Wednesday, April 11, 2018

1032. Blaze Bayley / The Redemption of William Black: Infinite Entanglement Part III. 2018. 3.5/5

This is the second ‘trilogy’ of albums I have finished listening to over the past two weeks. The first was Geoff Tate’s Operation: Mindcrime trilogy story, which for me ended much the way it had started. When it comes to Blaze Bayley’s concluding chapter in his Infinite Entanglement trilogy, entitled The Redemption of William Black: Infinite Entanglement Part III, I have a similar feeling, in that I don’t think any part of the three albums has changed my mind over the whole concept of the story and the albums it entails. Indeed for some time I was concerned that it had in fact fallen backwards.

At my advancing age in listening to music in general and to heavy metal at the forefront of that, I have become less frantic in trying to devour every aspect of an album. In my youthful days in the 1980’s I spent hours poring over record covers and devouring lyrics to ensure I knew every single aspect of a song or an album, and was able to decipher this for anyone that would listen to me. The occasional concept albums that came my way found me even more diligent in this aspect. But old age has found I don’t have the time or devotion to go down that path anymore, and as my collections have moved from vinyl to disc to digital I don’t even have to know what the cover artwork is anymore. This becomes even truer as to the nature of the storyline that Blaze has set out over these three albums. I honestly haven’t taking in the lyrics enough to actually be able to work out what the story is he is telling. All I’m listening to are the songs, and picking up snatches of what is being said, and just wondering if I like it or not. My Past Self would be quite annoyed with my Present Self in this regard, suggesting I needed to take more time to envelope in the story. Past Self had much more time available to him to do such things that Present Self currently doesn’t have. One day I do intend to sit down and discover this storyline, but as yet I have not.

As to the songs themselves, I admit that after the first half a dozen listens to The Redemption of William Black: Infinite Entanglement Part III I felt disappointed. I couldn’t find much here that I truly enjoyed, that was jumping out at me and grabbing me, and at that time I felt this had some major flaws. Just allowing it to play through in the background while I did other stuff it felt like every song was the same, and that there was little to define these songs or this album from a lot of Blaze’s recent stuff. To be honest I was ready to cast it aside, and perhaps come back to it at a later time. Over the next half a dozen listens though I began to find my way into the narrative as such, and found the rhythm of the album, and then it became less of a chore and more of a pleasure to listen to. In the long run, I had to find the Blaze Bayley definition again. He has his own style that has been developed over recent albums where he now has no Blaze Bayley band to collaborate with, and instead he writes through his own thoughts while bouncing them off others he is close to at the time. In many ways it has brought a similarity to his music which can be off putting, especially for those that don’t enjoy his style. And that is the crux of this album. If you like Blaze’s style and substance, you will enjoy this album. If you do not then you won’t find anything here to win you over.

I’m glad that I stuck with this, and gave it time to win me over. It is not his best work, and there are few songs here I would consider putting on a greatest hits playlist of his work. That can be the problem with concept albums, the songs have to fit the story, not just win you over as songs themselves. Compared to other albums I have had on rotation over the past couple of weeks, this sits somewhere in the middle.

Rating:  The conclusion fits mostly with the first two parts.  3.5/5

Monday, April 09, 2018

1031. Operation: Mindcrime / The New Reality. 2017. 1.5/5

I did promise I was going to steer clear of listening to future releases from Geoff Tate, a number of times actually. And I then also promised that I would stop reviewing those albums, mainly because it would give them an unfair skew giving that each time I listen to a new release it is poles apart from what I like. But here I am again, being sucked into the vortex, because there is always that chance that what I hear may again please me like Geoff’s original band pleased me back in the day.

The New Reality completes the trilogy concept plan that Geoff promised to deliver on the creation of his new band and name, which will apparently be mothballed once the tour behind this album is completed. Those that have listened to the first two albums – The Key and Resurrection – will therefore know what is coming on this album. I did too, but I still had to complete the journey just so I could say I gave it all a fair shake. So if you have listened to those two albums and you enjoy what has been offered then you can approach this album with open arms. If you found that the first albums were much of a muchness, and more tedious than experimental, then you can also steer clear of this album.
There are the odd moments when the Tate vocals come back into play, such as about halfway through “All For What?” where he sounds as though he means what he is singing and gives it some oomph. But for the majority of the album the songs crawl along in way that sounds like it should be 1970’s progressive rock, but without the rock part involved. The synthesizers dominate, and Tate’s saxophone becomes prominent in a number of songs, while Kelly Gray is back to offer some guitar and more producing of the album.
Yes, I assume there is more of the storyline that has been offered throughout, but as I’m sure I have suggested on reviews for the previous two outings, I just don’t have the inclination to find out exactly what it is about and what is happening. The story doesn’t matter a fig if the music drags you in, which is exactly what happened with the album that carries this project’s name. Unfortunately here, the music and songs do nothing to inspire me to search out what is happening within the lyrical content.

