CD Scavenger Hunt – “Buyer Be Aware” edition

You didn’t misread the title, this is going to be the “Buyer Be Aware” edition, not “buyer beware”. What I am going to update you all on is my pure, single-minded boneheadedness when it came to CD shopping this past Tuesday at the local record store. I was not thinking when I bought my two CDs, I was enamored by the sale price and the single copies of each, and I bought the wrong versions. I need to be more AWARE when I am making purchases!

Judas Priest – British Steel (30th Anniversary Edition) (2010) – $14: My main reason for going to the record store was to pick up the new BRITISH STEEL reissue at a good sale price. When I got to the store, there was only one copy left so I snatched it up right away. What I picked up was the two disc version…..the remastered CD and the live DVD with bonus interview. I knew that initital press releases stated that this release was a three CD set that included the remaster album, the DVD and an audio CD of the DVD performance. That’s the version I wanted but I figured that plans changed at the label and they released the album without the live CD. I even asked at the people at the counter and I was told that was the only version released, so I bought it. Then I went home and double checked everything. A friend of mine in Germany has the 3 disc version so I did more research and it turns out that the super deluxe set with the live disc comes out May 25th!

Avantasia – The Wicked Symphony (2010) – $10: One my favorite albums, and my 2008 Album of the Year, is Avanatasia’s THE SCARECROW. Actually, I love all the Avantasia albums so when I read that Avantasia was releasing two new records this year, I was buying them as soon as they came out. I held off on buying this CD on previous trips to the record store because the second record, and part two of the concept, ANGEL OF BABYLON hadn’t been released in the U.S. yet. Not really wanting half of the new metal opera, I waited. I went online and found the super deluxe edition box set of both CDs but it was way too pricey so when I went back to the store for the Priest reissue, I grabbed the lone copy of THE WICKED SYMPHONY. One copy and $6 off regular price? A no-brainer of a purchase and I figured that I could get ANGEL OF BABYLON at the same sale price in mid-June when it’s released in the U.S. Of course, then I went home and found an email alert from Ebay with a newly listed deluxe box set at an extremely cheap price ($20). I pulled the trigger with BUY IT NOW (I will list that purchase in the next update when I have it in my hands).

So now I have the wrong versions of two CDs, actually just one wrong version because I won’t need the Avantasia CD if I have the deluxe box set. My plan? Lucky for me I am completely anal when it comes to CD shopping and I keep all my receipts until the end of the year (I do this with everything!) so I am taking back both discs and returning them. They are intact, I never unwrapped them, so I have a credit coming my way of $24 + tax. The only way I don’t return the Avantasia CD is if the box set on it’s way is a Baltic/Russian pressing. Even though Baltic/Russian pressings are legit for that region and well made, they can be bought cheaper and sold higher for maximum profits by sellers in a black market sort of way. Ebay is full of Russian pressings and not many sellers let you know. I’m not sure if it’s a black market type of thing but most collectors frown upon these pressings even though they are licensed for that part of the world. I have asked the seller if it’s a Russian pressing and I haven’t received an answer yet but I couldn’t pass up the $20 BUY IT NOW because someone else surely would have grabbed it.

Another update is coming…..

Gamma Ray – To The Metal! (2010)

Gamma Ray – To The Metal! (2010, earMusic)

  1. Empathy
  2. All You Need To Know
  3. Time To Live
  4. To The Metal!
  5. Rise
  6. Mother Angel
  7. Shine Forever
  8. Deadlands
  9. Chasing Shadows
  10. No Need To Cry

Band Lineup:
Kai Hansen – Vocals & Guitars
Henjo Richter – Guitars & Keyboards
Dirk Schlächter – Bass
Dan Zimmermann – Drums

Additional Musicians:
Michael Kiske – Vocals on ‘All You Need To Know’

Producers: Kai Hansen & Dirk Schlächter

Country: Germany

Total Time = 48:22

Gamma Ray
Gamma Ray MySpace page
Gamma Ray – To The Metal! MySpace page 

Gamma Ray is back again for 2010 with their tenth studio album, TO THE METAL! One of the things that has kept me a Gamma Ray fan over the years is that they’ve always produced solid albums with enough diversity to keep me interested. The band has never given up on it’s Helloween roots and Kai Hansen has written some furious Power Metal over the years with plenty of speed, melody and passion but, on the last couple of albums, the writing has leaned more towards a Traditional Heavy Metal style of  Judas Priest and Accept. As Kai Hansen was quoted in the press relese: “Our target is to combine the traditional and modern sound without losing our identity.” With this latest album, Gamma Ray has done just that to the delight of some and the dismay of others.

Opening track ‘Empathy’ is more of a classic Heavy Metal song with a the chugging thump of Primal Fear and Judas Priest, Kai Hansen not reaching the highest heights vocally but using a lower register for a darker effect. The drum sound is thunderous, some of the fills sound huge. The second song in is the one that will get most fans talking because former Helloween lead singer Michael Kiske joins his old bandmate on ‘All You Need To Know’. This is the Gamma Ray that I know well, speed and power with a big hook at the chorus. To say this is a Helloween-ish track is an understatement especially when you have the two former members who fronted the band through the ’80s. ‘All You Need To Know’ had me with the opening riff and the chorus but I like how the song slows down just before the solo break and builds back up to speed…..one of the best tracks on the album. ‘Time To Live’ continues the Power Metal punch but the vocals don’t have as much power as I wish they would. If this were a Primal Fear song, Ralf Scheepers would just blaze vocally. The comparisons are inevitable between the Helloween/Gamma Ray/Primal Fear triumverate but I think that Hansen has lost a step vocally, at least on this song. It’s still a catchy song though and definitely a good fit for the album.

