by Martin Popoff

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Fresh Metal

Michael Schenker Group - Tales Of Rock 'n' Roll: Twenty-Five Years Celebration
(Armageddon Music)

No record in the Schenker canon spells crazy genius like this one. Ooh boy, I rolled my eyes over the years as Michael told me this plan he had, that he was putting this thing together. Sounded loopy, unrealistic, and, given the crazy women trying to ruin his life, likely never to happen. OK, the title is a big mess (never let Michael write his own titles), and has little to do with anything. Why? Well, despite the brief visitation of six past MSG vocalists, none are told to sing tired and predicable re-recordings of their glory years. Rather, Michael has divinely pomped together - muse-mad and iron-clad - future classic after classic of sinewy, sweet, classicist hair metal of a type only he can conjure. Seriously, the writing - and cohesive writing - all over this relentless rock feast is bluesy, gothic, irresistibly hooky, passionate... a whole lot of Michael's best songs ever, and that's saying a lot, given his UFO classics, his golden period solo work from the low '80s, and his joyous, bulbous stout-of-heart hooks all over his last three or four highly under-rated MSG records. And then what does the guy do? He says six singers isn't enough. If I'm going to tour (Ha! Halloween in Toronto is on the books, but we'll bloody see), I need a whole new one. Hmm, maybe someone from Finland I ain't never heard of. Enter Jari Tiura, who... man, what a voice. This guy is like a Messiah Marcolin told to sing Whitesnake, which is really what MSG is, bright, stadium-ready blues metal slathered in hair rock postures with a bit of old guard gothic Blackmore thrown in for castle rock anchoring. Tiura's wild histrionics are the perfect match for writing that is sick with musicality and creativity. And damn it if it wasn't so accessible and commercial, even though a mysterious northern vibe not unlike Torch, Axewitch, Heavy Load, Bodine, Angus, Vandenberg and Gotham City is achieved. Tiura is on 13 of the 19 tracks, but most of the other guys fit in so closely, the album hangs beautifully - really, it's only Graham Bonnet on the funky but pedestrian 'Rock 'n' Roll' that offers an outside gruff take. But geez, the chorus of 'St. Ann' and the rumbling immediate roil of 'Dust To Dust', the geometry of 'The Ride'... these are magical Schenker moments - no other guitarist is rising so rapidly in my appreciation, and logically, I gotta throw MSG in with Deep Purple and ZZ Top and Cheap Trick as oldsters with great classics in their past, arguably writing the best music of their careers. Note - I have no problem giving this a 10, as it's passed one of the litmusier litmus tests - I've been playing it over and over again for weeks on end, and reach for it still repeatedly when a comforting, plush metal ride is needed to combat the metalcores.
Rating 10

Poisonblack - Lust Stained Despair
(Century Media)

Sentenced Ville Laihiala has certainly made good in providing a viable alternative to the much beloved suicide rockers, and now with Sentenced mortally injured, Poisonblack shine even more intensely like wet cur fur. Less the mesmeriffic churn of the focal band, Poisonblack isn't afraid to get both gothic and proggy, somewhat akin to the passions housed within Katatonia and classic mid-years Amorphis. Ville's pained roar is there, and when the band rock out - such as on opener 'Nothing Else Remains', 'Never Enough' or the hugely moving 'Rush' - Sentenced is both gloriously recalled and then just as quickly, forgotten, ash giving rise to this flaming phoenix. For some reason, Ville's voice brings this band a classy, proud vibe that reminds me of both Amon Amarth and Korpiklaani, even Paradise Lost when they were about to be the new Metallica back in the golden age of moors-mad goth... they're all bands on a mission, and Poisonblack's got one too, to be both weighty and universal, their doom accessible, their melodies on their sleeves, their speeds thudding and weighed down by the obligation of artists making art. One complaint - a few too many of these songs flee the stunning opening riffing come verse time for one of those uncluttered singing bullpens. I mean, I'd dig this more if the whole thing was bound in guitar strings - Ville's voice and bold personality would have no problem competing.
Rating 8.5

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