Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Carcass releases fun arena banging album...

Carcass "Surgical Steel" 7/10

A new Carcass album is not like a new Metallica album. I don't expect a new Metallica album to be good. I don't even expect a new Slayer album to be good (although with gary Holt in the band that might change). But Carcass, I expect ALOT from. That's because "Necroticism: Descanting the insalubrouse" is not just a Death Metal classic, but a serious piece of musical genius. Sure, I like the early grind stuff. And Heartwork was a damned solid, if more commercial sounding effort. But Necroticism was different. Very anal and single minded. A conceptual piece of art. Layer upon layer of melodic classic slow Slayer riffs, with a dark classical feeling - set to the scene of madness and butchery. Solos were also very advanced for a Death Metal band, and showed a high level of both skill and melodic understanding. Not just wank! "Necroticism" has it all...perfectly raw, thunderously heavy, chunky, shredding solos that never brighten things too much, sludging/pounding aggressive drums... I could go on and on about the perfectly psychotic vocals, brilliant lyrics...oh there is humor there. But it's very dark and not a happy type. More demented. Can you tell I like this album?

There is a certain "cult status" bands can obtain inadvertantly by merely disappearing. ANd while Carcass certainly was regarded as legendary pioneers of gore-grind before they broke up, the time spent away has somewhat erased the bitter taste of "Swansong." And while Death Metal as a genre has pretty much past its creative prime, it hasn't stopped countless bands from emulating Carcass or even trying (absurdly) to one up them. Thus, they have remained valid in the underground and have attained far more fans while gone and are now bigger than ever.

I have to admit, I pegged Mike Amott as the "aresehole making things all happy and commercial sounding" in Carcass. But this new album shows I was dead wrong, as Bill Steer is just guilty, if not even more guilty, of turning Carcass into a "guitar world magazine" band. There is alot of "wankety wank" on this new one. ANd while "Heartwork" had plenty of "wank" as well, there managed to be a disinct darkness to that album this one doesn't have. (not to mention the sound was just SO crushingly heavy on it) "Surgical" is a happy album for the most. And I think it was in the band's mind to have fun and pay massive 80s homage on this recording. Unforunately it gets a little rediculous when you can acually pick out bands and sections they are "resurrecting." Especially when it's recycled Carcass material! And that is a good example what is REALLY disappoining about this album.

Now let's not kid ourselves...the first couple Carcass albums, while "crust punk accepted" and such - were rather rediculous recordings. Amateur, but also brilliant and pioneering. It wasn't till "Necroticism" that they got WAY serious. And I think the new album is not just a rebellion against that, but a bit of an "F-U" to the elitist mentality that has come to surround them while they were absent. So for this, I have to respect that songs like "Thrasher's Abatoir" really are what they sound like. A sencere homage to their 80s Thrash influences. In fact, this whole album is more of a Thrash album with Death influences more than it is a Death Metal album,and this both intrigues and bugs the shit out of me at the same time. But it is funny how few people so far praising the album really seem to hear all the homage going on or commenting on it.

The "1985" intro is really quite silly, as it wreaked of Judas Priest "Hellion" mimickery. Not to mention it's similar to the "Heartwork" album intro. I kinda expected something with a little more thought put into it. It really seems lazy more than anything else. And LAZY is not something I expected from a band that farts brilliant riffs in their sleep!

Regarding the drums - well I used to think Ken Owen was the weak link in Carcass. Reason being, he always sounded like he was struggling to keep up and he caused the beats to drag a bit. But now that I hear this new guy (Ben Ash) well,he's so goddamned perfect and on the beat,I suddenly realized that Ken Owen's style really made the sound heavier! Kinda like Vinny Appice. He's not real fancy in Sabbath,but he's just got that heavy fucking feeling where he kinda demands the band to go at his speed. And that speed is headbang speed! It's one of those things you could really nerd out on (and I guess I have) so enough of that...point is, they lost alot of their sound with the loss of Ken.

That being said - we still have some legendary musicians at work. The brilliance is here, but it's so mixed up with average or otherwise overly commercial or happy sounding parts. So let's really break it down...

1985/Thrasher's Abattoir - VERY generic intro as I kinda stated already. But right into a somewhat generic but fairly ass kicking death/thrash number. I've spun this many times now, and it is not my imagination: this is a killer song, but man DO THEY HAVE BETTER. Also, the sound on this just isn't kicking me in the nuts the way Colin Richardson's recordings did. This is...good THRASH production. It's not that bloody dungeon Death metal sound I want from Carcass. This is a big part of what I think is missing on "Surgical Steel." Maybe they really are trying to connect with the younger "Warbringer" fan types?

Cadaver Pouch Conveyor System - this reminds me of some of the more hectic material on Heartwork and is one of the more solid numbers on here. MANY killer riffs and parts here, and Bill Steer really shows his 80s Death/Thrash chops - and man he's one of England's champion riffers - as this clearly attests. So when I criticise a song like this, I fully acknowledge that it still kicks ass on almost everything else. But again - this band wrote "Necroicism" so they are held to a higher standard. So overall, this tune is just way too busy throwing in 80s licks and fancy changes and manages to paint itself right out of the brutal room and right into forgettable "Hearwork" throwaway territory. The other, and very plausable theory, is that Carcass is again, trying to reach the younger Thrash audience. Which is really like Jeff Walker going to Hollywood for Steak at the Rainbow and a botox injecion for the weekend.

A Congealed Clot of Blood - Ok now this one pulls out a classic riff cruncher that only a gifted riff master such as Bill can come up with. Fuck, what a crusher! Sounds a bit like a Cannibal COrpse riff - but who knows, Corpse could very well have borrowed this style from Carcass first, as they did have the same producer back in the day. They probably heard "Heartwork" and went - "uh, we need their producer." Anyhow....this tune really brings back a little of the old "Necroticism" sound. Maybe more than the rest. The brilliant use of guitar layering mixed with grim key changes, heavily 80s influenced. Yeah, they hit the vibe right a few times here on this album.

The Master Butcher's Apron - Ok shit, now they really got the heavy guns out. What a classic brutal fucking riff! SOme very Carcassy song changes. Melodic shifts and riffs with that signature. It does unfortunately feel like light weight Wacken crowd pandering at points, but manages to shine at the same time.

