As I was clearing out my pile of review materials, I came across some titles that might provide some ideas for those of you who might be searching frantically for some last-minute gifts.
Carlos Santana Presents: Blues at Montreux 2004 - Buddy Guy, Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown, Bobby Parker
The first thing that one has to say about this Blu-ray is that it's a damn good value, consisting of three entire concerts featuring some blues greats in front an appreciative Montreux crowd. Comprising almost 240 minutes in total, this is an attractive choice for those blues fans out there. To make it all the more important, Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown is no longer among the living and this was one of his last big concerts.
Carlos Santana shows up for a jam at the end of these sets, but that does not distract from the bluesmen at their best. This is very much pure blues, tinged with a bit of jazz, performed by some of the masters of the art. What is most interesting to a student of music is the vast variety of blues styles, from the swampy Cajun variety to the tight blues of Chicago. These three guys were a huge influence on a lot of musicians, including the Beatles.
The audio and video are great. You can see the sweat dripping off the performers as they squeeze every ounce of feeling out of their guitars. If you know a blues lover with the right DVD kit, this is highly recommended.
Guns, God and Government: Live in LA - Marilyn Manson
Love or hate the master of new millennium shock rock, there is no denying the guy puts on a killer show. What always divided rock fans and critics alike was whether or not he was merely a means for pissing off parents and religious types. I sometimes had my doubts that his music would stand the test of time. Well this Blu-ray dispelled my doubts and showed me that MM and Co. have damn fine tunes to go with their antics.
Recorded in front an adoring LA crowd, this concert shows Manson at the height of his talents. The band, featuring the uber-talented guitar maestro John 5, are as tight as you would expect from such a professional outfit. If don’t allow yourself to become distracted by the visuals, it's pretty clear that this is quite a good industrial-tinged pop metal band.
Bonus features include a short film about their Guns, God and Government world tour, which gives you a glimpse of the circus that is the Marilyn Manson band. Scoff as some might about the over-the-top nature of the band, there is no denying they have come up with some cracking tunes over the years.
Jorn – Spirit Black
This is Jorn, so it's not a bad album. The man does not release anything that doesn’t put most melodic hard rock releases to shame. Probably one of the top 10 voices in hard rock today, he can sing anything and make it sound good. He has worked with virtually everyone and is able to ape David Coverdale, Ronnie James Dio, and anyone else he pleases while still retaining his own distinctive voice. In short, he makes most vocalists insanely jealous.
This release continues the journey and evokes all the great bands of the hard rock genre. One minute he is doing his best Journey and the next the hip-swagger of Whitesnake, via a dash of Dio. Jorn has made over 30 albums thus far and is still pumping out some clever hard rock. One of the most pertinent songs on here is the affirmative “I Walk Alone” with its thrusting attitude. The title track ain’t bad either.
To put it bluntly, if you like Jorn then you will like this album. If you like hard rock sung by a talented songwriter with a stellar voice then look no further than this release. This guy does not release anything that isn't at least decent and this is no exception. His quest to show every other vocalist up continues apace.
Silent Rage – Four Letter Word
This is yet another fine slab of hard rock glory. This release has very much an '80s feel to it, evoking Journey, Foreigner, and bands like Tesla. This release was produced by Guns N' Roses guitarist Gilby Clarke and evokes that certain LA vibe. Bruce Kulick of KISS fame and Bobby Blotzer of RATT appear here to lend a hand by giving this band the cred they need to take 'em to the next level.
Now this is by no means a pastiche of '80s LA rock; some of it evokes more recent music, including the Scandinavian hard rock scene. Basically this a great record with all the attitude and bravado you want to hear from this sort of hard rock. I love the title track and the opener "You Could be the One." This is a solid release from a great band that improves with each release.
It's great that Frontiers continues to help such talent get their music to the keen hard rock public. If you are a fan of decent hard rock then you owe yourself a look at this band and some of the others on the label. They have something for everyone.
Praying Mantis – Sanctuary
Now many of you might have only heard of this lot from their appearance on the various new wave of British heavy metal compilations kicking about. They were one of several bands that were critically admired but never managed to get out of the mid-pack. “Time Tells No Lies,” their 1981 debut, actually stands the test of time better than some of the “bigger” releases of the era.
That said, the band are back with a cracking release almost 30 years after their debut. There are some good tunes here, ones that feel contemporary but evoke the right feeling of proper hard rock. Whether it's "Restless Heart" or the title track, this is a quality release from beginning to end. This is some of the best new British hard rock that I have heard in quite a while, and there is quite a lot of decent stuff about. One name that seems to come up when listening to this band is April Wine. “Tears in the Rain” could be on any of that band’s prime releases.
Now you might wonder why this band was ever included in anything that involves heavy metal, but remember that the decidedly un-metal Def Leppard was lumped in with that lot. If any band from that era deserved a second shot at the ring, it's this lot. Quality like this is rare indeed.
Menegarm – Nattvasen
This is some stonking great Swedish Viking metal in all its metal pagan glory. This is the type of stuff that combines deathy type vocals with more traditional metal ones. The release ranges from the heavy through some mellow, melodic, folky sections (track four being a classic example, evoking an almost Kansas-like feeling) that are so common in this genre of music. The variety found in such releases makes it much more interesting to listen to than your normal heavy metal-fest.
There is no wonder these guys are some of the longest serving Viking metal bands around. They do what they do rather well and even though it's damn near impossible to understand what the hell they are singing about, you still get into it. There is nothing like traditional instruments played in a heavy metal style to get you into the mood. This might be the time for this band to get themselves worldwide recognition as this is a pretty strong release.
If you ever need the soundtrack to sit down with a copy of Beowulf or the recent Sigurn and Gudrun Viking saga (which I just finished reading) then this release is what you should find. It’s the soundtrack to the epics that are the Viking sagas. Grab yer flagon of mead, put on your fur, stoke the fire, and listen to some fine Viking metal.
Well, on that sword-wielding and no-horns-on-helmet note, I must leave you for another week. Check out live music whenever you can, and stay safe.