Since being a teenager, my favourite subgenre of Metal has always been Thrash Metal. However, for some bizarre reason, when the New Wave Of Thrash Metal started, and lots of younger bands started making top quality Thrash, I utterly slept on it, not exploring it at all, or sometimes I even outright dismissed it.
This year I’ve been rectifying that, giving bands like Hazzerd, Harlott, Hyades, Havok, Power Trip, Lich King, Mosh-Pit Justice and Municipal Waste their fair shot and being won over time and time again.
The one exception to my New Thrash blind spot has always been Gama Bomb, maybe its because they’re my fellow countrymen, maybe its because they strike the right balance of humour and fun without descending into parody, maybe its just because they write the most memorable songs, but even when I had a “1980s or GTFO” attitude towards Thrash, I’d still find time to listen to Gama Bomb, recommend them to people, and I was even lucky enough to see them live (remember concerts guys?) when a guitarist I knew gave me a free ticket and transport (good guy!) back before I went to concerts regularly or was able to drive.
Many years since I first went in on the band with their Tales From The Grave In Space record, Gama Bomb have now released what I believe to be not only their best album to date, not only one of the best NWOTM albums I’ve heard, not only an album as good as what the ‘80s bands can put out nowadays, but one of the straight-up best Thrash albums I’ve heard to date from any era.
You heard that right. This album is their best one yet. This album can stand proudly up to the best things Slayer or Anthrax have been putting out since the ‘00s, and this album can stand up happily to some things Death Angel or Heathen were putting out in the late ‘80s. Never mind simply holding its own; this album is actively better than most of the output Thrash bands put out in the ‘90s and arguably better than some (if not a lot) classic Thrash and Proto-Thrash albums of 1983-1985 too!
I was a week one buyer (December 2020) after getting mega hyped by the pre-release singles, but it has taken me this long to write a review simply because I wanted to make sure how hard I like it wasn’t just hype or a sort of bubble-gum scenario where the flavour will go away really soon kind of thing. However, a few months later and I still think this record is a damn masterpiece of Thrash.
Songs like “Miami Super-Cops,” “Sea Savage,” “Ready, Steady…Goat!” and “Sheer Khan” just get stuck in my head for days. I have so often been on a walk these days and been unable not to sing aloud “Down, down, town!” during “Miami Super-Cops” when I had otherwise been walking in silence, sometimes leading passers-by to look at me like I am a lunatic. I don’t care, its so catchy it is irresistable!
Alongside top notch, catchy as hell tunes, everything else works perfectly. The production is tight, the playing is brilliant, the vocals just get better every time you hear them (some of those crazy Agent Steel-style screeches are so catchy) and the mixture between serious traditional Thrash music but goofy lyrics just works so well (but importantly, without being comedy music, which is always a turn-off for me). For example, when they go into “What shall we do with a drunken sailor” in the middle of the title track, it comes across as really clever even though it probably shouldn’t.
In summary, if you like Thrash Metal and can get over the fact that the band are not from the 1980s, you absolutely need this album in your collection, no questions asked.
2021 sees the release of the seventh full-length studio album from the horror and sci-fi obsessed industrial tinged larger than life rock icon Rob Zombie. Cumbersomely named; “The Lunar Injection Kool Aid Eclipse Conspiracy” sees Rob Zombie continued his tradition of excessively titled albums, but perhaps not topping his most OTT choice from a decade ago with his fourth record “Hellbilly Deluxe II: Noble Jackals, Penny Dreadfuls And The Systematic Dehumanization Of Cool.”
It was released on Nuclear Blast and follows up the very well received “The Electric Warlock Acid Witch Satanic Orgy Celebration Dispenser” album from 2016, which the general consensus around reckoned was one of Zombie’s best albums to date, but for me it was actually a bit of a let-down after my favourite album to date, Venomous Rat Regeneration Vendor from 2013. Warlock had its highlights for sure, and I appreciated the attempt to be lean, succinct and have a big personality, but fell a bit flat a times in the song writing department of the deeper tracks.
As such, I approached this new album with a bit of trepidation, but luckily ‘Kool Aid really knocked it out of the park in my opinion, as it seems to fuse the best elements from ‘Venomous (Catchiness, hooks, better song-writing) and ‘Warlock (immediacy, character, eccentricity).
This is the second album to be produced by Christopher “Zeuss” Harris. It doesn’t have as clean nor big a sound as the old Scott Humphrey produced albums of yore, but it does has a lot of energy and seems to be going for a bit of a slightly punkier vibe than a typically industrial or even stadium sound.
The band line-up is also the same as last time around. Former Marilyn Manson member turned solo virtuoso John 5 has been in the band for years and years now, but his influence is particularly notable on this record, with all the little funk asides and effects laden guitar parts. I feel like he has been allowed to shine much more than say Educated Horses for example. I would argue that in terms of sheer guitar playing fun, this is definitely one of the most colourful Rob Zombie records to date. Its also the third studio with former Marilyn Manson drummer Ginger Fish on board. Now that Manson’s career is looking to be fast going downhill, its great to see some of the members from the iconic Holywood line-up are still out there making an impact.
