Monday, December 24, 2007

Ozzy Ozbourne - Black Rain

When I was thinking about the worst albums of 2007 and the biggest let downs, one album never came to mind, and it was Ozzy's album Black Rain.

That's because it was that damn forgettable.

About 10 years ago, to point out the flaws in Ozzy's musical reach was considered blasphemy in metal. That, despite the fact that we all knew a few facts; First, Ozzy rarely writes his own songs, reducing him to the level of most pop stars. Second, the material written either for him or by him tends to be radio-friendly hard rock than good 'ol fashioned metal. Third, Ozzy has a damn good voice and live show, and that's it.

That's not to say Ozzy sucks and doesn't deserve any credit; quite the contrary, he is an incredible singer who, much like Elton John, is more of a great performer than artist. That isn't to detract from Ozzy, just put him in a better context.

So, now that you can at least see what I mean, let's get to the review then, shall we?

After 5 years, we're left with the latest Ozzy record, Black Rain. Released before Ozzfest tickets went on sale, the album included a free code so you could get your tickets earlier than everyone else and score some better seats. Thus, this album sold incredibly well despite it's lack of being... well, good. Ozzy has been reduced to a mere shell of himself, and even the political and religious points he brings out are only sub-par.

Honest to god, this album just plain sucks. Yet, for some odd reason, I can't sell it. What can I say, I must have a soft spot for bad Ozzy albums.

2 out of 10. Ozzy, get with Lemmy again and write something brilliant.

Friday, December 21, 2007

HELLYEAH? More like HellNo!

You know, this is going to be the shortest review I've ever written.

Hands down, most disappointing metal album of 2007.

If you were wondering what the hell Vinnie Paul has been up to since Damageplan, he did Rebel Meets Rebel, a country-metal album with David Allan Cole which is... OK. But since they could never tour since the Dimebag played guitars on there, that was a one-time project anyway. So instead of resurrecting Damageplan, we are given HELLYEAH, a hard-drinking, down-and-dirty, southern-fried hard rock record.

The result is anything but a HELLYEAH.

It's almost blasphemous to say anything bad about Vinnie or his new bands, but screw it, this album was a stinker! Honest to god, how can a talented group of musicians release something like this? The songs are half-baked, resorting to tried-and-true techniques more commonly used by poser hard rock bands than someone with the background of Vinnie Paul.

Don't expect a challenging and though-provoking listen, and don't expect to get an album to just simply party to. The result is a non-noteworthy sound and a mix of mediocrity and the insane amount of talent these guys have.

On the flip-side, though, I can see where they're coming from. It's great to sit back sometimes and just release an album where you actually had some fun. Look at S.O.D.'s "Speak English or Die", for example. Three days in a studio and we got one of the greatest albums of all time! Or Devin Townsend's Punky Bruster project, which was written and recorded in a week, resulting in one of my favorite albums of all time and the most under-rated punk/metal album ever.

So as badly as I am trashing this album, I'm giving it a bit of a break as well. In essence, it's like Pavarotti releasing an album of hair metal covers; it's an incredibly talented artist having some fun.

When all is said and done, this is a 5 out of 10, with one massive *!

*If you guys make another album, PLEASE make it more interesting!

Monday, December 17, 2007

Shadows Fall - Threads of Life

2007 has been nothing short of a banner year for metal! With new releases from Megadeth, Overkill, Behemoth, Municipal Waste, Machine Head, and countless others, we've seen a year not matched since 1986 in it's sheer intensity, ferocity, and excellent metal albums!

So when all is said and done, and we look at what Shadows Fall has not only done this year, but in their 10+ years as a band, it is safe to say that they while they got the memo, they weren't able to fully deliver.

It is with a heavy heart that I must say "Threads of Life" was one of the disappointments of 2007, but that doesn't mean it wasn't a good record!

