Short Cuts: Primal Fear, Megadeth, Pagan's Mind

CD Review: Megadeth – Dystopia
T-Boy Records/UMe
All Access Rating: A

Megadeth - Dystopia 2016
Incendiary socio-political commentary comes with the territory with thrash-metal titans Megadeth. So do gnarly, complex guitar riffs and leads that defy the onset of arthritis, explosive displays of technical instrumental brilliance and a pervasive sense of impending menace, as well as the occasional lineup change. Newcomers Kiko Loureiro (guitars) and Chris Adler, still the drummer for Lamb Of God, hopped aboard after the departures of Chris Broderick and Shawn Drover, and the jaw-dropping results of this personnel reshuffling can be found on the breathtaking Dystopia, a buzzing hive of insanely ambitious and meticulously orchestrated, yet absolutely furious, activity that reminds us why Megadeth still matters ... a lot, especially to guitar aficionados. Aside from the dizzying array of squealing, careening solos found all over this record and the frenzied overlapping guitars that close the title track's wild ride, there are tastefully executed classical acoustic intros that begin the otherwise seething and hard-hitting "Look Who's Talking" and "Conquer Or Die." Tight hooks crop up in "The Emperor" and the fast, punk-infused "Foreign Policy" opens up the throttle. The heavy thrum, thundering drive and darting movements of "The Threat Is Real" make it an instant Megadeth classic, while the ominous and dense "Poisonous Shadows" is beautifully wrapped in melancholic strings, before bleeding out with a delicate and darkly stylish piano outro. This is elevated thrash, capable of precise, surgical guitar strikes executed with such fluency that they feel almost futuristic, yet Megadeth still possesses a mean streak a mile wide, as the punishing malevolence of "Post American World" and "Lying In State" so brutally declares. Dystopia charts a course for thrash-metal's brave new world.

CD Review: Primal Fear – Rulebreaker
Frontiers Music srl
All Access Rating: A-

Primal Fear - Rulebreaker 2016
That old saw about life being all about balance has a lot of truth to it. Primal Fear likes to apply that same philosophy in making records, as their sonic rampages often grow into snarling beasts soon soothed by stretches of melodic wonder and magic. Such is the tradeoff on the well-produced Rulebreaker, album No. 11 and the dynamic, crushing follow-up to 2014's Delivering The Black. Offering a little bit of everything, as some hard-charging, high-voltage thrash ("Angels Of Mercy") gets mixed in with hammering bursts of power-metal glory, a grand, orchestral prog epic ("We Walk Without Fear") and more traditional metal grit (see the NWOBHM throwback that is the title track), Rulebreaker finds the German metal machine – led by ex-Gamma Ray singer Ralf Scheppers and bassist/vocalist Mat Sinner – administering a good, satisfyingly heavy bashing a rugged "The End Is Near," with its full-bodied, sneering vocals, and getting downright nasty on "Bullets & Tears," both songs flexing thick, muscular grooves. And when an opportunity arises for Primal Fear to hit the accelerator, they floor it on the slamming anthem "In Metal We Trust," long before the ascending magnificence of power ballad "The Sky Is Burning" is realized with a jaw-dropping chorus. Rulebreaker is classic Primal Fear, sometimes a bit too straightforward, but also full of vitality and blazing energy.

2 CD/DVD Review: Pagan's Mind – Full Circle: Live At Center Stage
All Access Rating: A-

Pagan's Mind - Full Circle:
Live at Center Stage 2015
Pagan's Mind has become a fixture at the ProgPower USA festival, the 2003 edition of the event serving as the band's coming-out party. On Sept. 11, 2014, the progressive-metal powerhouse made history there, performing its sophomore album Celestial Entrance in its entirety, along with an additional set of what they call "True Norwegian Hard-Hitting In-Your-Face Space Metal" centered around the sweeping, epic instrumental "Full Circle" – its watery passages and wide-ranging emotions making for a gripping listen. All of it is included in a new live release, out in various formats, including a spectacular 2 CD/DVD set. Intricate metallic riffing abounds, as Pagan's Mind comes off as a Scandinavian version of Dream Theater on the crunching, yet gracefully melodic, "Entrance Stargate," " ... Of Epic Questions" and "Dimensions of Fire," with dramatic keyboards swirling about or taking on a vaporous quality. The gorgeous piano waterfall of "Back to the Magic of Childhood I: Conception" gives way to a maze of riffs and tempo changes in its companion piece "Back to the Magic of Childhood II: Exploring Life," and the stirring gallop of "Dreamscape Lucidity" rouses the masses, later sent into paroxysms of delight at the lightning-fast soloing and grumbling riffs of "Eyes Of Fire." Meanwhile, the dramatic surges and quicksilver tempo changes of "Intermission" are carried out with aplomb, and "Live Your Life Like a Dream" rides a lovely current of melody. With a theatrical singer that, at times, emotes like Iron Maiden's Bruce Dickinson, Pagan's Mind offers enchantment and wonderfully expansive journeys, even if they occasionally take all-too-similar paths. Still, this Pagan's Mind release would be a terrible thing to waste.
– Peter Lindblad

Last In Line honor Jimmy Bain with video releases

Dio tribute band deals with the death of legendary bassist
By Peter Lindblad

The artwork for Last In Line's
upcoming release 'Heavy Crown'
What an extraordinary musical resume Jimmy Bain built over his 68 years on this earth, not only as bassist for Dio and Rainbow during their glory days but also as a co-writer for some of Dio's most memorable songs.

He was going to add to his enviable legacy with the Dio tribute band Last In Line, but his death over the weekend brought everything to a screeching halt, leading surviving members to push for the early release of a pair of videos for songs from the project's upcoming debut album Heavy Crown.

That seems fitting, as Bain was evidently chomping at the bit for the world to hear what Last In Line was about to unveil.

In a statement on social media recently Bain's Dio and Last In Line bandmate guitarist Vivian Campbell wrote, "Jimmy was immensely proud of our new album and his input to it was immeasurable. We will continue to celebrate his life through music." Campbell added that he was indebted to Bain, who gave him his first big break in the music industry.

