Album Review: Helloween – Self-Titled (Nuclear Blast Records)

By: Jesse Striewski

In more recent times, classic power metal act Helloween reunited with two of its core members; guitarist/vocalist Kai Hansen and singer Michael Kiske, each returned to the band in 2016 to form one of the most solidified lineups in the group’s history to date, bringing its current membership up to seven.

The result is this twelve track, self-titled collection of new material (their first new studio album overall since 2015), which finds the band utilizing three vocalists at once for the first time ever. There’s some great moments found through out, with “Fear of the Fallen” leading the charge. Other tracks like “Mass Pollution” and “Indestructible” are some of the heaviest in the band’s career to date.

However, the end result is not completely flawless, either. “Skyfall” and “Out for the Glory” contain some impressive guitar work, but could easily lose the casual listener’s attention with their longer run times (the non-single version of the latter actually clocks in at over twelve minutes). And “Angels” feels incomplete, as if it can’t really decide what it wants to be.

There will always be plenty of naysayers out there looking down on Helloween for past “cheesy” moments (see: the music video for “Halloween”). But the more sophisticated listener should be able to appreciate the band’s highlighted technical skills, and recognize that Helloween have aged gracefully, worthy of being put alongside such contemporaries in the sub-genre as Queensryche or DragonForce.

Rating: 3/5 Stars

Album Review: KennyHoopla – Survivors Guilt: The Mixtape// (Columbia Records)

By: Jesse Striewski

Last year when newcomer KennyHoopla dropped the brilliant single “how will i rest in peace if i’m buried by a highway?//,” it was apparent there was something uniquely special about this rising star. Now barely even a year later, he proves to be more than just a fluke with this brand new eight-song release.

Listeners first caught glimpse of Survivors Guilt: The Mixtape last November via the straight-to-the-point, 2-minute single and video, “estella//,” which also features Blink-182 drummer Travis Barker on it. Along the way, there’s painstakingly heartfelt slices of pop punk, indie, and emo that perfectly echo the soundtrack to youth. Tracks like “silence is also an answer//,” “smoke break//,” “turn back time//,” and latest single, “hollywood sucks//,” all display the singer’s raw talent and energy perfectly.

Every once in awhile, an act will come along and help restore my love of a music genre that I have often largely lost faith in. KennyHoopla has done just that, and if he keeps this up, he’s sure to lead the way at the top of his very own movement for years to come.

Rating: 5/5 Stars

Album Review: Mammoth WVH – Self-Titled (EX1 Records)

By: Jesse Striewski

The passing of iconic Van Halen guitarist/co-founder Eddie Van Halen last October sent a tidal wave of shock across rock communities the world over. Shortly after, Ed’s son (and most recent Van Halen bassist) Wolfgang dropped the emotionally-driven single “Distance,” a heartfelt track that served as a fitting tribute to his late father and resonated deeply with just about anyone who has ever experienced the lost of a loved one (present company included).

That first single was telling of what Wolfgang had been single-handedly putting together on his own for his debut solo album, which offers listeners a new prospective on the Van Halen legacy. Tracks like “Don’t Back Down,” “Stone,” and “Think It Over” feel as though they’d fit right in at the local watering hole on any given night of the week. That’s not to say there’s not a few weak spots, though; “Mammoth” and “The Big Picture” feel slightly forced, almost straining to sound modern while lacking much excitement.

No matter the caliber of song found here, there’s no denying the sheer talent and dedication put into this debut effort. One thing is apparent; this is only the start for Wolfgang Van Halen, who is sure to be a force to be reckoned with for many years to come.

Rating: 3/5 Stars

Album Review: Atreyu – Baptize (Spinefarm Records)

By: Jesse Striewski

Remember when a host of young bands began to emerge in the late ’90s/early ’00s to create an exciting new sub-genre known now as metalcore? Atreyu were one of the leading bands at the forefront of the movement, but unfortunately seemed to lost their way for a minute there (I can barely even remember much from their last release, 2018’s In Our Wake, which I also reviewed at the time for another publication). Thankfully, the band finally seems to be fully back on track again.

