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

Album Review: KK’s Priest – Sermons of the Sinner (EX1 Records)

By: Jesse Striewski

Originally I had debated reviewing a certain other metal album that also came out last week, but swiftly decided I’d rather spend my time on some good, non-preachy metal that’s not actually lead by some delusional, hypocritical tool (sorry, Al). I’m beyond glad I went with KK’s Priests’ Sermons of the Sinner instead, which reaches epic proportions in no time.

When guitarist K.K. Downing originally left Judas Priest in 2011, I was legitimately disappointed; in my book, he was the driving force behind the band, and as irreplaceable as Keith Richards is to The Rolling Stones. But I was glad to hear of this new project of his called KK’s Priest, which also features one time Judas Priest frontman Tim “Ripper” Owens on vocals. To say what K.K. has assembled here is a winning combo would be an understatement.

Like the last effort from counterparts Iron Maiden, unrelenting guitar riffs and empowering lyrics are immediately in full swing here, even with album opener “Hellfire Thunderbolt” being one of the weakest numbers throughout. Tracks like “Raise Your Fists,” “Metal Through and Through,” and “All Hail the Priest” reawaken that primal, youthful spirit in a way that only metal truly can.

Is it perfect? No. But Sermons of the Sinner is without a doubt the Judas Priest album I’ve been hoping for for years now. And if the two factions can’t find a way to ever merge forces again, I suppose this really is the next best thing.

Rating: 3.5/5 Stars

Album Review: Debbie Gibson – The Body Remembers (Stargirl)

By: Jesse Striewski

I wasn’t exactly a Debbie Gibson “fan” during her ’80s hey day. I was certainly aware of her presence thanks to MTV, but in my young mind, she was just something for my older sisters to listen to, not me. But with age comes wisdom, and my appreciation for all genres of music has grown exponentially over the years. Not to mention the moment I first saw Gibson scantly slinking around in her recent video for “One Step Closer,” I knew she had me hooked.

The Body Remembers contains fifteen cutesy pop tracks that often sound comparable to many of the current hits heard on modern radio today. Along the way, there’s contributions from the likes of Sixx: A.M./former Guns N’ Roses guitarist DJ Ashba and Cinderella drummer Fred Coury. There’s even a duet with Joey Mcintyre of New Kids on the Block, appropriately titled “Lost in Your Eyes, the Duet,” though said track is not as strong a ballad as probably hoped for. But the main overall highlights here are definitely the title track, and “Dance 4U,” the latter a seemingly perfect strip club anthem.

Okay, so I probably won’t go out of my way to listen to The Body Remembers on a regular basis any time soon. But you know what? I’d rather have my kid listening to something like this than the garbage that passes for music these days that was on full display at the V.M.A’s the other night. It’s a shame that someone with actual class such as Gibson’s doesn’t get the type of attention that the masses so blindly hand over to far less talented artists; if for no other reason, give her new disc at least one spin.

Rating: 3/5 Stars

Album Review: Iron Maiden – Senjutsu (Parlophone/WMG)

By: Jesse Striewski

It’s been six years since Iron Maiden released their last studio album, 2015’s The Book of Souls. At the time, Rewind It Magazine still didn’t even exist (although I did review the album for another publication at the time), nor did half of the lunacy that has since plagued humanity. But leave it to good old reliable Iron Maiden to stick to their guns and continue to grow their metal catalogue with ease in a way that only they know how.

Senjutsu (their second double album, and seventeenth overall), is just as epic as anything the band has released yet. The eight minute long title track starts the record off promising, but things really pick up by “Stratego,” a rallying battle cry reminiscent of the band’s 1983 classic “The Trooper.” At no point does Maiden disappoint or let up, continuing to get deep and explore multiple themes on tracks like “Lost in a Lost World,” “Days of Future Past,” “Darkest Hour,” and “Hell on Earth.” The only “complaint” one might be able to find here (if looking for one) is the actual length of many of its songs.

Those who “get” Iron Maiden will always understand their genius. They’re not some washed up nostalgic act forced to rely on their material of yesterday, as so many acts from their era so often do. After years of admiration, I was lucky enough to finally see them live in 2011 for The Final Frontier tour; to this day, it remains one of the best concerts I’ve ever attended, and I would go see them tour for Senjutsu in a heartbeat as well. We’re beyond lucky to still have them around, and at the top of their game at that.

Rating: 4.5/5 Stars

Album Review: The Killers – Pressure Machine (Island Records)

By Jesse Striewski

Just one short year after 2020’s Imploding the Mirage album, The Killers return with a way more personal feeling effort than the previous one. And while the return of guitarist Dave Keuning back into the fold helps with the overall sound, there’s still a feeling like something is missing without bassist Mark Stoermer’s presence.

Apparently a loose concept record, Pressure Machine focuses on the Utah childhood of lead singer Brandon Flowers in the most Springsteen-like way possible. The one-two punch of “West Hills” and “Quiet Town” help establish the Americana tone of the eleven track album from then on out, and are arguably a couple of the strongest numbers found here. Other highlights include “Cody,” “In the Car Outside,” and “Runaway Horses,” featuring a duet with the lovely Phoebe Bridgers.

