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Sam Allen "A zealous individual" RSS Feed (Newburyport, MA)

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Scenes From the Southside
Scenes From the Southside
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5.0 out of 5 stars Front to back, it's Bruce's best work, November 15, 2015
Scenes From the Southside consists of 9 tracks that wouldn't ruin the mood or flow if they appeared on the band's debut from 2 years earlier. But despite its relative lack of hit singles by comparison to the debut, I think the platinum sales are courtesy of some very strong and well-placed album tracks. The songs, to me, are more individually memorable, and do show him stretching his song writing chops a bit. Overall, one of my favorite albums of the late 1980s pop scene and my favorite release by Mr. Hornsby possibly ever.

Sworn To A Great Divide (CD/DVD)
Sworn To A Great Divide (CD/DVD)
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Discussing This Album May Lead to a Great Divide Among Soilwork Fans, June 25, 2015
Overall, this seventh album in the evolutionary chain known as Soilwork's discography is a perfectly solid listen, but the title speaks for itself. Gothenburg sound purists that swear by the first two albums would happily urinate on a copy of this record, as most of this material feels like the absolute final nail in the coffin for their cred among metal purists. There are also bound to be fans who hopped on to the Soilwork wagon when they toured the U.S. as part of Ozzfest in support of their release prior to this, 2005's Stabbing the Drama. These fans will definitely be able to say good things about it, as it continues on the path that some of the latter album's more polished moments laid out for future releases. Fans anywhere else in the spectrum may be completely accepting, and may not be. It may arguably be the most controversial album of their career among fans. But here's the thing: it doesn't have to be.

The controversy seems to stem primarily from the relative lack of lead guitar on this album, and the heavy emphasis on Speed's vocals. But without a doubt, this is the album with which the latter reached new heights, and he had to show them off. In particular, his clean vocals have become leaps and bounds more convincing and comfortable sounding since they really came into the forefront of their sound on 2002's Natural Born Chaos. In addition to that, the change in hands at writing the music is almost excruciatingly evident. Founding guitarist and frequent primary songwriter Peter Wichers' departure put his long time guitar tandem mate, Ola Frenning, at the forefront of the songwriting process.

Notably, Mr. Frenning's lone writing credit on the previous album was undoubtedly its most accessible tune for American rock radio audiences; this trend continued into what could be considered attempts at crossover singles. "Exile" and "Light Discovering Darkness" are the two songs that are especially strong in stating this case. Other songs with Frenning's writing credits ("Breeding Thorns," "Your Beloved Scapegoat," "I, Vermin," and "Silent Bullet") seem to pander more towards American metalcore audiences. In Soilwork's defense, they are part of a scene that metalcore owes its very soul to, so its hardly unforgivable. Keyboardist Sven Karlsson's lone writing credit this time around is "Sick Heart River," which falls heavily into the latter category.

New guitarist Daniel Antonsson that seems to be most bent on keeping Soilwork's sound heavier and a bit closer to their Swedish roots. The title track as well as "20 More Miles" (the bookends of the album) follow closely in the footsteps of Stabbing the Drama's heavier songs, and would fit right in with most of what they were doing on that album. On the other hand, Antonsson also has an absolutely relentless mid-album cut to his credit in "The Pittsburgh Syndrome." Much as "Blind Eye Halo" had done with the previous record, this album lets the listener know that Soilwork has done anything but completely "wimp out" and forget their roots in Swedish melodic death metal. His other writing credit, "As the Sleeper Awakes," also does a good job of reinforcing this, but perhaps without quite as much a sense of definitiveness. To the credit of the latter though, it was the sole track used to represent this album on their recent live release.

