Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Foo Fighters, Western Springs, 13/12/11

There's no beating about the bush here, so I'm gonna come right out and say that I've seen better shows from this band, in this city.

And yes, that includes the legendary, one of a kind Town Hall show this year - but it also includes the 2008 shows at Vector, and the 2005 show at the Supertop (and, if I'm being nostalgic, the 1998 gig at the Town Hall).

I'm a big Foo Fighters fan - have been since the start - but there was just something a bit off about last night's show at Western Springs.  Don't get me wrong - it had its moments, but past Foos gigs have set a high bar that this one failed to hit.  Maybe that's why I'm a little negative about it.  Anyway, here goes.

Firstly, stadium shows suck.  I am not a fan.  When there is that much distance between you and the band, it's not quite the same.    It's always better to be close to the action, and the setting just didn't lend itself to that.  Perhaps a circular stage a la Metallica or Muse might have been a winner.  And yes they had big screens, but so does Lady fucking Gaga.  If I want to watch shit on a big screen, I've got Foo's DVDs that I can stick on the TV at home.

The other big stadium problem is sound.  The bass was muddy and way too strong in the mix.  Maybe that is a necessity of playing such a large venue - but at other points in the stadium it sounded really treble-heavy.  Or maybe they could just learn a trick or two from Roger Waters - the Dark Side of the Moon gig at North Harbour Stadium a few years ago had a very good sound set-up.

Anyway, grumble number 2 was the setlist.  This is more a criticism of the band than the gig itself, but it bothers me when bands play the same setlist every night across a tour.  The only real change the Foos made across this tour was to replace Bridge Burning with All My Life as the opening song - and I reckon the former was actually the better choice (although the latter is a brilliant track).  But if other big name acts like Pearl Jam and Metallica can play setlists that vary quite heavily from night to night - why can't the Foos?  To be blunt, I'd like to see the Foos playing less of the singles (some of which, like Learn to Fly and Wheels are just weak and MOR and not good), and more album cuts like Low, Hey Johnny Park!, and Exhausted.  The covers are a good touch - but they've got such an enormous repertoire that it would be good to see them vary that up too - throw in Darling Nikki, or Band on the Run.

Grumble number three was the jamming.  Don't get me wrong - I love it when bands fool around with songs and in most cases I will be disappointed when bands don't jam, at least for a little bit.  But I thought the Foos were a bit off target with their extended sections for two reasons.  Firstly, they overdid it - at one point it seemed like they were rumbling into extended instrumental sections on almost every song.  Definitely a case for 'less is more'.  Secondly, they were jamming the same songs in the same ways that I've heard before - like the outro to My Hero or the bridge in Stacked Actors.  It would be more of a novelty for them to play Stacked Actors straight - it is, after all, possibly the best song they've written. 

But equally, the Foos deserve credit for being one of the few bands that can play a whole lot of new stuff, without fans getting restless.  Rope and Arlandria both got a great reception (and deservedly so).  And I really enjoyed White Limo.  Although I do wish they'd played more songs off their first (and best) album - and not Big Me either, what about I'll Stick Around or Wattershed or Good Grief.

I'm sure many people enjoyed the gig immensely, but for me it was in the category of 'could do better'.  What did you think?

Thursday, December 1, 2011

The First XI of 20XI

As much as I don't really see a lot of point in dividing music into calendar years (arbitrary 365 day period!), the truth is that very little new music gets released between the end of November and the start of February.  So there is a certain logic to year-end lists, even if you subscribe to the theory that January 1 is just another day.  And on that note, I am proud to present my favourite 11 albums of 2011...

11. DJ Shadow - The Less You Know, The Better
When I listen to DJ Shadow these days, it tends to not be the studio albums as much as some of his live mixes - Funky Skunk, and Los Angeles 10/31/09 in particular, but also Live! In Tune and on Time.  It's those live mixes (particularly the first two mentioned) that really showcase Shadow's eclectic taste, masterful turntable skills, and his ear for a good groove.  What I enjoy about The Less You Know, The Better is that it captures that same groove and varied musical palate that is such a highlight of his live mixes.  There are nods to hip-hop, electro, rock, turntablism, drum and bass, soul, funk - and yet it all comes together as a coherent, interesting whole.  A great reason to put the headphones on and groove out.

10. Black Country Communion - 2
Certainly the best supergroup album of the year, although that isn't necessarily saying much.  2 is a huge step up from their debut, and it's great to hear this band really evolve their own unique sound - equal parts classic rock, hard rock and blues.  A couple of things really shine about this record, in my opinion.  The first is Glenn Hughes' vocals - powerful, genuine and a real highlight.  The second is the quality of the songwriting - accessible yet never simplistic, with plenty of detail and some nice twists.  That four such quality individual talents can put together an interesting, balanced rock record which is undoubtedly more than the sum of its parts should tell you everything you need to know.

9. Machine Head - Unto the Locust

Although I'm pretty new to this band, it's not hard to appreciate the quality of Unto the Locust.  It starts with the aggressive, unpredictable and unrelenting I Am Hell (Sonata in C#) and pretty much goes from there.  The dynamic balance between full-on thrash and quieter, acoustically-driven sections keeps things interesting throughout in a way that harkens back to the likes of Master of Puppets.  Top-notch metal songwriting and musicianship - I am really looking forward to catching MH at Soundwave early next year.

8. Beastie Boys - The Hot Sauce Committee, Part 2
As unlikely as it sounds, three old white guys have produced one of the year's best hip-hop albums.  Hot Sauce Committee Part 2 is a brash, bouncy romp which mixes the irreverent party attitude of old-school Beastie with plenty of fresh, contemporary beats.  Consistently enjoyable and consistently fun.

Check out my personal favourite track, Here's A Little Something For Ya:

7. Graveyard - Hisingen Blues
I was hooked on this record - and this band - from the opening 10 seconds of Ain't Fit to Live Here.  It literally sounds like these guys were on a roadtrip in 1971, cranking plenty of Cream and Steppenwolf in the van, when they accidentally drove into a timewarp that brought them into the present day.  But a one-trick pony they are not - whilst there is plenty of hard-rock boogie, there are also some fantastic slow-building tracks (Uncomfortably Numb and The Siren).  A very exciting upcoming band, these lads from Sweden - watch this space.

6. Foo Fighters - Wasting Light

This is the closest thing to a standout album that the Foos have produced since their self-titled debut.  The quality of the first five songs, in particular, is just mind-bogglingly good.  In fact, the insanely good opening quintet of Burning Bridges, Rope, Dear Rosemary, White Limo and Arlandria might just be the best run of songs on any Foos record.  The only downside of this is that it sets the bar high for the album's second half - in this case, unreachably high.  I mean, the rest is still really good, it's just not the rock revelation that the first half is.

And yeah, White Limo is still the best music video of the year, maybe ever:

5. Megadeth - TH1RT3EN

It's an absolute delight to hear Dave Mustaine pushing the boundaries with brutal, snarling, pedal-to-the-metal tracks like Never Dead and Sudden Death, even after 12 albums, career-threatening injuries, and almost 30 years.  TH1RT3EN is another reminder that Megadeth are the only Big Four band that have managed to be consistently interesting, innovative and relevant.  A great balance between technicality (Sudden Death, Never Dead), infectiousness (Public Enemy No. 1 and Whose Life (Is It Anyway)) and straight-up honesty (13).

Also, props for an excellent video involving gangster monkeys.

4. Mastodon - The Hunter
The Hunter eschews the prog-metal extremities of its predecessor, Crack the Skye, in favour of a much more direct approach.  And in doing so managed to produce such utter gems as the foreboding Black Tongue, the catchy Curl of the Burl, the ritalin-deprived Blasteroid, and the brutal Spectrelight - all insanely good tracks.

If I had one criticism of this album, it would be that it meanders a little through the middle, and if it were up to me (which it is, thanks to the wonders of modern technology), I'd insert the two hard-rocking bonus tracks The Ruiner and Deathbound somewhere in the middle.  But in saying that, it's still a fine metal album by a great band.

And whilst we're on the topic of great videos of 2011, we have Mastodon's hilarious Adult Swim-produced video for Deathbound.  Don't watch this if you have any issues with the concept of a puppet apocalypse.

3. Symphony X - Iconoclast
When I was first introduced to Symphony X a few years ago, I initially concluded that they were a bit like Dream Theater but not as good.  Anyway, fastforward to 2011, and Symphony X have rather turned the tables by releasing a double album which (at least in my opinion) pretty much crushes Dream Theater's latest effort.  With 12 tracks spanning 83 minutes (and a Matrix-like concept about machines conquering the planet), it's certainly not an easy listen, but progressive metal never really is.  The pairing of lead guitarist Michael Romeo and singer Russell Allen is probably the best and most enjoyable in metal, following the dissolution of Nevermore, and both are highlights throughout this epic effort.

