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

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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.”

 

Book Review: I Am C-3PO – The Inside Story By Anthony Daniels (DK)

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By: Jesse Striewski

There’s no denying Anthony Daniels will always be best remembered for portraying the golden droid/servant C-3PO in each of the Star Wars films, going as far back as the original in 1977. And if you’re skeptical as to how this could possibly be an entertaining read because Daniels isn’t your typical big name Hollywood movie star, toss out your doubts and just dive in, because it is completely worth the ride.

Daniels doesn’t even waste much time digging into his own personal background much, or try to preach some political agenda to his readers here. Instead, he simply offers an honest, heartfelt summary of his journey as C-3PO, starting with his first meeting with George Lucas back in the mid-70s, and leading up to his last round as everyone’s favorite humanoid protocol droid in last year’s The Rise of Skywalker. Every detail he can possibly seem to think of (including the passing of his beloved co-star Carrie Fisher) is included in this well thought-out account. And with a forward by current Star Wars director J.J. Abrams, fan boys (present company included) should eat this up. Go in this with an open mind, and you won’t be disappointed here.

Rating: 3.5/5 Stars

 

Overkill/ Exhorder/ Hydraform at House of Blues Orlando on 3/10/20 Words and Photos By Jesse Striewski

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There’s times when going to a metal show can seem like a tedious affair, often being subjected to three, four, sometimes maybe even five opening acts you couldn’t care less about seeing before finally reaching the headlining act you came to see. Last Tuesday night’s show at the House of Blues in Orlando was by far the exception, where each band on the bill was worth their weight in their own respective rights, as Overkill, Exhorder, and Hydraform stormed through the H.O.B. with as much fury humanly possible (and allowed) in Disney Springs. Concert goers had other options that night in central, FL as well; just down the I-4 corridor, pop star Billie Ellish was playing at the Amway Center. But the dedicated metal maniacs of the region showed up in droves to support the music they love.

Colorado-based newcomers Hydraform were first up on the bill, and immediately I was reminded of Queensryche (albeit a heavier version of them). I only caught about half of their set (admittedly, I had arrived fashionably late), so I can’t really give a full, fair assessment of their set, though what I did catch seemed like a tight progressive rock band with a promising future.

Exhorder were up next, and I have to admit, my knowledge of their catolog prior to the show didn’t go past a handful of songs.  The crowd definitely seemed to be into the New Orleans-based grove rockers as they trudged through the likes of “Slaughter in the Vatican,” “(Cadence Of) The Dirge,” “Legions of Death,” “Hallowed Sound,” and “Desecrator.” Also of interest worth noting; lead vocalist/band founder Kyle Thomas is also doing double-duty as the current front man for classic doom metalheads Trouble, and current bassist Jason Viebrooks did also time in the band Grip Inc.

And finally, the mighty Overkill took over. I’ve seen many bands from my home state of New Jersey (The Misfits, Skid Row, etc…), but for whatever reason, Overkill has escaped my radar up until now (although they were on the same bill as Megadeth the first time I saw them in 2006, but missed their entire set, again due to arriving late). I always knew we were destined to cross paths eventually; not only did we both emerge out of the gutters of NJ, but we were each born around the same time (with Overkill beating me by just a year, forming in 1980). At one point, lead vocalist Bobby “Blitz” Ellsworth even asked the audience who was from NJ, then proceeded to jokingly taunt the crowd with both fists in the air, claiming “I’ll take all of you motherfuckers on!”

The band did not disappoint. Neither did they rely on only their ‘classic’ material, as they kicked off their set with a hard-hitter, “Last Man Standing,” off their latest studio album Wings of War.  Another semi-recent number, “Electric Rattlesnake, followed, before the band packed a 1-2 punch that included “Hello From the Gutter” and “Elimination.” From then on, it was a mix of old and new tracks alike (some obviously more effective than others), including “Bring me the Night,” “Head of a Pin,” “Necroshine,” “Under One,” “Bastard Nation,” and “Mean, Green, Killing Machine.”

A short bass/drum solo lead up to an epic, nearly 10-minute rendition of the 1985 classic “Feel the Fire” (arguably the best performance of the night) before closing things out with “Ironbound.” There was no doubt the band held the stage captive that night; core members Ellsworth and bassist D.D. Verni (the band’s two remaining original members) have held complete control of their vision for over four decades now, and showed absolutely no signs of slowing dow.

Album Review: Brian Posehn – Grandpa Metal (Megaforce Records)

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By: Jesse Striewski

There’s no doubt that many of us old-time headbangers can relate to a title like Grandpa Metal, the latest release from comedian Brian Posehn. But although the humorous subject matter may be centered around seniors, most of the lyrics are just your typical, juvenile fare far better aimed at the likes of my 13-year-old kid.

