Monday, September 25, 2006

Queensrÿche - Operation: Mindcrime

Queensrÿche - Operation: Mindcrime
I hate prog-metal.

My god, there... there is nothing in the world of metal I can think of right now in terms of a music genre I hate more than progressive metal. A bunch of musical snobs going on and on these long intriguet patterns and amazing technical skills, most of them proving they could hold a candle to Vyngviem Malmstein. The reality is, the genre can bore people to tears and the only thing "progressive" about the genre to me is that they can find people who find it interesting, let alone entertaining.

That is the reason why Queensrÿche's "Operation: Mindcrime" is one of the single greatest albums in the history of not just metal, but music as a whole; It may be progressive metal, but it is a damn good album!

When I bought the album last year after hearing rave reviews for it, I was more than skeptical because of everything I just said. That, and albums rarely ever live to the hype I constantly hear being given to them. To me and others my age, we never had to sit through countless days of hearing or seeing the video for a song like "Eyes of a Stranger" a million times, so the band and album can be seen through my eyes as fresh as it was when it first arrived. Concept albums can either rise to the occasion or simply fall flat, the later of which happens a good 99% of the time. This is the exception that proves the rule; an amazingly recorded and executed orchestrated 59 minutes of pure genius!

Opening with the introduction of Nikki, the album's protagonist, waking up in a hospital bed in "I Remember Now", which leads to the "Anarchy-X" where cries of a revolution are heard, leading to "Revolution Calling", creating on of the greatest openings for an album ever, and setting the scene for the rest of the album. Simply put, if you hate these songs, turn off the album and call yourself lame.

The album may have taken place in the Regan-era America, but the album still holds true today,if not even more so. It is simply incredible and mind-boggling to hear Geoff Tate scream "I used to trust the media to tell me the truth, tell us the truth / But now I've seen the payoffs everywhere I look / Who do you trust when everyone's a crook?" in "Revolution Calling".

As the album creeps into "Operation: Mindcrime", you are now slowly learning just what happens to Nikki; he is being brainwashed to commit murder on the enemies of Dr. X.

Taken from Wiki:

The album begins with the protagonist, Nikki, lying in a hospital bed, having a flashback about his past. He remembers how, as a heroin addict, he was mesmerized to join a secret network of rebels who work for a person named Doctor X. As he joins the coup, he becomes hypnotized into a state where when Dr. X says the word "mindcrime", Nikki becomes a puppet on a string (akin to The Manchurian Candidate) to commit any murder Dr. X assigns to him. Dr. X offers a return to Nikki: Through one of his friends, a priest called Father William, he offers Nikki the services of a hooker-turned-nun called Sister Mary. (Details are vague whether these services are sexual or simply emotional.) However, through Sister Mary, Nikki begins to turn back to an emotional human being. Dr. X notices this and, seeing a potential threat in Mary, he orders him to kill her and the priest. Nikki visits Mary, he kills the priest, but fails to comply with the order to murder Mary. He decides to quit the operation and goes back to Dr. X to tell him. X, however, reminds Nikki that he's a drug addict and X is the only one who can provide his daily fix. Nikki returns to Mary, only to find her dead. He can't cope with the loss and succumbs to insanity.

The police, arriving on the scene, find him with the body and arrest him. Since he's in a near-catatonic state, he's put into a hospital, where he starts to remember…

Honestly, there is no better way to explain it since it does it perfectly.

The albums is a non-stop tour through that story, with highlight tracks including "Speak", "The Needle Lies", "Suite Sister Mary", and of course, "I Don't Believe in Love" and "Eyes of a Stranger", the albums two catchiest tracks. If you don't find yourself humming one of those two out of nowhere after hearing this album, you can't be human.

4.9 out of 5!


Operation: Mindcrime (2 CDs + 1 DVD) [DELUXE EDITION]:

Earlier this year, EMI released a Box Set of the album, which included a live disc of the album, recorded in 1990 during the tour for the album. They played it in full live, and it is pratically flawless! It is almost just like hearing the album, only with the added benefit of hearing the crowd get involved, as well as the many flourishes of a live show, like the occasional speeding up of the tempo. Hearing Pamela Moore belt out the parts of Mary live dares to rival hearing it on the album itself!

