Album Review: Paradise Lost – Obsidian (Nuclear Blast Records)

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By: Jesse Striewski

While I must admit I haven’t paid as close attention in recent years to bands like Paradise Lost (although I did briefly revisit them in 2015 to review their new effort at the time, The Plague Within), the band still holds a special place for me. Almost immediately after putting on Obsidian (their sixteenth full-length overall), I was propelled back to listening to such brilliant albums as Draconian Times or Icon while I was still in high school.

“Darker Thoughts” starts off the album hauntingly, and provides appropriate insight for what’s to follow. “The Devil Embraced” and “Hear the Night” are two of the album’s definite strongest tracks, while  “Fall From Grace” and “Ghosts” make up the rest of the singles released so far.

With so many mainstream options being constantly produced for the masses on a daily basis, it’s easy to overlook much of the unknown/underground bands out there. But if you can open your mind enough to try something new, you might find actually discover something truly worthwhile.

Rating: 3.5/5 Stars

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Album Review: Dennis DeYoung – 26 East, Vol. 1 (Frontiers Music srl)

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By: Jesse Striewski

Former Styx frontman Dennis DeYoung is back with his long-awaited latest solo album, (his first of new material in over a decade). And although the title states “Vol. 1,” it almost feels like a “goodbye” of sorts (hopefully I’m way off on that one, though).

In all honesty, 26 East, Vol. 1 doesn’t start off as strong as it could; album opener “East of Midnight” is more or less just there, while “With All Due Respect” manages to be catchy, yet reaches near cring-worthy levels lyrically in an attempt to be timely. But things quickly turnaround, with tracks like “A Kingdom Ablaze,” “You My Love,” and “Damn That Dream” all invoking the true spirit of DeYoung’s usual m.o. There’s even a brief throwback to Styx classic “The Best of Times” in the form of “A.D. 2020” thrown in for good measure.

But the album reaches its definite peak with “To the Good Old Days,” a bittersweet duet with Julian Lennon that’s as much a tribute to The Beatles as it is a look back on DeYoung’s entire life/career. Whether you’re a die hard fan of his music or not, DeYoung has undoubtedly left a legacy in that’s nothing short of amazing. And if this is to be his swan song, there’s definitely worse ways to go out.

Rating: 3.5/5 Stars

Interview with L.A. Guns Bassist Kelly Nickels By Jesse Striewski (Photo By Mike Pont)

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L.A. Guns are a complicated bunch to say the least; for the second time in the band’s history, there are two separate versions of the band currently active (a practice becoming more and more common among groups from their era). Bassist Kelly Nickels was a part of their “classic” era (as well as an early member of another notorious Sunset Strip group, Faster Pussycat), playing on the first four L.A. Guns records and classic tracks like “Never Enough,” “Rip and Tear,” and “The Ballad of Jayne.” After a number of years absent from playing with the group, Nickels recently re-joined the Steve Riley-led version of the band; I recently spoke with him regarding just how that reunion came about, among other things.

Before getting in to band business, I asked Nickels what he was up to during his time away from the band. He tells me; “I’ve done all kinds of stuff! I’ve done a lot of carpentry, I’ve got my own design company where I do a lot of graphics and computer work, and the last few years I’ve been working on a shark cage diving boat off of Long Island. And of course raising kids in there, too, so I’ve stayed busy!”

Nickels then painted a picture of just how things played out getting involved with L.A. Guns again; “Well, Steve (Riley, L.A. Guns drummer) called me and told me what was going on with M3. They asked him to put a version of the band together to play that festival last year, and he basically asked me if I’d be interested in doing it or not, and the timing was good in my life, and it’s felt good to get back out there”

He goes on to explain how this incarnation of the band came to be; “When we first started the project, we had two other people who were into doing it, but dropped out. So we looked at Scott (Griffin, L.A. Guns guitarist), who had played bass in the band before (from 2007-09, and again from 2011-14), but Steve said he was an amazing guitar player too, which I had no idea. But I thought that was a great cause I already knew him a little bit from meeting him throughout the years. And Scott knew Kurt (Frohlich, L.A. Guns singer) and said he’d be a good fit. Kurt sent us a tape and we liked it, so we flew him out from FL to L.A. for a few days of rehearsal, and the chemistry and energy were really good, so we just said ‘let’s go’.”

