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.
BROKEN CROWN HALO
It's not really much of a secret that two of my favorite bands out there today are fronted by ladies. Those two bands are Halestorm and Lacuna Coil. While it took me awhile to latch onto Halestorm, Lacuna Coil was a band that I latched on the very first time I heard them. I remember getting a sampler from Century Media that had the song "Heaven's A Lie" on it, and knowing this would soon be one of my favorite bands out there. I've seen the band several times, and they've gotten better with every tour as well. The combined male-female vocals of Andrea Ferro and the lovely Cristina Scabbia brings one of the most appealing sounds to the entire Goth Metal subgenre; a subgenre that overwrought with far too much orchestral crap and not enough straight up rock and metal. BROKEN CROWN HALO is certainly not the band's best work, but it works for them. It's good, not great. In many ways, it sounds like they may have just decided to play it safe and stay the course this time around. At least they chose a path that's been working.
TIME TRAVELERS & BONFIRES
Sevendust are really a band for the fans, and the fans are definitely always there for the band. Case in point - their latest release TIME TRAVELERS & BONFIRES. This release is one paid for by the latest trend hitting the music business, pre-funding by the fans to pay for a project. The band asked for a lot for this campaign, and got 245% funding from their fans in return. So what did Sevendust do with that money? Well, they created a very cool release that, while different from anything they've ever done studio-wise, is about as good as anything they've created to date. An acoustic release featuring fix new tracks and acoustic reworkings of some of their most popular material, TIME TRAVELERS & BONFIRES connects on every level with the established fanbase. For a band that gets so much from their fans, that's just what you would expect.
RONNIE JAMES DIO: THIS IS YOUR LIFE
As much as I want to take this at face value, it's hard to not at least wonder just how many times Wendy Dio is going to visit the Dio well and mine more material culled from his past work. There's already been multiple live releases, deluxe reissues, an officially sanctioned band playing the music of Dio...and now second tribute collection of music from people other than Dio performing his work (the first being Jorn Lande's DIO release). I'm almost expecting a release of special rare interviews or voice mails to come at this point. Still, it's their business what they put out, and ours to merely judge it. So that said, we now have RONNIE JAMES DIO: THIS IS YOUR LIFE. While it has some real heavyweights performing on it, it's pretty much like every other tribute album you'll get. It's a hodge podge of covers. Some are good. Some aren't. Big surprise, right?
It's not very often that a band that has zero backing behind it sweeps in and just monopolizes my listening time. Generally, bands like Red Reign get 30 seconds as I quickly scan through their music and I'm on to something else that I'm getting pressured to review by a publicist. For Red Reign, I was asked to review this as a favor for my Classic Metal Show co-host Neeley, which quite honestly is the only reason this one ever hit my player in the first place. Good call on his part though, as it's been the only disc in my player for days now. CHASING SHADOWS is a hard rocker full of nasty guitar driven metal that falls somewhere between the heavier Van Halen songs and a bunch of the better modern metal stuff out there today. Red Reign has quickly become a band that I need to know more about.
ALL YOU CAN EAT
They certainly are the joke that just keeps on being retold and being funny, now aren't they? I'm sure there's a lot less people that remember them as Metal Shop, Metal Skool or even way back to the Danger Kitty days, but a whole lot more people have discovered this band since they adopted the name Steel Panther. Having now honed their mock 80s craft as well as their lyrics about fucking stupid chicks, Steel Panther have returned with their most developed, best musical and yet still ridiculously silly lyrical experience to date. In the same fashion they have always chosen, ALL YOU CAN EAT goes to the most outlandish places to talk about getting pussy as it was experienced in the 80s "rock star" scene. Once again, it just works for these guys.
GIVE 'EM HELL
It seems like every time Sebastian Bach releases new music, the first thought that comes to my mind is "this dude comes off like a douchebag ALOT in interviews, but he just kicks ass musically." Amazing how that comes back around. Baz is back, and he's been saying some interesting things in recent interviews. Yet, just ignoring that silliness and digging into his latest, GIVE 'EM HELL, he hits the proverbial musical home run. Easily the best release of his solo career and only topped in my eyes by SLAVE TO THE GRIND from his era of Skid Row, GIVE 'EM HELL is a blistering yet surprisingly melodic hard rock/heavy metal release. Not that I'm surprised since I pretty much loved ANGEL DOWN and KICKING AND SCREAMING, but this is still about five steps beyond those releases. Fans of Bach are sure to be VERY well entertained.
EMPIRE OF THE UNDEAD
My affinity for Gamma Ray really predates the band itself, as it's much more of an appreciation for the vocal work of singer Kai Hansen. Be it with Gamma Ray or his legendary work with his previous band Helloween, Hansen has always been not only one of the most elite vocalists in power metal in my eyes, but one of it's greatest writers. Recent releases like TO THE METAL really missed the mark for me, which is pretty surprising as much as I'm a fan of just about everything Hansen has ever done. with EMPIRE OF THE UNDEAD, the band has righted itself somewhat, although this is far from classic Gamma Ray material that you would want, or even expect.
Adrian Vandenberg and Jake E. Lee have seemingly the same career path. Both were great in super huge bands (Vandenberg in Whitesnake, Lee in Ozzy), recorded even better material when they broke away (Lee with Badlands, Vandenberg with Manic Eden), and then both walked away and just left music behind for awhile. Now, both are back. Lee's Red Dragon Cartel is pretty solid, but it doesn't hold a candle to the new release from Vandenberg's MoonKings. Sort of a hybrid between 80s metal and 70s blues rock (think Zeppelin or even some Rolling Stones), this release comes as quite a surprise to people that are thinking they would find another big Whitesnake sounding album has been brewing with Vandenberg as he sat in seclusion for almost 20 years. In short, this release is probably not for the younger generation at all, but that takes nothing away from it. For those of us with a more classic rock slant to our musical taste, this is about as good as it gets.