So I have satisfied my curiosity by wallowing through this release, and reached the end of what is the great Geoff Tate Trilogy following his exit from his previous band. Though none of it has tickled my fancy in the slightest, at least it is done. The next question will be, what is the next move by Tate, and will I feel as though I must continue to follow his music on the extraordinarily long off chance that he produces something that will rekindle his lacklustre appeal.

Rating:  There's light at the end of the tunnel.   1.5/5

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

1030. Ozzy Osbourne / The Ultimate Sin. 1986. 5/5

By the time the mid-1980’s had rolled around, Ozzy Osbourne has already done just about everything there was to do in music. His storied past in outlandish behaviour was also well documented. Coming into 1986 he had three best-selling solo albums behind him and the music world at his feet. As with most of Ozzy’s albums during this decade (at least) there is the usual contention over who actually wrote the songs. At least here on The Ultimate Sin guitarist Jake E. Lee and oft-collaborator Bob Daisley have been given their dues. There’s little doubt that the pair of Lee and Daisley can write great songs. Apart from the great tracks on Bark at the Moon they write some cracking tunes here. The two videos released from the album show Ozzy in full 80’s regalia, in overblown sparkly coats and jewellery and that massively teased peroxided hair, but still singing up a storm no matter what the exterior was like.

The first side of the album I feel is underrated, and is often cited by those who aren’t as keen on the album as the reason why. I think it more than holds its own. It may not have any of the most revered Ozzy songs of his career on it, but neither are they the weakest. The self-titled opening track starts off with a thumping drum beat from Randy Castillo before the rhythmic bass and guitar riff kicks in. the tempo sticks to a solid beat, energised through the middle of the song by Jake’s solo. This moves straight into the guitar riffing beginning of “Secret Loser”, one of my favourite Ozzy tracks. The faster pace pulls you along in its wake, joining in as Ozzy serenades you with “Loser, I’m a secret loser!” The Lee solo is followed by a great piece in the middle of the song where Randy plays along on his toms with barely a ripple from the guitars while Ozzy sings over the top, only to crash back into the chorus through the guitar and bass riffing back in hard and heavy. Great stuff.
“Never Know Why” settles in the same tempo that most of the album resides in, with the heavy 2/4 beat on the drums allowing Ozzy to follow the tempo vocally over the top of the simple riff structure. It sounds simple enough and doesn’t require much effort, but is effective In that it allows the guitar solo to be hero of the song while the rhythm is prominent throughout. The anti-war song “Thank God for the Bomb” follows, and uses a similar technique in the middle of the song with the tom roll followed by the guitar solo, and is just as enjoyable. “Never” rounds out the first side of the album – and really, who was doing the titles of these songs? “Never Know Why” closely followed by “Never”? Isn’t that confusing?
The second half of the album is where the real money shots reside. It starts off with the excellent “Lightning Strikes” which is prefaced by a great entry guitar riff from Jake before Ozzy gives it all on vocals. This is a quintessential Ozzy song from the era, and anyone who has seen the video for it, with Ozzy in all his glory, will know it. The lyrics sum it all up as well, and that Jake solo in the middle is just fantastic. This is followed by what is arguably the best song on the album, “Killer of Giants”. The opening guitar, bass and keys sequence, followed by Ozzy’s perfect vocal for the lyrics, before crashing into the harder edge of the song itself, is one of the best moments in all of Ozzy’s solo material. The second anti-war song on the album also brings to notice the tension that was in the air around the world at this point in the decade.
“Fool Like You” and “Shot in the Dark” complete the album in style. “Fool Like You” was the perfect song for singing at fellow students back in high school when they questioned what you were doing and how you were going about it. One of the problems of being a heavy metal nerd, there were plenty of ‘cool’ people who wanted to have a go at you. I loved singing this song at them. Jake’s solo again is top shelf. “Shot in the Dark”, co-written by bass guitarist Phil Soussan, was the first single from the album and got regular airplay on music video programs. It is a great way to finish off the album.