All factors considered, it is easy to argue that this mixed bag could have used more lead guitar and a little less emphasis on Speed's lead vocals. One could say that because Mr. Wichers had left the band, the other two may have been a tad uneasy about attempting to fill the man's shoes. But that's the thing: they didn't seem like it. It just seemed like they were not going out of their way to BE Peter, because they knew they WERE NOT Peter. Soilwork's sound had been established enough that writing for them would be a relatively simplistic challenge. But when it ultimately came to be that way, Antonsson was more than up to the task, and Frenning and Karlsson kept on doing their thing when it came time to write a song. In such a case, the music speaks for itself.

If you're a purist that swears by the first two albums, give this album a solid skip for the most part (but maybe listen to "The Pittsburgh Syndrome" if you want to remove some doubts). If you're a fan of rock radio/metalcore of the time, a fan of the album that preceded this, or feel that you must own any/every thing that Soilwork ever laid to tape, it won't hurt to add this to your collection. Fans who fall into the latter of these three categories can also indulge in The Chainheart Machine and other heavier releases, it won't hurt their cred with anybody that has half a brain. Keep on rockin' my dudes!

Sound Of White Noise
Sound Of White Noise
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5.0 out of 5 stars He's a great fit right from the get go of this album, May 13, 2015
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This review is from: Sound Of White Noise (Audio CD)
Anthrax's sixth album, Sound of White Noise, ends a period of consistent commercial success on a high note. The album marks a transition for the band in a couple of different ways.

-After frontman Joey Belladonna was acrimoniously dismissed from the band, Anthrax hired John Bush of Armored Saint to be their new frontman. This marked a transition of frontmen, and John would have the longest consectutive tenure with the group. He's a great fit right from the get go of this album, even if his voice is a bit lower key than Belladonna's.

-This album was released in 1993, when Seattle's grunge scene was rampant. Being newly signed to Elektra, they were able to look for a producer who might bring them in a new direction without abandoning their signature sound, and went with Dave Jerden (Alice in Chains, Jane's Addiction, Offspring, Social Distortion). Despite not really seeming like a strong fit on the surface, Jerden had also produced what was presumed to be Armored Saint's final album at the time, so his familiarity with John Bush probably helped them out a great deal.

As a result, the songs sound a bit more varied than on previous efforts, and there are more low-key moments on the record. Opener "Potter's Field" gets things off to a hard-driving start, and it would not have been horribly out of place on the Belladonna albums. Other thrashier numbers include "1000 Points of Hate," "C11 H17 N2 O2 S Na," and "Burst." The main difference is that the guitar tone and drum engineering are just plain uglier than they had been on the previous few albums, which in this case is a good thing. The more mid-tempo numbers - "Room For One More," "Packaged Rebellion," "Hy Pro Glo," "Invisible," and "This is Not an Exit," also recall the slower moments of the Belladonna era. The main difference in all these songs is that the percussion rhythms feel a bit more nuanced than they had before - again, a good thing. Notably, guitar solos are still ever present, but they are no longer the squealing walls of sound that they were on previous efforts; they feel more visceral and overall more aesthetically pleasing for more casual listeners.

That leaves two more songs to make mention of; naturally, the two mildly successful singles, which are also the two that would seem most disheartening to people who can't get enough of the Belladonna era. The approach taken on the creation of "Only" and "Black Lodge" is definitely what makes this Anthrax's "Seattle Bandwagon" album. "Only" recalls the more up-tempo moments of Alice in Chains; "Black Lodge" recalls their slower and gloomier work. Based on his delivery in these songs, particularly "Black Lodge," I would be willing to believe he was an influence on Layne Staley himself, and now he's happily returning the favor. These are the two tracks that would also have drawn audiences either closer to the album, or further away from it, depending on their mindset towards the Seattle scene.

Despite it's Seattle leanings, Anthrax didn't lose themselves in the process of making this record. A sonic reinvention that still sounds like Anthrax at its core for the most part, with a couple of surprise direct turns into Seattle music territory. But there is never a dull moment to be heard, and the record has aged surprisingly well, even if it is probably not represented live very often in the band's current situation. Not their absolute masterpiece, but a worthwhile listen for a fan of their thrash classics that might be willing to hear the band take a risk.

