DVD Review: Black Sabbath – Live ... Gathered in Their Masses

DVD Review: Black Sabbath – Live … Gathered in Their Masses
All Access Rating: B+

Black Sabbath - Live ... Gathered in Their
Masses 2013
Darkness had spread across Australia in the spring of 2013, as the originators of doom metal, Black Sabbath, brought their live, and fairly ancient considering their advanced age, evil to the land "Down Under." 

Meteorologists may not have had an explanation for the atmospheric anomaly, but the reunited original Sabbath lineup – except drummer Bill Ward, that is – did. They had embarked on a world tour in support of their comeback album 13, one of 2013's most critically acclaimed metal albums, and Ozzy Osbourne, Tony Iommi, Geezer Butler and Ward's replacement, ex-Rob Zombie and Alice Cooper tub-thumper Tommy Clufetos, rode into Melbourne like the "Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse." 

It wasn't the end of days. Grizzled, yet fully capable of churning through and grinding out old sonic blasphemies and new abominations alike with a tenacious spirit, Sabbath just needed a place to practice their dark arts. On April 29 and May 1, Melbourne audiences were able to witness what might be their last chance to see Sabbath's unholy trinity do their worst. The filmmakers who shot the amplified, electrifying "Live … Gathered in Their Masses" must have been thinking along those lines as well.

As is the case with most, but not all, concert DVDs these days, high-definition cameras were used to sharply and vividly capture Sabbath, awash in purple and blue hues, rolling through its set list like a Sherman tank. While briefly shedding a light on what goes on behind the scenes at the start, the film slams forward, with Sabbath diving headlong into "War Pigs" with an appropriate amount of blood lust. Slogging through the heavy sludge of "Loner" and raging through "God Is Dead," off the new LP, with the sinewy muscle of men half their age, Butler and Iommi plunder their blackened past with confident and brutal efficiency, relentlessly kicking with scuffed boots at the still red-hot embers of "Iron Man," "Symptom of the Universe," "Snowblind," "N.I.B." and "Fairies Wear Boots" and slowly coaxing them into burning conflagrations of oily, industrialized metal that Sabbath bulldozes into piles of smoldering ruins as the fires die down.

Lenses smartly seek out Butler and Iommi, instinctively catching them in action as the bassist thunders and gallops along to every bludgeoned, crusty riff or every spell of solo wizardry that blasts its way out of Iommi's bottomless bag of tricks. And yet when they want to build the kind of gallows drama that plays out in a condemned man's head the night before his execution, the pair tease, in the most torturous manner possible, the haunted "Black Sabbath" as it crawls along like a death sentence, as does this viscous, "head pounding against a wall" version of "Into the Void."

Still a deranged cheerleader, Ozzy, on the other hand, is not the strongest vocalist anymore, and his incessant yammering on about not being able to hear the crowd roar its appreciation becomes somewhat distracting, grating and tiresome. Still, there is some demonic life left in that ravaged, frail voice, and when it comes to interpreting Sabbath's most horrific Satanic verses in his uniquely insane manner, nobody compares to Ozzy. All in all, "Live ... Gathered in Their Masses," available as a single DVD or a CD/DVD version, finds Sabbath possibly making a last punishing stand as Butler, Iommi and Ozzy confront their own mortality. If they are nearing the end, this powerhouse concert DVD will testify to their explosive potency as a live act, even as most of their contemporaries have long since retired. http://www.republicrecords.com/
– Peter Lindblad

DVD Review: Ronnie Montrose – Concert for Ronnie Montrose: A Celebration of His Life in Music

DVD Review: Ronnie Montrose  Concert for Ronnie Montrose: A Celebration of His Life in Music
All Access Rating: B+

Ronnie Montrose - Concert for
Ronnie Montrose - A Celebration of
His Life in Music 2013
Many tears had been shed over the March 3, 2012 passing of guitar legend Ronnie Montrose. On this night, however, mourning his death was not encouraged. This was an occasion to toast a mercurial and sublime talent, to send him off in a manner befitting his groundbreaking work and highly influential legacy.

Almost a month and a half after American hard rock lost one of its leading architects, an all-star lineup congregated at the venerable Regency Ballroom in San Francisco to pay homage to someone who always marched to the beat of his own drummer, a restless artist who never stayed in one place too long and avoided the limelight as much as possible.

As a guitarist, his keen playing had both sizzle and substance. Never ostentatious, Montrose's industrious salvos resembled the man himself, his heady riffs rough and heavy and his solos beguilingly understated, but also lively and gripping. Writing the iconic guitar riffs to Van Morrison's "Wild Nights" and the Edgar Winter Group's "Free Ride" and "Frankenstein" wasn't enough for Montrose. That session work predated the formation of his band Montrose, who rewrote the rule book for hard rock with a smashing, full-blooded 1973 debut that, despite its limited commercial success, showed the way forward for Van Halen and others who found magic in classic songs such as the ubiquitous "Bad Motor Scooter." And when Montrose felt that progressive-rock needed a good, swift kick in the ass, he created Gamma, a vehicle for further experimentation and reinvention, something Montrose never tired of as he later dabbled in jazzy, instrumental complexities further on down the road.

Packed to the rafters, the Regency Ballroom provided a rich, ornate setting for this warmly filmed and recorded tribute, now out on a DVD that doesn't include, or need, a lot of bells and whistles. Distinctly analog, with the focus placed squarely on Montrose's music, the film – interspersed with a few insightful interviews to contextualize his career – keeps the sentimentality to a minimum mostly. When it comes, it is tasteful and meaningful, as when Tesla singer Jeff Keith expresses how grateful he and Tesla were for Ronnie's interest and belief in them. Unfortunately, Tesla's rather tepid and awkward reading of its hit "Little Suzi" is one of the low points of this concert. A vocally mangled, though instrumentally sound, version of "Free Ride" is a bit disconcerting as well. On the other hand, Tesla guitarist Frank Hannon leads a mercenary group of musicians in a spirited romp through "I Don't Want It," off that great first Montrose album, and the crew responsible for "Frankenstein" awakens the monster, enthusiastically kicking it into overdrive and giving it even more sonic crunch.

Even more heartening, though, are a series of searing performances from a reformed Gamma, with Davey Pattison, Glenn Letsch and Denny Carmassi playing alongside the dazzling guitartist Marc Bonilla, breathing new life into "Thunder and Lightning," "Razor King" and "No Tears," and the remaining members of Montrose, with Joe Satriani on guitar, thundering through high-voltage, razor-sharp takes on "Rock The Nation" and "Space Station No. 5."

Perhaps the most affecting moments, however, are reserved for guitarist C.J. Hutchins, percussionist Jimmy Paxson and keyboardist Ed Roth, who offer beautiful, lush acoustic renderings of "Lighthouse" and "One and A Half" that turns a raucous crowd quiet and thoughtful. They were awful noisy though in roaring their appreciation for Roth joining Journey guitarist Neal Schon, one-time Journey drummer Steve Smith and Styx bassist Ricky Phillips for heated, well-articulated versions of Montrose instrumentals "Open Fire" and "Town Without Pity." A bonus disc of Dave Meniketti, members of Y&T and other performers tearing into songs like the Montrose staple "Rock Candy," "Good Rockin' Tonight" and "Wild Nights" completes the collection, and they give six tracks a good, vigorous workout, even if there's no audience but the camera operators around to enjoy it.

