Hard Reviews
by Martin Popoff

Martin Popoff is the author of The Collector's Guide To Heavy Metal (previously known as Riff Kills Man!), now a 540 page, 600,000 word compendium comprising 3,700 heavy metal record reviews. Also included are rock lists, a glossary of terms, a concise listing of almost 500 9's and 10's, plus a roll-call of non-metal faves. New to this edition is an exclusive 19-track sampler CD from premiere metal label Century Media. The book is now in its second pressing. For more information, visit the book website or contact martinp@hardradio.com

Fresh Metal

Southpaw - Southpaw
Human Race - For The Sake Of Your Soul
(Z Records)

Alright alright, it came out last year, but this is pretty important stuff just now slowly seeping into America, Southpaw being a deceiving name for a Swedish supergroup featuring Yngwie's Mats Leven, Europe's John Leven and Talisman guitarist Fredrik Akesson (I don't know the drummer Richard Evensand: sorry, the Dicktser-ino!). The sound is a creative post-metal alternative AOR thing, if such things exist, reminding me of the under-rated Freak Of Nature, sorta glossy hair metal meets Alice in Chains. I guess by long division that also arrives at last blast Skid Row, again, an under-rated phenom. Low-ground riffs, prog metal bombast, it all adds up to wunnerful confusion, and a record sincere and skilful. Highlight: Oh Yeah, vocals afire, riffs and drums performing metal calculus like a juice-bar drunk Soundgarden. Human Race do a similar mature, post-metal thing on this second album, only their prog rubs less with rumble rock, and more with classic power metal, while often leaning into huge Purple flourishes, complete with keyboards and big Joe Lynn Turner-style vocals and attendant harmonies. There's a bit of Blind Guardian-via-Queen in there too, but mostly this big Ritchie rock. This one's highlight is actually a sweet ballad called Them. Damn, two killer records that vanquish most of the prissier German acts getting all the press. Contact www.egotripent.com/zrecords.html or zrecordsus@aol.com.
Rating 8, 9

Spock's Beard - Day For Night
(Metal Blade)

Cool to finally get some progressive hard rock that doesn't jones on Dream Theater and Yngwie, Spock's Beard through four records arriving at a live and bouncy power chord/keyboard hybrid that sounds like heavy Yes mixed with Kansas, popped fresh with the creative hippy spirit of Phish. Only Detroit's Tiles is dancing through this same terrain, and it looks good on both of 'em. It's a verdant, wide-open sort of sound that results, jammy and belligerent, sorta like bass-fuzzed Abacab/Duke production values stomping all over tunes of a snobbier Genesis period, say And Then There Were Three. A loveable spontaneous tangle of sonic signals.
Rating 8

Ray Gillen - 5th Anniversary Memorial Tribute

Just beware, that's all. Read the back cover carefully. I mean, there really hasn't been much in the way of Ray Gillen output, exploitatively speaking. In total, we've had the two godly Badlands records, the posthumous Sun Red Sun record, recently the incredible third shelved Badlands record, and now this Sun Red Sun out-takes thing (there hasn't been an official release of his Black Sabbath sessions. Yet.). But 5th Anniversary is just four tracks pumped up to a fake 12, rife with alternate versions, mixes, an instrumental and an inane snippet of skidderish Gillen chatter which does nothing good for the man's towering reputation. Still, like I say, you won't go broke buying Ray material, so this is a necessary piece for the fan, also featuring an explanatory essay from Ray Romano, and a note that a portion of the proceeds will go to AIDS research. Oh yeah, and the music? Good to very good middle metal (tracks are Hardlife, Outrageous, Lock Me Up and I Know A Place), classy, traditional, not hair banded, not bluesy like Badlands but mostly fast and moderately regal.
Rating 6.5

Devin Townsend - Infinity
(HDR Records)

Canada's greatest metal treasure returns with a record that nearly killed its mentally unhinged creator, our boy Devin locking himself in his studio for months on end to come up with this electricity-drenched, sunlight-dappled metal munch of joy. Much like his accessible-to-a-degree Ocean Machine project, Infinity piles on fantastic studio trickery, but subtley so, Townsend allowing the core melodies to shine through the mayhem, tracks like the phosphorescent Christeen and the rousing War sounding like Enuff Z'nuff bastardized by Trent Reznor, Cheap Trick vandalized by Ministry, or Saigon Kick's helicopter in sparks-a-flyin' collision with an electrical tower. In-jokes also arc, spark and fly, as in the Zappa-esque epilepsy of Ants and the Crue-ballad intro to Colonial Boy. All told, it's another mad professor Dev-fest, the perfect balance between his Strapping Young Lad-ishness and something pleasurable indeed: art, science and glorious metal noise tingled and touched by a dalliance of genius. Contact hevydevy@home.com.
Rating 9

Hard Reviews Part 2