Non compliance to ASTM F 899-12 Standard - Wow, well again, some really golden fuckin riffs in this one. Real old school classic Death Thrash riffs here! But do we need all these token twiddly Heartwork guitar wank noodles? I mean what is there to prove technically anymore? I dunno if they just were listening to WAY too much 80s metal when they wrote this, but it just comes off more as emulation rather than a fist full of Carcass. But perhaps I am simply at odds with the direction they took years ago! More Wacken crowd pandering again perhaps (this is a disurbing trend!)

the granulating dark satanic mills - ok guys, I know you gotta be king of the long rediuculous song tiles, but really??? ANyway - more Judas Priest by way of Slayer melodic intros - which do have the Carcass stamp. But come on man, this shit sounds like a song on Heartwork. But not quite as good! HOWEVER....the main riff during the vocals? Fuckin hell - that is CLASSIC fucking Carcass. But Jeff, WHY? Why in the hell the lame Dave Mustaine sounding chorus? I'm talking about the number chant thing he does. It really wreaks of catchy 80s audience chant part. I never wanna think of Megadeth when I hear Carcass. Maybe I'm nuts for making the connection, but maybe a copy of "So Far So good" was in Bill's car CD player when he wrote this. The truth will have to wait!

Unfit for Human consumption - Well I'll be damned if just after I questioned my own assessment of said "Megadeth influence" here we get a riff that really sounds a hell of alot like Holy Wars. ANd then the chorus sounds like fucking Rest in Peace Polaris. Jesus man, really? Carcass emulating 90s Megadeth on their big come back album? (and not sounding quite as good)

316L grade Surgical Steel - This is pure new generation Thrash fan pandering. It's solid as all hell - but there is just too much pre meditation here. I ain't buyin it.

Captive Bolt Pistol - I guess you could say this was the first "single" they released from SS. If you wanna call it that, it was distributed free, but that's another topic...this carefully balanced song both massages the buttocks of people like myself who want something like Necroticism and smooches the vagina of those younger fans just arriving to Carcass today from new school Thrash and Dragonforce type backgrounds. Too much fancy flibbety flabb, not enough genuine Carcass.

Mount of Execution - No, it's not the first time Carcass had acoustic guitar on a song, it's just that it didn't sound like a Bon Jovi ballad intro last time. It also wasn't followed by a catchy british traditional heavy metal riff, followed by a massive classic Metallica riff, followed by a really pointlessly pop 80s chorus...or something...man, this song's really got me confused!

Last word on the drums. Dude, the guy's got chops up the arse. I ain't saying he sucks. He's badass! But drummers like this are a dime a dozen. He does what's good for the song. But he doesn't bring that groove and character Ken Owen has. And I think it is an ignorant Carcass fan who doesn't hear it. You don't have to be able to articulate it to hear it. So if you agree this album is lacking a certain heaviness - I can almost guarantee it comes down to the drum sound/style here more than the happy arena death song parts. I know, I'm so hard on the guy. What a fukking shaxhole I am!

Overall, it is a solid album full of classic moments. But these classic moments are likely not the first priority. Rather, the quality of musicians involved canno help but fart gold here and there, if we shake the corpse enough. It has more than one wink towards the Arena/Festival touring circuit. ANd I hate to say it but this album really does sound kinda inspired by money or at least the sort of hype I kinda thought the band stood against for many years.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

MANOWAR (for $75)

As an 80s kid, I dug the hell out of all the Van Halen hits. But being a kid, I didn't attend many concerts in the 80s. So when I heard about Van Halen re-uniting with David Lee Roth and playing Oakland, I had to go. I'd never seen em, and who knows if/when they'll break up again? So I shelled out $100, which was the most I ever paid for a concert. I'm pretty cheap so that was a big deal to me. I knew my seats would be less than awesome, but they were even worse than that. Way up in the back in the absolute highest, back row on the upper level, way off to the side. "I paid $100 for this?" So I chose to walk around and find some crevice with at least a better view. I ended up watching from the back center hiding behind some curtains so I wouldn't get booted by the staff. Anyway, Eddy is obviously past his prime, but it was still a great show. Would I do it again? Nah. Not for $100. If I bother I will spend $300 for good seats. What's the point of blowing $100 on shit seats? I guess the people I saw in the front paid $300? $400? $500? Shit, who knows? The shirts were absurdly expensive in the lobby. I saw a tee shirt for $35 I think. That was the cheapest thing there, and the line was like 30 feet long. All this for a band that sings about chicks, doctors, fighting, tattoos, etc...and has a singer famous for dancing around with no shirt and skin tight pants flopping his crotch bulge all over and doing the splits. THAT's worth it bro. But Manowar? Oh come on that's gay!

Now It's been a good 5 years or more since Manowar played the West Coast, maybe even the US. Being a Manowar fan, I naturally was excited to hear they were finally coming back. When I heard tickets were $75, I was a little shocked. But then I remembered how awesome the last Manowar show I saw was and compared it to the Van Halen show I saw and figured ok: I'll spend less than I did on Van Halen, I'll be up close, they are playing all of Kings of Metal, and they only come like once every 5 years or less. Say if they had come every year for the last 5 years and charged $20. Well, that's $100 right there! So if I see em once every 5 years or less at $75, it's actually a bargain! And for the record, Manowar kicked more ass than Van Halen did. It's not about lyrics, muscles, bulges, hits, irony, or any of that - I'm just talking about rocking hard at top volume with no musical compromise.

Now here's where I "justify digging Manowar..." A Metal band really has very few messages to impart. And regardless of what metal band you pick, they can mostly all be regarded as retarded lyrically. Rock in general is loud guitars, songs about sex, death, war, victory, wizards and warriors, etc...so rather than contradict themselves and pretend they are more sophisticated than that (like alot of punk does), Manowar embrace the stereo-types and even enforce them. So, xxx punk band sings about glue-ing their dickhole shut. Manowar sings another song about STEEL. Now, is Manowar more retarded because they take their message seriously? Is singing about glue-ing your dickhole shut cooler because the band is joking? Wouldn't this band be MORE intense if they were NOT joking about gluing their dick-hole shut? I mean, that would be pretty scary. And it's people like gg Allen who get idolized. A guy who certainly had a sense of humor. But he THREW SHIT ON PEOPLE with no real irony or humor I could see on his face! This was a seriously disturbed man. And his intensity stemmed from his SERIOUS abnormal condition. I don't think he was joking at all when he threw shit. I mean, when your parents name you "Jesus Christ" I don't think there is a joke left in the world you can laugh at.