And for the record, there's a single disc version floating around as well, but make sure you get the double.

2. Soundgarden - Live on I-5
You can debate all you like whether it's legitimate to include live records on lists like this (my opinion: live albums are OK, singles collections/b-side collections/greatest hits are not), but in my opinion this is a damn fine live album.  Stunning performances of most of the best Soundgarden tracks (not just singles), and a couple of very well-executed covers make for a live album that is pretty much outstanding from start to finish. 

Also, totally off topic, but I realised the other day that most of The Day I Tried to Live is in 15/4 time.

Anyway, amongst the many highlights:


1. Rose Hill Drive - Americana
I always thought RHD had it in them to make a genuinely great album.  Americana is that album - or, if we are lucky, the first of many.  One of the most crazy, clever and unabashedly fun rock albums you could hope to hear - and for me personally this album reminds why I love music so much.  It gets stuck in my head, it makes me smile, and I just can't stop listening to it. But for all its accessibility and sheer rock-out-ness, it's also detailed and clever.  Anyway, stop listening to me gush about it and just go get it (digital is your best bet as the physical release is a little tricky to track down).  DO IT!

These two videos should give you some sort of idea just what you're in for...

Anyway, coming up next, a discussion of some of the albums this year that DIDN'T make this list.  For various reasons, ranging from almost-but-not-quite to sheer godawfulness.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Listmania #5: Seemed like a good idea at the time...

Inspired by a certain poorly-received collaboration involving a certain metal band and a certain former Velvet Underground member, I had a think about some other situations where artists have tried something slightly or drastically different, to varying degrees of success/failure...

1. Lou Reed and Metallica - Lulu
Old rock dude meets not-quite-so-old metal dudes
Originality: 1/5
Execution: 0/5
So, a couple of big name artists collaborating isn't that original.  Nor do Lou Reed and Metallica really constitute an 'odd couple' pairing.  The only thing that is a little different and original here is that the album itself has some funny concept thing going on that I didn't really have the patience to delve into too deeply.  At times Metallica deliver some decent grooves but the glaring problem is that the collaboration just doesn't work on any level, and this should have been obvious from their duet on Sweet Jane last year.  Something about Hetfield and Reed's vocal styles just grates when they're alongside each other.  Anyway, there's been enough negatives about this and I don't really dig negative-for-the-hell-of-it.  Chuck Klosterman wrote, "If the Red Hot Chili Peppers acoustically covered the 12 worst Primus songs for Starbucks, it would still be (slightly) better than this" and that more or less covers it.

2. Rage Against the Machine - Renegades
Revolutionary rockers do an album of other people's songs
Originality: 2/5
Execution: 4/5 
Covers albums are also not that original.  But Rage were always the sort to carve their own path, and so they get a couple of stars for originality, and having the guts to completely reinvent Bob Dylan's Maggie's Farm.

Renegades is a strong album, and the covers of Bruce Springsteen's The Ghost of Tom Joad, Afrika Bambaataa's Renegades of Funk, and Cypress Hill's How Could I Just Kill A Man are amongst the highlights.

3. The Flaming Lips - Zaireeka
Parking lot experiments lead to 'synchronous' album
Originality: 4.5/5
Execution: not rated
So, the Flaming Lips are no strangers to trying weird and wonderful things, but this was one of their first really crazy things (as opposed to just regular crazy stuff i.e. their 'normal' discography).  Inspired by a whole lot of fooling around with cassette tapes played on multiple cars at the same time in parking lots, the Lips released an album that spanned 4 CDs, designed to be played on 4 separate stereos at the same time.  This might sound crazy but you'd be amazed to learn that it actually pales into insignificance compared to some of their more recent adventures...

4. Public Enemy vs. Anthrax - Bring tha Noise
You can blame this for rap metal but it actually was a good idea at the time...
Originality: 4/5
Execution: 5/5
Cross-genre collaborations are nothing weird now, but take yourself back to 1991 and the concept of a bunch of bogan white dudes collaborating with a very politically motivated black hip-hop group was pretty groundbreaking.  Not to mention the fact they subsequently went on tour together (with what I'm guessing were particularly awkward crowds).  While this unfortunately gave birth to a bunch of really shitty rap metal bands, you can't blame these guys for having lame imitators.  This track sits comfortably alongside the best material from both of these groups, which is pretty rare for collaborations of this ilk.

5. Korn - The Path of Totality
Fad band from 90's attempts to cash in on current dance fad
Originality: 2/5
Execution: I don't want to find out 
In the 90's Korn did the whole angsty teen nu-metal thing.  It had its moments at the time but they haven't really changed a lot and Jonathan Davis doing teen angst at age 40 is rather lame.  But now they're doing a dubstep album with various collaborators (some of which, like Noisia, are actually quite credible... for now) and this pretty much screams 'tryhard attempt to be relevant'.  Dance/rock crossovers haven't been anything particularly unusual since the Spawn soundtrack in the mid-90's and tend to date as badly as electronic music in general, so I don't this one is going to score highly on any fronts.

And the winner is...
6. The Flaming Lips - 7 Skies H3
24 hour song encased in human skull
Originality: 5/5
Execution: I don't have the time to find out
So here is the deal: the Flaming Lips have produced a 24-hour song, which will have a physical release limited to 13 copies, each on a USB drive encased inside a chrome-covered (actual) human skull.  You can stream it online too, if you happen to have a spare day.

I've come to the conclusion that there are only two logical explanations for this:
1. Oklahoma (the Lips' home town) is more boring than you or I could possibly imagine, and/or
2. Wayne Coyne and co. were visited by aliens and given some absurdly hallucinogenic time-warping drugs.

Either way, there certainly aren't many acts around that would come up with this sort of thing.

Megadeth - TH1RT3EN review

Megadeth's recent albums have bucked the general trend for 80's metal bands to increasingly suck as time goes on.  In fact, Megadeth's career in general has - despite the countless well-documented dramas of both the band and Dave Mustaine - been remarkably consistent.  Across their 12 albums up to this point, I personally count only one dud and one mediocre effort.  And even on those two albums (Risk and The World Needs a Hero, respectively), there are still some genuinely decent moments.  As for the rest, well it ranges from good (Countdown to Extinction) to outstanding (Rust in Peace, Endgame).

In contrast to their Big 4 contemporaries, this streak is practically unmatched.  There's no St. Anger, no Stomp 442, no Undisputed Attitude.  There's certainly no Lulu (and unfortunately, the less said about that, the better).  Even if one widens the net to include the great NWOBHM bands like Iron Maiden, well the 'Deth certainly never had a Blaze Bayley phase.

And the good news is that album number 13, entitled TH1RT3EN, certainly holds its own amongst the wider Megadeth discography.  In fact, one of TH1RT3EN's most notable traits is that it borrows tricks from Megadeth's earlier work while still pushing bravely ahead at times.

The instant, hooky catchiness of Public Enemy No. 1 is strongly reminiscent of some of the Countdown-era material (most notably Symphony of Destruction), whilst the punkish energy of Whose Life (Is It Anyways?) feels even more old-school - we're talking Peace Sells here, people.  But this shouldn't in any way be taken as a suggestion the 'Deth are reliving past glories because both tracks sound distinctly 2011.

Admittedly some of the tracks recall certain eras because they are actually from said eras.  Millenium of the Blind and New World Order both trace their origins back to the 1990's.  There has been some criticism (admittedly mostly on internet forums) of the band for recycling these tracks but personally I have no issue with it.  It's not uncommon for songs - or more correctly song ideas - to be floating around for indeterminate periods of time before finally being finished.  Both these songs were demoed but never got to anything resembling a final product.  Maybe they don't normally float around for quite that long, but still, it's no big deal.  And a time signature geek like me is never going to get annoyed at a track like New World Order which dips into 7/4 time in the verse.

As good as some of these tracks are, the highlights for me personally are Sudden Death and Never Dead.  Both are brilliant examples of the urgent, unrelenting power and aggression and refined technicality (dueling guitar solos ftw!) that has characterised some of Megadeth's best recent tracks (think Blackmail the Universe and Sleepwalker).  And both also showcase the ability of the current Megadeth line-up, which in my opinion is probably one of the best, if not the best, in the band's history.  Shawn Drover is an absolute powerhouse and core to the current 'Deth sound, whilst Chris Broderick provides a phenomenal dual guitar attack with Mustaine.  Not to mention that having long-time bassist Dave Ellefson back in the fold is a huge advantage - the man is one of metal's great bassists.

