Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Worship Joey

    It cannot be ignored that the coming to life of Worship Music has been dogged with several issues and problems which have brought into question whether the album would ever see the light of day at all. It has taken 8 years since 2003's release of We've Come For You All for Anthrax to release another studio album, in which time the band has had enough vocalist issues to make Velvet Revolver envious. New permanent vocalist Dan Nelson was initially brought in and was revealed on the festival tour circuit a couple of years ago, only for him to depart, then replaced on tour with John Bush only for him to leave quicker than you can say "Who goes there?". He was replaced with original vocalist Joey Belladonna (a somewhat less popular choice than John Bush).

With the vocalist issue, plus the length of time it had taken for the album to see release, there was genuine concern that the album in the end would not live up to expectations and be overshadowed by these problems (Chinese Democracy anyone?). Fortunately by the time you have listened to the opening trio (excluding the intro) of 'Earth On Hell', 'The Devil You Know' and teaser track 'Fight 'Em 'Til You Can't' there is no doubt that Anthrax are back and mean business.

Sonically this is undeniably an Anthrax style thrash album; old- school, pure and simple. There are precious few surprises here other than the slight Faith No More like tinge on 'Crawl' there is nothing unfamiliar, and to be honest that's what is preferable in this case. Lyrically Worship Music sits in the 'call to arms' variety rather than the quirkier, light hearted affairs of the earlier Belladonna albums, which suggests that these were made with Bush rather than Belladonna in mind, and many people will comment on whether Bush would have been more suitable, but Belladonna is not to be underestimated, as he does an admiral job, and his vocals and range are stronger than ever before, especially on the likes of 'Fight...'.

That's no to say the rest of the band should be ignored as the entire band is in full force here. Charlie Benante and Frank Bello are an ever formidable rhythm section, whilst Messrs Ian and Caggiano are writing some of the best and memorable riffs of their careers, such as the mighty 'In The End'.

There are precious few complaints here, but alas there are a couple. Firstly the interludes 'Hymn 1' and 'Hymn 2' seem rather pointless and add nothing to the album other than to break the flow of the album and so could have easily been done without. The other (albeit minor) complaint is that much of the album sounds very similar, with very little to differentiate with one another other, but when the songs on display are of such a high quality this is not a serious problem whatsoever.

This had a lot of weight upon its shoulders, but Worship Music is the finest Anthrax album in a long time and is pretty much essential listening. Hopefully this will see some more stability in the Anthrax camp and will see the band truly living up to its reputation as one of the most important bands in the Thrash genre.


Recommended: The Devil You Know, Fight 'Em 'Til You Can't, In The End

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Shock Rock Meets Kermit The Frog

If you even claim to have a fleeting interest in metal or hard rock music, hell, even wider than that, you have to give a huge amount of respect to Alice Cooper. Without a shadow of a doubt this guy is one of the most influential musicians in recent history. With an excellent back catalogue bursting to the seems with classic albums and massive hits he is simply one of metal's greatest and beloved characters, and his infamous stage theatrics have been an influence to artists as wide as the likes of Twisted Sister, Rob Zombie, Slipknot, to even the likes of Lady Gaga. Frankly if you enjoy any musician who has a penchant for massive, eye catching stage craft, you owe old Vincent big time.

Alice Cooper himself is enjoying quite a ride at the moment with popularity seemingly at a greater high than it has been in years. Festival appearances as of late at Sonisphere and Download, hugely successful tours, even Johnny Depp getting up on stage and playing guitar with him, things are looking rosy in the Alice Cooper camp, and with a new album out, things are looking pretty perfect for him. It is such a shame that this highly anticipated album is a major disappointment.

Reverting back to his classic Welcome To My Nightmare solo début; name and cover wise, this was hailed by many as potentially his best album in years, especially with famed producer Bob Erzin at the helm. Welcome 2 My Nightmare however has not lived up to this hype whatsoever and for me is one of his least worthwhile works to date.

The biggest problem here is the personality of the album. Previous albums by Alice Cooper have not necessarily followed a strict routine nor have they always been the most serious. Often his works have had a sinister vibe as his character is that of a villain, but you have works such as The Last Temptation which dabbles in morality, even albums such as Hey Stoopid while by no means a stern faced example was at least believable. Welcome 2 My Nightmare is far too much like a cartoon for much of it and unconvincing at that. Obviously influenced by new best mate Rob Zombie and his more OTT, animated style to shock rock, W2MN sounds as if Alice Cooper has spent far too much time with The Muppets.

