Album Review: Seven Kingdoms – Empty Eyes EP (Self-Released)

Seven Kingdoms

By: Jesse Striewski

Central, FL-based power metal act Seven Kingdoms are back with a brand new, crowd-funded EP of material, and I was instantly surprised by just how well put together Empty Eyes really was.

Five songs in all, there’s really not much to complain about here. The title track kicks things off with promise (there’es even a fun video for it that was shot in Deland, including a scene at Steve’s Downtown Music), but it’s guitar-driven numbers like “The Water Dance,” “Valonquar,” and “Monster” that truly drives things here. The only semi-weak spot comes in the form of a cover of Heart’s “Barracuda” (a song I never cared much for to begin with).

Those not already familiar with the band might have a hard time getting in to this release, but keep in mind the songs found here are really meant to be heard live…which is truly where Seven Kingdoms shines their best.

Rating: 3/5 Stars

Album Review: Howling Giant – The Space Between Worlds (Blues Funeral Recordings)

Howling Giant

By: Jesse Striewski

Progressive rockers Howling Giant finally unleash their debut full-length record after a handful of EP’s over the years. The Space Between Worlds is a nine-track concept album that takes those willing to listen on a trip to another dimension, not unlike a good round of D&D with your best friends.

Along the way there’s tracks that easily take your mind though new gateways, including “Comet Rider,” “Ghosts in the Well,” “Ice Castle,” and “The Orb.” There’s even a fairly entertaining video for the track “Cypermancer and the Doomsday Express” that’s a legitimate fun watch.

While stoner rock typically isn’t my usual go-to, Howling Giant bring a much-needed, fresh element to the genre reminiscent to the likes of The Sword. Worth checking out if you have the time.

Rating: 3/5 Stars

Album Review: The Menzingers – Hello Exile (Epitaph Records)

Menzingers

By: Jesse Striewski

Few bands can capture true human emotions as flawlessly as Scranton, PA’s The Menzingers, and it was apparent Hello Exile would be another work of genius upon release of the album’s first single, “Anna,” over the summer.

As if 2017’s After the Party wasn’t already near-perfect enough, the band  has outdone themselves once again on their sixth full-length effort. Tracks like “High School Friend,” “Strangers Forever,” and the country-tinged “I Can’t Stop Drinking” are all brilliant in their own simplistic ways, and listening to them somehow seems strangely familiar, as if they’ve always been there in the background as the soundtracks to our lives.

The Menzingers are one of those rare bands so good they’re in their own league along with The Replacements or The Killers, and I only wished I wrote music as good as them when I was still playing in bands.  It’s truly foolish not to give a group like The Menzingers a chance; we almost don’t deserve an act this amazing.

Rating: 4.5/5 Stars

Enforcer and Warbringer at The Haven Lounge on 10/12/19 – Words by Jesse Striewski/Photos by Brooke Striewski

Enforcer Live Shot 3

I’ve been going to metal and rock shows for nearly a quarter of a century now. In that span of time, I’ve attended as everything from the fan in the crowd, to the musician on stage (and for a brief time, was even the security behind the barricades). For over a decade now, my role at shows has largely been that of a music journalist (and when my wife is unavailable, an occasional photographer) reporting everything I see and hear. But at my age (and with having a bum leg), I tend to experience most shows on the sidelines these days (it makes it a lot easier for jotting down notes, anyhow). But last Saturday, October 12 at The Haven Lounge in Orlando (or is it Winter Park?), I broke my own rules, and exerted myself right in the middle of the action for the first time in I can’t even remember how long.

Perhaps it had something to do with the initial opening act, Orlando’s own Darkness by Design, whose immediate intensity (reminiscent of old school Slayer) caught the attention of the entire room, and demanded one to listen up instantly. Guitarist Marcos Mercado’s massive riffs were a definite highlight, making them a force to be reckoned with on stage.

Destructonomicon were next on the bill. I’ve caught them a time or two over the years, and judging by their performance this past weekend, they haven’t matured all that much since then (go figure, with a name like…Destructonomicon). Although they did initiate a decent response from the audience, their “tough guy” brand of crossover doesn’t quite do much for me these days.

Another local outfit I’ve seen a time or two over the years, Thicket, were up next. I’m not entirely sure how to place them. Part traditional thrash and part progressive metal, their lack of cohesion is somewhat of a strange mixture. Still, there was no denying they had the club amped up and ready for a night of more headbanging by the end of their set.

