Metal Music Reviews from Negoba

CLOUDKICKER The Discovery

Album · 2008 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 3.71 | 17 ratings
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Post Rock Djent Hybrid is Pure Pleasure

Of all the bands to spawn an entire new genre, Meshuggah is that last one I would have picked. I was not a big fan of the first examples I heard of the Djent sound ("Bleed" from obZen) though I certainly recognized there was something new and intense in the music. The hyper precise down-tuned math metal has spread and while I still dislike the version with harsh/screamed lyrics, some of the instrumental versions of Djent are the freshest things happening in music right now.

Cloudkicker is the name for the instrumental djent project of home recording artist BM Sharp. (There are actually several one man projects in the genre). Sharp leans heavily on post-rock ideas and the atmospheric quality melded with brutal riffing makes both sounds better. Cloudkicker's debut, THE DISCOVERY, is in my opinion his best work because of it is the most hybrid. While there are great riffs and furious technique on this album, it is most of all a sonic adventure. It is a scene, it is images, it is MUSIC!!! While a lot of post-rock (and virtually all post-metal) bores me to tears, the riffs add energy to the builds and drops. Conversely, unlike every other piece of metal I've ever listened to, this album virtually never makes me think as a guitar player. And the guitar playing is phenomenal. When I finish this album, I feel like I've been taken on a great journey.

This is a 4+ album that I'm just not quite ready to push into masterpiece rating. But only the Animals as Leaders album is better in the whole genre, and that includes the entire Meshuggah catalog. Nothing even from Sharp himself has matched his debut. Sometimes the freshness of the ideas gives a piece of music a special kind of life and I believe that is the case on THE DISCOVERY.

CLOUDKICKER Beacons

Album · 2010 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 3.88 | 22 ratings
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Losing Steam, We're Going Down, Mayday!

One man djentleman Ben Sharp, aka Cloudkicker, named most of the songs on this album after lines that might be uttered in the cockpit of crashing plane. While the explosion is not imminent, BEACONS feels like a vessel that's running out of steam. I loved Sharp's first offering, THE DISCOVERY, and he's certainly continued to create some solid music on subsequent EPs and now this, his second full album. But there's something missing. The riffs are actually tighter, the production is a little sharper, but ironically, there's actually less sense of danger on this record than this first. Where the DISCOVERY really seemed to take me on an emotional journey, I often find that BEACONS has played all the way through and I didn't even notice it.

For newcomers to Cloudkicker, don't be scared off. Sharp makes some of the best djent / post- rock fusion out there, and it's free! (well if you want it to be, voluntary pricing). I prefer his work alot to related artist Chimp Spanner, and Sharp has disposed almost completely with most of the djent movement's metalcore leanings. The music is moody and atmospheric, but heavy. It's what post-metal was meant to be, and occasionally approaches. But it's better. The riffs are more interesting, the passages less monotonous (most of the time), and the musicianship obviously very careful. This last element, one of the most specific and common of all the math- metal types, is what really grabs me. There is nothing sloppy here at all, and unfortunately many metal bands delight in their slop.

I've read that BEACONS is actually Sharp's most atmospheric and varied album to date and on very careful listen it is. As is common, as I give closer attention, my inclination is to move my rating from a 2 to a 3. Sharp is still giving us good stuff. He's certainly matured a bit, but the process has robbed as much fire as it has added nuance for this particular listener. Others clearly disagree.

I've made my point. Get THE DISCOVERY first, move forward. If you enjoy that, you'll still get something out of BEACONS.

OPETH Still Life

Album · 1999 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 4.41 | 171 ratings
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Melodic Progressive Death Metal Concept Album ? Yes!!!

After immersing myself in Opeth over almost 3 years ago, I'd taken a break for awhile. Recently, however, I've been dabbling in harder death and extreme metal, and felt a need to return to some of my old favorites and see what my impression was now. I was completely and totally blown away. Opeth is more harmonically complex, melodically sophisticated, and emotionally expressive than any other metal band of its kind and perhaps ever. STILL LIFE represents the band just reaching full maturity and taking a risk by making a cohesive story / concept album. Though previous albums had consistent themes, STILL LIFE is a death metal tragedy about an exiled man returning home to retrieve his love with typical terrible Greek styled consequences.

In a genre that loves altered minor keys and dissonance, Opeth bandleader Mikael Akerfeldt utilizes harsh harmony like no other. One of Opeth's trademarks is riffing on complex chord shapes rather than power chords and from the brilliant opener "The Moor" on through to the closer "White Cluster" the thick texture of this style puts Opeth's stamp all over the music. Of course the other signature element is the transition from the crushing prog death metal to an acoustic prog with Akerfeldt's ethereal vocals. On this album, the Mikael is really just starting to ramp up the latter part of the Opeth sound. This freshness gives the ballad-y "Benighted" and "Faces of Melinda" a legitimacy that some of the later purely clean Opeth songs lack. In fact, from a songwriting point of view, I don't think any Opeth album is as strong top to bottom as STILL LIFE. I do a lot of mix and match of Opeth tracks on every other album. Not this one.

Of all the labels attached to Opeth, there will arguments against almost all of them except one. This band is clearly prog. Where many Death metal bands use time changes jarringly, few (especially before Opeth's rise in popularity) used seamless changes into complex time with such musical purpose. Opeth also employs epics to great effect, moving the listener through multiple stages of development with completely new musical ideas often appearing seven or eight minutes into a song, as in "Godhead's Lament," "Serenity Painted Death," and most strikingly in "the Moor."

The only criticism I have for this album is that the record is still young. The production has some issues (vocal echoes, etc.) and in fact I like the live version of "Faces of Melinda" a little better. Even more striking is how much Mikael's vocals have improved in the 10 years since this record was released. The Ghost Reveries version of the band would have made the record nearly perfect. Still, this is a minor quibble.

Like it or not, if you want to listen to the cutting edge in metal these days, you have to get used to some harsh vocals. Mikael's are among the best so Opeth is an easy entry point. I still can't say I enjoy them, but after seeing Opeth live, there is no denying their power. Neil Young and Bob Dylan's vocals aren't exactly pleasant either but also have an emotive power once one gets used to them. (Mikael will never be the poet either of these men are, but neither man has produced music 1/10th as complex as Opeth either).

So if you can imagine beautiful death metal alternating multiple time signatures, riffs both crushing and grooving, complex harmony, and medieval balladry all combined into a story- album, you get an idea of the prog-feast that is STILL LIFE. Within metal, this is the definition of 5/5 star album.

DEVIN TOWNSEND Ziltoid The Omniscient

Album · 2007 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 4.15 | 95 ratings
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Make it Perfect...

Despite being a Devin Townsend fanboy, I had avoided Ziltoid until recently. The concept seemed too over the top, too silly, and though I like the new version of "Hyperdrive," the album just didn't appeal to me. However, I finally got tickets to Devy a few weeks ago and read that he was leaning heavily on the Ziltoid album. I decided to take the plunge so that I'd be familiar with the songs live. And I am so glad I did. Ziltoid may be Devy's best album top to bottom. It's the only album (possible exception Ocean Machine) that when the album's over, I want more.

Over the top humor has been part of Devin's artistic person all the way back to Punky Brewster and the first SYL album, but on Ziltoid he's able to unleash his silliness in its full glory. Part of the to-the-max aspect of this album is that there are sections that are VERY heavy, equaling SYL in many parts. "Ziltoida Attaxx!!!" is heavy riffing, programmed blast beats, and maniacal choruses in a perfect soundtrack to an alien invasion. (Check out the great youtube where this song is matched with the spoof movie "Mars Attacks" which likely helped inspire the album.)

But Ziltoid is not all-intense all-the-time. There are a remarkable variety of moods, often within the same song. By "Solar Winds" and the arrival of Captain Spectacular, the plot of the story starts to wander. But quickly we realize that Ziltoid is Devin's alter ego...the self proclaimed 4th dimensional guitar hero who at his heart is a nerd searching for his place in the universe. The textures and philosophical questions get deeper and more intense until Ziltoid meets the "Omnidimensional Creator" who answers the great query with "You gotta chill man." Like "It's just entertainment folks," in Earth Day, and "Cheeseburger" in the upcoming album Deconstruction, Devy chooses to bring it down to the here and now and reconnect with reality. This is part of why I as the listener, let him get away with such extremes. The humor is always partly directed at himself.

Devy's not the first artist to hide his genius behind a mask. But he may be the first one choose as his mask a puppet of a caffeine-junky alien. When the album climaxes at the end of "Color Your World" with alternating screams of "You are a puppet" and "We are all Puppets" all the angst and raw emotion that fueled SYL is full display. But at this stage is in his career, Devy contrasts this with soaring vocals singing "Stay with Me", matching the "So Beautiful" during N9, and of course the anthemic "Hyperdrive." The final song "The Greys" is a perfect example Devy at his best. Singing a soaring "Sail away for me" over a riff lifted almost directly from Metallica's version of "The Wait," Townsend evokes Enya more than thrash.

In another review, I recommended Accelerated Evolution as the perfect intro to Devy, as it had all of his elements in one album. And it does, but in the most listener-friendly version that is perfect as an introduction to his work. Ziltoid is the full breadth of Devy for the true fanatics of the man. Just as I had my reservations about the album, even now I wouldn't recommend it to listeners who have never heard Devin before.

Obviously, this isn't Terria or Ocean Machine. Both of those albums were created as intentional contrasts to Strapping Young Lad. But at this point in his career, Devy was done with SYL, and was able to integrate the two sides of his personality. And despite what seems like an impossible task, he pulls it off. The result stands as a third masterpiece in Devy's amazing catalog.

ANIMALS AS LEADERS Animals as Leaders

Album · 2009 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 3.92 | 46 ratings
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The Most Important Metal Album Since....A Very Long Time

Music has taken on a very new look in the internet age. File sharing and mp3 have taken the lion's share of attention during this time, but other factors are making a dramatic impact on how music is created in the new millenium. The first and most obvious development is the evolution of high level home recording platforms. The second is youtube and internet video, which has given young musicians access both to an enormous variety of lessons right in their bedroom, and to each other. Animals as Leaders is, to my ear, the first group to produce a truly revolutionary sound as a result of the evolutionary new territory created by this computer age of music.

Drawing on djent, itself an internet phenomena populated by mainly home recording artists with a liking for math metal pioneers Meshuggah, Animals as Leaders is the solo project of the king of the eight string guitar, engineered by the close runner up. Tosin Obasi is simply an unworldly talent, with mastery of virtually every shred technique under his belt. Using exclusively 7 and 8 string guitars, he has expanded his pallette further by using two handed techniques similar to those of Tony Levin and other Chapman Stick players. Both he and engineer Bulb (Misha Monsoor) have an enormous knowledge base and have devoured and assimilated previous heroes such as Allan Holdsworth, Malmsteen, Vai, and Frank Gambale.

