Sunday, March 29, 2015

2001 Year in Review Part 1 - Ep182

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We go back in time for the next two weeks to a year that changed the world....but were the tunes good?

This week Aaron and Chris and present part 1 of their 2001 Year in Review. It doesn't seem like it's been almost a decade and a half from 2001 but it has. Many of you are probably thinking "Did anything good come out in 2001?" Well, your hosts this week dug deep and think you'll nod your head in approval at a number of the gems they unearthed from a year that saw the Billboard charts topped by stuff that, well let's just say was "ungood." In part 1 you'll hear all the info from January to June of 2001 including news on the launch of Wikipedia, Don Felder being fired by The Eagles, Eric Singer being rehired by KISS and putting on the catman makeup, the death of Joey Ramone, the release of Motley Crue's 'The Dirt' and much, much more. You'll also get classic commercials from the year as well as lots of tracks from artists such as Buckcherry, Aerosmith, Betty Blowtorch, Econoline Crush, Hair of the Dog, Clutch, Weezer, Warrant, and many more.

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Weezer
Warrant
Betty Blowtorch
Clutch
Saliva
Alien Ant Farm
Hair of the Dog
Aerosmith
Buckcherry
Econoline Crush
Treble Charger
The Donnas
Primal Fear
LA Guns
Megadeth
Drowning Pool
STP
The Cult

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Saturday, March 28, 2015

High Voltage In Sweden - 220 Volt live in Borlänge

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220 Volt Live in Borlänge, Sweden. Photo by Mikael Svensson
It´s been 27 years! 27 years since I last attended a 220 Volt concert, then as part of a Swedish ”Monsters of Rock” package featuring the cream of Swedish hard rock and featuring the main contenders for the crown that Europe wore. The package included Treat, Electric Boys and of course 220 Volt, the band from the Northern county of Jämtland and its "capital" Östersund. I was 15 years old and this touring package came to my tiny hometown of Hofors in the summer of 1988. I was completely blown away by both Treat and 220 Volt that hot summer night and left with memories that will never fade, the biggest impression being made by 220 Volt. I was hooked! The sheer energy when they hit the stage to ”Firefall” blended with that unique feeling for writing a big hook! Guitarists Peter Olander and Mats Karlsson traded solos like I had never heard before and on top of that – the great and very personal voice of Joakim Lundholm.

Mats Karlsson (lead guitar)
Anders Engberg (lead vocals)
Photo by Mikael Svensson
Back to 2015, March 27th to be exact. Eagerly I enter my car to drive the 70 kilometers from my home to Borlänge, a mid-sized Swedish town of about 50,000 inhabitants situated in the middle of Sweden. It is here that 220 Volt has decided to start their support of their brilliant new album Walking in Starlight (reviewed here: Electric Messengers Want Us To Walk In Starlight). It´s a different band I will be seeing tonight. Joakim Lundholm is long gone and the vocals are now handled by Anders Engberg (Sorcerer, ex-Lion´s Share) who I have previously seen when Lion´s Share opened up for Saxon on their Unleash The Beast tour in 1997. A great frontman indeed to pick up where Lundholm left off to join Kraftztoff. God knows who will be handling the bass duties tonight, filling in for Mike Larsson who is no longer with the band. My guesses are either of the session musicians on Walking in StarlightJohan Niemann (Evergrey) or Lars Ericson. I guess Johan would be busy with Evergrey so Lars Ericson then? All my guesses will turn out to be wrong but more on that later. Olander has also been replaced by the returning Thomas Drevin (guitarist on the first two albums). My expectations are high and as they should be when you go and see a band of this quality.

I arrived a little after 10pm. It was announced that the first band would go on stage at 10pm, but that was not the case. It takes a long while before the first band, Thalamus, enter the stage so I spend some time at the merch stand when I see 220 Volt guitarist Mats Karlsson sorting out the T-shirts together with his wife. I stroll over to the merch area to talk to him. He promises a set of 60% old material and 40% new. They have been told three different times for their setlist so he does not know for how long they can play. He promises to try and play 10 songs at least. I only speak briefly to him and he signs my CD´s but I leave quite quickly not to disturb him in his work. Drummer Peter ”Hermie” Hermansson also appears at the merchandise stand but not long enough for me to catch him to sign my records. By then I had found a very comfortable couch to sit on. Too bad I don´t approach him because he is the only one to not show up after the show either. Thalamus entered the stage – a band I never have heard of before. They play a doomy kind of hard rock (think first two Black Sabbath albums). They sound good and have a lead vocalist/guitarist with an impressive voice although the early part of their set is hampered by technical issues. Some of the songs are too slow and bluesy for my taste, but they play a couple of great sounding tunes as well. Thalamus play a pretty short set (40 minutes?) and then it is time for me to leave the comfortable sofa I found in the back of the pub/dancefloor turned concert hall. Hermansson appears behind the drumkit and Karlsson/Engberg set up the mike stands as I enter the ”dancefloor” and move towards the stage. Now it's not far away!

