Thursday, December 19, 2013

Megadeth and Fear Factory LIVE in New Jersey

Megadeth and Fear Factory
Live in NJ on 11/29/13 at The Wellmont Theater
Reviewed by Rob Acocella

Megadeth and Fear Factory are two of my favorite bands, especially to see live, so when I saw they were on a bill together I was really excited. To make it even better, they were playing a few towns over from me in my home state of NJ, so I didn't need to pay a bunch extra in tolls and parking to go into New York City to see them. (Side note: contrary to popular belief, people who live in NJ don't necessarily love, or even like, traveling into NYC.)

I hate to say it, but the show was a little disappointing, which was no fault of either band, I might add. Fear Factory has always had one of the most energetic live shows with some of the craziest crowds I've been witness to. The energy just wasn't there that night. The band was full of pep and sounded great, but you could tell by the way Burton C. Bell was talking to the crowd that even he could sense that they just weren't giving the same energy back. He made multiple references to how the crowd seemed sleepy, and blamed it on the fact that the day before was Thanksgiving and everyone "must have eaten too much shit, too much turkey." He was most likely right, as everyone looked like they were still in tryptophan comas. This was also the first time I'd ever seen Fear Factory as an opening or support act, aside from that one time they were on Gigantour after Transgression came out. I was completely not expecting such a short set, but I can't complain about the song choices, to be honest. They opened with the obvious choice: the title track from their most recent album The Industrialist, and from there it was a 7-song barrage of oldies but goodies made up of "Shock," "Edgecrusher," "Damaged," "What Will Become?," "Demanufacture," "Self Bias Resistor," and, of course, they closed with "Replica." The band deserves 5 stars for their energy, song choices, and their performance, but the crowd dragged down the whole mood. It's a double-edged sword because I normally love Fear Factory shows but complain about the audience because they're too rowdy and obnoxious, and this time I'm complaining because it's like they didn't even care that the band was there.

DIGImmortal Photo: Fear Factory 11-29-13 &emdash;
DIGImmortal Photo: Fear Factory 11-29-13 &emdash;
DIGImmortal Photo: Fear Factory 11-29-13 &emdash;
DIGImmortal Photo: Fear Factory 11-29-13 &emdash;

Headliners Megadeth need no introduction. From the second the video screens turn on and "Prince of Darkness" starts pumping through the speakers, you know you're going to be in for a great show.  Being one of the photographers shooting the show, I'm right upfront for the first 3 songs of the set, so I get to hear what the band hears, which is why when they opened with "Hangar 18," I was confused as to why Dave wasn't singing when he was supposed to be. Until I looked up and realized he was! Whoever was running sound for this show really must have phoned it in that night. Couldn't hear vocals in the monitors at all for the first 3 songs, and when I left the photo pit to go to the back of the room to watch the rest of the show, I realized that the vocals were mixed terribly. Not only were they pretty low compared to the music, but the quality of the sound was really bad, and you couldn't make out a word Dave was saying. It wasn't Dave having a bad night either, because even between songs when he'd talk to the crowd, you still could hardly make out any words. As the show went on, the venue, or the soundguy, or whoever was at fault, pretty much ruined the show. The sound was terrible, and by terrible, I mean completely awful. The guitar tones were way too thin most of the time, and David Ellefson's bass was almost completely lost. The worst part was at the beginning of "Peace Sells" when David switched to his new signature Kelly Bird bass, which, as a bass player and lifelong fan of Ellefon's, I was very excited to finally hear live. The sound was so bad it sounded like he was playing a shoebox with rubber bands around it.

Here's the thing: I'm not taking points away from the band for any of this. I know for a fact that they do not sound like this normally. I honestly feel like the venue cared more about volume than clarity of the mix. If I'm all the way at the back of the venue, away from the speakers, my ears should not be numb when I leave as though I was standing in the front row the whole night. I have seen variations on this setlist numerous times now since Ellefson's return to the band and not once have they had a bad night. There are, however, two things that I'm slightly disappointed with: 1) it was Black Friday and they did not play "Good Mourning/Black Friday," which, to me, just seemed like an appropriate song to play, and 2) the only new song I've heard live since Super Collider came out has been "Kingmaker." While I know it's the big single from the album, there are other tracks on there that really should get the live treatment.

Overall, the show wasn't bad as far as Metal shows go. It's just very disappointing that a venue that was recently renovated would have such an awful sound for such a huge band. For a complete setlist for Megadeth, check it out HERE.