But talent and technique don't make music. It simply deepens and broadens the tools available. What Obasi does on ANIMALS AS LEADERS (unlike Bulb on his project PERIPHERY) is to take the djent platform and then launch to completely new realms. In fact, the album doesn't sound like godfather Meshuggah at all. Instead, it is a kind of heavy math jazz. It is consciously modern, with some sounds seemingly programmed, but actually produced by the guitar technique itself. Like Meshuggah, the music is cut up into a myriad of odd time morsels, making the music seem to flow freely over a bed of continuous eighths or sixteenths. (Not unlike the piano intro to FIRTH OF FIFTH).

The two things that make this music something beyond a technical showcase are energy and beauty. Without a doubt, this music is invigorating. I use it for workouts, I use it to pep me up. In fact, I think anyone with a tolerance for heavy music could enjoy this album without any care for the technical aspects. What's more the jazz elements weave in an out seamlessly, and here is where the beauty enters. There is a true sense of melody and mood. The tapping extravaganza in the opener "Tempting Time" is more of a spacey trip than a showcase, though in that respect it is mindboggling.

The only downside is that Tosin's sound, while overwhelming, can start to lack variety by the end of the album. While one could start on any song and be overwhelmed with the album's power, by the 8th song the listener knows the main ideas of what's going on. There is a nice acoustic break on track 11, "Modern Meat," but there is a bit of samey-ness on the other tracks. But the sound is so rich and powerful, that while this may not be a perfect album, it is without a doubt in my mind a masterpiece.

If you like complex music, get it. If you like metal, get it. If you like guitar, get it. If you like prog, get it. Get it?

SHAOLIN DEATH SQUAD Five Deadly Venoms

Album · 2010 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 4.04 | 11 ratings
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Hybrid of the Best

Shaolin Death Squad blends together two of my favorite prog metal bands ever, Pain of Salvation and Mr. Bungle. The latter has inspired a small but significant group of imitators, some of which are brilliant, some lite versions, and some just bafflingly wierd. Unfortunately, we don't have alot of bands doing prog metal in the mold of early PoS. As a result, this album is a welcome delight for me. From Mr. Bungle, we get some zany rapid switches between genres, quirky humor, and the vocalist's obvious allusions to Mike Patton. From Pain of Salvation, we get the thicker wall of sound, more decipherable concepts, and a widened vocal approach that includes a stronger sense of melody. There are even a few allusions to my favorite prog metal artist of all, Devin Townsend.

The album opens with a subtle acoustic guitar with some ambient effects on the track "Romanza." But after this introduction, we get a steady chugging electric guitar that sounds disturbingly like pop punk. On first listen, I was worried I'd wasted my money. But the track, "Centipede" evolves with more and more interesting ideas, weaving more sounds than most entire pop albums. But it's not until "Snake" that the album really takes off. It starts with a pulsing bass figure that eventually explodes with energy. There is a particularly powerful riff at 2:00 that is just awesome. The songs is the most PoS like of the group, and from there the albums just hums for quite awhile. The remaining animal named songs are just great, each having its own little morsel of delicious music for the listener to devour.

The rest of the album is a little more uneven. "Mischief and Epiphany" maintains the energy with a ska-ish rhythm that leads into glorious riffing. "Let Us Welcome the Actors" is the kind of self-reflecting theme that nevers works for me in any artform, and the momentum starts to wane. It's is fairly reminiscent of Sleepytime Gorilla Museum, another Bungle descendent. "Last Stand" begins with a groove straight off Faith No More's ANGEL DUST and then moves to a robo-voice that had poked its nose in a few times earlier. The last two tracks are strange in that they both sound like they were meant to be album closers, but the band couldn't decide which one to use. They are both good songs, but it makes the album end with a strange taste.

Overall, the middle of FIVE DEADLY VENOMS is very close to masterpiece level prog metal. In a weak year, this album is high on my best of 2010 list. But the slow start and slightly stumbling ending make the decision between four and five stars easy for me. But still this album comes highly recommended.

THE SHADOW THEORY Behind The Black Veil

Album · 2010 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 3.61 | 13 ratings
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Horror Show Prog Metal

I'd been waiting for the Shadow Theory album for quite awhile since the group was announced. Devon Graves has been a guy who has teased me on so many albums. Great moments, but never a fully realized masterpiece (I actually don't have INTO THE EVERFLOW yet, which may qualify). I had hoped that new blood and the shakeups of disbanding Deadsoul Tribe would leave us with something fresh and exciting. Alas, instead we get another very solid piece of dark prog metal with some great flashes. So I'm left to wait for the Psychotic Waltz reunion to see if my hopes are finally realized.

To be sure, BEHIND THE BLACK VEIL is a good album. The opening song, "I Open Up My Eyes" features Graves' flute almost immediately. (This is something I've been begging for for some time, that Graves would integrate the flute into his music to the same degree as his hero Ian Anderson). The song has some highly syncopated sections, and is certainly a notch up in compositional complexity from most DST. Arne Shuppner provides a more powerful bag of tricks on guitar that we've heard support Graves since the Waltz days. At the same time, don't expect big twin lead extravaganzas or anything resembling technical metal. There are a couple of fair guitar solos, some nice keyboard flourishes from co-band founder Demi Moore, and the rhythm section is quite sharp. The whole album is basically Deadsoul Tribe with nitrous packs. Even Devon's vocals are as varied and emotional as I've heard in awhile.

The problem is that the songwriting is good but not great. I prefer several songs from LULLABY FOR THE DEVIL to the ones here. The Jethro Tull cover really stands out melodically and compositionally as a superior song to the rest of the album. Devon has never had a great melodic sense, and on this album, his vocals sound great but don't lend much identity to each song. The band sound is great, and each song has its own riffs, but they really blend into each other.

Bottom line: Probably a transition album between DST and new Psychotic Waltz.

GRAYCEON All We Destroy

Album · 2011 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 4.01 | 11 ratings
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Long Live the Queen

Metal and prog are musical genres dominated by men both on stage and in the audience. Many of the women in these bands function as eye candy or at best as skilled vocalists. I can think of no prog metal band where the musical brains rest inside a female noggin. Until Grayceon. To be fair, cellist / vocalist Jackie Perez Gratz is simply the lead actor in a trio of talented musicians, all of whom contribute essential aspects to the band's sound. On ALL WE DESTROY, Gratz' vocals have improved significantly, to the point that they are now a true focal point of the band's sound. Jackie joined fellow "post rock plus" band Giant Squid for their last album, and clearly came back home with some new skills and ideas. She's also lent her cello to numerous other metal project's, including Agalloch's recent MARROW OF THE SPIRIT. The band's entire sound has been an exercise in making heavy music around her classically trained cello skills, and the result has left reviewer after reviewer scrambling to try to define a genre for the band. My best label is "chamber metal" and I would cue prog listeners by saying that Grayceon sounds a little like a cross between Maudlin of the Well and Univers Zero.

Now on their third album, the trio truly have found their groove and it's a sound that really has never been done before save by themselves. Gratz uses an electric cello, downtuned, and plays composed lines the weave in and out of the music as an essential part of the sound. Similarly, guitarist Max Doyle utilizes a custom low tuning on six string, played with fingers rather than pick. (This is extremely rare in metal.) Drummer Jack Farwell pulls in jazzy cymbal work, organic grooves, and even occasional blast beats to fill plenty of the space left by the absense of a bass player. In the past, vocal duties were shared between Doyle and Gratz, but now Doyle simply provides support (often very dark harmonies) to Jackie. Though the vocals are more prominent than on previous albums, they still act more as another layer in the sound rather than the center around which the rest of the music finds its place. Often lines are repeated in an eerie mantra-like quality that adds to the dark nature of the music in general.

ALL WE DESTROY opens with "Dreamer Deceived" which after a very brief intro hits us with a guttural scream, just to make sure we know we're in the land of metal. The refrain of "I can't comprehend how you left me with the bloody knife" introduces the vocal style and we get some sludgy riffing which all gets the mind ready for what's to come. Just as the piece start to get a little stale, we get "Shellmounds," one of the centerpieces of the album. Much more complex, the song begins with a triplet guitar figure, builds to a galloping metal rhythm backed by blast beats, only to slow again before an intense finish. The album's title theme comes from this song with an obvious nod to DARK SIDE OF THE MOON. Next comes the only true epic of the album "We Can," which features several solo spots for Gratz's cello, some pastoral proggy parts in 3 reminscent of Opeth, and another dramatic climax. "Once a Shadow" is probably the most melodic song on the album, and includes a descending chromatic theme that alludes to "Chim-Chim-Cher-ee" from Mary Poppins that still works within the sad, dark theme. (I did mention these guys were hard to pin down didn't I?) "A Road Less Travelled" is another strong composition, but probably stands out the least on the album. The album ends with "War's End" which is probably the softest piece on the album and features some nice word play and a gentle send off that makes me want to turn around and start the album right over again.

While the band has said that ALL WE DESTROY is not a themed album like the previous THIS GRAND SHOW, it clearly centers around genuine intellectual reflection on ideas of violence. What's more, the album's coherence as a whole is superior as the pacing and variation in the music is perfect. By the end of previous albums I was a little worn out. Not here. The band really has honed their craft to a point that they may have produced the signature effort of their career. At this point, this is the best album of 2011 for me, and actually bests every album of 2010 as well. In a year that looks to be a great one for prog and metal, Ms. Gratz and her buds are going to be hard to catch.

VAN HALEN For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge

Album · 1991 · Hard Rock
Cover art 3.82 | 24 ratings
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Don't Call it a Comeback

Van Halen were the kings of rock for over a decade. The weathered the loss of David Lee Roth with an updated sound on 5150, and still did quite well commercially with OU812. But one could tell the band was starting to coast a bit. Sammy was turning into Jimmy Buffett and the most interesting guitar on the album was the clean pluckiness on "Finish What Ya Started."

Well in 1991, Van Halen came back with a shout, an album brazenly named F.U.C.K. Eddie had a new line of guitars, cut his hair, the band seemed to be positioning themselves for a stable adult run. (This wouldn't happen though). This album was part of a fantastic year or two of music that was seeing lots of transition before most people had ever heard of Nirvana.

The electric drill of "Poundcake" upstaged the shred outfit of Mr. Big. The upbeat pop-rock of "Right Now" was given more serious credit than the band had ever gotten lyrically. (It could be argued whether the song had earned those accolades). The songs ran from happy "Runaround" to randy "Spanked" to heavy "Judg(e)ment Day." Eddie seemed to have rediscovered his love of the instrument with his new Ernie Ball.

Alas this was to be the last great Van Halen album. As they did after 5150, the band came out with a mellow copy of a successful formula. After that, the band fell apart. This marks the end of an era.

