CD REVIEW: Periphery – self titled

Some of this music has been floating around in various forms for years, with Periphery mastermind Misha Mansoor proving himself quite the rightly popular lad on various web forums and Soundclick, and not being afraid to put his demos out there for everyone to check out. It’s taken a loooong time for Periphery’s debut album, but here it is, so crank it!

The first thing that jumps out about this molten slab of prog metal is how freaking aggressive it is – but in that calculated, ‘I could kill you eight different ways before you hit the ground, without even leaving a mark’ way. It’s brutal but it’s precise, heavy yet intricate, and the shredding is intense. There are many moments where you could almost consider the vocals another texture, with Misha’s rhythm guitar as the lead instrument.

Arrangements violently crash between Meshuggah-like rhythmic chugging and the kind of hyper-speed single-note lines John Petrucci is so good at, while song sections whip by with a kind of Between The Buried & Me energy. Vocalist Spencer Sotelo does a great job technically, with a thick roar and a strong clean vocal style, but although he nails his parts, I’m sure he’s about an album or so away from perfecting a more distinctive style.

Check out Jetpacks Was Yes, which in some parts almost reminds me of something from Bowie’s Heathen album if Bowie was a prog metal guy; Buttersnips, which recalls the multitracked speedy headfuck of Devin Townsend’s Ants, Icarus Lives, which stomps along with a killer groove, Ow My Feelings, which features some killer vocals; Zyglrox (more of the Ants vibe to these ears, interspersed with Zakk-like pinch harmonics from hell); and Racecar, a somewhat Dream Theaterish 15-minute epic which carries many moods and some tasty blues soloing. Nice Petrucci-esque clean tones too.

The album is pretty long and I’m sure Misha just wanted to get as much stuff out there as possible, but maybe it could have done with a little trimming. It’s like, relax dude, you and your music are gonna be around a long time so it’s ok to hold some things back for release #2!

CLICK HERE for my interview with Misha Mansoor.

Thanks to Roadrunner Australia. Visit Periphery’s page on the Roadrunner site here.


CD REVIEW: Mike Keneally – Scambot 1

I’ve found it really hard to write about Scambot. I really should have done so months and months ago when the album was released. But man, this album hit me so personally and deeply that to talk about it almost feels like opening up to a stranger about a relationship or something. But ok, here goes.

Scambot 1, as the name may imply, is the first in a series of albums about a chap called SCAMBOT (Serial Consciousness Agent [Military division] – Bringer Of Truth). The story still has much to play out (although the CD booklet is an invaluable part of the experience), and when the whole project is done there will be a graphic novel to fill out more of the narrative. At the moment I think of the music as snippets from the soundtrack of a movie I haven’t heard.

This film analogy extends beyond such a literal interpretation of the music’s rightful place in the world though. For me Scambot evokes that feeling of channel surfing late at night and finding something exotic and bizarre yet highly emotional and fulfilling. Llistening to Scambot 1 reminds me of watching the Zagreb Films retrospective at the Melbourne International Animation Festival last year. It’s hard to pin down, but the music and even lyrics feel like they speak to me in another language I don’t understand, yet break through this imaginary language barrier to communicate via feelings instead (regardless of the lyrical content which I of course do understand). Obviously I’ve been emotionally affected by music before or I wouldn’t have an entire blog, if not life, devoted to it, but man, Scambot grabs me good.

So what does the music sound like? Well for me it’s kind of like an amalgam of some of the more contemplative moments of Keneally’s Boil That Dust Speck, Sluggo and Nonkertomph albums – that kind of Radiohead-meets-Zappa blend of emotion and complexity that Keneally always does so well (and listen for some deliciously subtle playing by longtime Keneally cohorts such as Bryan Beller, Joe Travers, Marco Minnemann, all of whom turn in spectacular performances). One of the charms of Scambot, and it can be said of Nonkertomph too, is that it can become hard to pin down exactly what is the main instrument of the song, to the point where you suddenly have the stunning revelation that, duh, the entire song is the main instrument. This ain’t no straight guitar-bass-drums-vocal thing. The orchestration is deep, real deep, and if you’re used to listening to a standard band format it can be kinda hard to find your ‘in’ with Scambot. But once you do, you’re gonna wanna curl up in there like a warm kitten.

Personal highlights for me are in the little details. The melody from Life’s Too Small playing under the opening snippet of a cooking show about how to prepare rectangles in Big Screen Boboli. The ‘My arm is doing that wiggly wiggly beckoning finger thingie at me’ section of Tomorrow, which has the power to instantly lift my day. The ‘If I get ambitious I’ll work on the dishes’ bit from Cat Bran Sammich Pt. 1. The Berlin-era-Bowie-esque urgency of Cat Bran Sammich Pt. 2. The gentle wah wah touches in Hallmark. The push-pull interplay of the guitar overdubs in Saturate. The CSNY-ish harmonies of ‘Cold Hands’ (a song my 3-year-old loves to bits). And Gita. My god, Gita!

Mike Keneally’s music can be an acquired taste so if you’ve never checked out his particular and peculiar talents, maybe you should start with Sluggo! or Guitar Therapy Live. But if you’re tuned in to where Mike’s taking us on this incredible journey, or if you have an affinity for music that taps into something a little deeper than 4/4, you need to make room in your life for Scambot.

