Saturday, December 31, 2016

Albums of the Year: 2016

2016: Year of the Monkey

Another year's end is upon us, which means taking another look back on the music that shaped the previous 12 months for me. The year 2016 was unique in many ways, and offered so much good music from the beginning that I found myself creating an entry for my favorite albums before January was over! For a year that began on such a low note for the music world and just seemed to get worse from then on, with the loss of so many beloved icons—to the point where it seemed that the year itself had some kind of vendetta against rock legends—2016 also showed that good music is timeless not only in the literal sense, but in a way that transcends time and death itself; bestowing a sort of immortality upon its creators, because even when they are gone, their music remains with us, and goes on to be enjoyed for generations to come.

In the year 2016, music itself was also alive and well; a celebration of life and art amidst the grief and loss. The music of the departed still lived on, but there was a great deal of music to be had from those who were still here to give us new music, if only we would just listen.

Winter 2016 (January-March)

Dream Theater: The Astonishing

The year 2016 started with a bang from one of my all-time favorite bands. As I wrote in my Albums of 2013 review, I mentioned that DT had possibly fallen into a musical rut; musically, they still sounded great, but it was clear that they had found a comfortable niche and were staying in it. I hoped that the musical experimentation that was so prominent on albums like Octavarium and Systematic Chaos would return to the forefront, and it appears that DT has met that need and picked themselves back up in the sweeping, grandiose way that only Dream Theater can. If I had been looking for more musical experimentation from them this time around, I got it, and then some! Their most ambitious project to date, The Astonishing is a 2-disc rock opera concept album complete with a cast of characters, fictional settings based on real locales (including a world map!), and a story with as many twists and turns as a typical DT song has time-signature changes. Set in a dystopian future over 200 years from now, the plot of The Astonishing faintly echoes that of the Rush epic “2112”, in that both are about futuristic societies where music is forbidden, and a lone individualist discovers the power that music gives to start a revolution and change the course of history. Touching upon themes that are very real in today's society, The Astonishing addresses the debate of technology in music and how far one can take such advancements before it loses its humanity. The Astonishing asks the question, what would happen if our current world of auto-tuning and digitized sounds became so prevalent, that music was no longer made by humans at all, and only by machines? What would happen if we lived in a world where all art was processed, and not created? What becomes of those with a creative spirit, and how do they survive in a world where artistic expression is unacceptable? Although the album's basic plot often borders on the melodramatic, it does get the point across, and the overall concept is an interesting one, to say the least (and, whether one actually likes the musical direction DT has taken here, the experimentation is there). The brief instrumental interludes throughout the album that are supposed to represent those music-making machines emphasizes the album's theme subtly enough to be noticeable, but not so much as to beat the listener over the head with its message. DT has shown with The Astonishing that after 30 years together, their creative well hasn't run dry just yet!

Serenity: Codex Atlanticus

Austria's Serenity has been around for nearly a decade, but personally, I only discovered them over the last year. However, they have quickly become one of my favorite new bands, so when I heard a new album was on the way in early 2016, I was very excited. An album based on the life of Leonardo da Vinci, Codex Atlanticus showcases more of Serenity's symphonic side, with grand melodies and powerful vocal delivery from Georg Neuhauser. Although I am fairly new to the band's back catalog, I personally think that Serenity has improved with age, each album better than the next; continuing on the upward trajectory that really kickstarted with 2011's Death & Legacy. It could be that I am still in the “honeymoon phase” with this band as a listener, but Serenity can do no wrong musically for me at this point, and Codex Atlanticus continues to ride on that wave of artistic greatness, and only promises even greater things to come.

Beyond Forgiveness: The Ferryman's Shore

The American symphonic metal scene continues to grow and flourish, and Colorado's Beyond Forgiveness is staking their claim among the talent cropping up all across the States. Led by the rich, lustrous vocals of Talia Hoit and the melodic songwriting of Richard Marcus, The Ferryman's Shore shows huge promise packed in those 5 songs; especially on the closing track, the 8+-minute epic, “Your Haunting Eyes”. Whether it's because of the altitude in Colorado or because they're just that damn good, Beyond Forgiveness is riding high from the word go!

Helion Prime: Helion Prime

Sacramento's Helion Prime is blending the worlds of sci-fi and power metal; a feat that has been tackled by some bands in their genre as of late, but Helion Prime takes it a step further by not only incorporating science fiction, but scientific theories in general. With song titles like “The Drake Equation”, “Into the Black Hole”, and “Moon-Watcher”, Helion Prime takes us into a futuristic world where space travel, scientific discovery, and technological progression are all set to the backdrop of the virtuostic guitar riffs of Jason Ashcraft, and the vocal clarion call of Heather Michele. Whether they're touching on subjects like extraterrestrial visitors, or recanting the landmark achievement of the 1969 moon landing, Helion Prime is a power metal-infused science lesson. If you are a fan of either (or both) of those two things, their self-titled debut is an exciting journey through time and space, and—to paraphrase a well-known sci-fi quote—bravely venture to places where few others have been!

Rhenium: Rise Above the Sea

A  “one-woman symphonic metal band”, Cristina Pucci's Rhenium is a project that has been years in the making. Born of frustration from not finding fellow musicians who shared her musical vision, Cristina took to heart the old saying “if you want something done right, do it yourself”, and did just that: taking on the task of learning and playing the instruments on Rise Above the Sea, this 6-song EP is not only sure to please any fan of symphonic metal, but stands alone (both literally and figuratively) in its genre by incorporating the full sound without the excess bandmembers!

Spring 2016 (April-June)

Aggronymph: Far Away as we Fade

As female-fronted metal continues to gain traction throughout the world, China is staking their claim with Aggronymph, whom I must say is one of the most interesting bands I have heard in a long time. Combining the sounds of metal, gothic rock, electronica, rap, and several other different musical styles, Aggronymph manages to fuse all these sounds together beautifully; unafraid to try new things, and putting it all together in a fresh and exciting way. Oftentimes, whenever bands try to blend different genres, it ends up sounding like a mish-mash of sounds trying too hard to top each other; but Aggronymph has a special knack for knowing how and when to incorporate these influences, in a way that makes sense. As the genre continues to grow and evolve, Aggronymph stands out as a band with the potential to take the scene to the next level.

