January 29, 2017

Nirvana - MTV Unplugged In New York (1994)

Country: U.S.A
Genre: Acoustic Rock
Label Number: DGCD-24727
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© 1994 DGC
AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine
If In Utero is a suicide note, MTV Unplugged in New York is a message from beyond the grave, a summation of Kurt Cobain's talents and pain so fascinating, it's hard to listen to repeatedly. Is it the choice of material or the spare surroundings that make it so effective? Well, it's certainly a combination of both, how the version of the Vaselines' "Jesus Doesn't Want Me for a Sunbeam" or the three covers of Meat Puppets II songs mean as much as "All Apologies" or "Something in the Way." This, in many senses, isn't just an abnormal Nirvana record, capturing them in their sincerest desire to be R.E.M. circa Automatic for the People, it's the Nirvana record that nobody, especially Kurt, wanted revealed. It's a nakedly emotional record, unintentionally so, as the subtext means more than the main themes of how Nirvana wanted to prove its worth and diversity, showcasing the depth of their songwriting. As it turns out, it accomplishes its goals rather too well; this is a band, and songwriter, on the verge of discovering a new sound and style. Then, there's the subtexts, as Kurt's hurt and suicidal impulses bubble to the surface even as he's trying to suppress them. Few records are as unblinkingly bare and naked as this, especially albums recorded by their peers. No other band could have offered covers of David Bowie's "The Man Who Sold the World" and the folk standard "Where Did You Sleep Last Night" on the same record, turning in chilling performances of both -- performances that reveal as much as their original songs.

tags: nirvana, mtv unplugged in new york, 1994, flac,

January 28, 2017

Mount Salem - Endless (2014 Reissue)

Country: U.S.A
Genre: Doom Metal
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© 2013-2014 Metal Blade Records
Review by Dom Walsh for LouderThanWar.com
Endless comes roaring at you like a rabid dog. A cacophony of guitars, drums and organ helps set the stall out immediately on the aptly titled Good Times. When this awesome mix is complemented by the glorious vocals of singer Emily Kopplin, you can tell straight away that this album is going to be good.
The Tower sees the guitars continue to snarl in a mist of reverb, creating a suitably doomy atmosphere. Around the track’s mid point the guitar part allows the band to add another facet to their sound and leads to the song’s crushing end with the drums being battered and again the vocals are blisteringly good.
A bluesier introduction adorns Lucid before it settles into another mid tempo, chugging slab of doomy rock. As the track matures, the blues feel is more prevalent as the organ adds a cold and haunting atmosphere against an increasingly heavy back drop.
Full Moon sees Kopplin  serenading your ears with a mournfully sung introduction. The guitars and drums slowly build towards the fastest paced track of the album so far. The whole track motors on and is a real neck wrecker of a track. Mescaline has a heavier harmonic feel to it, with the organ providing the mainstay of the mix. This serves as the introduction to the towering Mescaline II. The aforementioned vocals are sublime throughout and the range and delivery on Mescaline II is spine tingling. Along with a great solo to close, this is definitely one of the many highlights here.
Penultimate track, Hysteria, carries many of the same characteristics of the album and the slow, doomy chug of the guitars is one of the most Sabbath sounding moments here. Again, the organ gives a ghoulish slant to proceedings making the album an exciting and sinister listen. The End signals the album’s closure with more doom-laden worship, Mount Salem saving some of the most powerful riffs until the end to really close out the album in crushing style.
I can’t emphasise enough how wonderful the vocals are on this album. Ranging from devilish snarl to bluesy, soulful cries, it certainly helps set the album apart from your regular doom record. The guitar work is also varied throughout. Obvious influences such as Black Sabbath and Saint Vitus underpin the sound, but the skill with which the band execute their formula is excellent. This album is certainly going to be one of my highlights of the year.

WWF: We Gotta Wrestle! (Hits of The World Wrestling Federation) (1997)

Country: U.S.A
Genre: Theme Music
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© 1997 Concrete Records
*No professional reviews available for this release.

tags: wwf, we gotta wrestle, hits of the world wrestling federation, 1997, flac,

Rage Against The Machine - The Battle of Los Angeles (1999)