By the way, if you can spare the $$$, check out the Special Edition, which includes Songs & Stories Inspired By Scambot 1, an entire second disc of music which goes deeper into the storyline while pursuing myriad musical tangents for your personal amusement. Already I couldn’t imagine Scambot 1 without the bonus disc and booklet – it makes the experience even more rewarding and immersive.

CLICK HERE to buy Scambot 1.


CD REVIEW: Richie Kotzen – Peace Sign

Man, I hate Richie Kotzen. Oh don’t get me wrong – I’m a big fan. His guitar playing is awesome. His vocals are amazing (like, seriously, it’s utterly unfair for a guitar virtuoso to have such a big-league voice). I have most of his albums and I often daydream about owning one of his Fender signature Strats or Telecasters. I hear he’s a really nice guy, and he continues to release album after album of A-Grade material, all while lookin’ impossibly cool whether he tries to or not. And that’s just the problem. Dude can’t seem to put a foot wrong – don’t ya hate people like that! Kotzeeeeeen!

Kotzen’s latest cruel attempt to make me feel friggin’ miserable about myself is Peace Sign. One of the reasons I envy him so much for this record is because he played all of the instruments himself on most of the songs, yet somehow managed to capture a live band feel. I guess the secret is that the performances aren’t all tweezed and quantized – you can still hear the character behind every note. Another important key to this live feel is the orchestration: rarely do you hear multiple tracks of the same guitar part. Instead, the sonic landscape is quite bare, which of course means you can hear more of what’s going on because the nuance isn’t being smashed to smithereens.

One thing that really grabs me about this CD is the way it moves in cycles. The first five tracks have a bluesy rock edge reminiscent of Kotzen’s previous album, terrifyingly awesome Return of Mother Head’s Family Reunion. The next four are funky and groovy, largely characterised by cleaner guitar tones and more fusiony guitar solos. The final three are more laid back, probably more reminiscent of something like ‘Give It Up’ from Return of Mother Head’s Family Reunion.

My standout tracks are opener ‘My Messiah’ (a big, loud rocker with killer verse/chorus dynamics); ‘Paying Dues’ (check out that killer guitar solo – video below); the very LA-feeling ‘We’re All Famous,’ the celebratory ‘Your Entertainer’ and the groovy ‘You Got Me.’ But every song has a little highlight or gem somewhere, whether it’s a vocal hook, a guitar line, some cool interplay between instruments, or a lyric.

While I can’t wait to hear what Kotzen does next (after all, this CD follows the awesome ‘Return of the Mother Head’s Family Reunion,’ I hope he keeps promoting this album for quite a while yet so it gets the sustained attention it deserves.

Listen to tracks from Peace Sign for free on Richie’s site here.


CD REVIEW: Rob Zombie – Hellbilly Deluxe 2

Aaah, Rob Zombie. There’s hasn’t been a more prolific musician/filmmaker since… well, since the 80s when David Lee Roth claimed Van Halen were getting up to all sorts of adults-only hi-jinx on video. Interestingly, like Roth and his reunion with Van Halen, Zombie has also looked to the past to define his present. Nope, he’s not reforming White Zombie, at least not any time soon: rather, this album is a sequel to 1997′s ‘Hellbilly Deluxe.’

‘Jesus Frankenstein’ opens with a riff that my ears hear as a nod to Black Sabbath, followed by ANOTHER nod-to-Sabbath riff, before John 5 unleashes an epic, mournful note of doom from the deep (check it out, between 1:28-1:29 – something about that one note is just so friggin’ cool!). Finally – almost2 minutes into the song – the slightly bluesy, totally rocking’ main riff kicks in. The syncopated riffage in the verse actually sounds a little like Dream Theater. There’s a bit of a Sabbath vibe in ‘Sick Bubblegum’ as well, or maybe ‘No More Tears’-era Ozzy. Cool! Yet at the same time, for all the ‘sounds like this’ and ‘sounds like that’ comparisons flung about by this reviewer, the results are unmistakably Zombie.

‘Mars Needs Women’ includes more bluesy playing from John 5 (this time on acoustic) before morphing into another stomping, Ozzy-esque rocker. Oh and ‘Virgin Witch’ also sounds like something by Sabbath, especially with the clanging church bells at the start. And yet again it still sounds like Zombie. Seriously dude, every track on this album has at least some element which makes me think “Well… I love Ozzy but his best work sure hasn’t been included on his last three albums… maybe Rob Zombie’s the heir apparent to that sound now…’ If we ever see Zombie hurling himself off quad bikes, biting the heads off stuff and living in a house overrun by a litter of pomeranians, we’ll know I’m right.

Of course, being a Rob Zombie recording there are all sorts of samples, sound effects and ear candy. It all adds to the colour and spectacle, and makes it kinda hard to treat Hellbilly Deluxe 2 as background music. It demands either your complete attention or maybe to share your attention with the highway as you blast along in your converted dune buggy.

Ok, back to the songs. I dig the tom-tom assault on ‘Werewolf, Baby’ and the slinky, slidey flair added by John 5. In fact, Mr 5 is really kicking ass with the rhythm guitars on this album. He’s known as such a phenomenal soloist that it’s kinda easy to forget the intensity of the muscular riffage he unleashes throughout his work with Zombie and with Marilyn Manson.

