blackleatherbookshelf: (Flames)
All Rock, No Bust
4 Out Of 5 Stars

There's no-one else alive that can power-chord the way Angus Young can. Or yowl the way Brian Johnson does. It's why any AC/DC album is met with such great anticipation. This time, from the powerful title track to the walking shuffle of "Emission Control," "Rock Or Bust" delivers hammer-down rock like only AC/DC can.

Another noteworthy thing about "Rock Or Bust" is its brevity. Clocking in at 11 songs in 35 minutes, it delivers short and sharp stabs of guitar and Phil Rudd's primitive thud, Each song delivers its message, solo and gets out of its own way as soon as the meat is delivered. Heck, the great "Play Ball" (heard during the 2014 MLB World Series) gets it done in under 3 minutes. While it may disappoint fans who would rather Angus wing-it off into super solo land or a blues workout or two, to me it's like a prize fighter dispensing with the dancing and heading straight for the knockout punch.




At times the lyrics fall into beer raising similarity (4 songs that have 'rock' in the title is more than a little telling), but the album doesn't suffer from it. You don't come to an AC/DC party looking for PhD material. "Rock Or Bust" is AC/DC proving their point. There's a nice shout out to founding member Malcolm Young in the CD booklet...like it or not, your favorite bands are growing older with you. Even so, AC/DC enter their 40th year as a rock and roll powerhouse, and they show no signs of stopping.



   
blackleatherbookshelf: (Flames)
Stand tall, Rise up, Stay strong
4 Out Of 5 Stars

Judas Priest last appeared in the form of a metal fever dream: the double disc concept album "Nostradamus." While I happened to love it, some Priest fans were left shaking their heads. There were plenty of good tracks, but where was that one killer anthem? This time, they have nothing to worry about. "Redeemer Of Souls" is Judas Priest back to basics. Twin guitars, thunder drums, and Rob Halford's glorious shriek rising above it all. One of the songs may be titled "Valhalla," but for old fans, this will be nirvana.

You can tell Priest is back to business from the moment Halford sings the first stanza, "welcome to my world of steel." And while the departure of legendary guitarist K.K. Downing may have set fans on edge, his replacement, Richie Faulkner, plays off Glenn Tipton and kick mutual butt. Even so, with all the plundering of their iconic metal sound, you'll still find the soul of a bluesman as "Redeemer" comes to a conclusion. "Beginning of The End" echoes Black Sabbath (whose "13" was a comeback of a similar excellence) with the swamps of ancient mists folding around one of Halford's more subdued performances. Mix that up with the bludgeoning "Metalizer" or the creature feature "Dragonaut," and you'll have a Judas Preist disc that stands toe to toe with their best work.

The deluxe version offers five extra songs, starting with the riff heavy and lead stinging "Snake Bite" and the anthemic "Bring It On" being the best of the five, especially the lead guitar threads needling their way through "Snakebite." There's even a parting gift of "Never Forget," in which the band declare their eternal thanks to the loyal fans who've stuck with the band for 17 albums and multiple decades. They are defenders of the faith, indeed.



   
blackleatherbookshelf: (Flames)
I Wanna Go Hot Rockin'
4 Out Of 5 Stars

Sandwiched as it is between two five star metal classics, "Point Of Entry" suffers from being buffered by "British Steel" and "Screaming for Vengeance." There's plenty of high energy rocking coming of the disc, but it's only average high energy as opposed to classic stuff like "Breaking The Law" and "You've Got Another Thing Coming" from opposite sides of this release. There are a couple of tracks here that just feel like filler, which was rare for a Priest album.

But when the going is good, Rob Halford and crew were still delivering the goods. "Heading Out On The Highway," "Hot Rocking" and "Desert Plains" are as good as Judas Priest gets, but then you're saddled with the iffy stuff, like "Don't Go." There were some other inconsistencies, like the lack of the trademarked twin-guitar attack that is a huge part of the band's signature sound. It's also worth noting that most of the songs clock in at under four minutes, which means the band was given no room to stretch out. Perhaps it is because of the "large quantities of alcohol" the band admits to using in the liner notes or the fact that the songs were written in the studio without some road-testing to see what would or would not work.

