Archive for the ‘ Music ’ Category

Album of the Week 21-2018: Dana Fuchs – Love Lives On


Not unlike Beth Hart, Dana Fuchs has both the fortune and the misfortune of kind of sounding like Janis Joplin. In fact, both of them were cast to play Joplin in the musical ‘Love, Janis’. The comparison is a compliment, but also sells them short. Fuchs’ new album ‘Love Lives On’ is the ultimate proof of that. Musically, the album is much more reminiscent of the great southern soul records put out by Stax Records than any album Joplin ever was a part of. ‘Love Lives On’ is not a hollow exercies in nostalgia though; this is beautiful, timeless music.

Fuchs’ backing band on ‘Love Lives On’ features a a couple of soul veterans, among which drummer Steve Potts and organist Reverend Charles Hodges. They certainly add to the album’s authentic soul vibe, but what really makes the whole thing work is the excellent songwriting courtesy of Fuchs and her long-time guitarist Jon Diamond. While a lot of contemporary albums in this style rely heavily on the grooves and musical interaction, every song on ‘Love Lives On’ stands out and will stick to your memory. Fuchs’ smokey, raw-edged, yet highly melodic vocals are the icing on that delicious cake.

Another thing that makes ‘Love Lives On’ a pleasure to listen to is its nearly flawless flow. It makes you want to listen to the album all the way through. There are a couple of more americana-tinged songs grouped together near the end of the record that, while good – ‘Battle Lines’ is gorgeous – would have worked better if they were distributed more evenly across the album. The rest of the tracks vary nicely in tempo and intensity, moving pleasantly between upbeat soul tracks like opening track ‘Backstreet Baby’ and powerful ballads like the purring organ-based gospel of ‘Faithful Sinner’.

Traditional soul tracks like the horn-heavy ‘Callin’ Angels’, the euphoric ‘Same Sunlight’ and the relaxed ‘Sittin’ On’ would not have sounded out of place on one of Otis Redding’s records. Fuchs even made Redding’s ‘Nobody’s Fault But Mine’ her own completely. Standout tracks for me are ‘Sad Solution’ and ‘Sedative’, both of which are built upon an insistent, almost dangerous, yet not too propulsive groove. It is possible that the underlying sense of anger appeals to the hardrocker in me. The supreme build-up from its subdued verses to its triumphant chorus turns ‘Ready To Rise’ into a highlight as well. So does its guitar solo.

‘Love Lives On’ is slightly less “rocky” in approach than ‘Love To Beg’ and the blues influences aren’t as pronounced as on ‘Bliss Avenue’, but that should not be a turn-off. This is one of the best soul albums released in many years. It has simply everything you could wish for if you like the genre. Each song features spirited grooves, intensely passionate vocals and a musical interaction that is of complete and total service to the well-written songs. Anyone who longs for the late sixties and early seventies records of Stax and Hi Records should definitely give this excellent record a spin.

Recommended tracks: ‘Sad Solution’, ‘Ready To Rise’, ‘Sedative’

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Album of the Week 20-2018: OverKill – Horrorscope


While OverKill had line-up changes before guitarist Bobby Gustafson left in 1990, but Gustafson contributed heavily to the songwriting. Therefore, there must have been some sense of anticipation leading up to the release of 1991’s ‘Horrorscope’. It was the first OverKill record with two guitarist – always a plus – and it seems to explore the boundaries of OverKill’s vicious thrash metal sound more than any other of their albums, including its highly varied predecessor ‘The Years Of Decay’. For what it’s worth, I think it’s their best record, combining the hungry aggression of their early days with just the right amount of experimentation.

Songwriting-wise, the transition is not as large as one might expect. The songs are a little more to-the-point than those on ‘The Years Of Decay’, but the main ingredients are still the same: heavily pulsating riff work that shifts between fast thrash and more pounding mid-tempo tunes, Bobby ‘Blitz’ Ellsworth’s rough, relatively high-pitched throat and generally simple, brutally effective choruses. The album’s biggest asset is in the degree of variation. The lesser albums of the band tend to get a bit samey as the album goes on, but literally every song on ‘Horrorscope’ sounds different than the others.

The varied nature of ‘Horrorscope’ is often emphasized by pointing out the most experimental tracks on the album and it must be said: the experiments are very successful. ‘New Machine’ manages to inject a great deal of groove into the sound without forsaking the band’s thrash roots and ‘Soulitude’ is the greatest power ballad the band released to this day due to its dark atmosphere, its excellent use of dynamics and its beautiful guitar solos. The title track sees the band grinding through doomy tempos without going into Black Sabbath-like territory like they did on ‘Skullkrusher’. The palm-muted main riff is simply punishing.