RUSSIAN CIRCLES Enter

Album · 2006 · Metal Related
Cover art 4.11 | 27 ratings
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A Trip Into Calculated Complexity

Russian Circles was my introduction to post / math rock 3 years ago when they allowed free downloads of their New Macabre and Death Rides a Horse. Those songs were in frequent rotation on my newly acquired iPod, and RC virtually became the definition of Math Rock in my mind. (This is a little odd since they're actually at least as much post-metal as they are Math.) I've since purchased their whole album, Enter, and the entire album certainly lives up to the quality of the promo tracks.

The music is all instrumental, moody and incorporates interweaving lines between clean and variously distorted guitars along with the bass and a great variety of intricate drum lines. The guitars are performed by one artist using a loop pedal, and are reproduced in the same way live. Other famous musicians have used the idea just as extensively (jamboy Keller Williams being one of the most famous) but here the effect contributes to both the emotional build and mild feeling of drone that pulls the music together.

Compared to other math rockers, Russian Circles seem to have come from more of a metal background than an indie one. This is heard in their selection of guitar tones, precision of attack, an appreciation of sludge, and more linear time signatures. Just as much Pelican as Don Caballero, RC actually sit in a unique niche that may be appealing to a wider array of listeners than many of their peers on both sides of the aisle.

As others have noted, this album plays just as well continuously as it does as individual songs. There is simply an ongoing flow of circling crests and lulls, which actually never gets boring. Though the music is often quite busy, it always seems intentional. Very little seems chaotic or free form, though these compositions were almost certainly conceived during improvisational jams. However, I believe that the band also spent an equal amount of time organizing these ideas into formal, dynamic songs.

This album may indeed represent a masterpiece within its own specific genre, but it is not as musically expansive as the symphonic classics or even instrumental masterpieces like Anglagard or Mahavishnu Orchestra. It is certainly excellent and recommended, and seems like a great entry point into the math rock realm for metalheads.

STRAPPING YOUNG LAD City

Album · 1996 · Industrial Metal
Cover art 4.06 | 30 ratings
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Raw Anger and More

So the boss has been on your arse all day with some total crap and you go home, head into the garage to lay into the heavy bag or lift and jam out to some intense music. Metal has been for just these moments for a long time. Back in my day, I listened to Master of Puppets and Cowboys from Hell for this purpose. But even 15 years later, there may be no better album for beating the hell out of something than City.

Of course, raw anger is in alot of metal, but nowhere is it quite as intense and intelligent at the same time as here. "Detox" and "OMFG" are some of the most intense music ever made. (This has been said about this album so many times, but this is the first review here so I had to get that out.) Other songs like "All Hail the New Flesh" are actually just extremely intense versions of Devin Townsend's usual wall of sound.

Devy is perhaps the most talented metal musician of his generation and on City he lets his maniacal self free. Like Mike Patton, Devy can be twisted and complex and still appeal to very deep in the stomach emotions. And the feelings boil over, enough to recruit a fantastic supporting band including the hellacious Gene Hoglan, one of the most precise and brutal drummers ever.

Bottom Line: The Best Album from Evil Devy and the Boyz

VAN HALEN Balance

Album · 1995 · Hard Rock
Cover art 2.54 | 25 ratings
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Van Hagar Unraveling

After the strong showing of the Carnal Knowledge album and a solid greatest hits package, Van Halen seemed to have weathered the rise of grunge. To a degree, they were aging gracefully with "Right Now" sporting a more mature take on hedonist philosophy. The video was a huge success, the band was getting critical kudos, but something was rotting from the inside. My friend mocked during the concert we watched for the CK tour..."Sammy Hagar: Singer, Guitarist, Dancer, and Philosopher." The implication was that he did none of these well.

Eddie took his new look and new guitar from CK and gave us another helping for Balance. But he and Hagar were moving in different directions. While Eddie was battling his addictions (and failing) Hagar was still celebrating his (which he continues to do). Eddie would call "Amsterdam" one of the stupidest lyrics ever put on one of his riffs, and in general felt that Hagar was stagnant while he (at the time) was trying to find some new musical life. To a large extent, this was unsuccessful. Like many bands, Van Halen had heavier guitars, but they were less edgy, less in your face. Grunge had indeed taken its toll. This was the last gasp of a failing band. It wasn't awful at the time, but it's simply unremarkable now.

Bottom Line: Past their Prime

L.A. GUNS L.A. Guns

Album · 1988 · Glam Metal
Cover art 3.65 | 11 ratings
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Good Trash Rock

After the phenomenal success of Appetite for Destruction, record companies were of course scrambling to fill the desire for more trashy glam rock. What better place to tap the well than Axl's former partner in crime Tracii Guns? L.A. Guns was already up and running by the time of Appetite, and their debut album was released within the year.

The result was a plain jane version of G'n'R sleaze. The songs had plenty of attitude, rocked hard enough, but also had absolutely nothing new to say. Unlike Appetite, which had seemed fresh and bold, L.A. Guns was just a raunchier kind of color by numbers rock. Given Tracii's role in the evolution of the sound itself, this judgment may have been unfair. But with the chronology and personel involved with the albums, it was what it was.

Bottom Line: Average GnR afterthought

WINGER Winger

Album · 1988 · Glam Metal
Cover art 4.20 | 19 ratings
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Solid Heirs to Journey's Throne

People often forget that Journey started as a group of young Santana alumni and that the players were actually really talented musicians. Super-slick pop can seem easier than it is, and Winger got a lot of flack for putting out a VERY slick product. But although it seemed like this band was another group of faces propped up by a savvy producer, it was actually a single face and four studio level musicians. All had done session work before, with Rod Morgenstern having a big gig with Steve Morse's Dregs. Reb Beach had been a fave of mastermind Beau Hill already. In fact, Winger the band was Hill's creation and such deserves a bit of the jabs.

But for those of us who like glam metal with plenty of guitar chops, Winger was a tantalizing band. Reb Beach had developed post-Van Halen tapping to a level that virtually only Satriani and Vai had achieved at that time. What's more, his incorporation of the techniques into the monstrously active and tasty solo to "Headed for a Heartbreak" but him on the guitar map forever. He gets some great spots throughout the album, but this solo is his legacy. I saw Winger on this tour as part of a triple bill, the first rock concert I attended. Beach's solo was one of the more impressive I've ever seen. But I digress...

The songs are good hard pop rock, with much more in common with Journey than even AC/DC and certainly little in common with Iron Maiden. But the chops of the players and especially the shred guitar are what elevated the album to more metal-minded interests.

Bottom Line: Pop Metal with a Great Shredder

DEF LEPPARD Adrenalize

Album · 1992 · Hard Rock
Cover art 2.73 | 31 ratings
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Bryan Adams' Lost Yawner

By 1992, Def Leppard were getting long in the tooth, and sadly were limping along quite literally. The loss of guitarist Steve Clark and injury to drummer Rick Allen had prolonged the recording of this album. More importantly, the band had been drifting progressively toward singles-oriented radio rock for several albums. Even the heavier songs on this album are pretty limp. There are few good riffs here and there, but for the most part this is color by numbers hard rock.

Some of lyrics are just embarrassing. "I suppose a rock's out of the question." Uggh. The syrupy "Have You Ever Needed Someone So Bad" was clearly a grab at the phenomenal success Bryan Adams had with "Everything I Do." "Make Love Like a Man" is a strange lyric that is clearly directed at preaching to the choir aging women fans, not men. Considering the band's lifestyle, it's especially ridiculous.

Def Leppard were always on the softer side of metal, but a least they still seemed to know what rock was about at least through Pyromania. By Adrenalize, they were chasing Firehouse and Trixter with similarly boring cliches but were losing their youth. At least they were lucky enough to cash in one last time.

Bottom Line: A Band Far Past Decline...Don't Bother

TOOL Lateralus

Album · 2001 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 4.36 | 115 ratings
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The Apex of Tool's Musical Achievement... With Asterisks

I was a Tool fan long before I became a prog nut, before even AENIMA hit the shelves. My band banged along to two-chord "Sober" for hours on end, and I learn a lot about jamming based simply on rhythm and your own muse. AENIMA was exactly what we young metalheads expected: a twisted, strange ball of angst with some of the most simultaneously literate and nasty lyrics in existence. Then the band was apparently gone (contract disputes) and one day I stumbled upon the first Perfect Circle album. I thought I'd found heaven. Textural goth metal, but without the minimalism (especially on guitar) that was my biggest beef with Tool. MER DE NOMS filled my eardrums over and over. So it was that when I heard that Tool was coming back with another album, I had extremely high expectations. I expected that Maynard's vocals would take a huge step forward due to the increased melodicism of APC, that we'd get more texture in the guitars, more fullness in the sound.

I heard the first single "Schism" played on the radio before I got the album. It was not what I expected. The riff was prototypical Tool but more intricate. Maynard's voice was no longer buried in the mix, but still within his Tool style. The lyrics displayed emotion and intelligence without simply being intentionally deviant. I was encouraged and I bought the album. I was almost entirely disappointed. The disc sat in my car CD player for a long time, but nothing on it grabbed me by the seat of my pants and threw me against the wall as AENIMA and MER DE NOMS had. Tool were no longer dangerous. Worse, they were starting to get boring. Though "Ticks and Leeches" drew on some of the anger that was the Maynard and Tool trademark, the band just didn't have the emotional impact without the depravity of "Stinkfist" or "Magdalena." Personally, after hearing Maynard sing against Billy Howerdel's guitar textures on APC, Adam Jones' playing (though better than previous albums) just seemed bland. I actually lost the album during a move, or maybe I sold it. I can't even remember. Some years later, 10,000 DAYS came out and I loved it. But that's another review.

When I started reviewing music online, I was shocked to find LATERALUS at the top of the list of all time prog metal albums. This made me think maybe I'd missed something, that I needed to give the album another chance. I borrowed my brother's copy (who knows, maybe it was actually mine) and after a few listens liked it quite a bit better than I had initially. At the same time, there was so much new music to explore that I really didn't immerse myself in the album until now.

LATERALUS, after multiple listens, is drummer Danny Carey's album. That is decidedly a good thing. He is the most talented player of his instrument in the band, and his interest in numerology and sacred geometry permeates the group's music. The progressiveness that Tool displays is almost all derived from the complex time signatures and polyrhythms Carey loves. Bassist Justin Chancellor has developed a genre-defining style to accompany this style, first seen on AENIMA but reaching its zenith on LATERALUS. Early in the 21st century, prowess as a bass player was often displayed by playing Chancellor's riffs, most frequently "Schism." While Tool has often been placed in the grunge camp, this rhythmic style (the entire basis for their sound) really has very little to do with grunge. The precision and complexity of the rhythm section is completely at odds with the garage ethos of the Seattle crew. The mathematical nature of this sound is at least half of the key to whether a listener likes Tool or not. If the strange counting of "Schism" makes your spine start to twist in a helical sway, you're likely a fan. If you find the repetitive figures boring, it's unlikely that Tool is going to be your band.

