Thursday, September 30, 2010

MASS - FIGHTER


Mass is one of those bands that have kicked around for years putting out some really outstanding melodic hard rock with a decidedly metal edge. Most fans of the band got their first taste with the Michael Sweet (Stryper) produced Voices in the Night, circa 1988 that was released on Enigma Records.

What most fans of Mass don’t realize is that they had actually recorded a full length album in 1982 for A&M Records that was NEVER released! That is until now, courtesy of Retroactive Records and the band themselves the first ever release of Fighter.

Produced by Tom Allom of Judas Priest fame, this album has a bit more live feel to it. The fact that it doesn’t feel ‘perfect’ only adds to the appeal for me, as many of the later 80’s artists continued to shoot for ‘perfect’(almost to a sterile quality devoid of feel) here is a glimpse of what Mass undoubtedly sounded like in a live setting.

Four of the songs ended up on Mass’s 1985 album for RCA entitled New Birth. The tracks of note are Too Far Gone, Voyager, Do You Love Me, and Watch Her Walk. I’m sure many fans will want to compare the differences between the two versions.

All the Mass trademarks are here, from their razor sharp guitar tones, strong melodic chorus’s, vocal harmonies, and their penchant for writing stellar hooks.

The production is probably the only thing that ‘dates’ this release, not with poor sounding tones, but with the ‘large’ reverb type sound. However on the flip side that does add to the live feel. Bad Man’s Reputation is one of my favorite tracks here and it rocks! I can almost imagine the band playing right in front of me due to this albums sound.

If you’re a fan of the bands earlier work or Stryper, Liberty n Justice you will want to get this album. Just imagine if say Stryper had recorded a complete album for a major label and it was vaulted for over 20 years, well that is what you have here.

Fighter is a solid release that will leave fans old and new very pleased and wondering why this wasn’t released sooner.

7 axes
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Friday, September 17, 2010

DARKWATER - WHERE STORIES END


Darkwaters latest release Where Stories End is a triumph. A progressive cavalcade of melodies and musical exploration Where Stories End soars with conviction and passion. The majority of material is delivered with authority and command while not neglecting subtly or nuances that endure the material to the listener.

One of the things I noticed immediately was the warmth of the sound. A fabulous sonic array of tones which hold true throughout, in comparison to their previous release on a production level Where Stories End is vastly superior. The drum sound is fuller and the guitars feel more rich and emotive, while the keyboards add the appropriate textures that define each song.

From the rich opening notes of Breathe to the epic feel of Into the Cold. Where Stories End is a natural progression from Darkwater’s previous material. Some may view ‘progression’ as a note of ‘change’ in a negative view that is not the case here. One of the things apparent to me here is that 90% of the album is comprised of songs in the 6-9 minute length, with the opener under 5 minutes. Whether or not that has any bearing on anything is left to the individual.

An audio meandering across the pallet of compositions will definitely provide you with a stellar feast of musical delight. In the Blink of an Eye, provides a driving rhythm that ventures into other musical territory as it weaves in and out the vocal melodies provided by Henrik B├ąth. Henriks vocal performance is wonderful as he delivers a mesmerising performance. The changing of time and rhythm occur throughout the song with a tasteful guitar solo. Dovetailing on this thought one must simply listen to Without a Sound, tremendous.

For me the highlight is the second song entitled Why I Bleed. Not just because it’s the longest song on the album, but the haunting melody and various changes just provide the musical punch to knock me out. Fields of Sorrow does the same which a slightly heavier vibe. In a live setting I’m sure DarkWater would be a knock out.

The only real aspect I cannot comment on is the lyrical content as the musical advances given by the promotion companies don’t include lyrics. This is too bad, because I’m aware that DarkWater has something good to say, but being unable to comment on it is a hindrance.

If you’ve listened to any of the online samples for this release and were happy with them you won’t be disappointed with this release. Stellar musicianship, but stellar songs make Where Stories End a must buy.

Emil at Ulterium has another great album on his hands. DarkWater will hopefully make some more headway in the scene with this release. They should because the high quality product given here is one of astonishingly smooth elegance. Prog fans should unite and make this album a top seller for 2010. A big thumbs up from here.


