Hard Reviews
by Martin Popoff

Fresh Metal

Skid Row - 40 Seasons: The Best Of Skid Row

To their credit, Skid Row were an admirable franchise, three records, three different sounds, Guns N' Roses with less personality, but a greater commitment to metal. Judging from (now year old) chats with both Rachel and Baz, I don't see a reunion anytime soon, although projects like this tend to renew and reinvigourate. A bunch of good to almost great songs here, although folks shouldn't be surprised to find the Subhuman Race stuff standing up better than the well-loved anthems. Terse but meaningful liner notes by Rachel elucidate somewhat, and the vaults have yielded a few gems to juice the gullet. Three remix versions, one demo version, one live, and two previously unreleased compositions comprise a pretty good haul. Caution: the live track seems to be chosen only for Rachel to succeed in boldy embarrassing Baz, who sings, swears and hollers like a foolish schoolboy. Of the two newies, both are (surprise) tuff hair metal, Forever, from '88 ripe with melodic punk hook, and Fire In The Hole, just kinda snarly and unremarkable. A worthy, well-picked introduction to a gypsies-in-leather bunch whose small catalogue can thence-by be collected for under $50.
Rating 7.5

Dream Theater - Once In A Livetime

Proving once again their sense of humour and history, prog icons Dream Theater marble their vast original compositions with nods to the classics. So we get snippets from Metallica, Pink Floyd and Zeppelin, as well as the bombastic jam section from Skynyrd's 'Freebird'. Elsewhere, this looming record (make or breaker?) samples bits of DT sideprojects Platypus and Liquid Tension Experiment, while (planned) jamming and soloing feature extensively between band faves. Production-wise, Derek Sherinian's Jon Lordian keyboards are prominent, as is the Paris crowd. All else gets a timid, edged-off treatment from producer Kevin Shirley, although drummer Mike Portnoy bounds right in a steals the show, overlapping prog acrobatics and groove to keep things moving briskly (see 'Lines In The Sand'). A striking Storm Thorgerson cover (remember Anthrax?) tops off this huge, acedemic pack of prog, songs that are somehow lighter in levity given the friendly crowd noise.
Rating 8

Various Artists - ECW Extreme Music

Cool and convoluted biz arrangement here between CMC, Concrete Management and Extreme Championship Wrestling. But the really cool thing is that the record is a cornucopia of weirdness, with some of the most interesting things on paper (Bruce Dickinson doing Scorpions' The Zoo, Motorhead doing Enter Sandman and Kilgore doing Pantera's The Walk) fizzling flat in execution, while some of the lighter renditions truly shine. Such comic moments include most of Pantera twanging their way through ZZ Top's classic Heard It On The X, Muscadine's pompous Big Balls, and Monster Magnet's air-tight Kick Out The Jams. Plus it's worth mentioning that 11 of 12 of these are exclusive tracks. So even though this ain't the greatest example of stars being surprising, it's a rare treat by simple definition.
Rating 6

Grip Inc. - Solidify
(Metal Blade)

Slowly over time dispensing with all forms of Slayerisms (Grip Inc. own probably six of the best Slayer tracks in the '90s), Sorychta and crew have now fully arrived with a presentation and persona distinctly theirs. And what we get is a cranky, Rammstein or Killing Joke or Mission of metal, Grip Inc. pulling the best elements of leaden goth and putting them through their very metal blender. Imagine that tingle you first felt with Ministry's Psalm 69. Well that's back, within a uniquely metal format, those same apocalyptic bellows, that same forward trudge. Only this time, the drama is created with bass and drum barrages, all laced with many middle eastern flavours, or more accurately middle British flavours of a grimly vampiric nature. I can see that whole Metallica, Paradise Lost, Moonspell, Entombed debate kicking up again (a third of this does for Grip Inc. what Until It Sleeps did for Metallica), but such put-downs ignore the high hoovering, groove-thick riffery all over this dramatic, well-assembled pageant of pounding (albeit much of it come chorus time as a high number of verses, pour by on quiet liquid idle). Weird, sorta like a Sepulturian hardcore version of Page Plant's unplugged Zep classics, sent black-coat-flowing through the moors with Blixa and Nick Cave.
Rating 8

Hard Reviews Part 2