Be that as it may, "Point Of Entry" lacks the drive and inspiration of most of the Priest albums in their discography and especially in the fertile period between "Hell Bent for Leather" and "Defenders Of The Faith." What makes Judas Priest so inspirational is simply missing, and there are many other better albums to pick up on.


   
blackleatherbookshelf: (Santa Brough)
Songs Of Faith and Devotion
4 Out Of 5 Stars

Coming hot on the heels of their certified metal classic, "Screaming For Vengeance," it would be easy to slag off "Defenders Of The Faith" as sub-par. That would be a fool's errand, because while "Defenders" doesn't have the song for song knockout blows of "Screaming," it still delivers a mighty powerful blow. The twin guitars of Glenn Tipton and KK Downing rip from the opening "Freewheel Burning," while adding sting to a couple of new Priest Classics, "Love Bites" and "Heads Are Gonna Roll."

This was the period in which Judas Priest were at their most aggressive, sometimes outlandishly so. The ode to rough sex, "Eat Me Alive," got the band in hot water with Tipper Gore and her Parents Musical Research Center (remember the PMRC and their obsession with dirty music overall and Prince in particular?) for its particularly graphic narrative. "I'm going to force you at gunpoint to eat me alive" can still rankle those of a sensitive nature, but this came from a band who titled one of their UK albums "Killing Machine." Between the snarling guitars, the double kick drums and Rob Halford's leather skybound howl, subtlety was not their watchword.

"Defenders Of The Faith" also marked the end of a creative run for Priest. After this, they got the jitters from the emerging new wave of metal and - oddly enough - hair bands, too. It lead to the underrated synth heavy "Turbo," an album that took the band several more albums afterwards to recover from. But when you look at the line-up of "Hell Bent For Leather," "British Steel," "Screaming For Vengeance" and then "Defenders of The Faith," it's a creative metal run matched only by the first four Black Sabbath albums.


   
blackleatherbookshelf: (Flames)
Your won't hear me, but you'll fear me
3 Out Of 5 Stars

Probably the most misunderstood of the Judas Priest albums featuring frontman Rob Halford, "Turbo" was 1986 Priest trying to march to the pop metal success if the likes of Def Leppard and Bon Jovi. It also started life as a double album, with half being regular Priest and the other the revised Priest. The record label nixed that idea, and this version of "Turbo" was the end result. Fans did a serious freak out when the synthesized drums and dance beat of "Turbo Lover" opened the album, and the CD soon went platinum all the same, but stalled the momentum of the band for a brief spell.

I have a secret fondness for this CD. Despite the dance leanings, I love "Turbo Lover." It's the mist successful of the album's attempts to meld the twin personalities on "Turbo." For classic Priest, Halford lets loose on the heavy "Rock You Around The World." However, you can't escape that some of the songs here seem confused and schizophonic, like "Wild Nights and Hot Crazy Days," which sounds like just about every hair metal band of the 80's. Purist Priest never sounded generic before, and this time did, as "Parental Guidance" which was just a trendy slap at the rock hating Congressional hearings of that moment.

Still, this is Judas Priest. Even at their most off kilter, they still could kick the poo out of about any other rock band. "Turbo" may be the most average album of their 80's recordings, but it took them till 1990's "Painkiller" to right them back on the metal line. Seriously, I found "Ram It Down" to be a lesser album than "Turbo," so here's to playing with expectations.


   
blackleatherbookshelf: (Flames)
Death Comes Driving Down The Highway: RIP Allen Lanier: 1946-2013
4 Out Of 5 Stars

Today, I heard that Allen Lanier died. It kind of hit hard as Blue Oyster Cult were one of my gateway bands into hard rock and heavy metal. Having an Aunt who gave me Alice Cooper and Black Sabbath albums helped, too. But BOC, they were pushing buttons with songs like "Dominance and Submission" and "Don't Fear The Reaper." So I became a fan. Loyal even through the albums like "Mirrors" and "Cultosaurus Erectus." Then, in the summer of 1981, "Fire Of Unknown Origin" arrived at my college radio station. All the detractors could then officially go to hell. "Fire Of Unknown Origin" kicked as hard as "Spectres" and "Agents of Fortune." And oddly enough, this may have been one of Lanier's finest moments with the band, as many of these songs are heavily keyboard and synth driven.

