Short Cuts: Saga, U.D.O., Michael Sweet

CD Review: Saga – Sagacity
earMusic/Eagle Rock Entertainment
All Access: B+

Saga -Sagacity 2014
"These are the days of the improbable," sings Saga's Michael Sadler in "The Further You Go," suggesting perhaps that modern technological advancements are the stuff of miracles.

Just in case they don't lead to the fulfillment of mankind's hopes and dreams, Saga hedges its bets with this piece of sage advice: "Might want to leave a trail of crumbs for the future." Likewise, with Sagacity, the Canadian progressive-rock code breakers' newest album, Saga looks forward, while holding fast to past triumphs.

Engineering some of the most innovative and intricately layered arrangements of their career, Saga combines Ian Crichton's brilliant guitar riffs and sparkling solos with the dazzling keyboard theatrics of Jim Crichton and Jim Gilmour on a collection of songs that trades some of the powerful immediacy of 20/20, their last LP, for deeper, richer sonic experiments and unpredictable melodic movements, such as those found in shape-shifting pieces "Vital Signs," "Luck" and "It Doesn't Matter Who You Are." While the funked-up, heavy grooves and muscular guitars of opener "Let It Slide" have a metallic edge, the bulk of Sagacity is not so straightforward, showing more devotion to the more imaginative, maze-like designs of "Don't Forget to Breathe" and "The Further You Go" – all of it produced to sound as clean and clear as of Saga's recordings, each song a city of tomorrow unto itself.

Throw in a nine-track bonus disc with thrilling, expansive live renditions of classics such as "Wind Him Up," "On the Loose," "Mouse in a Maze" and "Humble Stance," and the topical, thought-provoking Sagacity  exploring themes of modern alienation in age of social media, the satirical, customer-service lament "Press 9" being a prime example, even if it does feel utterly disposable – is a pretty good value for your prog-rock dollar.

CD Review: U.D.O. – Live From Moscow
AFM Records
All Access: A- 

U.D.O. - Steamhammer:
Live from Moscow 2014
It's a new era for U.D.O., and the revamped lineup, missing Udo Dirkschneider's longtime collaborator Stefan Kaufmann, delivered the goods on 2013's sizzling Steamhammer, a thunderous expression of Udo's vision of what traditional metal is supposed to sound like.

Losing such a vital organ as Kaufmann, a dual threat as a musician and songwriting partner, put U.D.O.'s long-term health in doubt. Working closely with bassist Fitty Wienhold in Kaufman's absence, while bringing aboard young and hungry guitar-shredding transplants Andrey Smirnov and Kaspari Heikkinen, only seemed to invigorate the former front man for Accept, however. And now, with this electrifying two-CD/DVD live release under their belt as well, U.D.O.'s prognosis is excellent.

A 10:52 version of "Mean Machine," with its dynamic drum and guitar solos, highlights Steamhammer: Live in Moscow, recorded with perfectly mixed sound in a place that's always warmly embraced U.D.O. Hard-nosed, brass-knuckled maulers "King Of Mean," "Stay True" and "Burning Heart" sound even tougher and more aggressive in this setting, as does the surging, fully engorged title track, while the dark, enthralling melodies and tight hooks of "Future Land," "Cry of a Nation" and "Never Cross My Way" come into sharper focus, as U.D.O. galvanizes its flock. Worship the head-banging riffs, witness in awe the scintillating dual-guitar dogfights and let Udo's gravelly growl send shivers down your spine. This is U.D.O. at their best.

CD Review: Michael Sweet – I'm Not Your Suicide
Big3 Records
All Access: A-

Michael Sweet- I'm Not Your Suicide 2014
Now an author, too, Stryper's Michael Sweet goes solo on I'm Not Your Suicide, and from the heavy, serrated riffing and wailing vocals of opener "Taking On the World Tonight," it's clear Sweet has some inner demons to exercise.

Just as his autobiography, "Honestly: My Life and Stryper Revealed," pulled no punches and candidly copped to a surprising array of weaknesses, I'm Not Your Suicide is at once defiant and strong, but also emotional and raw. And where Stryper's glorious last album, No More Hell to Pay, was, in all respects, a satisfyingly heavy, if more straightforward, juggernaut of Christian metal, I'm Not Your Suicide showcases Sweet's wonderful diversity and creativity as a songwriter.

On this, his seventh full-length studio effort of melodic hard rock, Sweet's ever-evolving mastery of melody and pop songcraft is on full display, as uplifting sermons like "The Cause," the title track and "All That's Left (For Me To Prove)" soar on emboldened, sweeping choruses, like the one that also raises the riff-mongering "Taking On the World Tonight" to such dramatic great heights. And if it's great hooks you're looking for, "Anybody Else" has a bag full of them. Never has Sweet's songwriting seemed this organic or soulful, and that's especially prevalent in the album's rousing vocal treatments, so well-plotted and yet completely free of artifice. So is the introspective ballad "This Time," Sweet baring his soul to the world and yearning for salvation.  

Not one, but two, nicely rendered covers of Neil Young's world-weary classic "Heart of Gold," one featuring an engaging duet with Electra Mustaine, perhaps reveal a folk influence that, prior to this release, had rarely manifested itself previously in Sweet's work, as does the countrified "Country Home." Guest spots from Chris Jericho, Doug Aldrich, Tony Harnell and Kevin Max give rise to the notion that Sweet is tired of being pigeonholed. I'm Not Your Suicide makes damn sure that'll never happen again.
– Peter Lindblad

CD Review: Overkill – White Devil Armory

CD Review: Overkill – White Devil Armory
eOne Music
All Access Rating: A

Overkill - White Devil Armory 2014
Not the type to undergo any kind of mid-life crisis, Overkill seems to be growing more potent with age. And their latest eOne Music release, White Devil Armory, is stocked with enough weapons-grade rage to destroy anything that crosses the veteran East Coast thrash-metal syndicate.

Simply unwilling to rest on their laurels after heaps of praise were piled on 2012's The Electric Age, Overkill issues beat down after epic beat down on a punishing new album that's not for the faint of heart. Beware of these mangy, rabid junkyard dogs: their behavior is unpredictable, they're diseased and the steely jaws of their brand of crunching, chaotic thrash will violently chop and tear through flesh without a conscience, snapping bones like twigs.

If possible, White Devil Armory is even more intense, visceral and aggressive than The Electric Age, and that's saying something. Full of adrenaline, Overkill kicks and punches and bites in the street fight that is "Armorist," a hard-hitting affair that takes baseball bats and lead pipes to knees, heads and ribs of anybody that, for one second, thinks Overkill's best days are behind them. And "Where There's Smoke" is even more violent, moving at the speed of a runaway freight train until ending in a smoldering crash.

White Devil Armory is Overkill at their most exciting and brutal, as "Freedom Rings" gathers momentum and races ahead, the drums of Ron Lipnicki stampeding alongside ruthless guitar riffs sharpened to draw blood, just as they do in the swirling sandstorm that is "PIG," a song with enormous hooks, a breathless pace and a tempo shift that nobody would see coming. Heavier and more melodic, but no less scary or tense, the slow-burning "Bitter Pill" is dark and sinister. It's the most well-constructed song on White Devil Armory and one that has all the seductive powers of the devil, while "King of the Rat Bastards" and "It's All Yours" grab listeners by the throat and throw them around like rag dolls.

