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Reviews

To the reviews index
JAMES WILLIAMS -
Eclectic Shred
James Williams 2012

The title says it all - and nothing. A speedy study in virtuoso grandiosity without much of a heroic pose in sight.

When Don Williams presented "Tulsa Time" for the world to embrace, he might as well be singing about his Oklahoman namesake James who is making giant steps towards the fame and glory. Yet the Yellow Brick Road on the cover of the guitarist's second solo album - its 2011's predecessor, "The Epiphany", was out under the X OPUS band bill - is misleading in its DIY layout, as is the "shred" part. Yes, he plays everything himself for the most part and casts rhythm section in the supporting niche, and yes, there's a lot of blistering technique on display, but rather than engaging of a notes-per-second competition, all of it serves a general composition purpose, the one of WWII tragedy.

The solemn metal wave cuts in with the stereo panning in "B17 Flying Fortress" and reaches dramatic peak on the choral tide of "Auschwitz" and the orchestral surge of "Unborn Massacre". But for all the instrumental brilliance mixed with classical influences, "Dropa Stones" - which, together with the well-streamlined title track, features the bass of SYMPHONY X's Mike LePond and a keyboard solo by Yngwie Malmsteen's acolyte Matt Guillroy - possesses a right dose of rocking roughness to fathom the emotional depth. And when the momentum is gained, the acoustic lace of guitar set against the piano in "Maxwell's Castle" hits hard, straight through the heart, and laps into "Europa" where the folk choir and Eastern motifs evoke the culture swept away by the war fire. So there's only closer "Journey to Andromeda", spanning from heavy prog rock to web-light fusion, to justify superficially the titular diversity. Hail to the master, then.

****3/4
SPEAKING TO STONES -
Elements
Lion Music 2012

Epic and strong as the forces of nature themselves, but never monolithic, the international collective's second offering marries the mundane to celestial.

If this band's self-titled debut looked like a regular prog metal opus, its follow-up that appears six years later and took three years to create comes up on the scale dictated by its title - looming large. Yet there are five grand pieces, where the obvious four make room for enigmatic "Quinta Essentia", which is, indeed, essential for understanding of the contrast whole. Starting with "Fire", Tony M. Vinci's rifferama rage underscores Anthony Brown's keyboard passages while Andy Engberg splits his voice into the molten lead and choirs to conjure up romantic anger of cinematic flames, as Greg Putnam's Chapman stick adds fuel to it all.

The basses drive the drift of "Wind" with its faux orchestra and panoramic scope taking in both classical piano and cosmic synthesizers before acoustic strum is wrapped around gentle electronica underneath the vocals, and though sharp attack rules the game in "Water", its lyrical charm is irresistible. And still, it's "Earth" which mixes heavy rumble with world music strains, including sitar jive, and takes its beating heart beyond the predictable and into spiritual sun. That's when "Quinta Essentia" spreads its wings to revisit the already familiar themes and infuse them with power. Here, another dimension to the band is revealed, and on their next album this alchemy should produce something special. Just not yet.

***
KIDS IN GLASS HOUSES -
Secret Santa
Transmission 2012

The Cardiff elves get in the spirit of things to rock 'n' rollick and merrily frolic.

A Yuletide single is quite an icebreaker, for people are never more conservative than at Christmas time. So, as tradition dictates listening to a time-tested string of pop carols, it takes some frost-bitten cheek to try and add your own song to that acclaimed hall. But, marking their first decade on Earth with a new single, this band make a bold statement - cowbell-enhanced and catchy as confetti. While rooted in reality - it mentions Black Friday and cubicles - "Secret Santa" chops its way into the listener's soul in the glam way, and rhythm section provide a lot of space for tune-twiddling, chorus-joining and booty-shaking. Plus a sprinkle of countermelody to up the level of joy and adventure. That's the spirit and the mood! A quality addition to one's annual, or perennial, playlist.

****2/3
DIRTY PASSION -
In Wonderland
Denomination 2012

Off with their heads! The Malmo crew throw a party and get away with murdering the time.

In recent times, when a band have a "dirty" word in their name, the name of their game more often than not is glam, and this four guys aren't an exclusion, although one can't tell it from the quartet's sophomore album's auspicious beginning. Right off the bat, "Into The Wild" kicks in the purest heavy metal adrenalin - sharp riffs, big choruses, whatnot, hitting the heights with "Light Of The Candle" - yet slowly but surely the weight gets lighter and the sleazy grins brighter. And here's the problem looms large of songs such as "Lovers Lane" being as generic as their titles, although it doesn't chip away at their catchy sway.

Thankfully, Christopher Olsson's guitars keep the rock 'n' roll spirit high and Bjorn Wilander's bass provides a good groove all the way through, most fiercely on "Daughter Of The Reaper" and "Sinner" that Markus Winberg enhances with a solo drum spot, while new singer Kriss Lohikoski Svensson is as expressive here as in power ballads "Addicted" and "Make It Last". And then there's "Shadowland", strong and serious, blowing the glitter off and connecting to the album's very title. If that's the direction to go further, wonders will reveal themselves rather soon.

***2/3
RYAN BOSS -
Better Off Alone
Ryan Boss 2012

Acoustic troubadour from Georgia lays it on the rock line with a twist and a twang.

Lately, a cool cat with a guitar in his hand more often than not sends a note to the dixie pixie field which has become so crowded one finds it hard to stand out from the nu-folk breed. Boss's different, though, as he clearly states in his debut's title cut, and while the piece is traditionally plaintive the message gets deep thanks to its bluesy inflections. And here comes the sweet contrast between the 23-year-old's unplugged disposition and the inherent electricity of his songs that wrap harsh reality - there's a dark undercurrent throughout the album - with rock hooks. That's how sharp it starts and ends, with a memorable warning of "It Must Be Dangerous" and no less searing kitchen-sink of "Running In Place", so when the lad sings of being up to no good and high of cocaine, one can help but feel he's been there and done that.

But the very same barebone approach turns into hard-hitting magic once it's applied to the matters of the heart, as in the catchy "When She's Around" or "State Line", where Boss pours his emotions out in the way many an older men would struggle with. In other places, still, this honesty may jar with a melodic repetitiveness, like in "Unbound", which is saved by an occasional guitar curlicue, yet "Memory Lane" and desperate "I'm Sorry, Girl" drink from the ancient well to pulls the listener in and never let go. Ragged and warm at the same time, Ryan's voice makes everything homely, and for all his lonesome stance one might actually wish to share space with Boss.