Britta Phillips: Luck or Magic

As the singing voice of ’80s animated icon Jem, latter-day GenX kids and early-day millennial youngsters alike grew up with the sound of her harmonious vocals; now, her fans are all grown-up, and her music has evolved too. Over the years, Britta has kept herself busy with various musical projects, but Luck or Magic is her very first solo album, and it's a mix of cover songs from the ’70s and ’80s along with some original material of her own. Whether it's her haunting rendition of The Cars' classic “Drive”, or the nary-a-care vibe of the opening track “Daydream”, Luck or Magic is almost where you could imagine the fictional character of Jem to be musically at this phase in her life: it's mature and insightful; yet never taking itself too seriously. Britta's voice still has that recognizable quality that identifies her as the voice of Jem, but her style is so far removed from the over-the-top synth-pop she sang back then, that one could never accuse this of being an attempt to cash in on the loyal Jem audience who has followed her all these years. The music speaks for itself; it's complex, but with no frills. It's for the discerning listener whose musical palate has reached beyond the quick and easy fix of simple sing-along catchy choruses, and wish to seek musical fulfillment with richer soundscapes and lush vocal harmonies.

Sunstorm: Edge of Tomorrow

Fronted by legendary vocalist Joe Lynn Turner (of Rainbow and Deep Purple fame), Sunstorm returns after a 4-year hiatus with a heavier approach to their AOR-based sound, but it is no less lacking in hooky melodies and powerful rock anthems. Edge of Tomorrow packs a heavy punch within the velvety glove of Joe Lynn Turner's vocals, and is definitely a must for anyone who is a fan of melodic rock or ’80s AOR.

Lacuna Coil: Delirium

For most bands, three bandmember departures within a 2-year period might spell disaster; but for Lacuna Coil, it was merely another chapter in their 20+-year ongoing story. A concept album based on a haunted insane asylum, it was the perfect backdrop for the darker, heavier direction the band was taking; making Delirium their most solid work in over a decade. For longtime fans who had been clamoring for them to return to their dark gothic roots, they were richly rewarded with songs like the title track, “Downfall”, “You Love me ’Cause I Hate You” (which is vintage Lacuna Coil at its finest), and “Claustrophobia”. From the moment the album opens up with “House of Shame”—along with tunes such as “Broken Things”, “Take me Home”, and “Ghost in the Mist”—listeners are treated to the pleasant surprise of the Coil's new heaviness; while tracks like “My Demons”, and the album's closer “Ultima Ratio” are the perfect blending of old and new sounds. Andrea Ferro's vocal style has reached a level of aggression previously unheard, and Cristina continues to push the boundaries of her vocal talent as well. After over 2 decades together, Delirium is proof that Lacuna Coil ages like fine wine!

Moxy and the Influence: The Best Revenge

Consisting of young women ranging from age 13 to age 19, Orange County's Moxy and the Influence (MXI for short) is showing the metal world that young kids know a thing or two about good music. With their hard-rockin' sound, MXI brings back a more traditional metal sound, while also bringing in some damn catchy choruses and impressive musical showmanship. This band is an up-and-coming talent that is so good, their 4-song EP deserves a mention here. Whether they're getting in-your-face on tracks like “Watch Your Mouth”, or revealing a more vulnerable side with “Bella's Song”, MXI is a well-rounded band for ones so young; with the promise of more surprises to come!

Summer 2016 (July-September)

Thrillkiller: Showdown

After the sudden and unexpected demise of their band Aries in the summer 2015, bandmates Rob Bradley and Maxim Sobchenko wasted no time in maintaining their musical connection; within months, their new band, Thrillkiller, was born. By the end of that year, their first EP, Time, would be available to the public, showing right away that their musical evolution was leveling up in a big way. Since then, Thrillkiller has rounded out their band lineup, and their debut album Showdown not only paid off on the promise that Time had hinted at, but it already surpassed Time in musical quality and experimentation. Incorporating sounds of pop, soul, jazz, and funk all on a foundation of heavy metal, Thrillkiller writes tunes that are heavy, catchy, and so addictive that it is honestly a mystery to me why this band is not all over the radio and not already national (if not international) superstars. Already more put together than most established bands in the business, Thrillkiller shows an impressive level of professionalism so early on in the game, and with a work ethic that shows in their music and in their performances. There are no filler tracks for Thrillkiller: anything that is less-than-perfect or not up to their high standard won't be heard here. If the band goes back a decade from now and listens to their first album, I don't think they will say (as many bands do) that they wish they had better production or had more musical maturity to execute different sounds or styles. When a band's albums are their musical evolutionary footprint, so to speak, then Thrillkiller is already making good tracks.

Tarja: The Shadow Self

Whatever one can say about Tarja Turunen's solo career, no one can deny her musical proliferation; Tarja had so much material for this particular project that she divided it into two parts: a “prequel” EP of unreleased tracks and remixes called The Brightest Void, to ready fans for what to expect from The Shadow Self. Working with musicians such as legendary Hanoi Rocks frontman Michael Monroe and Red Hot Chili Peppers/Chickenfoot drummer Chad Smith, and working again with fellow symphonic metal pioneers Within Temptation, Tarja continues to collaborate with some of the biggest names on the music scene, and The Brightest Void was an exciting sneak preview of the full-length album to come. The Shadow Self is a continuation of Tarja's musical exploration into sounds that both incorporate her classically-trained sensibilities, while also pushing the envelope of what is expected from a singer of her type. Instead of covering Mozart, Tarja covers Muse on the track “Supremacy”; and contrasts her powerful operatic vocals with the equally forceful voice of Alissa White-Gluz for the song “Demons in You” (flipping the script on the “beauty and the beast” vocal styling that originated within the genre). Lyrically, she even has a sense of humor about herself by openly addressing her reputation as a primadonna on the song “Diva” (“we can laugh at it now”, a lyric that seems to refer to her dismissal from Nightwish over a decade ago). Tarja constantly defies categorization or stereotypes and does whatever she wants to do musically. Her rabid fanbase has awarded her this unique advantage, and she continues to take them along for the ride as she ventures into musical landscapes that many of her other contemporaries would find difficult to traverse. With each new album, Tarja continues to improve from her early solo days, as she keeps on honing her sound, defining her own personal style, and has finally embraced her well-earned status as the trailblazer of an entire genre that continues to grow and flourish to this day. While I do not think that Tarja's solo material will ever come close to replicating the magic of those first 5 Nightwish albums for me, I do think that she has come a long way from her first solo album, which to me always felt like a shaky, unsure attempt to figure out what she wanted to be musically. It's clear she doesn't have this trouble any longer, and instead has refined the art of blending all of these styles and influences together in a way that is undeniably Tarja. You still can't pinpoint exactly whether or not Tarja is a rock/metal goddess or an classical/operatic diva; not only because she is her own entity, but after so many years in the business, it doesn't matter anymore. Even back in her days with Nightwish, she always made it clear whenever asked which of the two she was most like when she said these words that seem almost prophetic now: “Tarja Turunen is just...Tarja Turunen.”