Take the lead-off of the title track. On top of one of Buck Dharma's fiery lead guitar solos, Lanier lays down a keyboard bed that was worthy of The Cars. This was, after all, 1981 and plenty of bands were playing catch up with the music of the times. But Blue Oyster Cult did so on a minimal level, relying mostly on Lanier's keys and tighter song compositions. It was those qualities that made "Burning For You," the second of only two singles to ever break the Top 40 for the band, such a marvel. Tightly wound up with a great Dharma lick to open it up, it was set up as a standard pop construction but with bigger sound.

There was an additional incentive for the band on "Fire Of Unknown Origin." They were approached by the producers of the upcoming "Heavy Metal" animated feature to contribute a couple of new songs. They responded with one of the band's best, "Veteran Of The Psychic Wars." A pounding martial drum gives marching orders to a soldier who has seen so many battles that "wounds are all I'm made of." It's a haunting and inescapable rocker, one of several compositions that band co-wrote with science fiction author Michael Moorecock (including another favorite of mine, "Black Blade" from "Cultosaurus"). The other was "Heavy Metal (The Black and The Silver)." Riding in on a squalling guitar feedback, it's a shame it wasn't in the movie, as it encompasses what the band was about from the beginning. (Although in my humble opinion, "Psychic Wars" is the better song.)

There's still more ominous story telling, like on "Vengeance (The Pact)," again a candidate for "Heavy Metal," or in the bizarrely funny and again, piano heavy "Joan Crawford" (...has risen from the grave!). "Fire of Unknown Origin" was a mighty comeback album, which was a shame as the band would start to fragment soon after, and the next album would be the generic "Revolution By Night."

RIP Allen Lanier: 1946-2013. Thanks for adding so much music to the soundtrack of my life.


   
blackleatherbookshelf: (Flames)
Death Comes Driving Down The Highway: RIP Allen Lanier: 1946-2013
4 Out Of 5 Stars

Today, I heard that Allen Lanier died. It kind of hit hard as Blue Oyster Cult were one of my gateway bands into hard rock and heavy metal. Having an Aunt who gave me Alice Cooper and Black Sabbath albums helped, too. But BOC, they were pushing buttons with songs like "Dominance and Submission" and "Don't Fear The Reaper." So I became a fan. Loyal even through the albums like "Mirrors" and "Cultosaurus Erectus." Then, in the summer of 1981, "Fire Of Unknown Origin" arrived at my college radio station. All the detractors could then officially go to hell. "Fire Of Unknown Origin" kicked as hard as "Spectres" and "Agents of Fortune." And oddly enough, this may have been one of Lanier's finest moments with the band, as many of these songs are heavily keyboard and synth driven.

Take the lead-off of the title track. On top of one of Buck Dharma's fiery lead guitar solos, Lanier lays down a keyboard bed that was worthy of The Cars. This was, after all, 1981 and plenty of bands were playing catch up with the music of the times. But Blue Oyster Cult did so on a minimal level, relying mostly on Lanier's keys and tighter song compositions. It was those qualities that made "Burning For You," the second of only two singles to ever break the Top 40 for the band, such a marvel. Tightly wound up with a great Dharma lick to open it up, it was set up as a standard pop construction but with bigger sound.

There was an additional incentive for the band on "Fire Of Unknown Origin." They were approached by the producers of the upcoming "Heavy Metal" animated feature to contribute a couple of new songs. They responded with one of the band's best, "Veteran Of The Psychic Wars." A pounding martial drum gives marching orders to a soldier who has seen so many battles that "wounds are all I'm made of." It's a haunting and inescapable rocker, one of several compositions that band co-wrote with science fiction author Michael Moorecock (including another favorite of mine, "Black Blade" from "Cultosaurus"). The other was "Heavy Metal (The Black and The Silver)." Riding in on a squalling guitar feedback, it's a shame it wasn't in the movie, as it encompasses what the band was about from the beginning. (Although in my humble opinion, "Psychic Wars" is the better song.)

