John 5 and his monster's ball

Rob Zombie guitarist ready to hit the road with The Creatures, Doyle
By Peter Lindblad
John 5

John 5 has always had a thing for monsters.

His youthful infatuation with old horror movies continues unabated to this day, and the kid in him still worships at the clawed, platform-soled feet of KISS, whose Kabuki-inspired make-up and carnivalesque stage theatrics never fail to amaze and delight the ex-Marilyn Manson and Rob Zombie guitarist, known for creating his own creepy facial masks.

In a matter of days, John 5 and his band The Creatures – with Rodger Carter and Ian Ross – will kick off the "Mad Monster Tour" with a special show in Ramona, Calif., on Nov. 4. To get tickets, go to Some of the dates will be supported by Doyle, the band led by former Misfits member Doyle Wolfgang Von Frankenstein.

Remarkably versatile, with audacious fluency in a variety of genres – having recorded everything from bluegrass and country to Flamenco music and metal, rock and pop – John 5 is a demon on guitar, an incredibly smooth player whose speed is almost supernatural. Along with scoring the Rob Zombie film "The Lords of Salem," John 5 has collaborated with a wide range of artists, working alongside everyone from Ricky Martin to Rod Stewart, David Lee Roth and Lynyrd Skynyrd, in addition to his more well-known gigs with Manson and Zombie.

Since 2004, John 5's burgeoning solo career has yielded eight diverse studio albums spotlighting his virtuoso skill. On "The Mad Monster Tour," John 5 and company will be promoting an upcoming greatest hits album, paired with a live DVD of John in concert. Three brand-new singles will be released, a series that began this month. Recently, John 5 took time out to talk about the tour, how the new Rob Zombie material is coming along and a career that has taken him further than he ever thought possible. (Tour dates follow the Q&A).

How did the tour with Doyle and his band come about and what are you looking forward to most about it?
J5: Well, I always thought Doyle was like a real-life superhero, and I just really think he’s amazing. He looks like a real-life superhero, like he could fly over a building and knock it down. You know, he’s got the guitar and he grabs it, and he’s a great, great musician. So, I always wanted to do something with him; he was my first choice for someone I wanted to do a tour with. And I just said, “Hey, are you available around this time?” And he said, “Yes,” so it came together pretty easy and we start the fourth in Ramona, Calif., which is the San Diego area. And then it’s the Whisky in L.A. So it’s going to be a blast running through these shows, because it’s all my crazy instrumental stuff and it’s crazy and it’s fun, and we’ll just go nuts.  

Mad Monster Tour poster
When were you introduced to the Misfits and what were your initial impressions?
J5: Well, it was, like for everybody, just a natural thing. Everybody loves the Misfits and punk rock. Everybody was just into them. It was just the thing. It was just how it was. And I loved the horror-rock thing. I’m so into that as well. So it’s just the perfect fit and yeah, with Alice Cooper and The Misfits and Ozzy, I love that stuff. It’s fun. It’s a blast. And KISS, of course. KISS, yeah. It was like monsters with guitars, and when I was 7 years old, I was just blown away. This was just the greatest thing ever.

Reading your bio, you talked about where you grew up and being the lone rock kid, but did you have friends who felt the same way?
J5: Oh sure. I was always the one that had the stuff. Like, I had the first Van Halen when it came out, KISS Love Gun … I was that kid that had the stuff. So I think I showed it to a lot of people, but I remember someone bringing over Kill ‘Em All by Metallica. I listened to that, and I go, “Oh, wow!” I remember having times in my life where friends brought over music, and I remember it. I remember it so vividly, because it made such an impression on me.

Was there one that made the biggest impression?
J5: Well, obviously, KISS and Van Halen, because I remember I got the KISS album in the early years when I was super young. I think Love Gun had just come out. And I was shocked because I loved that Monsters of Filmland magazine. And then I loved The Monkees and “Hee Haw,” but when I saw the monsters of guitars in KISS, I was blown away. I was just like, “Oh my God. Here we go.” So it just changed my life, and then I remember my guitar teacher brought over Van Halen I, and it was just another epiphany. It just changed my life completely.

Kirk Hammett I know has a massive horror collection. Do you collect horror movie memorabilia?
J5: No, mostly I just collect guitars … Telecasters. I’m really into that kind of thing, really into loving my “Teles,” but there’s so much. I mean I have a lot of horror stuff, but it’s mostly stuff people have given me. And I like that stuff from the early- and mid-‘60s and ‘70s, when the monster boom really, really happened. So I like a lot of that stuff. And you know fans give me stuff, so I have quite a collection, but nothing, nothing, nothing in the world of Kirk Hammett, of course.

Have you ever seen his collection?
J5: I haven’t, but me and Kirk talk, and he’ll tell me stuff, and I’m like, “Jesus,” you know? And he always says, “You’ve got to stop over and check it,” and all that stuff. Hopefully, one day I’ll get there.     

