Show Review: Judas Priest at Grossinger Motor Arena, Bloomington IL 04/08/18

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Heavy Metal in Illinois was alive and proud and a bit grey on the Night of April 8th, 2018 in the heart of Bloomington. I had taken a near two hour car ride to stay down there for the weekend hoping the trip was worth it for the show.  Considering I had never heard of the venue I was curious because I’ve been to some I’d never been to and they were absolutely terrible. However, space wise they didn’t even use the whole arena and almost smacked the stage right in the middle. Either way it was a good call considering no matter where you sat or stood it was a fantastic view of the stage. Besides the halls becoming a little crammed it wasn’t too bad of a venue.

Black Star Riders

First band up for the night was Black Star Riders who are essentially Scott Gorham of Thin Lizzy fame’s solo band. Their sound meshes that classic whole vibe of classic Thin Lizzy all the way to their vocalist having a similar style to Phil Lynott’s. While I am not a gigantic BSR fan, They are an enjoyable band enough live and their songs definitely are more lively and heavier in a live atmosphere. Mostly, I am happy to see Gorham still up there doing it and seeing them pull out “Jailbreak” was a nice little throwback. Besides the shoddy feedback that seemed to resonate from time to time, I’d say they were a reasonable and energetic opener.

Saxon

How many times can I talk about Saxon this year? Seriously especially since this was my second time seeing them this week. However, for this show I was in the seats even though I really wanted to be back down in front like the week before. However, I found the most enjoyable part just seeing the band play on such a large stage in America, and the crowd turn up for them wasn’t bad either! However, after their set I was still pleased to have seen them do an intimate show on this tour considering this set was mainly an abridged version of the week before. Nearly same songs(take away a few) and some numbers cut in half like”Denim And Leather”. However, seeing them get a relatively healthy reaction from the crowd at the closing notes of “Heavy Metal Thunder” made me happy to witness these British metal legends. Seriously seeing Saxon live will never get old, even after four times I feel they almost always outperform the show previous.

 

Judas Priest

Finally, as the current fell over the stage, it was time for the almighty Judas Priest to take the reigns much more. This was my second time seeing the band since 2015 and I have to say holy hell they sounded a lot better this time around. Now don’t get me wrong, the band was very hot on the Redeemer of Souls tour and pulled an impressive setlist that time around. But the band overall sounded very alive and were mixed better here than when I saw them at Rosemont. The biggest drawback obviously was not seeing Glenn Tipton on stage. To me he is the real icon of Priest and it was weird just not seeing him up there but I have to commend Ritchie Faulkner for really taking the reigns. He has proven himself to be one of the most vital members in Judas Priest history. He essentially saves the band and Im sure if he wanted to, he could take over all solo guitar duties. However Andy Sneap I feel did a stand up job and felt really tight and gelled well with Ritchie on stage. While richie took some of the most well known solo’s such as the middle segement in “Sinner” and all the part on “Painkiller”, He did duel with Sneap on songs like “The Green Manalishi” and “Some Heads Are Gonna Roll”. He even pulled off the solo’s in “Electric Eye” and “Hell Bent For Leather” very well. The stage set even felt super 80’s and even looked like something out of the “Turbo” tour which I really dug as well instead of just big screens. Halford holy hell, he sounded way more lively than the last tour as well even pulling deep cuts like “Saints In Hell” show just how well is voice has still aged. And finally, the setlist was about as solid as can be. While I would have liked to see some more cuts from Defenders on this tour or even Turbo or Ram It Down considering they are celebrating anniversaries, it was very solid with cuts like “Grinder”, “Bloodstone”, “Running Wild”,”Sinner” and plenty of others including three cuts off the new amazing album “Firepower”.

In short, go see this tour if you havent bought tickets for future dates. the band is still as hot as ever and still dish out these songs with faith and plenty of fury live. With new blood brings new life and Judas Priest in 2018 have entered a new era that keeps them running strong and this show proved just that.

