CD Review: Lord Dying – Poisoned Altars

CD Review: Lord Dying – Poisoned Altars
Relapse Records
All Access Rating: A-

Lord Dying - Poisoned Altars 2015
There's plenty of sludge to crawl through on Lord Dying's roiling, action-packed sophomore LP for Relapse Records, Poisoned Altars, although it's not an arduous march.

Unlike other bands of their grim ilk, the doom-laden Portland outfit, creators of 2013's highly acclaimed Summon The Faithless album, don't just creep along stuck in low gear all day. Their paralyzing breakdowns result in unexpected tempo shifts, the epic, almost cinematic closer "Darkness Remains" expanding and changing course at will, as Lord Dying engages in push-pull dynamics that are compelling, to say the least.

And while "Suckling at the Teat of a She-Beast" is a frenzied charge of barely controlled thrash, the title track, "The Clearing at the End of the Path" and "(All Hopes of a New Day) ... Extinguished" are monolithic, chugging surges of iron-clad riffs powered by brutally heavy churn-and-burn machinery and caught in stormy sonic seas, tossed about along with mighty hooks, muscular grooves and growling vocals. Feel the hot breath of sinister blackened death-metal expelled in "Offering Pain (and an Open-Minded Center)." Get sucked into the infectious vortex of "A Wound Outside of Time." When it's all over, lay a sacrifice at these Poisoned Altars. For Lord Dying has wrought aural devastation on a biblical level, much as Crowbar and High On Fire have, and somehow, nobody got killed.
– Peter Lindblad

CD Review: Pat Travers Band – Live at the Iridium NYC

CD Review: Pat Travers Band – Live at the Iridium NYC
Frontiers Music Srl
All Access Rating: B+

Pat Travers Band - Live at
the Iridium NYC 2014
Obviously feeling his oats, Pat Travers isn't lacking for confidence when he declares that he's "going to kick your ass" to the crowd at the famed Iridium Club in New York City.

In February 2012, while out on tour with a reunited Pat Travers Band, the fiery guitarist did just that, showcasing a variety of electrifying, finely honed chops in a feverish two-night binge of no-nonsense, working-class blues rock. Perhaps not quite as essential as his 1979 classic concert LP Live! Go For What You Know, Live at the Iridium NYC is energetic, joyous and occasionally stylish, the sizzling funk of "Gettin' Betta" eating the exhaust of a full-throttle "Rock and Roll Suzie" – complete with perfectly in sync dual lead guitars – with the smoky, simmering blues of "Crash and Burn" slinking into a blazing version of "Heat in the Street."

Bold, assertive and galvanizing, the Pat Travers Band – with Sandy Gennaro back on drums – is a finely tuned engine on Live at the Iridium NYC, able to downshift into a smoldering version of Ray Charles' "I've Got News for You" and cook it slowly, before turning around and whipping a celebratory "Ask Me Baby" into shape, although its "Josephine" that sparkles and shines like a cut-glass tumbler full of whisky on the rocks. Its mix of melodic toughness and sweetness goes down easy, but with a slight burn.

Recorded with full-bodied sound and warm clarity, Live at the Iridium NYC is a fine survey of Travers' illustrious career, even if it doesn't approach this kind of music in a particularly fresh or innovative way – not that it has to, considering the high level of performance and raw vitality here. Little additions, like Jon Paris playing blues harp with great feeling on "If I Had Possession Over Judgment Day" and "Spoonful," make for a wonderful listen, with inspired choices all over the set list and Travers' smoking licks laying out a case for him to be mentioned among the all-time guitar greats. The evidence is overwhelming. https://www.facebook.com/frontiersmusicsrl?fref=nf
– Peter Lindblad

CD Review: Sweet & Lynch – Only to Rise

CD Review: Sweet & Lynch – Only to Rise
Frontiers Music Srl
All Access Rating: A-

Sweet & Lynch - Only to Rise 2015
It is 2015, isn't it? Seemingly from a different era, when glam-metal was king and Michael Sweet and George Lynch were lords of the Sunset Strip, Only to Rise is a debut album of towering melodic hard-rock spires from Sweet & Lynch.

While unabashedly raising a toast to the good ol' days, it's Sweet's penchant for yearning, grandiose melodies that makes this set actually seem timeless and not at all dated. Still, in many ways, Only to Rise certainly could be considered a time capsule from the mid-1980s.

Pairing a very busy Stryper front man with the equally hard-working ex-Dokken guitar shredder, Only to Rise soars on clarion vocals, generous hooks and sugary guitar crunch from Lynch, his riffs solid as bedrock, while he solos like a heat-seeking missile – all of it lending these songs the blazing thrust of NASA booster rockets. Adding more force and muscular drive to Only to Rise is the top-notch rhythm section of bassist James Lomenzo (Megadeth, White Lion) and drummer Brian Tichy (Whitesnake), two names that probably deserve some mention on the marquee alongside Sweet & Lynch.

Aside from the dreamy, if slightly schmaltzy, ballad "Me Without You," Only to Rise has big rock aspirations, building skyscrapers out of bittersweet anthems like "The Wish" – suffused with nostalgia for the Hollywood they remember – and "Dying Rose" in a matter of minutes, and doing likewise with "Recover," where Sweet nails difficult high notes like a champ.



