Hard 20

September / October 2010

Kittie “In The Black”
By: Paul Autry

No matter what band you’re talkin’ about, when they put out a new album, you can almost count on a review that will say, “This is the best album they’ve ever done.” Most of the time, it’s not even true. It’s just a lame way to say, “Hey, look here. The band has new material.” Well, unfortunately, I’m going to have to be lame for a moment because Kittie’s “In The Black” is the best album they’ve ever done. There’s just no other way to say it because, in this case, it’s 100% true. I’ve followed Kittie from the tail end of “Spit” up to now and, with each release they put out, it seemed like they would come up just a little short when it came to makin’ that perfect album. With various line up changes and all the drama they had to deal with, they could never quite grab that golden ring. That was then and this is now. This is the album that the future of Kittie will be built on. It’s a breath of fresh air. It’s almost like Kittie has been born again. Morgan’s voice has never sounded better. One minute, she can tear the flesh from your bones with an almost black metal scream and then, out of the blue, it’s like she has the voice of an angel…and while those clean vocals could almost be described as “beautiful,” they’re still strong enough to stand up next to the most aggressive music they can crank out. Yeah…and they can be aggressive. Even when they’re being as brutal as they can possibly be, their sound is crystal clear. It doesn’t come off sounding like mindless noise, which a lot of ultra-heavy music does tend to sound like in my opinion. This is a strong, well balanced album that’s a must have for any true metal fan.

Incite “The Slaughter” (I Scream Records)
By: Paul Autry

Incite’s full-length debut, “The Slaughter,” is a perfect example of what extreme music should sound like. It’s fast, heavy, brutal and aggressive with an excellent production. On top of that, there’s a hardcore vocal style that’s just as intense as the music…and…you can understand the lyrics, which is always a major plus for me. There’s a lot of heavy music out there that I can’t get into simply because the vocalist sounds like he’s throwin’ up glass. I know some people dig that, but, that’s something I could never figure out. It doesn’t take a lot of talent to growl and grunt your way through an album. I mean, come on, when I have a lyric sheet in front of me and I can’t pick out a single word you’re saying…well…it’s just plain stupid. It really is. Take a listen to Incite’s vocalist to hear how it should be done. Seriously. I think “The Slaughter” is gonna go down in history as one of the best metal albums ever…and let’s not forget that this is Incite’s debut full length release. Their bio states that they’re on their way to become part of a new generation of innovators in the metal scene. I’d say that they’re already there. This is the Holy Grail of extreme metal. Enough said.

Dirge Within “Force Fed Lies” (E1 Music)
By: Paul Autry

When it comes to music, I don’t like to listen to the same thing over and over again. It gets old. I like a lot of variety. I like it a lot more when that variety can be found on a single album. That’s why I was really impressed with Dirge Within. On “Force Fed Lies,” there’s a little bit of everything to be heard. There’s heavy rock to flat out metal, melody and aggression, there’s even a bit of groove. It doesn’t sound forced, which is a problem I have with a lot of new releases that I’ve heard lately. A lot of bands sound like they’re trying too hard to come up with that “one song” that will take them to the next level instead of just trying to write some good music. The focus here, however, seems to be the total opposite. Why go for one good song when you can have twelve of them, which is what Dirge Within has done…and the end result is an exceptionally strong album that doesn’t have a weak song in the bunch. I hear an album like this and I’m excited about listening to music again…and that’s what it’s all about, right? Give this one a listen. It will restore your faith in metal music. Make you proud to be a fan again.

Buckfast Superbee “Turn Of The Radio Age” (Walking Records)
By: Paul Autry

I tend to judge an album based on what the first does for me. If the first tune doesn’t cut the mustard, there’s a good chance that I’m not gonna be too impressed with the rest of the album. My first impression was that “Turn Of The Radio Age” was gonna be some sort of moody/experimental album and I really wasn’t interested in spending any length of time with a release like that. However, once the second track kicked in, I knew there was gonna be something special about this release…and I was right. Musical style…well…I’d say it’s modern, upbeat, indie rock. A great collection of tunes that grow on you as soon as you hear them. It’s a very enjoyable release. I don’t know how many “older” people would get into this. But, the younger generation should eat this one up. It might very well be the best record you buy this year.