However, the more familiar straightforward aggression is every bit as interesting here. Songs like opening track ‘Coma’, ‘Infectious’ and the punky ‘Thanx For Nothin” show OverKill doing what they do best: playing angry thrash metal with as little subtlety as possible. Even within the uptempo songs, different approaches are attempted. ‘Bare Bones’ is one of the most complex songs the band has recorded to date and ‘Blood Money’ has a surprisingly open chorus. The true masterpiece is the mid-tempo thrasher ‘Nice Day…For A Funeral’ though. Especially when after the driving verses and a haunting chorus, a beautifully dramatic guitar arrangement appears in the middle section. Truly a work of art.

After the release of ‘Horrorscope’, drummer Sid Falck would leave the band and that is really too bad, because his parts were far more interesting than what other east coast thrash bands were offering. His tinny snare sound is the only downside to the album though, alongside the well-executed, but somewhat unnecessary Edgar Winter cover ‘Frankenstein’. OverKill must have realized that ‘Horrorscope’ was a pinnacle in their career, as last week’s ‘Live In Overhausen’ contains the full album – and debut album ‘Feel The Fire’ – played live and they went in a different direction following the album and did not try to force another ‘Horrorscope’ out. Well worth hearing if you like interesting thrash metal.

Recommended tracks: ‘Nice Day…For A Funeral’, ‘Soulitude’, ‘Coma’, ‘Bare Bones’

Album of the Week 19-2018: The Mortal – I Am Mortal


Atsushi Sakurai was born to sing gothic rock. His deep, emotional baritone belongs in the genre. But somehow, despite their gothic masterpiece ‘Jusankai Wa Gekko’, his main band Buck-Tick does not want to make the full leap into the genre. As a result, he needs to set up projects like The Mortal every once in a while. In a way, ‘I Am Mortal’ is a logical continuation of Sakurai’s solo debut ‘Ai No Wakusei’, but the album leans far more to the goth side of things and because of that, this dark monster of an album feels a lot more consistent.

On the ‘Spirit’ EP released a month prior to ‘I Am Mortal’, The Mortal was already quite clear about its influences. Sakurai has never made a secret of his love for Bauhaus and the fact that he covered them – alongside The Damned and Souxsie And The Banshees – on that EP should already give a clear hint of what The Mortal sounds like. The Mission is a clear influence as well, especially in ‘Mortal’. At times, the band explores the noisier end of the post-punk spectrum, however, resulting in intense, aggressive moments such as ‘Barbaric Man’ and ‘Pain Drop -It Rains Cats & Dogs’.

While those explosions of energy certainly contribute to the varied nature of ‘I Am Mortal’, the album is best when introspective. ‘Yume – Deep Dream’ has the huge eighties goth production, but in essence feels like a really dark love song. Closing track ‘Sayonara Waltz’ keeps things considerably smaller, being rooted in just Sakurai’s vocals and the classical guitar of Jake Cloudchair, but is no less atmospheric. The album starts in quite a dark, introspective manner with as well with ‘Tenshi’, which is a really good taster to set the horror-like mood of the rest of the album.

The calmer moments are not the only highlights of ‘I Am Mortal’ though. ‘Tsuki’ is the opposite end of the spectrum, with its propulsive, straightforward punk beat and intensely repetitive chorus. The rhythmically unpredictable ‘Grotesque’, ‘Guignol’, ‘Dead Can Dance’ and the spectacular ‘Fantômas – Tenrankai No Otoko’ are masterpieces of creepy goth and horror punk and the aforementioned ‘Mortal’, probably the most traditional gothic rock track on here, is simply too catchy and emotional to be ignored. It should be noted that the atmospheric memorability of the choruses is the rule rather than the exception here. Even if you are not adept at Japanese, these melodies will stick. Trust me, I should know.

‘I Am Mortal’ was followed by the impressive live dvd ‘Immortal’, but as of this writing, no new The Mortal plans have been announced. I truly hope there will be a sequel to the album though, because the album shows Atsushi Sakurai doing what he does best: singing dark, emotionally laden gothic rock songs. His love for the genre oozes out of the album’s pores. Also, Sakurai and his band mates appear to have a very strong connection musically, so it would be a pity to not hear more of this. Even the classic goth bands cannot quite reach these heights anymore.