The question could well then be asked – why do I love this album so much when others will find its simplicity to be boring and uninteresting? It’s a fair question, and the answer will reside on the fact that I grew up with the album from the time of its release. It was one that my friends and I lived off, and it speaks as much about my youth as it does about whether the songs on the album sound simplistic or awesomely technical. The three musicians in Jake E. Lee, Bob Daisley and Randy Castillo are just terrific here, and it is somewhat of a pity that they didn’t collaborate and play together more. Music speaks to different people in different ways. I still find this as enjoyable and entertaining as I did thirty years ago.

Rating:  “If none of us believe in war, then can you tell me what the weapons are for?”   5/5

Monday, September 11, 2017

1029. Anthrax / Spreading the Disease. 1985. 5/5

Sometimes it is hard to believe that this album was “only” released in 1985, because it feels like it has been around for a lot longer than that. After the initial recording and release of their debut album Fistful of Metal, some tweaking to the band members brought in Joey Belladonna and Frankie Bello to replace Neil Turbin and Danny Lilker respectively. Both of these changes acted to smooth out the rough edges of the thrash metal roots of the band and brought a whole dimension both musically and vocally to the group without reneging on any of the aggression and power of the music. The result of this was brought forth on Spreading the Disease, an album that began the steady climb of Anthrax as metal powerhouse.

For many fans this is still an obscure album, one that they know but without certainty. They know the tunes but not necessarily the song titles. It has its share of songs that have become classic Anthrax tracks through the years, but mostly contains songs that have not been played live since the heady days of the 1980’s and are known best by those that had the album on its release.
There are two songs on the album that were written by the original song writing team of the first album, that being Turbin, Lilker and Scott Ian. They are “Armed and Dangerous” and “Gung-Ho”, which closes out the album. Both are of the same intensity of the songs on Fistful of Metal, with the furiousness of the guitars and drums extending through any time pattern that may be being kept. The difference in the quality of the songs probably comes down to better production, the instrumentation being more studied and the vocals of Joey, whose operatic-like range gives them a completely different sound to what they would have had with Turbin on vocals. “Armed and dangerous” has the slower clear guitar beginning that works its way up in tempo and heavy feel, and while the instrumentation speeds up Joey’s vocals soar along to carry the song perfectly. In “Gung-Ho” we have a song that is not denying its roots, starting off on fire with guitar and drums, and simply not slowing down for anyone. In some ways it’s amazing that Joey can even keep up, because the pace that is set by Charlie, Frankie, Scott and Dan is exhilarating. It is a perfect counterpoint to the material of the previous album. This song has all of the same aspects, but is matured, better defined and supported by a great voice.
The base of the album is still rooted in the thrash metal elements that the band grew up with. From the start in “A.I.R.” the hard hitting drums drive the song along with Joey’s soaring vocals proving the defining improvement of the band from debut album to sophomore release. “Lone Justice” continues on the same path, clicking along at a faster pace that continues to set the tone. “S.S.C. / Stand or Fall” starts off with a very Megadeth-ish guitar riff before bursting into a similarly speed metal pace with sing-along chorus set in place. “The Enemy” is at a more sedate pace for the most part of the song, before the finale comes signalled by Joey’s scream. As a more traditional heavy metal song it still works a treat. The second side of the album bursts to life with the track “Aftershock” that pummels away with the chanting back-ups and fierce guitar riffing throughout.
The two best known songs of the album are the single “Madhouse” and the classic “Medusa”. “Madhouse” had a video filmed for the song but was largely ignored by most music video programs at the time, but it remains one of the nest known of Anthrax’s early catalogue. “Medusa” settles into the perfect rhythm from the start, and is brought to life by Joey’s amazing vocals throughout. Funnily enough, the highest note of the song, the word “Medusa!” in the chorus is taken on by Frankie Bello on backing vocals. “Medusa” too remains as one of Anthrax’s best songs, producing the heavy emotional response that their best songs do.
The most noticeable difference between this album and the following albums is that from this point there was a lot of forceful backing vocal chanting coming from Scott Ian and Frank Bello in future albums that isn’t prevalent here at all. This is an album with songs that hold a typical pattern vocal wise. That was to change after this album, and it is still noticeable today that difference in the song patterns.

This is still an oft-forgotten gem amongst the Anthrax artillery. While the style of music that Anthrax produced continued to evolve over the coming albums, this is the one that perhaps best epitomises their thrash and speed metal roots while showcasing the great talent of all of the band members. Perhaps it isn’t considered in the same light as albums such as Among the Living, State of Euphoria and Persistence of Time but for me it is still a terrific album.

