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Album Review: Doom Crew Inc. by Black Label Society

Black Label Society is back with album 11, aptly titled Doom Crew Inc. “Set You Free” opens the album with a sorrowful acoustic guitar that abruptly ends with Zakk Wylde’s signature chugging guitar riffs. “Set You Free” is one of the more radio friendly tracks on this record, but still packs a punch. “Destroy & Conquer” is a hellish blues metal track one could easily hear in a biker bar. The opening riff is a bit generic, but the slowed down doom riff during the song’s midsection and twin guitar leads save the song. “Forever And A Day” is an introspective ballad that shows Zakk’s soft side and is one of my favorite tracks on Doom Crew Inc. The chorus is beautifully haunting and the guitar solo heightens the feeling of loss. “End of Days” is eerily reminiscent of Alice In Chains, but is certainly not an imitation. The heavy, somber guitar riff hovers over the song like a dark cloud. Still, the dual guitars of Wylde and Dario Lorina are the track’s centerpiece as they transition from soft phrasing to sweeping arpeggios. The spirit of Black Sabbath overlooks the plodding “Gospel Of Lies.” The volcanic, foreboding opening riff sounds like something Tony Iommi wrote. The heavy blues jam during the bridge again showcases Wylde and Lorina fusing blues with shred to great effect. “Farewell Ballad” is a fitting closing. The downcast lyrics and weepy guitar evoke the reluctance of saying goodbye to a loved one. However, there is a feeling of acceptance as we realize that we have reached the end.

Doom Crew Inc. has great production. Zakk produced this album at his home studio, the Black Vatican. Each instrument is audible and the vocals sound fine. The guitars are the focal point of any Black Label Society album and they are loud and clear on this album. There is little to critique production wise.

Ultimately, BLS fans will enjoy Doom Crew Inc. The album is diverse offering cohesive blend of doom laden metal, sad ballads and blues tinged hard rock. Perhaps the one sticking point is the album’s 63 minute length. However, that is eclipsed by the band’s musicianship and the monolithic riffs of Wydle and Lorina. Doom Crew Inc. is a dedication to the band’s road crew and fans, and the band pull out all the stops on this one.

Check out the band’s offical website for news and tour dates

http://blacklabelsociety.net/

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Album Review: “A Driftwood Cross” by Witchskull

Australian metal trio Witchskull conjure occult imagery atop a fuzzy, distorted musical foundation on its third record, A Driftwood Cross. Cross is a straightforward, no frills album with eight tracks that do not cross the six minute mark. Album opener “Black Cathedrals” is a down tuned galloping rocker with a grimy riff that propels like a motorcycle down a desert road. Marcus de Pasquale’s soulful wails and brief guitar leads energize the track before it concludes with a slow tempo and bluesy solo. “Baphomet’s Child” is a grinding track which is more stoner hard rock than desolate doom metal. “The Red Altar” opens with a simply, creepy bass line before the drums and guitar join in for the ceremony. “Altar” is more doom than the previous tracks with its slow tempo and crunching guitars. The sorrowful solo and minor guitar riffs punctuate the hopeless feeling on this track. Cross speeds back up with “Dresden,” with its military like tempo and pounding bass drum. The Judas Priest and Iron Maiden influence shows on the first half of this song. However, the track slows at the midpoint with a haunting clean guitar chords and Tony McMahon’s chilling bass line. “Nero Order” opens with building drums and psychedelic guitar chords that explode in to a thick, rumbling riff. The title track concludes the album and opens with a sludgy guitar riff and plodding drums before speeding up towards the end. It is a dirty, spacey song that properly sends A Driftwood Cross away.

Driftwood Cross is notable for its brevity as the album is roughly 38 minutes long and the band never jams on this record. Long, slow songs are typical in the doom and stoner sub-genres, yet Witchskull eschewed this convention in favor of dynamic songs that are fairly mid-paced. Thus, the despair and hopelessness commonly associated with doom metal is not prevalent on this record as opposed to a band like Konvent or Crowbar. The band’s gritty sound is not over produced and all three instruments are audible.

Witchskull’s third effort is a solid one and fans of stoner and doom will take to A Driftwood Cross. However, this album is not filled with dirges like a Paradise Lost or My Dying Bride album. This album skews more hard rock but still maintains a degree of doom metal. Witchskull are carving a niche for itself and A Driftwood Cross shows the trio are not drifting away.

