King Diamond – “The Eye” |
| May 16th, 2011 under Album Reviews. [ Comments: none ]
Tracks: Eye of the Witch; The Trial (Chambre Ardente); Burn; Two Little Girls; Into the Convent; Father Picard; Behind These Walls; The Meetings; Insanity; 1642 Imprisonment; The Curse
Best track: Insanity
Tracks to skip: The Trial, Two Little Girls
I’d be curious to see how hardcore King Diamond fans rate this album. I know most people tend to rank Abigail, Them and Conspiracy as his best, but this album isn’t usually mentioned as much as the others. I don’t enjoy it as much as Conspiracy, the only other KD album I own. Just like with that album, my main problem with this album is in the vocals. I think King Diamond is a great songwriter – the music he writes is uniformly excellent, his band are great writers as well. And yeah, I dig his lyrics too. He’s great at delving into truly dark subject matter and this album is no exception. Some very dark stuff happens here! But it’s his vocals that always stop me from listening to his stuff. Some of the time I can take it, but most of the time his falsetto is so utterly ridiculous that it snaps me out of the story and makes me just laugh. His vocals in The Trial and the chorus of Father Picard are a good example of this.
Musically, wow, this stuff is so good. There weren’t many metal bands that could come up with stuff this cool. There’s just a ton of fantastic guitar playing on here. The intro riff to Burn is excellent. Musically this song is so great, it’s just the vocals that ruin it. To be honest, the only really bad songs on this album are The Trail and Two Little Girls. The rest have enough redeeming features that I’ll enjoy them when I do pull this out. Of the songs with vocals, my favorites are Behind These Walls and 1642 Imprisonment. Tremendous songs, all the way through.
Honestly, I only own this album because of the instrumental track Insanity. Written by guitarist Andy La Rocque it’s a wonderfully mellow piece with face-melting chord changes, solos and all around beauty. This is one of my favorite pieces of music by ANYONE. It’s a truly gorgeous song and every time I listen to it….I feel as if my soul is somehow improved. I don’t know if I can put it any other way. It’s a beautiful song and one that I’ll happily listen to for the rest of my life.
As an album, I don’t like “The Eye” as much as Conspiracy. The songs are great, but I can’t handle King Diamond’s vocals. I’ve long accepted that, though. I just try to tune him out and concentrate on the music. Taken as a whole, though, man this album is hard to listen to. I get so torn on rating this, because it’s only one aspect, the main one, that makes it so difficult to listen to. If you already like King Diamond and can handle his vocals, give this one a try.
Jeff Buckley – Grace |
| May 15th, 2011 under Album Reviews. [ Comments: 5 ]
Tracks: Mojo Pin; Grace; Last Goodbye; Lilac Wine; So Real; Hallelujah; Lover, You Should’ve Come Over; Corpus Christi Carol; Eternal Life; Dream Brother
Best track: either Grace, Mojo Pin or Hallelujah
Track to skip: none
I completely missed Jeff Buckley when he came out and I really wish I would’ve loved this music from the beginning. I first heard this album (Buckley’s only complete studio album before his death in 1997 at age 30) only a few years ago and it still feels like I missed out on something major. Well, we all did since he only recorded so few things in his short life. I’m always one to see the potential in musicians and it’s always a huge loss when a musician dies so young. Like any number of my idols, Cliff Burton, Randy Rhoads, etc, it’s hard to not be depressed about thinking “what could have been”. So in a way, it’s both a blessing and a cure that this album is so good. I love it for what it is, but I lament the possibilities that never come to fruition. Every time I listen to this album I’m struck with that dichotomy. All that said, YES, this is a tremendously good album. Buckley grew up listening to the right bands, groups such as Zeppelin, The Who, Rush and Yes and he certainly absorbed so much of that musical vocabulary. The songs on this album are all great, and that needs to be said, but they’re not the only bright moment here. I love how there is such a great balance between the great songs, the excellent musicianship, the deep and emotional lyrics and Buckley’s fantastic voice. His voice is delicate one moment and powerful the next, with the use of his great falsetto throughout.
