Ensiferum – One Man Army

 

Metal Blade Records

Released February 24th 2015

Review by Suzi H

This review is extremely late. One Man Army – which I have been eagerly anticipating since September 2014 – landed in my inbox for review at the end of January.  Unfortunately I was extremely ill at the time and after eventually landing myself in hospital, and having to spend a week on bed rest, followed by another month and a half of doing not much more than my day job I’ve only just managed to get round to writing it up.  So to colleagues and readers, I’m dreadfully sorry, because really you guys should have read this months ago and been rampaging your way around the world listening to this album since.

Anyway, enough with the pity party and excuses and onto the music. Ensiferum are my third favourite Finnish band of all time – of course Turisas are first, Korpiklaani are second, and my Bloodstock 2015 ticket was purchased on the strength of the Ensiferum announcement. So, yeah, One Man Army has been hotly anticipated in the southern tower of Wyrd Ways Castle for quite some time.

I’m never much fussed about the *how* of music being produced – if sitting under a waterfall wrapped in a bullhide gets your juices flowing and leads to a kick arse album that’s fine by me.  Similarly, I couldn’t give any body part of a monkey if your preferred production method is to binge on Red Bull and blue Smarties and bash it out in one take.

Ensiferum have made much though of the production for this album as they tried to move away from digitally produced songs towards arrangements where every instrument actually got played.  The result is, I have to say, staggering.  Kicking off with March of War you are first gently grabbed by the music – the intro is all a bit Game of Thrones, full of penny whistles and strings and sweeping epic arrangements that are all evocative and bring to mind imagery of an army yomping through the forest renaissance stylee.  But then Axe of Judgement begins and you are bodyslammed into the front row and commanded to mosh and pillage until it’s all over.  Axe of Judgement is all brimstone and fury and catchy sing along “woahhwoaaah!” choruses, and if it doesn’t get played at BOA I’m going to lead a one woman riot in protest.

Moving on, you get carried along slam bang into Heathen Horde which has about the folkiest opening I’ve heard in 2015.  With lyrics like: “All heathen hearts/ Answer the call/ God of thunder bless our swords”, it’s full of fighting talk and promises a good punch up against a side fuelled on righteous fury and blessed by the Gods.

At this point I should point out that my attempts to actually write up my review have been significantly scuppered by the headbanging it engenders.  I’m not sure it’s especially hardcore to be sat at your desk, waving a pint of water around bellowing along, because my study is not a longhouse, I can’t quaff for shit (waste of good booze is quaffing) and being of a female persuasion, all my attempts to grow a beard have failed spectacularly, but this album doesn’t allow for sitting still. You have to just give it some and pretend that really your charging across the Northumbrian coast with a shield and axe and not sitting at home in your onesie.

Anyway, Heathen Horde is followed by One Man Army which is the traditional point where my attempts to say something sensible have degenerated into desk moshing.  So you can gather that the album’s title track is *rather good*. It’s all rousing vocals and epic instrumental sweeps and a screamy howley end. I like that in a song. Burden of the Fallen is a bit calmer.  It’s a ‘water break’ sort of track, but it’s also hauntingly beautiful and an all too brief glimpse into the softer side of the Finnish warriors.

Warrior Without A War is another heads down and mosh it out type track.  It is a little bit samey, however that doesn’t detract from it being thoroughly enjoyable.  Cry for the Earth Bounds changes things up again with a sort of medieval monasstic chant opening that really does make me think of soaring cathedrals, and solemn occasions.  It’s also got a rather awesome guitar riff in the middle.  Plus it’s 7 and a half minutes long, and I do like it when you get a decent saga condensed into a single album track.  Happy Days.

Two of Spades starts off faster paced than most of the album, with some fantastic drumming and for a folk metal track it’s a bit thrash really and is, I assumed at first, a tribute to Motörhead.  I’m not sure about the weird Viking Disco in the middle though.  It’s a bit too Saturday Night Fever for my liking. Anyway, from the discotheque we swiftly barrel into My Ancestors Blood where normality is restored, and all is well with the world again, as we return to sweeping riffs, epic vocals and a tune catchier than chlamydia on an 18-30 holiday.