4.8 out of 5!

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Iron Maiden - A Matter of Life and Death

Iron Maiden - A Matter of Life and Death

Bruce Dickinson's voice is shot to hell.

That was the first thing I thought the second I heard "The Reincarnation of Benjamin Breeg" on the radio. The Infamous "Air Raid Siren" had gone down to kids whistle, but honestly, can you blame him? Ol' Bruce-Bruce is pushing into his 50's and he is, without question, one of the greatest forces in heavy metal. The man is a god-damn workhorse and sings the same songs night after night after night for over 15 years, the last 5 being the big return. But, in an odd way, the voice may be shot, but it is far from dead!

The guys in Iron Maiden have said over and over again how happy they are they didn't go out and get it "polished", leaving a more "raw" sound. That had me incredibly excited, but the result is a deeply-flawed mix. You can hear the guitar feedback at times during songs, and at times, it seems that Dickinson's vocals were recorded without him even hearing the song, most evident on "Brighter Than a Thousand Suns". I constantly felt as if an old audio clip from the 50's, namely a famous sound bite that said those exact words, would pop-up.

But that's not to say this isn't a good album. I always say that it's hard to critiquie new albums by old bands because there are two reviews and points of view that effect it; The album in and of itself, and the album in terms of the overall discography of a band. There is always a need, I think, on the reviewer of the album to give a new album by an old act the respect either the band deserves or the album deserves. If someone were to say, for example, that the latest Vader album was horrible (I don't know, I haven't heard it), they would be deemed "un-tr00" by the metal elitests and it would be hard for anyone to respect him ever again.

That is why it's hard for me to be honest as I want to about this album. I may have made it seem to this point that this album is horrible, but it is, without question, an actually decent album. It's something very different from this band, and it shows, and I'm sure Steve Harris is going to kill me for this, but it shows the band aging and growing more mature. It may not be as heavy as Dance of Death, but the overall feel is simply that of a band getting ready to hit it's twilight years and actually enjoying it by putting out decent albums.

Iron Maiden has had 3 guitarists since 2000, but this is the first time that they have used them all to create interesting dynamics. I noticed that immediatly on "Different World", the album opener. Behind the vocals of 'ol Bruce-Bruce, you can hear an angelic 3-guitar harmony, and a guitar tone that has become the bands signature for the new millenium. The song is brief at only a little over 4 minutes, and is one of the most dynamic songs on the album. In all honesty, this should have been the radio single, not "The Reincarnation of Benjamin Breeg". On "These Colours Don't Run", the guitars are used to a very good effect, reminding me of a mix of Dance of Death meets Seventh Son. Incredibly patriotic and a song of having pride, not only in your country, but also the causes you may live and die for. Nicko's drumming is still top-notch, folks!

For all that I said about it, "Brighter than a Thousand Suns" is actually quite incredible! This one may become a permanet piece in the live shows, if we're lucky to see them for a godo 2-hours every night. It is the stand-out track of the album. If any of these songs live on as a must-have, I would have to say this is it. I don't like the vocal mix at times, but it is something that grows on you. It is incredibly well orchastrated, and it has more of a feeling of classical music than metal. A ton of work, thought, and effort went into it and you can tell. This song examples everything great about the band in it's new form; the use of all three guitarists to create incredible dynamics, Nicko's drums working to complement them, Steve's bass working in harmony with the rest... and Bruce doing his damnest. I'm sorry, but Bruce's vocals are just plain shot and it's painful at times to try and find good in it.

If I was to tell Bruce anything, it would be to use the voice he has now to create a new sound for himself instead of trying to act as if he still was 25. It's deeper now and that could create an even more dynamic sound if utialized right. "The Pilgrim" does just that and it works great for it! Short and sweet, this and "Out of the Shadows" demonstrates that the band isn't too old to create hard-rockers from here to there. The dynamic tracks work to great effect with "The Longest Day" building to a decent track with an incredible chorus. It simply works because this is exactly what Bruce should have done on "Brighter than a Thousand Suns", and that is work with the voice he has. It just fits perfectly in here!