Check out the band’s official website here:

https://www.witchskull.com/

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Album Review: “Chapter 1: Monarchy” by Ad Infinitum

Swiss symphonic metal quartet Ad Infinitum’s debut album, Chapter 1: Monarchy, sounds as grandiose as its title directs. “Infected Monarchy” opens the album with a dream like piano and serene strings that build up as Melissa Bonny’s beautiful, yet powerful vocals commence and the guitars explode. The song transitions between tense drumming and heavy grooves interspersed with tranquil tempo changes while Bonny’s vocals soar above the chaos.

“Marching On Versailles” is a dynamic track with militaristic drumming accompanied with staccato riffing that echoes a march. The harmonious chorus contrasts with the song’s hard driving nature, and showcases Bonny’s vocal range. “Maleficient” is a hellish track with its churning riff and industrial like percussion. Guitarist Adrian Thessenvitz unleashes a nice lead during the song’s midsection before the song plods to its conclusion.

“See You In Hell” is one of the more accessible tracks on Monarchy, with its slow tempo and melancholy yet catchy chorus. It is no wonder that it is the second single off the record. “Fire and Ice” is an emotional ballad with its haunting bass line and halcyon guitar riffs that complement Bonny singing of a love as strong as the elements. “Revenge” is notable for its galloping tempo and baroque guitars that create a dark atmosphere of a person on the hunt for retribution.

Melissa Bonny possesses an amazing voice and it is readily apparent on Chapter 1. Her vocals never waver and convey emotion that give the songs an extra degree of passion. The music is dynamic but with a pronounced technicality making the songs more enjoyable. The classical samples are not overused and Infinitum have a great sense of playing loud and soft. The production is lush yet clear, which gives Chapter 1 a full sound.

Chapter 1: Monarchy is a strong debut album that will impress fans of symphonic and gothic metal. The album is diverse, yet cohesive, and nine of the ten songs clocking at under five minutes. There is enough room for musical growth as the band does not overwhelm the listener. Ad Infinitum is probably saving that for Chapter 2.

check out the band’s official website here:

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Queensryche, Live at The Buckhead Theatre in Atlanta

Queensryche, live at The Buckhead Theatre in Atlanta, GA

It’s hard to believe how quickly time has passed, but “Mach 2” of the Seattle-based metal band Queensrÿche has been together now for roughly eight years and three albums. Where has the time gone? It wasn’t too long ago when people were saying things like: “How will they survive Chris DeGarmo’s exit?” “How will they survive Geoff Tate’s exit?” How will they survive when radio stations rarely play rock music and people don’t buy albums anymore? Queensrÿche has stayed the course and have proven themselves to be bulletproof. Not only have they survived the chaos of years past, they seem to be picking up steam with the release of their very well-received album from last year, The Verdict. Still touring to promote that album, I caught up with the band on yet another rainy night in Atlanta at The Buckhead Theatre to see it live for myself.

The stage set was minimal, but colorful. There were several monolith-like standing video screens on stage, flashing the band’s logo along with a variety of images during each song. Two circular video panels were set into the front of drummer Casey Grillo’s bass drums, which also displayed images like spinning skulls and fire. In between the screens were a series of rotating lights, adding some low-level color behind the band.

The song selection was heavily weighted towards Queensrÿche’s first four albums, plus a handful of selections from The Verdict. “Blood of the Levant” was probably my favorite off of the new disc, but “Bent,” “Man In The Machine,” “Dark Reverie” and “Light-years” all fit in seamlessly with the older material. Speaking of the old material, it was great to hear deeper cuts like “Resistance” from Empire and “Prophecy” from their major label debut, The Warning. I wish more bands would dig deeper into their back catalog. It’s almost like a nod to their true fans – the people who know their music inside out, not just their hits.

I gotta say, picking Todd La Torre to front this band was really a stroke of genius. His powerful vocals never fail to impress, especially singing the more challenging Geoff Tate era songs like “Queen Of The Reich” and “Screaming In Digital.” La Torre rarely bails on his vocal duties – he attacks all of this challenging material full-on. His singing on “Take Hold Of The Flame” was superb, equalling Tate’s power and vibrato.

The band’s musical performance was pretty faithful to each song’s recorded version. Queensrÿche has never been a band that jams or strays too far from the original, and that still holds true. I’d love to see them drop in a cover song, or maybe do a mini-acoustic set, paying tribute to their excellent “MTV UnPlugged” performance from many years ago. Not that there’s anything wrong with sticking closely to their history of work, but I think their live show could use a little more variety, and not just in the song choices. 

