Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Judas Priest: Nostradamus

Post #34
When Judas Priest decided to record the follow-up to their reunion album, Angel of Retribution, they chose to record a type of album that was altogether a new thing for them-a concept album. The subject of this album: the life of the great seer, Nostradamus. Following many of the controversial moments of his life, and interpreting many of his prophecies, the Nostradamus album spans 2 CDs, and provides about 140 minutes of metal music to become immersed in. One really must immerse themselves in this album too; there's so much to take in that a single listen doesn't do the album, or its namesake inspiration, any justice.

The seemingly intimidating amount of music there is on this album is probably its only down-side. I have listened to it all the way through several times now, and I find it continues to grow on me. There is a strong presence of synthesized guitars on this album, more so than on any previous Judas Priest album, but they are present to bring the concept into an appropriate musical and emotional context. Fans of previous Judas Priest music will find that Downing & Tipton's dueling guitar solos & riffs retain enough of the classic Priest sound that the album will not disappoint. The killer guitar solos on "Revelations" are a prime example.

As a point of stylistic reference, I might say the Nostradamus album follows in the wake of songs like "Angel", "Eulogy" & "Lochness" from their previous Angel of Retribution album. Although the 1st single from Nostradamus is the heavy, thrashing title-track, I caution you not to expect too many songs like it on the rest of the album. Though there are many heavy passages, only "Persecution" matches the tempo of "Nostradamus". This is somewhat the opposite reaction I had when Angel of Retribution was first released; the 1st single from that album, "Revolution", was a low-key, moderate tempo anthem, while much of the rest of the album approached Painkiller-esque speed and intensity.

Overall, I find Nostradamus satisfies the long-time Priest fan in me, and if you've been a fan of them yourself, then you should enjoy this album as well. Just be sure to give it a chance to grab you. You may find your favorite songs on your first journey through the life of Nostradamus are replaced by others when you hear them a second time. My current recommended songs:
-Dawn of Creation
-Future of Mankind

Monday, August 18, 2008

Evanescence/Amy Lee

Post #33
Evanescence hit the music scene in 2003 with a huge debut hit, "Bring Me To Life". The mainstream American radio audience was taken aback by the blend of heavy riffs, dark melody, and soaring female lead voice- provided by Amy Lee. Many new fans (myself included), were totally unaware that they basically followed the same formula of some European bands- most notably Lacuna Coil, who had already been playing this style of metal since the late 90's. Nevertheless, Evanescence have taken advantage of their new found niche, and remain a popular artist on most hard-rock radio stations, in spite of some line-up changes in their young career. No matter what difficulties the band has had, no one can argue that Amy Lee has an excellent voice, and with it, makes heavy metal music all the better.

My recommended tracks from Evanescence's "Fallen":
-Going Under
-Bring Me To Life

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Poison: Live, Raw & Uncut- with Sebastian Bach!

Post #32
The following is my concert review for Poison on tour with Sebastian Bach, Summer 2008.

It was a perfect summer afternoon in July when my brother & I hit the road for Peoria, IL to catch Poison live in concert with Sebastian Bach, from Skid Row, as the opening act. With a 3+ hour drive ahead of us, we stocked up our relevant CDs for music for the road, and set out on our journey...

Between the 2 of us, I was more of a Skid Row fan back in the early 90's, while my bro was the big Poison fan. That being said we spent much of the drive down there listening to albums from both artists, and mixing in a few others for good measure (we're also seeing the Metal Masters tour later this summer, so we threw some Judas Priest & Black Sabbath into the mix).

I knew that Bach had a new CD released recently, and I had one song from it on a recent sampler CD from a heavy metal magazine. My brother & I both enjoyed that one, and we were both familiar with Skid Row's oldie-but-goodie hits from their hey-day: Youth Gone Wild, 18 & Life, etc... Alternately, when we switched to Poison's material, we focused mostly on their later and more obscure material. Turns out that Poison have had a few CDs come out more recently that I never got around to ever hearing (Crack a Smile, Power to the People, Hollyweird). We also listened to a couple alternate, acoustic versions of Stand and Something To Believe In (with alternate lyrics) from the "Best of Ballads & Blues" compilation.

We arrived in plenty of time to find our seats and browse the memorabilia before the show kicked off. It was nice to take in the wide variety of fans that showed up for this show: teenagers, college kids, parents and their kids. Generally speaking I'd say the majority of the crowd were middle-age women; in other words, the same majority of fans Poison had in the 80's. There were still enough guys at the show that we didn't feel out of place. It was a little funny seeing hip-looking, teenage tough-guys sporting tee-shirts with the logo of one of the biggest hair-metal bands there ever was, but it goes to show a little of the staying power of simple rock-n-roll music.

We were sitting in our seats conversing about some random topic, and then the lights went down...

