Hard Reviews
by Martin Popoff

Martin Popoff is the author of The Collector's Guide To Heavy Metal, 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 Century Media. The book is now in its second pressing. For more information, visit the book website or contact martinp@hardradio.com

Fresh Metal

Guns N' Roses - Live Era '87-'93

I'll drop a small $10 bet into the pot calling G'NR one of the luckiest bands in rock, but there's no denying the band could cook live, and with ingredients that were often anthemic and so crammed with California, the good, the bad and the ugly. Just in time for Christmas comes the second biggest post-contusion live spread (The Clash steals first) from a band that oddly never gave us one, oddly, because this was (and is) a soap opera of an institution for which the term 'stop gap' seemed designed. Never mind though, here it is, two CDs worth of all the hits, plus far and away highlight of the thing, a cover of Black Sabbath's It's Alright, a gutcheck for Bill Ward that stuck quivering like sunlight on the crypt that the Sabs were becoming. Axl takes it to places only the rarified airs of Freddie Mercury hath disturbed, after which the impetuous one eases into the Gunners' epic November Rain, one of many ballads on the album. Throughout this thing, you'll hear Axl the profane and Axl the screeching weasel, offering his crucial piece to the signature sound that is his backing band. As with a number of live albums lately (Bruce Dickinson, Aerosmith) there's a distinct lack of treble, but the band smokes the stage, tightening the bolts on these sleaze classics through years of slumming it (and not) and then eventually letting the funk drip out instinctively (proceed to Welcome To The Jungle, My Michelle and the embellished Out Ta Get Me), the rhythm section effortlessly expanding to include the nudging, prodding marauding guitars. And that's the shining truth of this album: G'NR really sound like a posse, each function grafted to the next, well-oiled, spit out in the spirit of a back-up band gleefully killing its parents. Graphics-wise, we get a collection of tour posters slapped on any and all available surfaces through the early whodathunkit? years, plus a more than proportional gathering of photos from those same sadsack times between dimes. By the way, who thinks up these titles: Live Era '87-'93, as opposed to what? The studio era? Note: my perhaps anemic rating reflects how rapidly I filed this thing, the 'who cares' factor creeping up and biting me quicker than I thought.
Rating 7.5

Raven - Raw Tracks
(Metal Blade)

As much as I'm salivating for the new Raven album, which finds the band reuniting with heavy-handed production legend Michael Wagener, this rarities odds and sods is plain tiring. It's mostly live stuff, well-played but badly recorded (from boots, soundboards, demos, yech-cetera), and mostly songs from the disastrous middle years, frantic and technically heavy, but thin at the top, bottom and middle. It's cool to get lyrics though, although for such a large booklet, source documentation is a little, er, thin. Highlights are unreleased track 'Barbarian', which finds the band slowing down and bulking up for once, a metalized studio cover of Janis Joplin's Move Me and a raucous live swing through Queen's Tie Your Mother Down, but that's about it. The rest is yelpy, panicked and not heavy by a couple or three definitions. But I'm sure all will be forgiven once One For All hits (John, don't make me eat my words).
Rating 4

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