Category Archives: Albums

Top 10 Metal Albums of 2016

top-10-metal-albums-of-2016

By Andy Cheung

 

1 – DEATH ANGEL – The Evil Divide

I haven’t stopped listening to this album since it came in May.  The Evil Divide is thrash metal at its finest, and one of the band’s albums since releasing Act III in 1990.  The guitar work is phenomenal, the rhythm section is heavy and grooves, and Rob Cavestany’s vocals soar and growl…providing the emotions portrayed in each song.

 

 

2 – KILLSWITCH ENGAGE – Incarnate

The fathers of metalcore impress once again with their release of Incarnate.  Jesse Leach’s passionate lyrical musings and delivery are top-notch, with his clean vocals and death growls throughout the album.  The Killswitch recognizable sound is there with Adam D’s and Joel Stroetzel’s guitar mastery, rounded out with bassist Mike D’Antonio and Justin Foley’s pounding rhythm section.  Incarnate is a great album released by a great band.

 

 

3 – ANTHRAX – For All Kings

This member of “The Big Four” released one hell of an album this year.  For All Kings might very well be one of Anthrax’s best releases to date.  The album is heavy and polished, something to be expected from veterans of the thrash metal scene.  Joey Belladonna sounds just as good now as he did back when the band first started 35 years ago, as does Scott Ian, Frank Bello and Charlie Benante.  Jonathon Donais (ex Shadows Fall) is a great addition to the classic lineup of a classic thrash metal band.

 

 

4 – GOJIRA – Magma

These environmentalist metallers from France released their 6th album this year.  The band has always made their own rules (as far as sound goes), and Magma is no different.  It’s atmospheric at times, brutally heavy at other times.  One of Gojira’s best releases to date.

 

 

5 – TWELVE FOOT NINJA – Outlier

Another album that I have not stopped listening to is Twelve Foot Ninja’s Outlier.  This album is so eclectic and unique – heavy with a mixture of djent, folk, and jazz – that dissecting each song would take years to do.  Their musical compositions have impressed me and made me an instant fan.

 

 

6 – AMON AMARTH – Jomsviking

Brutal and melodic, two reasons why Jomsviking is one of the best releases of 2016.  Their 10th studio album is the band’s first concept album, and probably one of their strongest to date.  This melodic death metal band takes the Viking/Norse mythology and dials it up a notch.  Raise your horns!

 

 

7 – OPETH – Sorceress

Metal fans will always gripe about Opeth’s change in direction from death metal to progressive rock/melodic metal, but at the end of the day, the band’s 12th studio album is a great one.  Sorceress is chock-full of imagery, ranging in sound from folky prog-rock, to bluesy to heavy.  The album is an overall excellent addition for all progressive metal fans.

 

 

8 – KATATONIA – The Fall of Hearts

In the realm of emotional metal, there is none better than Sweden’s Katatonia.  Each song on The Fall of Hearts drips with passion and emotion as the band laments on love and loss, while backed with beautiful, haunting melodies and gorgeous music.

 

 

9 – LACUNA COIL – Delirium

“The House of Shame” was the first single I listened to when the album was first released in May.  From the eerie intro, to the death metal growl of Andrea Ferro, and the operatic voice of Cristina Scabbia, I knew right away that this was going to be one of their best albums yet.  The rest of the album is just as heavy and dark (even more than their previous releases).

 

 

10 – SUICIDAL TENDENCIES – World Gone Mad

Classic crossover hardcore/metal band from Venice Beach, CA, Suicidal Tendencies released a highly-anticipated album this year.  The addition of Dave Lomabardo on drums is awesome!  The classic Suicidal sound is there, with Mike Muir’s vocals, the funky bass and heavy guitars are all accented with the ex-Slayer’s pounding drumming.

The Winery Dogs on a “Hot Streak” with an Instant Classic Album

The Winery Dogs Hot Streak

Anyone who thinks that “rock is dead” should circle October 2, 2015 on their calendar – the release date of The Winery Dogs’ sophomore album, Hot Streak.  Rock may never return to its glory days from a sales perspective, but musically speaking, The Winery Dogs have proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that rock is very much alive and well with an album that transcends the splintering sub-genre trend that has occurred in recent years.

In the world of sports, it takes more than two accomplishments or victories to be considered a streak, much less a “hot streak.”  However, with the release of their second album that – like their eponymous debut – features all substance and no filler, it’s fair to say that The Winery Dogs are on a Hot Streak.