That balance is why this album is so appealing to so many people. You can just get into the beauty of his voice, best exemplified on his moving version of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah, or you can dig into the stellar guitar work on Mojo Pin and Grace. There’s so much on this album for anyone to love. For me, it always comes back to the musicianship and songwriting. I absolutely love the “Led Zeppelin” change in Mojo Pin. It’s so cool and completely unexpected and it blew me away the first time I heard it. All throughout these songs I hear the confidence of a musician who knows how to handle the electric guitar better than so many others. His jazz fusion background definitely comes through in his knowledge of how to do the right things at unexpected times. It impresses me so much when a musician can make music that connects with the masses so easily, but underneath are songs and musical ability that floors me.
It’s really hard to pick a “best song” here because so many are excellent. I know many people are very tired of hearing Hallelujah, but he does such a tremendous version of it. It’s truly excellent and for me the benchmark for how it should be done. The other two covers here are nice as well – Lilac Wine and Corpus Christi Carol. I love hearing him stretch out and play some classical music here…and then he busts out with the heavy and absolutely rocking Eternal Life. Man, the change in the middle of Eternal Life is so cool and so well-written!
Overall, I love this album. Granted I’ve only been listening to it for a few years, but I always discover some new awesome thing every time I listen to it. It’s one of those that I love the more I listen to it; it just gets better and better. If you haven’t heard it yet, please go check it out. Great stuff.
[On the album’s 10th anniversary in 2004 Sony released the Legacy Edition of this album that features a DVD with videos and a documentary and an additional CD of music. There are some alternate versions of songs from Grace and a lot of covers, mostly solo songs played by Buckley. You get a much broader sense of what Buckley could do, there’s a lot of blues stuff here, but also large amounts of heavy rock stuff. The primary draw of this bonus disc is the song Forget Her. It was originally going to be the album’s first single, but Buckley pulled it from the album at the last minute and put So Real on in its place. While I definitely like Forget Her, he absolutely made the right decision in pulling it. This bonus disc has some great stuff and some average stuff, but it’s a worthwhile addition and shows off more of the great stuff Buckley had up his sleeve.]
Trey Gunn – The Third Star |
| May 14th, 2011 under Album Reviews. [ Comments: 1 ]
Tracks: Dziban; Symbiotic; Arrakis; Sirrah; The Third Star; Acquiring Canopus; Kaffaljidhma; Yad Al-Gawza; Kuma; Indiera……
Best track: The Third Star
Track to skip: Indiera
There’s a good bit of growth on this album from Trey Gunn, especially in the sounds & arrangements. It’s much more creative and atmospheric than his previous material. It’s odd reviewing this stuff, because I honestly don’t listen to it much anymore. Just normal listening, I mean. I used to listen to this album all of the time and I’m very familiar with the music here. Besides purposes for this review, I don’t know if I’ve listened to it in the past 6 years, maybe more. A lot of that is because I just don’t listen to this “King Crimson-related” music as much as I used to. I rarely even listen to Crimson these days. So, while I definitely enjoy this and love the musicianship of this album, it doesn’t MOVE me as much as it used to. I reviewed Trey’s One Thousand Years album about 9 years ago and while I certainly think this album is better in every way than that one, I just looked at the review and I gave it a 91. Gulp! Maybe it is that; I haven’t listened to it in years either. I think what I’m trying to say is that I’ve outgrown this kind of music. I still love proggy stuff, but it’s not the lifeblood for me that it once was. And honestly, that colors my reviews and how I perceive this music.
All that said, yes, I do still enjoy this album. It’s really creative and a huge leap forward from his previous effort. The first thing that jumps out to me is that Trey Gunn doesn’t sing on here as he did on One Thousand Years. I know that he really didn’t like his voice so it makes sense he’d bring other vocalists on this album. Only three of the tracks have vocals: Toyah Wilcox on Symbiotic, Alice Visconti on the Third Star and Serpentine on Indiera. I’m not a huge fan of Toyah’s voice, but the 7/8 groove on Symbiotic is excellent. It’s the most “rock” song on this album and in an alternate universe it probably would’ve been the “big single” from it. The title track has the best (by far) vocals on the album. Alice sings this contemplative song in Italian and she sounds great here. It’s definitely my favorite song on the album, just really peaceful with wonderful Italian vocals and the layered Warr Guitar from Trey Gunn. As for Indiera, the only reason it’s listed as a track I skip is because of the vocals. Serpentine’s growling and snarling vocals here are so out of place. It’s an interesting idea and it certainly sets the song apart, but it’s ultimately a bad decision and makes most of the song completely unlistenable. That aspect also makes it bad choice to the end album on.
