Posts Tagged ‘ Hard Rock ’

Album of the Week 41-2018: The Tea Party – The Edges Of Twilight


Curiosity about world music is natural for every rock band inspired by Led Zeppelin’s latter days. Very few make the leap of actually learning to play indigenous instruments beyond some rudimentary percussion though. This is exactly what The Tea Party did to further emphasize their – mainly – Indian and North African influences on ‘The Edges Of Twilight’. It takes the idea of incorporating these sounds further than just adding some melodies that vaguely sound like the western idea of Arabic or Indian music. And quite surprisingly, the Canadian trio manages to still sound like a powerful rock band while doing so.

Ever the ambitious band, The Tea Party created a densely layered album, but in a way that can also be played with just three people. The arrangements on ‘The Edges Of Twilight’ are securely anchored within their trio line-up, after which bassist Stuart Chatwood and singer/guitarist Jeff Martin have added touches of traditional instruments. However, the world music is in Martin’s Gibsons almost as much as it is in the indigenous instruments through extensive use of twelve string guitars and Indian and Arabic minor scales. It all accounts for an immersive listening experience that is slightly dark, but never depressive.

Since the band’s earliest shows, they have been accused of copying Led Zeppelin and borrowing a string phrase from ‘Kashmir’ in opening track ‘Fire In The Head’ probably wasn’t very beneficial to dispelling that criticism, but the fact is that there is much more to the song than that. Martin’s deep voice sets the somewhat seductive tone of the tune immediately and the riff work is extremely powerful. Even more powerful is the following ‘The Bazaar’, on which a monumental guitar riff is doubled by Chatwood’s harmonium. The song is relatively simple in construction, but still manages to move through several moods.

Highlighting the album are undoubtedly the epics ‘Sister Awake’ and ‘Walk With Me’. The former starts out as a calm, folky tune, but quickly builds from an exciting percussive middle break to a monster of a dark rocker, while ‘Walk With Me’ manages to combine the gloomy atmosphere of most of the album with a begging, almost bluesy character. ‘Silence’ and ‘Drawing Down The Moon’ have a more traditional bluesy inclination, with the latter having a truly incredible climax. ‘Correspondences’ is a gorgeous, dynamic ballad, while ‘The Badger’, ‘Shadows On The Mountainside’ and ‘Inanna’ are calmer songs that draw on folk influences from all over the world.

Ultimately, my only criticism of this album would be that ‘Turn The Lamp Down Low’ feels a little out of place on the record by being straight blues with added percussion, but the song itself is really good. As a whole, ‘The Edges Of Twilight’ is a very exciting album that takes a lot of interesting turns, despite their only being three guys. Martin and Chatwood should be happy that they can depend on a solid power hitter like Jeff Burrows, but it also helps that all the songs are extremely well-written. As for the accusations of being a Led Zeppelin copy: I’d say they took one idea Zep had and developed it further with spectacular results.

Recommended tracks: ‘Sister Awake’, ‘The Bazaar’, ‘Drawing Down The Moon’, ‘Walk With Me’

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Album of the Week 36-2018: Alice In Chains – Rainier Fog


A twisted riff, an overall gloomy vibe, haunting vocal harmonies… Opening track ‘The One You Know’ leaves very little doubt that we are listening to Alice In Chains. This could be interpreted as a lack of originality, but since Jerry Cantrell and his cohorts single-handedly developed and perfected this style, why bother doing anything else? Especially since ‘Rainier Fog’ finds the Seattle-based band doing their own thing so well. Though it lacks the urgency that their comeback album ‘Black Gives Way To Blue’ and their masterpiece ‘Dirt’ had, it is more memorable than its predecessor ‘The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here’.

When original lead singer Layne Staley died, it took Alice In Chains surprisingly little time to find their footing with William DuVall. As a result, the band sound really comfortable with their own style this time around, especially in jam-oriented tracks like the Zeppelin-esque ‘Drone’. That also means the miserable darkness of songs like ‘Frogs’ and ‘Down In A Hole’ is not quite reached here, though the absolutely gorgeous closer ‘All I Am’ does come close with its somber acoustic basis and eerie electric touches. Due to its powerful dreary harmonies in both the vocal and the guitar department, ‘Deaf Ears Blind Eyes’ is another song that would not have sounded out of place on an early Alice In Chains record.

