Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Mad as hell!

HEIR TO MADNESS – “The Citadel” CD ’08 (Private, US) – Keller, Texas. I have to admit, I know nothing about it. Google it and you read about it being “part of the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex.” Sounds kinda modern and yet, when I hear the name I’m first thinking of a place where there’s a lot of pick-ups and rodeos. I should be ashamed, first off because I’m probably dead wrong and secondly because I never expected to hear a prog rawk gem the likes of “The Citadel” emanate from it’s boundaries. HEIR TO MADNESS, the “band” involved in the building of this “Citadel” is, as it turns out, one guy named Jay. That may not sound intimidating but, as an amateur musician, I’ve gotta say, his work here is damn impressive. So now you’re going to try & get me to ‘fess up and tell you what HTM sounds like and I guess the jumping-off-point would be Porcupine Tree. Still, there’s a lot more to be found in the 8 mostly-lengthy tracks here. While a the title of a cut like “Arbiter Of Somnolence” may bring horrifying visions of a Fates Warning outtake, this track features jutting guitar riffs alone that would make a band like that wilt in their pseudo-prog tracks. When you couple with it the deft melodies that weave in and out, including a chorus to die for, you’ve got a bona fide winner. This kind of musical blend continues throughout the album, adding in aspects of jazz as well. The melodies are catchy and cohesive and there’s always a generous dollop of distorted axe grinding right around the corner to keep the mood heavy. We’ve debated the “prog” word ad nauseum around these parts, yet with Jay riding his HEIR TO MADNESS project outta Texas & into your speakers, there’s definitely a new sheriff in town. 8.5

GLYDER – “Weather The Storm” CD EP ’08 (Private, Ire) – Funny thing, this music bizz. Some bands take 7,000 years to make an album, piss about a hundred band members off in the process and come up with a pseudo effort that’s weak, tired & uninspired. Then they make a hundred or so mil off said debacle. Others throw 5 songs on an EP between records that they release themselves ‘cause they can’t find a label to even nod at ‘em and the thing hauls motherfriggin’ ass. Meet GLYDER. They’re from Ireland and they’re a lot better than Gums & Noses. In fact they’re so good that the late Phil Lynott’s mother likes ‘em. Put that in your pipe and smoke it. Within these 5 songs, these cats go everywhere from a rousing cover of a tune by THE STUNNING to a lengthy title cut that recalls the best moments of the aforementioned Philo’s gang, Thin Lizzy, without ever getting close to aping. The dual guitars of Bat Kinane and Pete Fisher bob & weave like twin jet fighters and Tony Cullen’s vocals tell the respective tales with a wry storyteller’s vibe. Those of you who’ve read this site for awhile know how damn great I considered this band’s last full length opus, “Playground For Life,” and this EP is way more than just a taster for the next one. Buy now. 8.5

THE MANSFIELDS – “Cramp Your Style” CD ’08 (Gearhead, US) – Of course, once you say “New York Dolls influence,” everybody and their brother says “Fer Crissakes, Ray, how many jerkwads have done that?” And I say, “Yeah, maybe so hossy-hoover, this ain’t gonna change the world, discover an element or feed an entire country’s worth of starving children but they do what they do good.” A couple of Elvis (as in The Pelvis) covers as well as the odd nod to Nashville litter the back alley formed here by one zombie punk brick after another. Like I said, this ain’t gonna be the band you sell your Buick to follow around on tour but they sure do make a sweet drunken listen on a Friday night…well, if I was young enough to drink anymore, leastwise.

OMNIUM GATHERUM – “The Red Shift” CD ’08 (Candlelight, Swe) – Damn, isn’t that a mouthful! OMNIUM GATHERUM. It’s the kind of name that makes people smile. I have to admit, I chuckled at it a little. Then again, it sort of pissed me off when the Hives-loving, skinny-jeans-wearing, stupid-hair-cut-sporting dude at Local Record Emporium laughed when I asked him if he had it in stock. Still, all joking aside, this crew are a good bit better than their name might imply. Surely steeped in the age-old (how ancient does that make me feel?) Gothenburg death metal tradition, they rise above the ad nauseum level by injecting some real melody into the proceedings. A very consistent record, aided and abetted by the always-sterling production values of Dan Swano, “The Red Shift” won’t blow you away but it’s surely worth a 2nd or 3rd…maybe even 4th listen. 6.5

