09 April 2017

Sonic Chronicle - Iron Maiden.

After having so much fun ranking the releases for Anthrax, I thought I'd take a moment to do the same for my favorite band of all time, the one and only Iron Maiden. Let's get to the records.

16. The X Factor (1995). I guess if we're going worst to best, it makes sense to start with Blaze Bayley's iteration of Maiden. I don't think Blaze replacing Bruce Dickinson was as much of a hindrance as still not having Adrian Smith was. I think Smith could have made the Blaze experiment work, or at least better. The hooks just aren't really present. Yes, this album is my least favorite Maiden record, but it's still really good for what it is. Killer tracks: Sign of the Cross, Lord of the Flies, Man on the Edge, The Aftermath.

15. Virtual XI (1998). This album is probably the consensus worst album by Iron Maiden, but I actually dig a lot of it. The production isn't too great, but the songwriting is actually loaded with pretty good hooks and some memorable parts. It does warrant mentioning, however, this album does house the single worst Maiden song ever recorded in "The Angel and the Gambler." Gross. Killer tracks: Futureal, The Clansman, The Educated Fool, Lightning Strikes Twice, Don't Look to the Eyes of a Stranger.

14. No Prayer for the Dying (1990). This album is not terrible by any stretch, but it is the sound of a band that is pretty disinterested in making a great album. The band wasn't into it or getting along, and it sounded like it. It has its moments, but nothing truly groundbreaking. Killer tracks: Bring Your Daughter... To the Slaughter, Tail Gunner, Hooks in You, Mother Russia, No Prayer for the Dying.

13. A Matter of Life and Death (2006). This album was fantastic on first listen, but kind of lost a little luster with each successive spin for whatever reason. It's a little darker than the normal Maiden album, and all the staples are there, but the tracks are a little too long and a little too repetitive at times. Still a great, great album. Killer tracks: The Reincarnation of Benjamin Breeg, Brighter than a Thousand Suns, The Longest Day, Different World, These Colours Don't Run.

12. The Final Frontier (2010). When I saw the title of this one, I was nervous the band was calling it quits afterword. Obviously, they didn't, and I'm relieved because this album rocked. I was a huge fan of the sci-fi atmosphere of this album, and more than a few tracks clicked with me right off the bat. I do recall Bruce Dickinson sounding like he had a bit of age on him for the first time on this one though. Killer Tracks: Starblind, Satellite 15... The Final Frontier, Coming Home, When the Wild Wind Blows.

11. The Book of Souls (2015). What's better than an Iron Maiden album? A double album, of course. The somewhat excessive length aside, this album is packed with great songs with a little more of a progressive edge. Killer tracks: Empire of the Clouds, The Red and the Black, Tears of a Clown.

10. Dance of Death (2003). This album was the quintessential grower for me. When I first heard it, I didn't really like it, but the more I let it play, the more I began to realize it was actually quite the masterpiece. Killer tracks: Paschendale, Journeyman, Dance of Death, Wildest Dreams, Rainmaker.

9. Piece of Mind (1983). I've never been as big of a fan of this album as most other metalheads, but that's not saying it's not a classic. It is. I think I just don't like the honky, midrange-y guitar sound. The riffs are all there, and the songwriting is masterful as usual. Killer tracks: The Trooper, Where Eagles Dare, Flight of Icarus, Die with Your Boots on.

8. Iron Maiden (1980). Before Maiden were running to the hills, they were running free. This debut is raw NWOBHM with a hint of punk attitude thanks to Paul Di'Anno's vocals, and I can't imagine a world without everything this album brought to the heavy metal scene. Killer tracks: Remember Tomorrow, Prowler, Running Free, Iron Maiden.

7. Brave New World (2000). This album will be best known as the returns of Bruce Dickinson and Adrian Smith. This was also the first album the band recorded with all three guitarists. The results are a band that sounds revitalized with fresh hooks and a veritable wall of guitar sound. Many of the tunes on here are also featured with killer live versions on the Rock in Rio live album. Killer tracks: The Wicker Man, The Thin Line Between Love and Hate, Blood Brothers, The Mercenary.

6. Killers (1981). I love this album, and I couldn't imagine anyone other than Paul Di'Anno singing on it. It's more frenetic and energetic than anything that would come after, and Paul's punk roots really blended beautifully with Maiden's streamlined, galloping heavy metal sound. Killer tracks: Killers, Wrathchild, Innocent Exile, Murders in the Rue Morgue.

