An eclectic collection of hard and heavy rock this week. I am sure you will find something to your liking.
Cynic: Carbon Based Anatomy
You might be forgiven for thinking when listening to the first track that you have stumbled on a Yoko Ono record or some ambient chill out music from the 90s. There is a hint of Portishead about it as well. In fact what you have here is Cynic, the much loved cult band of Florida heavy rockers as they continue their way to progressive perfection.
Cynic paved the way for bands like Anathema and Opeth to evolve as a band as they got older. While Anathema and Opeth began as death metal bands, Cynic were thrash metal before they drifted into progressive death metal to final transformation into a cult prog metal band. It could be argued that like Opeth on their last opus, Cynic is no longer much of a metal band at all. And therein lies the rub for some.
Like Opeth’s latest, this new Cynic EP is an acquired taste. As with their last effort the critics, as well as fans of the band, will no doubt be vastly divided. This is very much jazz fusion prog with lots of complexity and nuance. It’s great stuff for those who like their heavy music deep but it is not exactly the type of music to party to.
The layers of complexity make it all the more rewarding with each listen. I quite enjoy the prog metal evolution that bands are participating in these days. It keeps metal fresh and innovative. Though sometimes the music takes a bit of getting used to and requires some time investment, it is well worth the effort. This is one such album.
Ronnie James Dio: And Before Elf… There Were Elves
As many have predicted, including this column, there are people trawling the vaults for anything that has even a wiff of Ronnie James Dio about it. Some are releasing piss poor recordings of the greatly missed vocalist to cash in on nostalgia and sadness. This release could be considered an example of that trend. That would be, of course, extremely unfair to this release. That said, it is probably for completists and not for the passing RJD fan.
This is a recording of the band that would evolve into Elf. The band that consequently was pinched, save the guitarist, by Richie Blackmore to form Rainbow, before he ditched all of them and just kept RJD. There is not much original on here but to hear RJD belting out a few blues songs back when he was a whelp has merit. As you might have gathered from the tone of the beginning of this review, I was initially dismissive of its worth. That was until I gave it a few listens.
There is something rewarding about hearing RJD belt out tracks like “Buckingham Blues” and “Driftin”. The disc lends credence to the belief that the guy could sign whatever he put his mind to. He was truly a veried singer that was well chosen both by Blackmore and eventually Black Sabbath. RJD could take whatever song it was and make it is his own. And like another journeyman vocalist who could sing anything, Glen Hughes, RJD was originally a bassist. If you are a fan of RJD then you might want to seek this out to learn about his music beginnings. It won’t be a daily choice for sure, but it is worthy of the occasional listen.
Paradise Inc.: Time
One thing is damn sure about this band: they want to be Bon Jovi so hard it hurts. Carsten “Lizard” Schultz has got all the Bon Jovisms down pat. Of course, since he is German he ends up sounding a great deal like veteran vocalist Michael Bormann. The funny thing about this band is that they are in fact from Brazil.
There is nothing tribal or thrashy about this bunch. Yes, there is more to Brazilian heavy rock than Sepultura clones. I have to admit that at first this album washed over me and did not leave much of an impression. By that I mean that it didn’t fill me with joy or disgust. It is just a collection of pop hard rock done with all the class and sophistication you expect from this sort of band.
For good measure, they have people like Doogie White singing backing vocals and Allessandro del Vechhio producing and playing keyboards on this effort. All the elements to make it vaguely European-sounding hard rock have been enlisted. It could be said that the band are a bit characterless due to the production.
This version even includes two versions of the track “Steel or Stone” for some reason, the “acoustic” bonus track version better than the album track. The song works better with the touch of a female voice. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this album. It’s great catchy music for a long drive. It’s just missing something that takes this kind of release from being decent or all right to good or great. The production makes it all sound a bit soulless and manufactured.
Now while that might be great for the latest single from the next pop wannabe X-factor graduate rockers want a bit more to their music. This is a solid debut with no giant clunkers, though lyrically “Who’s Fooling Who” is a bit naff. If they get a bit more spark into their song-writing the band could be on to something. Certainly a band to keep an eye on without a doubt.
Slash (featuring Myles Kennedy): Made in Stoke
Despite the fact that Guns N’ Roses is known as being an LA hometown band, Stoke in England is in fact where Slash was born. This was quite a special live gig for Slash and his new new solo band. This 21-track CD features a grateful and keen audience clearly enjoying seeing their hometown lad playing a selection of his best tracks.
As it is a two CD set there is quite a good selection of GnR, Velvet Revolver and solo tracks. Myles Kennedy proves that his voice is quite varied and he can sing as Axl better than Axl can these days. What might surprise a few people is that one of GnR’s biggest tracks is not here while “Patience” and “Nighttrain” are, as well as “Civil War”. The final duo of “Mr Brownstone” and “Paradise City” puts the finishing touches on this great live album. Kennedy pulls off the Velvet Revolver and GnR track vocal duties better than the original singers most of the time.
Slash’s solo band is as tight as you would expect and not the sloppy mess that GnR were in their heyday. This is certainly a great live record that could, one day, be mentioned along with the much-loved live releases. There is very little bullshit ranting or banter and Slash is playing as well as he has at any time in his career.
The crowd in Stoke on 24/7/2011 were treated to something special and it is good of Slash to have invited us along to hear what a gig we missed. It is a damn good set and will leave you with a desire to see Slash next time he comes round your way.
Deep Purple with Orchestra: Live at Montreux
Recorded this summer at the legendary Montreux Music festival, this is Deep Purple at their pomptastic best. Not strangers to working with orchestras in their past, this is a band that is completely comfortable with itself. On the DVD and Blu-Ray version of this you get a decent set of interviews with all the band members that you will watch once. The double set of CDs is probably a better bet because there isn’t really much exciting visually in the show. It is all about the rich treasure trove of music they can call on at any time.
Fans of their 80s output will be pleased that both “Perfect Strangers” and “Knocking at Your Back Door” are included in this set from their Mark II “come-back” album Perfect Strangers. Needless to say the Montreux crowd are waiting for the song inspired by that very town and festival, “Smoke on the Water”. Their host screeching at the end of the gig for more applause for the band is almost comical when you compare it to the composed elegance of the entire gig.
Of course, whenever such a release comes out there is debate on whether another live album from the band is worth your time. As someone who had the two-CD set playing for a two-hour car drive I have to emphatically say yes. This is a band that never has been better and a symphony orchestra only adds to the quality of this release. Yes, you may have the songs on other live albums but you will be hard pressed to find them presented better than they are on here.
As always stay safe and rocking. I shall see you in a fortnight’s time as I am off for a bit of a break with my wife. Rest assured my ears will be filled with the sounds of new metal and hard rock to bring to you in the next MMM.