Slade – Slayed? (1972)

Slade_Slayed4 out of 5 Stars!

Slade always seemed to me like a glam version of Humble Pie injected with a slew of Mott The Hoople’s punk attitude, a healthy dosage of Sweet’s pop sensibility, and a trunk-load of David Bowie’s “Ziggy-era” stage clothing.

Slayed?—the band’s second studio album—is a perfect example of what I’m talking about. Here we have solid blues-based Hard Rock with driving rhythms, shrieking guitars, tinkling “barroom” pianos, gut-wrenching vocals, silly lyrics and song titles, and a whole TON of catchy choruses. The band’s cover of Janis Joplin’s “Move Over” with the wild bass lines, slamming guitars, and Noddy Holder’s punchy and raspy vocals, as well as tracks such as “Mama Weer All Crazee Now,” “Gudbuy T’Jane,” “How D’You Ride,” and “The Whole World’s Goin’ Crazee” alone certainly influenced a bunch of bands to develop in future years. So if anything, this album alone likely created/inspired most of the “Hair Bands” and “Sleaze Bands” in the late 1970s and the entire 1980s. (Not sure what Slade did for spelling or phonics in English-speaking countries—or should that be “countreez”?—but that’s another issue in itself.)

All jesting aside, Slayed? is good old-fashioned rock ‘n’ roll fun, hand-clappin’, foot-stompin’, head-bangin’ party rock, and this album could easily be labeled as “a classic”…and “a CRAZEE classic” at that!

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Siena Root – Pioneers (2014)

SienaRoot_Pioneers4.5 out of 5 Stars!

The album Pioneers was a fun discovery for me. I’d never heard of Sweden’s Siena Root prior to 2015, and with Pioneers being its fifth studio album, I’m still angry it took me so long to unearth the band.

Anyway, Siena Root has a sound eerily reminiscent of early ’70s Blues-based Hard Rock/Heavy Psych groups, the music of my youth. With fierce and feisty interplay between guitar and Hammond organ on most tracks, along with a solid rhythm section and in-your-face production, this release seems almost as if members of Deep Purple, Uriah Heep, Bloodrock, Steppenwolf, and perhaps even Grand Funk Railroad got together with members of more current “retro acts” such as Witchwood, D’Accord, Black Bonzo, Hypnos 69, etc. to release this collection of tracks.

Actually, in my opinion, the instrumentation on Pioneers is probably closest to Deep Purple, but a mixture of that band’s first two lineups. For instance, the tune “Going Down” is quite similar in style and atmosphere to Deep Purple’s “Black Night,” while the song “Root Rock Pioneers” brings to mind the bluesy “Lazy” from the Machine Head album. And in truth, other tracks such as “7 Years,” “The Way You Turn,” or “Spiral Trip” also seem as if any of them could have been outtakes from Purple albums, therefore, any fans of that sound/style will likely find this album of interest.

And the vocalist (Jonas “Joe Nash” Ahlen, the newest one) reminds me of a cross between Rod Evans (Deep Purple/Captain Beyond) and—especially at the end of the more Doors-inspired “In My Kitchen” or during “Root Rock Pioneers” or “Keep On Climbing” when he really gets raspy—James Rutledge (Bloodrock). Although Ahlen doesn’t possess the widest of ranges (ie. no Ian Gillan here…as I said, closer to Rod Evans), he’s darned accurate with a gutsy and energetic delivery, perfect for this style of music. And nowadays, after thoroughly investigating the band’s back catalogue since originally writing this review in 2015, I’ve come to the conclusion that, of all Siena Root’s singers, both male and female, fronting the group since its formation back in 1997, Ahlen is probably my favorite among them.

Regardless, although the band’s back catalogue is quite enjoyable, I’ll admit to not being overly enamored with the experiments in Raga Rock that tended to overwhelm the previous studio album (2009’s Different Realities). But thankfully, the band abandoned those “Raga experiments” in favor of concentrating once again on creating the Hard Rock/Stoner Rock/Heavy Psych it did so damned well on its first trio of albums. And not only that, but Siena Root somehow added an extra zing to Pioneers, a special quality that continually entices me to add it to my “current playlist” time and time again.