With the teeth-rattling, venomous vocals of Bobby "Blitz" Ellsworth leading the charge and the beefed-up sound of the record managing somehow to keep up with the band's barely harnessed energy, Overkill's dynamic precision is something to behold, stopping on a dime when ready to suddenly change course and the raging guitars of Dave Linsk and Derek Tailer moving in for the kill like sharks smelling blood and erupting into an all-out feeding frenzy at just the right moment. Swim in White Devil Armory at your own risk.
– Peter Lindblad

CD Review: Yes – Heaven & Earth

CD Review: Yes – Heaven & Earth
Frontiers Records
All Access Rating: B-

Yes - Heaven & Earth 2014
Flashes of the old Yes,the one capable of grandiose symphonic brilliance and sublime pop artistry, appear throughout Heaven & Earth, the progressive-rock institution's uneven 21st studio LP, released via Frontiers Records.

One such display is "Subway Walls," 9:20 of delightful left turns, a jazzy instrumental passage that flexes Chris Squire's muscular bass lines and is gilded by Steve Howe's imaginative, stealthy guitar exercises, and a beautifully engineered chorus that sounds surprisingly fresh and vibrant.

So does "The Game," this bright, mellifluous river of flowing, flooding pop sounds barely contained by artfully constructed guitar puzzles and expertly woven vocals, and despite its inane lyrics, the rising swells of piano, strummed guitar and Jon Davison's impassioned singing in "To Ascend" are particularly affecting. Jon Anderson's vocal doppelganger is in fine form here.

Too often, though, Yes seems uninspired, even goofy, on Heaven & Earth. And producer Roy Thomas Baker, so instrumental in helping Queen soar to great heights, doesn't appear willing to edit them. "Step Beyond" is a strange gum ball machine of bouncy synth blips that could be playful and child-like, but instead, it comes off as unfinished and lacking sophistication, as if Yes needed to fill time. And the lukewarm "Believe Again," the inactive opener, has extended periods of flatness, blank spaces of subdued, aimless noodling that's content to remain in the background, where it belongs.

While their Utopian ideals, warm nostalgic thoughts and dreams of a world where love extinguishes hate and selfishness are wonderful and high-minded, the New Age sentimentality of Yes occasionally goes too far, snuffing out the enigmatic whimsy that made the Yes of the early 1970s more likable. But when they shake off their torpor and find that spark of uninhibited creativity that's served them so well lo these many years, as they do on the ever-evolving, wildly original "Light of Ages" and "It Was All We Knew," Yes shows it's still capable of blending accessible songwriting and instrumental complexity in ways nobody – not King Crimson and certainly not Emerson, Lake & Palmer – else can, somehow managing to match the effusive color and alien imagery of Roger Dean's cover art with visionary, dynamic keyboards, crisp drumming, motoring bass and Howe's bottomless bag of guitar tricks.

Were they rushed in completing this record? It feels as if they were. Heaven isn't too far away for Yes here, but then again, neither is hell.
– Peter Lindblad

CD Review: Marillion – A Sunday Night Above the Rain

CD Review: Marillion – A Sunday Night Above the Rain
earMusic/Eagle Rock Entertainment
All Access Rating: A-

Marillion - A Sunday Night
Above the Rain 2014
An invasion of sorts took place on March 10, 2013, although it wasn't exactly an advancing horde of barbarians.

It was Marillion Weekend in Port Zelande, the Netherlands, and fans of the long-running progressive-rock collective from all over the world converged on Center Parcs to celebrate a group that's made thought-provoking and challenging, yet thoroughly accessible and soulful, music for the last 35 years.

2012's Sounds That Can't Be Made, Marillion's last record, was all of that and then some, managing to sound stylish and exotic, but also dissonant and angry in places. On this particular occasion, recorded for the exhilarating and emotionally resonant new two-disc live album A Sunday Night Above the Rain, Marillion threw every song from that album into the set for the first time, and simply stunning renditions of "Invisible Ink," "Montreal," "The Sky Above the Rain" and the title track are treated with a heightened sense of drama that is palpable, taking the band's flair for dramatic instrumentation – especially those wonderfully expressive keyboards, Steve Hogarth's heartfelt vocals and soaring guitars, courtesy of Steve Rothery – to a whole new level.

Perhaps somewhat dangerously, Marillion opens with "Gaza," a nearly 20-minute, and presciently topical considering the news of the day, epic full of passages of aching beauty that run smack into disorienting explosions of noise, growing and expanding into something even more grandiose and profound than the original. And yet the pristine, well-rounded sound of A Sunday Night Above the Rains does more to enhance and complement the sublime melodic complexities and diverse arrangements of fan favorites "Waiting to Happen," "Neverland," a synth-powered "Garden Party" and "This Strange Engine" than anything else, the crowd happily clapping and singing along in perfect unison. If Sunday is, indeed, supposed to be a day of worship, consider this concert recording a wondrous cathedral with services conducted whenever the listener chooses and sermons guaranteed to touch hearts, minds and souls.
– Peter Lindblad

Lillian Axe: An interview with Steve Blaze

Going inside the '... Temple' with the NOLA hard-rock legends
By Peter Lindblad

Lillian Axe in 2014
True believers in Lillian Axe have had their faith restored in 2014.

Beginning with the Feb. 1 issuing of a comprehensive, limited-edition 13-CD box set entitled Convergence that houses all of their releases from 1988 to 2012, plus a bonus disc of unreleased material, this year also brought a two-CD/DVD document of a special night of acoustic live renderings of Lillian Axe favorites performed in the intimate environs of a Masonic temple before the band's most ardent admirers.

One Night in the Temple, on CME Records, takes the familiar "Storytellers'" and "Unplugged" formats to a whole new level, as Blaze and the boys fielded probing questions from the crowd and shared reflections, anecdotes and thoughts on a wide range of topics, including religion and the experiences that come with years of working in the shark-infested waters of the music industry. Stripped down to the bare essentials in a setting where that proverbial wall that separates artists from their flock is completely reduced to rubble, the songs included here – all the hits, like "True Believer," "Show a Little Love" and "Waters Rising," plus numbers voted on by fans – are all heart and soul, revealing an ability to construct rich, dark melodies and well-crafted harmonies befitting the emotional and spiritual depth of Lillian Axe's lyrics.

Their estimable instrumental chops on display, as Blaze, in particular, shows remarkable dexterity and feel in sketching out tasteful leads and solos, the New Orleans-based Lillian Axe is entirely in its element, their captivating performance filmed in high-definition and accompanied by live footage and videos for "Caged In" and "Death Comes Tomorrow." And they, perhaps more than most of their contemporaries, deserved to have this moment.

They've had videos played on MTV, they've had major record deals and worked with producers like Sylvia Massy, best known for her work with Tool on the albums Undertow and Opiate, and Ratt's Robbin Crosby. They were inducted into the Lousiana Music Hall of Fame in 2010, joining the ranks of Fats Domino, Louis Armstrong, Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis.

