Wednesday, June 16, 2021

KISS - Off the Soundboard: Tokyo 2001

Let’s get one thing out of the way: KISS is my favorite band of all-time. Then, now, and they always will be. There’s a certain magic and mystique about the comic book look/vibe and genuine rock n’ roll sound they have that I will never tire of. I have so many fond memories of listening to them growing up in the late ‘70s, throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s, listening to them on tape and CD, seeing their various incarnations and lineups live on stage and on VHS/DVD/Blu-ray at different junctures of my life, from being a kid to a full-grown man. I have KISS CDs, DVDs, toys, comic books, books, T-shirts, collectibles, and all that good stuff. As much of a huge Black Sabbath and Pink Floyd fan that I am, KISS will forever be my desert island band, my go-to if I only had to pick one band to listen to for the rest of my days.

That being said, I haven’t been excited for a good number of years to see them either in concert or to buy anything they’ve released. I didn’t even go see them for their “End of the Road Tour” at either of the two stops they made in my town back in 2019. Paul Stanley, as much as I love him, doesn’t have the pipes he once had. And rightfully so—the man is 69 years old and has been singing for the vast majority of his life almost on a daily basis. My favorite band member has always been Ace Frehley, followed closely by Paul Stanley. I never cared for Peter Criss as a drummer; to me, Eric Singer—their drummer for the past 20 years—is my favorite of the three drummers they’ve had over the years (I really liked Eric Carr as well). As I said, I haven’t been looking forward to anything KISS-related in a while—that is, until word spread around that they were going to start releasing a series of official bootlegs of some vintage concerts, titled Off the Soundboard. When it was announced that the first release would be of their 2001 Tokyo show featuring an as-of-yet officially undocumented lineup of Paul Stanley, Gene Simmons, Ace Frehley, and Eric Singer, I was absolutely stoked! This lineup only existed for about 14 months and has got to be in my top three lineups to hear KISS play live. Add to that the fact that we’re getting a full concert, no studio overdubs and polish-up jobs the way the Alive releases were given, giving us KISS at their raw best, and you’ve got yourself the potential for something truly special. And special it is, my friends; this 2 CD/3 LP/Digital release is a bona fide gem!

Let’s go back in time a bit and explain what led to this lineup for those of you who lost track of who was in KISS at that time. Back in 1996, the original KISS lineup (Paul Stanley, Gene Simmons, Ace Frehley, and Peter Criss) reunited during a special MTV Unplugged. From that point forward, KISS put the makeup back on and went on tour for almost two years. In 1998 they recorded and released Psycho Circus, their first album of new material with the original band since 1980. Then began the Farewell Tour—every band/artist does one and it’s never really the end; case in point, they’re doing another final tour 20 years later! Anyhow, in January 2001 of this Farewell Tour, Peter Criss leaves the band. Eric Singer, who’d been with KISS since 1991 until the reformed original lineup, returns behind the drums. So now we have a very cool lineup which is what we have on this fantastic live double CD/triple LP. This lineup would only last until March 2002 when this time it would be Ace who would depart to be replaced by Tommy Thayer (who also happens to be KISS’s current lead guitarist). Strangely enough, Peter Criss would return briefly for KISS Symphony: Alive IV in Melbourne, Australia only to quit after a little over a year for good this time. The current lineup of KISS with Paul Stanley on vocals/rhythm guitar, Gene Simmons on vocals/bass, Tommy Thayer on lead guitar/vocals, and Eric Singer on drums/vocals is the longest running lineup and have been playing together since February 2004.