5. The Number of the Beast (1982). I guess it would be more fitting if this was number 6, but we'll just go with it. It's just a classic record that changed the game for heavy metal in so many ways. It has its share of stinker tracks, but the good tunes are classics you just can't argue against. Killer tracks: 22 Acacia Avenue, The Prisoner, Children of the Damned, The Number of the Beast, Hallowed By Thy Name.

4. Fear of the Dark (1992). I know this album raises more than a few eyebrows when I mention it with the same reverent tone as Maiden's other classics, but that's just a testament to how much I love this album. It was the first Maiden album I ever heard, so it has nostalgia going for it. I have vivid memories of riding around town jamming to the CD in high school whenever I was bored. I even have a framed poster of the album art on my wall. One of my all time faves. Killer tracks: Fear of the Dark, Afraid to Shoot Strangers, Be Quick or Be Dead, Wasting Love, Fear is the Key, The Apparition.

3. Powerslave (1984). In the mid-'80s, Maiden was releasing masterpiece after masterpiece and somehow found a way to top themselves with each new record. Powerslave is jam-packed with classic heavy metal riffs and dueling guitar solos that you sing to yourself for a lifetime. Killer tracks: Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Flash of the Blade, 2 Minutes to Midnight, Powerslave, Aces High.

2. Seventh Son of a Seventh Son (1988). It would be easy to find a metalhead who would call this album the best album of all time. In fact, I couldn't argue. It's that good. The guitar tone is a slightly more organic version of the Somewhere in Time tone, but the masterful songwriting is where this one really shines. It's second to no one else out there. Period. Killer tracks: Only the Good Die Young, Moonchild, Seventh Son of a Seventh Son, Can I Play with Madness.

1. Somewhere in Time (1986). There is not a single second of this album that I don't find amazing. In my opinion, it's one of only a handful of records for which I could even entertain the idea of perfection. That razor sharp Gallien-Krueger guitar tone fits the sci-fi theme of the album very well, and I have even been in love with that sound since the moment I heard it. A must-have album for any metal fan. Killer tracks: Alexander the Great, Stranger in a Strange Land, Wasted Years, Heaven Can Wait, Sea of Madness.

02 March 2017

Sonic Chronicle - Anthrax.

11. Stomp 442 (1995). Bands like Korn were starting to gain popularity in the mid-’90s, and it sounds like Anthrax noticed. The sound of this album is dry and muddy and the riffs just aren’t there. Nothing about this one is very enjoyable. Killer tracks: Fueled.

10. Volume 8: The Threat is Real (1998). Once again, Anthrax just sound like a band that has run out of ideas. It sounds better than Stomp, but again nothing sticks. I want to like this one a little, but just have a hard time. Killer tracks: Catharsis.

9. State of Euphoria (1988). I know a lot of people like this one, but I just don’t enjoy it that much. It’s a little too vanilla and forgettable. Not bad, but not great. Killer tracks: Antisocial.

8. Worship Music (2011). This one marked the departure of John Bush and the return of Joey Belladonna on vocals. There was obviously a lot of hype for this album after an eight-year hiatus, and the results were pretty mixed. It has its moments, but it’s pretty clear the band still had to knock off some rust on this one. Killer tracks: Fight ‘Em Til You Can’t, The Devil You Know.

7. Fistful of Metal (1984). If you want to hear what a band with talent and ability but have no idea how to harness any of it effectively sounds like, check out this album. Anthrax’s debut is NWOBHM-infused American heavy metal in its rawest form, and while it’s not a masterpiece by any means, you can definitely hear there’s promise. Killer tracks: I’m Eighteen, Deathrider.

6. For All Kings (2016). After an almost average return album with Joey Belladonna on Worship Music, the band really got back into form on this one. The production is great and the riffs are catchy and heavy. Adding Shadows Fall guitarist Jon Donais makes a couple of the tracks sound like Anthrax covering Shadows Fall (like, how does “Suzerain” even sound like Anthrax at all?), but somehow it works great. Killer tracks: Breathing Lightning, Monster at the End, Suzerain.

5. We’ve Come for You All (2003). This was the second time John Bush-fronted Anthrax actually delivered, and boy, did they. This one came out of nowhere back in 2003 and stayed in my CD player for what felt like months. Almost every track is great, and we get some of Darrell Abbott’s last recorded works before his death on “Cadillac Rock Box” and “Taking the Music Back.” Killer Tracks: Safe Home, Think about an End, What Doesn’t Die, Cadillac Rock Box, Taking the Music Back.

