Wednesday, August 19, 2009
After leaving the ranks of Black Sabbath, frontman Ozzy Osbourne set out to start a career as a solo artist in the late 70's. After a couple years he'd gathered a band and written enough tunes for his solo debut. His first release as a solo artist was the memorable Blizzard of Ozz.
Blizzard of Ozz has become a classic album in the realm of heavy metal music. It is arguably the best of Ozzy's solo material to this day. Ozzy himself even considers it one of his favorites among his own work, and that is evident in his consistent use of many of the songs from this album in almost every concert he performs.
(revised 9-3-09: thoughts on the late Randy Rhoads)
Aside from this being one of Ozzy's greatest albums, it is probably also the best work of the late Randy Rhoads' too-short career in heavy metal. Lost in a tragic plane crash in 1982, Randy's career was still on the rise with Ozzy. Rhoads is famous for his use of layered guitar solos in the recording studio. Recording multiple takes of the exact same solo on top of each other, his solos have a very full and noisy sound. Who knows how far he could have gone? Rest in peace Randy!
Fellow headbangers, you have chosen Blizard of Ozz as your favorite Ozzy album from the 80's. Here are my suggested tracks from this classic album:
-I Don't Know
-CRAZY TRAIN (This song's guitar solo is probably Rhoads' best, if it's not Mr. Crowley... listen closely to hear the layered guitar tracks in the solo!)
-Goodbye to Romance
-Steal Away (the Night)
Thursday, August 13, 2009
As the new millennium dawned in the year 2000, the Heavy Metal scene would be treated to perhaps the greatest band-reunion metal had ever seen: Bruce Dickinson returning to Iron Maiden. With Dickinson's creative genius reunited with that of Steve Harris, the formula from Maiden's golden era was reinstated, and great metal music was sure to be in store for us all...
With three studio albums and 2 double-live CD's (not to mention another Dickinson solo-album) released since this monumental reunion, the band has not disappointed. In fact they've probably raised their standard of quality beyond what it was in the mid-80's, as many songs from this new era show a grander ambition. However, Maiden are well equipped to deliver on such ambitious material, since along with Bruce Dickinson, guitarist Adrian Smith also rejoined the band, thus giving Iron Maiden a six-man lineup that includes three lead guitarists.
One might think that one band with such a surplus of talent and creativity would fall victim to personality clashes, but these are true veterans of heavy metal, and most of them have already traveled that road. With deep mutual respect at every corner of this heavy metal sextet, and a good ole' fashioned British attitude in their hearts, this band plows onward to further their already legendary legacy.
Brave New World ('00)
When I first heard this album, I instantly thought, "MASTERPIECE!", and today I still have no reason to withdraw that comment. With their first album back together, Maiden seem set to prove they are back, and ready to show the world of metal music that they haven't lost a beat. The album title begs to double as a mission statement of renewal. The songs on this album range from the fast-tempo thrashers, to melodic introspective pieces, to progressive-metal epics that rival the likes of Dream Theater. The three guitar attack of Murray/Smith/Gers translates so fluidly in the studio that you can hardly tell they're trading off from one solo to the next.
My recommended tracks:
-The Wicker Man
-Ghost of the Navigator
-Brave New World
-Dream of Mirrors
-The Thin Line Between Love and Hate
Rock In Rio (Live-'02)
With much enthusiasm over their successful reunion, both among the band and the fans, Iron Maiden took this opportunity to document their tour with a live album available in either audio or video format. With Rock In Rio as the chosen venue, the insane fanaticism of South American heavy metal fans is captured in vivid clarity. You can hear them singing along at every opportunity, both with the lyrics and the guitar riffs!
My recommended tracks:
-Blood Brothers (Bruce dedicates this song to all heavy metal fans at the beginning)
-Sign of the Cross (Originally sung by Blaze Bayley, now we hear Bruce's vocals on it. An improvement I think- no offense to Blaze or his fans)
-The Trooper (Always a classic, and one of my favorites!)
-The Clansman (Again, hearing Bruce sing one from the Blaze Bayley era is a special treat)
-Fear of the Dark (Great crowd participation on this one!)
Dance of Death ('03)
For their 2nd effort with this lineup, Iron Maiden seem more confident. Their song composition and content take a more conceptual approach, and the progressive elements of their music are strengthened even more. This album is a perfect follow-up to one of the greatest come-back albums in the history of heavy metal. At this point it is as clear as ever that Maiden are on a roll, and bring new meaning to the word consistency.