With its juxtaposition of smoldering, bluesy verses and radiant, psychedelic chorus, "Divine" opens up the shutters and lets in a stream of light, while tracks like "Rescue Me," "Love Stays" and "Time Will Tell" build to amplified crescendos, flowing together beautifully like wild, swollen rivers that bring arena-rock floods somehow contained by the sandbags of superb songcraft and emboldened by strong, modern production values that bridge the present with the past. Had the '80s produced more of this, that party might have lasted a little longer. http://www.frontiers.it/
– Peter Lindblad

Shake your moneymaker: The death of the Black Crowes

Southern-rock champs calling it quits, what's their legacy?
By Peter Lindblad

The battling Robinson brothers are at it again, and this time, it seems their fussing and feuding has resulted in the death of The Black Crowes.

The Black Crowes have decided to
call it quits
On Friday, guitarist Rich Robinson issued a statement that reads, "I love my brother and respect his talent, but his present demand that I give up my equal share of the band and that our drummer for 28 years and original partner, Steve Gorman, relinquish 100 percent of his share, reducing him to a salaried employee, is not something I could agree to."

Ah, money, the root of all evil, and apparently, it is the cause of yet another Black Crowes breakup, although we've yet to hear Chris Robinson's side of things.

The writing was on the wall in October 2014. Back then, Gorman told Rolling Stone magazine, "I've said in the past, 'I know we'll work again' or 'there's no way we'll work again,' and I've been wrong. But right now, the likelihood of us doing anything again is as low as it's ever been. We could all see things differently in a year, but I'll be surprised if the Black Crowes do something again. Ever."

This coming from Gorman, who once quit the band near the end of 2001, only to return four years later.

Rich Robinson also said in that statement, "It is with great disappointment and regret that after having the privilege of writing and performing the music of the Black Crowes over the last 24 years, I find myself in the position of saying that the band has broken up." So, there you have it.

He also said, "I hold my time with the Black Crowes with the utmost respect and sincerest appreciation. It is a huge swath of my life's body of work. I couldn't be more proud of what we accomplished and deeply moved by the relationships people created and maintained with my music. That alone is the greatest honor of being a musician."

They certainly did nothing to stain their legacy on their final tour, at least if their show in Madison, Wis., on Sept. 22, 2013 was any indication. The Crowes were masterful that night, blazing through a well-chosen set list highlighted by a jaw-dropping supernova of a guitar duel between Rich Robinson and newcomer Jackie Green. Here's what they played the night I saw them:

Is it too early to write a eulogy? Just what is the band's legacy? Are they the last great rock 'n' roll band?

There was a party going on in the '80s, as glam-metal was living fast and about to die young. The Black Crowes were formed in 1984, and they weren't invited. Not that they would have gone.

The Black Crowes - Shake Your
Moneymaker 2014
The Crowes were all about revivalism and swagger, bringing Stax-style soul, gospel, blues, classic rock and the Rolling Stones and the Faces back into fashion, and they looked the part – dark, even a little sinister, and certainly planning to do bad things to your daughters. And in 1990, they burst onto the scene with a debut album in Shake Your Moneymaker that turned music upside-down, just when grunge's crusty flannel-covered melancholy was on the verge of exploding.

An anomaly or an outlier in those early days, the Crowes' first smash hit was a rousing, raucous version of Otis Redding's "Hard to Handle." More singles followed, including the rolling boils "Jealous Again" and "Twice As Hard," and then hitting again with the soulful ballad "She Talks to Angels." They were shoving the '60s and bluesy rock 'n' roll right down the public's throat like it was castor oil or some detoxifying musical medicine that initiated a much-needed cleansing.

The Black Crowes - Southern Harmony
And Musical Companion
And just to prove they hadn't peaked too soon, the Black Crowes created a masterpiece with The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion, which shot straight up to No. 1 on its release and delved ever more deeply into their roots. The songwriting was even better, as assertive, spirited rockers "Remedy," "Sting Me" and "Hotel Illness" all paraded around like strutting peacocks and the sun-dappled "Thorn in My Pride" was mellow gold. Amorica was just as good, and for "Wiser Time" alone it should be considered a classic.

Personnel changes, sibling squabbles and some uneven, often uninspired records slowed their momentum, and even in their heyday, some critics accused them of a lack of authenticity and originality, of being a pale imitation of those that had come before them and too dogmatic. Somehow what they were doing didn't ring true. The Crowes just couldn't win. It's a Catch-22 that the Stones and The Beatles were all too familiar with. At the same time they were harangued for simply going over the same old, well-trod ground as their influences, others argued they weren't paying them the proper respect, that they could never be the genuine article and how dare they even try.

Luckily, the Crowes paid them no mind and just went about their business, writing great, memorable tracks that never really celebrated the South, but certainly captured its rebellious, quirky nature in song. More importantly, they gave new life to all those styles of music they were supposedly defiling and taught a master class on it to a new generation of rock 'n' roll fans that desperately needed the education. What they took from The Faces and The Rolling Stones was a vibe and a preternatural feel for what made that music special, and they went one step further, giving that old, decaying music a jolt of energy and passion.

Jimmy Page recognized it. So did the Grateful Dead. The Crowes opened for both, and with a charismatic rooster of a front man in Chris Robinson and players capable of soaring, transcendent performances, they were hard to top as a live entity, even if by the end they were more of a nostalgia act than anything, having last released an album in 2010. They've all got other projects now – Chris Robinson's Brotherhood, Steve Gorman's Trigger Hippy and Rich Robinson's always doing all sorts of stuff. This isn't the last you've heard from any of them, but if this is, indeed, it for the Black Crowes, it's a sad moment for rock 'n' roll.
 