SIENA ROOT – “Far From The Sun” CD ’08 (Transubstans, Swe) – Hey know what, this Transubstans label has it all goin’ on, dig me? Yeah man, of course they’re from over Scandinavian way where the geetars rule the world. But there’s more to it than that. You see, besides understanding that rawk runs rampant over everything, they also understand…dig the vibe, man! It’s all about the vibe. SIENA ROOT are from Sweden and, brother do they dig the vibe. Not content to be stoner, not content to be desert, these cats take the deal way back to the ‘60’s and wear their tie-dyed headbands on their shirtsleeves. Hmm…maybe it’s the lysergic dust floating down from the loft upstairs or maybe I’m just old but dang if the names of the songs aren’t hard to read. Who care, though as this here musical combo reminds me of the old days of the Airplane and records like “Surrealistic Pillow.” Guitars like Jorma-before-he-was-a-tuna pervade and luscious melodies waft through the hazy smoke of those “funny” cigarettes. Sweet. 8.0

ULI JON ROTH – “Under A Dark Sky” CD ’08 (SPV, Ger) – At first I got kinda psyched about this newest effort from guitar God ULI JON ROTH and, on initial listen, was kinda smitten with this release. Funnily (is that an adjective for something being “like a funnel?”), however, with repeated spinnings, my assessment began to decline. Thing is, I’ve always really liked ULI. His odd Dylan-on-helium vox aside, the guy has always played a mean freaking axe and the octaves he’s reached on that wicked Sky guitar has cost me a few years off the old auditory nerves in the live format. Still, with each listen of “Under A Dark Sky,” this disc has revealed itself to have less & less actual substance. Sure, the arrangements are classically admirable. Sure, the musicianship in general and the guitar work (natch) in particular are startling. And yet, upon reaching the end of the album, I’m left wondering…what the hell did I just hear? That’s right, can’t remember a whole lot. Nowhere to be found are the either the blustering rhythmic onslaught of old Scorps gems like “Dark Lady” nor the ethereal Hendrixian landscapes of “Firewind.” While ULI still seems like an old friend, his latest disc should perhaps be entitled “Under A Kinda Empty Sky.” 4.5

Monday, December 29, 2008

A Real Live One

CRACK THE SKY – Recher Theatre, Towson MD – December 27, 2008 – For a band I’ve really dug, it had been a long time since I saw CRACK THE SKY. This Pennsylvania crew issued 3 of the most fantabulous records of the ‘70’s (“Crack The Sky,” “Animal Notes” & “Safety In Numbers”) back in the latter part of that decade. Hard rock? Sure, but taken from such a unique perspective both musically & lyrically that they were probably much too good to be recognized by the masses. Whether it be the vertebrate-fracturing off-time rhythms, the searing dual guitar leads or the shrewdly written, mega-thoughtful lyrics of John Palumbo, it was an incendiary mix that I stumbled onto and gladly embraced. After that initial trio, the band went on in various formats to release a series of albums over the years that, while often diverging in style, were at least always interesting. Funny thing was, I sorta lost track of ‘em during that time. I think some of it may have been due to the fact that I was stuck on the original line-up and, in truth, the last time I brushed with CTS in the live format was at Painters Mill Music Fair (Maryland people, remember that?!) in the ‘80’s. So, when Rick & Roll from suggested I join him on a venture to witness CRACK in Towson, I was only mildly interested at first. It was after going online & finding out that, yes the band did feature Palumbo and original guitarist Rick Witkowski, it also had seen bass master Joe Macre return to the fold last year, as well as drummer Joe D’Amico back on board. I too was onboard! (So are guitarist Bobby Hird, not an original but he’s been with ‘em forever now, and keyboardist Glenn Workman).