I wanted to talk about other stuff going on with you, and you have a greatest hits album coming out. Did you ever think you’d have a greatest hits album and what goes into making one? Is there more to it than people think?
J5: Well, yeah. What it is really is just a collection of my favorite songs. Not one of them was a hit, but it’s a collection of my favorite songs that I’ve recorded over my catalog of doing instrumental stuff and the fans’ favorite songs. So I put them all together, and then I put a DVD with it, which is so cool. The DVD’s really great, and I’m going to be selling that at the shows, so people at the shows will be able to get the CD and DVD. And then after the tour you’ll be able to buy it on my website, and also it’ll be on iTunes, but you won’t be able to get the DVD, obviously.
So much has happened over the span of your life to bring you to this point, but I wanted to ask you, where does the open-mindedness with music come from? Because you do country, you do all kinds of things. Does that come from your family?
J5: You know, for some reason, I’ve always appreciated someone who does something really, really well. And it could be someone that rides a bike and is a bike expert, or juggles or … I just always appreciate someone who does something so well, because I know how much dedication and practice it takes. So when I hear some Western swing music or bluegrass music or great, great, great, great horns, I’m like, “Wow! That’s amazing.” So I appreciate all of that stuff. I’m so inspired by anyone who does something really, really well and who is an expert and at the pinnacle of what they do. And I totally, totally appreciate that. So that’s where I think a lot of that interest comes from, that they can actually … you know, the greats. I just am really influenced by people like that.

Is there a style of music you haven’t worked with yet that maybe you’d like to?
J5: You know, jazz is such a huge thing, but I’ve never really studied, studied, studied jazz. I don’t know why. It just hasn’t bitten me yet, but it will. I will get into it. I think I really love the really super, super fast, aggressive stuff. Like the bluegrass stuff is so fast, you know. It’s like Slayer with no distortion. It’s crazy with bluegrass. And then the same thing with flamenco music, it’s a Spanish style of music. It’s so fast, you know? It’s like Slayer on acoustic. It’s that kind of thing, and I really enjoy that stuff, but also I’d like to get into jazz at some point, I believe.

Could you do a bluegrass version of “Welcome to the Violence”?
J5: Well, that might be tough (laughs). Yeah, that’s possible.

What impresses you most in a guitarist or a live performer?
J5: Someone that is fluid and clean and no effort. It’s just like drinking a bottle of water. It’s effortless, and there’s a small amount that are really effortless. If you ever see a classical violinist or piano player, it’s just effortless, you know? I appreciate that, but I also appreciate any guitar player also getting up there on the stage and doing a great job, because it’s a lot of work and a lot of stress and a lot goes into it.

What goes into your live performances? You’ve got the makeup and everything going on. What’s the day of a performance like for you?
J5: Well, the whole day is about the performance. The whole thing is prepping. It’s getting your fingers warmed up, it’s doing meet-and-greets and meeting people, and making sure everything is right. Sound checks … the day all leads up to the show. It’s very important. I just want to give fans the best show we can, so it’s just playing, warming up, making sure the playing is right, getting ready and giving the best show we can. It’s very important to us with Rob just getting just a great show together, and then we always talk about the show after the show – make sure this is right, that is right, how we could make it better. So, it’s great. It’s a great life. I cannot complain. 

I was reading about your history and you were robbed in L.A. when you first moved there. Did you ever come close to giving it up?
J5: No, no … never did. I was so determined and I was so driven and determined. Just imagine, you get to L.A. when you’re young. I was so young. I didn’t know anything, and then the first night I got all my money stolen. I didn’t know what to do. I was lucky I knew one other person, and anybody else; most people would have just gone home and said, “Let me try this in another couple of years.” But no, I was so driven.  

By the same token, was there a moment when you felt, “I’ve finally made it”? Or were there many moments like that?
J5: I mean, yeah. You know, I’m just happy to be playing guitar and making a living, but I never wished to be a known guitar player. I just wanted to be a session musician, and this is all just an incredible, incredible gift, because it was too far away. I never really thought I’d be able to do this, because it was just so like wishing you were Superman or something. It just seemed so unbelievable. So I really appreciate it and love it, because it just happened. I’m so happy it happened, because it was never my goal, it was never my thing to become a famous rock guitar player.

What influenced you most as far as stage shows and how you make up your face? Was it a love of KISS or was it more than that?
J5: I use myself as the audience and what the audience would like to see. I think the audience wants to see a show, they want to see a … it’s called entertainment. So they want to be entertained, and it’s just if you put on a show like that – meaning you’re not going to walk around the streets like that, but if you’re onstage, you’ve got to give them something to look at. And when we go into our dressing rooms, we’re in our normal clothes, there’s a couple of camera flashes and stuff like that, but when we come out of our dressing rooms, when we’re all made up, you can hardly see where you’re walking because there are so many flashes, because we’re all made up. Would you want a picture with Ace Frehley with his make-up off or in his whole get-up? You’d want it in his whole get-up. So that’s why. It’s just a couple things I think about to say, “Okay. This is what make sense,” because some people take a different course about it.

Why does it work so well between you and Rob?
J5: I don’t know. It’s hard to explain. I really look up to him a lot, because he does so much. Now a lot of people can do a lot of things, but to finish them and to make them really great, that’s the hard thing. And that’s what he does. Whatever he starts, he finishes, and I really like that. He’ll start something and then he’ll finish it. And that’s what I really like. He’s always finished it, and I really respect that. We really enjoy the same things. We love the Universal Monsters. We have such a love for those Universal Monsters, those monster movies, so that’s a great thing. We both have the same hobbies. We love music and movies, so it’s just like being in a band with your best friend. It’s amazing.   

In what ways were your experiences with Marilyn Manson and Rob similar?
J5: Well, they’re both two different animals, of course. With Manson, it’s different every day and every night, so you never really know what’s going to happen. With Rob, everything is scheduled – we’re going to meet here, we’re going to do this and we’re going to do that, and we’re going to be on the bus and here we go. So, with Manson, you don’t know if we’re going to be backstage until three in the morning and if we’ll make it in time for the next show. It was that kind of thing. You know, both are amazing artists, both are amazing performers, so that’s how they’re similar.

