CD Review: Ace Frehley – Space Invader

CD Review: Ace Frehley – Space Invader
eOne Music
All Access Rating: A-

Ace Frehley - Space Invader 2014
Making his former KISS band mates Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons eat a hearty helping of crow would surely delight Ace Frehley to no end. Dinner is served.

With no easing of tensions in sight between the parties involved, the jilted guitarist, his sobriety having sharpened both his songwriting instincts and his instrumental chops, Frehley lets its rip on the rollicking eOne Music release Space Invader, the follow-up to 2009's Anomaly. 

Digging into his past, Frehley recaptures the raw energy and hard-rock crunch of early KISS and the surprising pop sophistication and vitality of his 1978 solo album – the one that puts all other KISS solo outings of the time to shame – with a tough, rugged title track, an equally ballsy "Gimme A Feelin'" and the infectious glam-rock nugget "I Wanna Hold You." For openers, that's a tough hand to beat – three of a kind comprised of tight, irresistible hooks, bashing drums and searing guitar solos that hit a bulls-eye dead center every time.

More metallic and heavy, "Change" and "Toys" smolder and stomp, as Frehley's riffs bite down hard and draw blood. His claws are out, and these tunes have an air of confidence and a trashy swagger born of past successes and little concern for the critics he's so eager to silence. The Zeppelin-like boogie "Inside the Vortex" seems to channel the spirit of John Bonham, while "What Every Girl Wants" updates the sleazy bump-and-grind of the New York Dolls for a new millennium – Frehley always has had a better grasp of what made the Dolls great than the rest of KISS.

A collection of punchy, slickly produced songs that kick like a mule and have a chip on their broad shoulders, Space Invader hardly ever hits a flat note. Even his version of "The Joker," by the Steve Miller Band, smokes. While every one of these tunes now lives in the penthouse suite, it seems they also revel in trawling through the gutter, looking for cheap thrills. They are rambunctious, but rarely reckless – except when Frehley launches into daring, acrobatic leads that like to wander but never go too far afield. Space Invader, with that classic cover art created by longtime Frehley collaborator Ken Kelly, is just a good bit of rock 'n' roll fun, a little wild, a little sleazy and exceedingly satisfying. That crow is getting cold boys.
– Peter Lindblad

CD/DVD Review: Randy Bachman – Every Song Tells a Story

CD/DVD Review: Randy Bachman – Every Song Tells a Story
Independent Label Services Group
All Access Rating: A-

Randy Bachman - Every Song
Tells a Story 2014
The intimacy and warmth of the Pantages Playhouse Theatre in his home town of Winnipeg proved to be the ideal environment for a pleasant evening of storytelling and music from Canada's favorite rock 'n' roll son, Randy Bachman.

Describing his life as "a series of accidents" that he's followed wherever they lead, sharing funny and insightful yarns from a long life in music, Bachman takes a rapt audience hanging on his every word on a tour through the dusty back roads and well-traveled highways of a legendary career. The resume now includes an award-winning radio show called "Vinyl Tap" that served as the inspiration for this wonderful event, captured on a new Independent Label Services Group CD/DVD release called Every Song Tells a Story.

The first stop on this journey: "Prairie Town," a really lovely, nostalgic ode to where he hails from – Winnipeg in the '60s being Canada's version of Liverpool, says Bachman – that appears on his 1992 solo album Any Road. From there, a lighthearted Bachman revisits the humble birth and ascendant rise of The Guess Who and tells personal tales about quitting college, the confused recruitment of Burton Cummings, navigating the treacherous waters of the music industry, his friendship with Neil Young and taking the act to the States, a foreign land where they encountered hippies, surfers, a biker gang and the sociopolitical turbulence of a nation at war in Vietnam.

All the while, as the engaging, self-deprecating Bachman reveals the true stories and inspiration behind the band's biggest hits, he and his backing band – playing on a stage designed to look like someone's living room – perform light, electrified versions of those songs, sliding into the raw garage-rock of "Shakin' All Over," the tender, beguiling ballads "These Eyes" and "Laughing," the sparkling folk-rock of "No Time" and the proto-metal blast of "American Woman" with both gentle ease and reckless abandon.

Sticking to a chronological timeline, Bachman breaks from The Guess Who and finds starting a new project harder than he thought, as he recounts how Brave Belt simply spun its wheels. When all seemed lost, in walked Charlie Fach of Mercury Records with a record deal, and the dark clouds disappeared.

Bachman's relief is still palpable, and the anecdotes he sprinkles in between rugged, driving BTO anthems such as "Let It Ride," "You Ain't Seen Nothing Yet," "Takin' Care of Business" and "Hey You" – these live versions still retaining that blue-collar vigor and slamming horsepower that made them hits in the first place – show how ingenuity and dumb luck, as well as a handful of great riffs, lifted the band to the top of the charts. Perhaps Bachman's tale is not the greatest story ever told, but it's a damn good one, filled with plenty of plot twists and surprises. And he delivers it in a manner that stays true to who he is.
– Peter Lindblad

First Impressions: Ace Frehley covers 'The Joker'

KISS guitarist takes Steve Miller Band classic
By Peter Lindblad

Ace Frehley will release 'Space
Invader' on Aug. 19
When the track listing for Ace Frehley's upcoming eOne Music release Space Invader was released, the mercurial ex-KISS guitarist sprung a surprise that gave everyone pause.

It's safe to say that nobody expected a cover of the Steve Miller Band staple "The Joker," but then again, predicting Frehley's next move has always been impossible. After all, who could have foreseen his version of Russ Ballard's "New York Groove," recorded by Hello way back in 1975, being the best thing to come out of the four KISS solo albums of the late '70s?

One of the hotly anticipated records of the summer – especially with the still simmering feud between Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley on one side and former KISS members Frehley and Peter Criss on the other garnering headlines even after all the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame induction awkwardness – Space Invader is Frehley's chance to shut up critics who long ago gave up on him. (eds. note: a more complete review of the record will be posted soon on this site)

Ace Frehley - Space Invader 2014
Earlier this summer, Frehley gave the world a little taste of Space Invader, the follow-up to 2009's Anomaly, by releasing the first single "Gimme A Feelin'" and it's a catchy little nugget of spirited rock 'n' roll fun that cleans up the glam rock of the New York Dolls without completely scrubbing away its grit. Now comes Frehley's take on "The Joker," and it's the one that has people a little nervous. Issued this week, you can hear it for yourself here:

Thankfully, although opinions have been mixed, Frehley's version is a damn sight more lively than the original, moving at a quickening pace as the modern production and big guitar rush breathe fresh life into what's become a moldy, sluggish oldie played way too many times on classic-rock radio. Less organic and earthy than the original, this sleek, updated cover trims away the fat to reveal a tighter, leaner song that now sounds as if it was made for these times. And maybe, just maybe, Frehley's career could be on the verge of a renaissance that few could have imagined.

CD Review: Unisonic – Light of Dawn

CD Review: Unisonic – Light of Dawn
Armoury Records
All Access Rating: A-

Unisonic - Light of Dawn 2014
Some of the parts used in the creation of Unisonic were salvaged from power-metal titans Gamma Ray and Helloween. Others were pried off of fellow German metal machine Pink Cream 69.