There is a middle ground, however, and I find it common among musicians. Most everyone agrees that Tool's rhythm section is superb, at minimum Carey. But it is with the founding leaders of the band that opinions begin to diverge. Maynard James Keenan is one of the pre-eminent frontmen in the last 20 years. When one thinks of a lead singer as a theatric performer rather than just a sound-maker, it is easy to understand Maynard and the band's popularity. His costumes, cagey demeanor, simultaneous inward and exhibitionist artistic style, are all classic characteristics of rock's greatest dating back to at least Jim Morrison. But like Morrison, Keenan's actual vocal abilities are limited. While he carries a tune without problem, he draws repeatedly on the same melodic ideas. Further, those ideas are often not that evocative. He is able to find interesting rhythmic places to sing above Carey's foundation, and his emotive capacity is good. But as a pure vocalist, he's simply limited. LATERALUS shows him more in the forefront without the annoying mix problems of the previous albums, but there are no great hooks here besides perhaps the "I know the pieces fit, cause I watched them fall away."

This brings me to guitarist Adam Jones. Perhaps no prominent metal band has had a less intersting guitarist than Jones. His role early in the band's career seemed limited to mild embellishments of the grooves set up by Carey and Chancellor. While most bands are criticized because the bass player simply follows the guitars, in Tool, it's the other way around. Jones does add sustained notes of various tonalities (wah, feedback, slide) that serve the function of pads (ambient sounds) but there are essentially no leads. To say it a little more clearly, his guitars serve no melodic or rhythmic purpose, and their harmonic role is only limited. To be fair, his role has improved with every album and I think it's actually best on 10,000 DAYS (probably why I like it most, being a guitarist.) On LATERALUS, he finally takes an independent role in some places, vastly improving from AENIMA. Again, the contrast between his minimalism and the experimental textures of Billy Howerdel (previously his guitar tech) of MER DE NOMS is like comparing a black and white sketch to a color painting. While black and white can be powerful in certain artistic situations, it limits the artist severely. In Jones and Tool's case, some color would have helped.

My favorite parts of LATERALUS are rhythmic: Carey's drum break in "Ticks and Leeches," the tribalistic toms of "Reflection," and the intertwining pieces of "Schism." The album is more complete and consistent by far than any of the previous albums. Unlike AENIMA, I can listen to it straight through and turn around and do it again. The members seem to be drawing on their own artistic creativity rather than shock value, which is certainly something to be admired. In addition, the band is pushing their personal ideals (regarding mathematical concepts) on this album more than any other. I appreciate the album much more after the additional listens I've given it for this review.

But there is still something a little cold about the album. Too much brain, not enough heart. An admirable effort and an important piece of metal history, but in my opinion Lateralus is not the masterpiece it gets credit for.

DEVIN TOWNSEND Ocean Machine: Biomech

Album · 1997 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 4.10 | 49 ratings
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Gorgeous, Brilliant, Perfect.....I guess I like it

Devin Townsend is a once in a generation talent and the fact that he's my generation only enhances my love of his work. I'm sure the fact that he grew up with the same backdrop of musical culture contributes to the fact that his music really connects with me. Or perhaps it's just that good. When I put on the earphones and listen to Ocean Machine, I get lost in another world. The beautiful thing is the music is actually uplifting, energizing, and colorful. So much of the post metal scene is cold, depressed, or angry. Though Devy certainly taps on those emotions, his music never seems depressing. It's full of energy, invigorating.

Ocean Machine, I believe, was the first time Devy created the (relatively) softer, multi-layered, semi- ambient sound that now has become his trademark. His modally tuned guitar was already heard on Strapping Young Lad, but the full range of tone color really wasn't expressed until this project. Townsend worked on this for some time, writing some of the material as far back as his stint with Steve Vai. The result is nearly flawless, and the few tripups are minor at worst (The nasty surprise at the end, the ambient effects being just a little too loud on "Sister", etc.).

The songs flow seamlessly one to another, despite running from aggressive metal to pure ambient keys to near a cappella voice to pop. The pop is usually what loses my interest on Devy albums, but here the instrumentation is so good (like the back beat riff on "Life") that the major melodicism doesn't bother me. The flow and sequencing is phenomenal, the entire album seeming like a continuous experience. The songs are still distinct, with varied feels in the guitar, vocal tonalities, and use of keys.

This has been a review I've put off a long time, because I don't have much to say other than "It's awesome." The later Terria has better production, hit higher highs of brilliance, but doesn't flow as perfectly start to finish. This is the one to lose yourself in, eyes closed, laying back with good headphones. It's just beautiful metal-based art music, a masterpiece.

DEVIN TOWNSEND Ki

Album · 2009 · Metal Related
Cover art 3.78 | 40 ratings
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New Direction for a Modern Genius

Ki is the first of a four album set from the newly sober Devin Townsend. This actually made me nervous, for though I am happy that a hero is pursuing a healthier life, other artists have sometimes floundered trying to explore their creativity clean.

I shouldn't have worried. Ki is the most innovative album Devy has made in awhile. Its sound, though recognizable as Devin Townsend owing to his voice and guitar tuning, is otherwise very different from anything he's done before. First of all, the mix is wide open, more spare and airy than probably any DT album ever. The guitars are often clean for the majority of the song, and even the distorted sections lack the huge wall of sound that had become a Devy trademark. Ironically, one of the descriptors that has come to my mind in describing the new album is "Chris Isaak on acid."

Others have criticized this album for being too mellow, but there is actually a very wide range of emotions on this disc. Early tracks like "Disruptr" and "Gato" are extremely intense with the latter being among Devy's scariest. At the other end of the spectrum, we have spacey ambient tracks like "Terminal" and "Winter." There are plenty of bluesy sections (which frequently start sounding very run-of-the-mill and then morph into something insane) and a female vocalist who actually ups the intensity and compliments Devin's voice quite well. There is also a nice dose of Devy's fun-loving humor, with the train-boogie riff and Elvis impersonation of "Trainfire" leading the charge. The title track is perhaps the closest to vintage Devy with a slowly building stack of musical layers climaxing in the ocean of sonic bombardment we've come to love. (ed. Now almost a year later, the end section of "Ki" is one of my favorite Devy moments of all.)

On first listen, there are multiple times I found myself thinking "What the hades is he doing?" Every time, the song would evolve or turn into something strange and beautiful in a way that only Devin could have done. On repeated listens, my regard for the album has steadily grown and grown. I definitely advise giving the album some time with an open mind, for the rewards are great. I don't think it reaches masterpiece level (some of the ambient bits are overlong), but overall it is a great CD and highly recommended.

TESLA The Great Radio Controversy

Album · 1989 · Hard Rock
Cover art 3.67 | 12 ratings
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Very Solid 80's Metal

Tesla was a working man's metal band, less dependent on image than music. During the late 80's they stole quite a few shows from bigger name acts by simply sticking to good rocking songwriting and performance. Their second album, The Great Radio Controversy, was their breakthrough of sorts, owing to the ballad "Love Song." This track, though still syrupy enough, was musically much more developed than most of its formula brethren. But the entire album is strong, and there are some great tracks.

My favorite is the obligatory rockin' early release single "Heaven's Trail (No Way Out)" with it's early detuned riff and great chorus. The album pushes past the glam formula lyrically with such songs as "Be a Man" and "The Way It Is." Guitarists Frank Hannon and Tommy Skeoch offer a great combo of solid riffs and some interesting leads, though not as impressive as the debut album.

One of the most important aspects of this album is how well it's held up over the years. Many glam albums from the era sound really dated and often very cheesy. GRC still sounds just as solid as ever.

Bottom Line: Good Songs, Working Man's Band

GUNS N' ROSES Appetite For Destruction

Album · 1987 · Hard Rock
Cover art 4.07 | 84 ratings
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Slash, Trash, Flash, and Crash

Guns n' Roses Appetite for Destruction was one of the most important albums of the second half of the 80's. Not only did it revitalize hard rock, it changed the direction of music. While the term "grunge" got attached to a whole movement three years later, it was already being used to describe the stripped down, street smart, nasty style of GnR. The technicality of Metallica's Justice or the guitar flash of Steve Vai / Van Halen was veering away from the roots of rock n' roll, and GnR seemed to bring us right back to the basics.

Despite the attitude, image, MTV, and all the hype, what made this album so powerful was the songs. They're great. The very few filler songs are still good, and the great ones are truly great. "Welcome to the Jungle" is one of the great songs about the Hollywood Rock n' Roll lifestyle. "Mr. Brownstone" takes care of the drugs and "Night Train" the alcohol. "Paradise City" is an ode to the good life that is suprisingly long and guitar-solo laden. And of course "Sweet Child of Mine" is a guitar solo with a few verses added in that became one of the best known metal ballads.

It's no surprise that such a cauldron of volatile personalities and chemicals would start stinking after awhile, but for one brilliant album it produced a stew for the ages. In the words of the Ozz-man "that's what rock'n'roll's about!!!"

MÖTLEY CRÜE Dr. Feelgood

Album · 1989 · Glam Metal
Cover art 3.78 | 34 ratings
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Bob Rock Ruins His First Great Band

Bob Rock was a pop-rock engineer producer who was part of several big hard rock / pop outfits in the mid 80's including Loverboy, Bon Jovi, and the resurrection of Aerosmith. In 1989, he was enlisted to help similarly over drugged Motley Crue kickstart their career. It was one of the great successes of his career. As he had done before and would do again with Metallica, he vastly improved the production, add a "maturity" to the songwriting, and moved the band decidedly toward the center of mainstream appeal. The band gave up a significant part of its identity and everyone made alot of money.

Which is not say this is a bad album. The gearshifting whammy bar lifted from Ronnie Montrose was fresh for most of the kids, and the heavy groove of the title tune are great. There are some nice riffs here and there. But for the most part, what I hear is BLAND. Take the fangs out of that beast, Mr. Rock but don't let the kids see. Yessir.

The big hits of "Same Old Situation," "Just Go Away," and "Without You" are boring pop rock. The band that Shouted at the Devil now took it all back and said "all we needed was a laugh." Some of the songs hold up as Motley songs like "Piece of Your Action." But even the two rockers, "Dr. Feelgood," and "Kickstart My Heart" just seem too slick, lacking the power of "Wild Side" or "Looks that Kill."

Bottom Line: The Crue Cashes In

MÖTLEY CRÜE Girls, Girls, Girls

Album · 1987 · Glam Metal
Cover art 3.65 | 24 ratings
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Definitive Crue

This album sees the Crue at their peak in many ways. The whole band is starting to feel the wear and tear of their lifestyle, but at this point they were still knee deep in it. The ambivalence between loving the life and losing the fight simultaneously gives this album a dark feeling but also delivers some of the best rockers of the band's career.