That’s not to say the album’s a total waste; Posehn actually assembled a host of impressive metal royalty to guest on Grandpa…, including Scott Ian (Anthrax/S.O.D.), Kim Thayil (Soundgarden), Steve Souza (Exodus), Chuck Billy (Testament), Michael Starr (Steel Panther), Corey Taylor (Slipknot/Stone Sour), and the late Jill Janus from Huntress, who all add to the overall fun of such songs as “New Music Sucks,” “One Quarter Viking, Three Quarters Pussy,” and the title track. Even Weird Al makes a brief yet amusing appearance at one point. There’s also a few surprisingly inventive covers that work in the form of “The Fox (What Does the Fox Say?),” as well as a fairly epic rendition of Ah-Ha’s “Take on Me” that’s definitely worth checking out.

Sorry to say that some tracks do just fall flat (“Monster Mosh” and “Big Fat Rock” are actually kind of embarrassing), and Posehn’s voice isn’t always enough to carry many of the songs. If you’re not looking for anything too serious that’s up the same alley as Ian’s less-than-serious S.O.D., give it a try; just don’t expect to be blown away.

Rating: 2.5/5 Stars

Book Review: Take It Off: KISS Truly Unmasked By Greg Prato (Jawbone Press)

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By: Jesse Striewski

One of the most intriguing eras in the nearly five-decade history of KISS for many has always been that moment in time the band went without their trademark makeup from 1983 to 1996. Though a slightly awkward, yet indeed underrated period for the band, it’s finally brought back to the forefront thanks to the meticulous detail author Greg Prato has put into researching said time frame.

Starting things off with a forward by Fozzy front man Chris Jerhico, Prato covers everything from the early stages of the band’s non-makeup period with guitarist Vinnie Vincent, to the band’s eventual reunion of the original lineup in the mid-’90s. Various musicians, songwriters, producers, and others close to the band during this era, help tell the tale of one of the most storied periods of the band’s career. Even Mark St. John’s (extremely) brief stint with the band in 1984, is covered here like never before, and Prato also enlists the help of such KISS alumni as former guitarist Bruce Kulick (who replaced St. John) to help complete the story.

As an avid KISS fan, this one’s a no brain-er; most die hard fans of the band should find it easy enough to agree, while newcomers should find it enlightening.

Rating: 3.5/5 Stars

 

Album Review: Ozzy Osbourne – Ordinary Man (Epic Records)

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By: Jesse Striewski

It may have taken him some time, but the Godfather of Metal himself, Ozzy Osbourne, has finally unleashed his twelfth studio album. To say it was worth the wait would be an understatement.

It was apparent last November when the world received first listen to the album via the cryptic “Under the Graveyard,” that old Ozzy had put something truly special together here. Granted, most of the singles released since haven’t been as impressive; “Straight to Hell” is somewhat generic, the ballad “Ordinary Man” (featuring Elton John) a tad predictable, and “It’s a Raid” (with Post Malone) somewhat of a strain itself.

But it’s the non-single tracks that pack the heaviest punches (isn’t that usually the way though?) – “Scary Little Green Men,” “All My Life,” and “Holy For Tonight” all echo the epic levels of forgotten classics in Ozzy’s catalog such as “Devil’s Daughter (Holy Wars)” or “No Bone Movies.”

Although longtime guitarist Zakk Wylde might be missing in action here, there’s plenty of other rock icons that more than make up for his absence; Chad Smith of the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Duff McKagan and Slash of Guns N’ Roses (among others) all make appearances throughout.

I don’t mean to get too sappy, but for as long as I can remember, Ozzy has been there almost like a second father of sorts to me; the first riff I ever learned to play on bass was “Crazy Train,” and the second concert I ever attended was Ozzy, both doing a solo set, and performing with a reformed Black Sabbath, in 1997. I can’t remember a time when his music was not deeply ingrained in my mind, and I’m glad he’s still making music comparable to his most classic of material.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Album Review: Anvil – Legal at Last (AFM Records)

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By: Jesse Striewski

At first glance to the cringe-worthy cover of this latest effort from everyone’s favorite Canadian metalheads Anvil (their eighteenth overall), one might not expect much. But these canucks have actually compiled another catchy, straight-forward collection of crowd-stompers.

Most of the tracks here are short but effective. The title number/lead off single kicks things off appropriately, giving listeners a fair representation of just what they’re in for. “Nabbed in Nebraska,” “Bottom Line,” and “Said and Done” are all also worthy anthems in their own respective rights.

Doubtful it’ll win any album of the year awards, but compared to their last two releases, it’s a definite step up. Worth cranking it if you’re looking for some good old-fashioned, head-banging escapism.

Rating: 3/5 Stars