Did that chaos with Marilyn translate to the live show and make that a different experience?
J5: Absolutely. Sometimes, we’d play only three songs and we’d be done. Sometimes you wondered how long you were going to play. 

What was your greatest moment with Marilyn and then with Rob?
J5: Well, that’s really, really tough. You know, the greatest moment between those two, there’s some many, great, great, great moments that have happened with both bands. Getting a No. 1 record with Manson, that was a great moment. Doing the "MTV Video Music Awards," that was a great moment. That was my very first gig with Manson. Getting awards and getting to play all these great places, and then having your friends at these great moments, and getting to travel the world and playing the greatest venues, having great records that come out and having these great friendships that will last forever. There are so many great moments, you can’t just limit it to one, because there are so many and I’m lucky for that. 

Of all the projects you’ve done, was there ever one you went into thinking, “I don’t know about this,” and then it turned out to be a better experience than you thought?
J5: Well, no, because I tend to be pretty careful about what I take on. You know, I’m very, very careful about the reputation of my name, so it’s not like I’ve ever gotten into a situation where I'm like, ”How am I going to get out this?” No, I’ve never done that. 

I know so many people have helped you along the way. Rudy Sarzo played a big role in helping your career. What do you remember most about meeting him that first night?
J5: Well, meeting Rudy helped me tremendously. He introduced me to Irving Azoff, who is a master in the music business, and a manager of record people and taught me this, that and the other thing about the business ... He let me into his home. He helped me out, and he’s a wonderful, wonderful talent, and taught me a lot of things. So I owe a lot to Rudy Sarzo.

And you’ve stuck with people and worked with them over your entire career, like your producer Bob Marlette.
J5 : Yes. You know, it’s funny. Everybody I’ve worked with I’m pretty much still in contact with. Everyone … because they’re good people, and I never leave anything on a bad note, where it’s like, “Screw you!” So it’s good, because you see everybody because it’s such a small, small world, and you don’t think you being in this world of, “Oh, I’ve seen this person. I’ve seen this person. I’ve seen this person.” It’s wonderful, and I’m so happy that I don’t have any bad blood.

You’ve worked with some amazing guitar players, too, including Lita Ford. That must have been a blast for you.
J5: Yeah, it was a blast. I see her every once in a while and she’s such a great, great, great talent. And she’s a great songwriter, great performer and singer … luckily, I had the privilege to play with her and play some songs with her. I really respect her. She’s great.

Probably underrated as an artist …
J5: Oh sure, she’s great. And she’s been doing this forever. I mean, The Runaways? Come on … just awesome. She’s so great. And then all of her solo stuff – what a career.

How did you get this band The Creatures together?
J5: Well, I was recording my instrumental stuff. I had recorded so many records, but I never played live shows. The drummer that I use said, “You should do some live shows.” And I said, “Well, it’s tough. The Zombie schedule is so busy,” but I said, “I’d love to do it. We’re going to have to get somebody. Let’s do it. Let’s do some shows.” I was really nervous because I’ve never done these kinds of shows. I didn’t know if people would show up, I didn’t know if people were going to care, I didn’t know anything about it. But we went out there, and it was such a huge success, and I was so happy. It just really changed my life, and we just said, “All right. Let’s do this.” And it’s so much fun. I’m so happy that the drummer, Rodger Carter, kind of pushed me to do this. And it was wonderful. It really changed my life.

Does it continue to evolve, this project you’ve got?
J5: Yeah, absolutely. We’re doing another tour starting in November … we’re just going to keep doing it, keep doing it, and whenever I have time away from Zombie, I’ll be able to do this.

What did you enjoy most about working on the last record working with Rob? Was it different from any other records you worked on with Rob? Or did you like the songs better and do you think he’s underrated as a songwriter?
J5:  Well, the record we have coming out with Zombie now, that will come out next year, it is so good. We went up to his place, and it is very secluded, and there’s nothing out there. There are no distractions – really, really a great place to make great music, and you really have the time to live with it. And that’s what I think is very important, because you have the time to say, “Oh, let’s change this or make this better, or I can play it like this.” And I think that’s important, because a lot of bands they do these records and they have to deliver them at a certain time. We took our time and this record that’s going to be coming out … I mean, the songs are amazing. It’s great, it’s heavy and it’s just … you know, I was a Zombie fan before being in the band and this one’s going to be great that’s coming out.

Do you remember hearing White Zombie for the first time? What did you think of them?
J5: Well, yeah, it was seeing the video of “Thunder Kiss ’65” … yeah, that was rad. It was the look, it was the sound and it was just cool. It was just something that you saw that made you say, “That’s got something special to it.” So, yeah, it was just a great, great, great thing.