****
STRING DRIVEN THING -
Live On The Foxtrot Tour
Ozit 2012

An amazing document of a long-gone era when magic was palpable from the venerable Scottish folkers.

Back in 1973, a concert recording wasn't that cheap to preserve a support artist's set for posterity but, as SDT were stealing the air from headliners GENESIS almost every night - and eventually got booted off the trek - someone at Manchester Free Trade Hall wisely decided to run the tape. The result, on its 2012 release, was stunning enough for the band to reform and mark the 40th anniversary of their signing to Charisma and of their debut on the label whence all bar one of these songs come.

There's a wonder and tension in the masterful build-up from the humble, if intense, bluesy shimmer of "Let Me Down", where Grahame Smith's acidic violin cuts through Chris Adams' strum to spice up his and Pauline Adams' frenetic singing, to epic, mesmerizing, "Csardas"-embroidered tapestry of grand finale, "Jack Diamond". On the way, the group's biggest hit, "Circus", outgrows its studio version to create a genuine traveling show atmosphere, after the pace and the path take an adventurous turn with pseudo-traditional ballad-cum-march "Then I Met The Lady", which seems to have never made it onto vinyl but evokes a round of applause here that's reciprocated with a rocking, percussion-shaken and banshee-haunted "My Real Hero". And while "Regent St Incident" soothes the excitement in the sweet cabaret manner, the country vaudeville of "Hooked On The Road" throws the merriment back on track.

It was too much for Phil Collins, even though Peter Gabriel is said to encourage SDT play encores. Off the road, all of these threads would be woven later in the year into the brilliant "The Machine That Cried" yet, sadly, the momentum of that monumental tour had already been lost.

****1/2
THE MOOR -
Year Of The Hunger
Lion Music 2012

The Venetian four in search of the lost major chord: ennui reigns while hope looms.

These days it's hard to be original in the hard rock realm, and sometimes all trying feels futile, which is the case of this Italian quartet. Having chimed in at the break of 2012 with an EP, the band serves up their debut full-lengther that is strong as a statement and a demonstration of dexterous delivery, but its desperation might get down on one's nerves. The multi-layered instrumental "The Arising Of Volition" sums it all well, yet the mood changes for better when the group discard their modern, alternative edge and push closer to traditional heavy metal as in dramatic "Before Abigail" or, even better, progressive rock.

They impress when the two worlds collide in opener "Hyperuranium", where rock 'n' roll riffs underpin a bright tune as Enrico Longhin switches from siren call to growl and, together with Davide Carraro, weaves a delicate guitar web for one of the solos before the assault is back with a vengeance. But it's so majestic once piano picks up the melody of "Venice", originally shaped vocally with the help of Debbie Hyshka, and the titular instrumental packs the right dose of elegy. The problem is, apathy lurking in the chameleon heart of "The Others" comes too frontal for the likes of the organ-helped "Clouds And Shales": such a minor flow doesn't do THE MOOR good. They should get hot. Out, demons, out!

***
DIRTY LIPS -
From Nothing To Now
Dirty Lips 2012

Back in the saddle after a dozen years in limbo, the Deutsch quartet are back with a smack.

It was 2000 when, after a decade-long run and a sole album in the can, this Hamburg band decided to call it quits, yet, with each of the players sticking to their instrument, continued to write. So as their debut's title was "Nothing's Better Than Your...", its follow-up catches up to collect the fruits of the wilderness years and makes a tasty dish out of the hard 'n' heavy brew. The taste is good enough to linger on the lips, and if they suggest some rolling influence, Marco the guitarist serves up a string of the Keith Richard-patented licks on "Whenever", only to follow it with a Southern rock swagger of "Shoot Me".

For the most part, though, the drift is rather generic and, therefore, comfortable. The hooks and lyrics' predictability is compensated with a couple of deceptive beginnings, as the piano-driven "That's Why" with its sparse chorus lines and acoustically framed "Nothing Matters" - both starting off with "I'm sitting..." - smoothly switch from a ballad mode to the full power rockers. So much for forlorn feelings set once the musical box of opener "Nobody Like You" gives way to anger that fizzles out with a short farewell spit which is "I'm Right". And they are right, especially when Frank's voice applies panache to the likes of "No Money, No Friends" and "(If You Don't Like It) I Don't Care". But, in essence, it's only rock 'n' roll, and it's hard not to like it.

***3/4
FAITH -
Decades Of Despair
Transubstans 2013

A light in the gloom: for their fourth longplay in almost three decades Swedish doomsters cast longer shadows across Europe.

That looks like a genre betrayal, to end an album bearing such a title with a straightaway, piano-led reading of perennial "What A Wonderful World", yet this Scandinavian trio have never been your regular prophets of entropy. Flowing unhurriedly into their 27th year on Earth, the band leave no slack whatsoever and seamlessly combine Christian and Hitchcockian themes, but "Decades Of Despair", both the record and its title track, set the solemnity in the woods of their continent's Eastern reaches, and while the "if something's meant to be, we just should let it go" paradigm is dark, the lava-like melodies are riveting.

When folk motifs cut up the molten riffs the drift becomes eerie, yet whereas "Stums Polska" and "Hwila" conjure Slavonic ghosts, the accordion-sprinkled take on Lars Hollmer's "Boeves Psalm" is as joyfully Nordic as it gets. As Roger Johansson's guitars weave spell around Christer Nilsson's vocals, prog elements spice up the arrangements, most brightly in the memorable "Ashes To Ashes (1, 23, 45)", and "Iscariot" can easily rock the crowd with its contagious choral lines. In the same vein, "Marion Crane" drinks from hard rock well rather than extreme metal's one and is all the better for it. So even though "Codex Dei" stomps on the trodden path, the fiddle lightning lightens the way and beckons to keep pacing into this mellifluous desperation.

****4/5
MICHAEL DES BARRES -
Rock 'N' Roll Santa
MDM Immedia 2012

Oh dear reindeer! Marquis rips the Yuletide marquee to the confetti shreds.

2012 should be marked in red in Michael Des Barres' calendar. With hardly a week spent without gracing the stage, the artist's comeback to the music realm resulted in the magnificent "Carnaby Street" and its album's Grammy nomination, so how else can the California-based Englishman finish the year if not in red? Which, of course, is a Santa Claus color, together with white. And if the only Union Jack part missing from this palette is blue, Michael delivers it by speeding up his seasonal blues to its titular descendant.