Indian Fall “Seasons In Equilibrium”
By: Paul Autry

Typical black/death metal from Romania. I can’t question Indian Fall’s musical talents because the band can obviously play. But, as soon as I heard the vocal style…that killed it for me. It’s the same black metal scream and death metal growl that you’ve heard a thousand times before, which is something I simply can’t understand. Never could, never will. Here’s a band that has a good sound musically. But, the vocal style seems to rise above the music to the point where it’s a distraction. How can you enjoy the music when all you hear is a vocalist who sounds like his brain is about to explode? The brutal vocal style should match the music and work well with it…and…yes…it can be done. When you’re just going “bblllaarrrrrgghhhhh,” there’s no talent there. You could get a five year old to do that and it would sound the same. Well, I guess some people dig that…and if you like your music drowned out by that kind of vocal style, this album will do the trick for you. If you’re like me and you expect something a little better from your extreme music, well, you’ll probably wanna pass on this one.

It Dies Today “Lividity” (Trustkill Records)
By: Paul Autry

I was online, checkin’ out some reviews on this disc and a lot of what I read was kind of middle of the road praise. They didn’t really slag the band…but…it was like…people expected something better from It Dies Today. Personally, I don’t see what the problem is. “Lividity” has a great sound for a metal record…or metalcore in this case (since that’s what everyone seems to label this band as). I happen to like heavy music and a lot of what I hear isn’t all that good. It Dies Today is one of the better releases that I’ve had the pleasure of hearing. The vocalist can scream with the best of them and his style doesn’t overshadow the music…it matches it, which is what I like to hear. The songs are aggressive and they have a lot of energy and they’re interesting enough to hold my attention from begining to end. What’s not to like? They also throw in a cover of Duran Duran’s “Come Undone” at the end of the album, which wasn’t too bad. It’s a pretty solid album and I’d suggest giving it a listen.

Memphis May Fire “Sleepwalking” (Trustkill Records)
By: Paul Autry

I’ve been gettin’ a lot of hardcore music comin’ across my desk lately and, even though most of it’s pretty decent, it does all start to sound the same. Lucky for me, Memphis May Fire threw a little variety into the mix. Sure, they’ve got the high energy, aggressive musical style that you’d expect to hear and they also have the screamo/clean vocal style. What makes them different is their sound has a little southern flavor added to it, which might not make them rise above all of the other hardcore bands that are out there. But, it does make them stand out. With the enthusiasm they put into each song, they’re sure to build a large audience rather quickly. I think most people appreciate a little honesty in the music they listen to and Memphis May Fire is about as real as they come. Give ’em a listen.

Blackhole “Dead Hearts” (E1 Entertainment)
By: Paul Autry

This is an amazing album. It’s really good for a debut release. It’s a sonic wall of fast paced, high energy, hardcore/punk. Okay, sure, I can’t really say that they’re breaking any new ground here…but…who cares? They pack one hell of a punch and if you want an album that can rattle your skull…this is it. This is an exceptionally strong album in every way, shape and form. From the moment you press play, it’s like there’s a series of explosions comin’ out of your speakers and it doesn’t let up until the final track is done. Excellent guitar work, a lot of attitude, fast paced aggression and a vocal style that simply shreds. It’s the perfect package. You would be doing yourself a huge favor by giving this one a listen. Strongly recommended.

25 Smokin’ Figurados “Divine Spirits, Holy Smoke”
By: Paul Autry

25 Smokin’ Figurados is a middle of the road rock band…and I know some people might consider the term “middle of the road” to be somewhat negative. Well, that’s not the way I mean it here. I like this release. It’s not too hard and it’s not laid back enough to bore me to death. It’s, as I said, middle of the road rock. It’s not a bad thing. I think the focus here is on the song. It doesn’t jump out and grab you right away. But, it does get your attention and, when it does, it manages to hold on to you until the end of the album. Personally, it’s the kind of album that I’d have to be in the mood to listen to. I’ll throw this one on when I’m cleaning up around my desk or something. It will entertain me while I’m off doing something else that doesn’t exactly have my complete attention. Do you know what I mean? Let’s just say it’s worth a listen.