CD Review: Venom – From the Very Depths

CD Review: Venom – From the Very Depths
Spinefarm Records
All Access Rating: A

Venom - From the Very Depths 2015
An onslaught of blackened thrash-metal fury that leaves pretenders to Venom's dark throne in absolute ruins, From the Very Depths is album No. 14 from Cronos and his henchmen. Who would bet against him reaching No. 666?

The notorious architects of extreme metal, their 1982 album Black Metal basically responsible for starting a whole sub-genre all by itself, Venom burst forth from the northeast England city of Newcastle upon Tyne in 1979 like a vile horde of demons escaping the underworld.

Nobody else could have concocted such a dirty and devastating perfect storm of frenzied punk and metal and Satanic imagery, and legions have fallen under their spell – some acolytes winding up in some of the biggest bands in the world, like Metallica, Slayer and Megadeth. Due out soon on Spinefarm RecordsFrom the Very Depths won't disappoint them.

Torn between a desire to methodically maul its victims with trudging menace, as they do in "Crucified" and "Evil Law" – the latter switching tactics midstream to build a massive swell of steely riffage, courtesy of guitarist Rage – and run like hell through a cloud of sonic, speed-metal toxins in "Grinding Teeth" and the all-out war that is "Mephistopheles," Venom is, as always, adept at switching gears. The smoldering "Smoke" surveys an ash-covered apocalypse as an evil grin spreads slowly across its face, while the hammering "Temptation" is like a film of car crash-test footage on continuous loop and "Long Haired Punks" toggles between going really, really fast and then gradually halting.

A sinister laugh is heard at the beginning of "Stigmata Satanas," as a ring of aural hellfire seems to surround wherever its coming from, and there's a reason for it. Delivered with such overwhelming force, its chugging riffs blowing steam, the track is a vicious mosh pit of energy, that infamous "bulldozer bass" of Cronos driving Venom hard through cursed landscapes.

Blistering guitar solos erupt throughout From the Very Depths, and the effect is dizzying on this swarming, violent, white-knuckle ride of a record, interrupted only for a brief respite by a grimly melodic acoustic interlude called "Ouverture" that reeks of death. Hard-hitting, intense and unremittingly hostile, with a touch of black humor, From the Very Depths is classic Venom. Gird your loins.
– Peter Lindblad

"I am the Swiss!": 'That Metal Show' returns

A list of my five favorite moments in the show's glorious history
By Peter Lindblad

The hosts of 'That Metal Show' Jim
Florentine, Eddie Trunk and
Don Jamieson
It was one of those magical, unscripted moments of television.

During a segment of "Stump The Trunk" on VH1 Classic's "That Metal Show," this lovably goofy metal fan in a flag of Switzerland t-shirt enthusiastically declared, "I am the Swiss!" when asked by host Jim Florentine where he was from.

Everybody chuckled. I still do every time I think of of my favorite Swiss.

And when news today broke of "That Metal Show" returning to the air in February for its 14th season, having started in 2008, memories of episodes past came flooding back.

The new season starts Saturday, Feb. 21, with a new broadcast time of 9 p.m. Eastern Time. It'll be repeated at 11 ET. There will 12 episodes, all of them shot at Metropolis Studios in New York City on Tuesday nights for broadcast the following Saturday.

To be part of the audience, tickets are available through Gotham Casting at http://gothamcasting.com/gothamrsvp/. So far, nothing has been announced regarding guests. That'll come in due time. Meanwhile, how about a look back at some of my favorite moments in TMS history?

Marilyn Manson makes everyone blush: Ostensibly there to share his love of absinthe and talk about his sexual exploits, shock-rocker Marilyn Manson seemed bombed out of his gourd when stating that he'd been "clean and sober ... for the last five minutes." While sipping from his own stash, a product he called Mansinthe, Manson discussed among other things – in a conversation that can only be described as "rambling" – reverse erectile dysfunction, embracing deviance, and a threesome he once had, and everybody had a good nervous laugh about it. It smelled like this wasn't exactly a show for children, and it was uncomfortable. Then Manson went on "Talking Dead" and did it all over again.

Brian Johnson tastes "Lemmy's plums": Was there ever a funnier guest on TMS than the AC/DC singer? The three hosts almost did a collective spit take when, in critiquing new wines from the Motorhead vineyard, Johnson was questioned about whether he could detect notes of plum or other such flavors and responded by saying, in a deadpan voice with perfect timing, "I can taste Lemmy's plums." Then there was that lurid tale of some masked intruder with a rubber glove going around tour buses sticking his finger where the sun never, ever shines and then, in dramatic fashion, saying, "You know you love it!" And we all shook with jolly laughter all night long.

"Ego ramp": Full confession ... I never knew they called that long, slim stage extension that runs straight into the middle of a concert crowd – perfect for rock-star posing – an "ego ramp" until Heart appeared on TMS. Ann Wilson came off a little catty towards Def Leppard, didn't she, talking about the pop-metal band's extravagant stage show? The implication being that Def Leppard was, perhaps, a little shallow and desperate for audience validation. And then there was the little jibe about Leppard's backstage "health room with cigarettes and full bar." Evidently, Wilson made similar disparaging comments in the book "Kicking and Screaming: A Story of Heart, Soul and Rock and Roll." Vivian Campbell was not amused, expressing his disappointment on the Def Leppard website in the aftermath. And there was poor Lita Ford, coming on later with Heart and trying ever so hard to smooth the waters just a bit. It was textbook rock 'n' roll diplomacy.