4. Among the Living (1987). This one is the thrash classic that everyone remembers for its percussively rhythmic riffs and the ease with which hip hop legends Public Enemy teamed up with Anthrax for the “Bring the Noise” crossover. I like this album a lot, but it’s faster and more aggressive than the band’s other work from the ’80s. Killer tracks: Among the Living, Indians, I Am the Law, Caught in a Mosh.

3. Sound of White Noise (1993). Here’s a shocker at number 3. This was actually my first foray into the world of Anthrax. I got this one from the BMG mail-order catalog when I was in the 8th grade. I’m a huge fan of John Bush’s vocals in Armored Saint and Anthrax, and at times, I even prefer him over Joey Belladonna. This album has a very ’90s feel to it. It’s a little dark and pretty edgy, and some of the hooks stick like glue. Killer tracks: Only, Potters Field, C11 H17 N2 O2 S Na, Hy Pro Glo, Invisible.

2. Persistence of Time (1990). This album sounds like a somewhat angry band who is attempting to validate themselves as more than just another thrash metal band by actively trying to write a masterpiece. The time changes are impressive and sometimes hilariously insane, but the tracks have an inescapable groove. This is heavy thrash metal for the thinking man. Killer tracks: Keep it in the Family, Belly of the Beast, Time, Got the Time, Blood.

1. Spreading the Disease (1985). This album is a 10 in my book. It’s not as much thrash as it is an Americanization of the first couple of Iron Maiden albums with more than enough NWOBHM influences to go around. Every track on this album is exciting, and I can listen to this one anytime and anywhere. Killer tracks: A.I.R., Madhouse, The Enemy, Medusa.

27 January 2017

Raised on rock.

I love eBay. Last week, I won an auction for not one but two Guns N Roses cassettes. Included in the duo was their classic 1987 debut, Appetite for Destruction, and their last real studio album, at least in my opinion, The Spaghetti Incident?, which is a collection of cover songs that inspired the band during their beginnings, and by all accounts, that albums is not fantastic.

So, why blog about this? Well, I needed to find the tapes as replacements in my collection for the ones I had a kid. They were lost long ago during a move between college dorms or my families houses or something. Who knows. Anyway, as I was shopping for the Appetite cassette, I came across this coupling of cassettes and decided it was a pretty good deal, so I got them. When I checked the mail today and opened the package with my loot, I held the tapes and just stared at them as the nostalgia began to pour over me. So, allow me to tell you why these tapes are so special.

Let’s throw it back to 1992.

When I was in the fifth grade, I discovered music. Not like music, but actual hard and heavy rock. I was over at a friend’s house one Saturday that spring to trade baseball cards and play basketball in the driveway with my friends. You know, typical 10-year old boy Saturday activities. His parents were working, so we were all hanging out in his kitchen looking at baseball cards and doing whatever else when someone pressed play on the old boombox in the corner. Unbeknownst to any of us, I guess, the tape in the player was Appetite for Destruction, and at that moment, “Mr. Brownstone” by Guns N Roses poured forth from the speakers and graced my young ears. I heard the opening guitar riff and was hooked. It was like nothing I’d ever heard.

I remember telling my friend I’d trade him a couple of Juan Guzman rookie cards for the tape, which in hindsight turned out to be coup for me. I also remember demanding him to go upstairs and find the case too if he wanted to get away with the Guzmans. He did. He was also fine parting with the tape. He was getting into country music for some reason and also said GnR had a newer double album called Use Your Illusion I & II out anyway. Well, that sounds exciting.

So, I took the tape home and listened to it incessantly. I bet I played the tape all the way through at least once a night on my stereo (with my headphones on, of course) before going to sleep. A couple months later, I traded some country CDs for my friend’s Use Your Illusion tapes. That summer, I listened to my Guns N Roses tapes on my headphones until the wee hours of the morning every night. I knew every note. I wanted to play guitar like Slash too.

That Christmas, I got a copy of Metallica’s black album in my stocking (Thanks, dad.), and the rest of the school year was spent hanging out with my friend Nick who had just moved to town from Tennessee and checking out whatever cool new heavy bands we could find in Hit Parader magazines. We even traded tapes with older kids. I remember the glee of getting a 53rd-hand recording of …And Justice for All or the first White Zombie album later. Those were the days.

