Album Review: Paul McCartney – McCartney III (Capitol Records)

By: Jesse Striewski

For just the third time in his career (and first time since 1980’s McCartney II), legendary Beatles singer/bassist/songwritter Paul McCartney has written and recorded an album full of compositions penned and performed entirely by him. And for someone pushing eighty years old, he’s still got it.

The album starts off with a near-jam piece in the form of “Long Tailed Winter Bird,” by far one of the strongest tracks found here. Unfortunately, it’s followed by a number of mediocre tunes before finally picking back up again. Luckily, things are redeemed by the edition of “Lavatory Lil” and “Slidin’,” which sound as though they would’ve both been able to fit in the White Album-era Beatles catolog.

Even if you were drawn more towards Lennon’s work in The Beatles (as I personally was), there’s no denying McCartney’s influence in the rock and pop worlds. We should all be thankful he’s still here and producing new, positive music at a time when the world truly needs it the most.

Rating: 3/5 Stars

Album Review: My Dying Bride – Macabre Cabaret (Nuclear Blast)

By: Jesse Striewski

This short, four track EP from U.K. doom masters My Dying Bride serves as a fitting compliment to the band’s recently-released full length effort, The Ghost of Orion. Here the band expands on some of the very same themes from said album.

The opening/title track is an epic, ten minute long opus, with a detailed music video to accompany it. Other tracks like “A Secret Kiss” are far more stronger then it’s title might suggest, while “Orchestral Shores (Buiksloterkerk Cathedral Mix)” is as effective as it’s original version, “Your Broken Shore.” The weakest link by far though is “A Purse of Gold and Stars;” although it’s threaded together well sonically, lyrically it falls a tad short.

Although I tend to forget about them these days, there was a minute when I was still in high school that doom/goth metal acts like My Dying Bride, along with the likes of Paradise Lost and Moonspell (among others) were much more at the forefront for me. But I’m always glad when bands like them come back on my radar; it’s rare that I ever regret re-visiting their older material, and discovering their new music.

Rating: 3/5 Stars

Album Review: Hatebreed – Weight of the False Self (Nuclear Blast Records)

By: Jesse Striewski

It’s been four years since hardcore heavyweights Hatebreed unleashed new material upon the world, and if 2020 needed anything, it was new music from them. On their eighth full-length effort, the band have perfected their own unique style of metalcore that they started so long ago.

True to form, Weight of the False Self is instantly relentless, with “Instinctive (Slaughterlust)” kicking things off as brutal as ever. From then on, it’s one unforgiving track to the next. Numbers like “Set It Right (Start with Yourself),” “Cling to Life,” and “This I Earned” are testaments to inner strength, while “Wings of the Vulture” and “Invoking Dominance” are among some of the band’s best work in years.

I’ve been lucky enough to see Hatebreed live, and equally lucky to even (briefly) meet frontman Jamey Jasta. Hatebreed are undoubtedly a breed all their own, and should not be taken lightly; proceed with caution in the best way possible.

Rating: 3.5/5 Stars

Album Review: L.A. Guns – Renegades (Golden Robot Records)

By: Jesse Striewski

When listeners got their first taste earlier this year of what the Steve Riley-led version of L.A. Guns were up to via the hook-laden track “Crawl,” they were given a fairly accurate idea of what was to come. But with follow-up single “Well Oiled Machine” failing to generate as much excitement, I was concerned they may have peaked early. But aside from a filler track or two, for the most part I was wrong.

Subsequent third single and title track “Renegades” is a blues-ly self portrait that paints a perfect picture of the band’s current status. Other tracks like “All That You Are,” “Lost Boys,” and the power ballad-ish “You Can’t Walk Away” are all worthy contenders from this version of the band.

You can close off your mind and scoff at the notion of there being two versions of L.A. Guns. Or, you could choose to look at things the way I do; we’re lucky enough to be living at a time where we not only have the option to be a fan of one or the other (or both/neither), but we have twice the music from one great band! Choose wisely.

Rating: 3/5 Stars

Album Review: AC/DC – Power Up (Columbia)

By: Jesse Striewski

AC/DC were one of the pivotal bands that introduced me into rock n’ roll. Their massive 1980 effort Back in Black was, to the best of my knowledge, the second rock album I ever owned. And in 1996, they became the first band I ever saw live when a group of friends and I drove down south to West Palm Beach to catch them in concert. But in all honestly, the band hasn’t released anything that’s really excited me since 1990’s The Razor’s Edge album…until now anyway.

