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Old 07-24-2011, 05:33 PM   #91 (permalink)
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Fanatic --- Jadis --- 2003 (InsideOut)


To be perfectly honest, I'm still somewhat uncertain as to how I ever heard of, much less got into this band. I think I read a review somewhere, and decided to give them a go, and man am I glad I did! For a relatively unknown band, Jadis sure tick all the boxes. This is their sixth studio album, and although I have listened to most of the rest of their output --- and it's very good indeed --- I still see this as their best album to date.

It starts off with what can only be called the sounds of the outdoors: insects, birds, wind and alongside it the solitary chords of an electric guitar, before “The great outside” gets going, with hooks that remind me of the more recent Yes songs, and great vocals by Gary Chandler, frontman for and creative force of the band, who also plays guitar. It's a long song, parts of it firmly stamping their own brand of neo-progressive rock on the track, but still with the power and energy of standard rock music. The song is generally led by guitar, with great drumming by Steve Christie, John Jowitt keeping the bass nice and steady. It's a good opener, but the following “Into temptation”, by contrast, fails to keep the excitement level up. A good solid rock song, but a little unremarkable, I fear.

Not to worry though, as normal service is soon resumed with “Each and every day”, a laid-back, almost acoustic ballad with some great vocal harmonies. As the album progresses you begin to realise that Jadis have their own distinctive sound that, when you hear it again, you just know at once that it's them. It's hard to explain, but I think it's down to the guitar playing. Somehow, whenever I listen to a playlist now, I can tell a Jadis song, from any album, as soon as it begins. If for some reason you're not sure, then once the singing begins you're left in no doubt, as Chandler's voice, like his guitar work, is unmistakable and inimitable.

“I never noticed” is the most immediately commercial song on the album, would have been a definite candidate for a single release (though I can't say if it ever was, as information on Jadis is notoriously scarce, even from their own website!), with its gentle percussion opening and melodic guitar which often puts me in mind of Marillion's Steve Rothery. We get to hear keyboardist Martin Orford properly for the first time here, as he tips a hat to Talking Heads' “Once in a lifetime”. Orford and Jowitt are both of course also members of prog rock giants IQ, but resist the urge that may be there to take over the band, or perhaps Chandler has such a tight control over it that they haven't the option, but either way it works very well, and the band comes together as a very cohesive whole, much more than the sum of their parts.

The song ends on a nice spacey keyboard run which takes it into the title track, a really nice instrumental on which Orford finally gets to give those fingers a good workout. It's a real showcase for the keys man from IQ, joined by Chandler, pulling off his best Gilmour impression as the song takes us into “Yourself alone”, a slow rocker with a really nice melody and some great piano work from Martin Orford. Best track on the album goes to the waltzy ballad “What kind of reason”, with its gentle acoustic guitar opening with keyboard backing, Chandler's clear, powerful voice rising above the music like the sun over the ocean. It's a long song too, over eight minutes, easily the longest on the album, even beating out the opening three, each of which racks up over six minutes. A real centrepiece for the album, and a proper showcase for the talents of Jadis.

This isn't a perfect album, by any means: closers “Who can we be sure of” and “The flame is burning out” fail to reach the heights achieved by other, better tracks mentioned above, but even when Jadis are below par they are better than many bigger bands. But then, when they're good, they're just incredible!

Ignore this album at the risk of your immortal musical soul...!

TRACKLISTING

1. The great outside
2. Into temptation
3. Each and every day
4. I never noticed
5. Fanatic
6. Yourself alone
7. Take these words
8. What kind of reason
9. Who can we be sure of?
10. The flame is burning out

Suggested further listening: “Photoplay”, “Somersault”, “More than meets the eye”, “Across the water”, “Understand”, “Medium rare”
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Old 07-24-2011, 05:35 PM   #92 (permalink)
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Marauder --- Blackfoot --- 1981 (Atco)


Hey, maybe all these years I was wrong! I was told/assumed that these guys were all Indians --- excuse me, Native Americans! --- but their writeup on Wiki doesn't mention any such heritage. Perhaps they weren't, and maybe I just got suckered in by the name Blackfoot, which is obviously the name of a real Indian tribe, but if they aren't, then they certainly seemed to play up to that image, with songs like “Rattlesnake rock'n'roller” and “Indian world”, not to mention their debut album being called (ahem!) “No reservations”!

Well, whether or which, nothing takes away from the fact that these guys ROCKED with a capital R (and the rest of the letters capitalised too!) --- you'll find no AOR-fodder here, few songs about love and loss, and nary a ballad to be found. “Marauder”, their fifth album, can only be described as a powerhouse. It's southern rock verging on full-on heavy metal --- move over Lynyrd Skynyrd! Kicking you right in the gut from the off, “Good morning” rattles in like a runaway steam train, the churning guitar of Charlie Hagrett backing the powerful, gravelly, almost Lemmy-like vocals of Rickey Medlocke, sticksman Jakson “Thunderfoot” Spires, pounding away so hard you can almost smell the sweat (eeewww!). Spires also co-writes every song on this album with Medlocke. Now admittedly they're not going to win any prizes for original lyrics, but hey, that's not what Blackfoot are about. Let other delve deeply into the human psych, put the world to rights or give their opinions on this and that: these boys are here for one reason and one reason only: to rock!

And how they do! Slowing down a little for “Payin' for it”, the second track comes across as the very best of Sammy Hagar, with great bass from Mister Greg T. Walker (heavy, as he says himself in the liner notes, on the “Mister”!), and some vocal harmonies that stray just over the border into AOR territory, before they're roped and pulled back into the dry, dusty plains and Hagret gives his guitar a fine work out to show this band is all about rock, and to Blackfoot there is only one type, or one type that matters anyway: Southern!

“Diary of a workingman” is a great little acoustic ballad, a real song for the ordinary guy. ”Been a poor man all his life/ And just when everything was going right/ Some stranger takes his woman away/ Don't know if he'll see another day.” It's the second-longest song on the album, just beaten out by seconds by the closer, and one of only two that are over five minutes long. Blackfoot are not about rock epics, no sir! But they can turn it on when they feel the need to, and here they fashion a truly great southern ballad which smoulders and smokes with indignation and rage at the injustices of the world. Yeah, I know I said earlier they don't write songs about putting the world to rights, but this is an intensely personal song. It's about one man (okay, indicative of ALL workingmen, and women), but doesn't seek to change the world, just point out how ****ty it can be for those who aren't lucky enough to be born into privilege. Witness the end lines: ”With a tear in his eye/ And a gun in his hand/ So ends the diary/ Of a workingman.” Says it all.