And yet, after spending years plying their trade, they had to endure the neglect of a label that seemed to want nothing to do with them, and then the onset of Grunge made it all but impossible for a heavy-metal acts like Lillian Axe to get a fair shot in the '90s. Blaze talked about the new live release and all the ups and downs Lillian Axe has experienced, from the days spent kicking around the U.S. club circuit  and opening for the likes of Poison, Queensryche and Ratt, to getting signed by Ratt manager Marshall Berle and MCA Records' Irving Azoff and sensing that their careers were about to takeoff, to bitter disappointments and finally, settling in with their present-day lives.

Lillian Axe issued the live release 'One Night
in the Temple'earlier in 2014
How did this acoustic live album evolve from the original plan for it?
Steve Blaze: I had an idea where I wanted to just have Brian, Sam and I in almost a sitting around the campfire type of setting, with about 15 or 20 fans, and we would just play songs, talk about them and just have it be something very small and intimate. I thought that’d be something cool to capture on video and on a record, and just break it down very intimately and see how that would work out. I just thought it was something that might be cool. I always thought it was nice to be able to just sit around and play and talk about the songs and answer the questions people had about the songs and just break them down to their roots I guess. And as we started to put that together, pretty much it was my call, but we decided to get the whole band involved, do it in the studio and let’s get production and let’s have a hundred people. It’s two hours long, it’s catered, and there’s a question-and-answer, we have a contest for it and the whole thing just blew up. It’s still very intimate, because everybody is in a semi-circle and sitting around us in a studio and we have a question-and-answer, and we hung out and we played music, had fun and we talked. And the whole six-hour event wound up being wonderfully captured with seven cameras with a high-def setting, and it took a whole lot of love and time putting this thing together. It really captured a special moment that we had that night, and we were just blessed. Fortunately, we had great people working on it, and the end result wound up being just a really special, magic moment for us.

And you’d never done anything like this before?
SB: No, we haven’t. We did a live album in 2002. This is our first DVD, and this is the first live thing we’ve done like that before. I mean, we’ve done acoustic shows here and there, a few, but we’ve done mostly acoustic specialty type things, like radio and in-stores and that kind of thing. But we’ve never taken a show with the whole band playing acoustically together in any fashion like that, except for twice back in like ’93, we did a couple like that, but it wasn’t to the degree of an event like this thing.
Lillian Axe - One Night in the Temple 2014
Was it difficult choosing the set list?
SB: You know, it’s always kind of tough, just what we’re going to do in any certain environment, because we have so many records, and we have so much to pick from, and you kind of sit back … we were fortunate enough in that we knew we were going to do 20 songs, so we knew we had a lot of time and that we could add a few things that we normally wouldn't be able to. But you sit down and you look at these, and you take about five or six songs that if you don’t play your fans will behead you. And you have to have those in there, and then you just start to kind of look at ones that will be unique. You toy around with the idea of some that you may not have done in the past, and once we rehearse and kind of get the feel for it, and we know it’s going to translate properly, just about every song that we have, we can get to translate correctly acoustically. And then it’s just a matter of which ones are we going to play better, which ones are going to have the indefinable aura about them that’s going to make them work and reach the people emotionally. And that’s it. Of course, we could have added another 20 or 30 songs and been happy, but I think we narrowed it down pretty well. We were pretty much able to cover from the first album all the way to the present, so it’s kind of a history lesson of the band, too. So I think it was not as difficult as most people might think it might have been.

In doing these songs acoustically, did you encounter any problems or did these songs lend themselves to that kind of treatment pretty easily?
SB: The only one that really … and we played this set the night before, and it was “Moonlight in Your Blood,” and I think we just had so much adrenaline that night that I think we played it a little too fast. I mean, I wasn’t really happy with it at the end of the night, and we had to pick one to kind of make the two discs even, and that was the one that I felt like just didn’t really translate as well as the other ones. So we just decided to cancel it from the night, but that was the only one, and we’re probably the only ones that would have noticed anything like that, but we’re pretty hard on ourselves. We just decided to leave that off the record.

Lillian Axe recorded its latest live
CD/DVD release in a Masonic temple
Did you have any history with this particular venue? Why was it the right spot?
SB: Yeah, we actually recorded the last album in this studio, and it’s a Masonic temple. It’s currently where the Masons will have their meetings. And we’ve just got a great relationship with the owner, David Heintz, and we’ve done so much work there. In addition to the Lillian Axe album, I recorded the Circle Of Light record there, and I’ve produced several bands there and I’ve brought many bands and artists into the studio to record. It’s just got a good, real comfortable feeling there. On a kind of a bummer note, about a month ago, the lease ran up and the new owners decided they didn’t want the studio in there anymore. So the studio was actually moved here, and had to find a new location. If anything, it’s kind of a bit of video pictorial of the studio and the kinds of things that were going on in there, so it’s maybe a little bit of a last swan song moment for the studio – kind of a drag, but things happen like that. We were able to get a great album out of there, and we’ve got this history with that place. It’ll always be there, but it has to move on to a new location now. 

Was there a moment from the video or that live set that sticks out to you that you’ll always remember?
SB: Yeah, there really were. The unique moment to me was having the parents of Tripp Roth, and the family of Tripp Roth in the crowd there. Tripp’s a little boy that passed away last year due to an affliction. He was born with a rare disease, and I wrote the song “Bow Your Head,” and the song was written about him and his struggles, and his family was there and it was just very emotional. Just to have them in the crowd, we had special seats on the side of the stage for them. We were able to perform that song and talk about it with the crowd. There were a lot of tears out there in the crowd during that song. We also a guest violin player, Annie Bridges. She played violin on "Bow Your Head." We also had Johnny Vines, the first singer for Lillian Axe before we got signed. He was there and he sang “Misery Loves Company” and he did a duet with Brian on “Nobody Knows.” And then we did a version of “Nobody Knows” where the crowd sang all the vocals by themselves. So moments like that were great. The cool thing about the DVD is that in between songs there’s interviews, backstage footage, rehearsal footage, there’s set-up footage, interviews about what we’re doing, and segments from the question-and-answer, so we really made it more of a documentary than anything. On the DVD, there’s some bonus features on the Blu-ray, there’s a bunch of extras, so there’s about five and half, six hours of material on the Blu-ray packaging, and about five on the DVD packaging. So we really crammed a lot of stuff on there.

Any questions on the Q&A part that took you by surprise?
SB: Not too bad. We actually, prior to the show, asked each one of them to send in five questions, so that we could be a little bit prepared. You don’t want anybody asking, “Who do you think you were in a previous life?” or anything like that (laughs). We wanted to be a little bit prepared, but no, the questions were pretty good. Some of them were personal, and that was fine, asking about our families and that kind of stuff, which we were more than happy to answer. A lot of them were about the songs and how we write, and about the recording, and what we think about certain things or advice we would have – that kind of stuff. So it was really good, and everybody, all five of us, were part of the Q&A. We all got the opportunity to talk, and they all got to ask whoever they wanted whatever questions they wanted. They were very respectful.