There's still more ominous story telling, like on "Vengeance (The Pact)," again a candidate for "Heavy Metal," or in the bizarrely funny and again, piano heavy "Joan Crawford" (...has risen from the grave!). "Fire of Unknown Origin" was a mighty comeback album, which was a shame as the band would start to fragment soon after, and the next album would be the generic "Revolution By Night."

RIP Allen Lanier: 1946-2013. Thanks for adding so much music to the soundtrack of my life.


   




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blackleatherbookshelf: (Flames)
When Dinos Roamed The Earth
4 Out Of 5 Stars


"Black Blade" is one of my favorite Blue Oyster Cult songs. It marked their most successful foray into the science fiction/hard rock hybrids that made the meat of their first three albums, and is easily as great as the classic "Golden Age Of Leather" from "Spectres." That said, there are plenty of cool songs here for the BOC fan, and I pretty much figure this was their last really good album. "The Marshall Plan" is possibly one of the funniest songs the Cult ever made! Especially for the Guitar Riff 101 segment in the middle, this rates with right there with Blotto's "Heavy Metal Head." It may also be important to note that Blotto toured with Blue Oyster Cult and Dharma played on the previously mentioned parody.

If the thought that Blue Oyster Cult could possess a funny bone gets under your skin, then you should probably avoid this disc and go for "Spectres" or "Agents." But for "Cultosaurus Erectus," the BOC stretched their chops in a really fine way. Get this for "Black Blade," "Unknown Tongue" and the stunning "Divine Wind" ("if he really thinks we're the devil, then let's send him to hell..."). They were still capable of giving us hard rock (courtesy of super producer of the time Martin Birch) with brains.

As to the quality of the re-issue, it has the usual complaints aimed at Culture Factory's releases. It's hard to say that the CD is 'remastered' as much as 'made louder.' Audiophiles will cry foul, but they'll be plenty for whom the listening experience will be unsullied. "Cultosaurus Erectus" has none of the flaws from other in CF's collection (the shoddy digital skips in "The Romantics," for one example). I like the recreation of the album sleeve, with the caveat that the print is so freaking tiny. Proceed at your own risk.



     
blackleatherbookshelf: (Default)
When Dinos Roamed The Earth
4 Out Of 5 Stars


"Black Blade" is one of my favorite Blue Oyster Cult songs. It marked their most successful foray into the science fiction/hard rock hybrids that made the meat of their first three albums, and is easily as great as the classic "Golden Age Of Leather" from "Spectres." That said, there are plenty of cool songs here for the BOC fan, and I pretty much figure this was their last really good album. "The Marshall Plan" is possibly one of the funniest songs the Cult ever made! Especially for the Guitar Riff 101 segment in the middle, this rates with right there with Blotto's "Heavy Metal Head." It may also be important to note that Blotto toured with Blue Oyster Cult and Dharma played on the previously mentioned parody.

If the thought that Blue Oyster Cult could possess a funny bone gets under your skin, then you should probably avoid this disc and go for "Spectres" or "Agents." But for "Cultosaurus Erectus," the BOC stretched their chops in a really fine way. Get this for "Black Blade," "Unknown Tongue" and the stunning "Divine Wind" ("if he really thinks we're the devil, then let's send him to hell..."). They were still capable of giving us hard rock (courtesy of super producer of the time Martin Birch) with brains.

As to the quality of the re-issue, it has the usual complaints aimed at Culture Factory's releases. It's hard to say that the CD is 'remastered' as much as 'made louder.' Audiophiles will cry foul, but they'll be plenty for whom the listening experience will be unsullied. "Cultosaurus Erectus" has none of the flaws from other in CF's collection (the shoddy digital skips in "The Romantics," for one example). I like the recreation of the album sleeve, with the caveat that the print is so freaking tiny. Proceed at your own risk.



