Review : PAUL GILBERT – "United States"

Paul Gilbert - United States

Paul Gilbert – “United States”
released June 30, 2009 on Mascot

There’s few people in the world that are known for their shredding as well as their balladry, but Paul Gilbert has walked that thin line from Racer X to Mr. Big and now through solo work. This is his first collaboration with fellow Pennsylvanian Freddie Nelson (of Too Tall Jones…I know, I haven’t heard of ‘em either). Does it have cheesy moments? Of course. Is it made for arenas? You know it. Would this have ranked higher if it didn’t obviously plagiarize Black Sabbath (“Sabbath Bloody Sabbath” in “Hideaway”), Thin Lizzy (“Emerald” in “Pulsar”), and Queen (“Fat Bottomed Girls” in “Paris Hilton Look-Alike”)? Oh yeah. But you cannot discount the infectious hooks or Nelson’s beautiful voice, which sounds uncannily similar to the great Freddie Mercury. Every song has a little something worth revisiting, and there’s a couple of rock solid gems. For the realms of metal, it’s lighter fare, but in the company of melodic hard rock bands, they’re an 800 lb gorilla.

FCC OK
Try 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 10

01. The Last Rock And Roll Star
02. Hideaway
03. Waste Of Time
04. Bad Times Good
05. Paris Hilton Look-Alike
06. The Answer
07. I’m Free
08. Pulsar
09. Girl From Omaha
10. I’m Not Addicted

[xrr rating=3.5/5]

Review : MADDER MORTEM – "Eight Ways"

Madder Mortem - Eight Ways

Madder Mortem – “Eight Ways”
released June 23, 2009 on Peaceville

So rarely am I brought to the verge of tears by music these days, least of all by any of the flocking female-fronted metal bands blotting the landscape. Agnete Kirkevaag possesses Grace Slick’s timbre with an even wider range, inviting moving moments that vary from sweet to savage. “Formaldehyde” is the strongest and most evocative track, its jazzy lead-in counterbalanced with graduated heaviness, featuring feral screams and smooth croons. Sometimes-gentler and pointedly assertive, “The Little Things” gives way to the progressive layers of “Armour” that deftly flex under a pop sheen–daring yet accessible, pushing all the right buttons.

Now 6 doesn’t really come together, and it feels unfinished both lyrically and musically; this pattern continues as they tip the scales towards the light and return to jazz forms on 7. Thankfully, the next few tracks rally with a vengeance…though 9 comes across as kinda goofy, complete with an unexpected carnivalesque breakdown (they do list Faith No More as an influence, which explains some of these quirks).

Overall, their delivery is similar to that of To-Mera, and fans of Opeth should also be impressed (likely why they played 33 shows together in 2003). They come off the rails here and there (esp about 4 min into “Resolution”), but these sibling-led Norwegians are tenaciously intriguing, with an inventive verve they can truly call their own. A Best of 2009 pick!

FCC OK
Try *1*, 2, 3, 5, 8, 10

01. Formaldehyde
02. The Little Things
03. Armour
04. Resolution
05. A Different Kind Of Hell
06. Riddle Wants To Be
07. Where Dream And Day Collide
08. The Flesh, The Blood And The Man
09. Get That Monster Out Of Here
10. Life, Lust & Liberty
11. All I Know
12. The Eighth Wave

[xrr rating=4/5]

Review : KILLSWITCH ENGAGE – "Killswitch Engage"

Killswitch Engage - Killswitch Engage

Killswitch Engage – “Killswitch Engage”
released July 6, 2009 on Roadrunner

It takes some balls to release a second self-titled album (the first being their debut with former vocalist Jesse Leach). Is this truly a defining moment in their career? Absolutely. It reinforces that KsE is too safe, too middle-of-the road, and should not strike even a novice listener as anything new.

They regurgitate the formula they helped create, with big ol’ choruses and song titles repeated ad nauseum (which is what typically halts any forward momentum they generate). Most of the lyrics are way egocentric, focusing on personal issues and human drama, rife with cliché. The exceptions are “Reckoning” (which may be seen as questioning religious faith, and is about 7% heavier), and the generalized call-to-action, “A Light In A Darkened World”. The overseer is Brendan O’Brien (Pearl Jam, Bruce Springsteen), though Adam D. still coproduced, engineered and mixed the album.

