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.
There's just something about Soulfly that works for me from release to release. Not only do the releases come fast and furious, but they always have enough in them to keep me interested until the next effort comes out. They have changes from release to release. Sometimes they are subtle, and sometimes they are far more pronounced. With SAVAGES, it's no exception. Almost completely non-existent are the tribal blasts that generally are prominent in their music. Additionally, the songs are longer; a LOT longer. Without question, SAVAGES is one of the most direct and yet epic release of the band's 9 total releases. It might also be the best. SAVAGES is super heavy, very powerful, and pure Cavalera. It really doesn't get better than this from Max and company.
Financial politics once again ruins a great band. In this case, it's the greatest band of the stoner rock genre, Kyuss. With heated debates about publishing and the payments from such things, Kyuss split up. Part of them became Queens Of The Stone Age, and other parts had various titles like Sloburn, Hermano and, eventually, Kyuss Lives. That wasn't allowed due to more legal bullshit, so Kyuss Lives became Vista Chino. To be blunt about it, I'm still personally pissed off at all these guys for ruining a band I've enjoyed throughout my life as much as any. BLUES FOR THE RED SUN is about as good of a rock album has ever been recorded in my eyes; it never leaves my iPod or goes unattended too long. I've never dug Queens Of The Stone Age much, and to be honest, really wasn't overwhelmed by Hermano or Sloburn either. In short, these guys legal bullshit killed what I, personally, was digging.
JAMMIN' WITH FRIENDS
Have you ever watched some really b-level porn? Nevermind...y'all have and won't admit to it. When watching that porn, have you ever seen some of that more brutal "throat rape", where a dude literally chokes a woman to the point of passing out with an aggressive thrusting designed to blow out the back of her skull JFK style? Did you ever wonder what the chick was thinking at that exact moment? You have to image she was thinking, "man, this seemed like it would be a great idea before we started, but now I'm realizing just how awful this is and how detrimental this could be to the rest of my life." Listening to Bret Michaels' JAMMIN' WITH FRIENDS is pretty much the same. While it may have seemed like a good idea at the time, the result is just another horrific example of the fact that Michaels is barely a musician anymore; more interested in a name-dropping fest than actually putting any sort of effort into providing a quality product to the sheep that still buy his garbage.
I'd like to take a moment to thank the promoters and record companies worldwide. Thank you promoters for doing so absolutely little to expose Annihilator to America and so many other territories of the world. Thank you to all the record companies that just didn't think they could compete with the rest of the thrash bands in the world. Thanks so much for depriving most of the world from realizing the greatness of this band; a band so incredibly consistent and great that, had they been given a true push, probably would now be referred in the same breath as the Big 4. Annihilator was and is so good that they found their hardcore following in spite of the industry. As the music industry implodes, I can only smile and laugh as a fan of Annihilator. Ultimately, it is getting just what it deserves for the way it treated this band.
Nine Inch Nails
Before getting to some words about the brand new Nine Inch Nails release HESITATION MARKS, let me first share my opinion of Trent Reznor and his career to date. Personally, I think he's an innovator and a genius. His past work, in my eyes, is some of the most creative and aurally challenging material ever recorded. Sure, some of it has been easy to digest. Certainly PRETTY HATE MACHINE and THE DOWNWARD SPIRAL were simple to digest when we were all in our 20s with a lot of angst. Other releases though, like THE FRAGILE, were akin to new age versions of Pink Floyd's THE WALL or Roger Waters' subsequent solo release THE PROS AND CONS OF HITCHHIKING; all releases that really made you concentrate as much on the whole concept as much as the more simple pieces of the story that were divided into songs. People are making a big deal about Reznor coming back right now after a five year hiatus. Most are forgetting that his hiatus came on the back of three consecutive subpar efforts (YEAR ZERO, GHOSTS and THE SLIP). Still, Reznor has returned with a release that's being dubbed as "a return to the sound of THE DOWNWARD SPIRAL".