9 axes
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Saturday, September 11, 2010

BROKEN FLESH - FOREVER IN FLAMES


Somehow Broken Flesh’s 2009 debut album on Sullen Records, Forever in Flames, escaped my notice last year. However courtesy of James at Untombed this situation has changed. I was even more intrigued after hearing the members of Grave Robber rave via Facebook about Broken Flesh’s live show.

So after spinning this release several times it is clear that Forever in Flames is as heavy as a ten ton lead weight. Uncompromising Death Metal which is long on bombast and short on subtlety. Straight ahead and brutal with a lyrical conviction that is impossible to miss, Broken Flesh make it clear about their convictions. The delivery matches their intensity.

From the opening strands of Yeshua to the closing assault of Walls of Lies this intense barrage of sonic wonder takes no prisoners. Of course after such descriptions some might wonder, is this just a wall of noise?? To the uninitiated it may seem that way at first, but if you’re willing to dig right below the surface I believe you’ll be pleasantly surprised, I know I was.

There are melodies here amongst the carnage that have a way of manifesting themselves in subtle ways (subtle???) that leave the listener hooked for sure. Not every song speeds continually by at the speed of light, there is plenty of blast beats and double kick action, but the arrangements are evident and deliberate. Is this melodic death metal, NO WAY, but even death metal can have a melody of sorts.

The production has a dirty overture, but it doesn’t detract from the music in any way. As a matter of fact the separation of instruments and vocals is done quite well. Nothing is completely lost, however the drums seem to get a tad overshadowed from time to time but not a distraction. Kevin Tubby’s vocals cut through the carnage and with the inclosed lyric sheet one can truly understand the vocalizations.

One can feel the heaviness of Krig, but the direct assault of A Hill to Die Upon. Forever in Flames is a powerful and solid debut from Broken Flesh. Tremendous riffs amongst a wall of sound that isn’t easily matched. Here’s to the next Broken Flesh release which many fans (including this one) are already clamoring for.

7 axes

Sunday, September 5, 2010

LINE OF FIRE - MOMENTUM


Line of Fire’s latest release entitled Momentum, is nothing short of sheer melodic rock genius. Glorious vocal harmonies and hooks that slice to the bone while embedding themselves deep in your psyche. Top drawer production seals the deal; a strong demanding urge to play it at full volume to share with others is the last item on the agenda.

Shawn Pelata clearly shows that he has one of the finest voices currently in the melodic rock arena. Vocally Shawn’s strength, grit and depth provide the power to cut across the finely tuned instrumentation underneath. The vocal harmonizations are top drawer excursions into musical bliss, reminiscent of Boston, these exploits are just not heard with the same quality in today’s musical environment. Some may quip ‘What about Stryper?’ perhaps, but their harmonies are clean and shiny. The vocal lines here have more balls, determination and strength.

Musically the band itself provides the appropriate counter balance to Shawn’s vocal grit and angst. The songs themselves are musical passages, which simply cannot be ignored. Wonderful arranging and instrumental interplay through out this album deliver these infectious bits of whimsy to the listener with ease. Hitting replay on your player will be easier than anything else you’ve done this summer.

Nikki Damage and Ed Darst show what it means to play tastefully with each other. Both men provide some exceptionally high brow guitar playing; they don’t over do it but seem to know instinctively where to place their parts in the songs.

The lyrics throughout this album continually provide a positive and message to keep fighting through life. Even when the chips are down, and in some cases gone, these messages of encouragement and words of empathy are delivered to the listener with a strong sense of camaraderie. These guys have all been in some of the hardest times imaginable and they tell us all ‘We passed through the fire and so can you.’

This is a hard rock record which is destined for long, hot drives and mountain driving. It’s not an album you can only listen to once, that would be a crime. If you love melodic rock n roll such as Boston, Journey or Firehouse this album is a must. Line of Fire breathed life into an art form (melodic hard rock) that was in need of some life. Do yourself a favor and grab this disc sooner rather than later. You’ll be glad you did.


8 axes

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LINE OF FIRE - LINE OF FIRE


The debut release by Line of Fire is not to be missed. After a five year hiatus this catalog of melodic rock anthems is now available once again and not a moment too soon. Compositions of encouragement and driving rock n roll shouldn’t be neglected. With a unique timeliness, many of the songs here are simply astounding.

