Friday, July 23, 2010


Produced by Joe Baressi

There's nothing like playing to your strengths when you're at the height of your popularity. It's OK to take genre-bending wanders through hitherto-unexplored artistic avenues when the fanbase has started to die off (or before it swells), but when you're at the top of your game in the fickle world of rock, stick to what you know best. On Deep Blue, Parkway Drive does exactly that. Nothing less and not much more. It's catchy and it's safe, and goes precisely where it needs to go. But it's also very good. In the almost three full years since Horizons, Parkway hasn't changed that much. They've just gotten better at what they do.

Engaging the more well-rounded Joe Baressi as producer instead of sticking with metalcore specialist Adam Dutkiewicz hasn't done a lot to their overall sound but it does show a willingness to tinker with a formula without breaking it. While maintaining that level of melodramatic anger and angst that's difficult to imagine could still come out of a bunch of surfer punks living a rock n' roll fantasy (two Top 10 albums, endless world tours, mass adulation), Deep Blue harbours a level of maturity and sophistication that some of the bands they've inspired still lack. Among the bursts of furious rage, ridiculously catchy twin-guitar riffs, the insane chugging breakdown in "Deliver Me" and the groove-laden plod in the likes of "Wreckage", Parkway Drive has also sprinkled some refreshing and subtle introspective moments. They don't last long before getting swallowed up by the energetic and furious metallic attack however, an attack given further emphasis and focus due to Baressi allowing the rhythm section to breathe under the guitars.

Winston McCall's lyrics do little to explore much more than the usual PD fare, but they've came a long way since the tryhard posturing of Killing With a Smile. His delivery is typically more aggessive and convincing than many others, and on the occasions that the band veers directly into the serious metal territory of the Dark Tranquillity-style "Alone" he steps up with a frost-bitten shriek. These little diversities and his steadfast refusal to adopt any form of melodic clean vocals help to ensure that while Parkway Drive is yet to fully break out of their generic mould they are at the very least staying well out at the head of the pack.
  1. Samsara
  2. Unrest
  3. Sleepwalker
  4. Wreckage
  5. Deadweight
  6. Alone
  7. Pressures
  8. Deliver Me
  9. Karma
  10. Home is for the Heartless
  11. Hollow
  12. Leviathan I
  13. Set to Destroy
Rating: 85%

Thursday, July 22, 2010


Produced by Ozzy Osbourne and Kevin Churko

Ozzy Osbourne's thirty-year solo career has always been a hit-and-miss affair. Take away his first two albums and the opening pair of the Zakk Wylde era and you're left with maybe one full CD of good songs. Scream, his tenth studio release and only the third in a decade (not counting the surprisingly passable Undercover), probably brings that tally up to another half a disc's worth. Having read a bunch of reviews long before I actually got to hear this in its entirety, I'd already dismissed this as less than worthless, but if you can get over the fact that Ozzy's vocals are now more processed than ever and that it doesn't sound that different from anything he's done since 1990, then without it being anything more than average it's fair to say I found it better than it had been painted.

Scream is the first Osbourne album in 22 years not to feature Zakk Wylde, whose role is taken here by Greek facemelter Gus G -- a dude who was only 7 years old when Zakk took over from Jake E. Lee. At first, the difference is almost unnoticeable thanks to the familiar-sounding sludgy riffs and guitar tone. But Gus is a more lyrical and diverse player than Wylde, and if there's anyone who shines here, it's him. He solos with colour and flair without overpowering the song (what there is of it) or falling back on the endless repetition of pitch harmonics. He also adds a hauntingly Rhoads-like intro to "Diggin' Me Down", which is far and away the album highlight. Most of the rest are patently generic Ozzy Osbourne songs without much to distinguish them from any of the others he's pumped out over the last few albums, except for being somewhat better than most. "Let Me Hear You Scream" has a truly immense singalong chorus and "Let it Die" steals a little bit from Black Sabbath and to these ears a tiny bit from Rob Zombie, but that could be the spectacular amount of processing on Ozzy's voice that makes him sound barely human. "Life Won't Wait" is his standard ballad, but not really one of his better ones (are there any?) and "Latimer's Mercy" is a stand-out late in the piece.