After this brief introspective pause they're off and running again, rockin' hard with “Too hard to handle” before we're into “Fly away”, the shortest and most commercial song on the album and indeed their only hit single. Maybe if they had written more songs of this calibre they might have been a lot more successful, but then I feel that chart success was never really on Blackfoot's radar. All they wanted to do was get out there and rock. If people bought their records, great, if not, then **** them. A real no-nonsense, no-frills band in very much the mould of the late, legendary Rory Gallagher.

In addition to the guitars, bass and drums on the album, Blackfoot also draft in some other musicians to play the likes of trumpet, harmonica, banjo and horns, most notably Medlocke's grandfather Shorty, who gives it a blast on banjo, racking off a truly astonishing solo as well as speaking the intro to “Rattlesnake rock'n'roller”, which he also co-wrote with his grandson and Spires. It's a great boogie rocker/blues/country jamboree hybrid, with some truly inspired gee-tar and some honky-tony pianner from Mister Greg T. Walker, not to mention some mean horns! Yee-haaaww!

That would have been a good enough closer, but then we get the five-minute-plus “Searchin'”, which, cliché as it may seem, gives “Free bird” one hell of a run for its money. A slow-burning start on guitar and keyboard yields to Rickey Medlock's impassioned vocal, then the drums kick in as he sings ”They tell me that a man must crawl/ Before he can walk/ Yeah they told me/ You gotta cry before you can talk.” Some more great vocal harmonies, before the inevitable guitar solo as the song charges to its end on a perfect southern-rock arrangement. A great way to end the album, rockin' all the way.

If you like deep lyrics, thoughtful messages and complicated, four-part songs, look elsewhere. If you like lots of ballads, AOR tracks and synthesisers, jest ride on by. But if you like the smell of cordite and horse****, the taste of neat whiskey and the feel of the hot desert wind in your face as you ride, the aroma of motor oil and the acrid smell of burning fretboard, then come on in, partner, for you have found your long-lost brothers.

TRACKLISTING

1. Good morning
2. Payin' for it
3. Diary of a workingman
4. Too hard to handle
5. Fly away
6. Dry county
7. Fire of the dragon
8. Rattlesnake rock'n'roller
9. Searchin'



Suggested further listening: “Tomcattin'”, “Strikes” and the live album “Highway song”
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Old 07-25-2011, 01:11 PM   #93 (permalink)
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Escapology --- Robbie Williams --- 2002 (EMI)


This was the last Robbie Williams album I listened to. It's not that I went off him, it's just that a release like “Rudebox” made me pause before just rushing out and buying his next album, and after that I was pretty much inundated with so much downloaded content that the idea of getting his next few albums, although flirted with and not by any means disposed of, is still more or less on the back burner. I really enjoyed “I've been expecting you”, thought “Life through a lens” was ok and quite enjoyed “Sing when you're winning” (but ignored the swing album, as I don't like that sort of music particularly), and ended up here.

So, is it any good? Yes it is. It's very good. Not that surprisingly, being the album that was intended to break him commercially in the US, it's polished, slick and very commercial, but still retains the arists's quirky sense of humour, and a lot of his own heart and soul, on songs like “Nan's song” and “Hot fudge”. The album opens with him exclaiming, in very Divine Comedy manner, “Cows!”, rather fittingly, as the title of the opener is “How peculiar!”, and sets his stall out from the start as he sings ”I am all of the above..” It's more bluesy rock than pop, a gap Williams straddles quite well, given his already established popularity and image as a pop star. It's a heavy start to the album, perhaps not what his longtime fans would have expected, and the follow-up, the first single, “Feel”, would be more to their taste.

A piano-driven semi-ballad, it's well known as it was in the charts and on the radio seems for ever, and it's a really good song, a look into the heart of the artist as he looks for meaning in his sometimes superficial life. ”I don't wanna die/ But I ain't keen on livin' either...” The album is if nothing else good value for money, with fourteen tracks, few of which come in at under four minutes, with one of them running over seven. Perhaps surprisingly, there are really no bad tracks on this album, and some really good ones. I wouldn't class it as better than, or even as good as “Expecting”, but it comes darn close.

“Monsoon” is a great autobiographical song, almost Oasis-like (which I know he'll hate, as he has a real problem with the Gallagher brothers, but hey, he's hardly likely to read my little review, is he?) with some truly great guitar work, and some of the best, sharpest lyrics he's written to date: [i]”To all you Sharons and Michelles/ With all your tales to tell/ Save your milk money well/ I'm glad that spending the night with me/ Guaranteed you celebrity.”[/] “Sexed up”, the first real ballad is just perfect, piano and acoustic guitar melding in a gentle song about a breakup, hard feelings and regrets, selected as the fourth single from the album and getting into the top ten.

“Love somebody” is another ballad which starts off pure acoustic, then gets going with some really nice strings arrangement, a real sense of desperation in the chorus, real urgency. Great vocal harmonies, almost a gospel song in its own right. “Come undone” was another single, and no doubt you heard it on the radio at some point, so not too much to say about it other than that it's a great little song, and indeed one of only two on the album not co-written by longtime songwriting partner Guy Chambers. I much prefer the hilarious and clever “Me and my monkey”, though, which is in fact the longest track on the album. Hey, you have to listen to it, just for its having a title like that! But it is a great song, with a totally out-there lyric involving casinos, fast cars and Mexican stand-offs, all under a great horn-driven theme made to sound like a mariachi band playing.

”We hit the strip with all the wedding chapels/ And the neon signs/ He said 'I left my wallet in El Segundo'/ And proceeded to take two grand of mine.” You just don't get songs written like this anymore! And then you get the weirdly titled “Song 3”, where Robbie channels the ghost of Kurt Cobain, and very well too. “Hot fudge”, meanwhile, is pure LA-funk, Robbie revealing his long-held wish to make it in the US:”Hot fudge, here come the judge/ There's a green card in the way/ The Holy Ghost and the whole east coast/ Are moving to LA/ We've been dreaming of this feeling/ Since 1988...”

