Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Album Review: Anubis Gate - Covered In Black

We're now in August, and I have talked very little about progressive metal this year. For whatever reason, there haven't been very many albums coming down the pike from bands of renown, or the albums that have come out have been disappointing. It's been a very weak year for prog metal of the 'traditional' sort ('traditional progressive' sounds like an oxymoron, no?). The only prog metal album that I've liked so far is Soen's "Lykaia", but that's not in the mold of more typical prog metal, which might be the explanation. Anyway, Anubis Gate is one of those bands that requires attention.

"Covered In Black" is what the cover suggests, an album dedicated to the darker side of life. You can hear that right away in the opener "Psychotopia". The guitars churn with a dark tone and the heaviness of modern, down-tuned metal. There have been progressive bands trying that particular trick, but they often get lost in the morass. Anubis Gate doesn't let the heaviness of the music overshadow the need to be melodic. Between the piano break in place of a traditional solo, and the moderately uplifting chorus, they've found the right balance. That's not always easy to do.

When the band is focused on hitting that mark, the results are very good. They have an appealing blend of progressive metal elements, and they write strong enough songs to pull in even people who aren't particularly interested in the more intricate nuances of their complex passages. Let's compare this to an album from earlier in the year by Vangough. Both are dark progressive metal albums, but Vangough didn't have a single memorable melody to go along with the heavier than usual riffing. Anubis Gate does, and it makes all the difference in the world.

And for the prog lovers in the crowd, while we don't get any epic statements that defy normal songwriting logic, we do get a trilogy of songs that I assume comprises a suite, in the form of "Black", "Blacker", and "Blackest". Two of the three are energetic numbers that are intelligently crafted metal songs with plenty of surface appeal. It's in the mold of what Voyager does, but I find them to be done better than their album from earlier in the year.

Really, the only thing I find odd about the album is "The New Delhi Assassination", which doesn't work at all for me. It's a conglomeration of world music sounds and stage setting, but I don't here it cohere into a song worth listening to.

Other than that aside, "Covered In Black" is one of the better progressive metal albums of the year, for sure. Anubis Gate is a prog metal band that is evolving their sound without letting go of who they are, and the result is music that is interesting on several levels. Your mileage will vary with how much you like prog metal, which is not my genre of choice most of the time, but for those inclined for this kind of music, Anubis Gate is trying to end this year's disappointments.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Revisiting: Killswitch Engage

I got into metal, seriously, in a weird way. I was sitting in on a friend's college radio show, and hearing a few of the tracks he was playing caught my attention in a way heavy music never had before. That might not be odd, but as a someone growing up in Upstate New York, the fact that the music was European power metal surely was. I don't know if I could have found more than two people I knew even casually who could have named a single band from that scene. Yet that is the music that moved me towards heavy metal.

At that time, the mainstream scene was seeing the rise of metalcore as a real force. Though I was focused on the European scene, I was taking note of the American bands that were leaving an impact. One friend in particular would often point me towards a specific band; Killswitch Engage.
This was just as "The End Of Heartache" was being released, and with ample time to kill on my hands, I would occasionally give the album a listen. It didn't strike me as anything special, but ever so often I would have the nagging thought that I needed to listen to it again, because I was missing something. Those feelings have kept at me for more than ten years now, even as I was reviewing new albums from the band, and just recently I decided it was once again time to look back at what I was missing.

The two incarnations of Killswitch Engage are nearly indistinguishable, in terms of the important traits, but they also couldn't be more different. The Jesse versus Howard debate still rages, because even though the band is doing the exact same things, their forces of personality completely changed how the music was heard. For me, the answer to the debate is simple. Jesse was there when they were still rough around the edges, and came back when they were going through the motions. Howard was there when the band perfected their form. He is, to me, the definitive voice of Killswitch Engage.

