A Perfect Circle at HEB Center, Cedar Park, TX, 4/25/2017

So, as we wait…and wait…and wait…and wait…and wait for Tool to just finish the damn album, Maynard just keeps plugging away with his other two bands.  This year he has dusted off A Perfect Circle and is taking them out for a spin.  I dig A Perfect Circle.  They are a nice tide-me-over while we wait for the new Tool album.  I always kind of thought of these guys as Tool, Jr.  Maybe Tool Lite?  Tiny Tool?  Basically a mellower, more emotional and atmospheric version of Tool.  Got it?  Good.  It looks like we may even be getting a new album out of these dudes later in the year.  Hooray!

Not only do these guys sound an awful lot like Maynard’s main gig, but the stage show they bring has quite a few similarities to the Tool live show.  Lots ‘o lights to mesmerize and amaze.  Maynard is on his little darkened perch toward the back of the stage while guitarist Billy Howerdel and bassist Matt McJunkins prowl the main stage.  Other guitarist, James Iha, seems to have gravitated to Maynard’s idea and had his own little perch to Maynard’s right.  They put together a fairly nice slice of songs across their discography with an added highlight of a new song entitled, “Feathers”, to end the set.

I’ve got to talk a bit about Maynard and his shadowy little perch for a bit.  I get it.  You’re deep.  You’re mysterious.  You’re an artiste.  You want to create a live dynamic where the focus is on the music and lyrics rather than you.  You need a little privacy so you can get all weird up there by yourself.  Cool.  But how do we actually know it is you up there actually singing?  I have no friggin’ clue if that was actually you up there last night.  It could have been a body double up there lip-synching to a pre-recorded track and the crowd would have been none the wiser.  Maybe just once during the set, come on down to the lower stage and let us see your magnificence.  Don’t be shy.  We like you.  We really do.

OK…end of rant.  Keep on being your weird self, Maynard.  Just yell at the other guys in Tool to get their shit together.  I mean, it has been over ten years, guys.  Seriously.

Here are some samples from the show.  Not the greatest quality because our seats were a bit back from the stage and my attempts to avoid the Phone Nazi patrolling our area.

Magdalena

The Stranger

I feel like a failure on this one, but I seriously can’t place what track this is.  Anyway, enjoy.  Let me know in comments if you know the name of this song.

Amorphis and Swallow the Sun at Fitzgerald’s, San Antonio, 4/15/2017

So, this show was well worth braving the always lovely drive down I-35 to San Antonio Saturday evening.  Amorphis is one of those seminal melodic death metal bands that started out in the mid-90’s and has somehow managed to escape being seen in person by your truly until this night.  Their album, Tales From the Thousand Lakes, is one of the pioneering that helped codify the Scandinavian melodic death metal scene.

Everything about Amorphis is epic: their sound, their image, their subject matter.  Most of their albums are rooted in Finnish folklore and this results in everything coming across in a very grand and very epic feel.  You can definitely tell they grew up listening to Iron Maiden a lot.  I think the only downer on the evening was that the show wasn’t in a larger or outdoor venue.  Shooting flames would have been a nice touch to the stage show.  But, that being said, it was cool getting to finally see these guys up close in an intimate venue with around 100 or so people in attendance.

Fellow Fins Swallow the Sun opened the show and brought a very tight performance.  They provided a very doom-influenced death metal set that helped set the stage for the headliner.

In the videos below, check out vocalist Tomi Joutsen’s two-handled microphone.  It really looks like something handcrafted for a Mad Max set.  Also, guitarist Esa Holopainen is pretty much a dead ringer for Ned Stark.

Under the Red Cloud

Hopeless Days

The Smoke

Death of a King

Swallow the Sun

Royal Thunder-Wick

I don’t know why, but this album is always going to be entitled the John Wick album in my head.

Royal Thunder is a hard rocking band from Georgia.  These guys were the darling of my friends and I’s SXSW fest a few years ago.  I think we probably saw them play 3 or 4 different times that fest.

This is their third album out and they just keep consistently putting out really solid rock tunes that have a ton of soul.  Lead singer Mlny Parsonz is simply one of the most powerful vocalist going in the entire music industry today.  Seriously.  She is a tiny little thing, but she just owns the songs in which she sings.  The latest record is a definite showcase for her talent along with the understated guitar work of Josh Weaver.  I have a feeling that this album is going to be one that grows upon each listen.  There is a lot of really good stuff packed on here that will be well worth revisiting.

They hit Austin on April 27 at The Barracuda.  I highly suggest you get your butts over there to check them out.

3.5 flip flops out of 5

Mastodon-Emperor of Sand

So, one of my long time metal buddies texted me last week after hearing the new Mastodon album and said, “Guess I got to accept that Mastodon is now just a really good Progressive Hard Rock band.”  I think there’s merit in this sentiment about modern day Mastodon, but I still think they are still firmly planted in the metal world.  Sure, they’ve definitely mellowed since their debut album when they sounded like something a little bit dangerous and had a very rough edge.  However, you still aren’t going to hear this new release on your album oriented hard rock station anytime soon.