The band that got me through the door that night, Enforcer, were next to play. I’ve been a fan of theirs since another magazine I freelance for, New Noise, asked me to review their 2015 album, From Beyond. With their ability to skillfully mimic the sounds of such beloved ’80s thrash metal bands such as Megadeth (though without ripping anyone off), I was instantly hooked on these Swedish metalheads from the start, and have sought their entire catalog ever since. Prior to last Saturday’s show I had heard that some of the members would not be present for this tour, but had no idea only lead vocalist/guitarist/overall mastermind Olof Wilkstrand would be present from the band’s core lineup, along with touring musicians that included Skull Fist guitarist Jonny Nesta. Warbringer guitarist Chase Becker also filled in on bass, while Hellwitch drummer Brian Wilson rounded things out behind the drumset.

Still, I knew from the moment they hit the stage with “Destroyer” that this particular night would be different, and found myself making my way to the front of the stage to scream along with every lyric (that I could remember anyway) quickly. More crushing anthems like “Die For the Devil,” Searching For You,” “Undying Evil,” “From Beyond,” “Belles of Hades/Death Rides the Night,” ‘Zenith of the Black Sun,” and “Mesmerized by Fire,” followed with fury.

What came as an even bigger shock (other than how hard they played) was the fact they managed to represent every album of their career, including one of my personal favorites from the Diamonds album, “Live For the Night,” as well as “Scream of the Savage” from their lesser known 2008 debut album, Into the Night. After an epic rendition of “Take Me Out of This Nightmare,” the band came back for two more Diamonds-era tracks, “Katina” and Midnight Vice,” before finally calling it a night.

By the time they finished their set, there was no doubt that my wife/photographer and I were both in need of a reprieve before Warbringer hit the stage, and by the time we got back from grabbing some fresh air, the club was already packed again. I have to admit I don’t know Warbringer’s (who were the headliner on this night) material as well as Enforcer’s, but I did familiarize myself with some of their music beforehand, and recognized some of the tracks in their set such as “Remain Violent,” “Firepower Kills,” and “Severed Reality.” Their music is honestly a bit hit or miss for me, at times on the interesting side, while at other times extremely generic. One thing’s for sure, their intensity might have come close to matching Enforcer’s (who no doubt stole the show that night), but were far less superior in comparison.

And the end of the night, we even had the pleasure of meeting some of the members of Enforcer, including said front man Wikstrand and guitarist Nesta, who embodied the living “rock star” image without tarnishing it one bit.

-J.S.

Enforcer Live Shot 2

 

Album Review: Steel Panther – Heavy Metal Rules (Steel Panther Records)

Steel Panther

By: Jesse Striewski

What started off once upon a time as a promising parody act has more than worn itself painfully thin by now. Steel Panther have been riding the coat tails of one lame crude joke for over a decade now, and their fifth studio effort finds the guys still trying to stretch the limits of their already-strained imaginations.

Heavy Metal Rules offers little new to their schlock rock brand past tracks with more uber-obscene lyrics and titles that only the most juvenile of minds would find humorous, such as “All I Wanna Do is Fuck (Myself Tonight)” and “Gods of Pussy.” The title track is virtually the only song on the whole album even worth going back for a second listen, and the album’s cover is probably the most enticing thing about the record as a whole.

There’s no denying the musicians in Steel Panther harbor an abundance of talent, but it’s being tragically squandered away by the trash they continue to spew. The joke has more than expired, and about the only thing left for them to do at this point would be to record an actual, straight-forward heavy metal album; they might just gain some new interest (not to mention respect) if they’d just cut the crap for once and, well, grow up already.

Rating: 1/5 Stars

 

Album Review: Alice Cooper – Breadcrumbs (earMUSIC)

Alice Cooper

By: Jesse Striewski

On his latest release, shock rock master Alice Cooper complies an ode of sorts of some of his favorite Detroit-based music. There’s even a few guest spots along the way from some of the region’s icons, such as MC5 guitarist Wayne Kramer and Grand Funk Railroad’s Mark Farner.

“Detroit City 2020” (a re-working of an older Cooper track) is far from the strongest track to kick off the EP, but things pick up swiftly with the punk-infused “Go Man Go.” More than admirable covers of Bob Seger’s “East Side Story,” the MC5’s “Sister Anne,” and Suzi Quatro’s “Your Mama Won’t Like Me” stand out as definite highlights.

Weak spots include Cooper’s take on “Devil with a Blue Dress On” (although ending it with “Chains of Love” was indeed interesting). In short, Breadcrumbs isn’t much more than a tease, but should at least tide Cooper’s most dedicated fans over until he gets back to the main course.

