Saturday, September 23, 2017

**RETRO REVIEW** NEVADA BEACH "Zero Day"

(c) 1990 Metal Blade

  1. Rough House
  2. Waiting For An Angel
  3. On Zero Day
  4. Action Reaction
  5. Only The Fool
  6. Back For Blood
  7. Walking Dead
  8. Stand
  9. Big Zero
  10. Gagged And Bound
Hank Decken--Lead Vocals, Lead Guitars
Geoff Safford--Guitars, Vocals
Tony Rivers--Bass, Vocals
John Murphy--Drums, Vocals

By 1990, the "hair metal" scene was in full-swing, and everyone, including long-time "traditional metal" labels were jumping on the bandwagon, trying to cash in on the insanely popular scene.  Of course, this oversaturation would be a contributing factor to the eventual collapse of the scene, but everybody was too busy partying and worshiping at the alter of the guitar gods to pay any attention.  Metal Blade took a shot on a relatively unknown band, Nevada Beach, hoping they would help to increase the label's market share among the hair crowd.

On the surface, it shouldn't have been that big of a risk, really, as Nevada Beach definitely had the look and the sound of the day.  Lead vocalist/guitarist, Hank Decken, at times sounds a lot like Dirty Looks' lead singer, Henrik Ostergard, but musically, Nevada Beach leans more toward the big, arena hard rock sound than they do toward the AC/DC worship of Dirty Looks.  If I had to draw a comparison to another band or two from the time, I would have to say Nevada Beach could be aligned with early Bangalore Choir, with perhaps a bit of Britny Fox and some Jackyl thrown into the mix.

Overall, this is a pretty solid listen with some big, hard rocking anthems that could have possibly become minor staples in the genre had they received more exposure and come along a couple of years early.  "Waiting For An Angel", in my opinion, should have been the first track on the record, as it is very catchy, has a simple-but-singable chorus, is "video ready" in terms of subject matter and song-style, and is just a fun, party-styled song that was all over rock radio back in the day.  "On Zero Day" is another reall fun song that features thundering drums, a catchy hook, nice groove, and some cool gang-shouting on the extremely simplistic sing-along chorus.  "Action Reaction" is a track that I think the Britny Fox comparison can be heard in fairly easily, and the bluesy guitars of the record's big ballad, "Only The Fool", are very well done on one of the better power ballads you have likely never heard.  I think with a different singer...or at least with more vocal training for Decken...this song could have been a huge radio hit, but as it stands, "Only The Fool" is one of those nuggets that is fun to dig out of unheralded albums from the 80s and 90s.  "Stand" is another cool track with a bit of a bump-n-grind rhythm to it, a tasty guitar solo, and some really good backing vocals on the chorus.  Nicely done here.  "Big Zero" is another bluesy power ballad that had all sorts of potential to be a hit, but maybe Metal Blade already saw the writing on the wall for this style of music and had pulled the plug on the project, because there was, ahem, a big zero in terms of promotion or pushing of this record.

At times the album gets a bit cliche, with "Back For Blood" being a prime example of a song that, while nicely executed musically, has little to the songwriting that would hold the listener's imagination for very long.  Album opener, "Rough House" rocks pretty hard, but had no real radio potential, and "Walking Dead" is pretty plain-Jane with a lead-in guitar riff that sounds like those used by dozens and dozens of songs of the time; not a horrible song...just not really memorable, once again.  "Gagged And Bound" closes the album with a song that I could hear Damn Yankees tackling, carrying a vibe similar to tracks like "Pile Driver", with a really good guitar solo, although not as frenzied as anything Nugent would pull off, and the overall feel of the song, while catchy, is definitely not as polished as Damn Yankees material.

The packaging is pretty standard fare for the time, with lyrics to all the songs included, along with a thank-you section, and a single, black-and-white band photo.  The production is decent, with nice attention paid to keeping the drums big and the guitars out front, but not burying the bass in the mix, either.  The backing vocals, apparently provided by the entire band, are one of the highlights of the disc, as they have the gang-shouting thing down pat, and the guys can also harmonize on the more melodic-styled backing vocals, as well.