Show Review: Saxon live at Reggies, Chicago IL 04/01/18

Saxon 2018

Banging drums, soaring guitars and…..Candy? That’s exactly what we got at the Saxon show on Easter Sunday in Chicago! First of all this goes with saying, this show was already going to be killer from the start. Considering two of my favorite Chicago bands were included along with one of my all time favorite bands of all time, this was an easy show to say yes to.

Shokker

Opening the show was Chicago’s own Shokker. They were definitely a good band to open up the show with their powerhouse sound that recalls the classic era of Heavy Metal. Casey Tremont’s hard hitting guitar playing was terrific along with vocalist Rachl Quinn’s soaring vocals. Easily one of the best female vocalists I’ve seen live in terms of range and charisma. The whole band overall was very tight and energetic pulling songs from their terrific debut “III” and even a blistering faithful cover of “Bark At The Moon”. I honestly would have loved to see them higher on the bill and hope to see them many more times.

Pipe

Pipe were up next and definitely had the most “interesting” stage setup with bong props and marijuana flags draped over their equipment which I felt was a bit overkill. The overall sound of the band was very simplistic hard rock akin to 90’s groups like Godsmack. However, I feel like they didn’t fit with this bill much and personally, I feel they played way too long. They just had a somewhat dull sound to me it just didn’t have the energy every other band clearly had in spades. Just not a good fit to the bill in my opinion.

Scars of Armageddon

This was my third time seeing these guys rip it up on stage and they never disappoint. their brand of epic progressive metal is done so well in the sense that it doesn’t get too repetitive or dull live and they know how to keep the energy up. However, the only thing that sucked about this performance was that they were only able to play three songs but I feel they made their point perfectly as much as they could in that short time slot.

Saxon

And finally, it was time for the Brits to invade Chicago once again. I have seen Saxon twice before in a large venue and small venue and I have to say this was the best they’ve sounded and played thus far. The sound even up front was super crisp with Nigel Glocklers tight drumming blending perfectly with both guitarists as well as Biff who was in top form singing every high and low note with ease. The only casualty was Paul Quinn bleeding almost the whole set all over hist strings but he played it off all night quite well even if he was more focused on playing than anything. Nibbs Carter I will always consider Saxon’s second front man as he is just as energetic as Biff perhaps more. The band played a wide range of songs with the new album being a large focus with I believe at least half of it being played. Where with some bands this can be way over doing it, Saxon are not afraid to let new songs shine and every song sounded as classic as the classics themselves. One of the biggest highlights was the band doing “Predator” with Nibbs handling the death metal growling vocals it was great to see them bring that one to stage. The band of course played all the classics (Power and The Glory, Dallas 1PM, Wheels of Steel” etc.”) and played an impressive two hour set that only they could match. The best moment personally was watching Biff wear my vest during Denim and Leather. It was just one of those moments as a fan that I’ll personally never forget.

Overall, this was a no brainer show for me personally and easily the best show i’ve seen them put on as well as the bands mentioned above(well mostly). Saxon always put on the great live show and even if you aren’t a huge Heavy Metal fan, they are just a great band musically to see live. The energy, the history and the whole vibe that carries on through their performance spanning forty years of hard hitting music really is worth it. Even when the band throws candy into the crowd at the end as a little easter joke, it is just a funny memory that adds to a great evening of music.

Album Review: Judas Priest- FirePower

 

Judas Priest are a band that need no introduction. They are one of the most revolutionary acts in both Rock and Heavy Metal music as we know it today. And here we are with the band actually nearing their 50th anniversary since formed(although no members from that line up exist at this time) and they are pushing out their 18th studio album entitled “Firepower”. A very anticipated record indeed since the release of their 2014 cut “Redeemer of Souls” which I still enjoy to this day even though the record felt a bit bloated and inconsistent with production in spots. However, with classic Priest producer Tom Allom and Accept revivalist Andy Sneap at the helm, can they bounce the band back to sounding like absolute monsters once again?

