Archive for February, 2014

In Memoriam Paco de Lucía 1947-2014

When I was deliberately forcing flamenco onto myself, it didn’t take long until I ended up with Paco de Lucía’s music. Although the passion common in the genre and his mindblowing dexterity make him the rightful household name within the flamenco nuevo movement, his position as such wasn’t always undisputed. Traditionalist flamenco fans were put off by the fact that he incorporated alien genres into his music, jazz first and foremost. His ‘Siroco’ album, however, is arguably one of the most popular flamenco records of all time. One of the best too. Sadly, De Lucía passed away last week at age 66.

De Lucía’s guitar playing sounds from my speakers quite frequently; one of my all time favorite records is ‘Friday Night In San Francisco’, on which he cooperated with jazz guitar legends Al Di Meola and John McLaughlin. The record popularized acoustic guitar music for a while and the chemistry between the three is instantly audible. Both McLaughlin and Di Meola play wonderfully on that record, however, De Lucía’s instinctive fingerwork truly makes him the star of the friday night in question.

But that’s not the only enjoyable record in the extended oeuvre of De Lucía. He will always be remembered in his home country of Spain for his legendary work with singer Camarón de la Isla. However, as a fan of instrumental flamenco guitar music, I urge everyone with the same curiosity I had for the genre a couple of years ago to check out his brilliant solo records ‘Solo Quiero Caminar’, the aforementioned ‘Siroco’ and the fantastic live record of his sextet, ‘Live…One Summer Night’. Spanish passion hardly gets any better than that.

In Paco de Lucía, the world didn’t only lose one of its greatest guitarists, we lost a composer of inhuman brilliance, a fearless innovator and someone who broke down boundaries. He will be sorely missed. Please let me share this brilliant performance of one of the ‘Friday Night In San Francisco’ highlights with you. It’s Al Di Meola’s ‘Mediterranean Sundance’, but De Lucía gets all the room to shine here.

Album of the Week 08-2014: Rise To Addiction – A New Shade Of Black For The Soul

Sometimes you stumble upon a fantastic opening act when you’ve come to see the headliner. Case in point: when I went to see Trouble with Eric Wagner singing seven years ago, Rise To Addiction was opening for them and they simply blew me away. Their heavy riffs, fantastic songwriting and Leigh Oates’ powerful, raw-edged vocals combined the best elements of contemporary Heavy Metal and nineties Rock music into an irresistible, catchy, groovy and – given the amount of melody – surprisingly heavy cocktail. It’s too bad the Brits haven’t been all that active lately, because I still listen to ‘A New Shade Of Black For The Soul’ with a great deal of delight.

Rise To Addiction was founded by guitarists Steve Wray and John Slater after they left former Iron Maiden singer Blaze Bayley’s first backing band. There’s definitely traces of the heavy modern Power Metal sound heard with Blaze in Rise To Addiction’s music, but the dark vibe and Oates’ vocals give the music a more than passing resemblance to Soundgarden and the way the songs are structured points towards Hardrock rather than Metal. The band chooses to label this Heavy Metal, but any fan of melodic, guitar-driven music with great vocals and a healthy dose of groove should be able to find something of their liking here.

Highlighting the album are generally the songs with the best choruses. ‘Falling As One’, for instance, has a passionate chorus with a brilliantly composed vocal harmony, but the way the song is built up and the melodic sensibilities heard throughout provide more than enough other reasons to love the song. ‘Everlasting Wave’ has a chorus with so many vocal layers that it’s easy to get lost among them. However, this band has made quite an effort to make it work. And it does. The songs amazing groove does the rest. ‘Low’ could have been a mid-nineties Hardrock classic and opening track ‘Cold Season’ has a couple of wicked riffs to accompany the brilliant chorus as well.

Critics could comment that the album doesn’t stray much from its chosen path style-wise, but the truth is that there’s quite a lot happening within the songs and that keeps ‘A New Shade Of Black For The Soul’ fresh throughout most of its playing time. It is remarkable however, that the band chose to close the album with the two most deviant tracks. Both ‘Fessonia’ and ‘The Hive’ are epic, somewhat progressive power ballads and the latter is vastly superior to the former, despite its interesting instrumental sections. ‘The Hive’ has a far more surprising and interesting structure. Those rhythms are amazing as well.

It’s a shame how bad luck in terms of record labels or other business decisions can keep a band from the recognition they deserve. Rise To Addiction certainly should have been much bigger than they were. This is one of those bands you can play any of your Rock and Metal minded friends. Most of them will like it. The Metalheads will go for the heavy riffing, the Rockers will probably be attracted to the songwriting and Oates’ amazing vocals. With their recent inactivity, it’s unlikely that another brilliant release will follow, but I can only urge everyone into good guitar driven music to check out ‘A New Shade Of Black For The Soul’. It’s very well worth your time.