So...when you spend all day hating work, your boss, your wife, yourself, etc...and here comes these fools, living out some Lord of the Rings trip, playing the part without irony, even having the nerve to call themselves the "Kings of Metal?" Well you know what, that's a fun, retarded trip I'm gonna take. At least they won't throw shit at me ;)

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Reviews 9.28.13

Dead Man "The All Too Well Known" (s/r Tape?) 7/10

This tape looks like a good home made demo, but sounds quiet more powerful than it looks production wise. Not to say it is pro sounding, and it would only be a distraction if it was "better." To me, this is the perfect balance for such destructive, tormented music. It has a heavy Weakling feel in terms of the sound and song dynamics. There's the promitive apocalyptic Black Metal sound mixed with a Neurosis sort of orchestral heaviness that is not easy to pinpoint exactly. But it's a very good peice of genuine dark heaviness. Vocals are quite tormented and music just sort of swirls around into various stages of hell. Drums have more death/doom elements than the music alone suggests,and to me this is a plus. As it is very easy for music like this to be a carbon copy of something else. At times it tries too hard to be "true Black Metal" but then it does something a little unexpected and keeps it interesting. I keep hearing Weakling for some reason. SOme good hellnoise, this. Live they are as dramaic as they sound and I recommend seeing them if you can.

Exhumed "Necrocracy" (Relapse) 6/10

The current drummer Exhumed has (I think it's the dude from Vile) makes them sound tighter and more like Cannibal Corpse. This is both good and bad. It's solid Death Metal for sure, and is full of solid riffs without getting lost in over technical changes. At the same time, for me Exhumed always had a little bit of a sloppy "garage" sort of edge, and I guess they are trying to get away from that. It's a tough call because since it is not "more extreme" than other bands, yet "not as raw" as, say, the classic swedish or grind sound - it's in an area where it only can rely on great songs to stand out. It reminds me of the latest Six Feet Under. There's a few moments (like the riff on "Dysmorphic" where I go WOW, that's a brutal riff!) And the solos are great, but pass you by without really slapping their own signature. Overall, I would say this is very solid, but not amazing in any respect. Dare I say, this has more "groove" than previous exhumed albums? And I'm going to blame the drummer. This is not what I am used to from Exhumed, but in my opinion this is a good thing. I would recommend this to fans of Death metal without any bullshit. Just straight and killer, nothing really amazing. More groove than you'd expect. Mosh it up!

Nekrofilth "Devil's Breath" (Hells Headbangers) 8/10

Well I'm gonna call this album cover "Splat." Because it basically looks like some dude smashing his face against a wall where we are on the other side and can see through it. Anyway, the music has a very Punk vocal approach and the music is just straight ahead nekro Thrash hardcore. Uh, yeah. This band is pretty much EXACTLY what you think. Only a little better than you would expect. Conjures up images of particularly fearce mosh pits with a stench that could not be created by posers. Piss, sweat, b.o., and maybe a hint of whiskey and garbage. This crowd does not take showers and they drink every day. If DRI is too old school, try this. A touch of Eyehategod and perhaps Carnivore. In fact, Exhumed used to kinda sound like this. This was what I was talking about in the other review. Anyways, what band was I reviewing? Oh yeah, Nekrofilth...buddy, if you like it raw, aggressive, and filthy look no further!

Nocturnal graves "From the bloodline of cain" (Hell's Headbangers)6/10

SOunds like a slower Angelcorpse. I was never a huge fan of Angelcorpse. I mean, they have some awesome songs - but a slower Angelcorpse could potentially be better. When Angel Corpse sound "Morbid Angelly" these guys are a bit more "old school Death Thrash" Some very good sketchy ass death thrash riffs. The music here is some old school fucking fury. Uh...yeah, this is some aggressive shit. South American, german, Swedish, sure...all of the above. Nice and violent. Drums sound kinda plasic. That's the main drawback. I hear some Slayer in here too. Lot's of Slayer. Old school. Not quite old school enough in production. SOme good violent shit. Slaughter? Yes, Slaughter from Canada is what this sounds like! Repulsion? SOme of that. You get it by now.

Profanatica "The Kingdom Cum" (Hells Headbangers)8/10

Nice fukking album kover! I mean, cliche as all hell, but rarely does a scene of a hot naked grey chick laying on a throne surrounded by Satan and his green half goat buddy look so stylishly midaeval cool! The skull emblem on the ground kinda ruins it with it's vaguely "Harley Davidson" looking eagle wing design, but overall very badass. Or should I say "kult." I may have heard this band or maybe not - but the sound I have heard. I think on "Foul the Air with Blasphemy" I heard the same riff from Necrovore's "god of the dead." In fact I will almost call it a rip off. But if you are going to rip someone off, Necrovore is a good one for those super evil "backwards" sounding riffs. Of course Morbid Angel perfected this long ago. But Profanica is now surrounding me in some great backwards demon resurrecing riffs. And this is a rare skill few band excel in. Keep it koming guys! Frantic old school Slayer riffs, more Necrovore, and some nice "you're in deep shit" Possessed "nigity nigity ning!" riffs. Vocals are of the "black shit" variety. (that's a kompliment by the way. It means it sounds like the speakers have been covered with shit so the vocals creep out with a grotesque splat) AKA "wet vocals." As if they croak and screach out from some slimey abyss. This stands out. This is not your average kult ripp off. As the tracks go skittering by, it becomes true that Hells Headbangers has NOT deceived us and this is WORTHY musik!

Rude "Haunted Demo" (s/r tape)9/10

Now here's something interesing. A band from Oakland which almost literally sounds like a classic first album by some early 90s Death Metal band. Well to be more specific, this sounds like "Scream Bloody gore!" It almost seamlessly draws from that album, the infamous Necrovore demo, and Morbid Angel's first official album (do I really need to name it?) I'm seriously confused how these dudes managed to create something so literally devoid of all the crap that basically ruined Death Metal. These dudes did their homework. Really studied and listened to early classic Death Metal and avoided lisening to shite and created an album that sounds like a lost early Death Metal classic. But, as The Wolf famously stated, "now let's not start sucking each other's dicks yet." This is not really original by any means. But these days, I'd rather hear a good homage than a futile attempt to be original. There is a solo on here that caused me to flinch. I stopped and went, "no way, what the fukk?!?" I mean it really sounded like some dude from early Pestilence or Suffocation jumped in and I was shocked. How in the fukk did these guys come up with this??? (true story, mate!) So I look into the inner notes to discover Patric Mameli from Pestilence literally does a guest solo here! There is also a song with a riff of note here. Now due to the fact it's a tape and I am too lazy to figure it out, but I believe it is the song "memorial." It contains a genuine classic Death Metal riff. This riff is above average and will make the most jaded old Death head stop in the middle of his shitty job and wonder, "what the fukk is up with that riff? I have to hear that riff again, I still can't believe my ears!" Anyway, this is something I can truely recommend to any old school Death head who is fukking BORED TO FUKK with this screamo nu-tech art death shite...

