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Justin G. RSS Feed (Northern Virginia)

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Flotsam And Jetsam
Flotsam And Jetsam
Price: $14.99
28 used & new from $13.80

4.0 out of 5 stars A focused, forceful reintroduction, June 28, 2016
This review is from: Flotsam And Jetsam (Audio CD)
Ah, the infamous self-titled album. When you see that from a band and it’s not their debut album, you know they’re either a) completely reinventing their sound, or b) attempting to press the “reset button” on their career. Given the fact that this particular self-titled album is coming from Flotsam and Jetsam, a 30-year veteran of the American thrash metal scene, the “reset button” scenario seems the most likely choice.

Flotsam and Jetsam has gone through a lot of lineup changes over the years, with vocalist Eric “AK” Knutson the only real constant. For this album, which is the band’s eleventh studio offering (assuming we’re not counting the No Place For Disgrace rerecording), AK is joined by returning Flotsam and Jetsam veteran guitarist Michael Gilbert and bassist Michael Spencer, as well as guitarist Steve Conley (F5) and drummer Jason Bittner (Shadows Fall).

Flotsam and Jetsam never really lost their essential sound over the years, but it’s been a while since their approach was as focused it is here. This album is a great example of their brand of tight, mid-tempo, fairly melodic thrash metal. The sharp, intense riffs and pounding, heavy rhythms work very well together. Eric’s vocals are snarling and sinister, sounding a bit like Warrell Dane’s at times, and continue to play a huge role in what makes these songs so effective. He especially shines on “Smoking Gun” and “Creeper.” Leadoff thrasher “Seventh Seal” is another highlight, as is “Iron Maiden,” which bears no relation to the signature song by that other, better known band. Flotsam and Jetsam have even resurrected a pair of songs – “L.O.T.D.” and “Forbidden Territories” – that were written way back in the No Place For Disgrace sessions. Both of those have that classic thrash sound, and when you consider how well they fit the rest of this album, that’s a good sign.

Self-titled albums can be hit-and-miss, but Flotsam and Jetsam have delivered one that is very satisfying here. Whether you’ve followed them faithfully throughout their career, or lost track of them since the late ‘80s and early ‘90s efforts, this is an album that will remind you why you were a Flotsam and Jetsam fan in the first place. File this one alongside recent efforts by Overkill, Testament, Death Angel and Onslaught as proof positive thrash’s old guard can still get the job done!

Disclosure: I was given a copy of this CD by the label for review.

Ride Forth
Ride Forth
Price: $11.39
37 used & new from $6.66

5.0 out of 5 stars 4.5 stars - neoclassical/death/thrash excellence!, June 24, 2016
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This review is from: Ride Forth (Audio CD)
Hard touring thrashers ExMortus delivered a new album, their fourth overall, earlier this year. The album is called Ride Forth, and this is one case where you can in fact judge it by its cover. Those sinister horsemen riding forth to lay waste to anyone in their way are a great representation of ExMortus’s intense brand of thrash metal.

ExMortus maintains their killer blend of neck-snapping thrash metal riffs, shredding worthy of the neoclassical genre and death metal style growled vocals on Ride Forth. It’s like taking Death Angel, Yngwie Malmsteen and Amon Amarth, and then setting them on fire. This is such an intense album, but it has moments of sheer technicality that will make your jaw drop. The whole weird mix works really well, making this a very fun, very effective album that’s so easy to get into.

Fans of the newer thrash bands like Havok, Skeletonwitch and Warbringer will love Ride Forth. So will fans of Arch Enemy, Amon Amarth, Nightrage and Arsis. ExMortus may be too harsh/intense/whatever for Malmsteen fans, but man, those solos are right in that neoclassical zone. This is definitely one of the most interesting and most enjoyable thrash albums 2016 has to offer.

12 abLAZe by The Elysian Fields
12 abLAZe by The Elysian Fields

4.0 out of 5 stars Overlooked symphonic death/black metal album, June 24, 2016
Greek symphonic death/black metal band The Elysian Fields released their third album, titled 12 Ablaze, in 2001 on the Black Lotus label. This is a band that never really reached a wide audience, but was of the better early bands to combine symphonic elements with death and black metal.

On 12 Ablaze, The Elysian Fields continue the overall approach from their previous album (1999’s We…the Enlightened). It’s more death than black metal-sounding this time around, and the symphonic elements (a.k.a. keyboards and lots of them) have a more gothic metal feel. It’s more Septicflesh and early Moonspell than Dimmu Borgir, but still really intense.

Sadly, 12 Ablaze did not put this band on the map. The Elysian Fields remain one of those overlooked bands that really should have reached a wider audience. If you’re into symphonic death and black metal, particularly bands like Dimmu Borgir, Septicflesh and Fleshgod Apocalypse, this is a band (and album) that’s well worth tracking down.

Format Note: If you buy this as a new CD from Amazon, you’ll get a CD-R. A nice one, but still not a proper silver-pressed CD.