Recommended tracks: ‘Falling As One’, ‘Cold Season’, ‘Everlasting Wave’, ‘The Hive’

Album of the Week 07-2014: Nevermore – Dead Heart In A Dead World

Ever since I’ve discovered Nevermore, I’ve encountered quite some hatred against the band that I never really understood. It probably has to do with the fact that music this heavy with guitars this low is generally associated with grunts. However, Warrel Dane’s spirited clean vocal delivery is part of the reason why ‘Dead Heart In A Dead World’ is one of my all time favorite albums and why Nevermore is among my all time favorite bands. And nowhere more on this release – though ‘This Godless Endeavor’ comes incredibly close – does the quality of the compositions back that up just as well.

For those unfamiliar with the music of the Seattleites, imagine a somewhat progressive mix of brutal guitar riffs, mindblowing solos (both of those are courtesy of the incredible Jeff Loomis), powerful grooves courtesy of drummer Van Williams and bassist Jim Sheppard, big, infectious choruses and occasional crazy dissonance. There isn’t really any band that sounds like Nevermore except the ones that imitated them later – Communic and Machinery spring to mind. This unique style is applied very well on any of their albums, it’s just that this album contains the most balanced and best written songs.

‘Dead Heart In A Dead World’ was released when I was 14 years old and I got it shortly after its release. Opening track ‘Narcosynthesis’ left a lasting impression immediately. At the time, I had never heard anything so crushingly heavy that didn’t disregard melody. That style is prominent on much of the album. Highlighting the heavy section of the record are ‘Inside Four Walls’, the fantastically built-up title track and the downright brilliant light-and-shade workings of ‘The River Dragon Has Come’. Also surprisingly heavy is Nevermore’s rendition of Simon & Garfunkel classic ‘The Sound Of Silence’; I have always loved the lyrics of that song and now, it gets the music it deserves. Trust me: you’ll hardly recognize it.

However, ‘Dead Heart In A Dead World’ has another side as well. Another source of – unjustified – hatred against Nevermore is the relatively large amount of ballads in their repertoire. They’re powerful and inspired ballads though. This album has three great ones. ‘Insignificant’ is almost delicate, if it wasn’t for the heavy chorus sections, the beautiful ‘Believe In Nothing’ tests the contrast between heavy and lighter sections and combines that with great lyrics and the dark ‘The Heart Collector’ became something of a minor classic for the band and it’s not hard to understand why; it’s a powerful, passionate song.

More than half of this album remained live staples until the band’s current and unfortunate hiatus. The material on ‘Dead Heart In A Dead World’ is incredible and all of the members’ performances are top notch here. All this contributes to the fact that it’s still one of the best albums yours truly has ever heard. It’s not just that Nevermore is a unique band, they’re one of the best bands that Heavy Metal ever had to offer. Need proof? ‘Dead Heart In A Dead World’ is definitely the best place to start.

Recommended tracks: ‘The River Dragon Has Come’, ‘Dead Heart In A Dead World’, ‘The Heart Collector’

Album of the Week 06-2014: Bruce Dickinson – The Chemical Wedding

In the late nineties, Iron Maiden was struggling to maintain their level of popularity without Bruce Dickinson fronting the band. He pursued a solo carreer, initially opting for a completely different sound, but when he reunited with Adrian Smith – another Maiden alumnus who has since returned – he came out with two albums that seemed like an unsollicited application back into the Metal realm. ‘Accident Of Birth’ was good, but ‘The Chemical Wedding’ is vastly superior in terms of songwriting and conceptual continuity. And Dickinson is in optima forma. All this contributes to one of the very best Heavy Metal albums of the nineties.

Besides Smith and Dickinson, Roy Z and two members of his Latin Hardrock band Tribe Of Gypsies – bassist Eddie Casillas and drummer David Ingraham – are an indispensable part of what makes this album so brilliant. First of all, Roy Z is responsible for the bulk of the songwriting duties. The ultra heavy guitar sound heard on this album is most likely his influence as well. Ingraham isn’t exactly your typical Metal drummer with just about no double bass work, but his rhythms are extremely powerful. Also, his drum sound is among the best I have ever heard.

While Maiden was exploring the beginnings of the quasi-Prog sound that is present on much of their recent output, ‘The Chemical Wedding’ is powerful, blazing Heavy Metal with one of the best singers of the genre on top of it. The guitars sound vicious and that isn’t just a matter of the punch in their sound, it’s also the riffs that are just killer. You’d have to listen no further than the mindblowing opener ‘King In Crimson’ to come to that conclusion. The heavy riffs make way for a supreme, goosebumps inducing build-up in the pre-chorus, followed by Dicksinson at his best in the chorus.