There are a lot of damn fine songs to be found here. From the single “The Triumph Of King Freak” and “The Eternal Struggles Of The Howling Man” to the much talked about country tinged “18th Century Cannibals, Excitable Morlocks and a One-Way Ticket on the Ghost Train.” The real highlights for me personally are the stompy “The Satanic Rites of Blacula” and the groovy “Shadow of the Cemetery Man” as well as “The Ballad of Sleazy Rider.” I’d already rank it higher in the discography than Hellbilly Deluxe 2 or Educated Horses and in fact there is certainly a much higher hit to miss ratio than ‘Warlock on the deeper cuts. It hasn’t been out that long so its probably too early to tell, but already I’d estimate that this is in at least the top half of his discography.
Its not all glory though. There are 17 tracks here, totalling 42 mins, but there is a bit of fat that could be trimmed. Six of the Seventeen tracks here are effectively intros or interludes and this cumulatively makes up a full five minutes of the record. Zombie has never been a stranger to intros and interludes, the classic debut Hellbilly Deluxe certainly has its fair share, and the platinum selling follow up The Sinister Urge had a couple, and while I appreciate that one or two can add flavour and break things up, I think this record has perhaps the most extracurricular activity outside the main songs, which may affect the flow a little bit (its not a deal breaker or anything, but I’ll probably find myself skipping them a lot in the future).
To summarise; it has a silly name and a lot of interludes, it doesn’t sound as huge as the early records sonically, but it is consistently chocked full of strong and memorable songs, has some variety and in terms of quality it is even better than its much hyped predecessor. Well worth checking out.
Hate list features? Feel free to skip this article and others in this series.
Here I’ll be ranking the albums by certain bands in order from Best (actually my subjective favourite) to worst/least good (subjectively, in my opinion). Number 1 is obviously the best. The lowest number is my least favourite.
01. Operation: Mindcrime (1988) – An album so good they have released a live album of it in its entirety not once, but twice, with an additional third version as a bonus live album with the anniversary edition. This is the one you see in all the magazines, all the best metal albums lists, all the website countdowns, and with good reason. Not overrated, this one actually lives up to the reputation. Man do I love this record. I keep a framed vinyl copy on my wall as decoration. A concept album that doesn’t sacrifice good structure, and brilliant music just for the story, while also not going too far the other way and just sounding like a disconnected bunch of random tunes that you can only tell is a story because you’re told so. No, this is concept album perfection. Musically, it is also perfection, a brilliant melding of Hard ‘80s Rock, Metal, little touches of Prog without getting overblown, staggering lead guitar work, memorable drumming, utterly world class singing from one of the world’s best Metal singers back in his prime, and an expansive production job too. Masterpiece. I have such fond memories of discovering this. I can still remember in vivid detail the bus ride into Oxford to get it, in the basement part of the HMV where the Metal, Prog and other non-pop music was kept, and the staff who always had the music up waaaay to high.
Standout tunes include: “The Needle Lies,” “Revolution Calling,” “Spreading The Disease” & “Suite Sister Mary.”
02. The Warning + Self-Titled EP (1984 + 1983) – Although Mindcrime is the better record, when I think of Queensryche, the thing that comes into my mind, is the first 30 seconds of the title track to Warning, that vocal on its own ringing out, which then crashes into a metallic but rocky riff, and those brilliant, awkward, impressive drums. Mindcrime impressed me and I knew it was a great record, but Warning and the EP were what made me really fall in love with them. There was a period in my life when I was getting really physically fit and I used to always go for long walks, and my go to record at the time was Warning, (or both Warning and The EP together). When I went to see the band live, songs from this were some of the ones that made me smile the most and sing along the hardest. On their Live Evolution DVD, the songs from this era are my favourite section of that DVD’s era-by-era style setlist. As the music here is earlier, there is a bit more influence on the sleeve, it is a bit more of its time (and as such, it is incredibly charming and makes the fuzzy metalhead spot in my heart buzz every time I hear it). The EP is great because it is a short, sharp, filler free blast that covers a range of styles and gives a brilliant first impression, and the album is great because it takes everything the EP did and expands it, fleshes it out and gives you more. They’re both so perfect in their own way that I find it hard to rank one above the other, hence the joint number 2 slot. Standout tracks include: “Warning,” “En Force,” “NM 156,” “Roads To Madness” and “The Lady Wore Black.”
03. Rage For Order (1986) – This one took me a while to get into. I mean, I loved “Walk In The Shadows” the first time I heard it, I’m not a savage, but with the moody atmospheric tracks and semi-ballads, not to mention the weird cover song, and all the stuff in the CD’s linear notes about how the fans were turned off by their make up and fashion choices in this era, I don’t know, it just wasn’t as instant love at first listen as the other records. However, once I got into it, I really enjoy what they did here, it is a very clever sequel to the debut album, and shows that the band are no one trick pony. It really highlights their adventurous side, and is probably a bit more progressive than even Mindcrime although Queensryche always do it in a subtle way, it isn’t just writing 20 minute songs with lots of keyboard solos and ‘70s worship, they actually progress their metal by taking distinct and new approaches to it, (rather than actually regress to the golden age of Prog). Of the first five Queensryche albums, this is probably the most diverse, and the weird robotic production sound also makes it have this perfect oppressive atmosphere that suits the lyrical content. I’ve read a lot that this is a very “textured” album, and I think that is as good an explanation as any.
Standout tracks include: “Surgical Strike,” “Neue Regel,” “Screaming In Digital” & “Chemical Youth (We Are Rebellion).”
