John 5—Requiem (2008)

John 5—Requiem (2008)

John 5—Requiem (2008)

Details

All songs written by John 5. Recorded at the Chop Shop in Hollywood, California, USA. Produced by Chris Baseford and John 5. Executive producer—John 5. Mastered by Undercurrent Studios. Engineered by Chris Baseford. Assistant engineer—Will Thompson. Released on Mascot Records in 2008.

www.john-5.com

Band

  • John 5—all guitars, bass, banjo
  • Tommy Clufetos—Drums

Tracks

  1. Sounds of impalement
  2. Heretic’s fork
  3. Noisemaker’s fire
  4. Pity belt
  5. Cleansing the soul
  6. The Judas cradle
  7. Pear of anguish
  8. The lead sprinkler
  9. Scavenger’s daughter
  10. Requiem

Review

This is the second John 5 CD that I’ve reviewed, at the end of last year I listened to The Devil Knows My Name (2007) and gave it a complementary 85%. How does this, its sequel, compare?

It’s great! There are still elements of portfolio-of-someone-about-to-graduate-from-the-Guitar-Institute-of-Technology but overall this is a heavier, more focused album in my opinion. With smatterings of finger-pickin’ bluegrass an’ banjo!

The album opens with “Sounds of impalement” which is reminds me of a cross between Stone Sour and Steve Vai. It’s rocky, it’s fun.

Next up is the Alice In Chains-like “Heretic’s Fork” which opens with a riff that’s not a million miles away from “We die young” from Facelift (1990), until it’s reveals its true widdly-heart. A tune that certainly gets my head nodding every time.

“Noisemaker’s Fire” sounds like a bluegrass track that’s been recorded in a room full of cine projectors and dot matrix printers. About halfway through, though, it seems to employ almost exactly the same riff as “Heretic’s Fork”. This gives these couple of tracks a kind of suite feel to it. I like it.

Track 4 “Pity belt” is the first track I would likely skip, to be honest. More bluegrass-style picking along to a drum kit in the background; thin sound; not my thing. However, it inspires the widdle-tastic and very much electric “Cleansing the soul”, so I guess it stays on my playlist.

“The Judas cradle” (track 6) opens with strings and an intriguing arpeggio that soon bursts into a Black Sabbath-style riff that is both dark and haunting. This is one of my favourite tracks on the album.

“Pear of anguish” features the only vocals on the album, even if those are slowed down speech. More bluegrass style banjo pickin’. A cheesy little portion of silliness.

“The lead sprinkler” sees the album retreat to the darker places once again. More Steve Vai or Joe Satriani-like widdling.

“Scavenger’s daughter” opens with a delicate tune picked out on guitar, beneath the rumbling drums and the frosty winds of Hoth that then explodes into a Slayer-like riff that absolutely rips! The flight of the bumblebee arpeggio runs kind of spoil it a little for me but whenever John 5 returns to the Slayer-like riff he wins me over again.

The album closes with the title track “Requiem”. It’s experimental (squeaks and squeals, reverbed drums, samples of guitar) and really quite interesting. It builds and builds towards the end, and closes with a picked guitar arpeggio (is there any other kind?) that is reminiscent of the intro to Slayer’s “Seasons in the abyss”. It is quite emotive and very atmospheric.

Conclusion

All in all a great album by all accounts. While the banjo and bluegrass-style portions don’t exactly float my boat I can forgive John 5 for these. They reflect his style and his interests (rather than mine), and they are neither indulgent nor played to death. Besides they often inspire the following track, giving a more coherent and interdependent feel to the album. There is always plenty more to interest the listener. And this listener in particular. Good stuff!