The album rounds out with the doom laden intro of Descendants, Defiance, Domination  which picks up pace as it goes on, has an excellent spoken word section, and has one of the few clean male vocal tracks that I noticed. I mean, it’s only about 20 seconds in an 11 minute long track, but it stood out. There’s also about a minute of female vocals which are so Games of Thrones-esque I had to check I didn’t have another window open playing the theme tune.

I’ll be honest: the last non-bonus track Neito Pohjolan is the only one I didn’t like on the whole album. It was just… a bit strange and it didn’t quite fit, which is a shame because it had awesome vocals and I’d have liked to like it more.

There are four bonus tracks – a cover of Rawhide, Warmetal, Candour and Lies, and finally Bonus Song. They’re all good, although a little weird –  Candour and Lies is basically a country song and Bonus Song is Ensiferum Does A Glam Metal Track.  It’s quite good.  It reminds me of W.A.S.P!

All in, this is a superb album.  This has been one of the most time consuming write ups in my time at WWRS becuase I kept getting distracted with the desk moshing. Which is fun, but doesn’t get a review written. Even if you don’t like folk metal you’ll like this album. Of course, if you already like Ensiferum then you *should* love it, and I’ll see you down the front at Bloodstock!

******/5

They get a bonus star for having so many bonus tracks.

Reign of Fury – Death Be Thy Shepherd

Static Tension Recordings

Review by Cat A

I remember that I once said to someone in a bar that I haven’t heard any good new Thrash in an age, and that was mostly because a lot of people who attempt it think that mashing guitar strings as quickly as possible is what makes something Thrash.  Reign of Fury have something of a reputation on the Metal scene for putting on a stonking live show, but have they got what it takes to put together a decent album?

If you want the simple answer, skip to the bottom of this review, but for those who want to know more about what they’re getting in for then read on…

It all starts off sounding a little bit doomy and distorted as Faustian Mastery sets the initial atmosphere and I can’t help myself here, I’m anticipating the moment that the tempo heats up.  Boy, I am not disappointed as the layers blend over each other to make a brilliantly crafted, well balanced and highly driven track, interspersed with sections that are just crying out for a crowd to be filling in the gaps at the tops of their lungs with fists in the air. Melodic chorus, heavy guitars, thundering drum track and tight-as-hell instrumentals; this track has it all and we’re still only on number 1! All 9 minutes and 22 seconds of track one, but at no point am I tempted to press the spin on button, which is something of a miracle for someone with my attention span.

Bonus points there boys!

Can the next one live up to the now heightened expectations?  Without a doubt yes.  If at all possible Harbinger of Decay is even catchier.  It’s filled with cleverly written harmonies and breakdowns, which had me completely undecided whether I wanted to headbang, throw my arms in the air or dance around the kitchen grinning from ear to ear (on my first listen through I *was* dancing round the kitchen… there is photographic evidence).

It’s straight on to more classic Thrash sounds with Hypnotise The Masses – though there’s something of a punky feel to the chorus of this one which is never a bad thing in my book.

The pace just keeps on, and it’s finally All Is Lost that calms it down with a very Metallica-esque effort that has managed to get a lump in my throat every single time that I’ve listened to it (I think the count is currently 8).

The Love of a Dying God brings back the heavy as hell that never really goes away until the CD runs out at the end of the title track.  Speaking of which, Death Be Thy Shepherd comes as a spectacular finale.  If I had to pick just one song from this album to introduce someone to Reign of Fury then the title track from this very album would be the one. It’s a monster of a song, and not just because it’s ten and a half minutes long. It’s catchy, it’s driving, and its over all too soon.

I think that it’s safe to say that Reign of Fury are here to stay, and if they keep up the energy then when someone asks that awful question of “who will be headlining the big festivals in a decade?” (normally right after James Hetfield‘s age comes up) then in my opinion you couldn’t be a million miles away from the mark if you were to mention these guys as a possibility. Death Be Thy Shepherd is a true classic Thrash record which just happens to have been made three decades after the start of that movement.  There are all the key elements that a Thrash Metal fan expects from an album without any of it feeling forced or that it has been put in simply to satisfy the equation (one of my pet hates).  There is enough originality that you won’t be left feeling as though it’s a straight off imitation of so much music gone before. There’s also plenty of hooks and melodic sections that will serve to bring a new generation to the genre.