The opening 1-2 punch of "Wild Side" and "Girls, Girls, Girls" has to be one of the best openings of glam metal history. These songs are still huge parts of the live show, and alongside "Shout at the Devil" and "Home Sweet Home" are the defining songs of the enormously successful band. The rest of the album is uneven, but has a depth never seen before. There is actually some conflict in the band's members emotions, pain and pleasure, ecstasy and regret, fear and energy. The wicked love / murder story of "You're All I Need" and the damage done reflection of "Dancing on Glass" add alot of interest to the supporting songs on this album.

This is the last of the classic Crue albums in my opinion. Dr. Feelgood, like Metallica's Black Album, are as much Bob Rock albums as they are the band's. Both feature slicker production, and suck some of the lifeblood out of the band. But on Girls, Girls, Girls, we get the Crue at their best.

Bottom Line: Classic Crue, Two of their best songs.

MÖTLEY CRÜE Theatre Of Pain

Album · 1985 · Glam Metal
Cover art 3.31 | 25 ratings
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The Crue in Transition

I was not a huge fan of Motley Crue during their early phase. The devil worshipping, stripped down metal was not my style in those days, and now I can appreciate some of the riffs but a lot of it just seems very rough. Theater of Pain was the album that saw the Crue turn away from the W.A.S.P. / Accept early 80's style of metal and help establish the standard for glam. This was the album that saw me hop aboard, and I consider this album and Girls Girls Girls to be their peak.

Though Vince Neil's distinctive voice is the signature of Motley Crue, I have always loved the huge tone of Mick Mars. To me, he's combined chops, taste, attitude, and a great love of the sound of the instrument. Up until the point Bob Rock took over, I really enjoyed the sound of the guitars and up until Feelgood they sounded better with each album.

Though this album has the hits "Home Sweet Home" and "Smokin' in the Boys Room," the original rockers aren't quite as strong as on the following album. The band is still finding their footing in a new arena, while maintaining their identity. It's an area where many bands failed and ultimately so follows the Crue. But at this point in their career, the best is yet to come.

Bottom Line: Classic Glam Metal Album

DAVID LEE ROTH Skyscraper

Album · 1988 · Glam Metal
Cover art 3.24 | 10 ratings
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Still Rockin' but Nothing New

Dave must have been pleased as punch when Eat 'Em and Smile did so well. So he essentially followed the same formula and put out Skyscraper. This time guitarist Steve Vai was no secret, and he gets a larger role in the songwriting. The resulting album is very consistent but offers no surprises we hadn't already heard on the album before.

The only single off this album was "Just Like Paradise," a nice feel-good anthem that would have easily fit on a Van Halen album. Vai contributes his trademark acoustic interlude which Dave turns into "Damn Good." "Hot Dog and Shake" features blistering legato soloing by Vai, and "Perfect Timing" see Dave in classic form.

This is a very good, but not great album. Dave's energy is great as always but you get the feeling the band isn't quite as excited as they had been on the first album. Vai and Sheehan would jump ship after this one to follow their own careers, with reasonable success. Dave would never completely rebound.

Bottom Line: Eat 'Em And Smile Some More

GREAT WHITE Once Bitten

Album · 1987 · Hard Rock
Cover art 3.33 | 7 ratings
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Very Nice Bluesy Glam Metal

Once Bitten was written and recorded long before Great White hit the big time, and for me sounds much more like the band has their heart in the music. From the opening pull-off lick that leads off "Lady Red Light," the band plays with both heart and stones, and ends with one of the best power ballads of all time "Save Your Love." Sure nothing here is out of the ordinary, but it's all done really well.

Great White had paid their dues in bar bands, and all were quite solid players. Singer Jack Russell had a bluesy tone that was able to slip into a glammish hue, settle in to Robert Plant style, and then belt out a bluesy rocker. Mark Kendall had plenty of laid-back tasty phrasing, but also had a little bit of firebreathing in his bag of tricks as well.

The big hit on this one was "Rock Me," which follows the Stairway to Heaven formula of starting slow and ending with full on rock. In this case, however, the quiet start is big open blues shuffle and the end is a monster guitar solo that is one of the best in glam history.

There is a reverb on this album that gives it a distinctive sound. What's more, the bluesy metal sound was just starting to resurge at this point, with increased interest in Led Zeppelin. This album was released at a perfect time to scratch those itches. Unfortunately, the band would choose to intentionally pander on their next album.

Bottom Line: Deserving Hit Song, with an entire album to back it up.

GREAT WHITE ...Twice Shy

Album · 1989 · Hard Rock
Cover art 2.60 | 8 ratings
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The Metal is Gone, but Here Comes the Money

Great White had made a name for themselves with the previous album and a bluesy single, and on Twice Shy they decided to go an almost completely blues-rock route. The metal was essentially gone, and the music sounded more like the Georgia Satellites than Judas Priest. This was capped off by the Ian Hunter cover of "Once Bitten Twice Shy." This extremely basic sex-song was a surprise hit, and as it was my least favorite Great White song, I never really listened to the band again after the overplay of the single.

There are some hard rockers like "Mista Bone" here, but Mark Kendall is held much more in check than he was on the previous album. He was already very restrained on the previous album, and actually sounds dumbed down here. Clearly, this album was a very calculated move to appeal to a certain mainstream audience and it worked. But I don't believe the band was true to themselves, and this music doesn't move me at all.

Bottom Line: Formula hard rock hit.

POISON Flesh & Blood

Album · 1990 · Glam Metal
Cover art 3.40 | 8 ratings
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Stumbling Toward Straight Pop

In 1990, most were recognizing that Glam was a spent genre, and many bands were trying to update their sound to accommodate. But what to do when you're the band that defined the cliche? Poison made a reasonable choice in simply moving toward pop. It was a reasonable choice, though many outside factors would prevent the band from having the success they'd enjoyed earlier.

The first single "Unskinny Bop," was much more funky and less metal than virtually anything Poison had done before. My initial reaction was a guarded "This is interesting," and I think this was shared. When I got the album, I found two common threads, an increased pop sensibility "Ride the Wind" being a prime example, and the fact that once again C.C.'s guitar skills had gotten better.

For the most part, the move to the center made the band less unique. Although the songs were solid pop, the band was losing its identity. The band did have another hit, though. In tune with their efforts to get "more serious," Bret Michaels rewrote their previous hit ballad "Every Rose," by transferring essentially the same chords and melodies to piano and social lyrics. An admirable effort, for most even non-musician listeners, the move was pretty transparent. Still, the band made plenty of money.

This was the end of Poison's run as an a hit album maker, though they continue to this day as solid live entertainment.

Bottom Line: Average Late Glam

POISON Open Up And Say... Ahh!

Album · 1988 · Glam Metal
Cover art 3.31 | 14 ratings
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Full On Glam Hits the Big Time

While Poison had done quite well with their debut album, it was their sophomore effort that marked their place in history. The G-C-D power ballad "Every Rose Has It's Thorn" became probably the prototype of the glam power ballad, taking the standard and making all followups a cliche. The first single and video for "Nothin' but a Good Time" are glam party metal at it's best. Big production, fun riffs, loud guitars and singalong choruses. C.C. took a lesson or two and his soloing was getting slowly better, and the whole band kept doing their bad-boy swing.

Where some of the songs on the debut were so raw to seem almost punkish, the songwriting on Open Up is more melodic. Bret Michaels clearly was taking the lead of Bon Jovi and used a storytelling style in several of the songs ("Fallen Angel," "Look but You Can't Touch") that made the verses more memorable. This also softened the raw raucousness a bit, a trend that would continue. As before this was music for teenages and I was one of them at the time. It was a good time, luckily for me a much tamer good time than C.C. had.

Bottom Line: Party Rock Hits Pay Dirt.

POISON Look What The Cat Dragged In

Album · 1986 · Glam Metal
Cover art 3.45 | 10 ratings
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Full Drag Glam

Gender bending has always been part of glam, especially in the early 70's. But during the 80's glam revival, the look was more elaborate than truly cross dressing. Well in 1986, Poison emerged with a cover that depicted their members as feminine as anyone had ever done before. It was shocking in it's own way. Their music was a stipped down pop metal and the band was the hot new thing for awhile.

The music is extremely typical, but is certainly played with plenty of attitude and emotion. C.C. Deville plays like he's just learned the guitar but bands on it with plenty of excitement. His solos are basic but serve their role. Bret Michael's vocals are accurate and dramatic. There are plenty of fun party rockers on this album, the obligatory power ballad with the electric solo. The formula was really just getting laid down at this point but this album is one of them that set it in stone.

Poison would tone down the fem look and just go for full frontal showtime on their follow up. Neon lights, flashpots, enormous hair, and more party music. It worked.

When I was 14 I played this disc alot and enjoyed it. I got a lot of flak for owning it later on, but I still have no problem saying it was fun music.

Bottom Line: Band based on visual image has solid debut.

DEVIN TOWNSEND Terria

Album · 2001 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 4.15 | 82 ratings
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Devy's Masterpiece

Devin Townsend is a productive guy, with lots of examples of his unique style ranging from purely ambient works to one of the heaviest albums ever made. The word "Genius" gets thrown around alot when discussing his creative production, and there is no doubt that his muse is pulling from some plane of existence that most of us don't even perceive. And Terria, well, this is the peak. Here he pulls on the full range of his musical world and in typical fashion, just as it's reaching an insanely intense peak, he breaks to say "After all you're just talking meat, and music, it's just entertainment folks."

After the spacy montage "Olives" sets the stage, we get the metal ambient work of "Mountain," which has an ethereal lyric "You are so beautiful to me." over a harsh vocal screaming "Suffer." Blast beats with angel choruses, guitar armies, screams, it's all here.

And then comes "Earth Day." The over 9-minute tour-de-force comes in with an nearly screamed "Eat Your Beets. Recycle." refrain that was the first thing I ever heard from Devy since a brief sampling of the Steve Vai album over 15 years before. My reaction, and I imagine the reaction of many was "WTF is this?" The actual first verse doesn't start until 2:30. The rapid-fire vocals at 3:40 are as heavy as anything Devy did with SYL. And we have yet another soaring theme to come, a bridge of sorts at 6:40, and once more through the main sections. The power of the piece takes several listens to soak in, but after that, it is musical ecstasy (at least for me.)

How do you follow the best song of a brilliant career? Well, you bring it way down and let the listener rest for a second. We get the heart-wrenching "Deep Peace" which is a logical descendent of "Sister" from the Ocean Machine album. But where "Sister" always felt laden with unrealised potential, "Deep Peace" has a powerful lyric which is superficially lovey-dovey but hints at serious demons under the surface. It includes an amazing electric solo, so uniquely Devy, enormous and overwhelming though not that technical. It's composed as a piece of music and when the band comes in, I'm nearly brought to tears.

