Hard Reviews
by Martin Popoff

Fresh Metal

Santers - IV
(Bareknuckle/Avex)

History lesson time: Santers were a highly capable and confident, highly commercial and incredible Canadian hard rock sity-ation from the early '80s. Purveyors of three slick, drinkable, Def Lep-probable records, Santers slinked off after semi-profitable success due to their label folding and leader Rick Santers getting a high-exposure, heart-searchin' touring gig with buds Triumph. It's 14 years hence, and Japanese heroes Avex have splendidly rocked tha' house, offering all three crafty, crafted releases on CD for the first time, each with a bonus track, plus the long-lost fourth, damn well completely carved to perfection Santers spread called Top Secrecy. Top Secrecy is a little limp and poppy but hey, it's Santers, so it's well done (these guys record and write like bloody friggin' star-crossed lovers). However, it is a progression into perfumed ponderousness and we cannot be happy. But the bonus tracks are lusty, and Rick has written a detailed band history with wistful smarts (plus there's a bunch of new photos). Bottom line: any fan will be well served, and those who crave to know the roots of the present AOR boon/boom, let's just say, these Canucks were the masters, notwithstanding doppelgangers Coney Hatch. Contact: dandelion@interlog.com or www.interlog.com/~dandelion
Rating 7.5

Night In Gales - Thunderbeast
(Nuclear Blast)

Night In Gales have thickened and toughened their unique alloy of melody and death, cranking the distortion on their guitars, and for that matter, Goobes' vocals, which are less black and more almost Chuck Schuldiner-like. Plus they've really gone for that de riguer metal groove, mastering the Maiden-derived gallop practiced by the best black metallers today, drummer Christian Bab swing-smashing those cymbals with heft-bag confidence versus the stiff blastbeats of the band's debut. Strange, I almost see these guys getting lost in the onslaught of great Nuclear Blast product, but they shouldn't be for one simple fact. They've kept the good stuff from the extreme and infused it with effortlessly likable '80s metal ideas of many flavours. To my mind, this band ushers in a deserved backlash to the paint-by-numbers recreations of Hammerfall and Primal Fear, who are beginning to sound, by comparison, a little too over-corrected. Two marks off for the band's gimmicky combing of words. Pretty damn pretentious and falsespooky.
Rating 8

House Of Shakira - Lint
(blueStone/Pulse '97)

House Of Shakira - On The Verge
(blueStone '98)

Two records for all intents and purposes coming out at once (long story). With respect to the debut, after the first obvious interview question (Why Lint?!), next might be how come these guys sound so much like Tyketto right down to the Danny Vaughn vocals (Danny now incidentally a labelmate with his band Flesh & Blood). Strange and moderately wonderful Americana to these guys, even though they are Swedes. House Of Shakira have soaked up their influences well, and there is a sense of authority here, like these young foreigners are really well-traveled LA rock rats who love to dress above their station. Feels under-produced, but I think it's just a vague, possibly unwarranted impression more towards under-arrangement. Come record II, there's a hint of that old hair band thing the American bands went through post-grunge, that metamorphosis to something both darker and dirtier. Maybe I'm just imagining it, but the mix is a little looser, especially the drums, and life questions seem to loom Larger. Plus thereās more acoustic stuff, more arranging, and a bit of experimentation (African music, bloody 'ell?). Chalk it up to maturity of an already confident band, although whether you can really care might have more to do with your post-ironic acceptance of the next wavey wave of hair.
Rating 7.5, 7.5

Kiss - Psycho Circus
(PolyGram '98)

Proving their image as big fat lying charades, Kiss were plagued with rumours of infighting, faked personnel roles (much of the instrumentation was very likely played by session flunkies), and rampant fan-screwing consumerism. All fine if the instincts to also deliver a good record were on board. Nuh-uh. Although you don't have to take my word for it (most reviews are negative, but not all), I'd say this thing is a sick, sick joke. Lead single Psycho Circus was an OK piece of clogged, somewhat strugglingly successful stadium rock, a wise kick-off track given the lobotomy rawk elsewhere. But the rest sounds like the worst, phoned-in Crue records (Theater Of Pain and Girls Girls Girls), crossed with the worst, phoned-in Kiss records (Crazy Nights and Hot In The Shade). Whoever is drumming sounds like Criss anyhoo, no groove, no imagination, square and listless. Production values? Well, the much-maligned '80s offered some nice ideas, mostly around detail, work ethic, care for fidelity. Psycho Circus just picks the crap ideas and runs brick wall-bound, that turgid mess of snare, goofy fence-sitting guitars, just a half-hearted, limp noodle effort all around. Like a past-expiry, resentful hair band with a chopped-in-half budget. In the cheap ploy department, there's plenty of lyrics that aspire to We Are The Champions' or The Final Countdown's sports barn dominance, a fathomless bass farts song from Gene called Within, an unimaginative, demo-dumb remake of Kickstart Your Heart, and a Criss ballad that will make your eyes water. It's like, 'OK, Pete, weāll let you throw all your faculties into one track and one track only, after that shut-up. And by the way, you take the blame.' It's funny how we treat this band like retards, those who can't swim through the maudlin kitsch of the thing saying, 'it's OK for Kissā or 'hey, it's a Kiss album.' But dammit, so were Revenge and Carnival Of Souls, both the only smart records the band has ever birthed. So here we sit, with a couple of songs that will sound OK live, a scant 45 minutes in total, with about a half hour of miserable filler. I would have expected more, certainly not from these four, but from a business consortium that might have realized such an event might call for serious thought about outside writers (and not the usual cast of Adams/Heart/Aerosmith/Cheap Trick/Kiss housewives). One nice touch: spirited vocals from all, each character actor getting his due, especially Stanley who really makes you think Kiss has talent.
Rating 3

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