The mass appeal of these melodies is evident from the first listen. Catchy and mesmerizing you’ll find yourself humming along and not even realizing it. This re-release dovetails the release of their new album entitled Momentum.

However as it seems that Momentum took page from the Foreigner catalog, this debut album took a page from the Boston archives. In both cases neither one is a rip off but clearly an homage that says, ‘these bands influenced us but we’re own band.’

A tremendous amount of passion went into the making of this album that much is clear. The crafting of each passage almost feels as if they were composing more than a rock album, but something for a time capsule of their lives. The members of Line of Fire have had a rather trying past five years. Personal tragedy marked each member with its indelible mark.

It is with great empathy that I hope they were able to listen to their own creation, because listening to these songs definitely grant assurance to the listener. Faith in Fire, Salvations Edge are prime examples of ‘hold on till the end’ type songs. As someone who has walked in the valley they've brought me encouragement.

This deluxe edition has two extra tracks which represent different versions of both, Remind Me and Can’t You See. Nice touches on both and essential for the Line of Fire fan.

The bottom line here is that this disc rocks and you’ll have a hard time getting out of your CD player, or changing the folder on your MP3 player. Just hearing Shawn Pelata crank out these sensational vocals will give you chills. Fans of melodic hard rock will want to get this release and get it quickly.


8 axes
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Friday, September 3, 2010

UP FROM THE ASHES 3 ..... The Review

Up From the Ashes 3 was a celebration of 25 years of Heaven’s Metal/HM and the musical assemblage had much from the past and just as much from the modern day of heavy metal. The artists assembled had various methods of expression from thrash to punk/Goth to progressive to the melodic with Jesus Christ as the impetus for their musical expressions.

Bill Bafford of Roxx Productions was the vocal point for organizing and putting this event together. A very loud round of applause is in order because just as Roxx Records insists on quality merchandise the same can be said of Roxx Productions. This two day festival was simply a blast and just to be apart of it was very special to me.

Day One seemed to host the heavier bands and starting things off was Silent Rise. They delivered a solid brand of modern metal which started things off nicely. Their 30 minute set was tight and bristling. This was just a foretaste of what was to come when Fresno smashers Fasedown unloaded a powerful set of highly energetic and heavy modern metal.

The guitar tones of Mike Philips and company are simply brutal, period. Even though it had been mentioned that vocalist Devin Shaeffer has been suffering from vocal problems, anyone would’ve been hard pressed to find any that night. Drawing heavily from their first album (due to vocals constraints) Fasedown got the crowd and ready for what was to come.

In somewhat of a surprise move Jupiter VI played and having not heard them before it was simply stunning. With Jimmy Brown singing, George Ochoa on lead guitar and Brian Khairulah playing rhythm guitar their 70’s inspired hard rock/metal was just what the doctor ordered. I was familiar with some of the Bowie material played (Ziggy Stardust in particular), and it was wonderful. It makes you wonder why more artists don’t go back to the roots of their musical expressions.

Up next from the Bay Area was Klank. Their Rob Zombie/Marilyn Manson sounding tunes drove the crowd right up to frenzy. The energy was reciprocated between band and audience, a tight bond that just rocked hard. Playing material from their latest release NUMB….Reborn as well as earlier material Klank shows no chance of slowing down. Catch them if you can. Klank delivered a world class performance that left most of us breathless.

The audience was wound up tight and when Ultimatum took the stage it must be that the Vault simply exploded. Hair was flying, arms and fists raising in unison a true sight to behold.
Moving from One for All right into Ton of Bricks was amazing. Scott Waters moved with authority and command. Yet seeing Robert Gutierrez flays his guitar alive during tracks such as Never, World of Sin or Heart of Metal impressed even more. But mention must be given to Rob Whitlock’s bass line during Exonerate, simply unreal and watching so intently as his fingers dominated his instrument.

