What’s Hot In My House – May

This month I have been largely listening to metal, because there are times when one simply must thrash. Ok, so I’m also researching a top ten thrash albums piece and have just finished reading part 2 of the superb Metallica biography, ‘Into The Black’ by Paul Brannigan and Ian Winwood, but whatever, I’ve been doing some serious memory lane metalwise, reliving the halcyon days of my hard rocking youth, besides checking out some new shit. Here’s what else I’ve been binging and purging on during the month of May.

I have been hammering the quality new album from Bay Area thrashers Death Angel. It’s a furiously fast blend of old school rifferama with plenty of modern twists to the arrangements to keep it sounding fresh. ‘Lost’ is one of the most sublime metal tracks I’ve heard in years, while ‘Hatred United, United Hate’ is eyebrow scorching stuff; check them out below…

I’m in the middle of writing a monumental piece on Iron Maiden for http://www.alreadyheard.com, so my Deezer is wall to wall with the metal giants right now. Despite my surprise at how good some of their later releases are, I keep going back to ‘The Number of the Beast’, which totally deserves its exalted place in rock history. There are so many great songs on this album; ’22 Acacia Avenue a personal favourite. “Let him who hath understanding reckon the number of the beast, for it is a human number….”

I don’t really have a good reason for this, just that I think it’s a great album, so end up playing it a fair bit; it’s also a bit easier on the ear after all that metal mayhem! Ok, it may not be “cool” to like Lenny Kravitz right now, but fuck it ‘Mama Said’ is a fine album on many levels, taking in rock, pop, jazz, funk and soul in Lenny’s own inimitable style. The big hitters aside, there are some seriously classy moments like the funky Stop Dragging Around’, the soulful blues of ‘When The Morning Turns to Night’ and the jazzy chill of ‘What Goes Around Comes Around’; great record.

Lonely The Brave – Things Will Matter Review

LonelyTheBraveI recently wrote an article on the “difficult” second album, highlighting a variety of bands that under pressure of time, money and success either failed to meet expectations or totally fucked it up. So, you’ve got to hand it to Lonely The Brave, not only have they taken their time, but they haven’t succumbed to the lure of the big time and staked all their chips on their commercial appeal. They have instead come up with another fine record, building on the template of debut album ‘This Day’s War’, only slightly darker and a little more substantial.

The atmospheric ‘Wait in the Car’ opens proceedings at a melancholic pace with a wonderfully understated vocal before segueing into the massive ‘Black Mire’, its goose bump inducing guitar lines crawling all over the power chords and rumbling bass line. Again it’s a fairly measured track but its powerfully intense and has classic written all over it.

This arena sized intensity that is something of a signature sound for LTB pervades throughout; the meandering guitar lines of ‘What If You Fall In’ soon giving way to big riffs in the intensely hooky chorus, while tracks like ‘Strange Like I’ and ‘Boxes’ find them delivering enormous guitars and soaring vocals in no nonsense fashion. ‘Rattlesnakes’, meantime, twists around a guitar motif before reaching its own searing climax.

Another thing that shines through is the superb musicianship adding so many different dimensions to this collection. ‘Diamond Days’, for example, rolls effortlessly along in melancholic reflection, while the restrained guitars shape a laid back vibe and vocalist David Jakes shows his versatility with a great vocal. The more urgent ‘Play Dead’ then builds hypnotically to a car crash finale, whereas the clattering percussion on ‘Tank Wave’ collides into its atmospheric chords, giving it an uncomfortable air, before gaining in power and emotion on the back of another stirring vocal.‘Dust and Bones’ comes across as quite ordinary by comparison, but it’s got a good hook and links nicely with the power rock riffing and frantic beats of ‘Radar’.

However it’s closing track ‘Jaws of Hell’ that really shows what this band can do, as well as how they might develop in future. The erratic rhythms and brooding atmosphere gather in power as the track cuts back and forth, layering texture upon texture until flurries of feedback close it out. A one minute silence is then followed by ponderous piano and a poignant vocal lamenting that “time goes quicker now” to provide an enigmatic closure.

In the end, what we have here is a selection of deeply textured tracks that play to the multiple strengths of this talented band. This is the future of British Rock right here.