Ronnie will be missed, but at least his music lives on. This concert film, shot with a real appreciation for the skill of the musicians taking part and Montrose's catalog, only serves to cement Montrose's place in music history.
– Peter Lindblad

Best of 2013 in Hard Rock and Heavy Metal ... Part 4

It's the final countdown 
By Peter Lindblad

And so, it's come to this. The final five. The best of the best.

2013 turned out some truly monstrous and carnivorous hard rock and heavy metal, as All Pigs Must Die's Nothing Violates This Nature simply devoured the competition. Motorhead did what it always does, but somehow, Lemmy Kilmister and the boys did it better than they have in a long time.

ASG took a great leap forward, Michael Monroe made people forget about Hanoi Rocks, and Clutch stopped messing around and made the most direct and gripping appeal for a rock 'n' roll revival of anybody in the last decade.

But, before we dig into the five courses set on this table, what about some great records that didn't make the top 20 cut? Stryper's utterly compelling No More Hell to Pay and Kingdom Come's moody Outlier deserve something more than honorable mention, as do Stone Sour's House of Gold & Bones Vol. 2 and Bad Religion's Due North.

Alas, choices had to be made. So, read on, and see if you agree with them.

All Pigs Must Die - Nothing Violates
This Nature 2013
5. All Pigs Must Die: Nothing Violates This Nature Take members of Converge, the Hope Conspiracy and other merchants of death metal. Throw them together into the deepest, darkest pit of inhumanity, let them paint on the walls scenes of violence and murderous madness with their own filth and give them guitars, bass and drums. They will marry blistering hardcore and extreme metal in the unholiest of ceremonies, creating one of the most ferocious and aggressive albums of the year. Rampaging riffs and crazed, writhing rhythms get all gnarled and twisted by backbreaking shifts in dynamics, as All Pigs Must Die turn heavy, bringing about immense power surges, or speeding headlong into scenes of unimaginable brutality. Few entities have ever spewed this much hatred with such exacting and raging articulation.

ASG - Blood Drive 2013
4. ASG: Blood Drive – Once upon a time, ASG stood for All Systems Go. Copyright issues forced these North Carolina stoner metal/Southern rock mystics to shorten the name, but with Blood Drive, ASG has shown it is ready for launch. Mammoth riffs and tantalizingly slow tempos bid you to follow, becoming sirens that lure listeners into towering forests and craggy mountains of sound. Occasionally, ASG flies to celestial realms, gazing about in wonder as they try to comprehend just where they ended up. More often than not, though, ASG knows exactly where they're going, and they are unafraid. A cookie or some orange juice is needed after this Blood Drive.

Motorhead - Aftershock 2013
3. Motorhead: Aftershock –Contrary to popular belief, Lemmy is not indestructible, as his recent health scares have so frighteningly illustrated. Aftershock, on the other hand, could never be destroyed. It's that cockroach of an album that would live through anything. Like all Motorhead efforts, Aftershock is audacious, high-octane rock 'n' roll, with some bluesy grit thrown in for good measure. Constantly in danger of going off the rails, it somehow manages to always stay on track, picking up speed and running over anything that gets in its way. 

Michael Monroe - Horns and Halos 2013
2. Michael Monroe: Horns and Halos – Thank God for Michael Monroe. Still making great rock 'n' roll that belongs in a gutter and looking fabulous in his tattered glam-rock garb, Monroe is on fire these days, having released in recent years not one, but two albums of rousing, straightjacket-tight rock anthems with hooks all over the place, energy to burn and a little bit of a punk sneer on their dirty faces. Horns and Halos didn't just give 2011's Sensory Overdrive a run for its money. It stole its wallet, ducked down an alleyway to escape and divvy up the loot, and then blew it all on prostitutes and drugs. " … Junkies, pimps and whores, hallelujah," indeed.

Clutch - Earth Rocker 2013
1. Clutch: Earth Rocker – Clutch trimmed the excess sonic fat, like any good studio butcher, leaving the lean meat of Earth Rocker, as Neil Fallon and company concoct a dish with this rock 'n' roll protein that couldn't have been more flavorful. Straightforward, never wandering off into places it shouldn't go, Earth Rocker was propelled by the force of its own sinewy momentum, its groove-metal engine always running clean and hot. Never has Clutch sounded this focused or this tight, Earth Rocker assuming even more power and ballsy drive than seemingly all of its past efforts combined. We all should be earth rockers.

Best of 2013 in Hard Rock and Heavy Metal ... Part 3

Sabbath returns, death metal breathes fire, Ghost gets eclectic
By Peter Lindblad

Death metal did not take a holiday in 2013. Ghost took a strange, but wonderfully odd left turn into psychedelic pop and progressive-rock. Toxic Holocaust taught us all about chemistry, and heavy metal's godfathers made 13 their lucky number.

Let's be honest: 2013 was all about Black Sabbath. 13 was surprisingly virile and dark as night, mapping out territory they've explored before, but stumbling upon fresh ideas and deep caverns of rumbling menace in doing so. And that made it a top 10 favorite.

Exhumed also made a comeback in 2010, and that led to Necrocracy, one of the most devastatingly brutal records of their career. Ghost's (the B.C. is, as they say, silent) Infestissumam was a little out of character for them, but its architecture was stunning. Furthermore, everyone should join The Resistance. Their Scars will never heal, but you wouldn't want them to.

Here are 10-6 in our "Best of 2013 in Hard Rock and Heavy Metal" list of albums, Part 3:

Exhumed - Necrocracy 2013
10. Exhumed: Necrocracy – Death metal sourpusses Exhumed returned with furious vengeance in 2013, lashing out with murderous hatred at a political system so bloated and corrupt that to truly capture just how ugly society and government have become, only the revolting imagery and language of rotting corpses and gory violence can adequately describe the horror. Captained by a singer who growls like a grizzly bear possessed by demons, Exhumed grinds and thrashes its way through the carnage with angry, doom-laden riffs, vicious grooves and complex, contorted dynamics that shift speeds seamlessly on this joyless ride from an evil, spindly crawl to a immense, fast-moving conflagration. Not for the faint of heart.

Toxic Holocaust - Chemistry of
Consciousness 2013
9. Toxic Holocaust: Chemistry of Consciousness – Joel Grind gets an A in science for Chemistry of Consciousness. Less trashy and disease-ridden than past Toxic Holocaust recordings, but just as combustible, Chemistry of Consciousness sharply focuses Grind's love of crusty D-beat and dangerously fast thrash metal into nuclear weaponry that could almost be described as sleek or streamlined, were it not for Toxic Holocaust's feral rage. Never for a second does Chemistry of Consciousness lose any bit of its momentum or ferocity. It is a relentless attack, binging on and then purging itself of Venom or Bathory influences, as Toxic Holocaust forges its own identity and fearsome reputation. 

Black Sabbath - 13 2013
8. Black Sabbath: 13 – Three-fourths of the original Black Sabbath is better than nothing. Although this much-ballyhooed reunion fell short of reuniting the entire original lineup, it did produce the kind of churning, sludgy riffage that only Tony Iommi can dream up, while painting a charred, burned-out landscape of doom metal that's the stuff of good old-fashioned nightmares. And while it feels as if Sabbath has come full circle, revisiting its exhilarating early days one last time, 13 doesn't simply rehash the past. What fresh hell is this? It's one of Sabbath's making, full of awesome dread, soul-crushing alienation and the sense that God may have abandoned this place. It could be that this is Sabbath's last meal. What a satisfying one it is.