Shitfucker "Sucks Cocks in Hell" (Hells Headbangers)7/10

Ok, well there it is. Uh...album cover kinda looks like a Nazi flag, but the Swastika was altered to look like an "S" and an "F." What a clever joke! Anyway, let's go see what cocks bein sukked in hell sounds like! Hmmm...angry person just woke up outta bed. Or was that the introductory "here we are!" vocal? Ah I see...this guy kinda sounds like Nocturnal Culto on "Under a Funeral Moon." In fact, the guitars kinda do too. I guess these guys are taking the super cult Black Metal, focussing on the "punk" part of it and just adaping it to their own folk lore. Which would be Swastikas, Linda Blair, and a daily dose of Darkthrone? Seriously though, a punked out "Under a Funeral Moon?" Ok, I'll take that. I'm glad Hells Headbangers started sending me these promos. I was begining to think I just hated everything new. But I guess I was just listening to shite promos from shite labels for too long! Would I wear the shirt from Shitfucker? Probably not. Nor would I wear a gg allen shirt. But I like some of his music. Even Shaxul has his limits! It seems Midnight has sort of taken the credit of being the "drunken venom worship blackened punk band" but clearly there is much more shit out there, and this is easily as good, if not better. It draws from more influences, and frankly sounds crazier. Sick of Midnight? Check this shit out.

Zemial "Nykta" (Hells Headbangers) 7/10

What is this, a "Blood of my Enemies" cover? Oh wait, ok this is just a grooving old school Metal song. Yikes, these are some shite amateur vocals! Is this guy singing or screaming? These drums sound like shite. Damn, go back and record this again guys! Second song is much better - keeps it more simple and Thrash. Sounds more like classic Celtic Frost now, complete with death grunts. Fucking strangely cheap guitar solo on this one, followed by cheap ass 80s prog synth solo. I kinda like this actually, but god it's cheap as Manowar's "gloves of metal" video. I'm not sure what to make of this, but I like the fact that it doesn't try to stick with just one sound. It's really an interesting hybrid of thrash, traditional, and trippy random shit they throw in. I imagine with about 25 more listens I will call this amazing, but for now it's just kinda odd and interesting.

Monday, September 2, 2013

What the hell is up with Shaxul Records?

I'm glad you asked! Well, you didn't really, but here's what's up anyway...

As some of you may or may not know I relocated to Southern California since closing the store back in late 2011 for both personal and professional reasons. It's taken a long time for me to settle in but I'm glad to say that time is about here.

The Shaxul Records website is getting a long needed face-lift, which will usher in the new era of Shaxul Records. It's going to focus mainly on Shaxul Records releases and a few I have obtained from friends/trades. I've built up a humble, but killer selection of vinyls and cds, and will of course have those listed as well. I'm not going to be so focused on trying to make sure everyone has "Kill Em All" or any usual household name type bands. I mainly wanna focus on...well, the bands I've either been in or that I would have in my own collection. But as usual my ears are always open and feel free to inquire about trades or whatever. I'm a FAN first and foremost!

I wanna thank everyone and anyone who is a Facebook friend, people in bands who correspond with me, reads my blog, bullshits with me online about music, agrees with my politics ;) etc...seriously, Shaxul Records is important to me and I wanna keep the spirit of the store alive in any way. So I appreciate the support, whatever form it takes. I still am tryin to crack LA - I wanna have a metal DJ night, promote shows, play more music, etc...all in good time! Of course, if you have any help or suggestions I am all ears! I am still quite new to LA and so far it seems in dire need of the Shaxul influence!

Now I DO have some actual news to report thankfully...I plan on going into commercial embroidery soon...you may have noticed me dealing with patches here and there since the store closed. I've even done a few bands already. Crucifixion, Insanity, Cruella, Fog of War, and a few others. Without boring you with technical details...digital embroidery is a bit of a specialized process. And although I can churn some good looking shit out, it takes FAR too long to take on any sizable order. In other words, I really can't do much more than make a few cool looking patches for hobby on my current basic home machine. But I'm going to take a leap in the next few months and go professional with Shaxul Designs/Embroidery! Not exactly sure on the name yet, but just keep in mind that VERY soon I will be able to make embroidered patches and hats in a much faster/cost effective way. So whether you have an idea for a patch/hat or you are in a band and you are gonna need a mass of patches/hats anytime soon, OR you work for a company that may need embroidery on something - I would encourage you to stay tuned for my update. I've long wanted to advertise this, but haven't really had the capability to do anything significent on a competitive scale or rate. But in the coming months, I will have professional/commercial embroidery capability, and I want your shit to look KILLER!

That's it for now. Cheers!

Friday, August 16, 2013

Book Review: IRON MAN by Tony Iommi (4/5)

This book's been out for a while but I just got around to reading it. After Heaven and Hell's touring, Dio's death, Ozzy's return, and the new Sabbath, I'd had my fill of all things Sabbath for the past few years. But being that Tony has always been a pretty reserved guy, I always wondered, "what the hell kinda demons are in this guy? What made him create this fucked up music?" He's done a great job of keeping this a mystery over the years. I guess I can say it's been somewhat solved by this book. Tony's basically a normal guy who has been chosen to witness and experience some amazing/abnormal things. From ghosts to death to satanic cults congregating outside his hotel room. But even now, I still feel there is some things we will never know about Tony and he will take his mysteries to the grave.

My impression of Tony Iommi before reading this was of a somewhat uptight old school British guy, a bit shy, extremely humble, and extremely talented. I've never met him, but I had the distinct honor of catching his gaze from the stage and after our eyes locked, he kinda shook his head and turned the other way in discomfort. In the words of a friend of mine "you freaked out Tony Iommi dude!" Anyway, I just thought it was so funny that a guy like him who's been on stage so many years gets uncomfortable on stage. In fact, I watched him step back from the front of the stage, play a solo, then went back to the front of the stage when he was done. Uh...isn't that kinda reverse? I thought the foot went on the front of the stage monitor when you solo??? But you see, this is why I love him. He's such an ANTI rock star and he retains that air of mystery about him that he probably can't even pin point himself.