Formed in 2012 to pay homage to the work of late singer Ronnie James Dio, Last In Line gathered together Bain, Campbell and drummer Vinny Appice – all of whom played on the Dio album of the same name. Going out and playing vintage Dio material and keeping the spirit of their old friend alive was the mission, but then the threesome began writing their own stuff. They later brought in singer Andrew Freeman to round out the group. Last In Line was performing on Def Leppard's "Hysteria On The High Seas" cruise when Bain passed away. Saddened by his loss, the remaining members have issued a new lyric video for "Blame It On Me" and a proper music video for "Starmaker," with their debut LP Heavy Crown slated for a Feb. 19 release on Frontiers Music SRL.

Both songs are slow burners, with "Blame It On Me" taking shape as a methodical, steady march with gradually developing hooks that wrap listeners in a sleeper hold. Heavy beats drop like cinder blocks from the sky, as Bain stomps and smolders, Freeman's vocals sound positively sinful and Campbell's riffs hit like a punch to the solar plexus, before a melodic passage hints at redemption. In the lyric video for the track, a nicely arranged slide show of images of Last In Line members seems haunting given the circumstances, dredging up nostalgic emotions and wistful remembrances. The confessional tone of the lyrics only adds to the sense of melancholy.

The lyric video for "Blame It One Me" can be seen below:

In similar fashion, "Starmaker" stalks like a predator, as Bain's seductive groove locks in with Appice's weighty thud, Freeman emits a soulful and bluesy wail and Campbell's guitar attack is tough, menacing and sharp. It's as if Altar Bridge had taken to channeling Dio-era Black Sabbath. There's just enough modern pop-metal sheen to shine a light in what is, otherwise, a trip to the dark side of fame. A straight performance video, filmed with good definition and drained of color, the imagery captures the gritty personality and cohesiveness of a quartet that was just beginning to realize its potential. See the video for "Starmaker" below:

As for Bain's legacy, his contributions to rock, though mighty, came mostly in a supporting role, rather than a lead. Still, he left his mark, despite issues with substance abuse. It's not just that he served as bassist for both Rainbow – enlisted by Ritchie Blackmore for the second version of the band that made Rising –and Dio, though that would be enough to qualify him for metal and hard rock sainthood for some. He was integral to the success of both iconic groups, serving as their steely, but flexible, backbone.

There was also a short three-year stint with Wild Horses, the group that boasted ex-Thin Lizzy guitarist Brian Robertson and produced two albums over that span. Robertson then went on to join Motorhead, while the versatile Bain lent his talents to recordings by Roy Harper, Gary Moore and Kate Bush and later worked with close friend Phil Lynott on his two solo LPs. Oh, and Bain also played keyboards, and in a bit of '80s Cold War rock 'n' roll intrigue, as the story goes, he was secretly recruited by German metal legends The Scorpions to play bass on their smash hit album, Love At First Sting.

With Dio, Bain co-wrote legendary songs "Rainbow in the Dark" and "Holy Diver," and helped pen other tracks for Dio records The Last in Line, Sacred Heart, Intermission, Dream Evil and Killing The Dragon. World War III arrived, pairing Bain with vocalist Mandy Lion, but that project was cut short, and Bain returned to Dio for the making of 2000's Magica.

More recently, however, Bain became involved in Last In Line, and that apparently was a labor of love for an artist who'd battled demons and still made an impact on the lives of his bandmates and fans.

David Bowie and me

Five occasions when the 'Thin White Duke' left me gobsmacked
By Peter Lindblad

David Bowie - The Rise And Fall of Ziggy
Stardust And The Spiders From Mars
A rare shopping trip at Kmart used to be a big deal to a wide-eyed innocent living in the relatively isolated environs of northwest Wisconsin in the 1970s and '80s.

It was an opportunity to rifle through a bargain bin of cassette tapes to strike gold at the low, low price of three for $10, and on one particular day, there was one nugget that shined above all the rest. How David Bowie's The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders From Mars ended up there I'll never know, but it was the deal of the century, at least to me. To an awkward teen struggling to fit in socially at a school that still seemed foreign, even though I'd been attending it for five years after moving from another state, finding it was a spiritual and musical awakening. Although at the time, the fact that it had "Suffragette City" on it was enough to warrant its purchase.

Hearing a preening Bowie at his bitchiest exclaim, "Wham, bam, thank you ma'am" was pretty suggestive stuff for a sheltered preacher's kid looking for a little excitement and finding loads of it in the glam rock glitter bomb that was, perhaps, the late musician's finest hour. It was a song that begged to be played over and over, at the expense of every other cut on the album, and every listen was a shocking encounter and a teasing invitation to explore worlds way beyond my understanding. It wouldn't be the last time Bowie, whose death the world is still grieving, did something that shook me to my core. There are at least four others that stand out:

Meeting Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars: Others might point to the "Berlin Trilogy" of Low, Heroes and Lodger as more innovative and groundbreaking, and the '80s commercial success of the stylish Let's Dance sparks warm memories, but The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars brought about, in me, a revolution.

It was the gateway drug to punk and new wave for an altogether unfashionable, shy, clumsy and risk-averse small-town boy scared, but also excited, by what that album represented. Not that I was at all aware of any of it at such a tender age (being around 14 at the time), but the sexual ambiguity, the gender-bending, the depressed rock star undergoing an existential crisis and the idea of a "Starman" wanting to come and meet us, " ... but he thinks he'd blow our minds" actually did blow my mind. It was all too much for someone weaned on '70s progressive rock and Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath and The Scorpions, and other tamer arena-rock acts.

Others obviously had a different experience, but it wasn't easy to fall for an album that challenged cultural norms so aggressively. It was audacious, arty and raw, with an androgynous, glam-rock swagger on the completely exhilarating "Suffragette City," which was raucous and fun. But, there was hard-bitten desperation and anxiety in the air of "Hang On to Yourself." A mental breakdown was coming in "Ziggy Stardust," and despair permeated "Rock 'n' Roll Suicide."

