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

Album Review: Amon Amarth – The Great Heathen Army (Metal Blade Records)

By: Jesse Striewski

It’s honestly taken me a minute to fully appreciate Amon Amarth since initially I just thought the whole “viking metal” thing was a bit too on the “gimmicky” side. But I’ve found myself coming around to them more and more with each new album of theirs for the past two or three releases.

I don’t typically find myself going out of the way for metal with guttural vocals like theirs these days either, but I find frontman Johan Hegg’s style far more tolerable than say, Randy Blythe of Lamb of God. But the sick guitar riffs and heavy blast beats are a welcomed assault on the senses on The Great Heathen Army.

The band introduced the world to the album with “Get in the Ring,” a hard-hitter with an equally heavy video featuring pro wrestlers like Erick Redbeard. Other songs like “Heidrun,” “Find a Way or Make One,” and “Dawn of Noresman” are all equally worth a listen. But the track that definitely caused me to sit up and listen the most was “Saxons and Vikings,” appropriately featuring guest vocals from legendary Saxon frontman Biff Byford; I knew then I was becoming a fan.

Bands like Amon Amarth aren’t for everyone’s tastes, certainly not your average mainstream rock music fan. But if you’re rock palate goes beyond the likes of Korn, you’ll probably find something to appreciate here (I for one am personally looking forward to hopefully catching the band live on their current tour now, too).

Rating: 3/5 Stars

Album Review: Megadeth – The Sick, the Dying…and the Dead! (Tradecraft/Universal)

By: Jesse Striewski

I found myself actually excited for a Megadeth album for the first time in a long time upon first glimpse of Vic Rattlehead on the cover. But I must admit, their eager dismissal (again) of original bassist David Ellefson last year left a sour taste in my mouth (and that’s no disrespect to returning bassist James LoMenzo – I’ve seen the band live with each bass player in the past, and both are masters of their crafts).

But I digress; The Sick, the Dying…and the Dead – the band’s sixteenth full studio release – is an admirable effort from Dave Mustaine and company nonetheless, filled with the typical crunching riffs and intricate guitar solos that’s come to be expected on a Megadeth album, with the epic title track charging the way and setting the tone right off the bat.

Sure, the lyrics at times can be a bit on the generic side (another common trait with Megadeth records), but overall, tracks like “Life in Hell,” “Night Stalkers” (featuring a brief appearance by Ice-T) “Dogs of Chernobyl,” “Killing Time,” and “Soldier On!” can easily fit alongside any of the band’s previous material up until now.

I may have lost touch with Megadeth in more recent times as previously alluded to, but The Sick…may just be the album that gains the interest of many older fans such as myself again. Check it out for yourself and see if you agree.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Album Review: GWAR – The New Dark Ages (Pit Records)

By: Jesse Striewski

For nearly any metalhead kid growing up in the ’90s, GWAR was a dysfunctional American institution as relevant as Beavis and Butt-Head, and to attend one of their over-the-top theatrical shows was indeed a twisted rite of passage.

If I’m being completely honest, I haven’t really paid much attention to the band in quite some time, so the prospect of a new GWAR album wasn’t exactly something I was patiently waiting for. It also does not help that the first song (“Ratcatcher”) that introduced me to The New Dark Ages was one of the weakest tracks found among the whole collection.

But when I actually dove in, I recognized those unmistakable thrash-y riffs that I once knew and loved so well as a teenager, apparent on such tracks as “New Dark Ages,” “Blood Libel,” “Completely Fucked,” and “Bored to Death.” There are still some filler tracks of course (“The Cutter” comes to mind), but overall The New Dark Ages is a surprisingly admirable effort.

Chances are I won’t be going out of my way to catch them the next time they come through town (already been there, done that many a time now). But I can’t deny I wasn’t filled with some nostalgia while listening to The New Dark Ages; far from perfect for sure, but escapist fun good for killing some time none the less.

Rating: 3/5 Stars

Album Review: Journey – Freedom (BMG)

By: Jesse Striewski

For many, the only acceptable version of Journey will forever be the one with Steve Perry at the helm. But for those with open minds, the band is still relevant with lead singer Arnel Pineda at the forefront, even if the rest of the lineup remains a bit shaky at the moment, too (the current rhythm section is already different from the one that recorded on Freedom).

Freedom is the first album of new material from the guys since 2011’s Eclipse (and third with Pineda on vocals), and contains fifteen new tracks with that classic Journey “sound,” composed mostly by guitarist/founder Neal Schon, keyboardist Jonathan Cain, and now-former drummer Narada Michael Walden.

The group have already released a slew of singles from Freedom, beginning last month with “The Way We Used to Be.” Even if that track did not really do it for you, follow-ups like “You’ve Got the Best of Me” and the almost-poetic “Don’t Give Up on us” more than make up for it. Other tracks like “All Day, All Night,” “Come Away With Me,” and “After Glow” invoke that same spirit classics like “Anyway You Want It” still have the power to after all of these years.

I may not be an “expert” when it comes to the world of Journey’s music, but I like them enough to have gone to see them in concert (back in 2015). I’ve said it before about many a band, and I’ll say it once again here about Journey; I’d rather have some version of them in existence, than no version at all.

Rating: 3.5/5 Stars

Album Review: Stabbing Westward – Chasing Ghosts (COP International)

By: Jesse Striewski

It’s been over twenty years since the last time Stabbing Westward released a full-length album, and that’s probably about the same time I actually popped on one of their CD’s (don’t get me wrong though, I was actually there to cover one of their shows for Rewind It Magazine back in 2019, and the band did a stellar job).

Chasing Ghosts has got to be one of the tightest “comeback” albums that’s come out in the past decade. From the moment it kicks on with “I Am Nothing,” it’s as though no time has even passed at all. Or perhaps the feeling of going back in time would be a more accurate description, with tracks like “Damaged Goods, “Cold,” and the bass-driven “Push” all echoing of ’90s industrial rock perfectly.

Even if Stabbing Westward have never really been up your alley, Chasing Ghosts might pleasantly surprise you. It’s certainly better than half the garbage that passes for mainstream rock these days, and a damn shame they’ll still keep cranking generic junk on modern radio stations over something actually listenable such as this.

Rating: 3.5/5 Stars ‘

Album Review: Skull Fist -Paid in Full (Atomic Fire Records)

By: Jesse Striewski

Four long years since their last album, the mighty Skull Fist are back with their fourth full-length record. This time around, the thrashers are out to prove their rightful place among the upper echelon of modern metal, and they more or less prove it here.

I wasn’t even initially that impressed by the first single, “Long Live the Fist,” but Paid in Full contains eight tracks of intense top-notch metal that’s hard to ignore. Starting off appropriately enough with the title track, there’s very few moments where things let up here, with brilliant Maiden-inspired guitar riffs that lead the charge all the way (even though the presence of now-former guitarist Jonny Nesta is slightly missed).

Things reach their peak in the form of “Blackout” and “Madman,” two epic anthems worth turning up to eleven. All in all, Paid in Full is a relentless assault on the senses that never fully lets up, and a worthy effort that should not be overlooked.

Rating: 4/5 Stars