Anyway, the book recaps his youth, which was very much working class as he's always maintained. Now in Dave Mustaine's book, he'd be like "this big dude challenged me to a fight first day of school! We almost fought but nothing happened! It was a close call! Yeah, I came from the wrong side of the tracks I guess!" Well Iommi's book is more like this: "I heard screaming and yelling and when I looked out the window my drunk mother and the neighbor were yelling at each other. Then my father was out there yelling. Then they were trying to beat the neighbor over the head with a broom!" Or he'll be like "Me and John Bonham and Ian gillan went to a bar, got shifaced, next thing you know someone pulls out a knife, I punch a guy, the cook comes out and breaks a bottle over someone's head, the whole place broke out into a brawl, there's blood everywhere!" THAT's Tony's book. And it doesn't come off fake. It almost sounds like a reference book. Like he's just stating one fact after another, without embellishing much. He doesn't have to because the stories are so fucking entertaining and absurd already!

There are countless Ozzy interviews out there where we get this generally controlling/scary/passive aggressive/mysterious/asshole sort of image of Tony. But you really gotta take Ozzy's recaps with a grain of salt. I mean sure, it's great to see a madman on stage. But working with someone like that? I have much more respect for Iommi's point of view through the years from this book. And it's not because he sets out to straighten anything out here, but when he talks about not being able to find Ozzy a half hour before the show and there's a crowd set to riot if Sabbath doesn't play, and promoters are talking about suing...well I'd be like Tony too, I'd be like "what the fuck Oz, get the fuck over here!"

One thing that I really discovered is what a great sense of humor Tony has, which borders on sadistic. Dropping Ozzy's drunk ass off miles away from his house after practice on a street that looks exactly like his - that had me laughing out loud. And he says he did it more than once! That's fucked up, but funny as hell! There's too many funny stories in this book, and I don't wanna spoil it. But between drunk ass John Bonham and coked out glen hughes, man this thing is full of Spinal Tap moments! In fact, the name Spinal Tap comes up like every 10 pages, so that tells you how aware Iommi is of the comedy of it all.

I was hoping for a bit more detail regarding the darker Sabbath years (Hughes/Martin eras) but we get enough to know is was not the happiest of times for the band.

The last section made me a bit choked up, because Tony spends a few chapters just giving thanks for all the love and support he's gotten in the past few years, and the fact he is feeling his mortality really comes through.

Overall, I loved the book but Tony's life is like a 5 book saga, and it left me wanting more because there wasn't enough pages here. Hopefully he releases more which are specific to an era.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Mustaine: A Heavy Metal Memoir (Review) 2/5

Before I go into the book, here's where I stand with Megadeth...they were one of my favorite bands in High School and I consider the first 2 albums and "Rust in Piece" to be classics. (I like "So far so good" but I think it falls short of the other 80s material). I tried to get into "Countdown" but for me they really lost the edge on that one and became too soft. Whatever - opinions are like assholes right? In any case, I suppose I came at this mainly wanting some gory details on the early years and an unexpectedly engrossing story about Mustaine giving up music, coming back, and finding Christ. I figured with material like this, how could his book NOT be fascinating from start to finish? Well folks, Mustaine found a way to make the story dull.

Maybe I just know way too much about Mustaine already, but I pretty much feel I could have written the first half of this book myself. It's really just a summary of all the classic Mustaine stories we kinda already know about. "Mustaine comes from a broken home." I was expecting horror stories about Dave getting beat by his father. Not that I wanted that to be the case, but all we basically get is "everyone was really scared of dad." I mean, he doesn't exactly paint a picture we can see. It's about as informative as an number of guitar center interviews from way back when where Dave gets personal for a paragraph or so. I didn't know Mustaine had a sister. Nor do I feel any more informed by his mentioning of her. "I have sister." Great. And what did you eat for dinner back then Dave??? His mom basically let him do what he wanted and kicked him out because he was selling weed. Well you know Dave, my heart really bleeds for you, but if you are selling weed outta the house and having your Jehova's Witness mom collect the money for you while you are away, yeah you might get kicked out...

Regarding Dave's "difficult" upbringing...I have no doubt Dave had it tough. But the problem is he lays it out in what I would call a pretty damned vague and tame manner. He comes off sounding like a fucking crybaby to be honest. "I heard Dad beat up my sister pretty bad once." Gee Dave, I'm so sorry you had to hear such scary news as a child! In Sammy Hagar's book, you really feel like you are in the room with Sammy, fist fighting his own father. And it doesn't come off as play acting or fake at all. He just lays it out. With Dave, it comes off as very sculpted to come off the way Dave wants it to come off, and that is not the point of a "frank" memoir.

Now, the first chapter in the book is called "A Horseshow in my ass" or something, which is appearantly what James Hetfield said to Dave once. He begins his book with a James Hetfield criticism of him. If that doesn't speak volumes I dunno what does. If anything, I do sympathize MUCH more with the hardships Dave has dealt with regarding his being "booted" from Metallica, because truth be told - there are heavily contributed Mustaine tracks included on the first 2 Metallica albums. Grant it, this was a very long time ago. But we all know those first demos and first albums are what MADE Metallica. The band does owe Dave, and I do feel they don't give him enough credit. I see this as where most of Dave's arrogant comments come from. Little details like when he talks about showing Kerry King "the devil's interval" or whatever the fuck he calls it. Then he's all "it would be used in almost every Slayer song after." Ok sure Dave, you taught Kerry King a scale and it helped him invent Slayer. Got it buddy. And just little comments about how his influence seeped through every corner of Metal and how he basically is responsible for Thrash Metal in some obscure way. Look, Dave is a Thrash Metal legend. And his solos are fucking insane in the early days. And Kirk Hammett absolutely learned his solos in the early days, and for me some of the best Metallica solos are the ones Dave wrote. But don't get carried away Dave, there were others with tons of influence as well!

Dave found a way for this story to sound old, tired, and redundant. How he can make one of the most interesting rivalries in Metal sound redundant is beyond me. I mean, there's a few moments where I really feel bad for him. The whole story about driving cross country to NY only to get fired? Well, I admit that was pretty sad. There really wasn't much he added and we've heard the stories before. He even left out the "well you want me to jump out of the window or what?" quote. Ok, maybe he didn't say that. Point is, I got this story many years ago from any number on interviews. It's a well documented tale and he didn't really add shit to it, and again, that is the point of a book like this.

