KEITH LUBRANT
Searching For Signal
Kool Kat Musik

It was a surprise to hear from Keith LuBrant, whose impressive Face in the Crowd we reviewed in 2001. The guitarist has a knack for memorable choruses with a hook or two that sticks inside your head. Last we heard he was working on a set of tribute CDs for Jason Becker and Enuff Znuff. His new disc is a bit of a departure from his past efforts - Searching for Signal is more of a laid back affair. The 13-track disc is a mid-tempo pop record with a strong leaning to Nashville. Now billed as a singer/songwriter, LuBrant embraces the medium with slick acoustic strumming, layered strings and the occasional piano/organ blends. Thick on relationships songs like “Easier,” the whispered “Seven Words or Less” and the catchy “This Time Around” lean heavily on acoustic strumming that builds to a chorus. The focus is left to the lyrics, which are kept simple by a single storyline. A splash of country invades “February Day,” “Postcards and Memories’ and the harmony-rich “I Survived,” all graced with tasty guitar solos that link to LuBrant’s aggressive side. Standout tracks include “Disconnected” a throwback to 80’s pop icons Cutting Crew or ‘90s Better than Ezra with a modern rock hook and a nice build to a powerful chorus. It’s followed a couple tracks later by the soft shuffle of “Someone like You.” The song’s charm is in its Mr. Bojangles undertone and streetwise Italian vibe creating a warm accordion sound through the keyboards.

Website: Keith LuBrant

VIOLENT STORM
Storm Warning
Gold Storm Records

Brainchild of Argentinean bassist Mick Cervino (Ritchie Blackmore, Yngwie Malmsteen). Violent Strom actually got its name from Judas Priest guitarist KK Downing. Cervino told us the band was originally called Violet Storm but Downing said there was no way he would be associated with a project that had “violet” in the band name. With a quick change the band had an executive producer in Downing who also brought along mate Roy Z (Bruce Dickinson, Iron Maiden). The duo lent their six-string wizardry to several songs, tweaked the knobs and mastered a tasty piece of melodic hard rock. The disc has a European flare to it and Cervino makes no bones about his passion for anything Blackmore. Leaving his home in South America he moved to the US specifically to play with the Deep Purple legend. His persistence paid off joined the 1997-98 incarnation of Blackmore’s Rainbow. The relationship spun into an association with Yngwie Malmsteen who hired Cervino himself for the 2003 G3 tour.

Says Cervino of the ten Violent Storm tracks, “I’d been working on these songs for years. One song in particular, ‘Alimentary Fable’ I wrote when I was 18 but I needed the experience of playing with world class musicians to carry it off.’ After almost a dozen years with some of the best guitarist in the business Cervino approached Downing as producer. The JP man was interested in starting his own production company (www.kkdowning.net) so quickly jumped on board. “I handed him the demo and let him work on it,” says Cervinio. “After Roy Z got involved they rearranged the ideas making it more straightforward. They enhanced it considerably. So I left it in their capable hands." Cervino admits the rough demo was more of a live setup but was impressed with what Downing brought to the recording.

Joining Cervino is vocalist Matt Reardon, guitarist Dean Sternberg and drummer Mike Sorrentino. Yngwie Malmsteen also steps in with a shredding solo on “Fire in the Unknown” and the Tool-like “Pain.” Says Cervino, “I had Yngwie in mind when I was writing ‘Fire.’ He definitely made it his own which I was hoping he would do.” The lyrics also boast a collaborative spirit with Cervino’s wife Denise Love writing “Pain” and Blackmore’s Night, Candice Night penning “Storm.” Other songs come from Cervino’s bumps in the music business. “You Don’t Care’ came from my anger over people not understanding me,” says Cervino. “Owning You” is directly tied to banks and the nightmare of money hassles.” Aside from the guitar work, Reardon’s vocals come center stage and, for a virtual unknown, lands firmly on his feet with plenty of gusto.  Impressive is the record’s cohesive feel and though crafted around older influences still has modern sound.

Website: Violent Storm, KK Downing

MACHINE HEAD
The Blackening
Roadrunner Records

It’s been a long time since we got excited about a Machine Head record. With a history that includes Burn My Eyes and The More Things Change, two of the most ‘metal’ records of the ‘90s, the Bay area band seem to have been set adrift since the turn of the millennium. Not that their light has burned less bright, it’s just that nobody really took notice outside of Europe.  Clocking in with only eight tracks, one would wonder if the band was selling The Blackening short – quite to the contrary, four tracks actually run over nine minutes. And there are certain elements to the record that breath like a prog opus. Long tempo changes, melodramatic scales and vocal harmonics expand the realm of a constantly developing group.

