Thursday, March 20, 2008

Leaving Quite A Legacy!

CELTIC LEGACY – “Guardian Of Eternity” CD ’08 (Private, Ire) – You know, it’s funny. There are albums you feel good about from a strict musical standpoint. You know, the new MARS VOLTA comes out, makes you cream your jeans and you just can’t stop talking about it. But from a personal perspective, it’s not like you can call Omar up and say “Hey, the new record is really smokin’, bro!” There’s other stuff where, even though the record isn’t a world-beater, you’ve known the guys forever and you’re just damn proud of ‘em for keeping pushing till they got the sucker out. That’s cool. But, every now & then, somebody you know who has been through, not a world, but a galaxy full of shit, either personally or industry/band-related hacks their way through the rubble with a machete made of guts, determination and balls and when the smoke clears, checks in with a work of art that nails your ass to the backboard. Enter Ireland’s CELTIC LEGACY, in particular main man Dave Morrissey (guitars/keyboards) & his sidekick, Dave Boylan (bass/vocals). Since their debut, several years back (reviewed on a way-old site of mine, where they were also interviewed), these guys have delivered a couple of the most top-notch, consistent melodic metal albums out there…that nowhere near enough people even know about. I am not kidding when I say that this band’s initial 2 offerings were not only right up there with the best of modern-day Riot but were even better. Great enough, but when you consider the fact that they have faced one uphill battle after another, more trials and tribulations than a card-carrying Mets fan at a Yankees convention…well, it’s admirable that they even made it to the point of recording a 3rd album. Whether it be finding musicians reliable enough to keep a line-up stable for a month or labels who could get their heads out of Staind clones asses long enough to listen to actually good music, Dave Morrissey has refused to give up. He’s kept pressing on and, with Boylan as his faithful compatriot has put together a line-up that has recorded “Guardian Of Eternity” and released the record on the band’s own label. Now completed by Ciaran Ennis (vocals), Keith Hendley (guitar/vocals) & Conor Gillen (drums) CELTIC LEGACY have come up aces on absolutely every front. Throughout the 10 tracks here (clocking in at nearly 58 minutes…think there’s any guitar solos?!), this 5-piece from Ireland put on a clinic here that sees them reach the summit of the melodic heavy metal mountain. From the very opening piece, “The Sentinel,” the first thing that hits you here is the production, handled by Mr. Morrissey himself. This is the kind of work we used to expect in the ‘80’s from people like Chris Tsangrides or Martin Birch. You won’t be able to ignore the guitar playing either. Between Dave Morrissey and Keith Hendley, they must unleash probably, oh 100 solos or so each throughout the course of the disc, including a plethora of harmony leads. Every one slides into it’s respective place perfectly, never overdone, always right between the eyes. Then you’ve got the vocals of Ciaran Ennis. Picture a cross between the apex of Harry “The Tyrant” Conklin & Geoff Tate and you may be on the right track. Through cuts like “King Of Thieves,” “Afterworld” and the mammoth 11 minute closing title cut, this is 5 Blue Angel jets coordinating the upper echelons of power, fury and stunning ability into a sterling work of metallic art. Do we even need to get into the fantastic lyrical concepts, a Celtic tour de force that would make Mr. Lynott himself proud? My thinking is this, friends: Those words you have cluttering up your brain like Riot, Helloween, Queensryche, Jag Panzer…you can go ahead and free up some space in your cranium, you may not need them anymore. And, if you still have some surplus brain cells laying around you might give the Dave’s Morrissey & Boylan a call. I’m sure they’d be happy to meet you down at the corner pub to kill ‘em off.

