By John Jeffrey
Being a lifelong KISS fan is an easy thing to say, but when reviewing a KISS or KISS-related product, sometimes it's hard not to be bias or to be as objective as you should be. And when Ace Frehley is your number one influence and inspiration as a guitar player, it's even harder to admit that one of your heroes just released a new CD that just doesn't cut the mustard.
Although Ace Frehley's "Space Invader" lands this week, I've had a review copy for some time, and I've given it many listens, hoping that the material would grow on me. For me, an Ace Frehley song (whether on a KISS album or one of his solo albums) usually has an instantaneous appeal that sucks you in from either a great opening riff (ie: "Rocket Ride"), a catchy chorus ("Talk To Me") or one of his signature guitar solos that you can hum along to ("Shock Me"). Perhaps the only thing I didn't like about Ace's last solo effort (2009's "Anomaly") was the fact that instead of going into the studio with pre-written lead guitar solo ideas (which he had always done throughout his career - in KISS and solo), he played everything 'off the cuff,' which in my opinion, the end result wasn't as great as it could of been. But most of the songs on "Anomaly" do have that immediate "Ace" recognition to them, making "Anomaly" a very solid release. However, between the lack of quality songs and the inconsistent production values, "Space Invader" doesn't seem to have that same appeal as "Anomaly" and I don't think it will be a disc that I'll be keeping in heavy rotation.
In an attempt to stay positive about "Space Invader," considering the album is also being released on vinyl, I'm going to further review it 'old school,' breaking it down by "Side 1" and "Side 2." Side 1 begins with the title track, a mid-tempo track with Ace doing kind of a melancholy 'spoken word' vocal approach, going into a drone-y chorus, which could have easily been the theme song for a cheesy 80's sci-fi flick. Not a great opening track. While some have compared the "Space Invader" CD to Ace's 1978 KISS solo album, I really don't hear any connection other than the fact that the guitar solo section of the song "Space Invader" goes into double time, like the solo in "Snowblind." That's it! Next up is the DOA first single, "Gimme A Feelin'" which has a cool vibe, but not very memorable. The remainder of the first side is somewhat interesting, as I picked up on Ace recycling parts of some older Frehley's Comet era songs/demos. The pre-chorus of "I Wanna Hold You" is almost the identical melody lifted from the demo, "Back Into My Arms," and the song "Change" (probably the best song from "Side 1") sounds almost like a complete re-write of the song "Take Me to the City" (a bonus track released on the 1996 Ace Frehley tribute CD, "Spacewalk").
Side 2 of "Space Invader" is much more enjoyable to me, as songs like "Inside The Vortex" and "What Every Girl Wants" achieve what Ace failed to attain earlier in the disc with "Gimme A Feelin'" and "Toys," which almost seem like brother/sister songs to the aforementioned tracks. The two biggest letdowns on "Side 2" are the songs "Reckless" and the cover of Steve Miller's "The Joker." "Reckless" had the potential to be the best song on the whole record, as the verses are simply phenomenal - classic Ace - and then goes to this oddball chorus that really reverts the song to mediocre status, which is unfortunately what most of what "Space Invader" amounts to. While Ace covering "The Joker" may have looked good on paper - with the whole 'Space Cowboy' line and all - the end result sounds like Ace doing a karaoke version of the song. The saving grace of the 'flip side' of "Space Invader" is definitely the epic "Past the Milky Way." On the surface, the song is simply the combination of the bridge of Elo's "Do Ya" (which Ace covered on 1989's "Trouble Walkin'") and Blind Faith's "Can't Find My Way Home," with Ace pledging his love to current girlfriend, Rachael Gordon (who's credited for 2 co-writes on the album), the song simply oozes that quirky likability, which the reason why so many people love this guy. Ace's soloing on this song is the most inspired playing you will find on "Space Invader." Although the whole "Spaceman" theme seems somewhat overdone on the disc, more songs like "Past the Milky Way" would have done this body of work some good.
