Uli Jon Roth at The Rock Box, San Antonio 2/11/2017

Growing up, The Scorpions were a fairly big band, but they weren’t really among my favorites.  They always seemed a little more on the pop metal side of things.  their 80s output was decent, but it never really did a whole lot for me.  That was until I hit college and one of my friends turned me onto their early 70s era albums.

70s era Scorpions were a psychedelic influenced, krautrock machine.  The driving force of these early albums was a man named Uli Jon Roth.  Roth was a worshiper at the altar of Hendrix and you can hear this influence all over the four studio albums on which Roth was lead guitarist.

Since it was much later in life that I was exposed to these albums (plus the fact that I was 7 or 8 when Roth left the band), I never got to see Roth play live and never got to hear some of these Scorpions classics live.  Until this past Saturday, that is.

I have to say that this show was a bit bittersweet.  Roth was amazing.  At 62, his guitar playing is as fluid and cutting as they sound on the albums he played on nearly 40 years ago.  It was worth the drive to San Antonio just to hear some of his solos.  It’s always cool to see a master playing up close in an intimate setting.

The drawback on this show was really the lead singer he brought.  God bless him, he was giving it his all, but his high pitch vocal style was just way over the top and just overwhelmed the songs.  You have to understand this is basically karaoke at this point and people are really wanting to hear Klaus Meine sing these songs.  Ideally, you would hope the singer would do his best to compliment the original.  There were moments on the slower songs were the guy did an admirable attempt, but overall, there were just too many times when he went above and beyond with the high pitch wailings.  It just made these songs sound a little too saccharine and sanitized for my tastes.

Here are some highlights:

Dark Lady

In Trance (I apologize for focusing issues)

Sail of Charon (Once again, focusing issues)

Iron Reagan-Crossover Ministry

This crossover punk/thrash outfit from Richmond, VA kind of started as a silly side project but is honestly becoming a genuine band to be reckoned with.  Composed of the vocalist and bassist from Municipal Waste along with members of Darkest Hour, these guys set out to re-capture the magical irreverent madness of Anthrax offshoot, Stormtroopers of Death.  I don’t think the current album reaches the pinnacle of the S.O.D. material, but it is a rockin’ good time nonetheless.

Foresta’s vocal style is a constant stream of angry angst that rarely varies in its annoyance with everyday bullshit.  In fact, all I could think while listening to this thing is that it is more of an Annoyance With the Machine rather than a full on Rage Against the Machine.  Song titles such as “Fuck the Neighbors”, “Megachurch”, “Bleed the Fifth” and “Grim Business” give the listener a sense of where the frustrations fueling the album are coming from.

Musically, there aren’t many surprises.  This is aggressive and catchy trash that is concise in its attack.  Song lengths range from a few second to the magnum opus of “Dead With My Friends” clocking in at just over 3 minutes.  The whole album consists of 18 songs, but it is over in a cathartic rush of tongue-in-cheek humor and outrage before the listener can get exhausted.

Ultimately, this is a live band more than a studio band.  See these guys live and expect a sweaty hyper-kinetic mosh fest.  Anger and frustration may fuel this beast, but in the end, it’s all about a rockin’ good time.  These guys deliver.

3.5 flip flops out of 5

Hour of Penance-Cast the First Stone

Another week and another solid release by an underground death metal band.

It seems like every metal band is somehow required to either have an album or at least one song that centers on the Crusades.  Italy’s Hour of Penance steps up to the plate this time with Cast the First Stone.  Somehow the violent clashes between the Christians and Muslims over the Holy Land just inspires slabs of pounding metal tunes.  Go figure.

The album at hand starts very strong, but unfortunately, is not able to sustain the momentum throughout the entire journey.  First two tracks, XXI Century Imperial Crusade and the title track, are awesome displays of death metal guitars just furiously smashing the listener’s face.  These first few songs are classic examples of why I love listening to death metal: aggression, technical proficiency and an all out sonic pummeling.  It’s just unfortunate that the second half of the album just can’t compete with the first few songs on the album.  There’s nothing wrong with the latter songs, but they just don’t hold anything special as compared to the start of the album.  We could have had an amazing album had the two sides were of equal intensity and quality.  That being said, the first part of the album is strong enough to make this album a keeper overall.

It is nice to see the countries of southern Europe starting to consistently produce more and more metal bands.  The quality coming out of Italy and France is starting to rival their neighbors to the north, which has traditionally been the stronghold for European metal.