Offered by JAMMIN - Recordings
Price: $13.16
24 used & new from $11.59

4.0 out of 5 stars Early '80s AOR debut - finally reissued, June 24, 2016
This review is from: Tokyo (Audio CD)
Austrian AOR/melodic rock band Tokyo made their debut in 1981 with this self-titled effort. The band played keyboard-heavy, radio-friendly melodic rock along the lines of Balance, Touch and early REO Speedwagon. They were on the lighter side of AOR, but that’s the early ‘80s for you.

The Tokyo debut is a really smooth, really easy to enjoy AOR album. Yes it could rock a bit harder, but the musicianship is really tight and the vocals are good too. “Tokyo” and “Cryin’” were the singles from this album, but songs like “Girl” and “Carry On” were catchy enough to have been hits too.

I can’t exactly call this a must-have, but as a fairly serious collector of ‘80s AOR, I’m happy to have discovered the Tokyo debut, especially with such a quality reissue. I’ll be happy to add this alongside my Balance, FM, Taxxi and Trillion albums.

Edition Notes: Yesterrock reissued the Tokyo debut for the first time on CD in 2011. The reissue features digitally remastered audio and a hefty seven bonus tracks (demos, apparently).

In Thy Power
In Thy Power
Price: $25.61
9 used & new from $8.48

4.0 out of 5 stars An overlooked Swedish heavy power metal gem, June 23, 2016
This review is from: In Thy Power (Audio CD)
Swedish heavy/power metal band Cryonic Temple released their third full-length album, titled In Thy Power, in 2005. Like Steel Attack and Iron Fire, Cryonic Temple specializes in power metal that’s melodic but still has plenty of heaviness. In other words, they’re more Maiden than Helloween.

Cryonic Temple is one of those bands that never really broke through to the top ranks of the power metal scene, which is a shame because that’s a scene that could use more of the kind of heaviness this band delivers. In Thy Power is very much a melodic power metal album, but it’s more galloping leads and rough, raspy vocals than sing-song choruses and high-pitched odes to Dungeons & Dragons. You can still raise a Bic and sing along to sounds like “Beast Slayer” and the title track, but it’s the more headbanging songs like “Travelers in Time,” “Shark Attack” and “Eternal Flames of Metal” that rule the album.

In Thy Power is just a really solid, really satisfying blast of heavy power metal. Fans of heavier power metal bands like Steel Attack, Iron Fire, Mystic Prophecy, Jag Panzer and Tad Morose (the new stuff) really ought to give Cryonic Temple a shot.

Edition Notes: The limited edition version of In Thy Power comes in a digipack and includes three early Cryonic Temple demos as bonus tracks. The Japanese import version has the same bonus tracks, but comes in a jewel case.

Stand Back
Stand Back
3 used & new from $37.03

4.0 out of 5 stars '80s new wave/pop/AOR gem - finally reissued!, June 23, 2016
This review is from: Stand Back (Audio CD)
Originally released in 1984, Stand Back was the debut album from Canadian new wave/AOR band The Arrows. The band played a synth (and sax) heavy blend of pop and rock, falling somewhere between Duran Duran and Boulevard.

“Say It Isn’t True” was the single from Stand Back, but songs like “Meet Me in the Middle” and especially “Fallen Angel” (which is such a perfect ‘80s teen movie soundtrack song) could have easily been hits. They’re probably a bit light, even by AOR standards, but this is some really catchy, really well done ‘80s pop. Fans of Duran Duran, Boulevard, Platinum Blonde, The Outfield, Mr. Mister and Mike + the Mechanics ought to really dig The Arrows.

Edition Notes: Yesterrock’s 2011 reissue of Stand Back puts this long out of print album on CD for the very first time. It features newly remastered audio, but no bonus material and a pretty bare-bones booklet. Just having it on CD and sounding this good more than makes up for that though.

Price: $8.35
13 used & new from $1.77

4.0 out of 5 stars One rocking single and one swinging b-side, June 23, 2016
This review is from: Louder (Audio CD)
Swedish sleaze rockers want us to get just a little bit Louder. This nifty little 2-song single gives you just a taste of what to expect on the band’s 2006 album Doin’ You Nasty. “Louder” is the first single from the album, and it’s a rousing, upbeat, rock anthem. The b-side “Suicide Street” is less anthemic, coming in more bluesy and swaggering like an old Hanoi Rocks tune.

Since “Suicide Street” isn’t on the full-length album, this single is worth picking up if you can score it for a couple of bucks. It comes in a simple cardboard sleeve, which is a bummer, but it’s still worthwhile if you’re a serious fan of Babylon Bombs or Swedish sleaze rock in general.

Price: $10.99
31 used & new from $6.97

4.0 out of 5 stars 4.5 stars - blistering old school heavy metal, June 23, 2016
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This review is from: Lightbringer (Audio CD)
Swedish traditional heavy metal band RAM is returned in 2009 with their second full-length album (and first on the AFM label), titled Lightbringer. The band puts a darker focus on their brand of old school heavy metal, placing them alongside peers like Wolf, In Solitude and Portrait.