Add guitarist Mandy Meyer, more of a six-string mercenary who's worked with the likes of Krokus and pop-prog giants Asia, to the mix, and suddenly, a supergroup is born. This one has a flair for the dramatic.

On the heels of an EP titled For the Kingdom that was released in May comes the bombastic Armoury Records offering Light of Dawn, a thunderous power-metal epic with a touch of glam that's brimming with melodic grandeur, trampling blast beats, theatrical vocals and surgical guitar strikes.

The sophomore release from singer Michael Kiske, guitarist Kai Hansen, Meyer and a rhythm section consisting of bassist Dennis Ward and drummer Kosta Zafiriou – household names in the world of power-metal – rides like the valkyries through stirring anthems "Venite 2.0," "Your Time Has Come," "For the Kingdom" and "Blood" with pummeling urgency, soaring majesty and molten metal riffs and searing solos that take no prisoners. Darkly stylish, with tightly woven strands of dual guitar wrapped around the song's body, "Night of the Long Knives" is caught in between beautifully arranged ballads, namely "Not Gonna Take Anymore," with its building emotions, and a rather medieval "Find Shelter."

Finishing with a flourish, as metallic, fast-paced power surges take over and big hooks are brandished like scythes, Light of Dawn could be less predictable and not as beholden to the past, but such criticisms shrink in the face of Kiske's dynamic, wind-swept vocals and Unisonic's rousing spirit. A new day is dawning for power metal. Awaken to the light of Unisonic.
– Peter Lindblad

CD Review: Nils Lofgren – Face The Music

CD Review: Nils Lofgren – Face The Music
Fantasy Records
All Access Rating: A

Nils Lofgren - Face The Music 2014
A massive undertaking, curated by none other than Nils Lofgren himself, Face The Music examines with painstaking care the remarkable consistency and craftsmanship of a 45-year solo career of long overshadowed by the masters he's served.

Going on 30 years now, Lofgren's been a part of Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band, and when he was a precocious 17-year-old unknown fronting the gutsy Washington, D.C., hard-rock combo Grin, Neil Young recruited him to play guitar and piano on Young's classic After The Gold Rush album, thereby starting a fruitful musical relationship between the two.

It was the opportunity of a lifetime, and Lofgren made the most of it, putting in long hours getting his parts down pat. That tireless work ethic, combined with the heart and soul of a poet, fueled Lofgren's solo artistry, and this is the comprehensive retrospective he's deserved for so long.

Nils Lofgren playing live
Spread across 10 discs – one a DVD of vintage live performances, with two others unearthing 40 previously unreleased songs and rarities – are 169 tracks, hand-picked with care by Lofgren from his albums with Grin and critically fawned-over solo efforts, some of them out of print for years, released between 1975 and 1992 for labels like A&M, MCA/Backstreets, CBS and Rykodisc. And, thankfully, he didn't ignore material he's been putting out on his own Cattle Track Road Records imprint since 1993.

There's not a cynical bone in his entire body of song, where honesty, passion and integrity mean as much as a keen pop sensibility and sparkling production. Stax Records, the British Invasion, countrified blues and elegant folk, early rock 'n' roll – Lofgren assimilates easily when visiting a variety of genres, his songwriting a natural extension of his influences. On top of that, as a guitar player, his economical approach, sure-footed fretwork and tasteful licks never seem needlessly ostentatious or flashy, and yet they never fail to make an impression.

It's easy to see why Springsteen took a shine to Lofgren, the two sharing an affinity for the simple truths and hopeful energy of Heartland rock, as "Girl in Motion" and a stylish live version of "Black Books" could have slipped right into Springsteen's Tunnel of Love without The Boss ever knowing. His version of the Del Shannon-penned "I Go to Pieces" has the rousing spirit of the Springsteen anthems, and gritty rockers "Across The Tracks" and "Secrets of the Streets" shove their hands in pockets full of solid hooks and blue-collar dreams as they wander around Asbury Park, just as the strains of the sublime "Valentine," immersed in soulful longing, escape from Memphis under the cover of night to help lovers everywhere negotiate treaties of raw emotions.

Nils Lofren and his guitar
From his days with Grin comes the summery mood-elevator "Everybody Misses The Sun," an ambling, exceedingly likable romp with a bright chorus and carnival atmosphere that imagines The Kinks' Ray Davies sitting in with The Grateful Dead. Altogether exuberant, "White Lies," with its acoustic guitar jangle, finds Lofgren working out steely guitar figures designed to ensnare listeners, while "I Came to Dance," from his solo days, embraces disco with unabashed joy and drags it into the street.

That's just a small sampling of this bounty, accompanied by a page-turner of a booklet, handwritten by Lofgren and jam-packed with photos, anecdotes, insight and reflections on a life in music. Get lost in it as Face The Music cycles through soft, introspective piano balladry ("Heaven's Answer to Blue"), bluesy slide guitar excursions ("World on a String"), zydeco-infused drinking songs ("Whatever Happened to Muscatel") and grizzled romantic pop contentment ("When You Are Loved"), as well as the usual tight, sharp blasts of well-chiseled, immaculately produced rock that's always been his bread and butter.

As an introduction to Lofgren's catalog, it's a bit overwhelming, but the Fantasy Records box set Face The Music is certainly worth the time spent slogging your way through it. And for devotees, there are surprises galore, as well as familiar highlights. Don't be afraid to Face The Music. This is the good stuff, and there's plenty of it.
– Peter Lindblad

CD Review: John Garcia – John Garcia

CD Review: John Garcia – John Garcia
Napalm Records
All Access Rating: B+

John Garcia - John Garcia 2014
The name John Garcia still carries a lot of weight among glazed-over dwellers of the desert/stoner metal community. People there will never forget what he did with the archetypal Kyuss, having blazed rough trails through the most unforgiving of sonic terrain.

There are cults that would kill for the kind of devotion Garcia and the rest of Kyuss have inspired. And although Josh Homme has gone on to bigger and better things with Queens Of The Stone Age, his Kyuss co-founder has not so quietly built an impressive and remarkably consistent catalog of recordings with projects such as Slo-Burn, Unida, Hermano and, most recently, Vista Chino.

That arid, distant voice of his a dagger cutting straight through the sonic haze, vague menace and hypnotic pull of a sub-genre he helped establish, Garcia goes the lone-wolf route on this his first solo album, out on Napalm Records. Leaner and more clean-shaven than other works his name's been attached to, although some of the fuzz remains, John Garcia is a record with a strong pulse and an undeniable affinity for the brawny riffs and catchy hooks of '70s classic rock, as "5000 Miles" sounds like ZZ Top trying to swim its way out of quicksand and the steely, acoustically sketched closer "Her Bullets Energy" reminiscent of Led Zeppelin's brushed folk supplications, with a little Spanish guitar thrown in for good measure.

