A little taste of the new Judas Priest record

Legendary metal band's 17th album due out July 15

Artwork for the track 'Redeemer of Souls,'
the first single from Priest's upcoming LP
For U.S. fans of Judas Priest that simply cannot wait for the July 15th release date of their latest classic metal album, Redeemer of Souls, there is some relief on the way. 

And if you are wondering what to expect from the mighty Priest on their forthcoming album, guitarist Glenn Tipton has set the record straight. "Sometimes in the past we may have come under fire for being too adventurous musically – so we have listened!! From start to finish Redeemer of Souls is 13 songs of pure classic Priest metal!!"

On Tuesday, April 29, the title track from the album will be available for purchase via iTunes (https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/redeemer-of-souls-single/id863086125) and other digital service providers. And a clip of the song (plus the single's artwork) is now available to sample at the band's website, judaspriest.com.

There are only a select number of bands that have accomplished what Judas Priest has throughout their career (as well as having served as a stylistic influence on such a wide variety of bands). Soon the group – singer Rob Halford, guitarists Glenn Tipton and Richie Faulkner, bassist Ian Hill and drummer Scott Travis  will be offering up more classic Judas Priest metal with the release of Redeemer of Souls.

Tesla's 'Simplicity' to hit the streets June 10

Tesla in 2014 will release Simplicity
New album from '80s rockers on the way, with touring to follow

(NEW YORK, NY) – Sacramento rock band Tesla have announced an all new LP titled Simplicty due out June 10, 2014 via Tesla Electric Company Recording's arrangement with Entertainment One Music and Distribution.

Simplicity will be the band's seventh studio full length LP and 15th release overall. The new effort will be the followup to Forever More, which was released in October 2008 and featured the single "I Wanna Live."

Tesla locked themselves away for weeks writing the new material that would become Simplicity with longtime A&R man Tom Zutaut. Fourteen solid tracks later the band sank their teeth in while recording began at bassist Brian Wheat's very own J Street Recorders. Legendary engineer Michael Wagener (Metallica, Skid Row, Motley Crue) was then tapped to put the final touches in place. 

Fresh off the Monsters of Rock Cruise, the band has quite the itinerary of tour dates throughout the rest of 2014. Click here for all tour dates. 

Formed in 1981, Tesla have firmly carved out their own space in rock and roll history. The band saw great success with their own rendition of the 1971 classic "Signs" and their own hit single "Love Song" from the The Great Radio Controversy, released in 1989.

Tesla includes the members Frank Hannon, Wheat, Jeff Keith, Troy Luccketta and Dave Rude.

Prong: 'Ruining Lives' and 'Cleansing' souls

Tommy Victor talks new album, 'Cleansing' anniversary and more
By Peter Lindblad

Tommy Victor of Prong
Photo by Tim Tronckoe
Tommy Victor is beating his chest with pride over Prong's upcoming release, Ruining Lives. proclaiming its greatness to anyone who will listen.

Due out May 13 in the North America via Steamhammer/SPV, it's the aggressive, slammed-up-against-the-wall successor to 2012's bruising Carved Into Stone, a bone-on-bone record of white-hot intensity and rugged, jawbreaking brilliance that critics went gaga for two years ago. Victor believes Prong upped the ante on Ruining Lives.

"This is the fastest written and recorded Prong album ever, and it has more great songs than any previous Prong record," said Victor, the guitarist, singer and mastermind behind one of alternative-metal's most ambitious and punishing acts. "I am particularly proud of the vocal performance, and I think we captured some outstanding sounds on this album."

Especially adept at combining industrial and post-punk elements with a raging street-metal ferocity and thrash-metal explosiveness, the fiercely independent Prong has carved out its own niche since forming in the late 1980s, toying with electronics and different genres without ever sacrificing power or raw energy for the sake of trying something different.

Tommy Victor, master of the riff
It all started at the famed punk club CBGBs, where Victor worked as a sound man. Together with the venue's doorman, Mike Kirkland, and former Swans drummer Ted Parsons, Prong put out two indie records, the Primitive Origins EP in 1987 and Force Fed in 1988, before signing to Epic Records in 1989 – the result of a furious showcase performance at the old Ritz in their New York City home with local hardcore heavy-hitters the Cro-Mags and German trash heroes Destruction.

A year later, Prong let the classic Beg to Differ loose on the world, a powder keg of a record that helped bring about a sea change in heavy metal, as would contemporaries Helmet and Pantera. Prove You Wrong arrived in 1991, followed by 1994's landmark record, Cleansing, which celebrates its 20th anniversary this year.

Washing ashore in the wake of the Whose Fist is This Anyway? EP of remixes from the Prove Your Wrong album and recorded with former Killing Joke bassist Paul Raven and keyboardist John Bechdel, Cleansing had a muscular groove and a shocking amount of manic electronic edginess. And it had "Snap Your Fingers Snap Your Neck," often cited as having one of the greatest riffs in metal history.

Not wanting to repeat themselves, 1996's Rude Awakening was a departure, exploring the post-punk terrain charted by Killing Joke and welding industrial textures to its already potent sonic machinery. That run of albums was not only prolific, but it also represented an astonishing burst of creativity for Victor and Prong.

Prong: Tommy Victor, Tony Campos
and Alexei Rodriguez (in no particular order)
Photo by Tim Tronckoe
Now comes Ruining Lives, produced by Victor with help from Steve Evetts and featuring the rhythm section of Tony Campos and Alexei Rodriguez. As much a throwback to Prong's Beg to Differ era as it is a step forward in a bold new direction for a band that is constantly pushing the envelope, Ruining Lives takes everything Prong has done in the past and forms fresh, modern sonic art of it all. Victor talks about Prong's past and the new album in this exclusive interview.

Why do you think this record came together so fast?
Tommy Victor: It had to. I was presented with a strict deadline, and I agreed to it. It was important for me to honor that.

