Sunday, October 28, 2012


The latest release from veteran rockers Liberty N Justice is a 26 song opus entitled The Cigar Chronicles Vol. 1 & 2. Justin Murr & JK Northrup have assembled another who’s who of melodic hard rock and put together a cavalcade of musical bliss. Top notch performances which drive the feel good release of the year.

The Cigar Chronicles is a two disc release broken into Volume 1 & Volume 2. Volume 1 follows the trend of the last 5-6 years with an array of covers, LNJ paying tribute to a wide array of artists, which include the following songs and guest performers;

1. "Ice Ice Baby" Seann Nicols (Adler's Appetite/ Tarsha) & Eddie Ojeda (Twisted Sister) originally recorded by Vanilla Ice

2. "I Can't Dance" Stevie Rachelle (TUFF) originally recorded by Genesis

3. "Pride (In The Name Of Love)" CJ Snare (Firehouse/ Rubicon Cross), George Lynch (Dokken/ Lynch Mob), & Jeff Pilson (Dokken/ Foreigner) originally recorded by U2

4. "Stayin' Alive" Kip Winger (Winger) originally recorded by The Bee Gees

5. "YMCA" Kelly Keeling (Baton Rouge & Trans Siberian Orchestra), Chris Dickens (Mission Of One) & Neil Zaza, originally recorded by The Village People

6. "Iris" Tony Harnell (TNT/ Westworld) & Alex Grossi (Quiet Riot/ Hotel Diablo)
originally recorded by The Goo Goo Dolls

7. "You're So Vain" Phil Lewis (LA Guns) & Chris Green (Rubicon Cross/ Furyon)
originally recorded by Carly Simon

8. "Queen Of The Night" Selena McVey & Brooke St. James (Tyketto)
originally recorded by Whitney Houston

9."Blame It On The Rain" Andrew Freeman (Hurricane/Offspring/30 Stones), Pete Fry (Far Cry) & Eric Ragno (Liberty N' Justice) originally recorded by Milli Vanilli

10. "Bye Bye Bye" Chas West (Bonham) & Jeff LaBar (Cinderella) originally recorded by N'Sync

11. "Dancing On The Ceiling" James Christian (House Of Lords) originally recorded by Lionel Ritchie

12."Stuck In The Middle With You" Larry Worley (FearNot), Ron "Bumblefoot" Thal (Guns N' Roses), Andy Robbins (Holy Soldier/Joe Lynn Turner), & Anthony Gravley (Windup Rocket) originally recorded by Stealers Wheel

13. "Mmmbop" Jamie Rowe (Guardian), Anthony Gravley (Windup Rocket), Roxx Hunter, originally recorded by Hanson

This compendium of classic songs is vast on the style scale, so I will only highlight what I found to be the strongest tracks. The Vanilla Ice track Ice Ice Baby rocks with a solid groove finds new life in this session.

You’re So Vain clamors for attention as it drives right up and down Sunset Blvd; its late 80’s Los Angeles feel reminds me of the glitz lights and unbelievable night life of Hollywood. The Lionel Ritchie song Dancing on the Ceiling which features the vocals of James Christian, rocks pure and simple. We can add the Hanson and Stealers Wheel covers as well. LNJ drives a musical caravan here that reminds one of the great rock n roll acts from days gone by.

The ultimate highlight from Volume 1 is the Kip Winger vocal on the acoustic version of the Bee Gees classic, Stayin Alive. Having grown up during the disco era I was very skeptical at first, but this song is one of the best of 2012. The dynamics of Wingers performance is stellar, great range and control. He brings so much soul and passion without pretense. The arrangement of the acoustic guitar is fabulous and drives it along.

Volume 2 is thirteen tracks of sheer hard rock genius. The disc is full of original compositions and if disc one has laid out a high expectation, rest assured that disc two passes it. Volume 2 is full of memorable melodies and catchy hard rock ear candy.