And while "Argleben," heavy and trance-inducing, is deep-fried in distortion and stuck in great, thick groove ruts – the album is full of them – "My Mind" rides with Steppenwolf into dark skies rumbling with heavy-metal thunder, all the while brandishing guitars wrapped in barbed-wire. Every song on John Garcia is sinister and seductive, sounding mean as hell on the agitated, pounding post-punk engagement "All These Walls." He swims with especially strong currents in the rugged, mid-tempo, swinging hammer "Rolling Stoned," the deliriously infectious "Saddleback" and the spellbinding, serpentine "Flower," as a sense of unease pervades the throbbing "His Bullets Energy," its slashing guitars and unpredictable bass counter melody stalking its prey with murderous intentions and practically begging for a restraining order.

Notwithstanding the sluggish blues of "Confusion" and its equally sedentary "The Blvd," John Garcia crackles with energy and brands its deep, dynamic grooves into your brain. Guests like Danko Jones, Nick Oliveri and Doors guitarist Robbie Krieger – his intricate work can be found on "Her Bullets Energy" – go with Garcia on this vision quest and help him discover his true nature.
– Peter Lindblad

Helstar: Something 'Wicked' this way comes

Going inside the 'Nest' with guitarist Larry Barragan 
By Peter Lindblad

Helstar is James Rivera, Larry Barragan,
Rob Trevino and Michael Lewis
2006 saw the return of Helstar, and what a welcome sight it was. After an 11-year hiatus, the nucleus of the classic lineup of one of the finest power-metal bands the U.S. has ever produced decided it was time to saddle up and ride again.

Birthed in 1982, the raging Texans, fronted by venomous vocalist James Rivera (also formerly of Vicious Rumors), emerged from the womb kicking and screaming on 1984's Combat Records release Burning Star, which set the stage for the fury that was to be unleashed in classic LPs such as Distant Thunder and Nosferatu.

A heavy touring schedule supporting metal heavyweights W.A.S.P., Megadeth, Savatage, Keel, Yngwie Malmsteen and Fates Warning served to spread the fire-and-brimstone gospel of Helstar far and wide. Lineup shuffling killed their momentum, however, and after a series of break-ups, Helstar fell apart, only to be revived again eight year ago.

Since then, Helstar has brought forth an album of re-recorded classics, plus an intense and gripping concert retrospective titled 30 Years of Hel. Then came 2010's Glory of Chaos, a punishingly aggressive testimonial to the technical brilliance and savage passion of a band that still has plenty to say. Released earlier this year, the AFM Records product This Wicked Nest is its evil twin, harnessing the frenzied melodic storms of Helstar's revered '80s material, while packing all the thrashing intensity of Glory of Chaos into an even more volatile and violent cocktail.

In Helstar, guitarists Larry Barragan and Rob Trevino have teamed to whip up a career's worth of heavy, roiling riffs and searing leads, bombing listeners with an assortment of tricks and designs meant to scramble the senses. Barragan recently took time out to talk about the band's latest record, it's glory days of the '80s and what the future might have in store for Helstar in this interview:

With Glory Of Chaos, it's been said that Helstar won't go that extreme again. Was there a point at which it struck you that perhaps that record was a step beyond what Helstar was all about, or do you just feel that Helstar is more at home being more melodic?
Larry Barragan: Never, I never thought that Glory was too extreme. I still don't. I never want to be put in a box were people can dictate what we should or shouldn't sound like. The new album is heavy as f--k, but I wanted to try to expand what we could do with the thrash influence and use, and mean really use, more of James' range of vocals. I wrote a lot of the melodies with that intention. The songs that James wrote the lyrics and melodies to also had that approach.  I think it sets us apart from other bands.  The fact that we have someone that can sing the way James can sing over those heavy riffs.

How has the material on This Wicked Nest been received live, and what do you enjoy most about performing it?
LB: So far I think everyone likes it.  I enjoy it because you do get a little tired of doing the same set after a while.  It's nice to make things fresh.  There are a couple of songs that we haven't done from the new album live that I think we should introduce into the set at some point.

Helstar - This Wicked Nest 2014
This Wicked Nest is still a very aggressive and intense record, and you can really hear it on "It Has Risen." Was it difficult to maintain a balance between creating really punishing, fast, thrash-like material, such as "Defy the Swarm," and stuff that has a slower pace and a darker atmosphere, like "Cursed"?
LB: No actually, it flowed fairly well. I want to say "Cursed" may have been one of the last songs we wrote for the album. So I think by the time we got to it we knew we needed something to change the pace.

"Fall of Dominion" has more of a power-metal feel to it, with those twin-guitar duelings and a huge chorus. It's such a powerful song. Is it more indicative of where the band is at currently and where it wants to go on future recordings, or does it simply fit in perfectly with the band's progression to this point?
LB: I can't really tell you where we're going to be honestly. I don't know what we're going to write next. I think if you start thinking about where you want to take this it may begin to sound forced and unnatural. "Fall of Dominion" is a song that everything just fell into place as it was being written. 

Tell me about making the title track. It has a real sinister feel to it. Did you want This Wicked Nest, on the whole, to be especially unsettling and scary?
LB: Rob wrote the music to that song, and I wrote the lyrics and melodies. And as it was presented to me I thought it had a very chaotic sound to it. You're right in that it is unsettling. I like stuff that has a very dark sound to it. I think we accomplished that.

To your ears, what makes This Wicked Nest more in line with the band's work in the '80s than Glory Of Chaos?
LB: I think some of the more intricate passages in the song give it that nostalgic feel. Other than that I think it's just as balls out as Glory of Chaos.

The classic lineup of Helstar
reunited in 2006
With 30 Years of Hel, what was the most gratifying aspect of that project for the band?
LB: You know the thing about that recording was that it may have not been the best night for us as a band, but it was a special night for us. We had so many friends and family come to that show. It was actually quite moving. I looked out to the left, and I could see my mom pumping her fist in the air. So to me, the actual show was the most gratifying experience. To be able to play songs that we wrote 30 years ago and have people to this day sing along with them is such a special feeling.

In 2006, the core of the classic Helstar lineup reunited. What was it that got you guys back together, and in 2014, looking back, has it gone the way you'd hoped it would?
LB: We were only supposed to do one show to commemorate the 20th anniversary of Remnants of War. It took a life of it's own and it snowballed from there. The next thing I knew we were in the studio and signed again. I really didn't think it was going to go beyond the one show. We've done more that I could have imagined. It's been great.

Helstar toured with the likes of Megadeth, Keel, Savatage, Yngwie Malmsteen and others back in the day. What was your favorite tour and why?
LB: I'll never forget the tour we did with Anthrax. It was the most fun and those guys were so cool to hang with.  

What do you remember about Helstar's first-ever performance?
LB: I remember it was in a garage at a house party. And we were doing "Hallowed Be Thy Name" by Maiden and right at the end of the song, James started throwing up. He had like this mini heat stroke I guess, and he just started puking as the song ended. You couldn't write a better script. It was like, "Oh so you can spit blood, huh? Well our vocalist can vomit on cue!"    