In closing, while the marquee states "Ace Frehley," perhaps the absence of key quality control members like former bassist Anthony Esposito and drummer Anton Fig (both who were huge contributors on "Anomaly") really hurt this sequel of sorts. Perhaps instead of getting caught up in Ace "being more KISS than KISS" he should have concentrated more on "Ace outdoing Ace," as the 'Space Invader' failed in this mission.
By John Jeffrey
By John Jeffrey
Red Dragon Cartel is the long awaited release from former Badlands/Ozzy guitarist Jake E. Lee. Coaxed out of retirement by longtime friend Ronnie Mancuso, a noted session guitarist/bassist, composer and producer for Beggars & Thieves, Mancuso was sharing a studio space, “The Hideout,” (in Las Vegas) with super hot producer, engineer and mixer Kevin Churko (Ozzy Osbourne, Five Finger Death Punch, Rob Zombie, Hinder, In This Moment). Ronnie and Kevin started talking with Jake, then slowly, Ronnie and Jake along with Kevin’s son Kane (co-writer of Five Finger Death Punch’s “Remember Everything”, In This Moments “Blood” and many others) started writing songs under Kevin’s supervision, based on literally hundreds of great licks Jake had stored up from his years in seclusion.
The end result is sort of a mishmash of classic Jake E. Lee style blues-y metal guitar riffing mixed with current metal sounds courtesy of the Churko father/son team. The "Red Dragon Cartel" CD suffers from the double edged sword of having too many guest musicians appearing on it. On one hand, it's cool to hear Jake collaborate with these different artists, with the end result being a diverse sounding record. But with there being so many different musicians on it (especially in the vocal and drum department), you really don't know what the core Red Dragon Cartel lineup truly sounds like. For example, although the press release states "the majority of tracks" were "recorded with the new permanent members (of) Red Dragon Cartel," RockMusicStar was informed by drummer Brent Fitz that he recorded the drum parts for "5 or 6" of the 9 songs which have percussion (track 10 is an all piano instrumental titled, "Exquisite Tenderness"), and 4 of the 9 songs (which feature vocals) have guest singers on them as well - which is almost half of the album.
Truthfully, it took me a few listens to determine if I actually liked the album or not, and after digesting the whole thing on the third or fourth listen, I actually started to 'get it.' While the opening track (and lead off single/video), "Deceived," gives you the best impression of what RDC is all about, I actually preferred the songs with the female guest vocalists ("Big Mouth" sung by In This Moment's Maria Brink and "Redeem Me" sung by Sass Jordan) and the song "Wasted" featuring former Iron Maiden front man, Paul Di'Anno, over the songs sung by RDC's lead singer D.J Smith, and consider those to be the best on the disc.
Unfortunately, Smith is not a strong enough singer to front the Lee's Cartel, and came as no surprise that he is actually a drummer by trade, not a lead singer. As great as Jake E. Lee's guitar lead guitar playing is, and with the songs themselves being solid, having the guest vocalists like Cheap Trick's Robin Zander (on the song "Feeder") really save the CD from being a big time "fail."
Although "Red Dragon Cartel" is being pushed as a 'band record,' I really feel like it's more of a 'solo album' from Jake E. Lee, as it really lacks the cohesive nature of what a 'band record' should be. I feel if the listener thinks of the record as an experimental musical solo journey be Lee, they will find it much more palatable if viewed and listened to in that regard.
It may have taken us forever, but we have finally compiled our "Top 10 of 2013.” Over the last month, I, along with RMS superstar, John Jeffrey, spent countless hours listening and critiquing almost every significant rock release of the past year. Overall, I felt that it was a good year for music. Some of my favorite artists released some great material during the year. While many "fans" don't really care about new music and just want to hear the hits, we at RMS feel that artists should always continue to create new art, no matter how old or established they are. So, here is our list of the "Top 10 of 2013." Please feel free to include your “Best Of” list, and add any comments in the “Comments” section under this review. Most importantly, thank you for your support during 2013. We are looking forward to doing some incredible things in 2014! - Thomas S. Orwat Jr.