Musically, most of this album is a duet between Trey Gunn with his layers of Warr Guitar and percussionist Bob Muller. Fellow Crimson member Pat Mastelotto plays drums on Acquiring Canopus and Kaffaljidhma so it’s nice to have his contributions here too. A lot of the music on this album features what I’d call “world music” grooves. There are a lot of Middle Eastern and Indian-type grooves here, and combining those with “prog” makes for a very interesting listen. It’s very cool to hear a prog/world fusion; not what you normally hear from prog artists. Of course, so much of the playing is definitely still firmly entrenched in the interlocking style of guitar that Trey was a part of in Robert Fripp’s Guitar Craft. As I said, musically this is a very creative album and while it doesn’t connect with me as it used to, I definitely still enjoy it. The grade is a reflection of how I feel about the album today. Things change as I grow as a listener and musician.
American Carnage: Anthrax, Megadeth & Slayer 10/1/10 |
| May 4th, 2011 under Concert Reviews. [ Comments: 2 ]
American Carnage: Anthrax, Megadeth & Slayer
10/1/10 – Arena at Gwinnett Center, Atlanta, GA
Caught in a Mosh, Madhouse, Antisocial, Indians, AIR, Metal Thrashing Mad, I Am the Law
Black Sabbath/Biafra intro, Holy Wars…The Punishment Due, Hanger 18, Take No Prisoners, Five Magics, Poison Was the Cure, Lucretia, Tornado of Souls, Dawn Patrol, Rust in Peace…Polaris, Trust, Headcrusher, A Tout le Monde, Symphony of Destruction
Encore: Peace Sells >The Punishment Due
World Painted Blood, Hate Worldwide, War Ensemble, Blood Red, Spirit in Black, Expendable Youth, Dead Skin Mask, Hallowed Point, Skeletons of Society, Temptation, Born of Fire, Seasons in the Abyss, South of Heaven
Encore: Raining Blood, Aggressive Perfector, Angel of Death
The bands wanted to try to persuade people that this wasn’t the same thing as the Clash of the Titans tour back in 1991 (Anthrax, Megadeth & Slayer, with Alice in Chains opening), but even a change of name for the tour isn’t going to convince anyone. American Carnage…Clash of the Titans…whatever. It’s still Anthrax, Megadeth and Slayer and that alone sells it. I had never seen Slayer so I was very excited for that, plus it had been about 15 years since I’d seen Megadeth or Anthrax so I was extremely psyched. Plus, Joey Belladonna was back with Anthrax so I was interested to see how he’d sound in a live setting in 2010. I wasn’t impressed with his performance in the Alive 2 DVD so I was hoping the band could be redeemed from that lackluster DVD.
My friend Don does a music blog (with a focus on metal) and he got the opportunity to get some good seats for the show, take pictures during Megadeth’s set and do an interview with Megadeth’s drummer Shawn Drover. In order to get me in to the backstage area, I was Don’s “photographer”. It was cool to get backstage at the venue to see a side that very few fans get to see. In addition to talking with Drover (a very cool guy and an absolutely excellent drummer) I was able to at least say hi to David Ellefson, Dave Mustaine & Chris Broderick from Megadeth and Scott Ian & Joey Belladonna from Anthrax. Belladonna was especially cool as he complimented me on the King Crimson shirt I was wearing. He then proceeded to walk down the hall singing Crimson’s Three of a Perfect Pair. That was a cool moment.
After the Shawn Drover interview Don and I headed up to our seats and prepared for Anthrax. The area wasn’t as full for Anthrax as I would’ve liked, but as they were designated the “opener” they got the earlier and thus shorter set. Anthrax was always one of my favorite metal bands so I was very excited to see them. The set was a good selection of the hits (Caught in a Mosh, Antisocial, Indians, I Am the Law) with some nice surprises like AIR and Metal Thrashing Mad. Anthrax sounded SO unbelievably good! I was blown away by how absolutely ON FIRE they were that night. Joey sounded great and the whole band was almost as good as the first time I saw them back in 1991. To compensate for age, they did down tune all of the songs a step lower than they were on the albums. This didn’t bother me one bit, as it brought the music a nice heaviness that wasn’t there before. Plus, anything that makes Joey Belladonna sound good is fine by me. It made me so happy to not only see Anthrax again, but to see them sound SO GOOD. I had the biggest smile on my face after Anthrax’s short set. I could’ve listened to them for the next two hours and I would’ve been totally happy.