Two things about "The End Of Heartache" are clear to me, listening to the record these years later. One, it is the perfect encapsulation of what metalcore is all about. If you need a bllueprint for the genre, this album is it. There is ferocious heft to the guitars, but Howard is able to take the anger of an entire generation and turn that into anthems of communal self-esteem boosting. Killswitch was able to do what the other metalcore bands couldn't, by moving beyond just alternating clean and harsh vocals. Howard tapped into real emotion, and wrote melodies that worked on stage in a way that the audience could share the experience with the band. It was something special, and despite the simplicity of the construction, it was rock solid.

Unfortunately for Killswitch Engage, it was also the only one of their traditional albums that achieved the feat. Every other album of theirs has been trying to recapture that spark, without being able to keep the flame alive.
The one exception is their 2009 self-titled album, which broke the rules. Working with Brendan O'Brien, Killswitch Engage decided to push themselves in a different direction. Rather than focusing on their metal roots, that album pushed them further into melodic territory. The result was an album that fans hated, and that is always overlooked, but it's also the album that sticks with me the most. Is it softer than their others? Maybe. Howard screams a bit less, and the guitar tone is a bit fuzzier, but the band is still more than heavy enough. What it does best is twist the formula just enough to show us we don't have to be the self-loathing youth that first connected with the band's music. This was their growth, their showcase to the world that they had become adults who knew how to handle their baggage. They didn't need to share the anger with the world, because they were mature enough to push it into productive avenues.

That was short-lived, as not long after the record was released the band went through the kind of turmoil that could only have one result; the nostalgic attempt to recreate their glory days. You could say it worked, but nothing the band has done since then has reached the same heights. It's too safe, too clinical, to expected.

But there will always be something in me that looks back to those few records and understands now that Killswitch Engage changed heavy metal. I can't say if it was for the better or the worse, but I do know that no other band did what they did as well, not even themselves.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Album Review: The New Roses - One More For The Road

Not that long ago, I reviewed a record from a band I had never heard of that caught my attention. That was the previous album from The New Roses, which was one I enjoyed quite a bit, and that I cheaply compared to that old group with the word 'roses' in their name. I thought I was hearing what was going to be a band to watch, and then when the first single for this new record were released, I was left scratching my head. Was this really the same band that I enjoyed? What had happened?

That was because of the song "Life Ain't Easy (For A Boy With Long Hair)", which was a southern rock song with asinine lyrics that made me cringe from the moment I heard them. I don't know what the inspiration for that sort of thing was, but it made me incredibly nervous about diving into the entire album. The slippery slope is a very real thing.

Hitting the play button, the first thing we hear is "Quarter To Twelve", which is more in line with the classic hard rock I was expecting. There are hints of Slash and Joe Perry in some of the guitar playing, and the rough vocals fit right in. That's when the band is at their best, but there are elements on this record that get thrown in and distract from their strengths. "My Own Worst Enemy" is a solid bluesy rock track with some very nice guitar work and a solid chorus. The problem is that right before that kicks in is a terrible few seconds of layered "na-na" vocals, which are a nod to the modern 'rock' that hits the pop charts. Not only does it sound bad, it sounds completely out of place for a band like this. They're short interruptions, but the kill the song every time they come along.

Thankfully, the majority of the album is made up of the kind of songs The New Roses excel at; gritty rock and roll that feel like a more direct and tame version of the drug-fueled Guns N' Roses experience. Those adjectives are not to be taken as a slight. Guns had gotten too far up their own backsides, so not being as self-indulgent, and self-destructive, is not a complaint. The New Roses have the same spirit, but don't drift off into 'artistic' neverlands. They stay in the sweet spot of writing songs.

The downside of their approach is that while The New Roses are a very good band at what they do, it can be said they don't define their own identity well enough that you're going to remember these songs long after you hear the album. That's what happened to me with their last album, and I'm afraid that's what will happen here too. The music is good, but since it reminds me so much of other things, it won't have the same impact as a group doing something clearly their own.

