Thursday, July 30, 2015

Album Review: Faith No More - "Sol Invictus"

For more than a decade, Faith No More fell silent as the world at large and the world of music raged around them.  Fans wondered why their favorite band was so conspicuously absent, how the members couldn’t find the wherewithal to get back together and provide some sense to a changing digital landscape.  Now, seemingly in the fashion of most pop culture these days, the influential alt-musicians have come back into vogue, though rather than a ‘hey, remember when’ sentiment, new album “Sol Invictus” seems to be the continued extension of Faith No More’s voice rather than just a re-tread.

The one difficulty of properly reporting and judging any Faith No More project is that one has to factor out the overwhelming pressure applied by the boisterous and relentless Cult of Mike Patton; those fans who vehemently believe that the entirety of Patton’s prodigious and plentiful career is completely above critical reproach.

A large part of the intrigue of “Sol Invictus,” as it has been so many times when Faith No More is involved, is the variety of presentation.  There’s a veritable circus of different tropes and styles, from the repetitive punch of “Superhero” to the pop-rock of “Black Friday.”  Patton and company (and the company part is not to be undersold,) play comfortably in a variety of styles of tropes, giving the listener more for their money.  The album manages to invite all listening styles and tastes, which is a welcome change in an era where every artists is expected to stick to one idiom.

The flip side of that coin is that “Sol Invictus” lacks in cohesion.  There’s very little sense of flow to the record, as disparate sounds will crash haphazardly into one another.  There’s a certain amount of this to be expected among any of the progenitors of alternative music as it began in the ‘90s, but this record is particularly mercurial.  The strung out funk of “Sunny Side Up” launches headlong into the grimy grunge of “Separation Anxiety” without regard for what the transition is.  Secondarily, it’s hard to determine what the singles on this album are.  The concept of ‘single’ is no doubt blurred in this digital era, but it still stands to reason that there are songs which stand out from the others and there’s no individual track that shows enough of a complete concept to be marketed as the album’s anchor.

As with many Patton projects, there’s a certain cloud of smarm that has to be acknowledged saturating much of the album.  It’s hard to listen to “Sol Invictus” and not hear it, whether Patton is singing about being ‘your leprechaun’ or belting out the seemingly earnest chorus of an entire song called “Motherfucker.”  Longtime fans have come to embrace this particular quality as part of the larger Faith No More experience, but newcomers or those trying again for the first time in a long time will need to either accept or ignore if they wish to assimilate the entire production.
That said, “Sol Invictus” has many solid parts, as the slow churn that develops out of “Cone of Shame” and the haunting jingle of “Rise of the Fall” both rise to the occasion and create immersive listening.  In a rare twist, the album is actually better when the musicians involved throw away a lot of their window dressing and simply write good songs.  In this case, substance reigns significantly over style.

So in the end, there is plenty of substance on “Sol Invictus,” it’s just that it’s easier to treat the record as a collection of distant ideas than a singular whole.  Not unlike many Primus records, this album can be a confusing listen if attempting to travel one end to the other, but it’s not a bad ride if you take it in short bursts. 

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Album Review: Year Of The Goat - The Unspeakable

A lot of bands have been learning the lesson recently that if they want to sound evil, the way to do that is not to go into the furthest extremities of black and death metal, but rather to embrace the more sinister forms of hard rock and heavy metal that initiated the creation of those genres. Using bands like Mercyful Fate as a guide, as opposed to Cannibal Corpse, these new bands have managed to bring back the off-putting sound that turned the normal music that was popular into something with more darkness and edge.

Year Of The Goat brings us an adventurous take on this sound, with ample doses of both traditional metal and doom metal, wrapped up in a package that also includes some hints of proto-prog. The opening "All He Has Read" shows all of these elements off, as the band stretches out their sound over nearly thirteen minutes, giving the song more than enough time to establish its tone and tenor. There's a soft wash of building noise before the first riffs come in, and when they do, it's not with the usual over-driven ferocity. The guitars are raw in the vintage style, and continue on until we've reached four minutes of playing time. A nimble-fingered riff brings us into the main thrust, as the tone switches just a bit, finding a beautiful balance.

What makes this all work so well is that it's not just a song that is able to sound like the soundtrack to an old horror movie. No, there is an actual song in there, with a delightfully airy chorus of ethereal backing vocals, and a swelling feeling that fits the epic length of the track. It's a killer opening.

"Pillars Of The South" takes a different tact, with a jangly, riff that for some reason reminds me of surf music, and a chorus that recalls classic Blue Oyster Cult (those backing vocals are used beautifully). It is also something that immediately strikes me as being a far better interpretation of what Ghost has been trying to do than their second album was. It's solid, catchy rock that sounds far more evil than it really is.

"The Emma" is a deeply sinister waltz, exactly the kind of song you would expect zombies to slow dance to at a wedding.... you know, if zombies were really a thing. And on cue, the band completely shifts gears with "Vermin", which is a peppy, energetic track that has an irresistibly catchy chorus that shows just how much Year Of The Goat is twisting traditional hard rock into something more interesting, as opposed to starting off from an impenetrable block of metallic noise. It is seriously one of the best tracks so far this year.

Without getting into a track by track review, the level of quality Year Of The Goat is delivering never drops, as the album presents track after track that is beautifully melodic while still sounding like the bar band that should be playing in Hell. That's a compliment, in case you couldn't tell. From the opening chords, all the way through the sweeping grandeur of "Riders Of Vultures", every song here is infectious. I've been listening to this daily since my first spin, it's that hard to shake.

Almost all of the bands that ply in either aspects of this sound are either unwilling or unable to write songs that balance the dark image with melodies that will make people remember the tracks and want to listen to them over and over again. The fact that Ghost was able to write two or three of those on each of their two albums has made them the biggest name in this occult-style dirty rock, but I don't hesitate for a second to say that "The Unspeakable" blows them out of the water. Over the course of these nine tracks, Year Of The Goat establishes themselves as a band to be reckoned with, because this is an album that works on more than one level. It sounds gloriously old, it's a fresh spin on hard rock, and it's just a great record to throw on and rock out to.

