Motor City Mayhem (CD/DVD)
Eagle Vision/Entertainment

Half the entertainment value of a Ted Nugent show is watching the Motor City Madman tearing it up on stage. His face grimaces during a solo are priceless and his antics are so politically incorrect you can’t help but awkwardly wince. Therefore we must submit to the DVD package as the real value deal, while keeping the CD in the truck for those seasonal hunting trips. King of redneck riff rock, “The Nuge” is in his element as he plays for 20, 000 of Detroit’s faithful in this the 6, 000th show of his 40-year career. All the classics are up close and personal with Ted’s white goatee taking up the majority of the TV screen. They include “Wango Tango”, “Free For All”, “Stormtroopin’” and the sexiest lick ever written, “Stranglehold,” featuring original vocalist Derek St. Holmes. But, we’re jumping ahead…the show starts with a stage lined with servicemen and women in uniform while a ten-foot tall birthday cake is wheeled out to center. It’s the 4th of July 2008 and the house is ready for a celebration.

As uncle Ted pulls a Hendrix and rips loose a distorted six-string “Star Spangled Banner,” a bikini clad Amber pops from the cake doing her best pole-dance moves for the largely testosterone-filled crowd. Dokken drummer Mick Brown counts in “Motor City Madhouse” with Greg Smith (Alice Cooper, Rainbow, Blue Oyster Cult) thumping the bass - which unleashes Nugent’s geetar wail – and that’s only the first song. Sound production and multiple camera angles immediately bring the concert into the living room complete with Nugent’s Gibson hollow body, cowboy bat hat and raccoon tail. The man’s in great shape and at 60 proves he still has the chops and stamina to pull off a three hour, high-energy show. [There must be something to a red meat lifestyle after all.] As the sun sets the stage lighting cast blue and green light over the power trio in as they plow through a muscle-bound version of  “Dog Eat Dog” and “Weekend Warrior”. Ted reunites with his 70-year old guitar teacher for a touching rendition of “Honky Tonk” as they work through the basic riff of the 1956 R&B standard.

Later, legendary drummer Johnny “Bee” Badanjek (Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels, Alice Cooper, The Rockets) sits in for a cracking version of Mitch Ryder’s  “Jenny Take A Ride”. A couple other covers are tossed in including a grooving version of “Bo Diddley” and the Sam and Dave classic “Soul Man”. Nugent has constantly referred to himself as the “blackest white player from Detroit” and puts his money where his mouth is as he plays a scorching version of both with brilliant tone and dexterity. The crowd surges forward when Nugent announces funk brother Derek St. Holmes is in the house. This is where the DVD pays off as a tanned, white-bearded Holms swaggers through his 1975 debut “Hey Baby”. Holmes sticks around for “Cat Scratch Fever” and FM monster “Stranglehold” as the two play like the old days, harmonizing guitars, layering and filling the open spots. As an encore, the over bloated “Great White Buffalo”, complete with pierced arrow, introduces Spirit of the Wild track “Fred Bear” a song dedicated to Ted’s ol’ hunting buddy. Admirably, Nugent delivers a stunning, energetic and captivating show worth repeated viewing for years to come – the only thing missing was Sammy Hagar!

Website: Ted Nugent, Eagle Rock Entertainment

Start Your Engines
Zodiac Killer Records

Italian import Antares, named after the red supergiant in the heart of constellation Scorpius, play punch-to-the-gut, roundhouse-to-the-head, knockout rock and roll. The power trio, with emphasis on fast guitar, and quick bursts of energy for epic effect captured the attention of Zodiac Killer record who added them to their growing stable of punk rock upstarts. Delivering ten songs in half an hour means they knock it into high gear, right out of the box and try like hell to maintain control as they speed along with reckless abandon. First track “Seek You Down In Hell” has the intro recorded at low volume, then - just when you reach to turn it up, the full volume of the track blows the windows out. A clean production emphasizes the thick, Joe Perry-like guitar tone and the hammering drum beats especially in “Spirit of the Night”.