Power Up is the first studio album from the band since original founding guitarist Malcolm Young, sadly passed in 2017, and serves as a tribute to him. However, his presence is still greatly felt; co-founder/brother Angus Young complied each of the record’s tracks from non-recorded material the two had previously worked on together, while their nephew Stevie Young once again steps in in Malcolm’s place. The permanent returns of vocalist Brian Johnson, bassist Cliff Williams, and drummer Phil Rudd give the album a sort of ‘comeback’ feel as well.

“Shot in the Dark” served as an appropriate first taste of what was to come from the Power Up. Other numbers like “Demon Fire,” “Systems Down,” and “Witch’s Spell” are reminiscent of 1981’s For Those About to Rock… album (still my personal favorite release from the Johnson era). Make no mistakes about it; AC/DC are back, and with a roar.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Album Review: Marilyn Manson – We Are Chaos (Loma Vista/Concord)

By: Jesse Striewski

Although I’m far from the Marilyn Manson fan I might have once been when I was fourteen, there’s still that part of me that will always be intrigued by what Manson does these days. I’m glad I took the time to listen to the band’s eleventh studio release, We Are Chaos, which sees them taking some surprisingly interesting new avenues with their sound.

One thing that has been disappointing about Manson in more recent times is the fact there’s no real “band” to speak of anymore, rather just random, faceless musicians that come and go through the fold. But despite this, Manson finds songwriting help via collaboration with Shooter Jennings, who definitely helps add new dimensions here. The two manage to unleash some dark, Bowie-inspired numbers in the form of “Broken Needle,” “Keep My Head Together,” and the title track.

But the standout here hands-down goes to “Don’t Chase the Dead,” which not only echos early ’80s Ministry, it also features a sleek music video featuring The Walking Dead‘s Norman Reedus and photographer Lindsay Usich. I always say to go in to things with an open mind, and the same applies with everything here. Give it a chance and you might find something you like.

Rating: 3.5/5 Stars

Album Review: The Damned – The Rockfield Files EP (Spinefarm)

By: Jesse Striewski

My first introduction to The Damned back in the day came via their 1980 effort The Black Album, so the lineup my mind forever goes to is the one on that album, consisting of Vanian/Sensible/Scabies/Gray. Although it’s still not that exact same lineup here, having bassist Paul Gray back in the fold, as well as recording in the same place as said record (and its two follow-up releases), does give The Rockfield Files a hint of nostalgia to it.

“Keep ’em Alive” starts off this four track EP promising enough, but ultimately gets lost in its own repetitiveness. But “Manipulator” quickly puts things back into the right direction, while “The Spider the Fly” and “Black is the Night” each hearken back to the band’s most goth days, with the latter being the overall standout.

The Damned’s music may not be for everybody, but those familiar with their stuff should be able to appreciate something here. And having seen the band live a couple of times myself (the last time being well over 15 years ago now), it would definitely be interesting to see this lineup go out on the road, whenever the world finally gets back to those days.

Rating: 3/5 Stars

Album Review: Blue Oyster Cult – The Symbol Remains (Frontiers Music srl)

By: Jesse Striewski

After years of multiple reissues and live albums from Blue Oyster Cult, I was thrilled to finally be able to critique some actual new material from the band, who I’ve always considered extremely underrated. And I was even more glad to discover the band’s first new studio effort since 2001 wasn’t a total dud.

Album opener “That Was Me” is reminiscent of such heavier tracks in the band’s catalogue as “See You in Black.” Seeing former drummer Albert Bouchard make a welcomed appearance in the video (playing cowbell, of course!) for the song was a definite nice touch as well. Further singles like “Box in my Head” and “Tainted Blood” (the first number from the band to be sung by current guitarist Richie Castellano) are less effective.

But the real highlights here come in the form of the experimental; “Florida Man” and “Secret Road” are in a category all their own, while “Nightmare Epiphany” (my personal favorite) and “Edge of the World” are the strongest tracks overall. Even if you’ve never listened to a BOC album a day in your life, this isn’t a bad starting point.

Rating: 3.5/5 Stars

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

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)

Zakk Sabbath - Edited (1)

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