DIGImmortal Photo: Megadeth 11-29-13 &emdash;
DIGImmortal Photo: Megadeth 11-29-13 &emdash;
DIGImmortal Photo: Megadeth 11-29-13 &emdash;
DIGImmortal Photo: Megadeth 11-29-13 &emdash;

For more photos from this show and others, visit DIGImmortal Photo.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

John Kiernan: Of Oceans

John Kiernan
Of Oceans
Reviewed by Rob Acocella
Rating: 5/5

NOTES! Lots of notes, and really fast! New Jersey native John Kiernan is further proof that there must be something in the water in this state that makes people excellent musicians. [Note: I am NOT talking about Bruce or Jon]

NJ is famous for local music heroes that either achieve cult status within our own little bubble, or go on to more impressive national success. Some of our local guys like Metal Mike ChlasciakSteve Bello, or Angel Vivaldi are very well known for their instrumental Metal guitar playing. Enter John Kiernan, who can be added to the list of the aforementioned players, with influences from other artists that merge with his own taste in every riff. If you're looking for a fast-paced but not overly self-indulgent example of some top-shelf guitar playing, then you need to check out Of Oceans.

The production quality on this is incredible, and it's very rare to hear local or indie artists with this level of production. The drums absolutely boom with every hit and the layers of guitar are tastefully arranged. There's just enough complexity to set it aside from your run-of-the-mill songwriting, but not enough where it becomes pretentious.

The album starts off with "The Hit," which is a song that evolves as you go deeper into it. It starts sounding like something early Van Halen would write and then builds into something a little more sonically mature and involved, and ends with a short but aggressive drum-lead beat. All of this in just over one minute. It's a great way to kick off the album by showing off a quick portfolio of skills. Another standout track is "Astraeus," which sounded very familiar the first time I heard the intro. I finally figured out that the intro had a similar feel (at least in my mind) to Megadeth's "Head Crusher" from 2009's Endgame. Both songs are actually quite different once you move beyond the intro, but there's that familiarity that struck me on first listen. I guess great music minds really do think alike. The album ends with John's cover of Alice DeeJay's "Better Off Alone." I think the crowning coincidence is that the album that the original song appeared on was called Who Needs Guitars Anyway? Kiernan's adaptation is excellent and catchier than the original, if that's possible. Guest vocalist Syka lends her pipes to the track, showcasing an impressive sustain and vocal control.

If you're into Instrumental Metal and Shred, I highly recommend you check out Of Oceans today. Plus, John's a really nice guy, and a Giants fan, so he's got that going for him as well.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Nine Inch Nails: Hesitation Marks

Nine Inch Nails
Hesitation Marks
Reviewed by Antonio Staropoli
Rating: 5/5

When I was a kid and music videos actually played on MTV, I remember having a very vivid memory of the Nine Inch Nails video for "Closer." Mostly because the imagery was disturbing for a child, but it had a pretty catchy hook. Not to mention a generous use of the word fuck in the uncensored version. But it wasn't until years later that I was introduced to Pretty Hate Machine, the very first album/halo in the NIN collection. I played "Head Like a Hole" ad nauseam and became beyond obsessed with the cover of Joy Division's song "Dead Souls" on The Crow soundtrack. I finally understood why all my friends had at least one Nine Inch Nails t-shirt.

Since then, Trent Reznor has completed eight studio albums and worked on a lot of side projects, including the one that earned him an Academy Award for the score of The Social Network. So, naturally, there's a huge expectation for this award-winning artist, especially when there is talk of a new NIN album coming out after five long years. The last record, The Slip, had a very raw, minimalist garage-rock sound, relative to Nine Inch Nails anyway. One of the beautiful things about this “band” is that every album has a flavor and unique sound, but at the very core it's still recognizable as NIN. So when the first single, "Came Back Haunted" was released, I thought, what the fuck is this? I just couldn't process it as quickly as I would have liked to, but after a few listens I finally got it! I'm now being taken back to that time I listened to Pretty Hate Machine when I was a kid. This is an electronically heavy record with little Rock and Metal influence. So much so that I wonder if you can even categorize this as Industrial. A friend of mine even referred to it as Pretty Hate Machine without the hate. But that doesn't mean you won't hear that dark, brooding Trent Reznor undertone we know and love in each song. Some songs, like "Find My Way" and "Disappointed," may even have you contemplating what the least painless way to go is. This brings me to the title, Hesitation Marks, which comes from the term "hesitation wounds," used to describe the marks made by a blade prior to a suicide attempt. So what is he trying to say? There are a few ways this can be interpreted, but I'm more interested in talking about the material and how it relates to the title.