This is the list of the of the songs and guest performers on Volume 2

1. "Devil His Dues" Derrick LeFevre (formerly of Lillian Axe), Vic Rivera (Crunch), Michael Feighan (Liberty N' Justice/White Cross/ King James) & Barry Graul (Mercy Me/ White Cross)

2. "The Greatest" David Cagle (Liberty N' Justice), Mark Allen Lanoue (Chasing Karma/ Bilioxi), & Brad Stetler

3. "Cupids Gonna Bleed" Gunnar Nelson (Nelson), Steve Brown (Trixter) with Barry Carl (Rockapella)

4. "Under Construction" Eric Dover (Slash's Snakepit/Jelly Fish), Mark Kendall (Great White) ,Ian Keith Hafner (Jaguar Blaze) & Eric Ragno

5. "Been There Done That" Ted Poley (Danger Danger) & Richard Kendrick (Straitjacket Smile)

6. "Grace" Michael Bormann (Jaded Heart/ Rain/ Charade), Phillip Bardowell (Unruly Child/ Beach Boys) & Mark Slaughter (Slaughter)

7. "Sucker Punched" Rick Stitch (Hotel Diablo), Jerry Dixon (Warrant) & Xander Demos

8. "Broken Bones" Giancarlo Floridia (Faithsedge), Greg Martin (The Kentucky Headhunters) & Chad Stewart (Faster Pussycat)

9. "Sin" Jani Lane, Bill Leverty (Firehouse), & Keri Kelli (Alice Cooper)

10. "Give Em" A Light" Paul Shortino (King Kobra/ Quiet Riot/ Rough Cutt) & Dave Henzerling (King Kobra/Steelshine)

11. "Daddy Long Legs" Louis St August (Mass) & Tim Gaines (Stryper)

12. "Cut Me Mick" Ron Keel (Keel) & Michael Phillips (Deliverance/ The Sacrificed)

13. "Tomorrow" Terry Ilous (Great White/XYZ),Ron Wikso (Foreigner, The Storm, David Lee Roth, Richie Sambora, Cher, Gregg Rolie Band), Alessandro Del Vecchio (Hardline, Ian Paice, Glenn Hughes, Edge Of Forever and Eden's Curse) & PK Mitchell

additional background vocals by Richard Kendrick, Giancarlo Floridia, Phil Vincent, Michael Stover, Frankie Cleaver, Bryan Cole

The real question is where to start because there are so many excellent songs and performances. Of special note would be that this album features the vocal debut of permanent LNJ vocalist David Cagle on the song The Greatest. Having heard this effort I can see why he will be the vocalist going forward. Cagle’s smooth yet husky driving tonality fits in the LNJ mold perfectly. The song itself is pure LNJ, hooky edgy melodic and upbeat.

If you’ve heard any of the samples that LNJ have been sharing around the net the last couple of months rest assured the other tracks are by no means filler. Whether its album opener Devil His Due or the full tilt rocker Been There Done That, with a great vocal provided by Ted Poley from Danger Danger; to one of the pre-released tunes in Daddy Long Legs The Cigar Chronicles is one of the musical highpoints of 2012. I mean how do just keep gushing about how Sucker Punched rocks or Cut Me Mick slices like a razor, while Under Construction is the slow retrospective ballad that goes deep lyrically with an autobiographical bent. Grace doesn’t fall into the same category as many of the other tracks with a slightly more melancholic feel of an overcast day with rain forecast.

Another note worth mentioning is that the song Sin features the last vocal performance of Jani Lane (Warrant) before his untimely passing. One must ponder whether Jani took to heart the lyrics he was singing, the quality of performance leads to think he must have. How could he not?

Top notch production values throughout that bring out the best in the songs and the performances within. Frankly there are so many excellent tunes here to try to discuss them all is simply not possible.

The Cigar Chronicles Volumes 1 & 2 is a collection that is both enjoyable and richly deep. The work ethic is clearly on display and reminds one just how hard it is to put together a composition that is memorable. To put together so many memorable tracks is really amazing. Memo to all you air guitar players and arm swirling air drummers get ready for a hot time in the ole city tonight! This is rock n roll that uplifts and encourages without clichés, CRANK IT UP!!

9 axes

Friday, October 26, 2012


Messenger hail from the East Coast, the nations capital specifically, and these boys have a strong understanding about how to rock! Messenger have crafted a sound that reminds me of early Sacred Warrior (musically not vocally) and Dio. This ten song album is full of hooks and well crafted songs. You Choose is the title and Messenger make no mistake about the choice before you.

Opening with the rythymic drumming of Tim TNT Tieff, The Sacrifice comes charging out of the wall of sound with a catchy chorus. Yet I notice immediately that there is no guitar solo. The End of Time is a bit heavier and struts its stuff in a slightly up tempo fashion. Well arranged and with a stellar guitar solo, the chorus is anthemic but not cheesy at all.

Songs such as The Back of My Mind, The Risen Christ and Christian Rocker kick it up much like End of Time, with powerful verses musically that hit like a hammer and break through when the chorus comes. This type of song writing is when Messenger is at their peak. Undoubtedly these tracks would go down a storm in a live setting.