The album ends on a very simple, tender tribute to Robbie's grandmother, the song simply called “Nan's song”, in which he sings of losing her and how he misses her. It's a very revealing song, raw with emotion and backed by acoustic guitar and violin, a real insight into a man often accused of being more than a little shallow. It's also the other song he wrote without the help of Guy Chambers, and it closes the album in fine, if low-key style.

“Hidden tracks” can be weird. He's included two here, which run after “Nan's song” ends, so don't hit the “stop” button just yet! Screeching guitar introduces a sort of end-theme to the album, called “Save the children”, then you have to be patient as the second hidden track doesn't come in for another six minutes (!), on the back of an acoustic guitar strum, joined by organ and then piano, apparently Robbie's random thoughts when he was out on a boring date. He calls this “I tried love”.

Maybe his subsequent albums were all great, but as I said I haven't listened to anything after this one, and on that basis I find it not to be his best --- that honour still goes to the stunning “I've been expecting you” --- but a very close second. If nothing else, listen to it for “Me and my monkey”...

TRACKLISTING

1. How peculiar
2. Feel
3. Something beautiful
4. Monsoon
5. Sexed up
6. Love somebody
7. Revolution
8. Handsome man
9. Come undone
10. Me and my monkey
11. Hot fudge
12. Song 3
13. Cursed
14. Nan's song (incorporating “hidden tracks” Save the children and I tried love)



Suggested further listening: “I've been expecting you”, “Life through a lens”, “Sing when you're winning”
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Old 07-25-2011, 01:12 PM   #94 (permalink)
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The eyes of the shadow --- Silent Edge --- 2003 (DVS)


You know how some bands slip right under your radar, and then one day you hear them and you think “Holy crap! How have I missed these guys?” Well, be prepared to utter that amazed and incredulous phrase, because if you haven't heard of Silent Edge before (and I'm willing to bet you haven't), then you are in for one hell of an experience! They hail from Holland, and this is, to date, their only album, which is disheartening, as it having been released eight years ago puts a follow-up somewhat in doubt, but then, longer hiatuses have occurred --- check the review of Boston's “Third stage” a few posts back. So hopefully we've not heard the last of these guys. But if we have, what an opening and parting shot they have left us in this album.

A mixture of power rock/power metal/prog metal and some neoclassical rock/metal, “The eyes of the shadow” is an album that you will not be skipping tracks on. “Through different eyes” lays down the gauntlet to many a more established but in some ways inferior power metal band, with its fantastic keyboard and guitar sound, overlaid by the soaring vocals of Willem Verwoert. The song powers along on thunderous drums, extremely tight guitar courtesy of Emo Suripatty, meshing perfectly with the frantic keysplay of Minggus Gaspersz: some of the sudden timing changes are quite amazing, but there's nary a beat dropped nor a note missed. A band in perfect synch, indeed.

(Sorry, but I was only able to find one YT of these guys. Hopefully it'll give you a flavour of what they're all about. Why aren't they better known?? )

There are only ten tracks on the album, but as I said, each one is a stormer: no filler material here! Things get, if you can believe it, faster and more frenetic with a fantastic keyboard intro to “Savage symphony”, Suripatty's guitar growling like something alive, Matthew Boer's drums pounding out the beat while bassist Andre Hendriks keeps the rhythm section nice and tight. It may seem like hyperbole, but really, the calibre of the musicianship is so top-notch here that you can almost believe you're listening to something Mozart would have composed, had he lived to the twenty-first century, and taken up power metal! There's just no letup at all, as the epic eight-minute “Wasted lands” kicks in with a heavy intro of keys and doomsday drumming, For half of the track it's a smoking, slowburning churner of a song, then the keys really let fly and the guitar joins in as the whole thing rockets off to another place altogether. Playing this fine I have not heard for a long time. And then, just when you think it's going to fly off to the stratosphere to the end, everything calms down again and the original rhythm returns, to take the song to its triumphant conclusion.

Man, I feel worn out already, and we're only three tracks in! Luckily there's now time to catch the breath, as the superb acoustic ballad --- the only one on the album --- is next, the wonderful and emotive “The curse I hold”. This really showcases Verwoert's powerful voice, as it's just him and Suripatty's gorgeous acoustic guitar playing that carries this song. Only one ballad, as I say, but when it's of this quality, I certainly don't mind. Things get right back into the speed groove then for “Crusades”, a galloping instrumental which takes us into another epic, the frankly incredible “For ancient times”. Again this kicks off with keyboard flurries that really make me wonder if Gaspersz is not actually some sort of human/octopus hybrid? How can one man move his fingers that fast?

The song takes a break in the middle, slowing down for an instrumental section driven again on the keyboards of Gaspersz the Octo-Human, very fugue-like, which builds in intensity and power as Suripatty's guitar crashes in to add weight to the section, along with Boer's powerhouse drumming and the tough bass of Hendriks.Having had a nice three-minute rest, Verwoert comes powering back in to take the song to its pounding conclusion. And again I feel worn out, but in a good way.

The boys slow it down just a little then, for one of those rock crunchers that just drags you along. “Lost conscience” is replete with chugging guitar and swirling keyboards, the drumming on this track a little more pedestrian than other tracks, but still powerful. Suripatty outdoes himself on the axe in the closing stages of this track, and then we're into “Under a shaded moon”, kicking the tempo right back up, slamming the foot on the pedal and taking off on an Iron Maidenesque rocker, Verwoert again delivering crystal clear and powerful vocals, while Gaspersz and Surpiatty trade licks, again demonstrating the incredible timing this band has, and the almost telepathic understanding between them. The song has a great hook, and you'll be singing it long after the album has finished, I can tell you.

So is that the end of the epics? Nah, not on your life! “Rebellion” is just one second short of nine minutes, so the longest track on the album, and it kicks off in power-speed mode, Boer hammering the drums so fast and hard you feel sure his arms must fall off! It's no small tribute to Silent Edge that their longer songs --- and there are three here which are over eight minutes --- never feel overstretched, laboured or even that long. It can be surprising to finish listening to something like “Rebellion” and realise nine minutes has passed. Certainly doesn't feel like it. These guys must be white-hot on stage!

And as if this isn't a good enough end to the album, we then get “Rebellion (The Awakening)”, a piano-driven ballad (Yes, I know I said there was only one ballad, but as this is sort of a continuation of “Rebellion”, I don't really count it as … oh well, okay then: have it your way!) in the mould of “The curse I hold”, up to about a minute from the end, when Suripatty's guitar makes its final bow, in a stunning reprise that just ends the track, and the album perfectly.