So with that being said, let's cut to the chase. "One More For The Road" is The New Roses doing their thing, and doing it well. Yes, "Life Ain't Easy..." is a terrible song, but it's only one track, and the rest of the album lives up to what I was expecting. There isn't a lot of good ol' hard rock anymore, and The New Roses provide that. I can easily recommend this album for anyone who wants a good time with some good music.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Album Review: Serious Black - Magic

Not all 'supergroups' turn out to be super, and few of them experience growth after their formation. The fact of the matter is that once a musician has established themselves, it's difficult to break free of that mold and do something new. The members of Serious Black were like that when they came together, putting out a good debut that often felt like more of the same from veterans of power metal. But last year's "Mirrorworld" was something different. That album showed tremendous growth, and more maturity, and earned itself a slot on my list of the best albums of the year (accurately; the deluxe edition did). So when they are ready to return but a year later, I am both excited for what they have in store, but I'm also a bit worried they might be pushing themselves a bit too hard. Which wins out?

This time out, Serious Black is offering up a nearly hour long concept album about a man and a journey through a magical land filled with witches and drama.

Over the course of two albums, the times I have most appreciated Serious Black are when they leave the blueprint of power metal behind. There's a time and a place for ripping through a double-bass number, but the songs where they gave Urban breed more space to ply his...ahem... magic were the ones that most resonated with me. That's why "Mirrorworld" caught me so off-guard when it was released. From the singles I had heard, I was not expecting the diversity of songwriting, nor the tracks that ended up being my favorites.

Concept albums are tricky, because there are tropes about them that have never sat right with me. The one minute introduction is one of them, a short interlude with the narrator welcoming us to the story, these sorts of tracks are inconsequential. Then there's "Burn Witches Burn", which is a nice little track filled with organs that I love in the background, but the song stops before the solo for a narrative breakdown. Spoken word and music are two things I don't think belong together, and it drags down my enjoyment of a song every time I have to listen to talking in the middle of one.

What works incredibly well on this album is the use of keyboards to set the tone of the songs. Shifting sounds from track to track, the sense of drama comes from the keyboards, which are able to add a slightly sinister feeling to what would otherwise be energetic power metal songs. There are a lot of concept albums that fail to match the feeling of the music to the narrative through-lines, but Serious Black has achieved the right balance, without resorting to ham-fisted usurping of a dozen genres for each scene. This still feels like Serious Black, through and through.

The other thing of note, at least to me, is that "Magic" is a tight, concise album. While it runs nearly an hour, each song briskly moves along, and if anything they feel like they need slightly more time to make their point. There is something to be said for leaving the audience wanting more, for sure, but at a couple of points I almost have the impression the band is rushing through the compositions, to make sure the record doesn't get too long.

Mostly, what I can say about "Magic" is that, in spite of stretching their creative boundaries with a concept, the album feels like a step back from where "Mirrorworld" was taking us. Yes, "Magic" has a narrative scope that expands outward, but the music is more traditional in its power metal forms, which doesn't feel to me as experimental as the softer songs, and more at times hard rock approach that "Mirrorworld" gave us. And with Urban's vocal approach, particularly with respect to the backing vocals, there is a hint of King Diamond's conceptual stories that creeps in. It never becomes distracting, but King's approach is one that relies far less on melodies and hooks, which has tamped down some of the buoyant choruses from what Serious Black is capable of.

Furthermore, this is an album that takes time before it fully sinks in. On my first listen, I was definitely underwhelmed by what I heard. But since I have a lot of respect for Urban, who has helmed some of my favorite recent metal albums, I gave it several more chances. With each listen, the songs became more familiar, and the bits that felt underwhelming became more clearly subtle than disappointing. "Skeletons On Parade" and "The Witch Of Caldwell Town" are the only tracks that immediately stuck out, and they remain the best songs on the album, with the kind of choruses that make power metal glorious. I particularly love how the latter track slows down for the last chorus, which makes it sound yet more epic. The rest of the album grows stickier with time, but you have to give it the chance to grow legs, which we don't always get the chance to do.

What I'm getting at is that my opinion is a bit two-fold. Serious Black are a very talented band, and this album is obviously put together by veterans who couldn't make a bad record without trying to deliberately do so. "Magic" is a very good album that doesn't feel like an album that would come out just a year after a monster release. Don't get me wrong; "Magic" is very good power metal. That's my issue, though. I was hoping Serious Black was going to break a bit more free of that mold. By focusing on a story, and bringing it to life through Urban's writing and performance, "Magic" isn't the melodic feast "Mirrorworld" was building towards.

