Archive for March, 2012

New issue of Gitarist in stores this week

The new issue of Gitarist will hit the shelves in the Dutch and Flemish book stores this week. My contributions to this issue include two small interviews with guitarists promoting their new albums. There’s Bluesrock guitarist Philip Sayce with whom I had a very pleasant conversation about his new album ‘Steamroller’ and there’s Orphaned Land guitarist Yossi Sa’aron with whom I talked about his first solo record ‘Melting Clocks’ (which rocks, get it, now).

I’ve also written a block of reviews on a bunch of new records by Dutch Metal bands. This time it’s Epica’s ‘Requiem For The Indifferent’, Vengeance’s ‘Crystal Eye’ and Picture’s downright amazing ‘Warhorse’ record. The latter will be presented by Picture during their release party at Bitterzoet in Amsterdam this Saturday and since I really love the album, I’ll be there! Will you?

Among the other articles, there’s an interview with acoustic Blues master Eric Bibb, a workshop on “classical shred” and an article on Ibanez’ prominent RG series. You know you want to read it, don’t you?

Album of the Week 12-2012: OverKill – The Electric Age

To those who know me personally, this album of the week should come as no surprise. OverKill has been my favorite band for at least fifteen years (could have been longer, had I not turned 26 earlier this week) and a new album is always something I’m looking forward to. ‘The Electric Age’ probably even moreso than any other, because its direct predecessor ‘Ironbound’ was the best OverKill album since ‘W.F.O.’ in 1994. ‘The Electric Age’ is a logical successor; the album is stylistically similar to ‘Ironbound’, just a tad faster. Those of you who gave up on OverKill in their Groove Metal age, should give this Thrash grenade a chance.

First thing I noticed during my first spin of the album is what a fantastic drummer Ron Lipnicki is. I liked the drum sound on ‘Ironbound’ better, but his playing is unbelievable. Fast, powerful and Thrashy. What else can you wish for? Well, maybe Bobby ‘Blitz’ Ellsworth being every bit as good in his fifties as he was in his twenties and the massive guitar sound of Dave Linsk and Derek Tailer complementing founding bassist DD Verni’s riffs perfectly. Linsk’s solos – decorating an OverKill studio album for a record number of sixth time – are amazing as well.

Looking at the songs, ‘Come And Get It’ is probably the Thrashiest opening track OverKill’s had in years. Their Black Sabbath-influenced habit of changing the song into something completely else halfway through is still there, the shifts are just a tad more Thrashy than before – save for the Doom bit in the middle of old school Metalfest that is ‘Electric Rattlesnake’ – and I can’t wait for the band to open their shows with ‘Come And Get It’.

But there’s more stuff I’d like to hear live. First of all: ‘Save Yourself’. Feel The Fucking Fire anyone? This is less than four minutes of NWOBHM-tinged old school Thrash Metal that fits nicely along ‘Blood And Iron’ and ‘Hammerhead’. Closing track ‘Good Night’ starts out with a breath taking tranquil intro with bass and guitar, but never turns into a ballad. In fact, it turns into a brutal Thrasher after about a minute. ‘All Over But The Shouting’ has this great accompanying lead guitar part building the tension and ’21st Century Man’ and ‘Drop The Hammer Down’ are killer Thrash tunes. In fact, there’s not a single filler in the bunch.

Over thirty years in their existence, OverKill still manages to churn out awesome albums. In fact, with both ‘Ironbound’ and ‘The Electric Age’, OverKill has entered a new highlight in their carreer and I hope it’ll last for many, many more years. The lineup of Ellsworth, Verni, Linsk, Tailer and Lipnicki is the best they’ve had so far. Can’t wait to see them in my former hometown of The Hague later this year!

Recommended tracks: ‘Save Yourself’, ‘Good Night’, ‘Come And Get It’, ‘All Over But The Shouting’

Album of the Week 11-2012: Angel Witch – As Above, So Below

Go ahead. Pretend like the last thirty years have never happened. Angel Witch did just that for their brand new album ‘As Above, So Below’ – only their fourth studio album in 35 years of existence – and I commend them for that. Even the production is pretty old-fashioned, with its warm analog sound and untriggered drums. Kevin Heybourne has finally gotten his shit back together after years of being plagued by record industry torture and as a result, he’s written a classic Heavy Metal record which sounds like it’s from the late seventies, when the schism between Hard Rock and Heavy Metal wasn’t all that strict.

That isn’t to say that Heybourne did a complete rewrite from the legendary self-titled debut from 1980. Gone are the Queen-ish choirs that decorated many of the choruses on that album and the songs on ‘As Above, So Below’ are remarkably less accessible than the majority of the songs on ‘Angel Witch’. However, Kevin Heybourne’s voice has aged very well and his riffs and melodies are just about as NWOBHM as it gets. This is solid Heavy Metal, the way it’s meant to be.