This has been a great year for music, and there have been some albums that are right in my wheelhouse that have bowled me over and are locks for top spots on my year-end list. But for something that comes out of left field, Year Of The Goat has achieved something monumental here, they're going to give those records a run for their money, and "The Unspeakable" is anything but what it's title suggests. Go out and listen to this record right now, because it is flat-out one of the best records of the year, and a sure-fire contender for album of the year.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Album Review: The Dead Daisies - Revolucion

Are there any words that can be written about Guns N' Roses anymore than carry any meaning? The band now defines what it is to be a joke in rock and roll, having spent the last two decades doing everything in their power to make people believe it's all been a long con. But the players in the current version of the band still have a bit of integrity, so when they're able to escape the evil clutches of the band that does nothing, they like to prove they are still capable of creating music. A couple of them join forces in The Dead Daisies, this time fronted by one time Motley Crue singer John Corabi. Yes, I realize how appealing that sounds. Stay with me for a minute.

Moving beyond the joke of saying that the biggest thing to take note of is that this album exists, what The Dead Daisies do here is make an album that shows they just want to have fun and play some actual music. Over the course of thirteen tracks, and nearly an hour, they bash out some simple rock and roll, and sound like they're having a lot of fun doing it. That can't be said of the bigger bands these peope have been in before this.

Things kick off an a positive note with "Mexico", which given its message of having a good time partying down south, should be a Sammy Hagar song. But the song has a nice groove, and an energy to it that makes it appealing, unlike "Evil", which is a failed attempt at writing a dark and dirty track. Instead of sounding sinister, it stands out like a sore thumb on an album that is mostly about having a good time. There's more than enough material here, so it should have been left on the cutting room floor.

After that, the album settles into a comfortable groove, with a selection of rockers that bring hooks to the table, and softer songs that emphasize the band's melodic capabilities. "Empty Heart" is a standout, with it's flawless guitar tone, swaggering attitude, and huge chorus that makes it a massive bar-band anthem. It's one of those songs that reminds you that rock and roll gets too far up its own behind sometimes, that all you need is a riff and a melody to make a great song.

They prove their veteran credentials throughout the record by doing that, making music that is both timeless and endearing. A song like "Something I Said" could have been a long lost Eagles or Jayhawks songs, and that vintage Americana vibe is where the band is at their best. That feeling pops up in "With You And I" and "Sleep", which are among the best tracks here.

What don't work as well are the harder rocking numbers. They aren't bad, but the hooks get lost as the guitars get turned up. The guitar playing just isn't interesting to carry whole songs alone, and that's what happens on "Get Up, Get Ready", and the aforementioned "Evil", and those are the tracks that drag the album down. I get why the band wanted to have a harder edge and some more attitude on the record, but it's not what they're best at.

What "Revolucion" can best be considered is a fun diversion from the usual rock and roll drama. It's a fun record that has some good songs, and is an enjoyable way to pass some time. It isn't the kind of record that is going to make a deep and lasting impact, but they don't all need to. "Revolucion" is a good record, a perfect summertime record, and that's fine by me.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Album Review: Cryptex - The Madeleine Effect

As I grow older, and the sheer amount of music that I've heard increases exponentially, I notice two things happening. On the one hand, I find myself being grabbed by simple records that don't bring a single new idea to the table, but present back to me good songs in a style I'm already a fan of. As I get exposed to more music, and realize how much of it is disastrous, I have really come to appreciate what a gem finding a great old-fashioned album can be. But on the other hand, I have also seen my horizons spread in certain directions, notably in the more progressive/arty vein. In the last few years, I have heard plenty of records that are either all-out prog, or are avant-garde and theatrical, that have really hit me. So while it doesn't make a lot of sense, right now I love records that are either exactly what I would expect, or are something completely weird.

Cryptex does a fine job of straddling those lines, and bringing me an album that plays to both sides of my current taste. What they do on "The Madeleine Effect" is fuse catchy pop/rock with an artistic flair. Pick any song on the album, and what you're going to get is a great hook, and a hefty dose of atmosphere that wouldn't be out of place on a theater stage.

The opening "The Knowledge Of Being" shows you this right from the start, with a sneaky, sinister hook and a vocal that sounds like an actor losing himself in a role. And when the chorused vocals kick in at the end, there's no way to hear them as anything but a big chorus number that would punctuate a plot point in a story.

"Ribbon Tied Swing" has even more theatrical flair, from the rollicking piano line, to the vocals that swell in that corny way musicals prefer, but it all gets tied together with a melody that has some real teeth. Even though none of these songs stretches much beyond the four minute mark, they don't stagnate in repetition. There's always a bridge, if not an entire movement, that turns the song on its head. That's where the avant-garde influence comes in, where the band moves beyond the scope of simple rock and roll.

"Stroking Leather" is probably the oddest song of the bunch, shifting from dulcet accordion to raging hand-clapping, to ambient piano, all within the first two minutes. There are bits and pieces that are really good, but it's so disjointed a song that it fails to hold together as a cohesive piece of work. That's a danger when you're making music like this, but it's thankfully one that only pops up rarely.

After a couple of wildly oddball, but great, tracks, we get to "Orange Blossom City Girl", which appropriates the feeling (if not the riff) of "Sweet Home Alabama". It gets turned into something far different, but I'm not sure the nod-and-wink was such a good idea. It's too familiar, and takes me out of the moment of listening to Cryptex.

Ultimately, what "The Madeleine Effect" winds up being is an album that I can easily see a good portion of the people hating. It's weird, it throws a lot of non-rock ideas at you, and the vocals are going to be polarizing. All I can say is that while there are obviously flaws with the record, and it's by no means perfect, it's also quirky, charming, and fun. I had a good time listening to the record, and even if I don't foresee it becoming a staple of my listening habits, it's something that's certainly worth hearing, because it's unique. There's not a lot of music that is.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Album Review: Powerwolf - "Blessed and Possessed"

The coming of a new Powerwolf record is like a visit from that old friend that you haven’t seen in a lifetime, but the conversation always seems to pick up where you last left off.  Normally, music fans’ reaction to a band that stamps out one style of record is swift and vociferous, as fleeting, fickle tastes demand some new innovation or mechanic.  Once or twice in a generation however, there’s an artist who falls under what can casually be called ‘The AC/DC corollary;’ a band who has such thorough understanding of their niche and charm that they do the unthinkable – never change their sound one iota and still be crowd pleasing and effective.

My compatriot Chris recently put it to me thus: “Powerwolf is one of those bands that absolutely makes the same record every time out, and I think that's perfect for them. I don't want to know what Powerwolf doing something wildly different sounds like.”  He has a point, because the corollary question there is ‘what else would you want Powerwolf to do?’