Country: U.S.A
Genre: Rapcore
Label Number: EK 69630

© 1999 Epic Records
AllMusic Review by John Bush
Rage Against the Machine isn't really the only metal band that matters, but their aggressive social and political activism is refreshing, especially in an age of blind (or usually self-directed) rage due to groups like Limp Bizkit, Bush, or Nine Inch Nails. Recorded in less than a month, The Battle of Los Angeles is the most focused album of the band's career, exploding from the gate and rarely letting go the whole way through. Like a few other famous revolution-in-the-head bands (most notably Minor Threat), Rage Against the Machine has always been blessed by the fact that the band is spewing just as much vitriol as its frontman. Any potential problems created here by Zack de la Rocha's one-note delivery and extremist polemics are smoothed over by songs and grooves that make it sound like the revolution really is here, from the single "Guerrilla Radio" to album highlights like "Mic Check," "Calm Like a Bomb," and "Born of a Broken Man." As on the previous two Rage Against the Machine albums, Tom Morello's roster of guitar effects and vicious riffs are nigh overpowering, and are as contagious as the band has ever been since their debut. De la Rocha is best when he has specific targets (like the government or the case against Mumia Abu Jamal), but when he attempts to cover more general societal problems, he falters. If anything less than one of the most talented and fiery bands in the music world were backing him, The Battle of Los Angeles wouldn't be nearly as high-rated as it is.

tags: rage against the machine, the battle for los angeles, 1999, flac,

January 26, 2017

Rage Against The Machine - Renegades (2000)

Country: U.S.A
Genre: Rapcore
Label Number: EK 85289

© 2000 Epic Records
AllMusic Review by John Bush
Rush released after the late-2000 split between Zack de la Rocha and the rest of Rage Against the Machine, the covers album Renegades salutes the band's musical and philosophical roots, ranging from the old-school Bronx to the hard-rockin' Motor City to protest-central Greenwich Village to gangsta-ridden L.A. As could be expected, the set works best when the group focuses on material from its most recent forebears: rappers and hardcore bands. Indeed, Renegades begins with a pair of powerful hip-hop covers -- Eric B & Rakim's "Microphone Fiend" and Volume 10's "Pistol Grip Pump" -- that spotlight Rage's immense strengths: Tom Morello's clean, heavy riffing and vocalist de la Rocha's finely tuned spray of vitriol, just this side of self-righteous. Another hip-hop blast (and the one closest to home), Cypress Hill's "How I Could Just Kill a Man," is even more devastating, an easy pick for the highlight of the album. Listeners familiar with the originals, however, may have trouble with Rage's covers of EPMD's "I'm Housin'," the Stones' "Street Fighting Man," and Dylan's "Maggie's Farm," a trio of original versions whose anger and emotion were conveyed more in the lyrics than the performances. Still, drummer Brad Wilk sets an appropriately frenetic hardcore tempo for the excellent version of Minor Threat's "In My Eyes," and de la Rocha stretches out well on the MC5's "Kick Out the Jams." With just a bare few excepions, Renegades works well, in part because Rage Against the Machine is both smart enough to change very little and talented enough to make the songs its own.

tags: rage against the machine, renegades, 2000, flac,

Rage Against The Machine - Rage Against The Machine (1992)

Country: U.S.A
Genre: Rapcore
Label Number: EK 69630

© 1992 Epic Records
AllMusic Review by Eduardo Rivadavia
Probably the first album to successfully merge the seemingly disparate sounds of rap and heavy metal, Rage Against the Machine's self-titled debut was groundbreaking enough when released in 1992, but many would argue that it has yet to be surpassed in terms of influence and sheer brilliance -- though countless bands have certainly tried. This is probably because the uniquely combustible creative relationship between guitar wizard Tom Morello and literate rebel vocalist Zack de la Rocha could only burn this bright, this once. While the former's roots in '80s heavy metal shredding gave rise to an inimitable array of six-string acrobatics and rhythmic special effects (few of which anyone else has managed to replicate), the latter delivered meaningful rhymes with an emotionally charged conviction that suburban white boys of the ensuing nu-metal generation could never hope to touch. As a result, syncopated slabs of hard rock insurrection like "Bombtrack," "Take the Power Back," and "Know Your Enemy" were as instantly unforgettable as they were astonishing. Yet even they paled in comparison to veritable clinics in the art of slowly mounting tension such as "Settle for Nothing," "Bullet in the Head," and the particularly venomous "Wake Up" (where Morello revises Led Zeppelin's "Kashmir" riff for his own needs) -- all of which finally exploded with awesome power and fury. And even listeners who were unable (or unwilling) to fully process the band's unique clash of muscle and intellect were catered to, as RATM were able to convey their messages through stubborn repetition via the fundamental challenge of "Freedom" and their signature track, "Killing in the Name," which would become a rallying cry of disenfranchisement, thanks to its relentlessly rebellious mantra of "Fuck you, I won't do what you tell me!" Ultimately, if there's any disappointment to be had with this near-perfect album, it's that it still towers above subsequent efforts as the unequivocal climax of Rage Against the Machine's vision. As such, it remains absolutely essential.

