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Hey, ho, let’s go, we’re back again with yet another brief but potent missive of all the reviews fit to print (and then some) in the manner you’ve all come to know and love.

Still sick as a dog (after catching my wife’s convention-sourced industrial strength deathfest of a germ warfare lab a good week back), but figured rather than just suffer and let this build, I’d tackle a few…and found a few real gems in the process.

Yeah, there’s always a balance.  But hey, take the positives where you can find ’em, n’est pas?

Shall we dance?

SASCHA PAETH’S MASTER OF CEREMONY – Signs Of Wings (Frontiers Music s.r.l.) (September 13)

After many years best known as producer of some of European symphonic power metal’s biggest acts (Rhapsody (of Fire), Kamelot, Epica, After Forever, Edguy and the much overrated Angra), guitarist and producer Sascha Paeth finally steps out from behind the mixing board to deliver…a listenable if middling affair that borders traditional metal, European power metal and AOR.

The riffs straddle a fine line between a tad busier and more creative than the more generic power metal tremelo throb to something a bit more simplistic and rock oriented, almost by the song. It’s always listenable enough, and moments will catch your ear…but somehow, these songs just fail to excite or hold what momentum they succeed in gaining. Just when you think he’s dropped a killer track…it peters off into far more of an audial wallpaper territory than you’d expect.

One of the biggest issues here, though, doesn’t lie with Paeth himself, who at the very least has a long track record of delivering polished, catchy and often quite worthy material with the bands he produces.

The problem, and it’s another case of mixed blessing and curse, is his frontwoman, an Adrienne Cowan from a band called Seven Spires…your guess is as good as mine there.

On the plus side, when she’s leaning more natural voice to melodic, Cowan comes off very much like Ailyn Jiminez of Sirenia – who whatever else you may think of her pop roots remains the only Tristania/Sirenia vocalist worth hearing. At these times, she’s pleasant if light and midrange for a base soprano range, but never really soars or goes into symphonic territory. Even so, fair enough.

The problem comes when she tries to add some aggression and gravel, and starts sounding more like Nina Osegueda of A Sound of Thunder (reference of which band should start you snickering right then and there)…and then boom, she goes all screamo/aggro, like a decidedly cut rate take on Alyssa White-Gluz crossed with an estrogen shot-filled pre-tranny Phil Anselmo, if you can picture such a thing. It’s just AWFUL.

So in the end…well produced, he tries to vary his approach and therefore keeps the riffs at least interesting. It’s as well produced as you’d expect, and in her better moments, Cowan sounds Ailynesque.

It’s the yawning I keep finding myself doing, the bored distraction these songs elicit that leave this compromised…until she pulls that gravel to screamo shit, and pulls ya right back in to a full on distaste.

I expected much better from the man who helmed so many peak Euro symphonic power metal albums, that’s about the size of it.

THE DEFIANTS – Zokusho (Frontiers Music s.r.l.) (September 13)

A trio of Danger Danger vets (interestingly, ones whose tenure in said band barely overlapped!) reunite (or perhaps “unite” in the first place!) to drop an album that sounds just as good if not better than anything I recall that band dropping back in the day. I really dug the vocals, here.

Post-Ted Poley frontman Paul Laine offers a stronger, more Bon Jovi-style approach to his predecessor, with post-millenial shredder Rob Marcello dropping some really nice leads. And I mean, surprisingly so!

Think Reb Beach, XYZ, Warren DiMartini or George Lynch as the only analogues of players who delivered some class and flash to a glammy hair metal template…but then remove the legato feel, and make it more staccato and shredworthy. Color me impressed, the fucking guy’s rather good.

…do we need to say anything else? The songs are more than solid, very melodic, anthemic, and have some powerful, driving riffs.

Some highlights? “Standing on the edge” really stands out, but “love is the killer” is nearly as good, “fallin for you” and “hold on tonite” are so summertime with the top down in the mid 80’s that if you were there, you’ll find yourself pulled right back to those days in the blink of an eye.