Thomas Drevin (lead guitar)
Photo by Mikael Svensson
220 Volt hits the stage and starts out with ”System Overload” from the new album. The band seems a little uncomfortable at the start but soon find their way in ”The Harder They Come” from their ”big” Max Norman produced Eye to Eye album (1988). ”It´s back to the 80´s” as Engberg says and they plow through ”I´m On Fire” which is another gem from Eye to Eye. Anders Engberg introduces the band and on bass we have newcomer Fredrik Hallström who also provides backing vocals. The people in the front seem to be as excited as I am by now and knowing every word of the songs from Eye to Eye I find myself singing along to the entire songs. Engberg seems a bit uneasy at times having to glance at the monitor to find the right lyric, but this is also the first gig in a long time. After the start with songs from Eye to Eye and Walking in Starlight the band announces that they are going to take us on a journey from the start (well nearly) to today and the new record. They start off with ”Woman in White”, the album closer from the very first self-titled album released in 1983, which also has Mats Karlsson singing the part of the verses. The song sounded great and very true to the original, but is sort of an odd pick in my book. It is followed by another old gem called ”Lonely Nights” - opener from the very same debut album. It is then time for my favourite performance of the evening. The intro to ”Walking in Starlight” starts with a distinct noise from Drevin's guitar. The band then jumps into the song and it gives me chills through my spine. This rocks like hell! An epic and melodic song of the highest standard possible. When it's finished Engberg talks a bit about the band existing for a long time – long before he joined and introduces the ”biggest song 220 Volt have written”. It´s time for the ballad of the evening and ”Love Is All You Need” which is of course, the big single off Eye to Eye that gained heavy rotation on MTV in the late 1980´s. On this song, I think the band hesitates a little and they seem a bit uneasy including lead vocalist Engberg. Still he invites the crowd to sing along to the chorus line and we all do what we can. The concert then ends with the band back on top and in an ecstatic way when they close with regular concert opener ”Firefall” The band is virtually on fire and it only leaves me wanting some more. I want ”Beat Of A Heart” and ”Power Games” but there is no time left and the Wolf is waiting in the wings.

Engberg is rockin it out at Liljan, Borlänge
Hallström is providing some bass grooves and backing vocals.
Photo by Mikael Svensson
I move back to my sofa in the back sorting out my thoughts when Anders Engberg grabs a beer and places himself in front of me. Time for a chat with him and some signatures on the CDs! I tell him about my experience with Lion´s Share and he signs my CD with them saying ”This was not yesterday”. Anders seems like a nice guy and he tells me they are not actually doing a tour because they all have got 9-5 jobs now and can only do this on weekends. They will play Uppsala tomorrow with Wolf again and then play the odd weekend gig before the festival seasons starts. Then they will play the Peace and Love festival here in Sweden and will return to my area in September for a gig in Gävle. I tell him I will be there and congratulate him on a great gig. Anders is not satisfied and says it could have been better. I leave him to his beer and now Wolf is on stage. They belt out their traditional heavy metal and they sound good. I find it a bit hard to digest the rough vocals that are not my cup of tea, but they have some loyal fans in the front singing along to their songs. I decide to buy a T-shirt so I go to the merchandise stand again. After watching Wolf for a while Thomas Drevin appears and I need him to sign my CD. We exchange a few words before I start talking to Mats Karlsson more in depth this time.

Mats tells me of the troubles of getting their old classic albums out to the public again on CD. The band has been trying to buy back the rights but to no avail. Nobody is still with Sony/CBS Records Sweden from back when they were released and 220 Volt was on the label. As Mats puts it – they don´t know what they got and the archives are a bit of a mess. According to Mats they are not willing to license the albums to another record company either. That´s a pity because the younger fans will have a harder time (or not at all) to discover the treasure trove that is the back catalog of 220 Volt. When he asked the company what they are going to do with the recordings they told him they will digitize it. The albums are now finally available on I-tunes and other digital media. When I asked Mats about a possible physical release his response was ”It will not happen!”.

The band with "Hermie" Hermansson behind the drumkit
Photo by Mikael Svensson
Mats also revealed that there are unreleased songs that could be used as bonus tracks on possible future re-releases, but the band has some degree of control over it. Sony cannot issue them without the band's approval. Mats also said he was not sure of the quality of the songs, but that opinion could change from person to person. I think you are right Mats! I´ve bought records where one of the bonus tracks was the best song on the entire album. It´s a matter of taste I guess. If you read my review on the new Dalton disc called Pitstop for Decibel Geek (Dalton - Pitstop Review) you have this being the case. Mats also said he was not 100% happy with the gig (just like Anders Engberg) and told me this was the first gig since they reformed two years ago. They need some time and gigs to become tighter. I told him it sounded good from my point of view. Mats told me they would play a longer set tomorrow in Uppsala when only Wolf and them played. I told him I missed ”Beat Of a Heart” and he told me they would play that and ”Power Games” tomorrow. The people going to Katalin, Uppsala Sweden are in for a treat. Maybe it was also a bit surprising that the Mind Over Muscle album was left untouched. 

Just before we went separate ways Mats told me they are back for good and will continue this time. That was great news to me and I went back to watching Wolf again. I especially want to thank Mats Karlsson for a really nice chat (hard to hear everything with Wolf blasting through the speakers). I would love to do a further in-depth interview on the band sometime in the future.

Summary
The concert hall was not even half full during the whole evening and I think Borlänge was unaware of what great bands were playing in their town this night. Wolf is a well respected heavy metal band, 220 Volt has near a legendary status in Sweden and Thalamus turns out to be a decent band as well. Time to wake up Borlänge and realize what you missed out on! I was only briefly familiar with Wolf and had never heard Thalamus before so I will not grade their performances.

I think 220 Volt met my expectation although you could see this was the first gig where the band at certain points hesitated a bit. This will get better with more gigs under their belt. Being a fan of the new album I think the set was well balanced between new and old songs – maybe a couple of old songs got deleted due to short gig time this evening. I´ve already mentioned two of the songs. The biggest let down was the low crowd turnout – this being payday and everything. Maybe too many people being comfortable at home watching TV? I would rate the 220 Volt gig to 8 out of 10 geeks. Curfew is closing in when Wolf announce they have two songs left so I decided to leave with the clock approaching 2 a.m. I left Borlänge with a great feeling, a T-shirt and signatures from everybody performing on the album except ”Hermie” Hermansson and I will be back in September for sure when they play in Gävle.