It's easy to imagine Des Barres himself dressed as Saint Nick, even without watching this funny video, as he jives around telling a story of the chimney-crawler who decided to be fit and stylish. Infectious groove and top-notch vocals conspire here with "Brown Sugar" lick to make the chorus irresistible and the whole song a perfect family carol. Or a call for a healthy way of life. A winner on all fronts.

*****
SALMA GANDHI -
The Quest For Nonsense Never Ends
Transubstans 2012

Ab ovo and ad hoc: add an addiction and psych out on the "they don't make them like that anymore" paradigm.

It must be chilly Swedish air that's been blowing the collective spine of this quintet since 2005. Their first mindchild, "Salma Hayek's Delayed Mexican Ultra Nipple", neatly packed the band's retro-futuristic zigzag in a mix of exotic cyberpunk cinematicity, but it took some time to fashion a full trip. More shapeful than AMORPHOUS ANDROGYNOUS and less blissed-out than Omar Rodriguez-Lopez's lookout, "The Quest" is an interstellar bumpy ride with a direct line to ground control that weaves the Soviet announcement of Gagarin's endeavor into the riveting "Marshmallow Space Station Track 8 B Or 381 C", high on electric piano, to stitch it to the elegant, if almost jazz-less, fusion of "Santa Da Luna Pa Ruskie", yet for all the lysergic humor there is the ensemble actually rock - with rather varied groove.

Thus, "Polish Rodeo For Drunken Teenage Midgets" rides on a psychobilly twang, whereas "Why Does Matt Damon Always Say Matt Damon" crawls idiosyncratically over dials tuned into the Great Nowhere. But in "Paranoid Cow On A Mushroom Lawn" High Hoe Silver's drums provide a solid skank for Hank The Wife and Hof Hoffa's small axes before Baron Von Herring's organ starts roaming in the heavy blizzard buzz. With "Intro", "Outro" and interludes, there must be a story to it all which, in absence of vocals, apart from theatrical snippets of voices, remains beautifully nebulous, albeit not devoid of intensity that accumulates in the acid-echoing "Dr Steveroll I Presume" only to relax, through reggae and beyond, once again. Still, even though "Linus Plus Minus Linus" takes all the elements and shuffles it over a 14-minute mark, its FLOYDian pull gets too diluted to fully engage. And this is the point of the whole journey: to enjoy it while it lasts.

****
SYNICAL -
Quit While You're Behind
Deadlight Entertainment 2012

After thirteen years on the run to California, the Georgian troupe dance their thunder away.

Never since KISS married their riffs to disco beat on "I Was Made For Loving You" have electroclash and metal clang had such a ball, but it was a long time rolling. Singing tech wiz Brian Haught formed the band back in 1989, and it's only now, when two of the friends he lost to MURDEDOLLS are back - guitarist Eric Griffin for a full stay, - that his vision turns tangible. More so, there's a whole myth-making in the grooves between the sleek "Never Meant To Last" and nervy "True Hollywood Story", and once the Herbalife's slogan "Lose Weight Now, Ask Me How" kicks in with "Low Quality Guy", where ex-SOULFLY Roy Mayorga hits the skins, the handclapping grip on the listener is so tight that the music's pulse becomes one's lifeline.

Melodies as memorable as death on the dancefloor, the arrangements are lush and approach both deadpan and emotional save for occasional DEPECHE MODisms, yet even them work the chill out of "Bad To Worse". And if the glacial "Way Of The Future" sculpts a grand semi-acoustic glide from a ballad pulp, the drift careens to stadium glam sometimes, like in the wild "Learn To Love It", and "Come Down" with the NIN associate Alex Carapetis on drums shoots from a perfect percussive angle to kill the after-hours fatigue for good. Serious and funny at the same time, this album was worth cooking so long. Next one, please.

*****
SAVAGE -
Sons Of Malice
Minus2Zebra 2012

The third coming finds NWOBHM stalwarts in fine fettle and as tight but loose as in their halcyon days.

You can't go wrong with this band, and their erstwhile tour mates METALLICA knew it too well to have picked a SAVAGE track for their early demo. Shot down twice but phoenix-rising nevertheless, after 10 years in limbo now, the Brits' sixth album, which features two veterans - singing bassist Chris Bradley and guitarist Andy Dawson - as well as two young guns, bears all the genre's hallmarks to please any dynamic-starved purist. And even though more than a half of the devil's dozen tracks start with a left-channel riff, from the opener "The Rage Within" on, such repetition works well, what with the quartet's bluesy slant on the sweetly viscous "Monkey On My Back" and "Black N Blue" that, given the harmony howl, stand the veterans apart from the pounding pack.

With the right dose of aggression, they wear sensitivity on their sleeve in the acoustic thread and cinematic attack of "The Hanging Tree", so while the title cut may outstay its appeal despite the highly hummable chorus, there's much to love here. The twin-axe sharpness gets mistily blurred for "Waking The Dead", yet "Blow" has a modern ring to it without abandoning the group's fiercely swinging roots, its panache a part of the live appeal, whereas "Choose Revolution" harks back to the '70s' hard rock and is one of the best SAVAGE's creations. As, in fact, is the album in its entirety.

****
SIDEBURN -
IV Movement
Transubstans 2012

Out of a black goldmine and into the fire: Swedish quartet plumb the depth of days of yore and take it to the future.

There's a smile in the stomp of songs like slick "Tomorrows Dream" and slower "Fire And Water", but they're not covers of heavy blues classics, rather a full-on hint at what's going on beneath the elegant surface. Painting over a BLACK SABBATH template (incuding direct lyrical quotes) with a modern frame, the meld most obvious in "The Last Day" with its jazzy solo, this foursome supply a thick lava on their fourth album, as Morgan Zocek's guitars rage over the interlock of Martin Karlsson's bass and Fredrik Broqvist's drums, and Jani Kataja's vocals are passed on to be split in harmony. Shimmery in "Diamonds", the riffs hit melodic zenith in "Bring Down The Rain" where the anger subsides, while the speedy momentum is retained, so for all its tension the space is breathing here. That's the mode in which the monotonous flow of "The Saviour" pulls and loosens the reins following the tune's lead, and the folk tincture of the "Silverwing" saga bares the band's soft, potentially orchestrated underbelly. Closer "Monument" ties all the strains in a tight bunch and adds a cosmic layer to it, and if this is a pointer to the ensemble's next record it might get huge.