"I am the Swiss": Eddie Trunk may hate it, but the "Stump The Trunk" segment is absolute comic gold – unpredictable, sometimes embarrassing and one of these days, I swear Trunk's head is literally going to explode on air. The " ... Swiss" guy is my favorite. And what about Gregg Guiffria's twin brother? Oh, those flowing locks of long, white hair. Somewhere there's a unicorn missing its mane. Remember when Clutch's Neil Fallon was on, and that woman got Trunk on some obscure question – who cares what the answer was – and she stuck her hand into the "Box of Junk" and pulled out Clutch's Earth Rocker album? The forlorn look on her face was priceless, and a bemused Fallon, being Fallon, remarked, "She looks over the moon." Zing! That Fallon is one droll bastard.

In Living Colour: There was hardly anybody in the audience for Living Colour's appearance, and yet, up into the stands went Corey Glover, handing out high fives to everybody within reach as Vernon Reid grabbed him down so they could get on with the rest of the show. The day of the taping a huge snowstorm brought New York City and basically the entire East Coast to a standstill. Some girl drove all the way from Pennsylvania or some such place, and if memory serves, her car broke down or something and her boyfriend called TMS to make sure she was all right. God, if that isn't metal, I don't know what is. Anyway, Reid and Glover proceeded to bicker like an "old married couple" – their words, not mine – and hilarity ensued, but when Glover talked about seeing James Brown perform at the Apollo, everyone was riveted. I'm thinking of joining their cult of personality, or at least reading the literature.

CD Review: AC/DC – Rock or Bust

CD Review: AC/DC – Rock or Bust
Columbia Records
All Access Rating: A-

AC/DC - Rock or Bust 2014
The engine that's powered AC/DC for more than 40 years finally broke down. Sadly, there may be no fixing him, at least to the point where he can function musically at optimum strength.

Dementia, among other degenerative health problems, forced Malcolm Young, one of the greatest rhythm guitarists in rock history, to sit this one out. A terrible tragedy, Young's departure robs the veteran Aussie hard-rock institution of its most propulsive element. Always locked in, Young spit out tough, infectious riffs like a machine and tenaciously tightened the screws on the band's hard grooves.

And yet, while his contributions were absolutely crucial in honing the band's sound for all that time, AC/DC doesn't skip a beat on Rock or Bust, the band's latest workman-like effort of driving, rollicking rock 'n' roll fun – nowhere near as dangerous or debauched as anything from the Bon Scott era, but still full of benign mischief. Stevie Young, Malcolm's nephew, fills his rather large shoes admirably, doing a more-than-passable imitation in matching his rich, gleaming, serrated tone and relentless groove.

All of this is not to say that Rock or Bust is some monumental achievement. The days of Powerage and Back in Black are long gone. For a band that prides itself on lean, taut songs played with ruthless efficiency and no-nonsense economy, the mid-section of Rock or Bust is rather flabby – the generic riffs and dragging pace of "Dogs of War" and "Got Some Rock & Thunder" indicating that perhaps AC/DC has let itself go to seed. Nothing could be further from the truth.

That old nastiness and lascivious charm emerges in "Sweet Candy," all hairy, slow-burning machismo and piercing Angus Young guitar leads, and a triple play of an infectious "Play Ball," the celebratory "Rock The Blues Away" and the stomping, ballsy title track offer bullet-proof hooks, gripping melodies and life-affirming power. Rock or Bust is compact, bold, potent and irresistibly lovable, a sermon from the mount on forgetting petty problems, having a good time and living on one's own terms delivered by a preacher in Brian Johnson who still sings a razor line every time.

And then there's good old Angus, ripping through biting, stabbing solos that always draw blood, as a blue-collar rhythm section plies its trade, drummer Phil Rudd swinging his drum sticks like two sledgehammers and always managing to keep perfect time. Rock or Bust is chock full of party anthems for guys going through mid-life crises who can't afford Porsches, as the fist-pumping "Rock the House" thunders and the cyclonic "Miss Adventure" gathers strength. Producer Brendan O'Brien pumps new life into the tried-and-true sound of a band that knows the end is coming – perhaps even sooner than they imagined, given Rudd's legal troubles and increasingly weird behavior. For those about to rock, AC/DC salutes you again, although maybe it's time we all salute them back. http://www.columbiarecords.com/
– Peter Lindblad

Lord Dying: Worshipping at 'Poisoned Altars'

Portland sludge-metal outfit issues sophomore LP
By Peter Lindblad

Lord Dying 2015 (Photos courtesy of
Danger Ehren Photography)
Lord Dying built up quite a head of steam going into 2015.

Adored by critics, their 2013 album Summon The Faithless was a beastly, monolithic horror that blotted out the sun, its writhing, skull-crushing riffs trawling through acres of sludge to bring ill tidings of death and despair to its hollow-eyed parishioners.

In the aftermath, they toured for 18 months, supporting such like-minded comrades as Red Fang and Black Tusk, among others, and in the spring of 2014, Lord Dying hunkered down in the studio with Toxic Holocaust's evil genius Joel Grind to record new audio devastation.