Opening the album is the downright brilliant ‘Dead Sea Scrolls’. This song sets the bar for the rest of the album. Brilliant twin guitars, powerful riffs, moving vocals and the strong rhythm section consisting of bassist Will Palmer and drummer Andrew Prestidge make ‘Dead Sea Scrolls’ a delight to any NWOBHM-fan. Heybourne’s vocals are an immediately recognizable factor; they have hardly changed since ‘Angel Witch’ and what he lacks in technique he makes up for in passion. His guitar solos aren’t of the finger blisteringly fast category, but they’re powerful and passionate, they fit the music as a whole.

Angel Witch hasn’t cut back on song lengths on this album; with no songs being shorter than five minutes and only three (‘Into The Dark’, ‘Ceburah’ and ‘Witching Hour’) under six, the music on ‘As Above, So Below’ is as epic as Kirk Windstein’s beard. Heybourne has obviously put a lot of effort in these songs, as all of them stay interesting throughout any second they last. In fact, had I not read that the marvellous closing track ‘Brainwashed’ was over seven minutes, I wouldn’t have noticed.

On the Metal Blade website, I read that four of the eight songs on the album date back to the early eighties and even the late seventies, among which ‘Dead Sea Scrolls’ and the frantically galloping ‘Witching Hour’. However, these tracks don’t necessarily stand out on the album, as the basic style throughout the album is constant. Angel Witch has always been named in one breath with Iron Maiden and although I can hear the resemblance still, I can hear a lot of (mainly ‘The Eternal Idol’-era) Black Sabbath. The general structure and powerful outbursts on ‘The Horla’ even remind me of the title track of that album directly. But although these influences are there, Angel Witch definitely has a recognizable sound of its own that is melodic, epic and powerful.

For those of you who gave up on Angel Witch after their fantastic debut: they’re back. This album is a must for any NWOBHM-fan. Finally there’s a band that feeds both nostalgia and a lust for quality contemporary music. ‘As Above, So Below’ grants you both. I just hope their reign will be a little longer than it was back in their heyday this time. Go check this out when you have the chance!

Recommended tracks: ‘Brainwashed’, ‘Dead Sea Scrolls’, ‘Witching Hour’

Interview Band Of Skulls in Gitarist

It’s actually been out for a while, but it’s still in stores now: the new edition of Gitarist with the interview I had with Russell Marsden and Emma Richardson of British Indierock band Band Of Skulls. A nice conversation about jamming and vintage gear.

Aside from my own contribution to this edition, there is an awesome special on slide guitar including exercises and a small article on the new project Primal Rock Rebellion with one of my first guitar and songwriting heroes: Adrian Smith. And if you’re a gearhead, be sure to check out the NAMM show of this year. There’s an interview with Steve Earl and many, many other interesting guitar stories.

I can’t think of a better way to spend your commute in public transportation or your coffee break, can you?

Album of the Week 10-2012: Alter Bridge – AB III

More by necessity than anything else – it was basically the only CD that didn’t refuse to play on my old discman – ‘AB III’ received many a spin last week. But that’s no problem, because it’s easily the best album by one of the best Rock bands on the planet. Having a weak spot for great singers, I was attracted to Alter Bridge’s music immediately. Myles Kennedy is simply the best Rock singer since the generation of Eddie Vedder and Chris Cornell and the music, led by Mark Tremonti’s not-quite-Metal-but-close riffs, is powerful and engaging. Melodic enough for the radio Rock crowd, heavy enough for headbangers.

What makes ‘AB III’ an even better album than ‘Blackbird’ is that Alter Bridge explores the art of inner-song dynamics with great succes on this album. By that I mean the following: previously, you could tell from the start if an Alter Bridge song was going to be a Rock song or a ballad. ‘AB III’ is somewhat less predictable in that matter. Starting out with the best song the band has done so far, ‘Slip To The Void’ opens with a brooding synthesizer riff topped by Kennedy’s spine chilling vocals, only to be built into a powerful Hard Rock song. Another great example of these dynamics is ‘Ghost Of Days Gone By’, which sounds like it’s the guaranteed radio hit of the album, but has an incredibly dark and heavy middle part. Tremonti’s favorite – source of that is the interview I had with him around the album’s release – ‘Show Me A Sign’ also shows multiple faces of the Floridian quartet.