‘Death And Destiny Inside The Dream Factory’ reaches back to early 70s glam of the Bowie/Bolan variety – I don’t know if you could picture RobZombie in skintight, spangly lycra with a red rooster mullet, but you don’t really need to picture it because you can hear it here. Or at least, a Star Wars cantina bar version of it.

‘Burn’ has a killer downtuned riff that kinda sounds like Tool if they get drunk on the wine Maynard makes these days and started grooving on the dancefloor. There’s also a great 70s-style pentatonic riff section which must be loads of fun to play, followed by more John 5 slide work. I haven’t heard this much slide guitar on a metal album since… wait, I’ve never heard this much slide on a metal album. The song itself probably isn’t one of the standouts but the idea was worth exploring.

‘Cease To Exist’ has another sample-heavy intro followed by an almost shuffling groove – truly this album is space blues for the year 3000, and this track is like Pink Floyd got gothed up for Halloween and forgot to dress back down to civvies again on November 1.

‘Werewolf Women Of The SS’ – Now there’s a song that writes itself. I dig this one for its energy and overall outrageousness, even if it kinda leans on a similar chord progression to ‘Death And Destiny.’ Cool guitar solo with lots of true melody and composition.

Finally we come to ‘The Man Who Laughs’. Pretty fast, rockin’ song to end on, and it’d make a great gig opener. It’s hard to pinpoint what I dig so much about this one – I think I’m just a sucker for those symphonic strings over the top of such a straightforward metal riff. In all honesty I think a better vocal melody could have been found for the chorus – it’s kinda a letdown compared to the rest of the song – but meh, I forgive them this time because the rest of the song is so cool. Did I mention there’s a drum solo? Cos there’s a drum solo.

This is a tricky time for Rob Zombie. With his increasingly successful film career, he can’t afford to take too much time out from that in order to tend to his music career, so he has to really make each musical moment count. There are some great standout moments on this CD, and while some of the songwriting is a bit derivative and some of the tracks are verging on filler, it’s still a pretty strong effort that will hopefully keep Zombie at his current level of success so he will continue staging those huge stage shows full of robots and monsters and stuff.

Hellbilly Deluxe 2 is out now on Roadrunner.


REVIEW: Living Colour – The Chair In The Doorway

Goddammit I love Living Colour’s Stain. When I first got that album (on a see-through orange cassette in a cool orange case, and which some jagoff stole along with my car in 2000), I must have played it constantly for, like, a month. It had everything I was looking for in music: cool grooves, out-there solos, killer vocal performances, thoughtful songwriting, thoughtful lyric writing, and it sounded dirty and angry. These were all very good things. Living Colour eventually went their separate ways, but when they reunited in 2000 and released Collideøscope in 2003, I was pretty freakin’ ecstatic, especially because there were a few key elements to that album which made it sound pretty much like an extension of Stain. Living Colour was back and all was well with the world.

So last week I marched on down to JB Hi Fi in Chapel St (hi, friendly JB staff) and plonked down a fistful of I Heart Guitar Funbucks for the new LC album, The Chair In The Doorway. Throwing the CD into the ‘ol player I was curious to see if the newie continued the Stainalike theme. Nope! The first thing I noticed from opening track ‘Burned Bridges’ was that the mix is much more 3-dimensional, the guitar tones are softer and thicker, the drum sounds are deeper, and the playing is much more groove-oriented and psychedelic. Living Colour were always able to bring on the brutal metal power, but even on the gloriously heavy riffage of track two, ‘The Door’ or track three, the super-riffy ‘DecaDance’ (listen out for some cool Whammy Pedal work in Vernon Reid’s solo), some of the upfront edge and bite is removed from the guitar attack, replaced by sludgy, dull bludgeoning. It’s a different side of Living Colour: while the CD is slightly reminiscent in vibe to some of the non-Stainy bits of Collideøscope and maybe a little bit of Time’s Up, and some of the drum/bass interplay may remind keen listeners of Will Calhoun and Doug Wimbish’s excellent Jungle Funk work, for the most part Doorway is its own beast.

‘Young Man’ unites a disco beat with some rhythm guitar work that reminds me of King Crimson via a gloriously fuzzed-out guitar tone, while the mid-tempo ‘Method’ is home to some cool synthy textures that remind me a little of David Bowie’s 1.Outside album, overlayed with a restrained vocal performance. It’s one of those songs that rewards repeated listenings by slowly revealing new, deeper layers – one of the many reasons I love this band so much.

‘Behind The Sun’ is another great example of Vernon’s textural approach to overdubs on Doorway. Check out the atmospheric tremoloed and panned single notes in the chorus, over the top of a rhythm guitar figure which singlehandly provides undeniable proof that overwhelming sheets of gain can still be applied musically without sounding like a death metal jamboree.

‘Bless Those (Little Annie’s Prayer)’ has some of the most overtly bluesy songwriting and performance of Living Colour’s career, complete with cool slide guitar parts and an up-front bass/guitar unison tagline, but capped off with yet another hugely fuzzed-out rhythm guitar tone for the chorus. Once again, Vernon is giving us a crash course on getting away with fearsome amounts of gain, and once again it sounds pretty freaking cool. The guitar solo represents some of his most Hendrixy playing ever, and stands out all the more by being the sole guitar track – no rhythm overdubbage here – recalling LC’s live sound.