One of the themes surrounding TO THE METAL! is the celebration of Heavy Metal and no song covers this better than the title track. Unfortunately, this song is a blatant rip-off of ‘Metal Gods’ by Judas Priest…..listen closely to the rhythm riffs and the drum patterns, it’s ‘Metal Gods’ no question. Even the song title seems a little “done”, I went back and checked the entire Accept/U.D.O. discographies to be 100% sure that this title hadn’t been used before. It’s a perfect title for and U.D.O. song, isn’t it? Maybe that’s because Hansen sounds more like Udo as the years go by? The old Gamma Ray from the SOMEWHERE OUT IN SPACE (1997) days is back with the frantic riffing and double-kick of ‘Rise’. This the Gamma Ray that I’m used to because I really dig the first five albums. More Judas Priest influences are obvious in ‘Mother Angel’ and that’s not necessarily a bad thing because, if you are going to go for a more classic Heavy Metal sound, who better to emulate? ‘Mother Angel’ is a mid-tempo chugger that sounds really thick with guitars and keyboard flourishes (like Primal Fear) but the obvious weak link is Hansen’s vocal. It’s unfair to compare him to Scheepers but he was the original Gamma Ray singer and the current face of German Power Metal, the comparisons are ineveitable and Kai Hansen just doesn’t have the range and power on this track. It surprises me a little because Hansen can hit those highs but he’s opting for a gruffer and deeper range. Case in point is the machine gun ‘Shine Forever’, this is the Hansen that I’m listening for with a higher register. I like blazing guitars throughout and the chorus is big and layered, a great track!

A quick keyboard rhythm opens ‘Deadlands’ and the song builds to a heaviness but the keyboards sounds out of place when it’s right up front in the mix. There is another thick Priest main riff that reminds me of ‘Painkiller’ but that moves away as the melodic chorus drives in and puts the hooks in. That’s the key here….the speed Gamma Ray and the traditional Gamma Ray are both coming across but it’s the melodic choruses that are making the songs memorable and singable. ‘Chasing Shadows’ is another powerful song with serious riffs and double-kick pounding, this is the older Gamma Ray, the faster Gamma Ray. Even Kai Hansen sounds like he went back a few years vocally. The band leaves the longest song for last with ‘No Need To Cry’. The opening piano and ocean waves effects add some atmosphere to Hansen’s good vocal but this song is a bit of a letdown…..why end a powerful album like this with a ballad? If this were sequenced in the middle of the record I might like it a lot more. You can definitely hear a Queen, Yes and a Who influence to the music and the song tries to come off as grand epic. Listen for the acoustic guitar break halfway through with the multi-tracked background vocals…..the guitar is Pete Townshend and the vocals sound like Yes. An interesting song for sure but not a way to end this kind of album.

Bottom Line:
When I spun this CD for the first time, I really wasn’t sure what to think. Like I mentioned, the Gamma Ray I started with was the early Gamma Ray that was full of power and speed, like Helloween, specifically SOMEWHERE OUT IN SPACE. I have been looking for that kind of album from Gamma ray for a few years but I have accepted that the band is trying to diversify it’s sound to keep things fresh and move with the times. I have no problem with the band going for a more traditional Metal style, that’s what today’s Power Metal scene is about. The problem is that Primal Fear has taken the torch from Gamma Ray as one of the genre’s leaders and it sounds like Hansen and company are playing catch up. I’ve had this album since the beginning of January (the European release was earlier than the U.S.) and I have given this daily spins because I always come away feeling like I’ve missed something. The problem is that I’m not expanding my own ideas of what the Gamma Ray sound should be. The traditional style mixed with the Speed Metal they are known for works but it takes some getting used to. A solid album overall, just a little different and I think it would sound better with a better singer.

Favorite Songs:
‘Empathy’, ‘All You Need To Know’, ‘Time To Live’, ‘Shine Forever’, ‘Chasing Shadows’

Slash – s/t (2010)

Slash – s/t (2010, EMI)

  1. Ghost (featuring Ian Astbury)
  2. Crucify The Dead (featuring Ozzy Osbourne)
  3. Beautiful Dangerous (featuring Fergie)
  4. Back From Cali (featuring Myles Kennedy)
  5. Promise (featuring Chris Cornell)
  6. By the Sword (featuring Andrew Stockdale from Wolfmother)
  7. Gotten (featuring Adam Levine)
  8. Doctor Alibi (featuring Lemmy Kilmister)
  9. Watch This Dave (featuring Dave Grohl & Duff McKagan)
  10. I Hold On (featuring Kid Rock)
  11. Nothing To Say (featuring M Shadows from Avenged Sevenfold)
  12. Starlight (featuring Myles Kennedy)
  13. Saint Is A Sinner Too (featuring Rocco DeLuca)
  14. We’re All Gonna Die (featuring Iggy Pop)

Musicians:
Slash – Guitars
Josh Freese – Drums & Percussion on track #13
Chris Chaney – Bass
Leonard Castro – Percussion
Dave Grohl – Drums (track #9)
Duff McKagan – Bass (track #9)
Steve Ferrone – Drums (track #12)
Lemmy Kilmister – Distorted Bass (track #8)
Izzy Stradlin – Rhythm Guitar (track #1)
Eric Valentine – Piano/Keyboards (track #1 & #10)

Producer: Eric Valentine

Country: USA

Total Time = 60:29

Slash
Slash MySpace page

Slash is a guitar icon, there is no denying that. Back in 1987 when Guns ‘N Roses was conquering the Hard Rock world with APPETITE FOR DESTRUCTION, Slash became a household name. He had signature riffs and solos in that dangerous sleaze the Gunners called a record but he also had the look: denim and leather, long hair hiding his face and a Ritchie Blackmore styled top-hat that has become as identifiable as the main riff of ‘Sweet Child O’ Mine’. He took Hard Rock guitar and made it dirty and dangerous again at a time when the latest guitar wizards were trying to outdo each other by over-indulging in the works of the great Eddie Van Halen. It’s been hard to escape Slash over the last 23 years…..he’s had success with GNR, Slash’s Snakepit, Velvet Revolver and various session work but now we get the first ever Slash solo album, SLASH.