Due out Jan. 27 on Relapse Records, Lord Dying's sophomore effort, Poisoned Altars, builds off the promise of Summon The Faithless, prophesying an even heavier and more brutal sound, with giant hooks, catastrophic breakdowns, battle-scarred rhythms and roaring vocals that only High On Fire could love.

Based in gloomy Portland, Lord Dying is comprised of lead singer/guitarist Erik Olson, bassist Don Capuano, drummer Rob Shaffer and guitarist Chris Evans. Gathering together members of Portals, Le Force, Cremains and Black Elk, Lord Dying started out sharing bills with the likes of Unsane, Yob and Valiant Thorr and other local bands, and then hammered their way through the West Coast, before allying themselves with Kelly and Erica G to record their first release, a self-titled 7-inch mauler on Powerblaster Records. More touring followed with Black Cobra, Gaza and Witch Mountain.

With Poisoned Altars, Lord Dying is poised to become one of metal's most compelling and important bands. Olson talked about the band's development in this interview.

Lord Dying - Poisoned Altars 2015
Is there any special significance to the title of the album, Poisoned Altars?
Erik Olson: Yeah, Poisoned Altars means being aware of your problems and addictions and having the courage to face them regardless of the outcome. Or more specifically, if your beliefs are wrong, which could be for any reason, you first need to realize it and then actively try to change.

What is your favorite riff on the new record and how did it come to life?
EK: My favorite riff is the verse riff on "Offering Pain." It's fast and brutal, with a strong death-metal feel. The way it was written was spontaneous at rehearsal. We were arguing about something and rather than listen to the other side I just cranked up my guitar and started blasting. This was the result. We all decided we liked the riff and wrote a song around it.

The sophomore jinx is always talked about when a band has a debut album that's really good and makes an impact. Did you get any advice from anybody on how to avoid it or what to do to make a second album that will satisfy you?
EK: Not really. We were aware of the phenomenon, but tried to not worry about it too much. We wrote the album in the same way we always do – for us first and for others later. We're all really happy with the result.

Was this album easier or harder to make than Summon The Faithless?
EK: I think it was easier, because we knew while writing it we would be releasing it on Relapse, so we wanted all the songs to have a cohesive flow to them and feel like they belonged together, while also writing something that was more brutal and had more hooks than anything we'd done in the past.

What makes Portland a great metal town?
EK: The rent is the most affordable of any of the big cities on the West Coast, but I think the weather plays a big role in style and quantity of bands. It's overcast and raining for about nine months of the year, so Portland produces a lot of dark and heavy music, but because there's not much to do other than spend your time inside, people have a lot of opportunity to hone their craft and that's why a lot of the bands are so good. 

"Darkness Remains" is a great epic for a closer to the album. Talk about the making of it and why it seemed like a perfect one to end on.
EK: It was written really fast, right before we entered the studio and the lyrics and vocal parts were written right before Joe pressed record, so I guess because it was written so late in the game it felt like a good one to end the record with. Plus it's got kind of a huge melodic scope at the end and that felt like a good way to end the album as well!

How did working with Joel Grind help in bringing about your vision for the new record?
EK: We wanted Poisoned Altars to sound really huge, and we knew that Joel would be able to get that kind of sound for us because he always did on all the Toxic Holocaust albums.

What was your reaction to seeing the cover art for Poisoned Altars the first time?
EK: We saw it for the first time when we we boarding a plane to fly to California for Scion Rock Fest, so spirits were already pretty high, but we all loved it immediately. Orion is an amazing artist, and we totally trust his vision.

Lord Dying has toured with Red Fang.
Looking back on the progress of the band from the start to where you are now, what's different? 
EK: We've gone through a few drummers. Well, things are easier as far as touring goes, but it's still a struggle to afford to do it. We hope to be making a living doing this eventually. I guess every band does. We'll still be doing it either way. This is what we love to do.

What do you remember most about your first show or your first tour?
EK: Our first tour was a West Coast tour and our van broke down before we even made it to the California border. We had to get it towed to the first three shows! It was free because our roadie had AAA, but it was really funny to promoters to see us rolling up to every show on back of a tow truck! Good times!

What songs off Poisoned Altars are you most excited to play live?
EK: I really enjoy playing "A Wound Outside of Time." It's catchy and fun to play. I also really like playing "Darkness Remains." So far it seems to be the biggest crowd pleaser.

You've toured a lot with a number of big-name acts in metal, including Red Fang. What's the most fun you've had with any of them? Was there a point in the last 18 months where you felt touring was becoming a grind?
EK: I love touring and sure you can get exhausted, but I love doing it, so it never really feels like a grind. But yeah, the most fun would definitely be the European runs we did with Red Fang. Those guys are good friends of ours, so that made it fun, but they also are huge in Europe. We were playing rooms averaging from 800-1,200 capacity that were sold out every night. I'll never forget those tours!

Do you like it when people apply the terms "doom metal" or "sludge" to what you do? If not, what would you call your music?
EK: I don't really like to label our music, but if people feel like they have to I guess sludge is okay. I just don't want put barriers on what we can do. I feel like we write a lot of death-metal riffs, but that label only gets put on bands with guttural vocals, but ... whatever.