Due to the emergence of streaming and slowing sales, many artists have reverted back to releasing EPs rather than full-length albums.  The Winery Dogs, on the other hand, have released an album that is much more than a collection of songs.  Hot Streak is a throwback to the glory days of rock, a musical journey that washes the world away and provides a welcome respite from the sensory overload that most of us experience on a daily basis.

Somewhere along the way – spurred on by the digital revolution and technological advances – singles surpassed albums on the rock and roll hierarchy, and developing artists had to become mindful of fitting into radio formats.  While The Winery Dogs technically fall into the category of developing artists, they are not bound by the same constraints as others.  This is partly due to their vast individual resumes, but most importantly, their ability to perfectly blend virtuosity with songwriting chemistry is what really makes them rise above the din.  Simply stated, The Winery Dogs will continue their ascension in the rock world with Hot Streak because the music is too good to be ignored, even if they don’t fit neatly into a radio format.

From the high-energy, in-your-face intensity of the opening track (“Oblivion”) to the soothing sound of rain as the album fades out on the final track (“The Lamb”), Hot Streak gives new meaning to the proverb…“in like a lion and out like a lamb.”

Over the course of the 13-song musical journey that is Hot Streak, The Winery Dogs deliver an album that not only must be listened to in its entirety to be fully appreciated, but also gets better with each subsequent listen as you peel back the layers and discover the nuances that make this power trio so unique.

Even though Hot Streak is only the band’s second album, they have already established an identifiable sound that shines through on the title track, “Oblivion,” and “Devil You Know” (which features a Van Halen-esque riff).   Other influences permeate the album as well, often times in very subtle (but cool) ways.

“Captain Love” shares the mystique, powerful guitar riffs and haunting vocals of Deep Purple’s “Perfect Strangers.”  The huge sound of this straight-forward track conjures up nostalgia for ’80s blues rock.

“How Long” introduces a ’70s guitar riff that is in the same vein as Robin Trower’s “Too Rolling Stoned” and the theme song to Shaft.  Influences aside, the most intriguing part of the song is hearing Richie Kotzen match his vocal lines to his guitar.

The Shaft vibe continues at the onset of “Empire.”  It’s hard to envision another rhythm section carrying this song the way that Billy Sheehan and Mike Portnoy do, with Kotzen’s guitar riffs and leads accenting the song (brilliantly).

“Fire” offers a break in the action, showing another side of The Winery Dogs.  The Spanish guitar featured in this moody, emotive ballad gives the song a tropical vibe.  Portnoy and Sheehan show that they have much more to offer than just intense rhythms as they let the song breathe and focus their attention on beautiful backing vocals.

Following the subdued “Fire,” the intense opening of “Ghost Town” is like a roller coaster dropping after a slow climb.  Portnoy and Sheehan keep the pace pumping throughout (even during Kotzen’s moodier vocal moments) without ever overpowering the song.

The hook of “The Bridge” is the furious riff.  Kotzen shows off his deeper vocals, giving you an even greater appreciation for his range when he transitions to the higher register.  This song also shows what makes The Winery Dogs so special, jamming to show off their musicality rather than their virtuosity.

When executed properly, space can be as musical as the instruments being played.  “War Machine” not only showcases a mastery of space, but also some incredible moments for each member of the band to shine throughout the song.

“Spiral” is a slower tempo, emotive song featuring some cool underlying effects that are reminiscent of the ones that Led Zeppelin used on “Carouselambra.”  Kotzen oozes cool on this track.

The Kotzen cool is in full effect on “Think It Over,” a track that shows that The Winery Dogs make their own rules and write songs from the heart with no regard for genre.  The end result is a brilliant track that opens with a Steely Dan “Dirty Work” type intro and a Lenny Kravitz vibe.  On an album filled with jaw-dropping musicianship, “Think It Over” is more about great songwriting and incredible vocal harmonies.

The sound of fading rain at the end of “The Lamb” is met with mixed emotions…disappointment that the 13-song musical journey has come to an end, and gratitude to have taken the journey in the first place.  If every album offered as much bang for the buck as Hot Streak, music fans would see the value in owning a tangible product instead of just streaming it online.  Serious music fans should make sure to add Hot Streak to their collection, and don’t miss out on the opportunity to see The Winery Dogs in a live setting…money well-spent!

Outlaws & Moonshine – 1919 (EP): Hard Rock Daddy Review

Outlaws & Moonshine 1919

The inspiration for both the name Outlaws & Moonshine and their debut EP (1919) predates the band by nearly a century.  Back in 1919, around a half century before the evolution of Southern Rock, the era of Prohibition began in the United States.  That government miscalculation gave rise to speakeasies and moonshine while making outlaws out of bootleggers until the repeal of Prohibition in 1933.