Threads of Life marks the major-label debut of Massachusetts metal outfit Shadows Fall. After breaking through with The Art of Balance and a 2003 Ozzfest appearance that thrust them to the front of the blossoming Metalcore movement, they followed with The War Within and Fallout From the War. Like any respectable metal band, they wanted to assure everyone that they would not compromise their style with the new bucks and support that came with their new deal.

The result is a 20-Ton Hammer that simply will not relent and rests only once to let you breath. While normally this is a welcomed thing, we are left in a sea of little or no change in style, tempo, or riffs. While many will simply lampoon Slayer for writing the same song over and over again, it is Shadows Fall who have actually come very close to it.

The album opens with the track "Redemption", a hard-hitting track that riffs away with no remorse! By the time you get to "Venomous", its hard to say just how long you have been listening to this disc, save the incredible track "Stormwinds". In fact, Shadows Fall even includes a ballad with "Another Hero Lost". Oh say it isn't so? It is, but it is done quite well!

In the end, you have a disc that you can tell was forged in raw steel, and the cooling period to set this metal to use did leave a few too many dents and dings, not leaving it pure enough. Nevertheless, this is a solid disc and a solid effort. I have said similar things about "Demigod" by Behemoth and "Among the Living" by Anthrax, and despite my opinion, I was either proven wrong or right on just how much is too much.

I give this disc a 7.5 out of 10!

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Overkill - Immortalis

IMMORTALIS. The name is literately Latin for Immortal. It is safe to say that in the history of metal, few bands can claim that title as well as the Wrecking Crew themselves, Overkill, can!

It's rare to find an album review of Overkill that DOESN'T mention their past, and I think its due to both their legendary status and the pride one gets of telling their story that does it, mixed with the fact that too many "metal heads" out there ready to wear their Avenged Sevenfold shirts don't realize just where the hell that Bat REALLY came from!

Overkill can technically be called the worlds first Thrash Metal band, largely because of the fact that not only were they formed from a punk band in 1980, but wrote "Grave Robbers" (later called "Raise the Dead") before even Lars met James and Dave in LA. Since then, these New Jersey rats have pounded out album after album, with so far a grand total of 15 studio albums, 2 live albums, 2 EP's, a few greatest hits, and an album of covers.

OK, now that you've been Old Schooled, it's time to learn the Skull and Bones of this release!

To say this album is "business as usual" is a slap in the face to the band! After riding high in what I can only call a comeback, we see Overkill using the rise to fame from Gigantour and touring Europe to release an album that is pouring over with some incredible riffs! The album opens with the pounding track "Devils in the Mist", presenting full-force the writing ability that will dominate the rest of the album.

"Skull and Bones", my pick for the track of the album, features a duet from hell with none other than Randy Blyth of Lamb of God! The pairing of the two is simply amazing as the two trades verses and create one hell of a track!

"Walk Through Fire" borrows a riff or two from AC/DC's "Overdose" to great avail and the song simply delights and amazes, offering some groove metal moments. Tracks like "Hell Is" and "Shadow of a Doubt" offer some awesome moments as well.

All in all, it's a great, solid disc. It's one of the better albums they've done in the last 10 years, without question, and is part of the overall trend of increasing quality of metal albums recently.

8 out of 10!

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Megadeth - United Abominations

In terms of overdue reviews, this takes the cake only because this album came out while I was keeping this blog and I've pretty much have held off since it first was released because I wanted to sit down one day and really write it. Now that the year is almost over and I want to start compiling my Best of 2007 list, it's time.

This album finally graced store shelves, as well as my CD collection, on May 15, 2007. Dave Mustaine and Company (The Drover Brothers and new and former Black Label Society bassist James Lomenzo) have formed what is, without a doubt, the single most solid and best line-up since the Rust In Peace era of Ellefson, Menza, and Friedman!

Left with the task of not only providing a great follow-up to 2004's The System has Failed, an album that, overall, was met with mixed reviews (even from me), but also to ensure that the title of Thrash Metal legends was held firmly in their grasps, the result is nothing short of incredible; The single greatest Megadeth album since Rust in Peace!