     


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blackleatherbookshelf: (Flames)
What do you see?
3 Out Of 5 Stars

Blue Oyster Cult played a change-up on "Mirrors." Shuffling long-time producer Sandy Pearlman out for Tom Werman, they pushed the sound of the band into a more polished, pop-rock style instead of their usual harder rocking. That meant things like female back-ground singers, a single that was almost entirely acoustic based (the top 100 charter "In Thee"), and a new collaborator in science fiction author Michael Moorecock for "The Great Sun Jester." The slicker sound, however, kicked in a fan backlash and didn't win any converts. Hence, "Mirrors" became the first BOC album to barely reach Gold sales after a pair of million sellers.

Surprisingly, "Mirrors" has held up nicely. The much mocked "In Thee" may have been the strongest song here, to the point that the band still uses it as a concert number. "I Am The Storm" is a sinister song that follows the kind of rock Blue Oyster Cult was best known for. "The Vigil" is an epic piece and was the original opener for side two on the vinyl LP. It's just that the slickness does get to be a bit much, like on "Dr Music" and the haunting end song, "Lonely Teardrops." It's a misstep the band recognized; for the follow-ups Cultosaurus Erectus and "Fire Of Unknown Origin," BOC would team up with Metal producer Martin Birch. "Mirrors" is probably better than you remember it to be, and worth it's C grade.


   
blackleatherbookshelf: (Flames)
Back to Sludge Metal
4 Out Of 5 Stars

After decades of waiting, 3/4's of the original Black Sabbath (including Ozzy) reunite for what has to be one of the most anticipated CD's of the year, the boomtastic "13." I can testify that it was worth the wait. Producer Rick Rubin told the band to go back to their early albums to get a feel for what he was expecting to produce, and the band took it to heart. This is metal so dense, it cuts like used crankshaft motor oil. It's that heavy.

If you're looking for speedy riff rocking, it's not here. This is the sound that created such anthemic dirges as "War Pigs" or "Sweet Leaf." There's even a touch of Ozzy the blasphemer as he raises the question "Is God Dead?" And they pound that riff into submission for over 8 minutes. Granted, Ozzy's voice is showing its weathering, but Tony Iommi and Geezer Butler still have the magic spooky touch. (Audioslave drummer Brad Wilk fills in for Bill Ward.) "End Of The Beginning" snakes a demented blues riff to kick the album off with a oozing pounce. Or there's "Dear Father," which tackles the subject of abuse.

The band has never been scared of heavier topics, which "Dear Father" and the anxiety provoking "Methademic" show. (Given Ozzy's recent trip to rehab, maybe even closer to home than known.) The band even throws a few touchstones from the old days in when "Zeitgeist" pays homage to "Planet Caravan." Even with that obvious reference, "13" pounds and stomps like the monsters Black Sabbath were at the peak of their powers. The sense of dread and thrill of doom still permeate the best of the songs here, and - despite their age - the band doesn't sound like they are pandering to their past or trying to stay current. "13" is every bit as tasty as "The Devil You Know" (by Heaven and Hell with Dio), just down tuned and packed with 50% more evil.

Worth the wait and better than anyone could have possibly expected at this point in their collective life, "13" is a triumphant comeback. "I ain't no hero to come and save you," Ozzy wails in "Peace of Mind." Well, actually guys, you are. Thanks for saving heavy metal for 2013.


   
blackleatherbookshelf: (Default)
Cool Idea, OK Compilation
3 Out Of 5 Stars

This compilation of 17 Judas Priest songs is probably more interesting for its liner notes than the music. Which is pretty amazing, since Judas Priest are one of the top metal groups of all time. However, what sets "The Chosen Few" apart from most collections is the concept. Other hard rockers were invited to select a favorite Priest song and then contribute a brief word or two about why this song, above all the others Judas Priest have recorded, was the choice cut among the hundreds Priest have released.

It makes for some interesting insights. Who would think that David Coverdale of 80's hair band and Randy Blythe of thrash metal band Lamb of God would have something in common? Well, it seems they both have an affinity for Priest's cover of Fleetwood Mac's "The Green Manalishi With The Two Pronged Crown." Geezer Butler of Black Sabbath and Alice Cooper both favor "Living After Midnight." Or who would have thought that one of the more maligned Priest albums, "Turbo," would find a champion in Korn's Jonathan Davis, who liked it because of the synths, not despite them.