 

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Shy – Welcome to the Madhouse (1994)

Shy_WelcomeMadhouse3 out of 5 Stars!

Without the terrific Tony Mills on lead vocals, this album sounds nothing like a typical Shy album. (The weird and ugly cover should have given me a clue something was a bit “different” on offer here.)

Generally speaking regarding the songs and the band’s sound, there’s certainly nothing even remotely close to the excellent AOR band found on the Excess All Areas release.  Instead, this sounds like a middle-of-the-road arena rock group, a lesser cousin of bands such as Autograph or Warrant.  The tracks here might be good for a listen or two, perhaps, but they’re hardly memorable and, overall, this is a definite disappointment when it comes to the band’s catalogue of albums.

The Shadow Theory – Behind the Black Veil (2010)

ShadowTheory_BlackVeil4 out of 5 Stars!

Back in 2010, I heard about The Shadow Theory, a semi-supergroup including bassist Kristoffer Gildenlöw (Pain of Salvation), drummer Johanne James (Threshold), guitarist Arne Schuppner (Complex 7), vocalist Buddy “Devon Graves” Lackey (Psychotic Waltz/Deadsoul Tribe), and unknown keyboardist Demi Scott. Therefore, I eagerly snatched up Behind the Black Veil, the multi-national band’s debut album, anticipating a high level of musicianship, yet I didn’t know quite what to expect regarding the music itself and simply wished for the best.

It turns out, the band, while playing a cross between savage Heavy Metal and Folk Metal, with Progressive and Symphonic Metal elements thrown into the mix, sounds rather unique at times. Indeed, imagine a band such as Jethro Tull incorporating a sinister Doom Metal atmosphere into its style, and that’s a fairly apt description of some of the material on offer here. Plus, the addition of Lackey’s occasional flute insertions, acoustic guitar sprinkled throughout, and even a background orchestra on various tracks, just contributes to the illusion.

The song “Selebrate” [sic] is where the Tull influence is in abundance, since the song sounds as if it could have come from a heavier version of the Aqualung, War Child, or Benefit albums. Moreover, the opening track “I Open Up My Eyes,” as well as the bombastic “A Symphony of Shadows,” the eerie “The Black Cradle,” and the atmospheric “A Candle in the Gallery,” are interspersed with Lackey’s flute passages, so again, Tull immediately springs to mind, although one of a dark, thrashy, sinister, and even psychotic nature (just take a gander at the cover art, which mirrors the musical atmosphere). Although Lackey doesn’t sound like Ian Anderson for the most part, there are occasions where some effects are thrown onto his voice and, once again, guess which band comes to mind?—yep, you guessed it, Jethro Tull. And if that wasn’t enough, on the version of the album I have, there’s also a twelfth bonus track of, none other than, Tull’s “Sweet Dreams.” So there!

Regardless, The Shadow Theory is unique if only for the fact that I can’t think of any other “heavy” band that’s so liberally influenced by such a generally “non-heavy” band as Jethro Tull. Of course, other tunes or passages occasionally bring to mind various and diverse Prog-Metal, Doom Metal, or even Stoner Metal groups such as Landskap, Black Symphony, Savage Circus, Orne, and even Pain Of Salvation (no shock there, considering Gildenlöw’s presence), so please don’t be deceived by my “Tull-heavy” review. Nevertheless, if you like the idea of a creepy Prog-Metal version of Tull, with numerous quirky parts included, then you’ll probably enjoy the music on offer here.

Sadly, considering all the years that have passed since the debut’s release, and also that Gildenlöw is now working with For All We Know, it seems likely that Behind the Black Veil may be The Shadow Theory’s sole album. Although I would certainly welcome additional material, I’m unsure if the talented group is still in existence or is now only a memory.

 

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Seven Kingdoms – Seven Kingdoms (2010)

SevenKingdoms_SevenKingdoms2 out of 5 Stars!

