CD REVIEW: Atomkraft – Cold Sweat (EP)

British heavy/speed metal pioneers Atomkraft were formed by Tony Dolan (Venom) in 1979. Part of the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal movement, they make a welcome return with the Cold Sweat EP, which will be available in two formats: a 7″ EP limited to 200 copies only in colored vinyl and insert, and a CD limited to 1000 copies with two bonus tracks. The EP’s centrepiece is a cover of Thin Lizzy’s “Cold Sweat” with I Heart Guitar’s good buddy Joe Matera contributing a ripping lead.

Oh and did i mention it features the most brutal cover art ever? Check it out.

Scared yet? You should be! The guitar tones are raw, dirty and unmistakably metallic with a sort of homespun vibe that works really well with the material and is in keeping with AtomKraft’s NWOBHM roots. In fact, the “Cold Sweat” cover almost has a Motorhead-meets-Rammstein vibe, with its Lemmy-esque vocals and fuzzy, fizzy rhythm guitars. Matera’s solo packs in some cool pentatonic legato licks and some tastefully-applied tapping, by the way – check it out.

Meanwhile “Dead Again” is classic speed metal, blisteringly fast and aggressive. “The Darkening” kicks off with the sound of angry dogs giving way to an angry riff and the sounds of an even angrier mob. Some almost Slayer-esque speed metal (and some very cool ‘angry bee’ guitar work) follow as the song twists and turns through evil forests of doom and other awesome metal stuff. Finally, “Gripped” opens with delicate Iommi-esque acoustic guitars before rocket fire and ominous industrial-edged riffing take over.

I love that bands like Atomkraft are still around. The Big Four of Thrash regularly pay tribute to NWOBHM these days, but live covers of “Am I Evil?” aren’t enough. We need the real deal to keep the sound alive. Hail Atomkraft!

Buy the EP here.

CD REVIEW: Queensryche’s Dedicated To Chaos

After the pervasive darkness of Operation: Mindcrime II and American Soldier, it’s understandable that Queensryche would feel like exploring a lighter vibe on Dedicated To Chaos. Whereas the previous two releases were particularly guitar-driven, Chaos is built around riffs turned in by drummer Scott Rockenfield and bass player Eddie Jackson, and adorned with layers of sound that only seem to reveal themselves on repeated listens.

“Get Started” is a suitably uptempo opener which recalls some of the vibe of 2000’s Q2K, with bright overdriven rhythm guitars and up-front drums, and the quiet verse/loud chorus dynamic is not entirely removed from the structures of Empire. But before long the album moves more into groove-heavy territory. At times sounding like a heavier version of singer Geoff Tate’s 2002 solo album

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CD REVIEW: Devin Townsend Project – Deconstruction & Ghost

It’s one of the amazing musical moments of 2011 so far: after various levels of straightforwardness in the first 10 minutes of Deconstruction – some heavy, some restrained – Devin Townsend demands ‘show yourself!” and all the savage energy left dormant since the dissolution of Strapping Young Lad is unleashed, grabbing you by the throat and dragging you back to its skull pit before you know what the fuck happened.

The minutes leading up to that moment – “Praise The Lowered” and “Stand” – leave hints at what’s going to happen next. The former gradually increases in intensity from floaty electronica to metal screams, never dropping the steady but restrained tempo even as the death screams build up. The latter sounds like the spiritual cousin of “Destructor” from Ki (the first album of the Devin Townsend Project tetralogy), and it also drops little crumbs of heaviness behind it, leading up to that ‘Show yourself!’ moment. From then on, anything goes. Crushingly heavy rhythm guitars. Choirs. Blast beats. Death metal. Fusion-tinged chord progressions. Spoken word interludes. Fast passages. Techno beats. Someone taking a particularly cathartic shit. A cheeseburger.

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CD REVIEW: Mastodon – Live At The Aragon

Mastodon’s 2009 album Crack The Skye is a modern metal classic – heavy, melodic, at times psychedelic, at times progressive. It finds Mastodon in fine form, fine-tuning the twin-guitar attack and multiple-vocalist approach of earlier albums. Mastodon played the album in its entirety live across the world over the following year, and this live set is taken from a show at the Aragon Ballroom in Chicago.

The CD portion of the album features all of Crack The Skye as well as “Circle Of Cysquatch,” “Aqua Dementia,” “Where Strides The Behemoth,” “Mother Puncher” and Melvins cover “The Bit.” The performances are much more raw than the tidier approach on the album, and at times the vocals suffer a little bit, but props to the band for keeping these raw takes intact rather than polishing them up. The mix is pretty raw too, and it all somehow works, presenting a slightly different angle of the band compared to the polished, psychedelic mindfuck of Crack The Skye.