Ozzy Osbourne, Gene Simmons, Joe Elliott of Def Leppard and others pull out their fandom hats and pitch in. It makes for some fun reading, as the participants are about as agog at the idea of contributing to a Judas Priest compilation as the rest of us mere mortals. It also helps that some otherwise passed-over songs, like "Dissident Aggressor," "Beyond The Realms of Death" or "Turbo Lover" make the cut. If you're already a fan of Rob Halford's operatic metal yowls or the twin guitar leads that characterize any great Priest selection, then this CD will probably be unnecessary, a collectable at best. However, if you're a newbie into this legendary band's decades long discography, "The Chosen Few" makes for an interesting gateway drug.


     

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Magnum Toxic
4 Out Of 5 Stars

"Toxicity," System of a Down's second album, remains their best effort. They mashed together thrash metal and melodic hard rock (yes, I said that seriously) to the point that Serj Tankian, could jump from his harsh shouting to the tuneful but complex "Aerials." Guitarist Daron Malakian even picks up an acoustic for "Chop Suey!" And like brothers in arms Rage Against The Machine, System of a Down weren't afraid of taking on political rocking, as in the CD's opening "Prison Song." At the same time, there's a weird sense of humor, like in "Bounce," where the bans seems to be taking a whiz at their own brand of metal, or using a flute in "Science."

It helped that a producer like Rick Rubin could come in and make order out of chaos, much like he did with Slayer's best albums. He's one of the few producers who can take bands that make music as jagged as SOAD create and stitch it into a complete and coherent album. When this kind of sound was all the rage in 2001 (think Korn, Rage and Deftones), "Toxicity" was the album that stood above the crowd in terms of sheer originality and stylistic verve.


     


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Hell bent and heaven sent
4 Out Of 5 Stars

As each Judas Priest album became more and more successful,the band felt the need to top itself with each release. This album, "Hellbent for Leather," was a significant jump from "Stained Class." It also advance the groups image as leather clad bad boys playing the heaviest guitar rock out of England. As the title song put it the band was in a take no prisoners mode.

The album kicks off with a sexual innuendo "Delivering the Goods." Rob Halford delivers the song with grunts and a low-key growl. That doesn't mean he hasn't given up his operatic howl, evident on "Evening Star" and "Before the Dawn." "Before the Dawn" also showed the versatility of the band. Played as the acoustic set piece, it slips in the middle as a curio along with the band's cover version of Fleetwood Mac's "The Green Manalishi with the Two Pronged Crown."it joins the ranks of great Judas Priest cover songs like "Diamonds and Rust." They may have been a hard-core heavy metal, but they had visions outside the format.

"Hellbent for Leather" contains a pair of classic Priest songs. Both the title song and "Living After Midnight" preserved the image of the band not just leather clad rockers, but knowledgeable about the way with a hook. By their next album, the five-star rated "British Steel," they would have that mastered. But for the moment, "Hellbent for Leather" added to the growing mythology of this great rock band.


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Dinosaurs Still Stomp the Earth
3 Out Of 5 Stars

For their 20th studio album in 40 years, Kiss lean into their strength as old-man rockers. "Monster" treads the same stomping grounds as past Kiss albums like "Revenge" or "Sonic Boom," doing their utter best to capture passed glories, while still rocking righteously. Paul is still in fine voice and Gene is still in big ego. Expecting anything else?

Well, you shouldn't be. Kiss has been Stanley/Simmons with sidemen since Ace and Peter left almost three decades ago. They have carried that with aplomb and made plenty of good music, even if the themes have not changed all that much. Gene still sings about being the demon and headed "Back To The Stone Age," they still try and flaunt outsider status on "Freak," and Tommy Thayer is coached to sound as much like Ace as he can on "Outta This World." Drummer Eric Singer does his time on "All For The Love of Rock and Roll" to keep up the appearances of a democratic, four man band.