This song segues directly into "Canada," which continues in the huge, epic vein of the previous track. Though not quite as powerful as "Earth Day," the big chorus of "It's oil, it's beef, etc." is a classic Devy odd ball lyric. The upbeat and happy "Down and Under" releases the heavy mood next, and is predominantly instrumental. The trend continues with the almost overtly pop "The Fluke" which is my least favorite song on the record. Still, it develops by midway into another enormous production with seemingly hundreds of tracks playing simultaneously. "Nobody Here" is a poppish, melancholy ballad which continues the flow of the album nicely. "Tiny Tears" continues in the slower vein, building layer by layer with great lyrics to the point that the last bars have a thundering metal riff. "Stagnant" is another pop tune that leaves the listener of this extremely dense album with something a little lighter to see them home.

While metal is enormous part of this album, it extends far beyond any one genre. It is one of the best album made since 2000, and possibly the best.

Bottom Line: Amazing Masterpiece

MEGADETH Peace Sells... But Who's Buying?

Album · 1986 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 4.24 | 142 ratings
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Maybe the Best Thrash Album of All Time

Megadeth's Peace Sells is of course a classic thrash album, with virtually all metalheads knowing it forward and backward. It is a guitar junkie's paradise, a combination of speed, attitude, and feel that is simply some of the best metal I've ever heard. And though I am a Chris Poland fanboy, the credit for this monster goes #1 to Dave Mustaine and #2 to Gar Samuelson.

The leadership provided by Gar in early Megadeth is often overlooked, though Dave is quick to recognize him interviews. Gar basically set the tone for the entire band, giving the idea of stressing political lyrics, a more economical songwriting style (and often helped with arrangements), and unfortunately was the one who brought in the really heavy drugs. He brought in Poland, a monster talent with a monster habit. The band was a firestorm of chaos and it is only the phenomenal talent of the musicians that kept it together at all.

This recording sees the classic lineup essentially at their peak. Some of the songs and riffs had been in Dave's back catalog for some time. (The intro riff to Devil's island was the first thing the two Daves ever played together.) But hundreds of gigs together and a bigger budget allowed the second album to combine the raw energy and a refinement to a nice point.

Everyone has their favorite parts, but the instrumental aspects of "Wake Up Dead" are what hooked me when I first got this album and still capture me. The harmony leads, the mid solo, and most importantly the most break are just great. Right after "Diana," comes the most crushing riff I've ever heard, with Mustaine and Gar working together perfectally.

"I Ain't Superstitious" is the only weak part of the album, and it's a fun novelty. Every other track here is a metal classic. Poland and Mustaine's soloing works together quite well despite the fact that they are completely different players. Poland's legato runs contrast to the raw agression and the result is shred genius.

More words than necessary. Bottom Line is this is an absolute classic and masterpiece. I rate this as on nearly equal footing as Master of Puppets as perhaps the best metal album of all time.

WARRANT Cherry Pie

Album · 1990 · Glam Metal
Cover art 2.32 | 11 ratings
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The Last Gasp of Glam

By 1990, everyone knew Glam was on its last breaths. Many bands were starting to try new tricks to keep the music going, but some of the bands were pathetically the same old same old stuff. In the era of overpolished Trixter and Firehouse, Warrant released their biggest album, Cherry Pie.

While Whitesnake had already pushed the single entendre so far years before that it was a complete joke by 1990, Warrant had the audacity to mine the same dry well so hard that the cover is just stupid. What's worse, the title song and the band's biggest hit of their career was a blatant ripoffs of Def Leppard's "Pour Some Sugar on Me." Not only did they steal the riff style and songwriting structure, they stole the lyrical content too. (By the way, where do these glam bands find all these diabetic girls. Sugary is not how I'd describe...well let's move on) What annoys me even more is that "Pour Some Sugar on Me" was already a ripoff of Loverboy's "Lovin' Every Minute of It." At least Def Leppard made up their own lyrics.

The band attempts to get serious with "Uncle Tom's Cabin," and the ballad on this album "I Saw Red" is a bit more sophisticated than the vapid "Heaven" from the debut album. Having Warrant, of all airbrushed bands, give an "Ode to Tipper Gore" is just ridiculous. Warrant was about as risky as a trip to the malt shop.

This was the last gasp of glam. The classic story is that high off the success of this album, Jani Lane went into the record company, where "Cherry Pie" had been blaring on the stereo for months, and posters covered the walls, shortly after the release of "Dog Eat Dog" only to be met with the sounds and views of Alice in Chains' "Dirt." Glam was done.

Bottom Line: Formula glam pays off...for the last time.

WARRANT Dirty Rotten Filthy Stinking Rich

Album · 1989 · Glam Metal
Cover art 2.15 | 8 ratings
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Extremely Formulaic MTV Glam

During the mid to late 80's there was an absolutely glut of sleazy glam metal bands. MTV would debut a new pick of the month and one of the bands to roll through was Warrant. Their debut album had everything the record company ordered, a rockin' intro single "Down Boys," and big power ballad, "Heaven," a pretty boy lead singer, Jani Lane, and a light enough touch that hopefully the girls would buy the album too.

Absolutely nothing here is remarkable other than the tunes are hummable enough. Lane's pipes aren't anything as amazing as Mark Slaughter or Sebastian Bach. The guitarists (what were their names anyway) played a few seconds of flash to fill space. It was all very safe and sold some records. Of course, on the next album, the band would really cash in by rewriting Def Leppard's sellout song which was itself a ripoff of Loverboy.

Bottom Line: This bands fifteen minutes were over a long time ago.

WHITESNAKE Whitesnake

Album · 1987 · Hard Rock
Cover art 4.10 | 50 ratings
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The Best Power Glam Metal Ever

For a very long time, this album was my favorite CD regardless of genre. I listened to this things so many times in so many moods during early High School. For one album, the stars aligned and David Coverdale's bluesy voice matched with John Sykes' huge guitars to create a masterpiece.

The riffs of "Crying in the Rain" and "Still of the Night" are simply enormous. But the faster rockers are great as well, and the few ballads work well. Sure, the album used well-oiled songwriting formulas, but the actual sound was what made this sound great. Anyone who thinks that "Black Dog" would have done as well as "Still of the Night" if it had been released in 1987 doesn't understand how much culture had changed. The song's mainly instrumental midsection is an icon, and lends almost nothing to the might Led Zep. Instead, it was a creature of the times, when the rainy night ethos was part of metal. And as much as I love Jimmy Page, John Sykes' solo on "Crying in the Rain" is simply one of the wonders of the instrument, and beyond the shred ability of Page at his peak. (I am not claiming Whitesnake was better than Zep or Page, simply that they made a perfect album at the perfect time. Frankly, Zep made some albums that are timeless.)

Something essential on this album is the energy and production. Other versions of some of these songs exist, and both Coverdale's voice and the instrumental performances just aren't on the same level as this disk. Sykes, despite a long career, really only has one well known album to his name, but on this one album, he put himself down as a monster of his instrument.

Bottom Line: 80's MTV metal at its peak.

PAIN OF SALVATION Remedy Lane

Album · 2002 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 3.97 | 63 ratings
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I have tried very hard to like this album. I think TPE deserves its place at the top of Prog Metal lists, and Remedy Lane often is rated on an equal footing. (Across different sites and boards, this is variable) I obtained both albums at the same time, after having Entropia for several years. At first I thought that maybe my Pain of Salvation circuits had just been overloaded, so I've given it a couple months before trying again. And my opinion has deepened a bit, but in the end my overall feel has not changed. I actually find some of this album unpleasant to listen to. The clean guitar tones on this album are tinny and grating, but moreover, many of the ideas Gildenlow uses on this album just don't work. PoS pushes harder on this album than TPE, and there are indeed some great moments, (Fandango is my favorite). But the vocal delivery is much like a stage show (not that that's unique to this album) and too often melody gets lost in the place of overlong dramatics. Like a classical piece, there are again thematic melodic elements (unimaginatively named Ending Theme here, though I'm sure the authors found that ironic or clever). There are lots of highs and lows, heavy and soft, time changes, but much of it seems too intentional and doesn't flow. I really never get lost in the music itself.

The album begins with a section that feels like the start of act two rather than the start of act one, though the song itself (Of Two Beginnings) is strong enough once it gets going. In fact, the whole beginning I would rate as simply good with rough patches but the album heads south midway. Tracks 9-12 are extremely forgetable, most of all the cigarette lighter ballad Second Love. Luckily, the album ends on a high note (Beyond the Pale) where the clucky plucked clean guitars actually make musical sense for the first time, though they still are pretty grating to my ear.

Before submitting a review this harsh, I went back one last time and scanned through the tracks, and thought to myself that there really is a lot of good material here. Perhaps it's just an early draft that needed more fine tuning. But in the end, where The Perfect Element continues to pull me in, impress me, and pique my musician's sense, Remedy Lane makes me search for interest, instantly brings out my inner critic, and simply doesn't succeed for me.

PAIN OF SALVATION BE

Album · 2004 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 3.84 | 59 ratings
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A Big Swing and a Miss for the Talented Swede

In a genre with its share of ambitious, pretentious, self-absorbed musical forays that go too far, this one runs headlong right off the cliff without even looking back. Pain of Salvation's bandleader / singer / multi-instrumentalist Daniel Gildenlow's creative talent is enmeshed in pushing the envelope further and further, and he's effectively ridden the edge to great effect many times. I would argue the "pushing too hard" begins as far back as Remedy Lane, and most agree that Scarsick is way past the line. In my opinion, this is the first album in the PoS discography where I felt like I wasted my money.

Be contains LONG spoken word sections throughout the album on subjects dealing with existence, religion, love, and the nature of being. And not allegorically, head on, attempting to juggle multiple immense subjects at once - it was doomed to fail. At times these musings run over ambient key pads, occasionally over prog-metal, and sometimes some simple guitar noodling. Even more occasionally, we get an entire SONG with actual lyrics and melody that relates to the instrumental music. To a greater degree than even the previous PoS concept albums, this is a rock opera, a soundtrack to what sounds like it was meant to be a stage production (Existence and Everything in It - the Musical). Several songs sound like big stage numbers, and the genre hopping here sounds more like Broadway than rock.

Some of the composed music on this album is really good, and in fact the album opens and ends quite well. The completely realized songs (Imago, Pluvius Aestivus, and Martius / Nauticus II) and many of the instrumental interludes are up there with the best of Pain of Salvation, and makes a fan like me wonder what could have been. Gildenlow has added a folky flavor in spots with acoustic instrumentation and melodic sense that really gives the album a freshness and contrast to previous work.

But after weathering several spoken word passages among some truly compelling music, we are given the very questionable Nauticus. Starting with a similated slave work song (White northern European not only trying to sound Black but writing a slave song??? That takes some stones) the piece then devolves into a spoken word scene between a narcissist and a woman he's picked up that is just painful on repeated listens. The piece is really an intro to the next track (all about narcissism), and it's all part of the story, I get it. But beginning at this spot and continuing for many subsequent songs, the brushstrokes are so broad, and the points so basic on a philosophical level, that only (young) teenagers are not already going to be past the lyrical content of the album.