“U X’d my heart” is a strong Def Leppard style power ballad, “drink up” and “allnighter” are party anthems…nothing here ever dips too low in quality, the vocals are great and the leads are quite simply amazing.

Five stars, and left wanting more. This one’s a jaw dropper.

Michael Monroe – One Man Gang (Silver Lining Music) (October 11)

Hanoi Rocks erstwhile frontman continues his lengthy career as a solo rocker with this fairly bang up job of a release.

We’d covered his estimable Blackout States and greatest hits album The Best, noting in the latter that it was surprising to note that his more recent material tended to stand head and shoulders above his more familiar vintage work…which is a real testament to where this guy’s at nowadays. That’s simply not a statement you get out of me, with…hell, anybody.  It just doesn’t happen.

Hell, most bands are better in their demo days and debut than anything that comes thereafter…and this guy’s kicking ass and mopping the floor with all the stuff we know him for? What the hell is this guy on, and how do the rest of us get some?

And sure enough, Last Train to Tokyo does not disappoint in the least.

“One man gang” is a likeable Social Distortion meets Dropkick Murphys style midtempo punk rocker, “last train to tokyo” beefs it up to pop punk ala a Good Charlotte or Rancid with actual teeth, “the pitfalls of being an outsider” feels a bit NOFX, “wasted years” is more heavy rock, “black ties and red tape” picks the tempo back up to punk territory, and “low life in high places” goes back into Social D hard luck ballad territory.

Now, it’s not perfect – there’s a few too many laid back, almost countrified ballads here for this old punk’s taste, and while you can draw a direct line to Johnny Thunders’ solo work, those were never the songs that drew me to the guy – it was his 50’s rock subverted into the service of junkie sleaze punk, best shown in his Heartbreakers days with a pre-Voidoids Richard Hell (who worked out about half of Blank Generation onstage with Thunders).

But the songs mentioned earlier? That’s some damn good stuff, and given that it’s a good 30 years since “dead, jail or rock n’ roll”, much less his days with Hanoi Rocks? That’s saying a hell of a lot.

Hats off to ya, sir. Keep the good stuff coming, and that eternal youth serum flowing…

Gatecreeper – Deserted (Relapse Records) (October 4)

Now here’s a really nice surprise – an expansive feeling, almost gothicized doom/death (“absence of light”, portions of “deserted”) that gives way to more of a pensive, deliberate old school death metal.

Standbys like Autopsy are mashed up with Sunlight Studios Swedeath and Finnish peers like Abhorrence, but with the cleaner, melodic bombast of their Gothenburg melodeath compatriots (“puncture wounds”.)

For every hint of Nihilist/Entombed, there’s another of early Amorphis, for every moment that suggests Riefert or Anatomia, there’s the polish and lead lines of At the Gates, but with the midtempo, almost generic in a good way vibe of Baphomet or early Gorefest (“ruthless”).

It’s hardly “everything you love about death metal, all rolled into one”, but it makes a damn good argument for same, if your definition of “everything” sums to “doom/death meets Finn/Swedeath by way of Gothenburg”.

And all this from the Arizona desert? Geez, and here I thought Goatlord was the only decent act to hail from those climes…*

* well, early Kyuss, but that’s pretty far outside the realm of death metal.

Damn straight, I liked it.

Yurei – Saudade (October 4)

Instrumental prog metal. Guitars are busy and lean jazzy at points, drums are all over the place with polyrhythms, and there’s a laid back ambient keyboard drone vibe underneath that suggests summertime skies and passing clouds…or as promo materials would have it, “video game music ala Final Fantasy”. Not entirely inaccurate, though think more boss fight music than casual BGM.

There’s a lot of whammy bar use here – more than I’ve heard since the heyday of Satriani and Vai, in fact – and while I’m not sure one man band with guests Gabriel Castro actually evokes “saudade” (look it up…and grab the Piero Umiliani soundtrack it hails from while you’re at it. You can learn a lot from Umiliani, kids), it does make for a surprisingly strong guitar shred album akin to the classics of Shrapnel back in the day.

