[Album Review] Ozzy Osbourne | Ordinary Man

Ordinary Man is the Prince of Darkness’ first release of new material since 2010’s Scream.  Although I felt Scream was pretty good, the sales numbers don’t lie.  Ozzy’s 2007 release, Black Rain was his first studio album to not be certified RIAA Platinum, and Scream didn’t even reach gold status.  Heck, even I didn’t buy it and I consider myself a fan.

There are a few attempts on Ordinary Man to break the downward slide in sales that I’m sure looked good on paper but the execution is a little lacking.

The core of the band is made up of:

Ozzy – Lead Vocals
Duff McKagan – Bass, also of Guns ‘N Roses
Chad Smith – drums, also of Red Hot Chili Peppers
Andrew (Watt) Wotman – guitars, also the album’s co-producer

They all share a writing credits with a host of guest writers and musicians featured throughout.  We would be here all day if I tried to go through them all.  

Some regulars like Guns ‘n Roses’ Slash and Rage Against The Machine’s Tom Morello make an appearance, but there are some interesting additions like a collaboration on the title track with Elton John and some dude named Post Malone who is featured on the last two if you got a digital or CD copy.  (The vinyl only has one.)

Even with all of these cooks in the kitchen the pot isn’t fully spoiled.

Ozzy’s humour is front and center on opening track, Straight To Hell when he tells you he is going to make you scream and defecate.  There is something about that word… defecate.  It is equally funny as it is gross.  I enjoy this rocker featuring the Ozzy tropes “alright now” and his evil cackle throughout.  Hits me right in the good spot.

The albums tracks Goodbye, Eat Me, Today Is the End, and Scary Little Green Man are solid.  These gave me Ozzmosis vibes as they are all sludgy, mid-tempo rockers with a sprinkle of heavy guitar moments. 

Under the Graveyard begins as a slow ballad, but the last part takes off to what is as close as this albums gets to Ozzy’s Black Sabbath days.  After 50 years of metal, Ozzy can still finds guys who can come up with the big riff.  Ozzy’s lyrics are best when he is telling of personal life moments and this one is of Sharon putting him back on his feet after he was fired from Sabbath.  It’s a decent tune.

The rest of the album is a bit of a mixed bag.  Individually, All My Life, Ordinary man (his duet with Elton John), and Holy For Tonight are solid ballads but they are too same-y.  I get it.  They are attempts to get Ozzy an FM radio hit like he had previously with Mama, I’m Coming Home and Dreamer.  Even though I do like them, all three on one record makes them less special.  It’s a similar problem I have with Aeorsmith’s Get A Grip.

For the Post Malone stuff, I can see the effort was there to make a bridge with a young audience.  Surrounding himself with successful musicians how are hip to that crowd is what has worked for Ozzy since the ’80s.  So, I respect it.  But I think what they came up with would fit better on a Post Malone album. 

Despite my gripes, I do enjoy Ordinary Man for the most part.  I still like hearing Ozzy’s signature eerie voice over heavy guitars, but maybe an approach to something the core fan base can better appreciate will make the next one a must have.

Regardless, Ordinary Man is not one I can spin endlessly, but I will do once in a while.  I’m glad we have it. 

3/5

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[Album Review] Pantera | Reinventing The Steel (20th Anniversary Edition)

Record labels, take note.  This is the kind of release we music fans are looking for.

Reinventing The Steal was Pantera’s last hurrah before hanging it up for good.  At the time, the band wanted to shake things up and allowed their long-time producer Terry Date to step aside for someone else.  (Date admitted in later interviews that he was having trouble keeping pace with the in-studio drinking of a shot every 20 minutes.)

So, taking charge behind the board for the first time was their engineer, Sterling Winfield.  He worked alongside co-producers, drummer Vinnie Paul and guitarist Dimebag Darrel, in Dimebag’s home studio and what they came up with was a mighty fine record.

Their previous album, Great Southern Trendkill, was well received but it was a little out there.  So for many fans, Reinventing The Steel was seen as the band getting back to their groove from the classic Cowboys From HellVulgar Display of Power era.