The band released a new single last month called “Crawl,” and also have a full length album coming out soon titled Renegades. I asked how the songwriting went, and Kelly tells me; “We all chipped in and brought in songs. We basically took the best of what we had in a short amount of time to put it together. We wanted to just keep it a high energy record, which I think it is. A little punk, a little thrash mixed in there. But it’s been a really fun project, and we’re just looking forward to playing it and getting it out there. Just to put a song out into the world is an amazing gift, and we’re looking forward to sharing it with people.”

I also had to ask if Nickels, who is the only member of L.A. Guns to ever sing lead vocals on a song other than a lead singer (on the track “Nothing Better To Do” from 1994’s Vicious Circle album), would be singing lead again on any of the upcoming album’s numbers. He explains; “First of all, “Nothing Better To Do” was an accident (Laughs)! We were in the studio doing it, and everybody went to dinner, and I stayed with the engineer and decided to put just a guide vocal down for Phil (Lewis, L.A. Guns vocalist in the Guns/Lewis version of the band), and when he got back from dinner I played it for him, and he said it was ‘already done.’ I never had any intention of singing lead on a song (and probably never will again!). I was just trying to help him out, but he thought it was good the way it was, so it just kind of ended up the way it is.”

Still, the band revived the track last year during the previously-mentioned M3 Rockfest, alongside a host of classics, including perhaps the band’s most well-remembered hit, “The Ballad of Jayne.” I asked Kelly what it was that made so-called power ballads like it so enduring to fans all these years later, and he says; “I think that a good song is a good song, any way you want to label it. But there were a lot of really good ones that I think were pretty solid, heartfelt songs that a lot of bands put out at the time. Being a hard rock band known mostly for your ballads, it’s a weird thing. But hey, as long as they like you, man (Laughs).”

With the situation being as unique as it is with two versions of the band, I had to ask if there might ever be a chance for the two fractions to ever play together again. Nickels says, “I never want to say never, but I would say it’s pretty unlikely. It’s unfortunate L.A. Guns is the way it is, but it’s a rock n’ roll soap opera (Laughs). But if you like them (the Guns/Lewis version), it’s totally fine with us. We’re not trying to hurt anyone, but this just is the way it is. We just wanna be able to play as musicians, and these are the songs that we wrote, too, that are a big part of who we are, you know? And we’re all getting older, and don’t really wanna start over from scratch at this point in our lives. But like I said, we’re not trying to hurt anybody here, we’re just trying to play some music, too.”

And finally, with the uncertainty of live events still hanging in the balance, I asked Kelly what the future looked like for the band as far as playing live. He informs me; “We have a lot of shows that are being rescheduled for August, September, October, etc. It’s giving us some time to make sure the coast is clear, and if it’s safe to do them, of course we’d love to do them. I know people are ready to go, and a lot of people are ready to bust out their windows (Laughs). Obviously we have to make sure it’s safe for everyone to go before we do them, but we’re hoping for sometime in the fall though, so we’ll see how it goes.”

Album Review: Huey Lewis and The News – Weather (New Hulex/BMG)

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By: Jesse Striewski

Admittedly I’m a little late reviewing this one (about three months, give or take), but considering it’s been 10 years since the last time Huey Lewis and The News actually released an album (2010’s covers album Soulsville), and even longer since their last album of original material (you have to go back to 2001 for that), I figured I’d make an exception here.

Weather breezes by rather quickly (it’s a brief seven tracks), but it contains all the usual trademarks found on a Huey Lewis and The News record.  “While We’re Young,” “Her Love is Killing Me,” and “Remind Me Why I Love You Again” all echo back to simpler times. And even if there’s not much public demand for new music from these guys in our current, instant gratification/image obsessed society, the tracks here are still worthy of putting alongside anything else in the band’s lengthy catalogue.

While I was still very much just a kid during the band’s peak in the mid-1980’s, I can vividly remember their albums (alongside a host of other popular acts at the time) being present and playing at many of my parent’s neighborhood block parties back then, and of course I knew them (as many other kids my age did at the time as) as the band from Back to the Future. I’ve since grown to appreciate their music (and many others from their era) even more since those days, even going to see the band in concert with my wife back in 2014. There’s just something about the ’80s that remains enduring to this day, and even if Huey Lewis and The News aren’t quite as respected as they once, I’m glad they’re still active in some capacity in 2020.