‘Hard Times’ has a great ominous chorus set against an upbeat verse and a solo which really, really reminds me of Mike Keneally. Seriously, it sounds like something Mike might have played in The Mistakes or on something from his Sluggo! album.

‘That’s What You Taught Me’ is a little more straightforward, once again with a more textural guitar approach which kinda reminds me of Jane’s Addiction, and a steady 8th-note bass pulse. Wimbish’s tone on this track in particular is amazing – punchy and throaty yet supportive and ballsy. Awesome. ‘Out Of My Mind’ has a monster stomping riff followed by an intricate verse which almost sounds like a live band taking a run at something from Nine Inch Nails’ Broken EP.
‘Not Tomorrow’ opens up with a bit of a Yardbirds vibe, with some serious ‘old tone’ happening. Killer nuanced drum performance by Will Calhoun here, supported by some mixed-back power-chord rhythmic emphasis by Reid. This track is somewhat meditative, droney and psychedelic, and I’m not entirely sure I agree with its placement on the album. I might have put it between ‘Bless Those (Little Annie’s Prayer)’ and ‘Hard Times,’ but that’s just me.

Finally after a blank track there’s ‘Asshole,’ a straight four-on-the-floor, poppy track with some great dirty guitar tones, soul-influenced sing-along melodies and some coffee-spittingly hilarious lyrics. I won’t give any of it away but seriously dude, you’ve really gotta hear this song. It’s especially funny because the music is quite upbeat. It’s such a great way to wrap up the album,

Alright, so where do I stand on The Chair In The Doorway? Well it doesn’t replace Stain as my favourite. The guitar work is less heroic and more atmospheric, but I kind of get the feeling Vernon Reid is becoming so comfortable with his various other musical guises that he’s happier playing for the song in Living Colour now. Where before he may have packed a fluttering spree of notes into a bar of an LC song, perhaps his musical soul is now being nourished in that way by his solo output instead. The result is a more laid-back Living Colour with deeper grooves and more space and texture, and although there are less killer riffs per square inch, the ones that are there more than earn their space. This is the first Living Colour album that I’ve been happy to let play in the background to appreciate its wholeness at least as often as I’ve found myself devoting my entire attention to its details, my head sandwiched between the headphones.

REVIEW: Megadeth – Endgame

The first thing you hear bursting out of the gates on the new Megadeth album, Endgame (Roadrunner) is a thunderous, crunching riff leading into one huge back-and-forth solo-fest from Dave Mustaine and new guitarist Chris Broderick on the track ‘Dialectic Chaos.’ The tones are huge, the drumming relentless, and my freaking god Broderick is fast. Dave has said in the past that when his sparring partner was Marty Friedman, the contrast was that Marty played with a lot of love while Dave played with a lot of hate. Now, while I liked Glen Drover’s playing on United Abominations and live, his playing just didn’t have the passion and fire of Marty’s. It had a similar love of the guitar, but not the kind of love-you-so-fucking-much-I-want-to-have-you-right-here-right-now, dirty love that Marty had for his axe. Well, that fire is there in Broderick’s playing. It’s fast, precise and melodic, but intense, energetic, powerful and sometimes downright obscene, in the best possible way. In Broderick Mustaine has a co-guitarist who packs as much snarl and power into his playing as Dave does.

Yet for all its precision riffage and lead guitar mayhem, ‘Dialectic Chaos’ is still only the intro to the album proper, segueing into ‘This Day We Fight.’ With lyrics inspired by Lord of the Rings and riffs inspired by fighting for your frigging life as a horde of hellbeasts bare down on you, this track is at once vintage and future Megadeth. You’ll hear remnants of the same hyperaggression of ‘Rust In Peace (Polaris), ‘Take No Prisoners’ and ‘Poison Was The Cure’ from Rust In Peace, but fed through the more modern approach of tracks like ‘Kick The Chair’ from The System Has Failed and ‘Sleepwalker from’ United Abominations. With lyrics inspired by Lord of the Rings and some of the most pissed-off playing and vocal delivery of his career, Mustaine’s out for blood.

‘44 Minutes’ might remind some listeners of the balance of melody and aggression displayed on Countdown To Extinction tracks like ‘Symphony Of Destruction’ and ‘Architecture of Aggression’ but with the added heaviness that seems to come from just being in the mere presence of such an intense track of ‘This Day We Fight.’ It’s like some of the power and brutality of ‘This Day We Fight’ has actually leeched out of the track and into the rest of the album. After garbled police dispatch messages introduce the track, a growling James Lomenzo bass line is punctuated by stop-start guitar rhythms and a relatively restrained vocal line from a more narrative-driven Mustaine than the ‘in-the-moment,’ pissed off Dave we hear on ‘This Day We Fight.’ I’ve been listening to the album for about half a week now and this is my favourite track by far, and one of my favourite all-time Megadeth songs. By the way, the last 8 bars of ‘44 Minutes’ will probably kill about 94% of the guitar players you know, and seriously wound the pride of the remaining 6%. So say your goodbyes.