Nevertheless, the swooning beauty of "Moonage Daydream" and sweeping majesty of "Starman" – along with the the intoxicating resignation of "Five Years" – gradually eased the tension of the rest of the recording, and over time came acceptance, which grew into an undying romance with its overarching concepts, its incisive social commentary, its broad imagination and its wild, timeless vitality. I'm still madly in love with it.

Ashes to Ashes ... Major Tom's a junkie?!: Wading through hours of bad TV just to get to late-night music shows was a weekly ritual. "Friday Night Videos," anyone? The MTV generation had it so goddamn easy. Every so often, however, there was a reward for such perseverance. Bowie's video for "Ashes to Ashes" made the tough slog worth it. When it at first it popped up, it seemed disturbing, and surreal, but still utterly captivating. It was a continuation of the Major Tom story, and things had taken a very dark turn indeed for the intrepid astronaut. (Check out the behind-the-scenes making of the video below)

As skies blacken, Bowie, dressed as a French clown, walks along a deserted beach talking with an old woman. Joined by worshipers in orthodox religious garb, he leads a funereal procession ahead of a bulldozer and the scene is awash in solarised colors. Elsewhere, he's imprisoned in a padded room and plugged into a spaceship.

In a matter of minutes, the stunning visual feast had taught us all more about symbolism than four years of college-level literature and poetry classes. Innovative and artistically daring, the "Ashes To Ashes" video was breathtaking, a strange, melancholy dream world constructed by otherworldly creatures obsessed with themes of mortality and alienation. Or, maybe it was just being weird for the sake of being weird. Whatever the case, it left an impression and haunted my dreams for years.  

Glass Spiders: 1987 saw Bowie and his poofed-up pompadour attempting to pull off one of the biggest, most theatrical tours ever conceived, "The Glass Spider Tour." Initially, critics were not kind in their assessment, calling it pretentious and overblown. And it probably was. The costs associated with it were exorbitant. There were dancers, a dazzling array of colored lights, projected visuals and stage props, and the whole set-up was designed to look like a enormous spider.

Thanks to a high school and college friend, who was quick to buy us tickets, I was able to see one of the shows at Milwaukee's Marcus Amphitheater. It was the only time I ever saw Bowie, and it was an amazing, jaw-dropping spectacle. Completely over-the-top, the staging was ridiculous, and yet, it was also utterly brilliant. You couldn't take your eyes off it. Rarely have the worlds of theater and music collided in such an ambitiously artistic tour de force. It was a blazing supernova, accompanied by a great setlist. And it also revived the career of Peter Frampton, while confronting conventional notions of what a rock 'n' roll concert was supposed to be and spitting right in their tight, puckered faces.

"Saturday Night Live" – Dec. 15, 1979: Out in America's Heartland, nobody knew who Klaus Nomi was. David Bowie's appearance on "Saturday Night Live" on this particular date changed all that. A cabaret performer with an incredible, operatic voice, Nomi's legend was growing in New York City's underground, when Bowie plucked him from obscurity for a fiercely avant-garde coming-out party on national television that nobody expected.

With startling facial features, makeup and vivid costumes, Nomi and fellow New York performance artist Joey Arias were visually arresting backing up Bowie, who performed three songs. After a stirring rendition of "The Man Who Sold The World," Bowie dressed up in a skirt and heels for a "TVC 15" off Station To Station and when they closed with Lodger's "When You're A Boy," Bowie had morphed into a living marionette, with oversized arms that moved. Crackling with electricity, this outing was shock therapy, a carefully orchestrated attempt to cause the anesthetized masses some discomfort and make them squirm in their easy chairs. Mission accomplished.

The End: Blackstar came out two days before Bowie's death, a parting gift from one of the most influential and daring artists of this, or any, generation. It became Bowie's first No. 1 album, debuting at the top spot on the Billboard 200.

The video that accompanied "Lazarus," with a blinded Bowie levitating off what appears to be a hospital bed in an antiseptic, sparsely furnished room, is soothing and disquieting at the same time. The last time a video this affecting came along, Johnny Cash was reinterpreting Nine Inch Nails' "Hurt" with stark instrumentation and confessing to sins and mistakes with trembling sincerity, all in the hope that redemption and salvation lay ahead in the next life. Like Cash, Bowie seems to be looking for closure as he clings to life, and he does it in such an elegant, understated manner that you can't help but wish him well on his journey into the afterlife and wave goodbye (the video's director talks about Bowie's last hurrah below).

Short Cuts: Prong, Drowning Pool, Conan, Celtic Frost

CD Review: Drowning Pool – Hellelujah
eOne Music
All Access Rating: B+

Drowning Pool - Hellelujah 2016
The accursed nu metal ship known as Drowning Pool hasn't completely run aground yet. Since the 2001 death of singer Dave Williams – his passing coming at the very height of their popularity – they've shuffled through singers and defended misinterpretations of their smash hit "Bodies" in the wake of the 2011 Arizona shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. Dealing with the fallout of reports that bassist Steve Benton said he was honored that the U.S. Military was using the band's music during enhanced interrogations of Guantanamo Bay prisoners only made their public relations nightmare worse. So, forgive Drowning Pool for wanting to vent a little on their newest album, Hellelujah, as flame-throwing vocalist Jason Moreno settles in as the band's frontman after debuting in 2012 with a fistful of singles and, later, the 2013 album Resilience. Teeming with aggression and rousing, confrontational anthems packed to the gills with surefire hooks and call-and-response shouting, Hellelujah could spark a most pit in a convent, as "Push," "Goddamn Vultures" and "Stomping Ground" throw their heavy weight around with brawling, vicious grooves and slamming riffs. "Sympathy Depleted" finds the Texans bouncing off the walls in a violent waltz and "My Own Way" locks in with tight, Helmet-like precision, but it's the nasty, mean guitars and infectious, seething energy of "We Are The Devil," as well as the melodic, acoustic tangle of "Another Name" – a fully realized, affecting post-grunge ballad – that would make anyone shout Hellelujah to those within earshot, even if Drowning Pool's sound hasn't really progressed much over the years.