Not much good came out of Prohibition in the early 20th century.  However, in 2015, Southern Rock fans will celebrate Prohibition for inspiring this Indiana quartet to take us on a journey back in time.

With their debut EP, 1919, Outlaws & Moonshine have captured the essence of legendary artists like Lynyrd Skynyrd and Molly Hatchet (to name a few), added their own modern touches, and created a sound that they call “New Southern Rock.”

Beau Van is a talented guitar player and a soulful Southern Rock singer, but perhaps his greatest gift is the ability to paint a mental picture with lyrics that bring you into his world.  With obvious pride of his heritage, Van has a way of romanticizing a small town, country lifestyle.  Just like Sons Of Anarchy made people want to become bikers, Outlaws & Moonshine’s 1919 makes you want to hang out and party with Van (and the rest of the band) in his hometown.

Should you be so lucky as to hang out with the boys of Outlaws & Moonshine, you would likely get to learn more about the story of “Cootie Brown” (the drunkest redneck in town), as you sat on the porch sipping moonshine from a mason jar.  Maybe moonshine is not your thing.  Would the boys drink “Whiskey” with you all night long instead?  Hell yeah…they love that stuff!

While Outlaws & Moonshine have cultivated a sound that harkens back to the glory days of Southern Rock, one of their greatest appeals is how relatable they are to the everyman, the working stiffs who understand what it’s like to grind through the week anxiously awaiting the weekend.

Van’s unapologetic, defiant embracing of “country grammar” in songs like “Hey Y’All” shows his true character, and only serves to make him more likeable (even to a “Yankee” like me whose knowledge of the South is mostly derived from watching The Dukes Of Hazzard as a kid).

Based on the first three tracks on 1919, you’d expect a song called “Redneck Me” to be dripping with “back beat boogie woogie” – the words used to describe the sound of the band in their bio.  This is where the album takes an unexpected turn, showcasing deeper emotions with a southern-style love ballad in the musical vein of Kid Rock’s nostalgic country rock songs and the Jonny Van Zant classic, “Brickyard Road.”

“Different Kind Of Man” – the final track on the EP – offers a little bit of everything that Outlaws & Moonshine has to offer.  From the sweet acoustic guitars and melodic harmonies to gritty, soulful vocals and bluesy guitar shredding, this Skynyrd-esque track is the definition of “New Southern Rock.”

As the saying goes…“it doesn’t have to be old to be classic.”  Outlaws & Moonshine may classify themselves as “New Southern Rock,” but that is more a matter of chronology than sound.  If the band had made their debut with 1919 in the ‘70s, they may very well be mentioned in the same breath as the very legends of Southern Rock that they cite as influences.

Sonic X – Fall From Grace (EP): Hard Rock Daddy Review

Sonic X Fall From Grace EP

The beauty in the technological advances that have taken place over the past few decades is that bands like Sonic X can record an EP like Fall From Grace without the financial backing of a label.  That they can deliver a sound that is as good (or better) than albums that once cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to record is a testament to how far the recording process has come.  The curse is that, in an ever-shrinking industry, this is a band that faces an uphill battle to get the recognition that they so richly deserve.

Twenty years ago, this incredible, four-song EP would have created a bidding war by major labels looking for the next big thing.  Fast forward to today, and Sonic X falls into the burgeoning category of “DIY band” looking to catch a break on radio or landing an opening slot with an established band.  Money and politics are likely the biggest obstacle for the former; not wanting to be upstaged may very well be the biggest obstacle for the latter, as Sonic X is going to force anyone that they open for to bring their “A-game” on a nightly basis.

Fall From Grace is one of the rare recordings that bridges the gap between the glory days of 80s hard rock and the modern sound that is prevalent on Active Rock radio today.  Powerful, driving rhythms (courtesy of bassist, Joseph Cumbo and drummer, Joey Greco) set the tone for each of the songs on the EP.  As the intensity builds from track to track, you get the feeling that Sonic X could have easily veered off into a melodic, frenzied thrash direction if they wanted to, but instead, chose to showcase a tight precision that is usually reserved for top prog rock artists.

Lawrence Falcomer’s brilliant guitar work goes beyond pure shredding (although there is plenty of it tastefully displayed throughout the EP).  Falcomer – with contributions from Greco – is also the production mastermind behind the band’s sound, which is sonically superior to what many big budget bands deliver; something that is totally unexpected from a DIY band’s debut EP.