The vocals are shouted more than sung but that makes the whole thing that much more urgent. The amped up “16 Wastoo Much” could be Nugent played at 78rpm where “So What (Bout Our R’n’Roll?)” is piston-pumping Ramones with shades of glam. The Turbonegro (Appletown) stamp on the back cover is a good indication where the groups align their allegiance. “Hard Cock Blues”, “Time Waster” and the title cut (an instrumental) “Start Your Engines” stir a nice brew of slap-happy AC/DC riffs that come fast and furious - all nasty, catchy instantly enjoyable. Standouts “Nightmare (on St. John Street) could be hailed as Angus Young’s proudest moment where “Welcome To San (Fran) Sisto” shows the band stumbling with English and throwing in a little War Pigs to spice things up. Highly Recommended!

Website: Zodiac Killer Records

Rock N Roll Trash
Zodiac Killer Records

“Recorded at Crystal Rain in South Carolina by a mullet-headed jackass,” claims the CD insert. So what do we have here? Four juvenile delinquents from South Carolina that have records that speak volumes (both studio and arrest records). They're cut from the same cloth as The New York Dolls, The Dead Boys, Stiv Bators and The Heartbreakers, with a touch of Detroit Garage (Iggy, MC5). The disc hosts 14 in-yo-face rockers, including The Damned classic “New Rose”. With a snarl and a flick of a cigarette they launch into the anthem “Fast Boys DTK” where the guitars are recorded so loud, they bury the vocals. There’s a lot of distortion and some imbalance in drum and bass mixes but the rawness has charm. The reckless nature of “Yobs Generation”, “Won’t Let Me Kiss Her” and the brisk “Rock N’ Roll A Go-Go” have the band chanting off key like an after hours frat party. “New Fun” is complete Sex Pistols without the hardcore angst but better guitar interplay. Memorable is the staccato lick in the “Wanderer”, the grinding clash of “Get Off” and the Chuck Berry-like “Grown Up Blues”. The band boast of being “Self Polluted” and enjoying the decadence of “Late Nights” yet accomplish more in the octane-fueled “Heartbreaker” and the bass-driven “Rock N Roll Trash” where the songs grow into more than just a garage bash session.

Website: Fast Boys, Zodiac Killer Records

History, Hits & Highlights ’68-‘76 (DVD)
Eagle Rock Entertainment

For fans of Deep Purple this may very well be the holy grail of visual media on the band. Clocking in at 287 minutes, the two-DVD disc set unfolds the story of the Hertfordshire, UK band from their early beginnings in 1968 to their reign as superstars in the mid ‘70s. One of the first groups to label each era (MKI-MKIV), they rightfully claim legendary status in heavy rock alongside Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath. Unlike many bands, they remain mostly intact today still performing over 100 dates a year, releasing new product and proving just as vital in their sixties as they were in the ‘60s. Purple’s humble beginning yielded only “Hush,” a Joe South cover, as a bona fide hit. With the departure of singer Rod Evans and replacement by Ian Gillan, the band rose to its most successful epoch delivering an album a year and touring worldwide at a monumental pace. By 1973 bassist Roger Glover and singer Ian Gillan burned out and left to pursue solo work. MKIII saw the inclusion of Trapeze bassist/vocalist Glenn Hughes and a then-unknown David Coverdale to the line up. Two hard rock classic’s Burn and Stormbringer were born from this union, but by 1975 Blackmore was done and left to form Rainbow. Blackmore was replaced by Iowa-native and James Gang guitarist Tommy Bolin - who died a year later of a drug overdose.