The short answer you were looking for? Undoubtedly Reign of Fury know their business, and their business is Thrash.  If you find yourself getting excited by the words “Big Four” then give this part of the new breed a chance and you won’t be disappointed.

I’ll just be over here, hitting Repeat All.

Rating: ****½

Axel Rudi Pell – Magic Moments 25th Anniversary Special

axelrudipell-magicmoments-dvd

SPV/Steamhammer

Review by Rick Ossian

Buy the CD HERE and the MP3 HERE

Bochum’s Axel Rudi Pell has achieved quite a feat on this extravaganza.  It will no doubt appear in several formats, but the one we shall focus on for today’s discussion is the 3CD/DVD package.  The Blu-Ray version will appear in April, shortly after the other versions.

The main reason I say Axel has achieved quite a feat is because, with a couple of slight exceptions, he has assembled his entire musical past on this blowout.  Not only do members of his band, Steeler, appear; assembled herein are an entire raft of legendary drummers and vocalists, not to mention one of my very favourite keyboard players, Mr. Tony Carey (Rainbow, Planet P Project)!

Also on board are tubthumper Vinny Appice (Derringer, DIO, Sabbath), former ARP drummer Jörg Michael (Running Wild, Stratovarious).  The former has one hell of a ‘Drum Battle‘ with ARP main skin-basher Bobby Rondinelli (Rainbow), by the way.  Vocalists who appear in addition to stage singer Johnny Gioeli are Rob Rock, Jeff Scott Soto (Journey), Dougie White (Yngwie Malmsteen, Rainbow), Graham Bonnet (Rainbow, Michael Schenker Group), John Lawton (Uriah Heep, Wishbone Ash, Lone Star), Ronnie Atkins (Pretty Maids) and Michael Voss (Mad Max, Bonfire). Whew!  The main branch of ARP are, of course, Johnny, Ferdy Doernberg (keys), Volker Krawczak (bass) and the aforementioned Rondinelli.  Quite a line-up, you say?  Wait till you hear what they play!

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It should be noted here that, while there are considerable amounts of cover tunes here, there ARE some original moments (the Steeler material and the ARP tracks).  The only thing that really concerns me is how derivative things can get at some points.  It appears obvious on the first listen or two of this vast compendium of musical magical moments that Axel emulates, adores, and even worships one Mr. Ritchie Blackmore.  Any of you who may be in doubt at this point need only listen to the tunes…

While we are dispensing with the technicalities, it should also be noted that this set was gleaned from the Bang Your Head Festival (Balingen, 11 July 2014).  Though it could just as easily have been a Heavy AOR fest or a Rainbow/Deep Purple/Whitesnake tribute fest, we will stick with the facts.  For example, on Call Her Princess, I was almost immediately reminded of the riff from Burn or even Highway Star.  Amidst the feedback, squeals and reminiscent riffage, and recycled Purple memories, Axel DOES shine, shred, burn, wail and generally play his ass off!  There are, as the title suggests, many magical moments.  There are also some, well, not so mystical.  It is one thing to emulate your heroes; it is another entirely to wear your influences on your sleeve(s).  Without his own original material, this homage to Messrs. Gillan, Glover, Lord, Paice and Blackmore (not to mention Coverdale, Dio, Schenker/Scorps) would simply NOT work nearly as well.

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On the Purple cover Black Night, for example, we get to hear a faithful cover of the tune.  However, to be perfectly honest, it is somewhat pedestrian, even for this outfit.  Not that a fan, or punter, for that matter, should come to expect outstanding stuff at every turn; we should also consider the source.  This was a HUGE production, as anniversary sets oftentimes are.  It should not have had near the amount of covers that we witness here.  The set should have been about 1/3 shorter, in this writer’s humble opinion  — so, let’s just go with what we have.

Night After Night is another one of those pedestrian numbers, unfortunately.  It sounds more like recycled latter-day Rainbow riffage than anything else.  Strong as a Rock is more of the same, sounding more Purple-like than even the mighty Purple at times.  Crowd participation is a given at an event like this, and though ARP was probably one of the bill’s main attractions, I’m sure there were others.  Axel no doubt had the benefit of his own audience in addition to the myriad of other punters in the crowd.

