Archive for April, 2012

Album of the Week 17-2012: Prong – Carved Into Stone

Finally! Tommy Victor has managed to inject the vigor with which he’s been kicking Al Jourgenson’s teeth in on Ministry’s last few albums into a Prong record! Although I have tremendous respect for Victor as a guitarist, as a songwriter and most of all as someone who keeps soldiering on, no matter what obstacles he encounters, Prong’s discography has been somewhat of a hit-and-miss affair for me. 2007’s ‘Power Of The Damager’ showed a Prong that was stylistically awesome, but seemed a bit tired performance-wise. Look no further for redemption: ‘Carved Into Stone’ is the best Prong record since ‘Cleansing’.

Though less overtly Thrashy than ‘Power Of The Damager’, this album sounds like Tommy Victor doing what he likes best without paying too much attention to what crowd he should please most with the material. The result is something that should appeal to both the Hardcore and Metal crowds of Prong. Also, the more melodic side of Prong is displayed passionately here, though with enough balls to not scare the crap out of longtime listeners.

Additionally, it seems that Prong finally has the musicians it deserves. There’s little doubt about Victor’s qualities as a guitarist – he does, however, outdo himself on a few brilliant guitar solos here – but he’s finally gotten himself a rhythm section that lifts the whole thing to a higher level. He and bassist Tony Campos are already thoroughly familiar with each other’s work through Ministry – not unlike with the late Paul Raven before Campos – and Campos’ bass sound complements this music perfectly. By the way, is there any modern Metal band this guy doesn’t play in these days? Also, I wasn’t too familiar with Alexei Rodriguez, but he might very well be Prong’s best drummer yet. He adapts well to every groove laid down by Victor, but he fares just as well with Thrash polkas and even some blast beats!

If I had to pick a favorite on ‘Carved Into Stone’, it would be the uptempo Thrash riff monster that is ‘List Of Grievances’, as it fits my taste perfectly, but there’s a lot more to enjoy here. ‘Eternal Heat’ is possibly Prong’s best opening track yet and should appeal to any Metalhead, while ‘Revenge…Best Served Cold’ benefits from its inescapable catchiness and has therefore logically been selected as the album’s single. ‘Ammunition’ was already familiar to me due to its inclusion on co-writers Channel Zero’s  ‘Feed ‘Em With A Brick’ and also kicks ass here, although I think Franky De Smet-van Damme’s vocals fit this song slightly better. ‘Reinvestigate’ is a perfect closer in the sense that it leaves the listener hungry to put the album back on and ‘Carved Into Stone’ is the monumental title track this album begs for, the one that brings everything together.

Besides being Prong’s best effort in a long time, ‘Carved Into Stone’ may be the perfect album to start your Prong collection with. For starters, Prong’s crossover may always be too little of one thing to easily adapt to. Tommy Victor seems to have found an answer to that without betraying himself: more Metal, more melody, more power, more stomping Hardcore bits and just all out more Prong. And it’s been a long time since Prong’s been Prong as good as on this album.

Recommended tracks: ‘List Of Grievances’, ‘Revenge…Best Served Cold’, ‘Eternal Heat’, ‘Carved Into Stone’

Album of the Week 16-2012: Sleeze Beez – Insanity Beach

Somewhat on a Dutch music high these last few weeks, I turned to the Sleeze Beez once again. To those who aren’t familiar with their work, their band name is cheesier than the actual music. After singer Andrew Elt joined the band, their second album ‘Screwed, Blued And Tattooed’ was a brilliant slab of Hard Rock and even contained a Japanese mega hit in the shape of ‘Stranger Than Paradise’. The album I want to talk about, however, is their fourth, ‘Insanity Beach’. And why? Simply because it’s the best album the Sleeze Beez have released – with the only possible rival being ‘Live In Tokyo’, recorded on the album’s tour.

Although ‘Insanity Beach’ features the trusted Sleeze Beez formula, the Beez seem to have taken a slightly more experimental road on this album, accounting for a bigger amount of listening pleasure. It’s not like the Beez suddenly turn into a Prog band, it’s still Rock ‘n’ Roll, just slightly more interestingly structured. The tension build-up in ‘Save Myself’ makes the song my favorite Beez-song, the spoken parts in ‘Gun Culture’ took some getting used to, but make it a truly powerful and unique song and the slower, creeping ‘D.U.I. (Intoxicated)’ and ‘Hate Rock And Roll’ (did anyone say ‘Kashmir’?) are welcome variations in the tempo department. Rest assured though, closing track ‘Scream’ revives the party atmosphere of most of ‘Screwed, Blued And Tattooed’.