tags: rage against the machine, rage against the machine album, 1992, flac,

Rage Against The Machine - Evil Empire (1996)

Country: U.S.A
Genre: Rapcore
Label Number: EK 57523

© 1996 Epic Records
AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Rage Against the Machine spent four years making their second album, Evil Empire. As the title suggests, their rage and contempt for the "fascist" capitalist system in America hadn't declined in the nearly half-decade they were away. Their musical approach didn't change, either. Lead vocalist Zack de la Rocha is caught halfway between the militant raps of Chuck D and the fanatical ravings of a street preacher, shouting out his simplistic, libertarian slogans over the sonically dense assault of the band. Since the band didn't perform together much after 1993, there isn't a collective advance in their musicianship. Nevertheless, guitarist Tom Morello demonstrates an impressive palette of sound, creating new textures in heavy metal, which is quite difficult. Even with Morello's studied virtuosity, the band sounds leaden, lacking the dexterity to fully execute their metal/hip-hop fusion -- they don't get into a groove; they simply pound. But that happens to fit the hysterical ravings of de la Rocha. Though his dedication to decidedly left-wing politics is admirable, his arhythmic phrasing and grating shouting cancel out any message he is trying to make. And that means Evil Empire succeeds only on the level of a sonic assault.

tags: rage against the machine, evil empire, 1996, flac,

Accept - Staying a Life (1990)

*This is the U.S. single disc pressing.
Contains 15 tracks total
Country: Germany
Language: English
Genre: Heavy Metal
Label Number: EK 46944

© 1990 Epic Records
AllMusic Review by Greg Prato
Shortly after Accept's inaugural split in 1990, Epic dusted off some live tapes and issued the group's first live full-length, Staying a Life. Although not the group's first-ever live release (it was predated five years earlier by the EP Kaizoku-Ban), Staying a Life does a faithful job of capturing Accept at the peak of their arena metal powers, circa their Metal Heart era. The proof why the German band was handed opening slots on quite a few popular mid-'80s tours (Kiss, Iron Maiden, etc.) is evident throughout -- rocking versions of "Metal Heart," "Screaming for a Love Bite," "Restless and Wild," and "London Leatherboys" surely got a few mullets headbanging on this fateful night. And of course, Accept's two best-known tracks -- "Fast as a Shark" and "Balls to the Wall" -- are included, as they close out the set. They may never have reached arena headlining status Stateside, but Staying a Life proves that Accept was on equal footing with just about any metal chart-topper from around this time -- especially when it came to the concert stage.

tags: accept, staying a life, 1990, flac,

January 25, 2017

Sugar Ray - Lemonade & Brownies (1995)

Country: U.S.A
Genre: Alternative Rock, Nü-Metal
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© 1995 Atlantic Records
AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Sugar Ray's major-label debut is a competent set of alternative funk/metal, though nothing on Lemonade & Brownies is particularly distinctive.

tags: sugar ray, lemonade and brownies, 1995, flac,

January 24, 2017

112 - Part III (2001) ☠

Country: U.S.A.
Genre: R&B
Label Number: 78612-73039-2

© 2001 Bad Boy Entertainment
AllMusic Review by Jose F. Promis
112 have proven themselves as one of the most successful and enduring acts to emerge from the 1990s urban music explosion, and continue to prove their longevity on their third set, Part III. Their second album, Room 112, despite the hits "Love Me" and "Anywhere," failed to hint at any artistic progress for the group, but the third effort is a different story. A lot of the sappy ballads that impaired their previous outings are abandoned in favor of edgier, techno-flavored jams, resulting in a more modern and forward-sounding effort. The album's first single, "It's Over Now," is an aching slice of melodrama that proved to be the group's biggest hit to date, and one of the best singles of the year. Other cuts on the album pick up where that one left off, utilizing cutting beats and electronic sounds, such as the album's dance-flavored opener "Dance With Me," the second single "Peaches & Cream," and "All I Want Is You," which is augmented with rock guitars to fine effect. And as always, the group's vocals are nothing short of stellar. Despite some clichéd lyrics (case in point -- "Don't Hate Me") and sagging ballads toward the middle of the album (although the ballad "Missing You" is a well-crafted slice of true soul), this set is definitely a step in the right direction for a hard-working group one can happily classify as having evolved.

tags: 112, part 3, iii, 2001, flac,

January 19, 2017

HIM - Razorblade Romance (2000 Limited Edition)