I won’t be doing a track by track review; instead I’ll point out what were the highlights of the album for me and talk about the setlist a bit. The band is in rare form and plays very tight together, Ace is on fire with his guitar solos, and this is back when Paul still had that iconic voice of his and could pull off his magic on the mic. “Alright, Tokyo! You wanted the best, you got the best. The hottest band in the world: KISS!” With these words, the fiery concert of March 13th, 2001 in the Tokyo Dome begins. They kick it off with a high energy version of “Detroit Rock City”. It’s followed by superb renditions of “Deuce” and ‘Shout It Out Loud”, two staples of classic KISS. Next up is a stellar performance of Ace’s “Talk To Me”, which is awesome to hear Ace on vocals on a song that just isn’t the same when Tommy Thayer sings it (or when KISS does it at all these days since it’s an Ace song). We’re treated to decent to amazing versions of classics like “I Love It Loud”, “Firehouse”, “Do You Love Me”, “Calling Dr. Love”, to a particularly solid rendition of “Heaven’s on Fire”—a fun song to hear Ace play on since he wasn’t on the 1984 Animalize album from which it comes from. We get a standard performance of “Let Me Go, Rock ‘n’ Roll” followed by a killer “Shock Me” with Ace on vocals again, segueing into a fantastic 10-minute guitar solo; truly one of the highlights of the album. Disk one ends with the excellent “Psycho Circus”, which to me always fits really well alongside their ‘70s material and sounds awesome here. 

Disk two starts with a really fun performance of “Lick It Up”, another cool song to hear Ace do his guitar thing on since he didn’t play on its studio counterpart, followed by a bit of a boring Gene solo—maybe it’s just me but I never find his solos particularly interesting unless I have visuals to go along with them or that I’m actually in the crowd at a show. “God of Thunder” is pretty great, sounding ominous as ever, followed by Eric Singer banging the drums for a solo. Peter Criss was never as powerful or imposing a presence as Eric Singer on the drums, in my personal opinion. Then we get to “Cold Gin”, one of my top three favorite KISS songs of all-time, and it’s a fantastic, live reference version we’re treated to here. It’s followed up by an equally phenomenal interpretation of “100,000 Years”. And the hits keep on coming with “Love Gun”, probably my fave KISS track of them all, with Paul’s usual flying to get up close with the crowd. Next up is a very special treat in the form of “I Still Love You”, from 1982’s Creatures of the Night (one of their top three albums in my humble opinion). This is a song that’s rarely performed live and it’s done here stripped, with only Paul singing and playing guitar by himself. It’s not the full song either, but it’s just perfect the way it is. It segues into the always brilliant “Black Diamond”, with Eric Singer doing a terrific job on vocals. The show winds down with a stellar performance of “I Was Made for Lovin’ You”, a song still hated by many hardcore KISS fans, but one that I’ve cherished since I first heard it when I was a wee boy of six years old. Things wrap up as usual with “Rock and Roll All Nite”, which honestly, I could care less if I never heard it again. They do a good job of it, but at this point, to me this song is the only song that’s been played too many times, whether it’s used for TV commercials, in movies, when KISS performs at events or are guests on TV shows; it’s overkill. I wish they’d have shelved it for a while and unearthed it after a number of years.

The verdict, as you can already tell if you’ve read this far, speaks for itself: this is one of the all-time best live releases from KISS and a must-own album if you consider yourself a KISS fan in any way, shape or form. It ranks up there with the first Alive, as blasphemous as some of you might think me for saying this. Look, it’s a fantastic lineup, they’re on fire, the song selection is diverse with some nice little-heard gems squeezed into the setlist, and it’s a full-length concert, warts and all. In terms of bootlegs, for those of you who collect such things, it’s on the level of the outstanding New Zealand 1980 boot taken from the final night of the Unmasked Tour. In terms of official releases, this show is a very good portrait of an almost undocumented era of KISS and just as important in the scheme of things as, say, their Dodger Stadium show of Halloween 1998 (another bootleg I’d love to see released officially, although the video version appears in full on the third KISSology DVD set). I’ll be revisiting this album quite often in the days/weeks/years to come and I’m eagerly awaiting the announcement of the next volume in the Off the Soundboard series.

Visit KISS’s Off the Soundboard Shop

Sunday, June 13, 2021

Eric Stangeland - Wake Up

It’s the year 2021 and Grunge is making a comeback! Eric Stangeland’s third album—his first for ToneMark Sounds—is a nice blend of Grunge, Hard Rock, and Metal. Titled Wake Up, the record is heavily influenced by the grunge sounds of the ‘90s, going for a fresh take on the beloved alternative subgenre. It isn’t so much a solo album as a dozen musicians contribute eclectic styles to the mix, similar to what Santana and Slash did on their solo albums with a plethora of guest singers/musicians. The end result is very rewarding.

