Archive for October, 2013

Album of the Week 43-2013: Galactic Cowboys – Galactic Cowboys

Creativity doesn’t always receive the appreciation that it deserves. Houston’s Galactic Cowboys knows. Their approach to Rock and Metal music remains unique to this day, which accounts for a highly unpredictable and therefore incredibly enjoyable listen even if you’ve heard their albums a million times. And for no album does that statement stand as strongly as for their self-titled 1991 debut, which is still pretty much unrivalled in terms of originality and composition. All of that with an admirable lack of pretense, as unlikely as that may sound.

Often compared to King’s X, the Galactic Cowboys merges Metal riffs with Beatles-like four part vocal harmonies to amazing effect. However, Galactic Cowboys is much more Thrashy in the riffing department, making the music sound more like a hybrid of Metallica’s more progressive work and early nineties Alternative Rock. But whatever you choose to label this, it’s good music for sure. The riffs on ‘Galactic Cowboys’ are generally a bit more Thrashy than on anything that came after and the compositions show a greater deal of – surprisingly – both variation and consistency, making this the ultimate Galactic Cowboys-album.

The band shows itself equally capable of raging Metal as well as engaging ballads. Especially with these vocal harmonies, the latter have the tendency to get too slick and sweet. ‘Someone For Everyone’ is borderline, but too well-written to be annoying, and ‘My School’ (probably the most Alt-Rock moment on the album) should have been a worldwide hit. Closing track ‘Speak To Me’ has a couple of beautiful, fragile, ballad-like moments as well, but its epic proportions allow the song to grow towards several rocking climaxes. A daring composition which works very well.

But the Rock side of things is maybe even more impressive. Opening track ‘I’m Not Amused’ combines Thrash Metal riffs with a highly melodic chorus and blues sections highlighted by singer Ben Huggins’ harmonica. ‘Why Can’t You Believe In Me’ is relatively straightforward in composition, but possibly the best track on the album together with the monstrous “psychedelic space Metal” of ‘Sea Of Tranquility’, in which Monty Colvin’s ugly bass sound and impressive twists in atmosphere are overwhelming. The Thrash Metal side of the band is best represented in ‘Kill Floor’ (despite its highly melodic verses) and the absolutely brilliant Exxon Valdez attack of ‘Kaptain Krude’.

As a fan of high-concept, I love the artwork as well, in which the lyrics are presented as letters from various institutions – many of them related to space travel – to clients and relations. Those who appreciate the humor that secretly creeps around some of the songs should pay close attention to them, as there is plenty to laugh about here.

Musically though, ‘Galactic Cowboys’ is an unrivaled masterpiece. The album contains elements that should appeal to any fan of Rock, Metal and even Pop with an open mind. In the current era of throw-away music, we should have more of these albums that are so much a labor of love that every song is brilliant. Galactic Cowboys would make more great albums – most notably ‘At The End Of The Day’ – with the Metal factor dialed back a bit, but ‘Galactic Cowboys’ is their magnum opus. Get it while it’s still relatively easy to obtain!

Recommended tracks: ‘Why Can’t You Belive In Me’, ‘Sea Of Tranquility’, ‘Kaptain Krude’, ‘I’m Not Amused’, ‘Speak To Me’

The Shorties: this month’s new DVD’s

So many new high profile music DVD’s these last few weeks. It’s quite obvious that holiday season is coming up. To help you decide which ones to buy and which ones to avoid, I’ll try and serve you with a few short reviews.

Deep Purple – Perfect Strangers Live

‘Perfect Strangers’ was the very decent comeback of Deep Purple’s famous Mark II lineup, with Ian Gillan singing and Ritchie Blackmore playing guitar. This recording from the tour to promote that album proves that this lineup still had its chops back then. This was before Gillan’s vocal deterioration and all of the ‘Perfect Strangers’ highlights are on here. Except for ‘Wasted Sunsets’. Classic work like ‘Strange Kind Of Woman’ and ‘Speed King’ sounds very good too. It looks like not much has been done to upgrade the picture quality, but the music and the audio is just fine.

Peter Gabriel – Live In Athens 1987

‘So’ catapulted Peter Gabriel from underground favorite to mainstream hero. This enabled him to take his music to bigger audiences and have more opportunities to film gigs. It may be caused by Gabriel’s fascination with modern technique, but the picture quality on ‘Live In Athens’ is ridiculously good for a 1987 concert. In addition, he is backed by his best band yet, playing fantastic versions of songs like ‘Intruder’, ‘The Family And The Fishing Net’, ‘No Self Control’ and basically all the ‘So’ highlights. Obligatory counterpiece to ‘So’.