The first two songs that were written for this record were "Everything" and "Satellite;" each one with sounds constructed on opposite ends of the spectrum. He then had to decide whether to go with the guitar infused Poppy sound of "Everything" or the electronic-based and more layered sound on "Satellite." He clearly went in the direction of the latter. However, for the first time in NIN history, he was not the only one calling the shots. He worked very closely with Atticus Ross (How to Destroy Angels/The Social Network score/The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo score) and Alan Moulder on the production of this record, which he claims was somewhat relieving. Yet, he still wrote and performed everything on this album to give it that authentic NIN feel.

The second single, "Copy of A," denotes an obvious humility in Reznor where he claims, “I am just a copy of a copy of a copy / Everything I say has come before / Assembled into something into something into something / I am never certain anymore.” The song begins with a simple synth melody accompanied by a bass/snare drum repetition a few measures in and then slowly layers on more ominous synth sounds during the buildup and chorus. Eventually, you hear something that really comes through in almost every song, which is a Latin-like percussive element that adds so much to an otherwise empty or standard dance rhythm. And despite the humble intentions of this song, the rest of the record is very much an attempt to sound like something different and new. This could be some sort of indication of an internal war Reznor is having with himself, but I'm just speculating.

Some songs seamlessly flow into each other while others end and begin abruptly, which kind of creates a roller-coaster of emotions that go from unsettling intensity to an urge to move on the dance floor (yeah I said it), to a terrifically dismal lull. "In Two" is the perfect example, as it embodies all of these qualities in one song. There's a conviction when he says “Yes / Yes, of course / It's gonna hurt,” an electro-dance tone during the pre-chorus, “Nature is violent / The nature of the beast is violent / You know that / And someone else / Another one that wasn't me, no,” and a calm while he whispers “I just don't know anymore.” All the while, a vocally melodic chorus “It's getting harder to tell the two of you apart” is really driving the song. The only anomaly that I still can't figure out is the saxophone part of the following song, "While I'm Still Here." It seems a bit forced and pretty out of place, and not just in terms of the song but in relation to the entire album. However, I'll let it slide, considering that the rest of Hesitation Marks has a well-defined and calculated sound, like that of the song "All Time Low," which exudes precisely the type of confidence and swagger I expect to hear in a NIN song. It carries a groove with the bass and drums that propel the song in a vertical direction. Then an equally groovy guitar melody, layered with synthesizers, provides both background dissonance and rhythm in the form of odd and sometimes unfamiliar sounds.

Every component of this record seems to be intended to provoke and stir emotion to manipulate the listener's disposition. It's a moniker of any Nine Inch Nails piece. But at the same time, it is a more commercial-friendly endeavor, which gives fault-finders something to gripe about. And the deluxe version offers little musically with its remixes of "Find My Way," "All Time Low," and "While I'm Still Here." Of course, these are essential to the avid Nails fan, but I found them to be decent at best---mostly just excessive though.

All things considered, Hesitation Marks provides a wide range of flavors from all over the NIN spectrum sure to please the musical palette, and a welcomed addition to the band's halos. It's obvious that Trent cannot move away from this band, no matter how much he tries to distract himself with other endeavors. He will always be trying to find himself and his way through the expression of the Nine Inch Nails outlet. And this record is the perfect example of how he has succumbed to that inevitable truth. Are these songs a reflection of Trent's “hesitation wounds” in accepting his fate as the voice of a tormented generation? Give it a listen. You be the judge.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Carnival of Madness in Asbury Park, NJ

The Carnival of Madness (We as Human, Sevendust, In This Moment, Skillet, Shinedown)
Live in Asbury Park 8/11/13
Review and Photos by Rob Acocella
Rating: 4/5

The Carnival of Madness tour opened in Asbury Park NJ on August 11 at the famous Stone Pony. That particular tour date consisted of performances by We as Human, Sevendust, In This Moment, Skillet, and Shinedown.

Unfortunately, after arriving at the venue just a little late (NJ beach traffic on a nice day), but still with plenty of time to at least catch Sevendust's set as the second band, I realized from the parking lot that what I was hearing was "Angel's Son." Knowing that Sevendust usually puts that late in their set, I darted for the door only to catch the last 30 seconds of their final song by the time I made it through security. Apparently someone decided to start the concert way ahead of schedule.