"For the Greater Good of God" does seem like "Dance of Death II", but not even an ounce as boring. Where Dance would simply wallow, this sond gallops and demands to know "Well tell me now what war is/ Again tell me what life is"! How all of the harships of war are for "The Greater Good of God". It's equal to "Brighter Than a Thousand Suns" for being THE song to keep, mainly because the vocals are greater and the harmony is brilliant. Again, orchastration wins out and the song shines for it. Oh, and those little bits where the guitars and drums hit at the exact same moment... simply brilliant!

"The Reincarnation of Benjamin Breeg" and "Lord of Light" have things working for them, but they simply fall flat in the whole of the song and the album, resulting in a feelig of more filler tracks or attempts at trying to go back to their older songs. It's a shame, really.

But it is the album's closer that creates the feeling I said before, that of a band getting ready for old age and growing more mature. I can't help but see Bruce getting ready to sit into a rocking chair to sing a song for me. The guitars swell nicely, the band working in a very nice harmony. I think this song could be a pre-courser for the next album, a glimpse in the direction the band is getting ready to go to. The guitars and drums work in synch at times, and the guitars galloping with the drums are a very nice touch, with a very nice guitar solo in the middle. The ending of the song is very peaceful and, although it's over 9 minutes long, you'd swear it was much shorter.

I see a more dynamic Iron Maiden forming, one mixing all that they have learned in the last 25+ years into a force to be reckoned with, the likes of which we have not seen in nearly 15 years. This album is something that you will appreciate on the 2nd listen, and one you'll love with some time. This album is like wine and a good cheese; it taste's better with some aging, which is true of Iron Maiden.

This is a 4.2 out of 5 disc, and one that should be in your collection.


Sunday, September 17, 2006

Static-X - Wisconsin Death Trip

Static-X - Wisconsin Death Trip

Back in 2000, I was in Wal-Mart for the first time in my life. I was standing around while my parents were checking out and saw two CD's by a band called Static-X, Machine and Wisconsin Death Trip. The albums covers looked cool, the CD's were on sale, and I considered buying them but held out. Last year I decided to finally check them out, and god-damn it, I'm glad I did!

The band has often been declared "nu-metal", and thus the label, "lame", has been synonymous with it. That's only due to the fact they came out in 1998 during the time when it was the only label new metal bands could get, and it doesn't do them justice. The sound is more akin to what Ministry was being declared to be and only achieved on the last two albums; Industrial Metal with some insanely heavy and catchy riffs.

The album kicks-off with, hands down, the single smartest metal lyric of the late-90's; "I See It/ I NEED IT". The lyric, in those 6 words, are the sheer embodiment of the current generation; The see it, want it mentality that we have, the same idea of rampant, almost mindless consumerism that embody most of us. We live in an age instant gratification, and as soon as we see an item, it's no longer a want, it's a need. And we must fill that need. For that, "Push It" stands as one of the greatest metal songs ever.

The songs about love and relationships makeup some of the most dynamic tracks on the album, as well as some of the most unique songs that can actually are entertaining. Most notably, "I'm With Stupid" is among the single zaniest tracks I've ever heard, the sample of the news report of the woman saying "I grabbed my shovel, and I beat him in the skull and took him down. Then I grabbed a rope and I hogtied him." adds a dynamic that is simply amazing. "Love Dump" has a very high-pitched guitar riff going through it, and it's used to perfection.

The album closes "December", a track written by Wayne Static's and Ken Jay's former band Deep Blue Dream. It would, in a sense, almost seem out of place, but it actually sits perfectly with the rest of the disc, creating a nice melodic, relaxing end to an incredibly intense album.

If there was ever an album from the mainstream late-90's metal movement for me to recommend, this would be it. If you either never heard it, or haven't heard it in a long time, it's perfect to rediscover!

4.7 out of 5, this album is great!


Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Van Halen - Van Halen

Van Halen - Van Halen

I think this album is summed up in the first line of "I'm The One"; "We Came Here to Entertain You".

