Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Oh, Oh, Oh...It's Magic

ADMIRAL BROWNING – “Magic Elixir” CD ’09 (Private, US) – Instrumental rock is a funny thing. Why, just the other day I was in stitches listening to a Joe Satriani album. Um…just kidding….about being in stitches AND listening to a Joe Satriani album, ‘cause if I did the latter I’d probably be in a coma rather than laughing. And see…that’s the funny thing. I generally really love good playin’…good singin’, too as Grand Funk once said, but I digress. Good playing does not necessarily equate with good listening. A guy like Satriani can rip and shred for ages and if it isn’t in the context of a song that makes any sense, well, it just doesn’t compute with me. I mean, I can listen to the Allman’s percolate through a 25 minute version of “Whippin’ Post” anyday…because it’s a fucking song. They interpret, they extrapolate, and most of the song is instrumental…but there’s gotta be something TO it and, often, with all-instrumental bands, they forget that basic tenet. That however is not the case with Middletown, Maryland’s ADMIRAL BROWNING. See, having gotten my attention captured with their last full-length opus, “Dead Pets,” they’ve now pared down (from a 4-piece to a trio) and have me under the influence of their “Magic Elixir.”

The first thing of note is that ADMIRAL BROWNING consider this disc to be an EP. At 35 minutes, I’d say that’s a pretty damn strong EP! Whatever you want to call it, strong is the word as it opens with the massive 9 minute “Vortexer.” Here the band (Matt Legrow – guitar, Ron McGinnis – bass & Tim Otis – drums) set the tension levels well above “stun.” The cut begins with a slow, mounting, ascending series of riffs. One almost gets the impression of a huge beast, trudging up the ice-laden slopes of a distant mountain in Nepal or some such place. Or perhaps that’s just me…but it sure works like that, because suddenly, part the way through, the beast reaches the flatlands and begins to gallop, McGinnis & Otis laying down a thundering, organic rhythm while Legrow piles riff on top of riff in a sledgehammer fest of ass-busting. Things then slow and Matt proceeds to deliver one of the most interesting guitar solos of this year. It’s double-tracked and played in such a way that it has an oriental vibe, taking me away to a land of Chinese temples on a mist-shrouded hillside. Again, maybe that’s just my fertile imagination but the point is, when instrumental music can create these kinds of thoughts, it’s powerful stuff. This kind of wonderful creativity continues through “Magic Elixir.” There’s the stunning melodic section of “Ol’ Martini Man” that reminds me of a riff BOC’s Buck Dharma would author. There’s deft back-porch pickin’ of “No Good Stones,” made into an unsettling tapestry by way of some odd vocal samples. Then, sit back for the sprawling 13 minute masterpiece of “Speaking In Tones,” a virtual tour through everything ADMIRAL as the band ventures through dark & haunting places, sometimes quiet & plaintive, sometimes jazzy, sometimes roaring like Scorps “Lonesome Crow” on steroids or something that could’ve easily found seating in Hairy Chapter’s “Can’t Get Through.” For good measure, the boys finish things off with a couple minute jam of wild wah-wah proportions that’ll bust yer butt & scrape the paint off the walls. Instrumental rock a funny thing? Maybe sometimes, but ADMIRAL BROWNING is no joke!
A Sonic Tonic

DORO – “Fear No Evil” CD ’09 (AFM, Ger) – When you come right down to it, there isn’t a whole lot out there as un-trendy as this brand new studio disc from DORO PESCH, now 20 some years on in her career. For all the flavour-of-the-month-underground-indie-webmeister-come-latelys who fancy themselves all cutting-edge & that, this must be as far off their maps as land was to Amelia Earhart. The fact is, back in the day when DORO’s band Warlock trod the Euro stages, your’s truly paid her little mind in favour of the burgeoning thrash & death scene. And yet today, “Fear No Evil” is spinning furiously in the Realm-o-Matic, coming across as one of the freshest voices of 2009. How so? Simply, this is as good an old-school heavy metal album as you can get. Deep spoken voices announcing “I know you’re scared ‘cause I smell your pain!”…thunderous sound effects…a song featuring back-up vox by everyone from Biff Byford to Angela Gossow (Arch Enemy) to Liv of Girlschool. Sound corny? You betcha…but it sounds great too. The band here draw in every true feel & vibe from Priest to Manowar to Accept and spit it out in a 3-D, tecnicolour version of their own in titles like “Running From The Devil,” the blistering “On The Run” and (quite natch) “The Night Of The Warlock.” Just Joe Taylor’s guitar solo alone in the former is enough to make me think of the days of leather pants (None in 38 waist? Shit…), studded armbands and pointy guitars. M-E-T-A-L! In fact, the whole thing gives me the idea of what Ross The Boss was trying to do with his recent solo effort and yet this album actually realizes that heroic goal. Last but not least, Ms. PESCH’s vocals are outstanding. She doesn’t sound a day over 25 as her pipes power through a track like “I Lay My Head Upon My Sword” and yet become passionate & emotive on “Herzblut” & “25 Years.” Is “Fear No Evil” breaking uncharted ground? Will it have shoegazers mumbling “Dude, it’s so forward-thinking, man?” Nope. But it’s pure, top-drawer heavy metal and a barrel-load of fun to boot! No Fear!