1. Goo Goo Dolls - "Magnetic" - The multi-platinum darlings from Buffalo, NY, shine on their 10th studio release. Songwriter/singer/guitarist John Rzeznik proves that he's in a class all of his own. Simply put, this CD is filed with great and memorable songs. Their current single and Top 20 hit, "Come to Me," is one of the most catchy and unique songs that Rzeznik has ever penned, and there is potential for many more "hit" singles off this release. Those that criticize and dismiss this band for being too commercial or polished are not only ignorant, but more importantly, are missing out on an incredible band lead by a songwriting genius. tsojr
2. Black Sabbath - "13" - The kings of Heavy Metal re-unite for the first album in thirty-five years. Ozzy, Iommi, and Butler still have the goods, and give their fans one more epic release. This album debuted at #1 on the Billboard album charts during it's first week of release. Producer, Rick Rubin, did an outstanding job of recapturing the classic Sabbath doom and stoner sound from the 70's. Even though guitarist Tony Iommi was battling cancer during the recording of this release, he plays as if he is possessed by the Devil. '13' serves as a great swan song for this legendary band. Check out the tracks "God is Dead" and "End of the Beginning" to hear this for yourself. tsojr
3. Winery Dogs - "Winery Dogs (self titled)"- This critically acclaimed super group consisting of Billy Sheehan-bass, Richie Kotzen-vocal/guitar and Mike Portnoy-drums, delivered a spectular debut release filled with well-crafted songs and killer musicianship. Not too many virtuoso musicians have the skills to pull something like this off. Hopefully, this band can stay together, and give us more incredible music down the road. tsojr
4. Motorhead - "Aftershock" - While many have been predicting his death for decades now, Motorhead leader, Lemmy Kilmister, shows no signs of slowing down- even at the age of 68. Although Motorhead has always pleased rock and metal fans with their unique no-fills, loud and heavy style of rock n' roll, this release, which is the band's 21st studio release, is even more aurally fulfilling. If Lemmy does decide to never write or record again, 'Aftershock' would serve as an outstanding end to a legendary career. tsojr
5. Stryper - "No More Hell to Pay" - While many glam-metal bands from the 80's are going through the motions of playing their past hits or releasing sub-standard material, Stryper's songwriter/singer/guitarist, Michael Sweet, just gets better and better with every recording. 'No More Hell to Pay' is filled with mind-bending guitar work, profound lyrics, and some of the most intense songs ever written by Sweet. Stryper is, without a doubt, on top of their game, and currently the best band still around from the decade of decadence. tsojr
6. Willie Nile - "American Ride" - 65-year-old singer/songwriter, Willie Nile, released the best CD of his career. 'American Ride' is a diverse, 12-song masterpiece that would even make the likes of Bruce Springsteen and Bob Dylan jealous in envy. Perhaps because Nile has never received the mass success that he deserves, he still remains hungry and, as a result, pours it all into his songwriting. Although this CD received great reviews from some of the most prestigious music critics in the world, it's a bit disappointing that it didn't break out and make Willie Nile a household name. tsojr
7. Soulfly - "Savages" - An intense sonic storm of the most brutal and heavy riffs ever composed. Soulfly songwriter/singer/guitarist, Max Cavalera and band just slay it on tracks, "Bloodshed" and "Cannibal Holocaust." If you are in a pissed off mood, crank this one up. tsojr
8. Pinnick Gales Pridgen - "Pinnick-Gales-Pridgen (self titled)" - Another amazing supergroup trio of accomplished musicians. This release has great songs with stellar musicianship. Guitarist Eric Gales just rips on this one. This is what a rock power trio should sound like. I would love to see this band hook up with the Winery Dogs for a US tour. tsojr
9. Megadeth - "Super Collider" - In 2013, Dave Mustaine proved, once again, that he can churn out the gun-metal greatness under the moniker of Megadeth. While some fans felt certain songs were going for too much of a mainstream/commercial feel (ala "Risk"), the majority of the album is as bone-crunching and hard-hitting as ever. And, just when you think you've heard it all, Megadeth delivers possibly the first ever Heavy Metal/Ragtime mashup in the song, "Blackest Crow." JJ