Review score: 90%

Video

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W-_44zgIK1g]

Russian Circles—Station (2008)

Russian Circles—Stations (2008)

Russian Circles—Stations (2008)

Details

Recorded at Studio Litho in Seattle, Washington in December 2007. Produced, engineered and mixed by Matt Bayles. Mastered by Ed Brooks at RFI. Management: Cathy Pellow and Sargent House. Released on Suicide Squeeze Records.

http://russiancirclesband.com/

Band

  • Mike Sullivan—Guitar
  • Dave Turncrantz—Drums
  • Brian Cook—Bass

Additional musicians

  • Morgan Henderson—Double bass
  • Matt Bayles—Keyboards and organ

Tracks

  1. Campaign
  2. Harper Lewis
  3. Station
  4. Verses
  5. Youngblood
  6. Xavii

Review

Looking at my music collection, in light of listening to this CD, I realise that I have very few instrumental records: the most obvious being Joe Satriani and Steve Vai, Shutter and the occasional track from other albums. Perhaps I ought to make a compilation of all my instrumental tracks and report back with a list, as a comment. My point, though, is that I don’t have too many bands in my collection to compare this to.

I had two immediate thoughts when I first listened to this album. One was that I loved it; the second was that it reminded me of ShutterAmplifier and Jesu. With comparisons like those how can you possibly go wrong?

One of the great things about progressive albums is that the songs are longer than most, so even though there are only six tracks on this LP it still clocks in at a very reasonable 43 minutes 23 seconds.

The album starts quietly, like a single note fluctuating in the darkness, joined by an arpeggio that weaves itself around the tone. It sounds like the dawn, like an album waking up. It’s quite beautiful. And then only two and half minutes after the main song has begun it ends. “Campaign” creeps up on you, wows you, and then disappears again into the darkness.

“Harper Lewis” opens with the kind of drum pattern and tone that makes me long to be a drummer. Joined after forty seconds my the kind of bass ‘bounce’ that takes me back to performing on stage with a few bands and why I loved, loved, loved playing the bass: a simple, understated but highly effective bass line.

The pace quickens on the title track “Station”. The distorted guitar riff about a minute in provides a metronomic wall of sound for the bass guitar to dance in and out of. This is a song that can’t fail to put a smile on my face every time I listen to it. But then just under five minutes into the song it begins to slow to be replaced forty seconds later by another theme. A palm-muted guitar picks out a new rhythm and melody.

If there was one song that most reminded me of Jesu it is the next one, “Verses”. A majestic bass line, legato guitar squeals that I presume have been teased out with an EBow, and then the most exquisite melody picked out on a clean guitar. Check out the unofficial video below, featuring video from NASA and the international space station.

“Youngblood” is a seven and a half minute exercise in arpeggios, chugging distorted guitars and… well, I love it. It has a subtle melody that sounds ‘sour’ in places.

Finally, “Xavii” begins with a picked melody that reminds me of a Steve Lawson track. The song is laid back and melancholic (or maybe I’m just projecting my own mood today) and very reminiscent of Shutter with its crystal clear guitar melody. It’s quite a beautiful song to close the album.

Conclusion

I had never heard of Russian Circles before. I had bumped them to the top of my list because I loved the name and I found the album cover intriguing, and I’m glad I did. This is definitely an album I will be playing again; a lot. And they are definitely a band I will be looking out for in the future. There really isn’t anything I can fault on this album, so I’m going to give them a full 10/10.

Review score: 100%

Video

Apocalyptica—Reflections Revised (2003)

Apocalyptica—Reflections Revised (2003)

Apocalyptica—Reflections Revised (2003)

Details

Produced by Apocalyptica. Recorded and mixed by T-T Oksala. Recorded at Finnvox and Crystal Sound Studios. Mastered by Mika Jussila at Finnvox. All songs by Eicca Toppinen or Perttu Kivilaakso.

www.apocalyptica.com

Band

  • Eicca Toppinen—Cello
  • Perttu Kivilaakso—Cello
  • Paavo Lötjönen—Cello
  • Guest musicians including:
    • Dave Lombardo (Slayer)—Drums on tracks 1, 2, 4, 8, 10
    • Nina Hagen—Vocals on “Seemann”
    • Linda Sundblad—Vocals on “Faraway”

