• Wretch - WARRIORS

    Image: Wretch, Warriors, Review, Power Metal, Chris Akin, Pitriff Wretch
    WARRIORS

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    There's an unwritten rule that I rarely follow here in Cleveland. That rule is that if a band is from Cleveland, I'm supposed to write all glowing things or else be called a hater by the local community. It's sad that it's like that, but the truth is what it is. For years I've lived with that stigma, to the point

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  • Machine Head - BLOODSTONE & DIAMONDS

    Image: Machine Head, Bloodstone & Diamonds, Pitriff, Review, Thrash Metal Machine Head
    BLOODSTONE & DIAMONDS

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    What happened to Machine Head really is a crime. Unfortunately for them, it's a crime they perpetrated upon themselves. With a mistake so many made in their youth, this band singlehandedly torpedoed themselves from ascending to the heights in metal held by only the select few like Metallica and Megadeth before them. After THE MORE THINGS CHANGE came

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  • Nashville Outlaws - TRIBUTE TO MOTLEY CRUE

    Image: Nashville Outlaws, Motley Crue Tribute Nashville Outlaws
    A TRIBUTE TO MOTLEY CRUE

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    With the music industry pretty much dead anymore, nothing really comes off as shocking. After all, you have very desperate companies trying to hang on and make money from an industry that has about as much relevance today as the typewriter ribbon makers of the world still do. The current trend for the last half decade

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  • Texas Hippie Coalition - RIDE ON

    Image: Texas Hippie Coalition, Ride On, Heavy Metal, Hard Rock, Review, Classic Metal Texas Hippie Coalition
    RIDE ON

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    I tell this story often, but it's one of my favorites of the past year. I had the chance to interview the Texas Hippie Coalition earlier this year at Rock On The Range in Columbus, Ohio. I was in a small tent with a bunch of photographers. The tent was fairly quiet really, as the much bigger adjacent

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  • Sammy Hagar - LITE ROAST

    Image: Sammy Hagar, Lite Roast, NonMetal, Review Sammy Hagar
    LITE ROAST

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    I get it. You are Sammy Hagar. You've seen huge success in virtually every world you've entered. In music, he was the main focus of Montrose. He parlayed that into a very successful solo career. That wasn't enough, so he joined the world's largest band at the time (Van Halen), and took them to commercial heights that even they

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  • Cavalera Conspiracy - PANDEMONIUM

    Image: Cavalera Conspiracy, Pandemonium, Pitriff, Death Metal, Review Cavalera Conspiracy
    PANDEMONIUM

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    There's always good news and bad news whenever Max Cavalera gets busy with new music. The good is that you get a whole lot of new music, seemingly all in a very short time. The bad news is it's generally spotty at best, because he simply writes and releases too much music at the same time. His band Soulfly released

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  • Slipknot - .5 THE GRAY MATTER

    Image: Slipknot, .5 The Gray Matter, Pitriff, CD Review, Modern Metal Slipknot
    .5 THE GRAY MATTER

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    With a ton of speculation and even more wonderment on this band's ability to continue on without founding members Paul Gray and Joey Jordison, Slipknot has returned after far too long of a layoff with .5 THE GRAY MATTER. I've listened to this release multiple times a day for the last week or so that I've had it,

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  • Opeth - PALE COMMUNION

    Image: Opeth, Pale Communion, Pitriff, Review, Progressive Metal Opeth
    PALE COMMUNION

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    Opeth simply fails as a band, at least to me. While I'll admit to never fully understanding the amazement and awe so many have for this band, I've appreciated them from afar. I've listened, and I've at least wrapped my head around what they were trying to do. Their fusing of death metal with progressive elements always made for an

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  • Cannibal Corpse - A SKELETAL DOMAIN

    Cannibal Corpse, A Skeletal Domain, Review, Death Metal Cannibal Corpse
    A SKELETAL DOMAIN

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    So really, what does anyone expect when you get a Cannibal Corpse release handed to you? Ballads, love songs and fun? Not hardly. There's an expectation of severe brutality which the band delivers time and time again. Certainly, it comes with different levels of acceptance to one's ears, but ultimately the only thing that matters if it says

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  • Exodus - BLOOD IN, BLOOD OUT

    Image: Exodus, Blood In Blood Out, Pitriff, Review, Thrash Metal Exodus
    BLOOD IN, BLOOD OUT

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    Unless you call Testament a "thrash band" (which I don't personally), Exodus would rank as my favorite true Thrash band of all time. They have had good times and bad. Occasionally, like on FABULOUS DISASTER, they have misstepped along the way. But overall, they are one of the true powerhouses in the history of thrash metal. Since 2004

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  • Mr. Big - ...THE STORIES WE COULD TELL

    Mr. Big, The Stories We Could Tell, Reviews, Classic Metal, Chris Akin, Pitriff Mr. Big
    ...THE STORIES WE COULD TELL

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    As a fan of Mr. Big, I can't honestly say that many people thought that their reunion was much more than a cash grab opportunity for the guys in the band who, while immensely talented, failed to find solo success to match their collaborative efforts. It was never a question of if they could still play.