*Reissued in 2000 by Supersonic/BMG/Terrier
Contains 2 bonus tracks.
Country: Finland
Language: English
Genre: Gothic Rock
Label Number: 74321 72821 2; SUPERSONIC 046

© 1999-2000 Supersonic/BMG/Terrier Records
AllMusic Review by Antti J. Ravelin
Even though H.I.M.'s main goal seems to be gaining attention from a female audience, Greatest Lovesongs sure was artistically a success. The contrast between Razorblade Romance and the debut, however, is quite large. Melancholy and angst seem a little artificial, while Greatest Lovesongs had a truly pressuring atmosphere all the time. Razorblade Romance forgets all about that, and the whole concept of gothic rock and so-called love metal repeats itself many times during the album. But the songs themselves are actually very good; when ignoring the implementation, hit songs like "Join Me in Death" and "Right Here in My Arms" work really nicely. And horrendous clichés in lyrics and playing don't really matter, because H.I.M. recycles them well. The slightly over-produced sound may distract for a while, but after all, the song material is of a kind that is hard to fit into a demanding format. Anyhow, the songs as a whole are organized well, and it's easy to listen the album the whole way through.

tags: him, h.i.m.,razorblade romance, limited edition, 1999, flac,

Crazy Town - The Brimstone Sluggers (2015)

Country: U.S.A
Genre: Electronic, Hip-Hop
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© 2015 Membran
AllMusic Review by James Christopher Monger
The first collection of new music from the rap-rock/nu-metal crew in over a decade, The Brimstone Sluggers finds Crazy Town returning to their roots and dialing back the guitars in favor of a more alternative hip-hop approach. The years between 2015's The Brimstone Sluggers (the title is a nod to the group's original moniker) and 2002's Darkhorse haven't exactly been kind to the band, with their 2003 breakup and the death of DJ AM (2009), along with co-founder Seth "Shifty Shellshock" Binzer's well-documented battles with substance abuse, contributing to their shrinking musical footprint. At the very least, the 13-track LP stays true to the band's penchant for doling out brash, trope-heavy party-rap with hooks and Auto-Tune galore, and there's an expected yet refreshing current of self-reflection that permeates much of the album (something that could never have happened in 1999), especially on standout cuts like "A Little More Time," "Backpack," and "Born to Raise Hell." However, 13 years is a long time, and the genre which the band helped spawn has hardly aged into favor. There's a bit more grit, and a tad more grime, but The Brimstone Sluggers is mostly a nostalgia trip with little to entice new listeners.

January 14, 2017

Sting - If On a Winter's Night... (2009)

Country: United Kingdom
Genre: Pop Rock, Classical
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© 2009 Deutsche Grammophon
AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine
It's no secret that Sting is a serious man, so it's only logical that his holiday album -- his first new music since the Police reunion, not that it really matters -- is a serious endeavor, thank you. No niceties for him, no comforts of carols; he favors formal over familiar, writing madrigals, not ditties. It is music made by someone who lives in a castle, which isn't necessarily such a bad thing: the austerity is genuine, not affected, and the cerebral nature of the album is fascinating, albeit mildly so, as this is as sleepy as it is thoughtful. And it's that thoughtfulness that does distinguish If on a Winter's Night...; no other Christmas album exists in the head like this. It's a holiday album for people who have never wanted to hear a holiday album, let alone own one.

tags: sting, if on a winters night, 2009, flac,

January 11, 2017

Sting - Sacred Love (2003)

Country: United Kingdom
Genre: Pop Rock
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© 2003 A&M Records
AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Sting scored a moderate comeback success greater than most had imagined possible with 1999's Brand New Day, reestablishing himself as a viable commercial artist instead of merely settling for "living legend" status. Part of this success was due to "Desert Rose," featuring vocalist Farhat Bouallagui's careening cadences that garnered attention, particularly when they were showcased in a car commercial that kicked the album into high commercial gear. Sting picks up on this, adding three guest vocalists to the ten-track Sacred Love album (the 11th track is a remix of the lead single, "Send Your Love" -- which happens to be better, since it eliminates the rather annoying Indian-styled hook) -- Vicente Amigo and Anoushka Shankar are paired with Mary J. Blige, who in this context is presented as a world music artist. None of the guests makes much of an impression here, but neither does Sting, since this is an album that puts sound over song or performance. Sacred Love is to Brand New Day what Mercury Falling was to Ten Summoner's Tales -- a fussy, overworked stab at maturity, one that has impeccable craft but is obscured by its own meticulousness. It is professional to a fault, using its maturity and preciseness to obscure the fact that the songs don't really work. Sting isn't always hemmed-in, even ending "Inside" with a hysterical rant that makes him seem like a madman, but it has the effect of making the rest of the album seeming too deliberate and far from adventurous. It's far from a bad listen, nor is it embarrassing, but it's entirely too predictable, coming across as nothing more than well-tailored, expensive mood music, which is certainly far less than what Sacred Love could have been.