No matter what I write here, it's not going to be sufficient to get across the quality of this album. Listen to the single YouTube here, the only one I could find, but make sure to click the download link and listen to the album, and you too, will understand. In the words of Alex from The Metal Observer: "Wow!", "This is…how could…damn…" (THE METAL OBSERVER - Review - SILENT EDGE - The Eyes Of The Shadow)

Could not have said it better myself.

TRACKLISTING

1. Through different eyes
2. Savage symphony
3. Wasted lands
4. The curse I hold
5. Crusades
6. For ancient times
7. Lost conscience
8. Under a shaded moon
9. Rebellion
10. Rebellion (The Awakening)
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Old 07-26-2011, 03:48 PM   #95 (permalink)
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No. 2: “Still got the blues” by Gary Moore



I never quite noticed how expressive this cover was before now. When I went looking for another album sleeve to examine for this series, I came across this one, and it surprised me, as I never rated the album that highly, and was somewhat disappointed with it when I bought it, mostly because of the amount of covers on it. But looking at the sleeve, there's a wealth of information there, and it's extremely clever, in that it depicts the life of a blues guitarist in just two pictures.



Due to the restriction on the amount of images allowed per post, I will be stepping away from the practice I followed on the first in this series, that is, cutting up the album cover by enlarging sections of it and posting them as single images. This process led to my having to split my original review in half, which was something of a pain in the arm, so this time what I'm doing is marking points on the sleeve which I want to talk about, and relating them to a key below. The original pictures should be large enough that you can see what I'm talking about, hopefully, without too much squinting.

This album depicts two ages, the blues guitarist as a kid on the front, with him all grown up on the back. It's really clever; if you examine it in depth you can see the differences and the similarities between the world of the boy and that of the man.

1. The guitar. Obviously it's not an expensive one, as it doesn't even have a case (that we can see), and no kid ot this age would have been able to buy, or have bought for him, any sort of really decent guitar, but it's where the dreams of the boy are kindled, where he decides very quickly what he wants to do with his life, and it's the start of a love affair with music that will last to the end of his days.

2. And on the wall, there's his inspiration, one of his heroes: a poster of Jimi Hendrix. Could a guitar player HAVE a better role model?
3. Another poster, another hero. Someone on a motorbike –- possibly Brando? Hard to make out, even on full zoom, but certainly someone the boy admires, and perhaps aspires to emulate.
4. The old “box” record player, on which no doubt the lad has heard his first rock'n'roll songs.
5. Some old vinyl records on the floor, no doubt he's learning the songs from them. They're a little hard to see, but I'm pretty sure I see “Black rose” by Thin Lizzy and a BB King record.
6. Anyone who's ever played or learned guitar knows there's only one name in amps: if you're serious, you gotta have a Marshall!
7. Some more records on the bed, presumably the ones he is currently learning. I can see one by John Mayall...



And on the reverse of the sleeve, the artist all grown up. Everything is different, yet in some ways a lot is still the same...

8. The guitar is obviously a much better, more expensive make.
9. He is now in a hotel room, rather than in his bedroom. It also looks, from the neon sign outside, of which we can only see a few letters, that it's an American hotel.
10. There's a phone in the room, naturally, but back when he was a kid no parent would a) allow and b) be able to afford a telephone in a child's bedroom. This was long before mobile phones existed, and we had to make do with the landline In fact, they weren't called landlines, as there was nothing to distinguish them from. What's that you say? What were they called? Telephones.
11. He can now obviously afford, and needs, a case for his expensive guitar. In the case we can see some cassette tapes (see my guide to twentieth century musical technology, a few posts back), which may be recorded by him, his own music, or just tapes of albums he owns. They could also be demo tapes he's touting around the record labels. The hotel room is not fabulous, so perhaps he hasn't quite made it yet.
12. The staple of the rock star on the road: the good old American hamburger! Food of the gods, indeed.
13. A nice glitzy lamp is in his room, whereas when he was a kid there was none.
14. In a clever nod back to his childhood, the bedside table has a radio and alarm clock built in.
15. Some thing never change. He may have a better guitar, but there's still no substitute for quality. There's the Marshall amp, even now!
16. The records on the floor have now been replaced by CDs, as time moves on, but I think I can still see a BB King recording there...
17. And that CD on the bed that he's looking towards looks to be that man, John Mayall again.
18. Now that he's all grown-up, what else would the bluesman slake his thirst with, but a can of beer?
19. And just like his younger self, he's still sitting on the bed in a bedroom, playing the guitar.

So the two pictures show a “before and after” snapshot of a boy who has grown to be a man, and though much has changed, some things never do. The basics are the same --- guy listening to the music he loves, and grew up on, and playing, or learning to play it, alone in a room, away from others. The life of a blues guitarist can be lonely, indeed. But he's happy doing what he loves.

“Still got the blues”, then, could have two meanings. It could be that he's still not happy, but it could also mean that, whatever else I lose in this life, one thing I will always have is the music I grew up listening to and loved, and still do today. As another famous blues guitar player, also sadly no longer with us, once wrote: “Toothbrush, a guitar, got no tail to drag.” With Gary Moore now tragically taken from us, perhaps we can find solace in the expectation that there must be one hell of a jam session going on somewhere right now, as these two kindred souls meet.
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Wild cat --- Tygers of Pan Tang --- MCA (1981)


I don't really think I can recall another instance of a band starting off as total heavy metal/rock and changing so completely into an AOR/soft-rock outfit, but that's exactly what happened with the Tygers of Pan Tang, who had a great chance to be one of THE heavy rock bands of the early eighties, and threw it all away. When I first heard “Wild cat”, their debut album, I was completely hooked. This was headbangin' stuff, but with enough melody to stand out from the likes of Motorhead, Saxon et al. In fact, the first I heard of them was the single “Suzie smiled”, and then I HAD to get the album. My brother ended up getting it, and becoming a loyal Tygers fan, but I was crestfallen when they released the followup, “Spellbound”, as it just wasn't what I had expected. It was nothing like the debut, and as their career went on it went from bad to worse. But enough of the history lesson. Let's concentrate on this excellent debut, and try to put the subsequent mistakes behind us.