After setting up some pretty elaborate set decorations, In This Moment took the stage. I'm not going to fake anything here, while I've long been aware of this band, I never really followed them. Not knowing any of the songs in particular, I can't give a critique of how much like the album they were or weren't. I will say this, though: The band sounded really solid and tight from the point of view of someone that hadn't heard any of the songs before, and Maria Brink and her synchronized slave dancers did a great job of provided creative visuals to go along with each song through their movements, props, and occasional costume changes. I can certainly appreciate the amount of work that must have gone into synchronizing the performance movements for each song and having to memorize an entire performance to repeat every night for weeks on the road. Overall they were entertaining to watch, between the smoke guns, the dancers, and the rebel-zombie-like stage costumes of the band against the pure white piles of skulls and fence gates set as a backdrop. For anyone that wants to know, it seems that the setlist from this show can be found HERE

DIGImmortal Photo: In This Moment 08-11-13 &emdash;

DIGImmortal Photo: In This Moment 08-11-13 &emdash;

DIGImmortal Photo: In This Moment 08-11-13 &emdash;

The direct support slot was filled by Skillet. I'm again going to be blunt here, they did not jive well with me. The backing vocals done by drummer Jen Ledger sounded awful, similar to a young school child yelling or whining. The band's overall sound was so generic that I wasn't sure if I was at a Rock concert or walking through the local mall. On top of it all, vocalist John Cooper took every chance he could to insert biblical references or drop other Christian propaganda on the audience between songs which were about the same topics. I had not previously known that they were a Christian Rock band, but it became increasingly evident as the show went on. My personal opinion is that religion should be kept out of music, or at least Rock music. If you absolutely must put your religious views into music and lyrics, it should be done in a way that it is not completely obvious or preachey, which I don't feel they accomplished, and I don't feel was their goal to begin with. The reason is that music should be something everyone can relate to, and when you make the message of your music more exclusive, you start to leave people out and make it hard for them to digest. The band has an energetic stage presence, and I suppose if you're a fan of their music already then you would appreciate the stage show they put on, including a rising pillar system that would elevate 2 musicians at a time on either side of the stage. If you are a fan of Skillet, and want to see what they played that night, you can find the set list HERE

DIGImmortal Photo: Skillet 08-11-13 &emdash;

DIGImmortal Photo: Skillet 08-11-13 &emdash;

DIGImmortal Photo: Skillet 08-11-13 &emdash;

The show closed with an amazing performance by Shinedown which included fan favorites like "45," "Simple Man," "Devour," and "Second Chance." It was also the live premiere of "I'm Not Alright" which had previously not been performed live. Shinedown have long been known for their high-energy live shows and as always, they did not disappoint. Brent Smith's vocals were spot-on and with the extra help from Eric Bass and Zach Myers they nailed every note. It wouldn't be a Shinedown concert without some inspiring words from Brent, and he got the crowd really energized talking about how strong NJ was for making it through Superstorm Sandy and rebuilding the beaches, and how Rock and Roll is a way of life and not just a genre of music. I may be a bit biased as a fan, but I've never seen a Shinedown concert that I had anything bad to say about, and I'm happy to report that the trend is still continuing.

DIGImmortal Photo: Shinedown 08-11-13 &emdash;

DIGImmortal Photo: Shinedown 08-11-13 &emdash;

DIGImmortal Photo: Shinedown 08-11-13 &emdash;

DIGImmortal Photo: Shinedown 08-11-13 &emdash;

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Gigantour 2013 in NYC

Gigantour 2013 (Megadeth, Black Label Society, Newsted)
Live in New York City
Reviewed by Rob Acocella

Rating: 4/5

When Dave Mustaine announced he was putting together the 2013 incarnation of Gigantour, my ears instantly perked up to see who would be on the bill. Known for great lineups, I was eagerly awaiting the announcement. The first time I heard that Black Label Society and Newsted would be on the bill, I knew I had to be there.

The New York City show had been broken up into two separate nights rather than one all-day festival, and from what I understand, it was the only stop on the tour that was managed that way. Unfortunately, the first night, which was supposed to feature Hellyeah and Device, had been cancelled.

Anyone who knows me from when Paragon first started knows I've always been a huge fan of Zakk Wylde's work, as well as Megadeth, and if you came up on Metal music beginning with post-Cliff Burton Metallica, you know it's been way too long since Jason Newsted got on stage and performed.

(Clicking the photos below will take you to full galleries of each band's performance.)

DIGImmortal Photo: Newsted 08-07-13 &emdash;

The first band of the night was Newsted, and what a great show he put on. I had not yet had the chance to hear his new music, so I wasn't totally sure what to expect. If you had ever seen the concert footage of Metallica's Binge and Purge, you know Jason is well-known for lending his vocals to live versions of "Whiplash." After a full set of all new, original material, true to what I had hoped, they covered the Metallica classic at the end of the set. I was surprised to see Mike Mushok of Staind performing with Jason, as I hadn't heard the announcement that he would be joining the band. Say what you will about Staind, but Mike is one hell of a guitar player and has a great stage presence when performing.

