Album Review: Depeche Mode – Memento Mori (Columbia/Mute)

By: Jesse Striewski

It truly speaks volumes for a band with over four decades worth of experience to still be releasing viable music their fans actually want to hear. But on their fifteenth studio outing (and first since 2017’s Spirit), that’s exactly what Depeche Mode have achieved here with Memento Mori.

Lead-off single “Ghosts Again” has the uncanny ability to sound eerily familiar as though one has heard it before. Its black and white video finds core members Dave Gahan and Martin Gore wandering aimlessly through cemeteries or playing chess on rooftops; one view of it and it’s easy to fall in love with the band all over again.

“My Cosmos is Mine” is far from the strongest track to start the album off with, but things pick up quickly, with tracks like “My Favourite Stranger,” “Never Let Me Go,” and “Don’t Say You Love Me” all invoking that old Depeche Mode sound fans have grown to know and love.

I don’t honestly know how they do it, maintaining popularity when so many other bands from their era (such as The Human League or A Flock of Seagulls) have all but fallen by the wayside when it comes to releasing new material. I myself was even a bit skeptical going in, but it’s so blatantly obvious what masters of their crafts they still are after all this time, which I suppose is what makes Depeche Mode so appealing after all these years.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Album Review: Enslaved – Heimdal (Nuclear Blast Records)

By: Jesse Striewski

For whatever reason, Enslaved are another one of those many bands out there I’ve always known “of,” but never really got all that “in” to. But after spinning their latest full-length, Heimdal (named after the figure from Nordic mythology), it was clearly not due to lack of talent.

A dramatic build-up leads the charge to an album opener fit for a viking in the form of “Behind the Mirror.” From then on listeners are served more epic tales ranging from the five to eight minute mark, with titles such as “Forest Dweller,” “The Eternal Sea,” and “Caravans to the Outer World,” each admirable in their own respective ways.

As far as extreme metal goes, there is definitely a place for bands like Enslaved, though their niche style and sound is somewhat limiting in its own way. Despite some tight riffs, it’s definitely something one has to be in the right mood for in order to completely enjoy.

Rating: 2.5/5 Stars

Album Review: Ugly Kid Joe – Rad Wings of Destiny (Metalville/UKJ Records)

By: Jesse Striewski

I don’t know why it has taken me so long to get around to finally reviewing the latest album from everyone’s favorite snotty rockers Ugly Kid Joe (back in the ’90s, I was totally that kid blasting their music in their bedroom), but nearly three months after its release, I finally sat down to give it an honest try.

I was more than glad I did when album opener “That Ain’t Livin'” first kicked into gear and I got that same vibe I did upon first hearing “It’s A Lie” kickoff 1996’s Motel California album, and I instantly knew we were off to a good start. From then on out listeners are given plenty of various musical styles for one to choose from in typical UKJ fashion.

From funk (“Up in the City”), punk (“Failure”), to even a touch of country (“Drinkin’ and Drivin'”), there’s no shortage of genres to be found here. Meanwhile, tracks like “Everything’s Changing,” “Kill the Pain,” and “Long Road” display the band’s more sensitive side, while a cover of The Kinks’ “Lola” shows the band can still pull off a decent cover a la “Cats in the Cradle.”

Aside from the occasional filler track (“Not Like the Other”), Rad Winds of Destiny (a take on the Judas Priest album Sad Wings of Destiny, for those of you wondering) is Ugly Kid Joe the way they’re meant to be; throw this in your CD player like it’s 1992 all over again and enjoy.

Rating: 3.5/Stars

Album Review: Lockhart – No Chance (Self-Released)

By: Jesse Striewski

My go-to response when asked what type of music I listen to is almost always “metal.” But unlike the average fans’ definitions of metal, I’m not referring to the likes of Korn (to be fair, I love all genres of it, though nu/mainstream metal remains at the bottom of the list for me…). Canada’s Lockhart – a “supergroup” of sorts featuring members of bands like Cauldron and Annihilator – are right up my alley.

Their new EP No Chance contains the type of AOR /classic metal sound that makes me making music myself (if I were still in a band it’d be exactly the sound I would want to achieve). And while it’s just three brief tracks in length, each one packs enough of a punch that it hardly matters.

Opener “No Chance in Heaven” is simply addictive with it’s synth-driven hooks a la Van Halen’s “Jump,” and “Just Can’t Wait” is equally poppy and gets stuck in your head. “Under Fire”is no doubt the heavy-ist track here, and is also worthy of turning up to eleven.