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Sting - Brand New Day (1999)

Country: United Kingdom
Genre: Pop Rock
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© 1999 A&M Records
AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine
By the late '90s, Sting had reached a point where he didn't have to prove his worth every time out; he had so ingrained himself in pop culture, he really had the freedom to do whatever he wanted. He had that attitude on Mercury Falling, but it was too somber and serious, everything that its successor, Brand New Day, is not. Light, even effervescent, Brand New Day feels like little else in Sting's catalog. Not that it represents a new beginning, contrary to what the title may promise. The album is not only firmly within his tradition, it sounds out of time -- it's odd how close Brand New Day comes to feeling like a sequel to Nothing Like the Sun. Musically, that is. The sparkling, meticulous production and the very tone of the music -- ranging from light funk to mellow ballads to the Lyle Lovett tribute "Fill Her Up" -- are of a piece with Sting's late-'80s work. That's the main thing separating it from Ten Summoner's Tales, his other straight pop album -- well, that, and the levity. There are no overarching themes, no political messages on Brand New Day -- only love songs, story songs, and, for lack of a better term, inspirational exhortations. This is all a good thing, since by keeping things light he's managed to craft an appealing, engaging record. It may not ask as much from its audience as Sting's other '90s efforts, but it's immediately enjoyable, which isn't the case for its cousins. Brand New Day doesn't boast any new classics, and it does sound a little dated, but it's well-crafted, melodic, and has a good sense of humor -- exactly the kind of record Sting should be making as he embarks on the third decade of his career.

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Sting - The Dream of The Blue Turtles (1985)

Country: United Kingdom
Genre: Pop Rock
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© 1985 A&M Records
AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine
The Police never really broke up, they just stopped working together -- largely because they just couldn't stand playing together anymore and partially because Sting was itching to establish himself as a serious musician/songwriter on his own terms. Anxious to shed the mantle of pop star, he camped out at Eddy Grant's studio, picked up the guitar, and raided Wynton Marsalis' band for his new combo -- thereby instantly consigning his solo debut, The Dream of the Blue Turtles, to the critical shorthand of Sting's jazz record. Which is partially true (that's probably the best name for the meandering instrumental title track), but that gives the impression that this is really risky music, when he did, after all, rely on musicians who, at that stage, were revivalists just developing their own style, and then had them jam on mock-jazz grooves -- or, in the case of Branford Marsalis, layer soprano sax lines on top of pop songs. This, however, is just the beginning of the pretensions layered throughout The Dream of the Blue Turtles. Only twice does he delve into straightforward love songs -- the lovely measured "Consider Me Gone" and the mournful closer, "Fortress Around Your Heart" -- preferring to consider love in the abstract ("If You Love Somebody Set Them Free," one of his greatest solo singles, and the childish, faux-reggae singalong "Love Is the Seventh Wave"), write about children in war and in coal mines, revive a Police tune about heroin, ponder whether "Russians love their children too," and wander the streets of New Orleans as the vampire Lestat. This is a serious-minded album, but it's undercut by its very approach -- the glossy fusion that coats the entire album, the occasional grabs at worldbeat, and studious lyrics seem less pretentious largely because they're overshadowed by such bewilderingly showy moves as adapting Prokofiev for "Russians" and calling upon Anne Rice for inspiration. And that's the problem with the record: with every measure, every verse, Sting cries out for the respect of a composer, not a pop star, and it gets to be a little overwhelming when taken as a whole. As a handful of individual cuts -- "Fortress," "Consider Me Gone," "If You Love Somebody," "Children's Crusade" -- he proves that he's subtler and craftier than his peers, but only when he reins in his desire to show the class how much he's learned.

 tags: sting, the dream of the blue turtles, 1985, flac,

Sting - The Soul Cages (1991)

