War is the Answer
Five Finger Death Punch
Summer's here and there's no better season for loud rock'n'roll. So we dug into our goodie bag and found this CD, War is the Answer, the second release from Five Finger Death Punch. Though the album has been out since last year, sometimes CDs just get lost at the bottom of the stack. In this case, it's a worthy find, if for nothing but the album artwork alone, which oughta be a theme on someone's bike.
5FDP is one of the best metal albums in a very long time. Launched in 2005 by Hungarian-born guitarist Zoltan Bathory, this little platoon of metal heads includes drummer Jeremy Spence (ex-W.A.S.P.), bassist Matt Snell (Anubus Rising), and vocalist Ivan Moody (ex-Motorgrater/Ghost Machine). The guys have become the new lords on the L.A. underground scene.
While there's no new ground being broken here in terms of unexplored metal territory, 5FDP nonetheless gets down to some serious shredding. Best played loud, the album is reminiscent of the Pantera/Metallica/Anthrax mold. Yes there are the requisite adrenaline-laden guitar licks and even a power ballad thrown in. The song titles give away the subject matter. In addition to the title track, the sonic mayhem includes "Dying Breed," "Bulletproof," "No One Gets Left Behind," and "Burn It Down," all of which would make a good soundtrack for a military recruitment film. One surprise awaits near the album's end-a version of "Bad Company" that one-ups the original. If these guys decide to go into bike building, one could expect RPGs and cannons as standard equipment.
Full Circle Creed
Forget what the critics say about this band. Yes, they are commercial. Their songs are accessible. Religious connotations? You be the judge. This didn't seem to hurt U2's career. Plus, you don't need to cringe when you crank up the volume. And yes, they are very much a metal band born of the post-grunge movement. Front man Scott Stapp has taken the band down the long winding road of internal conflicts, the inevitable breakup, and substance abuse attributed to his auto accident in 2002.
2009's Full Circle finds the band back together and traveling down the familiar road of rock and roll ambiguity; songs best left for the listener to interpret. Creed albums have always had a full thick mix, and sonically this is one of their best albums ever. Even the acoustic songs manage to sound loud. On a bike with loud pipes, the music sounds damn good at cruising speed. "A Thousand Faces," "Suddenly," and "Fear" make for a great motorcycle soundtrack, even if you're just wrenching in the garage. Go ahead, indulge yourself.
Valleys of Neptune
Let's start with a fact: Jimi Hendrix was the most influential rock guitarist ever.
Hard to believe, but Hendrix's meteoric rise to the top took place over just four years and three studio albums. A visit to the local music store (they do still exist, ya know) and the Hendrix section will lead one to see that there are now way more than three albums. Over the years, all manner of releases have been culled from the remnants of studio and live recording tapes Jimi left behind. It's been said that Jimi used the recording studio as an actual instrument. Yet some of those early posthumous releases appear to be just blatant attempts to cash in. But that was before the family stepped in and established Experience Hendrix to oversee everything. So what a neat surprise to find this latest release, Valleys of Neptune, a coherent and worthy addition to Jimi's recorded discography.
Six songs come from sessions at London's Olympic studios, the highlight of which is a cover version of Cream's "Sunshine of Your Love." The trio was undergoing the stress and strain that often develops in bands but one would never know this from the playing, which is tight and further underscores Jimi's ability to coax unearthly sounds from his guitar. There are also new arrangements of Hendrix faves like "Fire" and "Red House." Listening to these is like sitting in on the actual session and witnessing a piece of rock and roll history.
Other songs are from sessions at the famous Record Plant. Notable among these is a blistering version of Elmore James' "Bleeding Heart" and the ominous "Hear My Train A Comin." Throughout this release, we get to hear Jimi collaborate with other musicians outside the Redding/Mitchell group. To really enjoy this release, buy the CD. You get a great set of liner notes that places everything in historical perspective plus some neat photos of Jimi. And it's better listening to this as a complete album, rather than downloading individual tracks. It will be interesting to see what future treasures turn up.
Flashback Of The Month
Grand Funk Railroad
Talk about disrespect, Grand Funk Railroad received it in droves. From critics and DJs alike, no one seemed to actually like this band-except for the fans. And the fans responded at the 1969 Atlanta Pop Festival, so much so that the band was asked to play the remaining two days. Their track record remains impressive: 20 million albums sold, 11 of which were gold or platinum (not counting modern day CD and download sales). And they broke the Beatles record for selling out Shea Stadium in less than 72 hours. Radio eventually came on board and the band began amassing hit after hit.
On Time was released in 1969 and captures Mark, Don, and Mel in all their power-trio greatness. Their music was in the blues boogie mold, with songs frequently punctuated by guitar and drum solos. The Guitar Hero folks cold build an entire game from Mark Farner riffs, as on "T.N.U.C.". And "Heartbreaker" which, despite the corny lyrics, was one of their best live songs back in the day. These guys knew how to connect with their audience and it's been long suspected that, Farner, along with Hendrix, inspired the whole "air guitar" thing. The leadoff track "Are You Ready" proves that early on the band developed the important skill of knowing how to sequence songs. Thus with fellow Michiganders MC5, they re-claimed kick-ass rock and roll for America, which at the time was in love with all things British: bands, cars, and motorcycles. Like Harley-Davidson, Grand Funk wore its "made in America" label proudly. They could've named the song "We're an American Brand."