UFO – “The Visitor” CD ’09 (SPV, Eng) – To begin with, I was very sad to hear about Pete Way’s non-involvement with this new UFO album. Not only is it disorienting to read the line-up on the tray card and find absent the etched-in-stone “Pete Way – bass” imprint…but you worry about him as a man. Apparently he’s got some serious health issues and attending to them kept him out of the studio this time, not to mention live performances. Still, worries about his long-time mate notwithstanding, Phil Mogg must be feeling pretty good about things at the moment. Not only has his band left the turmoil of Herr Schenker well in the rearview mirror, they’ve turned in an absolute blinder with “The Visitor.” I’ve got to admit, when I first heard Vinnie Moore was stepping into the UFO guitar slot several years back, I got a knot in my stomach. Having thought Moore to be a by-the-numbers Julliard-type shredder, I had visions of UFO-by-way-of-Rising-Force and, as an admitted fan-boy of “Force It” & “Obsession,” my blood ran cold. Upon hearing the band’s maiden voyage with Vinnie, “You Are Here,” however, I was more than pleased. Here Moore not only incorporated a helluva lot more blues into his style but he seemed to be a nice writing foil for Mogg, the pair coming up with some really good tunes. Next came “The Monkey Puzzle” and I was even more impressed. VM was fitting into the band even more so with his addition of things like melodic intros, interludes and such things that, while reminding of Michael, had their own style as well. Now comes “The Visitor” and we see a line-up that’s not only gelled but produced a damn classic in the process.

From the very beginning, this album has my rapt attention. Vinnie Moore opens proceedings by introducing “Saving Me” with a slide solo that coulda had held the inscription B. Gibbons. But before you get too comfortable, the band (good ol’ drummer Andy Parker is back joining the boys along with Paul Raymond – keys and Peter Pichl – bass) launch into a number than’ll have you throwing your fist in the air. Moore’s jagged, chunka-chords take you right back to “Obsession,” Mogg’s vocals have a swagger I haven’t heard in years and when the guitar solo kicks in, well I’m digging through the boxes in the basement for my old UFO shirt. As we move through the album there are so many things to dwell on, so many things to enjoy: the soaring melodies of “On The Waterfront,” the rough-&-ready rawk of “Hell Driver” and the breathtaking chorus in “Stop Breaking Down” are just some signposts along a wonderful 10 song journey. Then you’ve got the funk-laden “Living Proof,” the driving self-confessional of “Can’t Buy A Thrill” (no, not a Steely Dan reference) and the stunningly beautiful “Forsaken,” which must contain Phil Mogg’s most riveting vocal in 20 years. It all ends with “Stranger In Town,” a perfect book-end for “Saving Me,” with it’s hacksaw chords and outlaw feel.

Through the entire album a few things demand constant attention with their consistent presence. The first is Phil Mogg’s vocal & lyrical performance. Here is a guy who has never been given enough due as a rock singer, in my opinion. Thank God a recent issue of Classic Rock Magazine gave him props as one of the best in the business. It’s about fucking time, after 30-some years. His rich, sonorous voice has stayed true to course, deepening a tad if anything and it sounds as good as ever here. Let’s also talk about Phil’s lyrics. No one ever does and it’s a crime. He’s a guy with a gift of street poetry and personal expression that rivals that of another Phil (Mr. Lynott). Just listen to his powerful wistfulness on “Stop Breaking Down” and Bon-like toughness on “Rock Ready.” He’s the man. Second we are long past thinking about Vinnie Moore as a replacement for Schenker. He has cemented himself as UFO guitarist and the work he does here only puts a massive exclamation point on that fact. I’m impressed as hell at the way this guy can go from unleashing a torrent of heavy riffs one minute, slide into an acoustic segue that’ll bring tears to your eyes and finish you off with a lead run that goes from scalding treble rawness to Clapton-like brown-woman-blues in a second. And it makes sense. Tie it all together with the Mogg-Moore team dropping 10 new absolutely wonderful & varied songs on you (many described above) and you’ll experience this in all it’s glory: one of the greatest UFO albums ever! Heaven & Hell, listen to this and take note: Either shit or get off the pot. A Permanent Resident At The Realm