Not far from the top we hear the most clarion example of everything we’ve discussed to this point.  “Dead Until Dark” feels incredibly like a song we already know – maybe a b-side selection from “Blood of the Saints” or something from “Preachers of the Night.”  That’s not to say that it’s stale or sounds like a misbegotten retread, no, just that the song so demonstrates all that we know and love about Powerwolf’s singalong anthems that it feels natural and comfortable to hear it again.

Shortly following up on that cut is “Army of the Night,” the kind of cut that thrives on a crisp punctuation of percussion and a rousing, all-in chorus hook.  Not to cross too many nerd lines here, but the song could really function as the theme for the upcoming season two of “Attack on Titan” (sidebar: anybody ever noticed the trend that anime shows almost invariably have crappy theme songs?  Is that a written law somewhere or something?)  It’s another gleeful variant of the idiomatic Powerwolf formula and feels right at home batting in the top half of the lineup.

As if the idea needed further reinforcement, the listener is then greeted with the powerful recitations of “Armata Strigoi,” a chanting rumble that invariably becomes deeply rooted in the auditory canal and incredibly difficult to dislodge.  Hours of otherwise productive time during a work day will be spent humming the simple but remarkably effective cadence of the melody.  Powerwolf’s ability to use frequent returns to craft a rolling call is underrated; it’s an employment of a technique that’s borderline based in the call and response and blues, but the theory behind it has been tested and found true.

The album’s highest achiever is “Higher Than Heaven” an energetic romp featuring all the caution of an unbridled charger.  This is the prototype song that Powerwolf has always built their sound around, a carousal of reckless abandon that sounds like the victory song of a mead-soaked Germanic hunting lodge.  Nevermind that the song reminds ever so vaguely of a stepped up version of the Stonecutter’s theme, this is the kind of opus that brings smiles to the listener.

The most difficult concept in all of consumable mass media is defining the perpetually elusive ‘it.’  In power metal, a genre that commonly refutes the idea of evolution or change, determining what’s ‘it’ is even more arduous.  That said, Powerwolf has ‘it.’  In a subgenre clogged with many middle-aged men adorned with stringy, long hair that believe with a straight face that the sensibility of the eighties remains alive and well, Powerwolf remains a fresh face, capitalizing both on the innate humor of their presentation and the inimitable drama that Iron Maiden laid the groundwork for.  This works.  “Blessed and Possessed” works.  Don’t miss it.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Album Review: Kinetic Element - Travelog

The thing about progressive music that often gets overlooked is that it can often be too much of a good thing. There is certainly a time and a place for twenty minute epics that transport you to new musical worlds. That is the very nature of progressive music, to shatter your expectations and make you see things in a different way. But a lot of prog doesn't do this, because it adheres to a rigid set of rules. Prog today needs to be built from the sound of one of the forefathers of the genre, it needs to be expansive, and it certainly needs epic tracks all over the place. Kinetic Element is following that path, producing "Travelog", a seventy minute album where the shortest track still nears the ten minute mark.

That 'short' song is the title track, which follows the twenty minute epic opener. "Travelog" is a song that brings to mind early Genesis, with soft guitars plucking away, flute interludes, and a laid-back atmosphere that doesn't do the running time many favors. It's pleasant enough music, but between the pacing and the flat vocals and melodies, the song just don't really go anywhere, despite having ample time to develop into something more than it is.

Backtracking to the aforementioned epic, "War Song" opens the album with ambition, spending twenty minutes playing what should have been a five minute song. For the length, I would have expected multiple sections that moved the song in new directions, but instead it's a single melodic composition stretched out with massively extended instrumental passages. Those passages are the best parts of the song, given the lackluster vocal parts, but they do get to be a bit much for my tastes. I appreciate the organs that come in towards the end, but by then my attention has lapsed, and I'm ready to move on.

"Vision Of A New Dawn" has the same construction, and again is missing something because of it. It's not that they're bad tracks, it's just that they don't offer enough throughout the entirety of their lengths to keep the listener engaged. Great prog is able to run through the instrumental flourishes, but always return to the core of the song. That's what's missing here. The vocals and the melodies just aren't strong enough to justify the time between them.

There is certainly promise in the instrumentals here. The playing is all quite good, and there are sections, especially those when pianos and organs take the stage, that have some really good ideas. I don't say this often, as I'm not a fan of instrumental music, but this album would have been better off without vocalists, if someone could not have been found to write better vocal lines. As it stands, the vocals drag down all of these songs, both through the inability to craft a memorable chorus, and their lack of power and finesse.

"Travelog" is one of those albums that is hard to criticize, because I know the people who made the record did it out of love for the music. I can hear that, and I can see what they wanted to do, but it just doesn't hit the mark. Every genre has a margin for error, but the massive scope of the music makes prog's much smaller. This isn't terribly far off target, but it's enough to make this a bit disappointing.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Album Review: Rubikon - "Delta"

In the otherwise milquetoast Pearl Jam opus “Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town,” Eddie Vedder drops one irrefutable nugget of plain-language, common sense insight in his idiomatic lyrical windings.  “I changed by not changing at all.”  It’s a deceptively charming affront to the common perception of life and music, the pervasive idea that as the popular winds shift, so to must we all.

The swamp-soaked, mud-encrusted members of Rubikon are following in the spiritual footsteps of Vedder’s poetry, using their new album “Delta” as a metaphorical expression of an existential question: why do we deem that all music must be of a particular era and paradigm?  Isn’t good music just that, and can’t the qualities that make good music be timeless?

Certainly, we’ve seen that revolutionary thought in recent rock incarnations, the hallmarks of simple blues constructions evident in the likes of Graveyard, Blues Pills, Monster Truck, Orchid and even acts a little farther out like The Admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovell.  All of these bands are embracing the so-called ‘old school,’ openly rebelling against the rampant takeover of electronic fuckery in modern rock and pop.  Rubikon is clearly throwing their flag in with that vanguard, burying themselves in the basics of the genre and turning the amps to eleven.

The greeting strains of the album’s opening track “Live that Lie,” send a clear message about the contents to follow.  The song is a clever, catchy amalgam of ideas we’ve heard before, the combination of ZZ Top and George Thorogood is the rumbling lifeblood of the melody, but it’s the down-tuned thud of Soundgarden that colors the piece into something more three-dimensional.  Same goes for the second track, “Three Days” though that selection ups the blues ante even farther, stamping out two-step beats like a counter full of postal employees.  This same trend shifts just a little for “Vipers” the album’s swingin’est and most purely fun cut.