I won’t beat around the bush (I’ll leave that to Angus…although, not much beating going on with “Black Ice” but that’s another story) but 2 nights ago at the Recher, CRACK THE SKY kicked ass! I have to admit, being in the dark on their activities for some time, I had no idea what to expect from 2nd guitarist Bobby Hird. Suffice it to say, he is a perfect friggin’ match for Rick W. By the time the 2 of them had finished singing the ears off the side of my head with the massive Christmas-song interlude in “Surf City,” I was in the Hird herd! The set list did nothing to disappoint, featuring all the stuff you’d pick out of your first hat like “Hold On,” “Mind Baby” and “She’s A Dancer” not to mention ones I’d kinda hoped for, such as “Rangers At Midnight,” “Nuclear Apathy” and “Wet Teenager.” When the Sabbath-y opening of “Maybe I Can Fool Everybody Tonight” took wing on the guitars of Witkowski & Hird, this ol’ CTS junkie was smiling pretty wide. Other highlights included (of course) “Ice” (with a breathtaking piano solo by Glenn Workman), “Lighten Up McGraw” (complete with a face-melting guitar exchange from Bobby & Rick) and “L’Acte Patriote” (the striking epic from the band’s outstanding new album “The Sale”). Even better yet was beholding the chemistry of old guard Palumbo, Witkowski, D’Amico and Macre, turning back the years and proving that they are anything but a cabaret act, something too many groups with ‘70’s origins are these days. The way Hird & Workman fit in this band is remarkable as well, for a prodigal son like me who’s new to them. The absolute pinnacles of the night for this scribe, however, was twofold in nature. First, watching Palumbo, who looks fantastic, commanding the stage with every bit as much panache as he did in 1977 was a true gas. The 2nd thing that I really got off on was the playing & stage presence of bassist Joe Macre. My memories from the old days always placed him high on my list of favourite bass players and now I’m convinced that if I ever start a band, I’m calling this guy to see if he has some extra time (yeah, right!). Joe was an absolute Mack truck, marauding the stage and pulling out some of the most show-stopping 4-string ripping I’ve seen since the vintage days of Geezer, Geddy or Stanley Clarke all the while fusing with partner-in-crime D’Amico to form a rock solid bottom. No knock against some of the interim bassists CTS has employed, like Carey Ziegler, etc., but this guy is THE SHIT!

Anyway, what a great show and a great time for me to get back heavily into a band who should have been huge but were simply too good for the general population. My only recommendation would be for anyone reading this who’s into killer, hard-assed & intelligent music to check into CRACK THE SKY. Even some 32 years after their debut, it’s not too late…they’re still here!

Highly recommended:

“Crack The Sky”
“Animal Notes”
“Safety In Numbers”
“White Music”
“From The Greenhouse”
“The Sale”

Monday, December 22, 2008

Big coffins and hard pops

BIG COFFIN HUNTERS – “Drive Another Nail” CD ’08 (Private, US) – BIG COFFIN HUNTERS are from Maine. That is a very good sign. Heretic’s Fork is from Maine and they crush. Ogre is from Maine and they slay. To further spread the tendrils of connectivity here, BCH know Ogre, and the latter’s Will Broadbent did some fine artwork inside this CD’s sleeve. As a final piece of the back-drop, BCH did an EP in 2006 that ruled. But let’s stop all this pussy-footing around, shall we? None of that makes this disc any good. What does make “Drive Another Nail” good is the fact that these 4 guys lay down the business here. Sure, there are reminders of metal from the past, echoes of Maiden, aspects of Kyuss and even hints of the better part of modern acts like QOTSA. But, the thing that makes BIG COFFIN HUNTERS stand out for me is a sometime fleeting, hard-to-pinpoint quirk in the songwriting. Oddly, while they don’t have a very similar style at all, this idea of injecting little parts, unexpected chords & such things in songs often calls to mind one of my fave NWOBHM bands, Legend. Now while I’ll be careful in pointing out that this record is not “Death In The Nursery” (what is?!), it is also very clearly the work of an excellent metal band who write & play in a manner that says “we want to be remembered.” In short, an excellent release, one that bodes well for the future and one that comes recommended to most readers of this site. A Mack Truck Of Pine Boxes