***4/5
NEW RISING SON -
Honey
Deadlight Entertainment 2012

Gothic groove on a higher ground - intense and inspired, with a legend attached.

Doesn't matter whether the NRS main man Matthew Roberts is indeed a son of Charles Manson or it's just a tall story told in the messianic slow-burn song "New Rising Son", but it takes some guts to claim such a link, and the same goes for the singer's VELVET REVOLVER audition. And these guts are vividly spilled here, on a dozen of cuts that marry metal to a dancefloor, as shimmering electronica jolts Quinn Moore's heavy riffs. It's there, in the choppy imagery of opener "Welcome To The World" where Roberts' voice shoots to the sky solidifying the contradictions of his sharp verses, and in the contagious, toe-tapping funk of "Holy Ground" with its spiritual guitar solo. So if "Rain" sounds a bit too industrial for its devilish nursery rhymes, the techno-folk drive of "Gaslighting The No Exit Zone" blows the cobwebs off, before the pure piano of "The River" brings on a romantic zombie lullaby.

Once this scene is set, the steamroller that is "Neverending Dream" unfurls its hypnotic tune, with an acoustic undercurrent to up the classical buzz of theatrical proportion, which fee‚Ż into the ivory-led chamber grandeur of "The Sting Of A Vampire's Sweet Embrace", where the singer plumbs the lower register of his voice. Sensual as it gets, the unadorned sexuality comes packed in the slithering "Reptile" that goes, "I wanna fuck until I die". Rising it is, then, despite the "down, down, down" bop, a grit for an almost 8-minute rave preceding the glam of "Monkey" to polish it all. A darkly sweet trip.

****
ATKINS / MAY PROJECT -
Valley Of Shadows
Gonzo 2012

Fearing no evil and bearing no burden, an ex-JUDAS PRIEST screamer and a righteous axeman walk the crooked, yet adventurous, path the second time around.

The initial congregation of Brummie metal god Atkins and reverend sessioner May proved to be the testing of their chemistry. Fortunately, the punchline our "Serpent's Kiss" review - "the project's next opus will exceed their debut's limitations" - turned out prophetic. Off with the obligatory genre conceptions, the two follow the songs' dictate here and do what the feeling, rather than expectations, suggests.

It's never more obvious than in "Bitter Waters", where the exquisite acoustic guitar sets off the epic beat and the tempered rage of the voice, and in the memorable chorus of "Enslaved To Love". Quite surprising, given that the scene-setter "Welcome To The Nightmare" caters to the singer's core fanbase who'll love this sharp salvo that wrap the vocals in the shiny foil of riffs and hooks, but the progressive sprawl of the eerily atmospheric title cut, preceded with an almost orchestral instrumental "Messiah", opens a new dimension to the duo's talent pool. In the same fashion, "Not Ready To Die" and "Harder They Fall" are sleek slabs of monumental, memorable rock 'n' roll, while "No Ordinary Man" builds a small classic on the arresting blues foundation, and "The Shallowing" may be the best ballad Atkins's ever served up - penned, as are the rest of the songs - by May. A solid statement from the masters of their trade.

****2/3
MARTYRS -
Every Day...
Deadlight Entertainment 2012

Fast and furious sacrifice with much ado about the ride.

One can't help but marvel at the dexterity of these French guys who shoot through their second album with a breakneck speed but refrain from a gore detail of their idols SLAYER and prefer to hide it under a simple black wrap. It's fiendishly gloomy in there, the opener "Slaughter" beckoning the listener to spill their guts on the floor, even though the only word decipherable on the nine machine-gun missives is "satisfied". Which is positive, of course, given that for all the muscularity of the band's delivery it doesn't pack much threat, and "Growing To Kill" is rather memorable, while the limited quantity of tricks in their booklet make most of the tracks outstay their welcome with a regular piece duration under the 4-minute mark. It's the repetition that murders the likes of "Negative Faith" despite many a piledriver chorus, most prominent on "The Plague". A little bit more versatility coupled with the snarky assault of "Dream vs Reality", and MARTYRS may rise above the ground.

**3/4
THREE SEASONS -
Understand The World
Transubstans 2012

Wish coming true, three alchemists from Sweden purify their winning formula.

Innovation isn't this Swedish band's forte who are all the better for it. Singing guitarist Sartez Faraj, bassist Olle Risberg and drummer Christian Eriksson firmly seize their own - and the kindred spirits' multitude's - thirst for classic hard rock devoid of its later metallic restrictions and deliver exactly what might quench such desire on an epic scale. From the organ and guitar unison of "Set In Stone" on, the trio harness the soulful panache of bell-bottom swing and never shy from a catchy chorus inside a swirling wigout. So if there's some repetition in the wah-wah-smeared "Searching" or the instant hit "I Would Be Glad", it only reinforces the songs' live feel, especially when the groove slows down.

But it's in the ballads that the group's melodic verve shines the brightest, as "Far As Far Can Be" wraps its delicacy in acoustic web that, almost invisibly, turns into a gilded, Hammond-rattling cage. The bars forming a sharp riff, "Ain't Got Time" is the heaviest piece on offer and can easily challenge any old time stomper for the sheer memorability of interplay which intensifies blissfully and switches the rhythmic gear until its climax leaves the listener begging for more. And the more comes with the wordless magic of "Maria" and title track where the lucid electric gauze thickens into a picturesque, layered folk tapestry with a dose of acid fizz for dramatic effect, before the highly charged "Can't Let Go" brings things to a close with a loose bluesy drive. It's as irresistible as it gets, so the worldly understanding is mutual.

*****
MANTRIC MUSE -
Mantric Muse
Transubstans 2012

Shaping order from chaos, Danish foursome go on the transcendental trip and land with unscathed wonder.

While their British half-namesakes navigate the mainstream borders of cosmic rock, this Copenhagen quartet explore its far recesses, and sometimes fly too far out: not so surprising given they're involved with the international ORESUND SPACE COLLECTIVE. But if similar works are often hard to grasp, elusiveness doesn't dwell in the band's second album, separated from their debut EP "Picks In Space" by whopping 14 years, which makes it's almost impossible to believe the seven pieces inside are cut from the endless improvisations. Jams tend to have rogue element, yet if such monsters teem in "Deep Sea Cheops", its Frippertronic drift relapsing into the warm swarm of opener "Nanoid", most of the melodies here are clear and hypnotically captivating. Ola Eriksson's synthetic buzz crawl unobtrusively under Magnus Hannibal's slithering guitar to operate the listener's brainwaves on subconscious level - with beauty always in the line of sight.

