Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Tom Keifer - The Way Life Goes

Tom Keifer
The Way Life Goes
Merovee Records

One of my favourite acts to emerge from the ‘80’s hard scene was Cinderella. Unlike a lot of acts back in the day, Cinderella weren’t afraid to include their blues and country influences into the familiar hard rock sound, and in doing so, it gave them a sound that was unlike almost every act on the scene.
But despite the success of their first three albums (1986’s self titled effort, 1988’s ‘Long Cold Winter’ and 1990’s ‘Heartbreak Station’), the grunge/alternative scene started making its mark at the turn of the new decade, and Cinderella’s fourth full-length effort ‘Still Climbing’ (1994) sank without so much as a trace. And when coupled with lead vocalist Tom Keifer’s throat problems (Nodules on his vocal cords led to paralysis of the left cord), it came as no surprise that the band split up for good in 1995.
Although Cinderella has reformed at times to tour the U.S., and were signed to Sony Records, fans have been left in the cold in terms of anything new studio wise from the band.
But while anything new emerging from Cinderella is unlikely, Keifer has always maintained that a solo album would emerge sometime in the future. But with ongoing throat issues and the odd tour from Cinderella, many were beginning to question whether Keifer would ever finish his long awaited debut effort.
But lo and behold, after a recording gestation of close to ten years, Keifer has finally delivered on his promise and offered fans his fist solo effort ‘The Way Life Goes’. And if the truth be told, it’s been well worth the wait.
Anyone who’s familiar with Cinderella’s output over their four studio album career will no doubt have some idea of what to expect from ‘The Way Life Goes’. And in short, it’s pretty much a mix of everything Keifer had delivered in the past – And that’s a touch of the blues, a bit of rock ‘n’ roll, a smattering of country and a whole lot of soul.
The opening track ‘Solid Ground’ is the perfect reintroduction of Keifer to the masses, with its blues/hard rock sound and gospel tinged anthem-like chorus bringing to mind Cinderella’s ‘Shelter Me’ classic. Keifer is in great form on the vocal front, and the closing lines of the song of ‘I need some shelter’ is an all-knowing salute from Keifer to fans who have stuck in there for the long run.
‘A Different Light’ is something a little different from Keifer with its pop rock sound, but no less worthy because of it. But what really stands out on this track is Keifer’s high falsetto on the chorus. Keifer has never dared to venture so far with his voice before, and only goes to prove that his voice is indeed better than ever (Which is a miracle given that he almost lost it forever some years ago).
‘It’s Not Enough’ is a gritty hard rocker with some gospel tinged backing vocals to add a bit of soul to proceedings, while the harmonica led blues based/Rolling Stones sounding grooved ‘Cold Day In Hell’ keep the album rocking hard.
Keifer has always produced fantastic ballads, and ‘Thick And Thin’ and the Aerosmith-like ‘You Showed Me’ are no exceptions. Once again, Keifer is found behind the piano on both tracks, and when it’s pitted alongside his trademark rasp, heartfelt lyrics and captivating melodies, you know Keifer has a genuine gift for song writing that’s full of sincerity. Although not really what you would call a ballad as such, the slow acoustic tune ‘Ask Me Yesterday’ is somewhat in a similar vein in that it’s up there with Keifer’s most heartfelt tunes. It’s a simple tune, but a definite favourite.
A touch of classic Led Zeppelin can be found in ‘Fools Paradise’ with the subtle organ work behind the extended guitar work, while Keifer channels a bit of old school Rod Stewart on the acoustic rocker ‘The Flower Song’ with great success.
But Keifer’s album isn’t without its all out rock numbers. ‘Mood Elevator’, which features a guest guitar performance from Cinderella’s Jeff LaBar, is a heavy number that brings to mind the band’s ‘Still Climbing’ era, while ‘Welcome To My Mind’ perfectly exudes a darker and menacing hard rock sound.
The Rolling Stones influences can once again be detected in the funky workout of ‘Ain’t That A Bitch’, while the title track ‘The Way Life Goes’ takes the funk elements one step further to include a touch of the blues, to eventually emerge with a sound reminiscent of Aerosmith at their prime during the mid ‘70’s.
Finishing up the album is ‘Babylon’, which is a great hard rocking tune with some great riffs, and a touch of saxophone to add some soul to proceedings and give the song a bit of a Cinderella sound.
After waiting a long ten years, I’d almost given up on ever seeing Keifer release his long awaited solo album. But now that the album is released, I can honestly say it’s been worth the wait.
‘The Way Life Goes’ is nothing short of great, and a long overdue release from one of the ‘80’s truly great singer/song writers.