Steve Hackett – Genesis Revisited: Live At Hammersmith

Another former Genesis musician who became a hero of his own field. Steve Hackett is easily one of my favorite guitarists. I love his beautiful tone and tasteful melodies. His second collection of Genesis reworkings was a success and the tour that followed had him and his fantastic backing band (including Gabriel and Collins soundalike Nad Sylvan on vocals) playing Genesis songs only. Fantastic renditions of the best Genesis songs are a result, on this best looking DVD Steve Hackett has done so far. Highlight: Hackett doing a non-competitive and utterly beautiful solo duel with Marillion guitarist Steve Rothery on ‘The Lamia’.

Marillion – Brave Live 2013

It’s one of my favorite Prog albums – and certainly the finest Prog record released in the nineties – performed in it’s entirity. What can go wrong? Especially with this crisp and clear image and sound quality even if you purchase “only” the DVD instead of the BluRay. The band is in fantastic shape, the encores contain some incredible performances of non-‘Brave’ songs, Steve Hogarth sings the material surprisingly well despite the passing of almost two decades. A must for anyone into Progressive Rock.

Megadeth – Countdown To Extinction: Live

Another album performed in its entirity. This one should be approached with a little more caution though; Megadeth lowered all the songs to a D-tuning, apparently to better facilitate Dave Mustaine’s voice. I don’t think anyone listens to Megadeth for his voice. Rather for his riffs. And it’s those riffs that get a whole different vibe because of the different tunings. Some of the songs are almost unrecognizable until the lyrics start, ‘Public Enemy No. 1’ in particular. The lighting is a bit dark too. However, the band plays extremely well. Like they always do.

Ted Nugent – Ultralive Ballistirock

Ladies and gentlemen, Derek St. Holmes is back! And his voice still is fantastic, which is somewhat remarkable as he is 60 years of age. This – along Uncle Ted’s fantastic backing band – accounts for some of the most incredible renditions of ‘Just What The Doctor Ordered’, ‘Turn It Up’, ‘Dog Eat Dog’, ‘Stormtroopin” and of course the legendary ‘Stranglehold’ we’ve heard in a long time. What can go wrong? Oh right, if Nugent’s right-wing pro-gun rants annoy you, avoid this like the plague. If you either agree with him or – like me – are able to see past this, this is a very worthy addition to your Bluesrock collection.

Testament – Dark Roots Of Thrash

Despite opening this show with the atrocious ‘Rise Up’, the song that strives for any worst lyrics award, ‘Dark Roots Of Thrash’ is a pretty entertaining DVD. Most of the rest is positive. The picture quality and editing is fantastic, Gene Hoglan is behind the drum kit, the band finally remembers they did an incredible album called ‘The Gathering’ about a decade and a half ago by playing four songs off of the album and Chuck Billy delivers a surprisingly great vocal performance. ‘Burnt Offerings’ alone would be worth the buy.

Devin Townsend – The Retinal Circus

‘By A Thread’ would be a better buy than this one. Townsend took things too far over the top here. The CD version is a little easier to digest, because it doesn’t have all the extremely long narrative parts that really disrupt the flow of the show. It doesn’t show the overblown stage show either. Having said that, this is still Devin Townsend, which means there’s a bunch of weirdly brilliant songs executed by a group of very capable musicians. It’s just that I’ve heard and seen them better.

Album of the Week 42-2013: Death Angel – The Dream Calls For Blood

Since Andy Galeon’s departure, I’ve had a double feeling about new Death Angel releases. Will Carroll is a marvellous Thrash drummer, but Galeon’s little Funk, Salsa and other non-Metal rhythms were part of what made Death Angel such a special band for me. Having said that, ‘The Dream Calls For Blood’ is an outstanding Thrash album. It contains some of Rob Cavestany’s most imaginative aggressive riffing and singer Mark Osegueda seems to have improved, like he does on every release. Although this album was created with the same group of people as ‘Relentless Retribution’ – including producer Jason Suecof – it’s much better.

Maybe I should stop looking at every Death Angel album as the rightful follow-up to the masterpiece that was ‘Act III’. ‘The Dream Calls For Blood’ is in itself one of the best Thrash albums I’ve heard since OverKill’s ‘Ironbound’ three and a half years ago. There’s the sincere aggression, the riffs that get your blood pumping and the precision that those riffs require. On the other hand, Cavestany is one of the most creative guitarists in the genre (the chorus riff of ‘Son Of The Morning’ has more notes than anyone would dare to grace a chorus with, save for maybe Jeff Loomis) and despite the lack of a trademark Death Angel ballad, his acoustic guitar work does remind you we’re dealing with the same band that recorded ‘Act III’ almost 25 years ago.