Most Rock ‘n’ Roll bands can rock. However, it takes a brilliant singer to lift the actual music to a higher level. Andrew Elt is such a singer. I heard he’s fronting a Led Zeppelin coverband these days and he does have a Robert Plant-ish touch to his vocals (and his appearance), although Elt fits the eighties Glam Metal idiom a little more. The guys backing him are more than adequate though. Jan Koster is a true power hitter and Ed Jongsma delivers bass lines just slightly more interesting than the standard Rock bassist. And I don’t know who plays which solo, but Chriz van Jaarsveld and Don van Spall are both awesome guitarists. Check out those in ‘The Long Goodbye’ and ‘Sacrifice’ for great examples.

But what’s most important are the actual songs. And as you may have understood from the ones mentioned above, there’s no need to complain there. Actually, that’s where the band name may be a bit misleading. The music heard on ‘Insanity Beach’ is classy seventies Hardrock with a touch of eighties L.A. Glam Metal, but the influence of Led Zeppelin and Aerosmith is much more apparent than, for instance, Mötley Crüe or Ratt. I’d take ‘Save Myself’ over ‘Girls, Girls, Girls’ any day.

What I’m trying to say, I guess, is this: get over the somewhat misleading band name or even if you like it sleazy, give this band a chance. Let’s just rephrase the chorus to one of the songs: if you like Rock ‘n’ Roll, I know you’re gonna like this.

Recommended tracks: ‘Save Myself’, ‘D.U.I. (Intoxicated)’, ‘Tell It To The Judge’

Album of the Week 15-2012: Uriah Heep – Look At Yourself

Seeing Uriah Heep play live last week and being thoroughly impressed by their energy, which outdoes that of many bands that are much younger, made me listen extensively to their back catalog. I have loved this band ever since my parents gave me their vinyl of ‘Look At Yourself’ with the actual mirror on the cover, while I was discovering Deep Purple around age 10. Since I loved the hell out of that band (and still do), they figured I’d like this seventies Hard Rock band with a dominant Hammond organ as well. And they were right.

I can still remember being drawn into the music directly by Ken Hensley’s loud, obnoxious and ugly Hammond sound. It just cut through the whole thing, actually overpowering Mick Box’ almight guitars at some points. Hensley’s Hammond is still my favorite sonically. Plus, there’s a sense of controlled chaos in this record that made it the heaviest thing I had ever heard until that point. There’s plenty of material on ‘Look At Yourself’ that predates the term Heavy Metal, but actually is just that. I’m thinking of ‘Shadows Of Grief’ and the title track mainly.

At the time, I didn’t quite know what to make of David Byron’s vocals and honestly, I’m still not sure. His higher head voice register is flawless and his vocal definitely have a strong charisma, but current singer Bernie Shaw – who joined the band in the year I was born – surpasses him in every part of his range except for the highest notes. Still, Byron’s delivery is moving. Especially during album highlight ‘July Morning’, where you can feel the melancholy and despair through his vocals. Just brilliant.

As mentioned before, the frenzied nature of many of the tunes here is what drew me towards the album at the time and what I still love about it. When the album opens with its title track, everyone goes to eleven. It’s almost as if the drums, Hammond and guitar try to push each other off the record and the jam session at the end of the song is of similar insanity. The same goes for the organ-guitar interplay in ‘Shadows Of Grief’ or the solo section to the more R’n’R-ish ‘Tears In My Eyes’. In fact, despite the slightly more mellow direction of ‘July Morning’, the only true moment of slowing down on this album is the psychedelic ballad ‘What Should Be Done’.

Now it’s 41 years later and Uriah Heep is still going strong. In fact, you wouldn’t believe how good they are live these days if you don’t actually go out and see them. Mick Box is the sole remaining member of the lineup that recorded ‘Look At Yourself’, but this lineup does the Uriah Heep legacy justice with a string of fantastic albums (‘Sea Of Light’ and onwards) and even better concerts. Nothing beats the experience of hearing Ken Hensley’s Hammond sound for the first time though!

Recommended tracks: ‘July Morning’, ‘Look At Yourself’, ‘Shadows Of Grief’

Album of the Week 14-2012: Accept – Stalingrad

‘Blood Of The Nations’ was the perfect comeback. ‘Stalingrad’ is nothing short of spectacular. With their new American frontman Mark Tornillo, Germany’s most influential Heavy Metal band (let’s say Scorpions are Hard Rock) seems to have had one of the strongest rebirths in the history of Pop music and although I love classic Metal tracks like ‘Princess Of The Dawn’, ‘Head Over Heels’ and ‘Metal Heart’, I like them better now than with Udo Dirkschneider fronting – and not only because of Tornillo’s better command of the English language. For those of you who thought traditional Heavy Metal was dead or at least dying these days, I was one of them, but ‘Stalingrad’ proves me wrong.

First of all, Wolf Hoffmann has always been renowned for his lethal guitar tone. ‘Stalingrad’ is the superlative in that respect. Once ‘Hung, Drawn And Quartered’ kicks off the album, it’s not only the perfect Heavy Metal riffs, but also the way they sound that makes me smile so wide that my face hurts. Andy Sneap’s production also helps; it’s obvious that he put more effort than usual into this album, because this album steers away from the presets he always hangs on to.