For more information on Tom Keifer, check out - http://www.tomkeifer.com/

© Justin Donnelly

 

Mutation - The Frankenstein Effect

Mutation
The Frankenstein Effect
Independent Release

2012 has to go down as one of Ginger Wildheart’s busiest and most productive years as a recording artist, with no less than three projects undertaken in the twelve month period, which in turn spawned a colossal six discs worth of music.
One of the many projects Ginger worked on during 2012 (Outside Ginger’s triple solo album ‘555%’ and his upcoming pop collaboration with Victoria Liedtke in Hey! Hello!) that has finally just seen the light of day is his highly anticipated experimental project Mutation.
Much like some of the material that appeared on his ‘555%’ album, the Mutation project has a long history, with Ginger initially getting the project underway shortly after parting company with Michael Monroe in 2011 after the completion of Monroe’s solo effort ‘Sensory Overdrive’.
But despite Ginger’s best efforts to complete the project, problems arose when it came to the mixing stage, and the album was eventually shelved in favour of undertaking a stretch of touring instead.
But given the overwhelming success of his pledge campaign for ‘555%’, Ginger once again resurrected the Mutation project, and over a year and a half after the Ginger announced the project, the first volume of his highly anticipated Mutation venture, ‘The Frankenstein Effect’, has finally been unveiled.
Ginger’s idea behind Mutation was to produce something extreme, but with enough rhythmic and catchy elements to make the whole project accessible enough for people to enjoy. And after allowing my senses to fully absorb the ten tracks that make up ‘The Frankenstein Effect’, I would say that Ginger has definitely achieved his objective.
The opening track ‘Powderland’ is the perfect way for Ginger to introduce listeners to his Mutation project, with the opening riff structures and tribal-like drums luring the listener into thinking they’re about to hear another classic Ginger anthem, only to be suddenly thrown into melodic chaotic mess that is both noisy and catchy. Held together through a mix of heavy guitar riffs, jagged time changes and vocals that provide a wave of white noise in the background and up-front aggression on those that are audible, ‘Powderland’ is a heavy and messy behemoth of a track, but classic Ginger with its infectious chorus lines and huge riffs.
‘Rats’ is another stand out cut with its sing along choruses and schizophrenic thrashing/rhythmic groove musical backdrop, while ‘Friday Night Drugs’ is completely off the wall, with elements of grooving sludge like guitar passages, cheerleader vocals and straight out noisy thrash thrown into the one track. Despite the different sounds, somehow it all seems to blend together, albeit with the help of some great hooks from Ginger into the vocal and guitar department.
Not unlike ‘Friday Night Drugs’, ‘Schadenfreude’ is another track spliced together with a lot of differing elements that don’t initially appear to mesh all that well. But after several listens, it all seems to make sense somehow, if only because the blast beat drumming and huge guitar riff passages seem to keep the whole track glued together.
‘Compass Point’ is something quite different sounding for the album, with drummer Denzel Pearson (Young Legionnaires/Ginger Wildheart Band), Rich Jones (Ginger Wildheart Band/Amen/The Black Halos/The Loyalties), Paul Astick (Hawk Eyes) and Tom Hudson (Pulled Apart By Horses) taking on the lead vocals. As you would expect, the song is a bit all over the place sound wise, with an underlining punk, hardcore and thrash feel throughout.
Most fans will be familiar with ‘Lively Boy’ as it was offered up via a promotional video clip last October. But anyone who assumes that this semi-accessible Wildhearts like track (I’m thinking 1997’s ‘Endless, Nameless’, but with a cleaner production and a lot more twists and turns) is indicative of what the rest of ‘The Frankenstein Effect’ has to offer might well be in for a rude shock. As a song, ‘Lively Boy’ still has its experimental elements, but is otherwise the most straight forward sounding effort on the album, which earns its place as one of the album’s real standout cuts.
Veering off to the other end of the spectrum is ‘Gruntwhore’, which surprisingly enough, features Scott Lee Andrews (Exit_International) and Tom Spencer (The Loyalties/ex-Yo-Yo's) sharing singing duties. Despite the absence of Ginger for the most part (He only helped on naming, arranging and editing the song), the track is another stand out with its sheer brutality, experimentation with editing effects and pure catchiness amongst the noise.
The only track that fails to really grab me is ‘On Poking Dogs’. While some of the riff structures are strong, the choruses are O.K. and I like the reference to The Wildhearts at the end of the song, the song as a whole doesn’t quite get to the same high standard of the previous tracks, which is a real shame.
The cover of Dan Deacon’s ‘Wham City’ is a stroke of genius on Ginger’s behalf, if only because he managed to turn a twelve minute electronic opus into an extremely noisy four and a half minute metallic pop song that fits perfectly on ‘The Frankenstein Effect’.
Finishing up the album is ‘Carrion Blue’, which is the kind of track that sums everything about Mutation in the one track. There’s elements of speeding thrash, melodic death metal and experimental noise, but its Ginger’s trademark huge choruses and epic scope that really pushes this song beyond the ordinary and incoherent.
Overall, while ‘The Frankenstein Effect’ is an ambitious album, it’s an album that works. And given that the album has eventually found its way into fans’ hands after being shelved a couple of years ago – this release is nothing short of a triumph.
I have no doubt that ‘The Frankenstein Effect’ will divide even the most diehard of Ginger fans (This album is nothing like anything he’s ever recorded before), it will make sense to those who understand what Ginger was aiming for – and that’s to push himself as an artist beyond the expectations fans have of his previous work.