Long Way to Go reminded me of Don Airey‘s keyboard style.  The main riff is a nice one, albeit still reminiscent of the Blackmore/Lord pocket – they keys and the guitars are in the spotlight, as it should be.  This tune features a surging, pumping main riff, and it also smacks loudly of 80’s-era hair metal (of course, Whitesnake comes to mind).

Rockin’ the City features a cool bass intro and more Blackmore adulation.  This particular track sounds more like Perfect Strangers-era Deep Purple.  It is compelling, and will be especially near-and-dear to Purple fans – but for some reason I feel the need for more.  Let us plow forward, shall we?

Sympathy features much more German/English crowd banter, which again should probably be considered a given when one considers the venue.  There is a cool main riff here that AGAIN bows down to the Blackmore altar.  This one is mainly a long solo for Axel, one amidst MANY showcases for the six-string wizard.

The Neil Young (Hey Hey My My) and ZZ Top (Tush) covers are also faithful renditions of the originals, even though somehow Tush is played Deep Purple style (and just HOW in the fuck did they do that?), and Hey Hey My My features a gorgeous piano intro, but at first glance this could be any one of a number of bands – most of the bar bands in my good old farmland home of Nebraska can play a Deep Purple track or ZZ Top for that matter.  Neil Young may be a bit of a stretch, however…

Undercover Animal comes off a bit like 2nd tier Def Leppard.  There is a lead burst at the end, and a big boom, no doubt pyrotechnic in origin, explodes at the close.  Probably to signal the end of the Steeler set, I’m assuming?  I could be mistaken.

Mistreated is an absolute monster here, though I for one would have preferred Coverdale or even Joe Lynn Turner over Johnny and Dougie if I were the one picking vocalists.  Too bad those cats weren’t in Germany that night, right?  Some brilliant blues playing here, by the by.

Mystica was not nearly as inspiring as I had imagined.  It is another monster, especially considering the sheer length of the track.  I was again reminded of Rainbow and DIO, in particular.  Nasty Reputation is more of the same.  There is an obligatory guitar solo, as with every track save the marathon Drum Battle.

Since You Been Gone is a great vehicle for Graham Bonnet, as those of you who are familiar with Rainbow will know.  (I always preferred Head East’s version, myself!)  Warrior is another pedestrian track at best.  The medley of Too Late/Eternal Prisoner/Too Late has a sweet main riff, and sounds for all the world like a more aggressive, progressive, even heavier Purple.  Plenty of riffs, and a wicked duel between guitar and keys (surprise!).  It is during this mega-monster track that the band is introduced while the bass and drums do a little milieu in the background… Fool Fool is more recycled Rainbow riffage, but is handled superbly in the more-than-capable hands of vocalist Jeff Scott SotoLong Live Rock and Roll features Graham Bonnet again, and all I could think was that it was too bad that Ronnie James DIO wasn’t still with us (RIP).

Another timely monster is The Masquerade Ball Casbah, which features a really cool lead a couple of minutes in.  There are some beautiful vocal and keyboard moments on the intro as well.  Rock the Nation deceived me for a moment – I thought it would be a cover of the Montrose standard, but I’m not really sure if it was or wasn’t.  I must have gotten distracted or bored during this one.

The finale, of course, is Smoke on the Water.  Need we say more?  This is a set primarily for Purple fans, and, of course, ARP fans.  Those who are neither should tread other waters.

***/5

Cloud Maze – Maybe, You Decide

cloudmazecover

Independent

Review by Rick Ossian

I don’t really know that I’m qualified to review this bunch, but I’m going to go for it anyway.  Cloud Maze are an electro-pop outfit from Moscow that were formed in 2013.  They DO veer off into the heaviness of Metal and Hard Rock occasionally, but that is obviously not their forte.  They are in the business of making people dance, so you would most likely hear them in a discothecque as opposed to a regular rock club.  Personnel are Sergy on vocals and lead guitar, Anfir on bass and Alex on drums.  Though this type of noise is NOT normally my cuppa, I was encouraged by a friend’s recommendation and thusly, here we are!