The Resistance - Scars
7. The Resistance: Scars – Somehow, Scars fell between the cracks. At least it did for critics. Hardly any Best of … lists for this year have mentioned the latest from these raging death-metal hardliners, and that's a shame. Scars gives a whole new meaning to the word "intensity." Aggressive from the word "go" and set ablaze with outright hostility, Scars sees these In Flames refugees slamming and crashing into anything their path, and then rising from the burning wreckage to do it all over again. Blistering speed is prized by The Resistance, but they are also completely into complexity and chaotic, high-impact dynamics, the likes of which are breathtaking to behold.  

Ghost - Infestissuman 2013
6. Ghost: Infestissumam – A coat of many sonic colors from these mysteriously Satanic Swedes, the defiantly diverse Infestissumam certainly threw a pop-oriented curveball at the world of heavy metal, leaving some to wonder whether they'd wandered too far off the path. Ghost's wildly eclectic ambitions came to the fore on Infestissuman, as their progressive and psychedelic inclinations drive songs that assume more pleasing shapes than past efforts, enhanced by choirs and other not-so metal accoutrements. Are they trying to redefine heavy metal? Maybe. They've certainly pushed its boundaries pretty far on Infestissuman, an album that grows more and more enticing with repeated listens. The darkness will return, and when it does, Ghost's black magic may be more powerful than ever.

Best of 2013 in Hard Rock and Heavy Metal – Part 2

Deep Purple, Satyricon, Red Fang ... and more 
by Peter Lindblad

Youth will not be served in this portion of our "Top 20 Hard Rock and Heavy Metal 2013" list, except for Red Fang that is.

Deep Purple, Monster Magnet, Satyricon and Oliva – that's Jon Oliva of Savatage fame – all made compelling arguments for not being put out to pasture in 2013, making some of the most exciting and powerful music of the year.

Here, we tip our cap to albums 15-11. The top 10 awaits. 

Deep Purple - Now What?!
15. Deep Purple: Now What?! – Lost in all the hoopla over Black Sabbath's comeback was the return of Deep Purple, who crafted one of the most beguiling and intoxicating records of their career. By turns cinematic and mysterious, with a widescreen Middle Eastern vibe that recalls Ian Gillan's work with Tony Iommi on the recent WhoCares collaboration, Now What?! is also smolderingly soulful and even, in a minor sense, jazzy. And yet it never lets you forget that Purple can still burn through hot-wired hard rock, like the stuff that made them one of the '70s most explosive acts, with the kind of musical chops other bands would die for, as Don Airey and Steve Morse take off the training wheels and go for broke.

Oliva - Raise the Curtain 2013
14. Oliva: Raise the Curtain – Savatage was always a different kind of metal animal, theatrical and progressive while still managing to sound powerful and heavy. With Raise the Curtain, Jon Oliva, the group's founder, pulled out all the tricks, making this a Bat Out of Hell for the new millennium. Only Meat Loaf was never this unpredictable or adventurous, as Oliva boldly takes a lot of risks here, but the emphasis with Raise the Curtain is always on great drama and melodic grandeur, leading its wide-eyed audience through aural scenery and costume changes as breathtaking as any Broadway show.

Red Fang - Whales and Leeches 2013
13. Red Fang: Whales and Leeches – Maybe it was a small step backward. Maybe Red Fang isn't quite ready to make that grand statement of bearded and boozy metal glory everybody believed they would with Whales and Leeches. Still, the stormy Whales and Leeches is a whirlwind of purposeful and nearly manic activity, and yet it harnesses brawny riffs, wonderfully warped lyrics and raging rhythmic bluster into fairly tight, but malleable, song structures. Red Fang is kind of like Mastodon's more mischievous little brother, somewhat less serious with a slight touch of ADD. 

Monster Magnet - Last Patrol 2013
12. Monster Magnet: Last Patrol – It's all fine and good that Monster Magnet went back to using vintage gear for the making of Last Patrol. The fact that they did so and were able to generate such a compelling blend of wind-whipping space-rock and mind-bending psychedelia is more a testament to the creativity and songwriting aptitude of Dave Wyndorf than any simple equipment changes. Moments of painful introspection are leavened by cosmic tales of revenge and debauchery, as Monster Magnet flies around the universe looking for cheap thrills, and Last Patrol is full of them.  

Satyricon - S/T 2013
11. Satyricon: Satyricon – Not as blackened as in days of yore, Satyricon, nevertheless, can still conjure up plenty of chillingly melodic brutality, technical free-for-alls and dark malevolence on command, as this self-titled effort so effectively illustrates. The Norwegian black metal stalwarts don't mind slogging through layers of sonic sludge or inviting doom metal heaviness into their fortress of solitude, but Satyricon has morphed into a more dynamic entity, somehow becoming increasingly intense and heated in the process, while never quite escaping the eerie atmospheres in which they've lived for lo these many years. And there's something oddly comforting about that.

Best of 2013 in Hard Rock and Heavy Metal – Part 1

The number of this beast is 20, as in top 20
By Peter Lindblad

There are many questions left unanswered from the year of our Lord 2013. 

One of them being, what exactly is an "Earth Rocker" and, as a follow-up question to Clutch, how do they differ from normal, everyday rockers? Also, why Summon the Faithless, Lord Dying? Is something nefarious afoot? 

And what about Monster Magnet's Last Patrol? Should we read anything into that title? And should you engage in a transaction with a Venomous Rat Regeneration Vendor, what are you actually purchasing? Zombie rodents? Would you buy such a thing from a man named Rob Zombie?

To say the least, hard rock and heavy metal had its share of scary, off-the-wall characters making ridiculously powerful music in 2013. Ozzy even sounded semi-coherent as three-fourths of the original Black Sabbath came back from the grave with a vengeance. As ill as he's been, Lemmy still barreled through Aftershock like a man possessed by demons, which is just the way Lemmy likes it. And former Hanoi Rocks frontman Michael Monroe showed everyone he's full of just as much piss and vinegar as guys half his age.

So, here we present the best metal and hard rock records of 2013 in this four-part series, counting down from 20 and headed toward No. 1. 

Amon Amarth - Deceiver of the Gods 2013
20. Amon Amarth: Deceiver of the Gods – Maybe this Norse metal thing has finally run its course with death metal Vikings Amon Amarth. Even the gods are wondering if its time Amon Amarth gave it a rest. Still, the gory Deceiver of the Gods, with its mighty blend of traditional melodic metal forms and good old fashioned thrash, is a mammoth production, a big boiling kettle of massive riffs, hairy vocal bellows and roiling rhythms that swings precariously to and fro, constantly spilling its contents over the edge. And Amon Amarth worshippers lapped up every drop.

Lord Dying - Summon the Faithless 2013
19. Lord Dying: Summon the Faithless Stirring up a sea of sludge, coating it in crusty distortion and fashioning it into menacing shapes defined by crunching riffs and hardened grooves, Lord Dying staked its claim to Black Sabbath's throne as the masters of doom metal. Made of pure evil, Summon the Faithless is that shadowy figure of an album hiding around the corner, waiting to snatch whoever happens to walk by with a myriad of rusty hooks that could give whoever hears it tetanus. Make sure you're up on all your shots.