Rating:  “Evil witch cast her spell, seducing you, she’ll take you to the very depths of hell”.  5/5

Friday, September 08, 2017

1028. Motörhead / Under Cöver. 2017. 4/5

With the demise of most of the band, and most importantly Lemmy himself, there was going to be few opportunities to cash in on the Motörhead name going forward. This collection of cover songs, collected from the past 25 years, is not something new. Most fans of the band will either already own these songs on other publications or will have heard them at some time. It is a chance to bring them all together in one album, though in this age of digital music and playlist most could have done it themselves if the mood had hit them. But enough of this negative stuff. It is a Motörhead album after all.

Even with this band, you would have to be hard pressed to believe that some of the songs that they perform here they could pull off in a manner that befits the original. Probably the best case in point is the first song on the disc, Judas Priest’s “Breaking the Law”. There is no way Lemmy is going to match Rob in the vocal range. But what the band does, as it so often does, is make this into a quite serviceable hard rock song, with a slower but perfectly formed tempo, and the vocals dominating over the top. It’s not reinventing the wheel, but you can believe it is a simplified song done simply and well. The same applies with the Sex Pistols’ “God Save the Queen”, where Mikkey Dee’s metronomic drumming takes centre stage, once again keeping a perfect tempo that Lemmy and Phil Campbell perfectly complement the song. It takes the furiously crazy original version and turns it into a perfectly good hard rock song with almost no effort whatsoever. Terrific. It’s a tougher gig taking on a David Bowie song, in a lot of ways but mostly vocally, but that doesn’t stop the trio taking on his “Heroes”. But the technique is used again, disposing of much of the 1970’s antiquity of the song and using the solid base of the Motörhead sound to recreate the song in their image. Okay, so maybe this doesn’t work as well as the first two songs, but this version does grow on you in time. That Lemmy and David passed away within two weeks of each other is perhaps the saddest part of all.
Rainbow’s “Starstruck” was recorded for the Ronnie James Dio tribute album Ronnie James Dio: This Is Your Life, and features Saxon’s Biff Byford on lead vocals. This is a rollicking version of the original track, with Lemmy providing the back-up vocals during the chorus. Neither is an RJD on vocals but it is a fun version all the same. Ted Nugent’s “Cat Scratch Fever” comes from the March ör Die album, and has never been a favourite of mine. I don’t particularly like the song which makes it hard to like this version at all. Then come two Rolling Stones favourites, “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” and “Sympathy For the Devil”. Both are done faithfully to the original versions though with that Motörhead twang.
“Hellraiser” has always been a fan favourite. Co-written by Lemmy with Zakk Wylde and Ozzy Osbourne, both did versions on their respective albums, March ör Die and No More Tears. Motörhead’s version is both different enough and original enough to hold its own against Ozzy’s version, and was also on the Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth - Movie Soundtrack. Both The Ramones cover of “Rockaway Beach” and the Twisted Sister cover “Shoot ‘Em Down” are serviceable without being anything but what they claim. The star attraction is the cover of Metallica’s “Whiplash”. What Motörhead did here with this cover was brilliant. They literally turned it into a Motörhead song, completed with Lemmy’s recognisable bass run and the changing of the lyrics in the final verse. It is a masterpiece and rivals the original version for magnificence. This is the one song every fan must hear if they haven’t because it truly defines who Motörhead is.

As with all albums that are full of cover versions of other bands’ songs, this is an interest piece, and your interest will wane over time. A week perhaps, or a month. Eventually you will want to go back to hearing the original versions of these songs, and this album will return to your collection and sit there for a very long time before it sees the light of day again. As a curiosity this is fine. As a long-term listener, it is not going to last in the end.

Rating:  “Never stop, never quit, we are Motörhead”.  4/5

Wednesday, September 06, 2017

1027. Lita Ford / Lita. 1988. 4/5

The 1980’s was where I grew up. It contained all of my teenage years and it was where I discovered heavy metal and the bands that became my lifeblood. It was a wonderful part of my growing up, enjoying finding new bands and new albums, and getting the most out of them. Of all of those bands and albums I discovered in that decade, it is difficult to pin down now, all those years later, what it was that attracted me to this album. There is every chance there were many factors, but surely only two are the real reasons. It was either the fact that Lita did a duet on this album with Ozzy Osbourne and I just had to hear what that was like… or more likely it was the music video for “Kiss Me Deadly” that drew in the hormones and sucked me into the abyss.