Opening the disc is “Clenching the Fists of Dissent” which begins with an acoustic Yes-like intro before jumping into the arena with Robb Flynn hurling his voice with the angst of a pro fighter. The 10-minute song takes several twists and turns with mixed tempos, whiplash guitar and sludgy bass lines all building to an anthem of a new breed chanting “fight.” Flynn’s doctrine preaches war against the political establishment and invites all to “gnash down our teeth in hate and sing.” A fan of sound effects especially torture devices (remember the dentist drill in The More Things Change) “Beautiful Mourning” begins with the squeak of guitar strings before Flynn’s voice takes flight. Phil Demmel guitar sets the frantic pace as Dave McClain’s rapid fire drumming and Adam Duce throbbing bass carry the tune. Nice the hear Flynn switch gears and drop into a more melodic tone for the chorus break but his guitar playing is what’s really coming into it’s own.

“Aesthetic of Hate” goes for the throat with a double kick drum fueled by twin guitars and loaded with lethal ammunition. The lead work here is stunning as Flynn rages in the extreme. Chiming guitars set the melody in “Now I Lay Thee Down” which seethes from the subtle bass to the guitar harmonies and vocal texture. The result is a mesmerizing raw burn with their Alice In Chains-meets-Opeth echo. “Slanderous” and “Wolves” are nut and bolts MH songs complete with grinding guitars, a pummeling backend and eloquent solo runs that merge hypnotic metal pounding into a toxic wash of modern metal. Nothing can really prepare you for “Halo” or “A Farewell to Arms.” Most bands kill to write a single track so massive - here the band have written two. Unearthed from deep inside, the four-piece find chemistry ranging from early Testament to current trends in pop metal and make it sound originally fresh. Absolutely the best this band has produced.

Website: Machine Head, Roadrunner Records

TYPE O NEGATIVE
Dead Again
SPV Records

Almost feels like 1997 again with Type O and Machine Head reviews back to back. The rise of Goth metal doomsters Type O Negative has been one of impressive skill. Little was thought or known of them when we started going to their shows in seedy Jersey clubs. Few got their dark sense of humor including the classic cover on The Origin of Feces disc. Funny how many said it wouldn’t last and here it is seventeen years later with their seventh grim metal horror show. Peter Steele returns with guitar mate Kenny Hickey, keyboardist Josh Silver and drummer Johnny Kelly. Stability is key to their shared vision and macabre presentation. This year’s record hosts the same creepy green cover with a Manson like portrait staring back at the viewer on a cross-shaped booklet. Unlike the artwork the music’s actually not that sinister. Steele’s deep baritone plays out like the soundtrack to an old Bela Lugosi creature feature as the band rumble on with Sabbath riffs and stoner rock doom.

Perfect for late night listening Dead Again surprises with hooky friendliness. Its title track basks in Silver’s eerie keyboards before galloping away into a guitar haze. Moving much deeper into slow-motion stoner territory is “Tripping A Blind Man.” A thick dirge, played agonizingly slow and missing some of the catchiness of “The Profit of Doom.” It’s as if they were testing out the first couple ideas before hitting their stride with the 10-minute “Doom” masterpiece. Backed with Iommi riffs and a plodding bass, Steele growls his way through a tale of prophecy while effectively rolling his “r”s into a subterranean Transylvanian accent. Jumping past the Audioslave-like ballad “September Sun” we get to the more meaty crowning elements of what just might be their best writing yet.

“Halloween in Heaven,” “These Three Things” and “She Burned Me Down” are massive numbers with ‘stadium anthem’ stamped all over them. “Halloween” is a dance/bang-yer-head number (penned by Steele after the death of a close friend) and features the distinct vocal prowess of Tara Van Flower. A stuttering tempo, blazing guitar and fuzzed out bass line are reminiscent of “Black No. 1” from Bloody Kisses (’93). The 14-minute “These Three Things” offers up a wicked stoner groove in the wake of primer Hawkwind and is followed by the equally dense “She Burned Me Down,” a track ripe with the most surging riff on the disc. It and “Hail and Farewell to Britain” soak up the band’s European flare complete with screeching feedback, clever time-changes and a haunting hook. The later chugs along with a well-worn groove weighted down with angst and intensity - just right for cryptic nightmares.