And like many, I too had doubts whether an Atreyu without now-former frontman Alex Varkatzas would be worthwhile or not. But Brandon Saller (who was already half of the band’s voice from behind his drum kit) and bassist Marc McKnight have done more than admirable jobs in his place. Any reservations I may have had about the lineup change were quickly dissipated quickly upon first listen of Baptize.

While I wasn’t too blown away by the generic-sounding first track the band released from Baptize as a single, “Save Us” (still probably my least favorite song on the album), its follow ups in the shape of “Warrior” (featuring Blink-182’s Travis Barker), “Underrated,” and the title track, were much more exciting numbers. But like any great album, the true magic is in the deep cuts, which are just as eclectic as ever here. Saller really belts his heart out on more emotionally-driven numbers like “Dead Weight” and “Stay,” while the band is firing on all cylinders on tracks like the Iron Maiden-inspired “Weed,” and the just-for-fun “Fucked Up.”

In all honestly, I was completely expecting to give just another mediocre review here. But I’m glad I approached Baptize with an open mind. It not only had me revisiting much of their older material, but helped to reignite a love for a band I forgot I once had so long ago.

Rating: 3.5/5 Stars

Album Review: Sunbomb – Evil and Divine (Frontiers Music s.r.l.)

By: Jesse Striewski

While neither the album cover, nor the name of this current project between L.A. Guns guitarist Tracii Guns and Stryper frontman Michael Sweet really grabbed my attention at first, what the two have achieved here is no doubt sheer heavy metal greatness.

Opening track/single “Life” packed enough of a punch to convince me to check out the rest Evil and Divine, and it was soon clear that this was a well-thought out effort from start to finish, with Guns unleashing some of his heaviest Sabbath-inspired riffs, and Sweet belting out each and every track with full passion. Some more album highlights include the timely “World Gone Wrong,” the ballad “Been Said and Done,” and epic single “Better End.”

It’s apparent the folks at Frontiers no doubt know how to put together a winning combination of established musicians at this point and let them do their thing. However, it would’ve been slightly more interesting had Sunbomb been a true “supergroup” rounded out by a full band, instead of only having Guns and Sweet as the faces of the project. Regardless, this still works for everyone involved.

Rating: 3/5 Stars

Album Review: Gilby Clarke – The Gospel Truth (Golden Robot Records)

By: Jesse Striewski

It’s been well over a decade since the last time former Guns N’ Roses guitarist Gilby Clarke released a solo album. Yet even with all the time that has passed, he still maintains his usual cool, with The Gospel Truth further cementing his rock star status, and proving some things are worth the wait.

I’ve got to admit, the first single, “Rock N Roll is Getting Louder,” came off as a bit weak to me; but once you really dive into the album, there’s plenty to unfold. The title track opens the record on a somewhat funky note, and is quickly followed by blues-laden tracks in the form of “Wayfarer” and “Tightwad.” But the two standout moments come in the form of a couple of diamonds in the rough; both “The Ending” and “Rusted N Busted” are undeniably catchy numbers worth blasting.

I’ve long since lauded Guns N’ Roses as one of the first bands to really introduce me to harder rock, and I can still remember Clarke being in the band as though it were yesterday, and where I was when I first heard his debut solo album Pawnshop Guitars. And while he may have already been a force to be reckoned with back then, it’s great to see just how much he has grown as a musician since the early ’90s.

Rating: 3.5/5 Stars

Album Review: Danz CM – The Absurdity of Human Existence (Channel 9 Records)

By: Shawn McKee

Like a young, earnest Trent Reznor, Danz utilizes technology to arrange, produce, and sometimes mix music all her own, while embodying an abundance of influences, to include Gary Numan, Thom Yorke, Blondie, Depeche Mode, Giorgio Moroder, Kraftwerk, and beyond. She also has a clear passion for film, pop culture, and science-fiction, notably reflected in most of her work. Her numerous music videos often reach cinematic heights, as seen in the grainy, glitchy magnum opus “Fuzz” from her debut album, “Davos.”