Overall, Zero Day is a fun disc to throw in from time to time, and it's a record that will likely have a few of your similarly musically inclined friends asking, "who's this?"  While it is fairly rare, simply because I think its pressing was pretty low, it isn't too hard to find this record for $10-$15 on eBay, although some sellers like to slap that "rare" or "vintage" tag on it and try to pass it off as a $25-$40 disc, which it simply is not.  It is worth seeking out, however, and I doubt anyone will be disappointed with Zero Day when it shows up in the mailbox.

Rating:  Definitely a gem in the rough, rock-worthy with some crankable moments, I'd suggest spinning Nevada Beach's Zero Day up to 6.5, maybe a 7.

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Friday, September 22, 2017

SPOKEN "IX"

(c) 2017 The Fuel Music & 1992 Records

  1. This Is Not The End
  2. Stronger
  3. Dying Without You
  4. Silence
  5. I Will Not Fade
  6. Remember The Memories
  7. Pages Of The Past
  8. The Light
  9. Sleepless Nights
  10. In My Sight
Matt Baird--Vocals
Scoop Roberts--Guitars

Spoken returns after not quite 2 years to follow up their highly regarded album, Breathe Again,with the aptly-named IX, the ninth album in the band's career.  Matt Baird is the sole remaining member of the band and is, in fact, now the only member of the band period according to Facebook, with Scoop Roberts retiring from touring last November and announcing that this would be his final album.  

When I talk to my musically-interested friends about Spoken, the number one thing I hear is "all of their songs sound the same".  To the uninitiated who have only heard the crushingly heavy moments from the band, I guess I could kind of understand where they are coming from, although I would personally disagree, as despite the often-screamed-vocals approach utilized by Baird, there is definitely diversity in the structure and musical approach of even the heaviest material the band has put on record. 

Speaking of heavy, Spoken comes charging hard out of the gate on this record, with "This Is Not The End" featuring some seriously aggressive guitars, matched by the ferocity of Baird's vocals as he screams about not giving up and not losing hope, even in the darkness of one's life.  "Stronger" seems to pick up where "...Not The End" leaves off, lyrically, as it encourages the listener to soldier on, declaring "what is left of me will never give up the fight".  "I Will Not Fade" is probably the heaviest track on the record, with some seriously crushing guitar riffs roaring over the top of some electronic elements and setting the stage for some truly angry, throaty snarls and screams from Baird as he tells the listener "it's not too late to rise above all the regrets, all the mistakes that I've made".  Of the hard-hitting material, this is my favorite track on the record with its pummeling pre-chorus, relentless drumming, and vocals that alternate between the harsh and the melodic.  The complete package for long-time fans of the band, to be sure.

"Remember The Memories" has to win the award for most redundant title...possibly ever...but it is a solid, slightly slower song, with a great message about the legacy we leave behind.  "Pages Of The Past" then ramps the energy back up with some more electronic elements and heavy guitars, but for some reason this track just doesn't jump out at me like several of the others in the first 2/3 of this record.  Not a bad song, just not memorable, I guess is what I would say, and certainly doesn't grab hold of me like "I Will Not Fade".

The last three songs on this record take a SERIOUS left turn from the rest of the album, as Spoken downshifts into a mellower mode.  "The Light" is what I guess I would call a "typical" Spoken ballad, with a solid modern rock approach similar to some of the material from the past two albums. "Sleepless Nights" is a simply gorgeous ballad, chock full of soaring guitar work that reminds me very much of the harder-edged adult contemporary work David Zaffiro (ex-Bloodgood) did with his last couple of records.  Seriously, I had no idea Spoken had this kind of musicality in them.  And as if to prove "Sleepless Nights" wasn't a fluke, album closer, "In My Sight" features some equally excellent, soulful guitar work and finds Baird challenging himself for what his most expressive vocal performance is on this, or any other record!  To those who complain of the sameness of Spoken's work, I would rapidly cue up this song and let them explain where they have ever heard Spoken sound like this in the past.  Truly excellent musicianship here and two of the best songs I have heard from the band...ever, in back to back fashion.  Love it.