Geezër: Vol. II

Everyone's favorite octogenarian punk rock band is back! Even though it's only been a year since Geezër burst upon the scene, these guys don't have the luxury of time like their younger counterparts, and need to churn out music at a much faster rate! Not wasting any time, these guys spent all their day passes from the senior center to make this album, and put together another fine work filled with merry ditties and future rock anthems. Paying tribute to everyone from Katy Perry to Motörhead, Geezër doesn't give a damn what you think about their musical tastes, and gives the proverbial middle finger in only the way that the world's oldest rock band can.

Sabaton: The Last Stand

Like the History Channel for metalheads, Sabaton's anthemic songs pertaining to war, bloodshed, and historical events are just the perfect fodder for power metal's over-the-top style; the two complement each other perfectly, and Sabaton knows what their fans want and knows how to deliver it in the most grandiose way possible. Continuing to please their audience with blood-soaked rally cries and heroic bombast, The Last Stand is exactly what you come to expect from Sabaton.

Delain: Moonbathers

Celebrating 10 years of existence, Delain is as on-fire as ever with what may possibly be their darkest and heaviest album yet. As explained by Charlotte Wessels, Moonbathers is an ode to those who “find solace in the darkness”, and a celebration of all things gloomy and introspective. Ranging from full-out symphonic bombast to brutal metal aggression, Delain pulls no punches and continues to up their game. New addition Merel Bechtold only adds further “girl power” to the band dynamic, while Martijn Westerholt's creative vision only grows in grandeur and scope, and Charlotte Wessels continues to stun listeners into silence with her larger-than-life voice that can also move you to tears in a whisper. Delain is showing that the best bands only improve with age, and even though they have already clocked in 10 years, they're only just getting started.

Grim Reaper: Walking in the Shadows

I'm sure if you read my review of Grim Reaper's video for the title track of this song a couple months back, you will already know how big of a fan I am. One of the flag-waving bands of the NWOBHM movement in the ’80s, Grim Reaper could find more ways to incorporate the word “Hell” into their material than Slayer. Over 30 years after the band first rocked us all to hell, Steve Grimmett is still one of the best fucking vocalists on the metal scene, and Grim Reaper is among the many bands from back in the day who are still making great new music and showing the new up-and-comers that they aren't going anywhere yet!

Seventh Wonder: Welcome to Atlanta

After two years of waiting, fans finally got a DVD of the band's performance of their iconic concept album, Mercy Falls, at the 2014 ProgPower festival in Atlanta, GA. It was well worth the wait! Going in the opposite direction of live DVDs based on concept albums such as Dream Theater's Live Scenes From New York, Seventh Wonder takes a minimalistic approach and sets the stage for the album's story with little more than the occasional onstage banter, and a moving performance by special guest Heather Musgrave, who conveys all of the emotion of the album's climactic end with nothing more than holding a rose in her hand, and by hitting home the story's shocking plot twist with just a few onstage gestures, to which vocalist Tommy Karevik responds in kind with his own dramatic onstage facial expressions. The fans fill in parts of the story as well by singing along to segments occupied by voice actors on the original album, a moving audience chant that conveys how loyal an audience the ProgPower attendees are, and how loyal Seventh Wonder fans are as well. The DVD not only contains the Mercy Falls concert, but also a bonus performance where the band does some fan favorites as well as some tunes they have not played in a long time. The CD also features two new studio tracks: “Inner Enemy”, which is not too new, as the band released a video of that song back in 2014; and the 10-minute opus “The Promise”, which sounds like a perfect blending of the band's 3 albums with Tommy Karevik. This is the perfect hold-over for fans until the band's long-awaited studio album finally sees the light of day sometime in 2017.

Suicidal Tendencies: World Gone Mad

Will this be their last album? Will it not be their last album? Who cares? It's ST and that's good enough for me! One of the bands from the KNAC era, Suicidal Tendencies is a Southern California treasure, and their twisted sense of humor is what makes their music awesome. When you start off your album with a track called “Clap Like Ozzy”, you know it's not for those who take themselves too seriously! While not necessarily a glorious return to their heyday, it's still undeniably ST: the hooky grooves that are perfect for having a good time, and frantic beats that whip you into a frenzy. Recruiting former Slayer drummer Dave Lombardo to the fold isn't a bad move, either. If this is their last album, then they didn't go out on a low note. If it isn't their last album, then there's more to look forward to!

Autumn 2016 (October-December)

The Spider Accomplice: Los Angeles—The Abduction

Capturing the spirit of Los Angeles, VK Lynne and company are back with their second offering, a delectable melting pot of metal, alternative, and just a dash of pop to give it some extra snap. From the groovy vibe of the opening track “Bromelaid” to the gothic-inspired “Messy Vampire” all the way to the punk-flavored “Hollywood Hotel”, this three-piece outfit is serving up rock anthems as bright as a sunny California day and as gritty as a graffiti-covered downtown alley.

Mercy Isle: Undying Fire

The American/Dutch symphonic metal powerhouse has had quite the productive year since releasing their debut EP late last year. Making their first live appearance at Metal Female Voices Fest, Mercy Isle wowed the audience by holding their own against some of the most established names in the genre. Utilizing her talents all the way from high operatic soprano to low guttural growls, Kassy Novell is one of the most stunning new voices on the scene; and enlisting the help of symphonic metal royalty such as Amanda Somerville, Mercy Isle is firmly establishing a place of their own and quickly gaining the respect they so richly deserve.

Testament: Brotherhood of the Snake

If the Big 4 were ever a Big 5, I would make a strong case for putting Testament in that fifth slot. One of the premier thrash bands and godfathers of the scene, Testament has been going strong for years; yet, if you ask them, they are only getting started. Deeming this their fastest album, and calling it their own personal Reign in Blood, obviously Testament is not one of those bands who looks back and considers their best days to be behind them. Finding lyrical inspiration through topics such as aliens and current political events, Brotherhood of the Snake is a 35-minute thrash attack that is going to kick your ass and make you ask for seconds.

Sirenia: Dim Days of Dolor

After an abrupt and most unexpected split from vocalist Ailyn, Sirenia did not waste any time getting back on the horse. Bringing in French vocalist Emmanuelle Zoldan, who worked with the band on previous releases, Sirenia's return to their roots over the course of the last couple of albums came back full circle with the operatic voice in the spotlight again. The dark heaviness and soaring bombast that is quintessential Sirenia is all here, and is sure to please many older fans who have longed for the dark gothic influences that make Morten Veland such a respected songwriter in his genre.