Though good enough, ‘The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here’ was short on true highlights. By contrast, ‘Rainier Fog’ has a few songs that immediately stick, the title track being one of them. It moves from a typical Alice In Chains mid-tempo rocker with a great chorus to a cathartic tranquil middle section that truly highlights the dual lead vocals of DuVall and Cantrell. Furthermore, ‘The One You Know’, the particularly powerful ‘Red Giant’ and – surprisingly – especially DuVall’s composition ‘So Far Under’ have all the trademark Alice In Chains elements in place without having the band sounding like they are on auto-pilot.

One area where ‘Rainier Fog’ truly outshines its predecessor is the ballads. Initially, all but ‘All I Am’ seemed to suffer from the same flaw as the ones on ‘The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here’ – being good, but unremarkable – but repeated spins bring out their qualities. ‘Maybe’ fluently goes through several moodswings and ends up being one of Cantrell’s best ballads by sheer unpredictability, while ‘Fly’ is a rather typical Cantrell ballad, though its chorus and guitar solo are delightfully climactic. Even the relatively upbeat ‘Never Fade’ manages to be highly convincing, with great performances by both DuVall and Cantrell, culminating in what is easily the most unforgettable chorus on the record.

Like most of Alice In Chains’ albums, ‘Rainier Fog’ is a bit of a grower. It appears to be immediate at first spin, but there are too many subtleties here to play it once and then toss it aside. Fortunately, the album has plenty of replay value. Aside from the incredible songwriting – this is Jerry Cantrell, after all – the great production does wonders as well. Sean Kinney’s drums sound very natural and even Mike Inez’ bass isn’t buried beneath everything else. With Alice In Chains’ style being as distinctive as it is, ‘Rainier Fog’ is unlikely to draw new listeners in, but it is indispensible for people who loved them before. It might even surpass their expectations.

Recommended tracks: ‘All I Am’, ‘Rainier Fog’, ‘Deaf Ears Blind Eyes’, ‘Red Giant’

Album of the Week 35-2018: Acid Black Cherry – Black List


Solo projects are an odd phenomenon. Technically, they could highlight a vision someone is not allowed to display in their main band, but they are often a disjointed mess. Acid Black Cherry’s debut album ‘Black List’ has all the symptoms of the latter – a rotating cast of musicians, a wide range of styles – but ends up being much closer to the former. The strict direction of main man and sole songwriter yasu keeps the whole thing from spiraling out of control. Realizing the importance of the first strike, ‘Black List’ is a minor J-rock classic and likely yasu’s best work yet.

In essence, the music on ‘Black List’ is not as far removed from yasu’s former band Janne Da Arc as one might expect. The differences are almost cosmetic rather than fundamental. On ‘Black List’, Acid Black Cherry is somewhat heavier and considerably more theatrical than Janne was, but the focus is still mainly on highly melodic rock songs with instantly hummable choruses, energetic but not too complicated riff work and a strategic use of light-and-shade workings. The approach is not too dissimilar to what Gackt has been doing for the last decade, but notably less predictable and therefore better.

While it would be easy to blame the immense artistic value of ‘Black List’ on the contributions of big names in J-rock – including Luna Sea’s Sugizo, La’cryma Christi’s Shuse and Siam Shade’s Daita and Jun-ji – the truth is that yasu’s songwriting and arrangements are simply really good. Arrangements are worth mentioning, because it’s exactly the fantastic use of keyboards and strings that adds some class to the surprisingly dark, menacing nature of the fanatastic opener ‘Sins’ and the bass and horn arrangements that lend an authentic jazzy edge to the manic ‘Black Cherry’, as wildly as it rocks most of the time.

On ‘Black List’, the genre-hopping is its forte rather than its flaw. The dark, dangerous vibe that made me love ‘Sins’ so much is revived on ‘Murder License’, while ‘Bit Stupid’ is an infectious, breezy and funky pop rocker. ‘Fuyu No Maboroshi’ is a particularly theatrical ballad, while ‘Shojo No Inori’ is a fun melodic hardrocker that would not have sounded out of place on one of Janne Da Arc’s later albums. Occasionally yasu’s particularly light and thin voice is a little grating, but overall, it’s remarkable how well it works on the harder rocking tracks on ‘Black List’.

Despite releasing more quality material throughout the years, Acid Black Cherry would never again release an album as good as ‘Black List’. Some serious overproduction drags most of their albums down, though none of the original albums is less than enjoyable. Though a lot of effort has gone into the production and arrangements of ‘Black List’, this album truly is enhanced by the effort. There is a bit of a risk that western rock fans might find yasu’s voice a little off-putting, but the fact remains that ‘Black List’ is a fantastic album. It even sounds like one rather than a loose collection of songs. That alone is already rather impressive within the J-rock realm.