04. Empire (1990) – The band’s biggest selling and most successful record, Empire is perhaps most famous for the big hit single “Silent Lucidity” which feels like the second coming of Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb” (in a good way, not a derivative way). That song was so good, but also so easy on the ear, that I had it playing at my wedding while we cut the cake, and none of the relatives realised they were listening to a metal band. I know its not a love ballad lyrically, but it has that sort of sound musically at times, its not exactly “Queen Of The Reich” and so won’t scare off the elderly grandmas, aunts and uncles at the party. Mega hit aside; there is a lot more to the album, from the commercial Hard Rock bangers, to the moody emotional moments, to dark metallic tracks with political or socially conscious themes. There is a smattering of keyboards and an even bigger production than Mindcrime. Everything here is dialled up, the vocals, the guitar solos, the drum fills. It all just has so much “umph.” This album deserves its success.
Standout tracks include: “Empire,” “Jet City Woman,” “Silent Lucidity” & “Resistance.”
05. Self-Titled Album (2013) – After a year or two of nasty mudslinging in the media, the infamous spitting and knife-threat incidents, long time singer Geoff Tate was out, and after a brief period of being called Rising West, Queensryche were back, this time with new singer Todd La Torre at the microphone. After a few of their least well received albums in a row, where Tate had allegedly been in control and stifled contributions from the other members, the rest of the band were ready to show off. This is a revitalised, refocused, reenergised album from a band re-evaluating their legacy and direction, and remembering what made them so good in the first place. Honestly, I almost had this album even higher in the list, but I’d fear being lynched if it was in front of any of the first four albums (being above the fifth album is still heresy enough!). Not unlike the EP, this album is short, sweet, succinct and shows off everything the new line-up would go on to do on the next albums here in one near-perfect little package. Take away the two intro tracks “X2” and “Midnight Lullabye” and it is just nine songs clocking in at just over half an hour. Every song has a unique flavour, every performance is noteworthy, there’s basically no fat on the bones. Next to the aforementioned Warning/EP era tracks, the parts of the live show I loved the most when I got to see them were tracks from this. When Todd sang “As Goooooood as my witness” both live and hearing it on record for the first time, it was straight up chills-in-the-spine stuff! When I make Queensryche playlists now, most of this record finds its way on there. When I fantasise about seeing them live again, it is always songs from this that I picture. I can still see Todd’s gesturing and facial expressions from that show in my mind’s eye every time I listen to the album.
Standout tracks include: “Where Dreams Go To Die,” “Redemption,” “Fallout” & “Vindication.”
06. Promised Land (1994) – Less metallic than the previous albums, and more of a slow burn, Promised Land is one of the band’s proggier, more experimental records. I guess the financial success of Empire allowed the band a bit more creative freedom and confidence to just do what felt right at the time. There is a sense of freedom and exploration here, a sort of “anything goes” atmosphere. A lot of the things that characterise the band’s later work make their first appearance here, like touches of alternative, saxophone, a greater focus on hypnotic moods than in the face power, lower pitched vocals. In short, nobody is going to mistake any song on here for Judas Priest, I’ll tell you that much! However; While this album may have introduced some of the things that lead to Metal fans not liking their mid-late-90s/00s material, the delivery and songwriting is just so good here that it will really win you over if you give it the chance. What makes this album stylistically different from any of the albums that preceded it, is exactly what makes it such a rewarding and captivating listen, especially if you are in the right mood/headspace. Catch me on the right day and this may even be anywhere from one to three places higher in my rankings. Yes, it has some of the style that turns Metal fans off their post-’80s output, but the song writing is better, the mood is more interesting, the guitar work is more impressive, the emotion is more genuine, the saxophone is less intrusive and the Alternative feel is more natural than on any of the subsequent late-Tate-era albums that would follow. This is how it could and should be done.
Standout tracks include: “My Global Mind,” “Real World,” “I Am I” & “Bridge.”
07. The Verdict (2019) – At the time of writing, this is the Rycher’s newest record, and boy is it a strong one. Ok, it isn’t as much of a revelation as the self-titled, and it doesn’t have all the media hype swirling around it, nor did I get to see them live on this cycle so don’t have all the personalised memories about it, and it is about 15 minutes longer so it is less succinct too, but I’d still say it is near as good. The main talking point about this record at the time was that long time drummer Scott Rockenfield was on paternity leave, so drums were handled by singer Todd La Torre instead. He does a good job making it feel like Queensryche (although I am an utter mark for Scott so I’d also say there is no real chance of being exactly right). Apart from Scott being on leave; the new line up was relatively stable, the new formula was established, the band had toured enough together to figure out what works and what could change, and turned in another superb set of songs. I feel like maybe this album doesn’t get as much praise as it deserves as it is kind of another version of the last two records, whereas Queensryche fans are used to massive leaps and changes all the time. This one was more like business as usual. But it’s a hell of business, and I’m glad they’re sticking with it and perfecting it rather than abandoning it too quickly without writing this set of songs.
Standout tracks include: “Launder The Conscience,” “Man The Machine,” “Bent” & “Propaganda Fashion.”
08. Condition Human (2015) – I guess the band might have got a bit of criticism from reviewers about the self-titled being a bit short (I personally liked that about it; I’d call a succinct but great set of songs better value for money that a long album with some lesser tracks tacked on for padding) because this album is about 20 minutes longer than the previous one. Apart from the brilliant lead single “Arrow Of Time” which is just an all out rager and clearly meant to evoke feelings of being the modern day equivalent of “Queen Of The Reich” as their short fast bruiser, this album sees the band try and solidify and define their sound. The previous album was a no-two-songs-alike kind of affair and this record sees the band try and take all those ingredients and combine them together in various ways to make a more cohesive whole. What it lacks in impact, it makes up for in craft. Easily half this album would make it into any ‘Ryche playlist or fantasy live set of mine, and just because I like the other Todd albums a bit more, doesn’t mean it isn’t one heck of a record.