This was the first album I heard or owned of Lita Ford. I had vague knowledge of her time with The Runaways at the time, and that she had been mixed in with Joan Jett in those days. Everyone in the world knew Joan Jett from her “I Love Rock and Roll” hit a few years before, but Lita hadn’t had as much publicity in that time. Aside from the factors already mentioned, I had also read that Lita had collaborated in a failed project with Tony Iommi, so there were enough ties to the music I was listening to at the time to back up my purchasing of Lita. There was a fascination with hearing what a female guitar player and singer could produce, given that most of the music that I had been exposed to at that time was long haired male bands.
From the outset, the album settles into the genre that was making waves at the time, the hair metal sugar rock that was being proliferated by bands such as Bon Jovi, Poison, Ratt and others. It would probably border on soft metal, but Lita’s guitar and vocals keep it above that, showing off a flair that keeps the energy high and the momentum flowing. There is the usual proliferation of soft metal ballads of course, but for the most part they are done in a way that makes them enjoyable more than cringe worthy. This all comes as a matter of taste of course. If you come into this album thinking it is going to be highbrow lyrically and bombastic musically then you are in the wrong frame of mind. If you come into it openly realising that you are getting a genre that is forever going to be stuck in its era then you are a much better chance of enjoying it.
Most of the songs here are still able to swing their thing. The groove of “Back to the Cave” still drags you in from the outset, while the Lemmy Kilminster-penned “Can’t Catch Me” might be repetitive lyrically but it has the higher velocity tempo that picks up the pace of the album nicely. “Kiss Me Deadly” is the song that for me is synonymous with Lita’s career. It is upbeat, fun and allows Lita to show the best of her wares, singing at high volume and giving us a taste of her guitar skills over the top of the probably-too-prevalent keyboards in the mix. “Falling In and Out of Love” is surprisingly catchy given its obvious motivation. I still surprise myself when I find myself singing along to the song. The second side starts with the hard drumming and emotive “Fatal Passion” which again sets the right tone. “Broken Dreams” sets the template for the band Vixen that appeared at this time. It could have come straight from their debut album.
On the other side, “Blueberry” feels far too melodramatic both musically and vocally to get behind. I understand the motivation behind it and like the fact that it tries to get darker but overall I think it holds up the album. So too “Under the Gun”, which drops the tempo back a couple of notches and goes for the serious side of the music. Again both these songs are ok but not on the top shelf of the album.
The final song is the duet with Lita and Ozzy Osbourne. “Close My Eyes Forever” is no doubt the crossover song that encouraged many to at least give this album a try. It is very much a power ballad, and both Lita and Ozzy combine well within the song, topped off by a good solo from Lita as well. The video, along with the one for “Kiss Me Deadly”, got heavy rotation on music video programs at the time and no doubt drove the sales of the album. I wonder how many of those that bought the album on the back of this song actually listened to the album more than half a dozen times?

I have no problem in admitting that most of the reasons I still like this album is because I bought it upon its release, and it reminds me of those times and all the good things that happened then. And yes, I had the poster of Lita on the wall of my bedroom. Having had a couple of days of this album on constant rotation, I still find it so easy to listen to, and I find that I enjoy it now more than I really expected to. While Lita’s other albums of those days are ok without being great, this one still has the hooks that the commercially-friendly writing and recording afforded it. The Osbourne touch, both managerially and musically, is a helpful asset. I still enjoy this as much as any hair metal album of the era, which is the key. If you don’t enjoy that era of music, then this isn’t for you.

Rating:  “Late for my job and the traffic is bad, had to borrow ten bucks from my old man”.   4/5

Monday, September 04, 2017

1026. Serious Black / Magic. 2017. 3/5

It is somewhat out of the ordinary in this day and age for a band to be releasing new albums in consecutive years. Probably not so much from new young bands, whose first album comes out based on material they have been gigging around for years, and suddenly they find they have a mountain of songs they want to get down and get out to the masses. That was the ‘old’ way which rarely seems to reproduce itself in the current music industry. Such then is the surprise about Serious Black’s output since their formation in 2014, ostensibly a combination of musicians from several backgrounds and bands coming together to do some new material. With Magic the band has released their third album in as many years.

