Monday, April 29, 2013

Symphony X - "Iconoclast"

Symphony X - Iconoclast
2011, Nuclear Blast

Disc One:
1. Iconoclast
2. The End of Innocence
3. Dehumanized
4. Bastards of the Machine
5. Heretic
6. Children of a Faceless God
7. When All Is Lost

Disc Two:
1. Electric Messiah
2. Prometheus (I Am Alive)
3. Light Up the Night
4. Lords of Chaos
5. Reign in Madness

Symphony X's Iconoclast is proof that, as I've said before, sometimes you can judge a book by its cover. See I was at Best Buy getting some CDs while on vacation when I saw this. I thought to myself, "Oh, I listened to Paradise Lost and didn't like it that much." But the twelve-year old in the back of my brain went, "BUT LOOK AT THAT COVER ART IT'S FREAKING AWESOME WE MUST GET IT!" Since I was on vacation I decided to take a chance and what would you know - it is freaking awesome. Freaking. Awesome. Metal. The kind of metal I haven't heard in quite a while. The kind that makes you throw your fist in the air and yell "EFFING METAL MAN! RRRRAAAAOOOOORRRRRRR!!!. *ahem* Sorry. Anyway, I bought the one disc edition and liked it so much that I immediately purchased the special edition when I heard it was the band's preferred version (the standard edition left off three tracks).

The music itself is a mash of progressive metal, power metal, and maybe some thrash. Russell Allen's vocals are gruff and growly but he's equally adept at melody as is the case with the single "slow" tune ("When All Is Lost"). The riffs are fast and furious with a nice crunch distortion tone. The mastering is just about perfect - no loudness wars bull-crap here. Each song has a great hook and it's just progressive enough to make the songs really interesting without resorting to technical wankery. Though honestly, I've grown to like technical wankery, but that's neither here nor there. My only complaint is that the booklet is an enormous fold out poster. It's hard to follow along with the lyrics when I have to spread out the welcome-mat-sized liner notes. I much prefer booklets - small, compact, and easy to manage.

Useless Fact: The album's concept deals with machines taking over the earth. Supposedly it was an exploration of how electronics and what not have become so pervasive in our society.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Iron Maiden - "Piece of Mind"

Iron Maiden - Piece of Mind
1983/2002, Sanctuary

1. Where Eagles Dare
2. Revelations
3. Flight of Icarus
4. Die With Your Boots On
5. The Trooper
6. Still Life
7. Quest For Fire
8. Sun and Steel
9. To Tame a Land

What strikes me as I listen to Piece of Mind is not the excellent musicianship, the innovative riffing, or the powerhouse vocals. No, what strikes me is the fact that, man, these guys were huge dorks. Seriously. Just look at the subject matter - mythology, war, fantasy... oh, and let's not forget Frank Herbert's Dune. At some point they figured out that playing music and growing your hair long gets you more girls than memorizing Paul Atraides' lineage. Still, this is a classic metal album and while Number of the Beast would probably be the album that defined the genre, Piece of Mind perfected it. A must for any metal fan.

Useless Fact: A lot of the songs were written by the bassist, Steve Harris. As a result the songs have a lot of cool bass. Can't complain about that, no sir!

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Metallica - "Kill 'Em All"

Metallica - Kill 'Em All
1983, Elektra

1. Hit the Lights
2. The Four Horsemen
3. Motorbreath
4. Jump in the Fire
5. Anesthesia (Pulling Teeth)
6. Whiplash
7. Phantom Lord
8. No Remorse
9. Seek and Destroy
10. Metal Militia

So I may have shared about how my cousin and I would Christmas shop with my grandparents. They would give us twenty bucks and we were supposed to buy presents. Naturally, we'd buy lots of cheep things so we'd have enough money for tapes later. The first ever time we did this I got Metallica's Kill 'Em All. My grandmother's reaction was, "Oh my..." in that sort of huffy-sigh she always does when something out-of-sorts happens. I was like, "Um... they mean kill all the bad people.... yeah...." Anyway, I got this after getting the other ones. Naturally, it's a classic. The band was young and hungry and it shows in every note. They were a little less thrash and more speed metal/punk here - clearly showing their Motorhead influence (in songs like "Motorbreath" and "Whiplash"). They're lyrics weren't quite as sharp either, often dealing with violence, fast living, and how awesome metal is. Several songs have Dave Mustaine in the writing credits. Most people know "The Four Horsemen" is also Megadeth's "Mechanix."