There's one minor factor that holds me back from rating this album in the same league as latter-day gems like Endgame.  The album was put together in a pretty short window between tours and in places it feels a little rushed; it doesn't have quite the same end-to-end consistency as Megadeth's very best work, and loses a little focus towards the end of the album.  It just nags at me a bit that given a little more time, this album could have been genuine 5-star material.

But perhaps that's a small and unfair quibble.  Overall, TH1RT3EN has a lot of very good moments and some genuinely excellent ones. Title track 13 is a gem of a closer - clearly an honest and candid contemplation from a somewhat weary-sounding Mustaine of the band's challenges over 13 albums and almost 30 years, and whether he feels up to continuing given recent label issues with Roadrunner and his own back and neck problems.

Let's hope he does.  TH1RT3EN continues a fantastic run for Megadeth - like the three albums before it, it's easily in the running for most ass-kicking metal album of the year.  It shouldn't take much more than the few opening bars of Sudden Death to convince any listener that there's still plenty of gas in Megadeth's tank.  Long live the 'Deth!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Megadeth - Thirteen of the Best

I'm just a teensy-weensy bit excited about the new Megadeth album, TH1RT3EN, coming out next week.  A perfect opportunity, therefore, to put together a list of my (current) favourite 13 Megadeth songs.  So here goes, in no particular order. 

1. Hangar 18 (from 1990's Rust in Peace)
Alien conspiracy theories, insane trade-off solos between Dave Mustaine and Marty Friedman, and just general all-around awesomeness on what must surely be one of Megadeth's most legendary tracks.  It even inspired a (somewhat inferior) sequel - Return to Hangar.

2. Trust (from 1997's Cryptic Writings)
Right, so Cryptic Writings was not Megadeth's most widely-loved album, but I personally think it's their most under-rated.  Yes, it's a bit slower and more produced, but there are some genuinely well-crafted songs here, and Trust might be the best example - it continues to be a staple of their live set too.  Great main riff and it builds nicely towards the solo at 3:45.

3. Dialectic Chaos / This Day We Fight! (from 2009's Endgame)
Yes, it's probably cheating to count these two as one, but the way they segue together to open what I consider to be one of Megadeth's finest albums makes them somewhat inseparable (incidentally, they've always performed them together live as well).  Dialectic Chaos was the first instrumental Megadeth track since the 1980's, and it's fast-paced shredding is a great way of saying 'here we fucking go!' as an album opener.  Then it's straight into the buzzing main riff of This Day We Fight!, an aggressive, intense, high tempo thrash-metal classic.  But it also features some clever touches - like the way it threatens to descend into a full-on battle march straight after the closing chorus line of 'this day we fight!'.

4. Devil's Island (from 1986's Peace Sells... But Who's Buying?)
The opening tap-solo creates exactly the sort of menace you expect from a song about a prisoner on death row, in this case on the eponymous Devil's Island.  But then in classic old-school Megadeth fashion the mood changes swiftly and dramatically - to a lurching bass riff, and into a punkish main verse and chorus before the words "Final judgment!" introduce a characteristically stand-offish Mustaine guitar solo.  The live version below is particularly manic.

5. Blackmail the Universe (from 2004's The System Has Failed)
This was actually the song that really re-introduced me to Megadeth a few years ago.  I'd dabbled with Rust in Peace previously - but then I heard this track (actually the live version from That One Night) and I was immediately hooked by its stomping, savage intro.  Lyrically the track deals with a hypothetical shooting down of Air Force One by terrorists - which was somewhat topical given the timing - but interestingly the track itself (or at least the musical portion of it) actually dates back to well before 9/11. 

6. Take No Prisoners (from 1990's Rust in Peace)
Sounds exactly like the title suggests.  It never garnered the same degree of attention as the two legendary tracks that precede it on Rust in Peace but it's an incredible unrelenting powerhouse of a track nevertheless.  The highlight is probably a typically sneering Mustaine reversing the famous Kennedy quote: "Don't ask what you can do for your country, ask what your country can do for you".

7. Peace Sells (from 1986's Peace Sells... But Who's Buying?)
Starts with one of the most distinctive basslines of all-time, and continues with one of Dave's best (and most sarcastic) lyrical efforts.  Given Megadeth's tendency in their early days to aim primarily for all-out shred and aggression, it's a phenomenally catchy and well-constructed song.

8. Sudden Death (from the 2010 video game Guitar Hero Warriors of Rock)
Speaking of all-out shred and aggression... it's obvious from the resoundingly sinister opening chords of this track that we're not in Kansas any more.  A huge personal favourite of mine, mainly because it's so very, very kick-ass - building incredibly well towards an amazing solo section courtesy of messrs. Mustaine and Broderick (surely Megadeth's best guitarist since Marty Friedman, if not better).  It's also due to appear as TH1RT3EN's opening track, albeit apparently with a few changes, so I'll be interested to see how that version turns out.

9. Almost Honest (from 1997's Cryptic Writings)
Another tight, groovy number from Cryptic Writings.  What works really well on this track is the dynamic shift between verse and chorus; it's something Megadeth don't do a lot because the 'plan A' approach often tends to be 'sonic assault for 100% of the song'.  Like Trust, it's catchy, infectious and memorable.

10. Sleepwalker (from 2007's United Abominations)
Another entry in a long series of bonecrushing album openers, Sleepwalker initially threatens to do something different with acoustic guitars and synthesisers, which serves to make the opening riff even more savage when it drops.  Lyrically one of the band's darker numbers, although it's actually the drumming I really enjoy on this song. 

11. Sweating Bullets (from 1992's Countdown to Extinction)
Considering the band had so many well-documented drug issues around this period of time, it shouldn't really come as any surprise that crazy old Dave writing a song about crazy schizophrenics would be such a resounding success.  Seeing this performed live is really something to behold when the whole crowd gets in on the singalong.

12. Dread and the Fugitive Mind (from 2001's The World Needs a Hero)

The World Needs A Hero isn't their strongest album, but Megadeth have consistently shown that even on their weaker albums they'll still produce a few individual gems.  The album as a whole is a bit lost between attempting to shift back to thrash metal or continuing the more hard-rock style of the albums that immediately preceded it.  Dread and the Fugitive Mind is one of the few tracks where they strike a really effective balance - it's got the tight, catchy songwriting of much of Cryptic Writings but balances that with a nice, thrashy bridge section.

13. Holy Wars... The Punishment Due (from 1990's Rust in Peace)
One of Megadeth's bona-fide classics, and justifiably so.  It's more like two songs in one - with Holy Wars inspired by one of the band's trips to Ireland during the late 1980's, and The Punishment Due being inspired by The Punisher, from Marvel Comics.  And in between there is a very cool acoustic section and a bunch of clever tempo and dynamic shifts.  Awesome stuff.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Megadeth TH1RT3EN album preview

So, Megadeth released another track (Whose Life (Is It Anyways?)) off their forthcoming thirteenth album, TH1RT3EN, via their facebook page this morning, available for a limited time only.  Until the album comes out, of course.  And this track has just served to remind me how excited I was getting about this album until I got distracted by Mastodon and Soundwave festival announcements and other such meritorious things.

Anyway, Whose Life has a punkish opening riff that recalls really old-school late 80's 'Deth before locking into a groovy chorus riff, with Shawn Drover's drum work sounding very solid throughout.  Not totally sure I buy Dave doing teen-angst lyrics these days, admittedly, but the bridge section elevates a good song to 'very good' thanks to some nice solo duelling from messrs. Mustaine and Broderick.

Put this alongside the three other tracks that have been previewed so far - Sudden Death, Never Dead and Public Enemy No. 1 - and things are looking pretty damned promising.

Sudden Death was originally written for Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock as the game's grand finale.  I think I previously described it as a facemelting shredfest of a track, and I stand by that.  It's completely insane. 

The one thing I've always found slightly amusing is how the use of the original chorus as an outro (at around 4:30), has this vibe of 'alright guys, we pretty much killed it on that, let's just cruise on out' given the escalating waves of sonic assault leading up to it.  Easily one of my top 5 Megadeth tracks of all time, and a menacing way to open an album.

Never Dead also popped up in a video game trailer (does anyone detect a theme here?) although the full track was subsequently also posted on youtube.

A sinister, eerie intro gives way to... BUZZSAW GUITARS!  And a generous helping of double-kick too.  A brutal, uncompromising track - and also a reminder that whilst Dave Mustaine might not be the most technically-gifted singer, it's impossible to imagine Megadeth with anyone else on vocals.