Right off the bat, we see the title track coupled with “Lightning Strike” showing that Priest sound heavy and fresh on record again. The guitars are extremely crisp with the low end really holding down the songs creating an all around bigger sound. Ian Hills bass on the record as a whole is a lot more present but not overwhelming as it should sound. Halford, what can you say. He sounds fresh and full of life especially on songs like “Evil Never Dies” with some very evil and shrill vocals styles throughout the chorus. Some of the songs presented on this album are just as good as cuts on Painkiller. Songs like the epic almost power metal-esque “Traitors Gate” show Priest at their absolute best. Even songs like “Spectre” which even has a bit of a “Ripper” feel to it but still feels fresh and energetic. The album does have a modern feel throughout with songs like the heavy and very catchy “Necromancer” and the more hard rocking and almost sludgy sounding “Lone Wolf”. However, the classic sounds are still present with songs like “Never The Heroes” which could have been on “Ram It Down” or even “Flame Thrower” which sounds like a cut off of “Defenders Of The Faith”. However, the biggest and greatest fact about this album is that these songs, coupled with the absolute lively and sleek yet organic production really give Priest a fresh sound they need this far along. The band sounds ten times more powerful and alive than they did four years ago. Even on slower mid paced songs like “Children Of The Sun” and “Rising From Ruins” coupled with the excellent and emotional opening instrumental “Guardians” really hold their own as well with such power and emotion conveyed through them. Another favorite of mine is “No Surrender” which has a very up beat rocking feel and is one of the most energetic songs on the album. Even the album closing ballad “Sea Of Red” is a fitting end to this juggernaut of a record. Simply put, there really are no bad songs on this album. Through my near twentieth full listen, no song has grown tired for me. The soloing is lively and even with Faulkner’s solos feeling a lot more organic on this record and Glenn still giving it all he’s got this late in the game it really is a feat considering his recent decision to cut out touring(instead we will see Andy Sneap slinging his axe on stage). It really is sad to see but if this is the last record from the almighty Priest, then it is possibly the best way the band could go out.

Overall, I have to say that this album is easily an early contender for album of the year. This is easily the best modern Priest album and although it  honestly is more of just straight forward Heavy Metal with no real surprises, the music that is presented has so much life and substance to it with the band really giving it their all. Don’t miss out on this record and even though we won’t see the same line up as presented here, the shows will still be great and hopefully they pull a lot from this record, it is a beast!

Album Review: Sacred Leather- Ultimate Force

Sacred Leather

This album has been heavily anticipated for me ever since I first saw the band back at Legions of Metal last year. With their brash, very macho and very faithful sounding brand of heavy metal, I was really curious how they would bring that to their first full length record. Simply put, they deliver in spades.

With the blistering and anthemic opening title track, the band brings their A game both i  production and playing. The production is raw but with the right amount of shine to keep the album sounding muddy or unfocused. Next comes the very Mercyful Fate-ish “Watcher” that’s very catchy with a chorus to be reckoned with. One of my favorite tracks on the album “Power Thrust” is a mid tempo, dirty rocker that just screams the mid 80’s in both structure and sound. The lead breaks almost feel like Glenn and KK from Priest in their hey day it is that faithful sounding. It is also another tune that is catchy as well with dirty low backup vocals that further amplify hows badass this song is. Next is the more serious toned ballad “Dream Searcher” which is performed in good taste with a lot of melody throughout. It is a nice change of pace and shows the band exploring some more somber sounds. Although this song is a lot longer, I could have seen it being a tune to rival a lot of Power Ballads in the 80’s. Next up is the incredibly upbeat “Master Is Calling” which has a really nice build to it.  This shows the band firing on all cylinders especially with the blazing guitar soloing throughout. Next up is undoubtedly my biggest highlight on the album “Prowling Sinner” which is the most energetic track on the album easily with its galloping rhythm and huge yet simple chorus. This is the one song that if I had to recommend any from the band, this would be it. Finally, the band caps the album off with “The Lost Destructor/ Priest Of The Undoer” which is definitely the most one of the more complex songs on the album. Being more mid tempo, this track still manages to be catchy and heavy as well as a decent closer with some somber moments toward the end to mix it up a bit.

