Hard Reviews
by Martin Popoff

Fresh Metal

Stuart Smith - Heaven And Earth

I find it amazing that people like this exist. Stuart is practically the history of hard rock's backstage, the man for close to 20 years now, crossing elegant, hopeful, sincere hard rock paths with the likes of Ian Paice, Joe Lynn Turner, Bruce Dickinson, Paul Shortino, Kelly Hansen, Buddy Guy, and above all, mentor and close friend Ritchie Blackmore. So professional, but so spurned by the next rung on the ladder to success, he still arrives, incredibly quite unknown, finally clocking in with his own solo record. Heaven And Hell is a vortex of all his rock 'n' roll experiences, drawing on vocalists like Turner, Hansen, Glenn Hughes and Richie Sambora to do battle with his top-notch but tastefully understated axework. Songs here sound variously like Rainbow, funky Deep Purple (there's a cover of obscure ballad When A Blind Man Cries), Yngwie and Whitesnake, and I can't say Stuart makes them his own, due to his astonishing versatility and all those signature, readily identifiable singers. Pat Regan's production is flawless, and that's a good thing, given that he is essentially doing a superstar album, even though more than just Stuart has been mere supporting cast to many greats. Stuart offers a bevy of tones and tunes, keeping the album scooting along, adding hot licks to castle-grey ballads, blues-ified party rock and a stunning cover of See That My Grave Is Kept Clean, where the guy allows Hughes to rip centre stage. So hot damn, if you want to hear the best of a hard AOR generation smacking their lips, riffs and hips, this is the place to be, and the only way to get it right now is at www.stuartsmith.com, where you'll also find a huge bio with pictures documenting this man's couple dozen brushes with the brass ring.
Rating 8.5

Clawfinger - Clawfinger

These Swedish meatballs exploded from the scene in '93 with a debut that defined them as the next Faith No More, Deaf Dumb Blind selling half a million copies in the process. Follow-up Use Your Brain fared less well, and now close to four years hence, we have the self-titled third statement. And the sophistication grows, Clawfinger layering their expected bed of buzzsaw metal and rap with keyboard sonics and sophisticated arrangements, Zak tossing out exacting catch phrases as only he can, turning chorus after chorus into anthemic infection. Skeptics might find it all too calculated, like a Rage Against The Machine with a wily eye to the pop charts, but personally, I've always had a soft spot for these guys after the dancy heft of the debut. This is really no different except for the slight to moderate nod at techno.
Rating 7.5

Raise Hell - Holy Target
(Nuclear Blast)

Fellow scribes have mentioned Dissection and Children Of Bodom as similar warp speed blacksters, and the comparisons are apt, except that Raise Hell have infused the form with youthful enthusiasm, splashing their bodies with blood and bullets, writing like fast fiends a little tipsy fer driving. I wish the vocals were a little to the fore, and the production less crammed together, but other than that, this is black metal played well with a melodic ear, a nod and a wink to old thrash, and a slide rule to the complexity of speed. As good as any from the layered nu wave of black, and better for the graphics and photos.
Rating 7.5

Last Laugh - Meet Us Where We Are Today
(Record Heaven)

Call this one exploratory metal, Sweden's Last Laugh combining Thought Industry, Saigon Kick and King Crimson with a tribal stomp, fronted by a vocalist that reminds one of King's X's Ty Tabor. Hard to fault it (aside from two things: overt artsy fartsy-ness and a foreign accent on both the lyrics and the vocals), Last Laugh surely capable of taking you far into arrangements and ideas outside our often constricted metal box. www.recordheaven.net.
Rating 7.5

Hard Reviews Part 2