Adam Troy’s ability to blend shades of classic Sebastian Bach with the modern edge of Adam Gontier (Saint Asonia, ex-Three Days Grace) should, by all rights, get him mentioned in the same breath with the top vocalists in the genre today.  Wearing his emotions on his sleeve, Troy channels anguish and rage into his impassioned delivery as he breathes life into lyrics that clearly hit close to home.

After several listens to Fall From Grace, here are a few takeaways.  The first is that the EP gets better with each listen.  The second is that there are layers to each song that are best discovered by listening through headphones.  And the final takeaway is that Sonic X should record a full-length album sooner rather than later.  Fall From Grace ends too quickly, and leaves you wanting more.

Stay tuned for more coverage of Sonic X on Hard Rock Daddy in the near future.

Revolve – “The Road To Here” EP Review

Revolve The Road To Here

For Baltimore quintet, Revolve, The Road To Here is an appropriate title for their debut EP.  Like most DIY bands in hard rock today, Revolve has had to deal with their share of bumps along “the road to here.”  Now that they have solidified their lineup and established themselves under a new name, the time has come for this band to take things to the next level and become a household name on the hard rock scene and on Active Rock radio.

The Road To Here is a 5-song EP that was produced by Sevendust guitarist, Clint Lowery.  While his involvement gives Revolve a leg up on many DIY artists, the band’s musicianship, cohesiveness and ability to write powerfully melodic hard rock music is what really makes you stand up and take notice.

Months before the release of The Road To Here, the excitement was already starting to build around Revolve when they released their first single, “Stranded.”  The song was featured on Hard Rock Daddy’s Top 100 Hard Rock Songs of 2014, was the pick of the week on the first HRD Radio Report of 2015, and was also featured on Music Discovery Monday alongside an interview with guitarist, Debbie Barlow.  Needless to say, the bar was set fairly high for the rest of the EP, which more than lives up to the lofty expectations set by “Stranded.”

The intensity hits you from the opening note of the first song on the EP, “Believe.”  Heavy rhythms provide an ideal foundation for Thommy Michaels to showcase melody-drenched vocals and for impressive guitar shredding that is reminiscent of the glory days of 80s hard rock (albeit with a current sound).  Beyond their playing, one thing that makes the guitar duo of Dave Phelps and Debbie Barlow stand out from most is the fact that they are a married couple.

While Revolve has their own distinct overall sound, you can hear the influence of some of the top acts in hard rock today in their music (Breaking Benjamin, Shinedown, and of course, Sevendust amongst others).

Following “Believe” and “Stranded” is “Buried Alive” – a song very much in Shinedown’s wheelhouse.  In fact, with a proven track record, it wouldn’t be a stretch to think that “Buried Alive” would rocket up the charts if it was recorded by Shinedown.  Hopefully, programmers will let the music do the talking (rather than the cache of a band name) and give the track the attention that it deserves when the time comes.

“Superhero” shows off Revolve’s ability to incorporate slower tempo songs into the mix, while still sticking to their melodic, intense sound.

If you are a fan of bands like Shinedown, Breaking Benjamin and Sevendust, make sure to check out what Revolve has to offer with The Road To Here.  The only real disappointment is that it ends too soon (but that’s what the replay button is for, I suppose).

World On Fire – An Instant Classic Album from Slash, Myles Kennedy & The Conspirators

Slash featuring Myles Kennedy & The Conspirators World On Fire Album Cover

Back in June, Slash featuring Myles Kennedy & The Conspirators released “World On Fire” – the title track off of their latest album – as their first single.  The seemingly endless wait finally concluded this week when the album was released.  It is said that the best things in life are worth waiting for, which is absolutely true in this case.

World On Fire is a quintessential hard rock album that blends Slash’s brilliant guitar playing, Myles Kennedy’s incomparable vocals and The Conspirators, a hard rock ensemble that rivals every incarnation of Guns N’ Roses.  Although they don’t have the name recognition of Slash and Kennedy yet, Todd Kerns (bass), Brent Fitz (drums) and Frank Sidoris (rhythm guitar) will very likely become household names by the time that this 17-track, hard rock masterpiece runs its course.

 

THE MAKING OF…

In a recent interview on SiriusXM’s Octane, Slash and Kennedy discussed the writing process for new material.  During the interview, Slash said that the hardest part of recording World On Fire was figuring out the right sequence for the tracks, which made a few things abundantly clear.