But no, that wasn’t to be. Megadeth was next.
As Don and I witnessed backstage before the show, Dave Mustaine was pretty sick and to be honest, it was very evident from his voice. Vocally he wasn’t 100%, but as far as his guitar playing went, it was spot on perfect. For this tour Megadeth was playing their Rust in Peace album in its entirety so that was a great bonus for me since it’s my favorite Megadeth album. It was great to see “Junior” Ellefson again and the two new guys (for me) Drover & Broderick were awesome. I loved hearing Rust in Peace straight through and they sounded great on it. For the remainder of the set there were hits old and new and even the lame-as-hell Symphony of Destruction sounded good. The encore of Peace Sells and a reprise of The Punishment Due was an excellent choice. While I really liked Megadeth’s set and it was the memory of a lifetime to see all of Rust in Peace performed live, they still weren’t as good as I think they could’ve been. Mustaine’s sickness definitely had something to do with it, but also they just seemed a bit too technical for me. They played everything PERFECTLY, but it was it was just a tad *too* perfect for me. That’s a small complaint though, because they were still damn good.
Now, Slayer was the big unknown for me as I’d never seen them and I’d always wanted to. It was the classic lineup of Jeff Hanneman, Kerry King, Tom Araya & Dave Lombardo and they were playing the excellent Seasons in the Abyss album in full (again, as with Megadeth, my favorite Slayer album). I like that Slayer didn’t start off with Seasons’ opening track War Ensemble, but they played a couple of songs first before going into it. To be honest, Slayer was exactly as I expected them to be. They were really good musically, super tight and extremely powerful. Dave Lombardo absolutely blew me away. He’s one of the most amazing drummers I’ve ever heard live and if not for Anthrax’s stellar set, he would’ve been the highlight of the show. It was awesome to hear them play Seasons in full since it’s such a great album. The set closer of South and Heave and then the three song encore were amazing. I was so thankful that I got to see Slayer play all of their best songs. My only beef with Slayer is the guitar solos. Both Hanneman and King are excellent guitarist, but when it comes to soloing the somehow lose that amazing technical ability and play the most horrendous leads ever. It’s just, here’s 16 bars, let’s play the most random and atonal crap possible. It bugs the hell out of me because they really are fantastic musicians, but then they go and play crap solos. Whatever. That’s an argument I’ll never win.
This Clash of the American Titans of Carnage show was a ton of fun and made me realize how much I love all three bands. I was happily surprised by how good Anthrax was and even though there were minor nit-picky stuff I didn’t like about Slayer and Megadeth, overall it was still an amazing night.
Here’s the link to Don’s blog about the show, including a lot of pictures –
And also, the link to his interview with Shawn Drover (I took the pics!) -
Art Blakey – Free For All |
| May 3rd, 2011 under Album Reviews. [ Comments: none ]
Tracks: Free For All; Hammer Head; The Core; Pensativa
Best track: Free For All
Track to skip: none
This is a pretty hard-hitting release, the only album I have by Art Blakey and his Jazz Messengers. For this iteration of his band he’s got Wayne Shorter on tenor sax, Freddie Hubbard on trumpet, Curtis Fuller on trombone, Cedar Walton on piano and Reggie Workman on the bass. As for Blakey himself, he absolutely rages on the drums here. Nearly everything he does here is relentless and exhilarating. While all of the players do some fantastic stuff, Blakey and Shorter are the stars of the album. The title track especially is completely balls-out. Blakey is phenomenal here and Wayne Shorter’s playing is super intense. Free For All is definitely my favorite on the album. Both of the songs on side 1, the title cut and Hammer Head are Shorter compositions and he plays so wonderfully on them. “Free For All” is such a great title for this album because that’s really what it feels like. Somebody says “go” and it’s an insane, mad dash. I love that about this album. You know, even when Art Blakey is playing with a little less intensity, there’s still a forcefulness and thorough command of the instrument. His drum fills are wonders to behold. Except for the bossa nova feel of Pensativa, this is a pretty intense and heavy album. Sometimes, it’s almost too much, but Blakey manages to keep the band *right* on that line and it’s awesome. This is a very hard-hitting album that gives an early glimpse of Wayne Shorter’s power before he went on to dominate with Miles Davis’ group in the mid-late 60’s.