Did you ever buy an album you wound up listening to a bunch of times after you bought it? I haven't gotten the chance to do that lately, but this disc has been one that I've been listening to quite a bunch. Not too much because, no matter what album it is, listening to the same album 20 times in a week can kill the impact. And if you don't listen to an album you love enough, after a while, it falls into that category of discs you grow to dislike and ask yourself why you ever liked it. This album, despite being one of the oldest I have ever bought (1978; My oldest is a Johnny Cash album) sounds insanely fresh!

Let me state this now; Albums have a cycle. There is the inital hype and stigma that comes to it when it is released. It will either be glowingly positive or it will be insanely negative. People will either hail it as an instant classic, utter shit, or just another album by an artist. After about 5 years, it's fair to say that the inital hype is dead and all that remains are stigmas and affections, be they good or bad. After 10 years, the final analias is done, and the label stays. Permanetly. It doesn't matter if the album really was pure shit; the label will remain. An album can be looked upon in a more academic sense and be offically declared mediocre, crap, or brilliant, showing signs that it could do no wrong, hail upon as a bands best, or even as a landmark album. After 20 years, the album is aged to a point where it may come back in vouge or fade away.
But what about nearly 30 years? What happens to an album then?

This is a question the more elderly metal heads (sorry to make you feel old) who were around when Sabbath made their first album and went to their first U.S. tour are starting to ask more and more. After 30 years, and album will finally prove it's worth. Most people are astounded that albums after 20 years still sound fresh, so after 30, I think it's fair to say it's a complete and utter masterpiece.

Van Halen's Selt-Titled debut is such a record.

For those who have either never heard their album, be it age, be it finacial restraints, or sheer uninterest, do me the following favor; Do whatever you have to to listen to this album, because it is INCREDIBLE! The opening base riff on "Runnin' With the Devil" is the perfect introduction to the album; Your about to hear an album that will rock and roll you, but with the infamous metal sound to work with it. Eddie Van Halen playes like a man possessed on this album! I, personally, could live without "Erruption" (Yes, yes, it's a legendary guitar solo, but it just sounds "meh" to me), but the album just has a guitar scream!

The classic radio staples are up next with "You Really Got Me" and "Ain't Talkin' 'Bout Love". When I write reviews for classic albums, it feels like telling people about the values of water for their body; it seems like common knowledge. But the fact is, there are people who take these discs for granted and people, like myself, who are skeptical of why an album is good ofter get no reason other than it is. "You Really Got Me" has an incredible distorted guitar riff that hooks you into the song; it's like a 1950's-riff with metal discipline. That, added with Davin Lee Roth's vocals, simply make it irresistable. I almost feel old for saying this, but I still remember that damn car commerical with the Barbie Doll and the G.I. Joe. Hell, that was the first time I heard Van Halen, really.

"Ain't Talkin' 'Bout Love" opens with what I simply refer to as "The Classic Van Halen Sound"; distorted guitars added with a light Phaser effect, giving a futuristic sound to the opening riff, with touches throughout the entire song. It has to be among the catchiest songs they ever wrote, and it is just heavy enough to make sure it isn't sappy, but light enough that it can act as a sort of love-song. But then again, we ain't talkin' 'bout love now, are we?

Underated tracks? They are, without question, "I'm the One", "Atomic Punk", "Ice Cream Man", and "On Fire", two of which were covered by underated and unknown artists I'll mention later. There is just a heaviness to them as well as a classic sense of all their influences. "I'm the One" could be considered a pre-courser to speed metal. Seriously, listen to it and tell me it couldn't influence the Bay Area Thrash movement that spawned Metallica and Megadeth. Same for "On Fire", if not even more so. "Ice Cream Man" is a perfect song for Davin Lee Roth, originally written by John Brim.

I also want to point out two songs on this album that I heard as covers first; "I'm the One" was covered by 4 Non-Blondes on the Airheads soundtrack, and I think they did a damn godo job. It's an all-female group, but really, you couldn't tell. Then you have "On Fire", which was covered by L.A. punk group Wasted Youth on their album 'Black Daze'. Again, good job on their part, but hearing Van Halen do the original is just insane!