CD Tracks

  1. Prologue (apprehension)
  2. No education
  3. Faraway
  4. Somewhere around nothing
  5. Drive
  6. Cohkka
  7. Conclusion
  8. Resurrection
  9. Heat
  10. Cortége
  11. Pandemonium
  12. Toreador II
  13. Epilogue (relief)
  14. Seeman (album version, feat. Nina Hagen)
  15. Faraway vol. 2 (extended version) feat. Linda
  16. Delusion
  17. Perdition
  18. Leave me alone

DVD tracks

  1. Faraway (WDR / Rock Am Ring 2003)
  2. Enter sandman (WDR / Rock Am Ring 2003)
  3. Inquisition symphony (WDR / Rock Am Ring 2003)
  4. Nothing else matters (Lahti concert hall 2003)
  5. Somewhere around nothing (Lahti concert hall 2003)
  6. Somewhere around nothing (video clip)
  7. Faraway (with Linda) (video clip)
  8. Seeman (with Nina Hagen) (video clip)
  9. Making of “Faraway” with Linda (special)
  10. Making of “Reflections” (special)
  11. Making of “Seeman” with Nina Hagen (special)

Review

Two years on from Cult and album number four shows an incredible maturity in Apocalyptica’s song writing. Whereas passages from the previous album felt confused and as though they hadn’t quite found their voice, they hadn’t quite found that balance between metal and… well, wood.

This album, however, is tremendous. I have played it almost non-stop all week: in the car, at work, at home, in bed. As soon as it ended I would start it again. There is an integrity to this album that does justice to both cello and heavy music. I’m glad because it seems clear that the band members have drawn on their classical training, and have acknowledged that it’s okay to draw out some of this rich heritage and weave it into these heavier songs. It’s a much richer album for it. There’s a simplicity too to many of these tracks. This is like Apocalyptica’s black album, shorter, more melodic, simpler songs.

Stand out tracks for me include “Faraway” (especially the version with vocals, which I’ve played over and over again), “Somewhere around nothing” (which has a tremendous drive and a catchy melody), “Heat” (which has my head nodding along to the groove every time), and the album closer proper “Epilogue (Relief)” which is lamentful and quite beautiful.

There follows a number of album extras that along with the DVD adds “Revised” to the album title, including the two songs with added vocals: “Seemann (feat. Nina Hagen)” and “Faraway Volume 2 (feat. Linda)”.

Conclusion

I’ve been rather blown away by this album, particularly after the mild disappointment that Cult was last week. The song writing is tremendous, the album is varied enough and the vocalised versions add something extra, that obviously Apocalyptica develop further on their next album… but for that we’ll have to wait until next week!

This has been one of my favourite albums of this project. And I’m not going to quibble over a couple of percentage points here or there. I’m going to be generous and give it a mighty 10/10.

Review score: 100%

Video

Apocalyptica—Cult (2000)

Apocalyptica—Cult (2000)

Apocalyptica—Cult (2000)

Details

All music by Eicca Toppinen. Produced by Hiili Hiilesmaa. Recorded by Jyrki Tuovinen at Petrax Studios, Hollola, Finland. Mixed by Mikko Karmila at Finnvox. Mastered by Mika Jussila at Finnvox.

www.apocalyptica.com

Band

  • Paavo Lötjönen—Cello
  • Perttu Kivilaakso—Cello
  • Eicca Toppinen—Cello, double bass, percussion
  • Max Lilja—Cello

Tracks

  1. Path
  2. Struggle
  3. Romance
  4. Pray!
  5. In memoriam
  6. Hyperventilation
  7. Beyond time
  8. Hope
  9. Kaamos
  10. Coma
  11. Hall of the mountain king (Edward Grieg)
  12. Until it sleeps (Heltfield/Ulrich)
  13. Fight fire with fire (Hetfield/Ulrich, Burton)

Review

Back in 2001 I planned a trip to London to visit a friend of mine from my National Youth Choir of Great Britain days, Jonny. Out of curiosity I searched for gigs during my time there. I couldn’t believe it, my first night there (Monday 16 July 2001): Megadeth at the Astoria on Charing Cross Road, with Apocalyptica in support! I ordered a ticket straight-away.