Metallica: Hardwired...To Self-Destruct

Well, it appears that hell has officially frozen over! I have been very vocal over the last couple of decades about my displeasure over the musical direction Metallica has taken, and had all but given up on them. As I also wrote in previous blog entries, to me, the Metallica I loved died the day KNAC went off the air, and at that point I saw them as two different bands: the pre-KNAC Metallica, the kick-ass metal band that defined a genre; and the post-KNAC Metallica, the household names that made albums with Lou Reed and filed lawsuits against their fans. I didn't think the two sides could ever be reconciled, and while many praised their last album, Death Magnetic, to be a return to form, I personally was not all that wowed by it (a step in the right direction, sure, but hardly the second coming of Master of Puppets that everyone claimed it to be). Their first album in 8 years, Hardwired is a masterful return to the metal roots that made Metallica every headbanger's favorite band back in the late ’80s and early ’90s. Right from the gate, the first single and title track was some of the heaviest shit I had heard from Metallica in years. However, I was still very skeptical, as I had been down this road with Metallica before, where something sounded interesting, and then the rest of it turned out to be (to my ears) an absolute disappointment. But as the album's release date grew closer, and songs like “Moth Into Flame” and “Atlas, Rise!” hit the radio airwaves, I was beginning to come around. Then, the night before the album's official release, the entire album was released with individual music videos, and song after song was the hard-hitting metal brutality that old-school Metallica fans had longed for. With songs like “Now That We're Dead”, “Confusion”, and “Spit Out the Bone” (my personal favorite), it was like with one mighty stroke, Metallica completely erased the sins of the last 20 years and finally gave the fans a proper follow-up to the Black Album.

Clark's Secret Identity: The Promise of a Wonderful Future

A fitting album title, one of the most promising talents of 2015 returned as 2016 came to a close to shine their light on what had been a very dark year. This prog-metal power trio from Pennsylvania came back stronger than ever, with a venture into experimental art rock that continues to push their boundaries. Vocalist Shane Anthony shows off his proficiency not only as a singer, but as a multi-talented guitarist, keyboardist, and occasional xylophone player, while the rhythm section of Matt Bankes and Keith Horning provide some groove-laden foundations. With gems like the opening track “Dolce Vita”, “To Those Still Grieving”, “Into a Thousand Pieces”, and “Gas Station Heroes”, CSI is fast becoming one of the promising new talents to watch out for in prog rock.

A Sound of Thunder: Who do You Think we Are?

Back in 2014 when raising money via Kickstarter for their album The Lesser Key of Solomon, one of the perks that A Sound of Thunder offered backers was the chance to vote for the songs they would like to see covered for a future covers album. While the band works hard recording original material slated for release in 2017, they decided that this was an opportune time to finally make good on those votes and give the fans what they wanted to hear. Paying tribute to everyone from Alice Cooper to Tool, A Sound of Thunder shows off their artistic diversity and the wide range of their musical influences. Whether it's giving Manowar's “Pleasure Slave” a feminist makeover, or putting their spin on the various eras of Black Sabbath, ASOT respectfully honors their metal gods while having a lot of fun doing it.


So many albums to choose from in 2016; I'm only sorry I didn't have time to listen to them all. There were so many that came my way that I didn't have time to listen to or were released so late in the year that there wasn't time to put them on this list. But as always, I try my best to include as many as possible.

What about you? What were some of your favorites in 2016 that you don't see on this list? Or, which one of these on the list were among your personal favorites as well? Make your voices heard in the comment section.

See you in 2017!

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Hump Day Hot Ticket: Last Union “President Evil”

Band photo

When I started this weekly feature earlier this year, it was truly on a whim: a friend posted a video on her Facebook wall, and I liked it. I hear a lot of music that I like, but for some reason, the spark of an idea came to me from watching the video that I should start giving more attention to this blog and start showcasing a lot of the music that comes my way as a writer for two metal music-based sites. I have really come to enjoy looking for new videos to share here each week: sometimes I had an ample list of bands waiting to be shared for weeks in advance; and then there were other times when nothing reached my desk, thus prompting me to go out there and seek even further. But no matter whether it was a new discovery or a band I had liked for a long time, it became a pleasure to log in to this blog every Wednesday and share something with all of you.

So, as the year comes to a close and I reach my final weekly installment of 2016, what is the best way to put a cap on it and send it off into 2017? I think one good way is to pay tribute to a particular recurring theme that has—completely unintentionally—become another fun aspect of writing these weekly entries. Over the last 8 months since I began this feature in early April, the abundance of music from Italy that kept finding its way here every Wednesday was something of which I could not help but take notice. Whether it was symphonic metal, power metal, or progressive metal—Italy has been bringing levels of quality music to the metal scene that cannot be denied. Therefore it is only fitting that my final Hump Day Hot Ticket entry of 2016 takes us back to Italy one more time.

This week, I introduce you to Last Union: not only a band from Italy, but a well-rounded supergroup consisting of respected musicians from other parts of the world. Like fellow Italian band Secret Rule (whom I have featured here twice before), Last Union calls upon some of the most esteemed names in the power and progressive metal scene, and creates kick-ass music that keeps the genre alive and well. Featuring ex-Helloween drummer Uli Kusch and Symphony X bassist Mike LePond, Last Union's melodic metal style takes the best of what prog and power metal have to offer, with some lovely female vocals on top.

For the band's first single (and the video I am reviewing), “President Evil”, Last Union levels up their supergroup status in a huge way and enlists the talents of none other than Dream Theater vocalist James LaBrie. This merger is what caught my attention towards Last Union, and piqued my curiosity to hear what this band was about, as I am a huge Dream Theater fan (remember that “musical holy trinity” I wrote about a few weeks back?), and I love LaBrie's voice. So naturally, I had to hear this.

Musically, this is a heavy track that highlights LaBrie's more “aggressive” vocal style, which fits the lyrical content perfectly. This is a lyric video, so we see a lot of imagery set to the song's lyrics, such as graphics of a dollar bill or newspaper headlines reworked to feature a line from the song. Many could read into the lyrics to have relevance to the current political state in the U.S. right now, with lines such as “President slowly goes insane”, “give the world a star to fool with your business and playing the solemn game”, or “stare at your scenery...leader, make up your mind”, or “preaching for tomorrow, lacking for today...questioning contacts, dark speeches are running out of time”. However, because this is not a political blog, I will make no commentary one way or the other, as it is not my place to tell anyone how they should interpret lyrics or what one's relationship to music should be. That is what makes music wonderful, after all: we each hear the same thing, but no two people listen identically.

For more information on Last Union, or to purchase their debut album, Most Beautiful Day, visit the band's official website.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Hump Day Hot Ticket: Orion's Reign “Jingle Bells”

Orion's Reign gets into the holiday spirit!

As a metalhead, it's probably isn't considered “cool” for me to admit I wear any other color than black, celebrate any other holiday than Halloween, or listen to “festive” music...but I admit that I love Christmastime. I love the bright lights, the home-cooked goodies, the overall spirit of the holiday season...and I absolutely love Christmas music. I love decorating my house with all the sentimental treasures I have accumulated over the years, as I listen to my personal collection of seasonal tunes, which has also amassed over time.