Now ‘1,320.’ Megadeth hasn’t done a song quite like this since ‘High Speed Dirt’ on Countdown To Extinction. But while Countdown was a meticulously crafted, evil cyborg of an album, there’s a pissed-offedness to Endgame which propels this track forward like the nitro-burnin’ funny cars it honours. Hold on for another wild back-and-forth Mustaine/Broderick guitar solo tag team, interspersed with cool harmonies. This one’s going to kill live.

Interestingly, ‘The Hand That Feeds’ also reminds me a little of ‘High Speed Dirt’ – both have chugging riffs that alternate between palm-muted pedal tones and higher chord stabs, as well as half-time sections. That’s not to say it’s a copy or rehash of ‘High Speed Dirt’ – it’s Mustaine’s sound so he has every friggin’ right to use it. By the way, this track contains one of my favourite Mustaine vocal deliveries ever, on the line ‘The roaches lick the cupboards clean of TV dinners …and beer.” There’s also a very cool end section which has an almost metallic shuffle feel. This is quite a proggy track with lots of riffage to dig your teeth into.

Next we have ‘Bodies.’ This one seems to bolt a bit of a United Abominations feel onto the songwriting of Youthanasia or Cryptic Writings, but Dave’s rhythm tone is bitier and more aggressive than anything on those albums. It’s more akin to his Rust In Peace era tone but twice as distorted and more compressed. The middle section includes what almost sounds like a nod to ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps,’ before going all orchestral and proggy. If you heard just this section without knowing the artist you’d probably be surprised to find out it’s Megadeth, until an absolute prototypical Mega riff bridges the section to an intense thrashout.

I almost feel bad comparing tracks on Endgame to stuff from Megadeth’s extensive back catalog, so it’s at this point in the review that I’ve gotta step in and emphasise that this really sounds like Endgame, not a collection of rehashes of past tracks. The comparisons are just provided to give you a rough idea of the general vibe of the tracks. Got that? Ok good, cos the title track ‘Endgame’ kinda reads like a sequel to ‘Youthanasia’ in feel and theme. It’s almost like Mustaine is revisiting the bleak warning of ‘Youthanasia’ and taking it to its ultimate dystopian conclusion. Once again the arrangements are quite proggy. About ¾ of the way in, we revisit several of the musical feels established on Killing Is My Business …And Business Is Good, except updated for 2009. It’s an intense ride, and despite the gritted teeth of Mustaine’s vocal delivery you can kinda imagine him grinning at how much fun it must be to play a track like this.

Hey, how did you feel about Risk? Cos that might determine how you feel about ‘The Hardest Part Of Letting Go …Sealed With A Kiss’ Here we find the more melodic, orchestrational Dave, with a heartfelt and nuanced vocal delivery. The opening section contains delicate acoustic guitars including a little classical guitar mixed down low and some electric harmonies, before everything brutals back up again. Check out the riff at 1:52 to hear Megadeth showing Dream Theater how to really pull off the prog metal thing. This could very well be considered a centrepiece track, and it’ll be very interesting to see if it makes it into the live set.

‘Head Crusher.’ I’m sure everyone’s heard this by now – another pass at the ‘Sleepwalker’ vibe, and an odd choice for first single. To be honest I’d much rather hear ‘44 Minutes’ as the first single – it’s melodic yet heavy and instantly memorable, whereas ‘Head Crusher’ took me a few listens to get my ears around. It’s unrelenting and furious, with monstrous shredding throughout and particularly in the solo, but while I think it was a great choice of track to show metal fans that Megadeth were sitting on a pretty intense album, I can’t help thinking it would have been better left as a teaser, or at least used as a teaser then held off to be the second single. That said, you really can’t fault the song.

‘How The Story Ends.’ More crushingly thick Mustaine rhythm tone with punchy muted single notes mingling with chord stabs. Drummer Shawn Drover is a star on this one. Great memorable chorus, somewhat like something from the Cryptic Writings era but once again undeniably Endgame. Broderick brings out the acoustic for a little flamenco moment, showing that even though he’s an unstoppable shred machine, he can also play it sensitive. The following electric solo is an arpeggiated tour de force which could grow to be a show stopper in a similar way to Marty Friedman’s ‘Tornado Of Souls’ lead – it’s not as long but probably packs in four times as many notes!

‘Nothing Left To Lose’ opens with a creeping James Lomenzo bassline before a big Mustaine riff kicks in. It just fits as a closing track, in a similar way to how Megadeth could not possibly have ended Countdown To Extinction with any song other than ‘Ashes In Your Mouth.’ Chuggy guitars in the verses, big harmonies in the choruses, double-time solo… A kickass track that probably wouldn’t work so well earlier in the album but is right at home here. Classic Mustaine ‘wide stretch’ solo too.

Other thoughts: Shawn Drover’s sound on Endgame is more natural and open than on United Abominations. The word is that producer Andy Sneap decided to go with real drum sounds as opposed to samples this time round, and the added dynamic range recalls Vinnie Colaiuta’s work on The System Has Failed. Also, James Lomenzo has proven himself to be an indispensable part of Megadeth’s sound. He doesn’t roam as much as he did in Zakk Wylde’s Pride & Glory, but he provides a solid, powerful low end and a confident, powerful tone.