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CD REVIEW: Whitesnake – Forevermore

David Coverdale and his extremely capable Whitesnake collective dish up a dirty, bluesy follow-up to the more metallic Good To Be Bad in the form of Forevermore. If Good To Be Bad was a naughties update of some of the louder moments of the band’s 1987 album, Forevermore is what would happen if the Whitensake sound of the early 80s was updated in 2011. It’s more aggressive, more powerful and usually a lot faster than, say, an album like Lovehunter, but retains much of the blues-based melody, groove, phrasing and bluster (with an occasional dose of Slip Of The Tongue-era glitz). Whereas Good To Be Bad would make a great work-out album, Forevermore is driving music. Party music. Sex music.

The album hits hard from the beginning with “Steal Your Heart Away,” which drives forward with a heavy blues groove, augmented by subtle organ and harmonica. It’s the kind of track Coverdale-Page would have done really well if they’d gone for a louder production style. Meanwhile the solo section in “All Out Of Luck” represents the closest Whitesnake has come to the Slip Of The Tongue sound since the days when Steve Vai was spinning his Ibanez Universe around his neck. The rest of the song rocks with a dirty single coil guitar tone.

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CD REVIEW: Stone Sour Audio Secrecy

Let’s get this out of the way. Yeah, two members of Stone Sour are in Slipknot. No, it’s not a Slipknot side project – Stone Sour dates back to 1992. And no, Audio Secrecy as an album isn’t as radio-friendly as a few of its lighter tracks would have you believe. Unlike Nickelback, the hard rock band that it’s okay for pop fans to like, Stone Sour is the hard rock band that it’s okay for dedicated metalheads to like.

That much is evident about two milliseconds into Mission Statement (which comes after the atmospheric, piano-driven 1:43 instrumental title track that opens the album). This track is worthy of Slipknot in quality and heaviness, and it sets the tone for the rest of the album. Corey Taylor’s voice surges from clean melodicism to raging Slipknot scowl and back, while the band explores all sorts of feels – double time, half time, from chugging riffs to big open chords. Check out the tag-team shredding guitar solos too. It’s a killer album opener and it leads perfectly into Digital (Did You Tell), which is all octave riffage and Devin Townsend-esque strumming. Actually it’s not a million miles removed from Devy’sAccelerated Evolution Devin Townsend Band album.

The first single, Say You’ll Haunt Me, is one of the album’s big highlights, heightened by a killer drum performance. It’s here that the magic touch of producer Nick Raskulinecz is revealed – dude couldn’t record a bad drum sound if he tried. The interplay between Jim Root and Josh Rand is really on display here, as is a cool wandering bass line. Check out the video below. (By the way, check out my interview with Jim Root here).

Dying is probably my least favourite track on the album, and the one most likely to draw comparisons to more straightforward FM radio rock. It’s not bad – in fact it’s really good, but it feels out of place after the crushing riffage of the previous three tracks. Let’s Be Honest features another killer octave-based riff and a cool stop-start drum/bass groove leading into a monster half-time chorus and a huge Sabbath-like middle section.Unfinished continues the minor key Sabbathy vibe – actually it reminds me of the band Heaven & Hell – while some carefully placed vocal harmonies keep it from sounding too heavy yet never quite become too pretty either.

Hesitate is another radio-friendly track with a nice droning guitar part and a big chorus. Nice melodic guitar solo too. Nylon 6/6 brings back the heavy, Slipknot vibe and some Perfect Circle-like vocal vibe. Miracles has some nice bright semi-clean guitar tones and atmospheric melody lines, while Pieces kinda reminds me of a heavy version of something from Eric Johnson’s Venus Isle album.

The Bitter End kicks off with another killer metal riff which will absolutely slay live, while some textural interludes add to the tension in a similar way to Bowie’s Hallo Spaceboy. It’s a cool effect that you don’t hear in metal so often. Some great soloing here too.

Imperfect is another acoustic-based ballad, this time with a very restrained, sparse vocal performance in the first half which is augmented with overdubs and harmonies later on. Some great David Gilmour-ish guitar soloing too.

Finally the album closes with Threadbare (dig that great Geezer Butler style bass tone). This track is acoustic-based too but is much darker and heavier than Imperfect, and it kicks into a big melodic heavy chorus. Then everything gets all doomy and heavy in the middle, with some intense delay effects and overdubs before the chorus returns and lifts the whole freaking song into the stratosphere. It’s a show-stopping ending to a very diverse album, and the ideal way of tying together the heavier, lighter and moodier aspects of the band into a neat package.

