Sheshet – Sheshet ~ 30th Anniversary Expanded Edition (1977)

Sheshet_14.5 out of 5 Stars!

Sheshet was an interesting band from Israel that produced only (shamefully) a single album back in 1977, which was reissued in 2008 with “Bonus” material included. Featuring both female and male vocals, all singing in Hebrew (I’m assuming) and with complicated, interweaving harmonies, the band created outstanding jazz-inspired Progressive Rock on its lone album. Especially enjoyable are the extended flute excursions on various tracks along with the occasional reed instrument, violin/fiddle, and the addition of extra percussion instruments sprinkled throughout, which gives added dimension and sophistication to the sound.

I hear a bit of Gentle Giant and Jethro Tull (thanks, obviously, to the flute), as well as a touch of Caravan and Camel in Sheshet’s overall sound, along with a smattering of influences from Jazz-Rock/Fusion bands such as Return To Forever and Weather Report. The keyboardist (notable for the heavy use of jazzy piano) is also worth mentioning as well as the band’s rhythm section, which seems to have quite a lot of fun tossing in shifting rhythms and odd time signatures.

For Prog-Rock fans, this is an impressive release…a lost and forgotten gem.

 

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Without Warning – Believe (1995)

WithoutWarning_Believe4 out of 5 Stars!

Without Warning, a quintet from New York, released three fairly enjoyable albums in the ’90s that generated little fanfare before the band sadly vanished (dare I say it?) without warning, thus remaining highly obscure.

Anyway, on Believe, the group’s second album, Jack Bielata’s lead vocals are once again the high point, the main ingredient that sets Without Warning apart from being just another “Dream Theater wannabe” clone. Indeed, picture a band such as Dream Theater mixed with Rainbow and other “mergers” of Progressive Rock/Neoclassical Metal bands featuring a singer who has the prowess and gruff manner of Paul Shortino (from Rough Cutt/Quiet Riot) when belting, yet melded with the smoothness of Ted Leonard (Enchant/Thought Chamber) during quieter passages.

And when it comes to the instrumental sections and song arrangements, Without Warning offers mostly energetic, grooving, and occasionally complex Prog-Metal material, falling snugly within the same general category of music delivered by groups such as Threshold, Poverty’s No Crime, Altura, and Cloudscape.

 

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Witchwood – Litanies From the Woods (2015)

Witchwood_Litanies4 out of 5 Stars!

A fun and impressive debut from this Italian band, firmly steeped in the style of 1970’s acts such as Deep Purple, Birth Control, Uriah Heep and Omega (mainly due to the Hammond and synth sounds), some Led Zeppelin (during quieter moments, thanks to the inclusion of mandolin), along with a healthy dose of Jethro Tull-esque Heavy Prog-Rock (thanks to the addition of flute). The band also tosses in some Psychedelic Rock elements on a few tracks, thus adding an extra dimension to their overall sound. Even the vocalist (singing in English and accent-free) seems like he would be perfectly at home fronting a blues-based band from the 70s.

Therefore, for fans of recent Retro-sounding acts such as Presto Ballet, Siena Root, D’Accord, Black Bonzo, etc., you’ll probably find much to enjoy here.

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Warrant 96 – Belly to Belly – Volume One (1996)

Warrant_Belly1.5 out of 5 Stars!

Though I give Warrant (or on this release, Warrant 96) a lot of credit for branching out and experimenting with different sounds and arrangements, this hodgepodge of various styles just doesn’t gel.

There are some decent tracks tossed into the mess, but skipping from one track to another to locate them is just too time consuming.

Additionally, the strange filters and sound effects continually applied to the vocals become silly and annoying. It might not have been too bad had it been done on a single track, for experimentation sake, but there are way too many tracks destroyed by this nonsense.

I was never a huge fan of Warrant to begin with, but this release basically put the final nail in the Warrant coffin for me.

Steve Vai – Sex & Religion (1993)

SteveVai_SexReligion4 out of 5 Stars!

I bought this CD when it first came out, expecting another instrumental release along the lines of the highly entertaining and occasionally brilliant Passion & Warfare. Needless to say, I was surprised to find an actual vocalist (Devin Townsend) on this release, and I truly detested the whole thing, start to finish. After listening to the CD only one time, I chalked it up to a “bad purchase” and tossed it into the closet with all the other CDs or albums I thought I’d never listen to again.

Not long ago, however, when delving into those dusty and mountainous piles of long-forgotten CDs just for chuckles, I unearthed this release and thought I’d give it another shot (while cringing a bit, since I recalled why the CD had been relegated to those long-forgotten piles). Anyway, to my surprise again, I found it to be not only listenable, but I have played it dozens of times since that day and have actually grown to—gasp!—like it.  I suppose I got over that initial shock of hearing a vocalist on a Steve Vai release all those years ago—time had softened the blow, plus my tastes go through various cycles, so I guess I pulled this from the archives at the appropriate moment.