There is nothing ground breaking here. They aren’t reinventing the wheel of the power metal genre in any way. But I do think it is fun. I have had this on fairly constant rotation for the past week since its release, and I haven’t tired of it, which has happened to countless other albums of bands I have picked up along the years in this same musical category. Granted, there are times when I think I am listening to the same song over and over again such can be the similarity of the song structure or keyboard riff of vocal properties involved. Like I said, this isn’t the stuff that is meant to create the Next Big Thing in music. But it is harmless enough, and everything fits together nicely. The rhythm section of the wonderful Alex Holzwarth on drums, Mario Lochert on bass and Jan Vacik on keyboards provide the solid base on which the songs are formed. Any album that Alex plays on is automatically better for his presence, the crispness and perfection of his drumming is always a highlight. The dual guitars of Bob Katsionis and Dominik Sebastian are given their freedom to both harmonise together and then have their place with various solo spots throughout the songs, all of which are impressive enough to keep the songs heading in the right direction. Urban Breed’s vocals emit all of the right moves without being extraordinary, but they suit the songs the way they have been written.
So what is it that makes this album what it is? I know it has been bagged in some quarters of the reviews I have read, with some of those people feeling it is either selling out of too childish or without any template to make it a serious album (no pun intended). I would certainly say that if you don’t have a penchant for power metal then you will have trouble finding anything in this release, because not only does it have this in spades, but it also hails back in some way to the hair metal designs of the 1980’s scene, with touches of Europe and Def Leppard and Dokken and other such bands throughout. It’s not an acquired taste as such, more of an album that if you have a certain range of influences you will be able to get the most out of it. Without that correct range of musical tastes it will probably not appeal to you at all.
For what it is worth, I like this album. Since the first time I played it, I enjoyed it. I can have it on in the background to whatever I am doing, and I enjoy having it on. And I think that is where both the beauty and the problem of the album lies. Those going into it looking for majesty and brilliance of the highest levels are listening to the wrong album. This isn’t what this is purporting to be. And I think it is the kind of album that you either like immediately or dismiss immediately, because if it doesn’t catch you on those first couple of listens you are going to cast it aside and go looking for the next album in line. For me, I enjoyed it immediately, for all of those power metal basics that you either love or hate. Apart from Alex’s drumming, the guitar riffs are good, the solos are generally excellent and Breed’s vocals do their job. At an hour in length it is probably a bit long, exacerbated by the similarity of the tracks, and perhaps a more 1980’s album length of 45 minutes would have been appropriate.

In the long run, if you are looking for the next power packed album along the lines of Gamma Ray or Helloween, then you won’t find that here. On the other hand, if you are looking for an album that keeps you entertained for an hour while you are driving the car or at work or in the garden, then this should fit the bill. You might move on to those other bands rather quickly after listening to this, but listening to this won’t be a disappointment if you accept it for what it is.

Rating:  “Tell me now, am I taking it too far?”  3/5

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

1025. Masterplan / PumpKings. 2017. 4/5

The past can be a tough thing to break away from. The good memories are there, but so are the bad. In a music sense, this can be exactly the same path. The good memories of bands that you have been a part of in the past will always stay with you, but the ones that leave a bitter taste in your mouth will often also resurface. In deciding to revisit the majority of the songs that he either wrote outright or co-wrote when he was in Helloween, Roland Grapow has taken the plunge that he can convince everyone that these songs deserve a second outing, perhaps completely as he wanted them to be heard than as the band had done so originally. The fact that it comes at a time that Helloween are going out on a world tour with former members Kai Hansen and Michael Kiske, and he didn’t get an invite to join in, perhaps gives this more presence in that regard.

