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Justin G. RSS Feed (Northern Virginia)

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Price: $8.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Instrumental German progressive rock from 1975, April 24, 2015
This review is from: Blitz (MP3 Music)
Originally released in 1975, Blitz was the third album from German progressive/fusion/krautrock band Thirsty Moon. This time around, the band went in a more rocking direction than jazz fusion, and dropped the vocals entirely from the album.

Blitz is an interesting album. It’s a guitar and keyboard-oriented piece, and one that’s reasonably fast-paced. The keys are reminiscent of Geoff Downes’ work in Asia, though the album sounds more like something Steve Howe might have done in his solo career. The atmosphere and creativity are impressive, though the lack of vocals make Blitz a harder album to get into. It seems like soundtrack/background music at times.

This is one of those albums that only the die-hard progressive rock collectors are going to chase down. It’s definitely not an essential release, but it is quite interesting and has some good moments.

Edition Notes: Blitz was reissued on CD for the first time in 2007 by the Long Hair Music label. The reissue features digitally remastered audio, three bonus tracks (two with vocals) and detailed liner notes in both German and English. It’s a really nice reissue overall, and is enough to bump a 3-star album up to a 4-star rating.

Silver Seraph
Silver Seraph
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Price: $19.27
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3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting retro prog rock that doesn't quite come together, April 23, 2015
This review is from: Silver Seraph (Audio CD)
Swedish supergroup Silver Seraph released their self-titled debut album in 2001 on the Regain label. The band includes drummer Peter Wildoer (Darkane, James LaBrie), keyboardist Richard Andersson (Time Requiem, Space Odyssey) and vocalist Pete Sandberg (Alien), as well as bassist Jens Lundahl and guitarist Jorgen Birch.

So what does a group with a death metal drummer, a prog metal keyboardist and an AOR singer sound like? A lot like Uriah Heep meets Kansas, actually. Silver Seraph has a retro progressive rock sound. It’s very melodic, very keyboard-oriented, and doesn’t quite gel the way a Black Bonzo or Conspiracy album does. The musicianship is impressive, especially the keys, but it lacks heart, feeling more like a music clinic than a cohesive album. Sendberg’s vocals seem out of place too, as good as he is.

This ended up being the only Silver Seraph album. It’s not essential by any means, but if you’re a fan of any of the players involved it’s at least worth a listen. If you’re into bands like The Flower Kings and Karmakanic, this might be up your alley.

Endless Forms Most Beautiful 2-disc mediabook
Endless Forms Most Beautiful 2-disc mediabook
Price: $14.88
55 used & new from $9.91

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A new era begins..., April 23, 2015
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Finnish symphonic metal legends Nightwish are back with a new studio album titled Endless Forms Most Beautiful, and it’s kind of a big deal. Sure, every new album is a big deal when you’re one of the most prominent metal bands on the planet, but this isn’t exactly “just another Nightwish album.” Following a very public split with vocalist Annette Olzon, the band enlisted former After Forever vocalist Floor Jansen, who quickly energized Nightwish fans. To say that her first album with the band comes highly anticipated is an understatement. Beyond the vocalist change, this is the first Nightwish album not to feature drummer Jukka Nevalainen, who is replaced (temporarily) by Wintersun’s Kai Hahto.

It will no doubt come as a disappointment to some fans that Nightwish didn’t pivot back to their earlier gothic/operatic metal sound with this album, especially now that they have a singer who can pull that kind of sound off. Instead Endless Forms Most Beautiful continues on the bombastic symphonic path they took with Dark Passion Play and Imaginaerum. Nightwish is again joined by a full orchestra for this album.

Setting aside expectations, Endless Forms Most Beautiful is an undeniably grand and epic production. Aside from perhaps Therion, nobody does symphonic metal like Nightwish, and this album is very much up to the band’s high standards. Keyboardist/songwriter Tuomas Holopainen has come up with some of his most elaborate orchestrations to date, and they complement the melodies beautifully. Lyrically, Endless Forms Most Beautiful is inspired by Charles Darwin’s work and is conceptually about life and science.

So how does Floor sound in Nightwish? That’s the big question, right? The answer is that she sounds pretty terrific, just as expected. Given her power, range and presence, she really is the ideal vocalist for this band. It’s a shame they didn’t grab her a decade ago when they split with original singer Tarja Turunen. They don’t quite take advantage of her full range here though, which is disappointing, but given the nature of the songs there’s absolutely nothing to complain about with her performance.

“Elan” is the first single from Endless Forms Most Beautiful, and oddly enough it ends up being one of the album’s least interesting songs. The bombastic album opener “Shudder Before the Beautiful” or the tranquil yet memorable “Edema Ruh” might have been better choices. “My Walden” is another memorable moment, with its folk melodies and instrumentation. The album’s title track is the one that’s most likely to get stuck in your head hours after the album is done spinning. It has very powerful melodies and an epic chorus full of choirs backing Jansen. The 24-minute epic “The Greatest Show on Earth” could have been the greatest Nightwish song ever (and for certain a lot of fans were expecting “Ghost Love Score times infinity), but it ends up being one of the hardest songs to get into. Perhaps it’s the various interludes and slow points, but it feels like a missed opportunity somehow.