One more thing regarding the whole "Metallica" issue - I have to say that over the years, between Dave and Newsted's comments, and between things I have heard from people who knew Metallica in the early days - they do seem like they could be pretty damned fucked up and inconsiderate. And being what I would call a "musician who never really made it" myself, I can certainly relate to feeling "discounted" or not receiving due credit for efforts. But I can also see that it's a situation of needing to "hate the game, not the player." Lars and Hetfield instinctively knew the game and played it hard. And in the end, it was this attitude, not just the music that brought them to the top. Easier said than done I know, but clearly Dave musical career was mostly driven by a need to meet Metallica's approval which is a real trip if you think about it. But again, we all kinda knew this already. The book just enforced it more.

The best part about this book, for me, is the drugged out first 2 album recaps. Why? Because Megadeth was just so fucking cool and out of control and fucking badass angry back then. I was really hoping for some good info on Gar and Chris Poland - but I really felt he glossed over them. I dunno if it's because he wants to distance himself from that era or what. Maybe he just doesn't remember much. I don't need Dave to tell me over and over how great Gar and Chris were. I have the albums Dave, I know they were awesome. Tell me something I don't know maybe??? I mean, he doesn't even mention Gar's death. Really? Were you that finished with Gar after he left the band?

The whole section about Jeff Young? Seriously, I read that story in greater details years ago somewhere in some rag. He comes off as a very immature and confused guy - but hey, that was Megadeth history. Go into it Dave! Again, it's like he doesn't wanna give anyone any credit by giving them too many pages. His relationship to Dave Ellefson is another one that just doesn't get real detailed. I mean we all know they were connected at the hip. He was the only stable member in Megadeth since the beginning. We could guess he was your "drug buddy." The only interesting details he went into were regarding the legal/court battle they were briefly embroiled in. He might as well have just said "JR sued me, I won. Of course I was gonna win!" Wow, way to embellish the story Dave...

The rest is about as boring and bland as Megadeth's material of the past 20 years or so. Went into rehab. Got sober. Got back on drugs. Broke up with my wife. Went back to rehab. Fucked my arm up. Quit music. Started music. Got sober. Found god. I'm not political. Yes I am. I'm not like other Christians. Yada yada...yawn yawn.

I like Dave more after reading this book, I really do. But he's one of those guys who is so far removed from his past that he can't even relay it in depth anymore without sounding like a ghost writer, which is obviously who really wrote the book. I certainly appreciate that Dave's word's are scrutinized in great detail and that he probably has to over think everything he says a million times. But again, don't write a fucking book unless you are gonna lay it out. That's just my feeling. This book is entertaining for the most part, but given the insanely interesting material he had to work with, I find it amazing he managed to make it fairly dull for the most part.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Queensryche: The death and rebirth

"Well, let’s see, it’s a matter of being interested and challenged. Our lineup has stayed pretty much the same — keep changing out the one guitarist. That’s kinda fun. You get to work with different people. Musically, it’s all about challenging ourselves and keeping things interesting." -Geoff tate

In observance of Queensryche putting out what I consider to be their "return to form" album, I decided to check out the 6 recordings I always avoided so I would have more perspective on the current stuff.

I've always been one of those people devoted to Degarmo era Queensryche. His departure from the group really was somewhat parallel to Cliff Burton "leaving" Metallica in terms of how the band was affected...It seems Degarmo held Geoff Tate's ego in check which, in turn, allowed the entire band to function in harmony and all voices to be utilized. This was the secret to the band's greatness and why the first era of the band was so effective and influential. Their efficient use of all talent involved AS A UNIT.

Numerous interviews with the band back in those days show Geoff and Chris as primary spokesmen - and to us fans, they seemed to be the leaders. More so Chris Degarmo I say now in hind sight. But once Chris left, the extremely strange and mostly awful journey they took after "Here in the Now Frontier" began. This painful journey (with Geoff Tate as tour guide) finally culminates in the ultimate molestation of Queensryche, which is on display via Google if you have a sick need to see for yourself. Just type "Queensryche" and "Caberet" in the search box and you'll see what I mean. Certain of these snapshots have got to be some of the most amazingly ironic, unintentionally hilarious pictures in rock history. Not just matching the Sex Pistol's last performance in self parody, but passing it right up.

It's hard to believe there was a time when if you saw someone with a "Warning" or a "Mindcrime" shirt, there was a certain pride and look of understanding..."We are part of the cult. THEY cannot understand the greatness. But WE do."

When "Empire" came out, it created a disturbance in an otherwise perfect history. Our pride was bruised a little because it was not only a little too obviously commercial in intent, it exposed our little cult and expanded it to lame pop audiences, most of whom probably never got much into any of the band's other material, except maybe "Mindcrime." But we did mostly accept it, because as commercial as it was, the Queensryche quality and musicianship could not be denied. There is a stage when a band is just so good, they can crap and it still has something awesome about it. And deep down, we knew they deserved to have a smash hit album at least once. That's not to say "Empire" was their best, but right after that they went right back to being "our band" and did the less commercial "Promised Land." The band was still letting us, "the cult members" know that they hadn't forgotten us, and delivered another masterpiece. That didn't happen again until 2013...

Queensryche "Hear in the Now Frontier" (1997)

It's been a very long time since I tried to listen to this album. So long in fact, that I had completely forgotten how familiar I actually was with it. As I listened, it all came back to me...I did try to get into this once, and could not.

From the opening riff of "Sign of the Times" the 90s came flooding back. Without going into too much embarrassing detail - I connect very personally with whatever the hell Queensryche was trying to convey here. I suppose "deep depression struggling desperately to remain upbeat" sums up the feeling I get from it. Obviously NOT a good thing many people are probably gonna connect with. Especially in this context. Whether that's what the band was feeling or not, I don't know. But it's no shock that few people got into it. But I am sure a good segment of their cult fans DID, probably somewhat silently, dig it.

It's certainly not a "rocker," but the concept here is a specific mood. Wait, a "mood" as a "concept?" Now that's interesting - and you gotta admit, they hadn't gone there yet. But like the title states, HEAR in the NOW frontier. "Hear where we are today, because this is where we are, like it or not." I think that is what confused people on all sides of the tracks. In this sense, I think it's a very misunderstood album. You really have to come at it from a certain angle or you simply won't get it. You don't have to pretend it isn't Queensryche, you just have to accept the path they chose.

It has that 90s vibe like I said, but I would rate it much higher than an attempt to fit in with the grunge/alt movement. Let's not forget - these guys ARE from Seattle, and they existed all through, before, and after the "grunge era" so if they wanna jam with a "Seattle sound" I wouldn't say they are copying something they don't know first hand. If it is guilty of anything, it's trying to gain a little of their "Empire" commercial success. But in a more subtle, alienating kind of way. And alienation seems to be the only constant theme found in just about any Queensryche album.