First of all, Slash is a perfectionist who sees (and hears) things from a different perspective than fans of his music.  The truth of the matter is that, while sequence can have a huge impact on a typical album, World On Fire is anything but typical.  This album could be played on a random sequence with each listen and not lose a bit of its luster.  To be fair to Slash, the first ten tracks probably should be grouped together because they have more of a GNR flavor than the final seven tracks, which are stellar in their own right, just a bit different.

The other thing that was made clear about the writing process between Slash and Kennedy is that they are as close to a perfect combination as you can get.  While many lead vocalists and lead guitarists have clashing egos, this dynamic duo has an undeniable chemistry, and mutual respect for what the other one brings to the table.  This comes across both in their live performance and on the album.

 

…WORLD ON FIRE

Often times, album reviews break down each track, but in this case, things would start to get very repetitive (in a good way) with that approach.

World On Fire is filled with so much great material that it is almost impossible to pick favorite tracks.  I’ve always found that, with albums like this, picking my favorite track is like hitting a moving target because my favorites tend to change after multiple listens.  For what it’s worth, when I saw the band live recently, Kennedy said that “30 Years To Life” is his personal favorite.  There is no doubt that it would make for an excellent follow-up single, but then again, many other tracks would as well.

 

SLASH ~ MYLES KENNEDY ~ THE CONSPIRATORS 

Slash is in a class by himself when it comes to making the guitar “sing.”  The distinct sound that he honed during his GNR days are front and center on many of the tracks (especially the first ten), but he definitely has more than that to offer on World On Fire.  From aggressive, angry riffs to his more bluesy side, Slash once again proves that he should be mentioned in the same breath with other guitar heroes like Ritchie Blackmore and Eric Clapton (to name a few).  While it’s easy to praise his leads, which are all very impressive, one of the things that struck me about this album is his ability to add tasteful, subtle accents to bring the songs to life.

Until his first collaboration with Slash back in 2010, Kennedy inexplicably managed to fly below the radar for his astounding vocal abilities, which are even more impressive when you consider that his first love is guitar.

When Alter Bridge released the critically acclaimed Fortress last year, I couldn’t help but wonder if Kennedy would still be motivated to pull double-duty with Slash.  Clearly, that is not an issue, given that he found the time to write enough material with Slash for nearly two albums, while still doing select dates with Alter Bridge.  The voice of this generation of hard rock has a seemingly endless supply of energy and brilliant songs to go around for both bands.

Although it is less common nowadays, there were a number of singers back in the 80s who could hit soaring high notes, just like Kennedy does, but usually not with the same musicality.  For Kennedy, the song is more important than showing off with vocal acrobatics.  His range is impressive, but what really makes him special is his ability to effortlessly blend numerous styles into one song and make it fit the mood perfectly.  He has an uncanny knack for melody that somehow manages to make even the most moody, melancholic, brooding moments on the album feel uplifting.

From the dark, haunting low notes to the powerful and soaring high notes, Kennedy puts on a vocal clinic throughout the entire album.  And, just when you think that you’ve heard it all, Kennedy somehow manages to take it to another level on the final track – “The Unholy,” where he theatrically mixes rage with beauty, similar to the way that Geoff Tate did on Queensryche’s epic Operation Mindcrime album.

Of course, no musical masterpiece would be possible without a great supporting cast, and The Conspirators are that (and then some).  In fact, with Kerns’ singing ability, The Conspirators would be a formidable power trio if they performed without Slash and Kennedy (hypothetically speaking, of course).

 

BEYOND GNR

Two decades ago, it was hard to find a silver lining to the breakup of GNR, the apparent heirs to the hard rock throne.  The formation of this band, and the release of this epic album (and Apocalyptic Love for that matter) is, without question, that silver lining.

Slash, Kennedy & The Conspirators are an energetic, melodic, hard rock tour de force that epitomize everything that rock and roll should be about.  Their chemistry, both on stage and on record, is readily apparent in every song that they play.  From the obvious brilliant vocal harmonies to the more subtle accents and breaks, this band is a cohesive unit that excels on every level.

 

THE BENEFIT OF EXPERIENCE

At the age of 49, Slash is at the top of his game, and like fine wine, he continues to get better with age.  Clearly, there is something to be said for experience, because with the exception of Sidoris, the entire band is in their 40s.

Everything that made Slash’s playing with Guns N’ Roses special is still a big part of his repertoire, and pairing with Kennedy has definitely expanded his horizons and brought out the best in him.

