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Got a few more interesting CDs in the mail the other day.  I’d already discussed Jorn and his retrofitting of symphony orchestra on what were likely straight ahead hard rock/bar band metal tunes on the Facebook page last week.  But that was only the first one I tapped into.

snakecharmer

Next and finest of the batch, we have the debut from a band called Snakecharmer.  Now I thought nothing of this name whatsoever, and stuck it in my car player without any predispositions.  What was interesting right away is that I let it run.  Straight.  Generally, I’ll skip around, hit the choruses, see what a band’s all about and whether they’re worth investing much of my time in attending to – a typical approach for someone who’s on a busy schedule and keeps a full stock on hand of music of all sorts.  But this time, I just let it run.  By the time we hit the fourth track, “Falling Leaves”, I’m making all sorts of associations, mentally blocking out where I’ve heard this or that aspect of the band’s sound before – a very obvious Badlands influence, and this singer’s nothing if not an Eric Martin (Mr. Big) with dashes of Oni Logan (Lynch Mob).

But I’m hearing something even more interesting in there – there’s more than a dash of old Whitesnake.  You know, before they went poseur?  Before the videos, Tawny Kitaen, and progressively more technical “superstar guitarists” like John Sykes, Adrian Vandenberg, Vivian Campbell and finally Steve Vai?

Yeah, that Whitesnake – the take no prisoners, take no sh*t blues-rocker boogie band bar none.  F*ck Rod and the Faces.  To hell with the Stones.  Even Bon Scott AC/DC wasn’t exactly playing in this arena – the only serious contender to the throne was Ronnie James Dio’s Elf, circa their first self titled album, and even they couldn’t approach the mighty Coverdale and his fellow Deep Purple alumni.

Then the solo hits.  Holy crap, the guy’s actually really good.  So I finally pick up the booklet – who is this guy?  Then the thunderbolts hit.

Out of nowhere, so far as I know, after something like 32 years of being absent from the scene (turns out he was actually fairly busy, just not with any bands or projects I’ve ever heard), the Whitesnake connection comes clear.  Because on guitar is one half of the Moody/Mardsen team – and those slide licks, harmony leads and casual runs on the neck come to us courtesy of a long lost friend, Micky Moody himself.

Along with fellow Whitesnake alumnus Neil Murray, whose credits run as far afield as Japan’s Vow Wow, the original Badlands demo with Jake E. Lee, Michael Schenker Group and Fast Eddie Clarke’s Fastway, not to mention a long run of projects with famed guitarists like Brian May, Peter Green, and Gary Moore, Micky has dug up a crew of relative unknowns to fill the shoes of Mardsen, Coverdale and the dearly departed Jon Lord.

Apropos of Murray’s background, the overall sound comes off most like Badlands, but with some strong Whitesnake undercurrents – an interesting mix to be sure, particularly for old schoolers like myself who held both bands in high esteem.  The choice of Chris Ousey as vocalist, while neither fish nor fowl, as it were, fails them a bit in light of approaching the true strengths of either act, but if you can’t have Coverdale or Ray Gillen, Eric (Mr. Big) Martin’s a damn good second choice, and as mentioned earlier, that’s clearly where his tonalities lie, and the man whose sound he owes the greatest debt.

While the final product may lack some of the youthful fire of the earlier acts, this is still a very strong debut (comeback?), and the atypical smiling headshots of Moody and at least half the band say more than mere words ever could – this is a band making a proud statement to the world that age ain’t nothin’ but a number – despite being the same age as my mother (!), Moody and Murray have just declared that they have come here to chew bubblegum and kick ass…and they’re all out of bubblegum, son.

Snakecharmer’s self titled comes to you courtesy of Frontiers Records.

____

Mors

Next up, we have an offering from AFM Records, a Finnish band with the unwieldy name of Mors Principium Est.

Having formed way back in 1999, the band has cycled through a number of guitarists, keyboard players (an instrument thankfully absent herein) and even vocalists before settling on its current lineup for what represents their fourth album.

The problem here is, what we have under discussion is that sort of middling neighbor’s daughter – you hardly notice her, you certainly don’t have designs on her, nor is she stunningly attractive, particularly effusive, or really interesting in any serious way.  But she’s not bad looking, and every once in a blue moon, you cast a thought her way – you know, maybe I should give her a tumble?  But there’s just not enough there to justify making any real moves in her direction.

That, in a nutshell, my friends, is Mors Principium Est, and their latest album …and Death Said Live.

While the band is certainly competent enough, delivering some reasonably tight rhythmically focused material (so much so, in fact, that it brings to mind Echoes of Eternity’s Forgotten Goddess, another album firmly centered in machine gun-style rhythms without any real overtures towards harmonic movement), there’s a problem.  See, while the overall motif of the record is interesting enough, with an undertone of March Funebre running throughout the somewhat sparse melodic strains of the record as a whole (though if this does in fact represent an established style they plan to continue, I imagine this would become tiresomely repetitive when stretched from one release to the next), there’s two things going on here that prevent the discriminating listener from taking them too seriously.