Website: Type O Negative, SPV Records

 

BLACK MANALISHI
(pronounced man-alee-shee)
Independent Release

This is the third outing by the UK four-piece and possibly their strongest stylistically. Basking in a wealth of influences including Free, Lynyrd Skynyrd and Led Zeppelin, they move with ease through late ‘60s and early ‘70s classic rock. Fans of the band will recognize several of the disc’s 16-tracks, as they have appeared on the 2003 ‘live studio’ EP and the 2004 Mine’s a Whiskey LP. BM has learned the true character of a song by working it out live, then recording it. That discipline gives second track “Just a Simple Man” its full richness. Already a punchy rocker from the EP, this more polished “Simple Man” bursts with confidence from the metallic open-chord riff to the hypnotic chorus. “Jezzabel” (spelled Jezabel on the EP) follows suit with a Traffic meets Allman Bros feel - finding its spice in a textured organ moving through hazy jazz, “Judge” also heralds from the EP maturing into a monster blues stomper giving rhythm mates Paul Glover (bass) and Joe Roberts (drums) a powerful showcase.

Whether it’s the ballad “How Do You Say Goodbye,” the traditional electric blues of “You Make Me Laugh” or the gut-wrenching “Fade into the Shadows,” vocalist Adam Ward is a true find. We’ve said it before but his combination of Paul Rodgers and Steve Marriott are matched perfect with Nathan Moore’s guitar prowess. After years of hard labor the boys have tightly knit songs that not only capture their universal style but offer something fresh on the rock and roll landscape. New songs “8 Lives Down,” the riveting “Road to Insanity” and wickedly charming “Firefly” easily stand up to their revered icons. Our review copy sees the addition of the catchy “Nothings” (from the EP), “Jack’s Gone to Hell” and our personal rebel-rousing favorite “Mine’s A Whiskey” (from the record of the same name) with the immortal line “Fuck the sound check/turn it up to ten.” The improv instrumental jam “Brown Town” nips at the heels of the groove-heavy, Free-inspired “Buried” while a blazing “Sunblue” winds the whole thing up. Watching this band grow into able-ready rock stars has been an inspiration. If you’re looking for the next generation Aerosmith - Black Manalishi fit the bill.

Website: Black Manalishi

 

RATTLESNAKE REMEDY
Magic Man
BEM Records

Much is expected from this British quintet after their highly acclaimed and equally impressive Drag You Down EP. Mixing Gun N Roses swagger with an AC/DC snarl Rattlesnake Remedy have come out red hot and looking for blood. Loading up their debut CD with 12 -high octane rockers Magic Man confirms the band’s logical place in front of throngs of hysterical punters. Leading single “Black Sheep Fiddle” makes for a nice workout in guitar rip shots while “Drag You Down” is a heat-seeking projectile heading straight for the Buckcherry fans of the world. No confusion about what the lads are listening to given both “Reach for the Line” and the more brooding “Falling Away” could be Appetite for Destruction outtakes. That being said there’s plenty of Faces/Quireboys, with more than a tad of Aerosmith, in the mix. A fine example is “Payin’ My Dues” built around a sultry blues-rock riff and splattered with some serious mojo harp action courtesy of singer Lee Stone and one of the few places he not overtly trying to imitate Axel Rose.

Mid-way through, the record really starts to burn with a song titled “Killing Time” where the impressive guitar playing of Ben Bartlett and Mark Buckler keep one foot in the blues and the other in classic hard rock. Another ripe Aerosmith moment is “Nothing Right” bringing bassist Matt Birch and drummer Dave Ballard into focus. “Angels Eyes” and “Don’t Say Goodbye’ are as close to a power ballads as your going to get in 2007 but the real cake in the fire is “Freestyle” – a slow grinder that is Stone’s calling card as a singer. His emotional phrasing reaches stunning proportions while Bartlett goes for laidback Robin Trower guitar tone. The record title cut “Magic Man” holds the whole thing together as it chugs along looking for the boys in Tattoo Rodeo - cheap thrills in cowboy boots with a dose of swamp water.

Website: Rattlesnake Remedy

HEAVENLY
Virus
Locomotive Records

French metal band Heavenly wind up with their fourth record since 2000. More melodic rock with strong power metal overturns brings Virus into the correct perspective. Surging melodies sweep across musically massive numbers “Liberty,” “Wasted Time” and “Spill Blood on Fire.” Frontman and singer Ben Sotto gives his layered octave range a full workout as he keeps pace with guitarists Charley Corbiaux and Oliver Lapauze. Both six-string wizards are students of hyper-speed progressive chord calisthenics and are not afraid to strut their stuff. Their runs exceed reason but still swirl close enough to the rhythm that they eventually hold the whole thing together like electrons around a nucleus. “The Dark Memories’ fires the record up as the leading track and finds its focus within Thomas Das Neves dominating drum beats. Once the song structure takes hold, all five musicians lock in on the chorus as Sotto goes for his best Halford scream. “Virus” as a song finds Neves again at anchor point with bassist Mattieu Plana strapped in as wingman. Not as easily gratifying as the previous songs - it still find enough strength to set the record’s tone. Progressively friendlier is “The Power & Fury,” an underbelly Saxon tribute no doubt. Yet, the real rocket ride starts “When the Rain Begins to Fall” where we get the patter of keyboard dance beats tucked under a sonic borage of twin guitar hooks. Sotto is joined by an undisclosed female voice as the song duets into the heavier “The Prince of the World.”