The album kicks off with some heavy drumming courtesy of Brian Dick, with the growling guitar of Robb Weir as “Euthanasia” gets us going, and although it's not in the same class as some of the later songs, it's a solid rocker that leaves you in no doubt as to what to expect. The swaggering vocals of Jess Cox typified the Tygers' sound, and I feel they really lost something when he left after this album. For me, he WAS the voice of the Tygers, and cheap imitations just didn't cut it. Much better is “Slave to freedom”, with some great axe work by Weir, and solid bass from Richard Laws, who on the album went by the name of “Rocky”. This is one of the longer tracks on the album, and gives Weir freedom to indulge in the solos he was to repeat throughout the album, and other later ones, when allowed his head. It settles down into a nice sort of bluesy groove halfway through, but of course that doesn't last and we're soon into the dirty, heads-down rock and roll that was the Tygers' trademark.

Look, let's be clear about one thing: the Tygers weren't --- originally --- about subtlety. They didn't write deep lyrics, they didn't do complicated keyboard solos (mainly cause they didn't use a keyboard player!) and they didn't do ballads. Every song on this album is either fast, or just slightly less fast. The Tygers didn't do slow. But as an honest rock album, you'd search to find one as good. The rockin' continues with “Don't touch me there”, and if there's a charge to be levelled at “Wild cat” it could only be of a lack of variance in the songs: most sound relatively like the others, with a few notable exceptions. But then, when they're songs of this hard rockin' quality, who cares?

One of the best tracks on the album is “Killers”, also the longest, at just over six and a half minutes. The tale of gunslingers in the old West, it's a powerful, riff-laden rocker that kicks off with a great bassline from Rocky, before he's joined by Robb's snarling guitar and the whole thing plays out like the best of Thin Lizzy, with some truly spectacular solos from Robb, clearly enjoying himself as a modern-day desperado, swapping a Colt 45 for a Fender Strat. Things speed right up at the end, as the whole band goes a little crazy, one trying to outdo the other for speed, before it all comes to a powerful end.

“Fireclown”, again introduced on Rocky Laws's bass, shows that the Tygers have some ideas in their lyric-writing book, as this is based on a science-fiction novel written by Micheal Moorcock, called, you guessed it, Fireclown. I should probably also mention that the band got their name from another Moorcock book (forget which one), in which an island is called Pan-Tang, so they were obviously fans of his work. Another plus for them, as far as I'm concerned! The title track could probably be a bit more memorable, but it does have some nice echo effects, and another great Robb Weir solo. Shades of the old seventies band, the Sweet, in there too. Personally though the best track for me is the one that got me into this band, “Suzie smiled”. Okay, it's nothing terribly special, another hard-rocker, but it was the first time I heard THAT guitar sound, and THAT voice, which totally turned me on to the Tygers, so it'll always remain my favourite.

The album ends on another long track, “Insanity” just beaten out by “Killers” as the longest track by a few seconds. More great solos, ch ugging guitar and thundering drums carrying along a track which really brings the album to a steamhammer ending, the way it should finish.

Look, I'm not going to make any false claims here. You're not going to find anything amazingly new here, nothing that's going to make you want to tell everyone about this album, but in a time when so many rock bands were more AOR or glam-rock than metal, the Tygers stood for pure, honest, down-to-earth no-nonsense metal, and it's such a pity their story went the way it did. Once Jess Cox left and John Sykes got into the band, things went very much the other way and the Tygers became a far softer, radio-friendly band, resulting in their eventual disbanding in 1983. Well, to be fair, there were some really nasty factors that contributed to this, mostly label pressure and an attempt to make the band into something they were not, nor wanted to be, as well as disagreements within the band and changes to the lineup, not to mention some disloyalty on the part of Sykes.

But the fact remains that if you look at the subsequent albums, “Spellbound” shows their symbol/mascot, the tiger, on top of a mountain, looking somewhat trapped, while the next one has him somewhat incongruously doing a “King Kong” atop a building, swatting at little planes (Tiger Moths, I believe!), and by 1982 he has been well and firmly caged. Here, he is free, wild and roaring unfettered on the album sleeve, a challenge to all comers, a beast to be feared. This tiger was not about to be caged, not in 1980!

“Wild cat” is how the Tygers should have been, and how I want to remember them. Download, hit play and listen to them roar!

TRACKLISTING

1. Euthanasia
2. Slave to freedom
3. Don't touch me there
4. Money
5. Killers
6. Fireclown
7. Wild catz
8. Suzie smiled
9. Badger badger
10. Insanity



Suggested further listening: You can try “Spellbound”, “Crazy nights” and “The cage”, just don't expect any of those albums to be anywhere close to “Wild cat”
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The cat is out --- Judie Tzuke --- 1984 (Legacy)


(Note: this review was originally written some years ago for my own Judie Tzuke website, so it may seem a little more in-depth than usual, and may assume more familiarity with her work than would normally be expected, as it was written with her fans in mind. For those who are not familiar with her work I've added a short preface to the review.)

I first fell in love with the music of Judie Tzuke when I heard the hit single “Stay with me till dawn” on the radio late one night, and went out and bought her debut album, “Welcome to the cruise”. Since then I've bought just about everything she's released, and it's been a pretty impressive turnover. Up as far as this album, she has released an album a year, though after “The cat is out” it would be five more years before the follow-up, the stunning “Turning stones”, would see the light of day. Her album previous to this, 1983's “Ritmo”, had not gone down well with me, and is still what I consider to be the nadir of her career, though happily her output soon returned to the excellent quality I had come to expect from her, and so far she has not yet put a foot wrong since that one bump in the road.

So two years after the release of "Ritmo", Judie returns with a new label and a whole new sound to the last album. A full lineup this time, with Rhino Edwards taking over all bass duties on "The cat is out", and doing very well too. Longtime guitarist and partner-in-crime Mike Paxman and Judie's husband, Paul Muggleton provide the backing vocals between them, and Paul even gets to play guitar! (This is jokingly referred to on the sleeve notes as "accidental guitars"). A new drummer in Andy Newmark and a permanent saxophonist in Andy Hamilton helps to give the whole album a more "together" feel, more polished and professional than the previous outing, and it shows in a far better album.
(Annoyingly, this is the only song from this album I can find on YouTube. Philistines!)