Many will find a statement like that blasphemous, but in reality, this album is the best Megadeth disc since 1990.

The album starts off with "Sleepwalker", a thrash-metal riff attack that sees Dave and Glen Drover trading guitar leads and squeezing every single insane riff they can create melting into one of the fastest and heaviest songs of 2007! Singing about what he would love to do to certain reporters in his sleep, "Sleepwalker" sets the stage for the album.

"Blessed are the Dead" focuses on the four horsemen of the apocalypse, giving way to a song that rises, builds, and releases a great solid song! The album closer, "Burnt Ice", discusses an addiction to crack and the horrors of the drug. There are some ghosts of the past; "Never Walk Alone... A Call to Arms" opens with the same riff from "Vortex" and we there is an incredible re-recording of "A Tout Le Monde (Set Me Free)" with Cristina from Lacuna Coil! It is great to not only hear and have this version, but to also have Dave reclaim it after the tragic murder done in it's name.

Dave's political views, as well as his new religious outlook, dominate a large majority of this album.

"Washington is Next!" stands as one of the best songs written by Dave Mustaine in his career, taking a cue from jazz, the song rarely stops as the song flows, using the immortal lyrics "The quiet war has begun with silent weapons / And the new slavery is to keep the people / Poor and stupid, 'Novus Ordo Seclorus" and "How can there be any logic in biological war?" The song is a burning indictment at the current state of America and contemporary society, and tears away at everything from the war on the poor to the modern political landscape of today.

At the same time, I feel now I need to discuss my own political views and the reason this could, very easily, become an essay more than a review.

Dave Mustaine has shown more of a Republican leaning with this album. But, at the same time, his overall sense of political outrage is more potent than ever and the result is nothing short of amazing. It is safe to say that when most people here the words "President Bush" or "War in Iraq", we immediately feel repulsed, and simply wait to hear what failings and fault we are to hear next. Rarely is a positive opinion of either something we want to hear, or believe.

In "Washington is Next!", Dave mentions the "culture war". " Promote sex, and war, and violence in the kindergartens / Blame the parents and teachers; it’s their fault, 'Annuit Coeptis' / Attack the church dynamic, attack the family". When we get to the lyrics, "I am a King who had a dream with no idea / What it could mean and nobody could interpret", it's difficult to determine just what Dave is referring to. The song itself is about a nuclear war and a new world order simply taking over, but at the same time, it draws basis in real life to the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the effect the U.S. Government has had on this fragile democracy of ours.

Dave Mustaine has said that this song is based on the Bible as well as his own personal beliefs, stating that he feels that America is the 8th False Throne. He states that he feels that the world is in it's final days and that Armageddon is coming close, and in Revelations 17:10, There are also seven kings. Five have fallen, one is, and the other has not yet come. And when he comes, he must continue a short time. A Biblical Scholar posting on a message board wrote this:

It speaks here of seven kings. In the beginning of the Revelation, Jesus is speaking to the seven churches but as His revelation unfolds, He makes us that have ears to hear, understand that the churches are following the foreshadowing of Israel and going after other gods just as they did. The King of the church was Jesus and now they have set up and appointed their own “kings”, there are different christ's and gospel's than the one Truth given by Christ and His Apostles, it is a “king” and a “christ” that they follow after in the lust of their flesh and the imagination of their heart.

Just as God brought them out of Egypt to serve Him and they chose to serve another god by making an idol of gold and saying that it had brought them out of Egypt and out of bondage, today, they also set up a new king that they want to serve with the flesh in a way that pleases them and not in spirit and truth.

Read the full text here.

