Jeff Scott Soto rises up with Yngwie Malmsteen

Melodic hard-rock singer reflects on his time with the virtuoso guitarist
By Peter Lindblad
Jeff Scott Soto’s plate is not just full ... it’s actually spilling over the sides.
Jeff Scott Soto - Damage Control 2012
One of the busiest and most in-demand singers in melodic hard rock, Soto spent much of last summer touring North America with “Queen Extravaganza,” at the behest of Queen’s drummer Roger Taylor. Before that, he released a solo album titled Damage Control in the spring on Frontiers Records and EMI, and more recently, he’s been carrying out vocal duties for Trans-Siberian Orchestra, while also collaborating in W.E.T. with a couple of hot-shot Swedish musicians, Robert Sall from Work of Art and Erik Martensson of Eclipse, on an unexpectedly heavy, but also thoroughly accessible, second LP, Rise Up, that is due out in February on Frontiers Records.
In 2013, Soto is scheduled to hit the road in support of Damage Control, and there may be more tours in the offing with W.E.T. and Trans-Siberian Orchestra. Versatility is his calling card, as Soto’s strong, commanding voice works well with pop-infused heavy metal, album-oriented rock and even hot funk.
Perhaps that’s what Yngwie Malmsteen found so appealing about Soto when the virtuoso guitarist hired the then 18-year-old unknown as lead vocalist for his Rising Force project way back in 1984. It was the chance of a lifetime for Soto.
“Basically, [Malmsteen] left Alcatrazz in 1984,” says Soto, recounting how he first hooked on with Malmsteen. “I just happened to be at a friend’s house when the news came out on ‘MTV News’ that he was looking for a singer. And literally, I just sent the cassette in, and – Cinderella-story luck later – I got the call to go meet him.”
To say the least, Malmsteen was a demanding taskmaster, and at first, Soto wasn’t sure where he stood with the supernatural shredder, whose ambition it was to make to classical music and heavy metal co-exist in a manner few had thought possible. The legendary Malmsteen put Soto's feet to the fire almost immediately.
Yngwie Malmsteen - Rising Force
“It was a strange meeting and a strange situation to be a part of, but it took three weeks of singing with him at his house and demoing up things until I was finally inducted as the permanent singer of the band,” remembers Soto. “And even the first two songs – the only songs that had vocals on them on the first album, the debut, Rising Force album – I didn’t know the songs until he put me in the studio. I basically learned them as I was singing them, and he kind of gave me the, ‘Well, if you sound good on them, then I’ll keep you on them. Otherwise, I’m going to sing on them.’ And so I literally had the time I was singing on them to learn them and get a good performance in, and he actually really liked it. Strangely enough, I was 18 years old. I had no idea what I was doing, and I pulled it off.”
In addition to his involvement with the Rising Force recording, Soto also sang on Malmsteen’s 1985 LP Marching Out. With Malmsteen controlling almost every aspect of his musical enterprise with an iron fist, Soto felt suffocated and wanted to spread his wings. So, he left soon after Marching Out and then helped get Talisman – the band he played in for 19 years – with bassist Marcel Jacob, who had also played in Malmsteen’s Rising Force band.
As for his time with Malmsteen, Soto has mixed feelings about it. Though it was certainly a great learning opportunity and a chance for increased exposure, Soto wished for a bigger say in the music.
When asked what it was like working with Malmsteen, Soto replied, “Well, I usually answer that question sort of tongue in cheek, and I usually answer that the same way: I didn’t really work with him … I worked for him. There were a few times where he kind of let me do my own thing when it was time for it, and we were collaborating and co-writing songs together, but he always had final say. He had a vision of what he wanted, and if it strayed too far from that vision, then he would cut it. It was a great situation for me as far as cutting my teeth, but it also was a frustrating one, which led me to not sing with him too long because I was too strong-headed over where I wanted to go. And I knew I wasn’t going to get that singing with him too long.”
With Swedish rockers Talisman, Soto took on a more prominent role, and the band experienced success in their home country and beyond. Interestingly, during our interview, Soto advanced the notion of a possible Talisman reunion in the summer of 2013, as well as his involvement in some potential Trans-Siberian Orchestra studio work and less wintery live outings for the epic power-metal institution. Stay tuned for further news on those subjects.