Let’s see what we have here…

— Female Vocalist – better than average = 4 stars

— Decent musicianship = 4 stars

— Hellish and stupid growl vocals that destroy every song in which they appear and immediately have me hitting the “STOP” button because they are soooo freaking irritating and offensive = 0.5 star (at best)

— Idiotic and CHEEEEZZZZY lyrics (marching into battle with blazing swords of steel, fight and die for the glorious kingdom, lift your thundering hammers of bullshit, blah, blah, blah and yawn, yawn, yawn), everything that has been done a zillion times before by a zillion other power metal bands = 1 star (at best)

That pretty much sums it up…a band with potential due to their talented female vocalist and their decent musicianship that are, sadly, completely unoriginal, employing all the horrific stereotypes (unnecessary beast vocals and childish lyrics) that make this genre so prone to parody.

Savoy Brown – Street Corner Talking (1971)

SavoyBrown_StreetCorner4.5 out of 5 Stars!

Okay, I confess, I love the “Dave Walker era” of this legendary British band. The trilogy of ’70s albums with Walker as the lead vocalist saw Savoy Brown at arguably its creative best, and Street Corner Talking is, in my opinion, the finest of the three collections, although the other two (Hellbound Train and Lion’s Share, both released the following year) aren’t very far behind.

Even after all these decades, I still savor everything on offer here, the seven tracks being highly memorable and as diverse as all the characters depicted on the fun cover art.

For instance, the tune “Let It Rock” seems almost like a hat-tip toward Tens Years After, while “Time Does Tell” first struck me as a cross between the original Fleetwood Mac and other legendary Blues acts of the era. And for those truly into the Blues-Rock scene from the early ’70s, the musicianship on the eleven-minute “All I Can Do” alone should be motivation enough to grab a copy of this album.

As for the other tunes, from the Country-Rock/Blues-Rock feel of “Tell Mama” and the (almost) Deep Purple-inspired “Street Corner Talking,” to the excellent renditions of The Temptations’s number-one hit “I Can’t Get Next To You” and Willie Dixon’s classic “Wang Dang Doodle,” Savoy Brown sounds highly cohesive and more than a tad energized and excited, not only about the top-notch material, but perhaps even its future as a band, likely due to the group’s fresh lineup of musicians. (For those who may not be aware of Savoy Brown’s history, after the previous year’s Looking In album, band leader/founder Kim Simmonds suddenly found himself “bandless” when the other musicians abandoned ship to form Foghat. Tough times indeed. But, I guess it’s only rock and roll, right?)

Anyway, the sudden departure of the previous musicians truly proved a blessing in disguise for Savoy Brown since Simmonds managed to recruit a crack team of new playmates for Street Corner Talking, and to me, the group never sounded better in its lengthy history. Throughout each track, his guitar solos are both emotive and melodic, the rhythm team of bassist Andy Sylvester and drummer Dave Bidwell is wonderfully tight and versatile, while Paul Raymond’s contributions on organ, piano, and electric piano added a perfect addition to the album’s driving sound and atmosphere (similar in the way his hooking up with UFO in future years would add spice to that band’s sound). And all the while, vocalist Dave Walker is at his beautifully gruff and gritty best. I just wish this terrific quintet had continued on for many additional years, since these musicians truly gelled and produced some exceptional material in the process, becoming a classic lineup in every sense of the term.

 

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Samurai – Samurai (1971)

Samurai_14.5 out of 5 Stars!

In many ways, depending on which track one is playing, the lone Samurai album sounds like a cross between the Avant-Garde Prog-Rock of Gentle Giant and King Crimson, meets Psychedelic-Rock such as Amon Duul II and Pink Floyd, meets Jazz-Rock-Fusion such as Zappa (Hot Rats-era) and East Of Eden, meets Canterbury-Prog such as Caravan and Hatfield And The North, meets…well, whatever.

Yeah, as I’m sure you can already guess, this band has a wide variety of styles that encompasses its overall sound, an interesting blend of diverse sub-genres all wrapped up in a Prog-Rock blanket that—who knew?—actually seems to work! Too damned bad the group didn’t last longer to record more than this single album.

Much of the group’s eclectic style has to do with the inclusion of two woodwind players, who add sax, clarinet, and flute, plus the varied keyboards of Dave Lawson (Greenslade/The Web/Stackridge), who also handles the lead vocals. Psych guitar and fuzz bass round out Samurai’s sound, while the band’s twin percussionists steer the proceedings into Rock, Jazz, and Funk territories.