Whilst Sudden Death and Never Dead are definitely a combination of new-age Megadeth power with old-school Megadeth shredding, Public Enemy No. 1 has more of a Youthanasia-era vibe to it.  It's more accessible, and emphasises the vocals more - which is a nice balance to the crushing guitar heaviness of some of the other tracks.

Although bassist Dave Ellefson has been back with the band since early 2010, this will be his first studio album with 'Deth since 2001's The World Needs A Hero.  Personally I think this will add a lot - as good as recent albums United Abominations and Endgame were, Ellefson is one of metal's premier bassists and I think given his long history with the band he will bring a lot to the creative process as well.

The full tracklisting for the album - to be released 1/11/11 -  is:
1Sudden Death
2Public Enemy No. 1
3Whose Life (Is It Anyways?)
4We the People
5Guns, Drugs & Money
6Never Dead
7New World Order
8Fast Lane
9Black Swan
11Millennium of the Blind
12Deadly Nightshade

Some of the more observant Megadeth fans have noticed that three of these titles (plus Sudden Death, of course) are oddly familiar - Black Swan was a bonus track on some version of United Abominations, whilst demo's of Millennium of the Blind and New World Order were included on the remaster of Youthanasia.

And some of said observant Megadeth fans are getting all uppity about the alleged re-use of old songs.  But perhaps said fans don't realise it's actually not uncommon for songs - or more correctly song ideas - to float around for years before the band actually turns them into a complete, finished product.  Both the Youthanasia-era tracks were never more than demos and it's entirely likely the finished versions will sound quite different.  I'm pretty interested to see how they do turn out.

Anyway, to sate your intrigue until November 1, there's a cool track by track preview with Dave 'Junior' Ellefson here.  And a chat with drummer Shawn Drover here.  And an interview with supremely talented guitarist Chris Broderick here.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Soundwave 2012 - the lineup

Right, so here is the full lineup for Soundwave 2012:

Aside from the fact I was totally wrong about Pearl Jam, it's pretty damned impressive.  And that's even bearing in mind that the first band on that list that I'm actually genuinely excited about is the 7th one listed - Machine Head.

System of a Down are a decent enough band, but I don't think they're a top-of-the-bill headliner, at least not in the same vein as Faith No More, Nine Inch Nails and Iron Maiden in recent years.  I'm not a huge Slipknot fan but I won't deny they have a pretty big folllowing.  Then you have Limp Bizkit who have absolutely no business being higher than many of the bands on that list and uh, yeah the less said about that the better.  Continuing the 90's nostalgia trip are Marilyn Manson (admittedly probably worth seeing) and Hole (almost certainly not).

And then you get into the really good stuff... promoter AJ Maddah called it the biggest metal lineup outside the Big 4 and I think that's pretty fair.

Machine Head: a recent and highly worthwhile discovery for me, The Blackening and Unto the Locust are both top albums.

Lamb of God: haven't heard a great deal, but suspect I might investigate them further - I was impressed by them when I saw them open for Metallica last year.

Trivium: same category as Machine Head, minus the opening for Metallica thing.  Friends I trust in relation to these things swear by them, so that has to be worth something.

Alter Bridge: only heard one album but that's enough to know they'll be worth checking out.

And then of the rest, the ones I'm particularly interested in:
Devin Townsend Project: I am totally unfamiliar with but friends who know stuff rate them, so definitely worth a look.

Black Label Society: Should be pretty kickass actually... especially if they play Stillborn, fantastic track.  I expect they're in the category of 'great fun after a few beers', but perhaps not to the same extent as:

Hellyeah: will be insanely good fun after a few beers.  Both their albums are fun, ass-kicking hard rock records - nothing complex, nor do they need to be.  Could be a highlight of the day, actually.

And finally, Mastodon.  I mean, why the FUCK are they so low on the bill.  Fantastic new album and a big fan base from their earlier (also excellent) albums.  This is probably the band I'm most excited to see, and I think they'll go off at Soundwave.  The interesting question is which stage they end up on - main stage (presumably mid-afternoon) or metal stage (presumably later on).  They better not clash with anything else on that list, if they do, the 'anything else' will lose.  There is a long list of songs I'd love to hear these guys play... Blood and Thunder, Spectrelight, Black Tongue, almost anything off Blood Mountain... actually I hope these guys play a sideshow either in Sydney or NZ because I'll be there.

In summary, this is a damned good festival lineup, and a reminder of how shit the Big Day Out has become.  Soundwave is, unashamedly, a metal and punk festival - it knows its identity - and it delivers, every damn year.  Meanwhile the Big Day Out seems pretty lost about what it is actually trying to be... having Kanye West as a headliner is just flat-out bizarre for what was historically an 'alternative rock' festival.  Even worse, he will probably be the main headliner, above Soundgarden.  And who remembers how shit it was when they gave Scribe a decent slot on the main stage (admittedly Kanye's got a bit more star power, but still). 

Anyway, I digress.  As usual Soundwave has done a phenomenal job of bringing together an incredible selection of great bands.  Soundwave is awesome and it looks like I'll be off to Sydney in February again for more madness with McLeish.  Chur bro.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Some rampant speculation about Soundwave...

The full line-up for Soundwave is set to be announced Friday night, Australia time, and given that's not far away it must be time for some indulgent, vaguely-informed speculation about what the final line-up might look like.

A small cross-section of the bands playing have already been announced/leaked through either promoter AJ Maddah (notoriously good at drip-feeding the punters) or the artists themselves.  Full list is here, but suffice to say that even with only around 15 of 60 bands and no headliners announced as yet, it's already looking pretty damned good.

I'm particularly excited for Mastodon - both for their older stuff and The (mighty) Hunter - but I'll be keen to check out Hellyeah and Machine Head too.  And whilst I'm not that familiar with their material, I think I'd also have to investigate Devin Townsend, Trivium, and Coal Chamber (who are reforming exclusively for the festival).  That's always been one of Soundwave's great strengths... rather than end up having to kill time between bands, there are plenty of great bands to check out and often some tough decisions to make. 

Anyway, even without any headliners and only a small proportion of its final lineup, it's still better than a certain other increasingly shit festival that has Soundgarden as its sole redeeming feature.  I'd actually picked Soundgarden to show up at Soundwave - given recent bills have included the likes of Nine Inch Nails, Alice in Chains and Jane's Addiction - but I guess I got that one wrong. 

And this is where I get into said speculation.  I reckon Pearl Jam could be the main headliner.  They have no scheduled dates for 2012 yet and, importantly, Soundgarden have no dates scheduled after Big Day Out, because until someone invents a cloning machine I'm pretty sure Matt Cameron can't play in both bands simultaneously (he's a superhuman drummer, just not THAT superhuman).  The main headliner is, according to AJ, neither metal nor punk, and he has been mysteriously silent when asked if Pearl Jam are coming (which isn't a yes, but he has had no problem telling people which artists AREN'T coming).  And Pearl Jam are currently doing some twenty-year anniversary shows, which sort of ties in with Soundwave's recent successes in booking headliners on "landmark" tours - Nine Inch Nails' farewell tour, Faith No More's reunion tour.  Anyway, here's hoping, and in the meantime, here's a great obscure Pearl Jam song about a cannibal that I'd love to hear them play:

They might seem a little mainstream for what is fundamentally a metal / punk festival, but Soundwave have a very good track record for getting headliners that appeal to their core punters whilst also attracting a wider audience.

Anyway, it's also been claimed that the line-up will be the biggest metal line-up that isn't The Big Four.  There was a bit of speculation about Metallica, but that's been squashed, Slayer came this year (albeit with some illness problems), and I'd love to see Megadeth but I suspect they'll be busy with Gigantour.  Anthrax are possible, but well, they aren't in the league of the other three.

Following the 'big metal' theme, Lamb of God and Slipknot also seem possible, as were Opeth until they announced early December dates in Australia.

Judas Priest also seemed likely - particularly given that they were lined-up for the aborted Soundwave Revolution - but they were nixed via AJ's twitter account.  Which is a shame, and here's why:

Slipknot have been touted, and there were some rumblings today about Marilyn Manson, Offspring and Evanescence.  This was a little interesting because given Hole have already (unfortunately) been confirmed and there's plenty of speculation about Limp Bizkit - all up that's a lot of 90's throwback action, although not (totally) without merit.

Another name mentioned is Duff McKagan's Loaded - I've enjoyed both their albums and would certainly make a point of checking them out.

Truth is though, Soundwave have always done a great job in the past of keeping their aces up their sleeve, sneaking a few good names out there in advance and then exceeding (high) expectations in the full line-up announcement.  There's every chance that there are some great bands coming that haven't yet found their way into the rumour mill (e.g. Deftones).