 

AN INSTANT CLASSIC

World On Fire is an outstanding album from the first note to the last, on par with Appetite For Destruction and even better than Use Your Illusion I and II.  With 17 outstanding tracks, it’s like buying a double-album for the price of one.  You really couldn’t ask for more, and yet, it still feels like this album ends too soon!

Flashback Friday: Spotlight on The Winery Dogs

The Winery Dogs

The hard rock music genre has been flourishing in recent years.  With so many great albums coming out each year, some inevitably slip through the cracks and don’t get their proper due at the time of their release.  This was definitely the case with The Winery Dogs, whose debut album was released one year ago this week.

Inspired by The Winery Dogs, Hard Rock Daddy will be taking advantage of Flashback Friday (on occasion) to take a “second bite of the apple” and review noteworthy recent albums.

The timing of this first Flashback Friday article comes on the same day that The Winery Dogs are wrapping up their first-ever “Dog Camp” – an immersive program for aspiring musicians of all ages and skill levels.  Campers were afforded the opportunity to attend instrument-specific clinics, learn songwriting mechanics and enjoy intimate performances from the group (those lucky dogs!).

Often times, “supergroups” come together as a side project for a limited amount of time.  Based on their debut album, we can only hope that The Winery Dogs do not fall into that category.  The chemistry that exists between these three virtuosos is something to behold.  One listen to their debut album and you’ll be left to ponder two questions…

“How is it possible for a new power trio to sound like they have been together for decades?” and “Why did it take them so long to find each other?”

The Winery Dogs march to the beat of a different drummer, and not just because of Mike Portnoy’s incomparable drumming, which together with Billy Sheehan’s signature bass playing, comprises one of the best rhythm sections in hard rock today.  In an unprecedented move, the band put out a box set entitled Dog Treats, less than a year after their debut album was released.

Portnoy and Sheehan were already household names in the hard rock genre for their previous work, so the biggest beneficiary of this supergroup is the band’s highly underrated, dual-threat vocalist/guitarist, Richie Kotzen, whose work on The Winery Dogs’ debut album is nothing short of brilliant.

Kotzen is able to showcase his blues-based guitar virtuosity on the album because of the incredible rhythm section behind him.  From riffs to nuanced guitar parts to shredding leads, Kotzen’s playing is, at times, reminiscent of another legendary guitar player named Ritchie (Blackmore).  And though he draws justifiable comparisons to Soundgarden frontman, Chris Cornell, other (less obvious) vocal influences help shape his style into something unique.

The Winery Dogs debut is a straight forward hard rock album that features a modern take on an old-school, blues rock sound.  Because Kotzen’s vocal similarity to Cornell, it’s easy to compare the album to Soundgarden, but a more in-depth listen reveals many layers and influences from each of the individual members.

Songs like “Not Hopeless” and “Time Machine” showcase the dynamics, intricacies and seamless time changes that Portnoy was famous for with Dream Theater.  The songs also feature the signature sound that Sheehan made famous with Mr. Big’s “Addicted To That Rush.”

There are tasteful moments on the album where the band members each show off their immense talent, but always within the confines of the songs which are generally very melodic, and always incredibly tight.

Kotzen’s vocals shine throughout the album as he showcases his vast range.  On “The Dying” and “Regret,” Kotzen transitions from a soulful, southern rock sound to falsetto accents without missing a beat.

If you are a fan of bluesy hard rock and masterful musicianship, The Winery Dogs debut album is a must-have for your collection.  If the album has somehow eluded you, don’t miss your opportunity to take a second bite of the apple on this Flashback Friday!

Judas Priest – “Redeemer Of Souls”: Hard Rock Daddy Album Review

Judas Priest Redeemer Of Souls

With nearly 45 years of heavy metal experience under their studded belts, Judas Priest has just released Redeemer Of Souls, the 17th studio album of the band’s illustrious career.  Featuring 18 songs, the deluxe edition of the album can only be classified as timeless heavy metal that is as relevant today as it would have been at any other point in the band’s enduring history, proving that the “metal Gods” can still “deliver the goods” with the best of them.

During the recent Judas Priest Town Hall on Ozzy’s Boneyard on SiriusXM, Rob Halford discussed the writing process that the band has used since its inception – two guitar players and a singer.  According to Halford, “the best elements come out of being a trio.”  The formula that has worked so well throughout Priest’s career is still intact, albeit with a noticeable change.