There’s something to be said for the general length of Rubikon’s selections.  The songs take as long as they take, often over five minutes, which is a good thing – Rubikon isn’t interested in making bite-size, radio-friendly three minute biscuits.  Now, does that mean that tracks like “Sermon” and “Swingers” wander on a little too long?  Sure, but it’s still preferable to have an artist who leaves nothing on the table than one who hedges bets.

Listeners should take note of “Through the Looking Glass” on the album’s back half.  This is the out there ELO, disco-KISS moment of the album, with regimented vocal phrasing and a reasonable facsimile of the Hammond organ.  It’s a song possessed of the saccharine, sing-song sweetness of the try-anything era of rock music, when the Bee Gees loomed large and “Saturday Night Fever” was still on the horizon, all the while Black Sabbath toiling in relative obscurity.  “Through the Looking Glass” is likely destined to be either the favorite or most-hated cut on the record, dependent entirely on the individual on the receiving end.

The fault with “Delta” is that something doesn’t add up, and it’s impossible to quantify.  The musicians are properly skilled, the rhythms hook-laden without being contrived, the songs meaty and meaningful, each with its own characteristic sheen of menace or longing or whatever the desired emotional flavor is.  Still, there’s something off, as I find myself listening to the record over and over again, each time hoping that I’ll like it more than I do.  Yet the mystery never unravels, no great epiphany takes place.

So that’s the bottomline for Rubikon’s “Delta.”  It’s sincere and well-crafted, executed with aplomb and proper respect for the time-tested elements that make this kind of music work.  Yet, it may be worth a rental before you buy.

Album Review: Symphony X - Underworld

Sometimes there are bands that make choices, which is their artistic right, that can't be explained. They take directions that should have been avoided, abandon what they are best at, and generally self-destruct before your very eyes. What possesses them to do this is hard to pinpoint; whether it's simply artistic boredom and the desire to do something new, or if they genuinely are so unaware of their own talents that they think they are good at things they clearly are not. In either case, a righting of the ship is the most welcome of reliefs, and for Symphony X, we have reached that point.

Their last two albums have seen the band moving from beautifully progressive metal into a hybrid of prog and modern metal that focused solely on heaviness, and reduced Russell Allen, one of the best pure singers in the genre, to a grunting shell of himself. Those records weren't bad, but they were so clearly not Symphony X playing to their strengths. They were a band trying to keep up with the times, which only made them sound flat.

"Underworld" is the sound of a band coming to terms with who they are. Gone are almost all of the gruff moments, and instead they go back to doing what they do better than most anyone; playing soaring, majestic progressive metal.

Of course, returning to form isn't the same thing as firing on all cylinders, but we'll get to that in a moment. First, let's talk about what is great about this record. The guitar tones are fantastic, and Michael Romeo spends the entire hour of the record shredding through riffs and runs that will make a lesser player weep. As someone who dabbles with the instrument, I wouldn't even dare think about learning anything here, because Romeo plays with the technical perfection of a robot.

Likewise, Russell Allen here reverts to his cleaner voice, which is still among the best in all of metal. Hearing him in his comfort zone is a joy, and he is the anchor that keeps these songs from veering off too far into the world of musical overkill. They lock into place best on the power-ballad "Without You", which dials back the technical aspects just a bit, and gives Russell a bit more space for his melody. The result is a song that drips with melody and emotion, and is a surefire highlight of the record.

The longest track here, as was the case on the previous record, is probably the best song on the entire record. "To Hell And Back" goes through a few distinct sections, all of which fit together into a beautiful whole. That is the kind of song where all of the band's skills are put to perfect use, and the song gets elevated above even the massive talents on display.

That being said, there is one choice here that I don't quite understand. Amidst the technical onslaught of the music, Russell has his place to chime in with what are some solid hooks. But for some reason, he sings most of them with a soft tone, and without the usual power he puts into his material. It might be a choice to try to juxtapose hard and soft, but it makes his parts feel a bit too low-key for the epic sweep of the songs. They would hit harder if he sounded more invested.

But that complain is minor, as the songs are mostly rock solid. There is the occasional misfire ("Kiss Of Fire"), but songs like "In My Darkest Hour" and "Swansong" are better than just about everything from the last two record. Overall, "Underworld" might not make the same impact that "Divine Wings Of Tragedy" did, but it's a very good record, and it's resetting the stage for Symphony X to make another grand statement in progressive metal.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Album Review: Tangerine Circus - The Conspiracy Chronicles

Despite the rich tradition of international metal, there are still countries from which it's unusual to hear quality material. Metal may come from all corners of the world, but there are hotbeds where the majority of what we hear emanate from, while a few bands will pop up in the dead zones to try to jump-start the scene there. Sometimes, all it takes is one band to break through, and an entire region can become a hot zone, producing quality bands one after another. And sometimes, that lone band will be the only one there, because they can't drive up sufficient interest in making metal a mainstay of their culture.

While there have been a few metal bands to hail from Mexico, Tangering Circus is the first one that I have put under the microscope. Playing a brand of progressive metal that borrows from all the heavy hitters, their heritage could provide an interesting take on what is often a very staid, lifeless style of music.

After a well-crafted orchestral overture, "Neohuman" opens the album with six minutes of quality riffing and subdued melody. The verses have the vocals buried in the mix, behind the saturated guitar tone, but the chorus section lifts them up just enough that you can hear the pretty good hook. Even then, it's impossible to make out the lyrics, because the vocals are too quiet. The bridge is dominated by a very loud synth part, before the heavy riffing takes over. It's a song that shows promise, but is let down heavily by the poor choices in mixing.

"Through Heaven" is a more dramatic piece, with arpeggiated riffs, more atmosphere, and some nicely sculpted melody. Unfortunately, it too suffers from a mix that buried the vocals. While the music is quality, and I can tell the song is well-written, not being able to immediately pick out the strongest hook and the human element, is a disappointment.

"Lifestream" changes things up with a heavy dose of keys, sounding a lot like a song that could have been on a recent Kamelot album. It's a well thought-out song, and has a lot going for it, when you can make out the details. I hate to keep going back to that well, but when the mix impacts the ability to hear what's going on in the music, it needs to be discussed.

The centerpiece of the album is the twenty minute "The Conspiracy", which sees the band flexing their prog muscles throughout the extended composition. They spend the first four minutes in an instrumental workout, throwing a wide variety of tricks onto the stage. When the vocals finally come in, there's some beautiful layering and what I think is counterpoint melody, and the juxtaposition when pianos come into the fold is beautiful stuff. Likewise, the lengthy guitar solo in the second half of the song is the best bit of playing on the entire record. If you like prog, you're going to love this one, because it's got a little bit of everything, and something for everyone.