Reno Divorce “Tears Before Breakfast” (I Scream Records)
By: Paul Autry

Old school punk this isn’t. Does that make it bad? Not really. Unless, of course, you’re a hardcore fan that’s stuck in the past and you don’t like anything that doesn’t sound like The Ramones or The Sex Pistols. I used to be like that. In fact, if I would have heard this record a few years ago, I probably wouldn’t have had anything nice to say about it. My musical taste has changed though and while I still believe that nothing will ever sound better than old school punk, I still embrace modern day punk as long as the artist in question can crank out some decent tunes. As far as Reno Divorce goes…yeah…I dig ’em. They rock. They have a lot of energy and “Tears Before Breakfast” is a pretty strong album. It didn’t seem to last too long though. I was listening to the album and having a grand old time and it was like…it’s over already? I had to hit the repeat button more than once, that’s for sure. “Tears Before Breakfast” is the kind of album that will put you in a good mood. It got me going like that first cup of coffee in the morning…and that’s what I look for in the music I listen to. I want to hear something that will motivate me. Something that makes me wanna get up and do something. Get active. Anything. This album did the trick. As much as I hate to say it, the next time I’m going somewhere and I know I’m gonna be in the car for more than an hour, I’m gonna leave my Ramones CD at home and I’m gonna take Reno Divorce with me instead. It’s perfect for a night out. Guaranteed to put a smile on your face and fill you full of energy. A great way to kick start an evening out on the town. Can’t go wrong with this one.

Carnal Rapture “Promo 2008”
By: Paul Autry

Death metal from Italy. Oh, the joy. Do I even need to mention that this is one of the few musical styles that doesn’t float my boat? Probably not. But, since I did…well…there you have it. I have, however, heard enough of it over the past few years to know what’s good and what’s not…and this release just doesn’t cut it. If you’re trying to go for an underground sound and a small fan base, well, you might be successful there. But, if you’re trying to make some major noise on a global scale, you’re gonna have to try a little harder. You need to tighten up your sound a bit and come up with something that’s gonna make more of an impact. None of the tunes on this five song EP sound like anything I would remember…even after listening to it a number of times. I’ve heard this all before a thousand times over and if that didn’t impress me…this sure as hell isn’t gonna do the trick because there’s a ton of bands out there doing the same thing…and you’re either gonna rise above them all or you’re gonna fall through the cracks and become just another band who passed out a few flyers, got a few semi-decent CD reviews and that’s that. Pull it together, focus and make something that’s gonna make people stand up and take notice. You wanna reach more than the few people who will say “Oh, this is good!” simply because it’s the only style of music they listen to and anything with a grunt or a growl will be added to their collection just so they can say they have a bigger collection than somebody else.

Southern Gentlemen “Instrumentalized” (Leviathan Records)
By: Paul Autry

Okay, let’s get right down to it. Most of the time, instrumental music does nothing for me. I happen to be a big fan of lyrics. When I hear a song without them, well, it’s like there’s something missing. On top of that, I’ve heard a lot of instrumental music that sounded like somebody just wanted to show off. It’s not like, “Hey, listen to this great song.” It’s more like, “I’m so awesome I even impress myself. You should praise me.” When a musician is tryin’ to come off like his you know what doesn’t stink…it usually does…and that’s the kind of album that I’ll sell at the flea market for a quarter just to get it out of my collection. So, when an instrumental release does catch my attention, it’s usually pretty damn good. Having said that, Southern Gentlemen’s “Instrumentalized” is a keeper. What can I say about this album that hasn’t already been said before? Southern Gentlemen’s sound, to quote their bio, has been described as a mixture of rock, blues, metal, 70’s and 80’s hard rock. They’ve also been called a new generation of ZZ Top, Jimi Hendrix, Bad Company, Whitesnake and Lynyrd Skynyrd to name a few. I could go ape shit for a band like that…especially if they were crankin’ out tunes that had lyrics. Well, this album doesn’t have lyrics. So, why does it please me? Honestly, I think it was guitarist David T. Chastain’s explanation of how this release came to be that made me look at it from a different direction. The band was asked to do an instrumental version of a song, which they did. They thought it came out rather well. So, they did a few more for their own amusement and, in the end, they decided to put out a full length release, which would be “Instrumentalized.” Yeah…okay…so…the band took their own tunes and re-recorded them without the lyrics That’s the hook that pulled me in. When I listen to the 14 tracks on this release, there’s a different vibe there. I hear good, solid songs…without the lyrics, of course. But, for once, that’s not a bad thing.