Still, this was a great night of music that you should not miss. The band will be touring across the US through July, and you can also catch them in Las Vegas in June as part of the Scorpions Las Vegas residency at the Zappos Theater at Planet Hollywood.

Set list
Prophecy / Operation Mindcrime / Walk In The Shadows / Resistance / Man In The Machine / Take Hold Of The Flame / Bent / The Needle Lies / Dark Reverie / Breaking The Silence / Silent Lucidity / Jet City Woman / Screaming In Digital / Queen of the Reich

Encore
No Sanctuary / Light-years / Empire / Eyes of a Stranger

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Album Review: “DeadRisen” by DeadRisen

American quintet DeadRisen take the nostalgic metal route with its self titled debut album. This should not surprise anyone as Symphonic X bassist Mike Lepond and guitarist Rod Rivera of Rivera/Bomma in the fold. DeadRisen comprises thrash, power metal and a tinge of flamenco with solid results.

“Prophecy” opens with a fiery riff accompanied with orchestral keyboards that breaks down in to a nice groove. Will Shaw’s soaring vocals are in full form here and are never drowned out. “Destiny” recalls old school Iron Maiden and Judas Priest with its cautious guitar intro before falling in to a mid tempo rhythm. The chorus is fairly banal but Rivera’s guitar work compensate for it. “Maker” is the longest track on DeadRisen and features several rhythm changes courtesy of Dan Prestup who plays some slick drum fills.

Things get interesting with the Latin-influenced mid-section as DeadRisen have a few tricks up its sleeve. “Reach For The Sun” is a slow, bluesy number with a hazy atmosphere with the distorted guitar and keyboards. Things kick back in to high gear with “Visions” with its twisted riffing. The band channels Rainbow on this track, with its Middle Eastern tinged chorus riff, progressive guitar riffs and fantastical imagery.

The band closes the record by covering Metallica’s “For Whom The Bell Tolls.” “Bells” is one of Metallica’s simpler songs and one of its best, due to its superb lyricism coupled with the grinding pace of the song. Deadrisen covers it well, particularly with the guitar solo, and the track is a fitting end to the record.

The drum sound is so clear on DeadRisen and I immediately noticed it when I first heard it. It sounds deep giving the songs an added layer of heaviness. The other instruments sound great as does Shaw’s vocal tracks. DeadRisen is a pretty diverse record because the band draws from numerous influences. This makes for an interesting listen especially when six of the ten songs cross the 5 minute mark. The lyrics are cheesy at times, but the music is good enough one can overlook it.

DeadRisen is a strong debut album that fits right in with the New Wave Of Traditional Heavy Metal. The musicianship is top notch, with a few surprises and quirks to pique the interest of the most grizzled metalhead. Here is hoping the band releases some more records.

Check out the band’s website for news and events:

https://www.facebook.com/deadrisenband/

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Album Review: “Killection: A Fictional Compilation Album” by Lordi

Finnish shock metal outfit, Lordi decided to do something special for its tenth album, Killection: A Fictional Compilation Album. The album mimics a compilation album that spans several decades. Thus, each track sounds like a song recorded from various era. This makes for an uneven, but somewhat enjoyable listen as Lordi plays, metal, 80s pop, disco and 70s rock.

However, the band’s gore and horror imagery is present throughout the record. The track “Horror For Hire” is an 80s metal cut, with its big crunching guitars and sing along chorus. Single “Shake The Baby” is a Rob Zombie inspired pseudo industrial metal cut straight from the late 90s. Lordi’s vocals resemble Rob’s a bit particularly during the chorus. “Apollyon” is one of the more interesting songs with its haunting piano and grooving bass. Its cheesiness almost causes one to forget this song is about the angel of the abyss.

Of course, there is an Alice Cooper inspired song on here with “Blow My Fuse.” This is a funky, hard hitting number that could have been recorded in 1972. “Zombimbo” is the disco track that sounds lifted from a grindhouse film with lyrical schlock about a dancing zombie woman.

Killection is a fun record and Lordi was bold for recording it. The album is unpredictable as Lordi touches on several musical genres. The album is uneven because of this, but that is the whole point. The band should be lauded for playing metal, soft rock, industrial, disco and 80s pop and doing a fairly good job playing each genre. However, this also makes Killection a pastiche record as the band plays each musical style at surface level.

Killection is Lordi playing music on its terms. Fans may enjoy the record or raise their collective eyebrows regarding some of the tracks. However, the silver lining is that the next Lordi album could be a horror concept record played to dance music. It is a thought.