I have searched high and low for the rest of the musicians on this album, if there are any, but none are listed in the sparse notes of this album, so perhaps Matt and Scoop did everything here.  Four of the tracks here get co-writes from Josiah Prince, guitarist of Disciple, but there is no mention of him playing, and there are really are no musical similarities between the bands other than the fact that they are both heavy modern rock, but who knows.  My copy is autographed, but I can't make heads or tails of the names scrawled in gold on my album cover!  The "band" is currently on tour, so SOMEBODY has to be playing with Matt, and when I figure out who performs what on this record, I will definitely amend this review.  Regardless, this is a great effort,with some extremely heavy momentsalong with a fairly standard Spoken balled followed by two of the band's most laid back, musically emotional moments...ever...on the final three tracks of the record.      

If you are wanting to dive into this band for the first time...or if you are wanting to introduce a friend...I wouldn't likely recommend IX as the ideal starting point; for that I would probably suggest Breathe Again, although Illusion is a really good record as well, and I am a fan of the band's output on Tooth & Nail Records also, especially Spoken.  That being said, IX is a record that I think any fan of the band should seek out so that they can experience the growth and musical diversity of what too many people label as a one-dimensional band.

Rating:  Crank this to a 7, with the diversity being a huge bonus here, even if the track listing is stacked a bit oddly, at least to me.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

LA GUNS "The Missing Peace"

(c) 2017 Frontiers Records

  1. Its All The Same To Me
  2. Speed 
  3. Drop Of Bleach
  4. Sticky Fingers
  5. Christine
  6. Baby Got A Fever
  7. Kill It Or Die
  8. Don't Bring A Knife To A Gunfight
  9. The Flood's The Fault Of The Rain
  10. The Devil Made Me Do It
  11. The Missing Peace
  12. Gave It All Away
Phil Lewis--Lead Vocals
Tracii Guns--Lead Guitars
Michael Grant--Guitars
Johnny Martin--Bass
Shane Fitzgibbon--Drums

I don't know if there has been a band in the history of rock n roll that has had more line-up changes and members than LA Guns.  Seriously.  To try to connect the dots of who has been in that band is about as twisted and warped as a game of drunken Twister!  But the two key components in all of the great albums the band has released have always been Phil Lewis and Tracii Guns (no disprespect to Steve Riley intended).  Yes, there have been some really good LA Guns records since the split of the duo, but nothing that has touched the quality of the first three records, LA Guns, Cocked & Loaded, and Hollywood Vampires.  

In the world of hard rock, there have been a LOT of never-gonna-happen reunions over the years.  David Lee Roth will never play with Van Halen again.  KISS will never reunite.  Guns N Roses will never see Axl and Slash on the same stage again. You know the drill.  And as unlikely as all of those were, each and every one of them happened.  And, as you can see in the line-up for this album, one of the most unlikely reunions has occurred on The Missing Peace, as Tracii Guns has returned to his namesake band to join Phil Lewis on a record for the first time since 2002's Waking The Dead album.

Fifteen years is a long time to go between records, to be sure, but as we all know, there have been several albums in between the commercially-disappointing but musically-interesting Vicious Circle record.  Phil has managed to largely keep the traditional LA Guns sound alive with a mish-mash of band members, releasing a handful of really good records (Hollywood Forever and Tales From The Strip being the best)...and a couple of not-so-good records as well.  This new album definitely slots in with the "really good records" section, as it combines elements of the first three records with the harder, angrier edge that was present on Vicious Circle.  Still sleazy, still punkish, the new album also features an angst, an aggression...even an urgency...that has not been present for so many years.  This is evident from the get-go, as the drums kick in and Guns' sneering riffage comes to life on "It's All The Same To Me", before Grant's second guitar joins in and Lewis' unmistakable rasp claws its way through the opening verse of this sassy rocker.  Beautiful in it's simplicity and catchy as can be, "All The Same..." is instantly identifiable as LA Guns, and has the feel of the Hollywood scene, but it also feels like a rawer, hungrier version of the band than the last time Phil and Tracii worked together.  There's no slick layer of polish on this track (or anywhere on the record, for that matter), just bare bones hard rock the way the band was introduced to me all those years ago.