I approached this album with a little bit of trepidation.  As mentioned above, Mastodon has been mellowing their sound since 2011’s The Hunter.  Mastodon caught a lot of shit online from the trolls for selling out and becoming a pop band.  I didn’t really get it.  Sure, The Hunter was more accessible than previous releases, but it was full of really strongly written songs.  I fucking love that album.  2014’s Once More Around the Sun saw them move into an even more mellow and spacey edge.  I have to say that Once More never really grew on me and, in my opinion, stands out as the lone miss in their catalog.

So, how’s the new album?  Dude, I’m glad you asked.  It’s pretty damn cool.  It’s not Remission or even Crack the Skye, but it has some pretty adventurous moments.  It seems as though drummer Brann Dailor is kind of taking the reigns on the lead vocals and his clean and higher pitch vocals definitely put a lighter spin on Mastodon’s overall sound.  That being said, the riffs that were missing on Once More Around the Sun are here in spades.  There are still plenty of spacey segues sprinkled throughout the proceedings.  Ultimately, this is just another step forward in the direction Mastodon started trekking on over the past few years.  If you like where they have been headed, you’ll most likely really enjoy this album.  If you are one of those who keeps pining for the Remission and Leviathan days to return, this is just going to fuel your trollish internet screeds.  Count me on the side of those who are digging it.

3.5 flip flops out of 5

Body Count-Bloodlust

So, Ice-T’s metal band, Body Count, has been around for over 20 years or so.  I have to say that I’ve never really been much of a fan.  They’ve put out some decent songs over the years, but it always seemed like more of a vehicle for stirring up controversy rather than really focusing on putting out some really amazing metal.  I was honestly under the impression that Ice-T’s main focus these days was more on his acting career more than music.

Well, Ice-T and his crew are pissed and they have harnessed this anger into one of the more moving and catchy albums to hit the streets this year.  Maybe it’s because my frame of mind of late has been in a particularly pissed off mood, but this new album really touched a nerve.  This is a serious platter of hardcore influenced metal that just doesn’t fuck around one bit.  Musically, this thing jumps out of the gate and just slams the listener up against the wall and doesn’t let up until the last note hits.  It looks like the main creators on this album are Ice-T and his long time guitarist/buddy Ernie C, but it looks like a good chunk of the supporting cast are new members from the original lineup from the Cop Killer days.  I don’t know if these guys are just a more talented group than the original group of musicians, but the songs are just tight and catchy as all get.  I seriously have not been able to get Black Hoodie, Civil War and No Lives Matter out of my head since the first listen I gave this album.  I dare you to listen to Black Hoodie and not have “Wooo, Wooo…that’s the sound of the police” stuck in your head all week long.  Lyrically, Ice-T is doing his thing and, agree or not, his anger is real and his takes on current events warrants a listen.

In addition, the album has some really cool guest appearances from Dave Mustaine(!), Max Cavalera and Randy Blythe and as an added bonus, the band rips through an awesome cover of Raining Blood midway through the album

I have a feeling that this is going to be the album that ends up surprising me the most this year.  I had no expectation of even purchasing this thing when I saw it on the release calendar, but I am soooo glad that I took a chance on it.  This really has a serious chance to be an album of the year contender when we get to December.

4.5 flip flops out of 5

Pallbearer-Heartless

Arkansas’ favorite slingers of doom are back with the follow-up to 2014’s masterpiece, Foundations of Burden.  This latest release is a different take on the doomy landscapes of their past and represent a band that is not satisfied in staying in one place.  This is going to be a band that continually attempts to push the envelope further with each endeavor.

The career of these guys started out extremely dark and opaque with 2012’s, Sorrow and Extinction.  The songs on this album were nearly suffocating in their depression and the sludge of the accompanying music.  2014’s Foundations of Burden was a monumental release and saw the band pulling back the curtains a bit to let a little bit of light in to illuminate the sludge.  The latest release sees the band opening a window to let in a bit of fresh air in to blow away a bit of the stagnation in the air.  I wouldn’t call this a happy album by any means (song opener, I Saw the End, is typical of the the subject matter), but the doomy riffs contained on this album are a bit brighter than the previous two albums.  If these guys continue to brighten up on each album going forward, by the time these guys reach album #10, I fully expect them to be putting out songs in the vein of Shiny Happy People.

Even though the album as a whole doesn’t quite match up to Foundations (which honestly would have been tough…that was a damn near perfect album), this is another progression for a band that seems to refuse to stay in one place.  The song are definitely Pallbearer.  There is no mistaking their sound.  But it is a completely fresh perspective on their characteristic sound and makes for an extremely fresh and interesting journey.

4 flip flops out of 5

Mothership-High Strangeness

So, just go grab yourself a shot of bourbon and a Lone Star tallboy before putting this album on.  Hell, you might as well just go down to the corner store and buy a pack of Winstons as well.  You’re going to need these things to fully appreciate this album because these guys are a sleazy and dirty rock n’ roll bar band from Dallas and they are here to make you feel naughty all over.