The Lionsheart. (email: thelionsheart@decibelgeek.com)


Friday, March 27, 2015

The Scorpions dig into the vaults on Return to Forever

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Return to Forever is the latest release by German rock icons, The Scorpions. The record is a combination of both new songs and previously unfinished songs from various periods in the bands 50-year career. Not the heaviest of albums, but classic Scorpions all the way. Musically, the performance is strong as always. The chemistry is evident as current line-up has been together for over a decade. It's mind-boggling how well Klaus Meine’s voice has held up so well after a half century of recording and touring. Meine is joined, as always by co-founder and guitarist Rudolf Schenker, guitarist Matthias Jabs, drummer, James Kottak, and Pawel MaciwodaMaciwoda is still the "new guy", having joined the band in 2004.
The record kicks off with a pair of newly written songs, “Going Out With a Bang” and “We Built This House”. The latter being the stronger song of the pair. The sparse acoustic verse building to a driving melodic chorus is signature Scorpions all the way. With the exception of " Hard Rocking All Over the Place", which would have made a great opening track, this is about as heavy as this record gets. The rest of the tracks consist of mostly mid-tempo rockers and a heavy dose of signature Scorpions ballads. Fans looking for a heavy record ala 2004’s Unbreakable or 1993’s Face the Heat, will likely find themselves little let down. By contrast, this record is almost feels like a cross between 1996’s mellow, Pure Instinct, 2010’s Sting in the Tail.
The band has stated that many of these songs are older ideas that existed in various stages of completion, some have been tucked away in the vault for decades. Though the record lacks certain cohesion and is a bit ballad-heavy, the material is anything but filler. It’s great to see some of these songs finally see the light of day.
Songs like “Rock My Car”, “House of Cards”, “Rock And Roll Band”, and “Catch Your Luck and Play” have origins that can traced back to the 80’s.  All these tunes would fit right in on any classic Scorpions album of the time. “House of Cards” ranks up there with many of the best Scorpions ballads. It’s a shame this one didn't make it on an earlier album.  A lost gem for sure. “Catch Your Luck and Play”, originally written around the Savage Amusement era, thematically fits right in with “Passion Rules the Game”.

Highlights among the rest of the album include the "In Trance" sounding “Eye of Storm”, originally written for 2007’s Humanity: Hour 1, The country-tinged “Gypsy Life”, intended for 2001’s Acoustica, and "The Scratch".

The bonus tracks are as good or better than the rest of the album so, it's definitively worth while to pick up one of the versions that include them. Fans are not going to want to miss out on "Dancing in the Moonlight", "Who We Are", and “Delirious”. "The World We Used to Know" is the most interesting of the bonus tracks. Not a bad tune if you can get past the ELO-esque lead guitar. This one is as pop sounding as anything since 1999's experimental Eye to Eye.


There is no shortage of versions of this album. It can be had in Standard, Limited Edition Deluxe, iTunes, and Japanese editions, all with their own bonus material.  The record is also available on vinyl and box set version as well. 
Return to Forever track listings:
1 - Going Out with a Bang
2 - We Built This House
3 - Rock My Car
4 - House of Cards
5 - All for One
6 - Rock 'n' Roll Band
7 - Catch Your Luck and Play
8 - Rollin' Home
9 - Hard Rockin' the Place
10 - Eye of the Storm
11 - The Scratch
12 - Gypsy Life

Limited Deluxe Edition Bonus Tracks 

13 - The World We Used to Know
14 - Dancing with the Moonlight
15 - When the Truth Is a Lie
16 - Who We Are 

iTunes Bonus Track

17 Delirious 

Japanese Bonus Tracks

18 One and One Is Three

Thursday, March 26, 2015

The Temperance Movement

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Sometimes a band comes along that put's life back into music with their honest and real feel. In this case "The Temperance Movement" are that band. The band doesn't necessarily fit into many of today's unlimited number of silly named rock music sub-genres. As a matter, let's just call it like it is and say that these guys are nothing but straight up ROCK N' ROLL. Rock N' Roll in the classic sense of the term with the classic sound to match.

Formed in the U.K. in 2001, the band consists of....

Phil Campbell      - Vocals
Luke Potashnick  - Guitar
Paul Sayer            - Guitar
Nick Fyffe            - Bass
Damon Wilson     - Drums




The Temperance Movement (or TTM as their diehard fan base refer to them as) sound like the awesome noise you would get after throwing some Rolling Stones, the Faces, Black Crowes, maybe even a little Bob Seger and pretty much any 70's southern rock band into a blender full of hot wax, mixing it all up then pouring it out and pressing it into a 12". Pure classic rock feel and sound from a four year old band. The throwback classic rock sound seems to be the latest trend in music (ie. Rival Sons, Graveyard, Motor Sister) but something tells me that theses guys would have this same style regardless of any trend or latest fad in rock.

I was recently trading some tweets with fellow podcaster Dean Delray of the "Let There Be Talk" podcast and he told me to check TTM. Dean has yet to let me down when we are trading stories of new music and new bands we are into so after that tweet session I went on a TTM quest. I downloaded the full Temperance Movement album from Amazon and was blown away! Great song writing. Great classic rock riffs. Rock solid rhythm section. And most of all, what a fucking singer!

It wasn't even a full week after first hearing the band that I discovered they were on tour with Black Berry Smoke and that the tour was just days away from hitting my hometown of Louisville, KY. The show was sold out by the time I heard about it so I reached out and with the help of the good people at TTM's record label, Concord Music Group, I was able to attend the show with my camera in hand. Little did I know, my camera had other plans and decided to take the night off. Shit happens. At least I had my cellphone and was able to get a few shots.

