ‘em a proper review. Kill Van Kill was one of those lost treasures. Named after the water channel that separates Staten Island from Jersey, The NYC five-piece have resurfaced after twenty-something years to reclaim their youth dishing out tasty blues rock. Originally formed in 1983, the band developed a significant fan-base even playing for the Lamours/CBGB crowds. After relocating to LA they completely fell apart only releasing a 4-track EP for all their years together. In 2006 the three founding members Rick Cabrera (vocals), Billy Cardinale (bass) and Vinnie Raschella (drums) teamed up with Alex Mahoney (sax, guitar) and Al Anzalone (lead and rhythm guitars) for one more run at the gate. With just enough metal to make it interesting, Edge of Sunrise bites down hard on tracks like “Through The Night’, “Rock It Steady” and “Hot Daze”. The riffs might bring back memories of Skid Row, Ratt or LA Guns. Rick Cabrera’s vocals have that memorable Deep Purple/Dio edge falling somewhere between Gillian and Coverdale. There’s even a bit of Rods in “Kick Em and Smile” and the bass-heavy “Hell From Above.” Mixing it up is the horn-fueled ZZ Top number “Sweet Summertime” and Alice In Chain retro-motivator “On The Run”.

 

Website: Kill Van Kull, CD Baby


STAMPEAD

Milk and Honey

Independent Release

 

A refreshing alt-country rock disc, Milk and Honey plays out like an old Woodstock-era post Dylan jam session complete with acoustic strumming, traditional drum fills and the sound of harmonica dominating the room. The LA-based foursome hearken back to roots-driven songwriting led by brothers Judd (vocals, guitar) and Eric David (guitar, harmonica). Their first single “Commotion” doles out a hypnotic strum built around Ivan Demaria’s bass with Sean McKinney’s drums kicking it into gear. The guitars eventually take over the track in a nice set of leads breaks sure to raise a few goose bumps. Judd’s voice does justice to many of the record quirky lyrics using voice inflection that add character to the Band-like “Good Morning”, the barfly “Bang Our Glasses Again” and pleasant balladry of ‘For A Nickel In The Road”. Elevating the temperature are a couple real barnburners in the Talking Heads cover “Psycho Killer” and twangy ripper “Sinners, Saints and Accidents” where the guitar work is stellar and the pacing blinding. Tracking order keeps the disc breathing easy as it moves from the laidback elements of “Calm Me Down” and the humorous lullaby “Good Respiration” to the finger-pickin’ pub rocker “Waiting for Tonight”.

 

Website: Stampead 


HAMMERFALL
Threshold
Nuclear Blast

Threshold marks the Swedish quintet’s seventh release in nine years and nips dangerously close at the heels of last years Chapter V: Unbent, Unbowed Unbroken. Almost one year to the date, the band continues their eardrum assault praising all that’s pure and undefiled in metal music. Regardless of the condition of guitarist Oscar Dronjak, (who was involved in a serious motorcycle accident in 2003) the band soldier on in what can only be compared to the determination of Manowar. A Gregorian-like chant starts the whole thing, building around a haunting harpsichord intro before twin guitars rampage through the speakers welcoming the listener to eleven seminal songs. A typical run through power-metal nuts and bolt fills the first 14 minutes with “The Fire Burns Forever” forged in true headbanger conviction - then the lazar hits the massive riff in “Natural High” and off we go.

Dronjak and Stefan Elmgren prove they are at the peak of their game and unload a volley of six-string fury while Joacim Cans belts out the storyline with Halford-like intensity. Hot on their heels is bassist Magnus Rosén and drummer Anders Johansson rumbling in like a herd of wild buffalo. It only gets better as “Dark Wings, Dark Words” finds a kindred spirit in the hybrid use of  Queensryche meets Priest song structure. From then on it’s all about open chord ripping. The beefy “Howlin’ with the Pac” and the crushing “Shadow Empire” with its double kick bass fondly resurrects classic elements of Accept in its heyday. The Hammerfall name finds its way into the lyrics to underscore the branding and checkmate the track’s majesty.

A glorious instrumental, “Reign of the Hammer” links the six-minute epic “Carved in Stone” and the Bonfire-esque “Genocide” with its distinct power runs as if refined by some underworld furnace. Layered melodies, ferocious drum beats and wailing leads fuse the unstoppable borage in the looming “Titan” - a stellar track, machined by chugging, menacing guitar and backed by an overtly dense rhythm section. Here we have the band rising to their true potential. Praise must also be given to the colossal “Carved in Stone.”  A showpiece for Cans near operatic voice, the track is flanked by medieval orchestration a thundering galloping bass line and the signature Dronjak/Elmgren riff war on steroids.