Rating: 3/5 Stars

Album Review: Testament – Titans of Creation (Nuclear Blast Records)

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By: Jesse Striewski

Testament have honestly never been at the top of the list for me as far as bay area thrash bands from the early ’80s (that also includes the likes of Metallica and Exodus) go, but I still maintain a certain level of respect/appreciation for them. On their thirteenth studio effort, they’ve come one step closer to finally winning me over completely.

Sure, there’s some run-of-the-mill, generic stuff (“WWIII” and “Children of the Next Level” come to mind, although the latter does have a fairly entertaining, animated music video that goes along with it), but there’s still more than enough heavy, epic riffs to pacify the average headbanger. Tracks like “Night of the Witch” and “Dream Deceiver” (my personal favorite) pack enough punch, and should fit nicely in future set lists (whenever that may finally be).

Overall, Titans of Creation isn’t bad listening material for old-schoolers looking to kick back with a few cold ones on a Friday night, but not a whole lot more than that.

Rating: 2.5/5 Stars

Interview with Drummer Timothy DiDuro By Jesse Striewski/Photo By Brooke Striewski

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For nearly three decades, Timothy DiDuro has been bashing the skins for bands all over the central, FL area and beyond. After a brief gig drumming for Skid Row in early 2004, he went on to play with Slaughter for seven years as their touring drummer before also blasting out Motley Crue hits as a member of Vince Neil’s solo band (much like another ex-Skid Row drummer Rewind It Magazine has interviewed in the past did, DiDuro’s predecessor, Phil Varone).

DiDuro keeps things a little more locally these days, lending his talents to the metal act Rising Up Angry, as well as cover supergroup The Beautiful Bastards, an act that Rewind It Magazine was also on hand to see perform live in DeLand last year (which is also what this article’s photo is from).  Timothy has also almost single-handely taken on a new project in the form of JettRacer, a creative outlet that finds him also singing and playing guitar in addition to playing the drums, with Seether bassist Corey Lowery being the only other musician involved in the mix.

I was recently able to speak to Timothy, and one of the first things I wanted to know was about his brand new project with Lowery, which he tells me, “A few years back, I started writing and stockpiling my own material after years of being a ‘hired gun’ drummer. I was working with a guy named Zach Vick at the time, who had a studio and basically able to go there and do some pre-production, as well as write a bunch of material myself. I sat on a lot of the stuff for awhile, but then the whole thing with Corey came about when I decided to reach out to him one day and tell him I had this material that I’d like to work with him on as possibly a producer. He was instantly up for it, so I sent him a couple of tracks, and he happened to pick the track “It’s Not the End” (which you can also check out right now on YouTube) to re-work with me, and it turned out great. I thought the timing to release this single would be perfect, not only because of the state of the world and how we’re living right now, but I thought it might actually be something somewhat inspiring. Brandon Goldthwaite also did such an amazing job producing the video.”

He goes on to elaborate regarding stepping out from behind the drum set to the microphone/songwriter’s seat and says, “It’s not what people normally expect from me musically, but I just kinda wanted to do something on my own, so I just kept pushing myself to do it. There are guys out there who have went from drummers to writers, and I always found that inspiring.” I also asked what was in store for the future of JettRacer, and Timothy tells me, “I haven’t even really thought about a live, physical band yet, but like I said, I have a stockpile of material, and I’m going to absolutely continue writing.”

DiDuro also informs me that once things blow over in these current quarantined conditions that he will definitely be picking back up with his other projects, such as The Beautiful Bastards, saying, “I just enjoy playing with those guys so much, we always have a great time together.” He also says there should be more stuff to look out for in the near future from Rising Up Angry, another local outfit he had previously gotten involved with shortly before the days of social distancing.

And I’m not sure what kind of Skid Row fan I would be if I didn’t ask at least one question regarding how DiDuro did time in one of the biggest bands to ever emerge out of my home state of New Jersey; “I basically got a phone call from a drummer friend of mine, Will Hunt from Evanescence, and he’s the one who pretty much put me in that driver’s seat and basically told the band about me…so kudos to Will (Laughs)! It was super brief to be honest with you, though. I didn’t really have a lot of time to do my homework, and they had a full world tour booked, so I think a lot of that really came down on me. I ended up doing just a couple shows and videos with them, and ironically enough when I ended up being with Slaughter, we ended up doing a lot of co-headlining shows together! So for years and years I was actually able to still hang out and see them play, and they’re still friends of mine to this day.”