As usual, Scream is Ozzy doing enough, and that's it. It's probably better than the last three Zakk Wylde albums, but that isn't saying a lot.
  1. Let it Die
  2. Let Me Hear You Scream
  3. Soul Sucker
  4. Life Won't Wait
  5. Diggin' Me Down
  6. Crucify
  7. Fearless
  8. Time
  9. I Want it More
  10. Lastimer's Mercy
  11. I Love You All
Rating: 58%

Thursday, July 15, 2010


Released July 2

At first glance, Bret Michaels' latest musical effort looks like a new album. He's got the theme song to his forthcoming show on there and a sprinkling of new tunes including one featuring Miley Cyrus (!). But on closer analysis, it's mainly smoke and mirrors: Custom Built is only half-new, a strange jumble of new tracks with a bunch of re-mixes, demo takes and re-issues thrown on to push it out to album length that ultimately serves no purpose. The blend of genres is all over the place, a confused and jarring hodge-podge of musical styles from slick AOR to sleaze rock to country rock to tracks with heavy dance beats.

A couple of them aren't that bad: "Riding Against the Wind" is decent radio rock and "Lie to Me" rocks hard, but neither are anything more than average and neither are good enough to lift this album beyond novelty status. For some reason, there's two versions of "Nothing to Lose", one of which features Miley Cyrus singing flat and hopelessly off-key as if she's never even heard the song before. Her performance is so bad, it makes you wonder how it was allowed to be released. And given the apparent nature of the lyrics, it's downright creepy that a teenager should even be singing this with a 47-year old man. There's a version of Sublime's "What I Got" that sounds like Michaels driving out to Brad Nowell's grave marker and dancing on it, and "Wasted Time" is a re-hash of "Every Rose Has its Thorn", except suckier. To cap that off, the country version of "Rose" from Freedom of Sound appears just two tracks later as if Bret wanted to show everyone just how crap "Wasted Time" actually is. Then there's a "club mix" (yes, that means horrible early-90s style techno-rock mash up) of "Go That Far" and a rock version of "Driven". After some more adequate but unspectacular country-rock newies, Custom Built finishes with "I'd Die for You" from the Letter from Death Row soundtrack.

I suppose with all his TV work and health issues, Michaels has just found it difficult to put together many new songs since his previous solo album. After all, it was only five years ago. It's really hard to see the point to this at all.
  1. Riding Against the Wind
  2. Lie to Me
  3. Nothing to Lose
  4. Wasted Time
  5. What I Got
  6. Every Rose
  7. Got That Far (club mix)
  8. Driven (rock mix)
  9. Open Road
  10. Rock'n My Country
  11. Nothing to Lose (demo version)
  12. I'd Die For You
Rating: 20%

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

HALFORD: Live in Anaheim - Original Soundtrack

Released July 2

Just shy of a year since Judas Priest's live statement A Touch of Evil, Halford has issued this "soundtrack" to the forthcoming DVD of the same name (due August). Unlike Priest's disappointingly brief set however, this one weighs in with a hefty 23 tracks and brings together cuts from the three metallic phases of his career. Recorded back in 2003, before he finally rejoined his famous band, Live in Anaheim sounds more like Judas Priest than Judas Priest then did, a searing, energetic, thoroughly metal concert powerhouse.