The band was playing the Mercury Ballroom which is a new sister venue to the Louisville Palace. Prince was playing the same night next door at the  Louisville Palace so when we arrived at the venue there were two lines. One for the Mercury and one for the Palace. Both of which stretched around the building for about a full block. Making our way past the first line and through all the fucking people decked out in purple we found our crowd. You know, the long haired, full bearded stoner Black Berry Smoke fans! These two lines of completely different walks of life standing basically side by side were a pretty interesting site to see to say the least.

After making our way into the venue we made a not so quick trip to the bar for a few beers then made our way to the stage to claim our spots for the show. To say the place was packed would be an understatement. The band took to the stage in front of a crowd that were mostly there to see Black Berry Smoke and not really interested to see anyone but. That mentality lasted all of about a minute or so into their first song.

With a front man like this guy Phil Campbell leading the show it was hard to not take notice. The guy came out like a total rock star ready to take on everyone in that venue and make them a fan. I noticed within that first minute or so that everyone in the crowd were no longer wondering "who the hell are these guys " and were completely into it.


The band played for what seemed to be a 50 minute or full hour set, I wasn't keeping time but they pretty much ripped through their whole album. There were no gimmicks, tricks or even silly stage banter in their set, just straight up classic rock n' roll at it's finest. The band themselves sounded spot on with their album...maybe just turned up to 11. Drummer Damon Wilson and bassist Nick Fyffe couldn't have been more in the pocket and guitarists Luke Potashnick and Paul Sayer brought that classic rock guitar sound so well you would have thought you were back in the 70's.

When the band finished their set, it was kind of comical to hear all the naysayer's from the beginning of the show now yelling " who are you guys ?" and cheering for more then quickly making a B-line to TTM's merch booth. Judging from the crowd at their merch booth I think it's safe to say they had a good night and even picked up a few new fans along the way.

If you are interested in taking a little break from all the metal that we Decibel Geek's are all about and want to check out something that might take you back in time, look these guys up and give'em a shot!





Both of TTM's release's...

"The Pride E.P."

and their self titled full length...

are available on Amazon and iTunes. Also available on CD and vinyl.


Check out their single "Only Friend"....


http://thetemperancemovement.com/

http://www.concordmusicgroup.com/

Lady Beast II Cooks Up A Delicious NWOBHM Feast

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Remember the NWOBHM (New Wave Of British Heavy Metal) movement that began in the late 70's/early 80's with bands such as Iron Maiden, Def Leppard, Judas Priest, Saxon and many
more? Many of the bands that fall into this sub-genre or category are securely placed among my all time favorites, and pretty much any band playing that style is something that I enjoy. Well, I'm pleased to announce that classic formula NWOBHM in all it's headbanging glory is alive and well in Pittsburg! Wait....Pittsburg? That's not in the UK! But yes, that's right, there is a group of young folks (in their twenties at my best guess) from Pittsburg, USA that are serving up huge heaping steaming bowlfuls of blistering metal. The name of this savior of NWOBHM comes in the form of Lady Beast. In fact, if one did not know one might venture to say that they originated during the NWOBHM period.

The beginnings of Lady Beast can be traced back to 2008/9, but it wasn't until 2011/12 that the lineup was solidified with frontwoman Deborah Levine, drummer Adam Ramage, bassist Greg Colaizzi and the twin axe assault of Tommy Kinnett and Chris "Twiz" Tritschler. Somehow the band's (originally) self-released and titled debut album found its way into my extensive musical library and has been spun quite regularly in the past couple of years. The old school throwback to the NWOBHM that oozes throughout Lady Beast nods to some of the greats mentioned above, blending together the best elements of the era. Finding out (through some internet research) that the album actually contains compositions written by four different guitarists was quite surprising and while the album is certainly not perfect, it succeeds on every level!

So, when Lady Beast was the fifth and final band to be announced as appearing at the M-Pre-Party (prelude and party starter to the M3 Festival in Baltimore) on April 30, 2015 I was instantly pumped. 2014 had been my first M3 Festival (including M-Pre Party), instantly creating a new addiction and I was ready to experience it all over again in 2015, but this was just like the sugary frosted icing on the cake. I re-visited said debut record and still continue to do so as a portion of my gym workout playlist. This Lady Beast live set promises to be one of the clear highlights of the three-day rock fest for me.

Does it get any better than that?...Well, actually yes it does! Lady Beast are unleashing their sophomore effort on March 27 with a live show release party at Cativo in Pittsburgh on March 28, 2015. I wonder if I can slip away from work? (searches flights in another internet window as he types this)

In contacting the band frontwoman, Deborah Levine, she was more than kind enough to forward me the album's MP3 tracks for the purpose of this review and all I can say is "Holy crap!". This album, while not overly inventively titled (Lady Beast II), absolutely kicks ass! Holding true to the NWOBHM style and could have easily fit in with the bigger guns of the era. Lady Beast II is even stronger, more cohesive and polished than the debut and it's easy to see how the solidified lineup and maturity in the band along with all members contributing cohesively to the process have worked wonders.