However not to be overlooked the slow and moody Paradise finds it place just fine. With its tight songwriting and straight to the point arranging, it highlights a stellar guitar solo from Vlad Gurin. This works and the whole package is offered in a rather melancholic atmosphere. The vocal work of Frank Herring is solid and the bass playing of Roy Richardson rounds out the bottom end.

Power, Rulemaker are just a notch or two below the other songs, catchy none the less. The only song that left me completely flat is Come Home, which suffers from an overly simplistic chorus which is too repetitious.

Lyrically, this album harkens back to the day of early Resurrection Band, Daniel Band or Jerusalem as they present the Gospel and tackle various church issues. The only track that left me flat lyrically was Christian Rocker, just the title should tell you enough. It falls in that ‘Rock for The Rock’ category.

Clocking in at a smidget over 30 minutes long the whole thing is done before you get a chance to get comfortable. Yet that is one of the charms of this album, it hits hard and quick, closing with the aforementioned The Risen Christ, and it delivers the goods.

This is an independent release but don’t think it is substandard, it’s not by any stretch. The production is quality, slight mastering issues aside but nothing that detracts at all.

Messenger’s album You Choose is full tilt 80’s heavy metal in the vain of Dio or Sacred Warrior. The emphasis is on songs and strong melodies with powerful guitar. It’ll be interesting to see how Messenger grow from this release as they’ve been around for several years. You Choose has been more than a pleasant surprise it has become a driving companion.

7 axes


Saturday, October 20, 2012


I’ve gotta tell you that German Pascual’s debut solo album A New Beginning is one of the biggest surprises of 2012. From high octane power metal to soaring melodic metal, A New Beginning not only wipes out any preconceived ideas I might’ve had but left me scrambling for the replay button.

Pascual as many of you might realize was the vocalist for Swedish metalers Narnia on their final album, Course of a Generation. He has also contributed to Divinefire on occasion as well. When I heard he was going to release a solo disc I really didn’t know what to expect, but I really didn’t think I was going to get this!!

A New Beginning is strong and powerful, with memorable melodies and the vocals of German Pascual, who has continued to show he is one of the finest vocalists in heavy metal. With tonality along the lines of Dio, Rob Rock and slight hints at David Coverdale. On the odd occasion there are a few deep growls on some of the heavier tracks such as Wrath of God.

The more I listen the more I’m drawn into this swirling amalgam of musical metal bliss. Tracks like Seek the Truth or Open Your Eyes go right on the melodic metal category, but imagine it kicked up one notch with more energy and power. Misty Eyes moves like a locomotive heading downhill, get out of the way or be run over. However the hook is so good, it digs in and remains with you long after the song comes to its completion.

Yet songs like Wrath of God or I Call for the One stride into more intense speed/power metal territory. Thrash type elements and even a hint at modern styling’s ala Divinefire. For the most part this album is a heavier version of the last Narnia album. There are even a touch here and there of some slight progressive elements. The arrangements are solid and even on the heavier songs the melody cuts through and grabs a hold. Just spin Fate of the Blind head banging all the way, with a great riff.

Rounding out Pascual's band is Guitarist Martin Hall, Pain of Salvation bassist Per Schleander and Almah bassist Raphael Dafras. The guitar work is top tier as are the rest of the instrumental performances. The production was handled by German Pascual & Raphael Dafras, with the Mixing and mastering handled by Thomas Plec Johansson. The sound is powerful and the guitar tones cut through without question.

I don’t want to build this album up too much, but I have been surprised and really enjoy this release. Especially when I had no preconceived ideas about it. Pascual has made a statement with this release; he’s a musical force to be reckoned with.

I normally don’t write reviews in the first person but this album has excited me so much, an album of the year candidate? A New Beginning is just that and be prepared for a journey into heavy metal bliss. 9 outta 10 axes from here and I’m cheering all the way!!

9 axes

Sunday, October 14, 2012


The latest album from Driver is entitled Countdown which is an apt title for as soon as you put it in be prepared for blastoff! The songwriting duo of Rob Rock and Roy Z has again offered a feast of melodic metal. Superb melodies with dynamic riffs and fantastic musicianship.

Rob’s vocal performance once again shows why he is one of the best in genre. Easily Rock should be in the same breath as Halford, Dio, and Dickenson. His control, range and power never fail to disappoint and just continue to amaze. It’s also of note that his lyric writing has continued to develop with maturity and depth. When it comes to singing about his faith he continues to explore all avenues of it without being preachy or trite.