When I first heard of this albums release, I was psyched because I thought it was going to be a Slash’s Snakepit album. I was a big fan of the Snakepit (I thought those two records were great) so I figured the natural progression was to revisit his mid-90s solo vehicle. I guess a lot of people thought this would be a Snakepit record because Slash himself announced that this was going to be a true solo album with a ton of guest stars. In my opinion, this can be hit or miss but there has been recent successes that prove Slash could create a similar situation. Carlos Santana was able to achive mega multi-platinum success with SUPERNATURAL (1999) and SHAMAN (2002), Tony Iommi released a self-titled solo album in 2000 to critical acclaim and former Nirvana/Foo Fighters mainman Dave Grohl surprised everyone with his Probot side project…..if these guys can do it then why not Slash? Without hesitation, I bought the record. I already knew that there were some guest stars like Fergie (Black Eyed Peas) and Adam Levine (Maroon 5) that I knew would suck but there were some Metal guest stars that made it worthwhile in Ozzy and Lemmy and Rock stars like Iggy Pop, Chris Cornell (Soundgarden) and Ian Astbury (The Cult).

Opening the record is ‘Ghost’ with Ian Astbury and it has a cool riff but it sounds like danceable Cult meets The Doors. Astbury has been moonlighting with the reunited Doors as a replacement for the late Jim Morrison and you can hear his Morrison impression all over this song. Next up is Ozzy singing ‘Crucify the Dead’. I thought this would be a heavy track, something metallic and there certainly was some potential but it’s a disappointment for me. Ozzy sounds good but the song is a mid-tempo/ballady style song and it could have been so much more when you have the Prince of Darkness at your disposal. ‘Beautiful Dangerous’ is Pop diva Fergie’s chance to do her best Alanis Morrisette impression and it actually works a little but you can just tell she can’t sing, I mean really sing. ‘Back From Cali’ features Myles Kennedy, who is singing for Slash’s live band and is best known for his time in the Creed off-shoot Alter Bridge and, most importantly, as Thor “God of Thunder” in the Mark Wahlberg movie ROCK STAR. I’ve never heard Myles sing in Alter Bridge but I thought he did a good job on ‘Stand Up’ from the ROCK STAR movie so I figured that there could be an uptempo Hard Rock  song in the making. I was wrong…..more heavy mid-tempo stuff that sounds like the current state of modern Rock. I had hope for the Chris Cornell track ‘Promise’ but it’s more of the same mid-tempo stuff that Ozzy and Myles have already done. Cornell is a versatile vocalist like Kennedy but I prefer his more aggressive style and this song is geared toward mainstream acceptance instead of hard rockin’.

(I’m only 5 songs in and I already want to stop listening…..very disappointed so far!)

Moving forward…..Andrew Stockdale from Wolfmother comes in to sing on the acoustic driven, southern styled, mid-tempo ballad ‘By The Sword’. I’m not really sure who Stockdale or Wolfmother is but I have heard the names and I guess they are popular, I thought this was the guy from The White Stripes and he kind of sounds like him with all the effects on his voice. ‘Gotten’ announces Slash’s joining the lightweight Pop Rock band Maroon 5 by coming up with another slow ballad featuring Adam Levine. The solos and underlying guitarwork is calm, cool and smooth but I’m looking for something gritty and dirty with a touch of GnR sleaze…..at least give me a little Velvet Revolver here! If this is the first single on the album, Slash is going to get an easy Gold record and chart success but his album will have to be filed with the Maroon 5 CDs! Could it get any worse? At least we have Lemmy to jumpstart the album off life support with the ‘Doctor Alibi’. This is the best song on the album for me and could easily fit onto a Motorhead record as one of Lemmy’s more toned down songs. Slash is joined by fellow GnR alum, and Velvet Revolver bandmate, Duff McKagan and Foo Fighters mainman Dave Grohl (who I respect a lot as a creative musician) for the heavy instrumental ‘Watch This Dave’. There is some excellent Hard Rock guitar here and the three guys sound really tight, too bad they didn’t get some lyrics and put somone (Grohl perhaps?) on the mic. I can’t believe I’m going to say that an insturmental is one of the best tracks…..but I am.

So there is light in the middle of the record but Kid Rock is up next and I’m not a big fan of his Rap-Rock hybrid but he does a good job on ‘I Hold On’ with his southern Skynyrd vocal. There’s something about Kid Rock that I like when he actually sings and has a decent Rock arrangement around him, ‘I Hold On’ has a heavy main riff but it slows down to a southern drawl. Of all the mid-tempo/slow songs, I like this one best so we’ll call this another good song making it three in a row. ‘Nothing To Say’ features Avenged Sevenfold’s M. Shadows on vocals and I really wasn’t sure what to make of this pairing right away because I’ve never heard anything from Avenged Sevenfold. The song opens with a thick Black Sabbath opening riff and moves into fast machine gun style riffing that reminds me of the energy of that first GnR record and maybe a bit of Dave grohl’s Foo Fighters when they rock. If Avenged Sevenfold sounds anything like this song then I will definitely check the band out…..for Slash, this is the second best song on the album making it a solid four in a row!