There's enough here to earn the album two stars, but it's significantly inferior to Remedy Lane, which I initially (before hearing this album) gave the same mark for some faults in common and some of its own. Where I think most PoS fans should get Remedy Lane and render their own opinion, I feel like no one should buy this disc unless they've sampled it in its entirety first. Sadly, it could have been a masterpiece. But when you swing for the bleachers, you're going to have your share of strikeouts. Gildenlow swung for outer space on this one. The result is not surprising.

PAIN OF SALVATION The Perfect Element, Part 1

Album · 2000 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 3.97 | 76 ratings
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HEIR TO OPERATION MINDCRIME

For many years, the classic masterpiece Mindcrime was my standard for the best metal album of all time. Despite looking far and wide, I had never found a suitable companion. I had heard and liked PoS previously (mainly tracks from Entropia) and owned many other Queensryche albums. But the Perfect Element is the only album I have found that is a worthy successor. I would argue that this is intentional, that PoS had Operation Mindcrime was part of the work that most influenced the album, just as the Wall influenced Queensryche.

Clearly Geoff Tate was a huge influence on frontman Daniel Gildenlow's vocal style. But Gildenlow has expanded the vocabulary greatly, including influences by the vocal genius Mike Patton. The often mentioned rap-style is much more reminiscent of Faith No More than R&B, and on this album fits well in my opinion.

The songs themselves are strong, and though they flow together into one work very seamlessly, each one has something to offer. Much like Mindcrime, the equivalent of the first side of the disc is nearly flawless, but here the second half keeps up its end of the bargain even better. King of Loss and the title track are very strong.

Furthermore, TPE is much more classically progressive than Mindcrime. More changes in time, timbre, more variety in sounds. The lyrics and storyline are less straightforward and this could be a plus or a minus depending on your preference. (I actually like the clarity of the storyline in Mindcrime. As anti- establishment as Gildenlow is, he will never match Revolution Calling for its eerily timeless critique of corrupt capatilism.)

Having now listened to all of PoS early catalog, and some of their most recent work, I have little problem saying this is their best album by far. Both Entropia and Remedy Lane have their moments that I really enjoy, but no other album works from the first note to the last as well as this one. Highly recommended to say the least as it is my #2 Prog metal album of all time.

PAIN OF SALVATION One Hour by the Concrete Lake

Album · 1998 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 3.99 | 51 ratings
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Ecological Concept Album Showcases Genius at his Creative Best

One Hour by the Concrete Lake is one of my favorite Pain of Salvation albums. (Unlike most fans I prefer the two before TPE to the two after by quite a margin.) The story behind this one concerns a weapons manufacturer who travels the world, seeing the impact of mankind (and his weapons) upon the environment. This climaxes in his visit to the concrete lake, a body of water in Russia so polluted that one hour at its shore is enough to cause fatal radiation poisoning. I realize that I'm a sucker for the subject matter, but I think it's more focused than perhaps any of Gildenlow's storylines. While certainly ambitious, the story doesn't over-reach as DG is prone to do, and the intensity of the music matches the theme quite well.

More importantly, the music is just great. Contrast of light and dark, low harmonies, odd time signatures, a variety of vocal tonalities, all the things we love about Pain of Salvation are here on full display. The riffs really rock, the solos are strong, and the melodic lines are interesting. "Black Hills" is a prog metal masterwork, and throughout the album there are moments that make me want to say "Now that's what I'm talking about!!!" Other highlights include "Shore Serenity," "Water," and in typical fashion Gildenlow gives us a grand exit with "Inside Out."

My only complaint with the album is that some of the instrumental tones, especially the drums, sound a bit low budget. There are some bass drum beats that sound triggered or programmed (and a bit cheesy), and the guitar tone can get a little fuzzier than is my taste. But unlike Remedy Lane where the tone problems distract me from enjoying the music, here it's more of a minor detail that I'd improve if given the chance, no more. At the same time, some of the tones are perfectly chosen, and there are some sonically overwhelming sections that sound perfect.

This is, in my opinion, PoS 2nd best album, and I am tempted to give it a masterpiece rating. I heartily disagree with those (including Gildenlow himself) that put Concrete Lake at the bottom of the PoS discography. And yet, in the context of the bands full work, there is clearly some growth and improvement yet to come. But I think it's a must for prog metal fans, certainly excellent.

SYSTEM OF A DOWN Toxicity

Album · 2001 · Alternative Metal
Cover art 4.17 | 90 ratings
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Friggin' Brilliant

I was doing an hour and a quarter commute each way when my brother loaned me a bunch of CDs for my time, and included was Toxicity. I think I've forgotten all the other CDs but I remember exactly where I was on the trip during certain songs on this disc the first time I heard them. That's how good and how fresh this CD was, and for the most part it still is.

The first and biggest single "Chop Suey" is SOAD in a song: quick rhythms, extremely harsh but spot-on harmony vocals, repetition of lyrics, abrupt transitions, and thrashable riffs. Perfect use of open space. Intelligent lyrics. Oops there were too many things too list in one sentence despite the song only being 3:30.

Every song on this album is amazing. And despite the fact that "Bounce," "Prision Song," and "Toxicity" all sound quite different, the album holds together perfectally. As an aside, the Pac-man beat of "Bounce" may be the most powerful inducement to jump and down I've ever heard on record. I remember laughing out loud in my car, alone, simply dumbfounded with the brilliance of the wackiness of that song the first time I heard it.

SOAD sometimes gets lumped with nu-metal, but they really have almost nothing to do with rap rock. Serj's abrasive voice certainly owes to punk screamers, but he has more command of melody than virtually any metal singer of his time. He can hold on dissonant notes at will, often in harmony with guitarist Daron Malakian.

What's more, the riffs are killer. "Forest" borrows a little bit from Republica's hit "Ready to Go," but turns what was a great riff over a pointless frat-rock song into a monster piece of metal. Similarly, despite being an enormous needlenose during interviews and a ham onstage, Daron's musical talent is undeniable.

Bottom Line: If this isn't a masterpiece of alternative metal, no such thing exists.

SOUNDGARDEN Louder Than Love

Album · 1989 · Alternative Metal
Cover art 3.59 | 21 ratings
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Raw Angry Young Men

Long before the Grunge explosion, Soundgarden was slowing growing in Seattle, and recorded two CDs before their breakthough Badmotorfinger. The second of these was Louder than Love, a monstrous CD that does everything you'd want for an up and coming band. It showcases their unique style, has some great songs, and most of all captures some of that raw young energy.

Guitarist Kim Thayil still has a firm hold on the band at this point, and his feedback and lo-fi sludgy rhythm are great. Chris Cornell is already a great voice, though he's a long way from where he will eventually reach. The recordings of both are still pretty raw, with Cornell's being a bit overdrenched in reverb and Thayil's guitar lacking some of the big teeth today's recording techniques provide.

But there is no denying these songs. It's hard to think of any song that's quite matched "Big Dumb Sex" in best use of the F-bomb in a song. "Loud Love" and "Hands All Over" are classics. "Power Trip" and "Full on Kevin's Mom" were Soundgarden live show favorites back in the day.

It's interesting that on this second, indie album, the band sounds more focused than they are on some later big-label releases. This is both a strength and a drawback. The sludge gets a litte same-y by the end, but the band never loses its legitimacy. The devotion to the riff and to an underground ethos is unwavering.

Bottom Line: Some Amazing Songs, Indie recording quality, a Record of Youth

SCORPIONS Savage Amusement

Album · 1988 · Hard Rock
Cover art 2.52 | 25 ratings
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Lackluster then, Pointless Now

It took the Scorpions 4 years to followup their wildly successful "Love At First Sting." And it shows. The Scorps clearly are trying to cash in again, and the songs are too slick, lack energy, and follow formula. Nothing here is terrible, but nothing has, well, any sting.

There are no big anthems here though perhaps the aging rockers are trying on "Rhythm of Love." Or maybe not. There's too much mid-tempo, pop-metal, pseudo-love song stuff here. "Every Minute Every Day," Walkin' on the Edge," "Passion Rules the Game," they're all just yawn-fests. There are a few moments here and there, but for the most part this is color by numbers rock. There is no stomp-your-foot, raise-your-fist power of even a relatively pop song like "No One Like You."

Ironically, this was the first Scorpions album I actually bought and I listened to it quite a bit when it was new. But that tape was jettisoned long ago and now I have to search through youtube to sample the songs again. Not surprisingly, they're even less appealing than they were in the late 80's.

Bottom Line: Scorpions have a huge catalog. Don't waste your money on this one.

ALICE IN CHAINS Facelift

Album · 1990 · Alternative Metal
Cover art 3.75 | 46 ratings
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Promising Debut but Much More to Come

Alice in Chains gets lumped with the Seattle grunge scene, but when "Man In The Box" emerged in 1990/91, Alice was just one of many bands trying to push the metal envelope. Everyone knew that the cookbook was spent and lots of bands were trying to inject some new energy. On Facelift, Alice still seems like a metal band, though one with some new tricks up its sleeve. Layne Staley was clearly a new breed of vocalist, and the intelligent harmonies of Jerry Cantrell were only starting to emerge.

But the guitars are big and the music mixed the heaviness and seriousness of Metallica with a little lighter and less complex feel of more traditional metal bands. "Man in the Box" was a deceptively simple song that was remarkably well put together. As a guitarist, I always enjoyed playing the unison line with the vocalist on this song, something no other song ever offered. The other "hits" like "We Die Young" and "Bleed the Freak" were solid. The rest of the album was solid enough but not much sticks with you.

Alice will hit its peak with the follow up, Dirt, but some of their concert showcase songs remained the big ones from Facelift.

Bottom Line: Historically essential, but musically eclipsed by the band's next.

QUIET RIOT The Randy Rhoads Years

Boxset / Compilation · 1993 · Glam Metal
Cover art 2.00 | 2 ratings
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Great RR Fan Album

Randy Rhoads named and created Quiet Riot, though he had moved on to greener pastures long before their breakthrough. During his time with the band in the late 70's, two albums were recorded and released in Japan. These albums were long sought after by Rhoads fans like myself but almost impossible to obtain.

Rhoads mother along with Kevin Dubrow finally got hold of the tapes and did some major work on them to make this product available. Clearly, alot of love went into this, and this fan appreciates their time. The result is a great example of Randy's formative years and how his sound evolved over time.

Two things stand out: Kevin Dubrow has always been Kevin Dubrow and Rhoads really did get alot better over his time with Ozzy. All of the seeds for his classic work are present on this CD, and in fact some of the big riffs were used on Quiet Riot songs (the main riff to Suicide Solution, for example).