AGAINST NATURE – “Much In Little” EP/”Descend” EP ’08 (Bland Hand, US) – Well, it’s been off to a roaring start for 2008 when it comes to excellent releases in the “damn good” music category we subscribe to here at the ‘REALM. None too shabby in this department is AGAINST NATURE, who fresh off capturing my 2007 Album Of The Year (“The Anxiety Of Influence”) have already hit the new year running with 2 brand new EP’s! John Brenner (guitar/vocals) sent me the 2 of these together on one disc (they’re available for download on the band’s site…see below), so I’ll review them as such. And, they make such a good pair anyway, they almost seem like an album. Truly, it’s an absolute pleasure to watch a band like AGAINST NATURE develop as they have, going from a decent doom-metal unit to an artful, expressive and unique musical force the likes of which we used to see in the hallowed early ‘70’s. You don’t have to look any further to see what I’m talking about than the “Descend” EP. Numbers like the title track & “Rue” see the band (fleshed out by Bert Hall Jr. (bass) & Steve Branagan (drums) keep their power & heaviness intact while allowing the music to flow into waters often inhabited by the likes of old masters Gentle Giant as well as more modern-day progressive architects like Anglagard or Paatos. The blend is dynamite, especially accompanied by Brenner’s ever-developing vocals, often reminiscent of Peter Hammill himself. Still, the thing that really sends AGAINST NATURE over the top for me is the constant unfurling of John’s guitar work. Much as was Billy Gibbons in the early ZZ Top days (albeit in a differing style), Brenner has become a master of tonal experimentation, as can be seen all through “Descend.” You simply never know what kind of sound he’ll summon forth next when it comes to his leadwork, be it a nasty, Leslie West Gibson bite or a lush, suffocating Trower Strat wash. Anyway at all, it always fits the song like a glove, as do the super-unique ways he launches into solos. One thing many guitarists get trapped in is their predictability in opening a solo. Not John, as he constantly takes chances, veering from where the listener would expect and then somehow making one say, “But…of course!” within a few more seconds. The “Much In Little” EP begins by taking a more direct, ‘70’s hard rock approach with “Touch Me Not”….but then, no! About 3 flowing rhythm changes later, you’re thinking “Wow, how did we get here from there?!” Or how about “Mystic Cynic,” with it’s decidedly oriental opening and reoccurring theme? This is surely top level stuff and, once again, before anyone thinks I’m neglecting to mention the work of Hall or Branagan here, fear not! These guys put together an amazing and super-organic bass/drums tandem that is as heavy-yet-elegant as the work of Brenner. Simply put, AGAINST NATURE is one of the very best heavy and, yes, progressive bands on the planet. Get out there & support ‘em!

PRIDE TIGER – “The Lucky Ones” CD ‘08/’07 (Caroline/EMI, Can) – March 11. That’s Paul’s (my 14 year old) birthday and if the birth of one of your children isn’t enough to make a day special, then what’s your problem? It’s also now a helluva day for rawk, since it’s when Caroline (ANOTHER of my kids’ names! Ok, this is getting freaky…) released this disc by PRIDE TIGER in the U.S. (It came out in Canada in mid ’07). Apparently, a couple people in PT were in metalcore band Three Inches Of Blood. There is one other thing that is very apparent, however. Forgetting all your terms du jour (metal, stoner, prog/power, melodic, hardcore, etc.), PRIDE TIGER have put out an album of nothing but pure, kick ass hard rawk of the highest order. In fact, the more I listen to this CD, and trust me in a little over a week, that’s been a lot, it’s startling to me how Goddamn good it is. The song writing here is on such a commanding level that I’m reminded, not only in style but in quality of Thin Lizzy & the late Philip Lynott. Check out opener “Let ‘Em Go.” It never will…let you go, that is, Maynard! And how ‘bout the welded-to-your-brain rifferama of “The White Witch Woman Blues? More comparisons with Lizzy (and, in a modern sense, a bit of Danko Jones, as well) come to the fore in the guitar work dished out by Sunny Dhak and Bob Froese. I love the tone these cats latch onto & dig their versatility. Sure, they riff like madmen and uncork monster solos & harmony leads in virtually every cut. But then check out something like the dreamy coda of “A Long Way Down (Shine). Sorta like Schenker on “Between The Walls.” Or listen to the haunting interlude, “Wizard’s Council.” (What, were these guys Sorcery – “Stunt Rock” fans?!) That’s on an unexpected & special level you’d expect from Andy Powell/Wishbone Ash. From another angle, I’ve also gotta pay dues to drummer Matt Wood. In the fine tradition of Canadian sticksman/crooners (Gil Moore, Dan Beehler) Matt brings home the bacon by telling his stories in a quite engaging way, in his case with definite Lynott-ian shadows. And why should I ignore Mike Payette? Besides handling bass, he throws in mandolin and harp for good measure. Point is, PRIDE TIGER is a supremely talented bunch who have surprised the living hell out of me with an album that not only pays homage to that golden ‘70’s era of hard rock but even betters some of that decade’s output. Yup, March 11. “The Lucky Ones” comes out in the U.S. and my son was born 14 years ago. Did I mention that his middle name is Philip…as in Lynott? And, my first cousin’s 2nd wife had a baby named Sarah…. BUY!!!

AIRBOURNE - “Runnin’ Wild” CD ’08 (Roadrunner, Australia) – So, just when you thought Ray was going to blow his wad over every disc that came across his desk this time…along came AIRBOURNE. There isn’t a whole lot for me to say about this album except that, on the surface…on the very surface and at first listen, it sounds good. The production is huge, gigantic, in fact, and that’s something that until about, oh, let’s say the 2ND listen, glosses over the fact that this band has nearly nothing to offer whatsoever. They are from Australia, they are oft-compared to AC/DC on this here internet thing, but the truth of the matter is that they lift/steal/beg/borrow every riff they can find from every ‘80’s metal band they can and then splice it together, accenting it with ALMOST NO GUITAR SOLOS! So, what the fuck is the point? What gripes my soul to no end is that all the dj’s on stations like our very own 98 Rock are touting this crew like they’re the saviors of metal. Metal doesn’t need saving, and certainly not by a bunch of weak-sister wannabes like this who then hide behind a pro production job like The Emperor’s New Clothes. Flush City, daddycakes!