Myles Kennedy comes back for his second song, ‘Starlight’, another mid-tempo/ballad paced song that is really generic until the chorus where there is a little energy. Singer/songwriter Rocco DeLuca adds his vocal to ‘Saint Is A Sinner Too’ and it’s similar to the Adam Levine and Chris Cornell tracks in the slow ballad pacing and the Pop friendly vocal. I guess this would be good on DeLuca’s solo albums but I just expect a lot more from a Slash record. The album thankfully ends with the Slash and Iggy Pop collaboration ‘We’re All Gonna Die’ that has an opening riff that makes the song sound promising in a garage rock sort of way. Then Iggy opens his mouth and sings the first line: “Gee I really like your tits, I’ll say anything that fits.” Anything promising with this song died when I heard this opening line and there is no recovering. It’s one thing to be a 60+ rocker and sing a song with that type of lyric that you wrote when you were in your early 20s (Gene Simmons anyone?) but to write a fresh song at age 63 with that line…..I don’t care if your a Rock/Punk/Alternative icon, it’s ridiculous. I give Gene the business when he does it and he’s in my favorite band!

Bottom Line:
Very disappointed. Probably the most disappointing album so far this year! I’m not going to say that the album sucks because I understand what Slash is trying to do and there are a few good songs here. Slash is a Rock icon, debate his talents all you want but he is unique in his playing and style to get put with Randy Rhoads and Eddie Van Halen as far as a recognizable Rock guitarists. I can’t blame the guy for wanting to branch out and explore new styles, work with new people and try new things. Slash is a musician and a good musician isn’t afraid to experiment but, when the new album is marketed to a certain type of fan, the experiment fails. If I walked into a room full of Rock fans and said I heard the new Slash solo album, the obvious question would be “Does it Rock?”. That’s because Slash is Rock, he is identified as a Hard Rock guitar player, part of one of the biggest Hard Rock bands to have ever taken the stage. The album is advertised in Hard Rock/Heavy Metal magazines and websites, the marketing is geared toward the Hard Rock/Metal fan. Look at the album cover…..looks like a rocking album to me. Looks can be deceiving and this record is just that. The point is that this album barely rocks. I like 5 out of 14 songs here and the Ozzy track didn’t make it but the instrumental did! I’ve played this CD a lot just so I could make sure that I wasn’t being too critical and missing something…..I didn’t miss anything at all. I will file this album away and probably never listen to it again.

Favorite Songs:
‘Ghost’, ‘Doctor Alibi’, ‘Watch This Dave’, ‘I Hold On’, ‘Nothing To Say’

CD Scavenger Hunt – update 5/11/10

It’s almost been a month and I am still active buying CDs in person and online but I’m not really doing the volume I used. I’m still out there buying new releases but I’m also re-exploring my own collection. One of the things that is a daily challenge for me is what to listen to, I always have some new releases ready to go but there are so many classic albums that I own that I haven’t played in a long time. So here’s the update on the last few weeks, I picked up a few interesting albums and some definite bargains.

Record Stores

Ratt – Infestation (2010) – $13: This was a complete no-brainer! Aside from the new Scorpions record, the new Ratt record was one of my most anticipated release of the year. I grew up with Ratt, I remember when ‘Round And Round’ was a “world premiere video” on MTV back in 1984, and I have been waiting for a reunion with Stephen Pearcy since…..well, their last reunion in 1999! I was buying this anyway but I was able to get access to the album ahead of time so I knew just how good it was when I dropped my $13 on the counter. Saved $4.

Cathedral – Guessing Game (2010) – $8: There was no way that I was going to pass up the new Cathedral album at such a great sale price. I didn’t realize that it was a double disc set either! That tells me that the Doom across 13 tracks are long and full of sludge. The problem was that this came out the same day as Ratt and I got to the record store late so they sold out of their two copies that were in stock. I ended up having them call the other stores in the chain and hold one for me at a location 20 minutes away. When I got to the other store it turned out that I had the last copy on hold and a few like-minded metalheads had come in looking for a copy. Saved $8.

Armored Saint – Symbol Of Salvation (3 CD Special Edition) (2003) – $12: I already own the original pressing of SYMBOL OF SALVATION but I have been watching this particular reissue for a few years now. It’s always in stock, it’s always around $20 and I always pass it up! On this particular visit to the record store I looked at it again and noticed the new regular price…..$8 cheaper! SOLD! You get the original album plus two bonus videos on Disc 1, the demos and part 1 of an interview on Disc 2 and part 2 of the interview on Disc 3 all enclosed in a nice slipcase. Saved $8.

Jon Oliva’s Pain – Festival (2010) – $12: Pricey imports be damned!I knew that if I waited patiently that this album would eventually get an official North American release. I picked up the first two JOP albums right away because of my love for Savatage but I never got around to buying 2008’s GLOBAL WARNING. Not sure why I never bought it but I didn’t want to make the same mistake with FESTIVAL. I always forget about Jon Oliva’s Pain even though I’m a big Savatage fan and I kept seeing ads, reviews, and JOP stuff everywhere online…..a sign perhaps? Saved $4.

Triptykon – Eparistera Daimones (2010) – 10: I picked up the new Triptykon based on two things: my new love of Celtic Frost and the preview I got of a few Triptykon songs on the Ye Olde Metal Shoppe podcast. I started listening to the podcast a couple months ago and I heard the Triptykon stuff and I was hooked! Take a look at that album cover too! If this album was in the record store 25 years ago when I used to tread the aisles of Record Town and Good Vibrations I would have bought it based on the cover alone. Sale price helped too, saved $6.