Check out the band’s official site here:

https://www.lordi.fi/

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Welshly Arms rock Vinyl Jan 19

Vinyl was the host on a chilly night in Atlanta for the return of Welshly Arms, with support from SCR and The Unlikely Candidates.

Fans who arrived early were treated to a highly energetic and fun set from SCR (Sir Cadian Rhythm), a five piece band out of New York. With a pop-rock sound reminiscent of early Fall Out Boy, and just a hint of ska/funk to make it stand out from the crowd, SCR held the crowd’s attention throughout the set, which began around 7pm—not an easy feat in the age of cell phones. The band was having the time of their lives, with each other and with the crowd, and the set, including the popular “Not Quite Done Yet,” was over much too soon. The song recently surpassed one million streams on Spotify, which keyboardist/trombonist Matt Carlin acknowledged with a huge smile.

Another band that is steadily on the rise, The Unlikely Candidates, took the stage next, with frontman Kyle Morris commanding the stage and giving his all to the music. The band, out of Fort Worth, Texas, has had recent radio success with the 2019 single “Novocaine,” which is a great song, but the performance of “Violence,” from 2017’s EP Danger To Myself, stole the show with it’s distorted vocals and sing-along chorus. “Celebrate,” on which the band collaborated with Dirty Heads in 2017, was another crowd favorite.

Then it was onto the band everyone was waiting for, Welshly Arms. A bit hard to say (it comes from a Saturday Night Live sketch), but a name you should definitely know. There really aren’t enough bands out there who still play the blues, and fewer who do it with a power-punch of soul and rock-n-roll, as this band does so well. From the gritty vocals of frontman Sam Getz, to the enormously fun to watch singing, dancing back-up duo of Bri and Jon Bryant, Welshly Arms is a band that commands attention, and gives so much back to the audience while performing. The set included songs from the 2018 album No Place Is Home, such as “Sanctuary,” an ode to leaning on each other to get through life, “Down to the River,” and the fun, dance-able track “Indestructible.” A beautiful cover of The Beatles “Something in the Way” was the highlight of the set, giving each vocalist a chance to sing a verse, while the crowd sang every word back. Other highlights were “Hoochie Coo,” “Love of the Game,” and of course, “Legendary,” the song that propelled Welshly Arms up the charts after being featured in numerous advertising campaigns.

If you know this song, please sing along,” Getz said beforehand. The crowd obliged, singing back the words that are beginning to come true for this talented band: “We’re gonna be legends!”

SCR Gallery

The Unlikely Candidates Gallery

Welshly Arms Gallery

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Album Review: “Puritan Masochism” by Konvent

Danish death doom metal quarter Konvent deliver a down tuned dose of heaviness on its debut album Puritan Masochism. The title track opens the album with a bleak guitar line and pounding drums. It is an unnerving, trudging track enraptured in despair. Front woman Rikke List’s guttural vocals are reminiscent of Paradise Lost and early Amorphis as her growls intensify the desolate feel of the song. “The Eye” is a grooving doom number with looping guitar riffs as if the band is outlining an iris. “Trust” has a gothic feel with its lumbering guitar riff in minor keys that continues the perpetual hopelessness of the record. The dissonant, distorted guitar on “World Of Gone” creates a dreary atmosphere throughout the song due to the slow drumming of Julie Simonson. This song is a dead march for the Apocalypse.

The two final songs on the album “Ropes pt. I” and “Ropes pt. II” bring the album to its melancholic conclusion. On “pt. 1,” Guitarist Sara Norregaard plays a galloping guitar riff over a plodding beat that picks up during the midsection before the track concludes with a distant, clean guitar playing the main riff. “Pt. II” opens with a lush, sorrowful Crowbar type riff. The tempo begins cautiously before speeding up as the guitars pick up steam. It is a seven and a half minute threnody that ends the album on an appropriate disheartening note.

Puritan Masochism is a bleak, disharmonious album, with a constant feeling of hopelessness. Konvent play slow, brooding doom metal with a tinge of black metal’s nihilism. The band lacks the sophistication of pioneers like Paradise Lost and My Dying Bride. That is fine, as Konvent’s suffocating, dismal sound compensates for any lack of finesse or musical complexity. Puritan Masochism fits right in with the aforementioned and is notable for not mimicking either band.

Konvent’s debut album is a standout and deserves a listen from fans of doom, death and goth metal. This is some of the bleakest metal I have heard in a while and had my attention from the first guitar strum. Well done Konvent.