Recommended tracks: ‘Sins’, ‘Shojo No Inori’, ‘Murder License’

Album of the Week 28-2018: NoGoD – V


Within the visual kei realm, NoGoD is a bit of an anomaly. With a sound that is a lumpless blend of modern hard rock and heavy metal, they don’t really fit any of the trends that exist in their genre and because they are not a cast full of pretty boys – they are fronted by the clownesque Dancho – their fan base is largely male. With that different take on Japanese rock music, NoGoD is certainly a band to check out for those who are usually discouraged by the visual approach. And there hardly is any better place to start than ‘V’.

Though NoGoD is mainly known for energetic, riffy songs with rather upbeat choruses, ‘V’ is notably darker in tone than any of their other albums. It is also slightly more metallic than their other works, though the catchy bits are almost all arena-worthy in their sing-along glory. The first half of ‘IV – Tasha / Philosophia’, the fourth part of a suite that stretches out over four albums, has a stomping 5/4 beat that many of their peers would not dare to attempt and the awesome ‘Sabbath’ is probably the darkest NoGoD song yet. Coincidentally, it is also one of their very best.

In more familiar territory, ‘V’ also shines just a little bit brighter than the rest of NoGoD’s discography. While earlier albums had masterpieces like ‘Kamikaze’, ‘World Ender’ and ‘Kakusei’, ‘V’ just rolls on without ever losing steam. Sure, the more punky, upbeat songs ‘Kane wo Narase’ and ‘Pandora’ feel a little odd atmosphere-wise, but that is easy to accept on an album that also has fist pumpers like the anthemic ‘Stand Up!’ and ‘Zetsubo Bye Bye’. The album is even bookended by two tracks that are surprisingly riffy; the guitar work in opener ‘Utsushiyo Horror Show’ and closer ‘Tosohonno’ is almost speed metal in nature.

Dancho’s voice is the thing that seems to spark most debate amongst people who are not sure if they like NoGoD. While that is understandable – the fact that he is almost exclusively in full-on passionate mode does not account for a lot of dynamics – Dancho is probably the factor that makes NoGoD stand out in a scene full of Kamijo and Gackt soundalikes. I like him a lot. Dynamics and subtlety are built by the tastefully layered interaction between guitarists Kyrie and Shinno. Kyrie even has one of his many acoustic solo pieces here in the shame of ‘Yume No Awa’. A perfect little break between intense songs.

Although the criticism that the visual rock scene is full of bands that blindly copy each other in terms of musical style and appearance is justified, once in a while a band pops up that can truly deliver in terms of originality and playing. While NoGoD doesn’t really do anything new, the band doesn’t really sound like any other band inside of Japan and outisde. And they still don’t, despite the fact that their recent albums lean towards modern rock a little too much. If you like great riffs, passionate vocals and a tight rhythm section with a thick bottom end, NoGoD should be right up your alley.

Reccomended tracks: ‘Sabbath’, ‘IV – Tasha / Philosophy’, ‘Stand Up!’

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’

Album of the Week 13-2018: The Sisters Of Mercy – Vision Thing


The change between The Sisters Of Mercy’s second album ‘Floodland’ and its follow-up ‘Vision Thing’ is apparent from the moment the album kicks off. The reverb-heavy gothic atmosphere of the former had been exchanged for a drier production and a riff-oriented approach. With four people credited with playing guitar on the album, ‘Vision Thing’ shifts the emphasis from gothic to rock here. Of course, with this being The Sisters Of Mercy, it’s not your standard rock album – it’s almost a parodic take on the genre at times – but it’s the hardest rocking material the band around Andrew Eldritch released thus far.

Atmosphere has not been sacrificed entirely here, however. ‘Vision Thing’ just sounds a lot more direct and ironic than The Sisters Of Mercy had ever done in the past. Eldritch, who was essentially running the band on his own by the time the album was recorded, never felt too comfortable with the gothic rock tag anyway and his reaction to the legendary goth album that was ‘Floodland’ seemed to be coming up with material that was the mirror opposite of the album. His characteristic deep vocals prevent it from becoming completely unrecognizable, but ‘Vision Thing’ is mostly built upon simple, beefy guitar riffs.