As far as you are concerned, what's Helstar's greatest achievement? And where does This Wicked Nest rank in the entire Helstar catalog?
LB: I think our greatest achievement is just the fact that after 30 years we're still around, still playing, still writing. It's not an easy thing to do but we've done it. This Wicked Nest is a dagger thrown at the heart of all those who thought we couldn't do it. If we didn't do another album I would be happy with this as an ending. Let's hope that's not the case though. Ha!

Short Cuts: Saga, U.D.O., Michael Sweet

CD Review: Saga – Sagacity
earMusic/Eagle Rock Entertainment
All Access: B+

Saga -Sagacity 2014
"These are the days of the improbable," sings Saga's Michael Sadler in "The Further You Go," suggesting perhaps that modern technological advancements are the stuff of miracles.

Just in case they don't lead to the fulfillment of mankind's hopes and dreams, Saga hedges its bets with this piece of sage advice: "Might want to leave a trail of crumbs for the future." Likewise, with Sagacity, the Canadian progressive-rock code breakers' newest album, Saga looks forward, while holding fast to past triumphs.

Engineering some of the most innovative and intricately layered arrangements of their career, Saga combines Ian Crichton's brilliant guitar riffs and sparkling solos with the dazzling keyboard theatrics of Jim Crichton and Jim Gilmour on a collection of songs that trades some of the powerful immediacy of 20/20, their last LP, for deeper, richer sonic experiments and unpredictable melodic movements, such as those found in shape-shifting pieces "Vital Signs," "Luck" and "It Doesn't Matter Who You Are." While the funked-up, heavy grooves and muscular guitars of opener "Let It Slide" have a metallic edge, the bulk of Sagacity is not so straightforward, showing more devotion to the more imaginative, maze-like designs of "Don't Forget to Breathe" and "The Further You Go" – all of it produced to sound as clean and clear as of Saga's recordings, each song a city of tomorrow unto itself.

Throw in a nine-track bonus disc with thrilling, expansive live renditions of classics such as "Wind Him Up," "On the Loose," "Mouse in a Maze" and "Humble Stance," and the topical, thought-provoking Sagacity  exploring themes of modern alienation in age of social media, the satirical, customer-service lament "Press 9" being a prime example, even if it does feel utterly disposable – is a pretty good value for your prog-rock dollar.

CD Review: U.D.O. – Live From Moscow
AFM Records
All Access: A- 

U.D.O. - Steamhammer:
Live from Moscow 2014
It's a new era for U.D.O., and the revamped lineup, missing Udo Dirkschneider's longtime collaborator Stefan Kaufmann, delivered the goods on 2013's sizzling Steamhammer, a thunderous expression of Udo's vision of what traditional metal is supposed to sound like.

Losing such a vital organ as Kaufmann, a dual threat as a musician and songwriting partner, put U.D.O.'s long-term health in doubt. Working closely with bassist Fitty Wienhold in Kaufman's absence, while bringing aboard young and hungry guitar-shredding transplants Andrey Smirnov and Kaspari Heikkinen, only seemed to invigorate the former front man for Accept, however. And now, with this electrifying two-CD/DVD live release under their belt as well, U.D.O.'s prognosis is excellent.

A 10:52 version of "Mean Machine," with its dynamic drum and guitar solos, highlights Steamhammer: Live in Moscow, recorded with perfectly mixed sound in a place that's always warmly embraced U.D.O. Hard-nosed, brass-knuckled maulers "King Of Mean," "Stay True" and "Burning Heart" sound even tougher and more aggressive in this setting, as does the surging, fully engorged title track, while the dark, enthralling melodies and tight hooks of "Future Land," "Cry of a Nation" and "Never Cross My Way" come into sharper focus, as U.D.O. galvanizes its flock. Worship the head-banging riffs, witness in awe the scintillating dual-guitar dogfights and let Udo's gravelly growl send shivers down your spine. This is U.D.O. at their best.

CD Review: Michael Sweet – I'm Not Your Suicide
Big3 Records
All Access: A-

Michael Sweet- I'm Not Your Suicide 2014
Now an author, too, Stryper's Michael Sweet goes solo on I'm Not Your Suicide, and from the heavy, serrated riffing and wailing vocals of opener "Taking On the World Tonight," it's clear Sweet has some inner demons to exercise.

Just as his autobiography, "Honestly: My Life and Stryper Revealed," pulled no punches and candidly copped to a surprising array of weaknesses, I'm Not Your Suicide is at once defiant and strong, but also emotional and raw. And where Stryper's glorious last album, No More Hell to Pay, was, in all respects, a satisfyingly heavy, if more straightforward, juggernaut of Christian metal, I'm Not Your Suicide showcases Sweet's wonderful diversity and creativity as a songwriter.

On this, his seventh full-length studio effort of melodic hard rock, Sweet's ever-evolving mastery of melody and pop songcraft is on full display, as uplifting sermons like "The Cause," the title track and "All That's Left (For Me To Prove)" soar on emboldened, sweeping choruses, like the one that also raises the riff-mongering "Taking On the World Tonight" to such dramatic great heights. And if it's great hooks you're looking for, "Anybody Else" has a bag full of them. Never has Sweet's songwriting seemed this organic or soulful, and that's especially prevalent in the album's rousing vocal treatments, so well-plotted and yet completely free of artifice. So is the introspective ballad "This Time," Sweet baring his soul to the world and yearning for salvation.  

Not one, but two, nicely rendered covers of Neil Young's world-weary classic "Heart of Gold," one featuring an engaging duet with Electra Mustaine, perhaps reveal a folk influence that, prior to this release, had rarely manifested itself previously in Sweet's work, as does the countrified "Country Home." Guest spots from Chris Jericho, Doug Aldrich, Tony Harnell and Kevin Max give rise to the notion that Sweet is tired of being pigeonholed. I'm Not Your Suicide makes damn sure that'll never happen again.
– Peter Lindblad

CD Review: Overkill – White Devil Armory

CD Review: Overkill – White Devil Armory
eOne Music
All Access Rating: A

Overkill - White Devil Armory 2014
Not the type to undergo any kind of mid-life crisis, Overkill seems to be growing more potent with age. And their latest eOne Music release, White Devil Armory, is stocked with enough weapons-grade rage to destroy anything that crosses the veteran East Coast thrash-metal syndicate.

Simply unwilling to rest on their laurels after heaps of praise were piled on 2012's The Electric Age, Overkill issues beat down after epic beat down on a punishing new album that's not for the faint of heart. Beware of these mangy, rabid junkyard dogs: their behavior is unpredictable, they're diseased and the steely jaws of their brand of crunching, chaotic thrash will violently chop and tear through flesh without a conscience, snapping bones like twigs.

If possible, White Devil Armory is even more intense, visceral and aggressive than The Electric Age, and that's saying something. Full of adrenaline, Overkill kicks and punches and bites in the street fight that is "Armorist," a hard-hitting affair that takes baseball bats and lead pipes to knees, heads and ribs of anybody that, for one second, thinks Overkill's best days are behind them. And "Where There's Smoke" is even more violent, moving at the speed of a runaway freight train until ending in a smoldering crash.