Prong- Ruining Lives 2014
Where Carved in Stone was really lean and maybe somewhat more minimalist in its approach, and just a relentless attack from the word go, Ruining Lives seems like a more diverse record, one you can immerse yourself, while still being heavy and crushing, especially on the title track and "Absence of Light." Do you see it that way as well?
TV: Not particularly. I think Ruining Lives is relentless as well, if not more so. There are songs that cross into a post-punk and diverse vibe on both records. Like "Put Myself To Sleep," "Path of Least Resistance," "Reinvestigate," "Subtract" maybe on Carved. Ruining has "Windows Shut," "Self Will Run Riot," and "Absence Of Light," and all have a lot going on in them.

"Come to Realize" is a different animal for Prong. Talk about how that song was created, how it evolved and about the unusual time signature you used. Did that make it a difficult song to record?
TV: It was fairly easy to lay down. Once you memorize the riff, it's a no-brainer. Prong started doing some odd timing back in the Beg To Differ years. I wasn't afraid to build a song out of that riff, so that wasn't an issue neither.

"Turnover" and "The Book of Change" are full of really powerful riffs and hard-hitting drumming. To you, what goes into making a great riff, and who do you think comes up with the best of them?
TV: Thanks. In the case of those songs, there wasn't a lot of thought put in. I usually jam to a certain BPM, to a metronome. I mix it up, and something seems to come out of it. There are so many great riff masters out there. I'm a little weird that way, though. I think Geordie Walker from Killing Joke writes some of the catchiest riffs of all time, and consistently, for instance. Obviously Dime [Pantera's Dimebag Darrell] had an amazing knack for riffs. [Slayer's] Kerry [King] and Jeff  [Hanneman], R.I.P. You have to admit, Jack White  is a genius at that too.

Tommy Victor performing
live with Prong
Lyrically, has your world view changed at all since the early days? Are you reacting to the world and its problems differently than you used to, or do the same things anger and provoke you to write the way you do?
TV: I had a lot of undisciplined anger in the old days – self pitying, too. There were some good messages, though, back then. "Snap Your Fingers, Snap Your Neck" has a good "live for the moment attitude," which is still cool to me. "Broken Peace" has a positive message, too, out of general frustration, and that's topically something I continue to focus on. There's just more of it now – believe it or not nowadays. The world is what it is, we all have to adapt to reality.

In what ways does this album hearken back to Prong classics like Beg to Differ and Cleansing, and in what ways has Prong evolved since then?
TV: Well, I've always had to sit in a room, maybe even a bathroom or a closet, and come up with lyrics and song ideas, like any writer. That doesn't change. Modern technology and budgets dictate the actual recording process, and that has changed things drastically. There are  lot of things you don't have to do now. And because of that you have to be more careful. I dislike auto-tuned vocals, for instance. All my vocals are performed and doubled. Fortunately, I have experience with that and can do it in a fair amount of time. The vocals have matured considerably I believe. I've learned by doing and they've progressed – same with guitar. I can blast through guitar tracks a lot faster than in the old days. That's all technical stuff. I've been blessed with getting Steve Evetts to work with. He's a godsend. also finding [producer/engineer/mixer] Chris Collier has been amazing. He's one of the most talented guys I've ever been involved with. 

You produced Ruining Lives, and you've said that you're especially proud of the vocals on the record. Did you record them differently this time around to enhance them, or was it just a matter of the performance being stronger?
TV: Well, I answered most of that in the last question. There is a progression of the same attitude on Carved Into Stone. Evetts knows how to coach singers. He produced the vocals on Ruining Lives. It's great to have him in the control room while I'm cutting vocals. Years ago, I was on my own. It was always, "Tommy go in the booth and scream, " and I've realized I don't need to do that, through Steve's guidance.

You worked as the sound man at CBGBs. How did that prepare you for what you experienced with Prong?
TV: It was a boot camp for me. I was forced to be part of the scene. I saw all the bands. And I could see what not to do. I had a firsthand glance of what was going on, so Prong could make decisions based on that knowledge.

What do you remember most about that show at The Ritz with the Cro-Mags and Destruction that helped you get signed by Epic? 
TV: I remember the amazing response we got. We had been fighting for a Rock Hotel show for a couple of years. Finally, [original Prong bassist] Mike Kirkland got [Rock Hotel promoter] Chris Williamson to agree on putting us on that show. It was an epic show that got us signed to Epic.

Talk about the progression or the evolution of Prong from Beg to Differ on through Rude Awakening. Those albums are so innovative and have elements of post-punk, industrial and metal, among others. Where did that desire to combine these different genres come from?
TV: There was beginning to be hoards of thrash-metal bands, noise/ industrial bands, hardcore and crossover bands. So what would be different? How would Prong stand out? I couldn't rely on my playing totally nor my singing. I was okay and got by. I had to rely on smart riffs and stylistic maneuvering. We also had to look to the future a lot in order to maybe break new ground. And back then there was a high ceiling for that. A focus on "songs" inevitably became a priority as well, with less emphasis on strict riffing.

Prong - Cleansing 1994
Cleansing turns 20 years old this year. What are your impressions of it all these years later, and why do you think it remains such an influential record?
TV: It's a classic, and I have no qualms about proclaiming that. It's a signature rock record, not just metal. It opened a lot of doors for a lot of new artists. It's a killer sounding record. [Producer] Terry Date was on top of his game. We made a lot of great studio decisions together. It was a fantastic experience. And it was at a time when Epic records were scratching their heads wondering what the hell we were doing.

You had the EP Whose Fist Is This Anyway?, which came out prior to Cleansing. How did that work influence Cleansing
TV: Well it got Paul Raven interested in taking up the bass role in Prong. We had him do a remix. Then we became friends and eventually led to him playing in the band. To those who don't know, that was the first remix record ever done by a metal band. Ted Parsons and I fought hard to get that sold to Epic records management.

Is "Snap Your Fingers Snap Your Neck" a song you feel represents what Prong is all about, or is there another that you feel is under-appreciated and deserves more acclaim?
TV: It's a magical track. We actually started playing that song while Troy Gregory was still in the band. People loved it from the beginning. Some songs are just like that. I'm noticing "Turnover" having that kind of response now.