For more information on Mutation, check out - http://www.gingerwildheart.net/

© Justin Donnelly

 

Mutation - Error 500

Mutation
Error 500
Independent Release

‘Error 500’ is the companion album to ‘The Frankenstein Effect’, which is a double album effort from Mutation, which is a side project led by Ginger Wildheart (Who is otherwise the mastermind behind The Wildhearts).
Without rehashing too much of what I have written before in my review for ‘The Frankenstein Effect’, all that needs to be said is that Mutation is quite simply Ginger’s experimental foray into the more extreme side of music.
In my previous review, I said that ‘The Frankenstein Effect’ was more than likely going to divide opinions given the diversity of sounds and extremities offered up throughout the album. To be honest, ‘The Frankenstein Effect’ is an album that still has some of Ginger’s trademark sounds, but delivered in a way that sounds unlike anything he’s ever delivered in the past.
But if ‘The Frankenstein Effect’ was something a little different, then ‘Error 500’ is something that truly has to be heard to be believed. Although the first Mutation effort is described as extreme, it pales in comparison to ‘Error 500’. This is one extreme and twisted album, and one that will surely polarize fans even more than ‘The Frankenstein Effect’ could ever hope to.
Opening with a very Wildhearts sounding riff (‘Inglorious’ comes to mind), ‘Bracken’ sounds like a logical follow-up to ‘Carrion Blue’ (The closer from ‘The Frankenstein Effect’) with its unbridled fury and speed. But while there’s plenty of aggression within the tracks, and more than enough twists and turns to make The Dillinger Escape Plan sound accessible, ‘Bracken’ is by far the album most melodic effort, and the perfect segue way into what is one very strange album ahead.
Unlike ‘The Frankenstein Effect’, which was recorded with song ideas and structures already formulated prior to Ginger entering the studio, ‘Error 500’ is a true collaborative effort. And it shows too, with the second track ‘Utopia Syndrome’ coming across as a bizarre mix of jagged time changes, partly mechanical manipulation (Particularly with the clean vocal passages from Ginger) spliced with passages of grindcore and warped melodies laid over some truly quirky noises (Most of which are easily missed might I add). In simple terms, ‘Utopia Syndrome’ sounds like a collection of differing ideas thrown together to make up the one song. But while it sounds all a bit odd, it actually works quite well.
Given Jon Poole’s heavy involvement in the Mutation project, it’s not surprising to find a strong Cardiacs/God Damn Whores influence within the overblown, chaotic and weirdly melodic ‘White Leg’ and its companion piece ‘Sun Of White Leg’, while a track such as ‘Protein’ is far more straight forward sounding in comparison, but still has enough twists and contrasting extremities to keep any listener on the edge of their seat.
Both ‘Mutation’ and ‘Relentless Confliction’ are worthy of singling out purely for the appearance of Mark E. Smith (The Fall) on vocals. His contributions are quite unique (Not unlike his voice), and combined with a little help from Japanese noise musician Merzbow (‘Mutation’), both earn their place as some of the album’s more experimental efforts alongside the electronic manipulation/riff crazed bizarre mash-up heard on ‘Computer, This Is Not What I…’.
Towards the tail end of the album, Ginger returns to the schizophrenic time keeping metal territory of early with the densely layered and occasionally choral led ‘Innocentes In Mortes’ (Which translates to ‘Innocent In Deaths’, and features lead vocals from Luke Dunnell), before finishing things up on a truly experimental note with the industrialised ‘Benzo Fury’ (Which features lead vocals from Young Legionnaire front man Paul Mullen). Although quite different from the rest of the album, the closer is perhaps my favourite from the album because of its notable change in style from what you would otherwise expect from Ginger.
As mentioned earlier, ‘Error 500’ is sure to polarize fans. Some will hate it, while others will no doubt love it. But whatever side you align with, there’s no denying that Ginger has well and truly stepped out of his comfort zone with this album, and for that, you can’t help but admire his willingness to put everything on the line to blur the lines of expectations. In the end, while the Mutation project may have been a difficult task to get off the ground (Let alone complete), it’s was well worth seeing through to the end.