The album opens with "Heavy Metal Destiny" for which the band issued an advance YouTube video via their Facebook page in January, 2015 (included below). The track starts out ominously before a nice little riff begins surging it forward as it gives off an Iron Maiden style of epicness. An awesome opener to Lady Beast II! "We Are The Witches" is the next selection exhibiting a catchy chorus to it. With Levine's vocal style, which is not as high-pitched or shrill as some, she's more Doro-ish in her delivery and that's a lot of what comes through to me on this track. The whole band shines on "Bind The Runes" with its tempo changing chorus, driving riff, meaty basslines and machine-gun drumming. "Caged Fury" lyrically deals with
 inner anger issues I think, a message to those finding themselves in that situation. Another thumping bassline from Colaizzi (who owns Cobra Cabana Records responsible for issuing Lady Beast II on vinyl) can be heard during "Heroes Of Our Time", another track waving the Maiden flag. In a little internet searching it appears that "The Frost Giant's Daughter" was actually released on YouTube in 2013 (link below) and is not a cover of The Sword's 2008 track of the same name. This one blazes along and is over far too quickly for me at just under three minutes. "Forrest Of The Impaled" seems to tell a macabre tale while "Lose To Win" is a straight out classic rocker. While it's more than a difficult chore to choose one track over the rest here for winner of the "Top of the Heap" accolade, if you held a gun to my head I'd have to go with the album's closer of "Banshee". It's grinding and abrasive, smashing through from start to finish in a catchy fist-pumping anthem. Sure hope that one makes the live set on April 30! The sadness that you feel when the record is over can easily be alleviated by doing as I do and hitting play all over again. After listening several times a day since receiving the album ten days before writing this review, I still haven't had enough! The Lady Beast simply roars and for optimum results I recommend playing at an ear-bleedingly loud volume!

All throughout Lady Beast II you can hear the influences or draw comparisons to some of these bands and players, for example at points Levine has a Doro style of delivery and some have even said an impressive resemblance to the late great Ronnie James Dio. There's also a little Halford mixed in there but at times she feels a little restrained. I would love to hear Deb let loose with a primal blood-curdling scream or two (and she does on "Banshee"), I can literally feel that power in her lungs! In any case, I say that Doro should rest comfortably knowing that there is a protegee out there to carry on her "Metal Queen" reign should she retire.


***Unfortunately, I have just discovered that after the album's release show guitarist Tommy Kinnett will be calling an end to his tenure with Lady Beast so he will not be performing at the M-Pre Party. Apparently the decision to leave in order to concentrate on his family life was an amicable one with no "bad blood" on either side. It is already announced that Lady Beast's original lead guitarist, Stephen Lauck, having recently moved back to Pittsburgh from California will be stepping in.***

Cheers,
The Meister

The Meister on Facebook / Meister on Twitter / Email

Lady Beast Bandcamp / Lady Beast on Facebook

Inferno Records Website / Cobra Cabana Records on Facebook

D-Toxin Productions Website (M-Pre Party) / M-Pre Party Facebook

Anticipation of M3 2015 / M3 2014 (Part #1) / M3 2014 (Part #2)

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The Tygers Revisit Their past

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Classic New Wave of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM) band Tygers of Pan Tang hits back with a new disc containing re-recorded songs from their first two legendary albums Wild Cat (1980) and Spellbound (1981). These songs have only been released on two different discs as a fan club specials in 2010 and 2011. Thanks to Polish label Skol Records we all can enjoy these re-recorded songs on the new disc entitled Tygers Sessions: The First Wave.

Tygers of Pan Tang formed way back in 1978 in Whitley Bay, northern England by only remaining member and guitarist Rob Weir, bass man Richard "Rocky" Laws, lead vocalist Jess Cox and drummer Brian Dick. The band took their name from the evil sorcerers portrayed in Hawkwind collaborator Michael Moocock´s Elric novels. Working their way up through the local club circuit they were soon contracted by local label Neat Records and the first single "Don´t Touch Me There" was released in 1979. That single attracted the interest of major label MCA Records and the now legendary debut album Wild Cat was recorded and released in 1980. The album reached no 18 on the British album chart within the first week of its release.

Tygers of Pan Tang with John Sykes
Picture courtesy of  Heavy harmonies.com
Things were not all well and good in the Tygers camp despite the big success of the debut album. Soon after the album's release the band recruited legendary guitar slinger John Sykes (later Thin Lizzy, Whitesnake, Blue Murder) from the band Gunslinger. Lead vocalist Jess Cox had a big falling out with the other members and quit, being replaced by the former Persian Risk man John Deverill. With this line-up, they released the excellent albums Spellbound and Crazy Nights in 1981. John Sykes quit the band after Crazy Nights to audition for Ozzy Osbourne but when he did not get the spot he joined Thin Lizzy instead. Sykes instead. Sykes was
quickly replaced by Fred Purser (ex-Penetration) who had just two days to learn the songs before the tour started. With Purser, they released The Cage in 1982. All four albums are today considered to be classic albums and all played a major part in the metal wave sweeping through the UK in the early 1980´s together with bands like Saxon, Iron Maiden and Diamond Head to name just a few. The Tygers had seen a hit with the cover song "Love Potion No. 9" which inspired MCA Records to demand them to play more cover songs. They of course refused being an original songs band and MCA responded by refusing to promote The Cage. When MCA also refused to release them of their recording contract the band broke up in frustration in 1983.

Back From The Dead: The First Time:
In 1985 lead vocalist John Deverill and drummer Brian Dick reformed the Tygers of Pan Tang and joining them were new guitarists Steve Lamb (ex-Sergeant)  and Neil Sheppard (ex-Warrior, ex-Satan) along with bass player Clin Irvin. Dave Donaldson soon replaced Clin Irvin taking over the bass guitar duties. Original vocalist Jess Cox and original guitarist Rob Weir formed the spin-off band Tyger Tyger instead. With this line-up, the Tygers of Pan Tang recorded the albums The Wreck-age (1985) and Burning In The Shade (1987). The style had now changed to a more commercial, melodic and radio friendly version of hard rock. Unfortunately that move did not work, alienating old fans and not gaining enough new ones. The band broke up again in 1987.