9/10

lonelythebrave.com/

Six Second Albums That Actually Nailed It

Ah yes, the difficult second album – there’s so much that can go wrong and it so frequently does, more often than not ending up in the shadow of the classic debut and the all important third album. The list of second albums that fall somewhere between the disappointing and the disastrous is immense. Bristol triphoppers Massive Attack are prime example of a band that falls into the former category, 1993’s ‘Protection’, despite being a nice enough album with some quality tracks, is positively lukewarm in comparison to their monumental debut ‘Blue Lines’. Florence and the Machine‘s ‘Ceremonials’ is another culprit; Iron Maiden get beyond the artwork on ‘Killers’, but it’s hardly a tour de force; ‘Van Halen II’ is but a shadow of the first album and despite positive criticism The Strokes sophomore effort, ‘Room on Fire’, was never going to live up to ‘Is This It’. As for categorical failure of a follow-up, look no further than Stone Roses’ ‘The Second Coming’ – can it get any worse than this?
Yes – Kula Shaker, ‘Peasants, Pigs and Astronauts’ – nailed that band’s coffin closed.

Actually, there’s a whole bunch of other records that were never really what you’d bought into on the debut, the list is endless; Portishead, Finlay Quaye, Terence Trent Darby, Duffy, Elastica and so on and so forth, and as we can see, failing to deliver the goods is irrespective of genre, although it has become a far more common phenomena in the days demanding instant success. It seems that the second album basically runs into trouble because of pressure resulting from the first record. Bands get caught up in the touring and the success and are too busy “making it” to get the next record written. Then there’s the inevitable come down when they find themselves in the studio under pressures of time and money to deliver a new product, but this time, barring a few leftover tracks not quite good enough for album number one, they’re starting from scratch, having spent the last few years playing to death that first batch of songs they so lovingly created. Bands get so focused on establishing themselves with the first album that they don’t have time to really think about there being a next one, let alone what to put on it. They almost need to fuck up the second album a bit to take the pressure off and get the hunger back for album number three – if there is one!

However, despite the all too common let down of a band’s second record, there are also plenty of killers. Once upon a time, artists were given the chance to develop; their record labels actually helped them progress. Bands were often signed to seven album deals, so labels were in it for the long haul – they wanted to see their artists improve and sell progressively more records. Also, it wasn’t unusual to sign a band based on potential rather than one that already had its bangers primed and ready. Blur is a great example of a band that had potential, but had yet to find its songwriting chops on debut album ‘Leisure’, it’s their second album ‘Modern Life is Rubbish’ where things start coming together. Then there’s the thrash metal scene; in the beginning it was all a bit rough and ready, but by their second albums Metallica, Megadeth and the like were coming on in leaps and bounds. So, here’s a bunch of second albums that not only progressed but blew away their predecessors and quite rightly became classics.

The ultimate second album is surely Nirvana‘s ‘Nevermind’, possibly the most game changing record in history. It’s predecessor, ‘Bleach’, had hinted at the band’s potential, but was miles short of what would follow. Cobain had long harboured the desire to harness the aggressive energy of punk and marry it to more accessible melodies and the final pieces of the puzzle finally fell into place whilst writing the songs for Nevermind. Kurt borrowed the Pixies loud – quiet – loud template and suddenly not only his fury, but also his talent had a vehicle; the rest, as they say, is history.

Radiohead‘s debut album, ‘Pablo Honey’ is a fairly unremarkable affair, save for the ubiquitous ‘Creep’, which the band grew to hate; its follow up, The Bends, however, is one of the finest albums of alternative rock ever to see the light of day. The entire album is all killer, ‘High and Dry’, ‘Fake Plastic Trees, ‘Just’, ‘Street Spirit’, I mean, it’s quality track after quality track that propelled the band towards the big time. They may have taken a more arty direction after the fairly conventional songwriting on display, but without The Bends and the bold statement that is ‘OK Computer’, Thom Yorke and co never would’ve gained the leverage to follow their chosen path.

If you go back and listen to the first Lenny Kravitz album, ‘Let Love Rule, you’ll here a soulful young man blending a kinda laid back hippy-like innocence into some funky folky rock n roll toons, and it’s a highly enjoyable record. The world’s one time highest paid session musician was breaking in slowly though, as on his second effort, ‘Mama Said’, he came back pimped up, jazzed up and funked up and knocked it out of the park. Fields of Joy is a ‘Stairway’ for the 90s, ‘Always on the Run with Slash is a sublime rocker; there’s quality rock pop a plenty, funky reverb on ‘Stop Draggin’ Around’; soul fueled crooning on ‘All I Ever Wanted’ and the whole album is peppered with bass groove and jazzy licks. Where did it all go wrong?

Led Zeppelin II. It’s Led Zeppelin, only more so – every song a winner. Nuff said really.

Björk shook off the Sugacubes on ‘Debut’, but it was on ‘Post’ that it all came together. This urban soundtrack remains as one of her finest albums and is jam packed with hard edged indie pop in the Icelander’s own inimitable style; from the sinister opening to ‘Army of Me’ you just know it’s going to be a winner. There’s the manic Hyperballad, the irrepressible ‘It’s Oh So Quiet’, ‘Isobel’, ‘The Modern Things’, ‘Enjoy’ and so on and etc not a dull moment to be found.