Disc I starts with a short 20-minute history of the band featuring classic snippets from the full video versions also included later on the disc. The ’68 B&W clip of DP covering the Beetles “Help” is a true gem. “Hush” is taken from the Playboy show (hosted by a very young, hip, Hugh Hefner) and comes complete with Evans in yellow skin-tight pants and Blackmore in green satin. Interesting to see how keyboardist Jon Lord rises as the spokes person for the band in these early clips. The midsection of the disc consists of 15 songs of MK II and lacks any reference in the liner notes. A minor complaint but justly frustrating. However, executive producers Tony Edwards and Drew Thompson have seriously done their homework plucking “Mandrake Root”, “Black Night” and “Strange Kind of Woman” among others from a number of sources (primarily German) showing a nice even progression in the growth of the band. As the disc approaches the Fireball and Machine Head session, the group are not only flourishing as songwriters but are visually established in their own personality; Blackmore and Glover in hats, drummer Ian Paice with his “Lennon glasses”, Lord always in a jacket and Gillan’s signature long hair.

MK III and IV are represented by two songs each. “Burn” is quite poor – there are much better copies to chose from but “Mistreated” is from the sensational ‘74 California Jam. Bolin-era “Love Child” and “You Keep On Moving” are also exceptional and lead the band in a different direction. It’s easy to see why core fans struggled with this funky, jazzy time period. Disc 2 is sectioned into three parts MKII, MKIII, MKIV. Here they are meticulously documented in the packaging and liner notes beginning from late ’69 to winter ’76. We get a few more bits from the 1968 Playboy show including Blackmore showing Hefner how to play guitar. There’s a couple exhausting jams (Wring That Neck) from Germany and France for the hardcore. Gillan does his best Robert Plant on “Mandrake Root” while Blackmore tries desperately to embody Jimmy Page in the Rockblast outtakes. Interviews from Burn-era MKIII are insightful with Lord declaring, “We might invoke aggression but we play to release the tension” and a silhouetted Blackmore saying, “I don’t like other people, I find them boring.” A nice capstone is the interview with French-speaking Tony Edwards, Purple’s founding manager.

Website: Deep Purple, Eagle Rock Entertainment

Rocks Europe (DVD)
Rainman Records

Blue Cheer, the seminal pioneers of Heavy Metal. Stoner and Grunge have released their first ever DVD. Formed in 1967 and named after a potent brand of LSD, the San Francisco-based trio celebrates 40 years of deafening and dying power chords in this stunning visual explosion. Filmed in Bonn, Germany on their What Doesn’t Kill You 2007 world tour, original vocalist Dickie Peterson, 25-year veteran Duck McDonald and drummer Paul Whaley pull together a classic set that celebrates the old and institutes the new. Of the ten live tracks, four come from the new disc What Doesn’t Kill You with “Parchman Farm,” “The Hunter” and “Summertime Blues” as the band’s staples. Among the extra features are a rare slide show, studio recording and rehearsal and an insightful interview with Peterson. In the interview he describes how the band came together in a tiny apartment in Haight Ashbury. “We got ourselves a kilo of grass, busted it up on the living room floor and sat their trying to figure out how to start a rock and roll band while getting high.” He later states, “I was orphaned at 12, on the road in a Jimmy Reed cover band and touring the mid-west at 13, and getting more action backstage at 14 that anybody else.”

Cheer played with all the big hippie bands of the day including Big Brother, MC5 and the Stooges. Some bands struggle with their appearance, as they get older, Blue Cheer celebrates it and makes it cool. It’s immediately apparent as the group bursts onstage with the heart-pounding drumbeat of “Babylon,” they are to be taken seriously. Peterson’s voice is a gruff howl yet fits perfectly with the Neanderthal rhythm by Whaley, whereas Duck’s guitar is menacing, intimidating and loud with solos that breathe of mescaline and biker grease. New track “Rollin’ Dem Bones” fits in perfectly with a slide intro and fist pumping beat. Peterson bellows, “I’m a stoner in the first degree…the more I smoke the more they grow.” Other new ones include a sludgy “I’m Gonna Get To You” the metallic “Just A Little Bit” and true story “Maladjusted Child” that host some killer Trower-like wah wah. Mose Allison’s “Parchman Farm” is the heaviest son-of-a-bitch the Cheer does, and blasting from the stage it will peel the flesh from your bones. Eddie Cochran’s “Summertime Blues” was the only legit hit from these guys and is blistering under their feedback - psychedelic and rumbling, they bludgeon the beast into submission. Old blues standard “The Hunter” is the set closer, the devil’s music breathing fire.