What are you most excited for in 2015 in terms of Lord Dying or anything else that has anything to do with music? Is there anything else that you're dying to do this year?

EK: I'm just really excited to start the touring for the Poisoned Altars album cycle and hope to get to travel and play in new parts of the world I haven't been to yet. Cheers!

Dead of winter: New music to warm your cold bones

What upcoming releases are we dying to hear?
By Peter Lindblad

Venom will release 'From the Very
Depths' on Jan. 27, 2015
January can be a cold, barren time in the music business, such as it is.

After the frantic run up to Christmas, with a fall full of notable releases from high-profile artists singing for their holiday suppers, the whole industry often seems to go dark at once – at least temporarily.

The silence doesn't last long, however. Soon, the factories that feed the music-consumer beast will begin humming again, and in no time, a steady stream of news regarding upcoming albums, EPs, DVDs and tours will flood an already well-saturated market.

Even now, though, in this very bleak mid-winter, there's a trickle of news coming out regarding some hotly anticipated releases and other events for 2015. Just this week came word from the Nuclear Blast label that metal heavyweights Slayer, Testament and Meshuggah will all be issuing new material in 2015, as well as new tour dates for Helmet's 20th anniversary celebration of their landmark LP Betty. At the end of "Wilma's Rainbow" is a pot of gold, and this is it.

Here are some more upcoming releases we're salivating over:

Venom - From the Very Depths 2015
Venom – From the Very Depths: Satanic imagery and punk-fired black metal will bring the thaw, as Venom returns with From the Very Depths on Jan. 27, coming via Spinefarm Records.

Front man Chronos has a message for his followers.

"This album is perfect," he said. "All three members are totally over-the-top confident with the new songs and the production. We had a great atmosphere in the studio while we were recording – Dante created pure thunder from his drums, while Rage tears the flesh off your face with his riffs, making everything fall into place so well ... it's a strong release and really shows the band maturing into an unstoppable force of pure Black Metal. We can't wait to play the songs live for the legions ... Hell yeah!"

Having just recently received an advance copy – expect a review very soon – my initial reaction is From the Very Depths sounds like classic Venom. It's fast, dark and rugged, an incendiary hell broth of seething guitars and explosive rhythms.

Revolution Saints - S/T 2015
Revolution Saints – Revolution Saints: Super groups seem to be a dime a dozen these days, what with your Rated Xs and your Kings of Chaos all doing their thing.

Here's another one, featuring guitarist Doug Aldrich – fresh off his leaving Whitesnake – and Night Ranger's Jack Blades, as well as Deen Castronovo, the drummer from Journey. A self-titled LP is due Feb. 24 from Frontiers Records.

There won't be any EDM found here or any of that bearded folk-rock melancholy that all the kids seem to love. Expect melodic hard-rock of the highest order from industry pros, with an emphasis on songs that are all heart and soul and top-notch musicianship. And, on top of that, Castronovo will be handling lead vocals. Didn't see that coming, did you?

U.D.O. - Decadent 2015
U.D.O. – Decadent: U.D.O. is preparing for class warfare, and Decadent drops a bomb of hard-charging traditional metal and blistering social commentary on the wealthy and the entitled.

Keeping up with his old band Accept isn't easy, considering what an unbelievable roll they're on with their last three records. Still, Udo Dirkschneider and those legendary teeth-gnashing vocals of his take a backseat to no one, and his most recent studio effort, the titanic Steamhammer, was simply unstoppable, a unsinkable battleship of a record that found glory in tumult. A live release that followed brought to bear all the power and majesty of this version of U.D.O.

The hope is Decadent, album No. 15 from U.D.O. and the second since the departure of longtime collaborator Stefan Kaufmann, will make Steamhammer seem like child's play, as Dirkschneider looks to eat the rich – metaphorically speaking, of course.

"Decadent behavior by privileged society exists in the whole world in completely different shades," says Udo. "Decadence is almost like a universal language. What bothers me the most is the egocentrism that goes along with that. People who have everything seem not to really care about the world around them anymore; it's like they use their own privileged status as an absolution for that. Also they do not seem to see that there's a correlation between their own luxury and the poverty of others."

Those are, indeed, fighting words. Decadent drops Feb. 3 via AFM Records.

Toto - Toto XIV
Toto – Toto XIV: On the softer side of things, there's Toto. Some may scoff, but we've missed their sterling musicianship, their ability to craft memorable pop-rock ear candy and their grandiose arrangements. And quite frankly, we all could stand some romance, some adventure and some positivity in our lives. I do sorely miss the rains down in Africa.

It's been almost 10 years since Toto's last opus, Falling in Between. A date's been set for the release of Toto XIV (they do love their roman numerals, don't they?), with the glorious event taking place March 24, courtesy of Frontiers Records Srl. It'll be coming out in all kinds of different formats, a two-LP vinyl set among them.

Guitarist Steve Lukather can barely contain his excitement. "When you put us in a room, and everybody brings in their pieces, the next thing you know it all fits together," says Lukather. "Everybody's performances are top-notch. We are really bringing our best out, forcing ourselves to make personal best choices, what's best for the music. I'm really excited to hear what people think."

Lord Dying - Poisoned Altars 2015
Lord Dying – Poisoned Altars: Time to restore some street cred. Poisoned Altars is the second outing from Lord Dying, one of the most fearsome and powerful new doom-metal outfits out there. Its churning riff magma will undoubtedly cause fiery, blackened, aural devastation and destruction on an apocalyptic level.