Though that song can be draining, there are four more tracks left to go. "Spheres" is a highlight of the record, with a hook that has a simple, yet beautiful little melody that could be edited down into a perfect single to showcase the band's sound. "Advent Of The Thinking" is the only superfluous track here, a four minute instrumental that serves mostly as the introduction to the next track, "The Great Elector". That song's acoustic balladry gives the first hint of the band's heritage, and serves as a welcome respite from the loud, crunching prog.

Another fourteen minute epic shows up next in the form of "The Memory Delusion". This one is less focused on instrumental flourishes, and instead of rampant technicality, spends its time building up emotional and melodic catharsis. That can also be a criticism, as I'm not sure there's enough going on in the song to necessitate it being that long.

By the time the album is over, I've reached a very definite conclusion. "The Conspiracy Chronicles" is a good album, and a very promising entry of progressive metal that avoids the usual boredom that many of these bands produce. That being said, if the mix wasn't so brick-walled to the point of being painful, and the vocals were brought up in the mix, this would be a very, very good album. I like it, but it's such a case of 'what could have been'. Sigh.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Album Review: Barock Project - Skyline

Symphonic prog has taken a hard hit in modern times. Sure, Yes is still out there touring and making records, and bands like Transatlantic and The Flower Kings are carrying the flag, but by and large the people have moved on to other, newer, sounds. That's sad, not because I lament the passing of time and abandoning something that was once treasured, but because the modern form of prog is lacking something that I think is integral to the appeal of the music; fun. The music that symphonic prog bands make has elements of beauty and fun to it, they are songs and albums that make you actually want to listen. Modern prog has slipped into the dark, where I almost feel you need to have a slight emotional issue just to push the play button.

Barock Project is a symphonic band in the old tradition. Their brand of prog is warm and inviting, a style that could easily be called 'sunny day' music. And since I am writing this review while ample amounts of sunshine pour through the window, it's all too appropriate.

"Gold" opens the album with a shot acapella vocal section, before the song gets going with traditionally dense prog musicianship, filled with pulsing bass-lines, and instruments that pop in and out with reckless abandon. Pianos give way to organs, as acoustic guitars chime in for a few bars here and there. It's the type of composition that can get out of hand if you aren't careful, but there is a smooth melody from the vocals that ties it all together. I can certainly hear the baroque style the band's name implies in the guitar solo, but even that doesn't last long before horns come in and introduce the third section of the eight minute track. There's a lot going on for that amount of time.

The instrumental "Overture", somewhat confusingly, doesn't open the record, but follows with a progressive workout and a flurry of notes and ideas. The title track builds upon that with the first ten minute outing of the record, a folky song that spends its first four minutes as an acoustic story ballad, before the rest of the band chimes in and turns the song into a traditional rocker. Myself, I could do without the heavy dose of cowbell that runs through that section, but I love the folk flavor, even if I think the song needs a stronger set of melodies.

"Roadkill" is the heaviest number so far, and brings a bigger influence of arena rock into the proceedings, although I don't mean to say it sounds anything like a bad hair metal band. What I'm trying to say is that there's a definite intention to make the vocal section in the middle of the song soar above the rest. It's a bit of a shame that the song doesn't bring it back after the flute solo, because having a few more quality hooks that repeat would go a long way to making the music more memorable for listeners.

Unfortunately, that is the record's biggest flaw. There are aspects of the album that are stunning; the sound is rich and lush, the instrumentals have tons of clever ideas and motifs, and the vocals are capable of being beautiful. But while there is all the potential in the world here, there is a lack of memorable songwriting. Every song adheres so strongly to the progressive ethos that they rarely deviate from the straight line of one new idea after the other. We aren't given the chance to have great moments repeat, to look forward to hearing those big flourishes again before the next idea comes along.

I understand that progressive music is supposed to be unconventional, and is supposed to embrace a more compositional style akin to classical music, but I can't help but say I was longing for a bit more of a traditional structure to underpin some of these songs. I appreciate the tangents the band goes on, and some of the instrumental parts are wonderful, but they feel incomplete without a larger framework to have them make sense. But maybe that's just me.

Overall, "Skyline" is an album that shows immense talent, and plenty of possibility. For me, however, it's also an album that misses out on its potential by, of all things, being too good at what it aims to be. It's certainly well-written, well-played, and a fabulous sounding record. But it's not something that is going to draw me back to listen to it again and again, because it's almost too progressive for anyone who isn't dedicated to that style of music. "Skyline" is worth hearing, but I don't think it will become essential.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Album Review: Borealis - Purgatory

Outside of the traditionalists who refuse to change anything, ever, the nature of power metal has been one that has been increasingly moving in a heavier direction. Metal fans are, by and large, overly concerned with the relative heaviness of the music they listen to, which has slowly pulled every type of metal further and further into what was one extreme territory. Even power metal bands now have to have deeply tunes guitars, drums that approach blast beats, and sand off the poppier overtones of their melodies.

Borealis is one of these modern power metal bands, playing a style that tries to mix melody and darkness. Whether those two things can coexist is something that I'm not sure of, at least not for the entirety of a record, let alone a career.

"Past The Veil" opens things off by throwing everything into the mix. The song has a piano figure, some orchestral backing, deep chugging riffs, and some baritone vocals that make the entire thing highly reminiscent of Evergrey. They do all of this in five minutes, which is an indication of where the rest of the record is going. It is a good song, but it almost comes across like it's trying a bit too hard to be metal, when it should smooth things out and highlight the melody a bit more.

"From The Ashes" is highly dramatic, with crying strings, and rapid-fire drums pounding away all the time. The chorus speeds things up, but that's not a good decision, because the melody gets compressed too much, and the hook gets lost amid the raging music. That lack of melody is a big problem for an album that is supposed to be melodic metal. They band surely tries hard to be melodic, but they aren't writing vocal lines that are hooky enough. The vocals tend to think that singing clean and with drawn out notes is the same thing as being melodic. It isn't, but it's a common misconception in a lot of the metal world.

One of the problems I have with the record is that the production puts too much focus on the drumming, to the point where the constant double-kick action is distracting. There are moments when I'm trying to hear the melody, but am overwhelmed by the needless pounding. This seems to me to be a classic example of an instrumentalist trying to do too much. There are so many drum hits that it all becomes a blur, and none of the patterns can really stand out.