Country: United Kingdom
Genre: Pop Rock
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© 1991 A&M Records
AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Emboldened by the enthusiastic response to the muted Nothing Like the Sun and reeling from the loss of his parents, Sting constructed The Soul Cages as a hushed mediation on mortality, loss, grief, and father/son relationships (the album is dedicated, in part, to his father; its predecessor was dedicated to his mother). Using the same basic band as Nothing Like the Sun, the album has the same supple, luxurious tone, stretching out leisurely over nine tracks, almost all of them layered mid-tempo tunes (the exception being grinding guitars of the title track). Within this setting, Sting hits a few remarkable peaks, such as the elegant waltz "Mad About You" and "All This Time," a deceptively skipping pop tune that hides a moving tribute to his father. If the entirety of The Soul Cages was as nimbly melodic and urgently emotional as these two cuts, it would have been a quiet masterpiece. Instead, it turns inward -- not just lyrically, but musically -- and plays as a diary entry, perhaps interesting to those willing to spend hours immersing themselves within Sting's loss, finding parallels within their own life. This may be too much effort for anyone outside of the devoted, since apart from those two singles (and perhaps "Why Should I Cry for You"), there are few entry points into The Soul Cages -- and, once you get in there, it only rewards if your emotional state mirrors Sting's.

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Sting - Ten Summoner's Tales (1993) ☠

Country: United Kingdom
Genre: Pop Rock
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© 1993 A&M Records
AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine
After two albums of muted, mature jazz-inflected pop, the last being an explicit album about death, Sting created his first apologetically pop album since the Police with Ten Summoner's Tales. The title, a rather awkward pun on his given last name, is significant, since it emphasizes that this album is a collection of songs, without any musical conceits or lyrical concepts tying it together. And, frankly, that's a bit of a relief after the oppressively somber The Soul Cages and the hushed though lovely, Nothing Like the Sun. Sting even loosens up enough to crack jokes, both clever (the winking litany of celebrity pains of "Epilogue [Nothing 'Bout Me]") and condescending (the sneeringly catchy cowboy tale "Love Is Stronger Than Justice [The Munificent Seven]"), and the result is his best solo record. In places, it's easily as pretentious as his earlier work, but that's undercut by writing that hasn't been this sharp and melodic since the Police, plus his most varied set of songs since Synchronicity. True, there isn't a preponderance of flat-out classics -- only the surging opener "If I Ever Lose My Faith in You," the understated swing of "It's Probably Me," and the peaceful ballad "Fields of Gold" rank as classics -- but, as an album, Ten Summoner's Tales is more consistently satisfying than anything else in his catalog.

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Sting - ...Nothing Like The Sun (1987)

Country: United Kingdom
Genre: Pop Rock
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© 1987 A&M Records
AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine
If Dream of the Blue Turtles was an unabashedly pretentious affair, it looks positively lighthearted in comparison to Sting's sophomore effort, Nothing Like the Sun, one of the most doggedly serious pop albums ever recorded. This is an album where the only up-tempo track, the only trifle -- the cheerfully stiff white-funk "We'll Be Together" -- was added at the insistence of the label because they believed there wasn't a cut on the record that could be pulled as a single, one that would break down the doors to mainstream radio. And they were right, since everything else here is too measured, calm, and deliberately subtle to be immediate (including the intentional throwaway, "Rock Steady"). So, why is it a better album than its predecessor? Because Sting doesn't seem to be trying so hard. It flows naturally, largely because this isn't trying to explicitly be a jazz-rock record (thank the presence of a new rhythm section of Sting and drummer Manu Katche for that) and because the melodies are insinuating, slowly working their way into memory, while the entire record plays like a mood piece -- playing equally well as background music or as intensive, serious listening. Sting's words can still grate -- the stifling pompousness of "History Will Teach Us Nothing" the clearest example, yet calls of "Hey Mr. Pinochet" also strike an uneasy chord -- but his lyricism shines on "The Lazarus Heart," "Be Still My Beating Heart," "They Dance Alone," and "Fragile," a quartet of his very finest songs. If Nothing Like the Sun runs a little too long, with only his Gil Evans-assisted cover of "Little Wing" standing out in the final quarter, it still maintains its tone until the end and, since it's buoyed by those previously mentioned stunners, it's one of his better albums.

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Sting - Mercury Falling (1996)

Country: United Kingdom
Genre: Pop Rock, Country Rock
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© 1996 A&M Records
AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Falling somewhere between the pop sensibilities of Ten Summoner's Tales and the searching ambition of The Soul Cages, Mercury Falling is one of Sting's tighter records, even if it fails to compel as much as his previous solo albums. Though he doesn't flaunt his jazz aspirations as he did in the mid-'80s, Mercury Falling feels more serious than The Dream of the Blue Turtles, primarily because of its reserved, high-class production and execution. Building from surprisingly simple, memorable melodies, Sting creates multi-layered, vaguely soul-influenced arrangements that carry all of the hallmarks of someone who has studied music, not lived it. Of course, there are many pleasures in the record -- for all of his pretensions, Sting remains an engaging melodicist, as well as a clever lyricist. There just happens to be a distinct lack of energy, stemming from the suffocating layers of synthesizers. Mercury Falling is a record of modest pleasures; it's just not an infectious, compulsive listen.