Will Lord Dying be able to avoid the sophomore jinx, after 2013's monstrous Summon The Faithless? That's a given, considering Toxic Holocaust's Joel Grind is handling the production end of things. Let's just go ahead and give Lord Dying a spot on the Best of 2015 list right now. Poisoned Altars comes out Jan. 27 on Relapse Records. Great cover by the way. Lord Dying, you've really outdone yourselves.


Best of 2014 in Metal and Hard Rock – Part II

Counting down the top five albums of the year
By Peter Lindblad

Crowbar's 'Symmetry in Black' is
our pick as the best album of 2014
No where in the Farmer's Almanac did it forecast heavy landslides of sludge or days of darkened, apocalyptic skies portending doom.

Such conditions were prevalent in the world of heavy metal, however, what with the blackened, cataclysmic audio devastation wrought this year by the likes of Obituary, Yob, Goatwhore, Eyehategod, Wo Fat, Crowbar and Corrosion of Conformity.

Old reliable alternative-metal punishers Prong brought forth another blistering, hard-hitting screed on the ugly state of the world, while one of the band's former guitarists, a veteran sideman named Monte Pittman who's played with Madonna, of all people, released a solo album that not only showed off a diverse set of chops, but also had some solid songwriting to boot.

And then there were the '80s artists that somehow succeeded, against almost insurmountable odds, to recapture the magic of yesterday, like Winger, Tesla, Sebastian Bach, House of Lords, Rubicon Cross and their frontman C.J. Snare of Firehouse fame, and Red Dragon Cartel, featuring the long-exiled Jake E. Lee.

Whittling the best of 2014 down to a final five was no easy task. Without any more delay, here then are the top five albums of the year:

Tesla - Simplicity 2014
5. Tesla – Simplicity: Trends come and go. Tesla remained steadfast in its adherence to the basics on Simplicity, choosing good, solid songwriting and well-executed, tasteful musicianship over flashy playing and experimentation. Gnarled, passionate, blue-collar anthems for "Freedom Rock" holdouts mingled with heartfelt, torn-and-frayed ballads – cobbled together with a mix of electric and acoustic instrumentation – that soared made Simplicity a welcome throwback to their salad days, while the sunny Southern rock charm of "Cross My Heart" made it one of the best songs of the year. Keep it simple, Tesla.

Winger - Better Days Ahead 2014
4. Winger – Better Days Ahead: Nobody's laughing at Winger anymore, or at least they shouldn't be, not after striking musical gold on two strong LPs in a row. Building off the melodic complexity and surprisingly heaviness of Karma, Better Days Ahead showed even more diversity and maturity, positioning Winger as the most progressive and daring pop-metal band to survive the hair-sprayed glamour of the '80s. Time hasn't diminished their chops, and with Better Days Ahead, Winger combined power with precision on the rugged "Rat Race," while embracing funk on a bright, bouncy title track and swimming in the psychedelia of "Be Who You Are, Now." This is who they are, for better, not worse.

Goatwhore - Constricting Rage of the
Merciless 2014
3. Goatwhore – Constricting Rage of the Merciless: Ferocious death metal with undercurrents of Southern boogie grooves – Constricting Rage of the Merciless is a holy terror of an album, as comfortable riding blazing-fast, charred thrash metal as it is crawling through thick, tar-like sludge with an evil grin on its dirty face. Highly combustible, brutal riffs are the order of the day, and they look to brawl with anybody that crosses their path of destruction. And for those who have the stomach for it, Goatwhore paints in bloody language grim scenes of torturous violence and horrific end-of-life struggles. Their rage is contagious.

Mastodon - Once More 'Round
the Sun 2014
2. Mastodon - Once More 'Round the Sun: Conceptually speaking, this isn't Leviathan. Aiming for more accessible and immediate rewards, Mastodon tightened up its song structures considerably and crafted big, muscular hooks for the vibrant, yet still intricate and massive Once More 'Round the Sun. They took a lot of heat for its video for "The Motherload," what with all that twerking going on. And not everybody's onboard with the band's sound evolving to become increasingly more radio-friendly. All that aside, Mastodon is still Mastodon, their mighty riffs are still enormous and blustery, Brann Dailor's drumming remains astoundingly intricate and powerful, and their guitar architecture, as always, is awe-inspiring.

Crowbar - Symmetry in Black 2014
1. Crowbar – Symmetry in Black: Underestimate Crowbar at your peril. This chugging behemoth, once a bit of a one-trick pony, has expanded its sludge-metal repertoire, thrashing with fierce intensity while also constructing mammoth, churning riffs that build slowly and grow to enormous tsunamis of doom. Expertly plotted, intricate movements crawl like primordial creatures, before evolving into thick, crushingly heavy monsters. What's surprising is how listenable it is. Calling it "melodic" might be a stretch, but every track is compelling in some way, hiding brawny, slow-developing hooks within its deeply blackened, impenetrable great walls of sound. What symmetry, what balance, what provocative lyrics – Crowbar has brought forth its masterpiece. Now go ahead and crown them kings of 2014.


CD Review: Monster Magnet – Milking the Stars: a reimagining of Last Patrol

CD Review: Monster Magnet – Milking the Stars: a reimagining of Last Patrol
Napalm Records
All Access Rating: A-

Monster Magnet - Milking the Stars:
a reimagining of Last Patrol 2014
Dave Wyndorf must have his reasons, although a remake of Monster Magnet's space-rock epic Last Patrol, one of the best albums of 2013, seems completely unnecessary.