Rob Zombie - Venomous Rat Regeneration
Vendor 2013
18. Rob Zombie: Venomous Rat Regenerator Chaos reigns supreme in the circus world of Venomous Rat Regenerator, where demented bartender Rob Zombie and partner John Five whip up a lethal cocktail of hot, grinding industrial-metal riffage, hard-hitting dance beats and complete auditory madness. If any asylum could ever be described as "fun" or having a "party-like atmosphere," this is it. The inmates are running Venomous Rat Regenerator, inviting all manner of freaks, and they are throwing the bash of the century.

Saxon - Sacrifice 2013
17. Saxon: Sacrifice Saxon sacrificed nothing on its last album. The grizzled New Wave of British Heavy Metal veterans mixed in some thrash stomp and made some of the toughest, most durable rock of their career. Wrecking-ball riffs and beautifully intertwined dual-guitar salvos each find their space on Sacrifice, which also incorporates touches of folk instrumentation on an otherwise hard-nosed, blue-collar epic that packs quite a wallop.

Vista Chino - Peace 2013
16. Vista Chino: Peace – Peace sells, and it should be bought by the truckload. Heavy and languid, with a wonderfully homegrown, hazy stoner-metal aesthetic hanging in the air, Peace could have sounded inert, stuck in a past where too many Kyuss fans choose to live. It doesn't. Rather, Vista Chino moves in mysterious and intoxicating ways. Instead, it's seductive, like an older brother daring you to smoke pot for the first time, and earthy, as if early Sabbath spent more  time in hippie communes, as opposed to graveyards. In a word, it sounds "natural," which is something that can't be said anymore for Queens of the Stone Age, that other Kyuss-related band. 

CD/DVD Review: Saga - Spin It Again! – Live in Munich

CD/DVD Review: Saga - Spin It Again!  Live in Munich
earMUSIC/Eagle Rock Entertainment
All Access Rating: A-

Saga - Spin It Again Live!
Germany's love for Saga still runs as deep as it ever has. Glorious in design and execution, 2012's 20/20, the most recent album from the Canadian prog-rock puzzle makers, somehow managed to claw its way into the top 10 in a country that snatched up tens of thousands of copies of Saga's debut LP when hardly anybody outside of Canada knew who they were.

Charting that high, no matter where, is no mean feat these days for a group like Saga, who experienced its greatest success in the late 1970s and early '80s, but Germany has always respected and admired Saga's sonic artistry.

It should come as no surprise then that on the final night of their 2013 sold out European tour in support of 20/20 Saga would end up in Munich, treating an adoring crowd to a thrilling two hours of old favorites and strong newer material. Out on Blu-ray or as a two-CD release, Spin It Again!  Live in Munich documents, in vivid and immersive audio and video, a night of passion that reunited Saga with its most ardent paramour, as the band whirls through its back catalog with a rush of adrenaline.

Munich welcomed back the classic Saga lineup with open arms, taking great delight in lead vocalist Michael Sadler, having reunited with Saga for 20/20 after a five-year hiatus, delivering good-humored stage banter in both English and fluent German. In full throat, the audience sang the chorus to the soaring Saga classic "Wind Him Up" word for word, as Sadler took a break to soak up what was surely a transcendent moment for him and the band.

The time Sadler spent apart from Saga did him and the band some good. 20/20 was an inspiring piece of musical engineering, still as melodic and as daring as ever, but also darker and heavier in spots than past Saga efforts with some of Ian Crichton's cycling through some of his angriest and most compelling guitar riffage. In some ways, it was a throwback to years past, when Saga's resounding guitars and epic synthesizers crashed up against arty, literate storytelling full of the kind of terrific tension, unusual drama and skewed insight into the human condition found in Rod Serling stories.

Drinking in Saga's euphoric, carnivalesque performance, Munich seemed to take as much interest in newer pieces as it did in Saga's past, the audience and performer connecting intimately and with unabashed joy. "Six Feet Under" and "Spin It Again" are especially captivating, swept away on surging melodic flourishes and veering off down magical little detours that seem like doorways to places of mystery and strange beauty. There is cleverly disguised menace in the smiling countenance of "The Perfectionist," a stylish song about the murderous Ellery Snead, and the tantalizing "Anywhere You Want to Go" and "Mouse in a Maze" are powerfully addictive, while "The Flyer" is presented as a breathtaking trapeze act.

As vibrant and intoxicating as the first disc in the CD set is, the second one is more diverse, with the affecting piano exercises "Time's Up" and "Scratching the Surface" sounding naked and alone, but also thoughtful and warmly nostalgic. And then there's the buoyant "Humble Stance," which almost sounds like a bounding beer hall polka all gussied up with Saga's chrome-plated progressive bombast, and a storming version of "On the Loose" that tingles with excitement.

Long ago, Saga discovered the missing link between the crunching hard rock and progressive tendencies of countrymen Rush and the altered consciousness and shape-shifting, classically influenced arrangements of Yes. Given all that, it follows that Saga's musicianship should be incredibly entertaining to behold in concert, and it is, as Germany well knows.

Germans get that the dynamic interplay of guitarist Ian Crichton's flights of fancy – his complex riffs, mushrooming plumes and those searing, exacting and yet unpredictable leads of his that go only where he knows the way – with the spiraling of Jim Gilmour and Jim Crichton is not only absolutely dazzling, but also has a synergy that, to borrow a phrase from Rush, crackles with life. Germans get that Sadler's wonderfully expressive and strong, cloudless vocals make him one of the most underrated singers on the planet. And maybe the people of Munich, in particular, get Saga in a way others don't. Should the rest of the world gives Spin It Again! - Live in Munich, the perfect companion piece to 20/20, a chance, they'll get it, too. http://www.ear-music.net/en/news/ and http://www.eagle-rock.com/

- Peter Lindblad

Vanilla Fudge in Rock Hall? Cactus, too?

Carmine Appice thinks his bands aren't getting a fair shake
By Peter Lindblad

Carmine Appice 2013
Like so many others, Carmine Appice has a bone to pick with Rock and Roll Hall of Fame voters. 

And he's not shy about doing a little politicking for his own bands.

In a recent interview, the drumming guru, who just started his own record label, Rocker Records, made the case for both Vanilla Fudge and Cactus.

"Why neither one of them are ever even mentioned in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, I’ll never know, especially Vanilla Fudge," said Appice. "We took out everybody with us. Frank Zappa opened up for us. I mean, Cactus had Bruce Springsteen open up for us. You know what I mean? It’s just crazy."

Having Zappa and Springsteen as support acts is pretty impressive all right, but does that alone qualify Vanilla Fudge and Cactus as Hall of Fame material? Appice takes another tack in his fairly good-natured, but still passionate, argument.

"And then they worry that Alice Cooper didn’t get in (that was before he actually got in, of course)," said Appice. "Okay, they’re right. Alice Cooper should be in there. Certainly the freaking rap artists shouldn’t be in there. If they throw those kinds of acts in there, they should call it the Music Hall of Fame, not the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. But then Jeff Beck is in there twice. I mean, the Yardbirds are in there. Why are the Yardbirds in there and Vanilla Fudge isn’t in there? The Yardbirds were never that big here. Is it because they spawned the three guitar players? Vanilla Fudge spawned me and Timmy (Bogert) (laughs)."