Lead single and video, "Speed", carries much the same urgent feeling as it charges along at full throttle, guitars churning and burning their way across a breakneck drum and bass line.  Tracii rips into a high speed fret burner before the final gang-shouted chorus kicks in, and Phil sounds exactly has he always has, which is amazing to me considering the mileage that has to have accrued on his vocal chords over the years.

 

"Sticky Fingers" is one of the real treats on the record, with a huge guitar riff that grabs you right from the onset of the song, a big, sweeping guitar solo section, and a catchy, atypical phrasing style utilized by Lewis on the verse sections of the song, which is my absolute favorite on this new record.  This song is HUGE, an absolute arena anthem, if such things still exist.  An instant classic, in my opinion, this is one track that I feel MUST be included in setlists going forward.

"Christine" and "The Flood's The Fault Of The Rain" are the big ballads of the record, which are pretty much a requirement following the enormity of the song "Ballad Of Jayne" a couple of decades ago.  I think most long-time fans are going to grab hold of "Christine" as their favorite, with the bluesy swagger of the guitars and the nicely layered vocals, but I find myself leaning more toward "The Flood..." which has a definite "House Of The Rising Sun" feel to it.  In fact, its almost uncanny how much the two tracks share a vibe and flow, with the Guns obviously adding a heft and edge to their song that the Animals would not have ever thought to include back in the early 60s.  Lewis' yowl is perfectly suited for this retro-ballad, and the guitar vibe is excellent here.  My second fave off the record, no question, and another song that I would beg the band to include in a live setting.

Speaking of faves, its also impossible to deny the catchiness of "The Devil Made Me Do It", with its big, gang-shouted chorus section of "Lord have mercy!" that feels a lot like something Motley Crue might have done back in the Dr. Feelgood days, but with a much nastier guitar solo and a snarkiness that hasn't been heard on an album from one of the classic Hollywood bands in many, many years.  The title track also worms its way into the best of the best on this effort, with a big, epic feel that isn't quite power ballad, but also never completely breaks into a full-throttle rocker, either.  And I can't discount how much I enjoy the album's closing track, "Gave It All Away", which Phil absolutely floods with emotion, especially as he bleeds pain into the chorus while Tracii and Michael Grant are riffing away in the background.  A truly great way to close this amazing return.

Tracii is in fine form throughout the record, but he is at his flashiest on the uptempo "Don't Bring A Knife To A Gunfight", where he smokes his way through an absolutely scorching solo that is so reminiscent of the material he used to unleash on a regular basis back in the 80s.   For a dirtier sound, check out the solo he rips through on "A Drop Of Bleach", which is an absolutely blazing rocker for much of the track, backing off only slightly on the chorus sections before ramping back up to charge through the verses.  The second guitar provided by Michael Grant really adds depth to the sound here, allowing the riffs to continue to run throughout tracks while Tracii goes off into guitar god territory, and the rhythm section is exceptionally tight here, which is going to go overlooked by many old-school fans who are still geeking out at Phil and Tracii recording together again.

I have to wonder if the title of this record isn't a bit apropos here, as it would seem the thing that was missing from LA Guns, the piece that was needed to get the band back to a level they hadn't really approached in more than 25 years, was the "peace" between Phil and Tracii.  I have no idea about where they are with each other personally; maybe they can't stand each other, even today.  But it is apparent they have at least found a way to co-exist peacefully long enough to put together a record that I dare say will challenge many die-hard fans to question their ranking of the band's catalog.  While it remains to be seen how time will treat this record for me, I'm not so sure I wouldn't slot this in as my second favorite LA Guns record, because it is so good and so complete feeling.  No skippers, no filler, no pointless intros, outros, or interludes, just a snarling collection of sleaze-drenched rockers and a couple of big power ballads fashioned from some really good songwriting and musical execution.   Edgy, sleazy, gritty...and yet still allowing for a bit of fun...The Missing Peace is everything I could have hoped for in an LA Guns reunion album, minus, of course, a full reunion with Steve Riley, Kelly Nickels, and Mick Cripps, which will likely never happen.  But then again...never say never, right?  

Rating:  Raw, amped, and dripping with sleaze, crank this to a 8.5!