Best of 2012 - Classic Rock

Rush, Thin Lizzy, The Doors, ZZ Top find fountain of youth
By Peter Lindblad
Shaking off the rust that inevitably comes with old age, a number of classic-rock artists showed everybody that they refuse to go gently into that good night.
Rolling Stones - Grrr! 2012
Whether it was the Rolling Stones’ revving up their best song in years with “Doom and Gloom,” or Aerosmith bringing their own brand of “Global Warming” to the masses in live shows that were full of piss and vigor, old greats like those icons, as well as KISS and Bruce Springsteen, burned their AARP cards and did the kind of great work – be it in the studio, as with Springsteen’s Wrecking Ball or Heart’s Fanatic, or on the road – expected of them 20 or 30 years ago.
There were incredible songs, such as Springsteen’s “We Take Care of Our Own” or Joe Walsh’s “Analog Man,” and albums like KISS’s Monster that had unexpected vitality and inspired performances. And tours like the Loverboy/Journey/Pat Benatar triple bill served notice that many of these bands are still capable of delivering the goods onstage. Truly, though, one band rose above them all in 2012, putting out one of the best records of their career and finally getting their just due from critics, while other releases simply outshined the competition. Here’s the best classic rock had to offer in 2012.
Artist of the Year: Rush
Rush - Clockwork Angels 2012
Voters for the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame finally saw the light in 2012. After shunning Rush for so long, they did the right thing for once and selected the Canadian progressive-rock power trio for membership, perhaps earning them some small measure of goodwill from their harshest detractors – although they stand to be inundated with slings and arrows for denying Deep Purple again, and deservedly so. What exactly was it that tipped the scales for Rush this time around? Could it be the fact that they produced one of the year’s best albums in Clockwork Angels? Undoubtedly, that had something to do with it, especially when critics that had been unkind – to put it charitably – toward Rush in the past gave in and applauded a record of sublime beauty, complex musicianship and soaring ambition. A sci-fi concept album with a compelling anti-authoritarian narrative, steam-punk imagery and coming-of-age drama, Clockwork Angels is a tour de force of heavy, intricately constructed guitars (see “Headlong Flight” and “BU2B” for proof), crafty melodies, shifting moods and textures, and epic arrangements – in other words, a Rush album. Sometimes the Rock Hall voters need to be hit over the head a number of times before they finally get it, and it seems that Rush knocked some sense into them in 2012.
Album of the Year: ZZ Top – La Futura (Universal Republic)
ZZ Top - La Futura 2012
La Futura, as it turns out, is deeply rooted in ZZ Top’s past, and that makes it a welcome sight in 2012. A spicy, simmering pot full to the brim of Texas blues-fired boogie, with some of the tastiest licks Billy Gibbons has cooked up in quite a while – this being ZZ Top’s first album in nine years – La Futura is nasty and mean from jump-street, with tracks like “Chartreuse,” “Big Shiny Nine” and “I Don’t Wanna Lose, You” recalling the wicked, dusty Panhandle grooves of dirty classics like “La Grange,” “Tush” and “Cheap Sunglasses.” Like a strutting striptease, the tantalizing “Consumption” is trashy, honky-tonkin’ fun, while the soulful “Over You” is a surprisingly tender and heartfelt love song that comes straight out of the Stax Records playbook. And even though a lot of La Futura harkens back to 1973, it has a modern production sheen to it that doesn’t tame these lions, and the first single, “I Gotsta Get Paid,” has more swagger and tight, stop-start hooks than the Black Keys could ever hope to obtain.
Song of the Year: Rush – “The Wreckers” (off of the album Clockwork Angels on Roadrunner Records)
No one has ever accused Rush of sounding like R.E.M. or The Byrds or Matthew Sweet, and there’s good reason for that. Jangly power-pop has never been Rush’s cup of tea – that is, until now. There’s a bright, sunny quality to the guitars in the intro and the verses to “The Wreckers” that couldn’t possibly sound less like Rush, and yet there it is. And it reaches out its hand to invite you in, a warm smile on Geddy Lee’s face and Alex Lifeson’s colorful guitar licks beckoning with a shiny, happy sound that may or may not hide a dark truth. Be careful of these men, for they are not what they seem. Ultimately, they want to warn you that what is sometimes sold as the truth can often be a lie, as Lee sings in the transcendent choruses, “All I know is that sometimes you have to be wary of a miracle too good to be true.” “The Wreckers,” on the other hand, is not. At the very least it is angelic. Awash in swerving, swooping strings and cinematic keyboards, those magical, glorious choruses where a world-weary Lee dispenses that sage advice are some of the most emotionally powerful and soul-stirring moments Rush has ever brought to bear on record. And there is a bridge in “The Wreckers” that is dangerous to cross, for it traverses a deep, wide canyon of synthesizers, crashing drums and doom-laden guitars that is simply magnificent to behold. Do not be wary of “The Wreckers.” It might not be a miracle, but it’s pretty damn close.
Best Concert DVD: The Doors at the Bowl ‘68 (Eagle Vision)
The Doors - Live at The Bowl '68 2012
For its historic value alone, “The Doors at the Bowl ‘68” is heads and shoulders above any concert DVD released this year. Restored in painstaking fashion from the original camera negatives, the band’s entire performance from that night is included here, and it features the band in high spirits. Loose and improvisational when the occasion calls for it, the threesome of John Densmore, Ray Manzarek and Robby Krieger could go on endless journeys into the jungles of the musical subconscious, but they could be tight and sinewy. Playing at the famed Hollywood Bowl for the first time – in the area they called home, no less – The Doors set the night on fire, and a particularly impish and focused Jim Morrison howled and sang with a primal energy that only he could summon. An abundance of incisive and fascinating bonus features put the event into perspective and the inclusion of performances of “Hello, I Love You,” “The WASP (Texas Radio and the Big Beat)” and “Spanish Caravan” that had previously been lost to time have found their way back. And it’s good to have them again.    
Best Documentary DVD: Freddie Mercury – The Great Pretender (Eagle Vision)
Onstage, Freddie Mercury was indestructible, a force of nature whose flamboyant showmanship knew no bounds and whose voice rang out as clear as a bell in loud stadiums full of adoring fans who hung on his every word – that is, when they weren’t singing along with him. That was the Freddie the world knew. But, in his personal life, Mercury was less sure of himself, a man who sometimes made mistakes and was a slave to his appetites. “Freddie Mercury – The Great Pretender” explores every facet of the singer’s extraordinary life, from his globe-trotting childhood through his wildly successful, if sometimes contentious, studio work with Queen and on to his fascination with opera and the ups and downs of his inconsistent solo work. Loaded with archival images and video footage – including sensational live material – “Freddie Mercury – The Great Pretender” also packs in revealing, insightful commentary and fascinating anecdotes from Brian May, Roger Taylor and a host of other Queen confidantes. It’s a loving portrait of an artist who died too young, and yet, it’s a completely honest rendering that pulls no punches. Mercury probably wouldn’t have it any other way. 
Best Live Album: Thin Lizzy – Live in London 2011 (Four Worlds USA)
Thin Lizzy - Live in London 2011
Phil Lynott isn’t going to come walking through that door … ever again. He’s gone, but the amazing rock ‘n’ roll he left behind deserves to be heard in a live setting, doesn’t it? And who better to play it than Thin Lizzy survivors Scott Gorham and Brian Downey. A fitting tribute to their fallen friend, this concert LP is 19 tracks of explosive hard-rock, containing all the Thin Lizzy hits and then some in a fantastic set list. The mix is primed for optimum power, and this collection of musicians performs classics like “Jailbreak,” “Cowboy Song” and “The Boys are Back in Town” with grit, enthusiasm and swashbuckling panache, those well-executed, signature twin-guitar leads tangled up so exquisitely like ballroom dancers twirling around on the edge of a switchblade. There’s a lot of ground to cover with Thin Lizzy, and this particular incarnation does its best to thumb through the catalog and pick out only the choicest cuts. It’s a flawed record, to be sure, but there’s no doubting the joy and electricity with which Lizzy performs these classics. Word has it that some of the boys from this version of Lizzy are starting a new band called Black Star Riders. Based on this release, which in my eyes becomes more thrilling with repeated listens, expectations should be exceedingly high for them.
Best Reissue: Blue Oyster Cult – The Columbia Albums Collection (Legacy Recordings
Blue Oyster Cult - The Columbia Albums Collection 2012
The word “exhaustive” doesn’t even begin to describe this archeological dig. For starters, this set, released in celebration of Blue Oyster Cult’s 40th anniversary, gathers together every last one of their studio albums released between 1972 and 1988, from their self-titled debut LP on through to Imaginos. That means it includes classic albums such as Agents of Fortune, Spectres, Fire of Unknown Origin, and Cultosaurus Erectus, among others. Oh, and did I mention the live albums? On Your Feet or on Your Knees, Some Enchanted Evening and Extraterrestrial Live are remastered for greater sonic impact and expansiveness. Packed to the gills with great photos and fascinating liner notes, there is a 40-page booklet that accompanies the collection, which is packaged so snugly and efficiently that it won’t throw your cataloging system – if you have one – completely out of whack. You want rarities? There’s a disc for that, too, plus another that gathers as many of their radio broadcasts as they can find and downloads and a bushel full of bonus tracks. Where other classic-rock artists, or rather their record labels, seem to take pleasure in releasing their past works in dribs and drabs, offering very little in the way of rare stuff, Blue Oyster Cult has done it in one fell swoop and they have given the people what they wanted.
Best Book: Gregg Allman – My Cross to Bear (William Morrow)

Gregg Allman - My Cross to Bear 2012
Written in collaboration with esteemed music journalist Alan Light, “My Cross to Bear” finds Gregg Allman in a reflective, confessional mood. Ambling easily through the past, Allman takes his time getting to the real meat of the story, but when he does, the tales he tells are sometimes unsettling, occasionally funny, and often heartbreaking. Life, love, drugs and music – that’s what Allman’s book is about, and it’s a portrayal that isn’t a flattering one. Looking into the mirror, Allman sees his flaws in sharp relief and is willing to expose them for all to read. Once you get past all the self-excoriating personal revelations, there is plenty of behind-the-scenes information on the Allman Brothers to excite fans of their music.