CD Review: Prong – X – No Absolutes
All Access Rating: A
Prong - X - No Absolutes 2016

About as prolific as anybody these days, Prong has been on fire since returning from a brief hiatus with 2012's Carved Into Stone, releasing two more blistering albums of originals, plus a covers LP of punk and rock classics, since then. The band's latest fiery epistle of punk-metal fury is X – No Absolutes, and with intense thrashings such as "Ultimate Authority," "Sense of Ease" and "Cut And Dry," Prong gnashes its teeth with more grit, substance and raw energy than practically all of their peers combined. Immaculately produced to harness their power, ensure the hooks are tight and gripping and enhance the melodic character of these songs, X – No Absolutes is also a fairly diverse listen, at least for Prong, with "Do Nothing" coming off as a sort of an alternative-rock power ballad lifted by a fountain of guitars. "Belief System" is heavier and it buzzes with electricity, while the swarming, meaty riffs of "Soul Sickness" and the frenzied speed of "In Spite of Hindrances" remind everyone that Prong's punk-rock heart is still beating strong. Their hard-hitting socio-political commentary hasn't softened either, nor has Victor's sharp guitar work lost its edge.

CD Review: Various Artists – Morbid Tales: A Tribute To Celtic Frost
Corpse Flower Records
All Access Rating: A-

Various Artists - Morbid Tales:
A Tribute To Celtic Frost 2015
What started off as an homage to blackened extreme-metal legends Celtic Frost by Corpse Flower Records in the form of an illustrated comic would eventually expand to include a tribute album that shows a healthy respect for the source material by not treating it with kid gloves. Some of underground-metal's most malevolent hordes are gathered here, and they set out to befoul the already dark, gothic brutality of Celtic Frost with their sonic malignancy. Spreading like some horrible affliction mercilessly attacking a vulnerable immune system and leaving its victim almost lifeless, Persekutor's "Procreation Of The Wicked" methodically breaks down the original with diseased vocals and trudging riffs, while Acid Witch's enormous version of "Cherry Orchards" is carried off by monstrous, plodding guitars and dies in a thermonuclear meltdown. Municipal Waste downshifts efficiently from ferociously fast punk to mean, mid-tempo metallic riffing in bringing "Nocturnal Fear" back to life, before Hayward (featuring Scott Kelly and Jason Roeder of Neurosis) envelopes "Jewel Throne" in harsh, almost incomprehensible noise. Philip Anselmo appears with Child Bite to lay waste to "The Usurper" in a swamp of sludge that morphs into a riot of punk energy, and Temple Of Void ride roughshod over "Os Absmi Vel Daath" with vim and vigor, a sky-scraping guitar solo and dirty cymbals splashing filth. Celtic Frost deserves all of this and more.

CD Review: Conan – Revengeance
Napalm Records
All Access Rating: B

Conan - Revengeance 2016
The churning follow-up to 2014's Blood Eagle, Conan's Revengeance is made of gradually evolving, ponderous doom metal that practically drags its large knuckles on the ground as it walks. With its hulking mass, "Thunderhoof" plods along grimly with down-tuned heaviness, its distant vocals crying out in the gloaming and then turning guttural as its grey clouds darken, becoming more dense and brooding. Somehow moving even more slowly, as if that's possible, "Wrath Gauntlet" is a crusty wrecking ball of giant riffs that would be a total bore, were it not for its brutally psychedelic crescendo. This is where Revengeance takes a turn for the better, as the feedback-scratched title track and its successor "Every Man Is An Enemy" pick up the pace, with fuzzy coatings blanketing pounding, chaotic energy, while closer "Earthenguard" becomes a hypnotic, mind-bending experience that implodes at the end in glorious fashion. The Beatles came from Liverpool, and so does Conan, who seem intent on bulldozing everything in their way into the ground. However, the power trio could learn a thing or two about melody and song structure from their hometown's favorite sons.
– Peter Lindblad

DVD Review: Ritchie Blackmore – The Ritchie Blackmore Story

DVD Review: Ritchie Blackmore – The Ritchie Blackmore Story
Eagle Rock Entertainment
All Access Rating: A-

Ritchie Blackmore - The
Ritchie Blackmore Story 2016
Enigmatic, demanding, quick to anger and evidently fond of pulling off elaborate pranks, the iconic Ritchie Blackmore has always jealously guarded his privacy. Though rather stodgy and a little dry, a revealing new documentary titled "The Ritchie Blackmore Story" finds the dark lord of rock guitar sorcery in a more open and talkative mood than usual.

Offering as much access to Blackmore's inner-most thoughts and memories as anyone ever thought possible, the film relates Blackmore's story in a dry, straight-forward fashion, going chronologically from birth through his time with pop act The Outlaws, his early session work in the '60s and then exploring in more detail the triumphant highs and disappointing lows of his glory days with Deep Purple and Rainbow. And with his wife Candice Night by his side, Blackmore recounts how his passion for traditional Renaissance music evolved, leading to the formation of the project that has consumed both of them in recent years, Blackmore's Night.

Professionally pieced together, "The Ritchie Blackmore Story" takes us inside the making of such landmark records as Deep Purple In RockMachine Head and Burn from Blackmore's point of view, and with frankness and soul-baring honesty, he talks of the lineup changes in Deep Purple and why he left the band on multiple occasions. Discussions with Glenn Hughes, Roger Glover and David Coverdale flesh out what happened behind the scenes, adding more meat on the bone.

What emerges from the video biography from Eagle Rock Entertainment is a revealing and in-depth portrait of a restlessly creative, if curmudgeonly and downright prickly but occasionally funny, artist who's authored a slew of original and memorable guitar riffs and rained down torrents of lightning-fast, yet tasteful and classically inspired, soloing like an angry god. Tributes and insightful commentary on Blackmore's brilliance come pouring out of admirers such as Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson, Queen's Brian May, Metallica's Lars Ulrich, Joe Satriani, Gene Simmons of KISS and Toto's Steve Lukather – to name a few – and their observations are sincere and thoughtful, with some making him out to be a caucasian Jimi Hendrix. And there's 40 minutes of additional interview material tacked on to the DVD, packaged with informative and well-written liner notes and great vintage photos.