That being said, it probably comes as no surprise that I especially love when the worlds of metal and holiday music join together at this time of year. The end results can sometimes be impressive—such as the music of Trans-Siberian Orchestra, undoubtedly the most commercially successful example of metal holiday music. Or the combination could lead to disaster, such as the countless forgettable Christmas tunes that metal bands occasionally cash in on to make a quick buck. More often than not, I find these efforts create a happy medium, where it will not necessarily prompt these bands to change genre, but the music stands up well enough to provide a winter-time soundtrack for their fans as they return to these songs year after year as part of their own holiday tradition.

However, one band who is taking a cue from the template set by Trans-Siberian Orchestra is Orion's Reign, from Greece. Like TSO, the majority of their music is seasonal, with a bombastic power metal sound which works surprisingly well for both merry ditties as well as solemn hymns. Orion's Reign also dabbles in the occasional cover song from time to time; but unlike TSO—who have crafted original holiday material—they stick to those tried-and-true Christmas favorites that we all know and love, and put a little extra metal for just the right amount of spice.

But just because a band chooses to go with the classics instead of creating more Christmas songs for us to learn, does not mean that the music has to sound predictable and boring. In fact, what I love about Orion's Reign is their ability to have fun with these songs we have heard a million times over, and make them sound interesting. Take a song like “Jingle Bells” (the video featured here)—we have heard that song done so many times that there can't possibly be a way to make it new again—but Orion's Reign enlists the help of Norwegian vocalist Minniva Børresen, and creates this lush, symphonic earworm that gets your toes tapping before you realize what has happened!

The video itself is also cheery and light-hearted: the band rocks out in the middle of a wooded area, while Minniva and male vocalist Dan Vasc trade off operatic vocals in a jubilant sing-off for the ages. There is even time for a mad guitar solo. If that doesn't put you in a joyful mood, then you're probably gonna get a visit from a few ghosts on Christmas Eve. Just sayin'.

For more information on Orion's Reign, or to hear more of their Christmas music, visit the band's official website.

Special thanks to Noel Kardaris.

Season's greetings!

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Hump Day Hot Ticket: The Spider Accomplice “You Still Lie”

Band photo

As a Los Angeles native, I have always been particularly proud of the music scene in my hometown. I feel that it captures the true spirit of diversity that makes L.A. a wonderful place to live. Whereas the Hollywood films show that side of L.A. that we want you to see, the music that is created here—regardless of genre—always manages to show you the other side of L.A. that is not so camera-friendly, but far more beautiful because of all its flaws and imperfections. So many world-famous bands and artists have hailed from here, or pulled up stakes from someplace else to make it here. Whether you are born and bred here or are originally from another place, there is something about Los Angeles that permeates everything it touches. Even for those of us who move away, such as myself, the city never really leaves you. It wraps its identity into yours, and it is that same intangible quality that makes its music scene both vastly diverse and instantly identifiable all at once.

One band on the local scene that I think really exemplifies this is The Spider Accomplice, a trio of talented musicians consisting of two parts East Coast and one part Finland, joining together in a perfect blend that is totally L.A. They get it—the city has become a part of them, and it has infused itself into the music. Their album titles, lyrics, and videos give a nod every now and then to the place they have made their home, and they have a sense of humor about it—that same humor that Southlanders all share in this private joke among ourselves, because we know how we are perceived by the rest of the world, and we laugh because they are way off...yet also not too far from the mark.

The band's latest video, “You Still Lie”, is chock-full of this humor from start to finish. The premise of the video is basically “not everything is as it seems” (after all, the song is called “You Still Lie”!). Vocalist VK Lynne and guitarist Arno Nurmisto are driving down the busy L.A. streets in a beat-up old Dodge Caprice. VK is at the wheel while Arno appears to be eating typical L.A. culinary fare—tofu. But turns out a bucket of chicken hides behind his health food! (Goes to show that most people in L.A. don't really eat that shit!) She promptly kicks him to the curb and drives on.

The next scene features more deception: this time drummer Justin Lee Dixon is riding shotgun, as he pulls out a little box, suggesting that he possibly voted Yes on Prop 64 in this last election. As he makes gestures insinuating that he is about to channel his inner Tommy Chong, VK once again reveals that the only green he is hiding in his little box are mints! (Again, don't assume that we're all just pot-smoking hippies out here!) VK proceeds to drop him off at the “medical dispensary”, and off she goes.

From there, we see the band jamming in an alley, having fun with friends on a sunny day in the park (a favorite Southern California weekend activity!), and VK driving along until she finds the two passengers hitchhiking on the side of the road. The video ends with her giving them another chance as they all ride off together in the lovely California sunset.

The Spider Accomplice's latest EP, Los Angeles: The Abduction, is available for purchase on the band's official website.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Hump Day Hot Ticket: Queensrÿche “Hellfire”

Band photo

Since I started this weekly feature earlier this year, it has mainly been a place to shine a spotlight on lesser-known bands. However, I never made it a rule that this feature could only be about unsung talent. In fact, I expressed my hope that as time went on, I would also have the opportunity to showcase more well-known bands.

OK, so it probably comes as no surprise to anyone who reads or follows this blog that eventually, I would review a Queensrÿche video for this feature. I have written about this band so much here that it has been said in jest that this site should be renamed “Rÿche the Darkness”. I get it. Queensrÿche are one of my all-time favorite bands. They make up part of my “musical Holy Trinity” (those who know me or read this blog should know who the other 2 bands are—those who don't...well, if I told you, then you would have no incentive to keep visiting here to find out!). The music of Queensrÿche has been with me for over 2/3 of my life. There was a time when their music was the only thing that pulled me through one of the darkest times in my life. Over the last several years they have experienced a resurgence that reminded me just how—and why—they earned such a valuable place in my personal musical hierarchy. So yeah, their music means a lot to me, and you could probably say I am more than a little passionate about it. Maybe I do write about them a lot, but perhaps if you look at it from the perspective I have just presented, you can understand the reasons for this.

However, all personal feelings aside, Queensrÿche is a damn good band that values musical proficiency over image. They are perfectionists with a strong work ethic. The band has such high regard for their fans to the point where they will let a little blog like mine review their video without the whole “my people call your people” nonsense that can sometimes take all the fun out of writing reviews...but wait, I am being biased again, aren't I?