You can check out the video for DiDuro’s new track here;

 

Album Review: August Burns Red – Guardians (Fearless Records)

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By: Jesse Striewski

Believe it or not, I sometimes forget just how much I absolutely love metalcore until something comes around to remind me of the fact. Last year it was Killswitch Engage’s Atonement that did the job; this year it’s August Burns Red that are putting the genre back to the forefront of my radar with their ninth studio album.

Intricate guitar work, epic breakdowns, and a healthy balance of clean/screaming vocals are abound throughout. Tracks such as “Paramount,” “The Narrative,” and “Empty Heaven” (my personal favorite) are as crushing as ever, while singles like “Bones” and “Defender” are sure to be mainstays in the band’s set lists for years to come. There’s simply no reason not to check this out if this type of metal has ever been a source of motivation for you.

Rating: 3.5/5 Stars

Interview with Nova Rex Bassist Kenny Wilkerson (Part 2) By Jesse Striewski

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Kenny Wilkerson truly needs no introduction around here, and “Bassist for Nova Rex” just barely scratches the surface of the many hats he wears. Aside from keeping the flames of his central FL-based outfit Nova Rex lit since the mid-’80s, he’s also the co-host on a nightly radio talk show (Real Talk with G-Love, weekdays from 7-8pm est on Florida Man Radio 660 AM/105.5 FM), and his cookbook, Rockin’ Recipes For Autism, has finally seen the light of day after much love and labor. He even has a new track out for a project he did with John Bisaha, lead singer of the band The Babys. I was recently able to catch up with Kenny (who I first met back in 2016 after being assigned to write about Nova Rex for the magazine I was working for at the time),  who was as enthusiastic as ever to tell me about all of the events he has going on at the moment.

The first thing I wanted know was how he was feeling about his cookbook to finally seeing the light of day, which he tells me; “I’m very excited! This has been a large, hard, and expensive process, but definitely worth it to bring Rockin Recipes… to the table, and one of the coolest things I have ever done.” The cookbook has already caused quite a stir since its release, having been featured on rachaelraymag.com, among others.

I also asked how his latest project, Wilkerson/Bisaha, in which Kenny covered the Donnie Iris song “Ah Leah” with The Babys frontman John Bisaha, came about. Kenny says; “It was a song we had on the table for awhile for Nova Rex that just didn’t happen, but it was exciting enough that my good friend John (Bisaha) sang it, and I decided to put a video around it with some of the guys in the cookbook as another promotion tool for it. John was the perfect guy to sing it, plus I was excited to have Barry Rubinow direct it.”

Of course I had to inquire how Nova Rex were adjusting to these strange days where live shows and events are nowhere to be found. Kenny tells me; “Just like all of the other musicians around, we have lost a lot of live shows, but we’re using the downtime to rework our stage show with new things from Sawbladehead Designs, as well as a new single we’re working on.”

He concludes; “These are crazy times, but make sure to support local musicians by buying t-shirts, merch…anything you can while we’re all stuck at home.” In the meantime, don’t forget to listen to Kenny weeknights on his previously-mentioned radio show, and definitely be sure to pick up your copy of Kenny’s brand new book at http://www.rockinrecipesforautism.com (which Rewind It Magazine will surely review as well!).

Album Review: Witch Taint – Sons of Midwestern Darkness (Tee Pee Records)

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By: Jesse Striewski

Finally, extreme metal has its own brutal version of Steel Panther in the form of Witch Taint (let’s just hope the joke doesn’t get too old too fast as it has for S.P., though). And before any black metal purists cry about how non-black metal they think the band and album are…lighten up!

Videos for the tracks “Are You Ready (To Black Metal),” “Sons of Satan,” and the just-released “Death to Death Metal” (the latter being my personal favorite of the trio) teased the album up until now nicely. Other tracks maintain the sense of humor throughout (there’s short comedy bits n between many songs), while actually containing some fairly epic metal riffs at the same time (“We Are Your New Gods” and “Viking Heaven” would easily fit elsewhere on many a metal album with more serious lyrics). There’s even a pseudo-ballad in the form of “Ready For LVV” that’s downright hilarious.

