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DVD/Music Reviews: Zappa, Eric Johnson, Stratovarius, Ektomorph, Artas

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It’s been an odd week, but some rather good music provided a soundtrack.

DVD Reviews

Frank Zappa: The Torture Never Stops

“An evening with Frank Zappa” is the sub-heading and what an evening it is. Frank Zappa has inspired oodles of musicians and provided a platform to launch such talents as Steve Vai, who also appears on this DVD. His music is brilliant or bollocks depending on your point of view. That said, the man is a legend that few would dismiss. From his willingness to stand up to Mrs. Al Gore and the Parents Music Resource Center in the 80s to his humor-ladened acid-jazz, there is not denying his impact. Some of his most obviously funny stuff was frequently heard on Dr Demento.

The gig was recorded at the Palladium in New York City on Halloween in 1981. Included as a bonus are some more tracks from the gig, plus a short film about the whole event. If you combine that with the twenty four tracks from the original gig, it’s quite a collection. Unlike many such outings, this would be a very good introduction to the Zappa unaware. You might not “get it” at first, but stick with it and you will understand why the guy is so beloved. A decent live DVD from a great talent.

CD Reviews

Eric Johnson: Up Close

This might be a tad mellow for this column but there is no denying Eric Johnson has the chops. It’s mellow blues with all that it entails but it never seeps into MOR dullness. Along for the ride are blues rocker Jonny Lang, Steve “Fly Like an Eagle” Miller, and Jimmy “Fabulous Thunderbirds” Vaughan (brother of a certain guy named Stevie Ray). There are other players on here that keep up with the quality of the guests. The musicianship is top notch all the way along. At fifteen tracks, fourteen of which are originals, it might be a tad too much for some.

Hot on the heals of this release, Johnson is heading out on an acoustic guitar tour dubbed “Acoustic Guitar Masters” with Andy McKee and Peppino Agostino. It’s a 21 date affair across the country. It’s hard to deny the talent on hand on this CD. Might not be a frequent play, but when you are in the mood for damn fine guitar playing then you could do far worse. Joss sticks, a glass of wine and a comfortable chair is recommended.

Stratovarius: Darkest Hours

This is an EP released in anticipation of their forthcoming long player “Elysium” and coinciding with their support of Helloween on a UK tour. It gives a taster of what to expect from the new release. I was let down a bit by a demo of the title track, but there are four full unique tracks on here. The seven plus minute version of “Black Diamond” with various messing about on instruments doesn’t bare up to repeated listens. “Darkest Hours” and “Infernal Maze” show they are promising to release a corker of a new album. Though I have to admit, the latter song is probably the better of the two.

Needless to say, rabid fans of the band will eat this up no matter what reviewers have to say. Not sure if the EP will hold up to that many listens once the real thing comes out, but it should serve you well until then.

Ektomorph: Redemption

Long thought of as a bit of a Sepultura clone by the more cynical metal fan, this band is expanding their horizons on this release. They are using things like clean vocals and acoustic guitars to add depth to their brand of groove metal. I have to say, their past releases haven’t done a great deal for me. Nothing awful, but just a bit too familiar. It’s great to see this Hungarian band moving out of their straightjacket and exploring new pastures.

Incidentally, considering some of the knocks they have taken, they are touring with the Brazilian band Korzus. This is modern metal but with a very strong nod to the past. It seems they are trying to evolve on this release with some good results. We shall see how they develop in the future. That probably depends on how fans react to this release.

If you have shied away from them in the past, you might want to check this release out. They are certainly showing quite a bit of potential.

Artas: Riotology

This lot play modern metal with a great vocal twist. You never know what language the next track is going to be in. They sing in German, English, Spanish, and French to keep things interesting. While some would say this a bit pretentious, they manage to keep it mixed up enough to be interesting. And while they might call themselves modern metal, there is enough on here that is familiar to keep the old school fan happy.

A smorgasbord of styles combined on this for quite an effect. It ranges from thrash to power metal to even a touch of death. There is nothing that is the slightest bit stale or boring. Jacob Hansen has managed to mix the album in way that never gets too art-rock but still keeps it fresh.

At sixteen tracks, some could say it’s too much of a good thing. That would be a tad harsh, as the song-writing sustains all the way through. For me at least, the album was very much a grower. It didn’t send me at all at first, but repeated listens got to me. And there is nothing quite as fun as “Rassenhass” which is deceptively catchy.

As always have fun, stay safe and keeping rocking.

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About Marty Dodge

  • Speaking of Zappa – did I just hear that Captain Beefheart just died a couple days/hours ago?