A guitar riff rings out loudly from the amplifiers, accompanied by a steady snare & bass drum beat. The rhythm builds, the volume steadily increases... My brother looks my way with a quizzical look on his face, and says, "Is this 'Back In The Saddle'?" And sure enough, it was "Back in the Saddle", a cover of the classic Aerosmith song we had just heard in the Guitar Hero: Aerosmith game. We would later find out that Sebastian has a recording of this song included on his new CD, "Angel Down".

Sebastian continued his opening set with a healthy mix of his new material and Skid Row classics. I was really enjoying this part of the concert. I had actually seen Sebastian in concert at this same venue 10 years earlier, when he opened for Anthrax & Pantera; and I've also seen Skid Row without Sebastian when they opened for Kiss on their "farewell" tour in 2000. Sebastian's current band played all the old songs as well, or better, than both of those previous acts. Most importantly, his unmistakable voice sounded as good as ever! And his band sounded very heavy, like "Slave to the Grind"-era Skid Row.

As his band closed their set with the unforgettable hair-metal anthem, "Youth Gone Wild", he reminded us to get ready for Poison. And so we did, our anticipation began to build again...
15-20 minutes later, the video screen lit-up with a Poison logo, and shortly later a disclaimer was projected on the big screen: "Caution: The show you are about to witness contains material of an adult nature. ...Would you expect anything less?"

A few minutes later Poison took the stage, opening their set with a brief instru-medley intro that quickly morphed into "Look What The Cat Dragged In". And just like that the whole stadium was rocking-out to Poison like it was 1988 and nothing had changed as they played almost every one of their big hits from the 80's & early 90's!

My brother commented that he was surprised when they played "Ride The Wind". This was one of his favorite songs, but it was never as big as many of their other hits. I, on the other hand, was impressed when they played "Cry Tough", their first song from their first album, and also their first-ever single. Accompanying this song, they also played the music video for it on the huge video screen behind the stage. It was an interesting, contrasting view to see the present-day band playing a perfect rendition of this song, while the 22-year-old music video displayed what was probably the peak of the Glam/Hair Metal scene as they played. At one point Bret Michaels walked up to the cat-walk and sang a verse essentially super-imposed over the biggest fashion statement his band ever made in the 80's. As the song's message filled the arena; "You gotta cry tough out in the streets to make your dreams happen. You gotta cry out, out to the world to make them all come true." We really got the impression that this band has truly come full-circle. They bought into (if not invented) one of the biggest fads from the 80's, lost a lot of ground when the music scene drastically changed course in the 90's, had break-ups, solo efforts that fell short, a revolving door of members for a few years, and finally a reunion, and have persevered by coming back to the sound they were first know for (but also leaving the dated Hair-metal image rightfully in the past!)

It wasn't until the last portion of the show when they finally brought out some hits from their second album, "Open Up and Say... Ah!" When they began to play "Every Rose Has Its Thorn", the crowd reacted enthusiastically. And when they closed the number, Bret told a little story about the only guitar lesson he ever took in his life, in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania for $12.00: the first 4 notes he ever learned to play on the guitar... are the same 4 notes as the grand finale of "Every Rose Has Its Thorn"-possibly their biggest hit... and then he strummed the final chord.
I was slightly disappointed when they were playing "Fallen Angel", my personal favorite, and CC's guitar pick-up gave out during the guitar solo. He quickly swapped guitars with a stage-hand, and finished the song in good fashion, except my favorite guitar solo, from my favorite Poison song was skipped in the process! I didn't let it bother me though, as the next song was the finale: "Talk Dirty To Me". For the whole 3 or 4 minute duration of this classic Poison anthem, the stage was bombarded with every variety of bra imaginable, and a few panties too. Well, you can't blame them, they did warn of "content of an adult nature". And besides, it's Rock N' Roll!

Last but not least, after 5-10 minutes of a roaring crowd, they came back on stage and played "Nothin' But a Good Time" as their final encore. I was a little surprised to see that they never played any of their own newer material. The newest song they played was a cover of "What I Like About You" originally by The Romantics, from their '07 cover album, "Poison'd". That being said, the show was still a great Rock N' Roll concert. Even if it was mostly to feel nostalgia for the music of the 80's, it was great fun!

The setlist for both artists was as follows:
Sebastian Bach
Back In The Saddle
Slave to the Grind
Stuck Inside
18 & Life
American Metalhead
(Life is a) Bitchslap
By Your Side
Monkey Business
You Don't Understand
I Remember You
Youth Gone Wild

Look What The Cat Dragged In
I Want Action
Ride The Wind
I Won't Forget You
What I Like About You
Cry Tough
Something To Believe In
Your Mama Don't Dance
Unskinny Bop
Every Rose Has Its Thorn
Fallen Angel
Talk Dirty To Me
Nothin' But A Good Time