Conquest Of Steel “Storm Sword – Rise Of The Dread Queen” (No Face Records)
By: Paul Autry

This is a concept album. Can’t say I paid much attention to what the story was about. My focus was the music. Great sound. Great production. Excellent musicianship. Nice package. Musical style’s a combination of progressive and metal. My only real complaint are the vocals. They could be a bit stronger in certain places. Not sayin’ they’re bad cuz they’re not. It’s just that, from time to time, I thought the power of the music was stronger than the vocalist. He’s a good singer. But, I felt he could kick it up a notch or two in certain places. Other than that, this is a strong, solid album that’s worth a listen.

Lita Ford “Wicked Wonderland”
By: Paul Autry

First of all, when you’re gone for 15 years and you finally decide to make a comeback, it’s really lame to send out a five song “sampler” for review because that doesn’t paint a complete picture. So, going by the release that I have in front of me, I can’t give you an honest review of the album because I can’t write about what I haven’t heard. What I did hear…well…I’m not really sure what to think. One one hand, one thing’s for sure, Lita Ford’s rockin’ a little bit heavier this time around. This is different from anything she’s done in the past. The question is…is it too different? Did she stray too far from her original sound? I’d have to say she did because, in all honesty, this doesn’t sound quite like a Lita Ford album. It sounds more like a Lita Ford/Jim Gillette side project. Workin’ as a married couple…eh…not always a good thing. For example, some of the lyrics tend to be a bit…uh…I’m not even sure what to call it. Example…Lita talkin’ about her sex appeal with lines like “when the boys watch me play their privates start to swell” and “I’m the real deal with sex appeal…with looks like this, how could I miss.” But, then, we get to the end of the song and we’re treated to lines like “this ass is my man’s and so is my pu…(meow),” which was meant to be pussy…but…they actually say “meow” instead. Okay, fine, we get that your ass and your pussy is Jim’s. Let’s move on. Oh, wait, we can’t. Not until we get this ego stroke out of the way, “6 foot 2, 275. If you try to touch this, he’ll skin you alive. Full of tattoos and trained to kill. He don’t wanna hurt you. But, trust me, he will.” I mean, come on. I love Lita Ford. I’ve been a fan for as long as I can remember. But, that’s just fuckin’ gay. We get that you’re a married couple and blah, blah, blah. We understand. Okay? But, what’s next? Are you gonna write a song telling us about a normal married day? Are we gonna have to hear something like, ” We make a pot of coffee, we drink it down fast. We don’t eat lunch. But, we’ll have a quick snack.” Domestic bliss is all well and good. But, you don’t need to sing about it. You know, when you start in about the whip, chains, leather and kinky sex…it kind of has less of an impact. Another song I have a small problem with is “Patriotic S.O.B.” There’s a line in there that goes a little something like this, “You’re a knock down, drag it out, patriotic son of a bitch.” As soon as I heard that line, the first thing that came to mind was, “I heard that somewhere else.” Then it hit me, I heard pretty much that same line in Vince Neil’s “Sister Of Pain.” Accident? Maybe. It was a little too close for comfort for my taste though.

Okay, let me switch my line of thought here for a moment. We all know who Lita Ford was as a solo artist, right? I mean, you can’t really argue with her previous releases because they all speak for themselves. Her growth from album to album is quite clear…and quite impressive. However, if I view “Wicked Wonderland” as a solo album…honestly…it just doesn’t work for me because this is NOT a Lita Ford solo album. Like I said before, it sounds more like a Lita Ford/Jim Gillette side project and, really, when you look at all the recent press they’ve been doing, it’s all “family this” and “family that” and this release is pretty much a trip through their personal (and obviously sexual) life. So, think about it. Can you really call this a solo album? Maybe you can. But, I can’t…and, remember…I’m only going by the five songs that I have in front of me. If the rest of the album is anything like what I just heard…and from everything I’ve read…it is…well…it’s not a true solo album. So, when I listen to it with that thought in mind…it’s not bad. It’s different. It’s heavy. It’s dark. It’s experimental. That’s all well and good. Promote it for what it is. When you’re done and the album does everything it’s supposed to do, take a step back, look at your previous material and build a new album from there. I know Lita’s musical well is far from runnin’ dry and in order to make a true solo album, the kind people would expect you to make, you’ve gotta get off this whole family kick and just do what you do best. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying get a divorce and dump your kids or anything like that. I’m simply saying be a solo artist. If this album is the start of a new direction for you…that’s great. Again, promote it for what it is.