My recommended tracks:
-No More Lies
Death On The Road (Live-'05)
Again, Maiden wanted to capture the atmosphere of the supporting tour for "Dance of Death" with a live album (CD or DVD). Having watched this video, I'm very glad they did! They employed an elaborate stage set, an animatronic likeness of Eddie (of course!), and various props to enhance the theatrical elements of each song they performed. Bruce Dickinson frequently changes costumes to fit the context of different songs. If Rock in Rio was to display the commitment of Maiden's fans, then Death on the Road is the showcase for Maiden's performance and delivery at its most sophisticated!
My recommended tracks:
-Wrathchild (Again I'm drawn to the novelty of Bruce Dickinson singing a song he didn't voice the studio version of. He always does a great job.)
-Dance of Death (Bruce does some role-playing on stage during this number)
-Paschendale (Again, Bruce plays the role of a dying soldier in the battle of Paschendale. The recurring lead-guitar theme imitates Morse code. One of the most theatrical performances on this DVD)
-Hallowed Be Thy Name
-Iron Maiden (On the DVD, this is where the giant Eddie come out, pointing at the crowd while holding a sickle)
A Matter Of Life And Death ('06)
Do I dare say this is Iron Maiden's greatest album ever? Yes, I do! I know some of you might be saying I have the bias of this simply being their most recent work, but as much as I've listened to this album in almost 3 years since its release has only strengthened my stance on this opinion. I'm often skeptical of bands trying to outshine their own legacy when they seem to be past their prime, but believe me when I say that Iron Maiden are a true exception to the rule.
With A Matter of Life And Death, Iron Maiden give us a great concept-album that tackles the issues surrounding war. For the first time in a while, Maiden reflect on current events as an inspiration for many of the songs on this album. They manage to get several tough points across without having to be specific about international conflicts or political figures, but you can draw many of your own conclusions if you read between the lines. They also show a good variety of sounds throughout the album, but the prog elements are abundant once again.
A Matter of Life and Death is too good not to recommend the entire album! Here are the tracks:
-These Colours Don't Run
-Brighter Than a Thousand Suns
-The Longest Day (this one is my favorite from this album! It feels like I'm watching the opening of the film "Saving Private Ryan" every time I hear it.)
-Out of the Shadows
-The Reincarnation of Benjamin Breeg
-For the Greater Good of God
-Lord of Light
Wednesday, August 12, 2009
[This is a concert review of the perfomance in Tinley Park, IL on August 19th 2008]
In recent years I've taken up the tradition of attending at least one concert a year, usually in the summer, and often it is one of the multiple-band festival tours I manage to see. Since I'm also very budget conscious, I usually get Lawn Admission and save a few bucks, unless one of bands on the bill includes complimentary tickets with their new album (as many artists have done in recent years). Either way, these summer "fest" tours are a great deal; you get to see a dozen or so bands for about the same price you would pay to see 2 or 3 bands on a regular tour.
In the summer of 2008, I was lucky enough to see 2 shows. The first one (which I reviewed in a previous post), was Poison on their Live, Raw, & Uncut Tour. However, the one I looked forward to the most was The Metal Masters Tour. This show was on the smaller side for a "fest" format, only featuring 4 bands, but it was a powerful quartet: Testament, Motorhead, Heaven & Hell, and Judas Priest! Judas Priest included a code for a free ticket in their Nostradamus album, and I bought 2 copies so I'd have a pair of tickets to the show.
As with the Poison show, I attended this concert with my brother. He was familiar enough with some of the music of Motorhead & Judas Priest that he didn't mind going, although he didn't consider himself a huge fan of any of the bands. Hopefully the concert experience has swayed his opinion a bit, but that remains to be seen...
Upon our arrival, an interesting scenario developed. It seemed that the concert was undersold, and the venue staff were keeping the gates to the lawn area closed. A little aggravated, I asked one of them what was up. They replied that since the pavilion seating was severely undersold that anyone with lawn tickets could trade their ticket in for a free upgrade to pavilion seating!
So my brother & I got our upgraded tickets and got a bit of a closer view of the show. I was a little disappointed that the turnout wasn't better, but to see this show for the cost of Judas Priest's new album was well worth it. Before we even found our way to the upgraded seats, Testament came on-stage...
The 80's bay-area thrash movement went much deeper than some of today's new heavy metal fans realize. Sure almost everyone knows about Metallica, Megadeth, and Slayer, but there were plenty more bands where those came from. Testament was one of those lesser-know, but just as heavy, old-school thrashers. I couldn't tell what a few of their songs were (mostly because I hadn't yet heard their newest CD- The Formation of Damnation), but it was easy to jump right into the frenzied headbangin' madness that had ensued! After a couple songs, I finally recognized "Practice What You Preach", and the crowd got totally into it at that point. Clumps of fans could be seen shaking their long manes of headbangers' hair like it was still 1989!
Being the opening band, they had the shortest set. They focused on playing material from their new album, and were finished all too soon if you ask me. But the songs they played were great, and they got the crowd pumped for the next act... Motorhead!