The best stuff, though, comes straight from Blackmore's mouth. In a series of casual interviews over beers, Blackmore pulls no punches, talking candidly about his temper, his belief in ghosts and dalliances with the supernatural, and his stormy relationship with Ian Gillan – including recollections of a restaurant fight that ended with him throwing a plate of pasta into the singer's face after Gillan had doused it in ketchup, as bandmates cringed.

In the end, however, what matters most is the music, and an abundance of sensational vintage live footage from various periods in his career speaks to his wild, unpredictable showmanship, boundless creativity and incredible talent. Segments of performances of such classic material as "Highway Star," "Smoke on the Water," "Black Night," "Mistreated" and "Long Live Rock 'n' Roll," among other favorites, are strewn throughout the film, and much is made of Blackmore's explosive meltdown at the infamous 1974 California Jam event. All of it is tightly edited so that the movie doesn't come off as some hastily thrown together patchwork. Ever the perfectionist, Blackmore would undoubtedly be livid if it had.

As it is, its contents comprise an essential dossier of Blackmore's life and career to anyone with even a passing interest in him, his bands and rock history in general.
– Peter Lindblad

Another @#$&! 2015 Top 10 rock albums list: Part 2

The best five metal and hard-rock records of the year
By Peter Lindblad

Sevendust brought forth 'Kill The Flaw'
in 2015
While death and the mortality of rock legends have dominated headlines in recent weeks, stories of musical resurrection and redemption made 2015 a year of renewal and inspiring artistry, with a number of fantastic records seeing the light of day. Such tales were sorely needed.

Most notably, Sol Invictus marked the glorious return of Faith No More, proving that even after lying dormant for 11 years, the intensely creative spark within them still burned as bright as ever.

And then there was Baroness, still reeling from a horrible tour bus accident that caused the departure of half the band and forced John Baizely to go through excruciating rehabilitation. In spite of their troubles, Baroness marched on, releasing in December one of the year's most life-affirming records with Purple. For consistency and continued brilliance, there's Clutch, whose album Psychic Warfare provided more evidence of their greatness, and Motor Sister's Ride showed that all Mother Superior's Jim Wilson needed was a little help from friends like Anthrax's Scott Ian, his wife Pearl and Joey Vera, of Fates Warning and Armored Saint, to churn out great '70s-inspired rock 'n' roll.

Ross the Boss and Death Dealer screamed, "Death to false metal" with their rugged, all-encompassing brand of power metal on Hallowed Ground. Lucifer conjured up beautifully evil sonic witchcraft. Fear Factory crafted another epic sci-fi concept record with Genexus. Rivers Of Nihil conceived a nightmarish dystopian scenario in Monarchy, and TesseracT somehow performed some kind of weird alchemy to convert complex prog-metal into something melodic and tuneful on Polaris. In the end, however, none of those records made the final cut, failing to beat out others like Sevendust's dense and darkly soulful Kill The Flaw. Here's a look at our top five albums in metal and hard rock for this past year:

Baroness - Purple
5. Baroness – Purple: Arriving late to the party, Purple was an emotional volcano, erupting and overflowing with anguish, confusion, joy and a determination to not let the harsh reality of their circumstances derail the mighty Baroness. A binge-and-purge record that celebrates and appreciates life and all its confounding highs and lows, Purple made a statement, a declaration of independence from what happened in the past with arms spread wide to embrace the future. Its rough-textured riffs seemingly chiseled out of granite, Purple is not smooth or stylish, but it is powerful, exciting, heavy and raw, with full-bodied choruses of voices bloodied and beaten, but unbowed. It slams into ears like a giant runaway freight train. The feel-good story of the year.

Sevendust - Kill The Flaw
4. Sevendust – Kill The Flaw: Luxurious melodies pulled along by strong, thick currents of heavy guitar riffs combine to make Kill The Flaw nearly flawless, as do the rich, full-bodied vocals of Lajon Witherspoon and Morgan Rose's accomplished drumming. Never once have they lost that sense of who they are, and yet Kill The Flaw finds Sevendust still growing and maturing as artists, expanding their signature sound without compromising their integrity. Commercially speaking, the '90s were nirvana for Sevendust, but in the here and now, they're as polished and potent as they've ever been.

Clutch - Psychic Warfare
3. Clutch – Psychic Warfare: Earth Rocker was a tight, efficient machine running on organic grooves, grabbing hooks and killer riffs. On Psychic Warfare, all those elements can still be found, along with Neil Fallon's oddball humor and infectious storytelling, his forceful, rousing delivery begging for a rapt audience of miscreants. What also emerges is a tougher, more tumultuous sound that doesn't mind digging around in the muddy blues of ZZ Top. There is plenty of dirt on Clutch's boots and flannel shirts here, but when the time comes to regale us with noir-like tales from the trailer court, mystery and menace lurks in the shadows.

Motor Sister - Ride
2. Motor Sister – Ride: Explosive proto-punk mingles with rugged, rough-and-tumble '70s American hard rock and shaggy, blues-infused soul on Ride, the earthy, tuneful album that shined a light on '90s underdogs Mother Superior and its talented leader Jim Wilson. The genuine article in a period of pop insincerity, artificiality and insipidness, Ride is hungry for riffs and has real blood running through its arteries of compelling, gripping melody. It has swagger, energy and sex appeal – everything good, meat-and-potatoes rock 'n' roll music should have, although Motor Sister manages to elevate it to something more inspired and pure. It is altogether human, and it knows what it likes, and you want to hang out with it for hours on end in a dimly lit tavern before taking it someplace more exciting and dangerous, because it's not a stick in the mud and it wants a little adventure before the night ends. This Ride should never end.