Standout tracks include: “Arrow Of Time,” “Selfish Lives,” “Hellfire” & “Bullet Proof.”
09. Tribe (2003) – Now we get to the more controversial period of the band’s history. This album came out when the band’s fanbase was shrinking, when Geoff was taking a bigger part in the song-writing, when Chris was out of the band (save guest appearances) and when the media cared less about the band in general. Some people dismiss this whole period entirely. Nowadays the band don’t play anything from this period live at all, and many amazon reviewers may urge you to steer away from this period altogether. Not me though, apart from Chris (and on this album he still makes an appearance) the rest of the band are still the same great musicians/singer as on all the classic albums, and if you are the kind of person who listens to Nu Metal, Grunge or Alternative Rock anyway, the flavours won’t be too off-putting. Queenryche were never exactly Possessed or Morbid Saint anyway, and you can’t expect them to be all metal, all the time. Of all the late-Tate period record, Tribe is my favourite. Whereas the two records before this were a bit too samey and lacking in the song writing department, Tribe really feels like the true sequel to Promised Land (hey even then album art is a bit similar). This album still has a lot of the energy, inspiration and passion that the best albums had and the least favourable albums lacked. If you keep an open mind, there are simply some very strong songs here. The drumming is particularly impactful at times, and Tate’s vocals are explorative and diverse. Don’t miss out on this one just because the common consensus dismisses everything between 1997-2013.
Standout tracks include: “The Art Of Life,” “Rhythm Of Hope,” “Great Divide” & “Tribe.”
10. Operation: Mindcrime 2 (2006) – Well, how many late career concept album sequels do you know that people like better than the original? Are King Diamond fans more inclined to listen to Abigail 2 than Abigail? Do most Jethro Tull fans prefer Tick As A Brick 2 to the original? No, creating a sequel to a beloved album from your early days is almost never met with universal acclaim, it is an almost guaranteed instant backlash-generator that draws unfavourable comparison with your best work and creative halcyon days, rather than where you are up to lately, and it can almost never stand on its own without the built in criticism that it fails to live up to its predecessor (and also draws out a very vocal minority of haters who claim you are making a cash grab and spitting on your legacy).
Mindcrime 2 is no exception. Go online, have a few cursory searches, and you will most likely be met with a pretty red hot stream of hate for this record. I don’t think its that bad, I quite like a lot of it actually. Now, as you can tell by my rankings, it is not close to the original… but it is also not in the bottom third either. There’s a lot of good things going for this album, the production is strong, the concept helps inject some interesting drama into the lyrics, there’s a guest vocal from the late great Ronnie James Dio, and the bass gets to be the star a lot of the time. There are certainly some positives going for the record to be sure.
Now for the negatives; first of all, it is just too long, 17 songs is just too many to hold the listener’s interest when you aren’t in your prime anymore. Secondly, it is pretty front loaded, and all of the best material is over by track 11 and 12, which makes the conclusion to the story hard to follow for me as my mind tunes out over the final six songs. Thirdly, and perhaps worst of all the record sacrifices structure, cohesion and a band-feel in favour of serving the concept (the opposite of what made the first Mindcrime so great), in places this feels a bit more like a musical than a killer album, and much of it works as a whole, but little of it stands up on its own. Of all the albums in the list so far, while I do still like it and respect the attempt, this one is the one I would want to see the least from live, or expect to see the least from on a compilation, or that I put the least from (percentage wise and just straight up numerically) into any playlist. If you are not a devoted fan, you would probably be better off skipping this one unfortunately. It is not as bad as everyone says, not even close, but it is missing something, in need of an editor and definitely not the first Queensryche album you should try out if you are a new fan.
Standout tracks include: “I’m American,” “Murderer?,” “Hostage” & “The Change.”
11. Hear In The Now Frontier (1997) – Now we are really getting to the material I like the least. I find myself listening to the following albums the least. I hesitate to call them bad, but when your other material is as good as Queenryche’s best material, this does sort of pale in comparison. As I’ve shown in my Tribe and Promised Land comments, I still like when the band do less metallic and more alternative music, the issue with this album is not the stylistic direction, and Chris DeGarmo is still here, so it isn’t the lack of Chris (which people tend to attribute the cause of band’s later work not being as good to), its just that it is a bit samey, forgettable and basically not captivating. There is no single song I can single out and go “This is bad” about, I just don’t remember most of it later. Since Queensryche have written some of the most memorable songs I’ve ever heard on my whole life on other albums, “Not actually bad, but just forgettable” may be a pretty damning form of faint praise even if I am trying to be nice about it.
Standout tracks include: “Spool,” “Hit The Black,” & “Sign Of The Times.” (The bonus track “Chasing Blue Sky” is arguably better than anything on the record though).