Not all the energy was gone when Deliverance finally hit the stage. From the opening number Flesh and Blood through Stay of Execution and the multitude of other gems The Big D made it was clear who the headliners were on this night. When Jimmy did take a moment to speak about the next song they’d perform it was always personal but done in such a way that sparked of professionalism and an unyielding passion for his art.
Hearing BellTown was a personal highlight for this listener. Songs from through out their catalog were presented, both young and old. Songs from Learn and Camelot in Smithereens came alive in ways that their original recordings probably won’t do justice. Hearing Weapons of Our Warfare was a fine encore number however the final number

The Call was the highlight of the performance as both George Ochoa and Mike Phillips handled the lead guitar duties with their extended guitar jam at the end. Trading licks back in forth as well as any other metal act in the world, the fans were in the presence of greatness; especially when Jimmy Brown decided to watch the rest of the show from the audience. He said later that to watch those two trade off like that was ‘incredible.’ Indeed.

Day 2 was a bit more on the melodic side as the opening set by Southern California’s FellGuard started. FellGuard provided pretty intense modern metal, but with a clean melodic vocal sound that really gets your attention. Troglodyte Dawn took the stage next and the word was DOOM!!! Heavy and powerful these guys sludged it out and were in marked contrast to what came before and after. Perhaps the only complaint was that their set was too short, time constraints. However these guys brought the metal and laid it down.

Taking a slight departure arrived Souljourners with their epic brand of melodic prog/metal. Clearly a crowd came specifically for them and didn’t leave disappointed. On first listen it was obvious Souljourners were tight, polished and was having a great time. The performance of the song ‘Mind Control’ was simply awe inspiring. Melodic passages coupled with amazing passages of progressive whimsy. Yet the goose bumps arouse on the back of my legs as they tore through Rush’s Tom Sawyer. An extremely difficult song to pull off and Souljourners were up to the task.

A musical left turn came next with The Altar Billies. Mike Stand from The Altar Boys and a couple of co-horts offered up reworked Altar Boys songs done rockabilly fashion. So much energy arrived during this set that the crowd continued to grow and grow. An unexpected highlight to say the least, sensational. Using the least amount of gear than any other act they proceeded to blow the doors off this wagon train.

The touring cohorts of Grave Robber, Leper, were up next with their gothic style music, eerie and dark. Lots of atmosphere for the late afternoon.

However it was Grave Robber that this reviewer was eagerly awaiting for. This being their first ever West Coast jaunt, I crossed my fingers that they’d be as good as my expectations. As Ultimatum surpassed mine the day before, Grave Robber blew my preconceptions out of the water. From the intro to start and finish, Grave Robber showed me again that there is world class talent abounding in the scene. The stage presence, the musicianship, the atmosphere and more importantly the songs showed Wretched, Lamentor, Carcass and Plague in top form. The audience in particular kept their distance in reverent respect, wouldn’t you if a six foot tall talking corpse came your way?????

Bloodgood elected to play one slot earlier and brought the house down. Michael Bloodgood, Les Carlson, Oz Fox, Paul Jackson and Mark Welling delivered a staggering show. Pulling material from throughout their storied career, the packed house lapped it up one song at a time. From Out of the Darkness to Crucify to Killing the Beast and Seven it was evident that Bloodgood still has an abundant amount of ability and passion in the tank. Seeing Oz and Paul trade off guitar solos was fantastic not to mention hearing Les Carlson award us such a terrific performance. His vocal control had many of us turning our heads in disbelief at his ability to hold a note. A professional singer that knows his instrument, there just aren’t that many out there these days, or so it seems. Their hour and twenty minute set was a sheer adrenaline rush. Not to be missed.

Closing the show was Neon Cross and they delivered sensational performances of such songs as Run into the Light, Son of God and Buy My Record. The vocal harmonies were crisp and sharp, only exceeded by the tightness of the band itself, it was clear that Neon Cross still had the chops to bring the hammer down.

Two day events used to be very common back in the day, however it seems they don’t occur as much these. Especially for the ‘traditional’ sounding metal bands, the bands that in many ways paved the way for the current crop of metal acts such as Demon Hunter, Norma Jean, As I Lay Dying ect. The fans who attended left deaf and happy. The sound production was above adequate through out with a room that had decent acoustics and a proper p.a.(better lighting would've been nice tho) Hopefully it won’t be the last event of it’s kind on the West Coast, the Economy will most assuredly dictate that. In closing it must be said that Jesus was praised through the music arts and the performing artists were allowed to share their hearts passion.