Apocalyptica didn’t show! If I remember correctly one of the cellists had broken his arm skateboarding. I was gutted; I don’t remember who filled in for them. And I’ve still never seen them live, despite owning all but their latest album. (I even still own some of their albums on cassette!)

I, of course, first became aware of Apocalyptica with their debut album Plays Metallica by Four Cellos (1996) which, as the name suggests, saw them tackle eight Metallica tracks on nothing but four cellos.

Cult (2000) was Apocalytpica’s third album, the first to use distortion effects heavily, and the last to feature cellist Max Lilja who left the band the following year to join Hevein.

While I’m very fond of this album it’s not one I can play on repeat, and in general I do actually prefer the non-distorted tracks more than their over-driven offerings.

The album opens quietly, with something that initially wouldn’t be too far out of place accompanying an episode of Morse. It doesn’t last though, the rest of the track comprises a repeating melody woven on top of a chugging, wall of cello. (There’s a sentence that I’ve never written before.)

The rest of the album is a mixture of what you might expect a cello quartet to sound like, “Romance” (track 3) for example, fused with the warm, woody over-driven sound of a violoncello.

There are some fun moments, “Struggle” (track 2), opens with a Psycho-esque ‘stabbing’ spiccato (I think), for example; there are thoughtful and melodic moments too, “Beyond time” (track 7) is a pretty track that occasionally builds thanks in part to a couple of the musicians stomping on their distortion pedals. “In memoriam” (track 5) seems to flit between the two, in places sounding like something from the Dear Esther soundtrack.

The last self-penned track of the album, “Coma” (track 10) is a dark, brooding affair that has something of the feel of an avant-garde Celtic Frost track in places. It is also another candidate for inspiration for music from Dear Esther.

This edition of the album, however, closes with three covers: “Hall of the mountain king”, “Until it sleeps” and “Fight fire with fire”: one classical and two Metallica. The last track is perhaps my favourite track on the whole album, particularly the song’s introduction. Their thrashing interpretation is spot on. A brilliant album-closer.

Conclusion

This is an album that I really want to like more than I do. In many ways it is brilliant, and I do get it out every now and then to listen to for pleasure. But like I said, I can’t listen to it over and again like I can with some other albums. That said, for their first album of largely self-written tracks it is rather special and deserves a hearty seven out of ten.

Seemingly there are alternative versions of both Path and Home, with vocals; each has the “Vol. 2” suffix. I’ve heard neither… something to check out on YouTube later, perhaps.

Update: I noticed this morning that there was a mismatch in scores and I appeared to have given the album both 70% and 90%. Would the real answer please stand up…

Review score: 70%

Video

John 5—The Devil Knows My Name (2007)

John 5—The Devil Knows My Name (2007)

John 5—The Devil Knows My Name (2007)

Details

Produced by Sid Riggs and John 5. Executive Producer John 5. Mastered by Undercurrent Studios. Engineered and programmed by Sid Riggs. Mixed by Sid Riggs.

Band

  • John 5 — Guitars, banjo, bass
  • Piggy D — Bass
  • Matt Bissonette — Bass
  • Sid Riggs — Drums
  • Tommy Clufetos — Drums

Tracks

  1. First victim
  2. The werewolf of Westeria (feat. Joe Satriani)
  3. 27 needles
  4. Bella kiss
  5. Black widow of La Porte (feat. Jim Root)
  6. Welcome to the jungle
  7. Harold rollings hymn
  8. Dead art in Plainfield
  9. Young thing
  10. The washing away of the wrong (feat. Eric Johnson)
  11. July 31st (the last stand)

Review

This is an album that really surprised me: it was really not what I expected it to be. I was expecting an album of heavy, industrial music but what I got was something akin to a portfolio of someone about to graduate from the Guitar Institute of Technology.