Possessed – Seven Churches (1985) – $15: So I’m sitting around reading Sound Of The Beast (by Ian Christe) and I get to the part about Possessed and i decide to give SEVEN CHURCHES a fresh listen. I go upstairs to the collection and I can’t find it. So I go down to the cellar and I check the old cassettes…..nothing. Now I’m freaking out because I think I’ve lost an album! In one of my Rubbermaid containers are a bunch of CDRs that were burned for me and there’s SEVEN CHURCHES! I got to listen to the album again but I had to get this at the top of my list. I ended up buying the 1999 reissue at regular price…..saved $0.

Bullet For My Valentine – Fever (2010) – $9: I have successfully avoided Bullet For My Valentine for two albums but I keep getting recommendations from people that this is a great Metal band. I’m usually skeptical of any band that is featured so prominently on the t-shirts of the kids at my daughter’s elementary school…..same thing goes with Avenged Sevenfold and Killswitch Engage. I figured I’d finally give the band a try with FEVER, if it sucks then I’m only out $9 but if it’s good then I saved $7.

Ebay
(prices include shipping)

Bad Moon Rising – Full Moon Collection (3 CD set) (2005) – $15: I love Doug Aldrich’s playing and I am trying to collect all of the bands he’s played in (Burning Rain, Bad Moon Rising, Lion, etc.). I’ve had FULL MOON COLLECTION on the radar for a while but the price has never been right until now. The 3 CD set includes all three of BMR’s albums (1991’s BAD MOON RISING, 1993’s BLOOD, 1995’s OPIUM FOR THE MASSES) with all the bonus tracks from their Japanese E.P.s…..basically, I have all the studio recordings in one package. Unfortunately, there is a song missing titled ‘Union’ that was replaced with ‘Free’ on the OPIUM FOR THE MASSES disc. So I have everything minus one song! Great deal though because this set can go up past $50 sometimes.

Metal Massacre Vol.1 (1982) – $5: I’ve been on a Metal Blade kick lately from reading Sound Of The Beast (by Ian Christe) so I pulled out all my Metal Massacre CDs and my Metal Blade 20th Anniversary box set and I noticed a glaring omission…..I’m missing the first Metal Massacre! Thanks to Ebay, you can grab a cheap sealed copy, with the price tag from Hot Topic still on it for $7, and save $2! Of course, there are two versions of Vol.1, this is version #2. The original version on vinyl has Ratt’s ‘Tell the World’, Steeler’s ‘Cold Day In Hell’ and the original version of Metallica’s ‘Hit The Lights’ (with Lloyd Grant on lead guitar). I’m on the search for the vinyl now…..

Helix – Get Up! (2007) – $15: I’ve been looking for this CD for almost three years now and I finally have it! GET UP! is a self-financed CD from Brian Vollmer of helix that showcases seven songs that would later show up on THE POWER OF ROCK ‘N’ ROLL (2007) on Perris Records. GET UP! was basically a teaser CD that fans could buy and Brian would autograph it. This CD has been out of print since it came out basically so it’s a rarity and the completist in me had to have it.

Helix – Long Way To Heaven (1985/1999 reissue) – $10: You’ll start to notice a trend here because I’m filling some holes in the Helix collection. This reissue is the one that Helix frontman Brian Vollmer re-pressed and sold through his website – PlanetHelix.com. The CD artwork looks a little blurry and the booklet is your basic lyrics and band picture but it’s official issue from Brian himself (I took the time to research the details of the CD to be sure). I’m not sure if this album ever got a proper CD release but I got the reissue I knew about at a solid price.

Helix – Wild In The Streets (1987/2002 reissue) – $9: This is a great record and the title track is one of my favorite Helix songs. I had this on cassette and I’m finally getting around to buying this one after years! This is another reissue, this time by EMI Canada in 2002. There’s no extras, no bonus tracks or videos, it’s just the regular album. Comparing it to the LONG WAY TO HEAVEN reissue, this CD seems a little more professionally done. Not taking away anything from Brian Vollmer and his reissues, it’s just obvious a major label has a bigger budget for reissues.

Helix – No Rest For The Wicked (1983/2005 reissue) – $8: I’m just replacing all the old Helix cassettes in the CD Scavenger Hunt! I couldn’t pass up such a great price for this album, it’s got ‘heavy Metal Love’ on it! This is the 2005 reissue from Rock Candy Records and they are well known for putting a lot of effort into their reissues. No bonus tracks but the album is remastered and it has an excellent booklet that includes a written note from Brian Vollmer.

Total = $141

Total (year) = $540

Total CDs (year) = 55

Total DVDs (year) = 1

Total LPs (year) = 1

Van Canto – Tribe Of Force (2010)

Van Canto – Tribe Of Force (2010, Napalm Records)

  1. Lost Forever
  2. To Sing A Metal Song
  3. One To Ten (featuring Victor Smolski from Rage)
  4. I Am Human
  5. My Voice
  6. Rebellion (featuring Chris Boltendahl from Grave Digger)
  7. Last Night Of The Kings
  8. The Tribe Of Force
  9. Water Fire Heaven Earth
  10. Master Of Puppets
  11. Magic Taborea
  12. Hearted (featuring Tony Kakko from Sonata Arctica)
  13. Frodo’s Dream

Band Lineup:
Inga Scharf – Lead Vocals
Philip Dennis “Sly” Schunke – Lead Vocals
Stefan Schmidt – Lower “Rakkatakka” Guitar Vocals, “Wahwah” Solo Guitar Vocals
Ross Thompson – Higher “Rakkatakka” Guitar Vocals
Ingo “Ike” Sterzinger – Lowest “Dandan” Voice Chords (Bass Vocals)
Bastian Emig – Drums

Producers: Stefan Schmidt & Charlie Bauerfeind

Country: Germany

Total Time = 55:13

Van Canto
Van Canto MySpace page
Napalm Records

Every once in a while something unique comes along and grabs my attention. A few weeks ago, I received a press release promoting Van Canto’s third album, TRIBE OF FORCE, and the band’s innovative style of A Capella Metal. A Capella music is group vocal music and/or singing without musical accompaniment from instruments…..the first thing that comes to mind is barber shop quartets, doo-wop groups and choirs. A Capella singing in Heavy Metal? No instruments? I was skeptical but I read the press release and saw that it included a link to a video of the band covering Manowar’s ‘Kings Of Metal’ (from their second record HERO). I was impressed with the cover, especially with how I forgot that the only instrument used was the drums!