Useless Fact: The first printing of this album had two extra tracks on it. "Blitzkrieg" and "Am I Evil?" (a Diamond Head cover) were two covers that were left off subsequent printings. I know this because they tape I bought had those two tracks and I've never seen another edition with those two tracks. It makes me sad.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Dream Theater - "A Dramatic Turn of Events"

Dream Theater - A Dramatic Turn of Events
2011, Roadrunner

1. On the Backs of Angels
2. Build Me Up, Break Me Down
3. Lost Not Forgotten
4. This is the Life
5. Bridges in the Sky
6. Outcry
7. Far From Heaven
8. Breaking All Illusions
9. Beneath the Surface

So I guess I'm a full Dream Theater fan now. After all, I've gotten more and more DT and only disliked one (Systematic Chaos). So... how does the band fare after the departure of cornerstone Mike Portnoy? Answer: pretty good actually. In fact, I think anyone who says "the band sucks now that Portnoy's gone" is crazy and biased. A Dramatic Turn of Events is a fine album. It's vibrant and varied. You can tell the guys are really giving it their all and trying to prove to the fans that it wasn't all Portnoy. The drums are pushed back in the mix a bit and the bass brought out - which isn't really a bad thing if you ask me. I think there's also a little more variety in the songs here. I don't think I've heard a fully acoustic ballad from these guys but the album closes with one of the most beautiful ones I've heard ("Beneath the Surface"). I do think "Build Me Up, Break Me Down" is a tad too long but that's my only complaint. Actually, there's nothing in this album that makes me fear for the band. Quite the opposite, I'm excited to see what they'll do next.

Useless Fact: There is some throat singing in "Bridges in the Sky." We were listening to it in the car and my daughter said, "Is that a burp?" She's so cute!

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Carman - "The Standard"

Carman - The Standard
1993, Sparrow

1. Who's In the House?
2. Now's the Time
3. Great God
4. Everybody Praise the Lord
5. The River
6. Marchin' and Movin'
7. Sunday School Rock
8. Holdin' On
9. Lord, I Love You
10. America Again

The Standard sort of represents an "end of the age" if you will - at least in the respect of me liking Carman. This was the last album of his that I ever got into. I think I was growing out of him. After all, this album is full of the same schtick he'd been doing for years. We've got a hip-hop song ("Who's In the House"), a Carribean-flavored song ("Now's the Time"), a rock song, ("Great God"), etc, etc. There is a noticeable lack of real ballads on here (save "The River") for which I am thankful. Carman had also weathered a lot of the controversy that hit when Addicted To Jesus came out and was still a huge name in the Christian music scene. But yeah... I remember listening to the album after this, R.I.O.T., and it did not impress me. So I moved on, musically, but I still have fond memories of Carman and as a result The Standard is in my collection. I remember having to go to the bathroom during one of his concerts - it was just at the end. As I was coming back from the bathroom Carman's "secret service" guys made a little tunnel for him down the stars. I saw a sweaty Carman go backstage and completely ignore me! He was a mere four or five feet from me! Surprisingly, I was not that starstruck.

Now that all the warm fuzzies are out of the way I can rant about "America Again." It's a "story" song except there's no story. It's just Carman ranting about how America is on the path to hell and the solution is to get prayer back into schools. America should repent. Everything was better in the 50's. Blah, blah, blah. Want to know the truth? All the stuff that is happening today was happening then. The difference? NOBODY TALKED ABOUT ANYTHING! You want to know why chewing gum and talking were the two biggest problems in school? BECAUSE NO ONE WOULD EVER TALK ABOUT RAPE! Yes, everyone back then was very pious and religious and had very nice haircuts and wore hats, but they were still assholes that molested and raped and killed and treated their families like garbage. Here's a message to any old people reading this blog - YOUR TIME WAS CRAP, TOO. DEAL WITH IT. Okay, got that off my chest. On to our regularly scheduled blog...

Useless Fact: Margaret Becker provides some guest vocals on the country-esque song "Holdin' On."