Seeing it for the first time, what was your reaction? Was it better in any way than you’d hoped?
SB: It really was. I always set the bar really high, so if it doesn’t hit that, it doesn’t go out. If it doesn’t meet my expectations, it stays until it gets there. And this was right off the bat. It was even better than I thought. Chris LeCoq is the guy that did the editing, and when he showed me the first edit, when I sat down with him, I was blown away by it. I was grinning ear to ear. The way his vision is and how he really relates well and sees things through our eyes, he did a fantastic job and when I sat down with him to work on the edit, there was minimal work on my end, because everything was really well done. But yeah, we were fortunate. It captured the magic and the spiritualism of that night, and he really worked it better than I actually thought he would. And even on the audio side, on the CD, I was amazed how good the sound was. The drums and bass were just striking, and when you have your rhythm section sounding great and is that tight, everything else just falls on in layers. It just fits right on top, and we didn’t spend a lot of time on editing and mixing. We wanted it to be perfect or as good as we could possibly get it, and at the end of the day, I’m extremely proud of the way it came out.

Going into it, did you have any input as to how it was filmed?
SB: I produced it. And everything we do, it goes through me. I have a great cast, but at the end of the day, it’s my responsibility to make sure the band’s vision is portrayed, and all of us in the band are of a very similar mindset. I’m basically the quarterback. So before it goes anywhere, I get with everybody and explain what we’re looking for, but I’m fortunate that I’ve surrounded myself with people that I don’t really have to coach that much. I mean, I’ve got a great engineer. The camera people were fantastic. Basically, I just told them to get lots of shots of everything – film everything, from the crowd to the gear, backstage, just follow us and film everything. I left it up to them to where they felt the best camera angles were. Those guys are professionals; I’m not a camera man. And I just told them what we were looking for and what we wanted and they were great. There were a lot of little details that had to be taken care of.  Not only the recording and mixing out to a different console, but the live mix inside the building itself and we had production, we had mics … all the way down to how many chairs we had. We had to make sure we had enough chairs for a hundred people. We had to make sure the food and the drinks were taken care of, and that everybody was stuffed and was fine, and at the end with the night, everybody knew what to do and how to handle the whole situation. It took months of preparation, and I gotta tell you, we were just blessed it went off without a hitch.

What was the hard-rock scene in Louisiana like in the early days, and how did you get the attention of Ratt’s management?
SB: Well, it was great when we first started. There were clubs everywhere. You could play a different club every night in Louisiana alone, and you would not even have to repeat a performance for another month or two. There were really like 20 or 30 rock clubs, and it was great because bands like Zebra were really good and really close, and Zebra grew up here and were really the ones who started the hard-rock movement with local bands and playing, and they went on to get signed and we were behind them. But they were playing a lot of Zeppelin and classic rock – what we call “classic rock” now, Bowie and the Moody Blues – and we were playing Priest and Sabbath and Van Halen and Ratt, and just like Zebra kind of started introducing their own songs into the set in and out of the cover songs, and that’s where we did that for three or four years. It was fantastic because it was a normal thing to go play in Hammond, La., on a Wednesday night for 500 people. People were going out and supporting the bands that were playing, and we had a huge following. And then we were asked to open up for Ratt, Queensryche and Poison … and then after the second show, the security guy or our tour manager or whatever, stage manager, for Ratt came up to me and said, “I need to get your phone number. Marshall Berle wants to talk to you.” (At the time, Marshall Berle was their manager). That was like one of those moments you talk about and just realize that, holy cow, this is really happening. You know, those were the two biggest rock bands at the time and everybody knew who their manager was. But I got a call two days later, and it’s Marshall. He said, “Steve, it’s Marshall Berle. Do you want a record deal?” Of course, at that time, when you’re in your early 20s, we’re not thinking about the possibility you could ever get screwed over by record companies. We were willing to take it, so we said, “Absolutely.”  So that’s where that began, and we did several shows, and then it was told to us that Robbin Crosby really liked the band and he wanted to produce us, and that Marshall met with Irving Azoff and signed us to MCA and the rest is just a roller-coaster ride.

What was it like working with Robbin Crosby?
SB: Robbin was great. I always tell people, Robbin was really … I call him kind of a fork in the road, because he really … I don’t know, just the whole fame and rock ‘n’ roll part of success, I don’t think he really adjusted to it or really embraced it. He was always such a good man, and he’d say I’m going to give you a call later, and he’d call and say, “I’m not a good guitar player.” I’d be like, “Robbin, you’re with one of the biggest bands in the world, buddy. Just relax. Quit worrying.” He was one of the nicest people in the world. I wanted him to be happy, you know. Great guy, very generous, we had fun working on the album, but I always felt that he didn’t quite really know how to accept the situation that he was in. And I don’t know if that’s what led to his problems, his addictions and whatnot, and it was really too bad, because of anybody I’ve ever met in this industry, he didn’t deserve to have that happen to him.

And this was before he really had his troubles?
SB: I would imagine. We never really ever saw that side of Robbin. I don’t know what went on with him there. I do have a funny story about him though. The last day of our pre-production, he came down to Jackson, Miss., and we had this room that was a rehearsal room that we rented out, and it was in a bad, bad part of town. I don’t know who set this up for us, but we were rehearsing and during the day, he and I went and ate Mexican food. And so, that night, after it was finished, he goes, “All right guys, we’ll do the video next week,” and he broke out the Crown Royal. Well, I was the only one that didn’t drink. For the other guys, Crown Royal was like orange juice. Robbin broke it open and just swigged and guzzled at least half the bottle of Crown, but Robbin was a big guy. And he just completely guzzled that sucker, and all the other guys are taking hits and whatnot. Next thing you know, Robbin went into the backroom and throws up all over the place, and he comes down and wipes his mouth off, like everything is okay. And I’m like, “Holy crap, man. Are you okay?” He said, “Yeah, man. I think my nachos must have had some meat in it today, and I’m a vegetarian.” It wasn’t the half a bottle of Crown he just swigged. It was that he got a little piece of meat in his nachos that made him throw up. And I was like, “Okay, buddy (laughs).” He was a wonderful guy. I just wish I’d gotten to know him more and I wish he was still around. 

What are your feelings about those first two records today?
SB: We’re proud of everything we’ve ever done. In retrospect, you look back and you realize that we were really learning a lot. I really felt that Love and War really was where I started to kind of blossom, because even though we had Robbin on site, I really … those guys gave me room to co-produce. They allowed me to. At the end of the day, my ideas were ... if I said, “No, we’re not doing it like that,” it wouldn’t have happened like that, but I took their advice, and I was learning from it.

Love + War is where I started to learn the edgier side of my psyche I guess, and I started to get more creative, and take a more hands-on role. The first album was like there are the big influences of the time that were a little more clean and polished and straight-ahead rock ‘n’ roll, which is heavier than what bands were doing at that time. We changed things with some lyrics and stuff that I probably wouldn’t have changed, but hey, I trusted them, and they did a great job, and I’m cool with that. But at the end of the day, as we progressed, the second record, Love + War, some people still consider that to be our best record that we’ve ever done. It’s like that one record that everybody embraces. I’m very proud of that one. It’s been a whole journey from our debut album up to where we are right now. Every single piece of it has its own every unique special spot, so I’m happy with it. If I could go back and re-record the first album and it would still be like that, then I would have some changes in it sonically, but for that time and what we did and what we created, I thought it was great.  