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Bumblefoot’s Storyteller Concert Series – Milkboy Philly

Just three days into 2020, I had the pleasure to attend my first ever Bumblefoot solo show. And this one truly was solo! Ron ‘Bumblefoot’ Thal [Sons Of Apollo, Asia], guitarist and vocalist extraordinaire, has been doing storyteller-styled concerts; alone except for his guitar, microphone, and some backing tracks. Despite this minimalist setting, Thal has quite a large presence, and all I saw were happy faces in the house at Milkboy Philadelphia as he performed fretboard pyrotechnics on his double-necked Vigier guitar. Voices layered on top of one another from the audience during cover songs like “Somebody to Love” by Queen, just as Thal layered his own guitar parts for his singular arrangement of “Every Little Thing She Does is Magic” by The Police. There was plenty of time for stories as well, and Ron regaled us with how he’d painted himself into a corner with complicated guitar parts for the new Sons Of Apollo album, MMXX (out January 17), giving a sneak peak of some over-the-top riffs, licks, and solos.

Joining Bumblefoot for the evening was the band Mach22, a very capable hard rock band with a great sense of groove. At the end of Thal’s set, he invited the band back onstage to have an impromptu jam on a number of classics, including “Whole Lotta Rosie” by AC/DC, “It’s So Easy” by Guns N’ Roses, and closing things out with a thrilling version of KISS’ “Detroit Rock City.”

While there’s no substitute for the real thing, I captured some stills here and there that I hope will tease your appetite. You might also be interested in checking out our interview with Bumblefoot, conducted just prior to this show!

‘MMXX’ by Sons Of Apollo

Welcome to a new decade!  A mere three years ago, Sons of Apollo, a super group composed of former members of Dream Theater, Guns N’ Roses, Mr. Big, and Journey, burst onto the scene with their debut album, Psychotic Symphony.  They quickly earned praise for that effort and toured the world over, even releasing a live album and concert video last year from their show with the Plovdiv Symphony in Bulgaria.  The onset of 2020 has brought Sons of Apollo’s new album, MMXX, aptly titled for the present day and, whenever you’re reading this, for your ears.

I’ll admit to being a bit apprehensive; would this be as good as the debut?  Could this be as good?  Psychotic Symphony remains one of my favorite albums of 2017, mixing grandiose instrumentation with deep-set earworms.  Well, after spending a good deal of December 2019 listening to MMXX, I can say that this is a worthy successor and sophomore release.  The earworms have all returned to bore new homes, and listeners need look no further than the first single and opening track “Goodbye Divinity,” where I’ve found the keyboard intro and chorus slipping into my otherwise regularly-schedule thoughts.  And, as it’s playing in my ears at the moment, I just cannot get enough of the ascending-descending scale runs that wallpaper the refrain from Resurrection Day.  Addictive, to say the least!

I can’t help but to gush a bit over King of Delusion, which currently stands as my favorite track on this record.  Arising seamlessly out of the death knell which finishes off Desolate July, Derek Sherinian paints a meandering path through his staggering keystrokes, welcoming murmured whispers before an onslaught of chugging guitars, bass, and drums barrel into us.  Soto’s paced verses remind me faintly of Ozzy Osbourne’s ”Perry Mason,” though I’m likely drawing erroneous connections.  Over the course of almost 9 minutes, we’re marched from mildly manic to run-for-the-door soundscapes; beautifully dynamic and diverse.

Returning to the previously mentioned grandiose instrumentation, Sons of Apollo have written their longest song to date with the closing track, New World Today, clocking in at nearly 16 minutes.  After a swelling guitar opening from Ron ‘Bumblefoot’ Thal ushers in visions of an 80s movie sunrise (at least for me), vocalist Jeff Scott Soto regales us with societal commentary that asks us to question our role going into the future.  While the listener ponders that, the music twists from chugging hard rock to speed metal velocity before opening up into more spacious orchestration and allowing each instrument to take control for a time.  With three minutes to spare, it finally returns to the opening melody line, which I think may be one of the greatest points of composition on this album, and causes the record to end with an air of optimism.

MMXX has launched us into a new decade with a bang!  While not a huge departure in sound from the debut, it’s a great collection of songs that take us through a gamut of moods and musical flavors.  As should be expected from these five respected musicians, there’s no shortage of instrumental flair thrown in for good measure, and often I find myself marveling at the synchronicity of their combined efforts.  Needless to say, if you enjoyed the former album, you won’t be disappointed here.  And if you’ve never checked the band out before, there’s no time like the present!

 

You may also be interested in checking out our interview with Bumblefoot.

Pre-order the album, out January 17, right here.

For more on Sons Of Apollo, visit:
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