Look at that damn album cover.  I’m fully expecting something like an old Santana album just looking that that artwork.  Just gorgeous.

I wish I could say that I enjoyed this album as much as I dig that album cover.  It has some really good things going on.  The guitar work by Kelly Juett is truly outstanding.  He really reminds me of a modern day Angus Young.  His leads are just infectious.

The downside on this album is that the songwriting isn’t quite there yet for these guys, especially in the lyric department.  Honestly, I really thing these guys would do well to just scrap the vocals altogether and reinvent themselves as an instrumental band.  The opening instrumental title track is the best song on the album.  There are a lot of musical components floating around this album, but it just doesn’t feel like they fully coalesce into songs that entirely hook the listener.  Hooks are a key if you’re going to play this style of rock.

I will say this:  Go see these guys play live.  I have a feeling that Mothership is one of those bands that has a hard time capturing their live spirit in the studio.  The songs on this album are probably going to sound a lot fuller and infectious in a live setting.

2.5 flip flops out of 5

Without Waves-Lunar

This is my first exposure to Without Waves and this album is kind of all over the place.  On one hand, you’ve got about half of the album dealing in spastic songs that evoke a more controlled Dillinger Escape Plan.  On the other, you have some seriously beautiful and melodic proggish type songs.  The result is a seemingly schizophrenic album that I’m still not entirely sure how to feel about.

I feel like the melodic side of this album is really, really good.  There are some very memorable hooks.  On the dissonant and chaotic side, there is no question that these guys bring a ton of talent to the proceedings, but I think it is just going to take me some more time to sit with these songs for them to fully sink in.

The two distinct personalities shown on this album really make it seem like there are two bands in one.  It would be cool in the future if they could somehow find a way to meld the two distinct characteristics into a coherent whole.  I think the disjointed nature of this album hold it back somewhat because the changes between the two styles seems very drastic.  If they are able to harness the two into a blending of the styles, I think they may be on to something truly amazing.

Keep an eye on these guys in the coming years.  The potential for greatness is very real.

3 flip flops out of 5

Obituary-Obituary

You know that desolate cabin in the woods that was the setting for all the horrendous shit that takes place in The Evil Dead?  Yeah, that’s kind of where I picture Obituary recording all of their albums.  These fun-loving and gore-obsessed rednecks have been pounding out Florida-style death metal since the 1980s.  I just wish that this latest platter measured up to their prior classics.  Maybe they should have just gone down into the basement of the cabin and read a few passages out of the Book of the Dead.  Sure, bad things would have happened, but maybe it would have led to a little bit of inspiration for the writing sessions.

This album isn’t bad by any stretch.  It’s fine.  But sadly, it’s only fine.  I’ve listened to it all the way through a couple of times now and I am seriously having a hard time remembering anything standing out at all.  It’s just not a memorable album.  Sure, there are times when I found my heading bobbing along with the riffs and the pounding drums, but there just wasn’t anything to really make me let out a hearty, “Fuck Yeah!!!” during the proceedings.  That’s kind of the hallmark of a good metal record, isn’t it?  Did you let out a “Fuck Yeah!!” and pump your fist in the air?  Yeah?  Great album.  No?  Not so great album.  The urge never came to me at all while listening to this thing.  It really feels like this was a rushed album simply to give these guys an excuse to get out on the road.

I will say this in the album’s defense.  I kind of felt the same way about their last release, Inked in Blood, and that album ended up really growing on me.  I’m hoping that this new one does the same in the near future.

2 flip flops out of 5

KXM-Scatterbrain

KXM is a collaboration between Ray Luzier of Korn, Dug Pinnick of King’s X, George Lynch of Lynch Mob (ex-Dokken).  When news of this side project first came out a couple of years ago before their first album, I think my reaction of “Well, that’s odd.” was shared by most people.  You’ve got the bassist and soulful vocalist of proggy stalwarts, King’s X, the legendary hot shot guitarist from 80’s hair metal band Dokken and the drummer from nu-metal’s Korn.  It was really hard to know where the common thread between these guys was going to to emerge.

Well, it turns out that these guys work really, really well together and have now crafted album #2 of really strong and catchy rock songs.  More than anything, this sounds very similar to a heavier than normal and more straight ahead King’s X record with George Lynch supplying the guitar parts rather than Ty Tabor.  Let’s face it, anything that Pinnick touches turns to gold.  The guy is just one of the best songwriters in the genre.  The guitar work that Lynch has turned out on these records is the best work that he’s done since the first Lynch Mob album came out in the early 90’s.  It is really a treat to hear him do something relevant and fresh sounding.  Luzier also proves himself as a really solid drummer and he keeps the proceedings grounded with a solid rhythmic foundation.

Since it is kind of unsure if King’s X is ever going to get back into the studio to create new music, this album may be the closest thing we are going to get.  It doesn’t have the three person harmonies King’s X is known for, but it still has that same King’s X vibe.

4 flip flops out of 5