Recommended tracks: ‘Fantômas – Tenrankai No Otoko’, ‘Mortal’, ‘Sayonara Waltz’, ‘Tsuki’

My douze points for 2018


Of course the best song or performance was not going to win. Still, after a couple of years with virtually no good songs, there were a few I quite appreciated this year. The biggest surprise for me was the amount of songs actually written by the performing artists. That truly kept this year’s edition of the Eurovision Song Contest from being the bland collection of Swedish pop productions that increasingly dominated the festival for the last few years.

Just a few observations based on what I’ve seen this year. First of all: has the big sweeping Eurovision ballad gone out of fashion? There were two or three songs that sort of rubbed up against it, but not one act fully engaged. In addition, singing in your own language apparently is cool again, which always deserves bonus points in my opinion. Quite concidentally, my undisputed number one from this year was sung in its own language, but more on that later.

Before I get to that though, I would like to take some time to express the fact that my zero points should really go to the team of presenters. Daniela Ruah was decent, but especially Filomena Cautela was an eyesore. Maybe she does better in her own language, but her interviews and skits were nothing short of cringeworthy.

Enough complaining. Let’s go to the five songs I actually liked best this evening, or my six to douze points if you will. In all honesty, I prefer the last two over the others by quite a margin, but it was easier than many other recent years to put a top 5 of songs I actually like together.

Serbia: Sanja Ilić & Balkanica – Nova Deca

If you are into theatrical music, Serbia’s song should be right up your alley. In all honesty, I probably would have liked the song a lot better if it did not have the misplaced Eurodance beat that appears around the one and a half minute mark, but the passionate singing and the unconventional harmonies compensate quite a bit. And I have said it before: bonus points for singing in their own language. There is a dark undercurrent and ethnic vibe to the song that make it a worthy addition to the Eurovision canon rather than faceless pop production number two thousand. Am I the only one who finds the act a rather blatant rip-off of ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ though? The tilt-up at the end made it definitive.

Italy: Ermal Meta & Fabrizio Moro – Non Mi Avete Fatto Niente

On the surface, ‘Non Mi Avete Fatto Niente’ is a rather typical Italian pop song. I can see this song appearing on Italian radio and not really standing out from the pack. Still, the Manu Chao-like song was quite a pleasant listen. The lyrics portray a certain resilience or anger that especially comes across well in the verses sung by Moro. He almost goes overboard near the end of the performance, but I actually think it fits the message of the song. The walk near the end of the performance seems like a rather desperate attempt to connect with the audience. It did appear to have worked though, because they got a surprisingly large number of televotes.

Denmark: Rasmussen – Higher Ground

Another treat for anyone who likes his music theatrical. Admittedly, the vocal performance of Jonas Rasmussen is not one of the better ones in the grand final, but his voice fits the cinematic atmosphere of ‘Higher Ground’ very well. He is a stage actor in his home country and that is quite clear, because his diction is nearly impeccable. What really sold me on the song, however, were the folky backing vocals. Even without the rather cheesy sails on the stage, these deep, theatrical backing vocals add to the Scandinavian Viking folk vibe of the song. Realistically, ‘Higher Ground’ belongs in musical theater rather than on the Eurovision stage, but it was something different enough to catch my attention.

Estonia: Elina Nechayeva – La Forza

Estonia has has a decent record of Eurovision songs recently, but none impressed me as much as Elina Nechayeva’s ‘La Forza’ did. It really is too bad that the inclusion of classical music is often treated like a bit of a novelty, because Nechayeva is nothing short of incredible. Her voice moves from the lowest regions of the mezzosoprano range to the uppermost soprano notes with unbelievable ease and the song is spine chilling, right down to its delightfully anticlimactic ending. This definitely comes closest to the sweeping Eurovision ballad of everything on offer, but because of Nechayeva’s voice, it is quite different. It should not be too surprising though. Estonia has a rich history of classical music.

Albania: Eugent Bushpepa – Mall

When I saw Eugent Bushpepa stand in with Darkology four years ago, his power and range already blew me away and tonight was no different. The guy simply has a set of pipes that many rock, pop and metal singers should envy. His song ‘Mall’ – written by Bushpepa himself and sung in his native tongue – is surprisingly accomplished for a three minute song as well. It builds from a folky start to a huge AOR chorus and Bushpepa somehow captures the intimacy of the former and the overwhelming power of the latter with equal conviction. And I’ve heard him channel his inner Rob Halford as well, so I can confirm that there’s simply no style of rock vocals that this guy can’t belt out. If it truly was about the music, the 2019 Eurovision Song Contest would have taken place in Tirana.