White Devil Armory is Overkill at their most exciting and brutal, as "Freedom Rings" gathers momentum and races ahead, the drums of Ron Lipnicki stampeding alongside ruthless guitar riffs sharpened to draw blood, just as they do in the swirling sandstorm that is "PIG," a song with enormous hooks, a breathless pace and a tempo shift that nobody would see coming. Heavier and more melodic, but no less scary or tense, the slow-burning "Bitter Pill" is dark and sinister. It's the most well-constructed song on White Devil Armory and one that has all the seductive powers of the devil, while "King of the Rat Bastards" and "It's All Yours" grab listeners by the throat and throw them around like rag dolls.

With the teeth-rattling, venomous vocals of Bobby "Blitz" Ellsworth leading the charge and the beefed-up sound of the record managing somehow to keep up with the band's barely harnessed energy, Overkill's dynamic precision is something to behold, stopping on a dime when ready to suddenly change course and the raging guitars of Dave Linsk and Derek Tailer moving in for the kill like sharks smelling blood and erupting into an all-out feeding frenzy at just the right moment. Swim in White Devil Armory at your own risk.
– Peter Lindblad

CD Review: Yes – Heaven & Earth

CD Review: Yes – Heaven & Earth
Frontiers Records
All Access Rating: B-

Yes - Heaven & Earth 2014
Flashes of the old Yes,the one capable of grandiose symphonic brilliance and sublime pop artistry, appear throughout Heaven & Earth, the progressive-rock institution's uneven 21st studio LP, released via Frontiers Records.

One such display is "Subway Walls," 9:20 of delightful left turns, a jazzy instrumental passage that flexes Chris Squire's muscular bass lines and is gilded by Steve Howe's imaginative, stealthy guitar exercises, and a beautifully engineered chorus that sounds surprisingly fresh and vibrant.

So does "The Game," this bright, mellifluous river of flowing, flooding pop sounds barely contained by artfully constructed guitar puzzles and expertly woven vocals, and despite its inane lyrics, the rising swells of piano, strummed guitar and Jon Davison's impassioned singing in "To Ascend" are particularly affecting. Jon Anderson's vocal doppelganger is in fine form here.

Too often, though, Yes seems uninspired, even goofy, on Heaven & Earth. And producer Roy Thomas Baker, so instrumental in helping Queen soar to great heights, doesn't appear willing to edit them. "Step Beyond" is a strange gum ball machine of bouncy synth blips that could be playful and child-like, but instead, it comes off as unfinished and lacking sophistication, as if Yes needed to fill time. And the lukewarm "Believe Again," the inactive opener, has extended periods of flatness, blank spaces of subdued, aimless noodling that's content to remain in the background, where it belongs.

While their Utopian ideals, warm nostalgic thoughts and dreams of a world where love extinguishes hate and selfishness are wonderful and high-minded, the New Age sentimentality of Yes occasionally goes too far, snuffing out the enigmatic whimsy that made the Yes of the early 1970s more likable. But when they shake off their torpor and find that spark of uninhibited creativity that's served them so well lo these many years, as they do on the ever-evolving, wildly original "Light of Ages" and "It Was All We Knew," Yes shows it's still capable of blending accessible songwriting and instrumental complexity in ways nobody – not King Crimson and certainly not Emerson, Lake & Palmer – else can, somehow managing to match the effusive color and alien imagery of Roger Dean's cover art with visionary, dynamic keyboards, crisp drumming, motoring bass and Howe's bottomless bag of guitar tricks.

Were they rushed in completing this record? It feels as if they were. Heaven isn't too far away for Yes here, but then again, neither is hell.
– Peter Lindblad

CD Review: Marillion – A Sunday Night Above the Rain

CD Review: Marillion – A Sunday Night Above the Rain
earMusic/Eagle Rock Entertainment
All Access Rating: A-

Marillion - A Sunday Night
Above the Rain 2014
An invasion of sorts took place on March 10, 2013, although it wasn't exactly an advancing horde of barbarians.

It was Marillion Weekend in Port Zelande, the Netherlands, and fans of the long-running progressive-rock collective from all over the world converged on Center Parcs to celebrate a group that's made thought-provoking and challenging, yet thoroughly accessible and soulful, music for the last 35 years.

2012's Sounds That Can't Be Made, Marillion's last record, was all of that and then some, managing to sound stylish and exotic, but also dissonant and angry in places. On this particular occasion, recorded for the exhilarating and emotionally resonant new two-disc live album A Sunday Night Above the Rain, Marillion threw every song from that album into the set for the first time, and simply stunning renditions of "Invisible Ink," "Montreal," "The Sky Above the Rain" and the title track are treated with a heightened sense of drama that is palpable, taking the band's flair for dramatic instrumentation – especially those wonderfully expressive keyboards, Steve Hogarth's heartfelt vocals and soaring guitars, courtesy of Steve Rothery – to a whole new level.

Perhaps somewhat dangerously, Marillion opens with "Gaza," a nearly 20-minute, and presciently topical considering the news of the day, epic full of passages of aching beauty that run smack into disorienting explosions of noise, growing and expanding into something even more grandiose and profound than the original. And yet the pristine, well-rounded sound of A Sunday Night Above the Rains does more to enhance and complement the sublime melodic complexities and diverse arrangements of fan favorites "Waiting to Happen," "Neverland," a synth-powered "Garden Party" and "This Strange Engine" than anything else, the crowd happily clapping and singing along in perfect unison. If Sunday is, indeed, supposed to be a day of worship, consider this concert recording a wondrous cathedral with services conducted whenever the listener chooses and sermons guaranteed to touch hearts, minds and souls.
– Peter Lindblad

Lillian Axe: An interview with Steve Blaze

Going inside the '... Temple' with the NOLA hard-rock legends
By Peter Lindblad

Lillian Axe in 2014
True believers in Lillian Axe have had their faith restored in 2014.

Beginning with the Feb. 1 issuing of a comprehensive, limited-edition 13-CD box set entitled Convergence that houses all of their releases from 1988 to 2012, plus a bonus disc of unreleased material, this year also brought a two-CD/DVD document of a special night of acoustic live renderings of Lillian Axe favorites performed in the intimate environs of a Masonic temple before the band's most ardent admirers.

One Night in the Temple, on CME Records, takes the familiar "Storytellers'" and "Unplugged" formats to a whole new level, as Blaze and the boys fielded probing questions from the crowd and shared reflections, anecdotes and thoughts on a wide range of topics, including religion and the experiences that come with years of working in the shark-infested waters of the music industry. Stripped down to the bare essentials in a setting where that proverbial wall that separates artists from their flock is completely reduced to rubble, the songs included here – all the hits, like "True Believer," "Show a Little Love" and "Waters Rising," plus numbers voted on by fans – are all heart and soul, revealing an ability to construct rich, dark melodies and well-crafted harmonies befitting the emotional and spiritual depth of Lillian Axe's lyrics.

Their estimable instrumental chops on display, as Blaze, in particular, shows remarkable dexterity and feel in sketching out tasteful leads and solos, the New Orleans-based Lillian Axe is entirely in its element, their captivating performance filmed in high-definition and accompanied by live footage and videos for "Caged In" and "Death Comes Tomorrow." And they, perhaps more than most of their contemporaries, deserved to have this moment.