Website: Blue Cheer, Rainman Records

Big Electric Cream Jam
Grooveyard Records

This one really blew our minds the first time we heard it, primarily due to the line up but also because of the unrelenting power and passion the musicians put into the performance. Recorded live at the Beachland Ballroom in Euclid, Ohio (9.9.08), the OBC trio includes legendary bassist Tim Bogert who got his start in Vanilla Fudge, then Cactus and Beck, Bogert & Appice. He is joined by guitarist and vocalist Mike Onesko and drummer Emery Ceo from the Blindside Blues Band. For those still curious about the Blindside Blues Band…this is the time to really check these guys out. Onesko is a guitar god! His rhythmic pattern and all-consuming embrace of the blues, ala Clapton is mesmerizing. Big Electric Cream Jam celebrates all things Cream as the trio pay the ultimate homage to the ‘60s giants. The disc erupts with a ripping version of “Crossroads” that easily stands up to the original Fillmore version from Wheels of Fire. Onesko’s voice even sounds like Clapton but his guitar tone captures true magic. The majority of songs are taken from 1967’s Disraeli Gears (4 out of 10) and they stick, pretty much, to the harder rock tracks. You can even hear a little Van Halen in “Politician” where Bogert goes nuts on his bass groove.

The band leave out the poppy “I Feel Free” and there’s no “Strange Brew” but they did include a killer, 8-minute version of Howlin’ Wolf’s “Spoonful” and the thunderous “Toad” from Fresh. “Toad’s” always been a favorite, and the trio nail it down with a gargantuan riff and monster drum solo. The heavy-handed intro of “Sitting on Top of the World” leads right in to Bogert powerful bass thump and really demonstrates how well the band work together. It’s played so thick and chunky that one could easily mistake this version as a Sabbath outtake. The upbeat “I’m So Glad” is a nice counter balance, bouncing along to the drumbeat and opens plenty of room for the rhythm guitar to flush out the distinct solo breaks. It’s positively chilling when the guitar and bass synch up in an electric duet. For us, the standout is the wicked pairing of “Outside Women Blues” and its proper link with “Tales of Brave Ulysses” – a bold move but one that works extremely well. No surprise when the crowd goes crazy as the chords are stuck for “Sunshine of Your Love,” a mind blowing way to end a thrilling set, especially if you stick around for bonus track “Sweet Wine” and its marathon workout of guitar gymnastics. Wish we could have been there.

Website: Grooveyard Records

Play That Damn Guitar
Grooveyard Records

Indiana-native Jay Jesse Johnson graced our cyber pages back in Issue #65 with his hard-hitting and well praised I’ve Got An Ax to Grind. With Play That Damn Guitar he returns with another stellar package of hard-rock blues that shows a more personalized side to his songwriting.  His band still includes bassist Steve Shore (Cryer) with the new addition of drummer Joe Aparo who gets a co-write on a couple of the discs eleven tracks. Little is left of JJJ’s slick AOR pop from his early ‘80s work with Jeff Cannata’s Arc Angel of even the heavy metal of his mid-eighties Deadringer. In fact, it sounds as if triple “J” has returned to the early roots of classic rock and blues that first inspired him. He even dedicates the mystic story “Blues for the Devil” to Robert Johnson and the poetic, almost spellbinding riff-work of “Six String Angel” to Jimi Hendrix. (However, Stevie Ray Vaughn could easily be credited as well throughout several other tracks.) Both songs sculpt the lyrics into mesmerizing tales of passion and beauty while paying tribute to the innovative players that motivate and influence Johnson.