The opening track, “How sweet it is” is a celebratory song of love, rattles along at a nice pace, the keyboards of Bob Noble complementing Mike's steady guitar, and the whole ensemble works very well as Judie sings "How sweet it is, oh how sweet it can be", as if she herself realises that they are making a far better album than the last one. She sounds happy to be cutting records again, and whether this has anything to do with the change of label or not is open to speculation, but she certainly does sound freer, more relaxed than she was on “Ritmo”.

This is another collaboration between Mike and herself, though he is given first billing, so perhaps it's more his song than hers.There aren't really any dark songs on this album, and maybe that's what makes it so good. Track two, “Who do you really love?”, the second attempt from Paul and Bob, is a song of angst, as Judie tries once again to get the proper commitment from her man, but he once again appears to be cheating on her, and it's tearing her apart. She vows "I'll know the truth from you, I won't let go until I know." The song itself is paced against an urgent sort of beat, with keyboards and drums meshing to sound like clanging bells, and the overall impression is of a sort of insistency, a need to know. Judie drafts in the assistance of two other women, Jaqui Robinson and Diane Wright to help out on the backing vocals on this one.

“Love like fire” shows Judie in disillusioned phase, as she realises that not everyone falls in love, and sometimes you just have to take what you can get. The tune itself is solid, nice synth backing line, a thumping bass and steady drums. Again, this track gives an impression of the entire band meshing together as a unit, really working well together and most importantly, enjoying themselves. I personally didn't get this feeling from "Ritmo": in places, yes, but not all through the record. And then it's on to the standout ballad, which was released as a single.

“ I'll be the one“ echoes remembrances of “Come hell or waters high”, from 1981's “I am the phoenix”, with a lovely piano backing and synth line, gentle drums and understated guitars, as Judie sings of her devotion to her lover, and how she will always love him: "It's me who loves you/ Till your waves will cease to wash my shore/ And much more..." This is again penned by Bob and Paul, and this time they have got it spot-on: a ballad worthy of Judie or Mike's writing themselves.The backing vocals halfway through and to the end are really nice also, Mike and Paul counterpointing Judie's impassioned lead vocal wonderfully. Should have been a classic. Was, in my book.

An interesting song, “Girl without a name”, another Muggleton/Noble effort, tells the story of either a man having a waking fantasy, or a woman who only appears to him, and only at night. There are perhaps dark undertones to this song, if you want to look at it that way (succubus, temptresses etc), but taken on its own merits it can be an amusing or sad song, depending on which way you choose to view it. The music is light and lilting, as is Judie's vocal, and the backing vocals from the two lads work, as usual, very well in counterpoint to her lead.

The first collaboration between Mike Paxman and Paul Muggleton works out very well indeed. “This side of Heaven” is about a broken love affair, which may have involved the death of the man in the affair, as Judie sings "I keep wishing I could see you again/ This side of Heaven". The music is very upbeat, with nice Spanish/acoustic guitars in the background. Then it's on to “Harbour lights”, an excellent song, penned by Paxman/Tzuke, in the vein of “Molly” from her second album, “Sportscar”, but a far more mature song. “Harbour lights” tells of a woman going down to the harbour to wait for her lover to come back, which of course he never will. The music is slow, with insistent urgency in the chinging guitars in the chorus. The electric piano of Bob Noble keeps a lovely counterpoint to the vocals, and you can almost see this girl standing at the jetty, watching as the dusk closes in and "She stands alone /But the harbour lights/ Won't be turned on tonight"
.
The next track, simply titled “You”, appears to be a cover, possibly written by Ian Hunter(?). It's a great song though, and cracks along at a fine pace, Mike's guitars punching out the melody while Bob's keyboards match him chord for chord, and Judie sings of an illicit affair with a younger man of lower station than she: "I can't let you hurt yourself /By being seen with me". The backing vocals are very powerful, as is the whole song. A good rocker, and a chance for Judie to exercise her varied range. And then it's pull back on the throttle for another ballad, a gentle, flowing song which celebrates the wonderful way that love, which sometimes seems to become boring, suddenly rekindles and it's just as good, if not better, than the first time. “Falling” features a lovely, slow, laidback beat, with pianos meshing gently with guitar to create a gorgeous tapestry against which the jewel of Judie's soft vocal rests.

The last track is a fast, bouncy number, declaiming the dangers of not grabbing the moment when it comes, as the world passes us by uncaringly. Live for the moment seems to be the underlying message of “Racing against time”, and I have to admit that though it's a Tzuke/Paxman/Muggleton effort, I don't really like it, but it's short and closes the album more as a filler than an actual song as such. I'd prefer to be humming Falling as I put the album away though...

TRACKLISTING

1. How sweet it is
2. Who do you really love?
3. Love like fire
4. I'll be the one
5. Girl without a name
6. This side of Heaven
7. Harbour lights
8. You
9. Falling
10. Racing against time



Suggested further listening: “Welcome to the cruise”, “Sportscar”, “I am the phoenix”, “Turning stones”, “Wonderland”, “Shoot the moon”, “Under the angels”, “Left hand talking” and the double-live “Road noise”
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Old 07-27-2011, 01:37 PM   #98 (permalink)
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Long live the King --- Narnia --- 1999 (Nuclear Blast)


Christian rock bands, huh? Definitely not my cup of tea. Normally. I don't profess to being a practicing Christian --- I do my best to be a good person, but I don't swear allegiance to any god, and definitely not to any religion, least of all catholicism. So when I hear a band who make a living praising God in their lyrics, I usually run the other way. I would think I'm not alone in this. Were God (assuming, for the moment, that He exists) to walk in to the Rock and Metal Pub and order a beer, I don't think too many of us would be sitting at the bar with him. We're used to more, shall we say, dark elements making up our rock and metal music. I was brought up on the likes of Maiden, Sabbath, Dio and Whitesnake, and hey, even Manowar, and these guys seldom mentioned the G word: usually their lyrics and images paid homage (jokingly, loosely or in some cases --- Venom I'm looking at YOU! --- seriously) to t'other side. Hey, as AC/DC told us once: Hell ain't a bad place to be!

Well, it probably is, but let's be honest: there was and is much more fun to be had singing about the Devil and Hell and damnation and flames and demons, than there ever was extolling the virtues of Heaven, angels, choirs and Jesus. It's just how it is. And bands who decided to throw their lot in with the Almighty tended, in the main, to get laughed at, and not considered by serious metal fans.

Well, all that changed for me when I heard Narnia for the first time.