This is not just music assembled here, it’s the soundtrack to lives captured on tape (or whatever it was recorded on, though it sounds like it should’ve been recorded during the analog era!). I honestly love this in every way possible. Do yourself a favor and crank this instead of whatever they’re feeding you on mainstream radio these days…you might just be glad you did.

Rating: 5/5 Stars

Album Review: Tiffany – Shadows (Deko Music)

By: Jesse Striewski

I never expected to be reviewing a “new” Tiffany album here in 2022, but alas, here we are. And what’s more surprising, her latest effort, Shadows, is actually pretty damn good. Forever known best for her 1987 hit cover of “I Think We’re Alone Now,” Tiffany sets out to prove she can be more than just an ’80s pop princess. In fact, Shadows closely resembles the New Wave sounds of the Go-Go’s more than what one would expect from a Tiffany record. But as previously noted, it works.

“Hey Baby” and “I Like the Rain” start things off with plenty of adrenaline, while “Cried For the Last Time” brings listeners back down to Earth, with guitar riffs akin to something one might expect from a Replacements or Cult record. There’s slower numbers that could be classified as ballads, with “I Love You” being the most effective. And then there’s the title track, an infectious little number deserving of radio play it will sadly never receive, and clearly the most well-crafted song on the entire album.

Are there some forgettable sleepers among the more memorable ones? No doubt about it (“Always in My Head” comes to mind as the most generic-sounding). But I’ve actually had the chance to see Tiffany live in concert a couple of times (and even met her on one of those occasions), and should there be a third time, I’d be more than happy to hear a few of the previously-mentioned tracks thrown in her set list; open your mind, and it’s not difficult to understand why.

Rating: 3.5/5 Stars

Album Review: Ozzy Osbourne – Patient Number 9 (Epic Records)

By: Jesse Striewski

I was initially hesitant when I first heard Ozzy Osbourne would be releasing another album so soon after 2020’s Ordinary Man, feeling it might be on the “rushed” side. But it doesn’t take a genius to recognize greatness when they hear it, and that’s exactly what’s achieved with (most of) Patient Number 9.

From the moment the title track/first single kicks into high gear, it’s apparent the Prince of Darkness has still got it, crooning through seven minutes of epic proportions. From then on, the Ozzman channels his best John Lennon impression (“One of Those Days,” “God Only Knows”) to echoing back to his days in Black Sabbath (“Evil Shuffle,” “No Escape From Now,” Degradation Rules” – the latter two each featuring former Sabbath band mate and godfather of the metal guitar, Tony Iommi). But it’s when Ozzy dives deep that’s most interesting; “Nothing Feels Right” and “Dead and Gone” might just go down as a couple of my personal favorites here.

Aside from Iommi, there’s an array of other star musicians that guest here, including longtime axeman to Ozzy’s solo band Zakk Wylde, and legendary guitarists like Eric Claption and Jeff Beck. Bass parts are rounded out by Metallica’s Robert Trujillo and Duff McKagan of Guns N’ Roses, while drum duties are handled by Chad Smith of the Red Hot Chili Peppers and late Foo Fighters drummer Taylor Hawkins in what may now be his final recorded performance.

But getting back to the music, Patient Number 9 delivers on all accounts as both a rock record, and an Ozzy album, filled with heavy menancing riffs, and plenty of catchy hooks. Surprisingly, there’s not even a lot of filler found here, either. At seventy-four years old, Ozzy shows he’s still got it after all these years, and I’m just thankful to still be able to witness it.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Album Review: Queensryche – Digital Noise Alliance (Century Media Records)

By: Jesse Striewski

Quite a bit has changed in the Queensryche camp since 2019’s The Verdict album; drummer Casey Grillo is now a full time member of the band, and guitarist Mike Stone has since returned after a decade-plus absence. Still intact though is that signature sound the group created well over four decades ago.

Here the guys unleash yet another round of thought-provoking progressive metal true to form. Opener “In Extremis” gives listeners an immediate look at what’s to come from the twelve track album. “Chapters,” Nocturnal Light,” and “Out of the Black” are by far some of the stronger tracks found here, with the single “Behind the Walls” standing out as an instant classic. There’s also a seven minute masterpiece in the form of “Tormentum” that’s undeniably perfect.