JACK BRUCE / ROBIN TROWER – “Seven Moons” CD ’08 (Big Daddy, Can/Eng) – I once saw a show, 1975 I think it was, at the Baltimore Civic Center (later to be re-christened the Baltimore Arena, the First Mariner Arena, etc.) That show featured the Leslie West Band, Montrose & ROBIN TROWER and it cause me great concern for a few days. Not only was I fearful that I’d lost my hearing (it was, especially TROWER, one of the loudest things I’ve ever heard) but also I found myself to be a bitterly defeated amateur guitarist. Now, of course, a week or so down the line, I was actually inspired to continue on with an even greater fervor than before but after seeing Leslie, Ronnie & ROBIN go off for a couple hours, I figured myself to be a hopeless case. TROWER taught me a lot of things in those early days, the most important being that you don’t have to play fast to be impressive and that you also don’t need a guitar with “Gibson” on the headstock to kick complete ass. The word “Fender” will do nicely. Those were the days, also when RT’s album “Bridge Of Sighs” dominated the trusty turntable with blasting jams like “Day Of The Eagle” & “Little Bit Of Sympathy” getting the re-cue treatment. Which brings us all to today. TROWER’s trusty side-kick bassist/vocal master James Dewar has sadly passed on and he’s now still in that comfortable power trio format, yet joined by the legendary JACK BRUCE on bass/vocals and Gary Husband (of fusion fame) on drums. So here’s the lowdown. Will this album make anyone forget “Bridge Of Sighs,” “For Earth Below” or “Long Misty Days?” Don’t be silly. We’re 30+ years down the road. No, this album does not rock harder than those hallowed platters. Frankly, it doesn’t rock as hard, save for a few numbers like “Lives Of Clay” and “The Last Door.” No, but what “Seven Moons” does do is to paint an elegant picture of a guitar player who, this far along in his career, is still very much a “player.” The laid-back yet powerful bluesy content here, evidenced in sterling gems like “She’s Not The One” or “I’m Home” indicate a man who is at one with his instrument and evoke a subtle power that’s a joy to hear. Same goes for Mr. BRUCE, who in no way takes a back seat in the proceedings. Of course he’s not James Dewar, for Christ’s sake, nobody could ever be that perfect a foil for RT, but as on his earlier collaborations with ROBIN, his deep & soulful vocals throughout tell the story of a guy who knows this music better than most guys know their wives. “Seven Moons” may not be a balls-out rock fest but it sure goes down good on these ears.

OVERDRIVE – “Let The Metal Do The Talking” CD ’08 (Lion Music, Swe) – Now THIS is metal. Airbourne should take this CD, go to a deserted island where they can’t hurt anybody but themselves while they try to absorb what this veteran Swedish outfit have done. The first thing they would learn is a very quick, sharp and knife-like instrument to the head called “Lead Guitar.” If anybody here remembers, OVERDRIVE were one of the first real, live heavy metal bands from Sweden and one of the things that put them on the map was the guitar work. Who can forget Side Two of that “Swords & Axes” album?! Jesus! Just when one solo ended, another one took off and it all fit perfectly in the context of all the songs. Axe slingers Janne Stark (he of later fame in Locomotive Breath, Mountain Of Power, etc.) and Kjell Jacobsson open up the floodgates again here, some 24 years down the line & sound like they’ve never stopped. Oh sure, the tuning for the rhythms may be lower, the riffs may be a tad more gnarly than on those ancient texts they scribed in the ‘80’s, but one listen to “Fight To The Finish,” “Trapped Under Ice” & “Sinister Warfare” will let you know these guys mean Business with a capital “B.” Serious “shards of lead guitar death” time, kiddies. With all 4 musicians returning from the olden times, you might ask how new singer Per Karlsson fits in the mix. The answer is…great! Listen to him on “Gravy Train” or “Bring Me To Submission.” This is first class metal, just like you were hoping it would be…no “oh shit it’s a reunion of old folks” here, this is just a bunch of hungry wolves coming back for another feeding frenzy and your auditory canals are in danger of a good beating. Grab it now!

