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

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