For more information on Mutation, check out - http://www.gingerwildheart.net/

© Justin Donnelly

Monday, June 3, 2013

Queensrÿche - Frequency Unknown

Queensrÿche
Frequency Unknown
Deadline Music/Cleopatra Records

There was a time when I considered Seattle based progressive rock outfit Queensrÿche one of the most forward thinking metal acts of their time. Everything the band released up until 1994’s ‘Promised Land’ was daring, innovative and unlike any other band on the scene. In my eyes, Queensrÿche could do no wrong.
But by 1997, around the time the band released ‘Hear In The Now Frontier’, it was clear that things weren’t what they once were within the Queensrÿche camp. And confirmation of that arrived with the announcement that guitarist Chris DeGarmo had decided to leave the band.
Although DeGarmo played a big part in Queensrÿche’s success, I still remained a fan of the band. But with each and every new release, I couldn’t help but feel that things were never the same within the group, and that their releases post 1994 were merely a shadow of the band’s once greatness.
Fast forward to 2012, and the internal issues within Queensrÿche came to a head, with vocalist Geoff Tate being given his marching orders from the rest of the band.
What has followed has been nothing short of embarrassing. While the remaining members of Queensrÿche (Former Crimson Glory vocalist Todd La Torre has replaced Tate) have kept quiet on the split and instead have focussed their attention on their upcoming album (Due later this year through Century Media Records), Tate has taken every opportunity to air the band’s dirty laundry in the press, which has in the eyes of many, tarnished his image in a major way.
But the soap opera that surrounds the Queensrÿche/Tate split isn’t what’s important here. What’s really important is the music.
Tate made a quick return to the scene with his sophomore solo effort ‘Kings & Thieves’ in late 2012 (Through Century Media Records) after splitting with Queensrÿche, and while it was a little more rock orientated than his self-titled debut release from 2002, it wasn’t a huge departure from the direction Tate was steering Queensrÿche on their disappointing ‘Dedicated To Chaos’ release from 2011.
Now returning with his follow-up effort ‘Frequency Unknown’, Tate has decided to reclaim the Queensrÿche name, and beat the La Torre fronted version of the band to the punch. But given Tate’s guidance in terms of musical direction in Queensrÿche over the last fourteen years, and his own solo release from last year, is ‘Frequency Unknown’ the kind of Queensrÿche album fans have been holding out for?
In short, the answer is no.
The opening track ‘Cold’ is a surprisingly heavy sounding track with the guitars up-front in the mix, and boasts some strong melody lines from Tate that allow the choruses to stand out in a good way. But even though the song is a good one, it’s doesn’t really have what you would call the classic Queensrÿche sound. And as for Kelly Gray’s guitar solo, it sounds too tacked on.
The follow-up track ‘Dare’ is something completely different sounding from the opening track, and gives the impression that most of the tracks on the album do as a whole – ‘Frequency Unknown’ is merely a collection of songs that aren’t in any way connected in the sound sense. The song itself is a little thin on the ground ideas wise, and the blatant stab at his former band in the lyrics is far from Tate (Or Queensrÿche for that matter) at his best.
‘Give It To You’ sees Tate attempt to go for something a little more atmospheric and minimalistic, but falls well short of the mark with Tate failing to hit some of the notes on the lower end of his range, and the overly repetitive line of ‘How do you like me so far?’.
‘Slave’ is an aggressive track that packs plenty of bite, and is a solid enough track if you overlook its overall simplicity and lack of daring in the song writing department, while the Middle Eastern influences on the atmospheric and darker edged ‘In The Hands Of God’ is undoubtedly the
albums true stand out cut. Sounding more akin to ‘Promised Land’ era Queensrÿche than anything Tate has laid down in years, it’s clear that Tate is capable of injecting some passion into his performance, and that given the right song writing, he’s able to produce a gem worthy of the adorning the Queensrÿche title.
Unfortunately, ‘Running Backwards’ is far from a gem. Sounding like a leftover from ‘Dedicated To Chaos’, the song features a lacklustre chorus, and the guitar solo from K. K. Downing (Ex-Judas Priest) adds little to the song.
Towards the tail end of the album, the bulk of the songs take on a slower pace, with ‘Life Without You’ and the groove driven ‘Fallen’ overshadowing the somewhat forgettable ‘Everything’ (Although it has to be said that Ty Tabor’s extended solo work on the track is noteworthy).
The final track on the album, ‘The Weight Of The World’, is a sweeping epic ballad with some subtle progressive influences and some great guitar work from Chris Poland (Ex-Megadeth/OHM:). Although far from breaking the mould, the track is another example of Tate finding the right blend of song writing and passion, and producing something special rather than uninspired.
Although listed initially as bonus tracks, it would appear that all versions of ‘Frequency Unknown’ come with Tate’s four re-recorded version of Queensrÿche classics. I won’t go into too much detail about the tracks themselves (Which are ‘Silent Lucidity’, ‘Empire’, ‘Jet City Woman’ and ‘I Don’t Believe In Love’), but I will say that these versions don’t stand up to the originals at all.  Tate isn’t capable of hitting the notes he once did, and it’s obvious on these new versions (Especially on ‘I Don’t Believe In Love’). The idea to re-record these songs probably looked great on paper, but in reality, unless you’re planning on changing the arrangements or try something new, they’ll always be inferior to the far superior originals.
Hastily put together over six week period, and featuring a long list of well known session musicians, ‘Frequency Unknown’ sounds patchy, uninspired and rush released in order for Tate to get the jump on a new Queensrÿche product before his former band members get the chance to.
Had this been released under Tate’s own name, and not included the four re-recorded Queensrÿche tracks, the album may have fared better. But as it stands, ‘Frequency Unknown’ is not only an insult to the La Torre fronted version of the band, but to Queensrÿche fans as well.