And Sneap. Sneap, Sneap, Sneap, Sneap, Sneap. Awesome producer but there’s always a fear that anything he touches will end up sounding like ‘an Andy Sneap record.’ That’s certainly not the case here. While I can’t help feeling that he may have influenced the level of distortion on Dave’s guitars just a little, he seems to have focused on getting the best Megadeth performances possible on Endgame without really stamping his sonic footprint on anything.

So that’s Endgame. Where do I rank it compared to its predecessors? Well I’ve been thinking about this a lot, and the more I listen to it, the more I like it. As of today I’d rank it equal second with Countdown To Extinction, Rust In Peace being number one. I know that probably sounds like a huge call – bands aren’t meant to make super-great albums this far into their career, right? We’d be happy with ‘Well, it doesn’t suck,’ yeah? – but it’s really that good. The fact that Mustaine is out there cranking out soon-to-be-classics like ‘44 Minutes,’ ‘This Day We Fight,’ ‘The Hardest Part Of Letting Go’ and ‘Bodies’ in 2009 when most of his contemporaries are… nah, y’know what? I’m not gonna go there. Endgame should be appreciated on its own merits, for what it is. And what it is, is one of Megadeth’s finest moments.

REVIEW: Lynch Mob – Smoke And Mirrors

Smoke And Mirrors sees the return of singer Oni Logan to the Lynch Mob line-up. He joins drummer Scot Coogan (Brides Of Destruction) and bass player Marco Mendoza (Whitesnake) in backing up guitar legend George Lynch, who despite his reputation as a master shredder has never really felt the need to make Lynch Mob about himself. After seeing Lynch Mob live last year I really got the feeling they were a real band, not a guitarist’s vanity project, and I was psyched to see what they would come up with in the studio. The album will be out September 18th in Europe and October 13th in the USA but I was lucky enough to get to hear it pre-release so, without further ado, and with special emphasis on the guitar aspect since this is a guitar site, I give you Lynch Mob’s Smoke And Mirrors, track by track.

21st Century Man
After about 10 seconds of seductive atmospherics, the Mob kicks in with the driving rhythm of ‘21st Century Man’ and wastes little time in getting to the vocals. Y’know that vibe of being at a gig and the intro tape starts, but before you know it the band is already on stage rockin’ out? Well somehow this CD manages to distil that feeling into zeroes and ones and spit it right back at you through the speakers. Right from the beginning Lynch’s guitar tone is powerful, clear and punchy. Man, this dude really understands how to use a minimum of distortion yet still kick your ass with awesome rock power. There’s a cool dirty flanger tone in the bridge, then the chorus kicks in again and off we go. The vibe of this song kinda reminds me of a slightly slower and less smartass ‘Hammerhead Shark’ by David Lee Roth. In fact, Lynch’s phaser-laden solo at the end seems to tap into a similar post-Van-Halen vibe as Jason Becker summoned on that DLR album. (Audio sample)

Smoke And Mirrors
Ok, here we go with some acoustic bluesiness in the verses, with choruses kicking into meat-and-potatoes late 70s/early 80s hard rock in the style of Whitesnake before they got all hairsprayed and started writhing with Tawny Kitaen on the hood of a Jaguar. This track would be quite at home on modern FM rock radio, but don’t let that scare you off. Lynch even gets in quite a decent amount of wah-wahed slide guitar throughout the verses, and there’s a funky middle section which almost sounds like something from Extreme’s latest CD, Saudades De Rock. Again Lynch’s electric tone is crunchy and dirty but by no means is it distorted, so you can hear every little nuance. It really makes you appreciate what a great all-round guitarist he is, above and beyond his shred hero status. Meanwhile Oni Logan is in fine form vocally, with lots of power and control when needed, but restraint too when that’s called for too. Awesome. (Audio sample)

Lucky Man
More tasty phaser tone in the solo. In terms of pacing, this song is a good choice to follow the second track – it’s another laid back, 70s-ish tune that has a LITTLE bit of an edge but is more suited to being played on Lynch’s Strat-like ESP GL-56 than his Skull & Snakes model. That’s probably the best way to describe these two tracks: it’s the vibe of old American guitars rather than shiny new Japanese shred machines. There’s some straightforward chording and a singalong chorus, which means this one was probably written for the chicks. In concert it’ll probably come about two thirds of the way through the set, when your girlfriend is about to lose it with you for ignoring her so you could check out Lynch’s pedalboard for the past hour. Then this song comes on and you have something to sway together to for a few minutes, and you remember how lucky you are to have an awesome girlfriend who will go to a Lynch Mob gig with you. Then the band kick into Mr Scary and you forget she’s there as you run up to the stage to watch George’s mad fretboard skills again. You jerk. There’d better be a 24-hour flower shop on the way home.

My Kind Of Healer
Oh yeah. This one has a cool riff. A solid rock/funk feel (as opposed to funk-rock). There’s something about this that reminds me of Motley Crue’s John Corabi era without the overwrought Bob Rock production. Listen for some really cool playing by George under the verses; killer tone with wild wah wah licks in the solo; and a few well-placed Chuck Berry licks for good measure. Technically it’s not one of George’s more out-there solos but it fits the song’s vibe perfectly and shows off his ultra-cool phrasing.