I must confess I was excited when I heard Chris Slade (AC/DC, Manfred Mann’s Earth Band) deem these fellows ‘sensual’.  While not normally in one’s everyday vocabulary, we should all admit that we would LIKE it to be.  That being said, let us get on with the sexiness.  On first listen (or two), I hold true to what I espoused from the beginning.  This is NOT Metal.  It is more Rock than Pop, and there are a few Heavier moments, but it is a long ways from what we’re accustomed to hearing.  Most of these tracks would feel like they belonged on an FM Top 40 playlist (from the future), but it is doubtful that we would hear them on any of the stations we frequent.  But enough of my babbling…

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The intro, though brief, is telling.  We hear a clip of a phone conversation between, I assume, Sergy or a rep for the band, inquiring as to whether or not they could be ‘one of your artists‘.  The response: ‘Sorry, that’s too gay for us‘!  Unfortunately for Cloud Maze, that may have been my initial response as well.  However, this is not a song – it’s just a very small spoken-word piece, if you will.  Next up is the actual music.

Dance has a cool beat, but it is way too electro dance-pop for these ears.  There are also some neat angst-ridden vocals here.  Angry vocals are good, right?  I just wish that the music was angrier.  This would be wonderful stuff for the dance floor.  Anybody who normally feels a groove would have a hard time sitting still to this number.  There are some decent dance breaks, but again – NOT Metal.  Be forewarned.  There is some Heavy Rock riffing going on here, and some decent guitar work, but let’s not get too excited.

Moves is more of a synth/guitar jam.  It is more of the same, the intro features a digital run-up to some good playing, rock guitar, bass and drums just simple whack style stuff.  The interplay between the drums and the bass is particularly busy on this tune.  There are angry vocals again, of course – perhaps because they can’t decide on a genre?   Vocally I was reminded of Mike Patton and BigElf‘s Damon Fox.  This is techno-laced Rock at it’s best, with some droning and a vocal shift around the 3 minute mark.  There is also some brief lead guitar noodling (2:00), and a couple of shifts.  Not bad.

Steroid features more tribal drumming, almost Bluesy to begin with, and FX sounding like sirens wailing.  The vocals again are mentally anguished, but that seems to be the norm on these recordings. Drums and bass are exceedingly busy again as well.

Persuade features more of the same, the angry vocals, and of course is Heavy Rock at best, but not necessarily Metal.  They DO veer dangerously close at some moments… This is more like Roxy Music or David Bowie on steroids and methamphetamines simultaneously.  ‘If you please/Get on your knees‘, the lyrics intone, and the vocalist is ‘turning‘ quite a bit.  This reminded me also of a heavier Alan Parsons Project, oddly enough, and there is a synth-like fade out at the end.

T.T.L. features one Cristian Galli of Carousel 47, and is a cool, punchy punk number with powerful vocals.  Trick is more of the same discothecque-style rumblings from above.  Imagine electro beats like in house or trance but mixed with cool basslines like some Heavy Rock is.

Winter sounds like it’s title, again with slightly anguished vocals.  It is pretty mellow music for the most part, as is evidenced by Sergy encouraging us to ‘turn the lights down‘.  It is spacey Computer Rock in some ways, also, and there are violins (??) (3:25) and a (sort of) guitar solo (3:40).  A computer fade-out graces the ending.  More PC rock mixed with disco, then.  Some repetition here as well.

Outro features a synth-like ambience (Eno, anyone?) that one might find in their local mall, or in the elevator (lift) at their local airport.  There is also some Edge(U2)-like guitar work.  It is muzak but better, and of course on a bigger scale.

Trick appears again at the close, this time with Smarts.  It is disco-NOT Metal (surprise!), and makes one wonder why it appears on the same disc twice.  Perhaps it was an oversight, or the obligatory ‘bonus’ track.  Once was enough.  It is a catchy number, I will give them that.  Rap does not belong – that must be where Smarts comes in.  He should have stayed home.

**/5

Prong – Songs From the Black Hole

prongsongscover

SPV/Steamhammer

Review by Rick Ossian

Buy the CD HERE and the MP3s HERE

Normally when I am confronted with a covers album I am sceptical at best.  I’ve been burned before with these clowns trying to emulate their heroes, and quite frankly have just about had my fill.  However, when I noticed it was my thrash metal heroes Prong, I decided to make an exception.  Prong are three stalwart metal champs who hail from Los Angeles by way of New York.  They are Tommy Victor (vocals, guitar), Jason Christopher (bass, backing vocals) and Art Cruz (drums).  Most of you may know Prong from their Rude Awakening days, as the track Snap Your Fingers Snap Your Neck was a regular FM staple when I was living in our state’s capital.  This may be among their best work since that lofty peak.