But that didn’t translate into sales.  Reinventing The Steel is the only album the band recorded for a major label that has yet to reach Platinum status.

Personally, I think the dip in sales had more to do with piracy in the year 2000 and how many felt it was a rehash of what came out 10 years before.  But still, others have theorized that the album’s biggest error was to not have Terry Date involved and many wondered what the results would be if he had.

Well, we need to wonder no more because now we have Terry Date’s new mix included on the 20th Anniversary Edition!

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It is featured on Disc 1 of this new 3 CD set and for me, his take is pretty good but a little flat.  It is certainly more vivid than the original but it places all of the pieces of the band at the forefront.  It sounds like everyone is competing for the same space at the top.

Really, Sterling Winfield’s remastering of his original mix on Disc 2 has me better impressed.  Winfield filtered any changes he made through the band’s two surviving members (Phil Anselmo, Rex Brown) and Pantera’s management, all had envisioned what Dimebag and Vinnie’s wishes for a remaster would be foremost in their minds.  For me, it is a little muddy compared to Date’s but I like how the instruments are layered which gives each song better depth.

The difference between the two mixes is not subtle.  Heck, even Shazam specified which I was listening too:

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But really, it is awesome that we have both to compare and own right here.

What really knocks this set out of the park is the bonus material.  According to Winfield, the band was super focused in the studio, so there are not any pieces left unfinished.  Everything that was recorded during these sessions was completed and published at some point.

But that did not stop this set from going the extra mile.

Added to Disc 2 are radio edits/mixes for the singles Revolution Is My Name, Goddamn Electric, and I’ll Cast A Shadow. OK, I’ll admit it… Having Pantera tunes with the cuss words cut out is not much of a bonus.  Maybe they could come in handy if you were making a Pantera mix for your mom.

Disc 3 makes up for it with its 15 tracks.  It includes the covers (Black Sabbath’s Electric Funeral and Hole In The Sky, Ted Nugent’s Cat Scratch Fever) and their two B-sides (Avoid The Light, Immortally Insane) that were recorded at this time.  That is an excellent way to get all of these tunes without buying a mess of soundtracks, tribute albums, and singles.

Finally, each album track has a “rough mix” which are hi-fi recordings of the rhythm sections with no vocals and sometimes no lead guitar.  Since there isn’t much extra out there from Dimebag, it is a real treat to hear the curtain pulled back a little on his creative process.

Reinventing the Steel The 20th Anniversary Edition is a no-brainer must-have for any Pantera fan even if you already own and prefer the original CD.  I’ll even say any metalhead will need to check this out and any music fan can appreciate how encompassing and complete of a release it is.

4/5

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[Album Review] Anthrax |Stomp 442

Hey now, everybody!  I haven’t written about music for a while and I thought I’d get back into the groove by talking about some of my favourite metal/hard rock albums from the ’90s.  No, not that Nü Metal stuff.  You know, METAL.  I got back to listening to the soundtrack of my teen years when I started “Major Scores”.  (Bonus points to anyone who remembers that series.)  Now, that my nostalgia trip has carried over into the sounds of Summer 2020, I thought it is as good a time as any to share my thoughts on these albums.  So, here we go…

I might be a complete nut for liking Anthrax’s Stomp 422 so much.  The album flopped commercially.  The band blamed the label, Electra, for its lack of promotion, and a few outlets like Walmart refused to carry it because of the bum on the cover.  Most critics gave it a negative review too.   Here is Stephen Thomas Erlewine in his allmusic.com review:

Anthrax continued their downward spiral with Stomp 442, a generic collection of speed metal bombast. Previously, the band had been able to save their weakest material by the sheer force of their personality, but by the time they recorded Stomp 442, they had lost a number of their key members. Instead of recharging the band, the new members make Anthrax seem somewhat unsure of where to go next — they pull out their old bag of tricks, but none of their blistering riffs, thundering drums, or hip-hop experiments carry any excitement any more. A handful of tracks suggest that the band could save itself, but Stomp 442 is a disheartening experience for the band’s dedicated followers.

