Album Review: Ace Frehley – Origins Vol. 2 (eOne)

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By: Jesse Striewski

As an avid KISS fan, I’ve always been a fan of guitarist Ace Frehely’s contributions to his former band, as well as his solo catalogue. There’s just always been a certain realness to his songs and voice that fans have always found appealing, and what makes another collection of covers in the form of Origins Vol. 2 so easily digestible, even if the track list found here is once again just so-so.

Like with Vol. 1, Frehely goes back to his early rock roots, in some cases improving on the original source material. Choosing to kick off things with an admirable version of Led Zepplin’s “Good Times, Bad Times,” Frehely quickly wields his magic throughout (most) of the album’s remaining tracks, including singles like Deep Purple’s “Space Truckin'” and The Beatles’ “I’m Down.” But other renditions of more obscure dinosaur rock tunes like Cream’s “Politician” and Jimi Hendrix’s “Manic Depression” are sure to get lost on younger fans.

But the real highlights come in the form of the collaborations; Cheap Trick’s Robin Zander lends his voice on a lively version of Humble Pie’s “30 Days in the Hole,” while the lovely Lita Ford adds her talent to a unique take on The Rolling Stones’ “Jumpin’ Jack Flash.” And of course Ace even tackles one from his former band KISS, going back to the Dressed to Kill album to unearth “She.” These later tracks alone do enough to cancel out nearly any of the filler tracks on Vol. 2. Overall, not a completely bad way to spend 45 minutes or so.

Rating: 3/5 Stars

Album Review: Zakk Sabbath – Vertigo (Magnetic Eye Records)

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By: Jesse Striewski

I tend to usually shy away from tribute/cover albums (always found them a tad too on the ‘gimmicky’ side), but this track-by-track rendition of Black Sabbath’s masterpiece 1970 debut album arranged by Zakk Wylde and company was way too irresistible to pass up.

Backed by former Ozzy Osbourne/Rob Zombie bassist Blasko and ex-Danzig drummer Joey Castillo, Wylde does justice (both vocally as well as musically) to not only classics like “N.I.B.” and the title track, but equally brilliant (yet sometimes overlooked) numbers such as “Wicked World,” “Behind the Wall of Sleep,” and “Sleeping Village,” all of which are a welcome trip back through time.

What’s also interesting is that instead of releasing Vertigo digitally, the band is only offering physical copies in an effort to bring back a more ‘authentic’ feel to the entire rock experience. Fifty years since it’s original release, Black Sabbath is still just as timeless as ever, and this new addition serves as one more reminder of it’s enduring legacy.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Album Review: The Killers – Imploding the Mirage (Island Records)

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By: Jesse Striewski

The Killers continue to further evolve their unique sound six albums in, with more of the same vibrant instrumentation and thought-provoking lyrics the band has always been known for. Yet, there’s a slight lack of unity felt with the absence of guitarist/co-founder Dave Kuening missing from the fold (long-time bassist Mark Stoermer has also been largely m.i.a. in recent times after a pyrotechnics accident).

Lead-off single “Caution” stood as a fair representation of what was to come with the rest of Imploding the Mirage when it was released this past spring. But tracks like “My Own Soul’s Warning” (another sure to be staple for the band) and “Dying Breed” either equal or surpass that first teaser track on many levels. Other numbers like “Fire in Bone” invoke the Talking Heads, while “Lightning Fields” features an appearance from k.d. lang.

Imploding the Mirage is no doubt an admirable effort, but I still can’t help but feel some of the magic from the band’s first two now-classic albums (2004’s Hot Fuss and 2006’s Sam’s Town) is still missing. But I suppose it’s still better having this version of The Killers, then nothing at all.

Rating: 3/5 Stars

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

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

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

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

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

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