The year in heavy metal - The best of 2012

Van Halen, Judas Priest, High on Fire and others make our list

By Peter Lindblad
Overkill - The Electric Age
It was a bull market for heavy metal in 2012. Any bears who predicted a downturn after a very strong 2011 were quickly proven wrong when Overkill’s The Electric Age was released early this year and it served notice that the East Coast thrash-metal kingpins were back and better than ever.
And then, the new Van Halen record came out, and it didn’t suck. In fact, it stunningly good, and even if it was pieced together with leftovers from the good old days, their ability to pull it all together and make something coherent – and oh so powerful – out of all those scraps certainly made everybody stand up and applaud. Were that all to 2012, we could have suffered through the rest of it without whining about the state of heavy metal, but there was more, much more, to this year than two electrifying releases.
It was a great year for grizzled veterans like Kreator and Testament and younger acts like High on Fire, Pallbearer, The Sword and Whitechapel – all of whom unleashed hell in 2012 with stunning albums. Saxon and Ozzy Osbourne’s band received their just due with amazing DVDs; in Saxon’s case it was a captivating documentary while Ozzy came out with a thrilling concert video from the “Diary of the Madman” tour, where Brad Gillis had just replaced Randy Rhoads following Rhoads’s death. And then there was Iron Maiden, showing everybody just how it’s done onstage with an incredible world tour, supported by none other than Alice Cooper. So, with 2013 just about upon us, it was time to reveal our best of 2012 heavy metal selections.
Metal Artist of the Year/Comeback of the Year: Van Halen
Van Halen - A Different Kind of Truth 2012
Expectations couldn’t have been lower, especially after the release of that lead trial balloon known as “Tattoo.” Underwhelming in almost every possible way, from its awkward verses to choruses as glitzy and smarmy as a Las Vegas lounge lizard, the 2011 single had everyone talking – only most of that conversation revolved around how historically awful “Tattoo” was. The bar wasn’t just lowered. It had crashed through the floor. And then, A Different Kind of Truth arrived, and it was magnificent – aggressive and heavy, with Eddie Van Halen putting on an awesome fireworks display of dazzling solos and dynamic riffs. Of course, the triumphant tour that was supposed to vault them back to the top of the hard-rock heap ended rather abruptly, and Eddie’s health problems were a buzz kill, so it wasn’t the best of times for Van Halen. Still, in 2012, Van Halen redeemed itself mightily with A Different Kind of Truth, and that was no mean feat, considering how far they’d fallen.
Best Metal Album: High On Fire, De Vermis Mysteriis (Entertainment One)
High on Fire - De Vermis Mysteriis 2012
This could just as easily go to Kreator’s Phantom Antichrist or Over Kill’s The Electric Age, but the tumultuous De Vermis Mysteriis is such an intense, churning maelstrom of ragged, crazed thrash and pulverizing sludge metal that it simply boggles the mind. His throat shredded almost beyond repair, Matt Pike rages maniacally about Jesus’ cursed, time-traveling twin brother and the devastation he has wrought in an epic concept album engulfed in thundering drums, pile-driving bass and roiling guitar riffs. Mother Nature may have met her match.
Best Metal Song: Testament – “Native Blood” (Off of the album Dark Roots of Earth on Nuclear Blast Records)