1. Faith No More – Sol Invictus: Sol Invictus really is the album of the year, unlike the 1997 Faith No More LP that sarcastically proclaimed itself to be just that and failed to deliver on such promises. Furiously propulsive, deeply soulful, and incredibly diverse and playful, Sol Invictus isn't Angel Dust and it isn't The Real Thing, but it's something in between – a uniquely eclectic entry in the Faith No More catalog that remains interesting and intoxicating right up until its last breath. The sonic architecture of Sol Invictus is designed to amaze, and it leaves lasting memories of melodic grandeur, schizophrenic vocal treatments, swirling keyboards, rhythms constantly pushing and pulling back, and guitar riff conflagrations. Translated from Latin, the title of the album supposedly means "Unconquered Sun." That's as apt a description of this record as any ever written.

Metal Church reveals new LP track listing, cover art

Veteran hard-rockers reunite with former singer
By Peter Lindblad

Metal Church will release its new
album 'XI' in March (Photo by
Mike Savoia)
Welcome back, Mike Howe. We missed you in church ... Metal Church that is.

Like the prodigal son, Howe has returned as lead vocalist for the Northwest metal and hard-rock heavyweights, and the track listing and cover art for Metal Church's latest album XI has been just been released.

Due out March 25 on Rat Pak Records, XI is the band's 11th studio album and is available for pre-order in various bundles via A limited number of the Deluxe International Version, which features a bonus disc of eight extra songs, can be had through the website.

Choose a bundle, however, and guitar picks, stickers, a special edition behind-the-scenes photo book, t-shirts and even a limited number of personal phone calls from Howe himself are among the many treasures packaged with what has to be one of metal's most highly anticipated albums of 2016.

Metal Church - XI 2016
XI is also available for pre-order on Amazon, Google Play and via iTunes at Those ordering the digital version will receive an instant download of "Killing Your Time" from the new record, produced by guitarist Kurdt Vanderhoof and co-produced by Chris "The Wizard" Collier.

Howe-era Metal Church made its mark on metal through strong songwriting, and "Needle and Suture" and "Soul Eating Machine" from XI are said to be reminiscent of that period. "Signal Path" and "Sky Falls In" exceed the 7-minute mark in length, giving Metal Church a chance to stretch out and flex its musical muscles.

Already, the band has released its first video from the album, as Metal Church roars through the rampaging debut single "No Tomorrow" inside the Satsop Nuclear Facility, an abandoned nuclear power plant in Elma, Wash. It was directed by Jamie Chamberlin of Black Dahlia Films and features a unique visual that ties in to the location. You can see it here: There's also a behind-the-scenes video on the making of that little film and it can be seen here:

Below is the track listing for XI:

1. Reset
2. Killing Your Time
3. No Tomorrow
4. Signal Path
5. Sky Falls In
6. Needle & Suture
7. Shadow
8. Blow Your Mind
9. Soul Eating Machine
10. It Waits
11. Suffer Fools

For more information on Metal Church, visit Check out their Facebook page at https// and go visit them on Twitter at

First impressions: Anthrax, Megadeth, Metal Church

Examining newly released songs, videos from metal legends
By Peter Lindblad

Anthrax will discuss their new LP 'For
All Kings' on the series  "Backstory" on
Wednesday, Jan. 13. It'll be live streamed
as part of the AOL Build series. Gets tickets
to be there in person for the interview.
Appetizers have been served, and they were delicious. Soon, the tables of famished thrash-metal fans the world over will be overflowing with main courses from three of thrash metal's most enduring acts.

First to arrive is Megadeth's Dystopia on Jan. 22, followed by Anthrax's For All Kings via Megaforce Records on Feb. 26 and then comes Metal Church's XI, slated for a March 25th release on Rat Pak Records.

Megadeth - Dystopia 2016
On Thursday, Dave Mustaine and company teased their upcoming release by unveiling the title track for streaming on, this after rolling out a new video for the song "The Threat Is Real" in December.

Not to be outdone, Metal Church announced a release date Monday for XI, which marks the return of vocalist Mike Howe. "At first I struggled with the decision to come back, but after hearing the riffs that (guitarist) Kurdt (Vanderhoof) was writing, I just couldn't resist. The music called to me and I wanted to be part of it!" said Howe.

In July 2014, Howe began working with Vanderhoof on a side project with Saxon's Nigel Glockler, leading to a reunion of Metal Church and its former singer, all of whom are featured in a new video for the debut single off XI, "No Tomorrow," that premiered along with these glad tidings.

And then there's Anthrax, looking to follow up the sensational 2011 LP Worship Music, one of the best records of that year and some have even claimed it to be as good anything in their catalog.

So, what's the early verdict on the new stuff? Here's a rundown:

Megadeth: By the time "Dystopia" the song made its introduction, the public had already been treated to a cool animated video for "The Threat Is Real" and another new track, "Fatal Illusion," the latter a mean, seething slab of heavy, gnarly thrash that harkens back to Megadeth's early days.

With "The Threat Is Real," exotic Middle Eastern wailing fades as Megadeth unloads a barrage of crazed guitar riffs strikes. Later, hitting its stride, the track morphs into a vigorous, hard-hitting Iron Maiden-like gallop, charging ahead with nostrils flared. Vic Rattlehead, the band's mascot, makes an appearance in the song's video, with its comic-book illustrations and video-game graphics acting out an attempt to stop an act of terrorism. At its core, it's a song that makes the case that our fears of sudden violent episodes of terrorism – like the ones that have dominated the news cycle in recent weeks – becoming the norm are very real, indeed, and that there's a reluctance to address the problem head on.

"Dystopia" is a bit different, its stylized, clean guitars practically gleaming and sharply etched. Here, high-definition production enhances the urgency, the pure energy of a track that takes off like a rocket. Mustaine has been singing the praises of new guitarist Kiko Loureiro to anyone who will listen since his hiring, and apparently there's a good reason for that. The six-string action on "Dystopia" is dazzling, with a solo that requires a dose of Dramamine before going on this ride and classic twin-guitar sculpture leading into a chaotic, fiery ending that takes your breath away.