The songs in general are pretty raw, even in comparison to the big Quiet Riot albums of the early 80's. "Last Call for Rock n' Roll" is probably the best actual song. The feature is a live version of Randy's guitar solo showpiece, here titled "Laughing Gas." Many of the elements he would use later are already evident, but he also does some things that he would abandon during his time with Ozzy.

Bottom Line: Great, for Randy fan boys.

CINDERELLA Long Cold Winter

Album · 1988 · Glam Metal
Cover art 3.45 | 12 ratings
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Working for Credibility

Sophomore albums are notorious for destroying bands, especially groups that really didn't have much fresh to offer the first time around. Cinderella chose to go back to their roots on their 2nd disc, and the gamble worked. Long Cold Winter points back to hard blues rock of the 70's rather than the glam of the 80's. Tom Kiefer grabbed hold of the reins to an even greater degree, and the band enjoyed continued great success.

The tour to support this album was the first rock concert I ever saw at 15. I recall the piano being lowered from the ceiling and most of all the immense volume. My ears were still ringing the next morning.

The first single from this album "Gypsy Road" set the tone, being much more bluesy and pop oriented than anything on Night Songs. The band would have its biggest hit with the piano ballad "Don't Know What You Got (Till It's Gone)". But my favorite was the straight blues of the title song, where Kiefer plays some immensely tasty leads. For a kid already obsessed with Zeppelin, it felt good to see a contemporary artist paying homage in a more legitimate way than just aping Robert Plant.

Again, Cinderella was a never a band to break the boundaries musically. Here, they settle into some comfortable rock n' roll, which was actually a nice change in a time when everything was over the top. A solid offering.

CINDERELLA Night Songs

Album · 1986 · Glam Metal
Cover art 3.68 | 16 ratings
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Great Gobs of Glam

Cinderella was an AC/DC styled glam outfit that was tapped by Jon Bon Jovi to open the enormous Slippery When Wet tour. Owing to that enviable slot, and delivering live, the band had a good run during glam's heyday.

Probably the strongest thing about this record is the songwriting and the fact that the bandmembers had been aroudn the block for a few years before breaking. Bandleader / guitarist / lead singer Tom Kiefer was actually a fair musician despite the hairspray and pouty lips, and his Brian Johnson - styled vocals were comfortable listening for rockers in 1986. The big singles "Nobody's Fool," "Night Songs," and the obviously derivative "Shake Me" made the listener want to get up and move.

Clearly, even in 1986, there was absolutely nothing new going on here. This was color by numbers rock and everyone knew it. But it was catchy, and the band delivered live. Not surprisingly, they've faded into history.

Bottom Line: Typical but energetic glam from the mid 80's

OPETH The Roundhouse Tapes

Live album · 2007 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 4.02 | 30 ratings
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A Very Nice Taste of Live Opeth

Anyone who has seen Opeth know what a great live act they are. They play their complex music note-perfect, and if anything the energy is better live. Mikael's growls are spine-numbing live and the crush of the guitars is immense. Mikael has a great extremely dry, dark sense of humor that offsets the serious music quite well. My biggest beef with the band live is that the softer parts sometimes seem a little weak. Luckily, this has been fixed in production on The Roundhouse Tapes. So we get Opeth in their full live glory.

This album was recorded after the Ghost Reveries tour, with Per Wiberg on keys as a full time member by this point. His presense makes "Faces of Melinda" actually better than the original (I always thought the production on Still Life was a little weak anyway.) He also provides some atmosphere during the interludes and harmony vocals. Martin Axenrot is behind the drumset and though not as jazzy as his predecessor, is still very heavy. This is the last album featuring guitarist Peter Lindgren.

The track list features a nice variety, with "Ghost of Perdition" clearly taking center stage. Other standards like "Bleak," "When," and "Windowpane" are well done, but the treats are the less played songs like "Under the Weeping Moon," and "Demon of the Fall." The version of "Blackwater Park" is crushing and brutal, just as it should be.

The jokes are typical Mikael, but you also get the sense that he really enjoys what he's doing and is genuinely grateful to the audience. The sound on the album dances the line between the live rawness and being cleaned up quite well.

Bottom Line: Great Live Album. No weak moments, and at least one song substantially better than the studio recording.

LACUNA COIL Comalies

Album · 2002 · Gothic Metal
Cover art 3.72 | 18 ratings
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Early Example of the Beauty and the Best Formula

Before Evanescence hit big, female fronted metal was already on the rise. Lots of goth-clad pretty faces singing over varying quality heavy music. Lacuna Coil was the first of these to get me to bite, and the album was Comalies.

This album featured the singles "Swamped" which very much follows the formula of the harsh male focals and the soaring female chorus. "Heaven's A Lie" allows Christina Scabbia to take a more central role, and both are solid alt metal singles. But the rest of the album is pretty much non-descript formula music. I rarely make it all the way through the album before getting bored and moving on.

Nothing here is particularly bad, it's just non-descript. The performances aren't particularly emotional, the voices really aren't that distinctive, and the guitars aren't that heavy. There are ballads, there are mid-tempo sorta-rockers, and precious few really heavy moment. To be frank, Epica (the ultimate goth candy band) does this so much better, though they admittedly followed the examples of earlier bands like this one.

Bottom Line: Don't get fooled by the Eye Candy

TYPE O NEGATIVE Bloody Kisses

Album · 1993 · Gothic Metal
Cover art 3.91 | 24 ratings
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The Beginning of Goth Metal...At Least for Me

I write this review only a few days after the announcement that Peter Steele is dead at age 48. R.I.P. Big guy. Loved the humor, loved the fun. Hope you have some burdens lifted.

From the first low crooning of "Unsuccessfully Coping" there was something about this band that was unlike any band I'd heard before. When Bloody Kisses came out, the band had clearly figured out where their appeal was going to be. Catering to the vampire / goth element, the album features the sex / morbid depression / and plenty of black (and green) imagery to the extreme. There was plenty to dig about the band, but what I dug was the low vocals (as a baritone myself, I certainly envied Steele's ability to hit the low notes.)

At one level, the lyrics and the whole schtick are incredibly bad. But what makes this work, is that Steele is the first one who'll tell you that they're bad. He clearly has said from the beginning that it's a stage act, but at another level, there are plenty of indications that some of the black feelings are real. The double edged emotional delivery allows for some tension and energy in a slow, plodding music.

The biggest songs of the band's career "Black No. 1" and "Christian Woman" are on this one. They're not their best songs, but "Black No. 1" is probably their catchiest, and "Christian Woman" combines all the images into one hilariously over the top whole. There are some other good moments on this album too, but there are some very overlong fuzz bass sections too.

Though this was the breakthrough album, the follow-up, October Rust, is a much better album. But like many innovations that are rough, the power here is that there was virtually nothing else like this out when it was released. The sound has long ago been assimilated into history and the general goth metal sound, but in 1993 this was really quite fresh.

FAITH NO MORE The Real Thing

Album · 1989 · Funk Metal
Cover art 3.92 | 70 ratings
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Blowing Open the Music World

During my senior year of high school (89-90), a friend of mine had the poster to this album on his wall in the fall of 89. He'd gotten it as a promotion and none of us actually heard the album. But I spent enough time staring at the poster to finally check it out and didn't quite know what to think. When "Epic" broke the following summer, my main thought was "Oh those guys." But when "Falling to Pieces" was showing the band to have some staying power, everyone started paying more attention. Everyone was tiring of glam metal, and even Metallica had seemed to push themselves as far as they could possibly go with Justice. Everyone was looking for a new sound.

Faith No More actually did a triple bill with Soundgarden and Voivod before any of the bands broke, and Patton absolutely dominate the show. Despite Cornell's now legendary status as a singer, and Patton's not nearly as pleasant voice, it was clear who the master was. Patton was also one of the most insane stage presences.

The Real Thing features many many high points, with my favorite being "Zombie Eaters" which has quiet parts, irregular time signatures, and my all time favorite reverse gallop riff. The span of this album is enormous, though the follow-up album is able to explore further and sustain the energy better. But by then we knew about this Patton guy and the music world had already changed, in part at his hands. But in 89-90 he was the harbinger of a musical earthquake of Epic proportions.

Essential Album.

METALLICA ...And Justice for All

Album · 1988 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 4.33 | 187 ratings
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The One....that may indeed be Prog.

I remember when everyone in my dorm came home with this album. Metallica were at their peak of hipness, though far from their richest or peak of popularity. This is the last Fleming Rasmussen album and is also the last album with the classic Metallica sound. On it the band tried to be as complex and brutal as they could possibly be. In fact, after playing the tour for this album, the band felt like they had exhausted what they could do with their signature sound and went a new direction.

Reactions were mixed at first. New member, bassist Jason Newstead, was inaudible except for the very small harmony vocal part on the single One. The songs certainly weren't as headbangingly groovin as on Master of Puppets, though the album was if anything heavier. It was more complex, more clinical, more technical. Everything that makes Metallica in any way prog reached its peak on Justice. It is here that you will find extended compositions, complex time signatures, themed lyrics, and clinical precision reach their peak.

Interestingly, the guys in the class above me (class of 89) liked Justice, went to the concert, wore the shirts, but Puppets and Lightning remained their first love. The kids a year younger (91) however worshipped Justice. And so it was that I joined a group of them the fall after they graduated in a Metallica cover band. They had this album memorized. We played all of it, though I never learned some of the harder pieces well enough for performance. The highly precise Eye of the Beholder is a perfect example of what some dislike about this album, and yet I learned more as a guitarist bringing that song to performance level than perhaps any other song. The very fast downstroke 2 on 3 chorus is Hetfield rhythm guitar at its best and was one of my intros to polyrhythm.

My personal favorite song both to play and listen to is Harvester of Sorrow. One of the songs that actually moves, it evokes a, well sorrowful, feel and has great riffs. A few rhythmic surprises, some harmony leads (which can be played by one guitarist BTW) and one of the better classic Hetfield choruses if any song could be considered to have one at that time.

I could bore you with intricacies on many of these songs, but while other albums were part of my education as a guitarist, this is the album that was my education as a bandmember. And what an album to learn from. Try getting all the free time hits at the beginning of Shortest Straw together, or the thrash polka beat of Blackened to groove right.....enough of memory lane.

This is not the best Metallica album, but it's certainly the most complex, the proggiest. They've come along way from their accelerated NWOBHM debut, and probably were trying just a little too hard. But for lovers of complex music, this is the one to sample. Though many extreme bands pull on these elements now, it took quite a few years for anyone to truly follow the suit of this album. It is essential for anyone truly compiling an extreme prog metal collection, which the tastier Ride the Lightning certainly is not. Puppets of course was the balance point, and IMO is their peak. But much of what made Metallica great had nothing to do with prog.

But this album has quite a bit to do with prog. These days prog is in again, and so we have conversations that never happened in 1988. Metallica would never in their wildest dreams thought they were doing prog at the time. But they were in their own way, and the 20+ years since then have shown how much the ideas could be carried.



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