Truthfully, neither of us had heard much of Motorhead's music. I knew some of their better known songs like Ace of Spades, and Damaged Case (thanks to Metallica covering it on Garage Inc.). My brother said he'd heard a couple songs on Monday Night Raw, since one wrestler always had a Motorhead song played for a theme song. However for the most part the majority of their set was a totally new experience for us.
Not being familiar with most of the lyrics, I found most songs difficult to follow. Lemmy Killmister's thick English accent didn't help much either, and his interludes between numbers wasn't any easier. However the one thing I have to give Motorhead credit for is their attitude and delivery. They really played with a 'go-for-the-kill' attitude. The vibe of their live set was like metal-meets-punk brawl. My personal favorite part of their show had to be the drum solo. That dude can drum fast!
Next up was Heaven And Hell, the Black Sabbath line-up that features Ronnie James Dio on vocals with Vinnie Appice on drums. This time around they are calling themselves Heaven And Hell and their set list was composed entirely from material on the Dio-recorded Black Sabbath albums. I knew this was their approach ahead of time, so I was hyped to hear such an era-focused collection of songs. Some may have been disappointed by the absence of any "classic" Black Sabbath songs, but beggars can't be choosers.
Their stage set up was pretty elaborate; hulking gargoyles flanked both sides of the stage with eyes that glowed red, and wrought-iron fencing lined parts of the stage. The show began with the instrumental "E5150" as an intro, slow buzzing notes from distorted guitar with a bit of volume-swell effect... When Tony Iommi's scheaching guitar burst forth with heavy riffs, we were off and rocking with Heaven & Hell!
"Mob Rules" was the first song and it got the crowd rolling. The rest of the set was no disappointment either, as they mainly played numbers from their 1st album together, Heaven & Hell, balanced by selections from Mob Rules & Dehumanizer plus one of their new songs from the Black Sabbath: The Dio Years collection. Most memorable moment had to be when the gargoyles' heads pivoted and spewed smoke during the song "Heaven and Hell".
As great as that set was, the best was yet to come, for Judas Priest was about come on stage...
With stage lights swirling about the darkened stage, "Dawn of Creation", the intro to Judas Priest's Nostradamus album, set the tone for the show while the band took their positions on-stage among the shadows. When the lights came on the band jumped straight into "Prophecy", also from the Nostradamus album. I was transfixed.
Here I was, finally seeing the legendary Judas Priest unleashing the best of their heavy metal glory! Only one thing had me perplexed.... Where the hell was Rob-Frickin'-Halford!?!? Glen Tipton, KK Downing, & Ian Hill were all on stage, chugging out their heavy riffs, and Scott Travis behind the drum kit (obviously), and I was hearing the Metal God's unmistakable voice narrating the essence of Nostradamus.... but where was he?!? For the first entire verse of the song I couldn't have told you where he was singing from. But then the Nostradamus 'statue' (which I thought was part of the stage-set), high on a platform stage-left, moved its staff about one foot to the left!
Draped in a golden cloak, Rob Halford continued singing as he slowly descended from the platform to the main level of the stage. Once there, he removed his hood as he continued belting out the lyrics of the song. What a master of stage-presence!!! Halford's voice has always been one of my favorites in metal music. Now I can truly consider him as one of the greatest front-men of all time. As the band delivered an awe-inspiring performance of Priest classic after classic I was banging my head and pumping my fists as never before! Tipton & Downing exhibited some of the best guitar soloing I'd ever seen live in concert, especially during 'Painkiller'-one of my all-time favorite Priest songs. Judas Priest are ever-deserving of their nick-name; The Metal Gods. Even on this night of The Metal Masters, they shone the brightest of them all!
Here are the set lists from this show. For the most part they are from my own memory and/or jotted notes during the show. I could be mistaken on some of the songs from the Testament & Motorhead segments, but these should be pretty close...
-Over The Wall
-Practice What You Preach
-More Than Meets The Eye
-Formation of Damnation
-Be My Baby
-Over the Top
-In The Name of Tragedy
-Just Cos' You Got the Power
-Killed by Death
-Ace of Spades
Heaven & Hell
-Children of the Sea
-Sign of the Southern Cross
-Falling Off the Edge of the World
-Ear in the Wall
-Heaven and Hell
-Dawn of Creation
-Eat Me Alive
-Between the Hammer and the Anvil
-Breaking the Law
-Rock Hard, Ride Free
-Hell Bent for Leather
-The Green Manalishi (With Two-Pronged Crown)
-You've Got Another Thing Coming
(image references: Testament from www.cloomisfotos.com; Motorhead from www.rollingstone.com; Heaven & Hell from musicaenprogreso.blogspot.com; Judas Priest from juniors-eyes.blogspot.com)