3 flip flops out of 4

Kreator-Gods of Violence

What is it with metal bands and the letter “K”?  Does the letter “K” make things more evil sounding?  More ominous?  More kool?

Katatonia, Kataklysm, Kadavar, Kamelot, and our featured band today, Kreator!

So, it seems as though thrash bands love to group themselves together.  In the U.S., you have the Big 4 (Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth and Anthrax) and the Second 4 (Testament, Exodus, Death Angel and Overkill).  Germany decided they wanted to be kool with their own little thrash club that is known as the Teutonic 4 (Kreator, Destruction, Sodom and Tankard).  Kreator is the heavyweight of the German trash-masters; the German Metallica, if you will.

This new album definitely comes across as a response to the near total chaotic shitstorm that has enveloped the Western world over the past few months.  It is an angry, cautionary screed about totalitarianism.  Song titles such as World War Now, Hail to the Hordes, Totalitarian Terror and the title track give a pretty good preview of what to expect lyrically.  I really feel like I need to send a copy of this to the Trump White House as a house warming gift to the Comb-Over-in-Chief.  Chief songwriter, vocalist and guitarist Mille Petrozza rips razor sharp riff over razor sharp riff throughout this entire album.  This is not a lazy Sunday afternoon type of album.  This is slamming a bottle of whiskey on a Saturday night rowdy metal fest.

3 flip flops out of 4

Alluvial-The Deep Longing For Annihilation

The Deep Longing for Annihilation

Guitarist albums are hit and miss in my opinion.  In my early years, I was really into guys who could just shred ala Yngwie Malmsteen.  It’s always impressive to hear a guy who is technical master of his instrument, but unless there is a solid song foundation underlying the wankery, it tends to get a bit boring.  As I’ve gotten older, shredding for shredding’s sake just doesn’t hold the appeal that it did in my younger years.

Keith Merrow is a dude from Portland, Oregon, who started his career as a dude just posting songs on the internet.  He is definitely of the shred mode and he started making a name for himself within the metal community with his chops.  A couple of years ago, he got together with Nevermore’s Jeff Loomis and Cannibal Corpse’s Alex Webster to create the instrumental band Conquering Dystopia.  It was a solid release, but still tending to tread into the wankery mode of things and ultimately wasn’t able to transcend into level of Great Album.

This year, Merrow has joined forces with Wes Hauch of Black Crown Initiate (formerly The Faceless).  Hauch is a well-respected guitarist in the technical death metal world.  He seems to focus his energies less on flashy fast techniques and does a good job at focusing more on textures and layers.  The mesh between the two men results in a very impressive album.  It meshes the technical flash along with a more subdued song structure that provides a solid foundation for all of the songs on the album.  I had expected something along the lines of Conquering Dystopia, Part II, but Alluvial is a completely different beast.  One that, in my opinion, that surpasses the prior project with a more star-studded cast.

3.5 flip flops out of 4

Black Anvil-As Was

Normally when I think of black metal, the images that come to mind are snow covered mountains and forests and the wily, corpse-painted savages cavorting through the snow with battle axes and other assorted armaments.  There is normally an undercurrent of the savage bleakness of nature running through the themes presented and many times the lyrics are inspired by tales of folklore.

So, it came as a bit of a surprise to learn that Black Anvil, purveyors of said black metal, hail from the urban realm of New York City.  I think of New York and I think punk.  I think hardcore.  I think CBGBs.  I don’t think of marauding hordes of corpse painted warriors.

Black Anvil’s dudes shed the corpse paint of their Scandinavian brethren, but their music would be right at home in the land of eternal winters.  “As Was” isn’t breaking any new ground for the genre, but it does present a very solid album of straight ahead black metal jams with various passages of melodic vocals and clean guitars.  I think the band having the greatest influence of Black Anvil’s sound would probably be modern day Enslaved.  There are quite a few tracks, namely “Two Keys: Here’s the Lock” and album ender, “Ultra” that really try to put a progressive spin on their black metal take.  My only reservation on this album is regarding its future staying power.  There isn’t anything that stands out and really hooks the listener in, but it is just a consistent slab of melodic black metal performed by very capable musicians.

Rating:  3 flip flops out of 4

Pain of Salvation-In the Passing Light of Day

It’s good to start off the year with one of the most anticipated releases and it’s even better when said release delivers.