Danz CM reemerged last March with the release of a new album, citing the name change from Computer Magic as one of growth. The album title is anything but subtle and was purportedly conceived during a low point in the artist’s life. This is mostly the case with good music in general. “Absurdity” leads us on an introspective journey through uncertain times. There are a few standouts, with some minor lulls in an album that remains consistently fresh and unique. Danz CM delivers a symmetrical ten-song lineup at just under forty minutes, where no song sounds the same.

The opening track, “Idea of You” immediately launches into a thumping, electronic beat over layed with pulsating synth loops and distant guitar strumming. She sets the tone with, “I don’t want another… heartbreak on my record” and proceeds to pick up the pieces of a fractured relationship. The song’s arrangement is near perfection and offers an accessible sound that should pique the interest of any casual listener. The second track, “Domino” quietly delves into the struggles of love. Here, Danz displays a rarely heard vulnerability, further exploring themes of confusion and melancholy. The song deploys a litany of direct and indirect questions, such as, “How can I be so weak / How could you let me fall for you / How can I let you in, over again.” It’s an appropriate second track but far from an album favorite.

A cosmic slow burn follows of overlapping synth waves in the equally somber, “My Other Self.”The otherwise mellow song has a lot going for it, including disillusioned lyrics combined with a spacey sound. “You’re just a distraction… From myself,” repeats the chorus, as though the situation at hand has grown old. “Low” proceeds with some impressive electronic arrangements and keyboard layers wrapped in lyrics of paranoia and confusion, this time involving someone waiting for their lover to return. “You’re not the only one missing something…You’re not the only one.”

The album reaches a midway high point with the dance-oriented, Bjork-sounding “Don’t Stop,”where Danz channels her inner Debbie Harry. Her harmonized vocals are strong throughout the infectious tune. The isolating sadness of “Breaking Point” follows in a winding sonic fashion that recalls an 80s movie synth score. The Cars-sounding “Something More” picks things up again, with a cruising rock beat that’s fun and catchy. The lyrics convey a yearning beyond the ordinary while “working at a restaurant,” for little return. This seemingly harkens back to Danz’s own early days in NYC while attending college. I initially dismissed the song, only for it to grow on me later.

“I Don’t Need a Hero” is as a real standout and one of the best songs on the album. The rock-induced, synth-pounding ballet charges forward with industrial-sounding fervor. Danz takes no prisoners in her escape from the “monster” she’s left behind. “I don’t need a hero,” she says with a tone of finality, “It could never be somebody like you.” The song also represents her uncanny ability to layer catchy pop tunes with depth and emotion, a technique Kurt Cobain reportedly admired about The Pixies and wished to emulate.

The album winds down with the big band, disco-sounding “Not Gonna Stand By,” erupting in a plethora of strings, an intense, funky bass line, and fast, tight drums. Its undeniable groove is reminiscent of Abba, ELO, and KC and the Sunshine Band mixed into one. The lyrics and music present a more optimistic side of her existentialist journey. “I won’t hurt you, I won’t leave you, I won’t make you cry / But if you don’t let your guard down, I’m not gonna stand by.” Seems like a fair compromise to me. “Human Existence” is a touching and beautiful closer. Its simple, synth-driven aesthetic feels like something created at the edges of the earth… after the apocalypse. Powered by haunting lyrics and impressive vocals, the song offers hope amid a crumbling world. “Hold me…Hold me tightly.” It’s a fitting end to an enjoyable album that doesn’t outwardly hammer its appeal. It takes a few listens, like many albums, to draw you in. As a fan of electronic music in general, her music resonates with me. But I also believe that there’s a lot here to offer anyone who can appreciate it

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Album Review: The Offspring – Let the Bad Times Roll (Concord Records)

By: Jesse Striewski

Though I was excited to hear The Offspring were finally releasing their tenth studio album (and first since 2012), I was extremely disappointed by the recent shitty treatment of original bassist Greg K, who was ostracized by the rest of the band in 2019 for no better reason than just flat out greed. But when I heard the album’s infectious first single/title track, I knew they had yet again roped me in (but I’m still mad at them).

