Gillan: The best post Deep Purple project

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Ian Gillan has been one of my favorite vocalists from his performances with Deep Purple and his short stint with Black Sabbath alone. However, after leaving Purple he went through the motions eventually forming the Ian Gillan band playing jazz/fusion in the mid to late seventies and finally forming a super group of sorts simply titled “Gillan” in 1978. Gillan’s classic lineup consisted of underrated guitar player Bernie Torme, Bass juggernaut John McCoy, Colin Towns on keys and Mick Underwood on drums. The band with a slightly different lineup recorded an album that was not widely available simply known as “The Japanese Album” in 1979 before a slight lineup shift and songs being reworked finally ending up on the first classic album “Mr. Universe”

 

Image result for gillan mr universe“Mr. Universe” was NWOBHM before it even exploded. This album took what was good about about the sound Gillan had in Purple and gave it more balls than ever. While the album isn’t quite “metal” per say, it is great British Hard Rock. Opening with the brooding and epic keyboard instrumental “Second Sight”, the album launches into its proper first track with the neck breaking “Secret of the Dance” which is incredibly fast and tight and shows how gritty Ians vocals can be but also how melodic they are especially in the chorus. The album continues with the catchy mid paced “She Tears Me Down” and then another fast tune titled “Roller” which is another go for the throat tune. The title track is incredibly epic and builds quite well with some impressive soloing from Torme. :Vengeance” is a good almost boogie rock tune with a lot more blues influence to it as well as “Puget Sound” and “Dead Of Night”. Up next is possibly my all time favorite Gillan track “Message In A Bottle” which is another breakneck tune but the real highlights are the ways Ian Gillan spit out his lyrics and Mccoys commanding bass really shines here and shows how underrated his thick tight playing is. Ending the album is the ballad like “Street Fighting Man” which an equally epic song and another favorite of mine. Overall this album could just be called Gillans greatest hits because it is that good definitely a great start for the band and personally my favorite album by them.

 

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Perhaps Gillan hit their peak was their second record “Glory Road”. After gaining a huge following in the growing hard rock revival in the turn of 1980, the band quickly released this album which also included a “for Gillan fans only” mini album featuring some jam tracks which was a cool inclusion. However, this album like its predecessor is pure grade A British Hard Rock but definitely shows a bit more of a metal side to the band. This is definitely apparent with opener “Unchain Your Brain” which is a no nonsense fast rocker. Torme’s guitar feels a bit sharper on this record and the production is slightly slicker and my favorite track on the album “Are You Sure” features some awesome guitar and keyboard riffs blending its definitely very well written. There are so many great tracks like the epic “On The Rocks”, the classic “No Easy Way” and even the super Bluesy “If You Believe Me” which solidify this album being another classic. The album thrived in the more underground but unfortunately didn’t break in America (shocker) but that didn’t stop the Gillan train from rolling on.

 

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While the album cover is a bit  aliening, the album is anything but. This could very well be the most visceral album Gillan did. The title track opens up being a great fist pumping hard rocker that is equal heavy and catchy. “Night Ride Out of Phoenix” is a badass mid paced bluesy rocker as well. “(The Ballad Of) The Lucitania Express” is such a fast tune that almost sounds impossible to play the riff is just so unbelievably fast and really makes this tune because its crazy fast but still very precise at being what it wants to be. “New Orleans” is a great cover that feels equal parts Hard Rock and 50’s rock n roll. There are other great tunes like “Bite The Bullet” and “Sacre Bleu” but the best song has to be the dryly comedic “No Laughing In Heaven” with such entertaining lyrics and a great bumpy rhythm that makes it such a blast to listen to. Unfortunately this would be the last album Torme would be a part of but equal talent in the for of former White Spirit guitarist Janick Gers would join for the bands final recordings.

 

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Gillans fifth album would be an interesting one as it would be a double album splitting studio tracks and the other being a collection of well recorded live tracks which is a real treat. The studio tracks include the terrific melodic yet rocking “Reckless” as well as the grooving “I’ll Rip Your Spine Out” and the terrific foot stomping “Hadely Bop Bop”. The band is definitely in top form here and the studio side definitely feels the most polished the band has sounded yet with more melodic touches on the songs as well. However, it still feels incredibly Gillan and Gers more than holds his own. He isn’t as much as a gung ho player as much as Bernie but he is solid and his solo’s are very precise. The live side shows recordings from the 81 reading festival and one track with Torme performing from the Rainbow theater. Definitely a well worth it package for Gillan fans.