Poetic Justice was released in 1992, and it had the single “True Believers.” You were on a new label with a couple of new band members. Explain how you ended up on Glamm/I.R.S. and if you thought at the time this album would be a breakthrough for the band?
SB: Well, it was not a secret that MCA didn’t do a thing for us or for the rock bands on the label. Irving Azoff, who signed us to MCA, had left before we’d even started recording the album. He signed us and he left. I think he went to form Giant. And there were other bands on the label and nobody was getting any push, especially us. Even Alice Cooper … when later on, we became friends with Alice, he and I had many conversations about MCA and how bad they treated him. But they’d just give up and just throw things up against the wall. I don’t think they wanted to be a rock label. I thought they were just trying to change and then they’d see what happens. I mean, Elton John was on the label, and they didn’t even seem like they were doing anything for him.

When we left the label in ’92, I knew we were going to get picked up again, because we were favored in the press and the fans liked us. We were still doing well, and I knew how solid we were, so I just started writing. And we just started putting it out there. We did showcases, and then (Brian  McAvoy) from Glamm Slamm/I.R.S. came to see us at a showcase, and said, “This is what I’m going to do and this is what we have,” and I’m telling you, he was the most eager … and I find that be so important and with all my relationships in the music business, the enthusiasm and the desire and appreciation of the band goes a long way with me. I mean, that’s how Brian Jones got my attention to become the singer. He loved the band. McAvoy loved the band. He wanted this band on his label, and he wanted it. And he didn’t have as much money to offer as some of the other labels were offering, but he had something intangible and that was his love and appreciation for us. So we signed with them, and they, out of the box, were all over the album and it showed. We sold records when the label was doing what a label is supposed to be doing. That’s when things were really good. We were all over radio. The only mistake we made I think was not getting a video for “True Believer” right when the thing started charting, but in retrospect, who knows?  We did two records there, and we moved on to the next chapter.

What are your favorite memories of recording Love + War and Poetic Justice?
SB: Well, one thing about Love + War was that an earthquake as we were doing vocals for “Show a Little Love” and I just remember that the whole studio shook. It wasn’t a big, bad earthquake, but it was the only one that I felt. Actually, there was one that hit the day before that, and then this must have been an aftershock or whatever. They were both freaky, one I was sleeping in our hotel and the other one was while we were doing the vocals, but on the whole, looking back on the essence of what we were doing right there, it was at the Enterprise in Burbank, and James Ingram, the singer or vocalist who won all those Grammys, he was recording right there. Ozzy was just finishing his recording. It was a big, expensive studio, and we spent a lot of money in that place, and it was where I really started to feel comfortable in taking a much more hands-on approach to everything. And we went to Poetic Justice, and that was great, because it was up in Baltimore, and we were in Sheffiel Audio/Visual – this huge complex with one of these big boards. And they just pulled out all the stops for us. I mean, they built a basketball hoop in the parking lot for us. We were out in these beautiful grounds out kind of in the woods. There wasn’t a lot of traffic in there. They really just changed for us. And we went back and did Psychoschizophrenia there … we really knew we were creating something there, and we were really writing and getting comfortable and my direction was starting to really solidify, and I was experimenting with a side of me that was always there that I didn’t know if I could really let out without the record company or radio saying, “No, that’s not what you should be doing now.” I think right up through … Justice was where we were really … I knew who we were and what we were going to be.

With Psychoschizophrenia, I know at that time Grunge was coming in. Did that record just not have a chance because of that?
SB: Well, our two biggest-selling records were right at the beginning of the Grunge scene. Poetic Justice came out right when the Grunge thing really hit. So if those records had come out five or six years earlier, I mean, God knows how big we could have been. You don’t know, but yeah, it really was, and it’s kind of a shame because we’d just started to get press and the music industry just … we called them “sheeple.” Nobody had an individual instinct. They just followed what everybody said … somebody just said, “Hair metal is dead,” and then it was like all the ignorant in the world just looked at him and said, “Oh well, you must be right.” And then everything started changing, and it was very juvenile. Nobody had enough inner strength, or I don’t know what you want to call it … guts? They just assumed it was done.

You don’t just try to kill off an era of music just so you have something new to say in the press. It was ridiculous, but there was such a big deal made of it. What should have happened was the labels said, “You know what? This kind of music is always going to be around. Keep supporting it, don’t all of a sudden shut out all of your rock ‘n’ roll bands and go find a bunch of new grunge bands.” And that’s what everybody did. And it was sinful. It just shows what a bunch of spineless people were running the industry. It’s still like that, but we did what we had to do. We write our music. That’s all we do. You’re not going to find us changing our style of music, and be the pitiful, whining all day long. We know how we are. We’re going to stick to it. That’s what we’ve been doing for 25 years.

How do you feel the material on the last four albums stacks up with that of the late ‘80s/early ‘90s work?
SB: I see it as just a part of the entire timeline. It fits perfectly. We had a little bit of a break. We were very stressed out in the industry, and we wanted to try to do different things. I knew we’d be getting back together, and we did, and several years had gone by, and we put out Fields of Yesterday, and this live record, and then it was like it had been nine years since Psychoschizophrenia, but I think Water’s Rising was the next logical step. I didn’t think about in any other way other than this is what is coming out of me right now. I don’t think about it. I don’t plan it. These are my ideas. This is what I want to hear. This is what I like to write.

It’s almost like two chapters of the band. There’s the first 11 or 10 years and then the last 15. And they both coincide well with each other. The first half is the first chapter and the second half is the second chapter, and you put them together. We still play “Dream of a Lifetime” or “Show a Little Love,” and it works just as well now as it did back then and it still sounds as heavy and modern as the stuff we’re doing now. It all comes together as a band, and it’s all in the way that we perform. It all works together. It’s just part of our growth. I probably personally listen more to the last four records than the first four, but I mean I like them more. There is a more metal, somber, darker edge to my writing. That’s just me. I hate to use those terms, but I actually look in the thesaurus to try to find words that mean the same thing (laughs). I don’t know how to say it, just maybe a different shade of the same color. The older you get, the more you want to scream about the things that bother you. I think the next record will be the most intense thing we’ve ever done, because of my ideas now and the way that I’ve got things orchestrated in my head as I’m starting to demo them. It’s going to be very deep and intense, from everything lyrically and conceptually to the types of orchestration and the things I plan on doing with the next record. 

CD Review: Goatwhore – Constricting Rage of the Merciless

CD Review: Goatwhore – Constricting Rage of the Merciless
Metal Blade
All Access Rating: A-

Goatwhore - Constricting Rage of the
Merciless 2014
The threat is very real. Rampaging NOLA underground metal demons Goatwhore issue a warning in the incendiary "Baring Teeth for Revolt" that they are "coming to smash your idols."

And that's probably the least hostile insurrectionist utterance in what is, for them, an angry and uncompromising missive wrapped in irresistibly sultry Southern boogie grooves as tight and action-packed as the running of the bulls in Pamplona. Constricting Rage of the Merciless, Goatwhore's newest Metal Blade incursion of blackened death metal, is a study in untamed ferocity and controlled aggression, with a track like "Reanimated Sacrifice" getting its complex hooks into its victims and gutting them like so many fish.

The blistering "FBS" has them, too, although Goatwhore saves that carnage for the end. Initially, it's an all-out stampede of blazing riffs and fast beats racing for their very lives. Death, of course, hangs around Constricting Rage of the Merciless, enjoying the dangerous philosophical ruminations and dense, evocative language of horror and abomination, while nodding his head to the galloping "Nocturnal Conjuration of Accursed" and getting his fill of the broken, stained-glass guitar intro to "Cold Earth Consumed in Dying Flesh" and then witnessing its slow churning sludge suddenly break out into a high-velocity drag race of the damned.