RAM has a dark, heavy, melodic old school heavy metal sound with a clear worship of the classic ‘80s bands. Iron Maiden (especially the first two albums) is an obvious influence, as are Judas Priest and Mercyful Fate. They’re like a darker, heavier Enforcer, but one that dips into thrash and even doom metal waters at times. The vocalist has a great range and clearly loves King Diamond, and the guitar work is really impressive.

If you're a disciple of the old school NWOBHM-inspired heavy metal sound, it really doesn't get much better than this. RAM is one of the best, most exciting bands in the whole “New Wave of Traditional Metal” scene. Fans of Wolf, Enforcer, Widow, In Solitude and Portrait especially ought to check out Lightbringer. And as good as it is, they got even better with their follow-up album Death.

Seal the Deal & Let's Boogie
Seal the Deal & Let's Boogie
Price: $37.99
18 used & new from $28.43

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars It's pretty much all catchy, radio-friendly hard rock, but it's!, June 22, 2016
Hard rocking and hard touring Danish band Volbeat is back with a new album, their sixth overall, titled Seal the Deal & Let’s Boogie. The band has consistently captured a wider audience with each new album, and it’s clear they know why. When the catchy, melodic, radio-friendly rockers like “Heaven Nor Hell” and “Fallen” from 2010’s Beyond Hell/Above Heaven hit big, they gave us twice as many of them on 2013’s Outlaw Gentlemen & Shady Ladies. Seal the Deal & Let’s Boogie is pretty much one ultra-catchy rocker after another, with truly heavy moments coming few and far between.

The album starts on a heavy note with the crunching, metallic “The Devil’s Bleeding Crown,” which is one of the album’s best moments. From there it’s roughly ten mid-tempo melodic hard rock songs that are ridiculously easy to sing along with. “The Bliss” is one of the early singles, and it’s beyond catchy, as are songs like “Let It Burn” and “Goodbye Forever.” Another major highlight of Seal the Deal & Let’s Boogie is “Black Rose,” which has a harder rocking (but still very melodic) vibe and features Danko Jones on guest vocals alongside Michael Poulsen. Towards the end of the album the band brings back the metal on songs like “Seal the Deal” and “The Loa’s Crossroad.”

While it’s not necessarily a concept album the way Outlaw Gentlemen & Shady Ladies was, there does appear to be a storyline running loosely throughout Seal the Deal & Let’s Boogie. One song (“You Will Know”) even ties up some of the themes from the first three Volbeat albums. Another recurring theme is the band giving us some interesting cover songs. This album has two: Teenage Bottlerocket’ “Rebound” and “Battleship Chains” by Georgia Satellites. Both songs are beyond catchy and are the most simply fun tracks on the album. You will sing along to both, and you will sing loud.

Longtime Volbeat fans who liked the heavier, more metallic edge of those early albums may be disappointed by Seal the Deal & Let’s Boogie, but fans who discovered this band in the past few years ought to find this pure ear candy. If nothing else, this album is catchier and more fun than pretty much any other modern rock album out there, and is the kind of album that fans of melodic rock n’ roll will find themselves playing over and over again. And if it brings the band more fans and more radio airplay, it’s safe to say that Volbeat has earned it.

Edition Notes: As with the previous Volbeat album, there is a 2-disc version of Seal the Deal & Let’s Boogie that is exclusive to the Best Buy chain. The second disc features four songs: a short (as in one-minute) thrasher called “Slaytan,” an alternate version of “The Bliss” titled “For Evigt,” that features Johan Olsen on Danish vocals alongside Poulsen, a version of “Black Rose” with Poulsen on all vocals, and a live version of “The Devil’s Bleeding Crown.” The dual vocals on “For Evigt” take you right back to “The Garden’s Tale,” and that alone is worth the few extra bucks the deluxe edition sets you back.

Dangerous Games
Dangerous Games
Offered by Fulfillment Express US
Price: $28.10
21 used & new from $10.00

4.0 out of 5 stars Smooth, polished, lite AOR debut - reissued, June 21, 2016
This review is from: Dangerous Games (Audio CD)
Canadian AOR artist Stan Meissner released his first solo album, titled Dangerous Games, in 1984. Meissner, who sang and played guitar and keyboards on the album, had been writing songs for other A&M artists up to that point.

Meissner’s debut is solidly in that early ‘80s AOR sound. Think Balance, Toto and maybe Boulevard. It’s a little on the soft side, and could use some hooks at times, but overall is a really smooth album. The vocals are really strong, and Meissner certainly knew how to write perfect mid-tempo AOR songs. “Heart of the Fire,” “I Need Your Love” and “Rebel Heart” are all good examples of that.

Even though there are more than a few times where you wish the guy would just rock out a bit more, Dangerous Games is still a very solid debut, and a good example of the classic AOR sound. Fans of Toto, Balance, Touch, Richard Marx and Boulevard will want to check out Stan Meissner, and this is the perfect album to start with.

Edition Notes: Yesterrock reissued Dangerous Games in 2010. Their version features digitally remastered audio (remastered by Meissner himself), as well as bonus demos and other recordings from the era. Meissner provided notes on each bonus track (as well as the album in general) in the booklet. It’s a nicely put-together reissue overall.

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