Ouch.  Fair enough if you don’t like the album.  To each his own and all that metal, I guess.  But we have a bit to unpack here because, with all due respect,  I don’t know what this guy is talking about.

No hip hop experiments?  Geez, Bring the Noise was some fun they had with Public Enemy in ’91, I’m the Man was ’87.  It’s like complaining when The Beatles came out with Abbey Road that they don’t do songs like “Love Me Do” anymore.

While it is true, founding member and lead guitarist Dan Splitz… split, that was really the only line-up change.  Drummer Charlie Benante played a majority of the guitar solos, Pantera’s Dimebag Darrell guested on one tune, and journeyman/session guitarist Paul Crook did the rest.  So I’m not sure who these new members are who are going to recharge the band.  He might be referring to John Bush who replaced lead vocalist Joey Belladonna on the previous album, Sound of White Noise.  So he was relatively new, I guess.

Getting away from this guy though, one of the more consistent complaints about this album is how all of the songs sound the same.  Well, since both AC/DC and Motorhead share space on my top three bands of all time, I guess that wouldn’t bother me very much.  I actually enjoy how the album is stripped of the hip hop and novelty bits.  This is straight-up working’s man’s metal for the ’90s.  Tough, punchy, and crunchy.  Anthrax’s very own Flick of the Switch if you will.

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The first six tracks are a non-stop jackhammer of intensity.   Even though Benante did most of the writing, every tune is anchored by rhythm guitarist Scott Ian’s groove.  Throw this one into the anti-skip Discman when on the treadmill and you won’t want to leave.  Random Acts of Senseless Violence and Fueled are a terrific one-two punch at the top.  Then King Size (featuring Dimebag Darrell), Riding Shotgun, Perpetual Motion, and In A Zone do not let up.

The next three tunes are slightly weaker.  Slight-ly.  Bush seems to strain a bit during Nothing, American Pompeii is the best out of the three, and Drop The Ball ain’t bad.  Heck, all three have their moments.  Really good, just not great.

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But then Tester comes next.  My favourite track of the bunch.  This is the tune that put the stomp into Stomp 422.  Literally.  The boys stomp on boards as part of the percussion.  It is good times.

The final tune is Bare, an acoustic number that gets “acoustic heavy” before it is done.  It is a good track but it doesn’t really fit with the rest of the album.  So, I can see why it is placed at the end.

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There is an extended version of the album that came out in 2003, but I wouldn’t recommend it.  The extra tunes drag it out to 15 tracks and they’re not really worth owning, IMHO.

I know a lot of folks have a nostalgic tie with the Belladonna years from the ’80s, and I love that stuff too.  Especially Among the Living which I can agree with most how it is their best album.  But personally, I connect more with John Bush’s down to earth lyrics and style.  Stomp 442 has never left my collection since I bought it in ’95.  Not once have I ever considered giving it up. 

5/5

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New Segment: Major Scores!

Hey, why not a new segment?  It’s not like I have anything else on my plate right now!

Actually, I was writing about how back in the early ’90s my bud Frank and I (who were both just getting into “the metal”) would go on hunts for new (to us) tunes at a bunch of stores that sold used CDs around Sudbury, Ontario.  It is what you had to do during this period of time.  With grunge being the rock du jour, if you wanted more than the limited amount of metal/hard rock the radio or Much Music would give, you had to dig deep!  The internet was but a newborn baby with Napster still years away, and new CDs were over $20 each.  A few part-time shifts pumping gas for minimum wage would cover some blind purchases, but not a lot.

Used CDs were an economical alternative to buying new, and we would spend a couple of evenings every week scouring thrift stores, “Bay’s Used Books”, and other mom and pop stores for metal.  I still have a lot of these CDs from that time and became life long fans of the bands that I discovered on those hunts.  I started writing about the albums, and the post became way too friggin’ long.

So I thought… why not make this a series?