Next up for Prong? Lots
of touring
Photo by Tim Tronckoe
Ruining Lives seems to revive so much of what makes Prong so interesting and still relevant these days. Does it seem to bridge the old and the new for Prong?
TV: I wouldn't disagree with that. It's got the riffs, it has the hooks, it has the grooves, it's got some of the New York hardcore vibe, it's got the post-punk undertones. It's a solid Prong record.

What's next for Prong?
TV: Touring. There's a lot coming up. Then writing for a new record. Maybe I'll do the next one in two months time, not three.

CD Review: Winger – Better Days Comin'

CD Review: Winger – Better Days Comin'
Frontiers Records
All Access Rating: A-

Winger - Better Days Comin' 2014
Winger's Karma has decidedly taken a turn for the better. Once bashed by critics, constantly derided on "Beavis and Butt-head" and symbolically trashed by Metallica in the video for "Nothing Else Matters," where Lars Ulrich tosses darts at a poster of Kip Winger, these '80s purveyors of melodic metal had seen their career trajectory crash and burn in the '90s. And then grunge came along and finished the job.

Their reputation shot to hell, Winger disbanded in 1994, but the story doesn't end there. A damn sight more intelligent and musically sophisticated than the hair-metal crowd they ran with, a resilient Winger reunited in 2001, and eight years later, intent on restoring their good name, they issued Karma, their fifth studio album. 

Unexpectedly heavy and disarmingly alluring, with a series of intricate progressive-rock instrumental passages, Karma was remarkable, a stunning reminder of what Winger was capable of when properly motivated. Out via Frontiers RecordsBetter Days Comin' is more of the same, and perhaps even more dynamic than its much-praised predecessor.

Cementing its reputation as the "Dream Theater of pop-metal," Winger's compositions are artfully sketched out on Better Days Comin', where they trot out the sweeping, atmospheric epic "Out of this World" as the album's closer, its moody clouds pierced by the lighting bolts of a spectacular guitar solo. Guitarists Reb Beach and John Roth are as sharp as ever here, their byzantine leads and riffs biting down hard on sizzling, irresistibly crunchy rockers such as the gritty "Rat Race," the lust-filled "Midnight Driver of a Love Machine" – which has a memorable little earwig of a chorus – and the grinding "Another Beautiful Day."

Strangely colorful and maneuvering in the odd time signatures of a band like Yes, "Tin Soldier" weaves through prog-rock's twisting back roads and takes in beautifully diverse, ever-shifting instrumental scenery, while occasionally encountering slight dissonance. On the brighter, funkier title track, Winger embraces its inner Sly and the Family Stone and shining optimism, before settling into the drifting, Beatlesque psychedelia of "Be Who You Are, Now."

The genius of Winger is that they make challenging music that's also warmly human and accessible, all of it consisting of the tricky, yet powerful drumming of former Dixie Dreg Rod Morgenstein, silvery synthesizers, sure hooks and Kip Winger's gripping vocals. It seems Beavis and Butt-head had them all wrong.
– Peter Lindblad

'One Night in the Temple' with Lillian Axe

Veteran hard-rock outfit to release live acoustic album

Lillian Axe to release 13th album in May
Louisiana Music Hall of Fame members, Lillian Axe, will be releasing their 13th album, the acoustic live, One Night in the Temple, produced by Steve Blaze, on May 27, 2014 via CME Records / Sony Music (RED) in the USA and Canada and on Melodic Rock Records / Cargo for the rest of the world on May 19.

Performed acoustically in an intimate setting housed in a Masonic Temple in the Bayou, with their most die-hard fans, One Night in the Temple, features all their hits including, "True Believer," "Show A Little Love," "Crucified," "Misery Loves Company," "Ghost of Winter," "The Great Divide," "Bow Your Head," "Waters Rising" and the crowd favorite "Nobody Knows."

Lillian Axe founder Steve Blaze reflects, “When I first had the idea of putting this show together, it was originally going to be a private 20 person show with acoustic guitars, vocals and no production, however, it took on a life of its own.”

Lillian Axe - One Night in the Temple 2014
One Night in the Temple will be released as three-disc set (2CDs/1DVD and 2CDs/1Blu-Ray), housed in an elaborate digipack. Filmed in high definition, the Blu-Ray will contain the acoustic performance, fan question-and-answer session, videos for the songs "Caged In" and "Death Comes Tomorrow," featuring three songs live in concert from their July 4, 2013 performance at the Paragon Casino and behind-the-scenes footage while the DVD will contain one song from the Paragon Casino and the video for "Death Comes Tomorrow."

FULL TRACK LISTING: Disc 1: Waters Rising, Death Comes Tomorrow, Ghost of Winter, See You Someday, The Great Divide, Nocturnal Symphony, Sad Day On Planet Earth, Bow Your Head, Show A Little Love and Misery Loves Company. Disc 2: Crucified, The World Stopped Turning, Dyin’ to Live (Shades of Blue), Until The End Of The World, The Day I Met You, The Promised Land, Nobody Knows, My Apologies, True Believer and Nobody Knows (Crowd Version).

Lillian Axe is Brian Jones (lead vocals), Steve Blaze (guitar and vocals), Sam Poitevent (guitar and vocals), Eric Morris (bass guitar) and Ken Koudelka (drums).

Lillian Axe will be touring to support this release this summer beginning in the middle of July.

Confirmed dates with more to be announced:
4/18 Houston, TX Concert Pub North
4/19 Dallas, TX Red Blood Club
5/9 Jackson, MS Duling Hall
7/19 Pekin, IL Goodfellas

9/27 Melbourne, FL 80s In The Park Festival

Yngwie Malmsteen brings 'Guitar Gods' tour to North America

Uli Jon Roth, Gary Hoey, Bumblefoot on the bill

Yngwie Malmsteen
Deities worthy of worship for their six-string wizardry, the "Guitar Gods" are coming to North America, with the "Paganini of heavy metal," Yngwie Malmsteen, headlining.

Known far and wide as the king of neoclassical shred guitar, Malmsteen will be joined by Uli Jon Roth (Scorpions, Electric Sun), Gary Hoey ("Hocus Pocus") and Bumblefoot (Guns N' Rose) on the first-ever "Guitar Gods" festival tour. Each show will also feature surprise guests. See a YouTube presentation here:

The tour was created and organized by April Malmsteen, Yngwie's wife and manager, and will be storming stages in partnership with Guitar Center, presenting six-plus hours of guitar fireworks displays that are sure to shock and awe.

She talked about what the tour means to her.

"Being able to put together this festival has been a lifelong dream of mine," said April. "I sincerely believe that 'Guitar Gods' will bring tremendous value and enjoyment to not only the guitar and heavy metal enthusiast, but also to anyone who loves music."

Malmsteen's most recent solo album, Spellbound, and his new autobiography, "Relentless: A Memoir," are both available now. Furthermore, the Yngwie Malmsteen premium artist signature series by Fender is also now available, featuring a full line of Malmsteen-endorsed accessories such as guitar strings, instrument cables, gig bags, electronic tuners and more. He was also recently profiled on NPR's Weekend Edition Saturday.  

His career going on three decades now, Malmsteen is a Grammy-nominated guitar icon, whose technical brilliance and incredible speed have left audiences speechless. The first guitarist tohave his own Fender signature guitar model, Malmsteen is the world's pre-eminent practitioner of "shred guitar" and "neo classical" music and was named by Time magazine as one of the "Top Ten Electric Guitar Players."

Roth, of course, is another legendary guitarists, who intends on bringing the very special 40th Anniversary Scorpions set he's been playing to audiences from Europe to North America. Hoey will perform his radio hits, including the Billboard Top 5 smash "Hocus Pocus," while Bumblefoot, best known for his work with Guns N' Roses, is doing his first solo tour.

Here are the dates for Yngwie Malmsteen/Guitar Gods North American tour 2014:

13 Huntington, NY Paramount Theatre
14 Sayreville, NJ Starland Ballroom
17 Englewood, NJ Bergen Performing Arts Center
20 St. Charles, Ill. Arcada Theatre
21 Toronto, ON Phoenix Theatre
26 Seattle, WA Showbox Theatre
27 Portland, OR Roseland Theater

3 Beverly Hills, CA Saban Theatre
8 Tucson, AZ Rialto Theatre

For more information, visit www.yngwiemalmsteen.com.

CD Review: Sebastian Bach – Give 'Em Hell

CD Review: Sebastian Bach – Give 'Em Hell
Frontiers Records
All Access Rating: A-

Sebastian Bach - Give 'Em Hell 2014
Sebastian Bach just can't help himself, especially when it comes to the lovely Minnie Gupta. A slave to his appetites, and not just ... The Grind, the former Skid Row screamer, now sober, reveals how susceptible he is to "Temptation" on the irresistibly wicked, melodically heavy tour de force Give 'Em Hell, his upcoming solo album on Frontiers Records.

Never apologetic for his advocacy of sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll as a lifestyle choice, the roguish Bach carries on with a wink and a smile. The steamy video for his new song "Temptation" features Gupta, Bach's off-and-on love interest, in all sorts of seductive poses, with Bach trying not very hard to resist her not-so-subtle charms. Giving in to the ocean-wide melodies, swarming guitars, thick metal grooves and luxurious modern sound, enhanced by revered hard-rock producer Bob Marlette, of Give 'Em Hell feels just as sinful.

Mighty, churning riff machinery operated by guitarists John 5, Devin Bronson and Steve Stevens – given added heft from Duff McKagen's hydraulic bass lines and the powerhouse drumming of Bobby Jarzombek  – drive movable walls of sound like "Hell Inside My Head," "All My Friends are Dead" and "Harmony," as well as the aforementioned "Temptation," before giving way to lush, spacious choruses that take advantage of Bach's expansive vocal range. Thinking outside the box and shredding with feverish dexterity and diabolical imagination, Stevens, Bronson and John 5 unleash torrential solos throughout Give 'Em Hell, getting their aggression out in the sexually charged "Dominator."

While Bach does, indeed, Give 'Em Hell here, especially when his singing turns raw and confrontational in the angry, complex maze of riffs that is "Gun to a Knife Fight," there is a gentle weariness to his phrasing on the alluring power ballad "Had Enough" and he expresses a healthy combination of music-business cynicism and heartfelt empathy for screwed-over artists that's all caught up in the rolling piano and acoustic ramble of "Rock 'N' Roll is a Vicious Game." Still wild and untamed, though less assertive than on past efforts, Bach is playing it pretty well these days.
– Peter Lindblad

Rush show 'Grace Under Pressure'

A look at the paradigm-shifting album that just turned 30
By Peter Lindblad

Rush - Grace Under Pressure 1984
Signals was polarizing. Songs of teenage isolation in suburbia and the uneasy transition from an analog world to a digital one, a heavy dependence on synthesizers and sequencers at the expense of Alex Lifeson's guitars ... reggae? What in the name of John Rutsey was going on?

While Rush was embracing the modern technology of the 1980s and adapting to a quickly changing musical landscape, where New Wave was all the rage and classic progressive-rock was all but extinct, a large portion of its fan base was pining for elaborate concept albums and a renewed emphasis on the word "power" in Rush's fundamental power-trio format.

Some hadn't even stayed with Rush past the transitional Moving Pictures, where the integration of keyboards and a focus on composing shorter, more compact songs with self-contained stories, rather than long, drawn-out storytelling with vague resolutions, was still under construction. Those clinging to the hope that Rush would come to their senses and return to "real" guitar-driven prog-rock would run screaming for home upon hearing 1984's Grace Under Pressure, click their heels and throw on Caress of Steel or 2112 and chant, "There's no place like Toronto. There's no place like Toronto."

Rush's 10th album, Grace Under Pressure turned 30 years old on Saturday, and for those who not only hated the band's new direction, but took it as an outright betrayal, it was the final straw. Geddy Lee's synthesizers continued to push forward, becoming a dominant element in Rush's transformation, and it was clear they weren't going away. That was a bridge too far for some. The Rush they had come to know and love was gone. They were now new world men.

There were loyalists, though, who appreciated Rush's artistic fearlessness and willingness to experiment with new sounds and work in seemingly incongruent mediums like ska and reggae. And it's entirely possible that Rush did win over a new audience that had previously dismissed them as relics of the past, although that's debatable. Most of the punk and New Wave crowd was never going to accept Rush in any form. Their minds were made up.

So, revolution really was in the air when Grace Under Pressure came out. To hardliners, anything past Hemispheres or maybe Moving Pictures was heresy. There were no record burnings or a mob that "moves like demons possessed. Quiet in conscience, calm in their right, confident their ways are best." Those lines are from "Witch Hunt," of course, and in a sense, there was a somewhat similar atmosphere of fear and dread in Rush's fandom as to where the band was going next.

Not quite oblivious to it all, but certainly not in a mood to make any kind of artistic retreat, Rush calmly practiced its craft, forging ahead creatively with a sense that what they were doing was an essential and logical next step. What gets lost in conversations about Grace Under Pressure is that it's one of Rush's most accessible and well-constructed albums. With all of the critical worship that 2012's Clockwork Angels received, and rightly so, it being a record that brought some of the lapsed believers back to the faith, it's not as direct or as fluid as Grace Under Pressure.

Seamlessly, Rush toyed with ska on "The Enemy Within," the clipped rhythmic stabbing of Lifeson's guitar adding energy to the track. And "Afterimage" had a more languid reggae feel to it, but on the whole, Grace Under Pressure was almost futuristic, its clean, contemporary sound shaped by a new producer, Peter Henderson. After Signals, Rush amicably divorced itself from the only producer they'd ever had to that point in Terry Brown, who had butted heads with Rush during the making of Signals. Brown wasn't convinced they were on the right path either.

Heavy subjects like the holocaust and nuclear war were addressed in the  "Red Sector A" and the briskly paced "Distant Early Warning," respectively, with "Red Sector A" taking much of its inspiration from Lee's mother's horrible experiences in Nazi concentration camps. Some have described Grace Under Pressure as a dark record, and with Neil Peart exploring the impact of pressure on human behavior, it's not an LP that's all sunshine and lolly pops. Even the affecting vulnerability of "Kid Gloves" has a world-weary quality to it.

Lee has said of Rush's past lyrical concept journeys that "what you have to say ends being very nebulous." Not so with Grace Under Pressure, which featured compelling stories and ideas that made their points clearly and succinctly. Instrumentally, Lifeson pops up everywhere, his solos so pure of tone, so piercing and agile, and his flashing riffs dynamic and moving with inspired purpose, while Peart's precision and energy startles, Lee's rolling bass lines and complex figures brimming with momentum and natural drive.

And then there's that cover art by Hugh Syme that was so imaginative and alien, juxtaposing turbulence and calm in a way that was perfectly in sync with its music, the urgency and tension of "Distant Early Warning," "The Enemy Within" and "Between the Wheels" providing such striking contrast to Lee's watery synth floods and the occasional airy oasis-like clearings of breathtaking beauty you'd come across. There's an earnest intelligence to Grace Under Pressure that's a breath of fresh air in this age of irony and cynicism, and the melodic topography of the record is not at all flat, but rather it has expansive scenery and interesting peaks and valleys.

Grace Under Pressure continued Rush's evolution, and, on a personal level, it paralleled my own musical exploration. I was getting into The Police at that time. I was listening to the Talking Heads. I was questioning whether or not to hold on to the past and hold close those records I loved from Led Zeppelin, from Yes, from Uriah Heep ... the list goes on and on. U2, Ultravox, The Replacements, and all manner of U.K. and U.S. punk and New Wave acts were taking me further away from my roots, and that was exciting.

Rush would always stay with me, and the plot twists to their career were continually interesting and never boring. I saw them live only one time, and that was on the "Grace Under Pressure" tour, and it was, as it always is with Rush, an awakening. Lifeson has said of Grace Under Pressure that it is the "most satisfying of all our records." For me, it's Moving Pictures, but who am I to argue with Alex freaking Lifeson!

CD Review: Gamma Ray – Empire of the Undead

CD Review: Gamma Ray – Empire of the Undead
Armoury Records
Gamma Ray - Empire of the Undead 2014

All Access Rating: A-

Wailing to the heavens, as only he can in that dramatic voice of his, the one that once led Helloween to such great heights, Kai Hansen declares, "It's up to you to be forgotten" in the surging symphonic-metal fantasy "Avalon" that serves as the gateway to the Armoury Records release Empire of the Undead, the new album from German power-metal legends Gamma Ray.

Always a potent mix of speed and bombast, Gamma Ray has no intention of being relegated to the dustbins of metal history, not after adding an LP as memorable as Empire of the Undead to their esteemed catalog.

Abandoning any pretense of subtlety, Gamma Ray lets it all hang out on the gloriously operatic "Avalon," a 9:22 shape-shifting theater of magic, deceit and heroism that consists of epic storytelling, soaring strings and powerful, melodic surges of guitars, drums and bass that eventually turns into an angry tempest. The rumbling evil and dark, pounding riffs of "Demonseed" drive a complex tale of a demonic presence looking to spread pain and suffering throughout the earth, while the high-flying "Seven" – reminiscent of Iron Maiden's "Run to the Hills" – takes an elevator down to hell, as Hansen gives a particularly devilish soliloquy. It's a captivating vocal performance that Hansen gives on Empire of the Undead, as he relishes the chance to assume different roles.

Not always so theatrical, Empire of the Undead doesn't end there. The title a transparent nod to Judas Priest, "Hellbent" is a fast, thrashing ode to the greatness of heavy metal, and it is not only sincere, but also absolutely thrilling, as is the equally fast and furious title track, its guitars full of venom that spreads into the hard-charging "Pale Rider."

Full of diverse compositions, stampeding blast beats, aggressive guitars and dynamic shredding, and Hansen's unique and utterly compelling vocal phrasing, Empire of the Undead is completely over the top and runs on pure adrenaline, that is until Gamma Ray tries to be Queen on the overly earnest "Time for Deliverance." That's when this Empire falls, until revived again by the explosive power-metal back draft of closer "I Will Return." Here's hoping Gamma Ray also comes back again.
– Peter Lindblad

CD Review: Altitudes & Attitude – Altitudes & Attitude

CD Review: Altitudes & Attitude – Altitudes & Attitude
All Access Rating: A-

Altitudes & Attitude - S/T 2014
They've got their "Booze and Cigarettes," they're "Here Again" and they're going to "Tell the World" that bassists, contrary to the recent opinion of Carcass's Jeff Walker, are not just failed guitar players.

Maybe at some point they did give up on playing guitar as their main means of creativity and source of income, but Anthrax's Frank Bello and Megadeth's Dave Ellefson aren't sitting around crying about what might have been. In early 2014, they released a joint EP under the name Altitudes & Attitude, and it wasn't what anybody expected.

Because they hold down the low end for two of the Big Four, Altitudes & Attitude was bound to bear no small resemblance to Anthrax and Megadeth. Either that or it would take the form of some inscrutable bass-heavy experiment that only bassists would enjoy or even understand. Instead, they leaped out of their comfort zones and made an EP of straightforward, melodic – some might even call it "radio friendly" – hard-rock with clean, modern production, life-affirming energy and surprisingly strong, charismatic vocals from, of all people, Frank Bello, who's never really been thought of as lead singer material.

And while both Bello and Ellefson both play guitar on Altitudes & Attitude, although that's Gus G.'s serious fretwork searing the brass-knuckled, hard-charging closer "Here Again" till it's scorched, there's plenty of room for them to take lead on bass and give the instrument its due, exploring all of its potential to form dynamic melodies and well-developed hooks. More impressive is the songwriting, with "Tell the World" an affecting, and ultimately hopeful, yearning for inner transformation and an appeal to mankind's better nature.

There is, however, a reason why "Booze and Cigarettes" was the group's first single, this rousing, uplifting anthem with slashing guitars, driving drums – courtesy of Jeff Friedl, from A Perfect Circle, who control tempos beautifully here – and Bello, all heart and soul, belting out the words as if his life depended it. Their attitude will help you get to a new altitude.
– Peter Lindblad

CD Review: Asia – Gravitas

CD Review: Asia – Gravitas
Frontiers Records
All Access Rating: B+

Asia - Gravitas 2014
As reflective and almost solemn an album as Asia has ever produced, Gravitas is perhaps the perfect word to describe a recording that examines matters of the heart with such overarching drama and lovelorn longing.

Still technically a super group, although guitarist Steve Howe has seemingly departed for good to concentrate on his work with progressive-rock icons Yes, Asia welcomes a newcomer into the fold in Sam Coulson, joining lead vocalist/bassist John Wetton (King Crimson, UK), drummer Carl Palmer (ELP) and keyboardist Geoff Downes (The Buggles). 

It was Mr. Big's Paul Gilbert who recommended Coulson, and the match is a good one. Coulson's melodic leads and fluid playing fit like a glove, although at times it seems he's straining at the leash to really let loose here and shred like there's no tomorrow. Or maybe he's simply trying to force Asia out its comfort zone, maybe inject some fresh blood into a body that's been in need of a transfusion, even if nobody realized it until his arrival. And the band does seem rejuvenated, making big sweeping epic compositions that have all the hallmarks of past Asia outings.

Immediately apparent is the attention to detail Asia gives to crafting lush arrangements and exquisite, windswept vocal harmonies on the airbrushed Gravitas, such as those that usher in the soaring first single "Valkyrie." Suffused with light and full of amiable hooks, "Nyctophobia," "Heaven Help Me" and the dazzling flood of synthesizers, rich piano, pulsating bass and serrated guitar that make up the bombastic title track are bright, intoxicating aural paintings, all of them written with tighter structures than Asia's prog-rock brethren would ever dare to attempt. If only their tempos weren't so damn sleepy.

Lyrically, Gravitas, out now on Frontiers Records, is extraordinarily introspective, addressing subjects like regret and loss with candor, emotional vulnerability and a graceful ennui that comes with maturity, although it's rather clinical sonically and not at all warm. A particularly harsh self-excoriation, the soul-baring, golden slumber of "Joe DiMaggio's Glove" becomes a metaphor for a soft heart, while the spindly acoustic guitar and Old World imagery of "Russian Dolls," with its trains and vauxhalls, lends an air of mystery, intrigue and forlorn hopelessness to an album that, at times, has a heavy heart. The aching piano ballad "The Closer I Get," so reflective and tender, seems especially sad. 

Some will always dismiss Asia's overblown romanticism, their earnest sentimentality and their lightweight pop inclinations, which always belied their instrumental complexity. Gravitas has all of that. And the scornful might scoff at the fantastical cover art of Gravitas, as Asia has always gone for that Roger Dean look but with a slightly less sci-fi influence and more mythical serpents and dragons, although this one appears to have come straight out of "Avatar." Still, there was a time in 1982 when they were as big as anybody in music, their debut album surprisingly becoming Billboard's No. 1 album of the year. The people have spoken when it comes to Asia, who sound more and more like the Moody Blues every year. And there's something about them people seem to like.
– Peter Lindblad

New Judas Priest album coming soon

Get a load of the new image

Such teases, those men of Priest.

Short on details, the Judas Priest camp is heralding the pending release of a new album today. And the metal gods' representatives say it is coming soon.

There's not much more to the announcement than that, except for the image included with this posting, but there has been a great deal of Internet chatter and fairly vague comments from the Priest' inner circle about completion of the record.

Visit the Judas Priest website to keep up with all the news as it filters out.

Night Ranger taking the 'High Road'

New album from arena-rock veterans due out June 10

Night Ranger 2014
Photo by Grady Brannan
Sister Christian is just a memory for Night Ranger. Now, the arena-rock stalwarts are taking the High Road

Just announced today, Night Ranger has confirmed a June 10 North American release date for a new studio album they produced themselves called High Road, to be released via Frontiers Records. 

Of the new album, frontman and bassist Jack Blades, also the band's main songwriter, remarked, "It's almost summer and a great time to take a trip down the High Road! Our new record features classic Night Ranger feel-good, high-energy, kick-ass rock 'n' roll. We can't wait for our fans to hear."

Chiming in, drummer/singer Kelly Keagy, "We're so proud of this new record and excited to get back on the road to bring the new music to our fans."

Click here to check out an EPK on the making of the album.

Night Ranger - High Road 2014
Available in two formats - a standard CD version and a deluxe version that includes two bonus tracks and a DVD on the making of High Road that also features video clips - High Road can be pre-ordered now at Amazon as the standard version here and as the deluxe version here

This year, Night Ranger, best known for hits like "Sister Christian," "(You Can Still) Rock in America" and "Don't Tell Me You Love Me," will be touring North America and the rest of the world. 

The band consists of Blades, Keagy, lead and rhythm guitarists Brad Gillis and Joel Hoekstra and keyboardist Eric Levy.

For more information, visit www.nightranger.com and www.frontiers.it

Here's the track listing for High Road:

1. High Road

2. Knock Knock Never Stop

3. Rollin' On

4. Don't Live Here Any More

5. I'm Coming Home

6. X Generation

7. Only For You Only

8. Hang On

9. St. Bartholomew

10. Brothers

11. L.A. No Name

12. The Mountain Song*

*only available on the deluxe edition.

Neal Schon's 'Exotica' video premieres

Journey guitarist joined by Castronovo, Mendoza on new album 'SO U'
By Peter Lindblad

Neal Schon 2014
Photo by Robert Knight
Just because he likes to step out on the love of his life, Journey that is, on occasion doesn't mean Neal Schon doesn't love her. They seem to have an open marriage, and that's cool.

Jamming with friends and exploring new territories in jazz fusion, blues and hard rock is Schon's way of expressing the creativity and virtuoso musicianship that sometimes gets stifled with such a commercially successful outfit like Journey. A man like Schon cannot live by the financially sustaining bread of "Don't Stop Believin'" alone.

On the upcoming release SO U, due out on Frontiers Records May 19, Schon gets together with a couple of like-minded musical adventurers to go wherever the wind, and their own imaginations, take them. Drummer Deen Castronovo, known for his work with Journey and Ozzy Osbourne, among others, and bassist Marco Mendoza, who's worked with the likes of Ted Nugent, Whitesnake and Thin Lizzy, are the two brave souls joining Schon this time around, while Jack Blades, of Night Ranger/Damn Yankees fame, stayed home and did a lot of the co-writing.

A video of "Exotica," the first release from SO U, premiered on Vintage Guitar yesterday, and you can see it here: http://www.vintageguitar.com/16927/guitar-legend-neal-schon-teams-up-with-marco-mendoza-and-deen-castronovo-for-smoking-new-fusion-and-blues-inspired-hard-rock-album/

Against a backdrop of ever-changing, computer-generated psychedelic imagery, the trio playfully and joyously performs with improvisational fire, mind-blowing instrumental wizardry and unbridled enthusiasm. It's upbeat, sunny jazz fusion amplified with the powerful drive and edge of meaty rock 'n' roll and more expansive psychedelia than Schon has displayed on past efforts, like 2012's critically acclaimed The Calling.

Caught in the wild cosmic storm of Mendoza's bubbling bass, the captivating fills and crazed beats of Castronovo, and Schon's own soaring guitars are short conversations with the three, as they explain the project and what it means for them.

While the video itself is not exactly an artistic triumph – with Schon, Mendoza and Castronovo seeming to be set into a "Tron"-like world, only this one has more fiery scenery – the three give a master class on how to play with both precision and whimsy. Jazz purists might turn their noses up at this kind of thing, but to watch three supremely talented musicians showing off their chops is really entertaining and it's a good composition, with clear melodic elements and strong cohesive bonds. If nothing else, "Exotica" should wow worshippers of instrumental music.

SO U can be pre-ordered now via iTunes, Amazon and the Journey online store. Those who purchase SO U now via iTunes will receive "Exotica" as an instant gratification track.

CD Review: Conan – Blood Eagle

CD Review: Conan – Blood Eagle
Napalm Records
All Access Rating: B

Conan - Blood Eagle 2014
Patience is a virtue, and Conan will reward those who don't jump ship five minutes into the engrossing "Crown of Talons," the 10:06 behemoth of monstrous, primeval doom metal that opens Blood Eagle.

Emerging from earth's deepest, darkest bowels to take stock of humanity in all its ugliness, the Napalm Records release Blood Eagle is a ponderous beast of a record, its enormous riffs – corroded by distortion and tuned down to dredge the bottom of some polluted lake – towering high above apocalyptic scenes of death and destruction. Flooding into the similarly cast "Total Conquest," "Crown of Talons" is spellbinding, an arduous, trudging death march into a blackened pit of despair.

And it is a long, long hike, the terrain growing more and more treacherous with every step. Change comes slowly, as midway through "Total Conquest," Conan starts to churn and writhe, before returning to its well-worn path of devastation. The heaviest sludge to navigate is found in "Horns for Teeth," its malevolent growl that of a massive, feral animal that wants nothing more than to crush the bones of its prey into powder and feast on its flesh. There is great torque in the riffs of "Altar of Grief," and it is an incredible seismic event.

Blood Eagle makes SUNN O))) seem like easy listening, and it doesn't quake in fear of Eyehategod, as the vocals, sounding so distant, seem to come from a place of unbearable pain and the guitars dwarf mountains. Rarely, however, do these English dregs stray from that monotonous tempo and sound that they live in, and Blood Eagle becomes the ultimate test of endurance, causing many to flee in fear or out of sheer boredom.
– Peter Lindblad

CD Review: Offenders – We Must Rebel/I Hate Myself/Endless Struggle

Offenders – We Must Rebel/I Hate Myself/Endless Struggle
Southern Lord
All Access Rating: A-

Offenders - We Must Rebel/I Hate Myself/
Endless Struggle 2014
No history of Texas hardcore would be complete without a generous chapter devoted to Offenders. Roaring out of Killeen in 1978, Offenders brought their vitriolic rage and roiling energy to Austin two years later, showcasing rare musical prowess for a punk act while never losing that thirst for throat-burning shots of pure sonic violence.