Going for the throat are the frantic “Dream Away” with is slashing solo and the harder “Hear No Evil” – both capturing a Stevie Ray Vaughn vibe complete with Jay’s gruff baritone delivery. “Bad Voodoo” carries a New Orleans buzz with a hint of Chris Cornell in lyrical style - dangerous and contemporary with the clever inclusion of the Beatles “Eleanor Rigby” in the solo. Basking in the glow of ‘70s muscle rock with echoes of ZZ Top boogie and Hammond-fed Allan Brothers is the glorious “Rattlesnake Stomp” and the rhythmic “Shine On.” Joining the band on keys is Jim Norcross and his addition rounds out and balances what could have been an overly guitar-dominated affaire. Not to say the guitar eases up, as both house some insanely vicious fret work. The centerpiece of the record is the title track “Play That Damn Guitar” - a prolific road song with humorous, witty lyrics that fuel an addictive groove. Best line: “When I fire up my riffage and melt those blues away.” The disc does contain a “break up” song but it ain’t no ballad. “Bad Blood” takes the pain of heartbreak, slams it into a hard rock grinder and sonically kicks down the door.

Website: Grooveyard Records

Rollin’ & Tumblin’
Grooveyard Records

The Toto guitarist has accomplished much since his 1993 debut. Having spent years as a session player, it’s nice to see him stepping out from behind the curtain in such an artistic and formative way. Many will remember Spinner’s name from his several Mike Varney (Shrapnel, Blues Bureau International) contributions that included tributes to Albert King, Stevie Ray Vaughn and Jimi Hendrix. Aside from touring with Pat Travers and Paul Gilbert (Mr. Big), Spinner also graced three Toto efforts including Livefields (1999), Live in Amsterdam (2003) and Falling In Between Live (2006). We covered his prolific solo effort Live In Europe a year ago and so were thrilled when Rollin’ & Tumblin’ showed up in the mail box. The same trio lineup of Spinner, bassist Michael Mulder and drummer Han Neijenhuis deliver a classy slice of blues-edged rock in the styling of Rory Gallagher and Robin Trower. The disc takes the spark of the live setting and fuses it with the warmth of the studio. By arranging nine originals with five influential covers they explore combustible, inspired guitar with catchy, textured rhythms.

Recorded in Germany at Eylandranch studios Rollin’ & Tumblin’ caters as much to Spinner’s resonating timber as to his flash fret fingering. Shuffling the blues in several directions make the disc that much more enjoyable. There’s the waddle of “Walkin’ The Walk” with it’s hypnotic bass bounce, the ‘70s swagger of “Luv Thang” over a sizzling lead and the funky groove of Rufus Thomas’ “Walkin’ the Dawg.” Best lyrics go to “Goldfish Bowl Blues” with its double-entendre mask and layered guitar tone. While the southern-fired Leadbelly classic “CC Rider” is a slide-driven, laidback study in footstompin’ delta boogie, the title cut “Rollin’ & Tumblin” (Muddy Waters) has more of a Skynyrd adaptation. The hard rock fire burns brightest on opening track “Saturn Blues” and SRV-inspired “Count Your Blessings” with plenty of fret fury, great vocals and comparisons that include Ritchie Kotzen. Echoes of Toto abound in the FM-friendly “Saving Grace” but it’s the Stones/Faces Keef-guitar in “Lay Down Your Crutch” that truly won us over. Honest, pure and intense.

Website: Tony Spinner, Grooveyard Records

Black Leather Soul
Nickel and Dime Records

One of our more eagerly awaited records this summer is the debut effort from LA-based Angus Khan. Their press release claims the group’s 12-track long player sounds like AC/DC in a throwdown with Genghis Khan.  But I gotta tell ya – any band who knows the magic of the Sensational Alex Harvey Band and plucks “Midnight Moses” for their lead-in track has got their shit together. The five-piece not only have a decent record collection but they grew up with the likes of Gun and Roses, Jetboy and LA Guns. In fact, band guitarist Frank Meyer was in punk’n’ roll Streetwalkin’ Cheetahs, while singer Derek Christensen is from the underground heroes B-Movie Rats. Originally formed as ex-Runaways Cherie Curie’s backing band, the leather-wrapped bikers took their sessions to the streets eventually pounding out the anthem “Call Me Motherfucker”, the Angus Young tribute “Big Balls” and their mantra “Black Leather Soul.” A lethal combination of grease and whiskey bravado not only prove these guys rock hard, they kick serious ass.