12. American Soldier (2009) – This album deserves an A for the idea, A for effort, but maybe something lower for the execution. It is very well designed with an elaborate concept about how being a soldier can effect someone (and their family) mentally, physically, emotionally and socially. It was designed by visiting veterans and hearing their stories. A whole lot of care and attention went into the planning, concept and lyrics. I really respect what Tate was trying to do here. Just a shame about the music. Again, there’s nothing wrong with it, there’s no “yuck, what a disaster” moment (well, some people say Geoff doing a duet with his daughter is that moment, but I liked the spirit of that), but again, most of it is totally forgettable, samey and interchangeable. I think this is one of the controversial ones where Tate and management allegedly stifled the rest of the band from being energetic, proggy, metallic or in any way impressive, in favour of safe, bland, beige radio rock. If that is indeed the case, you can really tell. If not, the music certainly gives creedance to the rumor.
Its all as my dad would say, “much of a muchness,” but just to finish out my formula, the closest thing to standout tracks include: “Hundred Mile State,” “Middle Of Hell,” & “Man Down!”
13. Frequency Unknown (2013) – At the time of this album, Geoff Tate released an album under the name Queensryche, but it was a bit of a Chinese Democracy situation with most of the key members missing, several line up changes around the release, different members on record to live, and the other key members in a different band with a new singer (Velvet Revolver in this weak analogy). Unlike Chinese Democracy though, it was infamously rushed out quickly. Some people, due to the ugly things said in the media got very divisive and chose one side or the other. I was a bit too impartial and gave them both a fair shake, but lets be honest, one of the two Queenrcyhe albums from 2013 is near the top of my list, and one is near the bottom. A lot of people complain about the production, to the point it was rereleased later with better production, but to be honest it isn’t all that egregious. A lot of people hate the stylistic direction, but other bands have done this kind of thing fine. Some people say it is utterly unlistenable but I think that is a bit harsh; it is better than some things the band or Geoff solo have released. The only real flaw here, is that a lot of the songs could be better. I mean, you’d really think an album with Chris Poland, Paul Bostaph, KK Downing and Rudy Sarso on it would be much better. It just isn’t good enough.
Standout tracks include: “The Weight Of The World,” “Running Backwards,” & “Cold.”
14. Q2K (1999) – Sometimes I feel a bit defensive about this album. “Hey, its not that bad” I always seem to find myself thinking. However, when it comes down to it, when I go listen to a Queensryche album, it is not this one. I think everything I said about Hear In The Now Frontier also applies here too, except the material is even blander and even more forgettable. I guess it doesn’t help that for the first time, I don’t particularly dig this musical direction, it is a bit too U2 for my own personal tastes, but usually I can get into any stylistic change if the songs are good enough. I guess barring a few standouts, they just perhaps weren’t good enough this time. I want to like it more than I actually seem to.
Standout tracks include: “Liquid Sky,” “The Right Side Of My Mind,” & “Breakdown.”
15. Dedicated To Chaos (2011) – I like to try and say that Queensryche have no bad albums. I try to say that even when I like one album better that just means the one is better not that the other one is worse. I try to say that when they try a new style, that its all valid and that they are good to try new things, and that it is impressive they don’t just repeat themselves. I try to defend thier less popular work and I try to tell people to keep an open mind, that they always make something worth listening to in the end. The one album where this all falls apart though is Dedicated To Chaos, I just do not like it. I just can’t think of anything nice to say about it. As my mother always said, when you can’t think of something nice to say, its probably best to blog another few paragraphs about it to explain yourself…
I think it may simply be a genuinely bad album, and I almost never say that. I remember being in a band, and how much work it is to write, record, and play material live on even an amateur level, and can extrapolate how much harder that must be for the professionals. I don’t like to make light of people’s hard work and effort but this is just a bad album, plain and simple, no getting around it. I remember reviews at the time comparing this to Rage For Order, but all I can think of is that they must have been listening to a different record, this sounds and feels about as much like Rage For Order as Lulu feels like Ride The Lightning.
I don’t want to drag this out any more than I have to, so that’s all I’ll say on the matter. I won’t do multiple standout tracks for this, because there’s none I’d want to see live, add to a greatest hits compilation, or even discuss enthusiastically on a blog. I recon the only song I really like is “At The Edge” but even then, they’ve done variations on that kind of thing better already on American Soldier, Operation Mindcrime 2, and even Frequency Unknown.
If you were to use this list as a buyer’s guide, 1-6 are utter must haves, 7-9 are next up once you’ve got into the band, 10-14 are optional if you are obsessed with the band and have already bought all the best stuff, and 15 is really only for the most ardent collectors.
[Warning: My most listened-to artist of the past 12 years by a large margin according to statistics from Last FM is Queensryche, so if you expect a review without mentioning Seattle’s finest, you may have to look elsewhere].
Rejoice In The Suffering is the debut full-length studio album by Todd La Torre, the man most famous for being the singer on the past three Queensryche albums (and drummer on the latest one too!) and who was in Crimson Glory before that.
It was released on Ratpack records and self-produced, but with help from bassist/guitarist/keyboardist Craig Blackwell, with mixing and mastering duties capably handled by Chris “Zeuss” Harris (Chimaira, Hatebreed, Shadows Fall, Overkill, Heathen, and the past two Queensryche records).
Now obviously, the first question you may be wondering is, “does it sound like Queensryche?” And the answer is a non-committal “sort of, a bit, in places, but also no.” Having the man who has been the revitalising force in the band and voice of their records for the past decade will obviously draw some comparison, as will tapping Zeuss who worked on their albums. That being said, the album feels like Todd wanting to use all the ideas he has that don’t quite fit in the Queensryche formula, or that might be too much of a departure if he did. This is not a Hard Rock record, this is not a Prog Metal album. This is a Metal album with a capital M.