Based on their ‘Kings Of Metal’ cover, and their cover of Metallica’s ‘Battery’, I decided to give TRIBE OF FORCE a try figuring that at least it would be a change of pace if the concept of vocalizing the guitars, bass and keyboards didn’t work. The first single from the new album is ‘Lost Forever’ and it is a perfect way to kick start the album with it’s Power Metal style and superb vocal harmonies. At first I wasn’t too sure because the harmonized vocal intro had me thinking that this was going to be a less aggressive project but, once the drums kicked in, Van Canto really go for it! Frist the lead vocal trade-off between Philip and Inga is excellent, both have great voices with plenty of range, and the male/female co-lead vocal adds an extra dimension. Inga’s operatic style easily puts her right up there with some other female vocal heavyweights in Metal like Tarja Turunen (ex-Nightwish), Cristina Scabbia (Lacuna Coil) and Simone Simons (Epica). The cool thing is you can also hear some Medieval/Rennaissance style like Candice Night (Blackmore’s Night) in her delivery as well. What is most impressive is the guys doing the bass and guitars…..Stefan, Ross and Ingo do one hell of a job sounding like their instrument counterparts that you sometimes forget that it’s really just singing. Listen to the guitar solo, that’s Stefan singing the solo, not a guitar!

Needless to say, I was impressed. Van Canto continues in the same Gothic/Power Metal direction with ‘To Sing A Metal Song’, ‘One To Ten’ (featuring Victor Smolski of Rage), and ‘I Am Human’. The vocals are excellent and the vocal instrumentation is excellent but it’s at ‘My Voice’ where I start to get that “I’ve heard it before” feeling. ‘My Voice’ is a good original song with plenty of layers and tempo changes but I get the point and I am now listening for the guitars. Track six is a cover of Grave Digger’s ‘Rebellion’ (from 1996’s TUNES OF WAR) and features Grave Digger’s Chris Boltendahl on lead vocals. Normally I don’t welcome covers but this is a nice way to break the album up, especially with Boltendahl guesting. If you compare this version to the original, it’s a pretty good rendition and it is amazing to hear the band vocalize the instruments. Listen again for the guitar solo by Stefan! The second single and video is ‘Last Night Of The Kings’ and it is a ballad with a Medieval/Rennaissance sound. This song could easily fit on the first two Blackmore’s Night albums and the a capella singing fits perfectly.

The title track sounds a little more laid back, more commercial but ‘Water Fire Heaven Earth’ stands out with Inga’s operatic vocals. It’s more of a Gothic Metal mid-tempo song and it’s very good due to the beauty of the lead vocal, Inga rivals her peers and is definitely a superb operatic vocalist. I wouldn’t mind hearing more of a spotlight on Inga in the future, although Philip has a great voice too and the vocal trade-off is a perfect match. The second cover on TRIBE OF FORCE is Metallica’s ‘Master Of Puppets’…..it’s not a bad cover and I actually like Van Canto’s interpretation, I prefer the original but it’s a fun comparison piece. ‘Magic Taborea’ starts off kind of slow and subdued but, as the song progresses, the tempo picks up and it has an epic sound to it. What impresses me here is the quick keyboard vocalizations, they are like the guitar solos, very impressive. Tony Kakko from Sonata Arctica guests on the faster ‘Hearted’ and I like Van Canto’s addition of some harsh vocals to the arrangement to make things more interesting. Last song is ‘Frodo’s Dream’ and it’s another epic sounding song but I’m just not getting into this one at all.

Bottom Line:
I have to admit that I was skeptical that Van Canto could pull off an A Capella album of heavy Metal songs but they are all talented vocalists and they do a superb job on each and every song. Let me add that drummer Bastiam Emig puts in a stellar performance over the entire record and really drives the songs. Being the only person playing an instrument, his performance needed to be great and it was. Overall, I liked the album, even the cover songs but, after multiple listens, I started to lose some interest. I have played TRIBE OF FORCE to death so I could really focus on those layers of vocals and the vocal instrumentation but I found that I was looking for the real thing after a while so I needed to give myself a break and come back to it with fresh ears. That doesn’t diminish the talent and solid performances because there is a lot of quality work on this album and Van Canto isn’t the novelty act that people might mistake them to be. These musicians are all extremely gifted and they do a great job creating interesting and enjoyable songs. I wouldn’t be surprised to find this somewhere in my year’s best list for 2010 and I am definitely going to check out the band’s first two records.