State Of Euphoria
State Of Euphoria
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A weak link, but far from a weak album, May 11, 2015
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This review is from: State Of Euphoria (Audio CD)
After experiencing a commercial and critical breakthrough with their 1987 effort, Among the Living, Anthrax faced some pretty strong expectations for a followup. Roughly a year and a half later, that followup was released in the form of State of Euphoria, which ended up catapulting Anthrax all the way to number 30 on the pop albums chart. It would also be their second consecutive album to receive a gold certification. But as I sit here and write this review, I can picture a sense of relative disappointment upon its initial release. The album seems as though it is trying to follow directly in its predecessor's footsteps. I can argue that it is essentially Among the Living's goofier, quirkier little brother based on the following two factors:

1. The sonic template of the band was unchanged, besides a surprise use of cello at the bookends of opening cut "Be All, End All." This was probably great for fans who couldn't get enough of their pummeling riffs, but disappointing for critics who might have hoped for some real evolution.
2. The lyrics sometimes discuss heavy themes, such as homelessness on "Who Cares Wins" and alcoholism on "Now It's Dark" - the latter of which was a problem that almost led to vocalist Joey B's undoing - but some of the social commentary comes off as outright comical. "Out of Sight, Out of Mind" and "Make Me Laugh" fall into the latter description when talking about narcissism and Evangelical preachers, respectively.

Despite these shortcomings, one thing remains certain: the album is still a solid listen. Anthrax never were the riff machines that their thrash metal peers in the bay area were, but their hard driving rhythms and powerful lead vocals create a sonically pleasing listen throughout this album. Even if some of the material has a harder time sticking in the memory when compared with some of their other work, the music absolutely rages throughout the course of this album.

If you enjoy any of the other Joey Belladonna-era Anthrax albums, buying this one won't ruin your sentiments. In fact, for the price that this album is being sold for on Amazon, I personally will say you have no reason not to pick it up. On the other hand, if you are just getting into Anthrax, the best way to start would be either Among the Living or Spreading the Disease. This record was also followed up by a pair of dark and transitional masterpieces, Persistence of Time and the John Bush-fronted Sound of White Noise. But even if this record is the weak link of Anthrax's era of commercial success, it's still worth checking out.

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4.0 out of 5 stars A strong, if imperfect, debut showing, April 6, 2015
This review is from: Hozier (Audio CD)
The debut album from Hozier is proof that the man is able to make far more than just a hit single. "Take Me to Church," the multi-format U.S. crossover smash from this young and (at the time) relatively unknown Irishman, opens up the album and lures radio listeners in to hear what else he has to show them. On the other hand, first-time listeners will be introduced to the man and his musical abilities rather definitively. However, the songs that follow show a good range of influences, and a man who is not content with sticking exclusively to one basic formula when writing a song.

Like the hit single, the elements of what is happening in the adult alternative radio circuit come through strong in "Angel of Small Death and the Codeine Scene," "From Eden," "Sedated," and the beautiful "Foreigner's God." But it doesn't end there; the sounds of good ol' American Blues shine through in songs like the Delta stomp "To Be Alone," as well as the sleazy swamp jam "It Will Come Back." The days of soul in Memphis, Motown, Philly, and more are recalled in the one-two punch of "Jackie and Wilson" and "Someone New" early in the album's track listing. His Irish folk roots are really brought out in full strength with "In a Week," "Like Real People Do," and "Cherry Wine." He even draws some world music influence with the aptly titled "Work Song."

All of these elements could come together to form an album that feels like an uneven mess. But to his credit, Hozier makes the album feel cohesive with his very well-placed program order (that's a fancy way to say track listing), and the music feels effortless and inspired throughout. Perhaps some songs don't do as well to stick in the listener's memory. But Hozier's strong sense of melody, depth of artistry, and diverse influences can easily make the listener optimistic for a followup.