Thanks to Roadrunner Records Australia

 

CD REVIEW: Steve Miller – Bingo!

Steve Miller has long been known as a killer guitar player. Although FM radio audiences might now him from classics like The Joker and Abracadabra, Miller has always had a penchant for firey blues-rock lead playing. So it’s no surprise that Bingo! is a collection of blues covers, nor is it any particular shock that it rocks pretty hard, albeit in a controlled, mature, measured way. This is no strum and flail blues-rock of the kind propagated by all those mid-90s Stevie Ray Vaughan clones.

Produced by Miller with the legendary Andy Johns (Led Zeppelin, Van Halen, Chickenfoot) and recorded at George Lucas’s Skywalker Ranch, Bingo! features songs originally recorded by BB King, Lowell Fulson, Otis Rush, Jimmy Reed and Jimmie Vaughan. And looky who pops up to trade solos with Miller on both Rock Me Baby and Sweet Soul Vibe: one Mr Joe Satriani. On Rock Me Baby the interplay between Satch and Miller is damn near psychic, and it’s great to hear Satch play in a more bluesy style akin to his self-titled album in the mid 90s (which was produced by Andy Johns’ brother Glyn). Satch’s solo on Sweet Soul Vibe is a little more like his Chickenfoot mode, over a groove that reminds me a little of Stevie Ray and Jimmie Vaughan’sTick Tock.

The guitar tones on Bingo! are considered and warm without being too hot; the playing is nuanced and detailed without being too stuffy, and the production has a very crisp, clear vibe without being too slick. And while it’s great to have Joe Satriani along for the ride of a few songs, Miller’s own sharp and tasty playing is more than worthy of holding the attention of guitar geeks like you and I.

By the way, Miller recorded another album at the same time as Bingo!, and that will be out next year.

Thanks to Roadrunner Australia.

LINKS: Roadrunner Australia; Steve Miller

 

CD Review: Patrick Vega – 8 Bullets

I’m a sucker for a good opening track. It’s gotta be ear-catching, and it’s gotta give an indication of what you’re getting yourself in for across the rest of the CD. That’s why Bullets, the first track on Patrick Vega’s ’8 Bullets,’ kicks so much ass. Heavy drums, amazing guitar tones, cool panning effects – as soon as you step through the door into this album, there’s no turning back! Patrick’s playing, on this track and throughout, has enough of a shreddy element to appeal to fans of players like Richie Kotzen, Joe Satriani and Steve Vai, but there’s a rhythmic swing that reminds me of Dimebag’s uncanny ability to combine metal intent with bluesy spirit. And there’s a deliciously Hendrixy edge where he’s not afraid to grab a note and shake the life out of it.

So that’s track 1, but what of the rest of the album? Let’s look track-by-track. Words Of Power has anthemic delayed guitar tones, in-the-pocket rhythm playing and a monstrous wah tone that practically jumps out of the speakers and shoots across the room. Can’t Make Up My Mind combines some soulful phrasing with a slightly John Frusciante-eque tone and a cruisy, relaxed summer vibe, before turning more Satriani in the middle. Hear My Train A Comin’ has a great metal groove and, once again, awesome hi-fi distorted guitar tones and lots of ear candy (seriously, there’s some great production stuff happening here). Alice’s Nitemare has a propulsive groove underneath almost vocal-like stacked guitars. Oceans In Between Us is more restrained, melodic and majestic, with lots of space and atmosphere, and some very cool overbends. Halfway through though, it gets all Passion & Warfare on us, to great effect. Washed Away starts with an ambient sound collage before launching into some breathtakingly clear, clean guitar tones which provide a bed for more intricate harmony. And Novocaine has one of the best guitar tones of the whole album, a huge chorusy, delay-drenched wah sound riding over crashing rhythm guitars. The middle breakdown features a crushing, chunky chord interlude that just kicks ass before the lead guitars come back in.

There’s also a cool bonus track, a remix of No Surrender from Vega’s previous album, Freefall Faith Firestorm, which shows off more of that great compressed Stratty tone and some gorgeous textural rhythm/lead hybrid playing – y’know, the kind of stuff Stevie Ray did so well.

The sheer number of enviable guitar sounds on 8 Bullets would be enough to make this album an essential purchase, but even the coolest tones wouldn’t mean anything if the songs weren’t there. Vega’s writing is confident and powerful, yet his playing is intricate and subtle. It’s a combination that invites repeated listenings – you can focus on the songs, or the phrasing, or the tones, or the production, and take something new and cool away with you each time.

CLICK HERE to buy Patrick Vega albums on Amazon.com

LINK: PatrickVega.com