But that’s another story for another time.

09 December 2016

What's spinning, December 2016.

Just wanted to give a rundown of some of the new metal releases that have been gracing my speakers over the last couple of months. Check it.

Testament – Brotherhood of the Snake. Testament have still got it. This is probably the best thing I’ve heard from them in over two decades. “The Pale King” is a thrash hit if there ever was one, and “Seven Seals” is actually a great summary of the book of Revelation.

Death Angel – The Evil Divide. Death Angels has always been hit or miss with me, and mostly miss, but I can’t stop playing this one. It has the right mix of thrash and melody.

Avenged Sevenfold – The Stage. The most mature album to date by these guys. This one will probably wind up being their magnum opus. It’ll be hard to top this.

Metallica – Hardwired…to Self-Destruct. I hate those ellipses, but the tunes are pretty good for the most part. It’s not Ride the Lightning or anything, but it’s good for what it is.

Accu§er – The Forlorn Divide. Where have these guys been all my life. Super heavy German thrash with a healthy dose of groove.

Kryptos – Burn Up the Night. Kryptos can do no wrong. Ever.

Vektor – Terminal Redux. It’s fast and progressive thrash with wacky parts that boast insane musicianship, and the bass sound is pretty amazing too. Really dig it.

Ihsahn – Arktis. This album can put you in a completely different place. Leprous’s Einar Solberg contributes some wonderful crooning vocals on a couple of tracks as well. One of the best albums of the year for sure.

25 September 2016

We've got a live one here.

I was recently thinking about live albums that I’ve really enjoyed over time, and I figured that in and of itself is plenty of inspiration to write a blog post listing my own personal favorite live albums. While they aren’t necessarily as enjoyable, in my opinion, as a finely polished studio masterpiece, they do serve the purpose of capturing a band in front of a live crowd in all their glory. So here are a few live albums that I feel really capture great bands at great moments in their history.

Ozzy Osbourne – Live & Loud. I got this album when I was in the eighth grade. It’s actually one of my prized possessions in my collection too. It’s in pretty ratty shape at this point, but it’s still complete with the washable tattoos, booklet, and steel grate cover. As for the music, Zakk Wylde makes the band sound insanely heavy, and it’s the best Ozzy has ever sounded.

Kiss – Alive III. People always say Alive or Alive II is the best Kiss live album. They’re probably right, but I’ve always dug this one just because of the tunes they included in the show. I’m also a bigger fan of Bruce Kulick than Ace Frehley. There, I said it.

Iced Earth – Alive in Athens. The Greek crowd on this album is on fire. Iced Earth also kill it with Matt Barlow fronting the band too.

Iron Maiden – Live at Donington. Iron Maiden has more awesome live albums than most bands even have albums. I could literally say any of them here and be fine with the choice. I’m going with Donington though. It’s from their Fear of the Dark era, which was the time I really discovered the real majesty of the band, so I can’t deny the nostalgia. I also love the overly loud bass guitar sound throughout.

Dream Theater – Live at Budokan. I have this one on DVD. Having seen Dream Theater live once, I can assure you it’s a spectacle for no other reason than just how good the band are technically. They don’t miss a note. This show sounds amazing, and the songs they play are great, but the documentary portion of the DVD makes it worth it. I love seeing the band make fun of James Labrie’s warmup routine every time.

Slayer – Decade of Aggression. I’m not a big slayer fan, but they sound better on this album to me than they do in the studio.

Judas Priest – Unleashed in the East. This is just an utterly classic live record. Every song is even a classic, and the band sounds amazing.

Metallica – S & M. The San Francisco symphony. Metallica. What could possibly go wrong? My wife and I both love this record to death, and the DVD is equally fantastic.

Rammstein – Völkerball. German guys who shoot fire out of a flamethrower on stage. If you don’t want to see or hear that, I don’t know what to tell you.

Kamelot – One Cold Winter’s Night. This is a truly magical show. The band sounds great doing a lot of great tracks, but the DVD of the show is what’s really stunning. They make it snow in the venue during “Abandoned,” and it’s awesome.

Sonata Arctica – For the Sake of Revenge. This album doesn’t sound particularly great, but the banter between songs is always pretty funny, and they smash a keytar on the stage.

Van Halen – Live: Right Here, Right Now. Van Halen is awesome regardless, but the epic 13-minute guitar solo that Eddie blazes out for “316” makes this a live record worthy of capturing some magic. Sometimes I listen to that track and just wonder how he got so good at guitar.