Back From The Dead: Part Two:
Things started to happen that created hopes of a reunion when Jess Cox joined fellow NWOBHM band Blitzkrieg on stage at Wacken Open Air in 1998 playing three old Tyger classics. The huge response from the crowd convinced Cox that it was time to try to put the band back together again. The band was invited by the Wacken organizers to play the main stage at the 10th anniversary of Wacken in 1999 and at the same time celebrating 20 years of Tygers of Pan Tang. Original guitarist Rob Weir was up for it but unfortunately Brian Dick and "Rocky" Laws were unable to join the band. Weir and Cox were joined on stage by Blitzkrieg guitarist Glen S Howes, bass player Gavin Gray and drummer Chris Percy.

Despite the success of the Wacken gig which resulted in the live disc, Live At Wacken, Jess Cox did not continue with the band and in 2000 Rob Weir reformed the Tygers again. It was an all new line up including new lead vocalist Tony Liddell, guitarist Dean Robertson, Brian West on bass and behind the drumkit was Craig Ellis. A comeback album was recorded and released in 2001 as Mystical on the British Z-Rock label. The album meant a return to the old and classic Tygers sound of the first four albums.  A couple of years on Liddell left the band and was replaced by Angel Witch bass player Richie Wicks and Noises From The Cathouse was released in 2003. It continued on in the trodden path with a little modern touch around the edges. A little later that year it was time yet again to change frontmen and in came Italian vocalist extraordinaire Jacopo Meille.  He provided some much needed consistency in the frontman department and is still today the band's lead vocalist. This new line up recorded the excellent Animal Instinct, released in 2008. The Tygers then went on to re-record and release songs from the first two albums as limited fan club editions (which are here assembled for the first time on one CD as Tyger Sessions: The First Wave).

Before recording their latest disc with all new material entitled Ambush (2012) Gavin Gray returned to the band replacing Brian West. In 2013, long time guitarist Dean Robertson left the band and was replaced by Mickey Crystal. A deal was signed with Skol Records to re-release the fan club editions on an official CD.

Tyger Sessions: The First Wave
First I must admit I am not a big fan of bands re-recording their old songs - it simply cannot be the same feeling. Mostly its a suicide even attempting to alter the recordings of the songs we all grew up with and learned to love. I did not discover the Tygers back in the day which may influence the way I look upon this new CD with re-recorded material. Saxon has done it with a limited success and I am not a fan of the re-recorded material by them.  So why do we even need this disc?

Well, first of all the Tygers of Pan Tang (although a classic band) were not as big as fellow collegues in Saxon and the old records are very hard to come by these days. A lot of fans do not have the emotional attachements to the old recordings. So, reluctantly, I have to admit that these new recordings really rock! The production and sound quality is far better and Meille is a much better vocalist with a greater range than Cox in my book. The re-recorded songs stay true to the original structure for most part and provide a new freshness to the overall impression. The band perfectly balances the attitude of punk rock and the energy and melody of punchy hard rock. The songs are almost as immediate as a pop song but still heavy of course.

Track By Track Commentary:
The first five songs on this disc are re-recordings of songs from the debut album Wild Cat (1980) and the last six songs are off Spellbound (1981). The CD starts off with classic rocker  "Youthanasia" which is a straight ahead rock song in the old school. A nice simple riff with a cool chorus and written in the band's humble beginnings in 1978. A great way to start the album and one of the strongest songs on this disc. Lyrically it's about terminating life before it´s over. It is followed by what must be one of the longest songs in the Tygers history, clocking in at just over six minutes. "Slave To Freedom" starts off with a nice guitar harmony from Robertson/Weir. It has kind of a boogie feeling to it with some nice tempo changes in the midsection and according to Weir it was inspired by Rush. The lyrics deal with the problem of trying to preserve or "save" democracy by using bombs and weapons driven by greed. Third spot is occupied by the big single from Wild Cat called "Suzie Smiled". In my opinion not the strongest song on the album and an odd choice for a single. Still its a song with a cool bassline and lyrically it's about Suzie dreaming of the big city and riding fast cars. Up next is the blues infused "Don´t Touch Me There" which was the band's first single, released on Neat Records and re-recorded for the Wild Cat album. It´s got a nice driving groove and big chorus. It also has Meille moaning "Don´t Touch Me There" over and over again - priceless! The song also has some talkbox effects from Weir and a 70´s feel all over it. Ending the Wild Cat section of the CD is the title track from that album, a fast paced rocker dealing with fast motorbikes and loose women. The lyrics "Wine and women, who needs much more? Motorbiking free" really says it all. A really nice solo from Weir on this song.

Current line up of Tygers of Pan Tang
Picture courtesy of bands homepage
The Spellbound section of the album starts off with "Gangland" (later covered by German thrash band Kreator) written by John Sykes and Rob Weir. It's a fast rocker that entices you to loosen those neck muscles and do some serious headbangin´. A song about the tough streetlife as a young kid in those "Ganglands". Then we are treated to "Take It" which is a great rocker and the lyrics seem to be about a woman taking all the money and a man's obsession with her. Then we turn up the speed a couple of knots for "Hellbound" which again is a really fast paced rocker with a strong chorus that easily sticks in your head. I am not surprised this song was originally a single off the Spellbound album. It has potential commercially. The lyrics seem to be about an air fight where I get shot down in the end. Finally, it´s time for the album's first and only ballad called "Mirror".  It´s massive and one of my definitive favourites on this album. Meille really shines on this one with some fantastic vocals. Up next is "Tyger Bay" written by Weir and John Deverill. "Tyger Bay" incidentally was a dangerous place near Deverill's hometown of Cardiff, Wales where all the villains hung out. It starts off with a great, driving riff and a cool bass line in the background. I sense some blues in this song as well. A great rocker. The album ends with "Don´t Stop By" which is a melodic rock song with a huge hook. It´s got a nice guitar intro and nice harmonies throughout the song. One of my faves on this disc. A strong way to round off a great album. My favourite picks off the album would be "Youthanasia", "Hellbound", "Mirror" and "Don´t Stop By".