DIGImmortal Photo: Black Label Society 08-07-13 &emdash;

Black Label Society played a great set with a good balance of mid-career and new material. Zakk shreds his guitars like only Zakk can. The only thing I have been critical of over the years has been his singing voice. He had been doing backing vocals and harmonies for Ozzy for so long that his previously gruff, masculine voice has turned into a higher-pitch whine. No, I'm not a fan of the way he started singing on anything after 1919 Eternal. That's not to say that he has put out bad music since then, I just wish he'd sing like he used to on Stronger Than Death. The unfortunate thing is that it sounds even worse live. Enough about Zakk's voice though, because what people really go to see BLS for is the playing, and there was lots of great playing that night. Zakk and Nick Catanese have always locked in real tight and, together, they create one big wall of guitar sound. J.D. is a monster of a bass player and even tosses in some Funk flavor when playing these songs live. Overall, it was a great performance, but I wish I could have heard a few of my favorites from the first two albums as well. I'm not picky, though. I'll go see Zakk play any chance I get because I know it will always be a great show.

DIGImmortal Photo: Megadeth 08-07-13 &emdash;

Finally, the band everyone was waiting for, Megadeth, took the stage and opened with "Trust." I have to be honest, I was expecting more songs from Supercollider than only two, especially since one of those two songs are a cover. I was happy to hear "Kingmaker," as I've already said in my review of the album that it would have been a better choice for a first single over the title track. I just think that something like "Forget To Remember" or "The Beginning of Sorrow" would have been a better choice than "Cold Sweat." I did like the cover of "Cold Sweat" on the album, but if you're out promoting the new record, I would have expected only original tunes in the set list, at least for the fist time out. It was great to hear "Wake Up Dead," "Darkest Hour," and "Architecture of Aggression," in addition to the regular live favorites like "Hangar 18," "She Wolf," "Peace Sells," and "Holy Wars." The rhythm section of Ellefson and Drover has to be one of the tightest I've seen live, almost ever, and the scorching rhythm/lead change-offs between Mustaine and Broderick will give you whiplash. I've never seen a bad Megadeth show, and this continued that streak.

Even though this wasn't the full Gigantour lineup, I give this mini-Gigantour a solid 4/5 only because of my strong feelings on certain setlist choices. Performance-wise, though, it was flawless. Click here for a complete gallery of photos from the event.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Above The Flood, Sugar of Lead

Above The Flood
Sugar of Lead
Reviewed by Rob Acocella
Rating: 4/5

Get the album on!

Above the flood is an independent Alt Rock band out of upstate New York. We've been friends and fans of Mike Grosshandler since we first heard his work with The Velmas years ago, back when Paragon was actual print magazine. Imagine that, paper with words on it, that you hold in your hand... anyway, I digress...

When we heard that Mike had a new project going with a new bunch of guys, we were naturally excited to hear what it would sound like. What we got was so much more than we had anticipated. From the pounding intro of "Nothing New" to the rally-cry closing of "Get By" Sugar of Lead is a great collection of songs, even if it is a little short (Hey, it's a 5-song EP, what do you want?).

I hear lots of influences in Above The Flood's music, most notably a bit of Seether mixed with Alice In Chains. Not a bad mix, and there's even a little bit of a Type O Negative-like dirge here and there, which I can only rightfully assume is Mike's doing. Matt Shufelt deserves all the credit he can be given for his amazing voice. He's a tremendous vocalist with a great range for this brand of Rock music. He's gritty and smooth all at once, and really projects the attitude of the music. I'm assuming Matt is the chief lyric writer, as the singers typically are, and to that my only comment is: Dude, there's a lot of bitter relationship stuff on here. While that's great Rock song fodder, don't get stuck into a cliche niche of the genre, because you'll have a hard time working your way out of that spot if you ever want to touch on more serious material down the road. I'm all for free speech, but I would assume that lyrics like "I'm a man and I need to control you, then dispose of you" doesn't really win you many female fans, or at least any with healthy self respect. I mean no disrespect in saying this, of course, I just think that lyrics like that are better left to Poison and Motley Crue.

Back to the music: these songs are really catchy, so if you're prone to earbugs, you should know that going into this. I only have to listen to the album once all the way through and I'll have these songs stuck in my head at random times for weeks. No joke, I would wake up some mornings with the lyrics in my head even though I hadn't heard the songs for days. That's the sign of good song writing, and when it comes to hooks, these guys are full of them. I've gotta say that my personal favorites are the 2 most aggressive tunes on here: "Nothing New" and "Love To Hate You."

Overall, I've gotta say that the production value on this is so much better than most debut EPs we get sent, and when you add that in to the songwriting chops, the huge vocals, and all the other little details, this is one of the most solid first releases I've heard from a band in a long time, especially one that isn't signed to a major label with a huge production budget. You can tell these guys take their music seriously and it pays off big-time for them.