It’s also worth mentioning that the mixing and mastering of this album seems…off. It’s not just that Floor seems low in the mix; it’s that the album seems too quiet. You’ll have to bump up your volume to hear it at the same level as any other recent release. Given the kind of perfectionist that Holopainen is, this is no doubt intentional. What that intention is remains a mystery.

If you can set aside expectations going into this, and if you can overlook the sound issue, and especially if you’re willing to give this album a few spins to really sink in, it will absolutely pay off. This may not be the kind of album that blows you away from the very start, but Endless Forms Most Beautiful is one of the best metal albums 2015 has to offer. There’s power, beauty, grandeur and majesty in abundance, and with luck this is only the beginning of a long-lasting pairing of Nightwish and Floor Jansen.

Edition Notes: There are several different versions of Endless Forms Most Beautiful available, depending on your choice of media and price range. The bonus material – instrumental versions of the album’s songs – is the same no matter which version (beyond the basic edition) you choose.

Quid Pro Quo
Quid Pro Quo
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Price: $17.93
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4.0 out of 5 stars The best album Skid Row never made, April 23, 2015
This review is from: Quid Pro Quo (Audio CD)
Quid Pro Quo, the debut full-length album from Irish band Maverick has to be the biggest surprise of 2014. Just look at that logo and that cover artwork. Is there any doubt Maverick was going to be one of the new breed of old school thrash metal bands like Fueled by Fire or Evil Invaders? As it turns out, Maverick isn’t even really a metal band at all, unless you’re measuring metal by 1991’s standards.

Instead, Maverick has turned in the best Skid Row album since Slave to the Grind. Quid Pro Quo is a melodic hard rock album with a metal edge, great hooks and a vocalist who’s a dead ringer for Sebastian Bach. It’s so not what anyone expected, but they play this kind of rock so well nobody is complaining; they’re too busy having fun and rocking out. Check out “Snake Skin Sinner” or “Rock n’ Roll Lady” if you’re on the fence about this one.

Metal or not, Quid Pro Quo is a hell of a fun album. If you’re a child of the ‘80s and still drag out your Skid Row and Motley Crue CDs (or cassettes even), you’re going to feel like it’s 1991 all over again with Maverick. And if you’re a fan of the newer breed of European melodic rockers – Hardcore Superstar, Eclipse and the like – chances are you’ll dig Maverick as well.

Blood From Stone
Blood From Stone
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5.0 out of 5 stars 4.5 stars - essential melodic rock album - reissued!, April 23, 2015
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This review is from: Blood From Stone (Audio CD)
Originally released in 1991, Blood From Stone was the second album from UK-based melodic rock band Dare, the band put together by keyboardist/vocalist Darren Wharton after his departure from Thin Lizzy. Dare also featured a young Vinny Burns before he joined Ten.

Blood From Stone carried on the melodic rocking sound of the band’s debut (1988’s Out of the Silence), and was the last Dare album to have that rock edge. It’s a keyboard-oriented album, which makes sense, but Burns lays down some great melodies and solos as well. Wharton’s vocals are a huge part of the album’s appeal, especially on the softer songs. And Keith Olsen’s production job is perfect. Blood From Stone fits perfectly alongside albums like 21 Guns: Salute and Giant’s Last of the Runaways.

Dare had some minor chart success from this album, but not enough to keep them from being dropped by their label. They ended up spending most of the decade away before returning with 1998’s Calm Before the Storm, where they went in a softer, more Celtic-influenced direction.

It may not have been a huge hit, but Blood From Stone is one of two essential melodic rock albums from Dare. If you’re a fan of bands like Giant, 21 Guns, Bon Jovi, Tyketto and Bad English, you need this album in your collection, especially now that it has been reissued.

Edition Notes: Blood From Stone was finally reissued in 2005. The booklet doesn’t specifically mention it, but it sounds like it has been digitally remastered. Either way it puts this melodic rock gem back in fans’ hands.

Risk Everything
Risk Everything
Price: $9.49

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A beautiful Survivor-style AOR album, April 22, 2015
This review is from: Risk Everything (MP3 Music)
Founding Survivor guitarist/songwriter Jim Peterik never seems to stand still. In addition to his work with Pride of Lions and various solo projects, he is now part of a new collaboration on the Frontiers label. Peterik/Scherer pairs him with vocalist Marc Scherer, a very talented newcomer that Peterik recently discovered.

Now knowing Peterik's history, it probably won't surprise you that Scherer is a powerful AOR vocalist whose voice is similar to Toby Hitchcock and the late Jimi Jamison. And then you might wonder why a collaboration like this is necessary when we already have Pride of Lions. That question gets put to rest as soon as Risk Everything starts playing. When Peterik finds a vocalist like this, the results are AOR magic. Scherer soars over these songs, which are very much in the Survivor style, and Peterik never seems to run out of melodies.