One aspect that really embodies these good traits, to me, is Queensrÿche's approach to music videos. Considering that the band's rise to fame began at around the same time MTV was new, they became known for incorporating evocative visuals to further express the thought-provoking points they made lyrically. So when Queensrÿche began their return to form a few years ago, part of the excitement, for me, was seeing their 11-minute “Ad Lucem” video: a song featuring 2 full songs and 2 shorter pieces, combined to tell a story that looked more like a mini-mystery movie than a music video—which is what made it fascinating. It was reminiscent of all those conceptual videos the band used to make back in the ’80s and ’90s, and to a fan like me (who loves conceptual videos, as I have written here before), it was exciting to think of what else they could come up with. Granted, we no longer live in the MTV age, and music videos are not the big event they used to be, but they are still a helpful promotional tool and can still be a great way for a band to take their creative vision to other levels. With the release of Condition Hüman, Queensrÿche has kept on that road and with the release of their “Eye9” video, showed a more eclectic side to their videos without losing the ability to craft a story within those few minutes.

The latest video for “Hellfire” is vintage Queensrÿche both musically and visually. The video's concept is based on the horrific events surrounding Malaysian flight MH17 in July 2014; which was deemed “the deadliest airliner shootdown”. Socio-political lyrical content is what Queensrÿche is known for, so a video for the song is a perfect platform to make a strong statement—and they do.

The video takes place in a news studio, where reporters are expressing panic and confusion behind the scenes, and a man at the control panel is manipulating what is seen and heard (not much unlike actual news stations today!). Among this are real-life images of the actual tragedy: of the plane wreckage, missiles launching through the air, and violence in the streets, as the news reporters back in the studio helplessly watch on. No punches are pulled; the footage shown is graphic, it's disturbing, it's real. Insanity like this is an everyday part of life for many people all over the world, and turning away won't change that, even when the reporters in the news room try to do just that. Seeing the clips of military tanks rolling through the city, then switching to the image of flowers and teddy bears left at the site of the tragedy is powerful stuff indeed. That same imagery makes a riveting statement about the sometimes-contradictory nature of humanity: how we can inflict such violence upon each other in one moment, yet find it within ourselves to reach out and comfort one another in our grief in the next. The footage used in the video matches the lyrics to a tee, and the storyline of a frustrated news reporter who grows increasingly angry as the video goes on, until she is compelled to throw up her hands and walk off the set in the end—I think that perfectly represents the collective disgruntlement that so many people seem to feel these days.

For more information on Queensrÿche, or to purchase their latest album, Condition Hüman, visit the band's official website.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Hump Day Hot Ticket: Clark's Secret Identity “Dolce Vita”

Band photo

As I continue searching for new music to share every week, it is always a pleasure to find new talent in so many different genres. It is especially inspiring to find such talent among dear friends. Then, the excitement becomes two-fold: not only sharing good music, but sharing good music from those whose talents you believe in, and those you want to see succeed.

Such is the case this week with Clark's Secret Identity (CSI for short), a Pennsylvania-based band that only formed within the last couple years, but whose bandmembers I have known for a long time and whose musical talents of which I am more than aware. One might think that this gives me a bias towards the music, but to be honest, CSI's unique brand of prog-flavored, avante-garde art-rock is just the sort of thing I'm into. This is vintage prog that brings back the days of Yes, King Crimson, and early Genesis—yet with modern influences ranging anywhere from gothic metal to punk rock.

I have never been much on-board with what is considered “prog” these days—to me, prog does not have a lot of screaming vocals, but maybe I am just old-fashioned. So to hear a vocalist like CSI's Shane Anthony—a singer who actually sings—I like that a lot. I also love prog power-trios (Rush being one of my favorite bands, after all), so to hear 3 guys with such an expansive sound is very exciting to me (the fact that the multi-talented Shane also plays guitar and keyboards while singing is quite the impressive feat—but don't overlook the solid rhythm section of bassist Keith Horning and drummer Matthew Bankes either!). I wrote last year that CSI was one of the bands I was most looking forward to hearing more from in 2016, and as a very tough year in music comes to a close, CSI emerges from the darkness and shines their bright potential straight into 2017.

Their first single (and first video), “Dolce Vita”, is directed by Theresa Gaffney, former frontwoman of Phoenix Reign, another band I have praised on this blog and in other writings. The teaming of Gaffney and CSI is fierce: the band jams in an enclosed area, interspersed with shots of each bandmember standing alone and looking very serious. The fuzzy guitars are reminiscent of ’90s hard rock, but then the xylophone comes in—because it ain't prog without a xylophone!

I also love the band's lyrical content: to me, good prog bands write lyrics that tell stories, open up fascinating imagery in one's mind, and take you outside of yourself. This song, lyrically, speaks to the insanity in the world today, and trying to find the goodness still left behind. Not a bad message considering the hopelessness that has seemed to define this entire year. If this is just a single, then the entire album looks to be very promising indeed.

CSI's debut full-length album, aptly titled The Promise of a Wonderful Future, is available December 6th.

For more information on Clark's Secret Identity, or to purchase music, visit their Bandcamp page.

Extra-special thanks to Matthew Bankes, Keith Horning, and Shane Anthony.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Hump Day Hot Ticket: Kingfisher Sky “Winter”

Band photo

Over the last several months since I started this feature, I have discovered a lot of great new music, and I have also had the chance to review the latest material from bands I already like, which is the case this week. However, without going back into my archives and checking for sure, I do not believe I have yet reviewed a cover song. Surely if I am wrong, someone will be happy to correct me in the comments section!

This week's video comes to us from the Dutch band Kingfisher Sky, whose combination of symphonic and progressive musical influences make way for gorgeous melodies steeped in classical, new-age sensibility. The way they bring all these sounds together, it then perhaps comes as no surprise that their choice of a cover song is by another artist also known for fusing together genres so seamlessly: Tori Amos, whose brand of piano-based alternative rock has garnered her massive success and a loyal following to this day.

Musically, Kingfisher Sky is far closer to the spectrum of an artist like Tori Amos than they are to their symphonic metal counterparts, so their attempt at tackling one of Tori's songs does not seem too unlikely a fit for them. Vocally, frontwoman Judith Rijnveld has a similar tone and style to Tori, so I could very easily imagine her doing a very good job on a track that I consider to be one of my favorite Tori Amos songs: the gentle ballad “Winter”, from her landmark debut album Little Earthquakes, released nearly 25 years ago.

The video itself is also as simple and strong as the song itself: the band's new keyboardist, Erik van Ittersum, sits at a piano in an empty room (which appears to be a church or music hall) as the opening notes play, and the camera snakes around him until we catch sight of Judith, sitting alone in a row of chairs behind him, and her vocals begin. She enunciates the lyrics more clearly than Tori does, which is somewhat nice if you do not know all the lyrics! Her voice also lends more of a “Celtic” or folk-style feel to it, which I also like. As the song progresses, Judith gets up from her seat and makes her way to where Erik continues to play. The rest of the video just shows the two of them performing together, but this powerful rendition needs no extra accoutrements, and it was so good that I hope they will officially release this on a future album or single someday.