10. Queensryche (w/Todd La Torre) - "Queensryche (self titled)"- After not being included to record their own musical parts on the last few official 'Queensryche' releases, the original members of the group, Eddie Jackson, Scott Rockenfield, Michael Wilton, proved they still retain the classic Queensryche vibe, which many fans have felt has been missing from their studio albums for at least a decade. Along with new guitarist, Parker Lundgren, and the perfect replacement for original vocalist, Geoff Tate - Todd LaTorre - the band has been reborn, and it's quite evident that they are enjoying to, once again, flex their musical muscles in the studio. While 'Queensryche' isn't the throwback album to 'The Warning' the group promised, it certainly shows the band is back on track to greatness, and can still produce the type of quality material their fans have been clamoring for. JJ
Honorable mention: Gwar - "Battle Maximus," Ted Nugent - "Full Bluntal Nugity Live," Scott Stapp - "Proof of Life"
Written by John Jeffrey
Normally, when reviewing a release for RockMusicStar, we will either post our review just prior to when it comes out, or during the week of the actual release. However, when the opportunity arose to review the latest KISS book, "Nothin' To Lose: The Making of KISS (1972-1975)" written by Ken Sharp, with Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons, I was a bit apprehensive about writing a review on the book for a couple of reasons.
One, due to some miscommunication, while we expected to receive the book well in advance of the release date, we didn't wind up getting our review copy until some time after the book had already been released, which meant we wouldn't be able to get our review up within our normal self-imposed deadline. Two, while any book written about KISS immediately peaks my interest, the story of the beginning of KISS is a topic which I'm so familiar with, I was skeptical about whether or not I would learn anything new that I hadn't already heard or read before. And if there was nothing new to be learned, what positive things could a really say about the book?
After digesting "Nothin' To Lose" from cover to cover, I realized that what I knew about the beginnings of KISS were simply the 'CliffsNotes,' as this book really tells the story in vast detail and fills in a lot of the blanks about things that many KISS fans (including myself) did not know about KISS' initial rise to success. Considering many KISS fans obsess over minutia, "Nothin' To Lose" delivers, as it is chock full of details, allowing the reader to be the 'fly on the wall' for early band meetings, rehearsals, days/nights in the studio and the escapades which occurred after the show, backstage and at the hotels. All written in good taste, as Ken Sharp & co. does not allow "Nothin' To Lose" to read like a smut filled dirt rag. It's an easy read, but does not insult any reader with an average or above average education.
Many interesting facts come to light throughout the story told in "Nothin' To Lose" and many of the myths and legends about the group's formation get debunked as well. You see what Ace Frehley and Peter Criss' pre-KISS 'classified' magazine ads REALLY said. Did Ace really unplug Bob Kulick's guitar and just start playing during their KISS auditions, like the story has been told so many times? How important was the addition of "KISSin' Time" to the sales and success of the first album? How did the release and failure of a Johnny Carson album (an audio version of "The Tonight Show") prevent the demise of Casablanca records and the potential end of KISS?
"Nothin' To Lose" may be one of the best KISS/KISS related books ever to be released. For factual content, Gene Simmons' "KISS And Make-up" may be the best overall, but at times it kind of reads like a text book (which makes sense considering Gene was a one time school teacher). For entertainment value, Peter Criss' "Makeup to Breakup" is a fun read, but there seems to be so much emphasis on sensationalizing everything, you may question the validity of some of the stories (which several people within the KISS circle have done so, both publicly and privately). With "Nothin' To Lose," you get the story from all different perspectives. Not only from the band members, on the inside looking out, but from the viewpoint of the people who were close to the band, on the outside looking in. Although the book is credited as being written by Sharp, Stanley & Simmons, you could really add a long list of names to the writing credits, as there is a literally a magnitude of people who help tell this "epic oral history." Ultimately, you have to give Ken Sharp the credit for having the ability to edit and intertwine everyone's stories, which virtually reads seamlessly. At points, you would almost think it was written by one person, if you didn't read the name of the person(s) telling their side of the story.