"The Mad Monster Tour" dates:
Nov. 4 – Ramona, CA @ Ramona Mainstage
Nov. 5 – Los Angeles, CA @ Whiskey A Go Go**
Nov. 6 – Las Vegas, NV @ Count's Vamp'd**
Nov. 7 – Phoenix, AZ @ Marquee Theater**
Nov. 8 – Ventura, CA @ Discovery**
Nov. 10 – San Francisco, CA @ DNA Lounge**
Nov. 12 – Orangevale, CA @ Boardwalk**
Nov. 13 – Fresno, CA @ TBD
Nov. 18 – San Antonio, TX @ Sam's Burger Joint
Nov. 19 – Dallas, TX @ Trees
Nov. 20 – Tyler, TX @ Click's
Nov. 21 – Houston, TX @ Scout Bar

** Dates with Doyle

Short Cuts: Killing Joke, Huntress, Grave Digger

CD Review: Huntress  Static
Napalm Records
All Access Rating: A-
Huntress - Static 2015

Behind the scenes, Jill Janus is dealing with some pretty serious shit, including a cancer diagnosis and myriad mental health issues. She seems to be gaining strength from that which seems hell-bent on destroying her. An imposing female presence in the dark, mysterious underworld of occult-inspired heavy metal, Janus has emerged from the shadows with her band Huntress with the wrathful Static, a Napalm Records outing that's a lean, riff-hungry animal on the prowl for mean hooks, clearly articulated song structures and sinister, gloomy melodies. Taking full advantage of her four-octave range, Janus sings with fierce, commanding strength through heavy, menacing crawls like the title track, "Brian" and the record's smoldering centerpiece "Mania," while "I Wanna Want to Wake Up" grabs hold and doesn't let go and the fast-paced "Sorrow" loves the thrill of the chase. Graduating from the Tony Iommi school of riff creation with honors, Huntress unloads a truck full of them here, all simple and effective, driving such tracks as the awesomely titled "Harsh Times on Planet Stoked" and "Fire In My Heart" straight through hell without stopping. All hail the Huntress!

CD Review: Killing Joke – Pylon
Spinefarm Records
All Access Rating: A

Killing Joke - Pylon 2015
For some, the recent appearance of the so-called "Blood Moon" brought with it a dark foreboding and dire predictions that the apocalypse was nigh. Maybe they were just sensing that a new Killing Joke record was on the way. The four horsemen of metallic post-punk – including shamanistic front man Jaz Coleman, bassist Youth, guitarist Geordie and drummer Big Paul Ferguson – haven't diluted their ominous, fire-and-brimstone warnings in the slightest. An immersive experience layered with electronica and industrial sonic debris and enveloped in the all-encompassing glow of thousands of burning embers, the thrilling Pylon is angry and spiritual, urgent and expansive with deep, echoing vocals and tribal rhythms establishing a connection between the primitive, the divine and a confused, violent modernity. At times an enormous monster intent on devouring whatever gets in its way, Killing Joke's engrossing 16th studio album urgently stampedes through "Delete" and "Autonomous Zone" with slashing guitars and a rapid, pounding heart rate. The thundering intensity of an engorged "Dawn of the Hive" channels its rage through insistent, pummeling drums, and a giant wall of guitars is furiously erected in an icy "New Cold War" that explodes in a feverish crescendo, the track's starry atmospherics mirroring those of an infectious, racing "Euphoria" and the arresting beauty of the cinematic "Big Buzz." Slick and hypnotic, "War On Freedom" drives on with a relentless will, while "New Jerusalem" sets its hooks with slow deliberation, savoring its heavy riffs and menacing grooves. Repent now, humanity.

CD Review: Grave Digger  Exhumation: The Early Years
Napalm Records
All Access Rating: B+

Grave Digger - Exhumation: The
Early Years 2015
The past is the past, and there's no sense trying to relive it. That is, unless you're German speed-metal champions Grave Digger, who decided to remake some of their '80s classics for a new collection entitled Exhumation: The Early Years. Unremittingly fast and aggressive, Grave Digger charges almost blindly forward with renewed vim and vigor, unwilling or unable to apply the brakes to a runaway train of razor-sharp riffs, searing guitar solos and rhythmic rampages. Old favorite "Headbanging man" sets a violent tone, thrashing about with white-hot intensity. Following suit, "Fire In Your Eyes" and the teeth-gnashing "Witch Hunter" are fast-moving conflagrations that sweep across the land with destructive power, while galvanizing anthems "Heavy Metal Breakdown" and "Stand Up and Rock" and their shouted choruses take unabashed delight in espousing somewhat tiresome metal cliches. Running on pure adrenaline, marauding charges "Get Away" and "Enola Gay – Drop The Bomb" are just as furious and the galloping "Here I Stand" has all the grit and rawness of early Iron Maiden. Although by this time, even the slightest shift in gears or a melodic interlude would be a welcome relief. Running with a pack of contemporaries such as Helloween, Sinner, Running Wild and Rage has kept Grave Digger from growing complacent, as Exhumation: The Early Years illustrates in convincing fashion.  
– Peter Lindblad

CD Review: Emerson, Lake & Palmer – Live at Montreux 1997

CD Review: Emerson, Lake & Palmer – Live at Montreux 1997
Eagle Rock Entertainment
All Access Rating: B+

Emerson, Lake & Palmer - Live at
Montreux 1997 2015
Directionless and not at all compelling, Black Moon is hardly memorable, a mere footnote in the remarkable career of progressive-rock supergroup Emerson, Lake & Palmer. And its successor, 1994's In The Hot Seat, was an even bigger farce.

The result of an early '90s reunion, these two albums pale in comparison to the inspired genius and audacious virtuosity of seminal prog works Brain Salad Surgery and their self-titled debut, when they concocted a dynamic blend of heavy riffs and classical influences that defied logic and actually made commercial sense.