I will readily admit to not being the biggest Foo Fighters fan in the world, but you gotta love Dave Grohl for just being such a nice bloke, and on his/their second album, ‘The Colour and The Shape’ he delivered the goods. Besides the killer singles ‘Monkey Wrench’, ‘My Hero’ and ‘Everlong’, which are without doubt some of the most iconic alternative rock songs of the nineties, the album is imbued with a cathartic quality that runs surprisingly deep. Ok, so there’s plenty of upbeat snippets where Dave and co sound like their having a great time, but it’s the raw emotion on the ballads that really picks the scab on Dave’s then recent divorce. Besides, the emotional moving on, this record really exorcised the whole Nirvana thing and paved the way for Foo Fighters to be respected in its own right – respect. Check out this live version of ‘Hey Johnny Park’, Dave looks so young and it’s got such raw emotion.

Sixx:A.M. – Prayers For The Damned Vol.1 Review

SixxAM_Cover_PrayersForTheDamned-960x960There aren’t too many surprises on the ‘Prayers for the Damned Vol. 1’, the new album from Sixx:A.M., but hey, if it ain’t broke, why try to fix it? Nikki Sixx and co have hit upon a formula for their killer brand of hard rock that works; there’s massive choruses, massive guitars, massive bass lines and massive harmonies that all make for a massive sound on this loosely biblical album of pop metal.

Pop metal? Yep. When your lead singer is a man who writes hits for the likes of Kelly Clarkson and has an ear for a melody Katy Perry would kill for, if you took out the totally badass guitaring of the superb DJ Ashba and Sixx’s penchant for a bit of twisted darkness, make no bones about it, you’d be left with radio friendly, commercially appealing, uber positive pop.

From the word go on the first single ‘Rise’ we get everything this power trio holds dear; a hard rock groove from the low slung guitar, a hook filled chorus that flies ever higher as it progresses, a killer solo and Nikki’s bass bubbling away in the background. Damn it, there’s even the a ‘capella line before the grand finale. It ticks all the formula songwriting boxes, but when your band is this tight and your production this slick, you can’t fail to deliver.

How do you follow that? With another swaggering riff straight from Sunset Strip of course! It’s a thin disguise though, You Have Come To The Right Place is about as perfect a piece of hard driving pop as you can get. I’m Sick starts out as more of a slow boiler, but soon picks up to continue in pretty much the same vein, but what the hell, I love a bit of radio friendly rock as much as the next man, like they say in the song: “I’m sick, gimme some more of it!. There’s a particularly awesome solo though, as the song gathers pace for the climax.

The middle section of the album takes on a more serious tone with a more measured pace, the Sixx:A.M. brand of self help delving into issues of making amends, finding hope out of the darkness and turning to God. Better Man possesses an undercurrent of melancholy to the atmospheric guitar lines and James Michael’s vocal is a little more understated, while ‘Prayers for the Damned’ and ‘When We Were Gods’ have a particularly epic feel to the uplift as they push the religious imagery, the latter mixing things up a little arrangement wise with an unexpected twist towards the end.

Sandwiched between is ‘Can’t Stop’ with its marching vibe, but there’s an air of filler to it, although it is sure to work better in the live arena. ‘Belly of the Beast’ pricked my ears up a little further though, it really showcases what Michael can do vocally when he leaves his comfort zone and it’s a cool switch up.

There’s more than a hint of Motley Crüe in the opening chords to ‘Everything Went To Hell’ but the comparison ends there and it turns into something of a vehicle showcasing Ashba’s playing. DJ has to be one of the most underrated guitarists in the game and his playing throughout this album is nothing short of stunning, the killer riffing and sublime soloing a constant, adding another dimension to otherwise ordinary tracks like ‘The Last Time (My Heart Will Hit The Ground).

Album closer ‘Rise of the Melancholy Empire’ rounds things off in predictably epic style, though the delicate piano and atmospheric guitar lines add a touch of class. It is a quality way to end Volume 1, with the second half of this double album project set to drop later in the year.

This is probably Sixx:A.M’s strongest record since ‘Heroin Diaries’, pretty much every track has a winning hook, the playing is first rate and the production superb. Ok, so they like a pop melody and know how to deliver a chorus, but it’s not like they have art rock aspirations and what they do is done in style. There is a massive market for this kind of music, so when a band are writing songs with a message and turning in such great performances, superstardom is pretty much a given, not bad for what started as a side project.

8/10

Check out more on Sixx:A.M. here:http://sixxammusic.com/
For some superb photography of the band and a whole load of other rock stars visit this amazing webpage: http://www.stephansdotter.com/gallery/people/