"Nothin' To Lose: The Making of KISS 1972-1975)" is hopefully just the beginning chapter of what could be an excellent volume of work, chronicling the entire history of KISS.
Special Thanks to Ken Sharp and Heidi Metcalfe Lewis
By John Jeffrey
What a fitting way to start the Halloween season by doing a CD review by a band that encompasses every image that the 'day of the dead' could possibly conjure. What band is this I speak of? Why, it's Gwar, of course. Releasing their 13th studio album, "Battle Maximus," at the end of last month, their latest release is the first album minus longtime guitarist/song-writer/producer, Cory Smoot, who passed away from coronary artery disease nearly 2 years ago. Just as Halloween is the day which celebrates the dead, "Battle Maximus" is a tribute of sorts to the character Smoot portrayed in Gwar, Flattus Maximus. "Battle Maximus" features twelve brand new tracks that not only honor their departed ally, but tells the story of Gwar's latest struggle against what may be their greatest enemy yet...the insidious "Mr. Perfect", who has traveled through time itself to steal the power of Gwar, which is the power of immortality, and wants to use this power to mutate the human race into his twisted vision of what the "perfect" human should be. Once again Gwar finds themselves as the only thing standing between the human race and the latest super-powered shithead bent on the destruction of Gwar and the enslavement of their worshippers.
Once the album kicks in with "Madness at the Core of Time," you kind of get the idea that Gwar is going for more of an oldschool/pre-Smoot era sound with "Battle Maximus" (produced by John Angelo). Initially showing more of a punk-ish, DRI/Suicidal Tendencies vibe, this was personally disappointing as I really became a fan of Gwar during the Smoot era (specifically starting with the "Beyond Hell" album). While the third track, "Bloodbath," showed promise and improvement, once the next song ("Nothing Left Alive") began, it became clear that while "Battle Maximus" started off a little slow, the album is truly a bombastic, heavy metal assault. Probably, not only their heaviest album to date, but arguably their best.
While "Battle Maximus" is the first album to feature Smoot's replacement, Brent Purgason (who portrays the character Pustulus Maximus, who happens to be cousins with Flattus), it is also the first album to feature bassist Jamison Land, portraying longtime character, Beefcake the Mighty. In fact, while Purgason does a stellar job solidifying his position as Pustulus, there are also other members of the "Maximus" clan who appear on the CD. The album features several guest guitarists on the title track, each under a new "Maximus" character. Zach Blair, who portrayed Flattus Maximus before Cory Smoot, provides additional guitar to several songs as the character Splattus Maximus. Todd Evans, a former "Beefcake," also appears on the title track as Skookum Maximus.
Lead singer, Dave Brockie (Oderus Urungus), shared some of his vocal duties, as Bob Gorman takes the mic on the song written about Gorman's cave-troll character, entitled, "I, Bonesnapper." With Brockie singing all of the other songs, "I, Bonesnapper" is a nice change of pace, as Gorman's vocal approach is very different from Brockie's. He has a nice flow to his lyrics, as his vocal style could be considered borderline rapping. During the song, "Bonesnapper" explains how he was taken by GWAR and how he serves his masters. Throughout the song, he candidly admits, "It's not easy being green!"
With "Battle Maximus" Gwar has created one of their most awe-inspiring albums to date, one that is sure to join the ranks of the Bohab's favorite releases. "Battle Maximus" is the ultimate expression of Gwar's contempt for modern society and the hypocrisy and horror of a world gone mad. And in the words of the Mighty Scumdogs themselves, "Get ready, human scum...Gwar is coming...all over your face!"