Sometimes a band releases an album and it reflects events of a personal nature that have occurred to one or more of the band members.  Lamb of God had their prison record a couple of years ago that was heavily influenced by Randy Blythe’s incarceration in the Czech Republic.  This album is going to be known as the flesh eating bacteria album.  Daniel Gildenlow, lead singer, guitarist and driving force for Pain of Salvation, underwent a near death experience with a bout of flesh eating bacteria on his back.  Naturally, surviving multiple surgeries, undergoing ineffective antibiotic treatments and a lengthy hospital stay where it wasn’t certain whether his body would be able defeat the infection had a serious impact on the lyrics and music of this current album.

Lyrically, this thing goes pretty deep.  Contrasting the seemingly meaningless everyday things we go through in life against the precious nature of these little moments when faced with it all ending is really the main theme running through the album.  It also explores the strange lies humans tend to tell themselves to help maneuver through a lifetime on this planet.  If you’re into pondering these types of things, there’s a lot to delve into.

Musically, you pretty much get what you’d expect from a Pain of Salvation release.  Pain of Salvation is one of those truly prog bands that really makes an effort of never releasing the same album twice.  The new album begins with an aggressive burn burner of a track entitled, “On a Tuesday” which sets the stage for the album while recounting the day in which Gildenlow ended up in the hospital.  The albums winds through various different set pieces with some haunting emotional keyboard driven pieces like “Silent Gold” and a nice chorus duet with a female vocalist on “Meaningless”.  All in all, this is really a quintessentially Pain of Salvation sounding album and will be a good introduction to the band for anyone not really familiar with their back catalog.  (Side note: if you end up liking this one, check out Remedy Lane.  Their masterpiece in my opinion).

Seriously, this was a good album to start the year on.  If you have a chance, they will be making a rare limited tour in the U.S. this February.  If they come anywhere near where you live, I implore you to go see them.

Rating:  3.5 flip flops out of 4

#painofsalvation #inthepassinglightofday #metal

Flip flops

Sorry for the lack of posts of late, but there just hasn’t been much going on due to the new year and all.  Things will start to pick up this next week when I start in on my first album reviews for the new year.  There’s also a couple of decent local shows here in Austin this weekend.  One cool thing many of the live music clubs in Austin do around the first of the year is Free Week.  It used to be a week long, but has seemed to expand to a couple of weeks this year.  Barracuda has a double blaster of punk ragers Riverboat Gamblers and cosmic punk/metal sing-a-long crazy folks Peelander Z tonight and local metal dudes Scorpion Child (Acid Roulette #10 album of the year for 2016) and Eagle Claw hitting it tomorrow night.  I may have some thoughts and video from both shows.

I also wanted to share a little personal info about myself in this post which may give you a little better picture of the dude running this thing and will also give you a little bit of an insight into the rating system I have devised for the upcoming album reviews.

I’m weird.  I do not dig on wearing shoes.  They are constricting and make my feet hot and sweaty.  I do everything in my power never to put the damn things on.  By and large, if I’m not at work, you will either see me barefooted or in flip flops.  Flip flops are the greatest thing ever.

However, being a metalhead, there is kind of a fairly conservative fashion sense that must be adhered to when attending shows.  Traditionally, a tour shirt, jeans and sneakers (or boots) are required or you’re going to stick out as a tourist.  I was and am completely on board with this arrangement.  However, I’m also old as fuck and I really put a premium on comfort above all else these days.  A number of years ago, I was heading to see Down play during the summer in San Antonio.  It was hot as hell and the combo of the drive and the show was going to be really long.  I just said “fuck it” and decided to just wear my flip flops to the show.  I’m not trying to impress anyone at this point and I kind of figured the crowd at a Down show wouldn’t be too rowdy.  I felt pretty good about myself.  See a killer show and have my feet be nice and comfy.  Win/Win.

Turns out I miscalculated and forgot that Pantera fan is going to flock to a Down show in droves to see Phil.  As soon as the lights went out and the band kicked into the first song, the pit just went off like a bomb.  A dude staggered past me with blood gushing out of his nose within the first few minutes.  Well, fuck…I’m stuck now.  My feet took at least two direct stomps that night, but I made it through to the end and never retreated.  On the way home, I just figured I went through the worst possible scenario with exposed feet at a metal show and resolved right then to wear flip flops at every metal show I ever go to.  It’s a pride thing now.  I’m so fucking Metal that I bring exposed feet to The Pit!  This is a promise I have kept with a few minor exceptions when the temperature has gotten too close to freezing for it to really be practical.  I keep hoping my fashion sense will catch on in the metal community, but lo, it sadly has not.