It's little wonder then that nothing from Black Moon or In The Hot Seat made the set list for ELP's dazzling and edgy, if utterly self-indulgent and irritatingly dissonant, Montreux performance on July 7, 1997. Eagle Rock Entertainment has seen fit to issue an audio-only release of the show on 2CD and digital formats for the first time as a companion piece to the DVD made available in the past. From a lovely reading of the eternally wistful "Lucky Man" and the soft, melodic – if somewhat off-kilter – drift of "Take A Pebble" to the swirling, exuberant camp of "Karn Evil" and the mad energy, rolling propulsion and arty ambition of a 20:50 "Medley: Tarkus/Pictures At An Exhibition," Live at Montreux 1997 showcases the elegance, the barely controlled chaos and insanely epic showmanship of a trio that always possessed incredible instrumental chops.

Rollicking piano and dancing organ salvos firing from the fingers of Keith Emerson abound, but it's the energetic rarity "Creole Dance" – a piece never available on an Emerson, Lake & Palmer studio release – that's the most stunning here, as his sheer speed furiously builds a beautiful nest of notes. The triumphant synthesizers, building drama and flashes of brilliance of "Fanfare for the Common Man" kick off a rousing closing medley of that work along with " ... Rondo / Carmina Burana / Carl Palmer's Drum Solo / Toccata in D Minor" that brings the house down. Montreux seemed to bring out the best in them.
– Peter Lindblad

CD Review: Sevendust – Kill The Flaw

CD Review: Sevendust – Kill The Flaw
7Bros. Records
All Access Rating: A-

Sevendust - Kill The Flaw 2015
Sevendust was built for the long haul, and so are their ardent admirers. A model of consistency, they cultivated a loyal following most bands would sell their souls for, and there's no reason for the long-running hard-rock quintet to give up the ghost now, especially not after just unleashing what might be their finest work in their 18 years together.

Kill The Flaw is the 11th studio album from a hard-rock quintet that could easily have burned out quickly in the '90s after a string of gold albums and incessant touring. There's something to be said for the kind of longevity Sevendust has achieved. Even more noteworthy is that, after all this time, they're still pushing themselves creatively to grow and mature, without losing their identity – a tricky balancing act some of their peers never managed to pull off.

As floods of expansive, winding melodies that no dam could hope to hold wash over the self-produced Kill The Flaw, where thick carpets of heavy guitars and surging, sculpted grooves decorate mansions of sound, it's the emotionally powerful vocals of charismatic front man Lajon Witherspoon that give each place its heart and soul. Calming the thunder somewhat, Sevendust allows the complex dynamics of "Forget," "Cease And Desist" and "Not Today" to sink their firm hooks into an audience already reeling from the rapturous, ever-widening epics "Thank You" and "Death Dance." The dark crunch of "Letters" plumbs the layered, atmospheric depths of The Deftones, while "Silly Beast" evokes comparisons to the slick, majestic sonic designs of Muse and "Peace And Destruction" and a gripping title track deliver their sincere messages with fierce urgency and strong riffing from guitarists Clint Lowery and John Connolly. Hearing these songs is like being swallowed by an easy chair and drowning in its plush cushions.

Signs of progressing artistry are found all over Kill The Flaw, but it's the easy flow, the clarity and definition of the songwriting here that raise the bar, making for memorable experiences that should absolutely soar in live environments, where Sevendust really shines. Whatever "flaws" there are here are mostly submerged, and if Kill The Flow doesn't break any new ground, it does suggest that Sevendust isn't willing to compromise its vision. And that is why their fan base sticks around.
– Peter Lindblad

DVD Review: Rage Against The Machine – Live at Finsbury Park

DVD Review: Rage Against The Machine – Live at Finsbury Park
Eagle Rock Entertainment
All Access Rating: A

Rage Against The Machine -
Live at Finsbury Park 2015
Every so often, good does triumph over evil. "Live at Finsbury Park" is a reminder that occasionally the underdog wins, if it's on the side of the angels. Of course, it helps having a force of nature like Rage Against The Machine driving the grassroots campaign behind it.

For those not familiar with the story, a short history lesson. The presumptive Christmas No. 1 hit in 2009 on the U.K. singles chart was bound to be whatever corporate, lightweight pop drivel Simon Cowell's "X Factor" winner had excreted. Then, along came Jon and Tracy Morter.

Tired of seeing Cowell's patronage result in yet another undeserving holiday season score for his formulaic, pandering hit machine, the English DJ and his wife crafted this modest proposal: How about giving Rage Against The Machine's "Killing In The Name"  a chance at No. 1? Their indomitable promotional campaign led to a chart upset that wiped that smirk right off Cowell's smug face. The people had spoken. "Killing In The Name" set records for downloading and claimed that top spot on Christmas despite Cowell's prediction that such a travesty would never occur.

And so, in keeping with a promise RATM vocalist Zach de la Rosa made, Rage played a celebratory free concert in the U.K. to express their gratitude and encourage more rebellion against the forces of commerce and tyranny in general. Available on DVD, Blu-ray and in digital formats via Eagle Rock Entertainment, "Live in Finsbury Park" documents in spectacular fashion that blistering performance with some of the most dynamic and exciting cinematography ever choreographed in a concert DVD. Colorful, clear imagery of the band in full throat, leaping about the stage with reckless abandon and wild-eyed energy and laying down infectious, thick grooves for a massive, writhing throng of people, not only flows together logically, but also effortlessly frames the incendiary action from a variety of angles.