TOWERS OF LONDON – “Fizzy Pop” CD ’08 (Vibrant, Eng) – I really dug TOWERS OF LONDON’s first effort, “Blood, Sweat & Towers” back in 2006. It was a way-cool slab of British punk rawk laced with a Pistols feel and enough of a dash of pop to send songs like “Air Guitar,” “On A Noose” and “How Rude She Was” deep into my mind. Hell, even the unapologetically titled “Fuck It Up” was present in both a rawkin’ and wooden version, lending credence to the theory that you can be snotty and hook-laden at the same time. I’ll admit that it sure as hell caught my eye when I read quite some time after that record’s release that the band were parting ways with not only their drummer, but one of the guitarists. I mean, hey, not to minimize the contributions of sticksmen, but let’s face it, Judas Priest & Budgie made an-album-to-album habit out of that in their early days and the quality never dipped. Guitarists, on the other hand, even in a 2-axe lineup are often part of a more tricky equation. Anybody doubting that need look no further than Thin Lizzy’s ill-advised attempt to stick bluesman Snowy White in the Robbo/Moore slot for “Chinatown” & “Renegade.” Umm….ouch. Anyway, it was with some trepidation then, that I approached TOL’s new “Fizzy Pop” disc. Still, pop it in the player I did. What I found is a band who have, yes, re-invented themselves and yet done so with such fun, such panache that the results are scintillating. Is “Fizzy Pop” more polished than “BS&T?” Sure it is. Is it better-produced and in a clearly more pop direction? Yup. Is it great? Oh, yeah! What TOWERS OF LONDON (Donny Tourette – singer, Dirk Tourette – guitar, Tommy De’ath – bass, Ben Henshall – drums, James Phillips – guitar) have done is to move forward without forgetting the past and, in doing so, make themselves even better. To be honest, what I like so much about this record is that there’s less Pistols here and more fucking TOWERS OF LONDON! A pretty wide brush-stroke, sure “Naked On The Dance Floor” has a pop sheen to die for but when the guitar solo kicks in on “Go Sister Go,” you’re thinking that Best Buy should probably choke on all those copies of “The Chinese Dildo.” The na-na’s and sing-a-long parts in “Time Is Running Out” and “Queen Of Cool” are as infectious as a five year old smearing his snot-covered fingers on a countertop, the old-style Slash/Keef guitars in “Avaline” crank & whine and “Beach Bar” is as camp, silly and rawk & roll pawty time as it gets. It's all tied together nicely with the acoustic “New Skin” (complete with “wah-wah” backing vox), a worthy, although stand-alone successor to “Fuck It Up.” “Fizzy Pop” may not be designed to change the world, but then again, neither was “Appetite For Destruction.” A Big Hard Stiff Fizzy Pop

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

LOUDNESS drummer, Munetaka Higuchi is dead

The below report is from the official LOUDNESS website. I've been a fan of this band since 1981 and feel great sorrow reading the words below. I can remember the first time I saw a picture of LOUDNESS in Record Review Magazine and, not even having heard them, could tell from just looking at the live pics of them that they were heavy as hell. I hope that the other 3 guys continue on with their vision but right now, that's not the most important thing. My heart goes out to Munetaka's family & friends and I hope they can all find an inner strength and peace at this time. Again, from the official LOUDNESS website,

Munetaka Higuchi passed away from liver cancer at a hospital in Osaka city in the morning of Nov. 30, 2008.
With permission from his family, we are officially announcing his passing. We realize this announcement came late and we apologize for that.
With his and his family's request, a wake and funeral will be held privately. For the press and the fans, we will make sure that you have an opportunity to say your goodbyes to him at later time.
For the last eight months since he was diagnosed with liver cancer, he had been in and out of the hospital several times for the treatment. For the entire time, he was very positive and bravely fighting this disease. He had this strong desire to come back to the stage to play for the fans again.
His death came very suddenly and was a very immature one.He lived his life to the fullest as a rock drummer who always gave us hopes and dreams. His heart and soul for music will be succeeded for a long time to come.Munetaka, we are grateful for all your hard work and the great 49 years you lived with us here in this world.
We would like to express our appreciation for all your condolences sent here for him.
With our deepest sympathy,
Soul Bread Ltd.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008


