Review: Protest the Hero – Scurrilous

I just love it when a piece of music just totally grabs your attention in way that makes you ignore the other 15,3 GB of music and podcasts on you iPod. If memory serves correctly Protest the Hero‘s first album was on a Best albums of the year-entry by Mike Portnoy. And I loved that too. Scurrilous is just a party for your ears, if you like progressive music, obviously. The German wikipedia page says mathcore but I don’t see them that extreme, let’s say technical prog metal but with very catchy melodies and songs. The songs on Scurrilous don’t sound like ABABCDAEFGGZZABCDCA, like let’s-throw-theses-parts-together – to me they sound like songs and interestingly the vocals play a big role in this. No burping and none of this high pitch screaming which you both can’t understand, enunciation it seems was part of the idea. But make no mistake, the voice is still awesomely powerful.
All in all, Scurrilous sounds like they are having fun. To my ears there is also some irony here and there, in the music as well as in the lyrics which is appreciated.
Check it out!

Review: Times of Grace – The Hymn of a Broken Man

Killswitch Engage mastermind Adam D. grouped together with former KSE singer Jesse Leach to record this album which will also be supported by a small tour, incidentally with KSE guitarist Joel Stroetzel.
This comes of course on the heels of KSE vocalist Howard Jones leaving the tour last year due to undisclosed problems and KSE have been quite mum about their plans, helping promote Times of Grace instead. So let’s leave that aside and dive into Hymn of a Broken Man which some previews hailed as the next big thing.
The sound is definitely similar to Killswitch Engage which shouldn’t come as a surprise. However, for a couple of songs Adam D. pulls out an acoustic guitar. The Forgotten One not only sounds great but also reminds me a bit of older times, like the early 90s. There are quicker rhythm changes at times with the drums playing closer to the guitar and the chorus’s usually are a bit slower with focus on the melody. However, most tracks’ hooklines seem to grow even slower than some KSE songs, at least until the final quarter of the album. So far, after four run-throughs this is not the next big thing for me. But I won’t give up on it just yet.

Review: Mr. Big – What if?

I remember sitting in a Paul Gilbert guitar clinic and one of the attendees asking “why do all your records open with the best song and then kind of, well, dwindle down?” This must have been after Bump Ahead and the guy was referring to Colorado Bulldog, Daddy, Brother, Lover and little Boy, and Addicted to that Rush. Well, this isn’t such a record.

Yes, I am a Mr. Big fan. Although I have only seen them live once unfortunately, I have seen the VHS (!) of Live in San Francisco about 100 times and have all their albums, including Raw like Sushi 1-24, the Richie Kotzen ‘effort’ and the Hard Rock Cafe gig. What do you expect, I play guitar and love Paul Gilbert (have all his solo records, too). I am pointing this out, because I think I had pretty high expectations.

One big how-could-you up front: How can you release an album in Japan and wait for the rest of the world for weeks in this day and age? Sure I’ll pay for the limited physical edition of the album when it comes out. Gladly. Thanks for all the memories. But would I not be looking on the torrents for the Japan release to bridge the wait? Well, sure you’ll understand that I cannot answer that.

That out of the way, here comes the actual review:
The opener Undertow is awesome and features a guitar solo that epitomizes how Paul Gilbert has evolved his guitar playing over the year, unlike for example John Petrucci who until the last release Black Cloud and Silver Lining had no solo I want to immediately learn how to play since almost Metropolix Pt. 2. And What if? continues that way. They get the ballad out of the way early, but it is the “rock album” sound that carries all the way to the final track. Solid base, solid drums, solid songwriting. One could argue that Mr. Big songs are not as fast as they used to be, but that case could be made for everything from Bump Ahead on. They were never a metal band but a rock band with exceptionally talented musicians, a fact which they do prove time and again on this album. So in conclusion, this is a great rock album, not just for fans.

Update: Read this review on melodicrock.com, too, it’s worth it. Billy Sheehan thinks so as well.

Review: Yngwie Malmsteen – Relentless

For a time I used to dread new Yngwie albums because they seemed to be a collection of old riffs put together differently and feature little variation. Seeing him live over the years I got the impression that he gets fatter, faster and sloppier.
His newest release Relentless is a bit more original though uninspired at times. There are the arpeggios, there are the typical vocals, there are the keyboard walls and bass guitar. However, after two run-throughs I have yet to say, this is a cool song with a memorable hook.
Soundwise Relentless lacks the grandieur-tone which I would expect of Yngwie. It’s not as bad as Metallica’s St. Anger but would have been better with more polishing and better keyboard sounds. Interestingly, the guitar is not always omni-present, sometimes being left of center only and thus opposing keyboards.
In closing, I am not giving up on this one, it has some edges, something enticing. Maybe it will grab me. Or maybe it won’t and the newest Malmsteen I really dig will remain Seventh Sign…

Review: Jack Johnson – To the Sea

I am an old-school Jack Johnson listener, meaning I mainly listen to Brushfire Fairytales and On and On. The kids record and Sleep through the static not so much.
To the Sea feels like the direction is more with the old stuff, however, with a more refined instrumentation. There is an ever present piano/keyboard in the rhythm section and you’ll hear electric guitar solos. Song structures and melodies remind me of the early stuff though. I like this combination and enjoy listening to the record.

Review: Bret Michaels – Custom Built

Ok, let me be honest about it: I love Poison’s Flesh & Blood. It is one of the albums that has influenced me and my guitar playing most and I have listened to it countless times and still do. Poison after that has ups and downs, mostly downs though.

Michael’s latest solo effort is… an effort. Don’t buy it. Notable (not for the songs) are the Everlast cover What I got, a weak ‘country’ version of Every Rose has its Thorn and the duet with Miley Cyrus. However, the record just sounds bad. Weak songs with bad sound – a bad combination. Basically, every time there is electric guitar with distortion involved, the sound turns into muck. Yuck. Poor, poor, mixing. It doesn’t help that there is an industrial number as well as a tune that sounds a lot like Hollyweird from the last original Poison release of the same name.

I wish the man all the best and if I could go back to 1999 I’d go to the see the band when I had a chance. But this record won’t get much play on my system.