Sunday, August 31, 2008

Review: The Dead-End Kidz - Unfinished Business (2007)

The Dead-End Kidz [ MySpace | Facebook | Twitter ]
Unfinished Business

In small, dingy bars far from mainstream rock radio, a reclusive world teems with life. Fueled by alcohol and memories of days gone by, Gen X-ers gather by the score to once again experience the music that was the soundtrack to their "better days". The success of reunion (and not-so-reunion) tours by bands such as Ratt, Warrant, and Mötley Crüe  attest to the fact that audiences in the market for good ol' fashioned hard rock and metal can be found...if you look hard enough. It's that particular demographic which allows contemporary bands to find success emulating these latter-day heroes, harnessing the same raunchy attitude that once propelled hard rock to the top of the charts. Bands like Danger, Lick And A Promise, and New York's The Dead-End Kidz have latched on to that classic formula and show no signs of letting go. The Dead-End Kidz  aren't quite as over the top as some bands in this genre can be, however, foregoing the teased hair and spandex and instead focusing their energy on crafting quality rock 'n' roll.

Unfinished Business is The Dead-End Kidz' second album since forming in the '90s. Musically, the album overflows with groovy riffs and slick solos from guitarists Scott Carlson and Michal LoBianco. The rhythm section of Kevin Edell on bass and drummer Tom Mahalko is first-rate, with both musicians taking prominent roles in driving the songs along. In addition to the Poison and Faster Pussycat influences you'd expect to hear, Unfinished Business is loaded with more classic sounds reminiscent of AC/DC and Aerosmith. While the nine tracks roll by at a balls-to-the-wall pace, they pack just enough variety to hold interest without becoming too distracting.

Having praised the band so far, there remains one factor that all but kills the album for me. Frontman John Erigo has a style that you either love or hate, and I find myself in the latter category. He's a forceful singer but lacks the both the intensity and the character that are hallmarks of this genre, leaving the songs sounding flat and uninspired. It's always a shame when a band has a good thing going for them musically, only to stumble over the vocals. A glaring example of where The Dead-End Kidz fall victim to this is on the second track of Unfinished Business (and my favorite of the album). "The One" opens with a classic bass line from Edell (sounding very Steve Harris-like) that is soon joined by crisp riffs from Carlson and LoBianco which flow into a wistful solo. The song has a very The Cult sound to it, but the vocals bring it down for me. Erigo's vibrato isn't quite subtle enough, resulting in more of a warble than the depth of feeling that he was going for.

Unfinished Business is a good album that could have been much better with a less clumsy vocal performance. Whether that comes from Erigo working hard to refine his skills or stepping aside entirely, the musicians in the band deserve a performance on the mic that is at least equal to their professionalism. I recommend this album to the most die-hard fans of '80s hard rock, but only after sampling first.

Track Listing
1 It's Now or Never 3:31
2 The One 4:23
3 One Way Ride 3:39
4 Take a Shot 2:46
5 I Know What I Want '07 3:49
6 Do It Yourself 3:53
7 Time To Go 2:22
8 1000 Lies 2:42
9 Let Me In 3:36
Total Runtime 30:41

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Sunday, August 17, 2008

Review: Blasphemous Creation - Shadows of Evil (2008)

Blasphemous Creation MySpace ]
Shadows of Evil

Nevada's Blasphemous Creation formed in Reno only 2 years ago, but in that short time have released three EPs (Shadows of Evil being their third) and secured a spot at the 2008 Bloodstock Open Air festival in the UK. The music of Blasphemous Creation fits easily into the category of unadulterated thrash with black metal influences - much along the lines of early Kreator and Sodom. Frontman Isaac Wilson adopts a more raspy, blackened vocal style than T. Angelripper, but he still manages to deliver the lyrics in a fairly intelligeble manner. Musically Shadows of Evil careens along at breakneck speed with jagged edged riffs and searing solos from both Wilson and rhythm guitarist Ben Brown. The furious beats from drummer Travis Edwards are remarkably precise and though Jed Wilson's bass is all but buried in the mix, his lines occasionally break the surface and contribute nicely.

As far as originality goes, there's little to be had on Shadows of Evil. This is a rare case where judging the album by the cover is appropriate. Fans of furious blackened thrash with only the slightest hint of melody will undoubtedly find Blasphemous Creation to be a band they want to get to know. And while these Nevadans might not be innovative, they ply their craft with excellent precision and enthusiasm.

Track Listing
1Disciples of the Underworld3:55
2Beyond the Grave3:51
3They Come at Night5:21
4Shadows of Evil5:21
Total Runtime18:45

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Sunday, August 3, 2008

Review: Mandrake - Mary Celeste (2007)

Mandrake [ MySpace ]
Mary Celeste
GreyFall Record

Gothic metal bands fronted by a charismatic female vocalist are far from uncommon these days, with the genre having just about reached a level where the term overcrowded comes to mind. At first glance, Germany's Mandrake  appear to be another in a long line of similar acts. Originally formed in the late '90s by guitarist Lutz de Putter as a death metal band with Gothic influences, Birgit Lau was brought into the group after their 1998 debut album and marked a more prominent female vocal presence. Since 2003 Mandrake has been contributing to the Gothic metal/rock scene with albums that contain a distinct seafaring theme - perhaps understandable given the fact that they hail from the northern German port of Emden. Mary Celeste is the band's fourth album and focuses on the mystery and tragedy of the Mary Celeste, a ghost ship found afloat but devoid of all signs of life in 1872.

The title track leads off the album in fine form, with plenty of haunting atmosphere and dread. There is more than a touch of industrial elements, but at the core the song would be familiar to fans of Beseech and Lullacry. Birgit has much in common with Lotta Höglin and Tanja Lainio, though she isn't very strong in the upper reaches of her range. She's an enjoyable singer, but not overpowering. As for the music, the songwriting features a lot of Tiamat influence. The ambitious song structures, combined with distinctively somber moods, sound familiar but never stale. With the title track being the most aggressive track on the album, the remaining songs are far from anti-climactic. "Crystals of Forgiveness" features a chunky low end riff and de Putter contributes his sinister baritone on a couple of tracks, including "Masquerade" which features Birgit assuming a style that reminds me much of Susanna Hoffs (yes, The Bangles).

Mary Celeste is full of interesting moments, but overall the album is just a cut above ordinary. Several songs in the latter stages of the album have a feeling of being filler, and the ballad that closes the album ("Paralyzed") harms more than it helps. Fans of the genre, and I am one of them, will find this album interesting and enjoyable for an occasional spin. Mandrake has the potential to propel themselves into the front rank of Gothic metal bands, and Mary Celeste hints at that potential.

Track Listing
1 Mary Celeste 6:27
2 Crystals of Forgiveness 4:34
3 Fragile 5:42
4 Forgiven 4:00
5 Adore 3:52
6 Masquerade 5:13
7 Sweet Desolation 3:48
8 Moments (Touched By Time) 3:57
9 Breathe 5:12
10 Solace 3:38
11 Life's Last Shore 4:26
12 Borrowed Life 3:57
13 Paralyzed 4:12
Total Runtime 58:58

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