For more information on Geoff Tate, check out - http://www.geofftate.com/

© Justin Donnelly

Terror - Live By The Code

Terror
Live By The Code
Century Media Records/E.M.I. Music Australia

A year after the release of the live album/D.V.D. package ‘No Regrets No Shame: The Bridge Nine Days’ (A long lost recording of one of the band’s earliest live shows from 2003), long running Los Angeles (California, U.S.) based hardcore/punk rock outfit Terror are back after a three year absence following the release of ‘Keepers Of The Faith’ with their latest full-length release ‘Live By The Code’.
Much like fellow hardcore/metalcore outfit Hatebreed, Terror isn’t the sort of band to play around too much with their firmly established sound from album to album. The band have well and truly established their sound over their ten year existence, and as far as the band are concerned, you can take it or leave it.
But the fact that there’s not a whole lot of variation between one Terror release and the next really isn’t the true measure of a great Terror album. What’s important here is how memorable the songs are, how the production sounds and whether or not the songs are able to mean something to the listener on a personal level. And it’s by using those measures that I’m able to determine that with ‘Live By The Code’, Terror have managed to put together an album that as a whole has that special something that was missing on ‘Keepers Of The Faith’, all the while remaining true to themselves and giving fans everything they would otherwise expect from a Terror release.
Terror (Who have managed to retain the same line-up of vocalist Scott Vogel, guitarists Jordan Posner and Martin Stewart, bassist David Wood and drummer Nick Jett from the last album) introduce their new album via a short bit of feedback, which eventually bleeds into ‘The Most High’. It’s immediately clear that with ‘The Most High’, Terror have added a little grittiness to the sound since their last album, with the guitars in particular sounding a little rawer and heavier. As a song, the mid-paced number is a solid effort, and full of Terror’s trademark energy and Vogel’s bark to keep fans pleased with the results.
The follow-up track ‘Not Impressed’ is a bit faster and darker than the opener, but seems a little lacking in terms of variation. But with ‘Cold Truth’, Terror seems to hit their intended target with a vengeance, and in turn produce one of the album’s many highlights.
Elsewhere, ‘I’m Only Stronger’, the first single ‘Hard Lessons’ (Which was released late last year through Reaper Records), the bludgeoning ‘The Good Die Young’, the intense ‘Shot Of Reality’ and the speeding blitz of ‘Invasion’ are the definitive picks dotted throughout the album.
Despite its short running time (The album is a touch under the twenty-seven minute mark), and sounding much like the Terror we’ve all come to know and love, ‘Live By The Code’ is another solid release from Terror, and one that’s sure to keep hardcore fans pleased and the retain the reputation of the band as one of the hardcore scene’s more revered outfits.

For more information on Terror, check out - https://www.facebook.com/terrorhardcore

© Justin Donnelly