While "Magic" is a step forward in some ways, it's a step backward in some others. It's a very good album, and it might very well end up being one of my favorites at the end of the year, but the nature of its construction is going to mean it's not an album that will stay with me as strongly as "Mirrorworld" did.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Album Review: Leaving Eden - Out Of The Ashes

The mainstream rock scene is one that I'm not sure I can even identify anymore. What constitutes rock these days is not what I remember, nor is it something I particularly enjoy. Whether we're talking about the screaming bands that are more metal than rock, or the sophomoric 'bro' bands, the range of sounds that get lumped under the same term is useless is helping us figure out if we're going to like something. That made me turn up my eyebrow when I saw Leaving Eden describe their new album as 'extreme rock'. I have no idea what that is, nor whether it's accurate or not, but I decided I needed to find out for myself.

These are pedantic issues to bring up, but I'm a writer who loves words, so I do need to say that 'extreme rock' is not a fitting description of Leaving Eden's music. There's nothing extreme about it, so I think they might be setting people up for disappointment if that's what they are expecting to hear.

That being said, what's important is the actual music. The first couple of tracks on the record are solid modern rock tracks that fit in with what the genre has been producing. There are moments where you can hear a melody begin to sparkle, but the songs pull back just enough to stop them from glistening. They're solid songs, but the adherence to being as rock as possible holds the songs back from what they could have been.

The title track fixes that, and shows what Leaving Eden is good at. With a more dramatic flair, it's a song that is able to use the atmosphere to sound heavy, while retaining a chorus that has a strong melody. Eve's vocals are at their best here, sounding confident with just a hint of aggression that makes it clear she's a rock singer through and through. That can get taken a bit too far, especially in some of the juvenile lyrics of "Sometimes", but usually she's the bright spot that differentiates Leaving Eden from a lot of the faceless bands that play similarly down-tuned rock and roll.

My favorite track on the album is "No Soul", which is the ballad that isn't really a ballad of the album. The riffs are as heavy as the rest of the album, but the duet vocals and hints of piano are a different tone, and the chorus has some of the sweep that a ballad usually does. It's a lovely piece of melodic hard rock, and is an avenue I think the band would be wise to explore more often.

So where do I come down on "Out Of The Ashes"? In a world of stale modern rock, Leavin Eden is a solid alternative to the usual names. This is a quick and enjoyable enough record, one that doesn't do much wrong. It's also a record that is a stepping stone to where the band needs to get. There is still room for improvement, which will hopefully continue to come. That being said, "Out Of The Ashes" is a fine record for now, while we wait for them to fully grow into themselves.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Album Review: In Evil Hour - Lights Down

What do I know about punk and/or hardcore music? If I'm being honest, the answer is not much, since my favorite punk album is the least punk album Bad Religion admits exists (that would be "The Dissent Of Man", which is phenomenal). When it comes to grittier punk, I don't have much experience with the form. But considering the political climate all around the world, and my expectation that the fury being felt is going to propel a new wave of angry young bands, I thought it to be an appropriate time to dip my feet into the pool. To do so, I'm starting with the UK's In Evil Hour, whose melodic punk/hardcore is one of the early entries into our new political uprising.

"Binding Ropes" kicks things off with a riff, and a guitar tone, that is more heavy metal than pure punk. But once the chorus comes along, and the backing vocals pop up, that Bad Religion/AFI style of punk is made very clear. When it's done well, it hits just the right balance between bristling energy and anthemic shout-along. That's pretty much what In Evil Hour is able to do on this song. It's a fine opening statement.

"Enemy Within" follows with a sound that references not only AFI, but some of The Offspring's better singles, if they hadn't polished off all the rough edges. Keeping in mind that while The Offspring are rather bland and lousy now, they were once a really good band, so recalling those days is a worthy comparison to make. Not only that, but the song contains a breakdown that is surprisingly heavy, and Al's vocals shift from her gritty singing into a full on swallowed-glass roar. In a small dose like that, it definitely drives the point home.