For the most part, the tracks contained herein are covers of punk rock denizens that most of you may have heard whispered in the corners of clubs and wild parties.  Husker Du? you would hear, or Fugazi, to which the inevitable reply, ‘who are those guys talking about?‘  Some of the bands covered on this record were never chart darlings or even critics’ champions.  Most of them were never really household words, save for, perhaps, Neil Young.  The mere fact that there is a Neil Young track on board here is almost completely incongruous, especially given the other selections!

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Doomsday, originally recorded by Discharge, is short but sweet, with heavy riffage and powerful drums.  There is even a lead guitar shredding solo at about 1:20.  This tune is a serious jam that is over way too quickly.

Vision Thing, a Sisters of Mercy cover, as our fearless leader has observed, is “really rather excellent“.  Some killer riffing busts down the dear, and main riff kicks some serious ass.  With lyrics like “twenty-five whores in the room next door” and “another motherfucker in a motorcade”, how can you lose?

Goofy’s Concern was originally a Butthole Surfers number, and is about as faithful as you can be when it comes to the Surfers.  I witness the spectacle that is the Butthole Surfers live in Omaha one night, and I can tell you that I never quite looked at music the same way after that event.  For Prong‘s version I can tell you I was similarly fixated, especially when the droning intro gave way to trip-hammer drumming and heavy guitar riffing and vocal screaming and — well, you get the picture.  Some VERY intense stuff.  The main riff is excellent, as is the norm with Prong.  This one is another of several on board here that is agonizingly short but sugary sweet.

Kids of the Black Hole, an Adolescents tune, is done up again with drones, heavy riffing on the guitars and super fucking bad-ass drumming.  This is almost metal psych, in a way – it doesn’t really sound like punk – but then it is a heavy metal band doing classic punk rock covers.  The epitome of musical irony, you might say?  Just Prong doing their thing, I say.  The fierceness and the fury are there, and even a spoken word ‘house of’/’nights of’ rap, plus an instrumental breakdown at about the four-minute mark.  Everything a growing metalhead could want or need…

The Bars is a Black Flag number, and the boys do it up right, with a wonderful opening bass line, busy-as-hell drums and guitar joining in almost instantaneously.  There are lots of surprises here, including a wicked fast guitar solo shredding away (2:55) and a guitar fade-out.  Not typical of punk rock, but then what is?

Seeing Red was originally a Killing Joke anthem, and the Prong treatment features a cool guitar intro heralding the punk onslaught that soon follows.  The bass and drums join in at about 10 seconds in, shortly followed by vocal intensity at 20.  I was reminded of Hawkwind, of all bands, particularly when they do their space punk routine on the live Space Ritual stuff.  The end features droning feedback and a guitar fade out again.

Husker Du’s Don’t Want to Know If You Are Lonely is up next, and Prong‘s turn on this punk classic features heavy feedback, squalling guitars and pounding drums and bass.  Some melody is actually happening here vocally, which is another thing that one may not find normal for punk OR heavy metal, for that matter.  Seems Prong are full of surprises.  I was reminded of Black Star Riders, strangely enough, on this number.  At 1:30 there is some seriously shredding lead work again, and the drums are hellishly busy, almost nihilistic, if you will.

Fugazi‘s Give Me The Cure is the next to get the Prong treatment, and they grace its intro with a cool psych guitar figure, followed by droning and drums AGAIN.  I know, broken record, Rick – right? Of course!  Just listen and you will know that they have put the Prong stamp on things, so to speak.

Banned In D.C., originally done up by Bad Brains, features more of the same – heavy drus, screaming vocals, burning guitar.  This is super heavy punk mixed with a modicum of thrash.  At about a minute in they shift into hard rock, almost heavy metal territory.  At 1:45 there is what seems by now to be the obligatory lead guitar solo.  Not a bad turn at all.

Finally we come to the closer, a beautifully done cover of Neil Young’s Cortez the Killer.  This one was a a faithful enough cover to bring chills to my spine.  It is what we will refer to as “the single”.  Whether or not it garners any FM airplay is for anyone to say.  My guess is that it may not, but that would only be the loss of the radio station’s.  If not for the repetition and the selections, I would probably give this one top marks.  It is tempting.