Website: Hammerfall, Nuclear Blast Records

3 LEGGED DOGG
Frozen Summer
Perris Records

Aside from the horrendous name (and cover) of this project the record plays out pretty well. Finding their voice in the nuances of Led Zeppelin meets Alice in Chains, the band try to make some type of hybrid cocktail using their past as a blueprint, while still trying to keep the songs in line with the present. Heralded as a supergroup of sorts featuring vocalist Chas West (Bonham, Lynch Mob), guitarists Carlos Cavazo (Quiet Riot) and Brian Young (David Lee Roth), bassist Jimmy Bain (Dio, Rainbow) and drummer Vinny Appice (Dio, Ozzy, Black Sabbath), the foursome take a shot at the fledgling rock market with experience and muscle. Title track “Frozen Summer” starts with Hendrix-like feedback then jumps straight into a retro-grunge barrage. The production is slick and polished pulling heavily from the Peter Collins’ School of knob-twiddling. Most will be caught off guard by the guitar sound. Heavy and thick, it sounds nothing like what we’ve come to expect from Cavazo and Young. They converge with a sonic crunch that will bury most of their younger contemporaries.

Yet, it’s Chas West that gives this record its strong appeal. His gut-wrenching wail and effortless octave changes in “Give and Take Away” and “Wasted Life” are right up there with classic Coverdale. The lyrics suffer a bit in places. They drag down “Rain on My Parade” an otherwise monster of a tune - and falter a bit in “Long Way Back from Hell”. However in “Left for Dead,” all is redeemed. Brining together Bain and Appice makes for a wicked rhythm section. They know each other well enough to find the groove and dig in deep. “Bring the Hammer Down” is a massive reminder of their capabilities to go dark and stay there with brutal intensity. Frozen Summer is certainly closer to 70’s hard rock than 80’s metal - which is probably the most refreshing surprise here. The songs are textured, energetic and pumped full of sonic thunder with only a handful of studio effects mixed in. There’s still plenty of life left in these old dogs. Search it out; it’s actually one of the few that lives up to its hype.

Website: 3 Legged Dogg, Perris Records

BUDDAHEADS.
Howlin’ At the Moon
Grooveyard Records

It’s all in a name. Buddaheads are/is the creative exponent of Chinese blues-rock guitarist Alan (BB Chung King) Mirikitani. Considered slang among some Americans for Asian immigrants, Buddaheads was also the term for the prestigious 442 Army infantry during WWII. The dichotomy of the name is what is heard in the music. A native of Burbank, CA and fan of the blues since his first Jimmy Reed record purchased in his pre-teens, Mirikitani is determined to use his style of playing to break down preconceived barriers and build the ultimate progressive blues-rock outfit. Signed to RCA Records in the mid-nineties, the band had a fleeting run at the market. Trends of the day forced the band to seek more fertile grounds in Japan and Asia however; they are currently back in the US for a shot at the new millennium. Howlin’ at the Moon finds Mirikitani and his band; Boyd Lafan (bass) and Joe Pafume (drums) seeped in swamp blues following in the steps of Robin Trower, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Hendrix. His old school passion is easily heard in the trio’s cover of Mountain’s “Mississippi Queen”, the records title track “Howlin’ At The Moon” and the majestic, tuned-down “Train Train”.

The record is a compilation of Buddaheads recordings from 2000-2003 with a couple tracks written just for this release. Much of the record, 10 of the disc’s 16 songs, Mirikitani shares songwriting credit with Grammy and Handy award winner Dennis Walker (discovered and produced Robert Cray). They hit a winning combination on the rumbling “Crawlin’ Moon”, the country twang of “Company Graveyard” and the funky SRV groove of “State of Grace”. The guitarist smooth baritone embraces each composition with convincing emotion and yields to the storytelling aspect of the tune. In “Dance Maria” he paints vivid imagery of a topless dancer, whereas in “Nothing to Lose” and “Showdown” his swaggers is in the nomadic figure of a frontman. There is a distinct similarity between Mirikitani and other guys in the same genre - guys like Kenny Wayne Shepherd and Johnny Lang. The difference is in the execution. Mirikitani’s biting chops find their own voice especially in the closing moments of the disc with two tracks dedicated to his children. The balladry of the instrumental “Alana” and the lullaby of “Don’t Cry” set him apart both as a composer and as a musician.