Wipe that saliva from your mouth. Dystopia will soon be here. You can check out the song below:

Metal Church: A lapsed member of Metal Church has returned to the flock in the form of Howe, who is pounding the pulpit once again, just as he did on such landmark records as The Human Factor, Blessing In Disguise and Hanging In The Balance in the late '80s and early '90s.

His pipes sound as commanding and venomous as they ever did in a thrilling new sonic blitzkrieg called "No Tomorrow." The accompanying black-and-white video is now available for viewing, and it takes place in what appears to be a secret Roswell-like location, within a huge, abandoned, cylindrical concrete structure where space aliens are running around causing mischief or trying to escape. What exactly is going here is somewhat unclear, but it's a fun, sci-fi distraction.

Essentially, what Metal Church has offered up is a performance video with vague and shadowy conspiratorial undertones. As for the song itself, the exhilarating "No Tomorrow" is good, slash-and-burn metal, with a ripping Vanderhoof solo to boot. It doesn't reinvent the wheel, but there's an electricity running through its veins that is undeniable and the band seems to be enjoying itself in the video, which may speak to their enthusiasm for the XI material. Going back to church never sounded more appealing.

Anthrax: Already a Hot Track on iTunes, "Breathing Lightning" is sure to have tongues wagging. Anthrax bassist Frank Bello said of it, "That should be the biggest song Anthrax ever had."And he's right. It's got big, roundhouse hooks, a vitality and an immediacy that grabs you and an exciting, radio-friendly quality that's all fairly unusual for the band. The guitars are strong, melodic and powerful, the vocals are expansive and the rhythm section moves with dexterity and purpose. It's easy to get swept up in its currents. This could be a game-changer for Anthrax.

There's a clip of Bello, Charlie Benante and Scott Ian discussing the track on YouTube, and I urge you to check it out, because it offers real insight into the making of "Breathing Lightning." You can check it out here:

Another @#$&! 2015 Top 10 rock albums list: Part 1

Depressing end to a year full of strong records
By Peter Lindblad

Killing Joke and Jaz Coleman released
one of this year's best records with 'Pylon.'
There was no happy ending to 2015 for hard rock and heavy metal. The December deaths of Lemmy Kilmister and Scott Weiland cast an overwhelming pall over a year dotted with peaks and valleys, the June passing of Yes bassist extraordinaire Chris Squire being one of the lowest of low points.

Once the grief passes, and eventually it will, the sun will break through the clouds, shining a light on the positive developments of 2015, such as the grand return of Jeff Lynne's Electric Light Orchestra and the release of critically acclaimed solo albums from Keith Richards, David Gilmour and Roger Waters. And while it appears the end is near for Black Sabbath and the ride is over (maybe?) for Motley Crue, battling brothers Ray and Dave Davies surprised everyone and briefly reunited onstage on Dec. 18, much to the delight of Kinks fans everywhere, rumors of a Guns 'N Roses reunion – now officially confirmed as a go, with a performance scheduled at the famed Coachella festival – gained unstoppable momentum and Phil Collins declared he is back ... for better or worse.

As is the case every year, a slew of incredible rock albums issued forth in 2015, bravely facing a music industry still in a state of flux and fighting for relevancy against tough odds, as a celebrity-infatuated public continues to genuflect at the pedicured feet of Adele, Taylor Swift and Bruno Mars. Here is Part 1 of our list of the Top 10 rock albums of 2015.

Stryper - Fallen 2015
10. Stryper – Fallen: Heaviness is next to godliness for Stryper these days. On Fallen, the Christian metal stalwarts keep thickening their sound and toughening gnarly riffs without sacrificing the sweet, uplifting melodic sensibilities and transcendent vocal blends adored by fans of their '80s output. More lyrically ambitious than past efforts, Fallen finds Stryper taking more risks, while refusing to abandon the signature elements that have always called the faithful to worship.

9. Lamb Of God – VII: Sturm Und Drang: Appearing rejuvenated, with Randy Blythe's terrifying legal ordeal in the Czech Republic behind him, Lamb Of God emptied their bag of tricks on the wild ride that was VII: Sturm Und Drang, proving that the disappointing Resolution was an aberration and thankfully not a trend. The words "controlled fury" get thrown around way too often, but that's what Lamb Of God engage in here, with brawling, savage riffs, titanic chugs and catastrophic breakdowns making beautiful chaos. There is great vitality and energy to VII: Sturm Und Drang, things that have been missing from recent Lamb Of God efforts. Blythe's personal journey out of hell seems to have lit a fire under the band he fronts.

Cattle Decapitation - The Anthropocene
Extinction 2015
8. Cattle Decapitation – The Anthropocene Extinction: Pollution is choking earth to death, and nobody is really doing much about it. That makes Cattle Decapitation very angry. On The Anthropocene Extinction, the extreme metal idealists paint an ugly apocalyptic vision of severe ecological devastation, and their rage at the apathy and corruption of mankind is manifested in some of the most intense, disorienting aural madness recorded in recent memory. And while it all seems to come dangerously close to going off the rails, Cattle Decapitation skillfully orchestrates a frenzied, enormous riot of pulverizing beats, violent riffs and diseased vocals designed to shock and awe. Welcome to Thunderdome.

Iron Maiden - The Book of Souls 2015
7. Iron Maiden – The Book Of Souls: A bit long-winded perhaps, with three songs clocking in at more than 10 minutes in length, The Books Of Souls dares to go places that Iron Maiden has rarely ever ventured. As their approach continues to grow increasingly progressive, resulting in some of the most complex and dramatic creations of their career, Maiden still indulges in the kind of thrilling, thunderous gallops and soaring, twisting harmonies that have always driven their most stirring anthems. And while that's a comfort to their legions of fans, as is the fact that they haven't lost any of their instrumental brilliance, The Book Of Souls also shows they're still eager to broaden their horizons and deeply explore new lyrical themes.