Pearl Jam would be a highlight though.  They were stunning in 2009 and I'd love to see them again.

Chris Cornell, ASB Theatre, 5/10/11

Last night's Chris Cornell solo acoustic gig was the first concert I've been to in a while, in fact since Kyuss Lives! in May.  And it's fair to say this was a bit different to the average rock gig - a solo, (mostly) acoustic set.  And I was probably doubly looking forward to it on account of how I'll be overseas during Soundgarden's long-awaited return down under in January next year, because they chose to play the crappy festival and not the really good one that I was banking on them playing (hey - given the last few years' at Soundwave have included Nine Inch Nails, Alice in Chains, and Jane's Addiction it seemed a safe enough bet).

Anyway, right, the gig.  Cornell started with some friendly banter, and between this and his entertaining recent appearances in Pearl Jam Twenty, I've come to realise he's a pretty cool guy, even if he was responsible for the "experiment" known as Scream, which is only even worth mentioning because it gave rise to a hilarious parody by Trent Reznor as an April Fools joke a couple of years ago.

What followed was a showcase of Cornell's solo material, various Soundgarden, Temple of the Dog and Audioslave tracks, and some great covers, spanning over two hours - yep, not only is his voice as amazing and unique as it always was, but he can carry a solo show for that long quite comfortably.  Hell, I don't even think the guy barely had a sip of water in that time.

It speaks volumes of the man's talent and charisma that he can almost hypnotise an audience singlehandedly.  It's incredibly easy to get lost in tracks like Finding Forever, Sunshower, and Call Me A Dog.

But I've always had a soft spot for musicians really rocking out an acoustic number, and so I especially enjoyed Mind Riot.  Cornell mentioned at one point how he sometimes hates listening to the show recordings because of some of the silly stuff he says (in his defence, he is very funny and engaging) - wonder if he'll spot the mix-up when he accidentally introduced Mind Riot as being from Louder than Love, and not Badmotorfinger.  And I only mention this because I got all excited thinking he was going to do some totally leftfield acoustic cover version of Gun or Big Dumb Sex.  Anyway, Mind Riot was great.  And so was Hunger Strike, which has always been one of my favourite Cornell tracks, and which sounded thoroughly excellent.

It struck me at one point just how few front men of the current generation of rock bands could actually pull this sort of solo show off in the way Cornell does - he can just take control of an audience with his voice, presence and musical ability.  The only others I can think of that are in the same league are Eddie Vedder and Josh Homme - and they both started in the same era.  Jerry Cantrell and Dave Grohl, possibly, though neither's singing voice is in the same league as Cornell.  Scott Weiland, if he was a bit less aloof.  There are other more fringe candidates like Neil Fallon (Clutch) and John Garcia (Kyuss), who have the ability but wouldn't pull the same crowds.  And those are all examples from bands who formed pre-2000, i.e., front men AREN'T WHAT THEY USED TO BE.

So being able to enjoy an intimate, spontaneous show with a talented guy like this is a pretty rare thing.  And especially when he pulls out some brilliant cover versions - I especially enjoyed A Day In The Life (the Beatles), a very unexpected cover of Pearl Jam's Better Man (spontaneously performed when someone yelled out "Play some Pearl Jam!"), and John Lennon's Imagine.  A few music geeks like me might have noticed that he actually rearranged Imagine into 3/4 time as opposed to Lennon's 4/4 - showing a very deft musical touch.

I was always keener on Audioslave's more rocking material and so it was a surprise to me that some of the night's highlights actually came from quieter, more reflective Audioslave tracks like I Am the Highway, Like A Stone and Doesn't Remind Me (in particular).

But for me personally, Soundgarden material was always going to be the highlight.  The brilliant Superunknown was one of the first albums I ever owned on CD, so I loved every second of Like Suicide, Fell on Black Days and Black Hole Sun.

Overall, it was a captivating show from a uniquely talented musician - who thoroughly deserved the standing ovation that he got.  Well done, that man.

Full setlist here.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Clutch debut new song and self-titled beer

It seems like it was only yesterday I was writing about exciting new stuff.  Oh wait, it was yesterday.

Well thanks Clutch for making me look like a fool by going and debuting a new song at a live show, a recording of which found its way on to YouTube, uh, yesterday.  The quality isn't amazing, but it's enough to ascertain that this is a further continuation of Clutch's blues-rock awesomeness.  The main riff is very, very groovy and the tempo shift about halfway through is great too.  It feels a little more up-tempo than most of Strange Cousins From the West, which had more of a mid-tempo groove thing going, aside from 10,000 Unstoppable Watts and Freakonomics, of course.

And they've also released their own beer.  That has to be at least as cool as The Sword producing their own hot sauce.

Disclaimer: The author considers Clutch to be the greatest band of all time, and is accordingly is not even vaguely impartial in relation to the above matters.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

New release madness

There is just WAY too much new music today for me to not post something.

Firstly, the new Mastodon album The Hunter, which a few early inter-web listens suggest is extremely awesome.  Check the whole thing out here.

Second, and this one caught me by surprise, Megadeth have posted another track from their forthcoming album TH1RT3EEN on YouTube, Never Dead.  Sounding pretty damned excellent to me so far and I'm optimistic the album will be really good.  The only thing that gives me minor doubts is the fact that two or three of the tracks on there appear to be re-treads of older songs.  Black Swan appeared as a bonus track on some versions of United Abominations, whilst New World Order and Millenium of the Blind (or at least demo versions) date back to Youthanasia.  That being said, Sudden Death and Never Dead in particular are as savage as anything Megadeth have written, so yeah, high hopes for this one.  Here's a taste:

Third, Kasabian release their new album Velociraptor!  I haven't listened to it yet, for me Kasabian are one of those bands I enjoy without getting really excited about (notwithstanding the obviously excellent album title).  It didn't help that the first two Kasabian songs I ever heard were fantastic (Club Foot and Processed Beats) which probably set my expectations a bit high.  Anyway, here's the video for the excellent Processed Beats.

Fourth, Pink Floyd's ambitious reissue project also starts today, with box sets and all sorts of crazy, flash stuff.  I splashed out on the super-mega-ultra version of Dark Side of the Moon because I consider it to be one of the greatest albums of all time.  Here's a video of some dude unboxing said super-mega-ultra version, withsome quite funny comments.

Fifth, Machine Head release their new album Unto the Locust.  Never been huge on Machine Head, but then again I've never delved into them that much either.  Possibly now is the time to start.

Sixth, there is a big deluxe reissue of Nevermind as well.  It's a long way down my list because, frankly, although it is a good album I still think Nirvana were a little over-rated.  They get credited a lot with single-handedly changing music, but in reality they were part of a wider Seattle movement that included Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Alice in Chains, as well as others like Mudhoney that barely rate a mention.  And you know it does concern me just a touch when I see kids wearing shirts with pictures of Kurt Cobain and some sort of RIP message, when these kids probably weren't even born when Cobain committed suicide.  Anyway, that might be a topic for a future post.

So, yeah, might be packing lunches from home a bit more often this month.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Pearl Jam 20 Soundtrack - review

I'm off to see Pearl Jam 20 on the big screen tonight - and I'm certainly looking forward to it.  Pearl Jam have always had a special place in my music collection - I grew up with their early albums and I like a lot of stuff from their later albums too.  I finally got the chance to see them live in Auckland a couple of years ago, and what a fantastic show it was (and they played Severed Hand too, STOKED!).

It's hard to imagine a better choice of director for the film than Cameron Crowe (who was responsible for Singles and Almost Famous).  But in the meantime, I'm tiding myself over with the soundtrack, comprising a slew of Pearl Jam live recordings, demos and rarities

Pearl Jam releasing live stuff is nothing new, really.  Since Live on Two Legs came out, the band pioneered the concept of making concert recordings available to fans - first on CD, then later digitally.  In true Pearl Jam fashion, this was because they didn't see why fans should have to tolerate expensive, shitty quality bootlegs when they could make cheaper, soundboard-quality recordings available (remember kids, this was before camera phones and YouTube).  Hell, I have 9 or 10 of their shows from various tours myself, including that 2009 Auckland show.

But you know, the (unintended) consequence of that is that it's hard to get excited about a new Pearl Jam live album because there's so much quality stuff already floating around.  Unless it's something a little different, like the mostly-acoustic Live at Benaroya Hall from 2004.

PJ20 is different for a number of reasons.  Firstly - it's a soundtrack to the documentary.  Having not yet seen the film, I can't really say a lot on this particular angle.  But secondly, and perhaps more importantly, PJ20 is career-spanning, and that is what makes it really interesting.