For more info on Above The Flood, check out their Facebook Page

Star & Dagger, Tomorrowland Blues

Star and Dagger
Tomorrowland Blues
Reviewed by Rob Acocella
Rating: 3/5

Star and Dagger is the latest endeavor of White Zombie bass player Sean Yseult along with her friends Dava She Wolf and Von Hesseling. Their first offering is Tomorrowland Blues, a Blues Rock album with some Rockabilly flavors.

"In My Blood" and "End of Days" have a strong presence to start the album off but things get very slow, and dare I even say, boring, with "Selling My Things." "Side Winding" brings the groove back with a great Grunge inspired opening bass line and the song holds up with mid-tempo rhythm and some great vocal harmonies.  "Your Money" brings them into a little bit of a heavier range and a little bit of a darker vocal delivery before diving into another bass-heavy track with "Used To Me." The album closes with "Your Mama Was A Grifter" which I'm honestly not too crazy about.

I'll admit I'm a tough critic as this gritty style of Blues Rock isn't exactly my favorite genre to begin with. That's not to say I can't recognize talent when it's there, and these three women clearly have it, I just have lukewarm feelings about what they put together this time around. I think the first thing that really threw me was that they are labeled a Blues-Rock/Metal group, and when I listen to this collection of songs, I have to be honest, but I just don't hear the Metal at all. Being a White Zombie fan, I suppose I went into this with certain expectations, and I already know that's wrong of me. All in all, though, it's not a bad album, and I'm sure fans of the genre will like it a lot more than I did. I feel like there is great potential in this group but they just need to bring a little more energy and variety to the table. The Blues vocals and dense guitar and bass layers are really great, it's just missing that bite, or edge, that would really give it a larger presence. In fact, the vocals remind me a lot of Shirley Manson of Garbage.

Overall, I gave Tomorrowland Blues a 3/5, because while I'm not a huge fan, I do know that it's well done and the songs are well written, and I can't take away points just because it's not my personal favorite style of music when there is an obviously large amount of talent and potential.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Anthrax: Anthems

Reviewed by Rob Acocella

Anthrax, like many Metal bands, are no strangers to paying homage to their inspirations in the form of cover songs. This is why when Anthrax announced Anthems, it was no surprise that it would be a collection of cover songs, though some may find the bands they cover to be a surprise.

The first track is their cover of Rush's "Anthem"which is done solidly and is a testament to the drumming abilities of Charlie Benante. The middle of the album is my favorite, though, featuring covers of AC/DC's "TNT," Boston's "Smokin'," and Journey's "Keep On Runnin." Having grown up on a steady diet of Classic Rock that included Journey, Boston, Styx, AC/DC, Foreigner, and the like, it's easy to see why these 3 songs got me the most excited. "TNT" and "Smokin" are done so true to the originals that you almost can't believe these are covers. The band does inject their own signature vibe into them, but they are just so well done that it kinda blows your mind a little. The band also brought in keyboardist Fred Mandel (Alice Cooper, Queen, Elton John, Cheap Trick, Supertramp) to handle keys on "Smokin'," and I believe this is a big part of nailing that signature Boston sound on here.

Their cover of Thin Lizzy's "Jailbreak" is another standout track. The only thing I wasn't crazy about on Anthems was the inclusion of 2 versions of the song "Crawl" which was previously released on the band's last studio release Worship Music. I know that this was probably done as a B-side tactic, but most Anthrax fans already have the original song, and I feel like the remix is good, but it really didn't need its own release. Don't get me wrong, "Crawl" is a good song, but an album that is meant to be all covers should have remained all covers. What they could have done was cover one of their own songs and have Joey lend his vocals to a track that had been previously recorded with John Bush. That, of course, is just my own 2-cents. Speaking of Joey, he nails every song on Anthems, which is proof of what an amazing range he has as a singer.

Overall, though, this is a great album of tunes made famous by other bands, and made slightly Thrash-ey by Anthrax.

Rating: 4/5

Sevendust: Black Out The Sun

Black Out the Sun
Reviewed by: Rob Acocella

I feel that at this point in Sevendust's career, it is fair to say that you pretty much know what you're going to get from them when you pick up a new release. You're going to get the same awesome pulse-pounding drum patterns, grungy riffs, and the combo of smooth and aggressive vocals that the band consistently delivers time and again. You know that as long as there wasn't some massive unexpected change in the inner workings of their songwriting, you're going to be happy with the results. Before I even started listening to Black Out The Sun (ok, I had already heard "Decay" and "Got A Feeling") I knew it was going to be classic Sevendust.