Time Keepers
Favourite song on the album! This has a bouncy feel, a moody middle eastern-sounding riff, some killer semi-clean flanger tones in the verses, and a powerful performance from Logan that reminds me of Geoff Tate’s delivery on Queensryche’s Tribe album. It’s hard to really explain how and why this song kicks so much ass but I think it’s fair to say that it you’re a Lynch Mob fence-sitter this one might possibly just sway you over to the HELL YES side of the fence. It’s loud, intricate, powerful and heavy, and if this track isn’t included in live sets I’m staging a mutiny. Listen out for an almost Tom Morello-like tremolo section in the middle right before a killer solo comes in and decimates everything in its path. The rhythm section is really cooking under the solo too. And the phaser is back to help kick the solo section up to a whole extra level. This song is so friggin’ cool.

Revolution Heroes
YES! More of the rock-funk feel from ‘My Kind Of Healer’, and some very cool guitar/bass unison fills tying together every fourth bar of the verses. Nice open-string work from Lynch, while Mendoza kicks ass in the background. Why this dude never played bass for Yngwie I’ll never know. In fact, back it up to the very end of ‘Time Keepers’ and listen to what he does there. Yikes!

Let The Music Be Your Master
The Motley Crue/Corabi reference from earlier pops up in this song, which reminds me a little of ‘Power To The Music’ in the first few bars, but it’s probably a coincidence. There are some very cool Black Sabbath-style vocal melodies from Logan and while there are a few guitars overdubbed for texture, it never loses that organic, real-musicians-rockin-out feel.

The Phacist
This song almost sounds like it could be a leftover Dokken track, yet somehow the main riff also kinda reminds me of some of the more upbeat stuff Devin Townsend does, like ‘Traveller.’ High energy, a cool double-time fist-pumping chorus, and vocal layering that kinda reminds me of Mr. Big’s Eric Martin. This would be a huge song live and a great way to start a gig. Monster tone for Lynch’s solo, with killer phrasing and that legendary vibrato. That phaser pedal pops up for a few notes here and there once again – in fact I haven’t heard a phaser pedal tie an album together as neatly as this since Van Halen 1.

Where Do You Sleep At Night
More cool phaser (actually it sounds like a UniVibe) tones, a ringing chordal riff, and soulful 70s-style vocal performance from Logan. Really, so much of this album sounds like it could have been recorded in the late 70s, but an alternate-universe late 70s where they understood how to record drums properly. A subtle, short, tasty Lynch solo then back into the chorus. Probably not one of the album’s most memorable tracks but certainly not a bad song. It seems perfectly placed within the pacing of the CD.

Madly Backwards
More of the groovy rock-funk feel, combined with a Sabbath-y, ‘Fairies Wear Boots’ type of groove, topped off with an intangible Bowie/T-Rex vibe. Once again Lynch provides a crash course in how to get killer rhythm guitar tones from an overdriven amp, as opposed to a distorted amp. Big difference. Great middle section too, where you can really hear the monster bass tone. Then solo time! This solo has a great live, off-the-cuff feel. Oh and there’s the phaser pedal again. Man, if this album catches on like it should, Lynch is going to shift so many phasers.

We Will Remain
Oh my god! This totally sounds like an Yngwie or Rainbow track without the castles and demons. It has a similar feel to ‘Faster Than The Speed Of Light’ and a crunchy tone that seems to combine Yngwie and EVH. Cool backing vocals. It takes balls to take a song as cool as this and put it second last on the album. This is the kind of song that demands to be played on a big stage with lots of pyro. Coogan kicks ass on this track, pushing just a little ahead of the beat and daring Mendoza and Lynch to keep up. Great tremolo-picked, reverb-soaked pre-solo section, before launching into the solo proper and firing off lots of phaser-enhanced arpeggio flurries, then into some tasteful wah/whammy bar work. More killer vibrato. Then a short post-solo section which I guess I would label ‘Toms Of Doom.’ Seriously, crank this song up to 10 and rattle some windows, but don’t try this while driving. (Audio sample)

Before I Close My Eyes
A poppy, restrained way to close out the album. Warm, ringing chords over a steady bass line. Mind remind some listeners of Bon Jovi. Probably a good choice for a single for FM radio but man, FM radio listeners will have their heads knocked off when they buy the album and happen across ‘We Will Remain,’ ‘Time Keepers’ and ‘Madly Backwards.’ Another chick song. Interestingly, it’s the only track on the CD that fades out. Everything else has a rockworthy ending.

Mansions In The Sky (Bonus track)
Logan seems a little uncomfortable with the lower range of this vocal melody but as the song progresses and the guitar parts opens up, he moves back to where he’s comfortable and puts in a cool, animated performance. Lyrically, this track evokes Dorian Grey. Cool. Another track which could remind some listeners of Dokken, but with more naturalistic production.

So there you have it. Smoke And Mirrors track by track. I don’t know what kind of sentimentality you, dear reader, attach to previous Lynch Mob albums but this is definitely my favourite. You might dig Wicked Sensation more but for me the rawness of Smoke And Mirrors gives it that extra boost. The great moments are fricking awesome, and even the ‘meh’ moments never hit you as bad, they just don’t quite live up to when the band is really cooking. I’d definitely consider this an essential George Lynch album well worthy of pre-order.