VINNIE MOORE – “To The Core” CD ’09 (Mascot, US) – Well, well, well. Mr. MOORE has been a busy bee. Not only has he kicked ass to the max with his performance on the new UFO disc but he’s also taken the time to issue this, his latest solo release. Without any doubt, VINNIE has moved long past his old days as a neo-classical-inspired shredder. The early album I had by him, “Mind’s Eye” was certainly impressive from a technical standpoint, as was his work on at least one Vicious Rumors album. However, not one to be convinced by a lot of fretboard wanking, I was more than pleased to see how he’d evolved upon joining UFO, incorporating a lot more blues & feel into his style, seeing it flower massively over his 3 records with them thusfar. We see much musical diversity being flexed on MOORE’s new “To The Core” as well. While I’ll probably always prefer the band-oriented song writing approach prevalent in UFO, I’ve got to hand it to VINNIE here, he’s made an instrumental guitar album that’s fun to listen to. Within the space of 11 cuts on this disc, you’ve got everything from butt-kicking metal to bluesy hard rock to jazzy fusion to…yes, even a bit o’techno…and it works! My favourite cuts are the length workouts of “Soul Caravan” and “Into The Open Highway” where Mr. M can open the jets and explore the frets but overall, this is a nice listen, buoyed by the solid backing band of Van Romaine –drums, Tim Lehner – keys and John Deservio – bass. It’s not going to budge “The Visitor” from the Realm-O-Matic and it’s no “Magic Elixir” but “To The Core” is cool. Six Solid Strings

CAUSTIC CASANOVA – “Imminent Eminence” CD ’08 (Private, US) – Ghosts! That’s what it is! I’ve finally figured it out! How else can I explain that, once again, I had a CD mysteriously move from one pile to another, fooling me into believing I already reviewed it…thus the fact that I’m just getting to something this band sent me months ago. But I’m hoping all is forgiven because this is a pretty cool little item. Actually, I’m not sure “little” is the word as this thing times in at very close to the max playing time for the 80-minute recordable medium. Oft-times, such album-lengths make me nervous, sometimes they make me weary and too often they bore me to tears. Still, CAUSTIC CASANOVA (from the nation’s capital) has a lot to say and they say it really well. A trio (Francis Beringer – bass / vox, Michael Wolitz – guitar / vox, Stefaine Zaenker – drums), they bring in a slew of influences ranging from the distorted noise-rawk of Sonic Youth to the pop-grunge of Queens Of The Stone Age to the occasional leaden Sabbathy rhythm to vocals that run the gamut from parts country to Brit-pop to even stage-struttin’-Plant-isms. They succeed because they end up bringing ALL that stuff in and, somehow, still not sounding directly like any of them. Listen to a cut like “Anhedonia” or, say, “The Town Crier.” Can you say they sound like anything you’ve really heard before? Another thing CC does that I like is that, while some of their stuff appears to slide by without hooks, a 2nd listen will let that elusive memorable series of notes take hold in your brain. CAUSTIC CASANOVA are a band that stand out to me because I can honestly say I’ve never heard anything quite like them before. Come to think of it, that’s some pretty decent praise and I urge you to give this bunch a real shot. This album may be a lot to take in at once…I’m still getting new stuff out of it each time through. In the long run, I think you’ll be glad you dropped ‘em a line. Different DC’er’s


Chris said...

I might have to check out that Doro album. As I really liked "Triumph and Agony" at one point in my life. I don't think I've heard it in almost twenty years though.

raysrealm said...

It's just so cool to hear something like this again...done with such integrity. You can tell she means it, which is vital.

The RIpple Effect said...

Cool find, the AB. Agree totally with your UFO review. Well put!

When's Pentagram get reviewed?

raysrealm said...

The ADMIRAL BROWNING is something I hope a lot of people pick up on. They are really, REALLY good and more people should hear them.