Overall, this is a solid offering of American forged classic Heavy Metal in the modern day. As simple as the album is, it is hard to deny the charm it has with the band really nailing that very sleek yet raw sound of the early to mid 1980’s especially in the guitar soloing and intense vocals that never let up. The musicianship is spot on and simply put, its Heavy Fucking Metal and if that is your thing, you should have this album in your collection. Sacred Leather is a band I would like to see stick around for a long time as this is easily one of the best of the year, 9/10.

Album Review: Razorbats: II

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The first time I heard Razorbats was when they released the track of their first album (Camp Rock) entitled “Kids of The 70’s” and I though the Ramones-ish sound the band had going on was fun but I felt they could go further with the sound they had. When I got around to listen to their second release I found that the band had done just that.

With the album cover having this late 70’s almost glam rock feel, I felt the band would go for the more melodic side but they actually balance the harder rock edge and the melody nearly perfectly here. The album opens with “The Waiting” which retains that punkish sound but I have to say the vocals are noticeably more strong this time around with the production also being a ton sharper. It’s a fun opening track and leads nicely into the grooving hard rocking tune “Take It Out On The Road” which has almost a bit an 80’s pop rock feel through the bridge and chorus which I dig a lot. One of the best songs on the whole album has to be “Social Rejects” which is just seething with energy all the way through. “Dead Boy City” is the only track that feels a bit boring to me especially after coming off the energy of the last few songs. However, the energy picks back up with “Bad Teacher” which has an almost Cheap Trick mixed with ACDC kind of feel. “Nowhere” keeps the energy at max with the band creating a very anthem-like song and one that would work great in a live setting. “Sister Siberia” is a total melodic/AOR song which is another major highlight on the album. “Going Underground” has some nice organic guitar work throughout that I dig and retains that punk mentality in its roots. “Send In The Clowns” and “Talk All Night” both end the album fairly well with the final track being a softer rock ballad that is a lot better done I feel than “Dead Boy City” is.

Overall, I think this album is a fun Hard Rock album that definitely will be an enjoying one to cruise around with in the summer time. With the band retaining their hard punk like sound but injecting more melody and solid musicianship, they manage to create an album that is simple but will definitely be one that if it’s on, then it has to be played at 10.

 

Album Review- Saxon: Thunderbolt

 

Saxon are back with their twenty second studio effort entitled “Thunderbolt” and once again have brought another solid offering of Heavy Metal numbers that will please old school fans as well as newer fans of this generation. Now obviously its no spoiler as Saxon have been on a steady run of quality work for the past few years. However, I feel this album sticks out a bit more than say “Battering Ram” or even the very quality output “Sacrifice”. Opening with the very atmospheric instrumental “Olympus Rising” we see the band head into the title track which at first didn’t grab me as hard but after repeated listens it just amazes me that the band still sounds so visceral and tight. Biffs vocals are still just as powerful with his older age adding a bit more grit throughout the years. The band then heads into another high energetic number with “The Secret Of Flight” keeping up the epic pace with almost borderline Power Metal influences.

The track “Nosferatu(The Vampire’s Waltz)” has this awesome Gothic undertone with a haunting chorus throughout and works for Saxon I think it is something different that keeps your attention throughout. Probably the most emotional track on the album is “They Played Rock N Roll” in the sense of being dedicated to Motorhead and played in the true Motorhead Punk/Speed fashion. It is a great testament to the band considering no members of the classic line up are with us anymore. With the next few songs the ban really focus on keeping the consistency on Heavy grooving traditional driven cuts with the mid paced but catchy “Predator” with some death metal vocals that actually work quite well for the tempo and overall character of the song. “Sons Of Odin” has this old school epic metal sing along feel to it I really like that we once got from the likes of acts like Dio. the latter part of the album keeps up with more galloping riffs in songs like “Sniper”, “A Wizard’s Tale” and the almost throwback to “Motorcycle Man”: Speed Merchants. this song is just as lethal and is one of my favorites presented and shows Saxons roots at its full extent. Finally, we have “Roadie’s Song” which is a good closing mid paced classic sounding track that caps of a very consistent album.

