For a while now, the idea of a new Kiss studio album was a dicey proposition at best. 1998s` "Psycho Circus", while a commercial success, was somewhat unfocused, due mostly to problems with Ace Frehley and Peter Criss [neither of whom played much on the album anyway]. 2009s` "Sonic Boom" was a more cohesive effort; they recorded as a BAND this time, and the addition of Guitarist Tommy Thayer and Drummer Eric Singer and a back to basics approach marked a return to the Seventies Kiss sound, to huge acclaim. Now we have "Monster", an apt title if there ever was one! As with the previous release, Kiss have gone totally analog, no Pro Tools if you please, no Auto Tune thank you very much. You can almost smell the tube amps burning through out. Paul Stanley once described early Kiss material as "tunes of the gutter", and with "Monster" they`ve obviously gone for more of a "street" approach. All twelve tracks are down & dirty, Bluesy at times; one should remember that Gene and Paul were greatly influenced by The Rolling Stones and Humble Pie, and these influences are all over the album. Almost an updated version of "Rock & Roll Over". From the lead off track [and first single] "Hell or Hallelujah", it`s clear that the grease-painted warhorses have managed to escape the fate many of their peers, like old rivals Aerosmith. [Those goofs haven`t put out anything decent since `89, and Steven Tyler has become a pathetic joke; he really needs to be put out to pasture!] Nothing sounds forced, just four guys turning up as loud as possible a Rockin` out. Among many examples of this are cuts like "Take Me Down Below", "Long Way Down", "Eat Your Heart Out" [which features COWBELL! Yes, more cowbell, PLEASE!], and "Shout Mercy". Gene and Paul are in fine form; for a couple of guys clockin` 60 plus, their performance on this album make mincemeat out of all these pre-fab "bad boys" being passed off as "Rockers" nowadays. Thayer and Singer prove they`re more than just filling the previous members platforms; Thayer was heavily involved in the songwriting process and takes the lead vocals for "Outta This World", while Singer assumes lead vocal duties on "All For the Love of Rock and Roll". All in all, "Monster" ranks right up there with the bands` best work, a not-so-gentle reminder that they ain`t quite finished yet, as well as a way of showing the young `uns how it`s REALLY done!


Helloween-"Straight Out Of Hell"-2013

Helloween have been on quite a roll since 2005s` "Keeper Of The Seven Keys: The Legacy"; for a time it seemed that for every good album they released, one or two lousy ones followed. Following the aforementioned release with "Gambling With The Devil", "7 Sinners", and now "Straight Out of Hell", it would appear the spell has been broken. The new disc combines all the best elements of the previous two, though I would say that the mood isn`t quite as dark as "7 Sinners" and a more positive seems to permeate. Lead off track "Nabataea" is definitely one of the albums best, and Andi Deris vocal prowress is on fine display here, as well as on the rest of the songs. "Live Now", "Waiting For The Thunder", "World of War" are right up there with Helloweens` best. The not-so-subtly titled "Asshole" is a standout, with a powerful melody and great riffs. What is striking is how the band manages to avoid a puerile, Junior High School approach to this song that most bands would be happy to indulge in. But Helloween have always shown a willingness to experiment with quirkiness; sometimes it`s worked for them, sometimes it hasn`t. This time is works! A great way to start off the year; looks like 2013 is definitely going "Straight Out of Hell", and Helloween wouldn`t have it any other way!


Tygers Of Pan Tang-"Ambush"-2012

NWOBHM [I don`t have to explain that term, now do I?] stalwarts Tygers Of Pan Tang are back with "Ambush", an album that harkens back to the "Wild Cat"/"Crazy Nights"/"Spellbound" days. Chris Tsangarides, who produced two of the previously mentioned discs, is back in the producers chair. Tsangarides manages to srtike a balance between retro and modern, the result being one of TOPTs` best albums in many a moon. The bands comes out swinging with "Keeping Me Alive"; vocalist Jacopo Meill in fine form and his powerhouse vocals are one of the albums highlights. Original member Rob Weir has clearly lost none of his ability to craft razor sharp riffs and soaring solos, while the rest of the band performs like a well-oiled machine. Choice cuts include "These Eyes", "Mr Indispensible", "She", "One Of A Kind", "Speed". In short, "Ambush" is Tygers Of Pan Tang at their very best, acknowledging their past but keeping their feet firmly planted in the present. A "must-have"!

Tygers Of Pan Tang

Attic-"The Invocation"-2013

It seems a lot of "Old Schoolers" in the Metal community, particularly those in my *ahem* age group, have a tendency to bemoan the fact that all the newer bands stink/suck, etc. And of course everything was SO much better BACK-IN-THE-DAY. "Why can`t these newer bands do it like the old bands did?" they`ll cry. Yet, whenever a newer band does EXACTLY that, these Old Schoolers scream "RIPOFF!" Because of course everything was SO much better BACK-IN-THE-DAY. Whatever. Now we have Germanys` Attic who, on their debut disc “The Invocation”, have basically plundered Mercyful Fates` closet and re-tooled it for 2013. Right down to the honest-to-King-Diamond vocal stylings of Meister Cagliostro, who also has affected horror show makeup similar to KD. Some have referred to this as the best album Mercyful Fate never made; while I wouldn`t THAT far, Attic HAS managed to take the best Fate elements and put their own spin on them. They`ve wisely avoided the splattergore themes and other idiocy of their contemporaries, opting instead for a more [surprise] Mercyful Fate-like ghost story approach, along with bits of early Angelwitch and Witchfynde. So, does it work? In a word, yes! Check out “Join The Coven” and “Funeral In The Woods”, “The Headless Horseman”. The band is tight as hell, and obviously took great care with the arrangements. My only complaint [and it`s a minor one] is that some of the songs tend to sound the same in places; a little variation in tempos might be in order. Still, Attic have crafted a very impressive debut which holds much promise for greater things in the future. And since Mercyful Fate appears to be on permanant hiatus, I guess Attic is the next best thing! Whether you`re Old School, New School, No School, give "The Invocation" a shot. One of the best Metal debuts of 2013!

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Mystery-"The World Is A Game"-2012

Canadian Prog-Rockers Mystery have been in existence since [I believe] 1985 have release seven studio albums, the latest titled "The World Is A Game". I only became familiar with the band last year when I picked up the previous release "One Among The Living", and was amazed at the high quality of the arrangements, memorable song writing and technical ability contained within the material. Fortunately, at about this same time Mystery was about to release "The World Is A Game", so naturally I snapped that one up, as well! The current line up consists of Michel St-Pere on guitars and keyboards, Benoit David on vocals, Antoine Fafard on bass/acoustic guitars and drummer Nick D'Virgilio. The eight songs found here remind me at times of early Kansas, both in terms of arrangements and also the fact that you don`t have to be a philosophy major to understand the lyrics, which are fairly involved but are accessable nonetheless. From the opening instrumental "A Morning Rise" we are lead into the 11-minute "Pride", a track that that runs the gamut from subtle shades to hard Rockin` and never fails to hold the listeners attention. "Superstar", "The Unwinding Of Time", "Dear Someone", AND "Time Goes By" are relatively compared to "Pride", but then we have the final track "Another Day", nearly 20 minutes of mood swings, twists and turns that again hold the listener for its` duration. It takes much skill and restraint to craft highly involved musical tapestries without turning the whole thing into one big wankfest; fortunately, Mystery possess these qualities in abundance. Certainly one of the most inventive albums of any genre so far this year!

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