Deserves a place alongside Dragon’s Kiss, Maximum Security and some of the other middle tier efforts of those days, no question.

Tales of The Tomb – Volume Two: Mendicium (September 27)

…mmm, yeah, sure.

An unfortunate sideline in the death metal genre are those bands who move beyond the hoary tropes of the zombie and slasher film genre to dwell on more gruesome, even real life serial killers and their works.

About the most notable of such (assuming you’re talking beyond Chris Barnes’ twisted lyrics in the oddly much loved but always third tier at best Cannibal Corpse) were those guys Macabre, who did that entire concept album about Jeffrey Dahmer, which we covered here.

And this comes off just like one of those…with a few caveats to be noted momentarily.

One amusing Bible-oriented kids show clip aside, the soundbytes appear to be taken from news specials, and about the only thing keeping this forgettably middling “tech death” (in the same sense you can say that about the aforementioned Cannibal Corpse or Deicide, anyway) from being entirely another distasteful true crime celebration are its shifting lyrical focuses.

Which are still pretty distasteful.

One is from notorious Japanese gore SOV mermaid in a manhole (ugh). Another is a knock on the Second Coming, which I’m sorry, but that sound byte left quite amusing. Didn’t really care to delve into the song’s lyrics one way or the other, but great opener there!

Finally, speaking of distasteful, they actually do a song on 9/11.

Seriously.

(takes deep breath. sighs. pauses for a few.)

yeah, okay, whatever.

Didn’t fucking work, and pretty distasteful to boot. Up to you whether you find that a plus or not.

NEXT?

Seven Kingdoms – Empty Eyes (October 4)

Ah, Seven Kingdoms. Love these guys (and gal).

We covered their Decennium and I liked that one enough to grab a physical copy not long thereafter, not something that happens very often if ever.

So here they are with a short EP, 1/5 of which is a Heart cover (gee, think it’s “barracuda”? Come on, surprise me, people…how about “how can I refuse?” or even “magic man” for a change?). One down – they do a fair enough job, but honestly. Who cares? And what do the four tracks worth attending to have to offer?

Well, “empty eyes” is weaker and more depressive than “neverending”, “stargazer” or “in the walls” could ever be, but it’s still pretty strong and worth hearing if you’ve already been exposed to better material from these guys. It’s an album cut, not a single…but pretty good for all that.

Unfortunately, “monster” falls flat, more of a pop ballad with a few 90’s style post-metal/grunge style guitar moments scattered about. As usual, it’s saved by the solo (Camden Cruz and frontwoman Sabrina Valentine are a step above far too many ostensible contenders in Euro-style power metal these days), but not much to see here.

“The water dance” finally breathes a little life into things with that driving opening riff…which promptly falls back to some very deliberate, midtempo business. Thankfully most of the bridges and choruses go back to the original riff, with layered vocals fading in and out, complementing each other before vanishing like a wisp. Still not up to Decennium standards, but like “empty eyes”, has some promise.

Ugh, we’re back to ponderous march tempo balladeering for “valonquar”. That’s it?

Look, they’ve gone the EP route before, with “In the Walls”, but that was a much stronger affair, followed by an absolutely killer album.

It’s clear that neither Cruz’ leads or Valentine’s vox have lessened or suffered in their absence from the studio these two years past…so why so much middling to, let’s be honest, weak material? Is this really your best foot forward?

A lot of folks would say, hey, it’s just an EP, filler till the next full length.

But as a guy raised on thrash and death metal, who knows full well that EPs are often stronger than the albums that surround, this overall misstep is cause for concern.

I’m holding on to “empty eyes” and calling it a single with a bunch of filler tracks, closing my eyes and yelling “I disbelieve!” at whatever cosmic dungeon master is listening.

The next one will be much better, it has to be.

Hell, couldn’t be more disappointing, overall…

(shakes head, sighs, ponders pulling out Decennium for another spin)

…next?