On a personal level…I’m not really sure what I think about this release just yet. I guess you could say I have mixed emotions. I’m curious to see where this album’s gonna go and what it’s gonna do and where it’s gonna end up. The music is gonna have to do the talkin’ here and I’m curious to see if people are gonna listen. I’m also curious to see where my own opinion ends up once I hear the rest of the album.

Chaser “The Big Picture” (Drop Anchor Entertainment)
By: Paul Autry

I can’t really hype Chaser’s “The Big Picture” all that much. When I gave it a listen, I thought, “Okay, it was a good album.” I didn’t really hear anything that blew my mind. Nothing that made me wanna go back and listen to it right away after I went through all the tracks. I guess what I’m trying to say is…it’s just a good album. When you listen to it as a whole, okay, it’s enough to keep you happy. But, you’ll probably wanna go through some other CD’s before you go back to this one again. Know what I mean? It’s like, the first thing that came to mind when I heard this album was…it’s kind of a laid back punk. I mean, it has energy…just not the straight-forward, out of control energy that most punk releases have. I think the best way to sum up this release…there’s a line in Chaser’s bio that really caught my eye. It said, “Everyone searches for the meaning of life. This is Chaser’s definition.” When I read that…that’s when I understood what this album was all about. So, when you give it a listen for the first time, keep that in mind and you’ll be able to understand this album a little better and you’ll enjoy it a lot more.

Original Motion Picture Soundtrack: Saw VI (Trustkill)
By: Paul Autry

The “Saw” movies just keep on comin’, don’t they? So far, we’re up to number six and a seventh one is pretty much a sure thing. Of course, every movie has to have a soundtrack, right? Well, the “Saw” movies are no different. The “Saw VI” soundtrack is…well…it’s a compilation album. I don’t think there’s really anything more to say. I mean, most of the people who purchase the DVD’s when they come out also purchase the soundtrack. Horror fans are kooky like that. So, if you decide to pick this one up, you’re getting an 18 song album that features Hatebreed, Lacuna Coil, It Dies Today, Mushroomhead, Chimaira, Danko Jones, Suicide Silence, Memphis May Fire, Outbreak, Shadows Fall, Type O Negative, Converge, Kittie, Nitzer Ebb, Every Time I Die, My My Misfire, The Flood and James Brothers. The next time you wanna put a reverse bear trap on someone’s head…this is the album you wanna be listening to when you do it.

Skarhead “Drugs, Music & Sex” (I Scream Records)
By: Paul Autry

It’s probably too early to use the word “legendary” to describe Skarhead’s latest release, “Drugs, Music & Sex.” But, I don’t care. That’s the first word that came to mind when I heard this album and that’s the word I’m gonna use. It was called an “instant classic” in the band bio and I thought that term didn’t do it justice. I mean, sure, if you don’t want to put any thought into it, that term might work for you. But, when you listen to the music, it’s clear that this album demands a stronger description. There’s not a weak song in the bunch. Even the silence between each track is heavy. Every song on this album is performed with power and raw aggression…it’s like…like…hell…there’s nothing like it. Hardcore…metal…punk…it doesn’t get much better than this. I think, from this point on, all other albums should be judged on how well they can hold up against this release. If you can’t hold your own against an album like “Drugs, Music & Sex,” well, you might wanna hang it up and call it a day. This is a juggernaut of an album and I think it’s gonna make a lot of noise in the music scene…and you’ll either appreciate it for the monster it is or you’ll end up being crushed beneath it. Purchase is a must. This is…in a word…legendary. Enough said.