The album is heavier, harder, faster and less progressive than 90% of the Ryche’s output, and because Todd doesn’t have to fit in with an established sound, his voice is much less like Geoff Tate’s than it is on Ryche records. While still sounding like himself, he really shows off all different sorts of voices here, from Rob Halford Screeches to that Bruce Dickinson/Ian Gillian talk-sing, to Chuck Billy melodic bark, to a few death growls and at one point an almost Dani Filth style creepy storytelling voice blended with a Johan Hegg roar, on one of the bonus tracks (“One By One”). Don’t let me dropping all those names capsize the boat or deflate your enthusiasm though, this is not to say the album is Todd-does-karaoke, Todd himself would probably be shaking his head if he were ever reading my comparisons; its just my limited language skills describing how broad the range of styles he covers is, he has his own unique spin on all of these voices.
What about the music? Where does that fit in with? Well, to be honest, it reminds me a lot of the newest Andy Sneap-helmed albums by Accept, Saxon and Priest at times, but some songs on the other hand (like “Critical Cynic”) are a little more punchy and staccato with that crunchy guitar sound that modern Prong albums have, but also wouldn’t be out of place on a Five Finger Death Punch album, the sort of thing you get when you take Fear Factory’s mechanical style and make it more organic.
The semi-ballad “Crossroads To Insanity” on the other hand is exactly the sort of thing Queensrcyhe have been doing lately, and probably the one to try first if you aren’t into heavier material. I feel like this one could have just sat happily on The Verdict. Its not really representative of the whole album though, if you want to get sort of the average sound of the record, listen first to the crunchy mid-paced title track, and then to the speedier, thrashier “Vanguards Of The Dawn Wall” which is probably the hardest, heaviest number and closer to Testament than Queensryche. This song shows me why Todd deserves a solo album, as he utterly nails this track, but it would never have fit on The Verdict or Condition Human. Now imagine something mid-way between the two and you’ll get a ballpark idea for where the album sits most of the time.
Todd handles the drums himself and does a great job (he was a drummer since a young age), mixing in a bit of flare with also not overplaying and aforementioned Graig handles the riffs; doing a very solid job of it, serving the songs well. There are some brilliant guitar solos too, particularly on the album closer (not counting bonus tracks) “Apology.”
Good production, check. Good stylistic direction, check. Good music, check. Good vocals, check check check check check.
I don’t know if the album will still be listened to and talked about in 5, 10 or 20 years. I don’t know if Todd’s solo career will be an ongoing thing, or if this is just a one time pandemic-era release of steam while Queensryche can’t tour. I don’t know if I am just unduly fond of it due to being a massive Toddryche fanboy, but I do know that in and of itself, this album is well worth your time right now, and a stirling showcase of a master vocalist demonstrating a broader range than he gets to in his day job. Being selfish, I hope it doesn’t interfere in Queensryche in any way, but other than that one caveat, I have nothing but good things to say about this.
If someone asked me to define pure classic heavy metal, the first thing that comes to my mind is the German band, Accept. Their classic run of 1980s albums is still fresh and entertaining to this day, and their reunion era with the new singer Mark Tornillo is somehow just as good, or even better (very few heritage bands can say that, maybe only Kreator are making better albums nowadays than in the 80s). For example; Their 2012 album Stalingrad was one of my albums of the whole decade, and the follow up to that Blind Rage is just as good.
In 2021 the long running band have put out their sixteenth full-length studio album, and the fifth of their modern Tornillo-era. Like the other albums from this era it is released on Nuclear Blast, and boasts an absolutely banging production job from Andy Sneap (who has done some great work with the best Saxon, ‘Priest and Testament albums of the modern era).
There has been some line-up shifts in recent years, as essential members Herman Frank and Stefan Schwarzmann left before the previous album, The Rise Of Chaos, and now iconic bassist Peter Baltes has departed too. I can imagine a few fans being worried about how that will affect the sound and direction.
Luckily main-man Wolf Hoffman is still going strong, and the Tornillo/Sneap dynamic over Wolf’s signature style ensures a sense of continuity. Christopher Williams on drums and Uwe Lulis on guitar are still here from the previous record (and the live album before that) and both of those guys are pretty dialled into what Accept should sound like anyway, which also helps it all still feel like Accept should feel.
If you have heard any album since Blood Of The Nations, you will know stylistically what to expect here. They’ve settled into a specific style and are pretty much just fleshing out every variation of that theme they can think of without straying too far, kind of like how Motorhead did for their final five or six albums, or what Saxon have been doing on their three or four most recent records. There are fast, medium and slow paced variations. There are melodic, blunt and medium intensity variants. There are rocking and metallic stylistic variants. Some songs may have a bit of a neoclassical section here, or a singalong section there. But at the end of the day, they’ve hit upon an excellent formula and they’re working it to maximum effect one album after another now; There’s lots of speed metal, lots of hard rock and a few tiny tinges of thrash and power metal in small doses for flavour now and again.
If you want to know what this album (or indeed the last four albums sound like), check out the brilliant tracks “Not My Problem,” “No One’s Master” or the title-track “To Mean To Die.” Plenty of good tunes here to keep existing fans happy. This stuff is exactly what I love about the band.