Late one night, after a Turbonegro show, the band niked the comment “Exile on Mean Street” and penned what might well become the ace track on the disc. Fueled by a Keef riff played through Ron Asheton’s flying V at supersonic speed, it’s hammer drumbeat and whipping bass keeps the frenzy in the air. If that’s not enough to make your ears bleed crank “Chainsaw Betty” for another ride on the rock ‘n’ roll rollercoaster with the memorable lyrics, “She’ll meet you at the front door, ass in the air face on the floor.” Twin guitars gun down any that oppose the mean lick of “Scene Bitch” while Iggy-inspired “Bop City” has strip club pole dancing written all over it. Their signature crushing blues gnaws at “Mr. Living Dead” as the bass-powered “Silver and Green” goes for five-minute plus of pure Runaways-meet-Cult soaked mayhem. Gluecifer would be so proud! The revved up biker fest of “On The Run” spills out of the speakers at breakneck speed closely followed by the macho, testosterone-driven “Hot Pant.” Now go catch your breath and hit replay.

Website: Angus Khan

Black Light White Lines
Small Stone Records

It’s been a long time coming for this Portland, Maine outfit but one listen to Black Light White Lines and it’s obvious the band have been doing their homework. For a debut, this is amazingly strong boasting a balls-to-the-wall rhythm section and a bulldozing duel guitar attack. The vocals are gritty with a shade of Lemmy especially around the frayed edges. We could even make comparisons to The Rods or Tank with a Southern drawl. The licks come in spades from the catchy “Eye For An Eye” to the bass-thumping “Black Magic” and head-pounding “The Gripper”. The four-piece don’t try to reinvent the wheel, experiment with mind-numbing jams or attempt to be something they’re not. They are a rock band and this IS a rock record. Like their idols Aerosmith and Lynyrd Skynyrd, SGIE actually work on the song structure before committing it to vinyl. Therefore songs like “Heaven Help Us All” and “Hellwell” are not only heavy as hell but spiced with a generous dose of retro riffs and sidewinding solos. The open chord fuzz of “Turbo Fire” should really be played through an 8-track in a ’74 Camaro with the ol’ Zenith speakers for full effect. Closer “495” is a plodding “Simple Man”-grinder sung with that ragged out voice we all get at 4 in the morning. The guitars shake and tremble, then, like “Highway Song” ignite over driving backend in a flurry of rapid fire notes that leave holes where the speaker cabinets once where.

Website: Small Stone Records

Grand Union
Metal Blade Records

The great Firebird has graced us with another sweat-soaked slab of heavy rock that continues in the vain of Humble Pie, Grand Funk and even Sabbath. The truly dedicated Billy Steer (Carcass) leads the blues-rock trio as guitarist and singer. The group has averaged three years between each opus and Grand Union sees the addition of bassist Smok Smoczkiemicz and return of original drummer Ludwig Witt (Witt was also on 2006’s Hot Wings after leaving the ban din 2001). Everything about this disc reeks of 70’s incense and bell-bottoms. Even the tracking order on the back traycard divides the 12 songs into side “A” and “B”. Punctuated by massive riffs including the funky groove of “Blue Flame” the foot-stompin’ “Wild Honey” and tuned down “Gold Label” heralds the majesty of what these guys are capable of. Even their cover of James Taylor’s “Fool For You” is heavy-handed with a cock-sure swagger. Both “Jack The Lad” and Humble Pie’s “Four Day Creep are heavily influenced by Gary Moore’s staccato styling - tough and rugged with plenty of gusto. The real cherries are in the blues infested Duster Bennett cover “Worried Mind” and the gorgeous closer “Caledonia” with it’s swaying backbeat, Hammond strains and Celtic undertone. Brilliant!