Roland was a member of Helloween for over a decade, and played on some of their better albums, and some of their most divisive. At least half of the songs here comes from albums that many fans have trouble even listening to any more, such as Pink Bubbles Go Ape and Chameleon. That in itself makes this album a brave move, because so many of the songs are not high profile Helloween songs. That in itself doesn’t mean they are bad songs or poor songs, and to be honest in trying to give them a second chance, a new lease of life away from the glaring drudgery of a couple of those original albums, perhaps there was a chance that they could find their own place without that anchor weighing them down. On the other hand, there is a greater danger of doing songs that are well liked and thought of in their original Helloween form, because then these versions are directly competing with those versions, and it would be a very difficult thing to compare the two.
So how does the album go? It is important to put out there from the start that Masterplan the band sounds fantastic once again. New drummer Kevin Kott does a great job, and is well supported by bass guitarist Jari Kainulainen in the rhythm section. Their groundwork is wonderfully solid. All of these songs have a heavier keyboard element in them that the Helloween versions do, which isn’t surprising given the masterplan sound does revolve heavily around founding band member Axel Mackenrott. Roland’s guitaring is as superb as ever, and he really brings it home in the songs off The Dark Ride, as it is where he is at his best both playing and writing. The toughest job falls to vocalist Rick Altzi who not only has to hold together his vocals in these songs, he will inevitably find himself compared against the two original vocalists on these songs, Michael Kiske and Andi Deris. No favours there at all.
The three songs that are drawn from Pink Bubbles Go Ape – “The Chance”, “Someone’s Crying” and “Mankind” – are different in nature. “The Chance” and “Mankind” are two of the better songs on that album, while I never really enjoyed “Someone’s Crying”. Masterplan’s version of “The Chance” here is a good one, and just as jaunty as the original. “Someone’s Crying” still lacks some heart, while “mankind” here suffers a little in the vocals compared to the original. It’s a similar story to the two songs that come from Chameleon – “Step Out of Hell” and “Music”. The version of “Music” actually works better here than the original, but that is perhaps because you couldn’t get much worse than the original version. It is still far too slow and drawn out to gather any momentum. “Step Out of Hell” here equals the original, with Rick getting the right amount of energy into the vocals that the songs deserves.
Into the power songs of the album, and we have three songs from Master of the Rings – “Mr. Ego (Take Me Down)”, “Still We Go” and “Take Me Home” – the title track from The Time of the Oath – “The Time of the Oath” – and two tracks from The Dark Ride – “Escalation 666” and “The Dark Ride”. Each of these versions are wonderful musically, but they all lack what Andi Deris brought to the vocals. There’s no shame in that, as he is fantastic, and Rick actually suits the music that Masterplan writes, but you can notice especially in songs such as “Mr. Ego (Take Me Down)”, “The Time of the Oath” and “The Dark Ride” that they just aren’t the same. Good versions, but just lacking slightly in detail.

So was the motivation for this album purely that Helloween are touring shortly without Roland and he wanted to show that he was also once part of the group, or was it an easy solution to cover the fact that Masterplan has not released a studio album in four years, or was it just a chance to try and put these songs that Roland was a part of in a new light? Whatever the reason was, this album is more than worth the effort for fans of either Masterplan or Helloween to grab and have a listen to. There is still a lot to like about this band, and most of the songs here are still great to listen to, and hearing them in a modern light is not a bad thing at all.

Rating:  “Take a spin on the dark ride, may too far from the other side”.  4/5

Monday, August 21, 2017

1024. AC/DC / Let There Be Rock. 1977. 4/5

In a constant method throughout the mid-to-late 1970’s AC/DC managed to keep pumping out albums that grabbed the attention of music lovers all over the world. They might appear simple in rhythm and based as they are in the blues rock that preceded them, but they are undeniably catchy, and as a basis to launch their live act under these directions they were an amazing catchphrase.

The growing success of both albums and singles releases helped to propel the recording and releasing of Let There Be Rock. While there was a steady prevailing popularity of the previous material, apparently it hadn’t caught on in the United States, and the recording of this album was meant to help rescind that. The songs here are generally longer than usual, drawn out by the
extended guitar solos and pieces that Angus and Malcolm came up with. In places it still feels even today that the songs go out beyond what is necessary. Still , this is the style of songs that the band had decided on in their efforts to crash the international market even harder than they had already achieved. There is definitely a harder blues based rock in the rolling rhythm throughout most of the songs, highlighted immediately by the opening track “Go Down”, where the blues beat holds together the basis of the song, and allows Bon Scott initially to hold the reins on vocals, before Angus Young comes in to perpetuate his solo piece in the middle of the track. Bon and Angus trading vocals and guitar tweets through the second half of the song draws in the blues roots as well. It does get repetitive towards the end, and though it is a terrific opening track it always feels as though it could have ended a good minute earlier. “Dog Eat Dog” settles into that hard rocking rhythm that Malcolm, Phil Rudd and Mark Evans play so well on these early albums, and again let Bon and Angus do their thing. Both it and “Bad Boy Boogie” again insert the lengthy and stretched out solo sections for the guitars to make their mark, much like the band would do in a live setting, but here in the studio. An interesting change.
Depending on what version of the album you have, on the second side of the album you will either be enjoying a shortened version of “Problem Child” on the International version, which initially was released on Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, or the song “Crabsody in Blue” which came on the initial and Australian release of the album. I personally like “Problem Child” better, despite its original place on Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap. “Crabsody in Blue” seems to stifle the momentum of the album at its entry point, and is also drowning in the blues which may also be a bone of contention with me. The exchange of these two songs does make the international version of the album a better listen.
“Overdose” and “Hell Ain’t a Bad Place to Be” also run along similar lines and patterns. “Overdose” has a similar pattern to “Live Wire” early on, but builds with its own momentum to reach its crescendo. “Hell Ain’t a Bad Place to Be” has always been one of those underrated AC/DC songs, one that those that only listen to the singles never get to know. It again builds from a slowish start to find its own pace and strength, and it does all the right things for the fans.
The two star attractions of the album are the title track and the closing track. “Let There Be Rock” has been a classic since the album’s release, with Bon’s lyrics espousing the discovery of rock as in a biblical creation. The faster and immediate crash into the song by the band is also a change from most of the other songs on the album, and its effect is immediate. It is still a great song today. So too is “Whole Lotta Rosie” which is still a live favourite today. Focusing on Bon’s meeting with a female acquaintance back in the day, this is a rollicking track that is ecstatically explained by Bon, before Angus takes over and gives an extended solo piece to hold the middle of the song together. It is still one of the great AC/DC songs and it closes the album on a high note.