Album of the Week 18-2018: Fumihiko Kitsutaka’s Euphoria – Euphoria


When neoclassically inspired guitarists start a solo project, the records are often filled with flagrant displays of virtuosity. Fumihiko Kitsutaka however, presumably through his career as the guitarist for eighties hardrockers Arouge and crazy eclectics Kinniku Shojo Tai, learned a lesson or two about songwriting. Sure, his impressive dexterity is fairly prominent on his solo debut, but the real stars on ‘Euphoria’ are the compositions and the arrangements. Clearly, Kitsutaka wanted his songs to enchant the listener rather than his technical profiency and because of that, ‘Euphoria’ is one of the better neoclassical hardrock and power metal albums out there.

In the booklet, Kitsutaka is credited as “master of guitar orchestrations” and that may actually be the biggest asset of ‘Euphoria’. Not only are there plenty of Queen-inspired guitar harmonies, the use of acoustic guitars is incredible. Sometimes it is just a ringing chord adding some brightness to the top layer, other times nylon stringed classical guitars provide the perfect accompaniment for Tetsuya Saito’s vocal delivery. The use of only one singer also contributes to the album’s consistency, while the changing rhythm section – two drummers and three bassists share duties – is likely chosen to add different flavors to the rhythms.

For all intents and purposes, ‘Euphoria’ is a rather unusual solo album for a lead guitarist. Sure, there are songs like the powerful neoclassical hardrocker ‘The Room (Named Desperation)’ and the virtuosic instrumental ‘Justice Of Black’, but they don’t dominate the album. Even when songs like the stomping headbanger ‘Deep In Love’ and the energetic power metal track ‘Sacred Garden’ seem to invite Kitsutaka to cram the solo section full of sweeps and classical scales, his lead guitar work is always melodic and tasteful, while the memorability of a chorus seems of equal or greater importance to the guitarist.

There are a few real surprises on ‘Euphoria’. First of all, the relaxed romanticism of ‘Nursery Rhyme’ features Kitsutaka almost exclusively on the classical guitar, save for a powerful electric solo. ‘Dance Desire’ is a strong hardrocker that combines a relatively heavy bottom end with a rather atypical swing in the rhythm department, while ‘Losing You’ combines distinct melodic touches with some aggressive start-stop riffing and a busy chorus with some of Saito’s most passionate vocals. Saito really ties this album together with Kitsutaka anyway, as his lower take on visual kei-inspired vocals gives the album part of its unique atmosphere.

Sonically, ‘Euphoria’ also forsakes the spotlessly clinical sound usually associated with these types of releases and opts for a highly dynamic, organic sound that really feels like a band playing together. All of this contributes to an album that, despite being of a style that has been attempted before, has a very fresh feel. There is no pretension or showing off on ‘Euphoria’, just a group of musicians wanting to make the best album that could possibly be made at the time with the means at their disposal. More bands should attempt that approach. If anything, ‘Euphoria’ proves that it works.

Recommended tracks: ‘Losing You’, ‘Dance Desire’, ‘Sacred Garden’, ‘Nursery Rhyme’

Album of the Week 17-2018: Primordial – Exile Amongst The Ruins


In recent years, many reliable metal bands have let me down, while bands that sort of slipped under my radar for years manage to thoroughly impress me. Last year, it was Septicflesh. Now it is Primordial that has released one of the better albums I have heard this year. Truth be told, the Irish quintet already had its moments of appeal to me in their more traditionally metallic material with clean vocals by A.A. Nemtheanga. And it is exactly that side of the band that is put front and center on ‘Exile Amongst The Ruins’, an atmospheric, melodically strong metal album.

Primordial’s background in somewhat folky black metal is mainly limited to dissonant chords and two more extreme passages. As a whole, ‘Exile Amongst The Ruins’ feels more like a relatively experimental doom metal album. Even in their most black metal days, Primordial tended to be more about atmosphere than aggression and despite the occasional outburt, their latest offering takes that approach to its logical extreme. The pace is generally moderate, though there is more variation in tempos here than on the likes of ‘The Gathering Wilderness’. The band has also shown great progress in their use of dynamics.