The first disc puts together 14 live recordings in (basically) chronological order, and it's fascinating listening.  See, there is a version of Alive that dates back to when the band was still named Mookie Blaylock.  And equally, there's a version of Just Breathe that was recorded only last year.  There's a version of Garden that was recorded in some tiny venue in Zurich and you can hear the crowd talking in the background.  There's a version of Black lifted from their hard-to-find MTV Unplugged performance.

Comparing those earlier shows with a huge 2010 performance of Betterman from Madison Square Garden where the crowd sing the first verse highlights just how popular the band have become - despite being content to follow their own creative path, which led in a different direction from the massive commercial success of their first three albums.

Ironically, it's a track originally by Mother Love Bone (which featured a pre-Pearl Jam Jeff Ament and Stone Gossard) that provides the biggest highlight of the first disc, an awesome performance of Crown of Thorns recorded in Las Vegas during PJ's 10th anniversary concert.

The second disc has some live material as well, but it's more oriented towards demos.  Generally I don't find a lot to like about demo versions - but there are some gems here, such as a rugged demo version of the Temple of the Dog track Say Hello 2 Heaven that feels so unbelievably 1990 you'd swear you were listening to it on a cassette, and a similarly cool demo of Times of Trouble, its loping main riff somehow made more enjoyable by the sense it's just a few guys mucking around in the studio recording a demo.

From the same era, there's a highly amusing (further) nod to the Seattle scene in the form of a demo cover of Alice in Chains' It Ain't Like That, that carries on until someone starts noodling the main riff from Put You Down.  Later highlights include a solo instrumental acoustic performance of Given to Fly by Mike McCready.

I get the impression that the second disc is intended to give some context to Pearl Jam in the studio versus Pearl Jam live - the first half is all demo versions concluding with a really dark Jeff Ament demo of Nothing As It Seems from 1999, which segues straight into a 2001 live performance of that song.  It wouldn't surprise me at all if these tracks were used as a backdrop to the film's coverage of the 2000 Roskilde tragedy, given the sombre nature of the song and the fact that the dates of the demo and live performances straddle that sad, sad moment.

The remainder of the second disc is a selection of well-chosen and relatively recent live performances, aptly concluding with a great version of live staple Rearviewmirror.

All things considered, it's not a record that will win the band any new fans, nor is it intended to.  The whole premise of PJ20 is to celebrate one of the most influential and unique rock bands of the past two decades, because, frankly, you get the distinct impression that they're the sort of guys who wouldn't make a big deal of it themselves and are happy just writing and playing music.  And in that regard I think the soundtrack succeeds admirably - with memorable live and demo recordings spanning the band's career, and highlighting their evolution.  I'd go so far as to say it's essential listening for any long-time fan of the band.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Take Me To Your Mastodon

For those of you who live under a rock, or are not Mastodon fans, Mastodon's forthcoming album The Hunter is released at the end of this month.

In the past few weeks, my excitement levels for this album have gone from 'moderate' to 'extreme', as the band have drip-fed three tracks out over the internets.  First-up was Black Tongue, which is menacing, heavy, and one hell of a way to open a metal album:

In my view, this a really engaging, well-written song.  It manages to be intense throughout, whilst not playing to the standard verse-chorus-verse structure, and has anyone even bothered to try and count how many fills Brann Dailor lets rip with?

Next up was Curl of the Burl, another in a long line of song titles that make no sense to anyone but Mastodon.

This track actually reminds me of Corrosion of Conformity... it's instantly catchy whilst not being as full-on intense as Black Tongue.  Certainly some more prog leanings on show here too, and the guitars sound awesome - that main riff is just pure toxic sludge.  Plus, you have to respect a song which has an opening lyric like "I killed a man, 'cause he killed my goat".

And then today we got Spectrelight, which is some serious up-tempo old-school Mastodon kick-assery.

Savage, relentless, and with a wicked (not to mention completely unsignalled) tempo change at 1:14.

If these three tracks are anything to go by, The Hunter is looking like one seriously mean album which could even outdo their recent efforts Crack the Skye and Blood Mountain.  You know what you need to do on September 26, folks.

nb: Rumour has it these guys could be on their way down under for Soundwave Festival in 2012 - let's hope so.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

I wish this band was real...

Last week I was discussing the rumoured possibility of a Megadeth/Metallica collaboration.  It's only recently that this even became remotely conceivable.  Anyway, this got me thinking about bands that I wish were real, and given a subsequent workplace discussion about the Muppets, this got me thinking about a certain fictional band that appeared on The Muppet Show.

I am, of course, referring to Dr. Teeth and The Electric Mayhem.  They popped up at various times over the course of the Muppet Show's run.  Most would remember Animal on drums, but maybe not the rest of the band: Dr. Teeth on vocals and keyboard, Janice (lead guitar), Sgt. Floyd Pepper (bass), and Zoot (saxophone).

(It's worth also mentioning that they have quite possibly the greatest band name of all time.)

Anyway, like so much of the Muppet Show, the Electric Mayhem had aspects that were appealing to kids (mostly Animal, plus of course the concept of a muppet band), and adults (pretty cool music with often hilarious lyrics).  For example, Don't Blame the Dynamite:

Of course, in usual Muppet style there were also some clever head nods here and there... Sgt. Floyd Pepper's name is a reference to Pink Floyd and the Beatles' Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band - outfit and all.  More subtly, the frequent on-stage explosions during Love Ya To Death were a reference to The Who's infamous television appearance where Keith Moon (on whom the character of Animal was allegedly based) blew up his drumkit.  Most kids and adults would've found them funny... for music nerds they're hilarious.

Musically, they're actually pretty funky.  Rock, blues, funk, you can hear all those things at various points in time.  Hell, if I could buy some of these tracks on iTunes I'd do so without hesitation.  But they weren't afraid of being a little experimental at times either, most notably performing a 70's funk cover of Chopin's Polonaise in A Flat which is made totally memorable by Animal yelling 'CHO-PIN! CHO-PIN!' at regular intervals.

Speaking of songs where Animal yells out in amusing ways, the funk instrumental Sweet Tooth Jam features Animal spontaneously yelling "JAM!" at regular intervals.  It just never gets old.

Now, if only they were real...

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Mustaine + Hetfield + Ulrich + Ellefson = ???

Right, it seems I have been doing actual work or something and accordingly have slightly neglected my blog over the past month or so.

But this particular piece of news was just too intriguing not to comment on.  It turns out that Dave Mustaine has been throwing around the idea of a supergroup, involving him, Megadeth bassist David Ellefson, and Metallica's James Hetfield and Lars Ulrich.

To be fair, at this stage it seems it's still very much just an idea.  No-one's said yes or no, and in all fairness, MegaDave has been prone to the occasional flippant statement.  But you get the sense Mustaine is actually slightly serious about this - 5 or 10 years ago people would have laughed at the idea, but the world has changed since then.  The Big 4 shows have not only featured both bands on the same bill, but actually on the same stage at the same time, with a group jam becoming a staple of Metallica's Big 4 set.  And by all accounts it sounds like everyone is getting on famously backstage.  And Christian Dave just seems way less angry at, well, everything than old-school-hardcore-on-the-drugs-Dave.

So, it's actually not inconceivable.  And the proposed line-up - Mustaine, Hetfield, Ulrich and Ellefson - makes a lot of sense too.  Mustaine and Ellefson are the obvious choices from Megadeth - both founding members and Ellefson is second only to Mustaine in terms of Megadeth's creative contributors too.  And James and Lars have always been Metallica's creative axis, so that makes sense too.

This is not to say that Robert Trujillo isn't an extremely good bassist, or that Chris Broderick isn't an astounding guitarist.  But Trujillo, Broderick, and Megadeth drummer Shawn Drover weren't with their respective bands during their heyday in the 80's and early-90's.  And you get the sense that history would count for quite a lot with this particular supergroup.

As for Kirk Hammett, well he's always been something of an 'along for the ride' kind of guy.  He's a good guitarist - if perhaps a little over-rated - but I can't see him providing the same amount creatively as some of the others.

Of course the other big question is when this would happen, if it did.  Megadeth have had a pretty gruelling touring and recording schedule of late, and no doubt will continue to tour on the back of forthcoming album TH1RT3EN (due 1.11.11).  There's been talk of a new Metallica album, and while their touring schedule has been a little less intensive, that's because of a band policy of ensuring they all get time with their families.