While there isn't a great push among rock fans to get Fudge or Cactus into the Rock Hall, like there is with other hard-rock heroes Deep Purple  or KISS, maybe they do merit strong consideration.

Mixing up a heavy psychedelic and soulful rock brew, Fudge re-imagined a host of popular songs in the late '60s, including The Supremes' hit "You Keep Me Hangin' On." Fudge's tripped-out version, with vocalist/keyboardist Mark Stein's baroque organ making the track a warped little aural funhouse, went all the way to No. 6 on the US Hot 100. That's also where their 1967 self-titled album landed on the US Top 200.

A weird sophomore effort, titled The Beat Goes On and filled with sound collages rather than actual songs, derailed Fudge, although the record went all the way to No. 17 on the charts. Fudge's third album, Renaissance, was more in line with their first album, and it did well, hitting No. 20. In all, the prolific Fudge, often cited as the missing link between psychedelia and heavy metal, put out five albums between 1966 and 1969, and in the process, probably helped paved the way for the stoner-metal movement.

Appice and Bogert, Fudge's bassist, left in 1970 to start Cactus, leaving Stein to forge onward with Fudge. Known as the "American Led Zeppelin," Cactus stuck around for only two years, but their brand of high-energy boogie-rock influenced a number of high-profile artists, including Van Halen, the Black Crowes, Montrose and the Black Keys. 

But it was Fudge that made Appice and Bogert, who later formed a trio with guitar god Jeff Beck called Beck, Bogert & Appice, household names. And it was Fudge that sparked a reaction by reworking Beatles' songs like "Eleanor Rigby" and "Ticket to Ride," not to mention Donovan's "Season of the Witch," with a thick, lugubrious kind of soul approach that was more glassy-eyed than blue-eyed.

They were not playing by anybody's rules.

"The Rascals were big at the time, and we sort of blew them away with what they were doing to the extreme," said Appice. "And it’s just like Led Zeppelin took everybody else who influenced them, from Hendrix to Vanilla Fudge to the Cream and everybody else, and took what they were doing – especially The Jeff Beck Group – to the extreme. And that’s why they were so big, but 'You Keep Me Hangin’ On,' it was such a shock, because nobody really did covers in those days. If they did, they were doing them the same way as the original. But the way we did it, we shocked so many people."

Count some of the biggest names in rock among those stunned by what Vanilla Fudge was doing.

"I remember reading things that Eric Clapton and George Harrison and Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck and all these people knew exactly where they were the first time they heard that, because it left such an impression on them," said Appice. "And why? Because it was a white group playing really heavy, but soulful – so heavy soul wasn’t really in yet. White, blue-eyed soul was cool. That was what The Rascals did and the Righteous Brothers did, but nobody did it heavy – with big amps and the big drums, the powerful drum sounds."

These days, both bands are back touring, and Appice's new label is just itching to put some Cactus and Vanilla Fudge product that Appice has just sitting around collecting dust. Visit www.rocker-records.com for more information.

And stay tuned for more from our interview with one of the greatest drummers in the history of rock 'n' roll.

Finding Joe Grushecky 'Somewhere East of Eden'

By Peter Lindblad

Joe Grushecky released Somewhere East of Eden
in fall 2013
Blue-collar through and through, just like his home city of Pittsburgh, Joe Grushecky is concerned about the soul-crushing struggles of the common man, just like his mentor, Bruce Springsteen.

A teacher who works and lives in the rougher part of the Steel City, Grushecky writes about people he encounters every day, whether they be kids from the wrong side of the tracks ("Who Cares About Those Kids") or Iraq war veterans trying to cope with regular life Stateside and the nightmarish memories of battle.

Grushecky lives to tell their stories, from the point of view of a man who is no stranger to hard-luck stories and a greying observer of the human condition in all its tattered and flawed beauty.

Somewhere East of Eden, released in October, is Grushecky's latest solo album, and it's a gritty, tuneful mix of raucous R&B and blues-flavored rock that brings a lunchpail to work. Recorded in Weirton, West Virginia, at longtime co-producer Rick Witkowski's Studio L, Somewhere East of Eden is Grushecky's 17th solo effort. Out on the Schoolhouse Records label and distributed by Warner Bros. Records Nashville, it boasts rowdy blues bashers like "I Can Hear the Devil Knocking" and "John the Revelator," but when Grushecky turns soulful on "Save the Last Dance for Me," there's not a dry eye in the place.

A true rock 'n' roll veteran with plenty of recordings to his credit, Grushecky was once a member of of the Iron City Houserockers, before going solo and getting the chance to work with The Boss. Springsteen not only produced Grushecky's 1995 solo album American Babylon, but he also co-wrote a couple of songs, contributed guitar on the record and even served a touring guitarist with the band.

Outside of music, Grushecky is known for his charitable endeavors, having served as an executive board member of the Light of Day Foundation, an organization that helped raise over a million dollars worldwide to fight Parkinson;s Disease at the 40+ Annual Light of Day Concerts in the U.S., Canada and Europe.

Grushecky talked about his new record and his career in an e-mail interview recently.

What is the significance of the title Somewhere East of Eden and how does it relate to the Iraq War veteran who is the subject of the song? 
Joe Grushecky: I got the basic idea from an article I read about a returning vet. A lot of the details were verbatim from the article. “East of Eden” is one of my all time favorite books. The Garden of Eden was said to be in the Fertile Crescent of Iraq. As I read the veteran’s story he struck me that he was returning home from Somewhere East of Eden. That thought and phrase inspired me to write the song.

How would you describe the music for the "Somewhere East of Eden" LP? It seems to have a blue-collar quality to it.
JG: I’ve been tagged blue-collar my whole career. I think it stems from the fact that I write about the life around me which is distinctly from a working man’s point of view. I get up 4:30 every day and go to work! The music is my take on all the stuff I’ve listened to all these years.

This is your 17th solo album, and you decided to seek aid from fans to make it. Is it inspiring to you to see such tangible support from people who admire your work, and do you think this is the way many music artists are going to fund their projects in the future?
JG: It is the only way guys like me can reach a greater audience. I really enjoyed the process after being somewhat skeptical at first. We would not be doing this interview if not for the pledge drive enabling me to get a good publicist.

You were going to embark on recording an acoustic album of old R&B and soul stuff. What's the status of that project and how did it spark the creation of the new record? 
JG: I love learning and singing, so I was just going about my business recording old songs that I always loved. I did not have a coherent group of songs that fit together until I wrote  “Somewhere East Of Eden.” I used a solo stripped-down approach on “John the Revelator” and “Save The Last Dance For Me.” Playing those great old songs inspired me to write good ones of my own.

How does the Pittsburgh area and the lives of its people affect your writing? A lot of this record seems to highlight the struggles of ordinary people in your community.
JG: Well, I write about what I know. I am in the community working everyday in an economically disadvantaged area. It was easy to weave the fabric of that into these songs. I have always written about Pittsburgh. It is a unique city with a lot of character. Everything about it, including the music, was rough and tumble when I was growing up and a lot of that rubbed off on me.

Joe Grushecky playing live
For those who don't know about the Iron City Houserockers, what is the band's story and what happened to it?
JG: We started out in my basement and got signed by Steve Popovich to Cleveland International Records. He was a legendary record guy. We did four albums to great critical acclaim. We worked with great producers, including Steve Cropper, Mick Ronson, Ian Hunter, and Steve Van Zandt. We were the pride of Pittsburgh and a killer live band. We never had anything resembling a major radio song. We lasted until guys started to bail out to pursue other careers besides music.