****/5

Mother’s Finest – Goody 2 Shoes & The Filthy Beasts

mothersfinestcover

SPV/Steamhammer

Review by Rick Ossian

Buy the CD HERE and the MP3s HERE

Just when you thought they were no more, here comes Mother’s Finest screaming out of Atlanta with their first (mostly) studio album since Meta-Funk N Physical (2003).  There have been some sporadic live releases in the meantime, which is clearly their forte, something one realizes when confronted with the sprawling, 9-minute-plus closer.  Illusion/Satisfaction/Born To Be Wild is a live medley recorded in front of a very appreciative Boston crowd, even when put face-to-face with a BIG drum solo, courtesy of Dion Derek.  Derek is, incidentally, the only major personnel change in the last 10 years, having replaced Kerry “Lovingood” Denton.  The other members include Joyce “Baby Jean” Kennedy and Glenn “Doc” Murdock on vocals, Jerry “Wyzard” Seay on bass, Gary “Moses Mo” Moore and John “Red Devil” Hayes on guitars and the aforementioned Dion on the drums.  Quite a line-up, and a formidable force to be reckoned with, both in and out of the studio.

The studio tracks, as one might imagine, are a pure funk-fest.  Angels starts things off with a bang, featuring Joyce on the lead vocal.  She has the classic female funky voice, powerful but soulful all at once.

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Shut Up is funky metal, VERY funky, in fact, and almost more in the hard rock vein than the heavy metal one.  The lyrics are particularly punchy as well: ‘Where do you get off?/Trying to tell me what to do/What makes you think/I need to hear your point of view?’  At 2:45 there is a lead guitar solo, which normally is pretty common fare in the stuff I write about, but amidst the funkified frazzle brought to fruition here it is just the icing on the cake!

She Ready features a drum and guitar intro, and is hard rock with a Riff City main refrain.  There is some serious guitar and bass – mostly 70’s hard rock style – going on here, and this tune in particular sports a wickedly cool groove.  Again, the lyrics are in your face; ‘It’s a woman’s world/Can you deal with it?’  Some really cool bass licks here as well.

Cling to the Cross is probably my fave on this collection, and is another blast of bluesy funk.  The main riff is a sweet one, and I challenge anyone out there with a sense of rhythm to listen to this one without a bit of head-bobbing!  Everything here is pretty cool, from the excellent rhythm work to the refrain – everything kicks ass.  There is a nice bass lick (again) – seems funk usually features some pretty spicy bass guitar work.  This is mainly a vehicle for Doc (on vocals), and also features a lead guitar solo (2:45 to the fade-out).

Another Day includes a sweet guitar/vocal intro and another wicked bass groove.  In point of fact, the foundation here is completely solid, as both drums and bass lock together in near perfect rhythm and harmony.  The female vocals (Joyce) make a return, and I am reminded of what I refer to as Super Funk (Parliament/Funkadelic, James Brown’s 70’s line-up, War, etc.).  DIG the bass licks here also!  At 2:20 there is a brief rap, mixed with heavy guitar and funky bass.  What more could you want?

Tears of Stone is a bit of a different tune here, but only departs in style – for sheer force and funkiness, it is still hard to beat.  It includes an acoustic guitar intro and a sultry, siren-style firehouse vocal delivery from Joyce.  This is a torchlight rock power ballad, if you will, and is mainly piano-fueled, which sets it apart from the rest of the tunes just a bit.  At 2:20 they veer off into rap/rock territory for just a bit, but don’t despair- they don’t hang their hat on it!

All Of My Life features a cool, atmospheric intro and a heavy funk main riff.  There is some sweet bass licks here again, and a breakdown/shift (1:30), as well as a lead guitar solo (2:50).  This number is actually FM-radio friendly, especially if you listen to a funky 70’s channel!

I Don’t Mind includes yet another bad ass, cool bass lick, and the opening is full of funky bass and drums AND vocals.  The vocal delivery reminds me of a young, soulful Bill Withers (Lean On Me, Just the Two of Us, Lovely Day, etc.), and we hear some very cool guitar chops on this tune as well.  There is another lead solo (1:30), and a brief phone convo (1:50).  Another solo at the three-minute mark takes us to the fade, with some tasty bass guitar work in the interim.