For more information on Kingfisher Sky, visit their official website.

Special thanks to Ivar de Graaf.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Hump Day Hot Ticket: The Amatory Murder “U & I”

Photo courtesy of Hyato Foto

As my musical travels take me around the world, every now and then I come across a stop right here in the U.S. that makes me take notice. This week it's Brooklyn-based The Amatory Murder, whose brand of pop-flavored alternative is a fun throwback to ’90s rock.

The bands latest video, “U & I”, is a fun, catchy, upbeat song that is markedly different from their darker, more gothic sound; but its still got plenty of attitude! The video alternates between clips of the band either walking along the beach, or jamming on their instruments by the same shore. Later on, they are seen rocking out in a small room before returning to a cool shot of their guitarist ripping a killer guitar solo on the giant rocks along the beach.

Musically, the electronic elements in the music lend a youthful vibe, making this a tune that would sound perfect in a teen movie during the big party scene. (This is a compliment, by the way!) For all my enjoyment of everything rock and metal, I do appreciate the occasional pop-infused song, and this tune has got plenty to keep your toes tapping and your head banging.

For more information on The Amatory Murder, visit their official website.

Special thanks to Scott Genovese.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Hump Day Hot Ticket: Aggronymph “Till Life Sets us Apart”

Band photo

During this past year—both while reviewing material for this blog and writing for other sites—I have come across a lot of great talent from around the globe. One band that caught my attention in 2016 that I have not had the chance to talk about here is Aggronymph, from China. Though they consider themselves to be “electronic gothic metal”, I think that description only scratches the surface of what Aggronymph's sound really is. Fusing sounds together from all sorts of different genres from electronica to heavy metal to rap, Aggronymph is one of the most interesting new bands I have come across as of late. Usually, when bands try to combine so many different musical styles together, it becomes a mish-mash of sounds where each is trying to be heard over the others, but none of them ever standing out quite enough. But Aggronymph has this knack for weaving all these different influences together in such a way where nothing feels out of place, and sounds you never expected would work together somehow make for intriguing harmonies that capture your interest. To try and sum them up in the most basic terms, Aggronymph is something like Linkin Park meets Lacuna Coil, but they are anything but sound-alikes of either band.

The video to the title track of their latest EP, “Till Life Sets us Apart” appeals to my love of conceptual videos (i.e., music videos with a storyline) by showing a sad and twisted tale of co-dependency and drug abuse. The video follows a heroin-addicted couple who feed into each other's addictive personalities as they continue to chase the high that they seek. There is even a disclaimer at the start of the video to inform the viewer of graphic imagery. The music is dark and mournful; the band is seen wreathed in smoke and eerie red lights.

For more information on Aggronymph, visit the band's official website.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Hump Day Hot Ticket: Lipstick “Cha La Head Cha La”

Lipstick and their mascot, Mr. Cool

Usually whenever the terms “hair metal” or “glam metal” are mentioned, it garners an almost embarrassed reaction, like a shameful secret that no one wants to admit. Yet there is no denying that glam-metal enjoyed its fair share of popularity during its ’80s heyday, whether people want to own up to it or not. Like many other fads and fashions from that era, it may look silly to us now, but there were reasons why people liked it. For all its over-the-top campy approach, hair metal was good old-fashioned escapism. It wasn't trying to change the world or make any statement more deep or profound than having a good time. Sometimes, that's all the world needs, and for a while, hair metal fulfilled that on a musical level quite nicely.

A lot of the things that made the genre so much fun can still be appreciated today; and one band that is proudly waving the spandex flag and bringing the party back into rock music is Lipstick: a self-described “theatrical rock” band from Nashville that celebrates all the outrageous grandiosity and tongue-in-cheek humor that gives hair metal that endearing cheesiness that never takes itself too seriously, yet amasses a certain loyalty from its audience that you don't really see anywhere else. Represented by a giant cat mascot named Mr. Cool, Lipstick writes feel-good tunes that hearken back to the carefree days when you were only seventeen and didn't need nothin’ but a good time. Although their music has so many of these throwback qualities, Lipstick's songs are also in the here and now: one of the songs from their last album is an ode to Conan O'Brien and their shameless self-promotional wish to one day perform on his show.

Another modern element that Lipstick brings to their glam-styled sensibility is their love for anime, something that the hair-metal bands of the past certainly never wrote about! But, as “nerd culture” has gained more traction over the last couple of decades, and metal bands have more openly embraced their D&D-playing demographic, the lines between genres have crossed. Where once it would have been considered “wimpy” or “uncool” for a glam band to ever admit they preferred playing video games to visiting the strip club, now they unashamedly show off their comic book collections and Star Wars memorabilia.

Bringing me to this week's video, Lipstick's latest offering is a cover of “Cha La Head Cha La”, the theme to Dragon Ball Z, the anime series that has spawned a string of video games. The music video itself is quirky and fun: vocalist Greg Troyan is seen flying through the air, and at one point meets up with a guy in a weird-looking mask, at which point they start fighting and shooting beams from their hands. There are flames, explosions, and a giant dancing cat in sunglasses. Good stuff. I am not sure if this is supposed to be a reenactment of the actual Dragon Ball Z theme, but it's so much fun to watch that I really don't care (I suppose I could hunt down the information online, but somehow I don't think I will find anything else this entertaining). However, I did realize how much music videos sorely lack epic boss battles complete with dancing feline mascots these days. That's one thing even the glory days of MTV didn't have going for them.

For more information on Lipstick, visit their official website.

Special thanks to Rob Bradley for his vast knowledge of all things DBZ.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Hump Day Hot Ticket: Seventh Wonder “The Promise”

Band photo

If you are a regular reader here, you might recall a couple of years ago I wrote a blog entry naming some bands and artists I hadn't heard from in a long time, that I would like to hear some new music from again. One of those bands was the Swedish progressive-metal band Seventh Wonder; who have been around for well over a decade, but who have gained a lot of recognition over the past several years ever since their vocalist Tommy Karevik took over frontman duties for the band Kamelot in 2012. Admittedly, this is also how I became aware of Seventh Wonder as well, but I also must confess that as much as I love Kamelot, I really enjoy Seventh Wonder's music too, and have wanted to hear more music from them. (Would it be wrong for me to admit that I actually would prefer a new Seventh Wonder album to a new Kamelot album right now?)