“Hold On” is likely to become a staple in the band’s live sets, but is weak in comparison to the previously mentioned other numbers, though does contain a music video that makes interesting social commentary on the digital age (hence the album title). Surprisingly, the band end things with a cover of Billy Idol’s “Rebel Yell,” a curious yet admirable choice to close things out with.

If you’ve already been bit by the Queensryche bug, this shouldn’t be hard for you to get into; even purists who still can’t get past the fact that Geoff Tate is no longer fronting the band might be able to find something worthwhile that’s assembled here.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Album Review: Darkthrone – Astral Fortress (Peaceville Records)

By: Jesse Striewski

I’m not as privy when it comes to black metal these days as I might have once been, but Darkthrone is one band I still hold appreciation for no matter how distant from the genre I may have become. At this point, core members Fenriz and Nocturno Culto have become the Lennon and McCartney of the extreme metal genre.

Astral Fortress, the band’s twentieth full-length album (released just one year since their previous outing, Eternal Hails), finds the group hard at work conjuring more sinister numbers that sound as though they came straight from hell. No time is wasted right off the bat, as the band unleash the nearly eight-minute long “Caravan of Broken Ghosts.” And although only seven tracks total, the length of many songs makes it feel even longer, with “The Sea Beneath the Seas of Seas” clocking in at over ten minutes long. Other titles like “Kevorkian Times” and “Eon 2” are more straight forward and direct to the point.

I usually have to be in the right mood to listen to black metal, but once I do I usually find myself totally immersed in the isolated nature of it all. Darkthrone are a force to be reckoned with, and a perfect starting point for anyone just now getting into extreme metal.

Rating: 3.5/5 Stars

Album Review: Skid Row – The Gang’s All Here (earMUSIC)

By: Jesse Striewski

It’s ironic how the same “fans” that continue to kick and scream for Skid Row to reunite with former frontman Sebastian Bach are also the same folks who can’t name a song of theirs past the three “hits” that still receive considerable mainstream radio airplay.

Sure, Bach’s era with the band was no doubt their peak, but they’ve long since moved on without him, going through a host of different singers in the meantime and avoiding opening up the door to that former toxic relationship again (regardless of which party was in the “wrong” is really besides the point; I know I’m personally not about to go back to one of my crazy ex’s if something were to ever happen to my wife and I). Besides, plenty of other band’s have had successful careers without the face originally at the forefront…Iron Maiden comes to mind.

But I digress; newcomer Erik Gronwall’s more than an admirable fit for the band on his debut album with them, The Gang’s All Here (their first release since both 2014’s United World Rebellion: Chapter Two EP, and the passing of former singer Johnny Solinger). The second “Hell Or High Water” hits the needle, I knew this was on a much different level from any of the work they’ve put out in more recent years with Solinger.

Ironically, the album’s first two singles, “Time Bomb” and “Tear it Down,” were my least favorite of the bunch. Numbers like “Resurrected,” “When the Lights Go Down,” and the epic seven minute power ballad “October’s Sky,” were reminiscent of 1991’s classic Slave to the Grind album, and far more interesting.

I’m actually surprised by how much I truly liked The Gang’s All Here; if the guys keep this up, they might be able to continue putting out more solid releases like this with Gronwall at the helm, despite what the critics may say or want.

Rating: 3.5/5 Stars

Album Review: DL Serios – Pecker (Ghoul Tone Records)

By: Jesse Striewski

Decades after originally fronting notorious underground south Florida punk outfit Dead Serios, lead vocalist DL Serios (a.k.a. band mastermind and artist extraordinaire Christopher Long) has emerged with his first solo record, Pecker. But was it worth the wait?

Based off its cover alone, Pecker is everything one might expect it to be; juvenile and ambitious, yet not to be taken too seriously. Lead off single/party anthem “Feeling Freakie” kicks things off on a high note, and features the adorable Katty Pleasant on co-vocals with a fun music video to go along with it. Other fast-paced Ramones-inspired numbers like “Piss Test” and my personal favorite, “Smile Sara, Smile,” are harmless little ditties worth cranking any time of the day.

But tracks like “Me-Me, No-No” and “Boom Chick a-Pop” are a bit too on the silly side to take all that serious. All in all, Pecker is eight straight-forward tracks that don’t pretend to be anything other than what they are, but it may just be a tad too far on the niche side to appeal to a much broader audience than it already has.

Rating: 2.5/5 Stars