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Waters Rising (Screaming Ferret/Metro City)
Lillian Axe have built a fine, fine catalogue of thinking man's hair metal through the years, classic collections like 1993's Psychoschizophrenia going to a place only Extreme could manage in tandem - chops everywhere, clean production indicative of the times, and forays into progressive metal that astonish. The band is the brainchild of guitarist and lyricist Steve Blaze (also Near Life Experience and the current incarnation of Angel!), and although many lineup changes have occurred over the years, casual to mid-grade fans would have a hard time noticing, for example, that the lead vocalist is not Ron Taylor here on the elegant, panoramic and regal Waters Rising. OK, so what do you get on this record? The trite answer is the nexus one might imagine if principals from Sabbath and Zeppelin got together under the guidance of John Kalodner in mid-1991 and said, 'Here, record with Bob Rock.' In other words, Blaze has always had an overarching sense of the invincible and super-starry (that's the Zeppelin), but then also a love of doom (the steamy Sabbath riffs), and then this clear, clean utterly harmless singer voicing Steve's own eccentric, universe-straddling intellectual views - all recorded cleanly with chiming acoustic guitars here, Styx and Night Ranger harmonies there, gushy pop once in a while. It's pomp rock values popped into a heavy metal template, but quality in every crease. 'Fear Of Time' would have to be a highlight, and lyrically, it's a microcosm of Blaze's complex spirituality that sparks all over this thing. Musically, again, you gotta call this presumptive toward the highest levels of stadium rock mania, when we all know there are no stadiums in the band's future... that is unless a big true rock band is a closet Lillian Axe freak and becomes a product champion, which shouldn't be a stretch, given this band's seductive brew of perfection classic rock dealt an alternative hand, and more so, given its quietly peerless reputation amongst discerning melodic rock fans.
Love Grenade (Eagle)
The Whackmaster talks a big game, but until '02's forceful Craveman, he'd made nothing but poopies for years, boobie. For Love Grenade, somewhat disappointingly, the back bacon band is all new, so there's that chemistry squandered. But the new guys miraculously match the grit and grind of Craveman, so... check. Love Grenade is a substantive, sparks a' shootin' album, but it's a slight step down from Craveman's surprise heft and hellaciousness. Why? Quite simple, although compartmentalized and various: 'Funk U' and 'Girlscout Cookies' are too silly, the long Indian-themed stretch in the middle is a bit limp and meandering like the bad Ted albums culminating in Spirit Of The Wild, 'Journey To The Center O The Mind' is superfluous and the closing joke tune, 'Lay With me' is a dreadfully boring old blues - a waste. OK, but in that list, some of that's still of value, and then outside of the list, everything rules. Really, I had no reservations (pun intended) about bass journeyman Barry Sparks and classic-rocker-out-of-time Tommy Clufetos being able to do the job, and they fire it up, all over 'Still Raising Hell' and especially the shocking run of songs late in the sequence that save the album, 'Aborigini', 'Stand', 'Broadside' and 'Bridge Over Troubled Daughters', each riff sampling from Ted's glory years, a composite of dark horse State Of Shock, as it were (my fave Ted album, second being Free For All). And I love the man's voice, his woodsy words of wisdom, just the idea of Ted. Fact is, I've played this damn thing dozens of times, so maybe all those peaks and valleys of jamminess, seriousness and hamminess were architected and telescoped ruefully for maximum firepower, or something like that.
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