Thus, the low-toned undercurrent of "Sindbad Sofareren" infuses its shimmer with Alhambra arabesques that only the Scandinavian cool of Michael Kroglund's bass keep in flowery check, while the raging virtuosity of "Azur" adds fuel to the solar fire. Similar dynamic exploration in "Cinope" results in magic alloy of weighty riffage and sun-kissed fusion adorned with the splinters of Oriental vocals, but although there's a titular predictability in the "Sfunx" spreading into vibrant funky pastures, it grazes at the same time at the prog field. It's this perpetual shift that keeps focus afloat to release the hidden tension only in the fluttering "Gnoxience", the most transparent composition in the scope which leads straight into the intense climax. A chameleon-like beast, "Mantric Muse" is an ever-satisfying experience.

*****
LONGSHOT -
The Judgement
Moving Target 2012

Buy the CD

French prog heroes make more than welcome return: the battle rages on.

True to their name, not much has been heard from LONGSHOT in the decade that's passed since "Asylum" open its doors to the public so impressively. But now the project mastermind Thierry Guilleminot comes up with another "A" class story, "Armageddon", and prefaces the "Act 1: From Hell" album with this epic single. And here, "single" is a key word as, for all the implied narrative of "The Judgement", which is instrumental work, it's played by one musician, the author's friend Michael Reese, a fixture of the band's previous releases.

A solid prog rock creation, it bears more of the genre's traditional signs than neoclassical strains, and quickly solidifies the initial folky flow into a shiny edifice where organ waves crash against guitar plonk until the straight lines blur into something more adventurous. The beat ebbs to and fro, and synthesizers weave a delicate, if firm, net of a tune - on a multi-layered large scale, where rock borders with raga - that ends right as it peaks emotionally. Totally lacking the threat of its title, here's a real teaser.

****2/3
FOCUS - X
Eastworld 2012

Putting the "X" in hex, the Dutch legends catch eternity in the cross-hairs.

Ten years after their acclaimed comeback, forth flies FOCUS' tenth studio opus, their third in this era, to finally show the full force of Thijs van Leer's reinvigorated ensemble. For all the traditionalism of naming the records in numbers and throwing an appropriately piece, here the pellucid "Focus 10" to the lions, "X" is full of surprises. Roger Dean's artwork isn't one of them, though, its "Welcome to the prog elite club" message misleading on many levels, as the Hollanders have always stood a bit aside from the pack, but those moments are firmly grounded in the band's past. With no yodel within earshot, the hard rocking "Father Bachus" leads into the present tense / tension and also harks back, in familiar way, to "Mother Focus", while the antiquity arc is thrown far into the spacey "Hoeratio", its wild recital lifted from Horace's "Ars Poetica", yet the record's scope runs much wider than all the classical traces.

Van Leer's Hammond and flute in place and Pierre van der Linden's drums as panoramic as ever, guitarist Menno Gootjes ups the fusion quotient high on elegant pieces like "Amok In Kindergarten" and "X Roads", where the leader's piano also stars. They soften in flamenco fashion and harden again for "Le Tango" where the velvet croon of Brazilian legend Ivan Lins infuses the titular rhythm with bossa nova smoothness. Yet every gracious and serious composition such as stately "Message Magic" or "Victoria" shines an adventurous light that switches to shameless fun in the riffy funk of "All Hens On Deck", a sly descendant of "Sylvia", low-pitched shouts replacing erstwhile falsetto flights. Many an unexpected turns over these 10 tracks, FOCUS regain their aim and sound fresh again.

****2/3
FORD / LLOYD -
There's A Party Going On
SPACE DRAMA -
I'm The Nightmare In Your Dreams
Whole Shot 2012

Classic horses present new tricks - or, rather, treats - in time for All Hallows' Eve but ready for a round-year dancing.

At the first glance, there's not much in common between John Ford and Ian Lloyd, save for the facts that their respective bands have STRS in their names. Yet both STRAWBS and STORIES plumbed the same depths of fun back in the '70s when seriousness walked hand in hand with a smirk and a smile on one's sleeve. Now the veterans joined forces and bonded over a brace of projects whose first produce are these Halloween singles, both full of memorable hooks but with slightly different, if groovy to the hilt, stylistic agenda.

"There's A Party Going On" is as straightforward as the duo's name suggests: a nicely rocking electric charge with a glittery, if punky, edge and an infectious chorus. Weaving Frankenstein, his sidekick Igor and champagne plus a coffin in the context, it's an irresistible slab of (v)amped-up psychodrama that will have rockabilly cats cut the rug alongside disco ravers. In fact, the piece's melodic appeal is universal, and guitars do an elegant skeleton dance on this one.

SPACE DRAMA comes on as Ford's personal crusade into the techno realm with Lloyd joining the parade that has all the solemnity of a traveling circus ride. More electropop in the PET SHOP BOYS' vein than house in its purest, the song's softness contradicts its own title for the maximal impact, and additional effects work out an additional theatrical dimension where piano waltzes around the rhythm track and the shadow of Alice Cooper lurks. Still, it's the same party piece as on the other single, even though the "Club Mix" tag is just an illusion, because it's totally alternative recording, which feels less magnetic than its rocky counterpart.

Halloween or not, by delivering these cuts Ian Lloyd and John Ford proved their perennial relevance. Yet to ground it firmly, a full-blown album would be more than welcome.

****1/2 / ***
V13 - Traqueurs
Deadlight Entertainment 2012

Gallic metallic: a French quartet fashion a peculiar take on the heavy genre, with Steve Albini manning the desk.

If the face of Rufus, who starred in "La Cite des Enfants Perdus" and "Delicatessen", suggests a comedie noire slant of this band's sophomore offering, its blackness doesn't project much humor. The interest is piqued once the third track, "21 Grammes", unfurls its slide guitars for a blistering bluesy snare, yet in order to get there one has to sneak through the snarl of "Ricardo Klemente" and "Personne m'attend" which nicely bulldoze the BLACK SABBATH formula with punky hysteria spat out of Laurent Carrier's vocals. French lyrics provide an interesting contrast to Olivier Duclos' riffs, sometimes quite shallow but never dull, while the classic chanson feel is revealed in the romantic, tremulous "Veleiteire" and "Nuit Blanche" that feature strings where one would expect the accordion sound to join the squeal. The titular chase is quite an exciting proposition, then.