6. Killing Joke – Pylon: At war with the forces of oppression and greed, these post-punk veterans go for the jugular on the exciting, heart-pounding Pylon. Surging with great momentum from start to finish, while enveloped in swirling, expansive darkness, Pylon is a spiritual and political uprising for Killing Joke, a deep forest primeval of tribal drums overrun by modern electronic and industrial insurgency. In the distance, the powerful, echo-laden voice of Jaz Coleman sounds the alarm for mankind, delivering poetic tidings of the peril and calamity that should befall us if we fail to heed these warnings.

No weak sauce for Six Feet Under bassist

Jeff Hughell solo album about a chili pepper on the way
By Peter Lindblad

Six Feet Under bassist Jeff Hughell
is releasing his third solo album
Death metal is pretty brutal stuff. In the world of food, there are chili peppers that can, in similar fashion, be absolutely punishing on mouths, throats and the human digestive system. They are so hot and fiery they can make strong, hardy men weep and beg for a quick death. The Trinidad Scorpion is one of them.

Jeff Hughell, known mostly for his bass work with extreme metal maulers Six Feet Under, isn't afraid of a little heat. In fact, he's about to issue a scorching new solo album, his third, titled Trinidad Scorpion Hallucinations and it promises to score awfully high on the Scoville Scale, since the whole thing revolves around what it's like to actually experience tasting that nasty little chili. Hughell is well-acquainted with the stuff.

"I have Trinidad Scorpion sauce that my good buddy Matthew Kourie made, who is actually on the cover stirring the sauce," said Hughell, in press materials announcing the new LP. "It was made with Trinidad Scorpion, ghost and Habanero peppers plus some sweet stuff and it was amazing!!!"

Famed for his seven-string bass work, Hughell is known throughout the world of technical metal for his blazing chops, having played with such bands as Brain Drill, Vile, Feared, Asylum, Reciprocal, rings of Saturn and Cryptoreum. On Trinidad Scorpion Hallucinations, available Jan. 8 on iTunes, Amazon, Spotify and on, Hughell whisks listeners away on a gastronomical adventure, relaying through music what an encounter with the chili is really like.

Jesse Hughell - Trinidad Scorpion
Hallucinations 2016
For openers, Hughell offers the bass-and-drums beat down "Burn The Soul," a hell broth of a manifesto on the effects of capsaicin meeting your throat (Here's a video of the song A temporary reprieve comes with "Relief," which should be accompanied by a cold glass of milk, before the title track brings on psychedelic visions and the comforting harmony of "Brief Lapse of Clarity" lulls everybody into a false sense of security that the scalding "The Crown Won't Cool It Down" takes away. Inevitably, the issue of what happens later on in the bathroom comes up in the climactic "The Other Side."

"I came up with the idea then that it would be a really cool concept to go through the different phases of the initial heat, to the hallucinogenic part, to when it leaves you so to speak," said Hughell, who adds that he uses Kourie's sauce on tacos, eggs and chicken wings. "My favorite meal to cook would probably be pork shoulder. I love to smoke meats and a lot goes into making a pork shoulder perfect. From the brining, to the seasonings, the temperature, the timing, what wood you use to get the smoke flavor – it all matters. When it's done properly, you can take the shoulder out of it foil it's been resting in and basically smash it and the meat falls apart."

As for the album itself, the cover is intentionally trippy.

"The artwork was something that I wanted to really be extreme and I have wanted to work with Tony Koehl for a long time," said Hughell. "He took my basic idea of me drinking the sauce and Matt making it in the background and ran with it, putting in all of the insane detail. I couldn't be happier with it."

Almost certainly the only concept record ever made about a chili pepper, Trinidad Scorpion Hallucinations is different in other ways from Hughell's past solo work.

"I feel like this album has a much more consistent feeling," said Hughell. "It feels like one song that's over 40 minutes long. I spent a lot more time doing things in one take and having that feel of being real, versus technically 100 percent. It has a more human feeling to it."

Still, being the technically skilled player he is, Hughell is pretty discriminating when it comes to equipment. For this record, Hughell said, "I used my custom shop Warwick Corvette 7 string for everything except for 'The Crown Won't Cool It Down," which has my 6-string Warwick Corvette. Both basses have solid Bubinga bodies and custom Seymour Duncan Blackout pickups. I always record with a fresh set of Dean Markley SR2000 strings. I basically recorded all the bass at home, directly into my Mac book with Logic and then reaped everything at Castle Ultimate Studios. For the clean bass, we used my Gallien Krueger rig with a 2001 head into a neo 4x12 cabinet. For the distorted tracks, we reamped it with a Engl Powerball head into a Marshall cab."

To help bring his vision to life, Hughell recruited some top-notch musicians for the project, including Dominic Lapointe, who tears through a fretless bass solo on "Burn The Soul," with Marc Gilson on keyboards and Hannes Grossman on drums. Grossman also contributes to the title track and "The Crown Won't Cool It Down." Meanwhile, the creator of that  Kourie makes an appearance on vocals and guitar in "Relief," where Kevin "Brandino" Brandon plays arc bass and Mike Blanchard performs drums and percussion on "The Other Side."

"All the musicians on this album were great to work with," said Hughell. "They all brought their 'A' game to the project. I didn't even meet up in person with any of them. The thing I love about the guests is giving them freedom to do what they want. That's why I want them on the album, to hear their style. Or else, what's the point? Drums are a very important thing, too. Both Hannes Grossmann and Mike Blanchard do real performances of everything and don't leave a bunch of stuff to be edited after the fact. That provides a very real feeling."

Jeff Hughell on the bass
Currently, Hughell is on tour in Europe with Six Feet Under and enjoying the trip.

"I am in Germany as a I write this actually!" said Hughell. "This tour has been great. We have three more shows left. The shows have all been packed, the fans here always treat us very well, and we have some great bands on the tour with us."

Are there more chili pepper concept albums on the way from Hughell? Don't count on it.

"Ha ha! I think I am done writing about peppers," he said. "However, Matt and I recently went to a hot wings spot in San Francisco. We had Carolina reaper wings with a dry rub and it was possibly the hottest thing I ever ate. I had one wing. Matt had about five and he was defiantly crushed the next day!"

For more information on Hughell, check out these links: