By John Jeffrey
Just when people started to count them out, SIXX:A.M. returns with possibly their best album yet, with 'Vol. 1 Prayers For The Damned.' Being skeptical myself of what their latest offering would bring, after their 2014 disc, 'Modern Vintage,' while being a solid release, showed the band dabbling with more pop orientated song arrangements and even incorporating disco/R&B flavorings (ala Michael Jackson) into their sound, there was definitely a sense that the band was "losing the plot."
Ye believers of little faith need not worry, as the first installment of "Prayers For The Damned" hits all the pleasure points that fans were missing on 'Modern Vintage' and to some extent on 'This Is Gonna Hurt.' Being the fourth studio album from the trio, this CD represents the band’s most ambitious, complete and adrenaline-soaked effort to date. The album also boasts first-class production and mixing by vocalist James Michael and original artwork from guitarist Dj Ashba, proving that this collection of music is a true labor of passion. One cannot deny how focused and cohesive this album of music is, and this is perhaps due to Dj taking the decision to leave Guns ’N’ Roses and Nikki Sixx wrapping up his touring career with Mötley Crüe. There are no distractions any more and the band definitely appears to be 100% dedicated to SIXX:A.M. now.
Lyrically, 'Prayers For The Damned' sees the trio casting their glance out onto the world we live in more than ever before, as there is still a great deal of the personal introspection the band have come to be renowned for represented here. Musically, 'Prayers For The Damned' includes some of the heaviest songs that band has ever written. As Nikki Sixx puts it, “These are the songs that are designed to get a reaction from a live crowd as much as they are going to sound brilliant over your stereo.” The eerie overtones that have been missing on the past couple of releases are back as well, as songs like "Better Man" and "When We Were Gods" sound like songs that could have easily been written and recorded for 'The Heroin Diaries Soundtrack.'
The bottom line is that SIXX:A.M. are back, swinging with a collection of songs that will fire up both the head and heart in equal measure. SIXX:AM have found their way back to their true sound and are producing art that refuses to be led by anything but their own desires. As Nikki puts it, “This time around we have really found what the voice of SIXX:A.M. is and I hope that when people listen to them they will hear their voice too.” If Vol.1 is any indication of how great Vol.2 is going to be, the future will be incredibly bright for SIXX:AM.
By John Jeffrey
By John Jeffrey
Ace Frehley has a unique relationship with cover songs. Throughout his solo career, and starting with his 1978 KISS solo album, Ace has had the uncanny ability to cover a song and completely immerse himself into the track he was recording at the time. Most times, once the "Ace-ification" was complete, the finished composition wound up sounding more like a Frehley 'original' than a 'cover,' with some people indentifying the song(s) more so with Ace Frehley then the original artist(s). Although, the two best examples are the Russ Ballard compositions "New York Groove" (from his 78 KISS solo record, which at times, Ace, himself, has inadvertently taken credit as being "his" song) and "Into The Night" (from the 1987 'Frehley's Comet' album), Ace has literally included a cover song on every solo album he has released in his musical career.
While there were divided opinions on Ace's most recent cover of Steve Miller's, "The Joker" (released on 2014's 'Space Invader' CD), the sessions in which several cover songs were recorded for consideration as "the cover song" on 'Space Invader' were the foundation for Ace's upcoming CD - a 12 track disc comprised solely of cover songs - entitled, 'Origins Vol.1.' To be released next month from eOne Music, the CD pays tribute to Jimi Hendrix, and the other legendary artists who inspired him to begin his own musical journey, as Ace chose some great songs to cover like Jimi's “Spanish Castle Magic” and Led Zeppelin’s “Bring it on Home.”
When Ace originally announced the impending release of 'Origins Vol.1,' KISS fans rejoiced in the news that Ace would attempt to reclaim “Cold Gin” and “Parasite” from the KISS catalog by singing the lead vocals on both for the first time ever. He also teamed up with Mike McCready (Pearl Jam), and Rob Zombie guitarist John 5 (for the 2 aforementioned KISS covers), along with Slash and Lita Ford on supercharged covers of Thin Lizzy’s “Emerald” and the Troggs’ “Wild Thing.”
Upon the first few listens of 'Origins Vol.1,' one thing was clear, Ace hit upon a great cross-section of well known material and b-sides to record for the disc. While I enjoyed some tracks more than others (not feeling the Thin Lizzy and Kinks covers all that much), every one of them is worthy of a few spins.
Vocally, Ace comes across very confident, but still retains that quirky appeal that Ace's fans love. While some of his phrasing may leave something to be desired, his vocal tone is still classic "Ace." Another vocalist who turns in a "classic" performance is Ace's former KISS band mate, Paul Stanley, who contributed vocals on the Free cover, "Fire and Water." Paul delivers a clean performance, showcasing his lower vocal register abilities and proves he still has one of the greatest vocal tones in all of rock and roll. I would be remiss if I didn't mention the stellar vocal performance drummer Scot Coogan gives on "Bring it on Home." Scot channels Robert Plant so well that it came as no surprise to find out that Scot moonlights - drumming and singing - in the Led Zeppelin tribute band, 6 Foot Nurse.
Out of the 3 KISS covers, the thing that was most interesting was Ace's decision to cover the song, "Rock N Roll Hell" from 'Creatures of the Night.' While that album was the last one to feature Ace's face on the cover (before he "officially" left the band the first time around), Ace didn't play a note on the record. So it was very cool to see Ace thinking outside the box on this one. Played with a somewhat faster tempo then the KISS version, the song loses some of it's groove, which is a shame, due to the fact that Eric Carr's drumming is a major appeal on many of the songs off of 'Creatures.' But for what the song lacks in groove, Ace makes up for it with a 'go for the throat' guitar attack throughout the song, unleashing just about every lick in his arsenal. Unfortunately, Ace's new version of "Parasite" misses the mark for me, as all of the 'hot-rodding' done during the solo section ruins the simplistic magic and appeal of the original. I feel KISS fans would have appreciated a more traditional approach, like Ace delivered with "Cold Gin," as perhaps the 'Origins Vol.1' version of "Cold Gin" may be the new, definitive, studio version of the song.