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January 10, 2017

Unisonic - Light of Dawn (Limited Edition) (2014)

*European limited edition box set. Contains "The Early Days Demo C.D." as a bonus disc and 1 bonus track. Both are exclusive to this release.

Country: Germany
Language: English
Genre:  Power Metal, Heavy Metal
In 2012 the German Power Metal band UNISONIC released their debut album "Unisonic”, featuring ex-Helloween Legends Michael Kiske and Kai Hansen. Naturally with this being the first studio album since "Keeper of the Seven Keys Part 2" that they had collaborated on, expectations were high. Upon the album’s release it was apparent that this was a very different band, which to me, was unsure of its musical identity and which was still very much under construction. "Light of Dawn" however is the album which 2012's "Unisonic" failed to deliver. Here stands a Power Metal band confident with whom they are. Right from the beginning, with its majestic and atmospheric introduction, "Veinte 2.0" cascades flawlessly into furious, yet melodically precise guitar riffs complimented by the unmistakable soaring voice of Michael Kiske; a voice which sounds remarkably untouched by time. Songs such as "Exceptional" and "For the Kingdom" lyrically enforce Kiskes’ intensions of creating Metal music with a positive and uplifting message, providing some genuinely catchy and enjoyable choruses. "For the Kingdom", in particular, boasts a Thrashy, Speed Metal riff and one hell of a punchy chorus. The album continues to impress with enjoyable mid tempo songs such as "Not Gonna Take it No More" which performed by any other band would feel camp and cheesy but from UNISONIC, feels quite earnest. The track "Night of the Long Knives" is a shockingly, dark song for UNISONIC dealing with a particularly horrific period of German history (Nazism in particular). The track begins with a melancholy introduction with Kiskes’ vocals taking a more sombre tone, eventually picking up into a poignant and interesting metal track. The rest of the album continues with the uplifting tone with very few surprises or deviations. The album has some moments of exceptional beauty and awe, the guitar styles of both Kai Hansen and Mandy Meyer complimenting each other perfectly, the perfect blend of fast, chunky metal riffing and elegant classical melody presents a perfect merging of talents into an uplifting and memorable album performed by true giants of the genre.

January 08, 2017

Wolf Hoffman - Headbangers Symphony (Limited Edition) (2016)

Country: Germany
Genre: Neoclassical Metal
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© 2016 Nuclear Blast Records
Review by Roshan Machayya for Metalwani.com
Wolf Hoffmann is back with his second solo offering many years after his first solo record ‘Classical’. And much like the first, he tries to explore the idea of classical arrangements interpreted as metal. It is hard to comprehend such an idea. Not too long ago, Florian Magnus Maier (Non Euclid, Alkaloid, and the Hungry Gods) pointed out that metal and classical have a lot in common in regard to poly-rhythms, poly-tonality and virtuosity. He added that the difference between genres is a matter of instrumentation and that metal is a lot more flexible than say, pop music for example. It sounds great on paper. Nobody also mentioned that it takes a genius like Maier to pull this off with his music. Then what about Hoffmann’s newest endeavor into a world where metal and classical sound great as a marriage between the two. EnterHeadbangers Symphony– a brave album by Hoffmann that is a result of his passion for metal and classical music. Wolf Hoffmann is best known for his lifelong work with Accept.
There was a lot to be excited about this album. The guitar goodness of Hoffmann combined with classical sounded like a great deal. Well, it is a great deal! Yet, stepping into the realm of classical with metal is still a scary idea. This meant that I could not review this record as I would normally do so with others. There really isn’t a case of what might make a better song in a record than the others where anything to do with classical in involved. In this case, it is a hit or a miss. Personally, that finally depends on the listener. Let me present my case from different perspectives in order to present a broad understanding of this fine record. Even if you really aren’t deep into classical and you are more of a casual listener, there are some arrangements that you would have heard somewhere. Some of these include “Night on Bald Mountain” by Mussorgsky, “Symphony No. 40” by Mozart and masterpieces like Tchaikovsky’s ”Swan Lake” and Beethoven’s “Meditation” from the opera ‘Thais’ by composer Jules Massenet and “Madame Butterfly”. The record opens up with Beethoven’s 9th symphony “Scherzo”. This one resembles the opening riff from Accept’s track “Teutonic Terror”.  As a casual listener, you will definitely feel like you’ve heard all of this somewhere and it all comes back to you. You would love this record. You would enjoy the textures in the music. It is definitely a headbanger’s delight all the way. Full review here

tags: wolf hoffman, headbangers symphony, limited edition, 2016,

Accept - Russian Roulette (1985)