Favorite Songs:
‘Lost Forever’, ‘To Sing A Metal Song’, ‘Rebellion’, ‘Last Night Of The Kings’, ‘Water Fire Heaven Earth’

Krokus – Hoodoo (2010)

Krokus – Hoodoo (2010, Sony Music)

  1. Drive It In
  2. Hoodoo Woman
  3. Born To Be Wild
  4. Rock ‘n’ Roll Handshake
  5. Ride Into The Sun
  6. Too Hot
  7. In My Blood
  8. Dirty Street
  9. Keep Me Rollin’
  10. Shot Of Love
  11. Firestar

Band Lineup:
Marc Storace – Lead Vocals
Fernando Von Arb – Lead Guitars & Background Vocals
Chris Von Rohr – Bass & Background Vocals
Mark Kohler  – Rhythm Guitars
Freddy Staedy – Drums

Guest Musicians:
Kenny Aronoff – Drums
Mark Fox – Vocals

Producer: Chris Von Rohr

Country: Switzerland

Total Time = 42:54

Krokus
Krokus MySpace page

Krokus have been making their own special brand of boogie woogie, AC/DC styled Hard Rock for 34 years…..that’s one hell of a long time to keep doing the same thing over and over, album after album! Krokus burst onto the ’80s Metal scene with albums like METAL RENDEZ-VOUS in 1980, HARDWARE in ’81 and ONE VICE AT A TIME in ’82 closely following the Hard Rock formula laid down by AC/DC in the ’70s with Bon Scott on the mic, Krokus lead singer Marc Storace’s voice having an uncanny resemblance to the late Scott. I discovered Krokus between ONE VICE AT A TIME and their breakthough record HEADHUNTER (1983) when the band was getting a ton of press in magazines like Hit Parader and Circus and videos played on MTV.

The band was pretty successful and even scored a couple minor hits but the problem for Krokus has always been that they get criticized for everything: from their sound, to their outfits, to their choice of using cover songs as lead singles. As quick as they rose, they fell just as quick. By 1988, lineup changes and questionable musical directions splintered the band and they couldn’t keep up with the rest of the Metal scene. Over the years, integral members like Storace, guitarist Fernando Von Arb and bassist Chris Von Rohr have left and comeback again making the Krokus lineup as unstable as any in the Metal world…..the band’s last album, HELLRAISER (2006), only featured Marc Storace! That’s why HOODOO is such an important release, not only is it a reunion of the classic early ’80s lineup but it is also a return to the gritty Hard Rock that rivals the masters in AC/DC and sits well alongside other Aussie barroom bangers like Rose Tattoo, The Angels (or Angel City depending on what name they are using this year!) and newcomers Airbourne. Hard to believe Krokus is from Switzerland and not Australia!

Opening track ‘Drive It In’ is vintage Bon Scott-era AC/DC with it’s driving rhythm and slick vocals. Right away you can hear the old school Krokus from back in the ’80s because the music sounds so dated (in a good way) and Marc Storace sounds like he hasn’t aged 28 years since ONE VICE AT A TIME. The first single from the album is basically the title track, ‘Hoodoo Woman’. For my money, I might have released a different song as the first single because ‘Hoodoo Woman’ is not your signature Krokus style song, it is like a Krokus/ZZ Top hybrid with Von Arb & Mark Kohler combining to do their best Billy Gibbons imitation. Now I’m not saying that ‘Hoodoo Woman’ is a bad track, it’s just a little out of place and that’s always been one of Krokus’ problems. I actually like the song and I applaud the band for straying a little from the AC/DC vibe and using a Southern Rock style boogie instead, it breaks things up a bit from the usual fare.

Of course no matter how promising a Krokus record is, they find a way to follow the trends that hurt the band so much in the ’80s by including a cover song. Over the years, krokus has unfortunately treated us to more than a few cover songs on their albums: The Guess Who’s ‘American Woman’, The Sweet’s ‘Ballroom Blitz’ and Alice Cooper’s ‘School’s Out’…..now it’s Steppenwolf’s ‘Born To Be Wild’. Do I really have to get into this? Aside from my hatred of cover songs on studio albums, Krokus has unfortunately committed this crime way too many times over the years. ‘Born To Be Wild’ is your basic cover of the original but the main riff also sounds similar to AC/DC’s ‘Shoot To Thrill’. Is this a Krokus-fied similarity or has the original Steppenwolf version always sounded like that? I can’t believe I’m caring so much!

Back to doing what they do best, ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Handshake’ sounds a little weird lyrically but it’s a very catchy song and ‘Ride Into The Sun’ showcases the band’s balladeering ability similar to their 1983 hit ‘Screaming In The Night’. I would put ‘Ride Into The Sun’ as one of the top tracks on the album because it shows that Krokus can do a lot more when they move out of the Rose Tattoo worship (I got sick of comparing them to AC/DC, same thing though!). The opening to ‘Too Hot’ reminds me of ‘Hot Blooded’ by AOR legends Foreigner but as you move into the middle of the song you can hear a bit of KISS in there as well. I’ve read a few reviews online that mentioned this odd pairing of influences and I sat back at listened closely, you hear the Foreigner thing right away but it leaves just as quick. The ‘Lick It Up’ sound is subtle in the middle of the song, just a couple of quick licks but you can definitely hear it. That said, ‘Too Hot’ is an infectious song with a solid hook in the chorus to get you singing along right away and one of my favorites on the album. ‘In My Blood’ picks the tempo up a bit with a serious chug on par with similar AC/DC nuggets complete with the sleazy Bon Scott vocalization.

Every Krokus album has a surprise track that really stands out and the one on HOODOO is ‘Dirty Street’, a bluesy rocker that has a ton of grit and a slight Aerosmith influence if you listen really close…..definitely an album highlight! Revving things up a notch, ‘Keep Me Rolling’ takes us out of the Blues and back into uptempo Angus Young riffery but the cool part is the underlying bass groove by Chris Von Rohr. I was going to lose my mind when I saw ‘Shot Of Love’ in the tracklisting because I thought it was a second cover song of AC/DC’s ‘Shot Of Love’ from THE RAZOR’S EDGE (1990) but I was thankfully wrong. Krokus’ ‘Shot Of Love’ is AC/DC influenced but it’s an original and blends in well with the overall sound of the album. The last cut on the album is the fast and heavy ‘Firestar’, another surprise track that proves to be a standout and sounds a little like the classic ‘Headhunter’ (from 1983’s HEADHUNTER) in some parts but less metallized. A great way to end a solid record!