Make no mistake, though. This is the Stanley/Simmons machine, with Paul still strutting his stuff (the love on an elevator saga "Take Me Down Below" and the first single "Hell or Hallelujah") and Gene is still in arrested development ("The Devil Is Me"). The lone concession to trying something out of character is the a capella opening on "Eat Your Heart Out." As for the rest of "Monster," you've heard this before. It's not a bad Kiss album, it's just Kiss being Kiss.

Meanwhile. more from the oldman rock brigade....


     

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Priest Coalesced
4 Out Of 5 Stars

For Judas Priest, "Stained Class" was the album where the band's sound coalesced into what became the classic priest. Glenn Tipton and KK Downing began their speed-metal roar, while Rob Halford's operatic wail began reaching new heights of aggression. From the thunderous opener of "Exciter" to the gothic morbidity of "Beyond The Realms of Death," the new wave of British Heavy Metal used this album as the eye to their mammoth hurricane. Any band who wants to claim otherwise (with the possible exception of Motorhead) can - as "Exciter" puts it - "fall to your knees and repent if you please."

There was a real sense of purpose the "Stained Class," as the band ditched any previous blues references and proggy ballads to just ram home their heavy metal vision. The music is often violent and macabre ("Savages" tales of citizens' revolts) or just anthems of rock-helmets everywhere ("White Heat, Red Hot"). There's even the song that put the band in front of a ludicrous court trial when "Better By You Better Than Me" was accused of causing a teen to commit suicide via backwards masking of a lyric telling him to "do it." Even crazier, it was one of Priest's journey into the realm of odd choices for cover songs, this one from Spooky Tooth. Like their cover of Joan Baez's "Diamonds and Rust," "Better By You" gets turned inside out and gets a bonus dose of heavy metal drama.

The real drama is "Beyond The Realms of Death," where Halford really pours on the dramatics. He cries about living in a world full of sin that he no longer wants any part of, and taunts the listener with his desire to leave. (Funny how this song wasn't the one on trial.) Tipton and Downing let loose with a Sabbath worthy riff behind Halford until the song hits its climax...and leads into "Hero's End," where Halford poses the question "Why do you have to die to be a hero?" There's a lot of power between these two songs, a formula that Priest would refine even more come "Hell Bent For Leather." But if you need to pinpoint the record where Priest reached critical mass, "Stained Class" is it.


     


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We've got a thing...
3 Out of 5 Stars
 
And it's called "Radar Love." In America, at least, that was one of two calling cards for Golden Earring. The other came a decade later for these Dutchmen, and that was the top ten "Twilight Zone," which sounds almost like it came from a different band. But in between, Golden Earring cut twenty-some albums and had a huge following in Europe. Their cult following in the USA kept them on major labels through their career, and the obvious title of "The Continuing Story of Radar Love" tries to sum up the decade plus between the band's two main hits.

The CD does OK in that regard, especially since most folks will be buying this for one or the other hit. However, there are Golden Earring albums not even represented here, like "Hilt," "Prisoner of The Night" or "NEWS," which even had a near miss with "When The Lady Smiles." What falls between the two hits are a mixture of songs and styles; GE were straddling hard rock and prog and not really grounded on either. It made a song like "Radar Love," with the hard rock book-ended by jungle drums and a horn break in the center, or "Ce Soir" a film noir of a song about an assassin. Or even another attempt at US single, "Candy's Going Bad" (the follow-up to "Radar Love"). It starts of with a hard rock band and slows down at the end into a proggy instrumental fade. Or that, by the time they got to "The Devil Made Me Do It" and "Twilight Zone" (yet another song about an assassin), they were embracing slickness and new-wavish synths.

Lead vocalist Barry Hay manages to pull off his English pretty well, and guitarist George Kooymans often has a flair for quirky riffs and solos (give a listen to the spacy "Vanilla Queen" or the solos that build the bridge of "Twilight Zone"), but many of these songs do show their age. That's not in a good way, I should add. Come for the hits, and explore the rest with the knowledge that Golden Earring have been style chameleons throughout their career. Then listen to "Leather," a song that riffs about that "same old masochism" for a good chuckle.



