I don’t know if it’s just me, but sometimes when I look at the name of some band, I just know what kind of genre they belong to without hearing a second of the music. That means that if I have it in my head that the band in question belongs to, say, power metal – or nu-metal or modern American radio metal, I just lose interest and doesn’t even feel like reviewing it at all. That’s stupid, of course, because half of the times, I’m wrong and sometimes when I’m right, I end up liking the album anyway. Cage9 are such a band. When I got the download link and saw their name, I just knew that they were one of the millions of bands that plays modern metal / hard rock, the stuff that’s being played on the radio everyday, that goes in one ear and out the other. But being the music nerd I am and the fact that this guy had bothered to send me the link, the least I can do is to check it out and make an effort to write something about it. Cage9 are based in Los Angeles but were formed in Panama City and they have been around for some 10 plus years (the online info is somewhat confused, though. It says that the band was formed in 1999, but also that their debut album was released in 1995 – an equation that doesn’t really work…) and have throughout the years released no less than nine albums prior to this one.
It’s not very often that I get to review two albums by the same artist the same year. Back in June, former Nightwish soprano Tarja Turunen released a record called The Brightest Void, an album that according to herself, shouldn’t be seen as a real album but more of a foretaste of what’s come later in the year, August 5th to be more precise. Since Tarjas’s previous solo albums had left me both cold and underwhelmed, Colours In The Dark (2013) excluded, the record came as a very pleasant surprise. For the first time in her solo career, Tarja and her band sounded focused and the songs felt way more direct and in-your-face and many of the tunes stuck right away. It also brought up some expectations for this release – the main one. Well, that it raised the expectations might be to exaggerate a bit but at least I was hoping that the album would follow the taster quality wise. But it could also be the other way around, that the songs on the predecessor were the only great ones and that the main album would disappoint big time.
New music, new bands, new albums by old bands. To finding out about those is like an elixir of life for me. I know that to many people in my age, new music isn’t of any interest and they’re content to only listen to the music they grew up with, but I would go crazy to be stuck with only my old records. Don’t get me wrong, no matter how much I dig a new band or a new record, I always go back to the stuff I grew up with, the classics in my collection. No band will ever top – or replace – bands like Sweet, Kiss, Thin Lizzy, Rolling Stones, Deep Purple etc. but for a music nerd / freak like me, I just can’t get enough of new music. To review albums comes in handy when I want to discover new music – the download links I have been given have opened my eyes to music that I probably would never had found out about otherwise. Since I’m an old-school guy, I still love to buy albums – both CD and vinyl – so this has affected my wallet as well – yes, I do buy records I get for free if they are good enough.
I find it such a relief to finally read a press release of an album of a new melodic hard rock band that doesn’t describe said album (and band) as the new savior of rock and roll and the best thing that has happened to rock music since Led Zeppelin, that said album is truly revolutionary and will without a doubt make said band future superstars. In my experience, those press releases are nothing more than cover-ups for records that are mediocre and underwhelming. I don’t need to read such rubbish, I want to know about the band, where they come from, their influences and the name of the members and their past in music, if they are old enough to have a past. And that is exactly what I got to read when I got the streaming link from Frontiers about new Finish melodic hard rockers King Company and their debut album. Of course, just because the press release is nuanced and written properly isn’t a guarantee that the album is any good, but it sure doesn’t create any expectations or in some cases a hype of sort. So who are these guys then? Well, as I wrote, the band – Pasi Rantanen – vocals, Antti “Eversti” Wirman – guitars, Jari Pailamo – keyboards, Time Schleifer – bass and Mirka “Leka” Rantanen – drums – hail from Helsinki, Finland and the members comes from a past in bands such as Children Of Bodom, Warmen, Kotipelto and Thunderstorm, mostly bands I haven’t ever heard of, to be frank.
Hands up everyone who has longed for a new album by Jackyl. Or everyone who knew that the band even still existed. Or anyone who actually know who Jackyl are. I will put my hand up for the last one because I clearly remember the first time I saw Jackyl on MTV’s Headbanger’s Ball where they showed their debut single “I Stand Alone” from their self titled 1992 album. Their AC/DC meets Southern rock meets pop shipped their debut album platinum “over there” and they had some hit singles like “Down On Me” and the blues rocker “The Lumberjack” where lead singer Jesse James Dupree actually plays a solo on a chainsaw (!) – the band were very close to making it at a time when grunge had started to make a big fuss with bands like Nirvana and Pearl Jam selling records by the pound. But you can never heat up a soufflé, something many bands before them had learnt the hard way. The follow-up Push Comes To Shove (1994) was a pretty good album, but Jackyl tried to write their debut all over again, even bringing out the chainsaw again. Cool as f’**k once, a desperate move twice! The band’s third album Cut The Crap (1997) bombed completely, something not even an appearance from AC/DC’s Brian Johnson could have prohibited by then. Jackyl even got lumped into the “hair metal” moniker (stupid, stupid, stupid name!) together with Warrant, Winger, Poison, Slaughter and all the other pop-metal bands for some unexplained reason.