****
QOPH - Freaks
Transubstans 2012

The stonking Swedes return with a time warp - wicked and weird but beautiful.

Six years between their debut and its solid follow-up, then eight years between "Pyrola" and "Freaks": let's hope there won't be a decade-long gap before QOPH produce their fourth record, yet this one was worth the wait. Since 2004, the Swedish band have been making a fine regress, which in out hollow times means reconnecting to the source of inspiration and taking the listener back to 1970 when guitar fuzz was all the rage. It's on the surface of "The Weirdness To Come", but heavy squeal announces the comeback from the off, from "Hearts & Sorrows", but the humor seeps through the cracks be it with a "Black Sabbath" lick in the stoned jive of "Feverland" or a T. REX riff of slightly hysterical "Ride" where claps and stomp are joined by a mad sax.

Guitar effects often boiled down to simple amplification, "Remedy" and "Seconds & Minutes" rise on strum and vocals hooks that will capture any self-conscious festival goer, as will the titular skeleton jam , while in "In Your Face" Rustan Geschwind's voice dances around Patrik Persson's bass in a theatrical way as the tension grows and the "Deliver me" refrain gets weight and harmony. In a twisted turn, the grand finale "The Devil Rides Out", which picks up this plea, is full of psychedelic light that embraces Filip Norman's six-string flight and Federico de Costa's drum diapason. Mindwarp and smile guaranteed, "Freaks" comes on as the warmest out-there albums of the year.

****3/4
TODD RUNDGREN -
Live At The Warfield -
10 March 1990
Esoteric 2012

The torture stopped: Hermit opens the doors and throws a party. His archives break open, too.

After the fruity '70s, next decade seemed to dry Todd's creative juices out, until 1989's "Nearly Human" set him back on organic track, and on the ensuing tour Rundgren followed his dream of having a rhythm-and-blues review on stage. It resulted in the most vibrant performances of which this album, the artist's best, is a wonderful document. Bringing alive his latest record here, seven songs off it, Todd justifies its title with rough, yet so warm, vocal delivery and periodic dismissal of the 11-strong group in order to face the public intimately as he does with the barebone hard-hitting "Love Of The Common Man" or the totally unexpected revealing of "Cliche". Thanks to such approach, the sense of vitality prevails, and when the veteran engages the crowd in the 15-minute finale of "I Love My Life", pre-faced with a moving classic "Hello, It's Me", carnival emotions come over.

Eschewing for the most part the obvious hits, save for the pale "Can We Still Be Friends", Rundgren unfurls his soulful flow starting with "Real Man" from "Initiation" to get down with a Marvin Gaye medley, smacked right in the heart of "Lost Horizon", but not before having another go, full ensemble in tow, at "A Cappella" with the infectious "Something To Fall Back On". More so, Todd doesn't limit his revisiting of the UTOPIA domain to the fans fave, wildly rocking "Love In Action", and dusts off a pair of "P.O.V." groovy gems, "Secret Society" and "Mated", yet "Rock Love" kicks a magic glitter in. In this context, new compositions - smooth "Parallel Lines", darkly dramatic "Hawking", the gospel-shaped "Can't Stop Running" - take even more honeyed, if sweetly rawer, taste than in the studio environment, and in their sincerity slightly contrast the tortured music hall of "Compassion", while the second "Healing" obscurity, "Tiny Demons", drowns its dry run into the eerie electronic FX from Lyle Workman's guitar.

Surprises at every turn, there's not a dull moment here, and as Todd is not well-served with regards to live albums, if you want to have only one, this is surely it.

*****
NEKTAR -
A Spoonful Of Time
Purple Pyramid 2012

The art rock brigade dive into the rehashing ocean but keep their tab in check.

When these Brits delivered "Remember The Future", they hardly envisaged things to come in such variety. Tackling other people's work is a double-edged sword as you have to leave your own handprint on classics without mangling them unrecognizable. Yet casting Billy Sherwood not only as bassist but also a mix master means running a risk of diluting your input: he comes aboard with a baggage of stars whose contribution brings about both wider attention and narrower viewpoint for a main artist. Yet NEKTAR play safe, perhaps too safe, as their chosen covers source the same genre the veterans have always been exerting, and here Roye Albrighton's team excel mostly when the focus is on the least expected material.

It's a genius move to have Rick Wakeman roll his piano over the poppiest of these 14 songs, 10CC's "I'm Not In Love", whereas "Blinded By The Light", despite Ginger Baker's dynamic drumming and NEKTAR's six-string blizzard, lifts Manfred Mann's arrangement of the Springsteen evergreen wholly, and THE DOORS' "Riders On The Storm" takes off only when Rod Argent unleashes an organ solo. By the same token, save for tasty picking, Albrighton's guitar virtuosity adds little to FLOYD's "Wish You Were Here" and leaves the space exploration to Edgar Froese, as the TANGERINE DREAM mastermind takes to synthesizers, but on ALAN PARSON PROJECT's "Sirius" Roye's electric blindingly tops the ivories melody led by SYMPHONY X's Michael Pinnella. And if TOTO's "Africa", where Bobby Kimball himself handles vocals, comes quite close to the original, even with Patrick Moraz new age flight, the bastardizing of RUSH's "Spirit Of The Radio", stripped of its sheen, and, conversely, polishing Steve Miller's "Fly Like An Eagle" with cosmic keyboards from Geoff Downes and BRAINTICKET's Joel Vandroogenbroeck, sound fresh.

The sidemen complement NEKTAR the best on the soulful folk of Neil Young's "Old Man" which gets extremely tremulous when David Cross's violin enters the frame - urban, not barnyard - as Jerry Goodman's one does for Gary Wright's "Dream Weaver", and BLIND FAITH's "Canít Find My Way Home" where Steve Howe and Mel Collins bring their own kind of magic to Albrighton's fruity table. More so, THE O'JAYS' "For The Love Of Money", spiked with Ian Paice's groove and Nik Turner's sax, allows the band indulge in their least celebrated art, catchy funk, while another HAWKWIND's alumnus, Simon House, shoots his bowed swing into the heart of ROXY MUSIC's "Out Of The Blue". They should avoid magistral ways: experimentation, in the usual way, suits NEKTAR just fine.

***
ALICE COOPER -
Old School:
1964-1974
Special Edition
Universal 2012

Chockfull of treasures: the past of eternal joker and his compadres reveal the secrets of their desk.