Well folks, it's that time again! We're reaching the end of yet another year of music and with that in mind, it's time for us all to go on record & make fools of ourselves salivating over a handful of the better platters of '08. So, send in your Top Ten long-players (CD's, albums, whatever you want to call 'em). The only requirement is that they were released in 2008 (I know there is sometimes a sticking point over the date on the back of disc... e.g., sometimes something is dated 2007 and actually isn't available until 2008. What we're looking for is things that became available during know what I mean. Anyhoo, send in your Top 10 list to my email: The cut-off date is Jan 31, 2009 for the simple reason that we give you till the end of the year and then a little time to get your thoughts in order. Then, right after Jan 31, I'll publish the results of the poll, plus my own Top 10 for those of you who give a dern. BE SURE TO INCLUED YOUR POSTAL MAILING ADDRESS IN YOUR EMAIL! Anyone who sends in a Top 10 by Jan 31, 2009 will receive a kewl surprise from me in the mail shortly thereafter! So, list away! Again, send the Top 10 and your mailing address to:

Monday, December 15, 2008


DEADSEA – “Deadsea” CD ’07 (Chrome Leaf, US) – Don’t you hate it when some music critic type guy says something like “Columbus, Ohio, known for a music scene involving bands like The Stapler, who completely defy categorization….” I mean, what the fuck is that, right? “Defy categorization!” Sounds like a bunch of bullshit to me…except for the fact that it’s the truth, as the Columbus scene really has generated some maxi-wild stuff: Dinosaur Jr., Husker Du, The Replacements, Monster Truck Five and hell, yeah, The Stapler in recent times. So, I suppose it figures that a metal band from there might have an air of the different, the odd, the askew about it. And indeed…although that may be a bit of an understatement when it comes to DEADSEA, for I’ve gotta say that this trio probably have the word “askew” stamped in large black, block letters across their foreheads, groins & God knows where else. I never knew George Washington and I know I’m no friggin’ George Washington but I cannot tell a lie. I’m stealing this next premise from the cool dude who runs when I say that other than the sweeping broadstroke of “metal,” I cannot find a genre that can hold these suckers. You see, in the space of the 6:14 of initial cut “Northwitch,” this trio dips their feet in everything from Iron Maiden to Scandinavian black metal to Rush to Slough Feg. Well, perhaps that’s not completely fair as rather than dip their feet, they more so jump in with big boots, sending cascades of ideas raining down on the listener in rivulets of originality that would make most of their contemporaries blanch. And, it doesn’t stop there for these 3, who I’ll now stop to name…shit, I’ve never done this before! Is this breaking new ground? What the hell, here we go!
Adam Smith - electric & acoustic guitars, arp and moog synthesizers, tapes, vocals.
Alex Conley – electric & fretless basses
Jeremy Spears – drums
As a little bit of an aside…have you ever noticed that when album credits list some dude on “fretless bass,” either they are going to seriously nail some butt or completely make pompous asses out of themselves. Here’s a clue…DEADSEA ain’t no asses. This is butt-nailin’ time!
But I digress…and…I repeat myself when I digress, I repeat myself when I digress, I repeat myself when I digress…I repeat…. Anyway, like I was saying, the fun doesn’t end with “Northwitch.” Oh no, people, for then comes stuff like “Coming Home,” “Killing Faith (Crying Death)” and the 1:30 ramrod of “Assault.” Blinding thrash, crazed black metal wailing, and then seemingly incongruous pauses, or should I say…could I say…sinuous melds from blind aggression into gorgeous, swirling melodies such as happens during the 4 minutes of “Vampyre’s Kiss.” Would this be enough? Probably for most people, the laymen, those who walk on the periphery of rock music and are amazed by the intricacies of Coheed and Cambria. Humpf. Would they be ready for the 27 MINUTE BARRAGE of the last 2 songs?!?!? Nah. “Frozen Rivers,” 16+ minutes of twists, turns and switchbacks, hanging on for dear life as the 3-wheeled motor-cart of DEADSEA swerves ever closer to the precipice on each successive hairpin, guitar melodies suspended in the air like a breathy mist, laced over the barbed wire violence of metallic bloodshed. All this and surgical precision, too! It’s like a sweet nightmare you never want to wake up from. Then, to sooth your soul, which has been ripped wide open like a gaping wound by the musically rich carnage that’s gone before, the nearly 11 minutes of “The Morning Frost” arrive on the horizon. Here, Adam Smith (who is clearly the brain trust of DEADSEA…although his 2 mates are no pikers) spreads layers of luscious guitar colourings, harmonies & melodies through the course of this mammoth instrumental…and you feel so calm…until, when you thought it was over, the cut erupts into a final burst of chugging, railroad-spike thrash that cracks every centimeter of your skull that had been left intact and...the album comes to a close.
Listen up, people. This disc came out in 2007 and I just found out about it. And, already I’ve included it on the ‘Realm as a Grand Halls piece. That should tell you something. And, while I’m still very comfortable with my pick for last year’s album of the year going to Against Nature, I’m not sure this one wouldn’t have given it a run for it’s money. So, do what you have to do. The only thing I can tell you is, if you’re from around the Baltimore area, get your laptop out because there wasn’t a copy of this bitch to be had at any record store in the area so it’s Amazon or eBay time. 9.5

