Thursday, April 10, 2014
KXM is the best album of the year so far. If you like top-shelf hard rock, go buy it. Trust me.
KXM is a supergroup of musicians that, whilst great talents, aren't exactly household names. Guitarist George Lynch almost played for Ozzy Osborne but got beaten to it by some guy called Randy Rhoads, and ended up with Dokken and Lynch Mob, amongst other things. Bassist/singer dUg Pinnick (his spelling, not mine) made his name with King's X, a band who have garnered a cult following over the past 25+ years. Drummer Ray Luzier is the only member I'm familiar with, from his work on the Army of Anyone album with the deLeo brothers from Stone Temple Pilots and Richard Patrick from Filter. He's probably better known for his work with David Lee Roth, and as Korn's current drummer.
So yeah, supergroup, you know the drill, this could go either way. Either their powers combine to produce something awesome, or their egos collide to produce something terrible.
The good news is that KXM is most definitely the former. This is a stonkingly good hard rock record.
There's so much to like about this album, and so much of that is to do with the fact that it comes from three talented guys who have played a lot of music, with a lot of acts, and have clearly learnt a few things in the process.
Opening track Stars is a prime example. It starts with tribal drums from Luzier, a tightly wound riff that Lynch accentuates just a little bit at the right moments, and you think it's going to be a heavy, dense, bleak opener. All of sudden, the mood changes to optimism for the chorus, led by Pinnick's vocals, like a ray of light breaking through on a cloudy day. It's a pretty major dynamic shift, but it flows perfectly because these guys know just how to play it, to make it work.
Another example is some of the phenomenal riffs on this record. In part, that's because they are actually obscenely good riffs, but it's also because KXM know not to overplay them in the song - using them just the right amount, at just the right points to really maximise their impact. Case in point, Human Friction. The first 50 seconds is atmospheric, but slowly swells to the point where you know something big is going to happen, and then BAM! The payoff riff hits you and it is glorious. A couple of spins, and it's into the verse, but you know it's coming back, you're waiting for it - and BAM! There it is again. A triumph of timing and tact.
Speaking of tact, Ray Luzier's playing is just outstanding on this record. It's easy to sit back and appreciate the sheer drive he provides, but listening closely provides an experience in itself, especially on the (brilliant) closing instrumental Tranquilize. So many great fills and clever details lurking there to be discovered - but they're never in your face, never overshadowing the song or the other players.
Actually, that's perhaps what shines most brightly about this album - the balance between guitar, bass, vocals and drums is just so tight. There's a sense of unity, of everything working together, throughout the record - you can go listening for individual instruments in the mix if you want, or you can just sit back and let the whole glorious wall of rhythm, melodies and counter-melodies wash over you. This could only be the work of three talented guys who are all very much on the same page (and probably a decent producer too).
Clearly the musicianship is great but, crucially, so are the songs. There's a good balance (there's that word again) of upbeat numbers and mid-tempo grooves, broken up by a couple of slower, more reflective numbers - the acoustic ballad Never Stop and the very lyrically-pointed Sleep.
My personal favourites include the pacy, harmony-laden I'll Be OK (which features a great solo from Lynch), single Rescue Me, the dynamic shifts and clever interplay of Do It Now, the intensely groovy Human Friction and the stomping, catchy Faith is a Room, which basically showcases everything I've said about this album in one particularly excellent track.
But having said that, this is an album with no filler tracks - it's an end-to-end listen. Like I said at the start, if you're a fan of really well-written, well-played hard rock, trust me and just go buy it.
There's a certain cross-section of metal fans that seem to insist on criticising bands like Hellyeah and Five Finger Death Punch for being too 'simple'. I honestly don't understand this. As much as I enjoy listening to bands like Deftones and Mastodon that really push the boundaries and head off in all sorts of creative directions, there's also a time and place for bands that deliver the tried and true combination of kick-ass riffs and catchy, relatable lyrics.
Adrenaline Mob's newest album has also copped a bit of criticism in some quarters for this. I find this somewhat hilarious for two reasons. Firstly, no-one criticises Fu Manchu, AC/DC or Motorhead for the same thing and they've been doing it for 20, 30, 40 plus years! Secondly, Adrenaline Mob's past and present line-up includes a number of guys who continue to be hugely influential, creative forces within the rock and metal genres. Singer Russel Allen's "other" band, Symphony X, have produced some progressive masterpieces, most recently the insanely good Iconoclast (2011). Guitarist Mike Orlando has worked with the likes of Zakk Wylde and Bumblefoot. Former drummer Mike Portnoy basically defined the progressive metal genre in his time with Dream Theater and only left the band because of the sheer volume of other things he's involved in, most notably the Winery Dogs who delivered a great debut album last year.
Long story short, these guys have earned the right to just write some kick-ass, fun rock songs and more power to them. Men of Honor follows in the footsteps of debut album Omerta by taking the hard, direct approach to things.
The Mob Is Back kicks off with a big intro duel between Orlando and drummer AJ Pero (ex-Twisted Sister) before locking into a massively groovy main riff which really sets the tone for the whole album. The Mob is indeed back, and they will kick your ass. Come On Get Up is next, and features an even bigger hook - it's raw, direct and a lot of fun.
Dearly Departed sees Russel Allen really come to the fore, leading a big crescendo through the verses. There's an almost melancholic feel to this track and it's a good counterpoint to the groove metal of the first two tracks. It's followed by Behind These Eyes, a decent reinvention of the 'power ballad' which has fallen on hard times in recent years and which no doubt drew on Pero's considerable experience of the genre.
Let It Go is a fairly pissed-off sounding piece of groove metal, while Feel the Adrenaline continues that great metal tradition started by Megadeth on 1320' of writing appropriately full-throttle songs about drag-racing.
After the melodic heaviness of the title track (with a great solo from Mike Orlando), the acoustically-led Crystal Clear is a welcome breather before another brutal 1-2 punch in the form of House of Lies and Judgment Day.
Falling to Pieces is one of the album's most distinctive tracks. The combination of a down-tuned acoustic rhythm guitar and an electric guitar for lead and texture is a head-nod to Alice in Chains, and despite building to some big moments, the maintains that easy acoustic groove throughout. Then the record closes with Gets You Through the Night, a straight-ahead rocker anchored around yet another solid guitar hook.
Overall, Men of Honor might not be pushing the boundaries of metal, but sometimes, all you need is a good riff - and they sure do come thick and fast on this album. Uncomplicated, kick-ass, full-throttle hard rock.
Primal Fear are a German metal act that have been around since the late 90's, about whom I knew absolutely nothing until I read a review of their latest record, Delivering the Black, in Metal Hammer a month or so ago. My interest suitably piqued, I decided to check the album out.
The first couple of tracks certainly justified that decision. Opener King for A Day chugs along with a chunky main riff before breaking into a nice solo section. It's followed up with Rebel Faction, which kicks the tempo up and shows a significant thrash influence.
The rest of the album doesn't hold to quite the same standard. There's a couple of mid-tempo tracks (When Death Comes Knocking, Born With a Broken Heart) which have some nice atmospherics but for the most part drag a bit, although the equally mid-tempo Alive and On Fire is a decent hard rock number with shades of AC/DC.
Although there are one or two slightly throwaway tracks like Never Pray for Justice, there's a lot to like about faster numbers like Delivering the Black and Inseminoid and the 9-minute plus epic One Night In December, all of which show just the right amount of power metal influence without overcooking it and also showcase some nice dual guitar moments.
For metal fans, there's certainly some tracks on here worth tracking out, but as an end-to-end album it's probably not gonna hold your attention on repeat listens.