Wake Up is first and foremost a very personal album, and a concept record at that. It’s introspective, dark, moody, and uplifting at the same time. Featuring both male and female vocalists, a wide variety of musical arrangements (even some rap thrown in for good measure), it’s also a platform for Eric to showcase his guitar chops and proficiency as a lyricist. The album is divided into two halves: the first half is heavier and louder, while the second half is quieter and moodier.

Things kick off with the gloomy “Sky Glazed Over”, featuring Jes Phipps on vocals. This tune has a great chugging riff throughout and is a perfect tone-setter for the album. “Falling Away” is faster and gloomier and has Mark Moots as guest vocalist, with Eric Stangeland scorching the earth with his fiery guitar. The third cut, “Head’s in a Fog”, has a cool Alice in Chains vibe and Gus Caba’s vocals are eerily reminiscent of Rob Zombie’s. It also features Stevi Cooper rapping to add some flavor to the tune. I really dig this song! Next up is “Don’t Make Me Go”, a very catchy alternative track sung by Katie Keller channeling Mother Love Bone, which is actually referenced in a spoken word part by Joy Stark in the latter section of the song. It’s followed up with “Not a Dream, Not Reality”, with Mark Earnest on vocals and a fine display of Eric doing a killer guitar solo. On to the mellower second half of the album, we have the dreamy “Gravity” with the lovely Lisa McQuiston taking over vocal duties. The slower tempo continues with “When Can I Leave?!”, a superb instrumental guitar track that I wish were longer. It segues into “No Matter What”, a standout song on this great album, a kind of a rock ballad, featuring another female vocalist in the talented Brittany Maggert. We go back to a heavier groove for “Holding Hands in Silence”, a solid rock song with terrific guitar play which has vocalist Mark Moots returning on the mic. The album comes to a close on a softer note with the acoustic “For You”, which incidentally is the only song on the record that Eric sings; it’s split with a brief, sort of hidden instrumental track titled “For Ed” which provides the perfect finishing touch to end this beautiful record.

Eric Stangeland’s Wake Up is an amazing collaborative effort from both a musical and lyrical standpoint. It showcases a broad array of sonic influences, predominantly grungy, that echo Alice in Chains, Soundgarden, and ‘80s-inspired guitar solos, all the while presenting the listener with lyrics that will make you ponder and inspire you to keep fighting and moving forward if you’re going through hard times. After four spins so far, this record keeps getting better and better with every listen—a telltale sign of a fine album. This one’s a keeper, folks; show Eric some love and pick up a copy today!

Eric Stangeland’s Bandcamp page:

Friday, May 28, 2021

Wytch - Exordium

Welcome to the ceremony. We will be discussing Sweden’s heavy rock/occult rock band Wytch and their debut album, Exordium. Some albums resonate with you instantly and leave a lasting impact. Exordium is one such album. It fires on all cylinders and delivers the goods in spades, my friends. As part of the Ripple Music label—quite probably the finest purveyor of heavy/stoner/doom music out there—the expectations were high for this release, and this female-fronted outfit doesn’t disappoint in the slightest.

Initially called Aska, this quintet fronted by the uniquely haunting Johanna Lundberg on lead vocals, renamed itself Wytch following the release of an EP in 2017. It’s a cool band name but their songs are less occult than you would expect from a band called Wytch. Nevertheless, don’t judge a band by its name as they are all skilled musicians and can hang with the best of them. It’s been stated a lot about this album, but it needs to be reiterated: Wytch’s brand of rock is a perfect fusion of Fleetwood Mac and Black Sabbath in their prime with a blues rock edge. An absolute delight to this listener’s ears!

This 39-minute, 8 song ceremony begins with “Black Hole”, with an infectious opening riff and its sing-along chorus; a real standout track on the album. Things slow down a notch for the next song, “Savior”, a more contemplative tune, with yet another catchy chorus. The album seems to follow a pattern of alternating between a fast song followed by a slower one, and so on and so forth, giving the record a good balance. “Savior” is meticulously crafted and proves to be just as solid as the opening cut. “Evil Heart” is a gloomier song with pulse-pounding rhythms, fast-paced, and fun. “Blood” slows things down and has got a retro bluesy vibe. Next up is “Warrior”; this one has a take-no-prisoners attitude, high energy, and provides a good showcase for the drummer. “Rebel” is a gem of a song and my second favorite on the record. It’s another slower-paced track which erupts at one point, a kind of ballad with teeth as they used to be called back in the day. The chanting of “Now is the time to rise, Lord of flies” will find its way into your brain and stick there. “Break You Down” is more of a reverse ballad, if there is such a thing. It’s melodic, catchy, distorted, and memorable, with some awesome guitar playing. The album closer, “You”, is my absolute favorite song on this superb record. It’s music to drive to on a desert highway wearing shades with the windows rolled down going way faster than the speed limit. The very definition of a classic rock tune.