A modern-day MC5, with a passionate rapper/singer in de la Rosa spouting socially conscious lyrics through an incendiary delivery, Rage Against The Machine is riveting onstage, hardly taking a breath as they ferociously attack favorites such as "Bombtrack," "Guerilla Radio," "People of the Sun" and "Bullet in the Head" and stomp all over "Bulls on Parade." The tense build-up of opener "Testify" lays the groundwork for the series of explosions that take place over a concise set that includes a furious cover of The Clash's "White Riot," all of it leading up to the grand finale, an overpowering version of "Killing In The Name" that burns the place to the ground.

From the skittering guitar scratchings and other innovative machinations of Tom Morello to the intense bashing of drummer Brad Wilk and the strong currents of menacing, insurgent bass lines of Tim Commerford, Rage is on fire, basking in the moment and exhorting the multitudes not to give up the fight, even as they themselves splinter off in different directions. A short behind-the-scenes featurette, coupled with an interview with the Morters and a booklet full of rich concert photography round out a package of historical importance. Unfortunately, it's also a tease for those who wish Rage was more active and doing this sort of thing all the time.
– Peter Lindblad

CD Review: With The Dead – With The Dead

CD Review: With The Dead – With The Dead
Rise Above Records
All Access Rating: A-

With The Dead - S/T 2015
Don't let the crosses and pastoral garb fool you. The members of eerie, occultist doom-metal misanthropes With The Dead are not exactly a pious lot.

Electric Wizard castoffs Tim Bagshaw (guitarist/bassist) and Mark Greening (drummer) make up two-thirds of With The Dead, joining Cathedral's Lee Dorrian, and once upon a time, as legend has it, the two were arrested for absconding with a crucifix off a church's roof, among other transgressions. Not surprisingly then, the harrowing, disorienting journey deep into the dark unknown that is the trio's punishingly brutal and ominously crusty self-titled debut LP, released by Dorrian's Rise Above Records, certainly does disturb the peace in ways that seem unnatural and extraordinary.

Burrowing down into the horrifically gnarly bowels of the sepulchral With The Dead is not advisable for the faint of heart. The further one goes the more hallucinatory the effects, Dorrian's hoary vocals a distant, echo-laden evil always fearful of being buried alive by monstrously heavy riffing crackling with grimy distortion on "Nephthys" and "Crown of Burning Stars." Occasional bridges of clarity and sinister, spare acoustic designs appear in thick, slow-turning dirges "Living With the Dead" and "I Am Your Virus," as With The Dead haunts wide swaths of ruinous, bombed-out sonic devastation and gets lost in the churning blackness and awful dread of "Screams From My Own Grave." Take a flashlight with you upon entering With The Dead and make sure the batteries are charged.

In danger of succumbing to shapeless monotony, as each song seems more turgid than the last, With The Dead almost grinds to a halt by the end, and yet, the album beckons time and time again, revealing more layers than a cursory listen provides. Each breathtaking track seems to be a universe unto itself, requiring deep exploration, even as mammoth implosions cause a series of massive sonic cave-ins from which there is no escape. Much has been made of the fractious relations between Rise Above Records and the Electric Wizard camp, but with this effort, it's clear that With The Dead are moving on to the next plateau. Maybe they'll settle their differences in the afterlife.
– Peter Lindblad

CD Review: Stryper – Fallen

CD Review: Stryper – Fallen
Frontiers Music srl
All Access Rating: A-

Styper - Fallen 2015
Placing its faith in heavy, crunching riffs and bold, uplifting melodies enveloped in fire-and-brimstone bluster paid off handsomely for a reinvigorated Stryper on 2013's No More Hell to Pay, an album that drew rave reviews from critics once reluctant to pay them any respect whatsoever.

A Frontiers Music srl release, Fallen continues their glorious crusade back to metal relevancy. Holding nothing back in terms of its growing creative aspirations and staying on message with determined zeal, the yellow-and-black attack is increasingly intense and relentless on the mighty Fallen, where high-minded principles and sentiments sometimes clash with righteous indignation.

All of which is found in the epic opener "Yahweh," as storming thrash-metal anger collides with angelic choirs and rousing, uplifting power-metal drama in a tour-de-force production that's as ambitious as anything the Christian metal stalwarts have ever attempted. Driving furiously through fast-paced, gripping tracks such as the Black Sabbath cover "After Forever" and "Till I Get What I Need," Stryper seems to relish throwing off the shackles of its hair-metal past. And when provoked, they can turn downright vicious, passionately pounding the pulpit with thundering sonic authority while condemning Hollywood for its false portrayal of Christians in "Big Screen Lies."

On Fallen, the band's 11th original album, there is darkness and light, with Oz Fox and Michael Sweet trading various combinations of searing, hot-wired guitar licks that seem to take dead aim at Stryper's detractors and Sweet singing with dynamic force and great conviction, as drummer Robert Sweet and bassist Tim Gaines flex their rhythmic muscles. Brawling, weighty guitars grind through the title track, "Pride" and "Let There Be Light," their gnarled hooks gripping tightly to desperate souls seeking salvation, while "Heaven" smolders, "Love You Like I Do" stings with melodic sweetness and the lovely pop-metal ballad "All Over Again" swoons with sighing harmonies.

Without completely reinventing themselves, Stryper has shown that an old dog of an '80s metal band can learn a few new tricks and not lose its identity in the process. There are times on Fallen where it seems Stryper falls back too easily on what's worked for them in the past and becomes formulaic, but for the faithful who've stuck with them through it all, that's probably a comfort.
– Peter Lindblad

CD Review: Michael Monroe – Blackout States

CD Review: Michael Monroe – Blackout States
Spinefarm Records
All Access Rating: A-

Michael Monroe - Blackout States 2015
If romance wasn't actually dead before the release of Blackout States, Michael Monroe may have finally choked the life right out of it with "This Ain't No Love Song."