How long have you and your producer, Rick Witkowski, been working together and why does the creative relationship you have together work so well?
JG: Rick and I are great friends, and we have different strengths that complement each other. He likes the Beatles and pop. I like the Stones and blues.

Bruce Springsteen produced your 1995 album, American Babylon, and even co-wrote a couple of songs and played on the record. What do you recall about the experience and what is he like to work with? Was it a transformative period for you?
JG: Bruce helped us at a critical time. We were pretty much dead in the water as far as our recording careers were going. I will always be grateful to him. He is one of the all-time bests. He is an extremely proficient musician. He can play anything and play it well. It was like playing baseball with Roberto Clemente. 

How have you changed or developed as an artist since American Babylon?
JG: I like to think I keep getting better. Sometimes I think I’m just starting to get the knack of it.

You work as a teacher and play on the weekends from the sound of it. Do the two interests impact each other in some ways?
JG: It is two completely different worlds! The teaching has allowed me to pursue my music by providing me with health benefits and a steady income. I have always worked in very poor schools so I’m not getting rich by any stretch of the imagination, but I never really had to play anything I didn’t want to.

What are your hopes for Somewhere East of Eden

JG: I hope as many people as possible listen to it.

CD Review: Stryper - No More Hell to Pay

CD Review: Stryper - No More Hell to Pay
Frontiers Records
All Access Rating: B+

Stryper - No More Hell to Pay 2013
Onward go these Christian heavy-metal soldiers, trudging off again to a war they've been fighting since their inception in 1984. Stryper's missionary work is never done, and on No More Hell to Pay, their eighth studio album, they unapologetically proselytize for Jesus as they always have. 

It's forgivable, given that it's pretty well established that for Stryper this religious fervor was never meant to be a gimmick. This is who they are, for better or worse, and if nothing else, at least they're not Jehovah's Witnesses.

Begrudgingly, the metal community, not known for being tolerant of religion and Christianity in particular, came to respect Stryper, even as cynics derided their black-and-yellow outfits and their teased hair. Trading in their bumble-bee spandex for black denim and t-shirts, Stryper's look is edgier and not so glamorous these days. The same goes for their sound. 

Was it God telling them they needed to get heavier? If so, the Almighty had the right idea. Living in the shadows, No More Hell to Pay is grittier than past Stryper offerings, with beefy, Goliath-sized riffs streaked with dirt and the strongest songwriting ever attributed to Michael Sweet and the disciples. Toggling between mid-tempo crunch and enticing crawls, Stryper has channeled its inner Accept or Judas Priest, forging melodies that have a firm grip and filling No More Hell to Pay to the brim with meaty, satisfying hooks. Tracks like the punishing "Legacy" and the stomping "Marching into Battle" are surprisingly aggressive, while "Sticks and Stones" slithers menacingly and Sweet and Oz Fox take their axes to the sharpening stone and grind away on "Water into Wine." 

All of them, though, bow to what becomes a powerful anthem of a title track, where slow-burning riffage sticks in your craw and a wind-swept chorus signals a redemptive change in fortunes, a theme near and dear to Stryper's heart. Mostly foregoing speed in favor of heft, Stryper, nevertheless, rips through "Saved By Love" like a righteous twister, and perhaps predictably, they give a euphoric reading of the old Doobie Brothers' hit "Jesus is Just Alright," which makes some of the embarrassingly ham-handed lyricism found throughout No More Hell to Pay easier to swallow. It's not all cringe-worthy or hackneyed, as there's always been a sincerity and sense of purpose in their writing that's refreshing and unusual in the world of metal, but then comes a chorus crafted around the old "sticks and stones may break my bones" mantra that shakes your faith in Stryper, even if its spirited attitude is admirable. 

Still, like Jesus throwing the money changers out of the temple, Stryper has driven away its more pop-oriented inclinations for No More Hell to Pay. This seems to be the kind of music they've wanted to make all along. More comfortable than ever in their own skin, Stryper has come out swinging against their critics, landing haymaker after haymaker, with Sweet's trademark vocal wailing and the technically brilliant guitar fireworks of Sweet and Fox throwing caution to the wind. And their backing harmonies are as golden as ever. While they may advocate a peaceful "turn the other cheek" philosophy, with No More Hell to Pay they've shown themselves to be tougher than anybody thought. http://www.frontiers.it/
- Peter Lindblad

CD Review: Annihilator - Feast

CD Review: Annihilator - Feast
All Access Rating: B+

Annihilator - Feast 2013
The great Feast of Annihilator is upon us, and it is quite a spread. On the menu, served Manson family style of course, is aggressive, in-your-face thrash-metal mixed with ivy-covered passages of dark, melodic beauty, an occasional nod to traditional metal architecture, frenzied punk and classical influences and some rather serious, no-bullshit lyrics.

And then there's that gory, zombie apocalypse artwork that makes the "Walking Dead" seem like a trip to Disneyland. 

Emphasizing blistering speed, searing guitar leads that track their targets like heat-seeking missiles and sucker-punch changes in direction and atmosphere, album No. 14 from these versatile Canadian thrash veterans goes on a brutal rampage through "Deadlock," "Demon Code," "Wrapped" and "Smear Campaign," all of them swallowed whole by voracious, all-consuming riffs or beaten into a coma by the kind of brutal rhythmic assault and battery Prong might commit.

With its scissoring, mauling guitars ripping and tearing at whatever they can get their claws on, "No Way Out" would be included on this list of violent offenses, except for Annihilator suddenly, and rather seamlessly, slowing down and bursting upon a pretty, almost dream-like setting. Were it not for its treacly song structure and bad romantic poetry, the predictable ballad "Perfect Angel Eyes," might also be lauded for painting an expansive and well-defined Gothic aural picture, but instead, it just seems out of place on Feast, a record where virtuoso chops, seething rage and strong, intimidating vocals are the order of the day.

Some might say the same thing about "No Surrender," a jazzier, funk workout in the spirit of 24-7 Spyz, but its pummeling chorus really cracks some skulls, like so many sonic beat downs on Feast. Led by Jeff Waters, Annihilator doesn't mind doing the dirty work, but they also have a sophisticated palate, and it's this contradiction that makes Feast, and past Annihilator LPs, so intriguing, as Waters pulls no punches in tackling subjects like drug addiction, apathy, self-victimization and suicide without pity. And yet, Annihilator occasionally leaves all that ugliness behind, escaping into lovely, carefully plotted melodic scenes that disappear all too quickly.

While a dearth of "stick to your ribs" tracks leaves Feast wanting, it still offers breathtaking, hard-hitting action and lots of it, not to mention its monstrous metal riffs. In that way, Annihilator can take pride in being The Great White North's answer to Metallica or Anthrax, with Feast settling in somewhere a notch or two below Master of Puppets and Among the Living.

Those who shell out a little extra money for the lushly illustrated limited edition eco-book version of Feast, with its fearsome 3D cover, will encounter a sprawling bonus disc titled Re-Kill, where Annihilator updates 15 past classics with a more visceral, modern sound and fresh surprises. It's here that the nightmarish fairy-tale world of "Alison Hell" recalls King Diamond, the progressive-metal maze of "Set the World on Fire" grows more intricate and the chariots of thrash-metal fire "Nozone" and "Bloodbath" blaze anew, as does "Welcome to Your Death W.T.Y.D."