An explosive album, with daring, twists and turns that, more often than not, head straight down corridors of hellish atmospheres, Constricting Rage of the Merciless is uncompromising, heavy and focused on nothing but spewing forth its venom. The speeding, crunching "Heaven's Crumbling Walls of Pity" changes tactics in the middle of a war on mediocre metal and assumes a decidedly evil tone. An unending stream of ruthlessly efficient riffing, so enormous and brutal, comes pouring out of Goatwhore like rivers of blood on an album that runs on pure adrenaline, Goatwhore somehow avoiding being pigeonholed as black metal or death metal and just delivering constant slam-bang motion. Guitarist Sammy Duet, formerly of Crowbar and Acid Bath, captains a crew that plays with frightening intensity and skilled precision, and they are out to pillage and plunder without compassion. In other words, they are merciless.
– Peter Lindblad

CD Review: Judas Priest – Redeemer of Souls

CD Review: Judas Priest – Redeemer of Souls
Epic Records
All Access Rating: A-

Judas Priest - Redeemer of Souls 2014
It's not like Judas Priest hasn't been through this before. After all, the heavy-metal legends lost the god-like Rob Halford, he of the iconic operatic range and leather-and-studs fashions, in the early 1990s to the streets, or at least what passed for street-tough metal back when he was slumming it with Fight.

Tabbing an able replacement in Tim "Ripper" Owens, they remained calm and carried on, recording a couple of fiery live albums, as well as Jugulator and Demolition, two fairly well-received studio efforts. That is the English way, isn't it?

For the thundering aural furnace that is Redeemer of Souls, their latest LP on Epic Records, founding member K.K. Downing, who retired in 2011, was conspicuously absent. In his stead, guitarist Richie Faulkner has thrived, and so has Priest, Redeemer of Souls roaring like a burning chopper from hell and punishing the unbelievers with bone-crushing riffs, spiraling dual-guitar dogfights, heavy rhythmic undercurrents and some of the most panoramic and diverse vocals Halford's ever attempted – his ferocious death-metal bellow and expansive screams on the haunting, canyon-deep "Halls of Valhalla"are worthy of a place in Norse mythology.

Perhaps nothing in Priest's extensive catalog is as darkly melodic as the epic, billowing "Cold Blooded," while "March of the Damned," "Down in Flames," "Dragonaut" and "Hell & Back" are massive guitar orgies, brutal and purposeful one minute and fiercely progressive the next, as songs on Redeemer of Souls evolve and undergo subtle, but usually powerful and unmistakable, metamorphoses, like the one that takes place in the title track.

That's not the case with the frenzied "Metalizer," which dispenses with pretense and simply goes thermonuclear with Priest riffage. This doesn't feel like a final send-off. There's too much energy here, the intense creativity and sharp focus found on Redeemer of Souls hinting that there's a lot of life left in this old machine, even with all the miles they've put on. Then again, adding a new part now and then can provide a spark, and it seems Faulkner has done just that.
– Peter Lindblad

CD Review: Mastodon – Once More 'Round the Sun

CD Review: Mastodon – Once More 'Round the Sun
Reprise Records
All Access Rating: A

Mastodon - Once More 'Round
the Sun 2014
Heaven help the first-time acid taker if that poor sap's gaze should happen to fall upon the tripped-out cover art for Mastodon's Once More 'Round the Sun.

A vivid, psychotropic nightmare, this crazed eruption of bright colors and melting shapes somehow forms a fearsome, hallucinogenic monster that could only be the product of a fevered imagination. To those grappling with their sanity while in the throes of drug-induced paranoia, this alien vision could hasten a break with reality that might soon land them in the loony bin.

And yet, for Mastodon, Once More 'Round the Sun may be their most structured and focused effort to date, the proof being found in the tsunami-like surges of "Diamond in the Witch House" and the massive riffs and dizzying instrumental complexity – be sure to examine Brann Dailor's mind-boggling drum puzzles and the intricate, ingenious guitar interplay of Brent Hinds and Bill Kelliher closely – that are omnipresent throughout, as they are in the chugging first single "High Road," the blustery rampage that is "Chimes At Midnight" and the monolithic opener "Tread Lightly."

Explosive, energetic and wider than humanly possible, Once More 'Round the Sun is also a cleaner, even brighter and more accessible set of songs from a band that's not just relying on their enormous volume and unpredictable progressive maneuvers to impress. Here, Mastodon throws around big hooks like muscle-bound heavyweights in "The Motherload" and the propulsive title track, two of the most infectious tracks they've ever recorded, while the band's vocal treatments ring clear and are more expressive than ever, making the giant, gripping choruses of tracks like "Ember City" enchanting and more inviting.

Time to address the elephant in the room. If it's not already apparent, Once More 'Round the Sun could almost be described as "radio friendly," a scary thought for Mastodon followers, even as they're caught up in the swift melodic currents of "Halloween" and not fighting it. Well-crafted, these song are tightly constructed and provide an immediate impact, and yet they still allow listeners to explore and dig for atmospheric and mysterious passages, like those found in the spellbinding "Asleep in the Deep." Pack a bag. Many trips Once More 'Round the Sun are in the offing.
Peter Lindblad

CD Review: The Babys – I'll Have Some of That

CD Review: The Babys – I'll Have Some of That
SkyRocket Entertainment/All In Time Records
All Access Rating: B+

The Babys - I'll Have Some of That 2014
Tugging at heartstrings, with its bittersweet melody and lush pop arrangement, "I See You There" is the debut single from I'll Have Some of That, the first album from '70s arena-rock prodigal sons The Babys in 30 years.

It sounds like The Babys, all right. Tender and pretty, with golden flashes of guitar hooks popping up through a feather bed of strings, "I See You There" was actually written by Joey Sykes, a music industry veteran who's joined this reconstituted version of The Babys as their rhythm guitarist. The new guy seems to be fitting in just fine.

What made The Babys such a late '70s pop-rock sensation was their ability to get as rough and raw as Humble Pie or The Faces, while crafting clearly articulated, accessible songs that had all the immediacy of an unexpected first kiss. "Stay The Night" and the surprisingly soulful, uplifting "Grass Is Greener," both off I'll Have Some of That, offer more of the latter, while the other half of this split personality swaggers with assurance, zeal and scruffy charm through the rollicking and rowdy "Every Side of You," "It's a Gas" and "You Saved My Life," as well as the tough nut of a title track.

A comeback album with a lot of hits and just a few misses – the dull, thudding "These Days" and "After Midnight," a smoky by-the-numbers blues number that feels out of place and out of fuel, being two examples – I'll Have Some of That shows original members Wally Stocker and Tony Brock haven't lost their touch. And with newcomers Sykes and gritty singer John Bisaha – replacements for familiar faces John Waite, Jonathan Cain and Ricky Phillips, none of whom are involved in this incarnation – falling right in line, this revival seems built to last.
– Peter Lindblad

Deep Purple tour heads to North America

Proto-metal icons out supporting 'Now What?!'