Wytch’s Exordium is in my opinion a strong contender for album of the year thus far. I’d also go as far as say that it’s potentially Ripple Music’s best album released in 2021, and that’s saying a lot. Ripple have had a phenomenal year up to now in terms of bands and albums they’ve put out—maybe their best ever—and show no sign of slowing down. I’ve heard a lot of their output, but to me, Wytch takes the crown as the finest record of the year, five months into 2021. Do yourself a favor and add this record/digital album to your collection ASAP!

Ripple Music’s Wytch Bandcamp page:

Sunday, May 16, 2021

Book of Wyrms - Occult New Age

Book of Wyrms return with their third offering, Occult New Age, and their first on the Desert Records label. This album couldn’t have had a more appropriate title as it perfectly sums up its contents. And what a phenomenal album it is! In my humble opinion, it checks all the boxes of what makes a great occult/space rock/heavy psych/doom record: Atmospheric, a copious amount of fuzz, chock-full of psychedelic ‘70s vibes, haunting vocals, and great musicianship.

Sarah Moore Lindsey’s ethereal vocals and the quartet’s sludgy rhythms begin the spiritual journey on “Meteoric Dagger”. Next up, “Colossal Yield” has echoes of Sabbath and features a good blend of Magick and darkness with its retro ‘70s feel. “Albrionlilly” is a short, quiet, soothing acoustic interlude; the calm before the proverbial storm that will follow. With “Hollergoblin”, we have a strong contender for song of the year right here; cryptic, epic, and invoking a vintage sound. “Keinehora” puts the listener under a trance from the get-go and is a perfect psychedelic one-two punch along with “Hollergoblin”. “Speedball Sorcerer” is a pearl of a rock n’ roll song with organ playing that channels Jon Lord and Ray Manzarek. “Weatherworker” is another gem of a song about a summoning, with killer riffs and dueling guitars. The album’s closing cut, “Dracula Practice”, would make the Lord of the Undead proud and is worthy of the Prince of Darkness himself.

With its occult themes and songs about good and evil, Magick and summons, Occult New Age is a veritable spiritual trip. It can best be described as an album that evokes musical energy and paints images that really get you to feel its intensity. It lingers with you long after it ends and makes you yearn to experience it again soon. For fans of Hawkwind, occultism, space/stoner rock, and doom and all its variations, Book of Wyrms’ latest is a must have record!

Book of Wyrms’ Bandcamp page: 

Friday, May 7, 2021

Mothman and The Thunderbirds - Into the Hollow

I’ve always been a sucker for concept albums. The prog rock genre and its cousins, metal and stoner, seem to lend themselves particularly well to concept albums. The focus of the record I’ll be reviewing today, Into the Hollow by Mothman and The Thunderbirds, is on the infamous Mothman, the creature first seen by hundreds of witnesses in Point Pleasant, West Virginia in the late ‘60s. The legend of the Mothman was popularized by author John Keel in his 1975 book The Mothman Prophecies which was later turned into an excellent film starring Richard Gere and Laura Linney in 2002.

Mothman and The Thunderbirds is really a one-man band, that of musician extraordinaire Alex Parkinson. For his debut album, Alex aka Mothman and The Thunderbirds, unleashes an eclectic sludge and stoner metal album with elements of prog rock. However, I must preface this review by saying that this album contains some harsh/aggressive vocals and that’s typically not something I enjoy listening to, nor is it the kind of music that I review on this blog. I’ve made an exception for this album because that kind of singing works well here, for the most part, with the overall mood of the record and the end results proving to be quite melodic.