Granted, it’s still not my fave Steve Vai release, it takes a bit of getting used to, but it truly is better than the average fare (for this style of music, that is).  I’m glad I gave it another shot to “impress” me, and it has. Plus, it cut down my dusty and mountainous pile of long-forgotten CDs by at least one, so the house isn’t quite so top-heavy.

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Uriah Heep – Sea of Light (1995)

UriahHeep_SeaLight4.5 out of 5 Stars!

When Bernie Shaw joined Uriah Heep for the Raging Silence album, I somewhat liked his voice, yet I felt his overall influence yanked the band down several pegs in quality, especially after the generally decent “Peter Goalby-era” of the band’s career.  This opinion carried on with the Different World album, which proved even more deplorable and lackluster.  I sighed my disappointment and figured Uriah Heep was done, and for GOOD, this time.

But then came the Sea Of Light album, and d*mn it, I was proven wrong. SOOOO wrong! Bernie Shaw’s performance not only kicked butt, but also now seemed to drive the band forward, or at least back to the place they were right after Goalby joined for the far superior (and re-energized) Abominog release compared to the horrible Conquest period.  In fact, after further listening, I actually believed they may have even snatched onto the mood, creativity, and determination of the mid-Dave-Byron-era of the band, the line-up of Heep that created the classic albums from Look At Yourself to Return To Fantasy. To me, they actually sounded revitalized yet again, ready to kick major ass once more, and full of ideas that had been lacking for many years instead of relying on covering tracks by Argent and The Little River Band. They were finally penning some commendable material, some quality stuff! And best of all, Shaw’s vocal delivery actually sounded about 20 years younger, crammed with attitude and angst and gruff “don’t screw with Heep and rule them out” threats that definitely rang true.

The bottom line is that, with this album, Uriah Heep came back to life (no, rather, ROARED back to life).  Overall the album is loaded with songs of driving metal mixed with strong melodies, repeatable choruses, some progressive touches tossed in for good measure, and everything else that made Heep special many decades earlier. It’s apparently clear, this band once again means business. They are apparently hungry instead of simply going through the motions, and with this album they obviously mean to take back their rightful claim as to being one of the ultimate hard rock/metal bands to have ever existed. Through the decades they influenced many other acts, and finally, d*mn it, they are ready to show the public the reason why!

A Bravo Comeback Album!  This would also prove to be the beginning of another 15+ years of killer offerings—granted, they don’t release new material all that often, but when they do (on Sonic Origami, Wake The Sleeper, Into The Wild, and Outsider), it’s as high a caliber as this release, which apparently proved their muse. Indeed, I now feel that this period of the band’s history borders on my favorite Look At Yourself to Return To Fantasy period of the band. Again, a commendable comeback with long-lasting repercussions and inspiration!

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Uriah Heep – High and Mighty (1976)

UriahHeep_HighMighty2.5 out of 5 Stars!

Unfortunately, the “swan-song” release from the Dave Byron-era of Uriah Heep is a mixed bag.

If I was rating Side 1 alone, I’d give the album at least a “4.5” rating, since all of the songs are on par with the best of Heep from the early “glory days.”  Although I was never a huge fan of John Wetton’s “borderline off-key” vocals, the opening song, featuring his voice, isn’t all that bad musically, especially since Dave Byron steps in and sings the bridge section, which saves the track and “ups” its overall rating. Also, “Misty Eyes” and “Midnight” (with its awesome bass riffs, ala John Wetton) are additional tracks that stand right up there with the other “best of Heep” songs. And finally, the last track off Side 1, the highlight song, is “Weep In Silence,” which in fact, is probably one of the best tracks they have ever recorded. It’s also probably one of the best songs to display Dave Byron’s chops as a lead vocalist, with great lyrics and song structure. Definitely one of the highlights of the band’s career.

But Side 2, however, is almost unlistenable, and deserves nothing better than a “2” rating—bordering on amateurish status, probably the worst set of tracks the band ever released, and certainly not songs you might expect from a band of this high caliber, but more from a garage band “attempting” to sound professional.  This is definitely Ken Hensley at his most “uninspired” when it comes to songwriting—you can tell he was on the verge of leaving the band—an “either Byron gets canned or I leave in protest” statement if I ever heard one. Indeed, Side 2 stands about even with the horrific “Conquest” album that came several years later, just cringe-worthy overall, and the album that finally caused Hensley to flee for good.

To have such diverse collections of songs on opposite sides of this album is one of the most bizarre phenomena of this band’s career.

Therefore, Side 1 deserves plenty of praise, whereas Side 2 deserves all the slamming the world can conceive.  A shame, since (as mentioned earlier) the song “Weep In Silence” is probably amongst the Top 10, if not the Top 5, when it comes to the best Heep songs of all time.  It’s a shame that Byron’s last offering with the band is such a mixed bag, especially considering the previous album (Return To Fantasy) was one of their best.