Throughout my lifetime as a Clevelander, Michael Stanley has been a musical pillar in my life. As long as I’ve been listening to rock music, Michael Stanley has been one of those artists that’s been a fixture for me. I’ve easily seen him perform 30 times, including all 10 of the sold out shows at the Front Row Theatre and the infamous party in the parking lot outside of old Cleveland Stadium. When I got my first walkman in 1982, the first three tapes that came with it were Genesis – GENESIS, Pat Benatar – GET NERVOUS and Michael Stanley Band – MSB. In so many ways, Stanley has been a better version of Bruce Springsteen for me – a storyteller with stories that I could more directly relate to along the way. “Thank God for the man who puts the white lines on the highway”. Indeed.
While the last 10+ years have seen a gluttony of garbage when it comes to newer, modern metal bands, there have been a few that have continually stood above the fray musically. God Forbid is definitely one of them. Their intensity combined with their brutality in the live setting has made them one of the most universally recognized great bands out there…even if they don’t sell a lot of records. Albums like EARTHSBLOOD and IV: CONSTITUTION OF TREASON were some of the best this genre has offered up. It wasn’t enough though for former founding member Dallas Coyle, who left the band in 2009 and left a lot of people wondering what the future would hold for them.
When Al Jourgensen shelved Ministry back in 2008, it seemed like a good idea to be honest. While I’m a huge fan of his politically fueled albums, the rhetoric was wearing out on most people. That said though, there’s nary a Ministry album that’s not good, so after several years away, it only seemed right that Jourgensen would end his retirement with the bug to make more industrialized speed metal biting him hard on the neck. RELAPSE finds Ministry back and firing fast and furious. While this is lyrically the weakest album ever done by Ministry, the sneering sarcasm of Jourgensen comes spewing forth throughout. The subject matter may have changed, but this is still your same Ministry.
THE KING OF METAL
It’s amazing how many people out there only know Blaze Bayley from the two Iron Maiden albums where Steve Harris went through writer’s block. Because of how lame THE X FACTOR and VIRTUAL XI were, Bayley always got blamed. Since most people weren’t familiar with the rest of his catalog, they seemingly went along with it. That’s a shame though, because those of us that know albums like BLOOD AND BELIEF and SILICON MESSIAH know there is some KILLER metal out there that Bayley has put his name on over the years.
Up the irons! Iron Maiden are back once again with what, according to Wikipedia, would be their 10th live album EN VIVO. That’s right, they are so good live that they require a live album EVERY time they tour these days. I’m sure they will claim that’s how they can reach those that couldn’t attend the tour. I’ll claim it as milking the diehards. it doesn’t matter though. It’s Iron Maiden, and even though someone like me knows it’s an unnecessary release, I’ll be one of those diehards who’s teet is being squeezed once again by England’s finest.
THE ELECTRIC AGE
If you are a fan of most of the big name metal bands and have been for 20+ years as so many of us have been, then you have really lived through ebbs and flows in their careers. For most of them, they are simply not as good as they once were. Sure, we still like what they do and support it, but let’s be honest about it. We do so out of respect for the past brilliance, and not because today’s stuff is of the same caliber. Pick a band – Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth, Anthrax, Exodus, Testament – some have put out strong releases, but can you say that their career in the last 15 years has been as strong as the first 10-15? Probably not. In my eyes, only one band of that ilk can say they are as strong, and I would argue they are stronger. That band is Overkill. While every album hasn’t been a home run (IMMORTALIS was kind of lacking), it’s pretty hard to argue that albums like FROM THE UNDERGROUND AND BELOW, IRONBOUND and NECROSHINE aren’t as strong or stronger than the classics like TAKING OVER or UNDER THE INFLUENCE.
Modern Day Escape
UNDER THE GUN
With so much focus on the current demise of hard rock and heavy metal today (and yes, this focus is justified for the most part), it seems that people are missing a lot of bands that are creating quality music these days. How could you not? It's easy to become very disenfranchised with an entire genre of music when it's flagship band is an uncreative band like Nickelback. Still, there are bands that are creating highly interesting, powerful hard rock that should be getting a lot more attention. One such band is Modern Day Escape. While the band seemed to find their audience with well conceived videos and decent songs with their last effort, HOUSE OF RATS, they have clearly defined their sound while stepping up their song and lyric writing with their latest, UNDER THE GUN. In all avenues, UNDER THE GUN features a tighter, more cohesive Modern Day Escape than we saw previously.
Some albums are just meant to be kept for personal use. I can always appreciate when a band wants to branch out and try something different. Sometimes, it’s a cool little gem for fans. As an example, I very much like Aerosmith’s HONKIN’ ON BOBO release where they stretched themselves by doing an album of Blues sub-standards. The obvious marker for a successful stretch outward would be Tesla’s FIVE MAN ACOUSTICAL JAM. The difference between those bands and a band like Ektomorf is pretty clear though. Those bands had an established audience. Maybe they do somewhere else, but Ektomorf doesn’t mean a whole lot to metal audiences here in the States. I like them a lot, personally, but I’m one person. In fact, the sad truth is that if you played a single song frrom Ektomorf’s back catalog for most fans, they would think it’s Soulfly.