“Mothman Takes Flight” begins the sonic journey with some head-bobbing guitars and rhythms, followed by “Hollow Earth”, a catchy tune sung with the use of a vocoder that adds a nice layer to the song. Next up is “Nomad”, a hell of a good track with some excellent guitar work and one of the highlights of the album in my opinion. “Indrid Cold” follows, one of the two cuts I enjoyed the least; the vocals were a little too harsh for my taste on this one. “Infinite Ocean” sees guest vocalist Jason Roberts (of the one-man band "Breaths") handling vocal duties on some verses. It has prog rock tendencies, much to my delight, and does some very interesting stuff musically with the song’s tempo. Don’t let the odd title of the next song fool you, “The Simpsons = Real Footage”, because it’s a doozy! With guest singer, Kirby, adding some nice female vocals to the mix for this song about the sad state of the world today. “Agarthan Riders” is a solid song, and one of my favorites, with a killer guitar solo reminiscent of the good old days of metal, featuring Alex’s brother, Sam, on guitars. “Cloud Giant”, with Joe Sobieski on lead vocals, is the most radio-friendly track on the record with elements of psych rock and is a song of hope, about coming home. “Squonk” (no, this isn’t a cover of the 1976 Genesis song) clocking in at less than a minute serves as a prelude to “Roko’s Basilisk”, the second song I didn’t care for on the album due to harsh vocals—or my old ears just being too sensitive for that kind of singing in my old age. The ride comes to an end with “Hollow Sun”, an uplifting song to close the album with light triumphing over darkness.

While not for everybody, Into the Hollow is a fine album, full of musical prowess, terrific songwriting skills, and a very polished record overall. If you don’t mind harsh vocals every now and then, and are into great musicianship, you’re bound to have a good time with Mothman and The Thunderbirds’ debut album. Running at just over 30 minutes, as seems to be the growing trend for album runtimes these days, it makes for a short and speedy listen you’ll want to revisit often. The album is available for pre-order and will be released on May 21st.

Mothman and The Thunderbirds’ Bandcamp page:

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Howling Giant - Alteration

Happy 4/20 everybody! Hot off the presses for the occasion, today we focus on a release from a band that’s rapidly becoming a household name in the stoner rock scene: Howling Giant. The Nashville, Tennessee quartet decided to put out an instrumental EP made up of some of their Twitch jams, polishing them up and recording them in the studio. The end result is a four-song EP titled Alteration.

Hot on the heels of some terrific releases in 2020, Howling Giant deliver the goods yet again with Alteration. While they didn’t have a full-length album out last year, they covered Black Sabbath’s “Lord of this World” to perfection and also performed a stunning rendition of Alice in Chains’ “Rooster” on Magnetic Eye Records’ Sabbath and AIC tribute albums respectively. Their most noteworthy accomplishment of 2020 though remains what is in my opinion the most epic psych/stoner song of the year released as part of a split with Sergeant Thunderhoof on Ripple Music’s Turned To Stone Chapter 2. Their song titled “Masamune” is an absolute master class in crafting an epic piece of rock music.

Alteration is an in-between album to tide us over until their next full-length record. We can witness and hear the band evolving on these instrumental pieces. Every track has its own distinct persona. “Understudy” kicks things off with a riff that makes you wanna yell “Hell, yeah!” It gives off some cool prog rock vibes and is one heck of a fun jam. “Luring Alluring Rings” really nails Howling Giant’s signature sound. More than any other cut, this piece is instantly recognizable as a Howling Giant song, akin to the way one can differentiate a Jimmy Page, Eddie Van Halen, or David Gilmour guitar riff/solo mere seconds into it. The penultimate track, “Enemy of My Anemone”, starts off slower but spirals into a quicker pace. I wonder what this one would sound like with lyrics. It feels like it would be a great song! We end this 21-minute trip with “Farmer Maggot’s Crop”, featuring country blues/bluegrass guitar virtuoso Mike T. Kerr. The shortest track on the EP, but far from the worst; it has a multitude of sonic layers that feel almost comforting, like gazing at stars in a cloudless sky at night.

There isn’t a single dud on this short but incredibly replayable EP. Howling Giant was already a band that I loved, but this set of instrumentals has given me a newfound appreciation of their musical talents. I am eagerly anticipating their next full-length album. If you wanna celebrate 4/20 in style or are just looking for some damn fine stoner/psych/desert rock music, then throw a fiver their way and pick up Alteration.