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Blackberry Smoke - LEAVE A SCAR

Image: Blackberry Smoke, Leave A Scar, Pitriff, Review, RockBlackberry Smoke
LEAVE A SCAR - LIVE IN NORTH CAROLINA

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Right up front, Blackberry Smoke is not a metal band. They are a southern-rock band, in the classic, original sense. These days, the term "southern rock" has been applied to everybody from Black Stone Cherry to Nashville Pussy to Crowbar, all sounds that would be alien and extreme in the days of Skynyrd and Molly Hatchet. Atlanta's Blackberry Smoke, on the other hand, would have fit comfortably in that era. In fact, in 2014, their music sound more like hard, modern country music than anything you would hear on rock radio. The band seems to know this, and in the years since their 2003 debut, Bad Luck Ain't No Crime--produced by Jackyl's Jesse Dupree, who more or less discovered them--they seem to have steered their music in that direction. To that end, they've worked with hot Nashville producer Dann Huff (a reinvented rocker himself, formerly the lead singer and guitarist for the band Giant), and sanding away the rough edges of their music and lyrics.

You want to know the hell of it, though? They are super-talented musicians and songwriters. If you like classic southern rock, or even stuff like the Black Crowes without the sophistication or irony, it's impossible not to root for Blackberry Smoke. They've done it the hard way, by relentless touring and toiling in relative obscurity for over a decade, before being signed to Zac Brown's Southern Ground label and enjoying a modicum of success.

Now it's time for their live double CD and DVD package, Lave A Scar: Live In North Carolina. You get twenty-two songs, spanning the band's three and a half albums so far (eighteen songs on the DVD). The band plays every song from its 2012 release, The Whippoorwill, but still has plenty of time for older (and often harder-rocking) favorites like "Sanctified Woman," "Up In Smoke" and 'Shake Your Magnolia." The band is tight like only a band that plays constantly can be. The musicianship is excellent, the songs are catchy and fun, and the crowd is fired up.

So why am I underwhelmed? The answer, I think, likes more in the overall feeling of the show, rather than any faults of the musicians. For starters, most live albums feature more energized, fiery performances than what you hear on studio releases. On the other hand, Blackberry Smoke sound very laid-back after the first couple songs. Many of the tunes actually seem a bit SLOWER than their original versions. Then there's the guitar sound. It's like both lead singer Charlie Starr and guitarist Paul Jackson are playing on the neck pickups of their instruments, pretty much the whole time, and there just isn't very much bite to their sound. It lends the music a muffled quality. Maybe it's just that I, as a metalhead, am used to a sharp, cutting guitar tone on modern live albums, but I found myself constantly repositioning my headphones and fiddling with the equalizer on my stereo, trying to get the sound dialed in right. Even songs that sound like they should really roll, like "Leave A Scar" or "Shake Your Magnolia," sound flat and mild. Adding to the nagging boredom is the fact that so many of the songs from The Whippoorwill are on the slow side. Not ballads, exactly, but they just kind of mosey along, and the band is occasionally given to meandering jams that really get the mind wandering. Then there's that keyboard player, tinkling along on the piano or warbling along on the organ, further blunting the band's sound.

When it works, though, it works well. Muddy sound notwithstanding, the opening uptempo one-two punch of "Shakin' Hands With The Holy Ghost" and "Sanctified Woman" get things off to a head-bobbing start. The two songs from the band's pure-country EP, New Honky Tonk Bootlegs--"Son Of The Bourbon' and "Lesson In A Bottle"--are really nice, and work better than some of the middle-of-the-road country rock of more recent material. Charlie Starr sounds exactly like somebody named Charlie should sound--a little rough and raspy, but capable of pulling off some stunningly clear harmonies with Jackson when you don't expect it. Not a silky-voiced country crooner, even when he tries to be.

I also give the band points for still occasionally steering clear of the skull-hammering lyrical cliches of current country music. On their first album, they sang about running off with bad women, and a girl who dumps you to peddle her ass in New Orleans, but on later releases, they seemed to consciously sanitize things a bit. That gave us songs about wanting to drink a beer after work before listening to the wife's litany of complaints, letting off steam by driving around and going fishing, and the like. Even so, they refuse to sing about how wonderful small-town life is. "One Horse Town" portrays Charlie as "an old married man at twenty-three, with two little boys on the baseball team, 'cuz that might be their only ticket out." Their bittersweet songs are often tinged more heavily with bitterness and regret in this way. Their fun songs tend to be a bit raunchier than your typical country fare as well. "Shake Your Magnolia" is clearly a strip-club anthem, while "Up In Smoke" hints at on-the-road debauchery. Even the requisite country checklist/backwoods party song, "Good One Comin' On," gets a bit naughty. Onstage, Charlie swaps in a new line, "Skinny-dippin' in the Chattahoochee ..." to which the audience gleefully responds, "Got my finger in your sister's coochie."

PITRIFF RATING - 68/100 - I wanted to give Leave A Scar a higher rating. I swear I did. Blackberry Smoke are great at what they do, and I'm glad for the success they're finally starting to achieve. I can't even really blame them for selling out somewhat to Nashville; clearly, they would never be welcome in today's rock environment. They're too good a band not to be popular. I would've rated this CD higher if they had done something about that toothless guitar sound, and maybe cut out some of the more boring, easygoing songs that just sap the energy of the set.

And lose that fuckin' keyboard player!

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A look at one of the most polarizing, iconic and best selling albums of all time from author, rock critic and shock jock radio host Chris Akin.

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