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Stairway To Canada

MADKING LUDWIG – “Seven Stairways” CD ’08 (Cypher Key, Can) – There’s a long-standing debate about what prog…STOP IT, RAY! We are not going through this hoo-ha again, do you understand me?! You know, that old chicken/egg debate about whether the hell prog is music that sounds like Yes or Genesis, or if it’s something no one’s ever done before. Because that’s what it is, you dick, it IS something original! It is something that’s never been done before. That’s why it’s called…say it with me one time…PROGRESSIVE! MADKING LUDWIG is from Montreal, and damn, are they good! They’re debut was 2005’s self-titled effort and it was a stormer. Here, they’ve followed it up with one as good if not even better and I’m a big fan. The first thing I love about this record is the sound, especially the bottom end. One track in with “Kursk” and the rumbling train of Patrick Falardeau’s bass & Raphael Corbeil’s drums drags you down the track with punishing power. This continues throughout the album, and that heaviness coupled with not only the head-turning arrangements, plus the double-barreled vocal attack of Stephane Bellamare & Leila Jolin-Dahel let you know something really different is afoot up north. From the blistering “Division Sun” to “Speed Of Ice,” a track that might make the late Miles Davis take pause, this is a band pushing boundaries & yet fiercely focused on making great music that goes far beyond the tag “metal” while still being quite “heavy”. Check out the positively fluid flute work by Bellamare, the r&b inflected “Seven Is The Number” or just the vocal prowess of Jolin-Dahel. This is simply excellent music that stretches it’s web well across multiple genres and in doing so, encapsulates that very word…prog. Now, just go forth and listen! 9.5
NOTE: This album is available mainly by download. See the band’s myspace site as well as Bland Hand Records. (Bland Hand Records)

TRUTH – “Machine” CD ’08 (Grooveyard, Swe) – “Hello, Gateway Computer Help Squad, this is Brad, how can I help you?” “Hi, how’s it going? See I’ve got this problem with my laptop. Well, actually it’s a couple things.” “What’s it doing?” “Well, the thing is, there seems to be a problem with the keyboard. I mean, it’s weird. Most of the time it works ok, but then if I happen to type in the word ‘Sweden,’ it’s like the spell-check automatically changes it to ‘guitar.’” “Ok, what else, sir?” “Well…the disc drive seems to be ok most of the time, but for some reason, every time I put in this one certain disc, no matter what I try to type, words like ‘Trower,’ ‘Marino,’ ‘Tabor,’ keep coming up instead.” “Uh, excuse me sir?” “Yes?” “Is the disc ‘Machine’ by TRUTH?” “Yup.” “Sir, there’s nothing wrong with your computer, that’s all perfectly normal. Thank you and I’m glad I could be of help to you today.” The proceeding may be a fictional account, my good friends but it could just as easily be real, so steeped in the rampaging bluesy heavy rock of the master blasters is this disc from Sweden’s TRUTH. Driven by the power-surge rhythm of Jens Lundahl (bass) & Jaime Salazar (drums), then topped with the smooth-yet-forceful vox of David Fremberg, “Machine” is a guitar-lover’s palette for one Sven Cirnski. I’m serious when I say that in one song, opener “Freedom,” Cirnski lays down about as much wah-wah inflected lead as most players might in a year. Remember “fills?” That is, hot little licks that augmented vocal lines in records by UFO, Mountain, etc.? This guy is a master of that, nudging Fremberg musically, conversing with him in the most soulful of ways and then, when the time comes, exploding into solo action that would surely send most wanna-be axe-slingers scurrying home to their mamas, as big-man boots called Robin, Leslie & yeah, SVEN came crashing down on them. Bottom line? From that raucous “Freedom” through “Machine,” “Angel” and “Heavy Rain,” this is Heavy Rock Lead Guitar 101. Listen & learn. 9.0