Whatever they were going for, this album is WAY better than I remembered. There are very interesting layers of sound and mood all over this. And despite what anyone might claim, I would say this does have enough musical integrity to qualify as another acceptable, final installment of the original Queensryche unit. It's probably the last collaborative/mostly democratic effort the band did till they started to go off into Geoff Tate's creative mine field.

Queensryche "Q2K" (1999)

Well, I'm rather ashamed to admit that after finally listening to this album 14 years after it came out, I'm sickly interested in some of it. It certainly sounds like the band is lost. Maybe not, I don't know. But it just begs the question, especially being the first album without Degarmo: "Where in the fuck is Queensryche going with this?" It almost feels like 80s new wave like the Cult or P.I.L. or some sort of random forgotten 80s hit band. It has a somewhat faceless quality of a half empty dance hall with some shitty tune blasting. There's a coldness.

I think if you forgot it's Queensryche, and just heard any of these songs pop up on a Sirius Radio pop channel, you'd probably think "well that's kinda interesting compared to the last 10 songs I heard." Then someone says, "oh that's Queensryche by the way" suddenly you'd be like "what? THIS SUCKS! This ain't goddamned Queensryche!"

Ok look, it DOES basically suck. But it's clearly not without thought and intelligence and effort. Like the previous album, it again seems to focus on moods rather than brilliant/tricky compositions. And when compared to abortions of other bands like Metallica, it's a MUCH BETTER shitty album than the other shitty albums made by once great bands. Not sure if that's an endorsement or not...

Queensryche "Tribe" (2003)

Ok, I think this is where Queensryche starts to wander so very far from their original sound that even the band members are starting to feel alienated. Well, except Geoff Tate. He really seems to be into it like a pig in shit. I really think this is the point where Geoff Tate started seeing the band as a literal platform for his own ego. I think he looked at the band and said "well, they aren't inspired, so I'm gonna decide how everything should sound instead of trying to get on the same page with them." If that's the case, well I can't bame him. But at the same time, "too much Tate" is not a good thing, and most people seem to know this except Tate himself. This is the problem. And Scott Rockenfield famously stated himself that the band's disintegration was a long, ten year process that was like a painful divorce.

Had Degarmo been in the band, he could have connected Tate's overbearing ego with the apathy of the band, and the result might have been a long hiatus, or perhaps an accidentally brilliant album. (Shit, I'm beginning to digress as much as the band did on this album!)Now I know Degarmo "contributed" on a few songs here - but he still wasn't "in" the band anymore, and his commitment was obviously very part time. And that shit eating smirk on Geoff's face up in that pic above is really what is running things here.

Queensryche as a band is gone at this point. This is the furthest edge of the tri ryche universe, and although some of it is again, kind of interesting, it comes off as an obscure sort of wankery on the opposite end of "flaming guitar solo." It's more, "let's see how depressingly middle aged and lost we can sound."

The faceless 80s sort of quality is still here, but it's REALLY starting to drag and feel obese. I probably spent more time asking "what the fuck?" than I did actually listening to this one - I probably heard it once before, but this is where my sick curiosity with Queensryche really starts to end. Although I have to admit, it does have an experimental edge that sounds a hell of a lot more valid if viewed as a "prog pop album" in the vein of modern Bowie, but certainly not in the "Metal" vein.

Queensryche "Operation Mindcrime II" (2006)

Around the time this album came out, I was jamming with a drummer in South San Francisco and he told me his drummer friend was recording drums for the new Queensryche album because Scott Rockenfield refused to for whatever reason. I was not sure if I believed him. But by now it's no secret that most, if not all of this album was recorded by Tate and session musicians while residing, at least partially in the bay area. I won't get into it because I'm not really up on all the details, but this is where things start getting really ugly and a bit of google detective work will turn up plenty of dirt for your sick pleasure...

Upon first listen, I am again a bit shocked at how...well...decent this is. I'm not saying it's my thing or that I even wanna check it out further. But it's not bad. It's just SO goddamned different from the original Queensryche, it's pretty much unrecognizable. It literally sounds like a different band.

I almost feel bad for them because there is a very strong effort coming from some direction here to do...well...I'm not sure what, really. What the fuck are they trying to do here? Again, a seemingly aimless meandering creatively, spearheaded by Tate I suppose, dragging a moaning group of talented people with him through some psychotic cinematic experiment.

I'm not sure where to start in describing this, which I suppose is a compliment. I mean, they made something I can't fucking describe. Heavy, cinematic, caberet prog? Fuck if I know. Kinda interesting if you are into prog which ignores genre, with moments of heavy. "Mindcrime II?" That really makes no goddamned sense at all. Extremely confusing listen. Like a lighter industrial band, but a heavier middle of the road pop band, with an edge of the experimental. To the album's credit, it is interesting. But comes off much more as an experiment than a music listening experience. Even reminded me of the godly Foetus at times, of all bands.

I hate to say it, but I bet this would be amazing on the right drugs. But I guess that's probably true of any recording. Bottom line is, it's just too goddamned different and was a really odd idea to call it "Mindcrime II" (or just a very obscure attempt of desperation.) For fuck sake, find yourselves guys! or throw in the damned towel!

I have to add as well - regardless of how bad people may say this album is, Geoff Tate is a genius and it shows here. I just think his genius is getting way off the deep end at this point and way too far into self-wank. Genius alone is not always enough and doesn't always yield a good product.

It may just be that this shit is way over people's heads. I can't deny this may be the case. It may just be too obscure an attempt for even die hards to embrace, and alienates anyone else. This is an interesting album. It's just too demanding on too many levels. Maybe one day I will come back to it. But for now, I'd rather just listen to some ACTUAL Queensryche, if that's ok with you Geoff?

Queensryche "American Soldier" (2009)

Even before the music starts, one look at the songwriting credits shows clear as day that Geoff Tate is really trying to take over this band. For there is exactly ONE writing credit to an original member other than Tate. And it's not even an entire song credit it's a co-writing credit by Scott Rockenfield on the ironically entitled "Living Hell" (which is pretty damned boring btw.)

I really tried to approach these previously unexplored Queensryche albums with an open mind, and avoid jumping to "this just sucks" conclusions. But I think the time has come to just state the obvious: this album fucking sucks.

Whatever I said about Geoff being a genius? Well, I take that back now. Sure, there are moments of mildly interesting sound collages and some good melodic passages...After all, there is still talent here. But man, it's just so wasted and funneled into a black void of crap. This is the first one I can't defend much on any level. It just fucking sucks. And I can only imagine what was going on in the minds of Scott, Eddie, and Michael at this point.