This isn't to say that W2MN is completely flawed, there are some real good moments here. W2MN is classic sounding Alice Cooper mostly but with some changes of pace and style which at times works a treat. Lead single 'I'll Bite Your Face Off' is the perfect Alice Cooper song; sharp and dirty and infectious as hell, it is a brilliant song and perfect for Cooper fans everywhere, 'Caffiene' similarly is very catchy. Rob Zombie pulls a decent cameo appearance in the eerie 'Congregation' which also sounds military and Marilyn Mansonesque.

However for me the flaws outweigh the positives. 'Disco Bloodbath Boogie Fever' sounds like he has lost ideas and quickly becomes irritating as hell and is one of the examples of the album being too much like a cartoon ('Ghouls Gone Wild' has a similar effect but at least is a half decent song), whilst ballad 'Something To Remember Me By' and semi- ballad 'I Am Made For You' are simply dull with unconvincing attempts at emotion. There was a lot of hype surrounding this album and I for one was genuinely excited for it; it is such a shame that at much of the album, it sounds like Alice Cooper is making a parody of himself. There is no denying his influence or his legacy or ability, but Welcome 2 My Nightmare is a serious lull in his legendary back catalogue.


Recommended: Caffeine, The Congregation, I'll Bite Your Face Off

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

They Grow Up Too Fast

Do you remember a band a few years ago by the name of Black Tide? Released a decent enough album back in 2007, did a lot of touring then seemed to fall off the radar completely? Well ladies and gentlemen, they are back! Sort of.

2007 saw the release of Black Tide's début album, Light From Above, which was far from flawless it has to be said, but was a very enjoyable effort and showed the band (who were merely in the teens upon its release, vocalist and guitarist Gabriel the youngest member at around 16 years of age) to have a lot of potential. It had moments of fantastic guitar work and some really catchy songs, which often came across sounding like Ratt being covered by Megadeth. So whilst not the finished article, it did guarantee that Black Tide would be on the right path towards bigger things, including places on the likes of The Warped Tour and support slots with Avenged Sevenfold and Bullet For My Valentine, to name a few. But then they seemingly disappeared until finally, 2011 saw the release of the follow up. Unfortunately it isn't as interesting as the début.

The swagger that the band showed on their first album has mostly diminished for a more generic sound. Now Black Tide have pushed into more commercial territory dominated by previous tour mates BFMV and A7X. Not that their début was not completely suited for radio play, but its obvious they have pushed into that direction considerably. In doing so there is nothing new or hugely interesting here.

That's not to say it is terrible though as it is enjoyable enough, and in some cases the band has improved. Gabe for example, was an incredibly shy front man live and his vocals maybe weren't the strongest, but on Post Mortem he has shown vast improvement and even widened his arsenal with the scattered use of harsh vocals.  They also show some greater maturity by some experimentation (Post Mortem includes a ballad, which I shall come on to again later). However it is obvious that they (at their or their record label's will) tried to push into more mainstream territory with some mixed results.

At times the album seems to have several personalities coming through. Opening track 'Ashes' is definite BFMV styled (and that's not just  because of the Matt Tuck cameo), then following track 'Bury Me' is more A7X sounding, and it doesn't just end here. 'Honest Eyes' initially sounds like it could have been taken from Trivium's Ascendency album, then 'Fight 'Til The Bitter End' tones down on the guitar work and has a Nu- Metal feel to it. That all being said all those mentioned songs are very enjoyable and should work wonders in rock and metal clubs. Curiously previously released songs 'That Fire' and 'Walking Dead Man' are some of the weakest songs on here.

Unexpected highlight is the stripped down ballad 'Into The Sky', partly in that it comes out of the blue against the fast pace of the rest of the album (although quite clichéd, it really works) and even has great use of an orchestra towards its end.

Post Mortem does suffer however from a lot of filler ('Take It Easy' and 'Alone' for example are very forgettable). Another problem is it's longevity; far too many songs over reach the four minute mark and creep to five minutes when there is simply no need to, these songs don't grab your attention for that long. Over all here, a change in musical direction, while not being catastrophic, has meant that Black Tide have become a far less interesting proposition, and Post Mortem is simply not as strong as the break taken to make it, or the change in direction has warranted. Black Tide seem to have become a metal band for people who maybe are just getting into metal, or maybe delve in every so often. This in itself is not a huge criticism as those bands are needed, but as a band that once incited a hell of a lot of interest, their second move is a big disappointment. 


Recommended: Ashes, Fight 'Til The Bitter End, Into The Sky