Natural Born Chaos
Natural Born Chaos
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The album that began the alienation of old-school Soilwork fans, and brought in a legion of new ones, March 31, 2015
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This review is from: Natural Born Chaos (Audio CD)
Melodic Death Metal purists who swear by Slaughter of the Soul, The Gallery, and The Jester Race will tell you that this was the album that sank Soilwork into murky depths they will never again arise from. They will tell you it's the album where they got "soft." From my own standpoint, those people are very, very wrong - to an extent. There is no denying Soilwork put more emphasis on "melody" than "death metal" with this album, as the aggressive riffing and screamed vocals are combined with melodic and clean, sing-along choruses throughout the course of the album.

But to say they got "soft" as a result of this is a very relative term; their intensity is as present on album opener "Follow the Hollow" as it is on a track like "Sadistic Lullaby" from Steel Bath Suicide, even with cleanly sung sections ever present. This blistering intensity combined with the keen sense of melody is also ever present on "The Flameout," "Mindfields," and my personal favorite "Black Star Deceiver." The latter of these tracks features guest vocals from none other than Mr. Devin Townsend (who was the lead producer of the album), giving something of a call-and-response nature to the verses.

Things do slow down and tend to lean more towards the U.S. mainstream metal sound - nü-metal, alternative metal, melodic metalcore, what have you - on the rest of the tracks. A more steady groove and fist-pumping nature is ever present on "As We Speak," the title track, "The Bringer," "Mercury Shadow," and "No More Angels." The same could also be said of album closer "Song of the Damned," but I feel that not only does it give the album a tremendous sense of unresolve by coming in at the end, it also bridges the gap between the two styles - a very melodic and steady groove for the intro, verses, and chorus combined with a bridge that ups the ante a little bit and also brings back some vocal help from Devin (BLEEDING, ACHING, BLEEDING, ACHING).

The music on this album, to me, shows Soilwork deciding to branch out of their Gothenburg influenced bubble and try something a little new while still staying true to form. I'll admit that Figure Number Five, their followup, may be my least favorite thing they put out. But this easily ranks among their best work. They took a risk and for me, as a listener for musicality rather than just metal-ness, it paid big dividends.

Danger Danger
Danger Danger
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars This band set itself up to be poked fun at... big time, March 16, 2015
This review is from: Danger Danger (Audio CD)
Danger Danger's debut album is one that is a bit hard to take seriously. Reason number one being, their initial attempt at a single was called "Naughty Naughty," and they followed that up with a song called "Bang Bang." In my opinion, they probably could have come up with slightly better song titles and also maybe not released these to MTV one after the other. Judging the album on these two songs alone, the band seems like nothing more than an overproduced bunch Bon Jovi copycat novelties.

But beneath these tailor-made songs and this laughable surface lies some perfectly decent, if not very original, glam metal. These songs are a solid set of upbeat rockers and obligatory ballads that make the listener just wanna chug some cheap beer and let the good times roll. Turn up this album at an 80s party if the crowd is nice and drunk, and they won't even care that they don't know who it is... they'll just have a good time. And it ain't bad for a road trip, either. This album certainly hasn't aged too well, and even if it's a tad forgettable, it's not regrettable.

Burning Red
Burning Red
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4.0 out of 5 stars An album that probably still receives a fair amount of flak - and it's easy to understand why, February 23, 2015
This review is from: Burning Red (Audio CD)
Machine Head's third album, The Burning Red, broke the thin ice they had been on with metal purists following their more mainstream-leaning sophomore effort. It's very easy to see why from the get-go. Rapping, guitar grooves that leaned more towards hip-hop than thrash, the involvement of Ross Robinson, and even their new image at the time; these were four very easy factors for said purists to write Machine Head off as has-beens of "true" metal and "sellouts."

