Alice Cooper: Paranormal (earMusic)
Where do you start with a legend like Alice Cooper? From the late 1960s the man has been a real survivor with a string of anthems that litter his vaudeville shock rock theatrics in the live arena. It's fair to say that Cooper relies heavily on the early 70s for the bulk of his live material and if you listen to 2011's Welcome 2 My Nightmare you'd understand why as it was bunk. In fact you'd have to go way back to 1991 and Hey Stoopid to find a live staple in Feed My Frankenstein. However, that might well be about to change with Paranormal.
Written in collaboration with long time producer Bob Ezrin who shits this kind of throwaway rock before his first cup of tea, there is sufficient classic Cooper here to interest most rock fans. I have to admit I find Cooper's recorded music overrated and due to my reliance on Planet Rock for DAB listening, a bit overplayed. His vocals are as raspy as ever but the music is a little more interesting. Guest appearances by Roger Glover on Paranormal gets the album off to a strong start, whilst The appearance of the Rev.
Willie G from the mighty ZZ Top on Fallen In Love adds a dose of class. Larry Mullen from U2 is amongst the other guests on the release. Fireball with its ZZ Top backing beat gets my vote as the best track on the album, a high intensity tune with some additional effects on Cooper's voice mixing it up superbly. A real foot tapper. Of course, it's not all great stuff and Holy Water with its Jebus praise is quite disturbing but unsurprising given his born again status, whilst Genuine American Girl also curdles your milk.
Still, after his last release this is a slick and polished release which in the main is rather better than expected and includes a couple of tracks with the original remaining band members. A few live cuts add little to the extra addition but do demonstrate that Cooper's live show is heavier than the candy floss sound on record. Not essential but certainly an enjoyable listen. 7/10
Byzantine: The Cicada Tree (Metal Blade)
This is the sixth release by the progressive metallers from Charleston, West Virginia. It's a tasty beast, and from opener New Ways To Bear Witness there are sufficient hooks and grooves to grab you by the throat and drag you in. Get stuck into the Pantera/LOG hybrid of Vile Maxim and revel in something rather special. There's bits of everything in the mix, from nu metal to thrash with clean vocals alongside gruff deliveries.
It's frantic and energetic stuff. Brian Henderson's guitar work is imaginative with chopping riffs intertwining with the numerous time changes and shifts in direction. Chris OJ Ojeda has a strong range and his clean/gruff mixed sound during Map Of The Creator is curiously reminiscent of bands such as Scar Symmetry and even Staind at times.
The whole album really does ebb and flow in direction and style, at times complex and at others down right dirty. The battering ram of Trapjaw showcases the quality of Matt Bowles powerful drumming whilst the title track changes pace completely. It's an interesting release and one that requires a little bit of investment. It won't be to all tastes but certainly worth a listen. 7/10
Rage: Seasons Of The Black (Nuclear Blast)
Close to 12 months ago I gave Rage's last album a paltry 5/10 and a rather scathing review. Much of that was down to the sheer temerity of the band's cover of Rush's Bravado. But like a good STD it's hard to get rid off and yes, here is album number 23 (or is it 24?) To be fair to Peter Wagner and his two band mates, Marco Rodriguez and Vassilos Manitaopoulos, Seasons Of The Black is really enjoyable with the band playing to their strengths. Raucous rampant balls out heavy metal, which gets the head nodding and the blood pumping.
It's still rather generic but with the songs stronger and the band focusing on no-nonsense heads down metal, overall it kicks much harder. The power metal roots shine through on tracks such as Justify with its Alestorm like swagger, whilst the title track hits the thrash button. It's Germanic metal, ala Accept, Grave Digger et al. Nothing special but continued hi fives to a band that just continues to rock out. 6/10
Thunderstick: Something Wicked This Way Comes (Self Released)
Any mention of the underrated NWOBHM outfit Samson prompts two immediate responses. They were the band where Iron Maiden found Bruce Dickinson and they were the band with that “nutter” of a drummer, the gimp masked Thunderstick. Well, many years after the world of rock last heard of the masked Barry Graham Purkis, he is back with a new release, Something Wicked This Way Comes. It’s a weird release, stuck way back in the 1980s both in tempo and style of writing and production quality.
Thunderstick is joined by long time guitarist Dave Kilford and new arrivals Martin Shallard, the fantastically titled Rex Thunderbolt on bass and vocalist Lucie V. A promising start with Dark Night, Black Light, which stomps its way into the album in classic NWOBHM style, but it becomes a little routine and tired the longer the album progresses. Lucie V’s vocals are decent, her dusky tones comfortably meshing with the hard rock on offer and old Thunderstick can still hammer the skins with quality. It’s just that the songs are just not very good.
The Shining lumbers for over seven minutes without going anywhere, Go Sleep With the Enemy (I Dare Ya) belongs on a NWOBHM compilation of also rans, whilst the closing acoustic I Close My Eyes is just awful. Full marks to Barry for resurrecting the mask. Unfortunately, it’s 2017 not 1981. Time has moved on. 5/10