Their 2011's induction to the Rock 'n' Roll of Fame served as timely reminder that there are ALICE COOPER the band and Alice Cooper the singer, and while it's the latter who keeps on getting the accolades, the Cleveland ceremony glorified the former. As does this set, a layman's version of yesteryear's deluxe package, stripped of the most paper and vinyl embellishment but essentially the same. "Essential" would be the right word here as far as the fans are concerned: an interview disc aside, there's a vintage concert recording in its entirety and two CDs expanding on the pre-"Nightmare" part of 1999's "The Life And Crimes" box with a whole array of rarities.

The earliest one, 1966's "No Price Tag" by THE SPIDERS, presents the future motley crew heavily influenced by such British purveyors of rhythm-and-blues as THE YARDBIRDS yet already having their own venomous bite and a melodic hook which, in 1972, was lodged into "School's Out". A demo of this perennial smash, an instrumental live take on it and a session snippet showcase Alice's tender way with children - and their adoration of his comic persona - as well as the genius of producer Bob Ezrin who would apply that experience to "Another Brick In The Wall", totally devoid of Cooper's humor that's all over the innocent "A Train Trip", an embryo incarnation of "Sing Low, Sweet Cheerio" from the group's debut as ALICE COOPER. The singer's devotion to the kids' cause, boosted with the collective-cooked drama, gives tension to "Dead Babies" that comes to the box from the St. Louis stage of 1971, while the tentative, if fully-formed, run-through of "Halo Of Flies" exudes a different kind of artful energy, topped with an eerie organ march from Michael Bruce. His guitar counterpart Glen Buxton nails the ensemble's caricature sleaze in "Is It My Body" in front of Seattle's public pushing to the fore the most infamous aspect of the group's oeuvre.

There's no "No More Mr. Nice Guy" on "Old School", which takes the chronology up to the "Muscle Of Love", its title cut bleeding rough from 1972's Rio gig, yet doesn't omit a pre-production slaughter of "I'm Eighteen", its viscous, harmonica-oiled origins to be soon overshadowed by the solo Alice's hard rock. It's sharp and on-the-money in the wild delivery, also from St. Louis, of "Under My Wheels" that the quintet turns into a contagious theatrical spectacle, and this magic had never been reproduced since, no matter how big a cultural figure Cooper would become. You can't go back to your old school, indeed. It's out.

*****
BEGGARS OPERA -
Promise In Motion /
Mrs. Caligari's Lighter
Ricky Gardiner Songs 2012

Stitching their past and their future to the present, the veteran art rockers run for divergence and unity.

They come in pairs now, but these albums couldn't be more different than 2010's "All Tomorrows Thinking" and "Suddenly Ahead Ahead" - or so it seems when "Promise In Motion" massages the callous soul of those who've been rankled by the current band's appropriation of BEGGARS OPERA's name. Opener "Lions" flowing into "Her Hand In Mine" throws a direct arc to the times of yore, as it's all about progressive moves on the classical base, for now it's Virginia Scott's organ that roars and purrs under her nonchalant-to-dramatic voice to propel it all forward, while Ricky Gardiner's guitar underpins her piano in both sharp and atmospheric ways. He lets it rip for "Clyde", shredding the harmonic serenity to bits, yet minimal drumming keeps the songs grounded which works wonders in "The Edible Woman Again", its acoustic-tinctured and electronics-tainted charge as modern as it's ancient in the tribal bass department; and such rave leanings, although less transparent, feed into "Mrs. Caligari's Lighter".

Much more adventurous rhythmically, the samba of its lead track reeks of surrealism but detaches vocals from the music as does the fusion flight of "Doris", whereas "The Comforter" drags on with little sense of purpose until its kitchen-sink romanticism seeps through. Still, cuts like "You Just Don't Get It", despite their psychedelic passages, careen too dangerously to the demo side to contradict such title and fully engage the listener; at the same time the club appeal of "You Have To Watch You Know" is undeniable, its riffs creating a tasty dancefloor fog, and the dry run of "How Long Before The Machine Rusts" gets colored not only with the six-string Spanish brush but also with a female/male singing interplay. New layers being revealed with repeated spins, the close "So Long" links "Lighter" back to "Promise", which makes their coupling a genuine diptych - not even but interesting throughout. These beggars don't stand still, and their progression is very much afoot.

**** / ***
ARI SHINE -
Songs Of Solomon
Meticulous 2012

A crooked path and a leap of faith reap a harvest of success.

There's no face value with Mr. Shine. 2011's "Ghost Town Directory" hid an electric buzz under its homespun cover, yet if the lettering of Ari's third album suggests pure glory, its source leads away from the temple and close to the Big Pink now. This time the artist roams not a rocky but a rootsy road to amazing grace that quickly placed "Songs Of Solomon" on the Grammy shortlist in the Americana category which, with heart-tugging ballad "Least I Tried" made most poignant by Jewish lament, feels deservedly. Those who hoped for a charge might feel disappointed, and it takes some time to breathe in the airy arrangements and hidden vistas of songs like the steel-guitar-smoothed "Almost Alright" that, and here's a paradox, hits harder than the glitter crunch of "Don't Know" or "Goddamn Glorious".

Still, having joined the folk flock, the singer-songwriter hasn't lost an iota of his appeal, and the tune woven between his acoustic guitar and harmonica of opener "Ninety Nine" gets under one's skin as deep as the social soul-inquiry of its lyrics. Actuality seeps into a deceptively traditional tune "Pauper's Grave", while the melody takes over the message in the infectious chorus of "Let Sleeping Dogs Lie", but "Wear And Tear" comes as intimately confessional as it gets to end it all with a heartbeat. Exuberance gone now and, with repeated spins revealing new layers, the youthful maturity takes over.

****1/4
DENNIS HAKLAR -
Lizard's Tale
Abstract Logix 2012

Hark! new hero comes. Welcome the advent of a fresh major force on the fusion scene.

Lizard, to New Jerseyan guitarist Haklar, is a symbol of friendship and survival, which also is the exact foundation of his debut. Bold enough to share the space here with his tutor Larry Coryell, who he dared show a couple of tricks to and co-write a breezy title piece with, Dennis' way with strings is mesmeriszingly soft and, thus, perfect for this sort of light, if deep, jazz. There's a lot of impressive electric-acoustic interplay, yet it's not the technique that induces breathlessness on the anxiously flickering "Leap Of Faith", it's the pure melodic beauty turning almost painfully poignant when Jon Anderson's pellucid chant floats in. The ex-YES warbler adds color to four compositions, while K.S. Resmi's voice takes "Low-Lee-Tah" eastwards, to a place devoid of any Nabokov connotations there may be.