Swamphouse “The Fade EP” (DZK Music)
By: Paul Autry

Well, well, well…what do we have here? It’s a little bit of rock, funk, hip hop, soul and pop all rolled into one. Now, there’s only five tracks to be heard here. So, it’s not gonna take you a lot of time to bounce through this release. It’s kind of like being on a rollercoaster. It’s a great ride…and when it’s over…you wanna get right back in line so you can experience that thrill all over again. I usually find it hard to form a solid opinion on a band when I haven’t heard a lot of their music and, honestly, this is an EP, it’s not a lot of music. However, it’s just great and I can’t help but dig what this band has to offer. It’s fresh, it’s original and it’s well worth a listen.

Ace Frehley “Anomaly” (Bronx Born Records)
By: Paul Autry

It’s been 20…count ’em…20 years since we last heard an Ace Frehley album…and the big question is…was it worth the wait? Personally, I think it was. This album is a lot different than his previous releases, which is cool because it proves that Ace can still grow as a musician. I think a lot of people expected him to crank out another 80’s kind of album and, if that’s the case, you might be a bit disappointed because, first of all, this album seems to be a little heaveir than anything he’s done in the past. It’s also more creative. I mean, there’s a lot of variety to be heard here. The first song that really caught my attention was the acoustic flavored “A Little Below The Angels,” which seems to be a personal song, kind of like “Rock Soldiers” was back in the day. Now, I don’t mind when Ace decides to kick back and take it easy, which he also does on “It’s A Great Life.” But, this is Ace Frehley we’re talkin’ about here…and Ace is at his best when he’s rockin’ out…and that’s what you get when you first start to listen to this album. You get a double shot of hard ‘n’ heavy rock with “Foxy & Free” and “Outer Space.” “Pain In The Neck” sounds like classic Ace Frehley. He does a great version of “Fox On The Run,” so great that it’s almost like this song was written for him. And, in case you forgot, Ace is a guitar player…a legendary guitar player…and if you listen to tracks like “Genghis Khan,” “Space Bear” and “Fractured Quantum,” it’s clear that his musical well is far from runnin’ dry. Bottom line, “Anomaly” gets better and better the more I listen to it. Let’s just hope he doesn’t take another 20 years to release another album because, honestly, after hearing this album, it’s quite obvious that, when it comes to music, Ace Frehley still has a lot to offer. This is a must have album. That’s all there is to it.

Outbreak “Outbreak” (Trustkill)
By: Paul Autry

Did you ever wonder what it felt like to be crushed under the weight of a bulldozer or have a wrecking ball break every bone in your body? Can’t say that you have, huh? Well, if you wanna know what that might feel like, all you need to do is take a listen to Outbreak’s self-titled album. They crank out some seriously fast, brutal, aggressive, hardcore punk here. It’s fuckin’ dangerous. I’m not kidding. Some of these tracks aren’t even 50 seconds long and that’s probably a good thing because if you spend too much time trying to take it all in…your head might explode…and when they do get around to rippin’ into a song that’s more than a minute long…well…it’s like you’re strapped to the electric chair in the pouring rain. It’s a loud, angry, pissed off experience that will destroy your stereo system. Make sure your insurance is up to date before you give this one a listen. Seriously. It’s gonna kick your ass from here to next week.

Secrets Of The Moon “Privilegivm” (Lupus Lounge)
By: Paul Autry

I hate black metal. I’ve never really been a fan. It’s a style of music that I can’t get into and I could never understand why people listen to it. I’ve heard a lot of different albums and, for me, they were all the same…a horrible vocal style and a lot of mindless noise that I’m supposed to believe is music. I’m sorry…it just doesn’t work for me. So, when I saw the Secrets Of The Moon album in the “need to review” pile, I thought, “Oh, great…here’s another crappy album that I’m gonna have to waste a few minutes of my time on.” So, I figured I would throw it into the CD player, flip through the tracks as fast as I could and then come up with a few different ways to tell people how bad I thought it was. Well, much to my suprise, I found myself drawn in by the music and by the time I got through a few tracks, I was thinking, “Hey…this is pretty good. I like this!” It totally knocked me for a loop. The vocal style was brutal but, for the most part, I could understand the lyrics…and that’s always a big plus for me. They actually have a musical style…they can play. It’s not just mindless noise here…it’s music. This is what a black metal release should sound like. Dark, creative and entertaining. I still wouldn’t say that I’m a black metal fan. But, this is one album I can really sink my teeth into and…well…it’s a keeper.

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