I don't want to sound too negative here, because Borealis is a band that has plenty of talent. Their delivery of the music is practically flawless, and they know how to use their keyboard and string accents to heighten the drama. From an instrumental perspective, they've done a fine job of building a modern power metal record, as much as it can be done. I don't particularly find this style to be all that engaging, with its focus on mechanized rhythms, but Borealis does it well. My issue is that, aside from the beautiful "My Peace", I don't get nearly enough melody and hooks from the vocals to make the album worth my time.

There's plenty of hope for the future here, and people who love drumming far more than I do will enjoy "Purgatory" quite a bit. It just doesn't offer me the kind of power metal I'm looking for, so I can only say that it's good for what it is.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Album Review - Shawn James and the Shapeshifters - "The Gospel According to Shawn James and the Shapeshifters"

In Michael Shaara’s classic Civil War book ‘The Killer Angels’ Union colonel Joshua Chamberlain reflects on the reason that the war is being fought.  Certainly, Chamberlain is happy enough to wave the flag and fire the cannon in the name of abolition and the unity of the United States, but he also ruminates on a separate, more personally ingrained idea.  He believed that the Confederacy had used the plantation system to keep the European ideals of caste and societal structure alive, that the Old World hadn’t left truly released its grip on America when Cornwallis surrendered at Yorktown.  In effect, Chamberlain believed that he was not just leading a counter-insurgency to Gettysburg, but continuing the revolution that his forebears had fought generations before, seeking now to exorcise the very ideals of life in the antebellum South.

Shawn James and the Shapeshifters are continuing that very assault with their new record “The Gospel according to Shawn James and the Shapeshifters,” raising deeply personal questions about the very nature of some of statues of stereotypical life below the Mason-Dixon.  The irony in all this is that James and his band have chosen as their weapons tenets that many southern music fans would hold above approach – am embattled but virile mixture of country banjo, bluegrass violin, delta blues and the booming, pulpit-resonating gospel bellow of James himself.

James (and by extension, the Shapeshifters,) lash out with deeply righteous indignation at the forces that no doubt encircled them in their Arkansas upbringing.  The album’s strength comes from the middle, with the emotive and powerful “Lake of Fire” and settling into the harrowing thunder of “Just Because.”  The former song bristles with bubbling catharsis as James hammers away at a church that he describes as spiraling the wrong way, each vocal line cut over a thin, yearning guitar or a bittersweet violin, until the crescendo brings the entire ensemble into play.  “Just Because” thuds along with heavy steps, each moment of the simple beat punctuated by the measured jangling of a Jacob Marley style chain, a symbol of both temporal constraint in the present and cultural constraint echoing through generations.  The build-up eventually gives way to a dam burst of chaotic breakdown, the percussion purposefully steering the ship over the rocks in the breakwater.

Look, there’s a ton of other excellent stuff going on for this record, the power and fury of Shawn James and his accompaniment overflowing from the rollicking tumult of nearly each and every track.  “Lost” and “No Gods” in particular embrace the inversion of the usual intent of highly spiritual music to launch daggers at the conviction and exclusion of organized religion, leading the listener on a journey of self-reliance and discovery.  The ebb and flow of these pieces and the cuts not mentioned here surround the listener with a weighty experience that can be caustic and biting while still thoughtful and occasionally sarcastically funny.

The album is full of flashes of brilliance and the careful articulation of a fantastic blend of elements not always associated, employed with skill and dedication often not found among self-released artists.  At a glimpse, the album answers the question of what Clutch’s “Pure Rock Fury” would have sounded like if that album had been injected with gospel roots.

Regardless, let’s be clear – the brilliance of “The Gospel According…” extends wholly from that two-song battery in the middle of the record that commands attention.  This is the crux of the musical experience that Shawn James offers for this record, the kind of uniquely captivating music that stands out from the clatter of also-rans and the drudgery of used-to-bes.

Find this.  Own it.  Tell your friends about it.  Period.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Singles Round Up: Stryper, Spock's Beard, Soilwork & More

Singles Roundup:

As we gear up our anticipation for the late summer and fall releases we've been teased with, we're getting to hear more samples from many of them, so it's once again time to take a look and see what we've got in terms of singles.

Spock's Beard - Tides Of Time

I was a huge, huge fan of the band's previous album, so I'm expecting great things from "The Oblivion Particle". This track, the album's opener, isn't really doing much for me. There are a few great moments, and the way the acoustic guitar comes out of nowhere is pure Spock's Beard from the old Neal Morse days, it feels too much like it was stitched together from ideas that they had lying around. Coupled with the fact that it's missing a big melody to tie it together, and it's a disappointing first impression.

Soilwork - The Ride Majestic

I will admit that I never actually got around to listening to the entirety of Soilwork's double album. I like the band, but only in small doses. The title track of their new album is the first we've heard from the record, and it is also a bit disappointing. The riffing doesn't lock down into a heavy groove, instead relying on more atmospheric sounds, and far too many of the vocals are delivered in Speed's harsh tone. What makes them great is the blend of death metal and melody, and this song doesn't really have either of those things.

Slayer - Repentless

The third tracks we've heard from the upcoming Slayer album still does nothing to stoke my fires for it. "Repentless" is Slayer by-the-numbers. The riffing is exactly what Kerry has been writing for at least three albums now, fast-paced chugging with little actual musical worth to it, Tom's vocal cadence is unchanged, and the lyrics are downright awful high-school language. Apparently, it's an ode to Jeff Hanneman, and if that's so, Slayer should be even more embarrassed than usual. If they can't do better than this as a tribute to their fallen brother, they have nothing left to offer.

Symphony X - Without You

This is more like it. The first song Symphony X released was a weak rehashing of their past, but this is what I was expecting. Yes, it could be called a ballad, but it's got heart and melody to go along with Michael Romeo's guitar prowess. Russell Allen sounds great singing cleanly here, and the hook is actually strong, so this is a clear winner.

Stryper - Yahweh

Since coming back, Styper has been getting heavier, which you would think is a good thing. But in their case, it's not what they're good at, so it doesn't always work out. Michael Sweet is oversinging throughout this song, and the chorus is a weak, lame choir chanting the title. It's not melodically interesting in the slightest. I'll still listen to the album, and presumably review it, but this isn't getting me excited.