Rating: 3/5 Stars

Album Review: As I Lay Dying – Shaped By Fire (Nuclear Blast)

As I Lay Dying

By: Jesse Striewski

I can already hear the comments from the ignorant know-it-all’s regarding As I Lay Dying front man Tim Lambesis’ recent bout in prison. All I’ll say about the situation is this; the man has done his time, now move on the way the band themselves have.

My initial introduction to this band came at the 2006 Sounds of the Underground Festival, in which they headlined. I was instantly blown away, and since then, they’ve remained at the top of the metalcore scene in my book. Here on their seventh full length album (and first since 2012), the band is once again at the top of their game. Shaped By Fire starts off instantly strong with the likes of “Burn to Emerge,” “Blinded,” and the title track, and things only get better from there.

There is a filler track or two (“Gatekeeper” comes to mind), but tracks like “The Wreckage” and “My Own Grave” echo back to their 2007 masterpiece An Ocean Between Us. I don’t throw away terms like “comeback album” easily, but if ever there were a firm contender for one, Shaped By Fire sure makes a damn good case.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The Beautiful Bastards at OB’s Restaurant & Lounge on 9/7/19 By Jesse Striewski/Photo By Brooke Striewski

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It’s not often we feature a cover artist or band here at Rewind It Magazine. But when the group happens to consist of rock royalty such as former Brian Howe (Bad Company) guitarist Dean Aicher, former Skid Row/Slaughter drummer Timothy DiDuro, and former Pat Travers Band bassist Rick Navarro (who has also shared the stage with the likes of Steven Tyler and the late Eddie Money), we’ll make an exception for the likes of The Beautiful Bastards.

Immediately upon arriving at O.B’s in DeLand this past Saturday, September 7, one could here the unmistakable chords from a familiar Beatles song. After taking a seat at the bar, my assistant/photographer/wife and I were instantly greeted with a warm welcome from the friendly bar keep, and after just one quick look around, it was apparent we were in the right kind of establishment.

Some members of the crowd even danced as the band ripped through tracks like Free’s “All Right Now,” Pink Floyd’s “Have a Cigar,” Led Zepplin’s “Dancing Days,” The Who’s “Squeeze Box” and “Behind Blue Eyes,” The Beatles’ “Come Together,” and Aerosmith’s “Sweet Emotion” before taking a break. Unfortunately, parenting duties caused us to call it a night earlier than expected for us, and we were unable to hang around for the band’s next set afterwards. But still, it was the perfect excuse for a night out filled with classic rock music (even if it was only for a short time).

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Album Review: Off With Their Heads – Be Good (Epitaph Records)

Off with their Heads

By: Jesse Striewski

For well over a decade now, Off With Their Heads have consistently been creating quaint yet brilliant melodic punk music that always strike a chord and tug on every emotion possible. On their fifth full length release, Ryan Young and company have managed to out do themselves once again.

There’s little to no filler tracks to be found on Be Good, and it’s difficult to pinpoint what songs are truly the best of the bunch, but “Locking Eyes,” “Take Me Away,” “Tear Me Apart,” and “You Will Die” are some of the best damn songs I’ve heard in quite some time. Videos for “Disappear” and “No Love” were also made, and are the typical type of escapist genus to be expected from these guys. At no point on Be Good is there any mention of politics or hate-fueled dialogue, just pure emotion captured in a song, the way it’s meant to be.

It’s rare to capture the same feeling I had from the first time I ever listened to a Replacements record, but that’s exactly what I get when I hear bands like Off With Their Heads or even The Menzingers, who are also in their own little separate category of awesomeness. I can’t stress how much I absolutely love this band, and what a huge disservice you’re doing to yourself if you haven’t already given them a chance.

Rating: 5/5 Stars

Album Review: Sacred Reich – Awakening (Metal Blade Records)

Sacred Reich

By: Jesse Striewski

It’s no small feat for any band to release an album of above average material after more than two decades out of the recording game. But alas, that’s exactly what thrash metal veterans Sacred Reich have managed to pull off on their first full-length effort in 23 years.

I honestly wasn’t expecting too much upon first introduction to the album via it’s somewhat mediocre title track. But fortunately it actually gets better from there, and even exceeds expectations. “Divide & Conquer,” “Salvation,” “Killing Machine,” and “Manifest Reality” are just a few of the numbers that stand out above the rest (and check out the surreal video for the latter if you have the chance as well).

Sacred Reich may not have achieved the same heights as some of their contemporaries, but after just one listen to Awakening, there’s no doubt the band deserves just as much recognition as any of ’em.

Rating: 3.5/5 Stars