Another merit of this album as opposed to many Metal albums is that it’s good all the way through. In fact, some of the better songs are located near the end of the album. Especially when the band merges traditional Heavy Metal riffs with Thrash intensity, like they do on ‘Caster Of Shame’ and ‘Empty’, goosebumps as well as headbanging delight are guaranteed. In fact, the latter even features solo from all of the band and Suecof. Even Ted Aguilar, previously limited to rhythm guitar, and amazing bassist Damien Sisson provide awesome solos. Closing track ‘Territorial Instinct / Bloodlust’ is a mind blowing masterpiece of epic proportions.

The rest of the album is just about as good. ‘Left For Dead’, though complex, is a perfect moodsetter with its speedy aggression, ‘Fallen’ has a fantastic build-up in tension, ‘Succubus’ is a tad more doomy and has an enormous load of impressive leads, the intro to ‘Detonate’ is pure melodic bliss, ‘Execution / Don’t Save Me’ has one of Cavestany’s most awesome riffs so far (although the drums underneath don’t quite augment it as much as they should) and the title track is a vicious piece of Thrash that will most likely work very well in a live setting.

In the end, only the bonus cover of ‘Heaven And Hell’ should be approached with caution. The band did a good job and I love Osegueda, but he’s no Ronnie James Dio. The definitive version has already been recorded by Black Sabbath over three decades ago. Everything else forms a powerful Thrash record that should be heard – and loved – by any fan of the genre. Of course, I would loved to have heard a song like ‘Stagnant’, ‘Opponents At Sides’ or ‘A Room With A View’, but everything that is here, is some of the best Thrash recorded in a long time.

Recommended tracks: ‘Territorial Instinct / Bloodlust’, ‘Empty’, ‘Caster Of Shame’, ‘Left For Dead’

Album of the Week 41-2013: In Solitude – Sister

While most of the bigger names within the Metal genre are releasing sub-par or even downright disappointing albums this year, it’s good to see that some of the younger bands are keeping up a certain standard. In fact, this third album of Sweden’s In Solitude – of which the oldest members are in their mid-twenties – is one of the most pleasant surprises this year has brought me so far. While I enjoyed their earlier releases, the darker approach on ‘Sister’ has brought the young Swedes to a level I didn’t expect them to reach. Especially not so soon.

So this is definitely a different take on what In Solitude was doing on their first two albums. It’s not like they’re doing something radically different; the influences from Mercyful Fate and Pentagram are still clearly audible, but the Doom factor has been turned up a few notches, bringing with it a dark atmosphere, quite reminiscent of The Sisters Of Mercy or Fields Of The Nephilim without actually sounding like those bands, since this is still unmistakably Metal. In fact, the sound on this album may be closer to the Horror sound Black Sabbath was aiming for in their formative years than anything we’ve heard in a long time.

However, calling this a Doom Metal album would be somewhat misleading. Sure, there are a couple of fantastic Doom monoliths on the album in the shape of ‘A Buried Sun’ and ‘Lavender’, but it’s really dark, epic Heavy Metal you will get when you put on ‘Sister’. Save for the acoustic, ominous intro ‘He Comes’ (which actually does sound like something Fields Of The Nephilim could have done), everything fits that label. ‘Death Knows Where’ and the fantastic ‘Pallid Hands’ could even have been on predecessor ‘The World. The Flesh. The Devil’. They would have stood out as the better songs on the album though.

Other highlights include the amazing epic ‘Horses In The Ground’, which includes a guest role for former Swans singer Jarboe Living and the most exciting structure on the album, the awesome title track with its amazing guitar solo and the surprising closing track ‘Inmost Nigredo’, an unconventional composition which surprises as such.

In my review on In Solitude’s self-titled debut album for Furyrocks, I criticized Uno Bruniusson’s drumming. He is one of the most redeeming factors on this album. His rhythms are powerful and have a certain swing to them, while the analog, warm sound adds the rest. Speaking of the fitting production: many modern Metal releases have the drums and vocals way too loud on top of the rest. Pelle Åhman’s vocals are in the mix instead of on top of it, while better decipherable than on the album’s predecessor.

With ‘Sister’, In Solitude seems to have finally found their niche. The music on this album is more powerful and much more effective than anything the quintet has done so far. And in combination with the spooky album art, it’s unusually well put together as a total product. Something quite unique in the increasingly disturbing throw-away atmosphere of the western music business. Original, this is definitely not. But who cares about originality if the result is something like ‘Sister’?