 

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Magic was released in 1982 and ended Gillan’s discography pretty much perfectly. The band sounds the best on record than they ever have. Now while Magic is not my favorite it is still a damn good and should have launched the band higher than they achieved. Opening with the gritty and fast “Whats The Matter” right into the groovy “Bluesy Blue Sea” which both alone make the album worth a purchase, the album stays consistent with mid paced and fast rockers all the way through. “Caught In A Trap” and “Your So Right” are perfect pop rock songs and are the closest the band goes to that kind of sound and they pull it off perfectly. However the main event is the epic progressive ripper “Demon Driver” which has a lot of twists and turns and always keeps your attention and Ian’s almost creepy like vocals sell the song especially the intro amazingly. The album ends with a badass cover of “Living For The City” by Stevie Wonder and a short reprise of “Demon Driver” as Gillan set off into the sun.

Ian Gillan had to get nodes removed from his vocal chords shortly after the end of the tour and dissolved the band at this point from inner tensions due to money as well as other difficulties. Gillan himself shortly joined Black Sabbath and then came back to the reformation of the Mk II lineup of Purple while some members such as McCoy and Torme stuck to doing projects here and there while Gers became part of Iron Maiden nearly ten years afterwards. While we will most likely never see a Gillan reunion especially after Torme’s passing, these albums represent a band full of excellent musicians that need to be rediscovered for their sheer staying power and “magic” that each release holds still. Gillan for me will always be the one band when everyone talks about Rainbow or Whitesnake, as the best Post Purple project by any member of that band.

Album Review- Diamond Head: The Coffin Train

 

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When Diamond Head released their self titled comeback in 2016, it was a major success. Not only was the album received with praise, partially bringing the band back to their roots, but it also brought them back into relevance in the metal world. As soon as it hit, the band went on a massive touring spree where I was lucky to see them twice on. However, I was really curious about where they would go from here as their self titled really was homing in on the classic DH sound with some touches of progression here and there. “How could this sound eventually mature?” I really wondered. Well their next album entitled The Coffin Train is finally here to show exactly where they ended up.

The album opens thunderously with the furious banger “Belly Of The Beast” which is a logical continuation of the 2016 album. This song is a total callback to their NWOBHM heydays or at least Tatlers since he is the sole original member. Rasmus’ voice sounds honestly even better on this album overall and this song shows how much more comfortable he has gotten being the new and my personal favorite voice of the band. It is almost too strong of an opener with the band giving it all they’ve got. Up next is another heavy number entitled “The Messenger” with a nice build into a heavy main riff that really sets a good groove. The chorus on this song is also really catchy. The title track definitely shows the proggier elements the band hinted to on songs in the past with a build to an epic end that I really like. The next two tracks “Shades Of Black” and “The Sleeper” are structured in a similar way showing this more dark and almost grungier sound the band is going for akin to a band like Soundgarden. It almost is a 180 turnaround from the last release which may put some hardcore fans off. However it works in the bands favor as it doesn’t show them do the same album twice and keeps things fresh. Speaking of the track “The Sleeper”, it is definitely one of the highlights in the middle part of the album with a very nice structure containing this orchestral backing that really beefs up the sound. It eventually ends in an explosion of fiery fretwork by Mr. Tatler which never gets old. Up next is another callback tune entitled “Death By Design” and is another absolute banger with that catchy chorus as well as simpler yet always solid riffing. “Serrated Love” is next and gives us a little bit of more foot stomping hard rock that has a bit more of a modern sound to it but still works pretty well. Up next is “The Phoenix” which definitely is another hard hitter with some nice acoustics opening the song. I really like how this song chugs along with Rasmus having this almost distortion to his voice it really works for this heavy grooving tune. Finally we end with “Until We Burn” which is a softer tune but still definitely fits in with the overall more modernized darker sound on the album. It is a fitting end to the album and definitely has a good feel to it.

Overall, This album while not being a typical Diamond Head album, is still pretty damn good. The band adds a darker and more complex rhythm based formula here that I feel works for what they were going for. It has it’s moments that may remind fans of the classic “Lightning Of The Nations” sound but definitely an overall package you have to go into with more of an open mind. It is definitely heavy and shows a solid core of musicians writing a solid collection of songs that won’t leave my stereo anytime soon, but don’t expect a nostalgia ride, this is definitely Diamond Head on a different level and I really enjoy it. Highly recommended.