Diehard Priest fans understandably think of the writing trio as Halford, Glenn Tipton and K.K. Downing.  While Downing will never be forgotten for all of his contributions throughout his years in the band before retiring, it can be argued that Redeemer Of Souls never would have come to fruition without the addition of his replacement, Richie Faulkner.  Said Tipton, when discussing why Epitaph didn’t end up being the final tour as billed, “Richie has infused a shot of adrenaline into the band, and gave us the motivation to keep going.”

It’s hard to imagine any guitarist replacing the legendary Downing, but Faulkner has admirably filled some very big shoes on Redeemer Of Souls.  Though he is a relative newcomer, he made his presence felt in a notable way on the album.

For generations, Judas Priest has flown the heavy metal flag and influenced every band in the genre in one way or another.  Faulkner clearly was influenced by Priest, as his chemistry with Tipton is undeniable, but he also brings other influences into the band with his playing, which may or may not have been intentional.

Redeemer Of Souls is a quintessential Priest album from the first track to the last.  The signature dual-guitar sound that is synonymous with the band is alive and well, and can be heard throughout the album.  Crunchy power chords and dirty riffs harken back to the Point Of Entry days, while many of the guitar harmonies are reminiscent of those heard on Sad Wings Of Destiny. With this album, Priest has created new material that takes the best elements of their previous work and infuses it with influences from other metal legends like Metallica and Iron Maiden.

While the guitar work is extraordinary on Redeemer Of Souls, it wouldn’t be Priest without Halford’s timeless vocals.  During the Town Hall, Halford revealed that he does nothing special to keep his voice in shape, which is somewhat shocking considering that, at the age of 62, his voice seems to have defied the aging process.

Whether he is belting it out in the higher register on tracks like “Halls Of Valhalla,” “Metalizer” and the title track, delivering an energetic, melodic anthem like “Sword Of Damocles,” or showcasing his lower, more melancholic vocals on songs like “Hell And Back” and “Beginning Of The End,” Halford proves that he still has one of the greatest voices in metal today.

Lifelong Judas Priest fans and young metal fans alike will love Redeemer Of Souls, but maybe not for the same reasons.  For lifelong fans, the album is another stop along a nostalgic journey that began several decades ago, and for younger metal fans, it represents the foundation of every band that they have listened to on their own metal journey.

Most bands would never think to put out an 18-song album nowadays, but then again, Judas Priest isn’t most bands.  Who else would end a relentless metal assault with a beautiful, subdued power ballad with lyrics that intimate a swan song by a band that has clearly shown that they have a lot left in the tank?  If Judas Priest’s career was a movie, “Never Forget” would be the perfect song to play beneath the closing credits.  For the sake of metal fans the world over, let’s hope that there are more sequels to come, and that Redeemer Of Souls is a new beginning, not an end.

Black Stone Cherry – “Magic Mountain”: Hard Rock Daddy Album Review

Black Stone Cherry - Magic Mountain

Hard rock music is an ever-evolving genre that is customarily defined by the sound of a generation, or at the very least, the sound of a decade.  This is not to say that all bands sound the same, but there are certain elements that give them a common bond, Black Stone Cherry included.  However, the quartet from Kentucky mixes in an element of southern rock that makes them stand out from their fellow hard rock brethren of this generation.  Their latest release, Magic Mountain, bridges the gap between mainstream melodic hard rock and the heavier southern rock sound of bands like Lynyrd Skynyrd, The Allman Brothers and Molly Hatchet.  Ironically, the only other artist to achieve this balance in recent times is New Jersey’s own, Zakk Wylde.

Black Stone Cherry writes music from the heart that is inspired as much by bluesy hard rock bands like Aerosmith and Guns ‘N Roses as it is by their southern rock forefathers.  Though their inspirations are largely from acts that are now considered to be “classic rock,” they have managed to not only bridge the genre gap, but also the generation gap to enjoy radio success with rockers like “White Trash Millionaire” and “Blind Man,” in addition to more introspective, emotive songs like “In My Blood” and “Things My Father Said.”

The radio success is already continuing with the first single off of Magic Mountain, entitled “Me And Mary Jane” – a rock anthem that is sure to be a crowd-pleaser when performed live.  Although the album has other potential singles, Magic Mountain has more to offer than just radio-friendly rockers such as the title track.

The tone of Magic Mountain is established at the onset with “Holding On To Letting Go,” which, at times, chugs along like a Metallica-esque freight train, and features down-home southern flavor and powerful blues guitars in the vein of Robin Trower.  From funky grooves to crunching power chords, all of the eclectic musical styles are held together by Chris Robertson’s incredibly soulful voice, which is indisputably mature beyond his years.

