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

Album Review: Red Hot Chili Peppers – Unlimited Love (Warner)

By: Jesse Striewski

Like many, I got into the Red Hot Chili Peppers “back in the day” at the peak of their mainstream success in the early ’90s. But when their sound started changing and becoming more mellow by 1999’s Californication album, I began losing interest…at least until I finally saw the band live in 2017 that is, and my faith in them was more or less restored.

Unlimited Love is not only the band’s twelfth studio album, but their first with former guitarist John Frusciante since 2006’s Stadium Arcadium, and having his energy back in the fold is a definite asset to the band’s sound. With Frusciante back in tow, the guys offer up seventeen new tracks and some of their best work in years here.

We were first introduced to the album via the single “Black Summer” in early February, and said track also kicks off the collection of songs here. Along the way there’s plenty of funky numbers (“She’s a Lover,” “Whatchu Thinkin'”) and just straight cool tracks (“Here Ever After,” “The Heavy Wing,” “Tangelo”), with really only a couple of duds (“It’s Only Natural,” “Veronica”) thrown in. Also worth checking out is the new video for latest single “These Are the Ways,” which finds frontman Anthony Kiedis fleeing from cops in a wild, fast-paced chase through various suburban settings.

This is the album that this band has needed to record and release for some time now; not perfect, but just strong enough to bring a waning fan such as myself back into a category that finds me caring about their music again.

Rating: 3.5/5 Stars

Album Review: Cobra Spell – Anthems of the Night (Self-Released)

By: Jesse Striewski

From the moment I first heard/saw the video for Cobra Spell’s “Addicted to the Night,” I knew they had won me over as a fan (and it’s not just because three out of five of the band’s members are attractive young females – lead by former Crypta guitarist and knockout Sonia Anubis – though that certainly doesn’t hurt anything!).

Said first single also kicks off this four song EP, which, if you couldn’t already tell based off of its cover alone, echos back to rock’s ’80s heyday. “The Midnight Hour” and “Accelerate” are each layered with thick guitar work and seem destined to rock many a kegger or strip club, while “Steal My Heart Away” is a tad more on the softer side, reminiscent of early Bon Jovi, among others.

Some say this current wave of throwback rock/metal bands is just another trend that will come and go, but there’s a reason why it’s so popular again. Too much of what passes for music today is just soulless, and those of us who can see through it want more than simply what’s feed to us via mainstream media. It may take a little more effort to seek out a band like Cobra Spell versus finding the new mediocre Pop Evil album, but the payoff is much more worth it in the end.

Rating: 3/5 Stars

Album Review: Tears For Fears – The Tipping Point (Concord)

By: Jesse Striewski

I really had not anticipated to be reviewing all new material from ’80s pop rockers Tears For Fears in 2022, but here we are. And with nearly two decades in the making since their last studio album, one would think they would have reached total perfection by now.

The Tipping Point (the band’s seventh album for those of you keeping track) starts off with the aptly-titled “No Small Thing,” then progresses nicely with the title track (which also features a music video to go along with it). Other songs like “My Demons” and “End of Night” inject some interest as well, but unfortunately many of the other tracks are subdued enough to induce sleep at times.

There’s no doubt that Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith – the band’s long time core masterminds – have a lifetime’s worth of experience and talent in their field that most would be envious of. But I think staying out of the public eye for so long may have had some damaging effects on them in more ways than one. But despite the time that’s passed, it’s clear the bond the two musicians share is a unique one none the less.

Rating: 3/5 Stars

Album Review: Scorpions – Rock Believer (Spinefarm)

By: Jesse Striewski

Up until semi-recently, the Scorpions were still one of those bands I didn’t put all that much thought into to be honest. But in the past decade or so, I’ve revisited a good amount of their classic material, which contains far more gems than simply “Rock You Like a Hurricane.”

On the band’s nineteenth studio record, the guys immediately bring the heat, opening with the high-octane “Gas in the Tank.” Sure, there’s a dud or two along the way (namely “Roots in my Boots”), but bombastic tracks like “Knock ’em Dead,” “Peacemaker,” “Shoot For Your Heart,” and the title track, more than make up for it.

There’s even a tender moment or two, including both electric and acoustic versions of their latest single “When You Know (Where You Come From),” which echos the likes of past power ballads like “Winds of Change.” Rock Believer might not be the strongest effort in the band’s impressively long catalog, but it might just help create a new one or two.

Rating: 3.5/5 Stars

Album Review: Thunderor – Fire It Up (Boonsdale Records)

By: Jesse Striewski

Something about Canadian rock and metal seems to just always hit the spot, and in the grand tradition of classic and modern power trios from the great north such as Rush, Exciter, and Cauldron, enter Thunderor (okay, so maybe the name doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, but here me out here!).

Formed by Skull Fist drummer JJ Tartaglia (who also serves as vocalist here) and former guitarist Jonny Nesta, the two ex-bandmates are joined by bassist Oscar Rangel (who also briefly did some time with fellow canucks Annihilator). The chemistry of these three rockers combined gives off an undeniable, contagious energy that shines through their music.

The moment I first heard “How We Roll,” I knew I was in trouble…and instantly hooked. Other numbers like “All or Nothing,” “On the Run,” “We Can Make It,” and the epic title track, infuse multiple sub-genres like thrash, power, and synth metal, and are the type of adventurous anthems that make life still feel like it’s worth living even on its darkest of days.

Being more on the pop side, I can see how the more “brutal” metalheads might put their noses in the air to this. But if you’re able to just open your mind and embrace it, you might just have yourself some fun, and what’s so bad about that?

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Album Review: Billy Idol – The Roadside EP (Dark Horse Records)

By: Jesse Striewski

I’m admittedly late in checking out this latest EP from legendary rocker Billy Idol (his first collection of new music in seven years), and even debated if I should still review something as “old” as it is (it dropped a whopping month and a half ago this past September!). But I was so glad I decided to still give it a listen once I heard how surprisingly good it is. It also helps that Idol is once again joined by longtime guitarist/companion Steve Stevens.

Sure, at just four songs, The Roadside EP is no doubt a short listen. But each song has its own place, starting with the first single, “Bitter Taste.” Inspired by Idol’s near-death motorcycle accident he track is an effective haunting number that’s accentuated with a black and white music video, which gives off a neo-noir type of vibe. I quickly feel in love with the song, and legitimately couldn’t wait to hear what else was in store.

“Rita Hayworth” echoes back to Idol’s early Generation X days, while “U Don’t Have to Kiss Me Like That” maintains that cool swagger found on previous hits like 1990’s “Cradle of Love.” Everything is finally book-ended neatly with “Baby Put Your Clothes Back On,” another banger, as they say in Idol’s homeland.

It’s both tragic and frustrating that the format of modern radio stations is to play a classic artist’s “hits” into the ground on a daily basis, while ignoring any and all new material they release; this is the reason why ignorance runs so rampant among “fans.” Far too often they have no idea that artists like Billy Idol are still even releasing new music based on what’s being presented ted to them, causing them to not know any better (of course there is always the option of seeking out the information themselves, but perhaps lack the motivation to do so). Sadly, there’s so much great music that continues to get overlooked out there on a yearly basis; do yourself a favor, and don’t let this be another case of that.

Rating: 4/5 Stars