However, when I give a strong listen to this album, I hear some aspects, significant ones, that likely aren't considered by these purists, that demonstrate how this album can be looked at as Machine Head taking a new turn on a similar path. When I hear a song like "Exhale The Vile," as a prime example, I hear a style that is still recognizably theirs; they have not forgotten who they are completely. Despite some aspects of the music that remind the listener more of nü-metal stalwarts Korn and Limp Bizkit than, say, early contemporaries Pantera and Fear Factory, the latter aspects are not completely dead. The lead vocals are also about as melodic as they were on the first two albums... that is to say, hardly at all. So this more mainstream approach has certainly not softened their sound very much.

What I am essentially getting at here, is that despite all the backlash this album received at the time of its release, it's something that can be listened to with a more open mind and enjoyed. Perhaps the album is a bit less rhythmically diverse than its predecessors - an odd aspect to consider when comparing works by any band - but it's a good artifact from the nü-metal scene when it was in its prime, and an interesting chapter in Machine Head's growing legacy in the metal scene as we know it today. A star is removed for the aforementioned relative lack of rhythmic diversity, as well as the misfire of an attempt to cover "Message in a Bottle" by the Police.

ADDITIONAL THOUGHTS: The new look was off-putting to the metal purists, that much is for certain. However, I can also safely say I find it almost nausea-inducing to behold. The hair and clothing reeked of some of the worst 90s fashion imaginable. Chances are pretty good that even if Machine Head might still pull out a song or two from this album in a live set, they are in absolutely no hurry to bring back this look.

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4.0 out of 5 stars Savatage at their most primal. Metal purists will likely tell you that this is their best album, November 12, 2014
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This review is from: Sirens (Audio CD)
While not their finest hour, every band has to start somewhere. Savatage's independently released 1983 debut, Sirens, more than likely raised some eyebrows and got heads a-banging and horns up high in the heavy metal underground. Able to stand out from a large herd of faceless New Wave of British Heavy Metal has-beens trying to become the next Iron Maiden and Judas Priest, the Florida quartet was able to do their thing and create a musical persona much closer to being their own. Frontman Jon Oliva's bone-chilling "shrieks of terror" rivalled those of Halford and Dickinson, while the sounds of "metalaxe" wielding brother Criss fell somewhere in between the overdriven crunch of more traditional metal bands and the crushing intensity of early thrash and black metal. The "barbaric cannons" of Steve Wachholz and "bottom end" of Keith Collins helped round out the sound. At this point in the career of Savatage, the rhythm players felt somewhat auxiliary and likely went largely unnoticed compared to the Olivas.

Despite the relative unevenness in the group sound, these songs are pretty consistent throughout the album's brief 36-minute duration. The first three tracks, as well as the last two, show a band that is already approaching the sound that would distinguish them from the herd. Track 5, "On the Run," also does a good job of this despite its utterly pointless introductory riff. The remaining tracks showcase a more primitive, NWOBHM-esque sound that was never done away with altogether by the band, but was mostly kept on the backburner once the band really found their stride.

This is by no means an absolute masterpiece or career high-point, but the primal sound of the album should make it the most appealing to the diehard metal purists. Those who became fans of the band based off of Paul O'Neill and Jon Oliva's work with the Trans-Siberian Orchestra may want to skip this one. The slight inconsistency coupled with a lack of balance of power in the band is what removes a star here, but it's worth checking out.

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars 4 very solid stars for this under-appreciated album., July 29, 2014
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This review is from: Legacy (Audio CD)
It's a darn shame that Poco never got to be the big stars they deserved to be, and this album is certainly proof of that. Some 20 years after their original lineup made its first of many changes, the original five of Randy Meisner, Richie Furay, Rusty Young, Jim Messina, and George Grantham officially recorded an album together - and from my own ears, the results fire on almost all cylinders. To those who hoped for Pickin' Up The Pieces 2.0, you may be a bit disappointed. This album feels much like a product of its time, due to some more advanced recording technology available to the production crew. As a result, the sound on it primarily has a 1980s stadium rock vibe to it, and has not aged all that well. But the poorly-aged production is one of very few negatives from an otherwise very fine album.