They've had videos played on MTV, they've had major record deals and worked with producers like Sylvia Massy, best known for her work with Tool on the albums Undertow and Opiate, and Ratt's Robbin Crosby. They were inducted into the Lousiana Music Hall of Fame in 2010, joining the ranks of Fats Domino, Louis Armstrong, Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis.

And yet, after spending years plying their trade, they had to endure the neglect of a label that seemed to want nothing to do with them, and then the onset of Grunge made it all but impossible for a heavy-metal acts like Lillian Axe to get a fair shot in the '90s. Blaze talked about the new live release and all the ups and downs Lillian Axe has experienced, from the days spent kicking around the U.S. club circuit  and opening for the likes of Poison, Queensryche and Ratt, to getting signed by Ratt manager Marshall Berle and MCA Records' Irving Azoff and sensing that their careers were about to takeoff, to bitter disappointments and finally, settling in with their present-day lives.

Lillian Axe issued the live release 'One Night
in the Temple'earlier in 2014
How did this acoustic live album evolve from the original plan for it?
Steve Blaze: I had an idea where I wanted to just have Brian, Sam and I in almost a sitting around the campfire type of setting, with about 15 or 20 fans, and we would just play songs, talk about them and just have it be something very small and intimate. I thought that’d be something cool to capture on video and on a record, and just break it down very intimately and see how that would work out. I just thought it was something that might be cool. I always thought it was nice to be able to just sit around and play and talk about the songs and answer the questions people had about the songs and just break them down to their roots I guess. And as we started to put that together, pretty much it was my call, but we decided to get the whole band involved, do it in the studio and let’s get production and let’s have a hundred people. It’s two hours long, it’s catered, and there’s a question-and-answer, we have a contest for it and the whole thing just blew up. It’s still very intimate, because everybody is in a semi-circle and sitting around us in a studio and we have a question-and-answer, and we hung out and we played music, had fun and we talked. And the whole six-hour event wound up being wonderfully captured with seven cameras with a high-def setting, and it took a whole lot of love and time putting this thing together. It really captured a special moment that we had that night, and we were just blessed. Fortunately, we had great people working on it, and the end result wound up being just a really special, magic moment for us.

And you’d never done anything like this before?
SB: No, we haven’t. We did a live album in 2002. This is our first DVD, and this is the first live thing we’ve done like that before. I mean, we’ve done acoustic shows here and there, a few, but we’ve done mostly acoustic specialty type things, like radio and in-stores and that kind of thing. But we’ve never taken a show with the whole band playing acoustically together in any fashion like that, except for twice back in like ’93, we did a couple like that, but it wasn’t to the degree of an event like this thing.
Lillian Axe - One Night in the Temple 2014
Was it difficult choosing the set list?
SB: You know, it’s always kind of tough, just what we’re going to do in any certain environment, because we have so many records, and we have so much to pick from, and you kind of sit back … we were fortunate enough in that we knew we were going to do 20 songs, so we knew we had a lot of time and that we could add a few things that we normally wouldn't be able to. But you sit down and you look at these, and you take about five or six songs that if you don’t play your fans will behead you. And you have to have those in there, and then you just start to kind of look at ones that will be unique. You toy around with the idea of some that you may not have done in the past, and once we rehearse and kind of get the feel for it, and we know it’s going to translate properly, just about every song that we have, we can get to translate correctly acoustically. And then it’s just a matter of which ones are we going to play better, which ones are going to have the indefinable aura about them that’s going to make them work and reach the people emotionally. And that’s it. Of course, we could have added another 20 or 30 songs and been happy, but I think we narrowed it down pretty well. We were pretty much able to cover from the first album all the way to the present, so it’s kind of a history lesson of the band, too. So I think it was not as difficult as most people might think it might have been.

In doing these songs acoustically, did you encounter any problems or did these songs lend themselves to that kind of treatment pretty easily?
SB: The only one that really … and we played this set the night before, and it was “Moonlight in Your Blood,” and I think we just had so much adrenaline that night that I think we played it a little too fast. I mean, I wasn’t really happy with it at the end of the night, and we had to pick one to kind of make the two discs even, and that was the one that I felt like just didn’t really translate as well as the other ones. So we just decided to cancel it from the night, but that was the only one, and we’re probably the only ones that would have noticed anything like that, but we’re pretty hard on ourselves. We just decided to leave that off the record.

Lillian Axe recorded its latest live
CD/DVD release in a Masonic temple
Did you have any history with this particular venue? Why was it the right spot?
SB: Yeah, we actually recorded the last album in this studio, and it’s a Masonic temple. It’s currently where the Masons will have their meetings. And we’ve just got a great relationship with the owner, David Heintz, and we’ve done so much work there. In addition to the Lillian Axe album, I recorded the Circle Of Light record there, and I’ve produced several bands there and I’ve brought many bands and artists into the studio to record. It’s just got a good, real comfortable feeling there. On a kind of a bummer note, about a month ago, the lease ran up and the new owners decided they didn’t want the studio in there anymore. So the studio was actually moved here, and had to find a new location. If anything, it’s kind of a bit of video pictorial of the studio and the kinds of things that were going on in there, so it’s maybe a little bit of a last swan song moment for the studio – kind of a drag, but things happen like that. We were able to get a great album out of there, and we’ve got this history with that place. It’ll always be there, but it has to move on to a new location now. 

Was there a moment from the video or that live set that sticks out to you that you’ll always remember?
SB: Yeah, there really were. The unique moment to me was having the parents of Tripp Roth, and the family of Tripp Roth in the crowd there. Tripp’s a little boy that passed away last year due to an affliction. He was born with a rare disease, and I wrote the song “Bow Your Head,” and the song was written about him and his struggles, and his family was there and it was just very emotional. Just to have them in the crowd, we had special seats on the side of the stage for them. We were able to perform that song and talk about it with the crowd. There were a lot of tears out there in the crowd during that song. We also a guest violin player, Annie Bridges. She played violin on "Bow Your Head." We also had Johnny Vines, the first singer for Lillian Axe before we got signed. He was there and he sang “Misery Loves Company” and he did a duet with Brian on “Nobody Knows.” And then we did a version of “Nobody Knows” where the crowd sang all the vocals by themselves. So moments like that were great. The cool thing about the DVD is that in between songs there’s interviews, backstage footage, rehearsal footage, there’s set-up footage, interviews about what we’re doing, and segments from the question-and-answer, so we really made it more of a documentary than anything. On the DVD, there’s some bonus features on the Blu-ray, there’s a bunch of extras, so there’s about five and half, six hours of material on the Blu-ray packaging, and about five on the DVD packaging. So we really crammed a lot of stuff on there.

