For so many people, they hear Gary Cherone's name and immediately think about the failed Van Halen album III that he fronted. I get it. How can you not? It was such an unbelievably bad effort, and really should never have had the Van Halen name on it at all. Unfortunately though, Cherone has always been the blamesake of that release, even though it's pretty much recorded history at this point that III was Eddie Van Halen's attempt at experimentation at the same time he was using or drinking himself into oblivion. Still, for most VH nerds, it's always impossible to admit that EVH could ever do anything badly. So blame it on the new guy, right? The sad truth though is that both before and after Van Halen, Gary Cherone has proven to be a pretty damn great frontman. I'm sure I'm near alone with this, but I look at PORNOGRAFFITI from Extreme as one of the top 10 albums of hair metal history. They followed with another brilliant release in III SIDES TO EVERY STORY, and then bested all of that with the widely underappreciated WAITING FOR THE PUNCHLINE (one of the top 10 albums in my entire collection). When Extreme reconvened, they put out another great release with SAUDADES DE ROCK. Simply put, Cherone has proven to be a great rock song writer over a long career.
STEELHAMMER - LIVE FROM MOSCOW
I really have no idea why U.D.O. is not a much, much bigger band than they are. Without question, everyone is all too quick to celebrate Accept, both with and without vocalist Udo Dirkschneider in the band. And yet, for all the love fans have for Dirkschneider's era of Accept, U.D.O. has really remained an afterthought instead of an equal to the current band that features Mark Tornillo on vocals. For the life of me, I don't understand it. U.D.O. has put out nothing but great to awesome releases The last decade has seen this band release six discs that have been absolutely awesome, without a bad one in the bunch. Still, U.D.O. stays more as the answer to the trivia question of "whatever happened to Udo Dirkschneider" than it does to a band being considered one of the elite in old school, traditional heavy metal. Maybe it's just me, but that's just criminal.
Even as a fan of Tesla, it's not hard to look at the band and find them to be somewhat less than energetic when it comes to putting out new music. They've now come forth with just their 7th studio album of new material since 1986. Let's be honest here, folks...that's not a lot of material over a VERY LONG period of time. Still, where they lack in over-productivity, they have always made up for it in quality. While fans and casual listeners may not love everything the band has done, there's really not a release in those seven where you go, "what in the fuck is this". To the contrary, when Tesla does decide to release a new disc, it generally comes with a certain certainty of what the listening experience will be. While SIMPLICITY has been beaten up a bit for being slower and lacking of the faster rock tunes of the past, I might argue that it's the closest to what this band has always wanted to be. A seriously strong release that fuses all the greatness of rock's history with that "Tesla vibe", SIMPLICITY is one of the stronger releases in the first half of 2014.
BETTER DAYS COMIN'
Of the bands that have come back into an active state from the 80s, it's hard to argue that any has created stronger music than Winger. Their IV and KARMA releases have been enjoyable to say the least, and have shown that there is still plenty of magic left when this collection of musicians gets together. While not as good as KARMA, BETTER DAYS COMIN' certainly won't offend any fans of the band. While not quite as heavy as it's predecessor, BETTER DAYS COMIN' is a cool release that showcases the melody and the musicianship that always set Winger apart from most of the other bands that were out there in 1989. It's not likely to win any new fans over, but that's probably not even a consideration at this point. BETTER DAYS COMIN' will feed those that always look for new releases from bands of their past.
Black Label Society
CATACOMBS OF THE BLACK VATICAN
When Zakk Wylde decides to release new music, the metal world definitely stops for a moment and listens. They may not like it all, but they do listen. It's a testament to how unbelievable the man is on guitar; a true legend who stands shoulder to shoulder with the Eddie Van Halen's and Dimebag Darrell's of the world of guitar playing. If Zakk has a habit though, it's to release an album that's dull every once in awhile. It doesn't happen all the time, but it certainly has been known to happen. SHOT TO HELL was pretty lame, and 1919 ETERNAL was a little too full of concept instead of substance. Still, the last two releases, ORDER OF THE BLACK and the acoustic THE SONG REMAINS NOT THE SAME left me thinking that Wylde was back to his creative best, and caused a lot of anticipation for his latest. Unfortunately, CATACOMBS OF THE BLACK VATICAN just doesn't measure up. Slow, plodding and mid-tempo, the word that comes to mind throughout is boring.