Queensryche "Dedicated to Chaos" (2011)

Uh...what band is this again? Jesus, I guess I shoulda expected this when I peaked under this rock. Geoff Tate slithering around in his own excrement. Sound collage much? The band is just a table full of random objects Geoff Tate is arranging at this point, I really think the rest of the band already checked out here.

I read someone say that Queensryche was the best example of a band falling from greatness to shit (or something.) I didn't agree at all till I checked out these past few albums. Then again, Metallica's "Lulu" makes for a strong rival in this way. It's like a sick game of "how much can we alienate our fans?" And when that has gone as far as it can go, it turns into a game of "how much can I alienate my band mates? How much will they take?" Again, some interesting parts, but at this point that's all this band is. Parts. And as stated in a earlier review, Queensryche is about "the whole as a unit."

The best thing I can say about this album is that it's probably the furthest a band can go into nowhere land without actually breaking up. It's amazing in this way. And god, Tate sounds bad on this. Did I call him a genius? Sorry about that. He's no John Lennon. "Dedicated to my own cock" woulda been a more fitting title.

Queensryche "Frequency Unknown"

I really wanna have something original to say about this album, but how do you say anything interesting about such an average, amateur, half assed album?

"Queensryche" (if ya wanna call em that lately) has been way off track and honing a sound that nobody could totally get on board with for many years now, and as recent events have proven, this includes the former band members. Maybe it's because Geoff was taking over, maybe it's the fact that fans have been increasingly alienated by their shit...but it's probably a combination.

What you have here is an extremely half assed attempt by Tate to finally wake up and go "ok, ok, I drove the band too far out to sea. I can come back guys! I really can!" But then he just can't resist and swallow his pride. He just HAS to literally put an "F.U." on the album cover. And believe me, it just as much an "F.U" to the original cult fans as it is to his former band mates. We know Geoff, we got it. But you still suck.

Musically, this is much more straight forward and follows a much more standard hard rock format with pop leanings. I'm not gonna go into too much detail. Some songs have good riffs and some are more pop oriented. Geoff is still VERY talented. But this is just thrown together and sounds very little like the good original Queensryche he seems to think he is solely responsible for. The jig is up Geoff, the emperor has no clothes...and by the way, your voice is trashed.

Queensryche "Queensryche"

If you ask yourself, "what is the Queensryche sound?" there really is no correct answer if you take into account their entire body of work. However, if you take their best work (Degarmo era) and forget all the crap they did after, the new album absolutely sounds like Queensryche. Yet even that sound is hard to describe. It's whatever the talented group of musicians can come up with as a unit.

The album opens with a rather generic "sound collage" reminiscent of the "Promised Land" opening cinematic sequence. I suppose it's the sound of the band being reborn? I spoke of Queensryche utilizing concepts for their albums in an earlier review. When the band is on board with the concept as a unit, that is when the band makes their best material. And here it seems the rebirth of the band is itself, the concept.

From the start the sound hits you pretty hard with the excellent production. The drums in particular have been meticulously recorded and have the best balance between organic and effects. The bass tone is nice and heavy and excellently placed in the sound field, reminding you how great these players are. A powerful rhythm section, one of the most powerful in Metal history, is back up front to lay it down and let you know they are ready to rock.

"Where Dreams Go to Die" begins and by the end, we know if this is the true end of Queensryche or the new beginning. What I found was, by the end of this song I knew it was great, but was unsure how great it was. There is a subtle complexity that goes by, and a familiar feeling of hearing "Warning" for the first time hit me. I really didn't think "Warning" was a great song the first time I heard it. But over time, it got better with each listen. I can say the same for this song. In fact, I can say the same for most of this album.

The sad reality of being a vocalist in a Metal band is that your days are numbered. Not just in the standard sense of life expectancy, but even more numbered by virtue of the fact that, as Geoff Tate has said "your voice is your instrument." A guitarist can get old, but he can buy a new guitar. A drummer can get weaker, but he can purchase different sounding drums and/or adjust his technique. A singer? Well, once the pipes go, all you can do is sing at a different register. But you can't buy a new throat or new lungs. This is why singers are weirdos, and the better they are, the weirder they are usually. So no disrespect to Geoff Tate - for he is without a doubt one of the best Metal singers of all time. But Todd La Torre simply has a stronger, more youthful voice. And he sounds like a young Geoff Tate. There's no way around it, Queensryche needs a singer of this strength or they are done.

Queensryche'ability to write powerful, dramatic material has made a huge come-back. The best example I can point to is "Vindication." This is just classic Queensryche with hints of Operation Mindcrime, but with a modern edge and a new aggression they really haven't had since the first ep. Musically, it feels new, powerful, and inspired. Of everything on the album, this is the one that really makes me look forward to what else they can come up with.

There is a certain effort and care that goes into making a great album. You can have great musicians, tons of money, a top producer - but as Metallica has proven time and time again, none of that helps if you have crappy songs and lack of unity musically. I hate to reference Metallica over and over, but since I doubt most of you have bothered much with "bad Queensryche" I figure Tallica is a good reference point to how the "wrong way to get a great album" works, vs THIS RIGHT HERE which is the magic that happens when almost everything comes together.

There isn't a bad song on here. In fact, there isn't a song on here that is less than great. The cult of Queensryche is satisfied. Our band is back. Degarmo hasn't returned, but his spirit is in this group for sure. And we can finally get back on board with wherever Queensryche is going.

For the most part, this is a decidedly earnest, somber, fairly uncommercial album. But there is one nod to their highly commercial "Empire" era in the form of "In This Light." Other than Degarmo's brilliant solos failing to be present, this song is still better than any of the "pop tunes" on "Empire." And easily heavier. "Best I can" and "Jet City Woman" are great pop songs. But "In this Light" for sure touches a harder, less accessible surface and doesn't quite sell out as hard. I would say Todd is generally, a slightly less cheesy singer than Geoff Tate and gives the band a slightly darker tone. But not a fake sort of cinematic darkness. A more street, real world sort. One thing that does bug the hell out of me though is the voice/pitch corrections used on key vocal lines. It doesn't come up often, but it seems a bit obvious when it does, and given Todd's range, it really seems pointless. I'd actually prefer to hear it raw. Hopefully they don't do this on the next album.

Is this a perfect album? Damned close. What is really exciting about it is the obvious chemistry the band has again, and you can really tell they have much more waiting to come out. I for one am looking forward to more music from this line-up. Hopefully the best is yet to come.