Howling Giant’s Bandcamp page:

Sunday, March 28, 2021

Robot Death Monkey - Druid Odyssey

Scotland’s Robot Death Monkey (or RDM abbreviated) has redefined what a fun stoner rock album should sound like. In fact, the word “FUN” should now have the alternate spelling of “RDM”. Their latest EP, Druid Odyssey, is more fun than playing Barrel of Monkeys drunk in a room full of naked women. Well, almost.

Get yourself a cold six-pack of beers, light up a joint, sit back and relax as Druid Odyssey begins. Things kick off with “Escape from Hentai Mountain (Part 1)”, a superb blues-infused, desert rock instrumental. Then we move on to my favorite track of the album, “Bubba Ho-Tep”, an insanely infectious homage to the cult classic Don Coscarelli-directed Bruce Campbell movie. The catchy chorus will stick with you for the rest of the day—and night. “Blood Wizard” is a fast and furious, riff-heavy little number. Next up is a song that would make Machete proud: “Trejo”, a Mexican-flavored, head-bobbing party song. The penultimate track is an ass-kicker, “The Green Bastard”, which I assume refers to the big green monster on the album’s cover art. Speaking of which, that thing is a beauty with its graphic reference to Alien. Closing time comes to the tune of “Gary Dunham”, a strong shredder of a song.

These Scottish dudes sure know how to put together some kick-ass party tunes! Druid Odyssey is a festival of stoner gems, chock-full of humor, filled to the brim with addictive riffs and cool licks with movie and pop culture references galore. This quartet is sure to enhance your Friday night and get your weekend started on a good note. The final verdict: get into some Robot Death Monkey shenanigans, your ears will thank you. The album is a “Name Your Price” on Bandcamp so there’s no reason you shouldn’t join the fun.

Robot Death Monkey’s Bandcamp page:

Saturday, March 27, 2021

Planeetta 9 - Pirun Piiska

Life might be real strange and quite hard right now in these times of pandemic, but when it comes to music, these are some of the most exciting times to live in. We have access to music at the click of a button, from anywhere in the world. I for one am grateful to be discovering new music that I otherwise would never find out about if it weren’t for this blog and the album submissions I get from labels and bands for reviews. This week’s completely blew me away. The spotlight shines on a heavy metal sextet from Southern Finland, a band by the name of Planeetta 9 (“Planet 9” in English). And fellas, these guys can play.

Their latest release is an EP titled Pirun piiska. The songs are in Finnish so it just goes to show how music is a universal language as it doesn’t deter at all from the experience of enjoying this gem of an EP, much like listening to opera in Italian or German. For the purposes of this review, I’ll list the Finnish song titles and in parentheses is the rough English translation, courtesy of Google.  The opening cut is the album title track, “Pirun piiska” (The Devil’s Whip). I could hear echoes of Dream Theater, Dio-era Sabbath, and even a splash of Queensryche. Singer Jukka Salo’s vocals take us on a riff-heavy trip, complete with organ-driven rhythms. The second track, “Sama hauta” (Same Grave), is a doomier number, and puts the band’s versatility on display. The third track, “Juoksuhiekka” (Running Sand), caught me off-guard: a subdued, quieter song with cello, violin, and piano that really made me wish I could understand what he was singing about as you can feel Salo’s pain/sadness coming through. I wasn’t able to get a translation for the last song, “Vakuumilapset”, but it’s got a catchy melody with a ballad-like tempo, perhaps a song of hope for the future. And that’s it, folks, the EP comes to a close. It made me wish there were four more songs as I was really digging this different blend of metal than what I’m used to hearing.

Planeetta 9 has released a terrific EP, extremely melodic, and reminiscent of late ‘90s/early 2000s metal. Don’t let the fact that the songs are in Finnish prevent you from getting in on this old school homage to the legendary Metal bands that came before them. An eclectic showcase of Heavy Metal, Doom, and even Folk at times, this offering of four tracks delivers plenty and leaves us wanting more. The burgeoning Finnish Metal scene can add another strong ambassador to its ranks with Planeetta 9. I am eagerly looking forward to a full-length album from this band and they will now be on my radar. Treat yourself and pick up a copy of Pirun piiska.

