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Styx - Cyclorama
The unmistakable cover art of surrealist Storm Thorgerson signals the fact that Styx has raised the stakes since the gaudy wrapping 'round Brave New World. And indeed, every part of the game has been elevated in the last few years. Lawrence Gowan has lit a match, live and on record, and the band has responded in kind, taking a flamethrower to a once-luke institution. The result is a record that is not prog, pop, or hair metal, but a kind of glassy-eyed, sublime pomp rock for seriously crafty musicians, somewhat akin to Bon Jovi, Billy Sheehan, Ty Tabor, Paul Gilbert, Brian May, Saga, Spock's Beard, Marillion... a complicated, slightly Beatle-esque, Zeppelin-esque lighter-foisting sound with volume. Tommy is simply awesome as a vocalist, a godly balance between vulnerability and bluesy soul. Gowan twangs with preposterous glam flair, Glen like a shifty punk, JY like the anchor to the '70s. And the cathedral of harmonies when they all unite, makes Cyclorama a fierce, plush vocal showcase, a joy to behold. Unfortunately, there isn't much rocking out, and the scraps that contain power chords (i.e. Captain America), blow. But the deep, deep wells of acoustic guitars, of vocals for miles, of lively drums, of arrangements that cost a pretty penny, make up for the paucity of riffs. The result is a gorgeous, gorgeous record of subtle sounds stacked expertly by science-minded veterans that haven't lost an ounce of their prodigious pop passion.
Anthrax - We've Come For You All
Lively, novel but somehow modest, small, spare, and unsettlingly unnecessary, We've Come For You All is a collection of Anthrax tracks that sound like all of the less controversial songs from the band's last album, Volume 8, mixed with the more immediate material from Stomp or White Noise, more so Stomp. In other words, the material is rhythmic, catchy, easy to digest, enjoyable but never grand, powerful or epic. There's an old school hardcore vibe with none of those charging touchstones, one point of reference being perhaps the album's bare bones street vibe, its dry guitar sound, lack of bass and way too many drums. But there is no speed to speak of, no ferocity. And vocally, what you get is John Bush, a great voice unto his own, possibly the band's biggest stamp of individuality, but a bit of a one trick harangue with his complaining tone. It's amazing how many of these songs would fit on a nu-metal album - damn, I feel like I'm just saying all this negative stuff without actually wanting to rip on the thing - but seriously, try it track by track, the realization coming that grunge-influenced metal albums are what must have caused nu-metal. So the songs fit that bill, but none of the genre's idiotic production ideas are found here, Anthrax indeed not producing We've Come For You all much at all, the thing coming off like jagged, smacking but not pounding, punk rock made out of grinding, happy-go-angry Anthrax riffs from the band's post-Nirvana proposals.
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