In "Bitter", she sings "every day I feel a little more unsure". Isn't that how we all feel, as the world seems to be crumbling around us?

The band has a DIY charm to their music. "Lights Down" isn't a slick record with a sheen of money emanating off it. It's a record that feels more homespun, which makes it feel more authentic. Much like how it's ridiculous to hear a band of millionaires like Metallica still trying to write songs about being angry and young, punk like this wouldn't work if it sounded clinical and spotless. I actually quite enjoy hearing the humanity of the performances. Hitting the feeling is often more important than hitting the notes.

I went into this album having never heard In Evil Hour before, having only just discovered them as I read through a list of upcoming releases. They intrigued me enough to inquire deeper, and I'm glad I did. I won't try to say what the true punk fan is going to think of "Lights Down", but I can say that this is the kind of punk that I can get behind. It's political and angry, but it retains a melodic sense that remembers a subversive message goes down better when it's hidden in a catchy tune.

"Lights Down" is a record that hits the mark. I don't have the disposition of a punk rebel, but for a few minutes, In Evil Hour made it sound appealing. Definitely recommended.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Album Review: Incura - Incura II

A couple of years back, I was a huge fan of the 'debut' record from Incura, which was an album that took a theatrical axe to the bloated corpse of melodic rock, painting the scene with a riotous sense of fun as vivid as the blood Sweeny Todd spilled on stages across the world. They understood that sometimes rock needs to embrace how overblown it can all be, and they made a record that was packed to the brim with unforgettable songs. But then they didn't follow up on that. Promises of a new album were made, but updates were slow in coming. Months passed without so much as a sentence confirming the album was still under construction.

So it was with great surprise that I saw the album show up, despite never hearing word from the band or their label that the album had even been recorded. It struck me as a huge mistake from a PR perspective, and if we weren't in the midst of the slow summer season, I might not have been able to fit this album into my schedule. That's criminal, since I had been looking forward to it so much.

Anyway, let's get on to the music. Within the first thirty seconds of "Love To Forget", everything I loved about Incura before is back for another go. The riffs are heavy rock that have some swing and bounce in them, and the vocals are such theatrical performances that I can already hear more serious rock fans whining that this is making a mockery of the form (as though bro-rock, black metal, and everything else doesn't do the same thing). Incura's version of rock is supposed to be fun and indulgent, and that it certainly is.

There was one thing missing from the cocktail in that opening number; the sticky melodies. The last record was one of those that stayed in your head whether you wanted it to or not, and that element is largely missing not only from that song, but from this entire album. I understand why completely; the first record compiled the very best Incura had ever written, and now they had to write that many more great songs in a shorter amount of time. That can be tough, I know.

That element might be absent, but Incura still has enough to propel the album forward. "Now Or Never" might be a bit subdued compared to the Incura I previously knew, but it's still a fun sing-along of a track that has a spirit that puts a smile on my face. As does "Remodel", which throws in hints of djent to the riffing, but has a vocal and chorus that is straight from the first album. It's exactly the kind of song I was hoping for, and it's fantastic.

In addition to the great new tracks, we also get the worst song I've heard from Incura yet, "Help Me Save Myself Tonight". I don't doubt that it means a lot to the band, but it's a flaccid track that bounces from meandering verses to a chorus that is more shouting than a melody. It's a completely misstep, and "This Is What You Get" doesn't do anything to reclaim the momentum. With some vintage effects to change up the sound, there was the chance for something interesting to happen, but the song again lacks a hook that would make the song memorable.

"Incura II" is not at all the record I had been waiting for. It was on my list of most anticipated records both last year and this year. So what happened? I can understand what happened with the songwriting, as I explained earlier. More puzzling is what happened to the album itself, how it appeared out of nowhere with no fanfare or buildup. I have a theory as to how that happened, but I don't want to get out ahead of myself there. All I will say is that unless this is all part of some renegade, underground marketing campaign, it's not a good sign for Incura.