Planeetta 9’s Bandcamp page:

Sunday, March 21, 2021

Holy Monitor - Southern Lights

I’d never heard of Holy Monitor before Southern Lights landed in my lap. I was surprised to discover that this is their third full-length record. Why am I only finding out about this awesome band now? Holy Monitor is a psychedelic/progressive rock quintet hailing from Athens, Greece.

To be honest, on first listen, while I was blown away by the craftsmanship of the musicians, I wasn’t sure singer/guitarist George Nikas’s vocals worked for me. It took a couple more spins and then I got it. Yes, it absolutely fits this band and their music to perfection. Much like prog rock giants Yes’s Jon Anderson and Rush’s Geddy Lee’s vocals might have taken a little while to get used to upon first listens back in the day for those bands, Nikas’s voice has textures that give Holy Monitor their trademark sound. This band is tight and everyone’s contribution is equally strong and important, resulting in a fantastic album.

The beautiful opening track, “River”, to me says, “Welcome to a retro journey, my friends, have we got some great gems in store for you!” It feels like we’re embarking on a very special trip. “Naked in the Rain” is groovy and feels instantly familiar. Next up is “Blue Whale”, a pure psychedelic delight. I love the retro vibe of this song. The title track, “Southern Lights”, is a dreamy tune with its rhythmic guitars that paint rainbows in the psychedelic skies. “The Sky is Falling Down”, the longest cut of the album, is nothing short of epic and is a song that has something likely to please everyone. From there we segue into “Hourglass”, the sole instrumental track. It’s hypnotic and spacey and would have fit like a glove on an early Pink Floyd album. “Ocean Trail” is the perfect bridge to the finale, the laidback “Under the Sea” which brings this 40-minute voyage to a close. The entire set of songs has a very cohesive quality to it, at times feeling almost like you’re listening to a concept album.

Holy Monitor’s Southern Lights is a magical album. It’s one of those records that you can just put on, shut your eyes, and let your mind wander far away to the sound of the music for the full duration. It’s a very polished record from a band of skilled instrumentalists that has the gift of effortlessly drawing images with music. If psychedelic rock with a slice of prog is your thing, then Southern Lights is a no-brainer of a purchase. Highly recommended!

Holy Monitor’s Bandcamp page:

Tuesday, March 9, 2021

Lords of the Opium Church - Lords of the Opium Church

As a Canadian, I always enjoy discovering a new Canadian band. Lords of the Opium Church (LOTOC) is a Canuck trio hailing from Edmonton, Alberta. Their self-titled debut album is a perfect blend of ‘70s Rock ‘n’ Roll, old school metal from the ‘80s sprinkled with a good dose of stoner rock. Let’s dive in, shall we?

The party kicks off with the bluesy, head-bobbing “Opium Church”, showcasing a Deep Purplesque organ, and serves as an accurate snapshot of what to expect from the rest of the album. Then it’s on to “Trial & Terror”, with its melodic vocals, followed by the extremely catchy “Left Behind”, which features a scorching guitar solo and is a strong contender for my fave song on the LP. Track number 4, “Thunderhead”, has a real radio-friendly quality to it and makes great use of piano and strings in its outro. The head-banging “Electric Temple” has the band letting loose for our aural pleasure; definitely one of the highlights of the album. The doomy “Superstitions”, the shortest song on the album, is full of cool riffs. “Caged” is a total blast with its big arena sound and once again displays the band’s tight playing. It brings us to the final cut, “Banshee”, with tolling bells to add to the sonic atmosphere.

LOTOC deliver a well-rounded, diverse eponymous album; a band of talented musicians with vocals that have a timeless quality to them. The expression “all killer no filler” certainly applies here. If I were to nitpick, it’d be about the album’s running time—at just under 30 minutes, it makes for an EP-sized listen. An extra two songs to bring the count to 10 would’ve easily fixed that issue. It’s really the only gripe I have with it: it’s too short! But, to quote Eldon Tyrell in Blade Runner: “The light that burns twice as bright burns for half as long.” In any case, I wholeheartedly recommend picking it up if you’re a fan of old school metal and/or classic rock; you won’t be disappointed!