Roy Z continues to show why the aforementioned Rob Halford and Bruce Dickenson have trusted him with producing their albums. Roy is a solid producer but is able to craft fantastic arrangements in which to put those dynamic metal riffs. Having seen him tour with Rob Halford's solo band along side Metal Mike is no mere feat, but Roy more than held is own and he shines on Countdown with some fabulous guitar venom of his own.

The songs you ask? Everything from strong rockers such as Return to the Sky, Thief in the Night, Feel the Fire, to more slightly subdued tracks such as Cry of the Wounded or Always on My Mind. Cry also features contributions of keyboardist Ed Roth on the songwriting side. Always benefits from the contributions of Dave Fefolt and Jorge Fischer to Roy and Rob’s. Let it not be omitted that there are a few barnburners as well with Hollywood Shooting Star and the title track fitting that bill quite nicely.

The production is well crafted with solid arranging and excellent tones for all the instruments. It is a nice change to hear an acoustic sounding snare drum. The sound pallet is well crafted.

The material here isn’t as heavy as most of Rob’s solo material, but slightly more accessible. I’m sure someone will point to Hollywood Shooting Star and say, ‘accessible??’ but this accessibility comes from how Countdown is mixed. A bit more polish then the first Driver album, but that only adds to the quality of the over all quality of the production.

Countdown is a strong collection of driving (excuse the pun) melodic metal. Songs that are full of energy and demand repeated listens. The hooks will sink in deep and be stuck in your head long after the disc is finished. Driver’s Countdown is an album that will be a long time player in your rotation as its tenacity is the secret of its success.

8 axes

Friday, October 5, 2012


One of the finest albums of 2012 comes from the state of Oregon. Desperate Night is the title of the latest release from apocalyptic metal merchants, Saint. On the heels of their 2010 masterpiece, Hell Blade, this offering is just as strong and perhaps even a bit heavier. No one does 1980’s heavy metal better.

Opening with a intro entitled The Crucible, which reminds me of Slayer’s Raining Blood albeit at half the speed, the band tears into the first track Crucified which drives along at a solid up tempo clip. Tight, punchy with a great melody. Yet it gets even stronger with the next track The Key; heavy, catchy and you will immediately hit the replay button.

Throughout this outstanding release the energy and power just flow out of each song. End of the World with its warning to those who claim to know when the end will arrive, plows along and leads you right into one of the strongest tracks with Let It Rock. This track is pure head banging joy, the guitar moves like a freight train on a pure downhill track. In the Fray is up next and doesn’t let up for a moment with its strong combination of bass and guitar performances that just lock in and keep the freight moving.

As a matter of fact most of this album delivers exactly what you’d expect from Saint, with a caveat that it might even be better than you think. Inside Out follows the political slant of New World Order from 2010’s Hell Blade; however the chorus is even stronger with its gang vocal. Album closer Escape From the Fire is one of the heaviest tracks Saint has ever recorded, much akin musically to Judas Priest’s Painkiller era. As a matter of fact a lot of Desperate Night falls into that era of Judas Priest, at least to these ears.

The production values are top notch again with a more natural sounding snare drum this time out. The guitars sound simply fabulous and Richard Lynch’s bass is a tone monster, wow! Jerry Johnson shows again that he is a fantastic guitar player who fits the Saint sound and his solos are a real highlight.

The only things that left me flat were the completely out of place Zombie Shuffle, a bluesy track with its swing time beat and the reworked version of To Live Forever. TLF appeared on their album A Perfect Life released in 1999, and it really doesn’t fit this album at all. It is a much more commercial pop metal song, the lyrics come across as cliché and I’m not gonna beat a dead horse.

One item of note is that apparently this is the last album with Josh Kramer on lead vocal. Of the 13 tracks (two of which are instrumental intros and outros) Josh contributes vocals on 8 or 9 songs. I understand that Richard Lynch contributed a vocal on 1 or 2 songs. However Saint has already found a new lead vocalist in Brian Phyll Miller. Miller delivers the goods on the title track, good vocal tonality and strong delivery; after hearing this track it would seem that the vocal department is in good hands.

Desperate Night is a traditional metal fans delight. Fans of Judas Priest, Armored Saint, Saxon, and Accept should find something here to enjoy. A 9 axe review is what I’m giving as Saint continues to show that they’re relevant and up to the challenge of playing some of the best metal in the scene.
9 axe