As good as it sounds on paper, getting the personalities and their respective schedules in alignment might be just a bit too much to ask, at least in the short-term future.  Oh well, we can always dream.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Rose Hill Drive - Americana

Every now and then, an album comes along that reminds me exactly why I love music so much.  You know, an album that you can't bear to stop once you've hit play, and once you get to the end, you just have to hear it all again.

Rose Hill Drive's new album Americana is one such album.

Ironically, it almost never happened.  The band from Boulder, Colorado went on hiatus in late 2008 after a relentless schedule that included a ton of touring, recording two albums - 2006's self-titled debut and 2008's Moon is the New Earth - and the pressure of living up to a ton of industry hype from the likes of Rolling Stone.  As much as the band was deserving of endorsements from the likes of Pete Townshend, the classic rock influences were both the band's biggest strength and their achilles heel - musically, the band spent so much time trying to emulate their heroes that they were in danger of losing their own sound.

So it was a promising sign when, not only did RHD re-emerge in June 2010, but they did so with a new member and a line-up reshuffle.  The addition of Jimmy Stofer on bass has allowed Jacob Sproul to move to rhythm guitar, and turned the power trio into a quartet.  More importantly, it's allowed RHD to develop their own sound and god damn is it good.

Don't get me wrong here - their first two albums were a blast, but Americana is something else.  The thing that immediately struck me about it is simply the sheer exuberance - RHD really sound like a band with a new lease of life, a band that is having fun.

You can hear it in the rock-out moments... you can just imagine the band grinning at each other as they cheekily hold the last note of the riff when Telepathic gets all low-slung and riffy about 3 minutes in.  You can hear it lyrically as Jacob Sproul places his tongue firmly in his cheek on Speed Dial - "You used to be number 1... now you're number 2.  You've never met 3, but 4 says she knows you.".  You can hear it in the zany guitar solos from brother Daniel, particularly on Psychoanalyst, which sounds just as madcap as the song's video looks.

But even with all that raw exuberance, Americana is also surprisingly clever.  The songs frequently keep the listener guessing, taking unexpected twists and turns - as does the album itself.  In contrast to the gleeful electric mayhem that populates most of the record, the last two tracks are acoustically led and thoughtfully constructed.  For every vocal LOL moment like Speed Dial, there's a wry, acerbic jab - like on the title track: "If it's real I don't care if it's plastic".

And yeah, the classic rock influences are still audible, and there might be shades of Jack White in some of the guitar solos, but fundamentally the way RHD sound on this album is refreshing, original and entirely unique. 

In a nutshell, Americana is a rambunctious, clever and frequently exhilarating slice of rock music that begs repeat use of the repeat button.  I won't be at all surprised if this ends up being my favourite album of 2011.  It's just too much fun.

Note: for the next little while, you can listen to the whole thing here courtesy of AOL's listening party.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

The first XI of MMXI

With us now being ever so slightly past the half-way point of the year, it seems like an opportune time to look back at some of the better releases of the first half of 2011.

Before I start, it's worth mentioning that I'm still pondering the new album by Amplifier (The Octopus) and still waiting for my copy of Symphony X's Iconoclast to arrive - both have the potential to end up on here if the interwebs are to be believed.

So, counting down from 11...

11. Duff McKagan's Loaded - The Taking
The second album from former GnR bassist McKagan is harder and more refined than its predecessor, Sick.  It and opens with a mean one-two punch (Lords of Abaddon and Executioner's Song) and closes in much the same fashion (Your Name and Follow Me To Hell).  And in between there is a gloriously sing-song ode to addiction (Cocaine) and a bunch of other good stuff too.

10. Black Stone Cherry - Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea
I wrote heap-big-long review here, and you can listen to the whole album here.  It's a hard-rocking Southern hard rock album.

9. Hello Demons Meet Skeletons - Words That Sing Well

Hello Demons Meet Skeletons is the acoustic side-project of Sevendust guitarist Clint Lowery.  Words That Sing Well is the second HDMS EP, although the version I got also included the first HDMS EP, Chills.  Lowery plays all the instruments and sings, although brother Corey helps with some of the production - essentially this is his vehicle to channel his own ideas and thoughts as opposed to a band environment.

Anyone who has heard Sevendust's acoustic live record will know what can happen when Lowery gets hold of an acoustic guitar, but what makes this record enjoyable is not just nice acoustic guitar work, but the strength, texture and layering of the songs on offer, Lowery's vocals, and the great melancholy vibe throughout.  Words That Sing Well is a reminder of how good acoustic rock can be when it's done well.

8. And You Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead - Tao of the Dead
I'll be honest - I'd pretty much given up on this band.  They put out a cracker of an album in 2002, Source Tags and Codes, and pretty much everything after the second song on the subsequent album has been mediocre.  The news that they were releasing a concept 'symphony' record comprising two parts and 16 movements did not fill me with hope.  But totally against the odds, Tao of the Dead actually turned out to be fucking cool, a wonderfully enjoyable progressive rock album. 

And an 'album' it is - one that rolls from idea to idea rather than song to song, occasionally returning to an earlier refrain before bouncing on to something new.  The opening track Pure Radio Cosplay is an absolute ripper too.

7. Black Country Communion - 2
The second album from this supergroup sees them really finding their own sound.  For those who missed the news, BCC comprises Glenn Hughes (bass/vocals) [formerly of Deep Purple, occasionally of Black Sabbath, and mostly of solo stuff], Joe Bonamassa (guitar) [all around blues guitar dude], Jason Bonham (drums) [yes he of the Led Zeppelin descendance], and Derek Sherinian (keyboards) [Dream Theater and assorted other prog experimentation].

What you get here is a real melting-pot of rock influences - classic, hard, blues, prog - reflecting the various members.  This album also feels a lot more balanced across the band than the debut - in particular Derek Sherinian seems to be used a lot more effectively.  And Glenn Hughes really does sound great - I used to think it was a little wanky when his record company called him 'The Voice of Rock', but he pretty much justifies it with some of his performances here.

6. Beastwars - Beastwars
Here is a band whose name alone practically exudes awesomeness.  "What are you listening to man?" "Uh, Beastwars bro".  That's INSTANT credibility right there.

And it helps that their debut album is actually really good too.  There are hints of sludge, doom and desert on this baby.  This is a band that knows how to slowly, but surely pummel their listener into submission.  They played support for Kyuss in Wellington and I wish we'd got them up here in Auckland too - the best New Zealand band to emerge in ages (it helps that they are actually a good band, as opposed to just a good New Zealand band).

Oh, and they also know how to spell 'Cthulhu' (unlike a certain band that Dave Mustaine used to be in).  Anyway, go listen to it here (disclaimer: blog author accepts no liability for pummelled eardrums).

5. Head Like A Hole - Blood Will Out

WHAT! Two New Zealand albums in my top XI... outrageous.  Anyway, I wrote more about this swarthy, greasy, rock and roll album yesterday.  Even Simon Sweetman is gushy about it (and he is even more cynical about New Zealand music than I am).

4. Beastie Boys - Hot Sauce Committee Part 2

So, a bunch of forty-something white rappers put out a new album.  It's not exactly the sort of sentence that fills you with hope - in fact, it sounds like it could be the intro to some sort of joke.  But The Hot Sauce Committee, Part 2 is the best thing the Beasties have done in years (notwithstanding that they haven't actually put out an album in, well, years). 

Hot Sauce sees the Beasties sounding innovative whilst also harking back to some of their earlier material as a touchstone.  Make Some Noise has the carefree, energetic vibe of their earliest material, Say It and Tadlock's Glasses recall the dense sounds of Ill Communication, but then there are also tracks like Too Many Rappers and Don't Play No Game That I Can't Win which press bravely forward.

If the video for single Make Some Noise doesn't pique your interest, well, there's no hope for you.  There's some serious competition for music video of the year now, thanks to this effort from Mastodon and of course the Foos excellent video for White Limo (see below).

3. Graveyard - Hisingen Blues

It took about 10 seconds of opening track Ain't Fit to Live Here to sell me on this band.  A groovy opening drum fill, in kick guitars that recall vintage Steppenwolf, and then singer Joakim Nilsson howls the opening lyric: "I got no friends, only people that I know".

I don't know if these guys have sold their souls to the devil or something but the blues are strong with this one.  Not to mention that they also seem to have discovered some way of channeling late-60's/early-70's hard rock greats like Zep and Cream.  Hisingen Blues is an absolute rollicking good time.

2. Foo Fighters - Wasting Light
The reason this album is so good is, ironically, also the exact same reason it will probably never make my 5-star album list.  The first 5 songs are just so obscenely, mind-bogglingly good, that it's all too obvious when the standard drops every so slightly in the second half of the album - something recent live setlists have confirmed.