Lords of the Opium Church’s Bandcamp page:

Friday, January 29, 2021

Indus Valley Kings - Indus Valley Kings

It’s been a while coming (mostly due to an ongoing health issue), but I finally have my first review of the year for you, folks, and hot damn, what a way to kick things off! You know when you walk into a liquor store and come across a new beer or a wine you’ve never tried, and once you get a taste, it goes down so smooth and easy that before you know it, it’s all gone? This is the best analogy I can give you regarding Indus Valley Kings’ eponymous debut album.

Indus Valley Kings (IVK) is a trio hailing from the Bronze Age of Antiquity via Long Island, New York. The band’s name no doubt references the Indus Valley Civilization, which along with Ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia was one of the three early civilizations of the Near East and South Asia. The Indus Valley culture thrived some 4,000 years ago, and bound together more than a thousand cities and settlements scattered across Pakistan and Northwestern India. All right, history lesson aside, on to the music. In this day and age where it’s hard to stand out from the pack, IVK succeed in crafting an album that is incredibly diverse; from stoner rock to groovy blues with echoes of ‘90s metal, and peppered with ‘70s hard rock influences. I can definitely hear a bit of Helmet, some nods to Kyuss, and even the doom of the mighty Sabbath throughout their songs. They remind me of some of the cool metal bands I went to see in concert in my youth during the 1990s with an updated sound for the 21st century.

IVK’s self-titled LP has strong vocals and awesome guitar solos throughout, courtesy of singer/guitarist Billy Fridrich who is backed up by a powerful rhythm section consisting of Jonathan Lesley Habers on bass/backing vocals and Dan Lofaro on drums. The ceremony begins with “Angels”, a grungy track dripping with desert heat that immediately holds your attention. “Cactus People” is a song you can absolutely bob your head to with its catchy rhythm. Next up is the doomy “The Method” which switches to a faster tempo and a great guitar solo mid-song. It’s followed by “Remains of Yesterday”, a terrific number with the band really showcasing their musical diversity and songwriting skills—and also features my favorite guitar solo of the album. It brings us to “Devil”, one of the highlights of the album with its foreboding bass opening. This song oozes with atmosphere and turns into a barn-burner, serving as a perfect opportunity for the band to let loose and rip it up. Mark my words, you’ll be singing “You can’t escape the soultaker” long after the album comes to a close. “Phoenix” and “Scapegoat” keep the festivities going, once again demonstrating just how well the bandmates complement one another; pounding bass, rhythmic drumming, and guitar shredding on full display. “Rest in Waste” is a hypnotic, doomy affair with groovy bass and drum, and scorching guitars. The closing track, “1,000 Wicked Souls”, has a meaner sound to it, with its chugging guitar and bass, and is the perfect way to let the musical dust settle after this eclectic 48-minute sonic journey.

The band puts out a polished album all-around and sound really tight playing together. I have a feeling they’d be a great act to see live. Indus Valley Kings manage to carve out a unique sound for themselves, marking their debut with a solid LP that has immense replay value. Take them for a spin on Bandcamp (link below) and show them some love by picking up a copy of their album. You’ll be glad you did.

Indus Valley Kings’ Bandcamp page:

Thursday, December 24, 2020

Happy Holidays and Thank You!!!

I’d like to take this opportunity to wish all my friends, fellow music lovers, bands, and my blog readers the safest of Holidays. May this coming year bring you all that your heart desires, good health in these dark times, financial abundance so your mind can be at ease, lots of love to warm your heart, and let’s all cross our fingers that we can get some semblance of normalcy back to life sometime during the course of 2021.

I’d also like to take a moment to thank all the bands, singers, musicians, record labels, streaming services, record stores, and anyone out there who created/produced/distributed music in 2020 to help us get through this very challenging year. I’ve always found solace in music when life gets tough and more than ever music has been a healer and source of hope and happiness for me this year. I thank you from the bottom of my heart and if I’ve reviewed an album of yours, it was a great pleasure to take some time to pour some words on the proverbial page to express how I felt about a set of songs that has made my life a little easier while I listened to them. Hopefully it helped spread the word and get more folks aware of the artists/bands reviewed on the Harbinger of D.O.O.M. blog. I will return in January for a brand new year filled with great music, I’m sure. Till then, drink some fine wine, eat some good food, hug the people you love, and stay safe!