*European first pressing on CD. 
Contains  10 tracks total.
Country: Germany
Language: English
Genre: Heavy Metal
Label Number: PD 70972
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© 1986 Portrait Records
AllMusic Review by Eduardo Rivadavia
By the time they reconvened to record 1986's Russian Roulette, creative differences were beginning to tear German metal stars Accept apart at the seams. While guitarist Wolf Hoffman wanted to continue pursuing the commercial metal formula first explored with the previous year's Metal Heart, vocalist Udo Dirkschneider defended a return to the harder-edged approach that had characterized the band's uncompromising breakout releases Restless and Wild and Balls to the Wall. Their fourth album in as many years, Russian Roulette also found the once-unstoppable quintet physically exhausted and creatively tapped out, and the inevitable result was a disappointing and unfocused album. Its first few songs (including the all-out thrash of "T.V. War" and the chugging riff and gang choruses of "Monster Man") are promising enough, but the more melodic experiments that follow ("It's Hard to Find a Way," the God-awful "Man Enough to Cry") sound terribly forced and contrived. At over seven minutes, the incredibly grim anti-religion diatribe "Heaven Is Hell" might have been an epic in the classic Accept tradition were it not such a shameless remake of their 1984 smash "Balls to the Wall." In fact, any tricks they forgot to repeat here are used instead in the similarly derivative title track -- simply mind-boggling. The pounding intensity of "Aiming High" and the familiarly chugging riffery of "Another Second to Be" offer the disc's last real bright spots, and with unsatisfying filler like "Walking in the Shadow" and "Stand Tight" rounding out the set, Accept failed to win any new fans here, or retain many old ones either.

tags: accept, russian roulette, 1985, flac,

Accept - Objection Overruled (1993)

Country: Germany
Language: English
Genre: Heavy Metal
Label Number: CMC 6203

© 1993 CMC International Records
AllMusic Review by Jason Anderson
As various versions of Accept had been only sporadically recording mostly subpar material throughout the late '80s and early '90s, 1993's Objection Overruled -- featuring an essential lineup and a sound quite reminiscent of the group's most popular releases -- is generally considered a strong comeback effort. Udo Dirkschneider's return to the studio with essential members Wolf Hoffmann (guitars), Peter Baltes (bass), and drummer Stefan Kaufmann was indeed cause for excitement among the band's worldwide audience, as it had been seven years since a lineup of this kind of legitimacy had produced a new disc. From the cover art to an almost identical sound and musical structure (most apparent in the opening guitar and drum strains of "I Don't Wanna Be Like You"), some not-so-subtle echoes of Balls to the Wall permeate Objection Overruled. Highlights include all of the record's faster material. Songs like the title track and "Sick, Dirty and Mean" seem to suit Dirkschneider's beyond-human vocals and Hoffmann's equally blistering guitar tone much better than the mid-tempo and balladic numbers. Far from being a total success, Objection Overruled should interest longtime fans of Accept, but neophytes are highly encouraged to seek out much earlier recordings, specifically the four discs released between 1980 and 1984.

Accept - Death Row (1994)

*U.S. first pressing. 
Contains 15 tracks total.
Country: Germany
Language: English
Genre: Heavy Metal
Label Number: 72445-15006-2

© 1994-1995 Pavement Music
AllMusic Review by Jason Anderson
1995's Death Row is the well-intended, but somewhat flat follow-up to the marginally successful Accept comeback release, Objection Overruled. The group wisely attempted to make a more consistently heavy recording and practically eliminated the mellower dynamics that limited their previous offering. While opting for a more singularly heavy approach was a good decision, the choice of drummer Stefan Kaufmann to produce the record left things sounding a little weak when compared to Objection Overruled (produced by the legendary Dieter Dierks). While the performances are lively, Kaufmann's mixes lack presence, and the band ends up sounding clear, but nondescript. Wolf Hoffman's guitars and Udo Dirkschneider's screams don't grate and churn the way they must in order to capture the particular magic that is Accept's official sonic stamp. As a result, it's difficult to pick standout cuts from Death Row as the material just wasn't done justice in the studio. Perhaps the group wasn't afforded the budget necessary to finish anything more than just a competent recording, but that's what the band, and especially their fans, deserve.