To be perfectly honest, I just thought they were another metal band, and the Narnia in their name referred to the CS Lewis books (which it does), but then, examining those a little more closely, the books are very heavily slanted on the side of Christianity, in a way other fantasy novels are not. So when I first heard “Gates of Cair Paravel”, the short introductory opening track to “Long live the King”, I was impressed. Great keyboard work, cool guitars, solid drumming. This is going to be a good album, I thought.

And I wasn't wrong, though I would have to seriously change my entrenched opinions, as it happened.

“Living water” kicks off then, and it's a humdinger, a great metal track that would not be out of place on any Iron Maiden or Van Halen album. It's only when vocalist Christian Lijegren sings ”I met Jesus Christ/ He's the Son of God” that I did a doubletake. Oh no! These guys were CHRISTIAN ROCKERS, or indeed, worse, Christian Metallers! But wait, don't turn off that track yet. What's that incredible guitar and keyboard solo going on as I try to process this new information? Holy ****, that's good! So maybe it's a Christian song, but maybe it's just this one. Let's wait and see. Man, that track is power metal at its very best! For God-botherers, these guys are amazing! So let's stick with it. For now.

Oh yes, this is much more like it! A stomper, cruncher, thumper, call it what you will, but the power of “Shelter through the pain” can't be denied. Just listen to guitarist Carljohan Grimmark play --- oh no! What was that Lijegren sang? ”Lord give me shelter/ Every night, every morning.” Maybe it's just a generic “lord”. But no, there he goes again: ”Oh my Lord/ From Heaven above.” Nope, it's definitely the Lord he's talking about!

Okay, so now many of you are probably saying, what's the big deal? If the music is good, what does it matter that the lyrics praise God? To be honest, you're right, but at the time I really struggled to continue with the album, as, being a non-believer, I don't like to listen to the opinion of others --- well, I don't like to be pushed towards the view of others; you know, the old conversion idea --- on religion and gods, especially through music. That's not why I listen to rock music. But in the end, the pure quality of the music won through, and I defeated my demons (see what I did there?) and went on to thoroughly enjoy this album.

So, differences settled then, there is no praise high enough for this band, and this album, the only one of theirs I've so far heard, though I have the rest of their discography to listen to. The musicianship is first rate, with excellent keys work by Martin Claesson, and the stupendous guitar work of the aforementioned Grimmark. It's kind of like listening to one of those eighties heavy metal albums we used all to love, stuffed with squealing guitar solos and thundering drums, powerful vocals and a keyboard player who sounds like he has been taking lessons from Rick Wakeman!

“The Mission” is a little less impressive, a little ordinary, but “What you give is what you get” pulls things back on track. It's kind of hard for me to evaluate the lyrics, as they're pretty much all of the “repent-and-be-saved” ilk, which makes them both samey and unimaginative, and also outside my experience, and I feel unqualified to pass judgement (no pun intended!) on them. The rhymes are a little obvious though, and I would certainly say that, even my own preconceptions and problems with them aside, the lyrics are the weak point of Narnia's formidable arsenal. Of course, if you're into this sort of thing you'll probably love it, but I would rather hear songs about cars, battles, love, even mystical rainbows to weird lands than repeated warnings that I'm going to go to Hell.

I suppose it's a measure of just how good this album is that I'm prepared to champion Narnia's cause, despite my aversion to their lyrical content. But it is that good, you just can't avoid it. That's not to say of course that every track is excellent, but as a pure metal album this really works as a cohesive unit. “The lost son” is a good solid rocker, with drummer Andreas Johansson really getting to express himself, and the title cut is a bombastic, storming brute of a track, with growling guitars and heavy, powerful drumming as Lijegren affirms his fealty to God's cause: ”I wanna live, wanna fight/ Yeah long live the King.”

In all fairness, Narnia are not constantly trying to ram God down your throat, just staying true to their own beliefs, and it's only “Dangerous game” that comes across as almost unendurably preachy, as Lijegren warns of the dangers of turning away from God: ”Dangerous game/ You're playing with your soul/ Devil's game/ You're under his control.” Rrrighttt.... Annoyingly, it's one of the best tracks on the album, with a really cool harpsichord-type intro and then careening along at breakneck pace, with the obligatory guitar solo from Grimmark, and some fine, ferocious drumming from Johansson. Damn! They almost make you WANT to turn to God! Who said heavy metal is the Devil's music?

“Star over Bethlehem”, the longest track on the album, unsurprisingly celebrates the birth of Jesus, on the back of a heavy drumbeat, choral organ and whirring guitar, and there's no doubt as he sings that Christian Lijegren means every word. ”I see the world with different eyes/ The Son of God has changed my life/ He is salvation.” You can't deny, listening to it, that it's a real metal epic, one of those heavy crunchers that just marches along like an unstoppable army.There's a real sense of majesty, power and indeed awe about the song as it flips the finger at Satan, and yeah, I can see rockers punching the air to this, either unaware or uncaring what the message in the song is.

A nice little medieval-type outro called “Shadowlands” closes the album. I guess it brackets the album between it and the opener, “Gates of Cair Paravel”. It finishes the album on a lower key note than I would have preferred, but it seems oddly appropriate, somehow.

I guess the real lesson learned here is that the music is its own power. It doesn't really matter what the singer is singing about, if you enjoy the musicianship and the arrangements, the solos and the intros and the outros. I learned this with the music of Josh Groban, some years ago. Half the time I didn't understand what he was singing --- or even in what language --- but I loved his music, and grew to really love the songs. So my advice here is similar: ignore the lyrics if you can/will, or let them wash over you and hey, maybe they'll change your life. Me, I can now easily listen to this album without worrying about the religious side of it, but it took a little internal struggle for me to get there. It may not take you as long, or you may not have that struggle, but if you do, please do your best to persevere, as it really is worth it.

I feel like saying now, having listened to the album, “Glory Hallelujah, I have seen the light!” I haven't, but I feel like saying it. Considering I was thinking of not listening to the whole album originally, I think I've come a long way.

Long live the King. If he exists. Maybe.