Testament - Dark Roots of Earth 2012
Rightly proud of his Native American heritage, a battle-scarred Chuck Billy belts out the lyrics to “Native Blood” with the full-throated roar of a runaway freight train. Impassioned and defiant, Billy’s booming, resonant voice adds gravitas and emotional depth to a powerful song of independence and self-reliance that stirs the soul, a modern-day anthem for indigenous peoples everywhere who feel the weight of oppression upon them. And while the words that steam out of Billy’s fiery mouth carry both a political and social significance for those he’s trying to rouse to action, it’s the deliriously infectious riffs and terrific momentum “Native Blood” gathers – not to mention a blast-furnace chorus that even Metallica would kill to call its own – that make it the standout track on one of the finest albums of Testament’s glorious career.
Best New Hard Rock Band: World Fire Brigade
World Fire Brigade - Spreading My Wings 2012
World Fire Brigade is not just some reasonable facsimile of Fuel, even if its degrees of separation from those ‘90s alternative rockers are way fewer than six. See, Brett Scallions has teamed with Smile Empty Soul’s Sean Danielsen and producer Eddie Wohl on a new – well, fairly new, having actually been hatched in 2009 – project that is full-on metal … cross my heart, it is. Of course, it helps to have Wohl, who has worked as a producer for none other than Anthrax, onboard. And then there’s the presence of Anthrax’s Rob Caggiano and closet metalhead Mike McCready of Pearl Jam fame to add sonic heft to the proceedings. In interviews prior to this release, Scallions said World Fire Brigade was heavier and more metallic than Fuel, and he wasn’t kidding. Thick with dynamic, serpentine riffs, World Fire Brigade’s surprisingly powerful debut, released this past summer, is chock full of gripping hooks and compelling songs that would be commercially viable were it not for radio’s aversion to comeback stories.
Best Concert DVD: Ozzy Osbourne Speak of the Devil (Eagle Vision)
Ozzy Osbourne - Speak of the Devil 2012
On June 12, 1982, Ozzy Osbourne’s “Diary of a Madman” tour rolled into Irvine Meadows, California, having only recently buried guitarist Randy Rhoads, the man primarily responsible for reviving the career of one of metal’s greatest frontmen. With heavy hearts, and a new guitarist in Brad Gillis, Ozzy and his band put on an electrifying performance for the ages, as they plowed through a set list heavy on selections from Ozzy’s two solo records – plus a doom-laden medley of Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man,” “Children of the Grave” and “Paranoid” to close the show. Of great historical importance, “Speak of the Devil” captures all the madness with varied camera work, their lenses focused mainly on an enthusiastic Ozzy imploring the crowd to go nuts and Gillis’s fiery fretwork. Backed by a dark, gothic castle and a huge drum riser for Tommy Aldridge, a reinvigorated Ozzy seems hell-bent on proving to everyone that Rhoads’ death will not send him into another tailspin like the one that nearly killed him after being summarily dismissed from Sabbath. This is a fantastic entry in Ozzy’s journal of rock ‘n’r roll insanity.
Best Documentary DVD: Saxon Heavy Metal Thunder – The Movie (UDR/Militia Guard/EMI)
Saxon - Heavy Metal Thunder 2012
Sex, tea and rock ‘n’ roll? Evidently, at least until bassist Steve Dawson dabbled briefly with cocaine, substance abuse wasn’t part of the equation for working-class heroes Saxon, one of the bands that spearheaded the New Wave of British Heavy Metal. Abstaining from alcohol and drugs, these teetotalers preferred less powerful brews, but they did indulge in other forms of debauchery offstage – namely, doing groupies in the back of a cramped touring van, where privacy wasn’t an option. Inside the venue, they were all business, rocking as if their lives were at stake in blazing live shows that became the stuff of legend. And yet, at least in America, Saxon never really hit the big time, despite the patronage of Lars Ulrich and the respect of everybody from Motorhead to Doro. That is a damn shame. Incapable of putting on airs, Saxon pushed their records into the red more often than not. Appropriately enough, this thoroughly engrossing, warts-and-all documentary is a no-frills, completely candid oral history, with some narration from Fastway’s Toby Jepson, of the band from stem to stern – augmented by rare concert footage that confirms their reputation as one of the hottest running engines ever built by heavy metal. Here’s hoping the long arm of the law – and time – won’t ever catch up with these hard-rock veterans.
Best Live Album: U.D.O. – Live in Sofia (AFM Records)
U.D.O. - Live in Sofia 2012
The greatest live albums don’t just make you feel as if you were there, front row, experiencing the show up close. They make you suicidal over the fact that you missed it. Such is the case with U.D.O.’s Live in Sofia, a thundering, electric performance fueled by the raucous energy of a salivating crowd. Surveying material from Udo Dirkschneider’s days with Accept and his grossly underappreciated solo career, Live in Sofia is a captivating listen, with Udo growling and screaming like a caged animal and his band charging through a tantalizing set list with technical brilliance and pure adrenaline. Bulgaria’s capitol is probably still burning.  
Best Metal Reissue: Judas Priest – Screaming for Vengeance Special 30th Anniversary Edition (Columbia Legacy)
Judas Priest - Screaming for Vengeance 2012
No other metal reissue had a chance in 2012, not with the bonus DVD version of Priest’s historic 1983 US Festival concert – the one everyone’s been lusting after for years – added onto it. One of the truly great albums in heavy metal history, Screaming for Vengeance goes through a revved-up remastering that packs on the sonic muscle and makes it gleam like chrome. As with the 2001 reissue, this edition includes the Turbo outtake “Prisoner of Your Eyes” and “Devil’s Child,” but this time around, scorching live versions of “Electric Eye,” “Riding on the Wind,” “You’ve Got Another Thing Coming,” “Screaming for Vengeance” and “Devil’s Child” – all culled from a stirring 1982 performance in San Antonio, Texas – fill out this absolutely essential reissue. Alone, the US Festival footage would be worth its weight in gold, as Priest delivers the goods and then some with a hammer-and-tong performance that is absolutely scintillating. Packaged together, this reissue is a must-have.
Best Book: Randy Rhoads by Steven Rosen and Andrew Klein (Velocity Books)
Randy Rhoads - 2012
Yes, the price tag is a bit steep. These days, who in their right minds is going to shell out around $99 for a book? This one just might be worth it. An extravagant package, overflowing with colorful and rarely, if ever, seen photos of the late guitarist and a plethora of memorabilia, the 400-page Randy Rhoads is a work of outstanding journalism. Exhaustively researched, with the authors interviewing seemingly almost everyone who ever came in contact with Rhoads, this fully loaded, bulging biography takes readers into studio sessions with the Blizzard of Ozz band, pieces together the events leading up to Rhoads’s tragic death and the sad aftermath, and relates, in detailed fashion, Rhoads’s unusual childhood and his rigorous musical education. And that’s just a small taste of what’s inside this extraordinary biography.
Best Tour: Iron Maiden, Maiden England World Tour, 2012
Iron Maiden - Maiden England Tour 2012
Supported by shock-rock superstar Alice Cooper for a smashing double bill, Iron Maiden stampeded through North America and points abroad as if sitting atop fire-breathing steeds and whipping them into the fog of battle. Two elaborate stage shows, one the product of Cooper’s nightmarish imagination and the other an ambitious fantasy merging historical and scientific references with dazzling technology and the ever-present Eddie, gave concertgoers an unforgettable thrill, but it was Iron Maiden who stole the show. Still possessing a strong voice that climbs to places few singers can ever hope to reach, Bruce Dickinson again leads the charge through a play list reminiscent of the “Seventh Son of a Seventh Son” tour, and the rest of the gang plays with vim and vigor, clearly relishing the nostalgia and warm embrace of frenzied, almost obsessive, crowds. Iron Maiden rides again.

CD/DVD Review: Motorhead - The World is Ours - Vol. 2 - Anyplace Crazy as Anywhere Else

Motorhead – The World is Ours – Vol. 2 – Anyplace Crazy as Anywhere Else
UDR/Motorhead Music/EMI Label Services
All Access Rating: A
Motorhead - The World is Ours - Vol. 2 -
Anyplace Crazy as Anywhere Else
Even if speed limits had been posted throughout No Sleep ‘Til Hammersmith, one of the most lethal live LPs ever recorded, Motorhead undoubtedly would have disregarded them all. Onstage, these rock ‘n’ roll renegades were above the law, as nobody could even hope to approach their velocity or intensity, and that amphetamine-fueled joyride through a clutch of classic songs from the legendary studio albums Overkill, Bomber, and Ace of Spades was as reckless and dangerous as a police chase.
Only one drawback: the quality of that recording, though fine for its day, is not exactly up to snuff, especially when compared to the pristine, high-definition sound and the vivid, colorful visuals of the recently released two CD/DVD/Blue-ray combo The World is Ours – Vol. 2 – Anyplace Crazy as Anywhere Else, out on the boutique label UDR. The second in a series of amazing concert audio and video packages from an older, but no less ruthless, Motorhead, this furious, barnstorming set gives a full accounting of the band’s summer of 2011 performance at the Wacken Open Air Festival in Germany, plus a smattering of six smoldering tracks culled from their Sonisphere Festival gig that year and five more red-hot sonic embers left over from their Rock in Rio performance.
Dirty, desperate and shockingly loud, Motorhead’s classic lineup of Lemmy Kilmister, “Fast” Eddie Clarke and Phil “Philthy Animal” Taylor didn’t let up on the accelerator during No Sleep ‘Til Hammersmith, and with their well-earned reputation as vice-ridden outlaws preceding them, that combination of balls-to-the-wall heavy metal and general nastiness certainly appealed to those who thumbed their noses at conventional morality. While not quite so fearsome anymore, the Motorhead of today, together for 20 years and featuring Philip Campbell blazing away on guitar and Mikkey Dee’s muscular, clockwork drumming, could certainly give the old masters a run for their money, as any of the full-throttle, high-energy versions of “Iron Fist,” “Ace of Spades,” “I Know How to Die,” “Going to Brazil,” “Overkill” and “Over the Top” contained on The World is Ours – Vol. 2 will attest – each song appearing multiple times. Some are rowdier takes than the rest, while others are most explosive or gritty, but all of them are performed with verve and snarling aggression.
As mean as ever, Motorhead hasn’t lost any of their sinful swagger. Thick and heavy, “The Chase is Better Than the Catch,” “In the Name of Tragedy,” and “Killed By Death” swing by the neck like condemned men at the gallows, each guitar stroke tumescent and filled with bad intent. And what’s great about Motorhead is that when they announce they’ll be playing a new song from their latest album, like the frenzied “Rock Out” or the crunchy, quaking “The Thousand Names of God,” nobody dares to go running for the concession stand, because they’re just as powerful and compelling as any of the so-called hits. Campbell, in particular, shows his versatility on “The Thousand Names of God” – his menacing riffs are pure evil and his solos are searing, while Dee puts on a drum solo exhibition later that is a monstrous mix of power and precision. And Lemmy … well, Lemmy is Lemmy, his gruff, growling voice so exquisitely ravaged by time and booze, and oh so satisfying, while his brawling, violent bass playing is just as glorious as it was in Motorhead's salad days.
There are so many reasons to love The World is Ours – Vol. 2 – Anyplace Crazy as Anywhere Else, from the knock-down-drag-out performances of a band’s that’s lost none of its potency, to the vibrant concert footage edited for optimum excitement and impactful audio that adds more sonic punch to the mix than is absolutely necessary – although it certainly is appreciated. Loved by punks and metalheads alike, Motorhead still plays hard-hitting rock ‘n’ roll at a time when hard-rock could use a defibrillator. Though they'll never welcome in respectable society, Lemmy and his band of merry mischief-makers are just the men to bring it back to life.
-            Peter Lindblad