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REVIEW: Queensryche – American Soldier

Every time a new Queensryche album is released, the wider rock/metal community asks “Is it as good as Operation: Mindcrime or Empire?” To me this is kind of a futile question: Queensryche have never made the same album twice, and even when they try, as with the recent Operation: Mindcrime II, the results still stand on their own. So there are a lot of things American Soldier is not. It’s not Empire, their 1990 hard rock classic. It’s not Operation: Mindcrime, their 1988 metallic concept masterpiece. It’s not Hear In The Now Frontier, which upon its release in the mid 90s was criticised as being a cynical attempt at appropriating a grunge sound (today it holds up quite well, I might add). But surprisingly, what American Soldier is, is an album which would slip in quite nicely between Empire’s heavier moments and the moody, dark vibe of Promised Land, which happens to be my favourite Queensryche album.

Inspired by a conversation with his father, singer Geoff Tate researched the album by interviewing veterans of various wars the US has been involved in, from World War II up to the current skirmish in Iraq and Afghanistan. The result is a thoroughly researched, painfully up-close look at the experience of war, spoken through Tate’s interpretations and through snippets of the actual interview recordings. Writing about war is certainly not new to hard rock or metal, but while we’re used to bands writing something Slayeresque about battle after maybe watching Saving Private Ryan, the music and delivery of American Soldier is much more personal: you’re hearing these stories from people who actually did it, from the soldiers who actually survived it. And that’s a pretty powerful thing, even for Queensryche who are used to making strong statements.

The Jason Slater-produced (with Kelly Gray) CD opens with ‘Sliver,’ which brings to mind elements of Promised Land. A snaking unison bass/guitar riff and a huge harmonised chorus appear quite early into the song, throwing the listener deep into the thick of the album’s overall vibe almost from the very beginning. It’s no doubt designed to introduce the listener to the album musically as well as thematically, and to reassure the listener that the medium (kickass rock) won’t be overshadowed by the message. In fact there’s a great push-pull between riff-based and chord-based songs on the album.

Track two, ‘Unafraid,’ is one of the album highlights for me, and a continuation of some of the musical concepts the band attempted on its Tribe album. There are a few riffs which may remind some listeners of Dream Theater, while sole guitarist Michael Wilton lets rip with one of his best solos since the Empire days. ‘Hundred Mile Stare’ is more chordal than riffy, and again sounds kinda like something from Tribe. It’s indicative of about half the music on the album, where the music hangs back a bit to serve the telling of the story.

Perhaps my favourite song on the album from a musical perspective is the crushing ‘A Dead Man’s Words,’ which really plays up the Promised Land comparisons. The seductive middle-eastern riffs and scales play in the background while Tate layers his vocals and even throws in a saxophone solo. Parts of this song may also remind some listeners of the band’s Seattle neighbours Alice In Chains.

By the way, check out the cool harmonized solo in ‘The Killer,’ a track which is not too far removed from ‘Flood,’ the opening track of Tate’s self-titled solo album. Wilton does a great job of shifting the emphasis between the high and low harmonies in this solo, recalling Queensryche’s earlier sound and providing a moment of satisfaction for those who just wish the band would stick with its Mindcrime sound.

The single ‘If I Were King’ has thrown some listeners, but in the context and pacing of the album it works well. It may not have been my choice for first single but I can understand why it was selected: while it’s not overly indicative of the musical style of the album as a whole, it’s a good thematic introduction. And although this puts me at odds with some QR fans, I really liked their Q2K album and this track is a bit of a reminder of that sound (and it’s no coincidence, given that American Solider includes production and guitar contributions from Gray, who was with the band for Q2K). But once again, those who may be put off the album by the sound of this single needn’t worry: American Soldier is more riffy, dark and intense than this one track would indicate. 

‘If I Were King’ is followed by the powerful and very very loud ‘Man Down!’ which has a huge drum sound and a bed of evolving, churning guitars. There’s also another harmonized Wilton solo which once again recalls the Mindcrime sound without directly copying it.

In ‘Home Again,’ Tate plays the role of a father who is overseas on duty, while his 10-year-old daughter Emily Tate voices the little girl at home, missing her dad. The song is played out as letters back and forth between father and daughter, both saying pretty much the same things to each other while thousands of miles apart. I’m sure that somewhere not too far below the surface the two Tates are drawing parallels between Geoff being off on tour, and a parent being away at war. Emily’s naïve voice expresses the song’s central sentiment in a realistic and naturalistic way which cuts through in a way that perhaps a more theatrical vocalist couldn’t. Finally, American Soldier is capped off with ‘The Voice,’ which includes recordings of Tate’s own father talking about his experiences at war. Musically it’s another strong song, but thematically it’s devastating: a wounded soldier is laying wounded, thinking what may be a dialog with a higher power, or their conscience, or perhaps the distant ghost of comforting memories.

American Soldier may very well be Queensryche’s best moment since Promised Land, and the way the band is handling the marketing of the album is very sensitive and true to the message. Those looking for another Empire may be disappointed, but those with an open mind who are looking to be moved and rocked will have their heart torn by the narrative, and their butts thoroughly kicked by the music.

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Photos (c) Greg Watermann