Take Control is another funktastic tune, full of keys, bass, and heavier rock moves, if you will.  The main riff is an ass-kicking one, and the coolest lyrical line I’ve heard today is on board; ‘Movin and groovin on a dog day afternoon’!  How’s that for meaty lyrics?

My Badd, the last of the studio tracks, has one of those cool, creepy guitar intros that I just adore, plus a nice neat main riff and some cool vocal work by Joyce.  This is a hard-charging rocker, almost heavy metal in scope.  It is funky and lyrically adept, as well; ‘Baptized in the waters of my own tears’ is a particularly eloquent phrase that I noticed.

So, since it’s been awhile for me hearing anything along these lines, I will give another well-deserved top mark to these funky folks from Atlanta.  With any luck, they will follow it up with yet another live recording!

*****/5

Seven Year Storm – Aion I EP

sevenyearstorm

Hammerdown Records

Review by Rick Ossian

Buy the MP3s HERE

Seven Year Storm is quite possibly one of the most interesting instrumental prog projects I’ve heard in some time.  They hail from Vancouver, British Columbia, and are sporting one of the best percussionists in the business, one Sean Lang.  Sean is a professional freelance drummer and instructor, and didn’t even plan on recording this stuff until he got a load of advice from some musician friends that he should.  It is truly lucky for us, especially if you are a prog aficionado like yours truly.  Seven Year Storm also features Dean Lamb (Archspire) on lead guitar and Brent Mackenzie on bass, and they are definitely a wonder to behold.  There are five compositions here, and though there is some repetition, it is glorious for the most part!

sevenyearstormseanlang

Morphogenesis starts thing off with a pounding drum/keyboard intro.  It is a wonderful instrumental with some wicked guitar work going on.  Talk about your busy drummers!  I know it is a (most likely annoying) catch phrase of mine, but I’m not quite sure how else to describe it.  There is intricacy, there is persistent percussion, a veritable cornucopia of pulsing, pounding beats!  That should do it for descriptive power.  This is fairly heavy prog, by the way; some moments of light do exist, but then what the dark be without a bit of light?

Dyatlov features a violin at the outset, along with some drums and a slamming guitar entry about 20 seconds in.  Again, there is some really cool drumming going on here, and even a guitar/drum duel of sorts.  At 3:30 there is the obligatory lead guitar solo, but for the most part the focus is on the drums.

Virtue has a weird synth intro and some heavy duty drums.  This is very cool soundscape stuff.  The way the guitars weave and conspire with the drums is positively ear-bending!  Some very cool riffs abound, and at 3:20 the violin action gives way to some slamming drums.  Surprise!

Nazca Lines starts life off with a handclap intro and some pretty cool guitar and keyboard work.  The drum entry is pure prog, and one can’t help but wonder if they were to see a Seven Year Storm show, just how big/long of a drum solo would there be?  We can only hope it would be a monster!  This is majestic, powerful, fist-pumping prog at its finest, filled with guitars and keys widdling away, with an absolutely pounding drum beat behind it all.  The drums are driving this beast, but the bass and guitar work are also very good.  Technical and precise, with shifts (2:00) and guitar shred (2:30), not to mention keys, especially piano (3:25).

Blue Car Syndrome closes out the show, and is the longest piece on board here by a minute and a half or so (6:47).  This is a heavy jam, with more violins and keys at the intro.  Stately and grandiose, with pounding drums (again) and heavy instrumental action.  At its best it is an atmospheric soundscape, at its worst it is pure widde, so if you came to hear some vocals, forget it!  Fifty seconds in we get slammed with power prog guitar, and we get a slight shift in the proceedings at 1:15.  This is a totally inspiring instrumental jam, with a shift (3:00) to air keys and a lead guitar-led jam (3:20).  At 4 minutes in, thing build faster, then we get a briefly slower blues.  Some seriously busy drumming going on again, and what a total jam that takes us to the fade at the end.

As mentioned above, this may not be for you.  However, if your thing is instrumental prog with a heavy accent on the drums, then rejoice!  This may be one of the best pieces you will hear all year.  I, for one, am looking forward to #2!

*****/5