TRACKLISTING

1. Gates of Cair Paravel
2. Living water
3. Shelter from the pain
4. The Mission
5. What you give is what you get
6. The lost son
7. Long live the King
8. Dangerous game
9. Star over Bethlehem
10. Shadowlands
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Old 07-27-2011, 01:39 PM   #99 (permalink)
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Diamond sun --- Glass Tiger --- 1988 (Capitol)


The second album from Canadian rockers Glass Tiger, this is an AOR gem, packed full of airplay-worthy songs, singles and some deep, thoughtful compositions. Most of the tracks on it are written by vocalist Alan Frew and drummer Michael Hanson, with a goodly portion also being collaborations between Frew and Jim Vallance, who produced the record. And parts of it were recorded in Dublin. Yay!

It starts off with the title track, a slowburner with great keyboard, military-style drumming, detailing the plight of the Native American: ”We came to this land/ We gave our friendship/ Gave them our hands/ But it was never to be/ Oh you must bow down they said/ Fall to your knees.” It's a powerful opener, certainly in lyrical content if not musical, but it's on the next track, “Far away from here” that Glass Tiger get to really stretch themselves and kick it up a notch. A great little AOR tune, it lets guitarist Al Connelly cut loose, while “I'm still searching” takes things up another gear, Connelly again showing what he can do with his axe, a perfect foil for Frew's vocal style. This song gets closer to true rock territory, while “A lifetime of moments”, the first of two ballads on the album, takes us firmly back there, with some nice organ and electric piano from keysman Sam Reid.

Much of this album is, I suppose, unremarkable. No-one's going to suddenly join the Glass Tiger fan club or want to seek out all their other recordings after hearing this. But to its credit, it's a very good album, a competent release and a good follow-up to debut “The thin red line”, which yielded the hit single “Don't forget me (when I'm gone)”, and looked like it could have painted a bright future for the Tigers. That didn't quite happen, but they went on to release a very good, solid, enjoyable album, which is no small feat.

They even draft in the services of legendary Irish traditional band The Chieftains to provide a very celtic feel to “My song”, which bounces along at a nice rhythm, and the second ballad on the album, “(Watching) worlds crumble” --- they do like their brackets --- is far superior to the other one, a gentle, piano-driven lament on the state of the world, with some very soulful singing from Alan Frew. A song which appears on my mix “Ten from Trollheart”, which can be found a few pages back, closes the album in grand style, the slowburning “This Island Earth”, kind of taking the theme full circle. Great guitar solo from Connelly at the end too.

Yeah, it's not going to set the world on fire --- probably went pretty much unnoticed when released, though it DID go double platinum. In Canada. But that doesn't mean it's not an album worth checking out. If your thing is decent AOR, good melodies, well-crafted songs and interesting themes then give Glass Tiger a listen. You could certainly do worse, and what have you to lose?

TRACKLISTING

1. Diamond sun
2. Far away from here
3. I'm still searching
4. A lifetime of moments
5. It's love u feel
6. My song
7. (Watching) worlds crumble
8. Send your love
9. Suffer in silence
10. This island Earth

]

Suggested further listening: “The thin red line”
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Judas Christ --- Tiamat --- 2002 (Century Media)


Hey, these guys look scary! You sort of wonder how dark their music is going to be, and I believe it is, usually, but I was fortunate enough to choose their “lightest” album to begin my exploration of their music. Kind of a mix of heavy metal, goth and new wave rock, this is actually one hell of a good album, and though I'm quite aware now that it's not representative of their usual musical output, I was very pleasantly surprised when I listened to it.

First off, I have to say, kudos to any band who names themselves after the mythical mother-dragon of Babylonian legend! Cool! And I also have to admit to a wry smile at the album title, but what about the music? I mean, you can look hard, have a cool name and a great attitude, but hey, if your music sucks, then what's the point?

Luckily, “Judas Christ” does not suck. At all. Weighing in with the doomy “The return of the son of nothing”, it's not exactly going to have you dancing around, nor indeed headbanging or playing your air guitar, but it's a great song to open what turns out to be a really great album. Some nice jangly guitar starts the track off before you're absolutely hammered by electric guitar and drums, and the doomy voice of Johan Edlund, his Swedish twang unmistakable, as he also plays the guitar, backed up by Anders Iwers on bass and Lars Skold on drums. Someone's playing a violin on this album, but I can't find a credit for it. I think it may be Edlund (yeah, him again!) on keyboards... It's a heavy opening, but the album does not stay that heavy, in fact “Son of nothing” is about the darkest and doomiest track on the album, by a long way. But once I had heard it, I was sold.

“So much for suicide” is a heavy enough song, but less dark than the opener, while “Vote for love” is positively poppy and very upbeat, with female backing vocals and a positive message: ”It's about time we all get out/ And vote for love.” “Fireflower” is introduced on spacy, swirling keyboards and ethereal vocals, before the guitar takes the track, while “Sumer by night” is a great piece of guitar work, the fretboard screeching as Edlund squeezes every drop of emotion out of it on this short track. If you've never heard a guitar scream before, you will here!

There's even a ballad on here, which I'm reliably informed is a rather large change for Tiamat, although in fairness its opening lines are ”I want to crush every bone in you/ Cos I got nothing better to do.” Not exactly a love song, then! But “Love is as good as soma” does come across as a ballad of sorts, certainly with its slow drumbeat, organ backing and acoustic guitar. It's almost like these guys have to be dark even when writing love songs, as later lines are ”Hug me till you drug me honey/ Kiss me till I'm in a coma.” Er, yeah. Sure. Very relaxing song though, if you ignore the lyrical content. What IS soma anyway? A drug of some sort, I'm thinking...

“Angel holograms” gets things sped up again, great guitar and a very catchy song wth some cool vocoder work on the chorus. The funny thing about this album is that it starts off very heavy, crunchy metal tunes and doom-laden lyrics, and as it progresses it becomes more accessible, commercial and evolves towards being more a standard rock album. Tracks like “I am in love with myself” and closer “Too far gone” would not be out of place on a Metallica or even Dio album. That said, Tiamat do have a sound all their own, which keeps them original and innovative, and definitely worth listening to.

TRACKLISTING

1. The return of the son of nothing
2. So much for suicide
3. Vote for love
4. The truth's for sale
5. Fireflower
6. Sumer by night
7. Love is as good as soma
8. Angel holograms
9. Spine
10. I am in love with myself
11. Heaven of high
12. Too far gone



Suggested further listening: Well, to be honest, I haven't heard any other Tiamat albums yet, and as this is something of a departure from their usual style, all I can say is, you know, proceed at your own risk...
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