Summary:
Picture courtesy of  the bands facebook page.
Not being a fan of bands re-recording their old material I am pleasantly surprised by this album. Where the original recordings lacked production and power this disc adds that to these classic songs. You can still hear these are late 70´s or early 80´s compositions and the band never strays to far off from the original song. For fans that do not own the old albums and are not familiar with the band, this would be a great way to be introduced to the world of Tygers of Pan Tang. As I mentioned before Meille is a great vocalist and has got a much wider range than Cox. John Deverill might still be my favourite Tygers vocalist, but I think Meille really proves himself on these old songs.

This is a surprisingly strong disc with a revitalized band. I would give the Tyger Sessions 7,5 Geeks out of 10 possible. I am really looking forward to catching the band at Väsby Rock Festival this summer. I hope the band will bring on the second wave with songs from Crazy Nights and The Cage soon. Pick up this disc and rock like it´s the 1980´s all over again!

The Lionsheart

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Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Fighting The System With a JADED HEART

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German melodic hard rock outfit Jaded Heart has been around for 25 years and during that time transformed from a pure AOR/MHR combo to a melodic metal band and has in the process gone through numerous member changes. Remaining from the original line up is only bass player Michael Müller. Today Jaded Heart is a German/Swedish joint venture but let´s first take the time machine to around 1990 and the Berlin Wall had just fallen. Jaded Heart was founded in Duisburg, Germany by brothers Michael Bormann (Redrum, ex-Bonfire, ex-Letter X, Zeno, Silent Force among others) and Dirk Bormann. Both of them had previously played together in high school band High Voltage which evolved into T.A.X. and then evolved into the seed for Jaded Heart. The year after the brothers were joined by Michael Müller on bass (ex-The Sygnet) and ex-Mad Max drummer Axel Kruse. Michael had also made a name for himself on German TV with a cover of Bon Jovi's "Dead or Alive" (Watch it on youtube!).

Jaded Heart started out gigging, writing songs and searching for that elusive record contract. Michael Bormann left the band in 1993 to join Bonfire and even recorded an album with them that to this day remain unreleased but is heavily bootlegged. That did not last long though and in 1994 Bormann was back in Jaded Heart.  Now everything happened quickly and the debut album Inside Out was recorded and released in 1994. After that release, Chris Ivo joined the band on keyboards but Dirk Bormann left the band. Jaded Heart struggled on using guest guitarists (including Dirk) until they found Boris Kepic before recording IV in 1999. Michael Bormann later founded Charade with Bonfire guitarist Angel Schleifer and together they have released two albums with that band. Jaded Heart decided to strike it while it´s hot
The Michael Bormann fronted version of the band
Picture courtesy of heavyharmonies.com
and the second album Slaves and Masters saw the light in 1996 on which Alex Beyrodt (Sinner, Level 10) provided guitar along with Dirk Bormann. Both these albums received rave reviews and contained top class melodic hard rock in the vein of Bon Jovi and 80´s Europe with a strong commercial appeal. Unfortunately, the music climate at the time (both in Europe and North America) was not forgiving for this kind of melodic hard rock therefore hampering album sales. The musicianship was top notch, the songs as strong as ever with a modern production but it did not promote the band to stardom, unfortunately.

Jaded Heart struggled on and released the absolutely stunning albums Mystery Eyes (1997) and IV in 1999. In my opinion IV is still the strongest effort in the extensive back catalogue. I might be biased for this was also the album that made me discover the band in the first place.  In Europe, the music industry was finally showing a growing interest in traditional melodic hard rock and heavy metal once again with HammerFall paving the way for a whole new scene developing in the late 1990´s. The band lost a bit of pace with the average The Journey Will Never End in 2002 which contained a cover of "Larger Than Life" by the Backstreet Boys. Chis Ivo was replaced by Henning Wanner on keyboards before that album was recorded.  They hit back with the great Trust in 2004 before it was time for major changes in the Jaded Heart camp. Founding member and frontman Michael Bormann was subsequently fired by the band and in came Swedish lead vocalist Johan Fahlberg (ex-Scudiero, Denied, Radioactive). A new album with Fahlberg was issued in 2005 entitled Helluva Time.

With the change of frontman Jaded Heart also slowly became heavier and before releasing 2007's Sinister Mind Boris Kepic left the band and was replaced by Swedish guitarist Peter Östros further pushing the band in a heavier direction towards a sound similar to Pretty Maids. Still sticking to the hooks and melodies both these albums were an example of excellent European melodic metal. Johan Fahlberg has a different but great voice which kept the band on a high note despite the loss of the great Michael Bormann. With the excellent albums Perfect Insanity (2009) and Common Destiny (2012), Jaded Heart maintained their position as one of Europe's leading melodic hard rock bands. After releasing a DVD in 2013 where a show was filmed on their support slot for Axel Rudi Pell it´s now time for new full-length album Fight The System.