Overall, Ace Frehley saved 'Origins Vol.1' from being a predictable, boring 'covers' record, like most 'covers' records tend to be. With a good song selection, plus great 'special guest' performances, Ace will certainly retain the respect of his loyal "Rock Soldiers." Looking forward to hopefully more volumes in the future from the Space Ace!!
1. Sister Sin - "Black Lotus" - Taking the number one slot of 2014 is Sister Sin with "Black Lotus." The fact that a band so early in their career can deliver earth shattering metal of this magnitude is simply astounding. Even within their Euro-metal style, they show the ability to be diverse on "Black Lotus" with killer tracks like the acoustic driven, "The Jinx." While each of our "Top 10" have great songs and other musical merits, this 'rookie' band amongst it's group of 'veterans' are taking the torch of metal by demand, proving that they are the front runners of the future of this genre.
2. Body Count -"Manslaughter"- Ice T shocked the metal community in 2014 with the return of Body Count by releasing the best album of their career with "Manslaughter." Whether it's their remake of Suicidal Tendencies' "Institutionalized" or the advance single, "Talk Shit, Get Shot" this album is real deal metal and Ice-T's vocal delivery is beyond words. A beginning to end master piece that came completely from left field in 2014.
3. Sebastian Bach - "Give Em Hell"- One of the biggest singers from the 80's that seems to have a love/hate relationship with the metal community, and at times, his own fan base, continues to prove to his critics that he can still deliver the goods. "Give 'Em Hell" is the perfect example of taking a classic hard rock approach and adding nu-school metal production values, giving the listener a solid body of work and something really enjoyable and 'new' to listen to. While there are a few clunkers on "Give 'Em Hell," the ones that rock, REALLY kick ass. Steve Stevens guitar playing on "Gun To a Knife Fight" is the worthy of the number 3 spot alone.
4. Slash - "World On Fire"- Finding a comfort zone between a current hard rock sound and the Guns N Roses type riffage, which attained the guitar icon the legendary status which he possesses, Slash and his Conspirators have truly set the "World on Fire" with it's 2014 release. Again, demonstrating a real 'band feel' on this album, "Word on Fire" is not a record the average listener can digest in a single listening, as this 17 song opus clocks in at just over 77 minutes of music. The amount of classic sounding GNR type licks are unreal and his soloing is as about as perfect as you can get from Slash.
5. Sixx:A.M. - "Modern Vintage"- Motley Crue mastermind Nikki Sixx's side-project, Sixx:A.M., which oddly enough was never intended to be a 'band,' shows growth once again, as this rising phoenix continues to spread it's wings and shows it's musical expansion on their 3rd full length release, "Modern Vintage." Although, the band has moved away from some of their signature musical stylings, the core has been left intact, which is great song writing by Sixx, vocalist James Michael and guitarist DJ Ashba, which there is plenty of on "Modern Vintage."
6. Overkill - "White Devil Armory"- Another band that refuses to sell out or alter it's sound, are the New Jersey kings of Thrash Metal, Overkill. Releasing perhaps the best and most consistent album since 1996's "Killing Kind" CD, "White Devil Armory" is the most convincing, old school sounding metal album I've heard in years. Songs like "Bitter Pill" are pure riffing genius and the Metallica influenced "Where's there's Smoke" sounds like it could have come right off of "Master of Puppets."
7. Accept - "Blind Rage" - Since the reformation of Accept in 2009 by original members, Wolf Hoffmann and Peter Baltes, this band can do no wrong. This is Accept's third release with vocalist, Mark Tornillo, and they just keep getting better and better with each record. Brutally intense riffs with screaming banshee vocals are mixed together, resulting in an anthematic metal masterpiece.
8. Dave Constantino Band - "Touch"- Buffalo, NY music legend, Dave Constantino, triumphantly returns with his second solo release. 'Touch' is a ten-song, blues-rock masterpiece, with incredible musicianship that features well-crafted, late-night bar room rockers, fueled by a unique and uncompromising nasty guitar tone that would warrant the attention and admiration of any guitar-loving fan. This is a release that deserves to be heard over and over again.
9. Red Dragon Cartel - "Red Dragon Cartel"- After decades in obscurity, ex Ozzy/Badlands guitarist, Jake E. Lee, returns with an ambitious new band. But, its Lee's amazing guitar that is still the focal point on this diverse and impressive release. Interestingly, Lee utilizes five guest vocalists, which include Robin Zander, Maria Brinks, Paul Di'Anno, in addition to full time singer-Darren Smith. The first single, "Feeder," which features Robin Zander (Cheap Trick), has a bit of a modern edge, and was well received. However, songs like the riff-heavy, Black Sabbath-influenced, "War Machine," are the style of songs that fans of Jake E. Lee desire the most.
10.Tesla - "Simplicity"- Jeff Keith and the boys are like a late 80's version of AC/DC. Never straying from their signature sound, and in 2014, they released another album of the signature Tesla brand of 'straight ahead rock and roll.' While some of their recent releases have been better than others, "Simplicity" definitely falls into the "better" category. While "Simplicity" didn't deliver another "Modern Day Cowboy" or a "Little Suzi," this release is solid from beginning to end and rightly deserves to be part of our "Top 10" for 2014.