Eager to toss a Molotov cocktail in the face of Reagan conservatism, Offenders and their brothers in arms, D.R.I. and M.D.C., rebelled against anything and everything that was remotely fascist, and they did so with strong song-oriented material rooted in '70s hard rock. In guitarist Anthony Johnson, a.k.a. Tony Offender, they had a skilled player with a bag full of tough, dynamic riffs who could solo like a madman, and bassist Mikey "Offender" Donaldson coaxed bubbling fury out of a Rickenbacker, leaving drummer Pat Doyle, who currently also plays with metal outfit Ignitor, and vocalist JJ Jacobson barely enough room to vent their respective spleens.

Offenders broke up in 1986, and Johnson, who became heavily involved in Civil War reenactments, and Donaldson have since passed on. Honoring their memory, both Offenders' LPs, Endless Struggle and We Must Rebel, have been packaged together with the fiery "I Hate Myself"/'Bad Times" 7-inch by Southern Lord in one blazing 25-track reissue.

Scorching guitars, suffocating environments and brawling rhythms power the short bursts of blowtorch punk that are "Coming Down," "Get Mad" and "Inside the Middle," a trio of swirling sonic maelstroms that clock in under two minutes. Every so often, Offenders toss in a curveball, like a raw, serrated cover of the Motown classic "You Keep Me Hanging On" or the Deep Purple-like "Endless Struggle," which features an organ intro that Jon Lord would admire and good, sure hooks. Heavy and metallic, "Bad Times" slowly, and beautifully, corrodes and almost dissolves, before reigniting a punk firestorm that burns up everything in sight, and "You Got a Right" is gathering darkness lit up only by the sparks coming off Johnson's guitar.

Offenders never quite get as locked-in as Minor Threat, preferring to play with more reckless abandon, Johnson's buzz-saw guitars – drawing blood and cutting off limbs in speeding "Face Down in the Dirt" and "Victory" – actually holding it all together to keep it from blowing apart. Doyle and Jacobson have revived Offenders, and if they have half the inspiration and violent musicianship of the original, they'll do just fine.
– Peter Lindblad

CD Review: Deep Purple – Live in California '74

CD Review: Deep Purple – Live in California 74
Eagle Rock Entertainment
All Access Rating: A
Deep Purple - Live in California 74

To borrow a phrase from Hunter S. Thompson, 1974 was the year the Mark III version of Deep Purple "stomped on the terra."

In February, after welcoming then-unknown blues howler David Coverdale and Trapeze artist Glenn Hughes into the fold, Purple released the explosive pressure-cooker of crashing rock 'n' roll and hard-bitten British soul that was Burn, which lived up to its name and then some. The old masters had learned some new tricks.

Then came a triumphant promotional tour, capped off by a rousing co-headlining gig in the spring at the California Jam Festival with Emerson, Lake & Palmer, although it's Purple's wildly energetic, high-voltage performance – previously released on DVD in 2006 and now out on CD and in digital forms from Eagle Rock Entertainment to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the event – that everyone still talks about.

Where Woodstock was a chaotic melting pot of bad acid, unabashed nudity, peace and love, gridlocked traffic, dancing flower children and stirring performances, California Jam was all business. It didn't lose money, like Woodstock did. It was the highest-grossing music festival of the time, attracting around 250,000 people. And it was orderly and went off without a hitch, serving as a template for more corporate festivals that were to come. Perhaps that's part of the reason why history seems to forget about California Jam 1974, as it goes on and on about 1967's Monterey Pop Festival or the Love Generation-killing tragedy of Altamont.

Whatever its cultural significance, there was no doubting California Jam's commitment to heavy volume, as the festival boasted what was considered the loudest amplification system ever. What better band then to test the limits of that audacious rig than Deep Purple, as hungry and as savagely brilliant as ever in this raw, but potent and lusty, recording of that momentous occasion.

Smashing through the gates, Purple plows through the frenzied title track from Burn as if intent on leaving nothing behind but smoldering wreckage, the blustery organ of Jon Lord and the tenacious guitar riffs of Ritchie Blackmore – all of it designed with bewildering complexity – trying their best to drown out Hughes' falsetto screams. It's a thrilling beginning, and Purple doesn't stop to catch their breath.

Grueling and pained, "Mistreated" writhes in its own deep and hopeless sense of loss and betrayal before turning its face to the sun, as Purple transitions from anguished growl to expansive, dream-like alienation and then opens up to slowly brightening skies. Crazed, complicated jams, like the manic episodes of a 19:32 "You Fool No One/The Mule" that find Blackmore and Lord dueling like psychotic swordsmen, are captivating and electrifying, but Deep Purple really goes to work on the earthy "Might Just Take a Life" and a fevered "Lay Down, Stay Down" – both off Burn, and both have sweat just pouring off them. Their stamina is put to an even more rigorous examination on a 26-minute "Space Truckin'" that keeps driving long after the tank has emptied, Purple growing quiet and almost jazzy before erupting like a volcano.

Live in California 74 is a vital piece of history, but it also captures, in stark relief, the creative tensions that were fueling this rebirth, with the primal, blue-collar R&B wailing, churning grooves and emotional weight of Hughes and Coverdale's burgeoning partnership fighting off the blazing horsepower of the original Purple, the Purple of Lord and Blackmore clinging to tradition and stubbornly drawing and redrawing classically inspired figures and shapes. Nowhere is this conflict more apparent than in the charged atmosphere of a sweltering, shape-shifting "Smoke on the Water," where the old guard and the new seem hell-bent on carving out their own territory and aren't above committing acts of trespass.

It would only intensify in the coming weeks and months, forcing Blackmore to reevaluate his priorities and eventually leave to form Rainbow. For this occasion, however, at the Ontario Motor Speedway in Ontario, Calif., of all places – ironic considering Purple's love of driving songs – they were jubilant, inspired and full of piss and vinegar.
– Peter Lindblad