Like many people, I suspect, I only knew John 5 (not to be confused with Johnny Five of the Short Circuit movie!) as the guitarist with the Marilyn Manson band. I had no idea that he’d released a solo album (he’s released seven) or that he was no longer the MM guitarist.

Born John William Lowery in 1971, his music career in fact goes back to about 1987. In 1996 he teamed up with Rob Halford and Sid Riggs (who produced, engineered and mixed this album) for an industrial-inspired album, under the band name 2wo; the album was remixed by Trent Reznor (Nine Inch Nails). Following that he played for Dave Lee Roth (1998-2003), Marilyn Manson (1998-2004), Loser (2005-2006), and for the last seven years has been playing in Rob Zombie’s band (2005-present). This is John 5’s third solo album.

Conceptually the album, which is entirely instrumental, is themed around serial killers. In an interview with Ultimate Guitar in 2007 John 5 explained,

All of the song titles are (taken from) serial killer quotes except ‘Welcome to the Jungle’ and ‘Young Thing’, which are both covers.

 

‘First Victim,’ ‘The Werewolf of Westeria,’ and ’27 Needles’ are all references to serial killers. For an example, ‘The Werewolf of Westeria’ is a title they gave to Albert Fish; he was a cannibal and someone who ate his victims. Also ’27 Needles’ is a reference to Albert Fish because when they put him in jail, they gave him an x-ray to see if he was healthy and stuff, and there were 27 needles in his groin. He used to put these needles up inside him for pleasure and they stayed there for years.

The album opens with “First Victim”, a short track that is mostly a dirge which I suspected was played in true rock ‘n’ roll style with a violin bow à la Jimmy Page. (It is.)

The first time I listened to “The werewolf of Westeria” my immediate thought was, “Oh, that sounds just like Joe Satriani. It is Joe Satriana. That would explain that, then. It’s shred-tastic!

I’ve just asked my two year old, Isaac, who has just wandered in to help review the rest of this album:

  • “27 Needles”: Isaac what do you think of that? “Monkey!” Do you like it? “No!”
  • “Bella Kiss”: Isaac likes this one, although he prefers to call it “Bella Poop”.
  • “Black Widow of La Porte”: Isaac thinks this one sounds like poop. I really like this track, which features Jim Root of Slipknot and Stone Sour fame.
  • “Welcome to the jungle”: A good name for a track, he thinks, and he’s just likened it to “The wheels on the bus”. This is a fabulous cover version: very accurate, but I feel really misses the vocals.
  • “Harold Rollings Hymn”: He likes this one. He likes the man speaking at the start of it. Which is curious as it’s one of the spookiest sounding tracks on the album.
  • “Young Thing”: Isaac thinks his song sounds fun. He just told me that the man is playing a guitar. It’s got a country/bluegrass feel. It sounds to me like a guitar magazine exercise track.
  • “The washing away of the wrong”: He thinks the song title sounds like someone having a bath on the naughty step. He doesn’t like the music, though because it’s too widdly. It is rather widdly and sounds a bit like the album has come round full circle to the Satch track.
  • “July 31st (The last stand)”: After quite a bit of deliberation he decided he didn’t like it. His reason: “cos”. Oh, and it’s too loud, he says. I really like this track which opens with a kind of echo-y guitar effect before a spooky sounding guitar melody joins in. I could imagine this track being played over film credits.

Conclusion

Isaac’s summary is that, taking everything into account he thought the whole album was “rubbish”. I don’t I would be quite so harsh, to be honest. The album has grown on me a bit this week. I’ve certainly enjoyed listening to it and delving a little deeper into it.

I find more than a fair share of instrumental guitar albums are little more than over-indulgent shred-fests that forgets the song and the listener, while the guitarist is having the time of (usually) his life.

But while this album has its fair share of shredding it does sound like the songs come first, and the album is all the better for it. This one is definitely going to stay in my collection.

My favourite tracks: “The werewolf of Westeria” (featuring Joe Satriani), “Black widow of La Porte” (featuring Jim Root), and “July 31st (the last stand)”.

Review score: 85%

Video