Saxon are like bands Accept and a few others in that they can release many albums this late in their career with a sound that honestly doesn’t change much. For some bands has become a death knell in the sense of my interest of their new releases becoming less and less each time. However Saxon accomplishes to keep this album more fresh with a good amount of creativity put into alot of these songs with the classic sounds, more experimental moments and some welcomed surprises. I’d say this is a strong output and will be able to please just about any Saxon fan out there.

Geordie: A Retrospective

 

 

Some groups in the history of Rock music tend to go overshadowed especially when a member becomes part of a much larger and established act. An absolute perfect example of this the band out of Newcastle, England known as Geordie. Forming around 1972, the group would release a string of albums throughout the 1970’s beginning with “Hope You Like It” and ending with “No Sweat” in 1983. However the bands most notable work was the four albums performed with Brian Johnson as their lead vocalist. Johnson of course is known as being the vocalist of my personal favorite band of all time ACDC from 1980 until 2016. However, I have always been surprised that it had taken me so long to listen to his previous groups work as (spoiler alert) it is very quality blues driven hard rock from the seventies with every albums having some characteristics that are unique to each which makes for very refreshing listens throughout. So as this article is titled, I am going to take you through a short and sweet retrospective of one of Englands most underrated Hard Rock acts that deserve more credit than they are given.

 

Hope You Like It (1973)

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When I first heard Goerdie’s debut album, I didn’t think it was their debut as it has the sound of a well oiled seasoned machine. The band crafted a sound right from the get go that would essentially be their establish go to sound for future releases. Right from the start with the groovy “Keep On Rockin'” does the band go for throat with their blues driven sound with Johnson even using his signature higher pitched snarl throughout that he’s become famous for years later. The band then rolls right into”Give You Till Monday” with the main focus of straight ahead power chord riffing mixing with some subtle melody proving simplicity can be best when done right. The title track is a more sing along tune with the vocals being presented more in a softer and slick way. it is also one of the first songs where we see a lot of bridging vocal and guitar melodies that really drive the song. Songs like “Don’t Do That” and “All Because Of You” continue that bluesy pub Rock sound that personally doesn’t get old as the band plays it really tight and with a lot of enthusiasm. One of the best tunes on the album is”Old Time Rocker” which is actually more rockabilly oriented and it works really damn well and is a major highlight on the album. The album does mix softer songs in like “Oh Lord” that is a nice short change of pace before going back into the final stretch of the album. The final track which is a traditional song that the band worked in called “Geordies’s Lost His Liggie” is a funny and quirky way to end an extremely solid debut album. The reissued version actually includes six additional tracks including a personal favorite “Can You Do It” and “Geordie Stomp” among others making it the definitive version of this album. Geordie definitely set the bar high with their debut and a sophomore release was sure to follow as well.

Don’t Be Fooled By The Name (1974)

 

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Following their debut, Geordie quickly recorded and released their follow up album which has alot of the same character and strength the first album had with the main focus being blues based riffing through out. From the heavy and singable “Goin’ Down” to “Mercenary Man” with its rock solid riffing that also hides melodic undertones within Johnsons softer vocal deliveries. One of my favorites presented here is “Ten Feet Tall” which has a very heavy rock presence but an almost psychedelic midsection that really works only for the song to have a very explosive end. There are riffs galore here and show how underrated Vic Malcolm is as a guitar player. He plays with such ferocity yet can dial it back for some nice cleaner more melodic tones as well.  However the subtle variation is very welcome with the presence of keyboards in songs like the mellow yet welcoming ballad “Little Boy” and “Got To Know” which is personally my favorite song on the album with how upbeat and bouncy the rhythm is it just grooves through in and through out. Now of course the album is possibly most well known for the bands cover of “House Of The Rising Sun” and it is probably my favorite version of the song with the low droning humming throughout and Brians vocals going from clean to his signature snarl works so well. Overall, this album is a true unsung rock masterpiece and it is a shame more people don’t know of it as it has a lot of staying power and memorable moments throughout.

