The acrimonious split with original drummer Bun E. Carlos in 2010 was a disappointingly sour turn of events in the 27-year saga of Cheap Trick. But on 2016’s Bang Zoom Crazy… Hello, their first release without him, his absence isn’t felt too keenly. The album rocks and pops with a warm, vintage sound and Robin Zander’s wonderful voice seems impervious to the passage of time. But the chemistry is undeniably altered. Their old biting quirkiness is missing and this is fairly slick stuff, like a souped-up version of the poppier Lap Of Luxury/Busted era, with by-the-numbers lyrics and happy strumming in place of decent riffs. That said, it’s a fun album with a perky spirit and, although the ideas gradually dry up as the album progresses, there are a few songs that fans will enjoy: driving opener Heart On The Line, the sparkling No Direction Home, glammy stomper Blood Red Lips and jangly ballad Sing My Blues Away. But the album’s saving grace, and the song that keeps me coming back for more, is the ghostly When I Wake Up Tomorrow. Overall, it’s not destined to go down in history as a classic, but its definitely one of their more enjoyable modern releases. And the band do sound like they’re having a good time. They don’t seem to miss Bun E., and this is solid enough that you probably won’t either. But he must have been the guy coming up with the album titles because Bang Zoom Crazy… Hello?
Secret Treaties is the last and best of the so-called “black-and-white” trilogy of albums that kicked off Blue Öyster Cult’s career: a trio of mysterious, monochrome-covered rock albums that peaked with this 1974 release. It’s dark, esoteric and also a bit of a hoot. It’s an album of parodic garage-rock horror reminiscent of Alice Cooper’s Killer, full of psychedelic monster mashes like Career Of Evil, the oddly cute Cagey Cretins and the seismic, psychotic Harvester Of Eyes. And those aren’t even the best tracks. Overdriven boogie rocker ME262 puts you in the pilot’s seat of a Junkers Jumo 004 (“Hitler’s on the phone from Berlin, he’s gonna make you a star”) and Dominance And Submission has a superb, swinging groove, an unforgettable climax (“radios appear”) and some creepy interjections from Charles The Grinning Boy… “it will be time”. But the album truly peaks with its closing tracks, Flaming Telepaths and Astronomy. Both are grand, magnificent masterpieces with affecting muscianship and beautifully cryptic imagery. Astronomy in particular is a complete head-scratcher. I’d love to know what “the nexus of the crisis, the origin of storms” really means but then… I feel like not knowing is kind of the point. And the reason Secret Treaties remains so eternally fascinating and alluring.
After the U.S. the most important country in the story of thrash metal has to be Germany. And in Germany it all started with the debut EP from Sodom. Where German thrash initially differentiated itself from its American counterpart was in crude, primitive blackness. And it doesn’t get much cruder, blacker or more primitive than 1985’s In The Sign Of Evil. It’s all very Venom-inspired with similar levels of punkish ineptitude. Most songs alternate between two caveman riffs and the performance, even on stupidly basic riffs like those in Sepulchral Voice, often unravels. But it was all chaotically evil enough to ensure that Sodom played a crucial role in the “first wave” of black metal and countless black metal bands still draw from this well. Outbreak Of Evil and Witching Metal are catchy-as-hell bruisers, Burst Command ‘Til War predates war metal with its howling pack of dogs chaos and Blasphemer ramps up the evil with Vincent Price laughs and entertainingly crap satanic lyrics… “masturbate to kill myself”. It’s the kind of entry-level simplicity that means new bands still fancy their chances at emulating it. But few have. In The Sign Of Evil is still a cut above with songs that live in the memory and in the band’s set-list to this day.
Blitzkrieg only managed to release one official 7″ single before splitting up in late 1981. Otherwise, they had some demos in circulation and a song Inferno on the Lead Weight compilation. Luckily for Blitzkrieg, their solitary release was impressive enough that Metallica ended up covering its eponymous B-side. This bestowed infamy and cult credibility to the defunct band and ensured their return in 1985.