I’ve definitely struggled to find the love I once had for The Killers on their first two albums, and my enthusiasm for their last two releases was no doubt lower than usual. But Pressure Machine contains some undeniable moments of greatness, and at the very least deserves a chance at least.

Rating: 3/5 Stars

Album Review: Night Ranger – ATBPO (Frontiers Music s.r.l.)

By: Jesse Striewski

In hindsight, I might have been a tad on the harsh side when I reviewed Night Ranger’s previous studio album, 2017’s Don’t Let Up (whether or not it was completely justified is still debatable, though). But I’m glad I did not let my view of said last record deter me from listening to the band’s latest collection of new music (their thirteenth), ATBPO, which no doubt contains some hidden gems throughout.

Album opener “Coming For You,” and recent single “Breakout” are both high-energy rockers with some excellent shredding from guitarists Brad Gillis and Keri Kelli, and almost sound more suitable for a power metal album rather than here. “Cold As December” and “A Lucky Man” also invoke some interest, with the latter standing out as one of the strongest tracks here overall.

That’s not to say they are not some weak moments, though; “Hard to Make it Easy,” “Dance,” and “The Hardest Road” are all catchy in their own ways, but feel more like modern country than rock. And “Bring it All Home to Me” seems to really be reaching for the “Sister Christian” crowd a bit too much. However, “Can’t Afford a Hero” does make for a much more effective power ballad.

If nothing else, I have to give Night Ranger credit for not relying solely on nostalgia from their hey day like so many other bands from their era do; now if only modern radio would actually start playing new material from the groups whose hits they’ve played to death, maybe audiences would finally understand that, too.

Rating: 3/5 Stars

Album Review: Dee Snider – Leave a Scar (Napalm Records)

By: Jesse Striewski

The name Dee Snider will forever be synonymous with Twisted Sister, the ’80s hair metal group whose sound he largely helped cultivate after joining in 1976. But unlike his previous, more pop-oriented outfit, Snider’s solo work is more akin with more traditional styles of heavy metal, featuring blistering guitar work, group sing-a-long’s, and headbanging-induced breakdowns. On his latest solo effort (his first since 2018’s For the Love of Metal), he does not let down in any of these departments.

Album opener “I Gotta Rock (Again)” was the typical expected first single aiming at his core audience who can’t see pass his Twisted days. But as soon as that’s out of the way, the fun really starts. The track is immediately followed by one of the album’s best songs in the form of “All or Nothing More,” which is followed by a couple more hard-hitters before Snider truly reaches his peak midway through, screaming his heart out on “Silent Battles,” possibly his best work in years.

Some other highlights include “Crying For Your Life” and “In For the Kill” (the latter feeling ideal for the next Call of Duty game). There’s even a surprising “duet” of sorts featuring the guttural vocals of Cannibal Corpse frontman George “Corpsegrinder” Fisher in the form of latest single “Time to Choose.”

I’ll admit, I was definitely skeptical at first after hearing said initial first single. But without the Twisted Sister banner behind him, Snider is finally fully able to realize his creative abilities that were likely waiting to be unleashed for quite some time. I was lucky enough to see him perform live once with his former band back in 2006 before they eventually threw in the towel (and before drummer A.J. Pero’s untimely passing). But I’d be just as inclined to see him do a solo set knowing much of the material would be as good as what’s found on here.

Rating: 3.5/5 Stars

Album Review: Twenty One Pilots – Scaled and Icy (Fueled By Ramen)

By: Jesse Striewski

On their sixth studio release, alternative pop/rock/rap/synth stalwarts Twenty One Pilots seem to be falling more in line with the likes of bands they’ve actually influenced since their formation, rather than leading the charge of the sound they largely had a hand in shaping. On their last effort, 2018’s Trench, it seemed like Tyler Joseph and Josh Dun were peaking on the verge of musical greatness. On Scaled and Icy, it feels a bit like the duo took a step back, even if they did have several years and the downtown from a pandemic to work on it.

Choosing to open the album with the uber-upbeat “Good Day’ seemed unexpected right off the bat and like a bit of a miscalculation on the band’s part. Singles “Shy Away” and “Saturday” are equally poppy, but admirable for what they are, each featuring interesting arctic-themed music videos. Yet they almost feel as if they belong on someone else’s album. The last single, “Choker,” is also another decent number with another literal “fun” music video attached to it.

But as usual the duo are at their best when they venture into more serious territory; “The Outside,” “No Chances,” and “Redecorate” are all as close to flawless as it gets, and enough to save the album from just ‘meh’ status. Overall I wouldn’t say Scaled and Icy is a bad album per say. But if this is your introduction to the band, do yourself a favor and just go through their earlier material first before making this your starting point.

Rating: 2.5/5 Stars

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