These CDs I considered at the time to be a “major score” for various reasons.  Some I still listen to regularly, others I haven’t played in a long time.  I think it will be interesting to see what has stood the test of time and what hasn’t.  And if it tickles my fancy, I’ll also add in some more recent “Major Scores” I have found with Sarah in the past few years.

The series will be mixed in with my other posts.  So the three of you that are into my AC/DC reviews, no need to panic!  They will continue!  Sarah and I also have a bunch of pickup videos planned.  We’re just waiting on some time to record them.  So, get ready part one of Major Scores to be posted tomorrow if all goes well!  Hope you all enjoy the ride down memory and recent memory lane!

 

 

[Album Review] Saxon | Thunderbolt

Thunderbolt is my first Saxon album (I know, super late to the party) and I am impressed.  The only song I knew of prior to this was ‘Wheels of Steel’.  Groovy track that I liked whenever it came on, but not enough to get me to check anything else out.  Then, prior to the album’s release a few months ago I stumbled on (aka, someone posted it in one of their blogs) the video for the title track:

Well, my ears perked!  Then I read how another track was written and dedicated to Motörhead!  Specifically about Saxon’s time with the band during the ‘No Sleep To Hammersmith’ tour.  Take my money, please!

There is a total of 12 tracks that clock in at 47-ish minutes, and let me tell ya, these geezers rock!  67-year-old lead singer Biff Byford must consume an extraordinary amount of Omega-3 fatty acids because he doesn’t sound a day over 35.  Guitarist Paul Quinn and Doug Scarratt rock out some solid licks as they swap back and forth for lead guitar duty.  And the rhythm section is held down tightly by Nibbs Carter on bass and Nigel Glockler on drums.

Thunderbolt opens with ‘Olympus Rising‘; a short and slow instrumental that acts as the  build up track diving seamlessly into the swingin’ ‘Thunderbolt‘.  ‘Thunderbolt’ is about Zeus and the crew are about to get medieval on the Titans who are making war on earth.  Great tune to kick off the album with.

The Secret of Flight‘ is next which is one of my favourites.  The lyrics follow humanity’s advancements in aviation.  A history lesson that rocks!  ‘Nosferatu, The Vampire’s Waltz‘ is not a bad song but I found it a little boring.  The band must disagree though because they gave it an official video and there are two version of it on here.

They Played Rock And Roll‘ is the track that is dedicated to Motörhead and they honoured them with a great tune.  It has a Motörhead-ish sound with Saxon flavour.  The lyrics fit in some recognizable references well and you just know that Lemmy would have covered this one himself à la the RAMONES covering his R.A.M.O.N.E.S.

Predator‘ has a real solid groove and would have been my favourite tracks if it didn’t feature the vocal “Cookie Monster” styling of Johan Hegg.  Hegg is admired greatly by those who enjoy hearing dudes breath inwardly while belting out a tune, but they do nothing for me.  (Believe me, it is a blessing.  There would be too much to listen to if I enjoyed it.)

The next five tunes are all killer.  They start with ‘Sons of Odin‘ which has ‘Dio’ vibe.  ‘Sniper‘ is straight up rockin’ metal.  Its slow chug during the bridge and screaming guitar solos are highlights.  The dueling guitars during ‘A Wizard’s Tale‘ is fun to listen to.  ‘Speed Merchants‘ is a rocking driving metal tune with a catchy chorus.   And finally, I’m not sure why ‘Roadie’s Song‘ is buried at the bottom of the album since it is easily one of the best. I would have put this one in at the number 3 slot.

Nosferatu (Raw Version)‘ is a not available on vinyl.  I really didn’t need another version of this tune.

Thunderbolt is Saxon’s 22nd studio album…. Twenty-second… and it is an overall solid metal album.  Producer Andy Sneap (This dude is on some sort of monster roll lately as he also co-produced Judas Priest’s recent solid output Firepower) captured whatever makes Saxon swing.  I personally would have switched up the song order a bit (I regularly skip Nosferatu both times) and would have told cookie monster to stay home, but these are minor grips for what otherwise is perfection.

4/5

thunderbolt album of the year contender