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

The Tea Party - TRIPtych

Transmission from '97 was an unsurprisingly excellent record, this sombre, serious trio of Canucks adding layer upon layer of dark gothic classic rock onto rigid electronics, creating a synthesis that was modern yet still rife with Tea Party signatures. But it was one of those records where you could envisage losing the band to the dance crowd, hero to zero like U2. TRIPtych re-zigs that trajectory, although not back to the hard rock sweep of The Edges Of Twilight, more like the average of that record's ethnic tracks, countered with some accessible though always dirge-like and tragic, soft and smothering tales such as lead single Heaven Coming Down, strange shuffler Taking Me Away and stunning string section death-knell Gone. Elsewhere, it's an arresting chemistry between the Bonham heft of drummer Jeff Burrows and various exotic instruments that drives these tracks of legendary studio prowess. Like any great hard rock band, the listener is enticed (by the limp, clammy hand of a goth chick) away from counting guitar riffs, losing the ability to measure the heaviness of the thing on a bald sonic level, simply because Jeff Martin has exalted heaviness on an emotional level to a dangerous, black and blinding plateau. By the way, if I haven't done my job yet and described what you get with this, or any Tea Party record, I'll throw out the standard line, which is standard because it is so accurate. Think of Plant Page way beyond their writing capabilities, assembling highly original, highly belaboured mini-Kashmirs in that semi-acoustic zone between their debut and Walking Into Clarksdale. There. I've done my job, now go buy this band's catalogue, which you'll find at the end of this fine divine line: Beatles, Zeppelin, U2, Pearl Jam, Tea Party.
Rating 10

Def Leppard - Euphoria

I feel some ownership of this thing, having interview Phil Collen all about the record. And where I understand where they're coming from, I still can't pour some sugar on the whole over-processed 12,400-track debacle. Certain wusses are moist at the fact the boys are recreating Hysteria, forgetting the fact that if there was any rock 'n' roll fire in Boystown, we'd be getting a stabbing thrust at High 'n' Dry. There are guitars on Euphoria, plenty of them (although 20 on top of each other for selected choruses doesn't count). And considerable chunks of this are fun in that perfectly pure pre-teen way. But man, they could save themselves 19/20ths of the time spent making it sound so sickly technological, and the songs would actually work better. There would be no less partying, no fewer sales, and likely more effusive press. The last five people on the planet who are listening to Def Leppard for the production gunk are pictured on the back of the CD. Not that I like people, but a human voice isn't such a bad thing on a record. Nor is a real drum whack. So all the usual junk food faults are attendant. The lyrics are abysmal, the Leps, for what reason I can't fathom, never growing past Loverboy's red leather first record. End friggin' stop. Paper Sun is an exception though, a cool dark ballad which at the same time, embraces the old sound. It's a telling look at a band's attitude toward art when they make the daring record (Slang) and then run from it as fast as possible when the math doesn't please the accounting office of Bludgeon Riffola Inc. So we arrive at a pop record with lots of guitars, nothing more, nothing less, a bit of Sweet-ly pleasant glam, a retro-instrumental, some well-written riffs (methodically dampened by machines mind you), and a smart dance edge that is more modern than I'll ever be. So it sounds like their clothes, like rich clubbing velvet suits, which I suppose carry their own positive messages around winning. But brains this was never about. Only high-gloss craft around songs for people for which music is just incidental wallpaper, barely a hobby, more like the occasional chocolate bar.
Rating 5

Dokken - Erase The Slate

One of many old bands learning to be content with who they be, Dokken has gone back to the big rawk of old, spitting nails with new razor man Reb Beach. There's still a bit of Shadowlife's alt.groove.funk, but this one has guitars a' plenty. Heck, they even make that crappy Nilsson/Three Dog Night song One sound both loud and tricky like a Soundgarden song. The production is inspiring and combative to be sure, guitars and drums bashing it out for supremacy, while the band figures out how to be general metal rockers straddling old hair.Dokken, the Beatles and new alt.Dokken. It's a nice mix actually, because Reb ties it all together, despite the tones ranging from searing shred to acoustic balladry and all points in between. It's a stadium royalty rock kind of spread that says, we're a metal band first, and then we wander from there.
Rating 8

Lefay - The Seventh Seal

After three years away, half the band gone, a new name and a new label, (Morgana) Lefay can rightfully assume the throne alongside Nevermore as state-of-the-art new power metallers anchored to bottom-end quakewaves. Vocalist Charles Rytkonen was always this band's signature sound, and increasingly he is coming into his own, left in anguish under bright lights, sounding like the Jon Oliva of live theatre, leading a crack band through old school crunch rock that evokes new Metallica, old 'tage and the storytelling spirit of Alice, crossed with Solitude Aeturnus, Memento Mori and Trouble, if not a little Type O and old Pist-On. But what we've really got is a less ragged type of Nevermore, everything slow, everything locked down in production perfection, many haunting mellow passages, ground up by fat guitars. A further step in the pathway of a band that has been quietly purging themselves of prog metal tendencies in search of big low-frequency drama.
Rating 8

Hard Reviews Part 2