Saturday, September 9, 2017

THOUSAND FOOT KRUTCH "Untraveled Roads Live"

(c) 2017  TKF Music/The Fuel Music

  1. Running With Giants
  2. Light Up The Sky
  3. The River
  4. Push
  5. Untraveled Road
  6. Let The Sparks Fly
  7. Born This Way
  8. Courtesy Call
  9. Be Somebody
  10. War Of Change
  11. The End Is Where We Begin
  12. A Different Kind Of Dynamite
Trevor McNevan--Lead Vocals
Joel Bruyere--Bass
Steve Augustine--Drums
Andrew Welch--Guitars

Thousand Foot Krutch offers up their second live album in just five years, which is a bit of an oddity, especially since the band is independently releasing Untraveled Roads on their own TFK Music label.  Frequently, live albums are contract fillers, but that is obviously not the case here.  What the band does do differently this time around is they focus exclusively on material from their past three albums, so some long-time fans may feel a bit shorted on the tracklisting, and issue we will get to in just a minute.

Untraveled Roads was recorded during this year's WinterJam Tour, which found the band making 46 stops in front of over half-a-million people.  All of that touring has served TFK well, as the band on this record is a finely tuned, well-oiled machine, firing on all cylinders and packing a ton of energy into these 12 tracks.  McNevan showcases an excellent live range and solid vocal command throughout the set, only shifting to a lower key on a couple of occasions, seemingly more to catch his breath for the next section than simply because he couldn't hit the notes.  This is most obvious on the second track, "Light Up The Sky", where he drops lower for the chorus intro, "excuse me while I...".  However, he is able to rip the top off the higher ends of the chorus here, and throughout the rest of the record, so this was likely done for dramatic effect, or simply to save a bit for the rest of the show.

The mix is excellent here, with plenty of bottom end throughout, and touring guitar player, Andrew Welch, nails his parts at every opportunity. I'm not sure who is doing the backing vocals (I believe it's Bruyere), but they do an really good job of supporting the high-energy McNevan, who is surpassed only by John Cooper from Skillet as the most active, most dynamic front man in the Christian rock industry.  Speaking of McNevan and TFK being a Christian band, the singer does take a brief moment at the end of track eight, "Courtesy Call", to talk to the crowd about Christ and his faith, but he isn't preachy by any means, rather speaking conversationally to the audience about being accepted by Christ rather than being concerned about being accepted by today's culture, which leads into one of the band's most recent hits, "Be Somebody", which is given even more of an emotional punch in the live setting. 

As I mentioned previously, the track listing here comes exclusively from the last three albums, The End Is Where We Begin, Oxygen: Inhale, and their most recent studio effort, Exhale.  As such, there are a few tracks that I was surprised weren't included here, most notably "Fly On The Wall" and "I Get Wicked" from The End..., and "Lifeline" from Exhale.  It's also very hard for me to not wait for long-time fan favorites like "Rawkfist" to show up in the mix somewhere, and I'm not going to lie, I would've LOVED to hear the band throw in their cover of Collective Soul's "Where The River Flows", although that would've obviously been a real stretch for inclusion here...but hey, a guy can dream, right?

All in all, I found Untraveled Roads to be a fun listen, and a largely complete collection of their greatest hits from the past five years.  Overall, the missing classic songs notwithstanding, I think this is a better live record than Live At The Masquerade, which is saying something, as I thought that live record was very well done overall.  But the sound quality of the band here is just that much better, that much tighter, that much more polished and yet still punchy. The band is in complete control of their sound and presentation throughout the record, and I sincerely hope there is a live DVD to go along with this CD so that people get the chance to see these guys in the live setting.  Better yet, if you get the chance, you should do yourself a favor and head out to see them live if you get the chance.  

Rating:  I generally don't "rate" live albums, but I will say that this effort from TFK is definitely crankable and very enjoyable.  What the heck...crank it to 8 and let the sparks fly!