Many experts consider this the first ‘great’ AC/DC album. It did seems to single a change in the band’s intent, to be more a harder guitar sounding band than they had been too this point. While I appreciate that notion and believe it is a fair enough point, and as much as I think this is a terrific album, one that there is never a bad feeling about when I put it on to listen to, I think that there is better to come.

Rating:  “Wanna tell you story about woman I know, when it comes to lovin' she steals the show”.   4/5

Friday, August 18, 2017

1023. Alice Cooper / Paranormal. 2017. 3/5

The time between albums may be beginning to stretch outwardly, but there’s little doubt that it still gives you a warm feeling when you hear Alice Cooper is bringing out some new material. And that’s not because you may think it is going to be amazingly groundbreaking or magnificently catchy, but because with Alice you now know what you are getting, and that is fun songs with enough of a kick to keep you entertained throughout. And once again that is what Alice has provided for us with Paranormal.

In recent years – what feels like forever – Alice and his co-writers have concentrated on concepts for his albums, where each song contributes to the story being told, and sometime that can be a bit restrictive. Here on Paranormal they have steered clear of this and just gone out and written songs, of varying genres it must be said, but effectively. How much you enjoy the switch between styles of music in the songs here is probably going to determine exactly how you feel about the album.
“Paranormal” combines the reflective and the faster paced, and I have found is a grower, in that it gets better each time you listen to it. Once you know the nuance of the song it is much more enjoyable. This is followed by “Dead Flies” that seems to reach right back into the past, with the stomping drums and Alice’s chanting vocals bringing back memories of past great moments. “Fireball” has a similar theme where the backbeat drives the song while Alice sings over the top. “Paranoiac Personality” is okay, but to me it’s a bit repetitive and doesn’t really break out of its mould at any time. From here we fall back in to some other realm of music, as though we had moved back in time, with a very ‘rock n’ roll’ feel to the songs. “Fallen in Love’ is the first of this genre, and is followed by “Dynamite Road” which has a very southern sound about it, highlighted by the drum beat throughout. It’s a beauty, but is another one that takes some time to let it grow on you.
The second half of the album doesn’t quite measure up to the first half. “Private Public Breakdown” plods along without any great energy or motivation, perhaps in essence like the title of the song. “Holy Water” is at least more upbeat in style but just seems to lack that real Alice Cooper twist to make it more likeable. “Rats” is okay, but again probably not up to the enjoyable level of earlier songs. “The Sound of A” is far too much in the genre of a Pink Floyd song, and given my reticence of that band it makes it a difficult song to get through. Oh well.
There is some fun on the second disc, where the first two songs are written and composed and played by the remains of the original Alice Cooper band. Both “Genuine American Girl” and “You and All Your Friends” are interesting for the fact that they sound like they are from the era immediately following the group’s break up. For nostalgia they serve their purpose.
The real kicker is the six live songs that are tacked on to the end of the release. Why so? Because for perhaps the first time on the whole album, you feel rejuvenated, you feel up and you feel excited about the music. Because these are the great tracks, the ones from different eras that are the best that Alice can produce. And even after all these years, these are the songs I love to sing – “No More Mr. Nice Guy”, “Under My Wheels”, “Billion Dollar Babies”, “Feed My Frankenstein”, “Only Women Bleed” and “School’s Out”.

Are there truly any bad Alice Cooper albums? Well, I guess the answer is yes, but certainly since the mid-1980’s I think that while the quality overall may be different from album to album, overall all of them are eminently listenable. This may well never become a classic album and it will never be as highly regarded as those albums from other eras of his career, but it comes down to how much do you like to sit down and listen to an Alice Cooper album. I enjoy it, quite a bit, and thus can find enough here to like and listen to.

Rating:  “And your phone knows more about you than your daddy or your mother”.   3/5