When we arrive at "United Abominations", a proverbial can of worms are opened in terms of this. Someone from the UN dissected it better than I ever could, but basically the song praised the war in Iraq and declares that the UN is, in essence, the One World government mentioned and warned about in the Book of Revelations. I don't agree with the snippy tone he used, but he did make a ton of good points. The song itself is nothing short of amazing, offering a mix of what "Washington is Next!" has to deliver, adding a dose of heavy riffing and a bit of mid-tempo that is followed up beautifully by "Gears of War", but more on that later.

"Amerikhastan", though, throws a wrench into any argument that Dave is now hell-bent on supporting Bush. The song starts with lyrics "Recruting the ill-fated for 'The War'", it serves as a background to either America as it is, or an America where the Terrorists have won. It also mentions the horror that Bush and Cheney has done to America, as the Statue of Liberty has been tattooed as "Property of the USA, A subsidiary of Halliburton". Musically, it is beautifully arranged and offers a wonderful piece of music.

When all is said and done, politics mean nothing for this album. The very fact that my own political leanings are so far against what he says, and that I can not only listen to this album, but love it, and listen to it nearly non-stop for 6 months is a testament to not only his craft as a musician, but to his ability to write simply incredible lyrics!

This album stands tall and is a triumph to the writing ability of this band! It is amazing to sit back and listen to this album and enjoy the incredible song writing skills that are on display here. The production is top notch, everything is perfectly cued, and it is tough to argue that this album is anything less than great!

9.8 out of 10!

Monday, December 10, 2007

Megadeth - Warchest

Dave Mustaine has been a very, very, VERY busy man since 2004! Not only has he released 2 new albums since then, but also a comprehensive DVD, a concert DVD, a live album, a greatest hits, founded Gigantour, hired me once (lol), and has been to parts of the world he and Megadeth have never been before!

With such a large body of work, the fact that a massive Box Set entitled Warchest has been released is short of amazing.

As a die-hard Megadeth fan, it is safe to say that I own a good 90% of everything Megadeth has released over it's career. At the same time, I know there is plenty I don't own, especially in terms of those pesky singles, and the very idea of having a box set is short of a godsend. The track listing pleased me due to the otherwise large amount of either rare or unreleased material.

All of the tracks from studio albums are the remixed and re-masted takes from the Capitol Records albums, and sound incredible! Dave has listened to the fans and the tracks represented are the best of the best!

Onto the greatness of the un-released material! I can only assume Mustaine used a bit of spit-and-polish on a few of the session takes, eliminating some of the dirt and scratches when he turned the volume up. Hearing the session take from the "So Far, So Good... So What?"-era Megadeth of "Anarchy/Problems" sent chills down my spine as I heard a spirited band take on the Sex Pistols two best songs. The Casey McMackin demo of "Holy Wars…The Punishment Due" sounded like an early incarnation of what "Washington is Next!" from United Abominations became, and the inclusion of "Go To Hell" from the Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey Soundtrack was a massive plus! Remastered audio was needed and it helped!

In terms of rare released tracks, finally having a copy of "Strange Ways" and "Duke Nukem" was worth the wait for an official copy.

In the end, the best part of this set is Disc 4, a 1991 show from London during the Rust in Peace tour. Hearing the band play live from that time... the only thing I can call that is heaven on CD! The "classic" Megadeth line-up shredding and ripping away at the very fabric that is speed metal, throwing in a cover of "Its Electric" by Diamond Head, proving that Dave did a better version than Metallica... AWESOME! Having decent live versions of "Take No Prisoners", "Lucretia", and "Rattlehead" are something that you really can't compare! The sound in impeccable and it has an air to it that would make you swear it was recorded just last night!

If you have heard tales of a band called Megadeth, of a skull with metal plates on his eyes on metal caps on his ears, a man with hooks through his mouth and a suit and a silk tie, then this is where the legend begins and lives! For those who have not only known of these feet's, but those of a large white rabbit, of wolves turning into women and others who cross the seas, for those who have also met the man behind mask. For the worshipers of the highest metal truth in the land.

My friends, you have arrived.

9.5 out of 10.