Aside from said hooky title track, there’s a number of other tunes that surprisingly hit the spot the way many of the band’s earlier tracks did, even if I don’t always see completely eye-to-eye with the lyrics/message. Perfect example; “This is Not Utopia.” It’s a hard-hitting, adrenaline-fueled punk anthem that nearly any old school fan would be able to appreciate. But lyric-wise, it’s another unfortunate example of the type of Anti-American sentiment you’re expected to have if you listen to this type of music (and sorry for having a differing opinion, but I am indeed one of those who feels you don’t have to ‘cancel’ everyone and everything you don’t fully agree with, and conform to what everyone else wants you to think these days).

But aside from all that, most of the twelve tracks found here do work in some way or another, with “Breaking These Bones,” “and “Army of One” being a couple of more standouts, with the latter being exceptionally well-written. There’s even a quasi-Beatles moment or two in the form of “Lullaby,” and a re-worked piano driven version of their hit “Gone Away.”

This will no doubt appeal to just about anyone who’s ever done time at a Warped Tour (sans those who still like to cry “sell-outs,” of course), and maybe even gain them a new fan or two. But you know what? No disrespect to the new guy, but c’mon, Offspring, where would your sound be today if not for Greg’s bass lines on such tracks as “Self Esteem,” “The Meaning of Life,” or (one of my personal favorites) “Kick Him When He’s Down?!” Along with frontman Dexter Holland, Greg was the second longest-tenured member of the band, and only other original member left (though guitarist Noodles was there fairly early on, too). Either way, not cool guys, not cool at all.

Rating: 3/5 Stars

Album Review: Sweet Oblivion Feat. Geoff Tate – Relentless (Frontiers Music s.r.l.)

By: Jesse Striewski

Italian-based metal project Sweet Oblivion are back with their second full-length effort to feature original Queensryche vocalist Geoff Tate at the forefront, which proves to once again be a winning combonation.

My appreciation for Tate’s work in his former band has only grown over the years, and each track here sounds as though they could’ve come straight from a classic Queesryche record. I knew the second I heard the first single from Relentless, “Another Change,” that this would be a promising album.

“Once Again One Sin” is a fitting opening song, and is quickly followed by the strongest track on the album by far, “Strong Pressure.” Other highlights among the ten tracks here include “Wake up Call,” “Aria” (impressively sung by Tate completely in Italian), and the ballad “I’ll Be the One.”

It’s strange how new, unheard music can seem so familiar upon first listen, but that’s exactly the case here with Relentless; some of the lyrics manage to hit so close to home that they feel like they’ve actually been there with us all along. That is what makes for a good listening experience, which is precisely what Sweet Oblivion have provided listeners with here.

Rating: 3.5/5 Stars

Album Review: The End Machine – Phase2 (Frontiers Music s.r.l.)

By: Jesse Striewski

Hard rock/heavy metal suergroup The End Machine, which features guitarist George Lynch (Dokken/Lynch Mob), bassist Jeff Pilson (Dokken), vocalist Robert Mason (Warrant/Lynch Mob), and newcomer Steve Brown on drums (in place of his recently retired father, Mick, also from Dokken) are back with the follow up to their 2018 debut. And this time the group has had a chance to perfect their sound just right.

Instrumental piece “The Rising” starts things off with a hauntingly familiar tone before breaking into the album’s first single (and without a doubt one of it’s strongest tracks), “Blood & Money.” From then on, there’s hints of multiple genres spread out along the way on the record’s twelve tracks; “Devil’s Playground” and “Born of Fire” contain some blues-ly riffs from Lynch, while “Prison or Paradise” and the album’s latest single, “Crack the Sky,” contain some borderline thrash elements.

But without a doubt the biggest highlights come in the form of the anthems “Shine Your Light,” and especially, “Dark Divide.” With their in-your-face, sing-along choruses, I found myself turning up the volume even louder, especially with the latter track, which no doubt features Mason screaming his heart out on possibly one of the strongest performances of his entire career.

Phase2 is hands down the album the rock community needed at this moment in time. Don’t pass this one up, it’s worth giving the time of day (and then some).

Rating: 4/5 Stars