Because of Tommy's divided commitment between two bands, new music from Seventh Wonder has been slow to come, but the band has hardly been resting on their laurels! For the past couple of years, their main focus was their one-time performance in 2014 of their concept album Mercy Falls, at Atlanta's yearly festival for progressive and power-metal music, ProgPower (rehearsing for more than a year prior to the concert, and then putting the DVD footage together afterwards). This special concert would be filmed for a future DVD release, and a new song, “Inner Enemy”, was released shortly before the show to give fans something to look forward to. The wait was long, but 2 years after the concert in Atlanta, the DVD saw the light of day, and fans would finally get a proper release of “Inner Enemy” as a bonus track on the live CD for the live album, Welcome to Atlanta.

Not only that, but an entirely new song would be included on the live album: a 10-minute track called “The Promise”, which sounded like a perfect blend of the band's 3 albums with Karevik. It did not disappoint, and for many fans it was not only well worth the wait, but it was a great indication of what they could come to expect musically from Seventh Wonder once their long-awaited follow-up to 2010's The Great Escape was released (at the time of this writing, a new album is tentatively scheduled for sometime in 2017).

The positive feedback for the song prompted the band to create a lyric video, which you will see here. The design is fairly simplistic; not too much distraction to take away from the intensity of the music. The band's recognizable “SW” logo is shown in flames, and still photographs from the Welcome to Atlanta DVD are shown during the instrumental breaks. It's all the intricate progressive perfection you have come to expect from Seventh Wonder, and quite a good tide-over until a proper full-length album sees the light of day.

For more information, visit the band's official website. To purchase the Welcome to Atlanta DVD, visit

Special thanks to Jon Freeman at Frontiers Records.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Hump Day Hot Ticket: Secret Rule “I Have the Sun”

Photo courtesy of MCCN Photography

It's been a couple months since I last wrote about the Italian symphonic/gothic metal band Secret Rule, but they have a new video out and I really like their music so I feel inclined to write about them again.

If you read my last review of the band's previous video, then you already know that Secret Rule features an impressive guest list consisting of some of the biggest names in symphonic metal, from Delain to Within Temptation; proving that this band has the chops to become among the next breakout stars on the scene.

In the video for “I Have the Sun”, the concept is somewhat similar to the videos for Lacuna Coil's Delirium album, and the song has a bit of a Lacuna Coil feel to it as well: a blend of gothic and hard rock, yet with a little upbeat pop thrown in as well. A lot of “insane asylum” imagery: straitjackets, pale faces with dark, smudged eye makeup and blood-red lips and words scrawled across the wall. The band is also seen jamming in a dimly-lit room with clocks and photographs on the walls.

Secret Rule's latest album, Machination, is now available through Scarlet Records. For more information on Secret Rule, visit their official Facebook page.

Special thanks to Angela Di Vincenzo.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Hump Day Hot Ticket: Corners of Sanctuary “Hyde no More”

Band photo

Now that October is well under way, that means the Halloween season is in full swing; so I might as well share a video that will get us all in the spirit of the occasion. In the search for a video that invokes spooky imagery, I came across this week's pick from Philadelphia's own Corners of Sanctuary. Known more for brotherly love and for the fictional character of Rocky Balboa; Philadelphia doesn't exactly bring to mind anything “spooky” or “scary”; but it is known for a lot of kick-ass music, so it comes as no surprise to me that this band is continuing to live up to the city's reputation for producing top-quality musical talent.

While the band describes themselves as “the New Wave of American Heavy Metal”, Corners of Sanctuary sounds to me like an awesome blend of stoner rock fuzzy guitars, coupled with the high, over-the-top vocal stylings of power metal. Their video for the track “Hyde no More” is just perfect for your Halloween playlist: it's filmed like an old-time horror movie from the ’20 or ’30s, though I can't be exactly sure if these are actual clips from classic films or if this is the band taking creative license by paying homage to those types of movies in their own way. The band is rocking out in a forested area, while we watch the video's storyline of a mild-mannered scientist turning into a monster with a penchant for ravishing the ladies. This is a slow, heavy, groove-laden track sure to please fans of Black Sabbath, with enough high-potency vocal power that is reminiscent of bands such as Grim Reaper. It's got something for everyone, and it's certainly something to get you in the Halloween frame of mind!

For more information on Corners of Sanctuary, visit their official website.

Special thanks to Benjamin at Lords of PR.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Hump Day Hot Ticket: Grim Reaper “Walking in the Shadows”

Steve Grimmett's Grim Reaper

So today is not only Wednesday (meaning it's time for another Hump Day Hot Ticket), but today is also my birthday! Naturally, I would like to choose a very special band to commemorate my special day, so I am both pleased and honored to review this week the brand-new video from Grim Reaper, a band who has been going strong since the ’80s, and a band whose music I have enjoyed for a long time.

Some of you younger readers (“younger”, in this case, meaning anyone in their early ’30s or so) probably best know Grim Reaper (or have even heard of Grim Reaper at all) from being the punchline to many jokes on the early ’90s animated MTV show Beavis and Butt-Head, where the titular characters mercilessly teased the band for their ’80s fashion and seemingly outdated music videos. In spite of being self-proclaimed metalheads, clearly Beavis and Butt-Head were not savvy enough to recognize the band's talent; however, it is common knowledge that the show's creator, Mike Judge, is a huge Grim Reaper fan; thus, the reason they even got mentioned on the show in the first place.

When it comes to the recognition his band receives to this day from the show, Grim Reaper frontman Steve Grimmett has a great sense of humor about it; sharing clips from the classic show every now and then on his social media sites. No doubt he recognizes that those few minutes of parody was a far better promotional tool for the band than anything else, and people still continue to associate the show with the band. Anyone who cares to listen past the jokes and actually pay attention to the music can hear for themselves that Grim Reaper, despite proclamations to the contrary, does indeed kick ass. Steve's glass-shattering vocals is Grim Reaper's trademark; the one thing that instantly identifies the band to listeners, and over 30 years later, Steve's killer voice is still rocking us to Hell.

In fact, Grim Reaper is one of the many classic metal bands still making new music and still rocking as hard as ever. The band's new video for “Walking in the Shadows”—the title track of the band's latest album—is an anthemic, hard-rockin', feel-good song that makes you want to bang your head and turn the volume up as far as it can go. Vocally, Steve's still got the chops to rock your face off, and he does!

The video is pretty straightforward: the band jams in a dim, smoky room, along with some shots of Steve standing near a brick wall. There are also clips of a figure in a black, hooded cloak—perhaps an acolyte or warlock of some kind—perusing through a very old book, as glass potion bottles (one of them shaped like a skull) sit on a wooden table nearby, as he mixes up some sort of concoction. Of course, the band's namesake makes a brief appearance here too!

For more information on Grim Reaper, visit the band's official website. North American tour begins on October 6th in Las Vegas, NV. Walking in the Shadows now available in stores and online.

Special thanks to Steve Grimmett for allowing me to review this video. What an awesome birthday gift for me, to be able to feature a band I consider legendary, on my little blog!