But that first half of the album is just so staggeringly good... the exhilaration of Bridge Burning, the persistent riffage of Rope, the white-knuckle White Limo, and the insidiously catchy singalong that is Arlandria.

And yeah, I've harped on about the White Limo vid at length already, but it's fucking great.

1. Soundgarden - Live on I-5
We could argue at length about whether or not it's fair to include live albums on lists like this, but the reality is that I love Live on I-5 and no-one is going to change my mind on that.  All the things that make great live albums great are here in abundance - raw energy and intensity, a sense that the band is feeding off the crowd - and vice versa, subtle detailing on most if not all of the tracks and some nice improvised moments too.  Oh, and a sly, near-unrecognisable cover of Helter Skelter that segues perfectly into the uplifting Boot Camp.

The highlights for me are a killer version of Jesus Christ Pose and an absolutely crucial rendition of Slaves and Bulldozers - a touch faster than the recorded version and that bend on the main riff is just a semi-tone higher in a 'nails on a chalkboard' kinda way.

Frankly this has me excited as hell at the prospect they might tour Down Under next year, particularly given their recent setlists have a healthy dose of classics, plus such insanely good choices as Gun and Superunknown and tend to close on, yep, Slaves and Bulldozers.  But that's not why this album is my favourite so far this year - it's my favourite because it's a fantastic live document of a fantastic band at the peak of their powers.

Truth is, there's plenty of other good stuff still to come this year.  This wouldn't make a half-bad year-end list, but there's still stuff to come from the likes of:
  • Kasabian (their new album is entitled Velociraptor - surely a naming win in the tradition of Beastwars!)
  • Red Hot Chili Peppers (could be a total disaster)
  • Powerman 5000 (a covers album which has me more than a little intrigued)
  • Dream Theater (A Dramatic Turn of Events)
  • And a bunch of others (including, potentially, Megadeth)
So, things could change, people.  Things could change

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Hang on, which one is the headliner?

So, as I was trawling the web this morning, trying to figure out if I could pre-order Rose Hill Drive's forthcoming third album Americana, I noticed that they had announced some dates supporting Stone Temple Pilots.

Don't get me wrong, I like Stone Temple Pilots.  I saw them earlier this year, and they were surprisingly good, better than I expected.  And of course they'll be headlining - they're the successful, big-name band.  But if I was to actually choose which of the two I would personally RATHER have as headliner, it would be Rose Hill Drive.  To me, their music - hard rock, occasionally bluesy, nods to the 70's greats whilst still maintaining their own unique sound - has a lot more to offer.  They can do incredibly tight, catchy singalong rockers, like Sneak Out or rambling, 7-minute jams like Reptilian Blues that showcase their considerable musical ability.  As much as I enjoy STP, they never really progressed beyond the verse-chorus-verse 4 minute grunge track.

This got me thinking about other shows I've gone to - or contemplated going to - where the acts were in the wrong order, at least in my opinion.

Slayer and Megadeth did a double-headline tour in 2009.  Of the headliners, Megadeth played first, then Slayer.  I've always thought Slayer are a little over-rated.  They have their moments, but for the most part it seems to me that their popularity is due at least in part to them being a bit controversial - a la Marilyn Manson, if I'm going to pick an extreme example.  If I had to rank the Big 4, they sure wouldn't be in the top two.  In contrast, Megadeth have consistently produced great material across their career (yes, I'm overlooking Risk) and haven't relied on controversy to sell records.  They probably got a bit of a kick-start from Dave Mustaine's background with Metallica, sure, but this is a band that gave us Rust in Peace, that gave us Peace Sells... But Who's Buying... and now 20 years on are producing some of the best material of their career - 2009's Endgame was a stunner.

Again, a lot of it is personal preference, but I'd rather Megadeth had top billing.  The Big 4 shows (oh please, come down under) have had their line up in this order: Anthrax, Megadeth, Slayer, Metallica.  It's hard to suggest that Anthrax shouldn't start and Metallica shouldn't finish, but I still rate Megadeth as superior to Slayer.

Heaven and Hell toured New Zealand back in 2007 - this is the Sabbath line-up that featured Ronnie James Dio on vocals.  I didn't go, although I wish I had now.  Not being a huge Sabbath fan, my thinking at the time was that I would much rather have had the support band, Down, play their own show (I wasn't arguing with H&H's right to headline!).  In hindsight this turned out to be a poor, poor decision - I missed the opportunity to see one of metal's great vocalists before his passing last year.  My logic was that seeing Down play only a short supporting set would be frustrating as hell - they're still on my bucket list.  Even that turned out to be dumb too - Sevendust were (and kinda still are) on my bucketlist, but I was happy seeing them put on an utterly dominating six-song set at Soundwave earlier this year.

And there are other examples too - not from New Zealand but from around the world.  Pearl Jam supported U2, I think.  Muse also supported U2.  Both of those bands are considerably better than U2.

I should also give an honourable mention to the Heavy Metal Ninjas who supported Shihad last year.  No way should they have been headliners, but it was one of the rare instances where, whilst listening to a support band, I've actually thought 'these guys are pretty fucking cool', and not 'for fuck's sake when are they going to finish'.

This is probably where this list ends for me, though.  The reality is that 95% of support bands I've seen sucked.  I'm not gonna lie about that.  The list of local bands that are actually decent enough to support a big international act is pretty short: Shihad, Supergroove, Head Like A Hole, Beastwars.  I'd actually love for more bands to do what the Foo Fighters are doing and bring a decent supporting band with them - in this case Tenacious D.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The return of Head Like A Hole

Head Like A Hole's reunion in 2008 came as a bit of a surprise.  Here was a band that had split almost a decade ago, for the usual rock and roll reasons, and had probably all moved on and got jobs or benefits or whatever it took to pay the bills.  I was away at the time and pretty disappointed to miss the reunion show at the Powerstation - particularly given that their contemporaries Supergroove had reformed about a year earlier and put on an absolute belter of a reunion show at the Kings Arms.

There was always a lot to like about HLAH.  For a brief history, check out "The Head Like A Hole Story in about 200 words by Nigel Regan".  They rocked hard.  They had a charismatic front man in Nigel 'Booga' Beazley.  They had their own quite distinct, unique sound, and wrote songs with quirky titles like Fish Across Face and Spanish Goat Dancer.  They also did a riotously good Bruce Springsteen cover.

Anyway their reunion was both a blessing and a reminder that New Zealand has really produced shit-all in the way of decent bands since that brief spurt in the 90's that gave us Shihad, HLAH and Supergroove.  OK, well admittedly Beastwars are pretty cool too, but that's about it.

But now, on the back of that reunion, HLAH have recorded a new album, Blood Will Out, their first since HLAH IV: Are You Gonna Kiss It Or Shoot It?  It could have sucked, as many reunion albums do.  Thankfully it does not.  In fact, it is rather good.

Blood Will Out is a swaggering slice of hard rock.  There is plenty of the trademark sweaty, greasy HLAH groove, but at the same time the songs somehow feel consistently a bit tighter, in a way the band only occasionally hinted at in the past (on the likes of Comfortably Shagged and A Crying Shame).  It is possibly the only HLAH record thus far where it is consistently the music and the songs that shine, without the aid of any supporting gimmickry (this has previously included chainsaws, excerpts from porn movies, and a cover of a song from Grease).

And some of those songs really do shine.  The album opens strongly with a barrage that includes singles Swagger of Thieves and Glory Glory, both of which showcase Booga's trademark growl - if anything he sounds better with age. 

But it is the middle where things really step up, courtesy of two particularly mighty tracks: Valhalla (10,000 BC) and Death of a Friend.  The former - surely a contender to pop up on season 2 of The Almighty Johnsons - is a rollicking, up-tempo barn-burner of a track which grooves along from guitar solo to guitar solo whilst never sounding lost or losing any of its considerable impact.  The latter is a sludgy, Sabbath-y doom extravaganza that would make Tony Iommi proud.  It is entirely possible that these are the two best songs that HLAH has ever written, so it is probably fitting that they are the centrepiece of the album.

Rounding out the record is the Monsta trilogy - the lurching stomp of Monsta X, the catchy almost-pop of Hardest Battle (Monsta Y) and the synthetic grind of Blood Will Out (Monsta Z).  It all ends almost too soon with (unexpectedly) an acoustic closer, In Articulo Mortis

Blood Will Out is an easy album to get into, and a hard one to put down.  It's refreshing to see a band with the benefit of extra years and wisdom put that to use crafting some damn good songs and not just rehashing past glories.  This is the best kind of comeback album - one that will appeal to HLAH's old fans whilst hopefully also winning some new ones.  And more power to them.