Somehow, Eldritch and his production team seemed to squeeze the most out of these uncomplicated riffs. Such simplicity, especially with the use of the band’s trusted drum computer Doktor Avalanche, would result in mind-numbing boredom at the hands of others. ‘Doctor Jeep’, for instance, makes use of one simple riff and a modulated chorus, but perfectly manages to portray the boredom with mass media that appears in the lyrics. Despite containing three riffs, the title track is another monument of less-is-more, working towards its cathartic chorus through agitated observations courtesy of Eldritch surprisingly effectively.

‘Floodland’ producer Jim Steinman was brought in exclusively for ‘More’, the only keyboard-centered song on the album. The song ended up sounding nothing like ‘Floodland’ though, despite being the most gothic track on here. If there is a think like soul goth, that’s what it would be. The album’s parodical nature shines brightest in the eighties glam-inspired ‘When You Don’t See Me’, which has a massive and remarkably enjoyable chorus, cliché-ridden as it might be. The reissue reveals the fitting working title of the song was ‘Bon Jovi’. Highlighting the album, however, is the deranged ‘Ribbons’, with its propulsive riff and borderline disturbing lyrics.

If The Sisters Of Mercy prove anything on ‘Vision Thing’, it is that parodying rock music by embracing everything that makes it ridiculous in a delightfully sarcastic manner could result in a surprisingly effective rock album. One that fans of the genre who do not share Eldritch’s sentiments may enjoy as well. Those who fell in love with the band through ‘Floodland’ may be surprised by how prominent the guitars of Andreas Bruhn and Tim Bricheno are on ‘Vision Thing’, but anyone looking for a bitterly ironic rock album that somehow is very listenable do not need to look any further.

Recommended tracks: ‘Ribbons’, ‘Doctor Jeep’, ‘When You Don’t See Me’

Album of the Week 12-2018: Bittencourt Project – Brainworms I


With Angra’s music being as varied as it is, what more could guitarist and chief songwriter Rafael Bittencourt want to express? Quite a lot, as it turns out. Debut album ‘Brainworms I’ of his own Bittencourt Project is full of music that, while not completely sounding out of place amongst Angra’s oeuvre, would not fit on the albums of his main band. There certainly is more room to experiment with genres outside of power metal and progressive metal. Each and every one of these deeply personal compositions is performed with a passion that is rare among contemporary rock and metal albums. Very impressive.

Bittencourt is the lead singer on this album and although he has taken on some of the lead vocals on recent Angra albums, his heartfelt voice has a completely different range than the higher pitched singers he usually works with. Obviously, that requires a somewhat different approach in songwriting. And though ‘Brainworms I’ is still progressive metal to an extent, the hard rock, folk and even South American pop music influences make this a unique piece of work. Bittencourt is an amazing songwriter, but it also sounds like he gave the musicians he works with some space to be spontaneous, accounting for a very lively album.

Sequencing-wise, ‘Brainworms I’ is set up very cleverly, as opening track ‘Dedicate My Soul’ could have been an Angra track if it had a different arrangement. Due to its propulsive riffs and amazing chorus, it sort of eases its listener into the more “different” stuff. ‘The Underworld’ is another relatively heavy track, but quite dark compared to Angra’s quite upbeat take on metal. The interaction between Bittencourt and violinist Amon Lima in those tracks is incredible. The cover of Madredeus’ ‘O Pastor’ is surprisingly heavy as well. Definitely one of the most exciting moments on the album.

However, the softer moments are what make this album so interesting. ‘Holding Back The Fire’ is a stripped-down, Brazilian take on AOR, ‘Faded’ is a gorgeous dark ballad with a hopeful climax, while the twelve string guitar on ‘Santa Teresa’ gives the song an almost Led Zeppelin-like folk edge. ‘Nightfly’ is one of the highlights of the album, moving back and forth between tranquil passages, funky rock riffs and parts with a strong Brazilian influence. If anyone does not want to choose between folky and heavy; the amazing ‘Torment Of Fate’ has a tango intro, quiet verses and thick prog riffs. And a spine-chilling chorus.

Those expecting a shred album from the guitarist in a fairly virtuoso band will probably be shocked, as the only thing that comes (somewhat) close to that is the spirited instrumental ‘Comendo Melancia’. Yours truly has always had tremendous respect for Bittencourt as a songwriter and whoever else does, will likely be impressed by this spontaneous, lively album full of amazing songs. In addition, Bittencourt’s passionate vocals really lift these songs to a magnificent level. This is an honest, personal work of art that has the potential to appeal to a much wider group of listeners than Angra’s progressive power metal audience.

Recommended tracks: ‘Nightfly’, ‘Torment Of Fate’, ‘Dedicate My Soul’

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