And despite it being one of the best tracks of Dickinson’s carreer – both solo and with Maiden – there’s plenty more to enjoy on this album. The epic ‘Book Of Thel’ contains a number of awesome riffs and bass work by Casillas, the incredibly heavy ‘Trumpets Of Jericho’ has the most stomping riffs of the album and Dickinson proving why he is “the air raid siren” in the chorus and ‘Machine Men’ is a powerful composition in the best Smith/Dickinson tradition. Ironically, the most Maiden-sounding track on the album is a Dickinson/Roy Z collaboration named ‘The Tower’. Another shining moment for Casillas. But the absolute highlight – besides ‘King In Crimson’ – is the epic semi-ballad ‘Jerusalem’, which combines William Blake’s poem ‘And Did Those Feet In Ancient Times’ with a perfect exercise in tension building.

‘The Chemical Wedding’ was the last album Bruce Dickinson cut before returning to Iron Maiden for the almost equally amazing ‘Brave New World’ album. It’s a true pity that Dickinson’s return to Maiden doesn’t allow him to work with Roy Z as much as he used to, because these two have real chemistry – no pun intended. And it’s not just the songwriting; Dickinson truly shines as a singer here. This is an album that should be heard by any Metal fan with a sane mind. Only to have it blown away later.

Recommended tracks: ‘King In Crimson’, ‘Jerusalem’, ‘Trumpets Of Jericho’, ‘The Tower’

Album of the Week 05-2014: Barış Manço – Yeni Bir Gün

Discovering Turkish music a couple of years ago was like unveiling a treasure trove to me. One of the first artists from that country to truly have a great appeal to me was Barış Manco. His warm voice and always surprising musical backing, combined with his awesome looks made me dig as deeply as possible to find his material. I quickly discovered that a lot of the stuff I liked was either on ‘2023’ and ‘Yeni Bir Gün’. Luckily, Guerssen Records have made both of these albums available for the western market recently, finally offering me a decent opportunity to add this fantastic album to my collection.

Backing Manço on this record is in many ways the most durable lineup of the Kurtalan Ekspres. The incomparable Ahmet Güvenç, quite possibly the best bass player I have ever heard, had already proven his value on the essential classic that is Erkin Koray’s ‘Elektronic Türküler’ and once again truly shines on ‘Yeni Bir Gün’. Also present here is the guitar work of Bahadır Akkuzu, although the guitar isn’t quite as prominent on here as it was on ‘2023’. It’s Kiliç Danışman’s typically seventies synth work that takes that place here, sometimes lending a distinct Disco flavor to the songs, together with Caner Bora’s drum work, but without the irritating elements of the genre.

Manço has written much of the material heard on this album and he obviously had a musically impressive environment as his goal. That means he doesn’t even sing on some of the best material. The two instrumentals on this album are among the best material on here. ‘Çoban Yıldızı’ can best be described as Middle-Eastern ambient and serves as a fantastic moodsetter for one of my favorite songs on the album, being ‘Bir Selam Sana Gönül Dağlarından’, with its killer Güvenç bass line and driving rhythms. The other instrumental track combines ‘2024’, a spine-chillingly beautiful piano piece by Danışman, and ‘İkinci Yolculuk’, an awesome ensemble piece with some solo spots.

Other highlights include opening track ‘Sarı Çizmeli Mehmet Ağa’, with its fantastic intro melody and powerful chorus, and the heartfelt ballad ‘Aynalı Kemer İnce Bele’, which has yet another chorus that is guaranteed to get stuck in your head. The apotheosis of ‘Yeni Bir Gün’ is arguably the titular suite that closes it. Through several movements that seem to reflect the passing of a day. Or maybe a life. Moving from more tranquil sections (‘Yeni Bir Gün Doğdu Merhaba’) to more dense instrumental work (the awesome ‘Ne Köy Olur Benden, Ne De Kasaba’) to round things off with the monumental ‘Elveda Ölüm’, this is an impressive composition for which Manço and Kurtalan Ekspres deserve all the praise they can get.

Guitar freaks may be slightly better off with ‘2023’, but both that album and ‘Yeni Bir Gün’ are impressive achievements of Manço and Kurtalan Ekspres. The songs on ‘Yeni Bir Gün’ are awesome without exception and the performances are nothing less than amazing. The Guerssen re-release does have some weird sequencing issues, putting together songs in one track that don’t necessarily belong together, but when you just listen to the album, none of that is apparent. That’s when the true genius shines through in 45 minutes of musical mastery.

Recommended tracks: ‘Bir Selam Sana Gönül Dağlarından’, ‘Aynalı Kemer İnce Bele’, ‘Çoban Yıldızı’