by Martin Popoff

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Fresh Metal

Soilwork - Stabbing The Drama
(Nuclear Blast

Comparisons with In Flames are inevitable, but there's a consistency here that makes Soilwork more cohesive: Soilwork's vocalist isn't weird. Sure, Bjorn wears many metal moods, but all of them have to do with good singing - notably in a continuum - from melodic death through Hetfield growl through to his clean voice, all shades of grey of the same voice. That doesn't mean there's one flaw here, and that's the fact that the clean-sung passages are so starkly trendy now, that this thing that Soilwork helped invent, is now considered sort of bandwagon-y. I'm actually a bit embarrassed to like Soilwork about ten times on this record, like I'm too old for the band's fans. But then for 80% of it, I'm back comfortably headbanging to the drum-attacked mania of it all - yes, marveling at the percussion clinic (check out Blind Eye Halo, which balances arfully finesse and fury) - as well as all those achieved lofty production goals picked up from the Townsend-era and pixie-dusted all over Figure Number Five and this one. I kinda like the fact that Soilwork fit between the old guys and the new guys, sort of alone when figured upon and considered, as elders still with energy. And even if the melodic passages bristle like kiddiecore, Soilwork handle another controversial area with aplomb, and that's any degree of venture into industrial, or quiet bits (see Observation Slave). And on the heavy end of things, bloody good riffs are everywhere and at all speeds. I dunno... no major changes here, and that's really building a case for this band having their own sound, one admirably built up of like ten things. Pointed pointer: stick around for the swirling, proggy last track If Possible, a tale of the unexpected if there ever was one, twists everyhow, Soilwork throwing down a challenge to Dillinger for kitchen sink head removal.
Rating 8

Soul Sirkus - World Play
(Soul Sirkus/Warner)

Hard not to position this thing in yer head as a sort of Brides Of Destruction/Audioslave/Velvet Revolver for the suffering classic rock/AOR set, y'know, us off-the-radars who like most of what Frontiers Records puts out AND show up for Ted Nugent and Lynyrd Skynyrd shows. The members of Soul Sirkus, outside of Journey axeman Neal Schon, are not superstars, but they are considered some of the best 'who ya gonna call?'s on planet retro rock. On vocals, you've got Jeff Scott Soto, maker of great solo albums and distinguished mainly through his jaunt with Yngwie. Drummer Deen Castronovo has hung with the metal grinders and greats, most notably Ozzy, and Marco Mendoza is the best bassist you can shoulder-tap when you want chops, groove, looks, singing and stage presence - seen 'im out with both Ted and Whitesnake and he bloody patches everything up. Soul Sirkus actually began as Planet Us with Sammy Hagar and Michael Anthony years ago, and this is, from what Sammy told me, much more accessible than the way it began. And I'm glad for it, 'cos what we end up with is some truly great hard rock, highlights being Peephole and New Position, the first living on genius riffs and performances, the second, on a sort of Rocks-ear Aerosmith mania. If any one message falls out of this embarrassment of riches, it's that the record grooves like Kotzen or Kollman - no surprise given a Marco and a Deen freed up to jam it hard. My only complaint is the not altogether convincing recurrence of slinky, Egypto, quasi-psychedelic melodies and patterns - it's what's annoying about Audioslave and it's what every hair band seemed to think made them look thoughtful as they reinvented themselves o'er the span of '95 to '98. Still, when you've got an album on which you can praise to the hills the drumming and the bass, before you even get to the fact that this is Schon's most explosive full album ever, and that Jeff Scott Soto turns in a consummate Joe Lynn-worthy pipes parade... well, you've got a collection of highly various songs of lasting elegance and professionalism and pleasure.
Rating 8.5

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