 Website: Grooveyard Records

DRAGONTEARS
2000 Micrograms from Home
Bad Afro Records

What we have here is six songs from members of Baby Woodrose and On Trial creating a psychedelic subgroup called Dragontears. Written and recorded during the week between Christmas and New Years 2005, the record breathes of spontaneity. Trippy, mind-bending and cosmic, it fuses an angled soundscape of acoustic guitars, ethereal keyboards and augmented vocals to paint its warped cerebral canvas. Orange microdot being a selected acid (drug) of choice during the mid-seventies gives the first track “Microdot” an entirely different meaning than the brain chip used in Mission Impossible 3. Hazy, laid- back and hallucinogenic the tracks awaken the fourth dimension and begin the soulful journey through layered waves of musical texture. Only when the laser reaches “Borderline” does structure build into rhythmic patterns. The use of a retro sixties-organ embraces a formal plot line while the electric guitar drips into a pool of tambourine laced melodies.

By the third track “Hobbitten’s Drom,” a lushness of King Crimson meets Wishbone Ash atmosphere mellows the thickening layers before absorbing a cinematic, even Yes-like segway into “Doubtstains”. The sound of bong bubbles surround Lorenzo Woodrose’s (vocalist/guitarist) mesmerizing voice as he sings, “Touch the doubtstains dripping from the ceiling / kiss the sun rays and feel yourself breathing.” The Moody Guru (bass) and Fuzz Daddy (drums) follow in a rhythmic lead. The nature of the track sets up the 17-minute opus “The Doors of Prescription.” A funky groove prevails through the song as a haunting chorus repeats in hypnotic, gypsy-like fashion. The serene trance is filled with creepy sound snippets floating right to the end. Winding down is “Heliodrone”, a two-minute wash of feedback and volume.

Website: Bad Afro Records

THE DEFECTORS
Bruised and Satisfied
Bad Afro Records

Bruised and Satisfied is the fourth Defectors record; second for Bad Afro following the more traditional garage rock Turn Me On. Bruised takes on the horror, late night, walking dead side of hip-shaking rock n’ roll with what they cleverly call “rigor mortified riffs and horror hooks from outta the darkest depths of Satan’s belly.” They guarantee it will “shake up your listening space and trash your hi-fi.” The cover also claims “13 skull shakers straight from the garage.” The record is divided into two parts, side A for the horror chills, side B is fuzzed out pure garage punk. Works better on vinyl but they do add an interesting needle drag between track 7 “I Want Blood” and track 8 “Getting it On”. Production on the seven horror tracks is remarkable – full on organ with what sounds like a standup bass in the basement. Guitars are punchy but not overbearing and the background vocals keep the whole thing graveyard spooky.

Highlights include “Dancing Ghouls”, “Resurrection” and “The Final Thrill” with the vocals sounding dangerously close to Billy Idol meets Steve Jones with a tad Chris Isaak in the mix. Tombstone licks for the masses. Side B (starting at 8) jumps right in with serious trash rock. Old guitars, worn out amps, squeaky organ and a bum note here or there keeps it all live and spontaneous. Not a bad song in the lot with “Getting’ It on” blazing the trail. You gotta love a song that starts off with the lyrics “The way you wear those panties / the way you move your butt around…” Priming their chops with a fist full of Stooges, “Lose It”, “Love Is Evol” and “You Better” are flame-fueled and ready to pop. Here the Defectors are at their dirtiest – with lots of fuzzed out riffs that stick like glue all the while the organ is pounding in synch with the hollowed out drums. Even the solos come out like a greasy power tool. Closing track “Baby When You’re Gone” has a killer Gary Numan “Here in My Car”- vibe. Bursting with flavor, Bruised and Satisfied may be your Halloween soundtrack after all.