04 September 2016

Sonic Chronicle - When the decadence died, Part II.

Back in the early 1990s, about 1991 if I had to put an exact year on it, glam metal died, and it’s murderer was grunge. The pomp, pageantry, and proliferation of a plethora of hair products and pointy guitars had faded away only to be replaced by flannel shirts and older Fender axes. Even the very sound of rock was changing. Gone was the scooped midrange and boatloads of sizzling, glittering gain, and in their places was a more primal and abrasive sound that represented a darker and more brooding atmosphere straight out of Seattle. This was the sound of glam metal’s era of excess and decadence crashing to the ground.

Despite glam’s record sales coming to an abrupt and nearly absolute halt, there is still a bevy of fantastic releases by glam bands that very few people ever even checked out or, at best, simply wrote off as “just another glam album by a glam band.” Listening to these records now, 25 years after the fact, has revealed to me that there is some great material that was long ago covered by time and dust and grunge. Here are a few albums from after the death of glam that have rocked me to the bones lately.

Winger: Pull (1994). I’ve mentioned this one before. It’s a fantastic album from beginning to end, and Reb Beach is one of the all-time most underrated guitarists.

Cinderella: Still Climbing (1994). A killer in-your-face rock and roll album with the shrill, high-pitched vocals you’ve always come to love from Cinderella.

L.A. Guns: Vicious Circle (1994). This is like another sleazy trip down Sunset Strip, only this time everyone hates you.

Warrant: Dog Eat Dog (1992). Jani Lane can write a killer song, and this album is full of them. It’s like someone dropped the leash and let Warrant run wild.

Mötley Crüe: Mötley Crüe (1994). Not the best thing the Crüe ever did, but how would you top that? John Corabi is probably the deepest songwriter the band ever had, and it shows on this album. After a few listens, it grows.

Slaughter: The Wild Life (1992). I was always a big Slaughter fan. The high-pitched vocals never got on my nerves as much as they probably should have. “Reach for the Sky” is a killer tune.

Jackyl: Push Comes to Shove (1994). Jackyl is probably not your stereotypical hair band, but their sound definitely fits the mold. Lost of good southern grooves here with a bad attitude.

Poison: Native Tongue (1993). I’ve mentioned this one before too. Ritchie Kotzen replaced C.C. Deville on the guitar, and the result is a subtly darker and more interesting album.

W.A.S.P.: The Crimson Idol (1992). One of the best albums I’ve ever heard. You can listen time and time again and find something new to love every time.

07 July 2016

Sonic Chronicle - When the decadence died, Part I.

I recently revisited an album from my childhood that I remembered getting from a BMG order catalog, which was Poison’s Native Tongue from 1993. Another one that I’ve recently been spinning is Winger’s Pull from 1994. Don’t get me wrong. I still have a hard time enjoying “glam metal,” but these two albums don’t really feel like glam. Poison still make me cringe every time they grace the radio with their presence with a sappy “Every Rose…” or a gutless “Unskinny Bop,” and I never really liked any Winger song beyond laughing when I heard “Seventeen.” I also never really like the legions of other bands who seemed to be carbon copies of each other like Warrant, Ratt, Cinderella, etc.

See, back when the early-1990s were beginning to morph into the mid-1990s, glam was dying the same hilariously quick but painful death that most popular music dies as some point. Cash cow bands like Poison and Winger were ceasing to produce the same money they did only a few years prior, so the music was becoming darker. The plight of being a falling star was really beginning to shine through in the music, and the bands really had to try to write quality material instead of rely on rehashing the same material with which fans were growing tired. The result was music that just felt meatier, more real, and with a soul.

Winger’s Pull has a tune on it called “In My Veins” that basically rocks my face off every time I hear it. In fact, most of Winger’s work after their “fall from glam grace” is pretty fantastic. It’s just pure, fun, fist-pumping, head-banging heavy music sans the hair spray and makeup. Poison, on the other hand, has a pretty savage sound on Native Tongue due in large part to new guitarist Richie Kotzen who replace C.C. Deville, and they barely even sound like Poison, which is awesome. Obviously, C.C. got clean and came back, and the band went back to nerve-grating glam, but at least this album exists.

Again, this was a cool era of music. Grunge killed the poppy glam metal. People say the “late 1980s glam heyday” era album from bands like these are the ones that should be desired. I say they’re wrong. This stuff is real, and it rocks.