     

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How the Breaking Point Sounds
3 Out Of 5 Stars


After an album that all but screamed "experimenting with our new found maturity," Mike Shinoda and Chester Bennington have taken Linkin Park back to the basics. Lots of rap-rock hybridization, short blasts of industrialized guitar fuzz, and co-producer Rick Rubin's less is more zen-philosophy of record making. I do mean less; "Living Things" clocks in under 40 minutes without an ounce of filler. But that makes me something of a dissenter here, as I really enjoyed "A Thousand Suns" and the wild experimentation that went on with the album's suites and social commentary.

That makes "Living Things" a good, if basic, Linkin Park album. There's not much you haven't heard them do before, with two exceptions. First is "Castle of Glass," an almost folkish number that lets Mike sing without screeching. He proves he can carry a melody for a whole song without going to cookie monster vocals, and does a good job on "Roads Untraveled." Then there's the slab of noise that is "Lies Greed Misery," which comes close to being a dance-rock track and plays with the vocal track a fair amount. If you're looking for what you've expected from LP, that's here too. "Burn It Down" could be from any point in LP's timeline, and showcases what the group has always been best at; fist pumping anthems that blend hard rocking with electronic muscle.

The remainder is a mixed bag. Nothing here wallows in the sewer, nor does it rise to the level of "Meteora." However, when they sing on "Burn It Down" 'we're building it all to break it back down,' then maybe "Living Things" is the transitional album I thought "A Thousand Suns" was meant to be. Either way, it's a middling album from a band that I count as one of my guilty pleasures.


     

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Worth it just for "Bully"
3 Out Of 5 Stars

Shinedown goes for the commercial rock sound on their fourth CD, "Amaryllis," which means if you like Nickelback, you'll probably dig this. Plenty of stop/start guitar chords, lead singer Bent Smith does good vocal air-horn, and drummer Barry Kerch is a secret weapon. Shinedown go hard, fast and melodic. Nothing new here.

What does set them apart is subject. "Bully" takes on a touchy topic; if you're in high school and you actually look like most hard rockers do, you're probably gonna get the crap kicked out of you. Shinedown goes for the attackers with gusto and it is the best thing on the disc. Second is their smack-back of fair-weather fans on "Nowhere Kids," who will probably dislike this album since it went top ten.

There is the obligatory set of power ballads on "Amaryllis," "I'll Follow You" actually has some soul to it (and strings). Smith can carry a melody just fine, and he does so on the acoustic finale, "Living Through The Ghost." Shinedown uses "Amaryllis" to come off as better than the average rock band, and this may be their best album so far.



     



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The Metal Gods Arise
5 Out Of 5 Stars

The Judas Priest buildup from Stained Class to Hellbent for Leather to British Steel marked a rise in the band that they'd maintain for several years to come. "British Steel" marked a couple big changes in the group; first, the songs began to utilize pop hooks, and second, Halford hit his peak as a vocalist. Thom Allom was also near his peak as a metal producer, and he brought Priest crashing into the mainstream. After all, what party wouldn't start rocking if you put on "Living After Midnight" or "Breaking The Law"?

Not that Priest were becoming The Partridge Family. "Rapid Fire" kicks in with the double bass drum pound Priest became known for, and there's no way that "Metal Gods" wasn't meant as self-fulfilling prophecy. The pop-hooks of "Midnight" are offset by the menace of "The Rage" or "United's" message of metal fan unity. Hard to believe that "British Steel" arrived before there was an MTV Headbangers Ball or the glut of Metal Showcases prevalent today, so credit must be given to Judas Priest for taking "British Steel" to a level that helped make the scene possible, and laying down a playing field for it.

A point made even more fully by the DVD bonus disc. Recorded on the 2009 tour, Priest plays the album from start to finish in its entirety, showing no signs of it's 30 years. Halford and company look like they're having the time of their lives spreading the gospel to this day of an album that took them over the brink, and the fans are lapping it up. Frankly, you can live without the DVD if you already have the 2001 Remaster, but if not, it's just a couple extra bucks and worth a spin on the telly.



   





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