It’s time for some new music as entertainment editor John Turnbull checks out new albums from Southern rockers Kings of Leon, singer/songwriter Beth Hart, metal legends Metallica and post-hardcore punks I Prevail.
New Album from an Old Artist
Metallica — Hardwired… to Self-Destruct
Metallica have had their ups and downs over their 35 year career, both as a creative force and a group of individuals. Founding guitarist Dave Mustaine was fired before the release of debut album Kill ‘Em All for being a drunken clown, while bassist Cliff Burton was killed in a tragic tour bus accident in 1986.
Replacement bassist Jason Newstead spent ten years being treated like the new guy before quitting in disgust, and the band famously made a documentary where they took life advice from an overpaid simpleton in a Cosby sweater.
Fortunately, Hardwired… to Self-Destruct leaves all of this baggage behind and focuses on making the best metal album possible, and the result is a double album that stands alongside the best Metallica albums of all time. The title track kicks off the assault and the pace barely slows over the next 11 songs — no trace of an Unforgiven style power ballad here.
At 77 minutes, the album is barely over the single-disc limit, and it takes a certain level of arrogance to release a double album in 2016, but at least Metallica aren’t pulling the Use Your Illusion trick and asking fans to pay for two separate albums rather than one long one. In fact, Metallica have gone the other way, throwing in a bonus third CD including cover versions and a live set of classic tracks — definitely worth the purchase for fans.
With the amps turned up to eleven, Hardwired … may be a little on the heavy side for Metallica fans who prefer their more contemplative work, but for listeners who appreciate heavy metal done with passion and proficiency, this is the album of the year. As a bonus for fans, the band has made videos for every one of the dozen tracks on the album, which is pretty sweet.
Standout tracks: Atlas Rise, Hardwired … to Self-Destruct, Now That We’re Dead
Sample lyric: ‘How does it feel on your own? Bound by the world all alone.’ (Atlas Rise)
Verdict: 9/10 — the best Metallica album since Master of Puppets
New Album from a New Artist
I Prevail — Lifelines
Formed in Southfield, Michigan in 2013, I Prevail took a tried-and-true approach to gaining attention: they released a heavy cover version of a pop song, Blank Space, originally by Taylor Swift. From Alien Ant Farm’s version of Smooth Criminal to Disturbed’s take on Sounds of Silence, the cover version approach has long been successful at gaining airplay and listener attention — but then you need to back it up.
I Prevail released their debut EP Heart vs Mind in January 2015, including the singles Love, Lust & Liars and The Enemy, securing the band a presence on the hardcore touring circuit alongside bands like Hollywood Undead and Crown the Empire.
There is a lot going on throughout Lifelines. Sonically, the album veers from hardcore thrash to almost radio-friendly pop punk, recalling both Minor Threat and Blink 182. This may be due to the band including two lead singers, who are amusingly differentiated on Wikipedia between clean vocals (Brian Burkheiser) and unclean vocals (Eric Vanlerberghe). For those unfamiliar with what unclean vocals mean, it’s basically screaming.
It will be interesting to see how I Prevail evolve over subsequent albums. At this point, they have potential but don’t really seem to know whether they want to be pop-punks (and possibly commercially successful) or proper hardcore (ie poverty-stricken).
Standout tracks: Stuck in Your Head, RISE
Sample lyric: ‘If I could bring you back to life I’d kill you again.’ (Already Dead)
Verdict: 6/10 — buy this album if you want to keep I Prevail off the streets. Or don’t.
Album I Expect to Suck
Kings of Leon — WALLS
Southern rock is one of those genres that you need to be in the right mood for. Good Southern Rock is loud, raucous and dirty, but it tends to lack a bit of subtlety. From the Allman Brothers and Lynyrd Skynyrd to Stevie Ray Vaughn and Kid Rock, Southern Rock is great for playing loud when you’re cruising down the highway, less so when you’re relaxing over a glass of red wine with friends. Moonshine maybe, but not red wine …
After breaking out of the Baptist influence of their preacher father, Caleb Followhill formed Kings of Leon with his brothers Nathan and Jared and their cousin Matthew, then proceeded to make some of the dirtiest Southern Rock ever. Debut album Youth & Young Manhood was released in 2003 and included the single Molly’s Chamber, a tribute to that special place on a lady … you get the idea. Kings of Leon were young, dirty and dangerous, releasing three more albums or varying quality in quick succession, before hitting big with the frankly ludicrous single Sex on Fire. International success generated tensions within the band, and Caleb struggled with addiction as the band teetered on the edge of collapse.
WALLS is Kings of Leon’s 7th studio album and reflects a growing maturity within the band. Caleb appears to have beaten his demons (for now), and the subject matter reflects this — more about lost love and missed opportunities than drinking and lady parts. On the downside, this means that WALLS lacks some of the jittery passion that marked early albums, and a number of tracks definitely veer towards middle-of-the-road.
Considering the revolving door attitude some bands have towards membership, it is somewhat reassuring to see the Kings of Leon Family Band still going strong after 16 years. The fact that WALLS isn’t their strongest album doesn’t mean that it’s bad and fans of the band will no doubt find something to enjoy.
Standout tracks: Waste a Moment, Muchacho
Sample lyric: ‘The truth in disguise from the billowing eyes isn’t working on me.’ (Reverend)
Verdict: 7/10 — good but not great
Ch-check it out …
Beth Hart — Fire on the Floor
Beth Hart hold the dubious honour of being the first artist I ever interviewed for IA. She was exceedingly lovely in putting up with my borderline incomprehensible accent and stumbling questions, which probably leaves me predisposed to enjoying her music. I begin with this caveat for the sake of clarity and because I’m not sure if I’d like this album if it was sung by someone else. But enjoy it I do…
After getting her start in talent shows, Hart got a medium-sized break when her track LA Song was used in the final season of Beverly Hills 90210, possibly in the episode where they celebrated Dylan’s 40th birthday. After struggling with substance abuse and some poor choices in men, Hart focused on the music and became a superstar. Her collaborations with blues guitarist Joe Bonnamassa are sublime, while her cover of the Etta James classic I’d Rather Go Blind is searingly beautiful.
With more of a jazzy feel than previous albums, Fire on the Floor takes a couple of listens to land, but once it does the results are worth the investment. Hart’s voice only continues to improve album by album and she has an almost Springsteen-esque ability to tell stories of Americana that resonate with audiences worldwide.
Thematically, Hart covers all the usual Blues bases of loss, longing and heartbreak, and then there is a song about Coca-Cola for some reason. Really not sure about that one…
Standout tracks: Love Gangster, Fat Man, Fire on the Floor
Sample lyric: ‘They tell me love is blind, but I can see fine here in the dark.’ (Good Day to Cry)
Verdict: 8/10 — perfect for listening to on a rainy night (but maybe skip the Coke song)
Aaron Keylock — Against the Grain
Now and again, a single comes along that demands you sit up and listen. This week, that single is by teen guitar whiz Aaron Keylock from Oxford in the UK. Take a little Led Zeppelin, mix in some Black Sabbath, some Robert Johnson and just a hint of The Rolling Stones, and you’re starting to get close to where Aaron Keylock is coming from. Boy can sure play the guitar, too…
That’s all for this week — be good to one another!
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