Kickstarting Monroe's latest album with incendiary guitars and a healthy dose of punk attitude, the rip-roaring anthem makes no bones about Monroe's cynicism toward relationships. Declaring that "there ain't no first dates, there ain't no soul mates," the pride of Finland is fine with being a loner. It's a lifestyle choice he heartily endorses, and the absence of a soul-draining partner seems to agree with him, as the Spinefarm Records release Blackout States continues a run of strong, high-energy rock 'n' roll records from the former Hanoi Rocks frontman. Who needs love anyway if you could be – forgive the hyperbole – the last rock star on earth?

Cultivating a more melodic sound that's slightly looser than its predecessors, the trashy, irresistible power pop of Blackout States dials back on the big, in-your-face production of his last two swashbuckling records and lets the record's sparkling songwriting speak for itself. The result is a more consistent album, with less peaks and valleys, although Monroe and company have plenty of fire in the belly this time around. Infectious, tough and wistful, "Good Old Bad Days," "Goin' Down With the Ship" and a rumbling "Dead Hearts On Denmark Street" are fiery riots of tight hooks and sing-along choruses awash in nostalgia for wilder times and irresponsible behavior. While "The Bastard's Bash" is all swagger and ballsy bravado and "R.L.F" is fast, ramshackle punk on trucker speed, the self-empowering sentiments of "Keep Your Eye on You" benefit from reduced volume and swooning harmonies, while "Permanent Youth" and "Six Feet in the Ground" offer sweet ear candy with razor blades stuck in them.

With bassist and longtime collaborator Sami Yaffa and drummer Karl Rockfist driving this furious engine, and guitarists Steve Conte and newcomer Rich Jones (formerly of the Ginger Wildheart Band and the Black Halos) delivering hot-wired riffs and blistering leads, Monroe has the backing of a band that matches his youthful enthusiasm and rebellious personality. And while Blackout States mines the same old exhausted veins of glam-punk gold Monroe goes back to time and time again, he somehow still manages to find shiny nuggets of the stuff lodged in there.
– Peter Lindblad

CD Review: Operation: Mindcrime – The Key

CD Review: Operation: Mindcrime – The Key
Frontiers Music srl
All Access Rating: C+

Operation: Mindcrime - The Key 2015
The sprawling concept album Operation: Mindcrime was indeed Queensryche's finest hour, a grand puzzle of progressive metal full of grandiose arrangements, sweeping drama and intelligent, socio-political storytelling. Queensryche's former singer is hoping some of the magic of his old band's most iconic work rubs off on his latest mission, which bears the same name.

Not so much a band as a collection of hired guns gathered together to help Tate realize his vision, Operation: Mindcrime borrows the talents of Megadeth's Dave Ellefson, John Moyer (Disturbed, Adrenaline Mob), drummers Simon Wright (AC/DC) and Brian Tichy (Billy Idol, Ozzy Osbourne) and seemingly a cast of thousands on the elegant mess called The Key, said to be part one of an epic musical trilogy from Tate and released by Frontiers Music srl.

An enormous undertaking, The Key is ambitious, thought-provoking and cinematic in scope, and the chord progressions, strings and deep bass grooves establish a dark and stylish environment for a series of scenes addressing the question: What would happen if a key was found that could completely alter our perception of the world? The crunching, surging riffs and building drama of "Burn" and "Re-inventing the Future" that follow in the wake of the soaring, orchestral opener "Choice" all suggest the high expectations for The Key were warranted. This is where the engine stalls.

Quickly losing focus, its jumble of interesting ideas never quite pulling off the jaw-dropping tricks its set of musical magicians promise, The Key devolves and flatlines. "Ready to Fly" meanders about without any real sense of purpose or direction, as if sleepwalking through an empty park in the wee hours of the morning. Just as rudderless, the proggy indulgences of "On Queue" and "An Ambush of Sadness" are set adrift instrumentally without any hope of rescue. And choruses destined for greatness end up ineffectual and formless, as is the case with "Hearing Voices," a chunky, heavy riot of Rage Against The Machine-like stomp that ends up stammering like a petulant child.

Still possessing a powerful, expressive voice and a gift for bold theatrics, Tate has time to fix this, with two more acts yet to play out. Getting all these disparate pieces to fit together logically, allowing for greater flow and fewer stumbles, might be his biggest challenge.
– Peter Lindblad

Going 'Girl Crazy' with The Dictators

Ross The Boss looks back on landmark punk LP
By Peter Lindblad

The Dictators - The Dictators
Go Girl Crazy
If ever an album was deserving of a midlife crisis, it's The Dictators' Go Girl Crazy! Having just turned 40 this year, it ought to be living the high life, and against all odds, it is.

Rather than racing around in expensive muscle cars, sporting a bad comb over and sidling up to trashy, tattooed strippers, telling them dirty, tasteless jokes over 25-cent tappers in vain attempts to wear down their resistance, Go Girl Crazy!  the Rodney Dangerfield of proto-punk records – is finally getting some respect.