There is only one time that this can be a problem, and that's when you're a journalist trying to come up with descriptive words that you haven't used a hundred times already. It's difficult when you have nothing to complain about, but also don't have fresh new synonyms for expressing how a song sounds or how much you like a particular set of lyrics. Anyway, it's not a bad problem to have, so I'll give it a shot:

Black Out The Sun opens with a melodic, and almost symphonic, arrangement called "Memory," and just when you think the album is going to go the way of an Yngwie Malmsteen CD, the audio assault of  "Faithless" hits you in the face like a ton of bricks. This song can be a bit bi-polar with frequent changes between heavy and soft, but it's that main riff and the chorus hook that makes it an aggressive powerhouse to start the album off. "Till Death" is one hell of a rally cry song, with layers of aggressive vocals ranging from LJ's signature sound to something a little more Death Metal, as well as Morgan Rose's unmistakeable yelling from behind the kit. "Mountain" and "Cold As War" pick up the pace with a more uplifting vibe and then give way to the title track, which brings things down to a more mid-tempo pace temporarily.

A few songs later, we find the single "Decay," which harkens back to early Sevendust. It's a more vintage-style song for the band, and it sounds as though they went back to their first few albums for the inspiration on this song. It's an obvious choice for a single and that would explain why there was a video made for it. (Click the link here or scroll down for the video.)

When it comes to slow-tempo, my favorite Sevendust track had always been "Angel's Son" but on Black Out The Sun they tucked in a little gem near the end of the album called "Got A Feeling" which just tied neck and neck with "Angel's Son" for my favorite semi-acoustic Sevendust song. I'm a sucker for a good acoustic melody and harmonized vocals and they really knocked it out of the park with this one. I'm not going to lie, as a photographer and budding videographer, if there aren't already plans in place for a video for this song, I'd love to someday help with creating that. Yeah, I like it that much.

The album closes with "Murder Bar" which brings us back to the grungy riffs and schizophrenic drum patterns that you come to expect already. The song fades out the end of the album with a spacey treatment that eases you out into nothingness, or right back into the album opener (if you've got your CD player or iTunes set to repeat).

A solid effort that I can't really find any flaws with. I can always rely on Sevendust to put out quality songwriting and not stray too far from the band's signature vibe that made me love them in the first place. I haven't caught them on tour for this album yet, but I have no doubt in my mind that some of these songs will fit their aggressive, high-energy live show perfectly, and I look forward to catching them soon.

Rating: 5/5

Monday, June 10, 2013

Megadeth, "Super Collider"

Super Collider
Reviewed by: Rob Acocella

By this point in my life, I think I'm finally able to use the term "lifelong fan" without worrying about how I didn't know about the band when I was 5 and technically it hasn't been my whole life. I've been a fan of this band ever since I became a fan of Metal back in junior high, and I've stuck by them through all the highs and lows since. And, like every lifelong Megadeth fan, I was curious to see how they'd follow up 2011's TH1RT3EN.

Super Collider opens with what you would think would be the obvious single, "Kingmaker." While it didn't make it as the first single, I can tell that this song will be a big hit in the live set, as it's one of the few anthemic tracks on the album. It's got a classic Megadeth vibe with a more modern personality. The second track is the title track and lead-off single. I have to be honest and say that when they previewed this track online I thought it was a very bad sign of things to come, but it's a grower, and now that I've heard it a few times, I don't mind it as much. It's just odd for Megadeth to have a title track that winds up being one of the less aggressive songs on the album. It honestly feels like Dave decided to try writing a Classic Rock tune with this one. Considering how long the band has been around (this is NOT an age joke, by the way) it makes sense to put out at least one track that could possibly appeal to another range of radio stations to get more airplay. Nothing wrong with doing that, and it's still a good song if you're open enough to the fact that they're not going to be putting out a second recording of Killing Is My Business any time soon.

"Burn!" and "Built For War" aren't bad songs, but I feel they're just the run-of-the-mill album filler. They have their place on here, but aren't really standout tracks. "Off The Edge" and "Dance In The Rain" are reminiscent of World Needs a Hero and the sound the band went for on that album. "Dance In The Rain," in particular, is, lyrically, one of my favorite songs on here, focusing on the plight of a middle-class worker struggling to get by in an economy that doesn't allow one to thrive. And, as you could expect, there is the expected social and political commentary from Dave on this one.

"Beginning of Sorrow" is another strong track and an obvious favorite with an awesome bass intro and bitter, brooding lyrics about an unwanted teen pregnancy. At this point in the album, you can imagine that the listener has already picked up on the vast array of Megadeth flavors peppered in. But if you're anything like me, when you get to "The Blackest Crow," you're first thought will be "...fucking banjo?!" Believe me when I say this, give it a chance, because even though the intro is deceiving, the ganjo (not a typo, ganjo is an actual instrument, apparently) actually fits this dark song pretty well.