Website: Heavenly, Locomotive Records

TANKARD
Kings of Beer
Locomotive Records

Ever the speed/thrash metal purveyors of a good pint, German-based Tankard seem relentless in their obsession with ale. And why not, since their name is an actual reference to the legendary British drinking goblet. The band started their hailed salute in 1985 with a light-hearted drunken assault of punk-influenced thrash. An oddity of sorts, they gained a reputation for being immensely loud and oftentimes reckless. Twenty-some years later they’re still fat, fart-smelling, beer-drinking lunatics squeezing into their faded denim for a good time with the Fräuleins. The reissue of Kings of Beer (2000) on Locomotive Records makes no apologies and gets right to business with tongue-in-cheek pub lyrics “You’re flirting with disaster when I pass some gas” belted over bone crushing guitar and a rumbling backend. What the Macc Ladds did for pub rock, Tankard does for thrash metal. Jokes (and lyrics) aside their musicianship speaks volumes on tracks like “Hell Bent for Jesus,” “Talk Show Prostitute” and “Tattoo Coward,” come plastered with sing-a-long hooks and Manowar riffs. Vocalist Gerre’s fine-tunes his growl with just enough melody to digest “Hot Dog Inferno” and “Incredible Loudness.” One must admire the band’s conviction in keeping life simple with a steady diet of full-till mayhem, neck-snapping head banging, and beer. Watch for the Metallica cover “Damage, Inc.” at the end.

Website: Tankard, Locomotive Records

HACKMAN
The New Normal
Small Stone Records

Three new monster releases from Small Stone hit the streets this quarter. All are impressively heavy and overtly magnanimous. The first out of the box is the bombastic The New Normal by power-trio Hackman. Claiming to be “better riffs for better days,’ the disc spins with a complex somewhat progressive rotation. A pedigree that includes three elder statesmen of stoner rock makes this all the more exhilarating. Guitarist Darryl Sheppard (Roadsaw, Milligram), and a rhythm section that includes bassist Jase Forney and drummer Todd Bowman (Lamont) bask in fuzzed out, bottom dragging rumbling that nearly runs off the rails in places.

Most of the tracks are instrumental with Sheppard’s piercing howl permeating “The Anthem,” one of the few brisk numbers, and the sludgy “I Don’t Need This Shit, I played Budokan.” However, it is the instrumentality of this record that really takes flight. Coming off like a Hendrix-clone Sheppard squeals, bends and torques his guitar in “Ababac” and the hooky “Chin Music” both giving bassist Forney lost of room to move about. Opener “Packed Bat” fuse the Boston three together in a thick melodic soup that can be sonically crushing as well as remarkably memorable. “You Can’t Even Get What You Want” is early eighties Sabbath complete with quick-step riffing and a punishing downbeat. The closing “Fuck You, I played Altamont” is a complete surprise. A slower desert track, complete with trumpet, takes a progressive ride along the lines of “Planet Caravan” and spins seductively out of control.

Website: Small Stone Records

THE GLASSPACK
Dirty Women
Small Stone Records

With a record named after one of our favorite Sabbath songs, “Dirty Women” (Technical Ecstasy, ’76) logs in as The Pack’s fourth unholy opus (third on Smallstone). Hailing all that was glorious about the ‘70’s including the drop of a needle on a rustic vinyl LP, the disc gets going with truckloads of turbo-charged blues amp-ed up on Kentucky backwoods moonshine. “Taming The Ram” storms in with tuned-downs guitars and finds the hook in the bridge. Southern swag soaks the disk but keeps to the back for color and texture. It offers up in generous proportions on the Black Oak Arkansas-inspired “My Curse” with ‘Dirty” Dave Johnson caterwauling like a young Jim Dandy. “Lot Lizard” follows suit with Chad Omen’s foot-tapping electric bass line front and center and meets up with its reprise five tracks later. As an instrumental, “Fastback” nails down a full-scale galloping riff complete with drummer Eric McManus’s hoof beats pounding into a Johnson solo. The drummer’s contribution is superb in the frenzied “Fire in the Trailer Park” and thundering “Super Sport.”