So, if you are ever at a show in Austin, San Antonio, Houston or Dallas and see a graying burned out hippie looking guy in a black tour shirt and flip flops, there’s a 99.9% chance that it is me.  Come by and say hello.

Oh, and the album rating system:  it’s obviously going to be a system of flip flops.  Four flip flops equals a face melting masterpiece.  Zero flip flops equals a Jon Bon Jovi/Fred Durst collaboration.

Thoughts on 2017

Let’s hope that we don’t have quite the bloodbath of 2016.  That shouldn’t be too much to ask?  I mean, if you’re going to take someone, can we start with Jon Bon Jovi, please?

Looking at the album release schedule, 2017 is looking a bit sparse on major anticipated releases.  Probably the album I’m most looking forward to in the new year is Pain of Salvation’s In the Passing Light of Day, which is set to be released on January 13.  It’s been a long six years since their last album and it is always an adventure to see where Daniel Gildenlow and Co. are going to take us.  Another interesting album coming later in the year will be Pallbearer’s Heartless on March 24.  This Arkansas based doom outfit is said to have gone a tad proggy on the new album.  If they even manage to equal The Foundations of Burden, this should be an Album of the Year candidate.  One of the other major releases on the horizon in early 2017 is thrash stalwart, Overkill who will be releasing their 18th(!!) album, The Grinding Wheel, on February 10.  Of course, there is always that thin glimmer of hope that Tool finally gets off its butt and finishes their long gestating album.

Some other notable bands that have new albums coming out in the early part of the year are Grave Digger, Iron Reagan, Power Trip, Ex Deo, Soen, Sanctuary, Kreator, Sepultura and Iced Earth.

On the touring front, 2017 is starting out with a whirlwind of activity for the state of Texas. The month of February is going to age me by at least of couple of years.

Local heroes, Scorpion Child and Eagle Claw start things off during Free Week on January 14 at Barracuda.

February will see old school ex-Scorpions guitarist, Uli Jon Roth performing a slew of old Scorpions tracks while supporting his new release, Tokyo Tapes Revisited, at The Rock Box in San Antonio on February 11.  If you’re not familiar with Uli, go back and listen to In Trance, Taken By Force and Virgin Killer.  Seriously influenced by Hendrix.  The Scorpions just weren’t the same once he left the band.

The next night, February 12, at The Grizzly Hall in Austin, French blackened shoegaze masters, Alcest, will be performing their first live show in Austin.  This will be a very special show by a band that doesn’t tour much.

For a Valentine’s Day special, Pain of Salvation is making its very first trek into the state of Texas when they play The Scout Bar in Houston (actually waaaaayyyyy south Houston…near NASA).  Take time off from work and make the road trip.  These guys are one of the most forward thinking bands going today.  I’ve been waiting damn near 16 years to see these guys perform live.  Going to be a 2017 highlight.

The Cavalera Brothers are returning to their Sepultura roots by performing seminal Sepultura album, Roots, in its entirety at The Grizzly Hall in Austin on February 15.  I never got to see the original lineup of Sepultura perform, so this should be a cool show.

February 21 will see underground 80’s thrashers, Metal Church make a triumphant return to our fine city at The Grizzly Hall.  They brought long time vocalist, Mike Howe, out of retirement last year and put out a barnburner of an album.  This will bring my high school nostalgia back to the forefront.  I may need to reinstate the mullet before this show just to fully embrace the awesome of this show.

Not yet fully confirmed, but rumor has it that Pallbearer is going to play Barracuda on February 24th, which is prior to the release of their new album.  This is another not-to-miss show.  To go all Rogue One on you, Pallbearer definitely represents a new hope for Metal.

February 25th will also bring the nostalgia back is a serious way when The Killer Dwarfs come storming into The Rock Box in San Antonio.  The Dwarfs were an unsung hair metal band that really had chops.  If you were a fan of MTV in the early days, you may actually remember the video for Keep the Spirit Alive and We Stand Alone.  This will be a fun show and my new mullet will fit in at this show as well.

