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.
II: VOID WORSHIP
In the epic world of doom metal, there are a lot of pretenders. There are only a few that are truly authentic though. Pilgrim is one of the most authentic I think I've ever heard. Their grinding, slow moving sludge is such from which legends put on this Earth to slay anyone or anything in it's path. Made up of The Wizard on vocals, guitars and bass and Krolg (Slayer Of Men) on drums, PILGRIM have created an behemoth of a release that's almost too heavy to listen to in a single sitting. From start to finish, the tempo of VOID WORSHIP rarely changes. It's slow, methodical and constant. If you took a regular song, hooked an anchor to each band member, and had them drag it around as they played it, this is what it would sound like near the end. Take that as a good thing, because the material fits this tempo. Tracks like "Void Worship" and "The Paladin" are intense listening experiences which simply grind out awesomeness from start to finish.
NO HOPE, NO ESCAPE VOL. 1: WELCOME TO MY WAR
Being from the Cleveland area, I've seen a lot of bands get ignored for whatever reason. On the national side of things, most people look at bands north of Columbus as being from "Cleveland". Unfortunately though, that's not how it works. For as long as I've been in this scene, there were Akron bands and there were Cleveland bands. Even though it's only about a 30 mile drive, they have long been separated. That may not seem like a big deal, but when you factor in the difficulty to get the more quality gigs and exposure from Cleveland vs. Akron, you ended up seeing a lot of bands from Akron that just didn't get the appropriate amount of love on the national level. Looking back a decade or so when both scenes were both thriving, bands like Spawn, Funny, Funnel and NDE all failed to find record deals when they were superior to a good amount of those that did find success at that level. Hatecore Inc. is another that falls into that category.
Some points of clarity before I write a single world about the new project KXM, in order that this review is understood and evaluated fairly by anyone reading it. This project features three guys - Dug Pinnick of King's X, George Lynch of Dokken and Lynch Mob fame, and Ray Luzier who is currently the drummer for Korn. Out of fairness, I'll allow the following for this review. First, I'm not a fan of Dug Pinnick's music at all. I've interviewed him several times (I think five times, actually), and he's a super cool guy, but musically I've just never, ever gotten King's X as much as I've wanted to understand why so many just worship them. In many ways, King's X falls into that category that Dream Theater does for me - that I just don't understand the appeal of. As for Lynch, again putting it out there, I work for Dokken as their webmaster and also for current Dokken guitarist Jon Levin as his as well. That said, I think Lynch has the distinction of not only recording some of the best music of the "hair era and beyond (because LYNCH/PILSON was by far his best recorded work), but he's also recorded two of the worst albums of all time in my ears in Dokken's SHADOWLIFE and Lynch Mob's SMOKE THIS. I haven't liked much of Lynch's work in a long time, as Microdot, Souls of We and other stuff I'm sure I'm missing have just not been very good. As for Luzier, I think I met him once at a David Lee Roth show in the late 90s, enjoyed the DLR Band album he played on, like Korn, and also remember that he had some sort of association with Darren Householder from one of my favorite bands that never made it big, Love/Hate. So there, it's on the table.
ARE YOU KIDDING ME? NO.
I am 100% a fan of music, and specifically metal, that goes into some very weird and crazy places. Mike Patton rates at the top of my musical food chain with all the weirdness that he consistently has brought to his various projects. While I love a lot of mainstream stuff, there's always a soft spot in my musical taste that's long been filled with bands like Mr. Bungle, Dog Fashion Disco and the like. Enter Destrage - a band that I had never heard of until the day a publicist hit me up and informed me that i should give this one a try as it's "kind of bizarre". Well, he definitely nailed that. A combination of everything from Protest The Hero, Lamb Of God and Primus, Destrage's ARE YOU KIDDING ME? NO. is a very interesting and fun listen.
DAWN OF THE NEW CENTURION
Steve "Zetro" Souza is clearly a godfather of all that is thrash metal. While he wasn't the original vocalist of Exodus, he was by far the most recognized. He's definitely a "love him or hate him" type of guy, both with the sound of his voice and with some of his actions in the later days that left Exodus in turmoil on more than one occasion. That said, there is no arguing his importance on Thrash Metal as a genre. His latest project Hatriot, a band that he does with his sons Nick and Cody, is one of many strong things that Zetro has done since leaving Exodus a second time. While it's not the strongest or heaviest project he's done post-Exodus (that award would go to the single released Tenet back in 2009), Hatriot looks to recapture what Souza did best for decades.
THE VIRUS CONSPIRES
For the last five to ten years, I have been championing the return of thrash metal by a series of new bands. Some have made it and built pretty solid careers (Havok, Municipal Waste), and others have come and gone (what happened to Lazarus AD). That said though, there's be no shortage of bands in the last decade that have returned to the roots of thrash to make authentic and new thrash that have been more than welcome to those of us that live in hope that Exodus and Death Angel can continue their winning ways since coming back. In short, it's been very good to have a gluttony of new bands making this kind of music. Formed in 2009, Shrapnel jumps right into the middle of this fold with THE VIRUS CONSPIRES. This release is 100% a facemelter, seemingly cut out of 1988 and intent to simply destroy everything in it's path. It's technically excellent, sonically crushing and as good a thrasher as anything that's come along in awhile.
MEN OF HONOR
Being completely honest, the debut Adrenaline Mob release OMERTA didn't do a lot for me. This is surprising actually, as vocalist Russell Allen is one of those guys that I always look forward to hearing from, regardless of the project he's doing at the time. Still, OMERTA was one of those supergroup releases that just didn't have a lot of "get up" to it. It was there, a pretty bland collection of hard rock, sometimes modern metal songs that just kind of went nowhere. The band is back, sans Mike Portnoy who has once again band hopped to a new project. MEN OF HONOR is, most certainly, better than OMERTA is just about every way imaginable. It's still pretty standard faire, but it is a more compelling listen than their previous effort.
There's something very unique about Ron Keel that I think has escaped most of his peers that were spawn from the 80s hair metal scene. For most, they have been content to stick to the formula that made them famous, only take an experimental shot once the mainstream popularity had run it's course, and then returned to their classic form to ride out their career. With Ron Keel, it's been a very different experiment which he has crafted into a career. As an artist, Keel is one of neverending experimentation. He's had hair metal albums, acoustic releases, country metal releases, and now more of a southern rock/metal record. METAL COWBOY seems to have a lot of people remembering Keel's project Iron Horse, but I'd say that is highly inaccurate. The "Metal Cowboy" is proving once again that he's more of a Metal Chameleon. Hard at times, bluesy in other parts and full of twists and turns, METAL COWBOY could very well be the best release Keel's had his name on since THE RIGHT TO ROCK.