For the band’s more rock, less Metallic side, “Overnight Sensation” is a blast, and the amusing lyrics about social media influencers kind of serve as a spiritual sequel to the previous album’s “Analogue Man.” If you like the band when they add a bit of classical music into the mix, then “Symphony Of Pain” is also worth checking out.
How does this album fit into the band’s catalogue overall? Well, it isn’t my number-one favourite, but it is no disappointment either. I think of words like “solid” or “dependable” which may sound like damning with faint praise, but that isn’t the case. They have released better albums, that’s just the burden of being a brilliant band with a stellar catalogue. There may perhaps be one or two songs that come across as filler, and furthermore because they’ve used this formula for several albums now nothing feels particularly wow-ing or fresh which can sometimes have an impact when ranking records, but as a whole it is just another damn solid set of songs in a style I’ve come to love for the last decade, and still as well produced and performed as ever. If it was a Deep Purple album, it would be Who Do We Think We Are. Still awesome, but maybe not the one that makes it into all the lists.
Will it make my album of the decade list like Stalingrad did? Maybe not. Will it be my number one album of this year? Possibly not either. But do I still recommend you buy it? You bet I doa. If you liked Rise Of Chaos, you’re going to like this, it is as simple as that. At least half the album I can’t wait to add to playlists or see on live albums.
[Ps. As a side note, every time I look at the green album artwork with a pissed off looking serpent and a lightning forked-tongue, I always wonder if it was originally made for Overkill, like maybe the single art for Electric Rattlesnake? Kind of like how Obituary’s Cause Of Death album cover was originally either made or at least suggested for Sepultura’s Beneath The Remains].
Empire Of The Blind was released in September on Nuclear Blast. Heathen are perhaps not the world’s most prolific band, having only released their fourth studio album since their 1980s inception in 2020, but when they do put something out, you can be sure its going to be good.
Carrying on the general sound and vibe of their previous album, The Evolution Of Chaos, this new album sees the band once again blasting out crunchy Bay Area Thrash Metal riffs, a variety of fast, slow and mid-paced material, great melodic catchy choruses and superb melodic lead guitar lines. (Guitarist Lee Altus clearly uses Heathen nowadays as a vehicle to let out the cleaner catchier stuff that wouldn’t fit with his other band, Exodus).
The only main shift in direction from the previous record would be the amount of mid-paced or groove based parts is higher, and the number of speedy parts is a bit lower (although thankfully, without crossing the barrier into being ploddy).
They don’t frontload it and shove a bunch of filler at the end, it starts off restrained, opens up as it goes along, with the power-ballad just after the middle as a bit of a breather. It arguably gets better as it goes on, and also doesn’t drag on too long, clocking in at a solid 47 minutes with 10 proper tracks, an intro and an outro. The production is flawless, the vocals are remarkably good for singer Dave White’s age (holds up a lot better than many of his ‘80s contemporaries), and the overall flow of the album is just right.
Highlights include the tight and bouncy “Blood To Be Let” and the speedy “The God’s Divide” (I wish that was the album opener actually) as well as and the muscular “In Black” which feels like it could be played at sporting events, and reminds me a tiny little bit of the meatier material on Metallica’s Death Magnetic album (think “Judas Kiss” and “Broken, Beaten, Scarred”). The instrumental “A Fine Red Mist” is the real standout moment however, which balances the faster more powerful riffing with grand guitar textures and victorious mountaintop vista, sword-in-hand feel.
Kragen Lum has been handling the heavy lifting in the song-writing department, and seems to be more into creating a mood and leaving room for the singer and lead guitars to show their stuff, rather than just breaking teeth. The balance is not too dissimilar to recent Queensryche albums actually, (I don’t see how someone who loves Condition Human for example wouldn’t enjoy “Shrine Of Apathy”) although still unmistakably Heathen.
If I was to make a slight criticism, it would be that the album could maybe do with one or two faster songs to keep the Thrashing up. For example just one more “The God’s Divide” would have elevated it from good to very good for me, but that’s just nit-picking and personal preference really, and Heathen have never exactly been a Dark Angel or Razor focusing on relentless speed anyway. As long as you don’t go in expecting Darkness Descends, Violent Restitution, Reign In Blood or Pleasure To Kill however, this album is sure to satisfy and if you enjoyed their previous album The Evolution Of Chaos then there’s little chance you’ll be disappointed with the quality of the songs or the performance of the musicians.
Polish Prog Metal band Riverside suffered the terrible loss of their lead guitarist Piotr Grudziński less than half a year after their superb sixth full-length studio album; Love, Fear & The Time Machine.
After the difficult decision to carry on without replacing him, their next and at time of writing newest album was released in 2018 via InsideOut Music and met with deserved acclaim (and surprisingly in this day and age, sold relatively well for a prog album, continuing their streak of gold albums in their homeland).
It can’t have been easy carrying on without such a key member of the band, who’d been there since the very start, but somehow they managed to create a beautiful, affecting, and very interesting album with no loss of quality, while also not losing their ‘sound’ or ‘spirit’. If they had understandably chosen not to continue after 2016, they would have been leaving us with a wonderful catalogue. As it stands however, on Wasteland they do a masterful job of continuing their genuinely near-flawless discography and only solidifying their legacy as absolute masters of the genre.
The actual playing and vocals are top notch. The production and mixing and have a tasteful, stripped back, classic-sounding, raw feel that perfectly suits the material and the place in the band’s discography.