With the exception of Mr. Grantham (who does not take the mic up front), every member sings lead on at least two songs. Thus, I feel the best way to look at it is to take a look at the 11 tracks by picking them apart with the individual lead vocalists - though one track manages to stand out from the herd in a special way.

The first to sing lead is Richie Furay, who starts things off with one of the albums strongest tracks. Opening cut "Where It All Began" is a rock solid, up-tempo slab of semi-soft rock and roll with a little banjo giving it that nice country twang, and gets the album off on just the right foot. It doesn't set the tempo for the entire album, but it gets the listener's attention easily. Unfortunately, Furay isn't heard again until the rather lackluster tenth track, the ballad "If It Wasn't For You." Though this is one of only two tracks that I personally consider weak, it does showcase what some may consider to be a slight overabundance of ballads and softer songs. However, I personally don't have an issue with this. Poco have had their share of edgier, harder-rocking moments from album to album, but they have never really tried to come off as a hard rock band to my own personal knowledge.

Next up are the three Rusty Young tracks. The first of these is the lead single "Call It Love," and it is very easy to see why this was picked as the lead single. It has a very accessible vocal melody, a very nice chime to the guitar, and a sense of statement to the music. Though it rocks ever so softly, it still does have that sense of ROCK to the softness, and feels like a comeback tune. It notably reached the top 20 of the pop chart, and nearly topped both easy listening and album rock radio. The other Rusty Young tracks are a mixed bag; "What Do People Know" is another up-tempo, semi-soft rock tune that is easy to latch right on to, while the ballad "Who Else" oozes out smoothness with its gentle pulse, high harmonies, and light groove. It does manage to stick out, but in a bit more of a casual way. It is not the special track from the herd.

The Randy Meisner-led tracks are by far my personal favorite as a whole. His first is the harder-edged "Nature of Love." Not only does this one let the band rock a little more, it does a good job of showcasing what Randy has in the slightly lower ends of his vocal range; he seems to have been known for having quite a high voice. The second side of an LP or cassette pressing of Legacy presumably kicks off with "Rough Edges," which shares the same positive qualities as the latter and definitely keeps the "ROCK" part of the album alive and kickin'. But the special standout comes at track 5, "Nothin' to Hide." This was Poco's 4th (and final) song to reach the top 40, doing so modestly at number 39 (and also making top 10 on easy listening). What makes it stand out is the presence of Richard Marx, a singer and songwriter who was quite popular at the time. Mr. Marx co-wrote this song and produced it, and also lent backing vocals to it. Not only is the melody just perfect for this type of slow power ballad, but Marx's standout and distinctive vocals only add to Randy giving arguably his most passionate vocal performance since "Take It To The Limit" - a song which may come to mind when hearing this, and may have been in Mr. Marx's mind when he wrote it for Randy to take the lead on.

Finally, there is the matter of the Messina tracks. The first of these is the lackluster ballad "Look Within," arguably the very weakest track on here. It feels a bit lacking in the energy department, and its near-five minute length with said lack of energy makes it feel like it really was meant as a filler track. No less, no more. But beyond that, he sings on one track that is good, and one that is great, so it makes up for it. The good track is the closer, "Follow Your Dreams." It is notably a pretty quick tune by comparison to most of the others, clocking in at under 3 minutes. But the positivity of the lyrics and the simplicity of the music make it a nice, solid closer. The great track is the hardest-rocking track on here, "Lovin' You Every Minute." You'd think with that title, you'd be getting a ballad, so that only adds to the surprise that it presents, for better or for worse.

All in all, this is a rock-solid album that, despite having a few mediocre tracks, is very listenable all the way through, and still is fun for the listener after repeated spins. The dated production and two less-than-thrilling tracks make it lose one star, but the album is definitely a nice little footnote of the 80s music scene as it was drawing towards its close.

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