Friday, September 8, 2017

BOBAFLEX "Eloquent Demons"

(c) 2017 Thermal Entertainment

  1. Eloquent Demons (Intro)
  2. I Am A Nightmare
  3. Long Time Coming
  4. Say What You Will
  5. Lights Out
  6. Real Sadness
  7. Off With Your Head
  8. Moon And Shadows
  9. Hey You
  10. Reckless
Marty McCoy--Guitar, Vocals
Shaun McCoy--Guitar, Vocals
Dave Tipple--Guitar, Vocals
Tommy Johnson--Drums
Jymmy Tolland--Bass

Bobaflex is a band that confounds me.  No, that's not fair; it's not the band that confounds me.  What confounds me is the lack of respect the band seems to garner in the hard rock community.  I really don't know what people want from a band these days, I guess, because there is ZERO reason that Bobaflex isn't a much bigger name than they are.  Perhaps Eloquent Demons, the eighth album from the McCoy Brothers and Company will change this fact and finally be the album that breaks the band in a huge way.

Now, I'm not saying that no one knows who Bobaflex is, or that they have had no success at all, because they have.  Tracks such as "Chemical Valley", "I'm Glad You're Dead", "Bury Me With My Guns On", and the excellent cover of "Sound Of Silence" have all made dents in the charts and on rock radio.  But the sheer talent this band brings to the table, from the infectious hooks and churning guitars, to the pounding drums and the extremely tight vocal harmonies, Bobaflex delivers so much more than your average modern hard rock band.

On Eloquent Demons, Bobaflex ups their game to a height they have not previously reached, and that's saying something.  Yeah, yeah, there's a dreaded (and, to my ears, somewhat dreadful...) intro that I have played exactly ONE time, but once that mini-distraction is out of the way, this is a fantastic hard rock record!  From the blistering hard rock of "Reckless", the scorching "Say What You Will" and the heavier, more groove-intensive "Long Time Coming", to the outstanding, melodic cover of Pink Floyd's classic, "Hey You", Bobaflex shows a musical flexibility not commonly found today.  Elsewhere, "Real Sadness" will likely have people making at least loose connections between the band and the sludgy, grungy metallic tones of Alice In Chains, which is a dang good thing for this guy.



If I had to pick a favorite track that really sums up what Bobaflex has created here, I would have to point to the truly excellent, "I Am A Nightmare".In many ways, this track reminds me of some of the dirtier, grittier Sunset strip bands, especially when you hear the killer vocal harmonizing and the absolutely SCREAMING guitar solo, not to mention the sneering attitude the track is delivered with.  Sure, it's still a modern sounding track, as should be expected, but the throwback attitude and execution can't be overlooked.  I absolutely love this track and would relish the opportunity to hear it performed live.  It is a guarantee that this song is going to be dropped immediately into my personal Bobaflex playlist that accompanies me to the gym on a regular basis!  

"Off With Your Head" doesn't really deliver in quite the same way as most of the rest of this record, though it is impossible to deny the catchiness of the simple melody and the delivery of the chorus, which can only be described as tongue-in-cheek, considering the aggressive-sounding title.  However, this little hiccup is quickly covered up by the howl of a wolf, the pounding of drums, and the chugging guitars that lead "Moon And Shadows" in.  Classic Bobaflex right here, as the rhythm section is insanely tight and just dares you to not start pounding your fists and snapping your neck along with the beat, even in its slightly off-kilter moments, which only further add to the intrigue of this penultimate track on the record.  And speaking of those bass and drum sounds, Johnson and Tolland deserve a hearty round of applause for their efforts on this record, as they do an excellent job of being the backbone of this rock-n-roll monster of a record.

The mix and production here are very solid on this first effort from the band on their new label, Thermal Entertainment.  The artwork is pretty much standard Bobaflex fare, which means it's pretty dang cool, but I can't make any further comments about the packaging here, as mine is a digital promo copy.

To say I am a fan of Bobaflex is an easy call to make, and I have had the pleasure of meeting and hanging with the guys after a live show.  And as much as I have thoroughly enjoyed their previous efforts, especially Charlatan's Web and Anything That Moves, there is no doubt in my mind that Eloquent Demons has taken the band to a new level.

These guys tour pretty much non-stop, so there is really no reason to not take in a Bobaflex show somewhere relatively close to your neck of the woods.  It will be a killer show, no question.

Rating:  Crank this sucker and crank it mightily!  Definitely an 9 for Eloquent Demons!