Heading into March, hipster black metal (yeah, it’s a thing) dealers, Deafheaven will be hitting The Mohawk  on March 7th along with San Marcos’ This Will Destroy You.  I think I’m as excited about the opener on this one as I am for the headliner.  Both bands put on a good live show.

On March 25, Katatonia will bring its brand of melancholic metal to The Grizzly Hall.  If you were a fan of The Cure, but always wished that they had a little more of a metal bite to them, Katatonia is the band for you.  Prepare to feel sad.

There should also be some metal shenanigans during SXSW.  I’ll probably give a preview of possible shows once we get closer to the middle of March.

Finally, we have a couple of other remaining shows already on the schedule for later in the year.  April 15 will see Finland’s Amorphis playing Fitzgerald’s in San Antonio and on April 11, Evergrey will be playing at The Rock Box in San Antonio.

Busy, busy, busy.  I’m still not really sure how I’m going to survive February.

2016 Best of Metal List #1

Fates Warning-Theories of Flight

And we’ve reached the glorious end of the list for 2016!  Thanks so much for sticking in there and seeing this thing to the very end.  Hopefully this last album will hit you in the guts like it did me.

Fates Warning is one of those bands that has just hovered underneath the consciousness of the Metal world.  Starting out in the mid-80’s as a kind of power/thrash metal hybrid, they grew into one of the strongest proponents of prog metal going.  Their heyday from the late 80’s to mid-90’s saw some very ambitious releases that seriously raised the bar for the prog metal sub-genre.  Awaken the Guardian, No Exit, Perfect Symmetry, Parallels, and A Pleasant Shade of Grey are all hallmark albums.  Leader Jim Matheos is just a master of crafting technically brilliant songs that also pack a very emotional punch.  His blending of melodically beautiful passages with jaw-dropping technical chops are not matched by many.

Fates had been somewhat put on the back burner for a few years as its members have explored side projects.  Fates has also seen a number of line-up changes over the past few years with the stalwarts of guitarist Matheos and lead singer, Ray Alder leading the charge.  The addition of Armored Saint bassist Joey Vera and journeyman drummer, Bobby Jarzombek has resulted in a very formidable group of musicians.

A couple of years ago, Fates came back with their first album in quite some time entitled, Darkness in a Different Light.  It contained some decent songs, but overall, I was a tad underwhelmed by it.  When I heard they were releasing a new album this year, I had tempered expectations.  Maybe that is part of the reason I was so taken with the final product.  This album grabbed with in a way no other album did this year.  This is classic Fates.  A long emotional journey told with skill that isn’t matched by many bands going today.  I don’t think you’ll find a better pairing that Matheos’ crunchy guitar sound, Alder’s soaring vocals and the solid rhytms pounded out by Vera and Jarzombek.

I hope you enjoy the following track.  Hopefully you’ve found some new music to pique your interest over the course of this list.  Keep coming back in the coming year.  I plan on checking in with new album reviews and concerts that I’m lucky enough to attend.  February of 2017 is already shaping up to be a monster concert month.

Have a lovely New Year’s Eve!  Be safe and enjoy your people.

The final list:

20(a).  Metallica-Hardwired…To Self Destruct

20.  The Dillinger Escape Plan-Dissociation

19.  Russian Circles-Guidance

18.  Anciients-Voice of the Void

17.  Abbath-Abbath

16.  Death Angel-The Evil Divide

15.  John Wesley-a way you’ll never be

14.  Black Crown Initiate-Selves We Cannot Forgive

13.  Opeth-Sorceress

12.  Gojira-Magma

11.  Sumac-What One Becomes

10.  Scorpion Child-Acid Roulette

9.  Neurosis-Fires Within Fires

8.  Khemmis-Hunted

7.  Goatess-II: Purgatory Under New Management

6.  Testament-Brotherhood of the Snake

5.  Insomnium-Winter’s Gate

4.  Kvelertak-Nattesferd

3.  If These Trees Could Talk-Bones of a Dying World

2.  Anthrax-For All Kings

1.  Fates Warning-Theories of Flight

#FatesWarning #Anthrax #IfTheseTreesCouldTalk #Kvelertak #Insomnium #Testament #Goatess #Khemmis #Neurosis #ScorpionChild #Sumac #Gojira #Opeth #BlackCrownInitiate #JohnWesley #DeathAngel #Abbath #Anciients #RussianCircles #DillingerEscapePlan #Metallica