Then again, Wyndorf is a maverick, artistically unpredictable and full of sonic mischief. He doesn't have to explain himself to anybody. He just does the unexpected and then wonders why everyone makes such a big damn fuss about it.

Wyndorf did that with Last Patrol, summoning forgotten tones and archaic, alien sonic transmissions from resurrected vintage gear to create brilliant, tripped-out aural carnivals of cinematic, swirling, retro psychedelia traveling through the deepest recesses of the universe to entertain misanthropic, burned-out cosmic cowboys with cynical hearts and sinful natures. This, however, is an even riskier venture.

On Milking the Stars: a reimagining of Last Patrol, released by Napalm Records, Wyndorf takes a stab at redesigning these playgrounds, and the alterations – most of them of the "tripping balls" variety – are more than cosmetic. Take "Let The Circus Burn" and "Mindless Ones '68" for example, the latter a more hallucinogenic reinterpretation of Last Patrol's title track that burrows deep into a very warped subconscious, as only Hawkwind could. "Mindless Ones '68," on the other hand, nicks hypnotic organ sounds out of the very hands of The Doors' Ray Manzarek and seems to swirl weightlessly into the harrowing oblivion of a black hole, losing its moorings in an LSD-induced nightmare.

While the production of Last Patrol was scrubbed pretty clean, Milking the Stars is a wild and woolly ride,  "No Paradise for Me" sounding more corrosive and cosmic than the original "Paradise" and the driving "End of Time" coming in hot at a lower elevation, hitting the runway with compromised brakes, Evangelical fervor and strong gusts of B-3 organ. And while most of Milking the Stars is spent looking for a empathetic guide to help it through what is surely a terrifying acid trip, it contains a howling version of "Hallelujah" – titled "Hellelujah (Fuzz and Swamp)" – that is a bluesier, more organic stomp raised from the Mississippi Delta. Clearly, some deal between Wyndorf and the devil has transpired.

Next time, maybe he can tackle an even bigger job, like repainting the Sistene Chapel.
– Peter Lindblad

R.I.P. Joe Cocker

Distinctive U.K. singer dies at age 70
By Peter Lindblad

Joe Cocker - Mad Dogs & Englishmen
"Often imitated, but never duplicated" is one phrase that comes to mind with regard to the life and career of rock and soul singer Joe Cocker.

When he sang, he sounded as if he was gargling gravel. To some, his disheveled appearance was off-putting, and his spastic stage movements made you concerned for his well-being. "This man is obviously having a seizure. Why isn't anybody helping him!?" That's what I thought to myself when I first witnessed Cocker onstage in all his glory.

The truth was, he was helping us. No singer was more affected physically by the material he was interpreting than Cocker, the son of a civil servant born and raised in Sheffield, England. His delivery on a re-calibrated version of The Beatles' classic "With a Little Help From My Friends," which soared to No. 1 in the U.K. in 1968 and led to his seminal performance at Woodstock, made audiences believe he had no chance of getting by without the assistance of those closest to him. Cocker did the impossible. He actually improved songs by The Beatles. later remaking "She Came in Through the Bathroom Window" and "Something" with the blessing of Paul McCartney and George Harrison and giving them some grit and raw emotion. It was "With a Little Help From My Friends" that made him a star, though. Watch the video below. It'll send shivers up your spine.



Cocker belted out lyrics with every fiber of his being, his whole contorted body shaking as if he were possessed by demons and was conducting an exorcism right there where all could see. And he played air guitar, if you can believe it! Right there, onstage. Cultivating some flashy image was the furthest thing from his mind. He was completely lost in notes, wandering around melodies, just living inside songs and finding whatever was beautiful and human about them and translating it for tone-deaf listeners who either didn't speak the same language or couldn't see exactly what it was he'd found.

Cocker was a wild man. So was John Belushi. In some ways, they were kindred spirits. Maybe that's why Belushi's impersonation felt so right. It wasn't that he simply mimed Cocker's movements or sang just like him. Belushi captured his spirit, and he was able to do so because he, too, was untamed, unkept and out of control.

There was only one Joe Cocker, though. His death today at age 70 following a fight with cancer has left a great void. Another voice of Woodstock has been silenced. This was a working-class hero capable of taking a glossy schlock-fest like "Up Where We Belong" down into a smoke-belching factory or a garbage-strewn gutter and giving it to the downtrodden, to the hopeless romantic who experiences indignity after indignity on a daily basis and still hopes for better. And he won a Grammy with it and somebody named Jennifer Warnes.

When Cocker, so loveably gruff, grabbed hold of something like Billy Preston's "You Are So Beautiful," which rose to No. 5 in the U.S., he sounded vulnerable and tough, completely disarmed and at the same time protective of his fragile heart. Beloved and respected by other artists, Cocker performed with many of the greats and added a unique touch to stunning covers of handpicked songs that he could mold and shape into something he took ownership of, at least temporarily.



So play Mad Dogs & Englishmen to your heart's content today. Put on "Unchain My Heart" or any of the other myriad Cocker classics. Lift a glass to one of the most soulful and expressive Brit vocalists to ever get on a microphone. The world has lost one of the good ones.