DVD Review: Saxon - Heavy Metal Thunder - The Movie

DVD Review: Saxon - Heavy Metal Thunder – The Movie
IDR/Militia Records/EMI
All Access Rating: A
Saxon - Heavy Metal Thunder - The Movie 2012
Chosen to support Motorhead on the “Bomber” tour in 1979, Saxon seemed a perfect fit and yet there was something different about them that confounded Lemmy. Being the charitable sort, Lemmy – is there really any need to list his last name anymore? – offered them some of his vodka and samples of whatever drugs he had available, as former Saxon bassist Steve “Dobby” Dawson remembers it, readily admitting that the alcohol made him sick. Saxon actually didn’t seem to want any of it, and that made Lemmy … well, not sad, but a bit baffled. They were a heavy metal band, after all. What part of sex, drugs and rock and roll didn’t they understand?
Shaking his head and having a good laugh about the whole thing now in the long-awaited 2012 Saxon two-disc documentary “Heavy Metal Thunder – The Movie,” Lemmy still finds it amusing that they were more interested in drinking tea than downing bottles of booze. As a matter of fact, Saxon demanded crates of English tea when they New Wave of British Heavy Metal horsemen set out to conquer America for the first time, believing that they couldn’t find the good stuff in the U.S. That’s what kept Saxon up at night – the ability to find quality tea … and lots of it. Not exactly the stuff of a “Behind the Music” special, is it?
In the beginning, Saxon was one for all and all for one, a band of brothers that busted out of the mining and industrial wasteland of South Yorkshire with modest dreams of heavy-metal glory. Informed by the punk movement and the harsh, dirty noise of industry and machines, Saxon’s sound couldn’t have been less pretentious. Devoid of artifice, the hard-nosed, hot-wired guitars of Paul Quinn and Graham Oliver could sear flesh, and Steve “Dobby” Dawson’s bass rumbled like a Hell’s Angels’ chopper, while the drums – first ably played by David Ward, and then bashed into powder by former Gary Glitter drummer Pete Gill – pumped furiously like pistons. Driving this thundering vehicle, Biff Byford, a lanky, long-haired showman with the voice of a metal god, always has been the heart and soul of Saxon, as well as its most compelling character. They were, and still are, a working-class band, albeit with a lineup that's somewhat different now, and their lyrics often sympathized with the plight of blue-collar England, which at the time was embroiled in vicious labor disputes with the mother of all union busters, Margaret Thatcher – all of these elements are trumpeted in “Heavy Metal Thunder – The Movie,” an account of Saxon’s history that bares everything.   
Against this backdrop of economic depression and rusted-out factories, Saxon’s story played out, taking interesting twists and turns, their struggle mirroring that of Black Sabbath and other NWOBHM legends. With the kind of honesty and integrity that characterized Saxon’s music, “Heavy Metal Thunder – The Movie” tells a heroic tale of perseverance and substance over flash. Full of wicked old war stories, as told by the members of Saxon, this documentary traces the Saxon story all the way back to when they were called Son of a Bitch. Despite the dated production values, this no-frills film – supplemented with amazingly rare and vital live footage from various points in Saxon’s history, including great stuff from that infamous “Bomber” tour with Motorhead – travels back to that rough-and-tumble English rock club circuit the band played when that fire that burned in their bellies was all that got them through poverty and dashed hopes. They toured on a shoestring budget, taking liberties with groupies in a cramped van containing their gear and no privacy. They fervently dreamed of securing a record contract, and when they did, it was with French label Carrere Records, a deal that would leave them penniless. Details about how their famous logo was developed and how the cover of their debut album was created are revisited in the film, and when Saxon’s machinery finally started churning out the records they were born to make, like Strong Arm of the Law, Wheels of Steel and Denim and Leather – these powerhouse, chrome-plated albums of tough, smoking riffs, workhorse rhythms and gritty, uncompromising hooks – “Heavy Metal Thunder – The Movie” traces the band’s steady progression to the top of British rock heap with admiration.
Of course, there’s the inevitable decline, the clueless producers who tamed Saxon’s mighty roar, Dawson’s cocaine use and the fierce battles with Byford that led to his messy departure, and insight into the hard feelings that persist between past and present members – all of whom talk candidly and passionately about these matters and about this thing they started. “Heavy Metal Thunder – The Movie” would go nowhere without these conversations, and the editing strikes a not-so-easy balance between shaping loads of content into something entertaining while at the same time trying to manage a flood of Saxon-specific information. The result is an engrossing and comprehensive biography, essential viewing for anybody with even a passing interest in Saxon.
And there’s more on a second disc comprised of behind-the-scenes material, stirring live footage, in-studio scenes, various tributes from other rockers, humorous exchanges between Biff and Lemmy – much of it stemming from a recent Saxon tour with Motorhead – and a full-length concert from 2008. Then there’s the vintage video of a tight and energetic Saxon killing it in a raucous 1981 “Beat Club”performance as they charge through “Motorcycle Man,” “Hungry Years,” “Strong Arm of the Law,” “747” and a host of other favorites. It’s an immersive Saxon experience, packaged as unassailable testimony to their grossly underappreciated greatness. Stuffed to the gills with loads of fantastic Saxon material, this whole set is an absolute must-have for Saxon fans. Tea is not included, however.
-            Peter Lindblad