Website: Bad Afro Records

I WALK THE LINE
Desolation Street
Gearhead Records

Calling Helsinki, Finland home and possessed by the “man in black” (hence their name), this gritty five-piece are out to continue where Johnny Cash left off. More twangy rock than country, I Walk The Line feel the mystique and darker meaning of the man and his music much like the Murder City Devils, Social Distortion and even The Clash. “When I’m Gone” seems to be the lead off track and a good one to start with if you’re unfamiliar with the band. Special thanks to Gearhead for including the video of said song on the disc for us underprivileged. Straight away the guitar work is compelling – a quiet use of electric muddy tones accelerated by a churchy organ rapture and tightly pulled drums. Their attack isn’t overly aggressive; it sneaks up on you like the snare of “The Man without a Name” whose chorus becomes forever imbedded in your head. “Drifter” has the same effect with the tickle of the organ and ripe guitar filling in the gaps.

Clash fans are going right for “Dead Seeds”, “Where Stranger Meet” and “Forever Nights.” The erratic strumming, marching start/stop pounding and open riffs feels like ’79 with pop angst cranked on the stereo.  But its not all pile driving, “Grand Collapse” is more subtle in a Pretenders kind of way, just as anthemic but finding its addiction in the backing thunder of bass and drum. “World on a Pyre” and “Hollow” are easiest to love. Both have amazing use of guitar, snarled vocals and gripping hooks. It’s in these finer moments that the band becomes endearing. Being recorded on analog equipment might have a thing or two to do with this as well. There is a warmth in their power, not harsh or extreme, but caressing even when the record spews its venom.

Website: Gearhead Records

GIANT BRAIN
Plume
Small Stone Records

Plume is like a cup of cold water in the face. Even for us open-minded types this was a reach but the more you play it, the warmer it gets. The best way to describe the CDs five tracks is fuzzed-out electronic rock with a European flare. Detroit guitarist Phil Dürr combines talents with brothers Andy (bass) and Al Sutton (loops and knobs) to create a spaced-out set of jams that ebb and flow from right speaker to left. The occasional rhythmic patter picks up when a drummer sits in on the set. The seven-minute “Ausgesetzt” gets the whole thing going with a hypnotic beat and a sea of guitar texture. At first it’s partially obscured in the overall layering and then brought in to focus with forced volume. Both “Looper” and “Krauter” are mind-altering stoner soundscapes - both clocking in at way over ten minutes (“Krauter” actually goes for 19-minutes). A number of instrument sounds including keyboards and piano find their way into the mind-numbing drones setting a pulsating bed for the guitar to slice its way through. The build is worth the wait so hang in there to the end for a whirlwind ride of feedback and all out six-string chaos. The organ spattered “Die Festzeit” rises from the garage floor with a screeching eclectic nature while the shorter “Der Amerikanische Albtraum” throws down an early Ministry-vibe with the drum setting pace leaving just enough room for the funky guitars to grind out spliff stained notes.

Website: Small Stone Records

SLOT
The Sweet Black Bear
Small Stone Records

Slot comes to us more as a tribute piece than a catalog release from the Detroit label know for its passion in heavy rock. In the mid-‘90s Slot was a mainstay in the Motor City. Fronted by lead siren Sue Lott (vocals, bass) and her guitar-slinging husband Billy Rivkin, Joined by drummer Eddie Alterman they made their way around the mid-west preaching their own set of riff rock with pop overtones. In 2004 Billy succumbed to cancer ending that chapter in the bands career. In an effort to preserve the band’s legacy, Phil Dürr (ex-Big Chief guitarist) stepped in as executive producer to extend their unique blend of monotone rumble. A huge fan of the band, Dürr with input from the remaining members, selected 12 cuts that spanned their existence. Slot favored EPs over albums because it allowed them to write and record in small, affordable batches. Basically the magic of The Sweet Black Bear is that it reflects the group’s most passionate singles.

From the subdued, melodic beginning of “Orchid Taster” the nature of the trio is keenly obvious. The guitar patiently remains in check while bass and drum weave their harmonized rhythm, Sue’s folksy voice painting the canvas. As the music builds Billy is given the nod and allowed to explode in a distorted, feedback reverberation. The excitement of that moment radiates through “Crushing Yer Head”, the bass-driven “You Made Me Do It” and pounding “Last Tuesday’s Child”. For reckless lyrical abandon “Stealing From The Future” takes the woman’s perspective of relationship doldrums to new heights. “Starcock” follows suit in raw demo form, a window into Lott’s engaging emotion. The true standout “Noon” is a fat piece of power pop backed by chunky guitars putting it in line with roughed up Veruca Salt crashing into Dead Moon. Counterpoise that to “Jagernaut,” a testicular, rugged number complete with pin-sharp solo runs and a wooly backend and you get the picture.

Website: Small Stone Records