If that’s not enough to win you over, Myles Kennedy will. He has a ridiculously wide range both melodically and expression-wise. You’d have to look no further than (once again) opening track ‘Slip To The Void’ to hear what this guy is up to. Soft, warm, almost soothing in the beginning, high and strong in the rocking parts. His harmony parts with Mark Tremonti sound very good as well, as does his duet with Tremonti in closing track ‘Words Darker Than Their Wings’.

With Kennedy and Tremonti soaring at the front, you’d almost forget there’s two other guys in the band. It would be unfair to call drummer Scott Phillips and bassist Brian Marshall “just” the solid backbone to this band, as especially Phillips shines with some killer performances throughout the record (‘Still Remains’ is lifted to a higher level by this guy). The thing is: these guys play together so well that no one deserves more credit than anyone else. Still, I’m giving some more to Kennedy. God damn, that guy can sing!

Later this month, Alter Bridge’s second live DVD ‘Live At Wembley’ will be released and it will contain about half of this album. And that’s only fair, as it’s one of the best Rock album released since the mid-nineties. And that’s why it’s still receiving so many spins, even though I now own a new discman which does work. This is one of those albums you want to play over and over again. Try if you don’t believe me.

Recommended tracks: ‘Slip To The Void’, ‘Isolation’, ‘Coeur d’Alene’, ‘I Know It Hurts’, ‘Show Me A Sign’

Album of the Week 09-2012: Cyclone Temple – I Hate Therefore I Am

Sometimes a great band’s timing is so off that they make a masterpiece that totally slips under the radar. Cyclone Temple’s debut ‘I Hate Therefore I Am’ is one of such cases. After releasing some cool Thrash albums – ‘Act Of God’ mainly – with Znöwhite, guitarist Greg Fulton decided to start up a new band with the final Znöwhite lineup and as a result recorded one of the finest Thrash records of all time. Sadly, nobody cared about Thrash Metal anymore in 1991 and what should have been Cyclone Temple’s road to glory turned out to be a bumpy one ending in an abyss.

Looking back however, it’s remarkable that all the people who were waiting for Metallica’s self-titled at the time didn’t pick up this one, as it definitely wasn’t miles away from what Metallica was aiming for on ‘Master Of Puppets’ and ‘And Justice For All’. ‘I Hate Therefore I Am’ displays an open minded Thrash sound with Fulton churning out riffs that are capable of making James Hetfield blush and song structures that many Thrash greats can only dream of. Calling this progressive Thrash would be a step too far, but opening the album with the long build-up that the largely midtempo ‘Why’ has is a daring move and the two masterfully structured semiballads that are ‘Words Are Just Words’ and the title tracks are right up there in the ‘Fade To Black’-category of class.

In fact, it isn’t until the fourth song (‘Public Enemy’) that there’s something of full-on Thrash on this album. That doesn’t mean there isn’t anything to enjoy before that. The aforementioned ‘Why’ is an intriguing exhibition of teenage angst fittingly vocalized by the raw-edged melodic vocals of Brian Troch and ‘Sister’ is a heartfelt cry that marries Thrash riffing with an almost bluesy vocal delivery. What follows takes Thrash as far as it possibly could have been taken at the time. One song I’d like to specifically mention here is ‘Born To Lose’, which sounded a little strange to me at first, but quickly became one of my favorites of the albums, mainly due to its amazing chorus. The choruses are remarkably strong on this album anyway, especially considering that it’s a Thrash album.

As for the individual performances on this album, there are two men that are most definitely up front. First of all, Greg Fulton is an amazing guitarist. His hyperspeed palm muted riffs are as pulsating as they need to be to test your neck (just check out stuff like the intro to ‘Silence So Loud’ or the main riff to ‘Public Enemy’) and they have a precision that only Exodus’ H-Team, Slayer’s King and Hanneman and Hetfield could equal at the time. His passionate solos (‘I Hate Therefore I Am’!) are killer and serve as a perfect extension for Brian Troch’s heartfelt wails. Troch is obviously more of a Bluesrock singer than cut from the Metal mold, but he fits that within the Thrash context perfectly, creating emotional vocal lines that wouldn’t really have showed up on albums of Cyclone Temple’s peers. John Slattery’s drums and Scott Schafer’s bass seem to serve those two men as a main purpose, but fit in the whole thing perfectly. Those rolling bass drums sound so cool!

So if you missed this out the first time around, Century Media re-released this chunk of brilliant melodic Thrash a couple of years ago and as far as I’m aware, it’s still available. Obligatory for the open minded Thrash fan, but fans of traditional Metal or even some Rock audiences may find this a great listen as well.

Recommended tracks: ‘Born To Lose’, ‘I Hate Therefore I Am’, ‘Words Are Just Words’, ‘Sister (Until We Meet Again)’, ‘Public Enemy’