I could go on and on and on about this album and how brilliant it is, how it's acutally worthy of the praise unlike some other "classic" albums that may have influenced others but are still shit. But I'll end it on this note; It's incredibly rare to here an album that still sounds fresh after nearly 30 years, and that's exactly what you have here.

4.98 out of 5. Folks, this is the measuring stick.


Saturday, September 02, 2006

Metallica - St. Anger

Metallica - St. Anger

Dear Metallica:

I remember how excited I was when this album was about to come out in June of 2003, and how excited I was when it was released early and I was able to buy a copy 3 days before it's release and immediately put it on. This album has always had a special place in my heart for the time it came out and various times since. When it came out, I was angry and fruious because art school wasn't working out the way I thought it should, I was stuck in a job I hated, and I wasn't happy with my life overall. I had started working out and the album was my workout tape.

In 2004, my mom went into the hospital for a brain anyersum, and I now had to face and deal with emotions and feelings I never had before. This album became theraputic for me at times, namely the last song on the album, "All Within My Hands". There is no greater, for better or worst, feeling than to know that someone's life is within your hands. That in a mere instant you can choose if they live or die. It's the type of power that you don't give a 19-year-old, at least not by choice, especially if they have little or no support from their immediate family. I remember one time coming home from school and the song came on shortly before my stop. The feeling I had, I can only describe it as one of intense pain and sorrow over what I had to choose. That my mom's life was within my hands. That, with nothing more than a phone call, I could call the hospital so she could gently pass on.

When she did, and not without me, it was a painful feeling.

For untold months since then, the song has had a double-meaning for me. There are times I get incredibly angry, but at it's worst, it's when I try or begin to take it out on my very good friend. This same friend came to me and shared more with me than anyone else, especially at the time, a year later, after my mom had passed. Today, I yelled at her. I told her to get out, to go away. I wasn't angry at her; I was angry at myself. All this anger and rage went through me after I appologized because I was so angry with myself. And then... then I looked at my hands. Whenever I get angry at someone I love, the words "All Within My Hands" or "Somekind of Monster" will echo through me. Whenever they do, I think.

There I stood, in the kitchen, only a few feet away from her. I looked at my hands, at how they were covered and calicuses, of how the skin was peeling off, and how beat-up they were. I looked at them, and thought about what I felt. What happened next was all within my hands, and I knew it. I walked over to my CD collection and took out St. Anger. I appologized and told her that I needed to hear a song really quick.

As the opening notes of "All Within My Hands" began to play, she had walked away and came back as soon as the first lines came on. She sat back in her chair, and just watched me sit in a chair in the next room with my head in my hands. I walked over to her, and started to tell her what the song meant to me... about what it had to do with mom... about how it feels that I could do something stupid when I get angry... about how all of it is within my hands.

And then I fell to the floor and started sobbing uncontrolably. I couldn't hold it back anymore. For the first time, the very first time in a year, I was actually crying about mom. It was the "Unnamed Feeling" that I had constantly tried to repress. It took me away from myself and made me reflect. She understood and gave me a hug.

James, Lars, Kirk, and Rob, thank you for releasing this album. I love "Dirty Window" because it reminds me of me, and how I simply dismiss all the people who look at me weird and how foolish it is. I love "Frantic" because, well, it kicks-ass! Today, I heard "St. Anger" and actually felt a way to express my anger in a healthy way and to keep it under control. And I heard how I became "Some Kind of Monster" because of myself.

I won't lie and say it's one of my favorite albums from you, but I sincerly want to say it's the most lyrically honest album I heard since anything by Devin Townsend. Trust me, when I say that, I'm saying the world of you guys.

Again, thank you for everything and may the new album rock!
-Larry West

For all you readers out there, I give this album this note: This album is therapy for both Metallica and you, the listener. If you are in a place similar to myself or the band, then the album, for that moment, will be the best thing in the world. IF you at listening to it and find that it is inferior to their other albums, I will agree with you musically. But lyrically, it's the single best thing they have ever done because they did something no artist in their position do; They're honest about how they feel.

Buy The Album