Save The World (1976)

 

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As Geordie went into creating their third album, the band had progressed their sound a bit more to a more pop rock oriented sound. I feel like out of all their albums up to this point, this one has the tag “Glam Rock” tied to it mostly. While a lot of the songs still retain their catchy Blues driven Hard Rock sound, they have a bit more upbeat feeling to them which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The band still sound as lively as ever right from the beginning notes of the very catchy and bouncy “Mama’s Gonna Take You Home” into one of my favorite songs the band has ever recorded “She’s a Teaser” which is complete with a horn section adding a lot to the song. There are even some hints of disco in the song “Goodbye Love” which at first I was taken back from as it goes for a less heavy sound to it. But after multiple listens it is a great bouncy rock tune that really sticks in your head and is one of the highlights on the album. Another highlight is the song “She’s A Lady” which is a straight Glam Rock number that is put together oh so well. Now obviously with this slightly tweaked sound, the album has a bit more of a commercial feel than the previous two but it still rocks with a bit of a pop flare and it works. The heavy moments are still present especially in songs like the grooving, guitar phaser driven “Save The World” and the incredibly heavy “Fire Queen” which is possibly the best song on the album. Although the album has a bit of a softer edge in spots, it still rocks hard when it wants to and the band has a lot of charisma as this would be possibly the last album with a stable line up as the next would feature more revolving musicians.

No Good Woman (1978)

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This album features brand new vocalist Dave Ditchburn with Johnson having only recorded a few key tracks before leaving the band and soon enough landing at the doorstep for AC/DC and the rest would be history…But anyway, back to the album. While the opener and title track has a good groove to it with some nice keyboard presence, the production feels a bit too heavy on the bass side as it makes the whole band feel a bit too laid back. It’s catchy but lacks that shot of charisma every album before had. However “Going To The City” quickly picks up the pace with Johnson back on vocals. You can definitely see the difference between both line ups as this track has so much more energy. Now “Wonder Song” does have a heavier tone to it akin to later Deep Purple and it really works well but the vocals just feel a bit underdeveloped. Ditchburn just sounds like he doesn’t have the range or the character in his voice or at least not enough of it. Honestly, the inconsistency I think is was kills this album a bit. With the focus shifting between both vocalists, it goes from powerful to laid back to up beat and in your face and then swings back to the bass heavy almost lounge rock sound the current line up had. If this was a whole album recorded with Ditchburn I feel I would accept it as is more but with it switching back and forth, it makes you wish Johnson was on the whole record. Now there are some good songs they recorded with Dave at the vocals including the groovy “Give It All You Got” and the bouncy “Show Business” which is another that gets stuck in my head. Overall, the album is good but not great like the rest of the bands discography to me anyways. It felt like the band lost their signature voice and were trying to find sort of a new sound. However I will mention the No Sweat album only briefly as the band definitely seemed to take a bit of a hint from NWOBHM group Saxon as they has a slicker heavier sound than they ever had before. Unfortunately the album failed to generate a buzz for Geordie who had been around for ten years at this point and they slowly faded into the halls of relative obscurity besides the minds of hardcore fans and/or ACDC completionists.

However, as we get further down the years, Geordie are a band that deserves to be remembered as having an arsenal of rock anthems that deserves to be dug out of the basement and heard by the masses. With enough swagger to push around the hardest rocking bands at the time but the accessibility of any songs on the radio at the time, Geordie’s music  is a great time all around and will always be. If you can find these albums I highly recommend it, they deserve to be cranked and rocked til the sun comes up.