Bottom Line:
I was expecting a lot from Krokus because they are one of my favorite bands. I know I say that about a lot of bands but, back in the ’80s, I was the only Krokus fan in my area. I tried like crazy to get my friends into Krokus but none of them ever did…..Krokus has always been one of my bands, ones of those gems you keep for yourself. With the announcement of the reunited classic early ’80s lineup, and a return that era’s sound, I expected a classic Krokus record and that’s what I got. Krokus is always going to have the stigma of being AC/DC clones by many fans but is it really a stigma if Krokus does it better than the masters themselves? I really enjoyed this album from the start (except the cover song) and I compared it to the last AC/DC record, BLACK ICE (2008), and I like HOODOO a lot more. I’m not bashing AC/DC, I’m praising Krokus. To have so much turnover with the personnel over the years, a reunion is a definite shot in the arm and Krokus has taken that shot and created an album that is on par with some of their best work. I would rank HOODOO right up their with the classic albums of the 1980-1984 era and I am positive that this record will be one of my top albums of 2010.

Favorite Songs:
‘Drive It In’, ‘Hoodoo Woman’, ‘Ride Into The Sun’, ‘Dirty Street’, ‘Keep Me Rollin’, ‘Firestar’

Acrassicauda – Only The Dead See The End Of The War (2010)

Acrassicauda – Only The Dead See The End Of The War (2010, Vice Records)

  1. Message From Baghdad
  2. Garden Of Stones
  3. Massacre
  4. The Unknown

Band Lineup:
Faisal Talal Mustafa – Lead Vocals, Rhythm Guitar
Tony Yaqoo – Lead Guitar
Firas Abdul Razaq – Bass
Marwan Hussein – Drums

Producer: Alex Skolnick

Country: Iraq

Total Time = 20:49

Acrassicauda
Acrassicauda MySpace page
Vice Records
Heavy Metal In Baghdad

Acrassicauda is the Iraqi Metal band featured in the 2008 DVD documentary Heavy Metal In Baghdad and they have finally found safe haven and released their first official E.P., ONLY THE DEAD SEE THE END OF THE WAR. After watching the documentary a few times, Acrassicauda became one of those bands that I would often do Google searches for more information. Unfortunately, with the Iraq conflict raging and the band (and some of their family) trying to escape the violence, not much information has been put out there. I tracked the band’s journey over the last couple of years that has taken them from their Iraqi homeland to Syria, on to Turkey and then finally gaining asylum in the United States. Vice Records signed the band (based on Vice Magazine’s spotlight coverage on the band) and the now New Jersey based Thrash group has their first professional recording out there.

What you basically get here is a pure Thrash attack with harsh vocals, blistering guitars and bass and plenty of pounding double kick drumming. Sounds like your basic Thrash doesn’t it? Well, you’re right! Acrassicauda doesn’t stray too far from their obvious Metallica, Slayer, Testament and Iron Maiden influences to keep the music sounding like ’80s Thrash. I grew up when the Bay Area Thrash movement began in the early to mid ’80s so this influence is fine with me but fan of today’s Thrash and Metalcore scenes might find the vintage sound a little boring. ‘Message From Baghdad’ has a heavy Slayer and Testament influence with some great solos and ‘Garden Of Stones’ has an early Metallica sound with Mustafa trading his Chuck Billy styled vocals for more of a James Hetfield. Both songs are heavy Thrash, ‘Message From Baghdad’ utilizing pure speed and ‘Garden Of Stones’ going for a mid-tempo crunch…..the standout of the two is definitely ‘Garden’ with it’s strong hook around the chorus and it’s duelling guitars. The guitars are central to the overall Acrassicauda sound and the band adds a little Middle Eastern flavor of their homeland in the solos.

‘Massacre’ continues the slowed down Metallica worship but it includes a quick couple of lines at the beginning in, what I will assume, is Iraqi Arabic and some of the faster moments border on Metalcore/Black Metal racing speed. ‘Massacre’ is the second longest song on the E.P. but it’s 5:51 performance seems a little longer because of the different tempos and the extended solos. Final track of the E.P. is ‘The Unknown’, the longest song on the CD, and includes a very “marching” type main riff throughout along with duelling guitar solos. The drumming here sounds more basic in the performance, again more of a steady “march”, and the entire song sounds more like an instrumental outro than a full song.

Bottom Line:
First off, any band that makes Metal, promotes Metal and lives Metal in a country where they are destined to be persecuted for it gains a lot of respect in my book. It’s not always easy being a Metal fan but, when your country is widely religious and torn apart from war, being a Metal fan, or a member of a Metal band, can be dangerous. The Heavy Metal In Baghdad documentary brought Acrassicauda out of the Iraqi Metal underground and brought them some exposure, this E.P. proves that the exposure was well worth it. Only four songs here but each one is a well-crafted and performed piece of old school Thrash. The songs reflect the band’s experiences in their ravaged country during the war but I would have liked to hear a little more of their culture’s influence in the music. Maybe Acrassicauda will use more Middle Eastern influences on future songs and give themselves more of a unique identity but I am definitely satisfied with the E.P. they’ve released. The band has a solid future ahead…..and, most importantly, a safe one.

Favorite Songs:
There are only four songs here and I like them all but the crown jewel is ‘Garden Of Stones’.