"When it came out, people were laughing at us," said Ross The Boss, a founding member of punk trailblazers The Dictators and guitarist of a band that showed everyone from The Ramones to the Beastie Boys how its done. "People were mocking us, laughing at us. 'Ooo hoo, look at that guy with the wrestling outfit on the front cover and the back. What’s going on with this?' You’re talking about cars, girls, surfing and beer and American culture, and we thought, 'Ohhh, yeah!' But it seems as if 40 years later, Uncut magazine votes it No. 1 greatest American punk rock record of all-time. Uncut magazine … yeah. Uncut magazine … greatest American punk rock record of all-time."

Misunderstood almost from birth, The Dictators' seminal debut LP, released in March 1975, had its own special neanderthal, politically incorrect charm that, over time, has ... well, it's grown on us. It was after simple pleasures, and it was a stone gas, honey – just loud, obnoxious rock 'n' roll laced with grabby hooks, irresistible melodies and sun-kissed harmonies, such as those found in "Weekend," "Teengenerate" and "(I Live For) Cars and Girls," and a penchant for goofy humor. Take for example "Back to Africa" and "Master Race Rock," a precursor to Black Flag's "TV Party." Did I mention the political incorrectness?

Primitive, naive and just out for a good time, this was savage, street-wise garage rock played with surprising skill and a wild, brash attitude. It had an appreciation for bad TV, political incorrectness, indiscriminate sex and youthful hijinks and, according to "Two Tub Man," it had "Jackie Onassis in my pants." Oh, and it hated hippies.

"It was amazing. It was our first time, my first time, in the studio.We had absolutely no idea what we were doing, but we had the songs," said Ross The Boss, who later resurfaced with traditional metal heroes Manowar. "We knew what we wanted, and we recorded that record and it’s hanging in the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame. The first thing you see is [Handsome Dick] Manitoba (The Dictators' indomitable front man) stuff, and the band has never been bigger, never been bigger – working harder than ever."

Soon, Go Girl Crazy! will get what it so rightly deserves, that is a proper reissue from CBS Sony. However, on Black Friday, Sony Legacy will release an appetizer of sorts, a 10-inch EP of five songs from Go Girl Crazy! that's entitled the Next Big Thing EP. A special 40th anniversary reissue of the original album is due to follow. Ross The Boss is enthused.

"Andrew W.K. has remixed three tracks. And he asked us to do it," said Ross The Boss. "We dug up the fucking two-track, excuse me. He remixed three songs … amazing remixes. I never thought I’d hear them remixed, and they are reissuing a double CD with alternate takes, odds and sods, that stuff that they found. And now it’s coming out again 40 years later. So now I’ve lived and the tables have turned. So this is going to be a great fall."

The two releases are separate, as the 40th anniversary CD reissue of Go Girl Crazy! will include the full album, plus alternate takes and different mixes.

As for Ross The Boss, he's got more than a few more irons in the fire. His melodic power metal band Death Dealer just released its sophomore album, Hallowed Ground. And there's new Dictators' material on the way.

"So this is going to be a great fall. [Along with] the new Death Dealer, also we’ve written our first new single, The Dictators, without Andy, with the new lineup," said Ross The Boss. "So we’re moving into new territory. And everything is hitting on all cylinders my friend."  

There's no rest for the wicked, or Ross The Boss. And his work ethic is stronger than ever.

"I’m honored, I am honored, but at the same time, I wake up and I work my ass off every single day," said Ross The Boss. "I don’t take a day off. So we work on it all the time. And I would say maybe pass that bit of info on to other musicians. Instead of sitting there on their couches every day, waiting and waiting for their break, you can’t wait for it. It’s not coming. You have to go out and get it."

Just like The Dictators did all those years ago.

CD Review: Motorhead – Bad Magic

CD Review: Motorhead – Bad Magic
All Access Rating: A-

Motorhead - Bad Magic 2015
Soldiering on despite increasingly alarming health issues, Lemmy Kilmister leads Motorhead on another balls-to-the-wall, rock 'n' roll escapade, this one called Bad Magic. Keenly aware of his own mortality, Lemmy – with a little help from his friends  – seems intent on going out in a blaze of glory, releasing one fireball of an album after another.

The formula doesn't change. Taking pride in being gritty, fast and ugly, as they always have, Motorhead again goes straight for the throat, and on the UDR release Bad Magic, Lemmy and cohorts Phil Campbell (guitars) and Mikkey Dee (drums) are addicted to the speed of blazing anthems "Victory or Die," "Thunder & Lightning" and "Electricity." It's as if they feel the Grim Reaper hot on their heels, as they race through a more melodic "Evil Eye" and blacken the earth with a scorching "Teach Them How to Bleed," hardly ever stopping to catch their breath.

While the deteriorating effects of age are creeping into his vocals, Lemmy's vile snarl is still vicious and mean, free of any studio or computerized enhancements that might add a synthetic and dishonest youthfulness that would send any Motorhead follower worth his salt into a disillusioned rage. Focus instead on the dogged grooves and hooks of "Fire Storm Hotel" and "Shoot Out All of Your Light" –the latter a powerful squall of dizzying guitars – and get blown away by the big, high-impact chorus and churning riffs of "The Devil." To top it all off, Motorhead brings their leaner cover of The Rolling Stones' "Sympathy For the Devil" back to the street, a rather faithful version that's even tougher than the original. Aside from a fairly standard and lugubrious, if still smoldering, ballad in "Till The End, there's nary a misstep on Bad Magic, where Campbell's solos and leads are absolutely searing and Dee's beat factory working furiously to keep up with orders. Sticking to what works with determination and editing out the fat, Motorhead still has that old black magic.
– Peter Lindblad