DANAVA – “Unonou” CD ’08 (Kemado, Can) – I still remember being blown away when I saw DANAVA open for Witchcraft a couple years back. So impressed & drained was I by their performance at The Talking Head that I actually left before Witchcraft played. To be honest, I was not feeling well to begin with and had to work the next day…and I did get a chance to see the ‘Craft not long after but the point is, nothing they would have done that night could’ve outshone this whirling dervish from north of the border. To be fair, DANAVA does not make music that you would put on for a Friday night party with the boys. There’s a thought process, an experimentation & psychedelic aspect involved that, while decidedly metal, if they were from the ‘80’s they’d more likely rub shoulders with Sacred Blade than Metallica. And, if you thought the songs on their debut were long & involved, well Charlie Horse, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet (Ah! Another Canadian rock reference!) when it comes to sprawling works like “Spinning Temple Shifting” & “Where Beauty And Terror Dance.” Dusty Sparkles (yup, I kid you not) vocals take some getting used to and this time around, the band have even added a bunch more keys and even the occasional horn to the mix. Still, Sparkles guitar is metallic and bludgeoning enough to lure in the more experimental of ‘bangers and his lead work is a thing of beauty. Think Mark Shelton mixed with a heavy dose of Hawkwind. There’s no doubt that DANAVA may be a bit of a stretch to those who’s idea of complex is the tempo shift in “Let There Be Rock” but if albums like “Warrior On The Edge Of Time,” “Open The Gates” and “Four Times Sound Razing” (Silberbart) populate your shelves or if you just love something new, different and GOOD…nab this baby.

POOBAH – “Underground” CD ’05 (Private, US) – This is a disc I look at with much akin to the Jack Bruce/Robin Trower one reviewed above. While Youngstown Ohio’s Jim Gustafson may not be as household a guitar name as Mr. Trower, he’s by no means any less great. One listen to records from the ‘70’s like “Let Me In,” “U.S. Rock” and the immense “Steamroller” will let the listener know they’re in the presence of sheer mastery on the six-string front as well as in the hard rock writing sweepstakes. Here we have the latest disc to come across my plate in the form of 2005’s “Underground” and it’s definitely a keeper. Much in the same way that Billy Gibbons constantly updated ZZ Top’s sound, through periods like “Deguello” and “Eliminator,” so Gustafson has done so with POOBAH. The modern production apparent on tracks like “Psychic Malfunction” and “Clear” actually goes down quite easily and lends a crystal clarity to the dynamic interplay between Jim (guitar/vocals) and Woody Hupp (bass, drums, vox). Big Jim’s lead guitar work is simply fantastic throughout, leaving nobody to wonder if this guy is still on top of his game. He is, and not only that, the acoustic work that crops up in a few songs is sterling. Is this as raw as “Steamroller?” Of course not, but it’s a new fresh sound for an old face and he’s wearing it well! Keep rocking, Jim!

PULLING TEETH – “Martyr Immortal” CD ’07 (Deathwish, US) – Don’t you ever wish you could go back to the old days in the ‘80’s when thrash was thrash and bands like Slayer, Legacy/Testament and Possessed just loaded up and came at you with all guns blazing? I mean, just for a moment in time, the hell with all the bells & whistles and just stick your head in a meatgrinder for about 30 minutes with the volume at 11? Welcome to the dentist office then, as the teeth pulling shall commence! This band, PULLING TEETH is just what the doctor ordered and this latest record of their’s is to be administered with no anesthesia whatsoever. Through 13 tracks with names like “Shit Eaters,” “Ashes & Dust” and “Basically Dead,” PULLING TEETH basically kick your ass senseless with a verve & vigor I sure admire. Amazing is the fact that, in 2 ½ minute songs, they actually manage to include a host of rip-sawing guitar solos, the effect of which is something like that cranium surgery the Mayans did that the Discovery Channel is always showing…holes in skulls. This is purely killing, ripping metal/hardcore that brings back a time I wish was still here. PULLING TEETH would’ve ruled The Loft! Support local crush!


Hard Rock Hideout said...

Hi Ray,
Cut my boys Airbourne some slack.

Yes, their music is derivative of AC/DC, The Angels, and Rose Tattoo, and probably a few other of the bar room Aussie bands out there.

This CD may have a stellar production, but the guys in Airbourne back it up with a killer live show.

I have quite a few live videos that I have taken and posted at HRH.

On a side note, I will be checking out Overdrive, and the new Loudness. Both of these sound excellent.

Rob Rockitt
Hard Rock Hideout

raysrealm said...

I hear ya on AIRBOURNE, but it'll always bother me when bands like BIBLE OF THE DEVIL, OGRE, THUNDERLIP, FALCON, etc. keep bustin their humps and get virtually nowhere and then AIRBOURNE turn into stars. But, hey, they could be STAIND or THREE DAYS GRACE, so I guess I shouldn't complain to much, eh? :-) Definitely give the LOUDNESS a try and the OVERDRIVE too!