Beastie Boys – Paul’s Boutique |
| May 2nd, 2011 under Album Reviews. [ Comments: 1 ]
Tracks: To All the Girls; Shake Your Rump; Johnny Ryall; Egg Man; High Plains Drifter; The Sounds of Science; 3-Minute Rule; Hey Ladies; 5-Piece Chicken Dinner; Looking Down the Barrel of a Gun; Car Thief; What Comes Around; Shadrach; Ask for Janice; B-Boy Bouillabaisse
Best track: Shake Your Rump
Tracks to skip: High Plains Drifter, Sounds of Science, 3-Minute Rule, Looking Down the Barrel of a Gun, Car Thief, What Comes Around, B-Boy Bouillabaisse
Most Beastie Boys fans regard this album as the group’s best, a severely underrated classic. I completely disagree. Maybe it’s because I’m only a casual fan, but for me this one is a massively boring album. I’m willing to bet that I’m the only one who feels this way. So be it; I don’t care. One of the main problems I have with this album is that it’s either hot or cold. Some of the tracks are excellent, while the rest seem to be absolutely dreadful, and worse, boring. There are 15 tracks here and 7 of them are outright boring. As I listened through this, that’s the best adjective I could think of for these bad songs: boring. I did pinpoint what I think a lot of the problem with this album is. Most of the tracks I skip have what sounds like a “pot haze” to them. Maybe the album sounds better if you’re stoned, but if you’re not…most of these songs are incredibly boring. I’m not going to point out all the instances because it’s well over half of the album. And that doesn’t bode well for anything, regardless of who it is.
It’s frustrating with the bad stuff, because the good stuff is truly excellent on here and light years better than on the first album. The great songs here are Shake Your Rump, Egg Man, Hey Ladies & Shadrach. Shake Your Rump is definitely the best song here. It’s got a fantastic groove and I love that big ass bass hit that happens every so often during the song. This song especially shows significant growth from the band in the 3 years since License to Ill. As someone who frequently participated in “extracurricular activities” involving eggs back in high school, I definitely have an affinity for Egg Man. The lyrics are great on this one. Shadrach has a ton of great rhymes as well. On Hey Ladies (a wonderful wakeup call in the middle of all those hazy songs) I love their use of including samples as part of the lyrics and rhyme scheme: “She Thinks She’s the Passionate One” is great. Even though I don’t care for the song at all, I love the Beatles sample in Sounds of Science. The samples on this album are definitely inventive. All throughout, even on the crappy songs, how the band used samples, both musical and lyrical, is highly creative.
While Paul’s Boutique has significantly more groove and creativity than on License to Ill, there’s still the issue of the bad songs and I simply can’t get past that. Seven outright bad songs compared with only 4 really great ones makes for a very difficult listen. No matter how much I’ve listened to this album, I’ll never be one of those that claim it’s a masterpiece. So far from it, it’s not even funny. I’ll let the hardcore fans have this one – it’s not for me.
Billy Belzer – You Shouldn’t Have |
| May 1st, 2011 under Album Reviews. [ Comments: none ]
Tracks: Devil Girl, Good Clown; Someone You Trust; The Concessionaire; Rose of the Rockies
Best track: The Concessionaire
Track to skip: none
I know of Billy Belzer from being the drummer in The Mongol Beach Party and Grumpy, but he’s also known from playing with New Amsterdams and a short stint with Uncle Tupelo. I was happy to see the release of the EP, as I’d heard The Concessionaire when The Mongol Beach Party played it at their reunion shows on 2009 and I loved it then. Heh, I still love it! I didn’t know how the song would be released, so it was a great surprise to see Belzer put out this EP on his own at the end of 2010.
As a “singing drummer” I’m happy to say that I like his voice and it really fits with his songs. The music is the kind of quirky pop that I’m used to hearing from him, with some nice alt-country flavors spread throughout. Guitarist Jeff Freling, who played with Belzer in The Mongols and Grumpy, has some great guitar playing here, particularly on Good Clown and Concessionaire. These two and Devil Girl are my favorites on the album, but that doesn’t surprise me since they’re the faster ones. Of the slower ones, I think Someone You Trust is a better one than Rose of the Rockies, but either way it’s nice to see that slower side of Belzer’s music. I really enjoy this EP and I hope that this is just the “first one” rather than the “only one”. In addition to being a good drummer, Belzer’s got some good songwriting chops with quirky and smart lyrics on all of these songs.