CD Review: Corrosion of Conformity - Eye for an Eye

CD Review: Corrosion of Conformity - Eye for an Eye (reissue)
Candlelight Records
All Access Review: B+
Corrosion of Conformity - Eye for an Eye 2012
Eye for an Eye had been missing for so long that many Corrosion of Conformity followers had given up searching for it, fearing that it was lost forever. Released in 1983, the furious debut from these punk-metal crossover firebrands had been out of print quite possibly since the Reagan administration, it undoubtedly having burned out rather than faded away. Then, a funny thing happened.
The Animosity lineup of Corrosion of Conformity – perhaps the most combustible combination of rumbling, roiling hardcore and Sabbath-inspired riffage that underground metal has ever produced – returned with a vengeance in early 2012, their self-titled LP a satisfying contrast of sludge (“The Doom”), sinewy grooves (“The Moneychangers” and “What We Become”) and speed (“Leeches”) that shifts tempos easily and often and immerses itself in the thick, heavy psychedelia of the Soundgarden-like “Come Not Here.” Finding audiences hungry for COC’s meaty riffs, Candlelight Records thought that the time was right to revisit the thrashing, combative Eye for an Eye and tack on the Six Songs with Mike Singing EP for good measure.
Corrosion of Conformity - S/T 2012
Featuring the original COC lineup of singer Eric Eycke, Mike Dean on bass, guitarist Woody Weatherman, and drummer Reed Mullin, Eye for an Eye is … well, a bit misunderstood. Often characterized, and rightly so, as a high-velocity hardcore record that wraps itself in Henry Rollins’s Black Flag, Eye for an Eye is, indeed, that and bruising, frenzied tracks like “Broken Will,” “Rabid Dog,” “Coexist,” “Dark Thoughts” and “Excluded” – all checking in at under 2:50 – that race at a breakneck pace won’t disabuse anybody of that notion. It is a raw and reckless album, with playing that is fast and loose, and the violence of “What” and the growling viciousness of “Negative Outlook” – as angry as a badger protecting its home – are also punk as all get out. But, there are moments where this version of COC betrays its metal inclinations, and not just when they deliver a snarling, torn-and-frayed take on Judas Priest's cover of Peter Green's “Green Manalishi.”
Before “Indifferent” threatens to blow apart, as it does in the choruses, the verses crawl menacingly, quickly building in intensity until all hell breaks loose. Many of the song intros consist of trudging, brawny riffs wrenched into difficult, tortured shapes, the kind The Melvins might sculpt out of the twisted metal wreckage of a car crash. And on “L.S.” – a song that has all the wicked charm of a murderous hillbilly dragging a corpse out behind a shed – COC clearly reveals a fundamental, if still in its formative phase, understanding of metal dynamics and a taste for brutality, even more evident on the raging “Rednekkk.” Tweaking Southern-rock conventions, it’s an absolute nuclear meltdown of a song.
Eye for an Eye is a ragged record, the product of a band in its infancy that is just beginning to question its identity. The Six Songs with Mike Singing EP, originally released in 1989 and featuring very old tracks with Mike Dean on lead vocals for the only time in the history of COC, presents a cleaner, more developed vision of COC’s punk-metal hybrid, as fine specimens of early thrash-metal like “Center of the World,” “Citizen” and “Not for Me” burn white-hot and surge toward their fiery ends with hostility and ferocious guitars. Growing up as left-leaning political and social animals – always spoiling for a fight in lyrics that take on opposing points of view with a ferocious intelligence – in the land of Jesse Helms and other right-wing demagogues must have driven COC to madness. Thankfully, they’ve harnessed that wild, unpredictable energy of Eye for an Eye and exacted their revenge, expanding their scope of influences to include more soulful elements and constructing well-defined, varied song structures that could withstand earthquakes. They’re still a force to be reckoned with.
-            Peter Lindblad

Twisted Sister - A Twisted X-Mas: Live in Las Vegas

Twisted Sister – A Twisted X-Mas: Live in Las Vegas
Eagle Rock Entertainment
All Access Review: B+
Twisted Sister: A Twisted X-Mas - Live in Las Vegas 2012
Move over, Bing Crosby. There’s a new king of Christmas crooning, and his name is Dee Snider. Yes, that Dee Snider. Doing the unthinkable, in 2006, Twisted Sister – having only reunited a few short years earlier – recorded an album of holiday classics with a heavy metal edge titled A Twisted Christmas. It was supposed to be Twisted Sister’s swan song, an amusing novelty LP they probably did for laughs and to, perhaps, take one more opportunity to stick it to those self-righteous, stick-up-their-ass Bible thumpers who tried so very hard in the ‘80s to censor them.
After all, what could be more blasphemous than for Snider to put “Oh Come, All Ye Faithfull” under the blade and do unspeakable things to it … and to the tune of “We’re Not Going to Take It” no less? That, my friends, is twisted.
Not much was expected of the album, but to the surprise of almost everyone, A Twisted Christmas was a massive hit, and the lineup of Snider, guitarists Eddie Ojeda and Jay Jay French, bassist Mark Mendoza, and drummer A.J. Pero decided to stick around a little longer, performing here and there at the odd festival and other gatherings. And, strangely enough, it’s been their Christmas music that’s played a big role in their well-received revival.
So, with that holy day approaching, there’s nothing like a Twisted Sister live release to spread some holiday cheer. This particular one has been available before, as part of the 2011 Bars to the Stars 5-DVD box set, but it is now being reissued on its own on DVD, CD and digital audio/video. A rollicking good time, as any Christmas party in Las Vegas should be, A Twisted X-Mas, out via Eagle Rock Entertainment, is a spirited, pile-driving mix of Yuletide favorites and Twisted Sister classics. While the video versions of this set are visual extravaganzas, it’s the raucous audio document that we’ll drink a toast to here.
While it’s tempting to dismiss Twisted Sister’s metallic takes on Christmas chestnuts as simple parodies, performed with a wink and a grotesquely made-up smile, these old war horses seem to have a grudging respect for them. And while the tone of the record can hardly be described as “serious,” the always jolly Snider and his demented, denim-and-leather-clad elves obviously enjoy bombing their way through a lighthearted and fun “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus,” a sludgy “Have Yourself a Merry Christmas” and their own stomping “metal” version of the “12 Days of Christmas” – with a statue of Ozzy, spandex pants and studded belts taking the place of five golden rings and a partridge in a pear tree. The sequencing is interesting, however, considering how they put “Come All Ye Faithfull” through its paces and ratchet up the tempo right before Twisted Sister gnashes its teeth on its descent into the thrash-metal pit of evil known as “Burn in Hell” – an odd juxtaposition to say the least.
Mostly, however, Twisted Sister tackles more secular holiday fare, as their versions of “White Christmas” – with its scorching guitar leads and a twin-guitar double helix that Thin Lizzy would kill for – and “Deck the Halls” stampede through your Christmas office party, trashing the place with booze-fueled mayhem they may or may not regret when morning arrives. But, as much devilish glee as they take in reimagining these old standards with power chords and Marshall amps turned all the way up, it’s the blazing defiance of familiar Twisted Sister anthems such as “We’re Not Gonna Take It,” “I Wanna Rock” and “You Can’t Stop Rock ‘n’ Roll” that made the band a household name. And they tear through them savagely on this night in 2009 – the rugged old chainsaw guitars, brawling bass lines and pounding drums covered with more glitter than grit, but still capable of inciting riots.
However, not all of the reworked Christmas material works, even if it delivered with energy and volume. At times, you get the idea that Twisted Sister is trying a bit too hard to pull off the impossible – that is, turning quieter numbers like “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” into something louder and more brutish. To beat up Twisted Sister over something so slight, however, would be like taking a dump in Santa’s cookies and milk. It is Christmas after all.
-            Peter Lindblad