Fight The System:
The first thing we can note is that there has once again been major changes in the line-up of the band. Founding member and drummer Axel Kruse has left the band to concentrate on the reunited Mad Max and has been replaced by Bodo Sticker (Callejon) and they have added another guitarist in Japanese guitar slinger Masa Ito thus making Jaded Heart for the first time a twin guitar band. The split with Bormann created a lot of animosity shown in extensively aired interviews and things are not at ease with former members yet but I have always been a fan of both versions of Jaded Heart. For me, there is no reason to dislike the early version of the band nor the later. Fighting The System is a blast of pure melodic metal with some really strong songs on it albeit not the strongest in the discography. For fans of hard rock and metal, there is no doubt this album should be very high on the list of albums to check out. If you are not a current fan there is plenty to discover on this disc. You get top notch musicianship, very melodic but still heavy songs with memorable hooks and great riffs and nice solos from Östros/Ito. It's evident that the first part of the album clearly supersedes the latter part and you will find the strongest songs on the first half.

Track by track comments:
Jaded Heart 2014. Picture courtesy of Jaded-heart.com.
The album opens with the melodic and heavy rocker "Schizophrenic" which has an annoying tendency to stick in your head and it´s hard to get it out. I guess that´s a good thing! It starts with a nice riff and some great "flowing" keyboards from guest musician Henrik Larsson. The vocal style of Fahlberg on this particular song in parts remind me of Geoff Tate of Queensryche. The títle of the song very much tells what the lyrics are about. It is followed by another great rocker in "Control" which sees Rick Altzi (Masterplan, At Vance) providing guest vocals. After a short intro, the song kicks off with nice double guitar harmonies from Ito/Östros. A melodic bridge leads into a nice chorus with Altzi/Fahlberg trading vocal lines. A song about being controlled by someone else and a very strong start to the album. Up next is my favourite song on this new album called "Not In A Million Years" which is a midtempo rocker with a huge infectious hook and a chorus line I simply can´t get out of my head after listening to the album. The song kicks off with a nice keyboard fill and an interesting riff with the verse sung in a gritty tone and some heavy riffing in the background. A song of total love and devotion to that special individual you might sometimes find. Up next is "Losing My Faith" another midtempo rocker which starts off with an aggressive vocal from Fahlberg leading on to a more melodic bridge and a nice, melodic chorus with some nice choirs supporting Fahlberg's voice. A very serious lyrical theme in this song which is about losing your faith in humanity when all it does is wage war upon each other.

Fight The System continues with the uptempo rocker "Nightmare´s Over" which is the fastest song so far and it has a nice melody line and again an interesting chorus. The lyrics deal with near death experience and about seeing an angel that fades away when you are being brought back to life. "Never Free" starts with an acoustic guitar, almost ballad-like opening, which is quickly followed by a nice grooving riff and a cool bassline from Müller. The mellow verse erupts in a melodic bridge and chorus. A nice effort! The lyrics deal with the situation of trying to run from your past and memories which you, of course, cannot do. This means you are never free. It is followed by "´Til Death Do Us Part" which is an ordinary feel good melodic rocker and maybe the weakest track so far. The lyrics deal with the obsession that love can create sometimes and a twisted mind that will not let go. It is followed by "Terror In Me" which is a heavier song with some aggressive riffing from Ito/Östros but due to a weaker chorus not the strongest song on the album in my opinion. The song title reveal what this song is about and when you get to the point where you don´t care if you live or die anymore.  Up next is "Haunted" which starts off with a great guitar riff but lacks the melodic power of most of the previous songs. Again the song is about suffering from your memories that keep haunting you.  It is followed by "Crying" which sees some double bass drumming from Stricker and now we are back with a more contagious melody line in the bridge where Fahlberg really shines. The lyrics see the world through the eyes of an avenger and your goal is to make them pay. The final song on the regular edition is "In The Shadows" which is again a midtempo melodic rock song with Fahlberg providing the "odd" vocal on the chorus line. A nice outro with the choir singing "oh-oh-oh". The lyrics are all about being in pain and time is running out for a cure.
Bassplayer Michael Müller
Picture courtesy of the bands facebook page

If you have bought the limited digipak edition you will get two more songs. First there is the cover song from German band Extrarbeit called "Polizisten" (Cops) and the first song done by Jaded Heart in the German language. It´s an interesting piece of work but just not my cup of tea. Closer "Flee And Run" is a good melodic midtempo rocker and better than some of the songs on the regular album. It starts off with a riff with some nice keyboard harmonies in the background which continues throughout the song. A nice chorus with ganglike vocals throughout the bridge leading up to the chorus. If you can get a hold of the digipak it adds a quite substantial value.

Summary:
So what does this say about the whole album and compared to previous releases? You know what you get when you buy a Jaded Heart album (that meant in a good way). The band never strays too far off the traditional formula (even if "Polizisten" is far off) and you always get strong songs that are easily digestible. On this album, the band has come up with 5-6 really strong songs that would fit very well into a live setting. I think the latter part of the album loses a bit in song quality (from a very high level that is). The lyrics often deal with difficult situations whether it´s love gone bad or something else. It also paints a very grey picture on the state of the world today and the future for mankind. Fahlberg's voice fit the framework perfectly and the musicianship is top notch as always. The band has lost some very important band members on their journey and always come up with one strong album after another. The consistency and quality are impeccable.

I´m really looking forward to catching the band at Väsby Rock Festival this summer for the first time for me in a live situation. Given the problems and tensions between current and previous members and today's lineup's negative approach to old material I doubt there will be any songs played from the Bormann era which is a pity. The Jaded Heart back catalogue is a virtual treasure chest filled with great songs. Still, there is plenty of great songs to choose from Helluva Time (2005) and forward.  A solid and quality release like this would merit at least 7.5 decibel geeks out of 10 possible. Put it on and crank it to 11!

The Lionsheart


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