"Forget to Remember" picks up the mood again with a more lively energy and plenty of radio-friendly hooks, making it a great Rock song, if not slightly depressing, as the song is about a battle with Alzheimer's Disease. The Jazz style jam that introduces "Don't Turn Your Back" quickly slides into a pulsing riff with double bass drums with a vibe that could have easily put this song on Cryptic Writings. The album then closes strongly with a cover of Thin Lizzy's "Cold Sweat" that is done pretty true to the original, if not a good bit heavier in classic Megadeth fashion.

Super Collider is a collection of songs that covers a gamut of style ranges for the band, and provides some thought-provoking messages. It's a solid follow-up to TH1RT3EN and, even though some songs may need to grow on some people, I feel it will ultimately earn its place among some of the band's best recordings. The musicianship, as always, needs no description. If you don't already know what a talented lineup this is, then I question why you're even reading this.

Rating: 4/5

Monday, May 6, 2013

Killswitch Engage, Disarm the Descent

Killswitch Engage

Disarm the Descent

Reviewed by Antonio Staropoli

Formed in 1999, this Massachusetts-based band has just released their sixth studio album entitled Disarm the Descent. And if you've been following Killswitch Engage since their inception, you know this album welcomes back the original vocalist, Jesse Leach, since his departure in 2002. Before I continue, let me just say this: when listening to this album, you should spare yourself the comparative analysis between Howard Jones and Jesse Leach. Why, you ask? Because it's pointless and slightly insulting to both vocalists. They are both great vocalists in their own respects. Get over it and make a judgment based strictly on the music.

With that being said, let's finally talk about the album. It begins with Jesse growling along to thrashy riffs and blast beats, on the track “The Hell In Me.” It's apparent from the start that this is an album to be reckoned with. This intensity is balanced out by an equally melodic chorus that has lyrical intent: “Protect me / From the hell that burns inside me / No one can see / This is the hell in me / Will you set me free / This is the hell in me.”

The first single released from Disarm The Descent, “In Due Time,” is full of syncopated drumming and melodic guitar harmonies throughout. A perfectly placed bridge complete with operatic and guttural vocals is followed by a blistering fast guitar solo that brings the song together. Lyrically, the chorus is infectious and positive, “All in due time / See the world through different eyes / All in due time / Shadows will give way to light.” In fact, the entire album is laced with positive messages lyrically, which are very reminiscent of Hatebreed-type vocals.

“The New Awakening” is the second single off this album and probably my personal favorite track. It's very uplifting both musically and vocally. During the bridge, a hardcore breakdown style chant is recited, “I will not live in fear / Live life with no regrets / I will not live in fear / I will not live in fear.” The song is a perfect blend between hardcore chugging riffs, Swedish metal melodies, and thrash.

Other tracks, such as “You Don't Bleed For Me,” will make your head bob and your body sway. “Always” is a bit of a departure from the fast-paced heaviness throughout the album, but is still very melodic and ballad-like, serving as a good way to break up any perceived monotony.

Overall, this is one of those records that you really can listen to from start to finish without skipping any tracks. Quite frankly, it's a densely packed, well-written and admirable piece in the Killswitch Engage discography. It is currently getting the most play out of any playlist or album on my Spotify, and I recommend it to KsE fans and anyone with an appreciation for artistic metal. Welcome back, Jesse Leach!

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Chris Bickley, Tapestry of Souls

Chris Bickley
Tapestry of Souls
Reviewed by: Rob Acocella

Tapestry of Souls is the latest solo release from professional guitarist Chris Bickley, released on Shredguy Records. From the start of the album, with the first few notes of “Race Car Guy,” you know this is going to be filled with some serious riffs and leads. Chris Bickley’s songwriting skills are top notch, if not slightly dated. I only say “dated” because it has that late 1980s Yngwie Malmsteen kind of vibe going on. He knows all the right places for hooks that snag your brain and won’t let go.

The only area that I feel the album falls short in is the vocals. There are four songs that feature vocals and, to be perfectly honest, none of the vocal stylings really grabbed me. In fact, most of them turned me off to the songs that they were a part of. It’s a shame that it had that effect on me because the songs themselves were really well written and executed, but something about them each time just didn’t sit well with me. Sometimes it was the sound of the person’s singing voice, other times it was their tone or delivery.

From an instrumental standpoint, this is a really strong recording and I urge fans of guitar-centric Rock to check it out. You can find more information, or buy the CD, at

Rating: 3/5