I have been pretty rough on Heart in my reviews for their recent albums and it’s nothing I enjoy one bit. See, I love Heart. I never got into their 70’s and early 80’s albums because, well, I didn’t know about Heart back then. The first Heart song I ever heard was “If Looks Could Kill” from their self titled come back album back in 1985 and the song really left me breathless. Of course, I instantly bought that record and I fell in love right there and then. The follow-up, Bad Animals from 1987, was just as good and I love both records to this day – despite the horrendous production. The producer in question was, of course, Ron Nevison so it comes as no surprise that the production stinks – he spent the whole 80’s trying his best to ruin rock records and he succeeded every time! My favorite Heart record is to this day, Brigade (1990), this time produced by Richie Zito – a good choice as Zito’s work is superior to Nevison’s. The golden era of Heart – for me – ended with the underrated Desire Walks On (1993), a more dark and serious piece of work but still with all the great melodies they are known for. For ten years the Wilson sisters Ann (lead vocals) and Nancy (guitar and vocals) pursued other musical projects, like The Lovemongers before finally reuniting Heart in 2004. But it was a different Heart that we got.
At first glimpse, The Dead Daisies looked like a side project for some more or less well-known musicians, a place to go when they had some spare time and felt like making some music and have some fun when they had a minute or two to spare. The band was formed by rhythm guitarist David Lowy and lead guitarist Richard Fortus (Guns N’ Roses, Thin Lizzy) and together with bass player Darryl Jones (Rolling Stones), drummer Charley Drayton (The Cult, Eddie Money, X-pensive Winos), keyboard player Dizzy Reed (Guns N’ Roses) and lead singer Jon Stevens (INXS), the band released their self-titled debut album in 2013, a damn fine album full of swinging rockers that should satisfy every rocker who is drawn towards kick-ass rock ‘n’ roll with big groove. The album even included a cameo from Guns N’ Roses guitarist Slash. Back then The Dead Daisies felt more like a collective of musicians than an actual band. Members came and went in an ever flowing stream – some of the musicians that were in and out of the band were drummers Frank Ferrer (Guns N’ Roses) and John Tempesta (The Cult, White Zombie, Rob Zombie, Exodus, Testament) and guitarist Damon Johnson (Black Star Riders, Thin Lizzy, Brother Cane), but also with touring members Dave Leslie (Baby Animals) and Tommy Clufetos (Black Sabbath, Ozzy Osbourne, Rob Zombie, Alice Cooper, Ted Nugent).
I sat down in front of my TV some day back in 1988 to watch some of the hard rock / metal shows that was on the satellite TV shows back then. In 1988, cable wasn’t that usual in Sweden and the place I lived in was pretty early in getting it. I can’t remember if it was on Super Channel or Sky Channel but I never ever missed out on any of the shows that played hard rock and metal videos. Since the more melodic rock and AOR sounding music was huge back in ’88, many of the bands that were being played were in that vein, much to my happiness since I totally adored that kind of music back then (I still love that kind of music but my taste has grown much broader with age). One of the tracks on that show was the debut single from this new band Dare – “Abandon” – that had just been released and the female VJ said “…and girls, check out the lead singer, he’s really something else….”. The song came on and it was just jaw dropping. Little did I know when I saw that video was that the hunky lead singer was no one else than former Thin Lizzy keyboard player Darren Wharton. I was – and still is – a huge Thin Lizzy fan, but I had never paid much attention to Wharton before and since I didn’t even know he had formed a new band, it never dawned on me that this was the Lizzy guy – the female VJ never mentioned it either which is kind of strange. What I did know was that I had to have that album, called Out Of The Silence, and I made sure that that happened the next day or so. To me, Out Of The Silence is an AOR classic and I had the pleasure to see Dare open up for Europe on their Out Of This World tour in 1988, a concert that I still hold as one of my favorite concerts ever. But Dare never managed to top that record and the fact is, they have never even been close to do that.
When I first saw the track list for this album, I though it was a mini-album or an E.P. But then I saw the length of the songs – 14.41, 9.24, 7.32, 18.43 – and stood corrected. Four songs in about 50-some minutes can only mean one thing – this is prog music of some sort. Since I have never heard of this band before I didn’t know if I could expect pop, rock or metal – or all of the above. But a quick google told me that the band has been around since 2006 and this album was their fifth, preceded by Circa 2007, Circa HQ (2009), Overflow (2009) and And So On (2012). They have also released two live albums, one in 2008 and one in 2013, which means that if I dug this record, I have missed out.
The way I see it, live album has run their course. Think about it, when was the last time you heard a live record that made you go apeshit right away? It was back in the seventies and maybe early eighties when live albums were a force to be reckoned with, today every band releases a live DVD after each world tour and most live albums doesn’t even sound live. Yeah, I know, live albums were full of overdubs back in the day as well, but those albums sounded live, they had a spark, passion and they kicked ass. Hard. Kiss Alive and Alive II, Thin Lizzy’s Live And Dangerous, Deep Purple’s Made In Japan, UFO’s Strangers In The Night, Scorpions’ Tokyo Tapes, Queen’s Live Killers, Cheap Trick’s At Bodukan and The Ramones’ It’s Alive are all classics, furious rock albums that didn’t take no prisoners and rocked the living daylight out of us – and they all came out in the seventies. The 80’s gave us a few live killers as well – Whitesnake’s Live…In The Heart Of The City, Iron Maiden’s Live After Death and Scorpions’ World Wide Live were all awesome, but since then I can’t think of any really great live albums released even though there has been a few that are ok. So, when I hear that a band is about to put out a live record, I just shrug my shoulders – live albums just don’t seem that interesting any more. But there are exceptions. For example, I know that Swedish melodic rockers H.E.A.T. are a killer live band and therefore I just had to check out their 2015 release Live In London and that record really rocked, the same with Live Down Decadencia Drive by Shotgun earlier this year – two albums that both felt and sounded real live, much because I know how damn good both bands are on stage. Crazy Lixx are another melodic hard rock band that, even though I love their records, I think are even better live so a live album from them is something that, at least to me, is a must to check out.