Any questions on the Q&A part that took you by surprise?
SB: Not too bad. We actually, prior to the show, asked each one of them to send in five questions, so that we could be a little bit prepared. You don’t want anybody asking, “Who do you think you were in a previous life?” or anything like that (laughs). We wanted to be a little bit prepared, but no, the questions were pretty good. Some of them were personal, and that was fine, asking about our families and that kind of stuff, which we were more than happy to answer. A lot of them were about the songs and how we write, and about the recording, and what we think about certain things or advice we would have – that kind of stuff. So it was really good, and everybody, all five of us, were part of the Q&A. We all got the opportunity to talk, and they all got to ask whoever they wanted whatever questions they wanted. They were very respectful.

Seeing it for the first time, what was your reaction? Was it better in any way than you’d hoped?
SB: It really was. I always set the bar really high, so if it doesn’t hit that, it doesn’t go out. If it doesn’t meet my expectations, it stays until it gets there. And this was right off the bat. It was even better than I thought. Chris LeCoq is the guy that did the editing, and when he showed me the first edit, when I sat down with him, I was blown away by it. I was grinning ear to ear. The way his vision is and how he really relates well and sees things through our eyes, he did a fantastic job and when I sat down with him to work on the edit, there was minimal work on my end, because everything was really well done. But yeah, we were fortunate. It captured the magic and the spiritualism of that night, and he really worked it better than I actually thought he would. And even on the audio side, on the CD, I was amazed how good the sound was. The drums and bass were just striking, and when you have your rhythm section sounding great and is that tight, everything else just falls on in layers. It just fits right on top, and we didn’t spend a lot of time on editing and mixing. We wanted it to be perfect or as good as we could possibly get it, and at the end of the day, I’m extremely proud of the way it came out.

Going into it, did you have any input as to how it was filmed?
SB: I produced it. And everything we do, it goes through me. I have a great cast, but at the end of the day, it’s my responsibility to make sure the band’s vision is portrayed, and all of us in the band are of a very similar mindset. I’m basically the quarterback. So before it goes anywhere, I get with everybody and explain what we’re looking for, but I’m fortunate that I’ve surrounded myself with people that I don’t really have to coach that much. I mean, I’ve got a great engineer. The camera people were fantastic. Basically, I just told them to get lots of shots of everything – film everything, from the crowd to the gear, backstage, just follow us and film everything. I left it up to them to where they felt the best camera angles were. Those guys are professionals; I’m not a camera man. And I just told them what we were looking for and what we wanted and they were great. There were a lot of little details that had to be taken care of.  Not only the recording and mixing out to a different console, but the live mix inside the building itself and we had production, we had mics … all the way down to how many chairs we had. We had to make sure we had enough chairs for a hundred people. We had to make sure the food and the drinks were taken care of, and that everybody was stuffed and was fine, and at the end with the night, everybody knew what to do and how to handle the whole situation. It took months of preparation, and I gotta tell you, we were just blessed it went off without a hitch.

What was the hard-rock scene in Louisiana like in the early days, and how did you get the attention of Ratt’s management?
SB: Well, it was great when we first started. There were clubs everywhere. You could play a different club every night in Louisiana alone, and you would not even have to repeat a performance for another month or two. There were really like 20 or 30 rock clubs, and it was great because bands like Zebra were really good and really close, and Zebra grew up here and were really the ones who started the hard-rock movement with local bands and playing, and they went on to get signed and we were behind them. But they were playing a lot of Zeppelin and classic rock – what we call “classic rock” now, Bowie and the Moody Blues – and we were playing Priest and Sabbath and Van Halen and Ratt, and just like Zebra kind of started introducing their own songs into the set in and out of the cover songs, and that’s where we did that for three or four years. It was fantastic because it was a normal thing to go play in Hammond, La., on a Wednesday night for 500 people. People were going out and supporting the bands that were playing, and we had a huge following. And then we were asked to open up for Ratt, Queensryche and Poison … and then after the second show, the security guy or our tour manager or whatever, stage manager, for Ratt came up to me and said, “I need to get your phone number. Marshall Berle wants to talk to you.” (At the time, Marshall Berle was their manager). That was like one of those moments you talk about and just realize that, holy cow, this is really happening. You know, those were the two biggest rock bands at the time and everybody knew who their manager was. But I got a call two days later, and it’s Marshall. He said, “Steve, it’s Marshall Berle. Do you want a record deal?” Of course, at that time, when you’re in your early 20s, we’re not thinking about the possibility you could ever get screwed over by record companies. We were willing to take it, so we said, “Absolutely.”  So that’s where that began, and we did several shows, and then it was told to us that Robbin Crosby really liked the band and he wanted to produce us, and that Marshall met with Irving Azoff and signed us to MCA and the rest is just a roller-coaster ride.

What was it like working with Robbin Crosby?
SB: Robbin was great. I always tell people, Robbin was really … I call him kind of a fork in the road, because he really … I don’t know, just the whole fame and rock ‘n’ roll part of success, I don’t think he really adjusted to it or really embraced it. He was always such a good man, and he’d say I’m going to give you a call later, and he’d call and say, “I’m not a good guitar player.” I’d be like, “Robbin, you’re with one of the biggest bands in the world, buddy. Just relax. Quit worrying.” He was one of the nicest people in the world. I wanted him to be happy, you know. Great guy, very generous, we had fun working on the album, but I always felt that he didn’t quite really know how to accept the situation that he was in. And I don’t know if that’s what led to his problems, his addictions and whatnot, and it was really too bad, because of anybody I’ve ever met in this industry, he didn’t deserve to have that happen to him.

And this was before he really had his troubles?
SB: I would imagine. We never really ever saw that side of Robbin. I don’t know what went on with him there. I do have a funny story about him though. The last day of our pre-production, he came down to Jackson, Miss., and we had this room that was a rehearsal room that we rented out, and it was in a bad, bad part of town. I don’t know who set this up for us, but we were rehearsing and during the day, he and I went and ate Mexican food. And so, that night, after it was finished, he goes, “All right guys, we’ll do the video next week,” and he broke out the Crown Royal. Well, I was the only one that didn’t drink. For the other guys, Crown Royal was like orange juice. Robbin broke it open and just swigged and guzzled at least half the bottle of Crown, but Robbin was a big guy. And he just completely guzzled that sucker, and all the other guys are taking hits and whatnot. Next thing you know, Robbin went into the backroom and throws up all over the place, and he comes down and wipes his mouth off, like everything is okay. And I’m like, “Holy crap, man. Are you okay?” He said, “Yeah, man. I think my nachos must have had some meat in it today, and I’m a vegetarian.” It wasn’t the half a bottle of Crown he just swigged. It was that he got a little piece of meat in his nachos that made him throw up. And I was like, “Okay, buddy (laughs).” He was a wonderful guy. I just wish I’d gotten to know him more and I wish he was still around. 

What are your feelings about those first two records today?
SB: We’re proud of everything we’ve ever done. In retrospect, you look back and you realize that we were really learning a lot. I really felt that Love and War really was where I started to kind of blossom, because even though we had Robbin on site, I really … those guys gave me room to co-produce. They allowed me to. At the end of the day, my ideas were ... if I said, “No, we’re not doing it like that,” it wouldn’t have happened like that, but I took their advice, and I was learning from it.