Deep Purple to release new studio album in April

Title has yet to be determined
Deep Purple - Rapture of the Deep
Deep Purple isn’t sitting around moping about another snub from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. On April 30, 2013, the veteran proto-metal masters will release their first studio album in the U.S. since Rapture of the Deep.
As yet, the album does not have a title, although Deep Purple singer Ian Gillan has revealed a few working song titles, including “Out of Hands,” “Uncommon Man,” and “Hell to Pay.”
“The title of our new album is still a question mark to all of us … we have recorded a new album, and it’s a fantastic collection of songs,” says Gillan. “At the moment that’s the only affirmative point we can offer.”
Featuring brand new studio material, the album was recorded and mixed in Nashville with celebrated producer Bob Ezrin, who has worked with the likes of Pink Floyd and Alice Cooper, among others. Early word is that the record is mix of classic ‘70s Deep Purple with a progressive attitude and modern production.
These days, Deep Purple’s record company is earMUSIC, which plans on releasing more details about the new album when they become available on a dedicated website where all band members will be able to post and interact with fans:

CD Review: U.D.O. - Live in Sofia

CD Review: U.D.O. - Live in Sofia
AFM Records
All Access Review: A
U.D.O. - Live in Sofia 2012
Any examination of Udo Dirkschneider’s metal heart would have to conclude that it’s as healthy as it was a quarter of a century ago, when he started his titanic post-Accept project U.D.O. Pumping furiously, even after all these years, it is the engine that still drives U.D.O., and when the band that bears his name storms the capitol of Bulgaria on the occasion of this concert recording, it seems as if it could explode from his barrel chest at any second – not that such a calamity would silence the indestructible Udo, still one of the most electrifying frontmen metal has ever seen or heard.
Unwilling to concede the upper hand to his former band, even with the roll Wolf Hoffmann and the boys have been on of late, releasing not one, but two nearly flawless, riff-heavy mazes of old-school metal, U.D.O. stakes its claim as Germany’s most potent power-metal force with a relentless, devastatingly heavy double CD/DVD live package, titled Live in Sofia, that celebrates the band’s 25th anniversary. Initiating the launch sequence of a massive U.D.O. reissue campaign slated for 2013, Live in Sofia is a visceral, thrilling document, enlivened by a roaring crowd lending its full-throated support and unified chants to what is an absolutely ferocious performance from U.D.O. Intense and breathtaking from the first note, Live in Sofia only adds to the fiery mythology of Udo, the well-chosen, 23-track playlist working as a survey of the veteran singer’s long and storied career, its choice of songs running the gamut of Accept classics and U.D.O.’s most flammable material.
Muscles clenched and veins popping, as he seethes with rage and emits spine-tingling screams and animalistic growls, Udo means business every time he opens his mouth, spearheading this invasion of overwhelming sonic weaponry. Setting the attack-dog riffs of lid-lifter “Rev-Raptor” on an audience eager to riot, U.D.O. then rolls into an inferno of guitars in “Dominator,” which dies out just before the shark-like thrashing of “Thunderball” begins and the snarling, sinister menace of the slow-burning “Leatherhead” grows hot – Udo prowling through the thrilling mob violence of each track like a hungry predator. And amazingly, we’re only four songs in, with such adrenaline-fueled action as the rampaging “Break the Rules” and “Two Faced Woman” – both of them boasting tight, clawing hooks – still to come.
A warrior for traditional metal, dressed in his familiar military fatigues, Udo tips his cap to Accept’s glory days by whipping his renegade charges through grinding, writhing versions of “Metal Heart” and 11:10 of the ubiquitous rock-and-roll monolith “Balls to the Wall” – this after sharpening their knives in “Screaming for a Love – Bite,” a prickly nugget of pop-metal poison ivy. Udo can’t escape his past, but then again, why would he want to?
As with U.D.O.’s “Vendetta” and “Man and Machine,” the surging dynamics and crushing power chords of Accept’s “Princess of the Dawn,” co-opted at Sofia by a tighter-than-leather U.D.O., testify to the rugged, fierce instrumental prowess of both bands. On the other hand, the darkly melodic “I Give as Good I Get,” the dramatic sweep of “The Bogeyman” and Stefan Kaufmann’s unexpectedly atmospheric electrical storm “Kokopelli” – basically, 11:27 of interesting and diverse guitar soloing – speak to U.D.O.’s versatile musicianship. Passion and precision are U.D.O.’s calling cards, and Live in Sofia is the kind of controlled burn that U.D.O. excels at. There’s nothing excessive about Live in Sofia. Trimmed of fat, parts are played with calculating brutality, and yet is it fair to call U.D.O. regimented? Maybe that’s the right word after all, although there seems to be a mandate for the pack of rabid dogs known as Kaufmann, Igor Gianola (guitar), Fitty Wienhold (bass) and Francesco Jovino (drums) to make their own statements as vociferously as they can, even as they work up a frothing lather as a lean, mean unit. Udo would accept nothing less.
-            Peter Lindblad