Deep Purple - Now What?! 
New York, NY (July 8, 2014)—Deep Purple, fresh off a European tour to support their 19th studio album NOW What?!, is heading stateside for a North American trek! The tour kicks off August 4 in Scottsdale, AZ (all tour dates below).

NOW What?! was originally released in North America in April 2013 via earMusic / Eagle Rock Entertainment. The album marked the next great chapter in the band’s 40-plus year career, blending the classic '70s Deep Purple spirit with modern production and a progressive mindset. 

Having reached #1 in Germany, Russia, Czech Republic and Austria, charting Top 5 in 7 countries and Top 10 in 10 countries, not to mention hitting the British Top-20 for the first time in 20 years, Deep Purple celebrated with the release of NOW What?! Gold Edition earlier this year, which included additional songs and a live bonus disc.

In anticipation of their return to North America, Deep Purple will release their next single to radio: “All The Time In The World.”

Blazing off the success of NOW What?!, Deep Purple is ready to bring the sizzle to the States this summer!

For more information regarding this and other Eagle Rock Entertainment releases/projects, contact Carol Kaye at Follow us on Facebook at

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Deep Purple US / CANADA Dates:
08/04/14    Scottsdale, AZ                  Talking Stick Casino         8:00pm

08/05/14     Ventura, CA                      Ventura County Fair       8:00pm

08/06/14    Costa Mesa, CA               Orange County Fair          8:00pm

08/08/14    Lincoln, CA                       Thunder Valley Casino Amphitheatre          8:00pm

08/09/14    Roseburg, OR                   Douglas County Fair          8:00pm

08/10/14     Snoqualmie, WA             Snoqualmie Casino             8:00pm

08/13/14     Saratoga, CA                     Mountain Winery               8:00pm

08/14/14     Valley Center, CA             Harrah’s Rincon Casino Event Center           8:00pm

08/15/14     Las Vegas, NV                  Fremont St. Downtown    8:00pm

08/16/14     Wendover, NV                   Peppermill Casino Concert Hall           8:00pm

08/20/14    Elgin, IL                             Festival Park                       8:00pm

08/21/14     Windsor, ON                     Caesars Casino                    8:00pm

08/22/14    Rama, ON                          Casino Rama                       8:00pm

08/24/14    Morristown, NJ                  Mayo PAC                            8:00pm

08/25/14     Englewood, NJ                  Bergen PAC                         8:00pm

08/26/14    Westbury, NY                     NYCB Theatre at Westbury           8:00pm

08/29/14    Biloxi, MS                          Hard Rock Casino              8:00pm

08/30/14    Orlando, FL                        Hard Rock Live                    8:00pm

08/31/14     Hollywood, FL                  Seminole Hard Rock Live Arena  8:00PM

Live review: Motley Crue, Alice Cooper at Summerfest

Making rock 'n' roll dangerous again
By Peter Lindblad

Motley Crue - The Final Tour
Being that it was the Fourth of July, Motley Crue didn't skimp on the pyrotechnics on the second night of what is being billed as the glam-metal ne'er-do-wells' final tour.

Getting a late start, technical problems reportedly being blamed for the delay, as the crowd was still being herded in right around the scheduled concert start time, Nikki Sixx, Vince Neil, Mick Mars and Tommy Lee appeared onstage at Summerfest in Milwaukee after a full blast of loud, dazzling fireworks announced their arrival.

Alice Cooper had already worked his dark, twisted magic on the audience, giving Cooper fanatics exactly what they wanted – a mock electrocution gone horribly wrong, Cooper shackled in a straight jacket and tormented by a demented nurse, flares shooting from Glen Sobel's drumsticks, a boa constrictor draped over Cooper's shoulders, and, of course, a final beheading staged with a guillotine.

The act may be familiar, but like the Harlem Globetrotters' old bag of tricks, it's still a fun, vaudevillian treat for the senses, and the band's tight, rousing renditions of Cooper classics like "I'm Eighteen," "Under My Wheels," "Poison," "No More Mr. Nice Guy," "Feed My Frankenstein" – complete with a 20-foot singing monster – and "Billion Dollar Babies" were performed with theatrical panache, punk energy and vicious playing from a band that now includes new guitarist Nita Strauss. She didn't disappoint, tearing through full-throttle solos and leads that let everyone know there's a new sheriff in town, and when Cooper and company close with a galvanizing "School's Out," he had the whole Marcus Amphitheater in a stranglehold. Cooper was in fine form, acting out every well-worn scene as if he was doing it for the first time, and his durable, switchblade vocals cutting through crowd noise with ease.

Appetites sufficiently whetted, it was time for Crue to come out and bid farewell to Milwaukee with a fiery, defiant send-off. In between explosions, blinding flashes of lights and plumes of fire shooting from every orifice the industrial-designed stage had, the Crue delivered revved-up, razor-sharp versions of "Live Wire," "Too Fast for Love," "Same Ol' Situation (S.O.S.)," "Looks That Kill," "Wild Side" and "Smokin' in the Boys Room," among other favorites, including a stomping march through "Shout at the Devil" that shook the Marcus Amphitheater to its foundation. A "Carnival of Sins"? Perhaps not, this set being somewhat more spartan and business-like, though still elaborate and never threatening to detract from the band's rough-and-ready power. Mars' guitar riffs had that raw, down-and-dirty tone that's so delicious, and Sixx did his best to get everyone to believe Crue's hype, his rock-star swagger still as entertaining as ever. If this is, indeed, the end, it's clear they intend to go out with guns blazing.

With flames shooting from Sixx's bass at one point and scantily-clad back-up singers gyrating all over the place, Crue refused to tone down their lusty bravado, not that anyone there would have wished for that. A non-stop thrill ride from beginning to end, plus a run through a scintillating new song called "All Bad Things Must End" – culminated by a mind-blowing solo from Mars – the show didn't exactly go off without a hitch, though. Neil's vocals were often barely audible, and Lee's punishing drum work busted up a snare drum fairly early on, leading to Lee not-so-sheepishly admitting that perhaps he was hitting his kit "too f--king hard."

Due to the limitations of the venue's facilities, Crue was not able to haul out its most death-defying maneuver, known as "The Cruecify," where Lee's drum set-up is extended out over the crowd. Nevertheless, with all the fire and ear drum-shattering bangs surely scrambling their senses, Crue seemed to be courting danger at every turn. Say what you will about their music – and critics have lobbed plenty of insults their way, as Sixx so eloquently dismissed in an expletive-laden rant – nobody can accuse them of playing it safe, and on this night, they put on a display of dangerous rock 'n' roll that left the paying customers breathless.

Lillian Axe's Steve Blaze reflects on Ratt's Robbin Crosby

NOLA band's debut LP was produced by Crosby
By Peter Lindblad

Steve Blaze and his band Lillian Axe in 2014
Knocking around the Louisiana club circuit in the 1980s, the somewhat dark and deeply spiritual New Orleans metal and hard-rock combo Lillian Axe had established itself locally and regionally as a band on the rise.

Steve Blaze, Lillian Axe's leader and the only remaining original member, remembers that time fondly.

"People were going out and supporting the bands that were playing, and we had a huge following."
said Blaze.