Recommended tracks: ‘Horses In The Ground’, ‘Sister’, ‘Pallid Hands’, ‘A Buried Sun’

Reasons to (not) buy ‘Devin Townsend Presents The Retinal Circus’

5 reasons to buy ‘Devin Townsend Presents The Retinal Circus’:

– Devin Townsend live is always a great experience: his music is unconventional and exciting, Townsend is an amusing frontman and he always has a bunch of wonderful musicians around him, this release is no different.
– There’s a couple of great surprises in the set list; ‘War’, ‘Babysong’, ‘Wild Colonial Boy’ and ‘Planet Smasher’ aren’t set staples for the Canadian freak.
– Between all the good sounding reconstructions of album versions, the acoustic version of ‘Hyperdrive’ is both a pleasant surprise and a beautiful breath of fresh air. It’s one of Townsend’s best songs anyway.
– Not including many songs from the first four Devin Townsend Project albums causes very little doubles between this one and the fantastic ‘By A Thread’ box.
– Last but not least: Jed Simon, ladies and gentlemen. Including him on Strapping Young Lad songs ‘Detox’ and ‘Love?’ is the best thing on this DVD. Seriously.

5 reasons not to buy ‘Devin Townsend Presents The Retinal Circus’:

– Townsend has finally gone TOO far over the top here. His humor always plays a prominent role in his shows, but the actors and circus artists here are really too much. Things like the female cat actors seem little more than cheap, ‘Married With Children’-inspired fan service.
– In addition, the story segments on the DVD, narrated by Steve Vai, are much, much too long. They take a lot of the flow out of the concert and are generally quite tedious. The CD doesn’t really have this problem though.
– This is the first time Townsend’s humor doesn’t accompany the songs, this time his humor takes over the music. It’s a thin line he has always brilliantly danced on, but I think he ended up on the wrong side of it this time.
– Shouldn’t a carreer-spanning show contain at least one song off of ‘Terria’ and ‘Accellerated Evolution’? Respectively ‘Earth Day’ and ‘Deadhead’ would get my vote. Or ‘Deep Peace’ and ‘Depth Charge’…
– Whereas ‘By A Thread’ contained a few of the songs’ definitive performances, this one is relatively weak performance-wise. The high Townsend standard is still intact, but we’ve definitely heard the band better.

Album of the Week 40-2013: Barış Akarsu – Islak Islak

Back when I was still discovering the beginnings of Turkish Pop and Rock music, there was one singer whose voice really stood out for me. Sadly, he died six years ago at the much too young age of 28, but he left three thoroughly impressive albums to remember him by. Barış Akarsu’s voice just sends chills down my spine. His deep, rich baritone has a warmth that makes it very easy on the ears, but he had this thin edge to it that makes his voice – and as a result, his music – raw enough for the fan of accessible Rock music.

Centerpiece to Akarsu’s 2004 debut ‘Islak Islak’ is the title track, a tune he covered from Cem Karaca, one of the godfathers of Anatolian Rock. And even though Karaca is a legend and the original is a more than decent tune, the arrangement for Akarsu’s voice is the ultimate version. In a less synthesized environment, the song’s brilliant build-up in tension really gets the chance to shine and Akarsu’s heartfelt, passionate and powerful performance is the definitive goosebumps inducing factor. The remarkable thing is: once you find out what the lyrics mean, the song’s build-up makes even more sense within the context.

One song, however, does not make a good album. Luckily, ‘Islak Islak’ is an enjoyable listen all the way through. There’s a surprisingly large amount of variation, given the 40 minutes of running time. ‘Gel Gör Beni Aşk Neyledi’ is build upon a driving Rock riff, which could have been a Metal riff with a different guitar sound, and an infectious rhythm, the horns in ‘Ayrılacağiz’ give the song some Ska-like overtones, even though it is in nature a subdued Rock song, ‘Gün Olur’ has a great rocking drive as well. ‘Amasra’ and ‘Aldırma’ are beautiful ballads. ‘Mavi’ sounds like it could have been on nineties mainstream Rock radio with its catchy chorus and strong vocal melodies and ‘Bir Kasaba Akşamı’ is the perfect catchy Rocker to close this thing off with.

Production- and performance-wise, ‘Islak Islak’ is a very pleasant album to listen to as well. Producer-arranger Serdar Öztop, who also plays all the guitar parts, has opted for a natural sounding sound with a lot of room for Akarsu’s amazing voice, without making it too dominant in the mix. Drummer Volkan Öktem and bassist Murat Ejdar are a formidable rhythm section as well.

Barış Akarsu’s untimely death was a great loss for music in general. Because his songs are in Turkish, his albums are somewhat hard to find outside of Turkey, but they’re well worth seeking out. If the language barrier is no problem for you, nothing will stand in the way of enjoying one of this century’s best Turkish Rock albums. With one of the best singers in both the Pop and Rock genres.

Recommended tracks: ‘Islak Islak’, ‘Gel Gör Beni Aşk Neyledi’, ‘Bir Kasaba Akşamı’