Riverside - Discard Your Fear

I know Riverside is considered one of the greatest modern prog bands, but I've never heard it. I liked "Anno Domini High Definition", but that's about it. Getting ready for their new album, the first track that has been released is.... incredibly slow. It's a very sleepy, dream-like song that has very little energy to get you interested. That said, it does have a cool bit of bass at the beginning, and the main melody is soothing and enjoyable. It's a good song, but an odd choice to be the first impression of the record. I'm hoping there's some more energy on the rest of the songs.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Album Review: Chaos Magic - Chaos Magic

Somehow, out of the car crash that was the end of the 'classic' lineup of Stratovarius, Timo Tolkki has managed to rehabilitate himself. Things didn't start out well, with the disastrous run of Revolution Renaissance albums, but recent years have seen Tolkki hitting a new stride. He's made two metal operas that have been well received, and he was the creative force behind last year's fantastic Allen/Lande album, which gave me reason to think that he had learned from his mistakes, and was ready to become a songwriter for hire that could still pump out a large volume of good material.

Chaos Magic sees him paired with Chilean singer Caterina Nix, for what is ostensibly her solo debut. After a dramatic opening with a choir chanting in the background, "I'm Alive" turns the proceedings over to the star, and we get our first taste of her voice. She can certainly sing, with a voice that recalls Anneke Van Giersbergen, a strong voice that doesn't always carry many of the classical overtones that most of the women in metal are required to have. What this means is that she can match the power of the music, rather than serve as the beautiful counterpoint to the brusque instrumentals.

"I'm Alive" is a short, to the point opener that does two things that Tolkki's recent output are known for; being immediately catchy, and possibly taking too much influence from from songs we've already heard. That feeling cropped up a couple of times on the Allen/Lande album, and again here, but it can be forgiven when the songs are as slick and memorable as this one is.

"Dangerous Game" is a tougher sell, with a hook that's a bit more subtle, one that sounds like it was written for someone else. Nix's vocals appear to strain to hit the notes, which are not settled into the strongest range of her voice. Tolkki should have heard this and adjusted the song to fit her, doing everything he can to highlight Nix's strengths. The next track, "One Drop Of Blood" fits Nix better, and the result is a song that sounds more confident, more assured, and more powerful.

Nix's classical training is most evident in "Seraphim", a slow-moving, highly Gothic number that puts her more in line with what what the stereotype of this kind of record would lead you to. Maybe because of that, it's less interesting than the heavier, more rocking numbers that came before it. It's a trend I notice throughout the record; namely that the heavier numbers are the most interesting, with the softer, more classical moments lacking the same energy. While Nix can certainly sing either style, I think it would benefit both her and the record to have focused more on being a heavier approach to the style. The softer moments invite too many comparisons to the other female singers playing Gothic-like metal, and they don't highlight the strengths of Tolkki's writing.

I'm not going to make any grand pronouncements about Nix or Tolkki from this album, but I was expecting a bit more from two people who obviously have a wealth of talent. Nix does everything she can with her vocals, but the songs are consistently strong enough to make this a top-flight record. There's half of a great record here, and if they can hone their focus for a second outing, there's the opportunity to make Chaos Magic into a great little melodic metal band. "Chaos Magic" is a good debut, with a couple of great songs, but it's biggest problem is that it allows me to hear the potential it didn't quite live up to.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Album Review: Zodiac - Sonic Child

There is an inescapable truth that every music fan must come to understand; no matter how much time you spend searching for and listening to new music, you can never hear everything. You can scour as many sites and message boards for recommendations as you can find, but there will always be quality records that slip past you. I wish I could hear everything that could potentially interest me, but even if I had a complete list of those records as they came long, I doubt I would even have the time. And so, with a bit of a lull in the release schedule right now, I went searching in the ethos for records that fit the style that has my attention at the moment. A bit of blind luck turned me towards Zodiac, and their album from last year, "Sonic Child".

Retro rock has been riding a resurgence in the last two or three years, but other than Graveyard and Blues Pills, I haven't found anything in that movement that I think is going to last. What seems to be the case is that plenty of bands are able to pull out some vintage gear and replicate the sound of flimsy 70s recordings, but they all lack the songwriting and diversity of influences that was the hallmark of that time. Basically, they are bands that copy a style without understanding anything about what goes on under the surface.

That is not a complaint I can register against Zodiac. "Sonic Child" is an album that fully grasps what a proper rock and roll record from that era was supposed to be, and fills the gap between Graveyard releases as well as I can possibly imagine.

After opening with a bit of spoken word and some jazzy chords, the record properly begins with "Swinging On The Run", which jumps out of the speakers with the kind of flawless guitar tone more of these bands need to copy. It deftly balances the warmth of a clean tone with the heft of distortion, a sound that has the perfect amount of clarity to make it perfectly clear this band isn't hiding anything behind their breaking-down amps. The sound is absolutely vintage, but it is not merely window-dressing. There's an energy running through the song that recalls the olden days of rock, and it's infectious when the chorus hooks you with its simple but catchy melody. And if you think that is going to tell you what the record is all about, you have another thing coming.

The title track introduces a heavier dose of Southern Rock attitude, with a slurred guitar line that came from the swamps, and another chorus that is deceptively simple but effective. "Sad Song" turns the music darker, with vocals that evoke the whiskey-soaked croak of Mark Lannegan, which is definitely intended as a compliment. While a lot of these bands have vocalists who try miserably to replicate the constricted high notes of Robert Plant, Zodiac goes the other way with more of a gruff baritone, which is not only refreshing, but just a damn fine voice to listen to.

"Out Of The City" is a short and sweet rocker, but the riff that sits under the chorus is one of those pockets of groove that is irresistible. And with some Jerry Lee Lewis style piano pounding in the background, it keep the record moving in different directions. So too does "A Penny And A Dead Horse", which turns from steel-guitar laced country ballad, to sweeping rocker, with a half-time chorus that is perfectly timed, and uses the tempo shifting to keep the seven minutes from ever feeling like a drag.

"Good Times" is another favorite, where the jazz influence from the opening bit crops back up, with a guitar riff in the chorus that is so catchy, and shows just how beautifully the amps are pushing. "Rock Bottom Blues" follows as the centerpiece of the album, a nine-minute workout of bluesy swagger. The song is slow and smoldering, with some beautiful lead guitar work breaking up the sections. That sort of song usually tries my patience, but this one is good enough that even I'm not going to complain.

The album closes with "Just Music", which goes back to the well of wonderfully catchy rock and roll. Ending the record on the giant blues number might have been a bit too morose, so giving us something to smile about is a smart decision.

