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

Kiss - Concert Review
Skydome Skytent, Toronto, Ontario, Dec. 2, 1998

On a warm (!) December night, taking time off from filming their movie down the highway in Hamilton, the much-vaunted Kiss and their 3D Psycho Circus tour splashed into Toronto's cavernous Skydome, partitioned off but still packed with 20,000 happy, Trek-faced escapists. Suspiciously void of some of the effects we've been hearing about in interviews, the band nevertheless kept the night hopping with pyro, strobes, sophisticated circus-style lighting, 3D big screen video effects (complete with glasses: it works!), and every damn last effect the Kiss scholar expects, including Simmons, Stanley, Peter plus kit and Ace's guitar all being hoisted on wires for rides high up and out when the pacing required it. Also included, Gene's blood and fire, Ace's smoke, lights and fireworks guitar, Peter's Wayne Newtonized Beth, and much inspired shimmying and shaking from Paul, who despite the cheese of it all, is clearly a full-on capable frontman, sorta the Richard Simmons of metal.

Trackwise, most of Destroyer saw nitelite (six picks), followed by Kiss (five), while every other record up to Love Gun was tapped for between one and three selections. Nothing newer than 22 years old, save for three from Psycho Circus. Main negative: all four wiseacres solo'ed, and none of them can play their instruments, or to be kind, at least none cared to show any flash in the one place it's sanctioned. Please, cut it out. It's embarrassing to your reputations, and no, Gene, complete lugan novices don't appreciate it for any blue collar asthetic you might imagine exists.

On the plus side, the sound was really quite good, robust vocal levels, total separation really (except low cymbals), with Ace's guitar cranked to frightful levels, lots of clean power chords and soloing that really cut through clear and musical. And no that's not a contradiction: Ace is a melodic and rhythmic 'feel' player (a cross between Pete Townshend, Jimmy Page and for that matter Keith Moon), which makes for excellent musicality in the context of a song. He was the musical highlight, texturing songs with warm licks when you would think he'd just be riffing (most notably newie 'Within'). But Paul was near magic, playing field marshall to the whole show, shamelessly delivering his hair (wig) band raps but making you believe them, or more pointedly, working with the crowd on the whole joke, no pretense, pure innocence, and no swearing! Everybody sang great except for Ace, who is well . . . we lower the bar for him ('Shock Me': yeah!).

After an encore of 'Detroit Rock City', 'Beth', Paul's guitar solo, and 'Black Diamond', all went home quite pleased, doubly so, given that the boys were presented with gold records for Psycho Circus, the label suits informing the band that Canada was the first territory to take the record gold, and that this was the fastest Canadian gold award in the band's history (dubious claim). Anyhow, the band indeed pulled it off, all four members attending to their various, quite numerous roles and responsibilities with verve, gusto, chutzpah, salsa and chips.
Rating 7.5

Rush - Different Stages: Live

Wow, if anything can get you reacquanted with Rush and their vast legacy, then this be it. Oh, I've been known to slam a bulging fistful of Rush records, but it's actually damn inspiring to get three full discs of both eras (pre-'84: the good, and post-'84: the bad), all the hits and more, including 2112 in its entirety (played way better by men in their late 40s, although Geddy's vox struggle), and an entire live disc from the Hammersmith Odeon in 1978. Elsewhere they've cherry-picked well their '90s drear, finding all the songs with the connecting choruses and chords (Animate, Stick It Out, Dreamline and Driven), striking a bit of groove now and again, unravelling what in the studio was a little tensed. Freaky CDROM artwork and cool packaging finishes things nicely, the band going digipak with memorabilia shots and live pix, full credits and some wily trickery for the Odeon photo (although this third sleeve needs to be cradled loose in the package). But the bottom line success of the thing is this: Different Stages is a huge love-in unshackled to any particular era, tracks from 25 years sat side by each, one sound, one highly mature trio playing 'em. You forget your complaints and you celebrate the daring vision.
Rating 8

Metallica - Garage Inc.

Lovingly forged by fans for fans, Garage Inc. reaches right into the hockey-haired brain matter perched above patched jean jacket and scoops out the well-conceived wishlist, thereafter delivering at levels damn near perfection. Garage Inc.'s main victory therefore, is its completeness, Metallica giving up all of the old EP and every last scrap o' cover they've ever breathed (sigh, OK Trekkies, prove me wrong, send me those emails), adding eleven new tracks for a two-disc tour de force that is a blessed thing. And the booklet rules, explaining the history of each band, their context within metal and Metallica, adding flotsam, jetsam, trivia and tons of pics of both covered and coverers. Disc two is the old material, pushing for the most part NWOBHM tunes through a compressed, urgent, Hetfielded, uniquely Metallica pork grinder, most slight improvements on the original, except of course for Queen's Stone Cold Crazy. The Motorhead tribute tracks (recorded live for Lemmy's 50th birthday party) kinda lurch though, Hetfield blowing the vocals, and then leaving them way too quiet in the mix to the point of distraction. Eleven new covers stomp all over disc one, ranging from non-events to the divinely sublime. Turn The Page is the single, and it's the worst pick and execution of the lot, while acoustic stumble Tuesday's Gone arrives ill-conceived despite all the big shot guest stars. Sabbra Cadabra lacks the tense drug-fueled wobble of the original, a lesser song due to Metallicization. Die, Die My Darling is a blast, as is similar hooligan punk classic Free Speech For The Dumb. BOC's Astronomy works simply through the love and those demonic 'hey!'s. The highlights: the Mercyful Fate medley (electrocuted with a boot-swinging violence the Kingsters would find gauche) and the brilliance of Whiskey In The Jar, a radical metal-fleshing of Thin Lizzy's once radical rock treatment of this traditional jem. THIS is the single boys, one of the damn catchiest songs I've ever heard, and positively high-flight to heaven in Hetfield's power chord hands. A religious vocal performance by James and a gorgeous reworking of Lizzy's twin lead mastery, way beyond the original. All in all, flawed, uneven, but well-appointed beyond expectation.
Rating 8.5

Hard Reviews Part 2