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Album Reviews

Joey Ramone – …Ya Know?

When I was younger, there were two people that I idolized so much that I wanted to be just like them. One was James Hetfield of Metallica. The other was Joey Ramone from The Ramones. I have always been more metal than punk, but for roughly the last 25 years, I have been a rabid Ramones fan. I have had favorite metal bands (Metallica, Iron Maiden and Manowar), but whenever asked who my favorite band was, I always respond (insert metal band) and The Ramones.

I wanted to be Hetfield because he looked like such a bad ass metal guy. Joey I loved for the complete opposite reason. Joey was tall and gangly, obsessive compulsive and, while I have infinite respect for the man, he was not particularly pretty. That was a significant part of his charm. Joey did not look like a rock star packaged for mass consumption by the beautiful people; he looked like a rock star for the rest of us. His voice was not perfect, but it held so much raw emotion and passion that he got the job done. The Ramones never received the success they deserved while active, and as is so irritatingly common, got the most attention after band members started dying.

In 2001, Jeff Hyman, a.k.a. Joey Ramone was the first member of the band to die. Joey died from Lymphoma, and then Dee Dee Ramone died from an overdose in 2002, and Johnny Ramone from prostate cancer in 2004. Tommy Ramone is now the only surviving original member of the band.

The Ramones disbanded in 1996 and at the time of his death in 2001 Joey had been working on his first solo album. “Don’t Worry About Me” was released posthumously in 2002. This album broke my heart (check out Joey’s version of “What a Wonderful World”) and gave me one last piece of my fallen hero to cherish. It felt like closure. Who knew there would ever be more?

Sometime last year I began to hear rumors that Joey’s brother, Mickey Leigh, was putting together material for another album of Joey’s solo work and planning to get it released. He apparently ran into some roadblocks and thought the album might not see release, so I was overjoyed when I found out a few months ago that release was imminent. “…Ya Know?” was finally released last week on May 22nd, 2012, a little over eleven years after Joey’s passing.

I never thought to be in this position again, that of hearing new songs featuring Joey Ramone. I cannot thank Mickey enough for organizing this release and furthering his brother’s legacy, but at the same time this rips open that old wound in my heart once more and opens the floodgate of tears that accompany nearly every track on this album. The older I get, the less sentimental and mushy I am, but this album breaks all that down and exposes a nerve, so what am I gonna do? Not very metal I suppose, but whatever.

The Ramones as a band had a truly unique chemistry, and so it is not surprising that the two solo albums are not on the same level as “Leave Home” or “Rocket to Russia”, but Joey was a very substantial part of that chemistry and anything that features his unmistakable voice is going to make me immensely happy.

The best song on “…Ya Know?” is the lead off track, "Rock 'n Roll Is the Answer." This song alone is worth the price of admission. The album also includes retooled Ramones songs "Merry Christmas (I Don't Want to Fight Tonight)" and "Life's a Gas." These songs are slower, cleaner and much more personal sounding than the originals. Honestly, there is not a song on here that I do not enjoy. The album has a rather somber feel to it; it does not have the energetic feel of a Ramones album, but rather sounds like what it is, a ghostly transmission from the past. Listening to new music from someone you know is dead can only ever be bittersweet.

I am truly happy to have fifteen additional songs from Joey Ramone in my music collection. I am sure hardcore fans like me will agree. The rest of you, well, all I can say is you are missing out. Joey Ramone was the true spirit of rock and roll, and I raise my glass to him once more. Hey Ho!

 

Last Updated on May 29, 2012

Hits: 262

Thursday Reviews

Mad Architect – Dreamworld
Snowy Shaw is a Swedish metal multi-instrumentalist who has certainly been around the block a few times. He has played with, among others, King Diamond, Mercyful Fate, Memento Mori (featuring the mighty Messiah Marcolin of Candlemass), Dream Evil, Therion and Dimmu Borgir. Primarily a drummer, Snowy is out front on vocals for the three song EP, “Dreamworld.”

Mad Architect play power metal, but think more Dream Evil than Sonata Arctica. These tracks are darker and focus more on setting a somewhat gothic mood than on soaring vocal harmonies. There are clean vocals, but there are also vocals that have an edge on them. Mad Architect sound like they come from the spookier side of power metal, and I find myself enjoying that about them. Alas, there are only three tracks, and just as my appetite has been whet, we are done. Is there a full album in the works? I hope so; I would like to hear it.



Nitro – We Are Nitro
Nitro are a groove/hardcore/punk/metal band from Istanbul, Turkey and “We Are Nitro” is their first album. I must admit that in the community of metal, hardcore is probably one of my least favorite styles. It can get monotonous and drone on sometimes, and while there are certainly highlights of the genre (Biohazard, Hatebreed), I am not in general a big fan of hardcore.

I tell you what, though, a good production can really save your ass, and that is the case here with Nitro. With vocals that are decidedly hardcore (with a brief foray into death) and music that ranges from groove to punk, this album could boring real fast, but it does not, thanks to a nice crisp, clear and tight production sound. The guitar tone and punchy drums carry the music, while the vocals are just intelligible enough to make following the lyrics possible. If the production was sloppy or muddy this would sound horrible, but this tight, compact and minimalist mix works really well for the style. Good job guys.



Affector – Harmagedon
Affector is a progressive rock/metal band which features, among others, members of Symphony X and Spock’s Beard, and “Harmagedon” is their first album. The first two tracks are instrumental; we do not get any vocals until seven plus minutes into the album, on track 3, “Salvation.” An instrumental intro track I get, those are pretty commonplace, but to then go into another full instrumental track, that seems pretty ballsy to me; I do not think anyone but a prog band can pull that off. I am not complaining, however, as the music is excellent.