Website: Firebird

Två Sidor Av Horisonten
Crusher Records

It’s unbelievable how this Gothenburg five-piece capture a quintessential ’73-era sound. Using Music-A-Matic Studios (Union Carbide Productions, Hellacopters) the group, which formed in 2004, merge the sound of heavy classic rock including progressive, blues and psychedelic to make their whole vibe reminiscent of early Thin Lizzy, November and Blue Cheer with the occasional dose of Sabbath. Yep, the wha-wha, fuzz, slide, double riffs, thunderous drums and killer vocal are all there. The production has an uncanny warmth with a thick bottom and analog feel. “Nightrider,” bursts forth with a twin lead then moves into a Status Quo boogie that’s catchy and loaded with aggression. That same Quo quality is splashed all over “High Time,” “Horisont Boogie” and “Tiggaren” with a ting of Allman Brothers added for measure. Roughly half the record is sung in native Swede with the other half in English lending itself to a diversified package with an eclectic exotic mysticism.

The high stepping “Just Ain’t Right” is classic BTO with a Grand Funk backbeat. The vocals are a higher octave Ozzy with Budgie in the wings and the guitars are cutting heads in a whiplash of frantic fury. There is the Free-ish “Oh, My Lord” that borrows more than just a bit from “Walk In My Shadow,” even the slow plod and distinct distain echoes of Paul Kossoff. “Visa Vägen” is right in there with more of a lean toward Savoy Brown, textured with cowbell, a bombastic drum and one of the record’s heavier riffs. Painting a psychedelic landscape is the Uli Jon Roth-styled blistering lead in “The Unseen.” A classic take on “This Is My Song,” it capturers the mood and sway of post-hippie Kraut rock then slows to a muddy dirge. It’s genius - and easily one of the album’s favorite. The band take a breather on the lighter paced “Du Röde” with it eloquent sense of melody and cascading time changes. It really winds up at the end so hold on tight. Six-minute “Efter Min Pipa” rolls up Trower, Pinera and Hendrix into a collage of mind-numbing licks and throbbing bass for a grand album closer. This disc is the real deal, hunt it down and memorize it.

Website: Horisont, Crusher Records

Independent Release

Hailing from Boston comes the Machines of Grace, a super group of sorts including Savatage, TSO bandmates Zak Stevens (vocals) and Jeff Plate (drums). Matt Leff (guitars) and Chris Rapoza (bass) are products of the same fertile Boston soil that bred Aerosmith, Godsmack and Dropkick Murphys. Both also played together in Trigger Effect, voted best unsigned band by Sam Goody. History has it Stevens, Plate and Leff played together in Beantown’s Wickedwitch during the dawn of metal. Reunited, the four produce music that is a return to the best of eighties hard rock with chugging riffs, melodic choruses and fist-pumping rhythms. Several Wickedwitch originals have been dusted off and rerecorded with a much improved, sonically vibrant, production courtesy of Paul David Hager (Goo Goo Dolls, Pink, Avril Lavigne). “Just A Game” blows away the old demo as Leff’s guitar leaps from the speakers with Plate’s thunderous drumming close behind. Stevens, taking time off from Circle II Circle, adds his own magic and vocal gymnastics to the anthemic, “Breakdown” the power-chord opus, “The Moment” and the late summer rocker, “Better Days.”

Though progressive and vital, the band’s collective influences bubble up from under the surface. There’s the Dokken-like “Fly Away” that has one of the best riffs on the 14-track disc. The song makes for an air-guitar moment when the munch of the lick locks into the drum grove. “Innocence” follows with a bass lead, and though almost completely acoustic, still embraces a density that is soulful and profound. The gently picked “Prelude” joins “This Time” as dramatic melodies are interspersed throughout to cushion the bone-crushing blow delivered by the more aggressive, “Between The Line” and chainsaw effect of “Soul To Fire.” That attention to emotion and mood adds a professional soundscape missing in our “single” fixated music marketplace. It also shows how accomplished the core musicianship of this band really is. “Bleed” spills over from Circle II Circle’s heavy focus on the metal crunch and muscle bound hook that never lets go. Concentrating on the three chief components of the riff, the beat and melody secure Machines of Grace as leaders in the current hard rock revival.

Website: Machines of Grace