The real magic of the album however, comes from the material here, which is simply wonderful from start to finish. There isn’t one track I would lose, edit or alter. Nine perfectly balanced no-fat tracks over 50 minutes and not outstaying its welcome.
Its so good all the way through it could be difficult to choose highlights, but if you like the band at their proggiest, then check out nine-and-a-half minute “The Struggle For Survival” which features a bit of a 21st Century Schizoid Man/Heart Of The Sunrise/The Necromancer vibe with a lot of instrumental muscle flexing with some brilliant bass and keyboard showing off (and Maciej Meller’s guest guitar solo is especially quite entertaining in a Fripp sort of way). If however you prefer the band just writing good songs; then the varied ‘Veil Of Tears’ and the haunting and touching semi-ballad ‘Guardian Angel’ for example are two of the best songs the band have ever released to date.
This is a record with a lot of up front charm and instantaneous gratification, but a lot of mood, atmosphere and subtle depth as well and even the tracks that don’t drop your jaw right away become favourites in time (I like “River Down Below” more every single time I hear it for example, and I do mean every single time, I can’t say that for many other bands). As with all the Riverside albums to date, I can’t recommend it enough.
Overkill are one of the hardest working, relentless, dependable bands in Thrash Metal. Much like Motorhead were, they were constantly on the road or pumping out album after album, flying the flag and keeping the faith over the years (and still are) wether the media were paying attention or not.
Their first four albums are pretty indispensable Thrash Metal must-haves that I am very find of. I keep a framed vinyl copy of The Years Of Decay on my wall as decoration. I can’t claim to be their biggest ever fan, for example I didn’t give their ‘90s output as much attention as I should have until recently, but I have been slowly rectifying that, and I still have a very high regard of the band even if I don’t know every single thing they ever released. Public opinions seem to be mixed on almost everything after their WFO album, but I remember clearly when almost the whole media, fan community and internet were united in love for their 2010 album Ironbound. That was a fantastic, reenergised, retro but modern, firecracker of an album that filtered what was good about classic Overkill and modernised it, and crucially had the songwriting and performance to back up the production and brilliant formula. To make a Testament comparison, it was very much their Formation Of Damnation.
What happened after Ironbound though? Was it an anomalous high-water mark like Megadeth’s Endgame but then they slowly slipped back down from the heights? Or was it a kick up the ass that was just the beginning of a new period of great album after great album?
Luckily, it was the latter. How do you possibly follow up a career rejuvenation like Ironbound? “Easy,” said Overkill a mere two years later, and promptly issued forth another fired-up, teeth shattering, razor sharp collection of classic yet modernised tracks that give the fans exactly what they want, but somehow without just recycling old material. Stylistically, it is a continuation but also a fine-tuning of what they did on Ironbound, with a few less over-long songs, and a slight rejigging of the ratio of Thrash to Classic Metal to Groove aspects, with a bit less groove this time around and a lot more thrash.
Another superb production job with great guitar tone (and more importantly for Overkill, bass tone), another impressive Ron Lipnicki drum performance, another example of Blitz’s singing/attitude at his very best (gotta love his sarcastic sounding angry snarl) all serve to compliment that aforementioned style and add to the quality of the record as a whole.
Highlights include the single “Electric Rattlesnake” as well as the brief but satisfying “Old Wounds, New Scars” and best of all is probably “Save Yourself” which is just a perfect example of the sound, spirit and style of Overkill.
If you liked Ironbound, this is a tighter, faster, even better version of what that album achieved. If you ever liked Overkill at all, there’s practically no chance you wouldn’t like The Electric Age. Sixteen original studio albums deep into their forty-year career, it was/is pretty exciting to think that the band were/still are able to make material this good.
Heathen are one of the better of the underrated Bay Area Thrash Metal bands, from their melodic and catchy 1987 debut Breaking The Silence, to their dense and slightly progressive Victims Of Deception in 1991. After a long period of inactivity with only occasional appearances, they finally returned with 2010’s The Evolution Of Chaos (or 2009, if you lived in Japan).
Their guitarist Lee Altus has been making a name for himself in Exodus in recent years, and Exodus repay the favour with guest appearances on here by singer Rob Dukes and guitarist Gary Holt.
This album is very much modern Thrash done right; catchy melodies, memorable choruses, a good mixture of tempos but not forgetting to rock out and speed up, and utterly magnificent lead guitar work.
The production, from Juan Urteaga, is absolutely top drawer and equal to any of the modern Thrash releases by the likes of Andy Sneap. It sounds so clear and smooth, highlighting Heathen’s melodic aspirations really well.
In terms of direction, they do try and balance the style of both their more direct debut and their more ambitious sophomore effort, with steps into the future in the form of a whole new approach. The balance of those three key ideas has lead to a very fine record that fans of the band, and the genre at large need to check out.
If there was a slight criticism to be levelled at the album, it is quite long (68 and a half minutes!) but to be fair, there isn’t much in the way of filler either, so I guess we should just be grateful for having a lot of high quality material, even if it is hard to find the time to listen to it all in one sitting.
Here’s include the catchy “Arrows Of Agony,” the direct “Dying Season” and the varied “No Stone Left Unturned.”
Whereas some other heritage bands came back and their album was more of a step in the right direction (Forbidden) or a disappointment (Nuclear Assault), Heathen just nail it here. Well-written, well played and well produced. This set a standard for me against which comebacks can be judged (recently topped by Sacred Reich, but for the past decade, its definitely been one of the best).