Comedians Dave Hill and Phil Costello fit perfectly together in their roles as Lance “The King of Black Metal” and Matthias Backwards, respectively. And while the band’s music might have more in common with Tenacious D than it does Belphegor, it’s a welcomed breath of fresh air in a time when we could all use a laugh. Hopefully Witch Taint are able to stick around for awhile, but without over-saturating their own market too much (as previously mentioned), either.

Rating: 3.5/5 Stars

Interview with Twisted Sister Guitarist Jay Jay French By Jesse Striewski

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There’s no doubt a lot has drastically changed in the music world since Jay Jay French last took the stage with Twisted Sister – a band with whom he helped shape the foundation for going as far back as the early ’70s – in 2016. Last week, I was briefly able to pick at Jay Jay’s brain and ask him some poignant questions about not only his days with Twisted Sister, but also his take on these unpredictable times we’re all living through right now.

With the Coronavirus currently looming at the forefront of everyone’s minds these days, one of the first things I wanted to know was his thoughts on whether or not the music world will ever get back to the way it was beforehand, to which he simply says; “One thing’s for certain, things always change. But there were never any “good old days,” ever. There were just different ways to screw the artist.”

Since his final tour with Twisted Sister, Jay Jay has kept somewhat of a low profile. I asked what his relationship with his former bandmates was like today, and if he ever kept in touch with any of the band’s numerous early members, to which he said; “Well, there is no ‘former’ Twisted Sister! Twisted Sister is still a working corporation that just happens to not tour anymore. We are a family of friends and business partners with almost a 50-year history, and we have licensing deals that I still need to review weekly. The only former member I’m still in contact with is (original Twisted Sister bassist) Kenny Neil. Many members have since sadly died.”

I also wanted to know how it felt when playing certain songs live, specifically the band’s most well-known power balled, “The Price.” To my surprise, I received one of the most honest replies any interviewee has likely ever given me; “Any heavily working musician, especially one in a band that plays the same set night after night, will tell you that the music can go by and you don’t even think about what you’re playing. It’s that automatic. Ask a baseball player if they remember a game. What does happen sometimes is that events occur that stand out…

…Playing “The Price” at the reunion show for the 9/11 NY Steel is one of those times. Playing it the first time in 2015 after the death of our drummer, AJ Pero (with Mike Portnoy as his replacement) in Las Vegas, as well as every show we played the summer after he died. That song brought me to tears almost every single night. That is when the message sends chills down my spine. Actually, the fifth anniversary of AJ’s death was March 20th, and just thinking about that song right now sets off those emotions again.”

He continues; “The Price is about the sacrifices one makes to follow one’s dreams. It is one of Dee (Snider’s) best, and he wrote it after a phone call with my sister-in-law while we were in England recording our second album. She asked him what it was like being away from his wife and son for three months, and I believe Dee’s response was, ‘It’s the price you have to pay’.”

On a less serious note, I had to ask what it was like being the only band who can say they appeared in the 1985 Tim Burton film, Pee Wee’s Big Adventure.  He informs me, “When things begin, like when you first see your album for sale in a record store, or you hear your song on the radio, or you see yourself in a movie, it’s a big thrill. After awhile, all of that fades away. It was fun at the time, but I got a big kick (not to mention paycheck!) out of Facebook using “I Wanna Rock” in a Super Bowl ad. That adds to our enormous amount of music licenses, making us the most musically-licensed metal band in history. The fact our music remains internationally popular 35 years after the release of (Twisted Sister album) Stay Hungry, is the most gratifying thrill of all. Dee has written some timeless classics!”

Jay Jay says he even donated a decent amount of his personal guitars after the band’s last tour, and that his days performing on the stage are indeed numbered; “I gave away all the guitars I had on that tour. I still have about 60 guitars in storage, and I’ll pick up the guitar at least five minutes everyday just to make sure my fingers are still working. But after the last tour I didn’t touch one for almost a year. I have absolutely no desire to perform ever again. Every time I go to a show now I think to myself, ‘Thank God I don’t have to stand on that stage!’ Could that change? Anything is possible, but for now, I will just play a song or two for a benefit if asked.”