First, they ascribe so firmly to the template established by Killswitch Engage (who stole it blind from At the Gates’ sole listenable record, the excellent Slaughter of the Soul) that they become yet another faceless copycat screamo act in the retroactively applied “melodeath” subgenre.  Worthless yet strangely popular among high schooler acts like Atreyu, Avenged Sevenfold, High on Fire and Trivium live and die by strict adherence to the same template, and drag the name of metal into the dirt with each passing release.  Is this really a style we want to perpetuate, particularly when the band (like Killswitch under Howard Jones, or getting directly to the point, Mors Principium Est) are clearly capable of better?

And yet, like that neighbor girl of the metaphor, Mors Principium Est fails to really distinguish themselves in one direction or the other – like the Laodicean church of Revelations, …and Death Said Live is ultimately neither cold nor hot, but lukewarm, and therefore fit only to spew forth from the mouth, as it were.

Now, I’ll make the point to quickly backtrack over that particular metaphor, as the implication carried therein signifies and stresses only the negative end of the equation, and that’s not how I feel coming away from the album.  In fact, it’s coming back on the road with me tomorrow for another spin.   So what am I
trying to say here, you ask?

Simply this: Mors Principium Est’s …and Death Said Live is the proverbial little girl with the curl, in a way, depending on one’s mood at the time of exposure to same.  When I played this on the way to work this morning, what I picked up on most was the generic nature of the music – while competently played, it’s pretty damn near impossible to tell one track from the next.  I blew straight through to track 5 before I noticed the song had changed.  As such, it’s kind of hard to recommend something this…blah, for lack of a better word.  Not bad, not good in any real standout sense – just kind of there.  Background music for the more aggressive among us.

Then, we come to the second point I was referring to earlier, that keeps any listener of taste and experience from investing too much emotional weight into the proceedings, one way or the other.  Namely, the vocals.

Yeah, they’re not “bad” – it’s not exactly offensive screamo crap in a proper sense.  If you prefer, Ville Viljanen is not Phil Anselmo, and won’t be fronting Madball or any “New York hardcore” act anytime soon – so you can rest assured to that level, at least – he doesn’t actually SUCK to that degree.  But on the flipside, neither is he any good.  Much like the music, he’s just kind of there – it’s become accepted and expected of bands playing in this particular style that they have to growl, shriek or scream in a certain way, and he does exactly what he’s “supposed to” (I’d like to find who made up these stupid rules, so we can step outside and have some words…).  Not particularly offensive, but when track 1 started this morning, I will admit to an involuntary snicker as soon as the vocals kicked in.

BUT, and it’s a big but, that’s why I capitalized it, folks – on the way home, I actually found myself enjoying the rest of the album, overall.  Yes, it still more or less blended into the background.  The vocals were still kind of ridiculous.  The now standard tips of the hat and name checks to rudimentary occultism and demonology were there…aww, the mead(ow)s of Asphodel, how cute.  Bringer of light, see, it’s about the devil, aww, how sweet!  Not impressed, guys.  And the music still stands as a sort of jackhammer rhythmic, slightly melodic aural wallpaper.  But you know what?  I kind of liked it.  “Bringer of Light” was a decent track.   “The Meadows of Asphodel” was just as good if not better.  The others…well, it’s all basically of a piece.

So in sum, here’s the scoop.  Don’t listen to this when you’re really paying attention – it really doesn’t go anywhere in that sense, and there isn’t all that much to pick out and take note of.  But do listen to this in heavy traffic, at the end of a work day.  I’m not sure whether it says more about how much I despise being forced to work for a living in corporate America (rather than living off creative and artistic pursuits), or just about how many @$$holes there are on the road who deserve to be run face first into a concrete divider, but this record is perfect accompaniment to a traffic laden ride home from the daily grind.  It all depends on the mood you’re wearing, it all depends on the mood you’re in, to quote Jem and the Holograms.

Guardedly recommended if you’re into the style or really looking for something new to pick up this month.

________

Pink-Cream-69-Ceremonial

Finally, we have another act from Frontiers Records, who goes by the unlikely (and extremely un-metal) moniker of “Pink Cream 69”.  Seriously, that’s the band’s name.  And guess what, they’ve been doing metal since 1989, with 11 albums, 2 live records and an EP to their name.  In Germany, home of everyone from Accept and the Scorpions to Helloween, Kreator, Destruction, Exumer and Sodom.  THAT Germany.

Well, look, they’ve got a new record out, called Ceremonial.  There’s big choruses just like the more pop oriented hard rock acts with metal leanings the 80’s gave us – think bands like post-debut Black N’ Blue, Autograph, and Y&T.  But there’s a strong feeling of the end of the era (or at least when it was here in the States), with those big tuneful harmony choruses having to fall back on pseudo-grunge “noodle around on the guitar hoping to find a proper riff” verses – think Warrant, Extreme without the speed thing, Skid Row, later Winger.  But still, if you’re into the kind of melodic hard rock/metal that all the ladies of metal seemed to go for back in the day, you’ll probably be happy with this one.

Me, I can’t get past the damn name, or the goofy-@$$ cover – what the hell were they thinking?

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