“Ice Cream, But No Reply” has become an office favorite as it moves along briskly with a swath of boogie piano only to be interrupted by occasional vocal breaks. Its clever pacing sets it aside and comes complete with sirens, organ and a brimstone sermon courtesy of Reverend Brian Foor. The whole thing closes with a garage rock landslide awash with guitar feedback. A similar culture vibe is felt in “Farewell Little Girl” which seems to step back in time 150 years to an old western bar packed with prostitutes. Another office favorite, “Play It Loud,” features Adam Neal of The Hookers belching out Kiss-like lyrics bringing the bloated rocker in line with Nashville Pussy. Charming is the 11-minute “Louisiana Strawberry” which finds it’s soul in old blues somewhat reminiscent of Clutch with special guest Matt Jaha (Coliseum, Lords) on guitars and effects.

Website: Small Stone Records

SASQUATCH
II
Small Stone Records

If Audioslave were a stoner band this might be what they would sound like. Huge guitars, intelligent lyrics and a refined delivery that makes for a rewarding sophomore outing. What sets the LA-based Sasquatch apart is their focus on vocals amid their wooly guitar and rhythm romp. Singer Keith Gibbs has one of those unique rock voices that embraces the songs with emotion and sincerity. He also sounds remarkably like Chris Cornell of Soundgarden/Audioslave fame – hence the above reference. Of the eleven tracks featured on II we get big melodic hooks in “Let It In,” the funky groove of “The Judge” and the strong drum/bass fuzz clatter in “Pleasure to Burn.” There’s even a bit southern rock with Skynyrd-soloing in “Barrel of a Gun” which joins the Sabbath/Lizzy-influenced “Seven Years to Saturn” in a tribute of sorts to guitar heroes of the ‘70s.

Oddly the second half of the record showcases the better part of the bottom feeders. “Nikki” breaks the record up with its acoustic-based harmonies. Similar in feel to Norwegian band El Caco it swirls around a mid-tempo rhythm while a spacey guitar riff hovers overhead. We get back into the rock with the searing “Off the Rails,” a massive number with fuzzed-out guitar and Rick Ferrante’s drumming blowing out the speakers. The lyrically powerful “Glass Houses” and the clean guitar swagger of “Rattlesnake Flake” injects a Hellacopters/Datsons edge to darker corners culminating in the acoustic, lazy summer vibe of “Catalina.” The disc finishes up with the ripping “What Have You Done” – a seven and a half minute barrage of Clayton Charles bass riffs powered by intense drums and sludgy guitar with Gibbs best vocal delivery yet. Check out the mid-song break – unbelievable at full volume.

 Website: Small Stone Records

TWINBALL
Slave
Fishing Dog Records

Like a modern day Dokken or Tesla, these four Swedish melodic poppers take retro 80’s hard rock, twist it around and slam it back with urgent guitars, bombastic drums/bass and melodies that will ring in your head for days. Rave reviews of their 2005 Remnants of a Broken Soul made it across our desk and we were most impressed with their comparison to a metallic Thin Lizzy. A couple emails were exchanged and the band were kind enough to forward Slave their sophomore release on Fishing Dog Records. In no time at all “Freak of Nature” with its riff-heavy breakdown became a favorite track. Like most Swede cd’s the discs boasts immaculate production and is sonically brilliant. Each instrument is balanced and full - especially when the twin guitars bear down at top volume. Second song “Never Alive” feeds on those dense guitars arrangements with Danile Samuelsson’s stunning vocals reminiscent of DAD’s Jasper Binzer.

The rest of the band is made up of LE Pettersson (drums), Tee Park (guitar) and Lollo Skollermark (guitar). Understudies of textured groups like Queensryche and TNT have them writing emotionally layered ballads like “Heroes,” “Sorrow” and the acoustic “Rain.” Then they turn around and pen riff rockers “Puppets,” “Faces” and the stalking “Burn” which seal the deal on power and dexterity with a plodding rhythm section that braces up crushing guitars. “Mocking Bird” stands apart as it lays down a single electric strand only to be picked up by the full band in sledgehammer harmonies. Title cut and mid-tempo number “Slave” rounds out Samuelsson’s vocal gymnastics as he throws in a death metal growl for effect. Already veterans of the Sweden Rock Festival the band find the perfect hook in “Blind My Eyes,” a Van Halen-inspired ditty that should take no prisoners and leave the crowd begging for more. Now, if we could just do something about that cover.

Website: Twinball