With tracks such as “Face in the Mirror,” “More Rain,” “Holy Padlock,” “As I Dried the Tears Away,” and “Maudie James,” which still sound fresh after all these many decades, Samurai’s one and only album is a masterpiece of originality hidden by decades of non-advertisement and non-accolades that the band wholeheartedly deserved.

 

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Saga – Wildest Dreams (1987)

Saga_WildestDreams4 out of 5 Stars!

I could never quite figure out why this particular album has such low ratings on various music-review websites.  Saga, as an entity, has always been a cross between progressive rock and keyboard-oriented AOR material, and this album—though granted, is more of the former type of material—is certainly not the most “commercial” album they’ve ever produced. In fact, if classified as purely a keyboard-oriented AOR album and NOT a progressive rock album, this would probably be high on the list of the band’s better efforts. I still think this is a nice cross between both genres, but obviously many listeners disagree with that assessment.

A shame, since many of the tracks have catchy melodies that could very well compete with other AOR releases of the period.  I suppose the lack of lengthier tracks and wildly complex arrangements make this too much of a disappointment for fans of the band.  A shame, since this is one of their better “crossover” albums.

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Rough Cutt – Wants You! (1986)

RoughCutt_WantsYou4 out of 5 Stars!

This band could have been HUGE! Great songs, great musicianship, hot management in the form of Wendy Dio (wife of Ronnie James himself), and perhaps one of rock’s greatest (and most overlooked) vocalists. Unfortunately, after Rough Cutt’s stunning debut album, which showed such promise, Rough Cutt Wants You, its sophomore effort, fell a bit short. And it’s not the band’s fault either, which makes it so darned frustrating. In truth, some of the songs on offer here surpassed the material on the debut album (a difficult task, since the debut was killer), while the musicians and the magnificent vocalist Paul Shortino (who possesses a David Coverdale-ish blues/soul quality when he hits the low notes, not to mention a talent for holding out a high-pitched rock ‘n’ roll scream that could peel the paint from the walls) did their level best to make the whole thing gel.

The problem with this release—without a doubt—falls smack dab in the lap of the producer, Jack Douglas. Whereas the debut album had a rich, full-bodied, slamming sound (giving you the impression it was recorded in a concert hall), this album sounds as if it was recorded in a padded basement, with little ambiance added to the drums, guitars, or (heaven forbid!) the vocals. It’s unfortunate the band couldn’t secure the services of Tom Allom again (the producer of the debut album) since he was obviously much better suited for this material. In my opinion, whether right or wrong, had Douglas given the production the proper care and not relied on his reputation as a seasoned professional (ie. it sounds like he “phoned in” his input), this album might have put Rough Cutt on the map, big time. It’s no wonder that Shortino abandoned ship shortly after this album’s unremarkable release to join Quiet Riot as a replacement for Kevin Dubrow (indeed, he put Dubrow to shame, by the way!).

Regardless of Douglas’s dropping the ball, however, the material on offer here is quite good. “Rock The USA” opens the album, a driving, kick-ass tune that reminds me of “Cutt Your Heart Out” (one of the stand-out tracks from the debut). This track also features one of Shortino’s amazing screams (how he held those rafter-punching notes for so long is anyone’s guess…chalk it up to tight underwear, is my best assumption). Next follows more melodic, yet still-rocking tunes: “Bad Reputation,” “Don’t Settle For Less,” and “Hot ‘n’ Heavy,” and the anthem-esque ballad “Take A Chance.” Side Two has more of the same heavy melodic rock, although it’s perhaps not quite as memorable, with the exception of the closing track, a gut-wrenching ballad entitled “The Night Cries Out (For You).” Nevertheless, it was apparent the band’s songwriting abilities were developing nicely, so the lack of proper production makes the situation all the sadder.

 

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Rest in Silence – Mourning After Tomorrow (2011)

RestInSilence_MourningTomorrow1 out of 5 Stars!

The music and overall musicianship are pretty good, but the vocals are simply horrific!!! The guy has one of the weirdest voices I’ve ever heard, and it’s annoying as all heck!!!  I couldn’t even make it past the 4th song.

Avoid at all costs! Just dreadful.