The limited edition of the album adds two more tracks on, the rockers "Not Fragile" and "Shine On", which feature some of the best riffs of the bunch, but I can see why they were left for bonuses. They're still very good songs, and do nothing but give you more enjoyable music to listen to, but they weren't needed to produce a fully balanced record.

"Sonic Child" is a record that I'm sorry to say I missed last year, upon its release. It is clearly one of the best retro rock albums to have come out of this wave, and shows Zodiac as a band that is growing leaps and bounds with every record. This is their crowning achievement, both in songs and that stunning artwork, and would have been a strong contender for one of my Top Ten Albums Of 2014, had I known about it. I can't change the past, but I can tell you about Zodiac, because they've made an impressive album.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Album Review: Alicia Witt - Revisionary History

There's an old saying that all rock stars want to be actors, and all actors want to be rock stars. Maybe you've heard it with the word athlete in place of actor, but it applies in either case. There is a long, rich history of actors branching out beyond Hollywood to try their hand in the glamorous, or not, life of a musician. Most of the time, they are vanity projects that don't really showcase anything of the person in question, because the songs were picked over from the pop star scrap heap. But sometimes we are reminded that not all actors are one-trick ponies, and some of them had their sights set on music long before they stepped in front of a camera.

Alicia Witt is a familiar name and face to many, but not for her music. Though she has been on our tv screens for a long time, this is her first full album. And much to my delight, it is an album that showcases not just Alicia Witt the singer, but also Alicia Witt the songwriter.

Playing a style of piano-centered pop that sounds almost quaint compared to the digital mess of noise that passes for pop music today, this is the kind of album that cries out for a slightly more mature pop listener. It sounds like an extremely ageist thing to say, and I guess it is, but I also realize that I don't think there is much of an appetite for this style of music amongst anyone much younger than my 31 years. That's a damn shame, since Alicia proves herself here to be a more than capable force.

"Friend" opens the album with twinkling piano, and a melody that ebbs and flows without ever breaking the flow, the kind that I think plays to the strengths of a singer. It's warm and engaging, and when she layers her vocals in the latter choruses, it's also impeccable and beautiful. Coupled with some sharp writing, including a delightful little metaphor in the form of "you've split me spine to page", it's clear that this is a work from the heart.

Alicia's background as an actress comes through in "About Me", where she's able to use her voice's limitations to her advantage, turning in a performance that exudes sass and character, which are traits that are not easy to convey through song. That she does so is a testament to her commitment to these songs. A song like "Blind" brings in acoustic and slide guitars and a slight Americana feel, but at its heart is a really good pop song built on a strong chorus.

"Theme From Pasadena (You Can Go Home Again)" is a duet with Ben Folds, a slow-burning track that rides on ample atmosphere and the satisfying blend of their voices. It's not hard to imagine the song playing over the credits of a 70s soapy drama. I think that's what they were going for. I'm more certain that "Consolation Prize" is aiming for an Elton John feeling, with a chord construction that feels similar, and brittle, cutting guitars that sound like they were ripped straight off an old vinyl. This kind of music is so easy and comfortable that I wonder about the one misstep, the hip-hop detour of "Down", which spends three minutes robbing the record of its biggest selling point.

Closing out the record is the anti-holiday tune "I'm Not Ready For Christmas", which in addition to being a bit biting, and certainly catchy with another of those rolling melodies, also says something I have been yelling about for years: "It just occurs to me the Grinch was not so mean, he had a point or two". Thank you Alicia for putting in song the truth; the Grinch should have been mad at the Whos if he could hear them from the top of a mountain. They were terrible neighbors, using the spirit of Christmas to cover up their lousy behavior, which is part of the underlying message of the song.

Overall, "Revisionary History" is actually a very sweet little record that you probably wouldn't be expecting. Aside from that one little stumble, it's the kind of music you can put on and enjoy without having to wonder if civilization is really coming to an end. That might be a bit extreme, but I like records like this, records that are organic and enjoyable. If the acting well ever dries up, Alicia Witt certainly has what it takes to make a go of it with music.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Album Review: Dimino - Old Habits Die Hard

Angel is one of those bands that you often hear included in lists of bands from the old days that should have been bigger than they were. For whatever reason, they didn't achieve massive stardom, and the years since have been spent with the band's passionate fans trying to keep their name alive. Myself, I've never had the chance to dig that far back and check out the band, so I can't comment on whether they really are one of the best bands that you've (probably) never heard of. All I know is that Dimino is the new project from their erstwhile singer, with this new album that features a slew of musicians to come along and help Frank Dimino return to the scene.

"Never Again" opens the record with a rock swagger that feels straight from the time when Angel was at their peak. Paul Crook's influence comes through with backing vocals that could have come off of any of the Meat Loaf record he's worked on, but the song itself is lacking. Dimino's voice sounds good for someone who was making records 40 years ago, but he makes the ill-advised decision to spend too much time in his diminishing higher register, when it's his normal voice that is best. Coupled with a chorus that is nothing but the title being sung again and again, it's not the best way to start off a record.

"Rocking In The City" is better served for that purpose, with a bit more energy, some beautiful organs swirling in the background, and a chorus that has just a bit more of a catchy melody to it. You're not going to confuse this with pop music, but there's more of a hook here than on the opening number, which makes it so much better a song.

The rest of the album follows a similar line, with plenty of old-school rock riffs, and vocal lines that don't really add much to the experience. Dimino does an admirable job behind the mic, but his voice clearly isn't what it was when he was younger, lacking the bite and high end that he's trying to fit into the songs. When he keeps himself in check, like on the ballad "Even Now", the results are really good. But too often he's trying to sing like he's thirty years younger, and that only serves to highlight what isn't there anymore.

But I could forgive a vocalist who isn't at the top of their game if the songs were good enough, and that's where this record falls short. With all the people who helped make this record, I would have expected more from these songs. It's competent hard rock, but that's about it. There aren't riffs or solos that are going to make you take notice, and Dimino's vocal lines are all simplistic and easily forgettable, relying on adding background vocals to make them sound bigger.

Redemption stories are always welcome, but I don't think Dimino is going to be one of them. It's nice to have him back, but this record isn't the right vehicle to remind people of him, or of Angel. It's a record that old-time fans will enjoy for the nostalgia factor, but that's about it. Hopefully, now that he has his comeback out of his system, Dimino can focus on making a record that is worthy of his supposed status.