Of course the downside of such a familiar-sounding album, even one with such a spectacular vocal performance, is that it's just that – familiar. Risk Everything is a safe AOR album that offers no real surprises. Then again, if you've been following Peterik's career this long surprises may be the last thing you want.

If you're a fan of Peterik's work, especially Survivor and Pride of Lions, you really need to hear this album. It's a pristine AOR/melodic rock album with a sensational vocal performance and melodies for miles. Beyond that, Peterik/Scherer should also appeal to fans of FM, Work of Art, Lionville and Houston.

Disclosure: I was given an MP3 copy of this album by the label for review.

Necessary Evil
Necessary Evil
11 used & new from $0.29

4.0 out of 5 stars 3.5 stars - a fun, energetic recent rockabilly album, April 21, 2015
This review is from: Necessary Evil (Audio CD)
Necessary Evil is the 2001 release from rockabilly/psychobilly band Dangerville. I don’t know much about this band, but I like rockabilly enough that I took a chance on this album when I was fishing in the dollar bins recently.

Dangerville’s sound isn’t quite what I expect from a psychobilly band. Necessary Evil sounds more polished and old school than it does rowdy or punkish, which is A-OK by me. The classic rockabilly sound is always a good thing to emulate, and these guys are/were (not sure if they’re still around) pretty good at it. This is a fun album, and was more than worth the buck I paid for it. If you dig rockabilly, especially the rockabilly revival-type bands, you could do a lot worse than to check out Dangerville.

LEGO Star Wars Imperial Troop Transport
LEGO Star Wars Imperial Troop Transport
Price: $11.19
88 used & new from $10.25

5.0 out of 5 stars Great way to stock up on Lego Stormtroopers, April 20, 2015
You can never have too many Lego Stormtroopers, which is why it’s so good to see a set like this Imperial Troop Transport. This budget-priced set contains four Stormtroopers (all with actual faces instead of the plain black heads under the helmets) with the new firing pistols, as well as a small transport ship.

Complexity: There are 141 pieces in this set, so it’s a fairly simple build. Figure 15-20 minutes on assembly.

Playability: I bought this set to display the minifigures on a shelf, but these minifigure collections are always fun. I love that the Stormtropers' guns actually fire. I’ll probably scrap the Transport, but that’s also a plus since it uses so many of the light grey bricks I tend to build with. The ship is almost beside the point.

In the end, you’re buying this set for the figures, and it is money well spent. Lego Stormtroopers always come in handy, whether you’re building an epic scene or just want to have some bad guys for Luke and Han to take down. Either way this is an essential Lego Star Wars set, and at the low price point it makes a great stocking stuffer/Easter basket-type gift.

LEGO Minifigures Series 13 Classic King Construction Toy
LEGO Minifigures Series 13 Classic King Construction Toy
Offered by BRICK Marketplace
Price: $9.15
24 used & new from $3.50

4.0 out of 5 stars Long live the king!, April 20, 2015
After two specialty-themed sets (for the Lego Movie and The Simpsons), we're finally back to the original focus of the Lego Minifigures sets - interesting and random minifigures. And Series 12 (or is it 14?) has some really good ones.

There have been many Lego King minifigures in the various Kingdoms and Castles lines, but this Classic King is somewhat unique. His outfit is a bit more Shakespearian maybe? It’s a sharp-looking minifigure, that’s for sure, with his two-piece cape. Speaking of which, getting those capes as well as the beard and head in place is a bit tricky. He also comes with a sword, though he looks like a wine goblet might have been more appropriate.

It’s always good to have another King in the Lego minifigure collection, even if this one does look more Burger King than anything else. Still, it’s a fun addition to one of the best minifigure assortments Lego has released.

Winds of War
Winds of War
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4.0 out of 5 stars Cult classic german heavy metal album - reissued, April 20, 2015
This review is from: Winds of War (Audio CD)
Originally released in 1986, Winds of War was the second album from cult German heavy metal band Iron Angel. The band came out strong with their 1985 debut Hellish Crossfire, which was very dark and very fast. On Winds of War they went in a more melodic, but still very metallic, direction.

Winds of War is still a vintage high-speed heavy metal album, but it has a very strong Accept meets the NWOBHM vibe this time around. You could also slot this with the early Running Wild and Helloween albums since it does have a strong melodic side. The twin lead guitars dominate the album, but they’re matched well by Dirk Schroder’s piercing scream. “Metalstorm,” “Fight For Your Life” and “Sea of Flames” are the standouts, with the latter featuring a guest solo from Jurgen Blackmore.

This isn’t very complicated. It’s a killer, straightforward heavy metal album from one of the genre’s most important scenes. Sadly, Iron Angel never got the attention Running Wild, Helloween and Gamma Ray got. They made their mark though. If you’re a fan of classic German metal like Accept, Running Wild and Scanner, or just the ‘80s heavy/power/speed metal sounds in general, you’ll want to check out Winds of War.

Edition Notes: Winds of War was reissued by Marquee Records in 2004. The new version features remastered audio and seven live bonus tracks.

Edition Notes 2: Winds of War was reissued yet again in 2014, this time by the Hammerheart label. It has the same track listing as the Marquee version.

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