The instrumental work on this album is top notch. I was pleased to pick up a bit of riffing that reminded me of Iron Maiden; not something I would think to find on an album of this style. The vocals are clean, melodic and gel well with the instrumentation. I can find no flaws on this album: the songs are well written, the parts are performed well, the production in immaculate. What more could one want from a prog metal album? Definitely worth checking out if you are into progressive metal. Check out this album teaser posted on YouTube:



Natron – Grindermeister
What say we change gears now and go with something from the heavier side? “Grindermeister” is the sixth album from Italian technical death metal band Natron. How they have managed to stay under my radar for that many albums I cannot say, but I hear them loud and clear now.

“Grindermeister” is a respectable slab of death metal mayhem. As I mentioned earlier, a solid production can really tip the balance between mediocre and above average, and Natron come down on the good side of that measure. With a thick, beefy guitar and drum production and harsh growling vocals seated perfectly in the mix, Natron do a laudable job of bludgeoning the listener into submission. I hit the play button expecting brutal death metal with substandard sound quality, but by the second track these guys had won me over. This is how a death metal album should sound. And how cool is the album title, “Grindermeister?” Check out the track “The Stake Crawlers” below:

Last Updated on May 24, 2012

Hits: 303

Arjen Lucassen – Lost in the New Real

Arjen Lucassen is, as you may or may not know, the Dutch singer and multi-instrumentalist behind progressive metal band Ayreon, and several other projects including Stream of Passion and Star One. “Lost in the New Real” is his first solo album (and in this case a double album) since 1994’s “Pools of Sorrow, Waves of Joy.”

Those familiar with Arjen will not be surprised to learn that “Lost in the New Real” is a concept album. The story revolves around the character Mr. L who, upon dying from a terminal illness, is cryogenically preserved so he might be revived in the future when a cure is found. At some point in the distant future Mr. L is revived and must come to terms with a very different world than the one he knew; a world where it has become difficult to tell what is real and what is not. Mr. L must learn to cope, along with assistance from his psychological advisor, whose spoken parts are voiced by the great Rutger Hauer.

Lucassen is well known for composing rock operas and I expect “Lost in the New Real” will be another feather in that hat. The album is a lot more progressive/classic rock sounding than metal; I hear a lot of Pink Floyd and Beatles in these songs (not to mention the song “Pink Beatles in a Purple Zeppelin.”) The second disc contains five covers, featuring songs from Pink Floyd, Blue Oyster Cult, Led Zeppelin, The Alan Parsons Project and Frank Zappa.

I am afraid to go into too much detail about any one piece, because then I will feel compelled to talk about other pieces and this will go on forever and do far less justice than if you just listen to the album yourself. Suffice to say “Lost in the New Real” is an interesting listen, a quality production and an hour and a half well spent. Do check out “Where Pigs Fly” for some amusing pop culture references.

For your listening and viewing pleasure I am including this video of the album’s title track. Make sure to watch the screen, as Arjen adds interesting commentary text as the song progresses.

 

Last Updated on May 24, 2012

Hits: 281

Royal Hunt - Heart of the City (Best Of 1992–1999)

Royal Hunt is a power/prog metal band from Denmark that has released eleven studio albums over the last twenty years. “Heart of the City (Best Of 1992–1999)” is a collection of material from the band’s first five albums. Royal Hunt is a band that has been in my peripheral vision for many years, but with whom I have never become particularly familiar. Like Sonata Arctica, they always seemed a little too bright and happy for my tastes. However, I am currently experiencing a period of power/prog revival, so what better way to check out Royal Hunt than with a collection of their best early material?

Given that the newest material on this album is thirteen years old (and the oldest is twenty) I would say the songs have held up well over the years. If they released this album released today as an album of new material I do not think it would sound particularly dated; so either it is timeless or power metal has not evolved much over the last twenty years. I will opt for the first choice.

The songs on the album span five albums, so the production sound may change from track-to-track, but the theme remains the same: melodic, catchy metal songs with clean vocals and big, epic sounding productions.

I must say I am pretty impressed with this collection of songs. For listeners like me, who are not sure where to jump in on a career spanning twenty years, this is a good place to start. Check out Royal Hunt. Here is the track “Time” which comes from their third album, “Moving Target.”

Last Updated on May 23, 2012

Hits: 298

Sonata Arctica – Stones Grow Her Name

“Stones Grow Her Name” is the seventh album by Finnish power metal band Sonata Arctica. I have never been much of a fan of these guys as they sound a little too… happy… for my tastes. They are certainly talented musicians, and they are doing something right to be putting out their seventh album, but I prefer my power metal with a little more bite.

Now forget all of what I just said, because when the mood strikes me, (rare though it may be) I can get behind some happy metal, and today just happens to be one of those days. Maybe it is the sun coming out after the last few days of rain, or the need for a pick-me-up to push through the rest of the week, but I feel downright perky today.

I have listened to Sonata Arctica before, but I would not say I am familiar with their material, so I cannot speak with any confidence about how this album stacks up against the first six; I’ll have to speak to the merits and flaws of this album alone. This should be pretty easy, because I do not actually hear any technical flaws. You may not like this style of metal, in which case it is one enormous flaw, but for those who like melodic power metal, there is plenty to like on “Stones Grow Her Name.”

The sound quality on the album is flawless. The musicianship is also quite stellar. The vocals are soaring, melodic and beyond reproach. The songs are catchy, and while some of the material can be serious, for the most part this is a fairly carefree set of songs. Check out the video for “I Have A Right.”

 

Last Updated on May 23, 2012

Hits: 335

 

 

 

 

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