Those dynamics are a large part of what makes the album so good. A song like ‘To Hell Or The Hangman’ doesn’t have so much of a verse-chorus structure, but rather builds layers in a way industrial metal bands usually do. It does so splendidgly though, making it the best song on the album. However, where Primordial used to have albums full of these “builders”, they switch up approaches quite nicely here. ‘Where Lie The Gods’ slowly builds towards its climax – a passionate howl by Nemtheanga – while songs like ‘Nail Their Tongues’ and the title track have great, pronounced, almost catchy choruses.

Surprising is the tranquil and melancholic ‘Stolen Years’, which provides a bit of a breather before the last twenty minutes of the album. Eight of those are taken up by ‘Sunken Lungs’, which is the brightest example of the album’s organic recording process. Many metal bands finetune their albums to death these days, but in the sound and the fluctuating tempos of Simon O’Laoghaire’s incredibly creative drum parts, you can really feel that the album is alive. The long closer ‘Last Call’ has some nice ebb and flow workings, which makes it sound considerably shorter than it actually is.

Anyone with a strong preference for Primordial’s black metal roots will probably be disappointed by ‘Exile Among The Ruins’. While its predessor ‘Where Greater Men Have Fallen’ at least had one full-on extreme metal track, this one leans on powerful melodies, strong songwriting and Nemtheanga’s best vocal performance yet much more. For me personally, that can be considered a great asset. The mood of the album absorbs its listener and refuses to let go until the album is over. And with the album clocking in over 65 minutes, that is quite impressive. Highly recommended to fans of atmospheric doom metal.

Recommended tracks: ‘To Hell Or the Hangman’, ‘Stolen Years’, ‘Nail Their Tongues’

Album of the Week 16-2018: Stryper – God Damn Evil


With an album title like ‘God Damn Evil’, it is obvious that all semblance of subtlety has gone out the window. Then again, Stryper never was about subtle intricacies. You just know you’re going to get simple, effective hardrock songs with huge choruses, strong melodies and a fairly obvious christian message. In recent years, Stryper has dialed up the metal factor in their music considerably, resulting in some of their most consistent albums thus far. ‘God Damn Evil’ is no different. It is once again better than its predecessor, continuing the upward trajectory that started with ‘Murder By Pride’ in 2009.

First things first: Michael Sweet once again sounds incredible. His vocal approach is occasionally a bit rawer than usual, but his soaring, spotlessly clean melodies are all over ‘God Damn Evil’. His songwriting has never been better either. Some of the previous albums had a tendency to drag because of all the midtempo tunes and while most of the material here still isn’t in turbo mode, the album easily has the most pleasant flow of any Stryper album since ‘Soldiers Under Command’. His brother Robert also gives his best drum performance yet, though his snare is still a tad too loud.

Before the album was released, four songs surfaced that already made me quite hopeful about the album. Especially ‘Lost’, a melancholic melodic hardrocker reminiscent of the incomparable class of Stryper’s best song ‘Sympathy’. The crushing midtempo metal of ‘The Valley’ was another pleasant surprise. ‘Take It To The Cross’ raised some eyebrows, because of its brutal chorus with Sweet channeling his inner Halford, but despite the borderline self-plagiarism – the main riff is very similar to the one in ‘Yahweh’, which in turn was borrowed from Black Sabbath’s ‘Children Of the Grave’ – it is a very blunt, effective opening track.

‘Can’t Live Without Your Love’ is a surprisingly decent ballad. Sure, it has a strong AOR-vibe, but it’s not as slickly saccharine as the likes of ‘Honestly’. The heavier side of label mates Journey seems to have influenced the gorgeous midtempo hardrocker ‘Beautiful’. The title track and the slightly more metallic ‘Sea Of Thieves’ highlight the band’s eighties Sunset Strip sleaze rock roots, while the midtempo stom of ‘You Don’t Even Know Me’ features one of Sweet’s most ominous vocal melodies to date. ‘Own Up’ finds a perfect middle ground between grinding latter day Stryper riffs and a beefy eighties hardrock chorus.

Sure, the lack of subtlety may be an issue for some. The chorus of ‘The Devil Doesn’t Live Here’ is borderline for me, but it is too enjoyable a speed metal track to let it get in the way. And that is exactly why despite my atheism, I have always enjoyed Stryper. There are too many good riffs, awesome melodies and blazing leads by both Michael Sweet and Oz Fox on the album to let them escape my attention. New bassist Perry Richardson occasionally lets it rip too. Hardly anyone can craft simple rock songs with such impact as Sweet. ‘God Damn Evil’ is the strongest evidence of that so far.

Recommended tracks: ‘Lost’, ‘The Valley’, ‘Beautiful’, ‘Own Up’

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