But luck didn’t really have much to do with it cause Blitzkrieg is superb. The unforgettable opening riff might have been purloined from the Focus classic Hocus Pocus but it doesn’t matter because Blitzkrieg conjure up their own metal magic here. The mega-chunk guitars, deadly hooks (“let us have peace, let us have life”) and a dynamic rifferama climax make this mandatory listening. And the less-famous A-side Buried Alive isn’t too shabby either. Stark, driving metal with a piercingly catchy chorus. Just ignore the Bolanesque nonsense lyrics “the Leather Prince, turned to mince”… I can see why Metallica steered clear of that one.
Basking in the incredible success of their 1996 reunion tour, the four original members of KISS headed back into the studio to pick up where they left off: completely unable to work together. In fact, the entire band only appear together twice on 1998’s so-called reunion album Psycho Circus. The whole band performs Ace Frehley’s Into The Void (which, surprise surprise, is the only track here that sounds anything like classic KISS) and they all sing together on the fairly average You Wanted The Best. In truth, however, this is the Paul n’ Gene show. Which would be fine if the album was actually any good, but it’s a muddled, mediocre effort. Stanley exerts a bit of quality control with the anthemic, stomping title track and Gene offers up the suprisingly good closer Journey Of 1,000 Years but both performers have seen better days. Within is terrible alterna-metal, Finally Found My Way is a limp and dated ballad and the album is loaded with empty and charmless statements of unity. Doing a greatest hits nostalgia trek is one thing, moving forward as a creative unit is another entirely. KISS would have been better settling for the nostalgia because Psycho Circus left the inimitable rock legends looking like nothing but a bunch of clowns.
It’s tempting to see 1992’s Angel Dust as a deliberate and contrarian attempt to confuse fans following the unexpected success and “funk metal” pigeonholing of 1989’s The Real Thing. But that album was already weird enough, with its vibrant range of styles and Mike Patton’s darkly humourous lyrics. So, with Patton now fully involved in the band’s musical direction rather than just vocals and lyrics, Faith No More were really just evolving naturally: becoming weirder and more eclectic than ever before. Scathing, metallic rockers like the sarcastic Land Of Sunshine and the jackhammer Caffeine mingle with the sample-heavy melodic genius of Midlife Crisis, Everything’s Ruined and A Small Victory. But the album is at its best when it goes all Alice Cooper. RV‘s quirky portrayal of a trailer park slob has moments of soaring pathos and the album’s choicest deep cut Crack Hitler is a funky soundtrack for the best 70s TV action show you’ve never seen. It’s not all perfect. The cover of Midnight Cowboy is a pointless coda and I find the noisemare tracks Malpractice and Jizzlobber a bit uneventful. But even they still contribute to the dark, weird totality and I doubt Faith No More wanted anyone to like all of this. The contrary buggers. Like the cover’s pairing of a majestic egret with images of a slaughterhouse… Angel Dust is both beautiful and hideous. A challenging masterpiece. So sing and rejoice, sing and rejoice.
Ten years after their last album, The Wildhearts are back! On new album Renaissance Men (so called because they have came back) the band promises to rock you like a boomerang (a thing that comes back). And, like renaissance men, The Wildhearts are a sophisticated bunch so you get clever puns about comebacks and a wide range of lyrical concerns: online bullying, mental health, wankers, celebrity drug deaths, and coming back. It’s all extremely in-your-face but also a lot of fun too. Everything’s direct and punky so you don’t get the exciting, sprawling riff adventures of older material like Everlone and Rooting For The Bad Guy. But the songs themselves are eclectic and sharp. Dislocated veers from metal blitzkrieg to touchingly vulnerable, Let Em’ Go is a guaranteed drunken singalong and My Side Of The Bed mixes atonal noise with blissful power pop. And the heads-down pace of the album means the by-the-numbers moments like Little Flower and Emergency (Fentanyl Babylon) are short enough to forgive. Especially when mingling with belters like the powerful closer Pilo Erection (stop tittering and google it) and the wonderful, celebratory title track. Feels like a band that’s came back at the right time and for the right reasons and this is an album that’ll keep you coming back for more. Like a boomerang.