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

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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- 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.

Headbanging Highlight of the week: Thunderstick- Something Wicked This Way Comes

Characters or persona’s in bands have been around for nearly forever. From Alice Cooper to Lizzy Borden and everyone in between, musicians creating a sort of different character on stage has always been present. One of the most recognizable ones (in the underground at least) however comes from cult Hard Rock/Heavy Metal group Samson. Thunderstick was that musician. Replacing drummer Clive Burr to play on all of the classic Samson albums such as “Head On”, “Shock Tactics” etc., he developed this character who wore a mask playing his kit in a cage which became an image that really helped Samson stand out live. He also was an early drummer for Iron Maiden and has a lot of connections with them but that’s for another time…Recently, he has reappeared on the scene with his solo band after years of being dormant. Entitled “Something Wicked This Way Comes”, we see his style almost come full circle with an extreme throwback to the Samson sound of old. But is it listenable or is it just a cheap throwback of tired ideas?

The album right from the start gives off a strong bouncy classic rock vibe more or less what Samson in the late 70’s/early 80’s. Opening track “Dark Night Black Light” is such a fun and very bumping song that has that catchy 70s hard rock vibe with a production that I really like. It definitely has a stripped down production with every instrument being mixed fairly well. Tunes like “Don’t Touch I’ll Scream” and “Fly N’ Mighty” have a very mid 70’s melodic rock feel which work well and are catchy fun rock tunes that get stuck in my head whenever I hear them. Vocalist Lucie V. handles herself great with a very dirty and bluesy rock voice that is one of the biggest highlights on the album. But what about Thunderstick himself? Well he definitely carries the drums wonderfully across the album with that unmistakable very tight style he has always had. My personal favorite on the album is “Thunder, Thunder” as it is probably the most fist pumping song on the album and the most reminiscent of that NWOBHM style. However, the album definitely isn’t perfect as there are a few songs that I tend to just pass over such as “The Shining” which feels just repetitive or even closer “I Close My Eyes” which just feels like a boring ballad and sort of a weaker way to end the album. However, there are enough tracks that redeem the album for the few boring moments it can have.

Overall, The album is a simple fun nod of the old Hard Rock style of the late 70’s with a great musician making a return to making music. It isn’t game changing or anything like that but it has some fun charm to it. It is a good driving album and one that any fan of classic rock and old school heavy metal will enjoy. There’s the great songs, the good songs and a few songs that could have been reworked or left off.  However, if you are expecting straight up heavy metal you will be disappointing. While the album has some harder edge in sections, it is still a rock album but an enjoyable one that is nice to see pop up on the radar that you’ll enjoy from time to time.

Headbanging Highlight of The Week: Jaguar- Power Games

 

Welcome back for another Headbanging Highlight of the Week! Well Frost and Fire in Ventura California is only a month and a half away and i’m gearing up big time to see some of the best of the best from today and yesterday. One band in particular is Jaguar from England. This will be their first outing in the US making for a very rare and special performance. Their 1983 ferocious debut “Power Games” has been on repeat a lot this week for me and definitely should be on your playlist too!

One of my favorite albums of the early 80’s, the reason is mainly the bands no nonsense break neck speed and fluid songwriting. With almost punk like songwriting, the band manage to take it into more heavy metal territory with frenzied soloing that is structured just enough to fit the songs melody and catchy lyrics belted from Paul Merrell. There are some softer more ballad-like moments from songs like “Master Game” which still keep the raw heavy metal feel in tact all the way through. The band you can tell have a lot charisma from their performance especially from how tight their playing is. The band also excel at creating memorable hooks through their songs having the vocals simple and ferocious yet adding a touch of melody to keep them being memorable like songs such as “No Lies” and my all time favorite “Prisoner”. This album carries that early 80’s traditional/speed metal tradition which is one of the main reasons they have such a cult following today. I also highly recommend their early singles leading up to this album such as possibly their most famous “Axe Crazy” and “Back Street Woman”

Overall, this album is simply an early  masterpiece showing the future of heavy metal becoming faster and more aggressive but still being true to that NWOBHM sound. This album has so many highlights like “Dutch Connection”, “Prisoner”, “Raw Deal” and just about every other track. It keeps a very consistent pace and is one you need to hear or own if you haven’t heard it before. For lovers of NWOBHM and pure unabashed heavy metal, check this one out. Also, if you have a chance, check them out at Frost and Fire this year along a lot of great other acts, it surely won’t be a performance to forget.