As the barometer by which modern metalcore is measured, I wish they were more mercurial to help propagate greater variety. This band offers evolution by the thimbleful.

FCC OK
Try 1, 3, 4

01. Never Again
02. Starting Over
03. The Forgotten
04. Reckoning
05. The Return
06. A Light In A Darkened World
07. Take Me Away
08. I Would Do Anything
09. Save Me
10. Lost
11. This Is Goodbye

[xrr rating=2.5/5]

Review : DREAM THEATER – "Black Clouds and Silver Linings"

Dream Theater - Black Clouds and Silver Linings

Dream Theater – “Black Clouds and Silver Linings”
released June 23, 2009 on Roadrunner

The tenth studio album from the first word in prog metal is drenched in death; an exhausting and challenging endeavor that is ultimately satisfying once it processes. Their darkest album to date is also their most unified body of work since Awake, and a return to form following the more accessible execution of their last effort, Systematic Chaos.

DT invokes symphonic black metal––complete with pummelling blastbeats from Mike Portnoy––for the first time in their storied career on the opening track, their heaviest and most successful song this century. The lead single follows, and manages to stay epic in half the time, with a sinister performance from James LaBrie. They work through a surprisingly convincing ballad (“Wither”) and the welcome conclusion to the ‘A.A. Saga’ (“The Shattered Fortress”), before unfurling the first of two Rush-worshipping tracks. “The Best of Times” has some sweet “Spirit of Radio” riffing at the three-minute mark, and I believe “The Count of Tuscany” may live in “La Villa Strangiato” (though it sounds like they travel to “Xanadu” about eleven minutes in).

True, the lyrics must constantly be a forgivable offense (and Portnoy really needs to reconsider his growls), but to quibble is to ignore the grander picture: these modern masters have recorded a future classic.

A Best of 2009 pick!
FCC OK
Try *1*, 2, 4, 6

01. A Nightmare to Remember
02. A Rite of Passage
03. Wither
04. The Shattered Fortress
05. The Best of Times
06. The Count of Tuscany

[xrr rating=4.5/5]

Review : JUDAS PRIEST – “A Touch Of Evil”

Judas Priest - A Touch Of Evil

Judas Priest – “A Touch Of Evil”
released July 14, 2009 on Epic Records

The Metal Gods present their first live offering since reuniting with Rob Halford, and it’s the best since Unleashed In The East. Comprised of a breadth of songs spanning thirty years of their career, seven albums are represented, with all but two tracks (6, 11) making their first appearances on a live Priest release. The selections are from their 2005 & 2008 world tours, and they’re very particular about including the strongest performances, with minimum crowd noise. The focus is well-kept on this ageless band, who is unafraid to stand their ground and battle with the fiercest of young lions.

FCC OK
Try 1, 2, 5, 6, 7, 8, *11*

01. Judas Rising
02. Hellrider
03. Between The Hammer & The Anvil
04. Riding On The Wind
05. Death
06. Beyond The Realms Of Death
07. Dissident Aggressor
08. A Touch Of Evil
09. Eat Me Alive
10. Prophecy
11. Painkiller

[xrr rating=3.5/5]

Review : STRATOVARIUS – "Polaris"

Stratovarius - Polaris

Stratovarius – “Polaris”
released May 20, 2009 on Armoury Records

The Finnish power metal quintet undergoes another lineup change for their 12th studio album, replacing longtime guitarist Timo Tolkki and bassist Jari Kainulainen. This inner turmoil renders the result no less effective, perhaps even amplifying their might. Promising indeed, with so much to love: the vibrancy of the lead track; the unabashed hookiness of 2; the majesty of 3; the thrashing charge of 4; the dirge vs. delicacy of 5; the guitars interwoven with keyboards through 6. We start to lose traction with 8, but manages to regain ground in 9 with one of the album’s strongest choruses. The second half of the “Emancipation Suite” and a tepid ballad leave a bland taste/sound in your mouth/ears, so cut early for maximum satisfaction. Listen for Tony Kakko of Sonata Arctica on 1 & 3.

FCC OK
Try 1, 3, 4, 5, 6

01. Deep Unknown
02. Falling Star
03. King of Nothing
04. Blind
05. Winter Skies
06. Forever Is Today
07. Higher We Go
08. Somehow Precious
09. Emancipation suite: I Dusk
10. Emancipation suite: II Dawn
11. When Mountains Fall

[xrr rating=3.5/5]

~Matt Longo