GUNS N’ ROSES – “Chinese Democracy” CD ’08 (Geffen, US) – So, all the hype is over, the dust has settled and this damn thing is finally out. When you think about this, it’s really amazing, the hype job that was done here. Here’s a guy who, yes was in a band that committed to vinyl one of the most staggering rock statements of a decade…the ‘80’s…with “Appetite…”. That same band (more or less) then went on to deliver an overblown, drawn-out 2 record set a few years later. From that point on, said singer proceeded to assemble and disassemble various line-ups of what would be a solo band and finally, nearly 20 years later, emerged with a record that has about as much to do with GUNS N’ ROSES as the man in the moon. The singer is the same, yet the rest of the band is comprised of a shadowy collective of whoever was not pissed off nor frustrated with this guy long enough to get in & get parts recorded. The result is a half-baked rock record that contains no real highlights, just a bunch of mediocre tunes that, while inoffensive enough, have no real staying power. “Last Child Of Mine?” “My Michelle?” “Mr. Brownstone?” C’mon!!! Top it off with neo-classical guitar leads courtesy of Finky Bamboozle Bucket (whoozat?) that have about as much soul as Yngwie jamming with a HP Laser Jet and you’ve got as flat a platter as the cat just shat. Splat. 4.0

EAST OF THE WALL – “Farmer’s Almanac” CD ’08 (Forgotten Empire, US) – Gotta say, I wasn’t sure what to expect from this one. The band name itself is giving me thoughts of a someone possibly trapped on the Eastern Bloc side of Berlin during the Wall days. The album title is taking me down rural, pastoral roads and then I’m noticing these guys are from New Jersey. So, with a very wide scope of possibilities, I pop in “Farmer’s Almanac,” to find…even a wider scope of possibilities! One of the first reactions is that, at the very outset…and I emphasize that…I’m not hearing vocals. The most interesting thing about this is my reaction the rest of the way. What I mean is, by the time this 40-ish minutes is over, I have not yet heard a human voice and yet have never again wondered about this absence, so captivating is the sound gracing my ears. Like many excellent albums, this striking debut by EAST OF THE WALL is not an easy one to describe…and therein lies it’s beauty. If I had to start somewhere, it could be the layered soundscapes of bands like Across Tundras or Souvenirs Young America. This aural architecture can be felt in the opening of a number like “Winter Breath.” And yet, how could that explain the Rush-like stop-start dynamic that hits you mid-song? And what about the melodic beauty of the interlaced harmony guitars in “Switchblade Knife?” or the patient yet somehow-insistent melodies of the understated “Unwanted Guest I & II.” Let’s not even try to figure out the building, spiraling structures of “I Am Crying Nonstop Hysterically.” What I like most about these guys is that they really know how to paint with their instruments and not sound the least bit prog-nerdy in the process. Literally without a word, EAST OF THE WALL have created a monster of a debut. Gotta say, I didn’t see that one coming! 9.0

ENFORCER – “Into The Night” CD ’08 (Heavy Artillery, Sweden) – Damn if that ol’ land of Sweden isn’t back again, this time with an entry in the metal-studs-chains field of old. And yet, that’s the thing that makes this debut effort by ENFORCER a winner. Sure, these guys are not trying to re-invent the mouse trap. This is ‘80’s Euro-metal, from the heart of record collections that hold in their hearts names like Mercyful Fate, Gotham City and Baron Rojo. And yet, as songs like “Speed Queen,” “City Lights” and “Evil Attacker” will demonstrate, there’s a vibe of forward-thinking aggression that allows ENFORCER to escape the retro-tag. No, this Scandinavian bunch are not going to set the critics pages alight with breathless talk about innovation in their artistry, but they’ll convincingly kick your butt in a way that it may not have been since you made that last trek to Zig Zag Records in Brooklyn, NY. Nothing wrong with that. 7.0