Annihilator has killed before, at least musically they have, and, in all likelihood, Waters and company will kill it again. And when they do, maybe Feast will be remembered not as the quiet, mannerly neighbor nobody knew very well, but rather as an articulate monster with a dual nature that valued art and intelligence but could erupt into volcanic anger at the slightest provocation. http://www.udr-music.com/
- Peter Lindblad

Carmine Appice's new label, Rocker Records, is set to launch

Carmine Appice 2013
Revered by legions of high-profile musicians, including Led Zeppelin’s John Bonham, as one of the most innovative and powerful drummers that rock and roll has ever seen, the legendary Carmine Appice needs no introduction.

Now, the man whose soulful pounding powered the uniquely heavy psychedelia of Vanilla Fudge’s mesmerizing late-1960s remake of “You Keep Me Hangin’ On” up the charts and later co-wrote Rod Stewart’s smash hits “Da Ya Think I’m Sexy” and “Young Turks” is launching an exciting new record label, Rocker Records.

The first four releases are due out Nov. 19 as digital offerings, and they include Bogert/Appice & Friends, TNA (featuring Appice and guitar master Pat Travers) Live in Europe, and two concert recordings from his highly influential post-Vanilla Fudge group Cactus, Live in Japan and Live in the USA. Expect a bonanza of Appice-related material to flow from this new pipeline.

Information regarding these and other upcoming releases can be found at www.rocker-records.com and www.facebook.com/carminerockerrecords.

It was a meeting with Mike Cusanelli, from the record label and management company World Sound, that provided the impetus for the new venture. Wondering out loud, Cusanelli suggested an idea to Appice that sounded very appealing.

“Mike, being a records kind of guy, says, ‘You know, if you have product laying around, you should probably start a record label that would be able to get your product out, and then you could sell other people’s product – from friends of yours who have product that maybe want to release it,” explained Appice. “So I said, ‘Really, that’s interesting.’ So then he had a talk with the head of eOne, which is our distributor, and he was totally into the idea. So I thought, ‘Okay, let’s give it a try.’ And these first releases are things that I’ve had basically in the can, with really nothing to do to them. They’re from my personal collection. So he says, ‘Let’s get it out to the fans!”

That’s just what Appice and Rocker Records plan on doing.

“It’s going to be a lot of digital stuff,” said Appice. “So maybe we’ll have a digital online store, but there are enough of those already. We have a web site now, rocker-records.com, which will keep news of what’s coming out and what’s available and all that, and maybe provide some links to things you can buy from iTunes or something. We may do that, but we’re too new. We’re really taking it as it comes.”

Appice discussed each of the four initial recordings:

Cactus Live in the USA

Cactus - Live in the U.S.A. 2013
Recorded in 2006 at B.B. King’s in New York City, this heaping plateful of hot and heavy boogie-rock documents the rebirth of the original Cactus lineup, minus singer Rusty Day, who died in the ’80s. “Actually, that was the first show we’d done since we broke up in the ’70s,” said Appice. “So that’s one cool thing about it. It was the warm-up show we did for the Sweden Rock Festival, which was the next show we did after that a couple days later before 10,000 people.” This record has an interesting story behind it. “We had a DVD years ago – 2006 – that came out on MVD,” said Appice. “Somebody in Europe took the soundtrack off the DVD and released it, unbeknownst to us. So, when we found it, we went, ‘Huh?’ And it was selling well, so we worked out a deal with the guy and he paid us royalties, and when I listened to it, I said, ‘Wow, this sounds really good.’ And it has Tim Bogert on it. So you’ve got Cactus with Tim Bogert.”

Track listing:
1. Long Tall Sally
2. Swim
3. One Way or Another
4. Cactus Music
5. Brother Bill
6. Muscle & Soul
7. OLEO (Bass solo)
8. Part of the Game
9. Evil
10. Cactus Boogie
11. Parchman Farm
12. Rock & Roll Children

Cactus Live in Japan 

Cactus - Live in Japan 2013
The current version of Cactus went over to Japan in 2012 to record two shows, one audio and one video, “which will come out next year,” according to Appice. He describes that first performance as a “kick-ass show,” and it is an absolute barnburner, with Cactus rolling through classics such as their versions of Mose Allison’s “Parchman Farm” and Willie Dixon’s “You Can’t Judge a Book (By Lookin’ at the Cover),” plus “Rock & Roll Children” and “That’s Evil.” Appice said, “Live in Japan is the first night. It’s not complete. It’s a single-disc. But it was the first night we played in Tokyo, and it was great. It was a kick-ass show. I mean, we’d never been to Japan before, and the crowd was great. It was sold-out, and (guitarist) Jim McCarty was on fire, and the band just sounded great.” Pete Bremy is the bassist for this occasion.

Track listing:
1. Swim
2. One Way or Another
3. Brother Bill
4. Can’t Judge a Book (By Lookin’ at the Cover)
5. Alaska
6. Electric Blue
7. Muscle & Soul
8. Evil
9. Parchman Farm
10. Rock & Roll Children

TNA (Travers & Appice) Live in Europe

Travers & Appice 2013
Take two sublime musical talents like Pat Travers and Carmine Appice. Let them go at it, and the results will be magical, like they were for their album, It Takes a lot of Balls. As Appice recalls, “It was the best album I’d done in years.” In 2004, they toured together and brought the house down everywhere they went, playing 30 shows in Europe. This night was no different. “That was the first night Tony Franklin played with us,” said Appice. “We had T.M. Stevens playing with us for two weeks before that, and then Tony joined us, and we did another two weeks. Somebody sent me that CD, a live gig. I don’t even know where it came from, but when I got it in the mail in my office in L.A., I played it in the car, and I said, ‘Wow! This sounds great.’ And I had it in my computer, and I would listen to it on my iTunes for my enjoyment, and it was really good.” The versions of “Da Ya Think I’m Sexy” and the Travers classic “Boom Boom” are full of vim and vigor, and there is one bonus item, an unreleased studio track that Appice finished with keyboardist Alessandro Del Vecchio.

Track listing:
1. Taken
2. Better from a Distance
3. I Don’t Care
4. Crash and Burn
5. Livin’ Alone
6. Tony Solo
7. Gotta Have Ya
8. Keep on Rockin’
9. Snortin’ Whiskey
10. Can’t Escape the Fire
11. Evil
12. Da Ya Think I’m Sexy
13. Boom Boom
14. Stand Up
15. Funkified

Bogert/Appice & Friends

Bogert/Appice & Friends 2013
Made up of studio recordings Carmine Appice and Tim Bogert did in the early 2000s, this six-song EP has the feel and spirit of Vanilla Fudge’s finest work. “We mastered it, and it’s an EP, and it really sounds good. I’m really happy with it. The arrangements are awesome, and the arrangements will sound very Vanilla Fudge-y,” said Appice. “We did ‘Falling’ and ‘Bye Bye Love,’ and ‘Star-Spangled Banner,’ and two original numbers, and then we have ‘Falling’ again with Brian Auger playing organ, which is really, really cool. He plays the hell out of it. So it’s really interesting.”