However, this album is not just sonically superior to everything Accept has done before. The songs on this album just simply kick ass. As mentioned before, ‘Hung, Drawn And Quartered’ is the ideal opening statement to an album that screams Heavy Metal. It sounds familiar, yet takes the Accept sound to another level. Of course it’s the Teutonic sound Accept has started and that has been copied an annoying amount of times since, but let’s face it: we’re dealing with the founders here. Accept still does this better than any third-rate German Power Metal copycat. Their choruses actually do invite to sing along, as do their guitar solos. Pounding fists in the air is optional.

Other highlights include the brilliant melodic midtempo stomper ‘Shadow Soldiers’, which vaguely reminds me of ‘Head Over Heels’. It’s probably the melancholic atmosphere and slow-gallop riffs. The album’s title track is a lesson in Heavy Metal dynamics, with the melody of the old Soviet anthem – my favorite national anthem ever – appearing near the end of the track and ‘Against The World’ is a proud anthem for Metalheads all over the world. ‘Flesh To Bang Time’ pleasantly kicks up the speed a bit and ‘The Galley’ accounts for a slightly darker take on the Accept sound, with an especially brilliant middle section. But honestly, the entire album is of consistently high quality. Even bonus track ‘Never Forget’ is every bit as strong as the rest of the album.

Accept deserves every kind of compliment they can get for ‘Stalingrad’. Even Accept themselves have never before released an album that was so consistently awesome. ‘Blood Of The Nations’ came close, but the larger amount of variation makes ‘Stalingrad’ a more pleasant listen. In addition, the album puts many bands so obviously influenced by Accept where they belong: in their shadow. Buy if you like Heavy Metal. That’s not a recommendation, that’s an order.

Recommended tracks: ‘Shadow Soldiers’, ‘Hung, Drawn And Quartered’, ‘The Galley’

Album of the Week 13-2012: Picture – Warhorse

I love it when old bands get back together and do something that actually outdoes all of their older material. ‘Warhorse’ is one of those occasions. Picture is most likely Holland’s oldest Heavy Metal band and though they released some classic material in the early eighties – ‘Heavy Metal Ears’ and ‘Eternal Dark’ come to mind – they silently disappeared in the way so many bands did in the mid-eighties: by losing their interest in music altogether due to intense label pressure. Picture reunited a few years ago and released the decent ‘Old Dogs, New Tricks’ record, but the class and pure power displayed on ‘Warhorse’ is something no one could have expected.

Two new guitarists were enlisted for this album – former Vengeance guitarist Peter Bourboun and Detonation’s Mike Ferguson to be exact – and I’d have to think they brought Picture’s mojo back to the band. The riffs on ‘Warhorse’ stomp powerfully, the solos are spectacular and the sound just kicks you in the face. You need to look no further than the fantastic opening track ‘Battle Plan’ to come to that conclusion. This is what Heavy Metal’s supposed to be like, packed into well-written songs with big, hooky choruses.

But for me, the biggest treat is Pete Lovell. The Brit who sang on the classic ‘Eternal Dark’ album – of which the awesome title track is re-recorded for this album – is every bit as good as he was in the eighties, if not better. He’s got the power, the raspy edge and such an instantly audible love for the material he’s singing, that he lifts the already killer tunes to a higher level. And he’s even better live. Combined with him being possibly the most amiable front man I’ve ever seen makes him the perfect fit for today’s Picture.

Without exception, the songs on ‘Warhorse’ are amazing. Save from ‘Think I Lost My Way’, which is a lovely power ballad with amazing guitar solos sung expertly by Lovell, all the tracks are obligatory Heavy Metal tracks. With enough variation to keep things interesting. For instance, ‘The King Is Losing His Crown’ stands out due to its lower tempo, stomping lovingly, ‘Killer In My Sights’ is the album’s absolute highlight with it’s exciting structure and dark riffs, ‘My Kinda Woman’ and ‘The Price I Pay’ lean towards eighties Hardrock and ‘Edge Of Hell’ has these nice choral backing vocals in its chorus. It’s remarkable that the re-recording of ‘Eternal Dark’, though a classic track, doesn’t necessarily stand out. That’s how good it is.

So there it is, Picture outdid themselves with this one. And let’s just hope it’s not for the last time. With this lineup, Picture really struck gold. ‘Warhorse’ is by far the best classic Heavy Metal release from my home country in a long, long time. And the reason for that is the complete lack of pretense. The band just went out and wrote twelve unbelievably good Heavy Metal tunes. Paired with a crisp and heavy Oscar Holleman mix, there is really nothing to be desired except another Picture album after this!

Recommended tracks: ‘Killer In My Sights’, ‘Battle Plan’, ‘Edge Of Hell’, ‘War Horse’