A broad geographical stroke involves also the "Angels In Bahia" infectious bossa nova, given some grit by N. Scott Robinson's percussion, and "Swift Messenger" that explores the fragile fringes of European folk. The more unexpectedly, then, comes a delicate rocking at the end of "Dawn Of An Era", as Thierry Arpino's bass and Mark Egan's drums expand the gentle dynamics with their dark undercurrent which, aided by Anderson, becomes transparent in the soar of "Crossing Over", whereas sinewy blues enter the rich seam in "Naima" - twangy and nebulous, with a hint of perennial "Sleep Walk". Here's a thin line between love and unrest, and Dennis Haklar treads it with grace. Meet a quiet force to reckon with.

*****
THE FUSION SYNDICATE -
The Fusion Syndicate
Purple Pyramid 2012

A multi-tasking producer expands his - and not only his - universe by taking the unexpected alchemy to the next level of art.

Billy Sherwood's name has been a synonym for prog rock since his short flick with YES. This name graces many an album credit, but Sherwood hardly broke his chosen genre mold be it on his own records, the CONSPIRACY Billy's in with Chris Squire, or an array of tribute albums he's been corralling the musicians' creme de la creme in - hardly broke until now. Hot on the heels of THE PROG COLLECTIVE's debut, THE FUSION SYNDICATE is a similar collection of Sherwood's originals, all 7-minute-plus, yet there's a difference: now, Billy's usual suspects are joined by the jazz rock elite, the cover's allusion on "Bitches Brew" a perfect outline of what's inside - a bonanza of surprises.

The first, and most exemplary, of these is opener "Random Acts Of Science" where Rick Wakeman's unmistakable piano runs are spiked with equally elegiac violin courtesy of Jerry Goodman, that forms a riff down the line, and gets oiled with Nik Turner's sax, while Sherwood's own adventurous guitar sharpens the focus and adds grit to Jimmy Haslip's bass spank. Elsewhere, in "Atom Smashing", Tony Kaye provides an ivory bedrock for John Etheridge's six-string, and Jim Beard also employs acoustic keyboard to carry "At The Edge Of The Middle", but switches to faux-vocal sleaze when Randy Brecker unleashes a sax flight, yet it takes Steve Morse's axe to kick the balance to the rock side of things.

Disappointingly, Steve Hillage's jolt gets lost in the jive of "In The Spirit Of", but improvisational quotient is upped to the max with "Particle Accelerations", as Larry Coryell passes the strum groove to Chester Thompson's percussion and Derek Sherinian chimes in for cosmic voltage. In a more silent way, charged, if easygoing, "Molecular Breakdown" hangs in the hot air between David Sancious synthesizer and Jay Beckenstein brass before Gavin Harrison shatters it, but bottom end shifts and trembles when Billy Cobham sends the thunder under Mel Collins' reeds in "Stone Cold Infusion" and lets Jordan Rudess wander all around the place to build a finely tuned tension. For all the soloists on board, the overall result is surprisingly cool and deep, its mastermind deserving kudos for relentless moving on.

****3/4
FISCHER'S FLICKER -
Katmandon't
Lavender Catydid 2012

Eclectic entertainer straightens up his act to get reasonable without losing any of his quirks.

If this album's not-so-original title reeks of Zappa, that's because Scott Fischer has always been in the affirmative with regards as to whether humor belongs in music and played this music with much panache. Yet FLICKER eschews the hilarity of the Chicagoan's previous projects - DEJA VOO VOO, POWDERHOUSE and BABAGANOO - for the less Aesopian approach, even though it stings in all the right places. So Fischer's may be an idiosyncratic world - slightly disturbing in the "Death Of A Dutchman" heartbreaking waltz and in the "Year Of The Locust" jazzy panto - but as intimate as lyrics are in songs like grand, Rachmaninoff-to-Toussaint 9-minute "Three Little Secrets", orchestral sweep lifts most of it above the mundane. Many will find it easy to relate to the bitter, bluesy sentiment of "Ex-Birthday" following a soft and solemn entry of "Music Is My Mistress", driven by a piano-and-slider caress, whereas the synth-adorned "Wound Up Being Me" runs from deeply personal confession to radio-friendly rock and back in the riveting way. A serious, in all senses, statement.

****
BELLYLOVE -
Circles And Darkness
Arcrae Media 2012

Mind-bending and bloodsucking of the highest order - or chaos. Fear not when it's hot.

If the minutiae-connoisseurs remember this band for their appearance in an episode of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer", such pinpointing would mean missing the point, as the LA's trio have moved on since that 1998's cameo into much more adventurous jingle-jangle. Still proudly wearing the heavy stripes she earned in the '80s with THE PANDORAS, guitarist Lisa Rae Black and bassist Toni Valena produce a stomping grind but don't chain themselves to any particular genre. No strangers to delicious mash-up, on their fifth outing, the ladies easily wrap A TASTE OF HONEY's "Boogie Oogie Oogie" glitterball jive around the "War Pigs" riff and invoke the spirit of other kindred spirits, Cheech & Chong, with "Earache My Eye". The latter takes in Zappa's "Apostrophe", a sign of the ensemble's dexterity as Jack Bruce's four-string escapade gets updated, yet retro doesn't dwell in the grooves of alt-attack of the Harry Potter-inspired title track that hits the hard spot in its climactic end to set the tone for what to come.

The rumble of BELLYLOVE's own "Stumble" is as nervy as Frank's "Magic Fingers" that packs a different kind of wizardry and slick enough in the axe work to cuts its way to the most hardened heart, while "(If You) Can't Fix Me" slides on to the country blues swamp with some style. Elsewhere, "Schmo Boy" hides an iron hand in its girly glove: kittens got claws on that one, especially when funk begs for some scratching. It doesn't work so well on a triplet of FLOYD's themes, even though a reggae'ed "Time" features Adam Steinberg's sensitive drumming and hosts an elegant acoustic solo, and spanky epic "Pigs" connects nicely with the aforementioned SABBATH's monolith. It cracks with "Stride Song" that RHCP would have been happy to deliver. BELLYLOVE are that strong.

****1/2
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