The strength of any live album relies on its track-listing. Iron Maiden's have repeated the same songs so often that most of them are redundant, but even though this is the second live release for a band that had only done two studio albums at the time, Halford comes up trumps here. True, some of the tracks were also on Live Insurrection and two featured on A Touch of Evil but there's also a rare concert reading of the awesome "Rapid Fire" and the Stained Class track "White Heat Red Hot" that Halford announces has never been played live before, along with "Never Satisfied", a deep album cut from Rocka Rolla!. The version of "Painkiller" that opens this release blows the one from last year right out of the water and "Diamonds and Rust" is fully metalised, totally dispensing with acoustics. The band, Roy Z, Metal Mike, Bob Jarzombek and Mike Davis, are superb and Halford is spectacular. Much has been said in recent years about Rob's decaying voice, but here it only partly lets him down once. After pushing himself to the limits of his range in "Resurrection", he sounds almost out of puff during "Made in Hell" only to recover nicely in time for the Gothically sinister "Golgotha" -- one of two tracks (along with "Heretic") that are repeated in alternative, "bonus" versions on disc two that aren't included on the DVD, and probably added mainly so the twin CDs aren't seriously lop-sided. Whether they are completely necessary or not, they don't subtract from the quality. Indeed it would be hard to be disappointed with this other than some minor quibble over the track-listing but without a serious dud on here you'd be hard pressed to argue even with that.

Live in Anaheim is a stunning, heavy-hitting metal show that is testament to Halford's experience and prowess. A seriously good live album.

CD 1:
  1. Painkiller
  2. Rapid Fire
  3. Heretic
  4. Resurrection
  5. Made in Hell
  6. Golgotha
  7. Into the Pit
  8. Light Comes Out of Black
  9. White Heat, Red Hot
  10. Never Satisfied
  11. Breaking the Law
  12. Hearts of Darkness
  13. Handing Out Bullets
CD 2:
  1. Diamonds and Rust
  2. Hellion
  3. Electric Eye
  4. Riding on the Wind
  5. Victim of Changes
  6. You've Got Another Thing Comin'
  7. Heretic (live in Japan)
  8. Sun (live in Japan)
  9. Golgotha (live in Japan)
  10. One Will (live in Japan)
Rating: 85%

Friday, July 9, 2010

HELLYEAH: Stampede

Produced by Vinnie Paul and Sterling Whitfield
Released: July 13

I'll be the first to admit that I thought Hellyeah's debut was far from the best metal album of 2007 -- or even the best album from April 2007, the month it was released -- so the prospect of a new release from this apparent "supergroup" hardly filled me with anticipation. Still, the hate that has been directed towards this band by people who have probably not even heard them is way out of proportion to their actual "crimes". Unlike most of those who have ripped into Hellyeah on the stength of the one song that's been leaked so far, I've actually listened to the whole album, several times now, and for what it is it really isn't that bad.

No one in Hellyeah, from Vinnie Paul to any of his less-illustrious bandmates, has ever suggested that their music is anything more than heavy metal, so anyone looking for sophisticated messages or blistering technicality or anything other than a heavy metal album will be disappointed. Stampede is just metal, and that's all it tries to be. "Cowboy Way" comes charging out first up, brimful of machismo and swagger, just an old fashioned rock out. It says little and means little and it's nothing you haven't heard from any of these fellas before, setting the tone for an album of upbeat party metal. And so it proceeds throughout, with added sprinklings of angst and aggro and huge, mosh-friendly grooves. First single "Hell of a Time" is the most radio friendly track with a huge catchy gang-vocal chorus neatly off-setting Chad Gray's shaky clean singing. The balladic "Better Man" doesn't add anything to the genre or even the album. If anything, it interrupts the flow of the album. "It's On!" is the heaviest and grooviest track and "Cold as a Stone" probably outpoints the rest for inherent catchiness and the slow-burning Mudvayne-like "Stand or Walk Away" is made of sheer radio hit smarts -- if radio would actually play it, that is.

The riffs are effective even if Gray's vocals become tiring after a while and Vinnie's surprisingly colourless drumming doesn't really elevate the songs much above the average. Stampede isn't brilliant and it's not special or outstanding, but it isn't bad for what it is.

  1. Cowboy Way
  2. Debt That All Men Pay
  3. Hell of a Time
  4. Stampede
  5. Better Man
  6. It's On!
  7. Pole Rider
  8. Cold as a Stone
  9. Stand or Walk Away
  10. Alive and Well
  11. Order the Sun
Rating: 72%