Lillian Axe - One Night in
the Temple 2014
Perhaps it was only a matter of time then until Lillian Axe, who recently released the career-spanning, acoustic live CD/DVD set One Night in the Temple, caught a big break, and crunchy Los Angeles glam-metal guttersnipes Ratt had a lot to do with it.

"We were asked to open up for Ratt, Queensryche and Poison … and then after the second show, the security guy or our tour manager or whatever, stage manager, for Ratt came up to me and said, 'I need to get your phone number. Marshall Berle wants to talk to you,'" recalled Blaze, who talked to the All Access blog some weeks ago about the band's history and its current work (we'll post the entire interview with Blaze in the coming days).

The nephew of beloved funny man Milton Berle, Marshall Berle was at one time the manager of L.A.-based bands like Van Halen and, of course, Ratt, the group he was representing back then. Berle had pull in the industry, and he was somebody Lillian Axe wanted to get to know.

"That was like one of those moments you talk about and just realize that, holy cow, this is really happening," said Blaze. "You know, those were the two biggest rock bands at the time and everybody knew who their manager was. But I got a call two days later, and it’s Marshall. He said, 'Steve, it’s Marshall Berle. Do you want a record deal?' Of course, at that time, when you’re in your early 20s, we’re not thinking about the possibility you could ever get screwed over by record companies. We were willing to take it, so we said, 'Absolutely.'"

Continuing on with a series of shows booked for that jaunt, Blaze recounted that Ratt guitarist Robbin Crosby had taken a shine to the band, which did encounter label troubles down the line, and that he wanted to produce them. Not long after, Berle met with record-industry mogul Irving Azoff, and Lillian Axe was signed to MCA.

"The rest is just a roller coaster ride," said Blaze.

It's been 12 years since the Crosby died from a heroin overdose, his battles with addiction and AIDS well-documented. Blaze misses him dearly.

"He was a wonderful guy," said Blaze. "I just wish I’d gotten to know him more, and I wish he was still around."

When Lillian Axe recorded its self-titled debut, released in 1988, it was Crosby who helped the band refine its sound and define who they were musically. And yet, for all that Crosby had accomplished with Ratt, one of the biggest bands of the '80s with mega-hits like "Lay It Down," "Wanted Man" and "Round and Round" – a song co-written by Crosby – he was, as Blaze relates, insecure about a lot of things. (Watch the video for "Round and Round" below)

"Robbin was great," said Blaze. "I always tell people, Robbin was really … I call him kind of a fork in the road, because … just the whole fame and rock ‘n’ roll part of success, I don’t think he really adjusted to it or really embraced it."

In his heart of hearts, Blaze thought Crosby was not only a wonderful person, but also a talented musician, even if Crosby didn't always believe it himself.

"He was always such a good man, and he’d say, 'I’m going to give you a call later,' and he’d call and say, 'I’m not a good guitar player,'" said Blaze. "I’d be like, 'Robbin, you’re with one of the biggest bands in the world, buddy. Just relax. Quit worrying.' He was one of the nicest people in the world. I wanted him to be happy, you know. Great guy, very generous, we had fun working on the album, but I always felt that he didn’t quite really know how to accept the situation that he was in. And I don’t know if that’s what led to his problems, his addictions and whatnot, and it was really too bad, because of anybody I’ve ever met in this industry, he didn’t deserve to have that happen to him."

Blaze wasn't around Crosby or Ratt when Crosby's life spiraled downward. 

"We never really ever saw that side of Robbin," said Blaze. "I don’t know what went on with him there."

What does bring a smile to Blaze's face when thinking about Crosby is a story he has from the time they worked on that first Lillian Axe album.

"The last day of our pre-production, he came down to Jackson, Miss., and we had this room that was a rehearsal room that we rented out, and it was in a bad, bad part of town," said Blaze. "I don’t know who set this up for us, but we were rehearsing and during the day, he and I went and ate Mexican food. And so, that night, after it was finished, he goes, 'All right guys, we’ll do the video next week,' and he broke out the Crown Royal. Well, I was the only one that didn’t drink. For the other guys, Crown Royal was like orange juice. Robbin broke it open and just swigged and guzzled at least half the bottle of Crown, but Robbin was a big guy. And he just completely guzzled that sucker, and all the other guys are taking hits and whatnot."

Lillian Axe 2014
Blaze describes what happened afterward. It's not for the squeamish.

"Next thing you know, Robbin went into the back room and throws up all over the place, and he comes down and wipes his mouth off, like everything is okay," said Blaze. "And I’m like, 'Holy crap, man. Are you okay?' He said, 'Yeah, man. I think my nachos must have had some meat in it, today, and I’m a vegetarian.' It wasn’t the half a bottle of Crown he just swigged. It was that he got a little piece of meat in his nachos that made him throw up. And I was like, 'Okay, buddy (laughs).'"

Blaze will have much more to say about what Lillian Axe is up to these days, as well as the recordings and trials and tribulations of a band that was inducted into the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame in 2010, in our complete interview with him. Look for it to be posted here soon.

First Impressions: Over Kill's 'Armorist'

Veteran East Coast thrashers release new video for virulent new single
By Peter Lindblad

Overkill - White Devil Armory 2014
Anticipation for Over Kill's upcoming White Devil Armory LP, the successor to 2012's highly acclaimed The Electric Age, is nothing short of feverish, and the Center for Disease Control isn't working on an antidote.

Spreading the disease, so to speak, the East Coast thrash-metal stalwarts today unleashed an "in your face" new performance video for the raging, white-hot "Armorist," their newest single, and in typical Over Kill fashion, it is intense and full of righteous fury.

Debuting exclusively via NOISEY MUSIC, the clip was directed by Kevin J. Custer, who is no stranger to Over Kill or its fans. He was the mastermind behind videos for "Bring Me the Night,"off 2010's Ironbound, and "Electric Rattlesnake" from Over Kill's blazing 2012 inferno, The Electric Age. You can use this link to view the video for yourself:

Custer doesn't go in for flashy concepts or high art in his visual treatment of "Armorist." Filmed in what appears to be a large empty warehouse or urban loft that, if nothing else, looks fairly clean, the "Armorist" video is edited with frenetic quick cuts, ratcheting up the already unbearable tension and ferocity of a fast song that is no-frills thrash conceived by junkyard dogs. And this is what Over Kill is like in a live setting, uncompromising and full of venomous energy.

Swept up in an F-5 tornado of bare-knuckled shredding and brutal drumming, Bobby Blitz's gritty vocal bark rises above the mayhem, like a rabid hyena hungry for flesh and blood, and the tempo is blistering, with crunching, raw riffs that grab you by the throat and throw you into a pit of hell fire – the band going for broke, or least acting that way. When Blitz declares himself to be the "swift cold hand of retaliation," be prepared to duck and cover. He means business.

Although it'll undoubtedly whet appetites for White Devil Armory, the song itself is pretty straightforward, although it does changes courses abruptly near the end. While not letting up on the sheer aggression of instrumentation that snarls and growls, this devastating breakdown, accomplished with tight precision and focus, somehow manages to turn the track inside-out, as if it wants to chew off its own arm. Of course, this isn't some sort of arty prog-metal experiment drawn over a half hour. "Armorist" is explosive and volatile, and is meant to be experienced in small doses.

Over Kill's White Devil Armory comes out July 22 on eOne Music in North America and can be pre-ordered here: