There are great recordings, and then there are releases that just get better each and every time you listen to them. SpiralArms new release FREEDOM is one of those releases. I loved it the first time I heard it, and it's done nothing but get stronger with each and every listen for me. Maybe it's the mood I'm in these days, or maybe it's just that great music is coming out fast and furiously, but it seems like for the past two months, each release has been better than the last. In the last 3 months alone, I've proclaimed "album of the year" twice before...Vista Chino's PEACE and Scorpion Child's self-titled debut. Now, I'm proclaiming it once again. Full of diversity and influences from all the right bands in the history of rock and metal, FREEDOM stands as the lone perfect listening experience of 2013 for me. This one is a stunner.
DARK ROOTS OF THRASH
On my radio show, THE CLASSIC METAL SHOW, we have a long running argument about the Bay Area Thrash bands. We talk about if you could only keep one band's catalog, whose would it be. Would it be Metallica? Megadeth? Or would it be this band, Testament. Certainly there is no denying the greatness of MASTER OF PUPPETS or RUST IN PEACE. But with Testament, you have no ST. ANGER. There is no RISK. There is no sellout period, with the exception of DEMONIC where they sold out to the darker side and took a stab at being heavier than they had been to that point. It's a tough debate, really. While I think I'd still take Metallica based solely on the brilliance of the albums up to and through the Black album, there really is no way you could go wrong with the Testament catalog.
FROM BEER TO ETERNITY
Ministry has been retired before, but this time might really be it. With the death of guitarist and collaborator Mike Scaccia just three days after the initial sessions for FROM BEER TO ETERNITY were completed, this might just be the final statement that Al Jourgensen wants to make to the world under the moniker of "Ministry". If so, he goes out in very strong fashion. While certainly not the best Ministry album, FROM BEER TO ETERNITY is an angry effort that is every bit as reminiscent as anything Jourgensen and company have done.
Black Label Society
It's no secret that I'm a very big fan of Zakk Wylde. I've gotten to know him over the years, and more to the point, I've truly apprecated the music the guy creates. For many, they just love hearing him play guitar. I can see that. For me though, my go to moments are not the heavier albums like STONGER THAN DEATH or ORDER OF THE BLACK, but the stuff that strays from the heavy where Zakk just lets loose as a classic rocker. My favorite thing Wylde has done is his solo release BOOK OF SHADOWS, followed closely by BLS efforts HANGOVER MUSIC VOL. VI and THE SONG REMAINS NOT THE SAME. "Darkest Days" from THE SONG REMAINS NOT THE SAME is, by far, my favorite song he's ever done, based solely on the raw emotion he puts forth singing it acoustically. Wylde has returned with a very interesting live show called UNBLACKENED; a sort of acoustic show where he and Black Label Society rework a lot of songs from his entire career for a one night only performance. It's pretty good stuff.
...and once again I prepare for the argument that I always have when writing a review of a new Dream Theater release. It's the argument that I always make, and that every one of you musicians out there that worship this band always fight me tooth and nail on. That argument is simple - that Dream Theater are the most talented, and yet most undisciplined band in the history of recorded music. There is no person in their right mind that will say that they aren't a collection of some of the most talented virtuoso performers on the planet. With all their talent though, they are simply not disciplined enough to write songs that aren't bloated, pompous and designed to be more of a showcase of their musicianship than to creating something instantly memorable to anyone but their hardcore fans. There's a reason that casual fans don't know that they ever had another song after "Pull Me Under" - it's the lack of discipline in their songwriting to write concise, brilliant songs. They have brilliant performances all over each and every release, but few brilliant songs. I'd argue that Mr. Big was a much better band. They are a band of equal talent individually, but were also a band that honed their individual talents to create a lot more memorable songs. Let the hatred begin!
THE DREAM CALLS FOR BLOOD
Of all the bands that have made a comeback after a long layoff, I'd say that Death Angel has been the strongest. Without question, and even as a fan of the early days, I'd have to say that their releases since their return have been far stronger than what they did originally. That's pretty big praise when you consider that I'm saying the last decade of Death Angel has produced stronger efforts than THE ULTRA VIOLENCE, ACT III and FROLIC THROUGH THE PARK. That's exactly what I'm saying though. At least in my world, THE ART OF DYING is one of the greatest albums ever to come out of the Bay Area, and each subsequent effort since has been nothing short of stellar. Death Angel returns once again with THE DREAM CALLS FOR BLOOD. While it's definitely not THE ART OF DYING, it's brilliant. Brutal, powerful and unrelenting, THE DREAM CALLS FOR BLOOD is everything we've come to expect from Death Angel over the last decade.
Not that Alter Bridge has ever had any problem getting exposure, but there's no doubt that there will be more eyes and ears on FORTRESS than past efforts. Based solely on his extremely successful run with Slash, vocalist Myles Kennedy has all but assured a new segment of fans will be listening this time around. For many, that could be both good and bad. It could be a blessing to have a lot of new ears, but it could also be a curse for people looking for an album full of the bluesy swagger that comes out of Slash's six strings. Not that guitarist Mark Tremonti isn't a great guitarist (in fact, based solely on talent, I'd say he's actually better than Slash), but just not Slash. From his days in Creed to his more aggressive times now with Alter Bridge, Tremonti has always had more of a radio ready flavor which has won him a ton of fans and almost no favor amongst fans of harder edged rock and metal. With FORTRESS, this bridge may finally be crossed. New fans and old alike will agree that Alter Bridge may finally have found that edge that was missing.
SAMMY HAGAR & FRIENDS
Without question, Sammy Hagar is one of those guys that for the most part can do no wrong with me. I'm a fan of Montrose. I'm a huge fan of his solo work early in his career. His version of Van Halen is my favorite era. Even his post Van Halen era, where he's settled into being a beach bum partier that just likes to write about drinking and partying, has been cool with me. Now though, Sammy Hagar has decided to test even my limits. Hagar has released SAMMY HAGAR & FRIENDS; a record that apparently is just him having a good time with friends. That's fine, but how about not billing back your hardcore fans for your good time party, Sam? While it's not horrible, it has no real use in the Hagar catalog. For me, I think I'd much rather see another Chickenfoot release or a serious effort with the Wabos instead of this mish mosh of songs that are pretty unnecessary to anyone but the guys performing on the songs.