CD Review: Killing Joke - Live at Hammersmith Apollo

CD Review: Killing Joke - Live at Hammersmith Apollo
Four Worlds USA
All Access Review: A
Killing Joke - Live at Hammersmith Apollo 2012
Jaz Coleman is lucky that his Killing Joke co-conspirators didn’t shoot him for desertion. Late this summer, on the eve of the industrial metal/post-punk agitators’ tour with The Cult and The Mission, Coleman went missing, leaving the rest of Killing Joke wondering just what the hell happened to him. Then, there were the blog posts, where Coleman is alleged to have effectively taken a flamethrower – figuratively speaking – to both outfits in writings that can charitably be described as “derisive” at best and downright “hostile” at worst, announcing, without his band mates’ consent, that Killing Joke wasn’t going on the road with those stiffs. The Cult and The Mission would have to forge ahead without them, much to Coleman’s delight … or was it?
As it turned out, the enigmatic Coleman was alive and well, wandering like a nomad in the Western Sahara – much like David Carradine in “Kung Fu” – working on new solo material and a book. He has since denied posting those comments and pledged to ferret out the imposter, although anybody expecting to ever see a triple bill with these three acts again should probably have their heads examined. Fortunately, Coleman, who’s done this sort of thing before, having fled to Iceland in the early ‘80s when he thought the apocalypse was nigh, was present and accounted the night of this raging Killing Joke performance recorded for Live at Hammersmith Apollo, released in October by Four Worlds USA.
Shaking his fist at totalitarian governments, greedy banks and an overpopulated, apathetic world that is consuming its natural resources at an alarming rate while being seduced by the false promises of technology, Coleman proves himself a dangerous and formidable insurrectionist, his serrated vocals cutting through the gloom and volatility of Killing Joke’s atmospheric synthesizers, rumbling bass and drums and coils of razor-wire guitars with ease. Whether they are brutally beating “Wardance,” the stomping “This World Hell,” or the racing “Asteroid” to a bloody pulp with abrasive, bare-knuckled metallic riffs and pummeling rhythms, or urgently steering a battered vessel of melody through the stormy, roiling seas and beautiful chaos of the distress call “Absolute Dissent” – introduced by Coleman screaming, “I don’t believe in a micro-chip world!” – Killing Joke is edgy and explosive on this glorious occasion, evidently an anniversary for the band.
Throughout their 30-year history, Killing Joke has always trafficked in sounds that are ominous and fierce, and the version of “Pssyche” on this record, with its hard-charging riffs and desperate aggression, is as visceral as it gets. But, Killing Joke is just getting warmed up. With its strong undercurrent of dark energy and its prison riot chorus, “Depth Charge” is a mean bull that sees nothing but red, circling and sizing up whatever matador is stupid enough to challenge it. Growing more and more menacing with every riff, the tension builds to almost unbearable intensity in “The Wait” and “Great Cull,” these angry, gathering swarms of bounding bass lines and scything guitars cycling around and around in some demented game of tether ball, as Killing Joke’s original lineup of Coleman, guitar terrorist Kevin “Geordie” Walker, Martin “Youth” Glover and Paul Ferguson make the most rancorous and uncompromising, yet utterly compelling, racket together.
And then, just when it seems that Killing Joke is unable to extricate itself from this wild mosh pit of sound, they turn moody and strange, with the otherworldly, echoing dub-infused phantom “Ghosts” haunting this particular chapel and the clean lines and synth waves of “Fresh Fever” resurrecting the Dark Wave flourishes of ‘80s contemporaries Echo & the Bunnymen. In this live setting, however, it’s the most combustible hits, like the swirling, dizzying rush of “Eighties” and the sprawling “Pandemonium” that closes out this two-disc set, that win the day, and Killing Joke’s eschewing of its more electronic, dance-oriented material for the heated, gothic hard rock that dominates this smoking furnace of a playlist is a wise choice.
Before introducing that final stab that kills off Live at Hammersmith Apollo, Coleman expresses his profound love and admiration for the three men who’ve joined him on this journey through the bleak ruins of civilization. Hopefully, they’ve forgiven him for his unscheduled walkabout, and there will be more Killing Joke releases like 2010’s masterstroke Absolute Dissent, from which quite a bit of Live at Hammersmith Apollo is drawn. Here’s to you, Jaz. Rock and roll needs your intelligence and unpredictable personality more than ever.

-  Peter Lindblad

CD Review: Thin Lizzy - Live in London 2011

Thin Lizzy
Live in London 2011
Four Worlds USA
All Access Review: B+
Thin Lizzy- Live in London 2011
In the end it doesn’t really matter how much of Live and Dangerous was actually recorded live, as it will forever be considered the definitive Thin Lizzy concert album. Harnessing the very life force of front man Phil Lynott, that wild Irish artist with the “live free or die” ethos who threw his heart and soul into every lyric he penned, that record had an electricity and a galvanizing spirit to it that made sparks fly. Without the charismatic Lynott leading the charge, having died in 1986, leaving surviving band members to battle over the rights to the Thin Lizzy name, Live in London 2011 cannot possibly hope to win over the hearts and minds of those who feel that a Lizzy without Lynott is, at best, a pale imitation of the original.
And as for any comparisons to Live and Dangerous, the phrase “apples and oranges” comes to mind, especially as the Thin Lizzy of this recording is, for all intents and purposes, little more than a tribute band – even if, as recent press reports have indicated, they do end up making an album of all new material under a different moniker, out of respect for Lynott. For all of its accolades, there’s been a great deal of controversy over what parts of Live and Dangerous were overdubbed, with producer Tony Visconti and guitarist Brian Robertson espousing their own versions of the truth over the years. Live in London 2011, one of the really expansive and sonically impressive Concert Live Series releases from Four Worlds, won’t spark any controversy of that sort, being a complete and unabridged document of a modern-day Thin Lizzy giving a packed London Hammersmith house everything they have in a rousing, workman-like performance that honors the memory of its fallen leader.  
Led by Scott Gorham, who along with Brian Robertson sculpted Thin Lizzy’s signature “twin lead guitar” sound, this version of Lizzy – featuring Brian Downey back on drums, singer Ricky Warwick, Marco Mendoza on bass, longtime keyboardist Darren Wharton, and Def Leppard’s Vivian Campbell on guitar – gallops and slashes its way through the bruising, saber-rattling “Emerald” and the apocalyptic imagery of “Angel of Death,” after barely surviving the frenzied fray of the bruising “Massacre.” Not all fire and brimstone, Live in London 2011 also finds Lizzy mining more melodic – though still gritty and as tough as London’s East End – territory on rough-and-tumble renderings of “Wild One” and “Waiting for an Alibi,” and a more fragile-hearted reading of the bluesy, neon-lit ballad “Still in Love with You.”
Ballads, however, are a rarity on Live in London 2011, with Lizzy intent on riding this horse hard and putting it up wet, as the hard funk treatment given to “Sha La La La” – with Mendoza’s bass sounding particularly rubbery and mean – and “Bad Reputation” indicate. Ballsy and full of venom, the surging “Jailbreak,” with its familiar biting riffs and sure hooks holding you in their clutches, runs at a brisk pace, and the building momentum of “Cowboy Song” is electrifying, that reliable old high-flying guitar solo rocketing to the moon as it always has, leading into a somewhat flaccid “Boys Are Back in Town.”
Occasionally, the energy lags, Warwick – though possessing a commanding voice – hits some flat notes and the mix, while mostly superb, giving each instrument good definition and great power, isn’t always perfect – there are times when some of the guitar solos seem distant and fade into the background. Regardless, a celebratory atmosphere pervades Live in London 2011, as Warwick stops to toast the dear, departed Lynott often, and Gorham and Campbell sync up on dual-guitar weavings that couldn’t be more exquisite, while also exchanging searing, majestic leads that leave sonic brands on your skin. Best of all, Live in London 2011 is one of those concert albums that makes you feel as if you were standing in the frongt row – the in-between song banter coming through loud and clear – during a rollicking, if not entirely flawless, performance, and for those who weren’t there, or who haven’t experienced the new millennium Thin Lizzy for themselves, this might just be a good substitute for the real thing.
-            Peter Lindblad