Magic Mountain continues its energetic pace with the Aerosmith/GNR-esque “Peace Pipe,” the powerfully bluesy “Bad Luck & Hard Love” and “Me And Mary Jane” before downshifting gears a bit with the moodier “Runaway,” which is in the same wheelhouse as Black Stone Cherry’s hit song, “In My Blood.”

“Hollywood In Kentucky” also has a similar vibe to “In My Blood,” with an added country flair that might seem out of place on a hard rock album, however, Black Stone Cherry blends genres so seamlessly that you can’t help but appreciate the song as much as the heavier moments on the record.

Just when you think that you have Black Stone Cherry pegged as a hard rock band with southern and country influences, they throw you a curveball with “Sometimes,” a melancholic ballad that harkens back to the early days of Pearl Jam.

The ride on Magic Mountain then takes a steep turn with “Fiesta Del Fuego,” a melodic rocker that combines cool voice effects, infectious harmonies and a dirty, gritty quality similar to the songs on GNR’s Appetite For Destruction.

Great hard rock bands have an uncanny ability to pay homage to the legends that have inspired them in the process of creating something unique and special.  Black Stone Cherry has accomplished that feat throughout the entire Magic Mountain album, especially on the closing track, “Remember Me,” which opens with a psychedelic guitar riff reminiscent of Led Zeppelin’s “No Quarter,” and uses it throughout the song to tastefully accent the band’s classic sound.

Given Black Stone Cherry’s inclusion in all of the biggest hard rock festivals in the United States (Welcome To Rockville, Carolina Rebellion, Rock On The Range, Rocklahoma), it certainly seems as though the band is poised to join the elite acts in the genre at the top of the hard rock mountain.  I guess you could even call it a “Magic Mountain.”

3 Years Hollow – The Cracks: Hard Rock Daddy Album Review

3 Years Hollow The Cracks

It has been a long road for 3 Years Hollow to get to this point in their career.  Like many hard rock bands today, this Midwestern quintet financed their early releases on their own.  They used a Kickstarter campaign to help finance regional tours, and secured a national spot on the Rockstar Energy UPROAR Festival by winning their region in the Ernie Ball Battle of the Bands.  Nearly a decade after their formation, all of their hard work has culminated in a record deal with Imagen Records.  Signed by A&R V.P, Morgan Rose (Sevendust), the band has just released The Cracks, a 12-song album that showcases their powerful brand of melodic hard rock.

A number of the songs on the album were featured on 3YH’s most recent self-produced EP, entitled “Remember.”  The title track off of the EP, which has been remastered for The Cracks, made a splash last year when it was featured on SiriusXM’s Octane Big ‘Uns Countdown; it was also named one of the Top 52 Hard Rock Songs of 2013.

While the band is in lockstep with their desire to create melodic hard rock, their sound is admittedly derived from a variety of influences ranging from progressive rock to hair metal to pop punk.

In addition to having Morgan Rose in their corner, the album was produced by Rose’s Sevendust counterpart, Clint Lowery.

Jose Urquiza’s powerful, emotional vocal delivery is ideally complemented by a driving rhythm section and impressive dual guitars, including harmonies which, at times, are reminiscent of classic Judas Priest.  The album is filled with catchy hooks and big anthemic choruses, but what makes The Cracks stand out is the band’s ability to showcase their diversity with dynamic breaks such as the ones incorporated into one of the best tracks on the album, “Chemical Ride.”

Lyrically, the band strives to connect with the fans by writing from the heart and sharing personal experiences that likely affect others.

The song, “For Life,” Urquiza explains, is about a person who is struggling and feels alone in the world, how they are damaged by personal demons but come out on the other side by standing strong in the face of adversity.  “Take The World” also offers a positive message that will resonate with 3YH fans.

3 Years Hollow spent nearly a decade scratching and clawing to avoid falling through “The Cracks” of an unforgiving business that is not nearly as glamorous as it seems from the outside looking in.  While many may look at a record deal and recognition from heavy hitters in the hard rock music genre as arriving, 3YH sees this as just the beginning of things to come.  If all goes well, the band plans on leveraging the album’s success to play summer rock festivals and other shows around the country.

Based on this collection of songs, there is no doubt that 3 Years Hollow’s sound is tailor-made for live performances.  Fans of bands like Sevendust, Disturbed, Nonpoint, Pop Evil and the like, should make it a point to check out these up-and-coming hard rockers.