When I saw this record was finally there to be heard, I was thrilled. I cleared out time as soon as possible to listen to it, and then felt more and more disappointed as the record kept playing. It's a decent enough record, but since my previous experience with Incura was amazing, "Incura II" is a pretty significant letdown. They say sequels are rarely as good as the original, and that's the case here. "Incura II" is a shadow of it's namesake.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Singles Roundup: Nocturnal Rites, Black Country Communion, & More

The summer slump is upon us, with the schedule showing a lack of quality and/or interesting albums to talk about week after week. Things will pick up once the festival season is over, and fall is upon us. We are getting the first teasers of those fall albums already, so let's take a look at three recent singles that are harbingers of what is to come soon.

Nocturnal Rites - Before We Waste Away

It's been roughly a decade since Nocturnal Rites released an album, but judging by this first song released from their comeback, it's as if no time at all has passed. They hit all the right marks from their last two albums, which upped the melodic factor to pop levels. They are a bit more metallic here, but there is no doubt this song is all about the hook, which Johnny Lindqvist delivers with that voice we've been waiting ages to hear again. Despite the wait, this song gives me high hopes for their new album.

Black Country Communion - Collide

Another band that took time off, Black Country Communion is one that has never been a favorite of mine. Glenn Hughes and Joe Bonamassa both have backgrounds far more rooted in the blues than I prefer, but this first single teases a heavier album that could be more straight-forward rock. If so, that would be a positive development for me. This track is one I like a fair amount. The riffs are heavy with some groove, and Glenn sounds great as he belts out the chorus. The time apart was well used if this is the result.

Nitro - It Won't Die

Continuing the trend of bands that are coming back together, Nitro returns to a world completely different than when they could become successful simply because Michael Angelo Batio could play right or left handed. Today, you actually need to be good, which Nitro most definitely is not. This song is a cruel joke on us, a pathetic attempt from two guys in their fifties to write music for frat bros, without even knowing the nu-metal style they're copying went out of style a decade ago or more. The riffs are awful, the mix is terrible, and the vocals/lyrics are so bad I can't believe this is a serious effort. In a year filled with bad music, this is as bad as it gets.

Caligula's Horse - Will's Song (Let The Colours Run)

Here we have a band whose first album I liked, but who ran into trouble with their second album, which delved too far into djent for my taste. With the first single from their third album, they've found a balance between the two. The riffing is still highly modern, glitchy, and filled with the djent rhythms that are so popular, but the melodies are more apparent than on the previous record. It's a much better blend of heavy yet catchy, rhythmic yet melodic. A solid opening statement.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Album Review: Dead Cross - Dead Cross

There are certain musicians who, by virtue of their skill with an instrument, get a reputation as being among the very best at what they do. But what gets lost is that often the circumstances have much to do with that person being able to showcase themselves in the first place. Being in the right place at the right time is vitally important, because even many 'legends' can't survive on their own, without the right partners to work with. Case in point; Dave Lombardo. He is a legendary drummer, but when he isn't working on music written by more talented songwriters, either in Slayer or Testament, he is anonymous. Nothing he has done outside of those long-established bands has ever come close to earning him real acclaim.

Teaming up with Mike Patton might have been something that could, but Dead Cross is not going to be that vehicle. Or let me rephrase that, since there is always the chance it might. Dead Cross should not be that vehicle. It is a band that is so wildly misguided, so unbelievably detached from music as a common form, that it is utterly baffling.

First of all, I will admit to being unfamiliar with Mike Patton's history. I know his reputation, but I couldn't pick him out of a lineup if he was wearing a name tag. This album is the first thing I know of him, and I sincerely hope it will be the last. His atonal shrieking and foul-mouthed lyrics are a parody of what hardcore or punk music is supposed to be. He sounds like a man in the midst of a mid-life crisis, trying his damnedest to sound vital, youthful, and not like a man slowly graying into irrelevance.

But he is just the most obvious of the problems Dead Cross has. The biggest problem is that between Patton, Lombardo, and the rest of the band, there is still a dearth of songwriting talent. I know the band's identity is supposed to be 'brutal' and 'manic', but there still needs to be some structure underneath the chaos. You can't rebel against the rules if there are none, so to speak.