Love + War is where I started to learn the edgier side of my psyche I guess, and I started to get more creative, and take a more hands-on role. The first album was like there are the big influences of the time that were a little more clean and polished and straight-ahead rock ‘n’ roll, which is heavier than what bands were doing at that time. We changed things with some lyrics and stuff that I probably wouldn’t have changed, but hey, I trusted them, and they did a great job, and I’m cool with that. But at the end of the day, as we progressed, the second record, Love + War, some people still consider that to be our best record that we’ve ever done. It’s like that one record that everybody embraces. I’m very proud of that one. It’s been a whole journey from our debut album up to where we are right now. Every single piece of it has its own every unique special spot, so I’m happy with it. If I could go back and re-record the first album and it would still be like that, then I would have some changes in it sonically, but for that time and what we did and what we created, I thought it was great.  

Poetic Justice was released in 1992, and it had the single “True Believers.” You were on a new label with a couple of new band members. Explain how you ended up on Glamm/I.R.S. and if you thought at the time this album would be a breakthrough for the band?
SB: Well, it was not a secret that MCA didn’t do a thing for us or for the rock bands on the label. Irving Azoff, who signed us to MCA, had left before we’d even started recording the album. He signed us and he left. I think he went to form Giant. And there were other bands on the label and nobody was getting any push, especially us. Even Alice Cooper … when later on, we became friends with Alice, he and I had many conversations about MCA and how bad they treated him. But they’d just give up and just throw things up against the wall. I don’t think they wanted to be a rock label. I thought they were just trying to change and then they’d see what happens. I mean, Elton John was on the label, and they didn’t even seem like they were doing anything for him.

When we left the label in ’92, I knew we were going to get picked up again, because we were favored in the press and the fans liked us. We were still doing well, and I knew how solid we were, so I just started writing. And we just started putting it out there. We did showcases, and then (Brian  McAvoy) from Glamm Slamm/I.R.S. came to see us at a showcase, and said, “This is what I’m going to do and this is what we have,” and I’m telling you, he was the most eager … and I find that be so important and with all my relationships in the music business, the enthusiasm and the desire and appreciation of the band goes a long way with me. I mean, that’s how Brian Jones got my attention to become the singer. He loved the band. McAvoy loved the band. He wanted this band on his label, and he wanted it. And he didn’t have as much money to offer as some of the other labels were offering, but he had something intangible and that was his love and appreciation for us. So we signed with them, and they, out of the box, were all over the album and it showed. We sold records when the label was doing what a label is supposed to be doing. That’s when things were really good. We were all over radio. The only mistake we made I think was not getting a video for “True Believer” right when the thing started charting, but in retrospect, who knows?  We did two records there, and we moved on to the next chapter.

What are your favorite memories of recording Love + War and Poetic Justice?
SB: Well, one thing about Love + War was that an earthquake as we were doing vocals for “Show a Little Love” and I just remember that the whole studio shook. It wasn’t a big, bad earthquake, but it was the only one that I felt. Actually, there was one that hit the day before that, and then this must have been an aftershock or whatever. They were both freaky, one I was sleeping in our hotel and the other one was while we were doing the vocals, but on the whole, looking back on the essence of what we were doing right there, it was at the Enterprise in Burbank, and James Ingram, the singer or vocalist who won all those Grammys, he was recording right there. Ozzy was just finishing his recording. It was a big, expensive studio, and we spent a lot of money in that place, and it was where I really started to feel comfortable in taking a much more hands-on approach to everything. And we went to Poetic Justice, and that was great, because it was up in Baltimore, and we were in Sheffiel Audio/Visual – this huge complex with one of these big boards. And they just pulled out all the stops for us. I mean, they built a basketball hoop in the parking lot for us. We were out in these beautiful grounds out kind of in the woods. There wasn’t a lot of traffic in there. They really just changed for us. And we went back and did Psychoschizophrenia there … we really knew we were creating something there, and we were really writing and getting comfortable and my direction was starting to really solidify, and I was experimenting with a side of me that was always there that I didn’t know if I could really let out without the record company or radio saying, “No, that’s not what you should be doing now.” I think right up through … Justice was where we were really … I knew who we were and what we were going to be.

With Psychoschizophrenia, I know at that time Grunge was coming in. Did that record just not have a chance because of that?
SB: Well, our two biggest-selling records were right at the beginning of the Grunge scene. Poetic Justice came out right when the Grunge thing really hit. So if those records had come out five or six years earlier, I mean, God knows how big we could have been. You don’t know, but yeah, it really was, and it’s kind of a shame because we’d just started to get press and the music industry just … we called them “sheeple.” Nobody had an individual instinct. They just followed what everybody said … somebody just said, “Hair metal is dead,” and then it was like all the ignorant in the world just looked at him and said, “Oh well, you must be right.” And then everything started changing, and it was very juvenile. Nobody had enough inner strength, or I don’t know what you want to call it … guts? They just assumed it was done.

You don’t just try to kill off an era of music just so you have something new to say in the press. It was ridiculous, but there was such a big deal made of it. What should have happened was the labels said, “You know what? This kind of music is always going to be around. Keep supporting it, don’t all of a sudden shut out all of your rock ‘n’ roll bands and go find a bunch of new grunge bands.” And that’s what everybody did. And it was sinful. It just shows what a bunch of spineless people were running the industry. It’s still like that, but we did what we had to do. We write our music. That’s all we do. You’re not going to find us changing our style of music, and be the pitiful, whining all day long. We know how we are. We’re going to stick to it. That’s what we’ve been doing for 25 years.

How do you feel the material on the last four albums stacks up with that of the late ‘80s/early ‘90s work?
SB: I see it as just a part of the entire timeline. It fits perfectly. We had a little bit of a break. We were very stressed out in the industry, and we wanted to try to do different things. I knew we’d be getting back together, and we did, and several years had gone by, and we put out Fields of Yesterday, and this live record, and then it was like it had been nine years since Psychoschizophrenia, but I think Water’s Rising was the next logical step. I didn’t think about in any other way other than this is what is coming out of me right now. I don’t think about it. I don’t plan it. These are my ideas. This is what I want to hear. This is what I like to write.

It’s almost like two chapters of the band. There’s the first 11 or 10 years and then the last 15. And they both coincide well with each other. The first half is the first chapter and the second half is the second chapter, and you put them together. We still play “Dream of a Lifetime” or “Show a Little Love,” and it works just as well now as it did back then and it still sounds as heavy and modern as the stuff we’re doing now. It all comes together as a band, and it’s all in the way that we perform. It all works together. It’s just part of our growth. I probably personally listen more to the last four records than the first four, but I mean I like them more. There is a more metal, somber, darker edge to my writing. That’s just me. I hate to use those terms, but I actually look in the thesaurus to try to find words that mean the same thing (laughs). I don’t know how to say it, just maybe a different shade of the same color. The older you get, the more you want to scream about the things that bother you. I think the next record will be the most intense thing we’ve ever done, because of my ideas now and the way that I’ve got things orchestrated in my head as I’m starting to demo them. It’s going to be very deep and intense, from everything lyrically and conceptually to the types of orchestration and the things I plan on doing with the next record.