Track listing:
1. Bye Bye Love
2. Falling
3. Black Box
4. Eternity
5. Star-Spangled Banner

6. Falling (bonus cut)

DVD Review: Bruce Springsteen - Bruce Springsteen and I

DVD Review: Bruce Springsteen - Bruce Springsteen and I
Eagle Entertainment
All Access Rating: B+

Bruce Springsteen - Bruce Springsteen and I 2013
The fans have spoken, or at least some of them have. In a documentary titled "Bruce Springsteen and I," now out on DVD, Blu-ray and digital formats after its theatrical release this summer, that explores the intense devotion of The Boss's fanatical following, people from all walks of life share unfiltered stories of life-changing encounters with the artist and attempt to put into words what his music has meant to them.

A charming, modest little film that's often funny, incredibly uplifting and sometimes a bit strange, "Bruce Springsteen and I" fails to shed new light on the man or his music. Then again, that doesn't seem to be what the moviemakers intended. Instead, it's a heartfelt, smartly articulated mash note to someone whose penetrating lyrics, affecting songcraft and ability to shape powerful stories has profoundly affected how his audience views themselves and those around them. 

So what if, when asked to paint a portrait of Springsteen in three words, an endless stream of respondents reply with the usual descriptors "passionate," "sincere," "honest"  and "one of us." They manage to sum up Springsteen's artistic vision pretty well. And they rightly tout the communal vibe of the Springsteen fan base as something unique, stemming from Springsteen's ability to connect deeply and spiritually with a fandom made up of just about every demographic under the sun. 

Interspersed with electrically charged unseen performance footage of a younger Bruce and band hitting all the right emotional notes in live versions of "Born in the USA," "Thunder Road," "Born to Run," "The River" and "I'm On Fire" and more rock 'n' roll evangelizing, these testimonials, some brief and some more detailed and eloquent, are patched together rather effectively in a sort of collection of video quotes that mostly praise not only his workingman's poetry, but also his humanity and generosity of spirit. 

But, it's not enough for them to just say it. It falls to the filmmakers to actually show it, and they do, capturing Springsteen's genuine warmth and willingness to leave the safety of the stage and meet fans on their level. There's a scene where a busker on a street corner unexpectedly gets his chance to play Springsteen classics with the man himself, as Springsteen jokes, while working out chords, that the street performer knows his songs better than he does. 

In another sequence, the man known as the "Philly Elvis," dressed up as The King in full rhinestone-studded regalia, talks of Springsteen inviting him onstage to sing "All Shook Up" and then forgetting the words. Without telling the rest of the band, he segued into "Blue Suede Shoes," and Springsteen's band doesn't skip a beat. As jovial as ever, Springsteen, laughing and smiling, exhorts the crowd to give it up for "the 'Philly Elvis,' everybody" after it's done.

Although his songs can bring a man in his car to tears and give a college-educated female truck driver a reason for doing her job day after day, some aren't so enamored. One man, the husband of a particularly fervent Springsteen lover, wishes he wouldn't play so long in concert and lists other complaints. He and his wife later come face to face with Springsteen in a collection of scenes showing Bruce visiting and laughing it up with some of the real stars of "Bruce Springsteen and I," the devotees who make their kids listen to Springsteen's lyrics or manage to dance onstage with Bruce like Courtney Cox did in the video for "Dancing in the Dark." 

Joyous, insightful and moving at times, this document of "Bruce Springsteen and I" comes with bonus material consisting of Springsteen's glorious 2012 Hyde Park performance, including "Because the Night," made famous by Patti Smith, and "Shackled & Drawn" and "We Are Alive." That's the one where he and Paul McCartney essentially told the authorities complaining about the noise to shove it and get in on the celebration, as they tear through Beatles' classics "Twist and Shout" and "I Saw Her Standing There" with unbridled enthusiasm.

If it wasn't for the odd, racy and somewhat disturbing slice of erotic fan fiction a very hot and bothered redhead reads in this piece, "Bruce Springsteen and I" would be an almost perfect tribute to The Boss. As it is, it will give you even more of a reason to love Bruce, forever a friend of the common man and an artist who understands the fans better than they understand themselves. http://www.eagle-rock.com/
- Peter Lindblad

CD Review: Michael Monroe - Horns and Halos

CD Review: Michael Monroe - Horns and Halos
Spinefarm Records
All Access Rating: A-

Michael Monroe - Horns and Halos 2013
There aren't many like Michael Monroe left on this planet. A real honest-to-goodness rock star, the former Hanoi Rocks ringmaster still looks the part, what with his platinum-blonde hair, thick eyeliner, form-fitting clothes and all the thrift-store jewelry he can wear on his rail-thin Finnish body. 

Monroe, and those like him, are an endangered species, and there are precious few out there who can still deliver the goods like he can, still belting out songs with all the desperation and raw, in-your-face attitude of an angry young rocker rebelling against everything you've got. Sensory Overdrive, released in 2011 to critical acclaim, was a primal rock 'n' roll scream from this patron saint of glam-metal that woke the dead, or at least shook up a sleepy hard-rock scene that needed a good slap in the face. And Horns and Halos, Monroe's latest, is even better. 

Like knocking back one Red Bull and vodka after another, Horns and Halos is rousing set of up-tempo, razor-sharp rock 'n' roll excitement, the shouted choruses, hand claps, the occasional rollicking piano runs and blazing guitars all raising a glass, slamming its intoxicants and then breaking it on the floor. If he did wear sleeves, Monroe's racing punk-rock heart would be more visible than ever on Horns and Halos, where tight, barbed hooks are never in short supply. His vocals are like a brick thrown though a plate-glass window or a lipstick-smeared punch to the face, as he forcefully spits out lyrics nostalgic for hand-to-mouth living, cheap thrills and danger. 

Monroe pines for a time when New York City wasn't so sanitized in the "Ballad of the Lower East Side," where he tells of living on 3rd Street as his boys Sami Yaffa and Steve Conte of the New York Dolls, Dregen from The Hellacopters and Backyard Babies, and drummer Karl "Rockfist" Rosqvist go running with him into the past with wild abandon. When Monroe sings, "There were junkies, pimps and whores/hallelujah," it makes the hair on your arms stand up, as this rowdy, fist-pumping anthem, and Horns and Halos is full of them, becomes positively euphoric. With its carousing, singalong chorus and its infectious spirit, "Ballad of the Lower East Side" rides a wave of emotion, much like the melodically earnest, but still emotionally potent, "Child of the Revolution."

Bristling with energy, Horns and Halos is fast, tough and surprisingly sleek. This is no shabby production, but it's not overdone. Tracks like "TNT Diet" and the title track have a blistering pace and a raucous atmosphere, and "Saturday Night Special" and "Eighteen Angels," with Monroe blowing harmonica on the latter, are similarly wired for sound that is gutsy and fully realized, but never glossy. And "Stained Glass Heart" manages to grab some of that mangy charm of The Replacements for itself, proving that smart songwriting still counts for something in Monroe's book. As does having an adventurous personality. Holding nothing back with a band always willing to go for broke, Monroe even goes so far as to inject brief pieces of dub and high-stepping reggae when the mood strikes, just to let listeners take a quick breather.

With a devil on one shoulder and an angel with a dirty face on the other, Monroe hasn't picked a side just yet. With hardly anybody making high-powered hard rock this ballsy anymore, maybe it's for the best that he hasn't. http://spinefarmrecords.com/gb/
- Peter Lindblad