And that's what makes "Dead Cross" so painful to listen to. There isn't a single riff that doesn't blur by in a mess of noise, there isn't a drum pattern that you can air-drum to, there isn't a vocal line anyone would ever find themselves accidentally shouting along to. This is a band that takes Slayer's chaos and forgets that Slayer was still writing real songs. These are sketches of noise that never develop, that go nowhere, and that offer nothing appealing for the ear.

If I was writing the history books, Dead Cross is a band that would end any discussion of Patton or Lombardo being remembered as among the best at what they do. It is such a collosal waste of talent, such a pathetic attempt to turn back the clock, that it truly does undo much of the good work they must have done in their careers.

I seem to have been saying this a lot lately, but "Dead Cross" is a heavy contender for the worst album of the year. While others may have been more disappointing in relation to expectations, "Dead Cross" is on its own accord truly awful. The only redeeming feature I could find is that it is mercifully short. If it were any longer, I would have grown genuinely angry that I had wasted that much of my time listening to this slap-dash effort.

Dead Cross is dead to me, period.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Album Review: Quiet Riot - Road Rage

If there is one thing about the history of metal that is more depressing than anything else, it's that Quiet Riot was the first metal band to top the charts. It's not that they were terrible (I never listened to them back theen, so I can't say), it's insulting to the genre for them to have that honor because it's the only piece of their legacy.... other than people dying. Seriously, can anyone think of a single thing to say about Quiet Riot other than their chart success and their losses? I certainly can't. They have been resting on the laurels of being in the right place at the right time for decades, and now they are finally getting around to doing what bands are supposed to do and release a new album.

But they can't even do that without controversy. "Road Rage", as you hear it, is not how it was recorded. The band had a different singer who recorded the entire album, only to then get fired once the press releases were already being sent out to the world. So the album got postponed while the band recruited a former Americal Idol contestant to come in and re-record all the vocals. That process did not bode well for the album.

And boy was that omen telling.

Let me save you some time, if you're having a busy day when you read this. "Road Rage" is an abomination, and quite possibly the worst album of the year.

If you're still reading, let's dive a bit deeper into the album. Listening to "Road Rage", you wouldn't know that the last thirty years ever happened, in more than one respect. The songwriting on the album is thoroughly lackluster, with riffs that serve as good background noise, and vocal melodies that are right out of the days before metal bands bothered to write real hooks. Quiet Riot is still existing in a world where playing a loud electric guitar was enough to amaze people. It's not, and despite being veterans, I can't even say this is an album of well put together, but less exciting, songs. These songs lack any creative spark at all, and can't make up for the routine sameness of the material with hooks or little details that stand out and rescue the songs. It's a tuneless album that's as sophisticated and adept as the wretched cover art. Guys in their 50s singing about rolling joints isn't metal, it's sad.

Sad is the word that most comes up when I think about this record. Next on the docket is new singer James Durbin. I won't hold his past against him, but his performance here is horrible. When the first single was released, it wasn't until the second chorus came along that I realized he wasn't a female guest singer. His high-pitched shriek is annoying, shrill, and gets old very fast. When he tries to sound tough, it's even worse, as his voice doesn't have an ounce of aggression to it. He is completely miscast on this album, and if anything he drags the sub-par compositions down even further.

But worst of all is the production of the album. Despite being a 'legendary' band, and having decades of experience in the industry, "Road Rage" sounds like a local band's demo. The sound is thin, muffled, and lacking any of the punch or clarity that a metal record of today needs. You can't even call it a throwback to the old days, because most of the big records from the 80s sounded better than this. I don't know who let this album be released like this, but there are serious hearing issues among the people responsible for making this record.

So we have an album that is poorly written, poorly sung, and poorly recorded. It's a trinity of mistakes that amounts to a single thing; "Road Rage" is one of the most inexcusably awful records of the year. Other bands from their time make good records. Other bands on their label make good records. They have no excuse for this record being so bad. If they were anyone but Quiet Riot, I don't think this would even be released.

Whatever you do, avoid hearing a note of this one. It will only ruin your mood.