New Music Through Old Ears: Metallica’s Backstreet Regionals

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After a hiatus worthy of The Descendents, entertainment editor John Turnbull returns with a bunch of new music worth your attention.

New Album from an Old Artist

Metallica: Helping Hands… Live & Acoustic at the Masonic

If you had the opportunity to watch the documentary Some Kind of Monster, you’d be aware that the members of Metallica are staggeringly wealthy, a result of years at the top of the hard rock/metal scene, near-constant touring and some savvy investing (particularly from Lars Ulrich). Fortunately, it seems the band (eventually) realised they had the ability to help people less fortunate, setting up the All Within My Hands Foundation in 2017.

Dedicated to building sustainable local communities, supporting education and ending global hunger, the Foundation also holds one-off concerts to raise funds, which is exactly where this album comes from. Recorded in November 2018 at the Helping Hands Concert & Auction, all profits from the sale of this album go to a selection of charities around the world.

It seems uncharitable to point out that an acoustic performance isn’t necessarily the best way to experience Metallica — a big part of the band’s live appeal is how loud and aggressive their music is. But hey, it worked for Nirvana, so who knows? James Hetfield and the boys do their best to defy expectations, kicking off with a furious version of Disposable Heroes, but the album quickly slows down to a succession of power ballads and James complaining occasionally about the sound.

Featuring a smattering of cover versions including Please Don’t Judas Me by Nazareth and Veteran of the Psychic Wars by Blue Oyster Cult, Helping Hands is definitely worth a listen for longtime fans of the band, but seems unlikely to attract many new listeners.

Standout tracks: The Four Horsemen, Nothing Else Matters, Turn the Page

Sample lyric: “So close, not matter how far, couldn’t be much more from the heart.” (Nothing Else Matters)

Verdict: 7/10 — an interesting experiment

New Album from a New Artist

Regionals: Sentimental Health

Rising from the ashes of Sydney punk act The Mission in Motion, Regionals are a band united by their love of mid-1990s emo and indie music. Releasing first single Piss & Biscuits in mid-2017, the band attracted attention and airplay from Triple J, then proceeded to build a dedicated live following off the back of their incendiary live performances.

Sentimental Health kicks off with the catchy Slow Down Moneghetti, then kicks into high gear with second single Fears for Spears. Recalling the best of punk outfits like This Town Needs Guns, mixed with a grungier version of The Smiths, Regionals aren’t afraid to demonstrate some highly competent musicianship, which is a nice change in the three chord world of punk rock.

Recorded at The Brain studios in Sydney in mid-2018, the band made the wise choice to send the recordings to the UK to be mastered by acclaimed hardcore producer Lewis Johns, resulting in an aurally complex album that reveals more nuance with every listen.  

Described by Triple J as emo/punk/indie, when the band are asked to self-classify they tend to describe themselves as onion-core, which I’m pretty sure is just a gambit to make music journalists waste half-an-hour searching for what the hell that means. Well played, Regionals

Standout tracks: Gatorade Saxaphone, Fears for Spears, T2

Sample lyric: “I’ve been stealing time away from everyone that knows my name.” (T2)

Verdict: 8/10 — definitely worth a listen for fans of Australian punk. Or onion-core, I guess.

Album I Expect to Suck

Backstreet Boys: DNA

I must admit that I didn’t particularly care for the Backstreet Boys during their late '90s heyday, but I’ve developed an appreciation for a few of their songs via classic rock radio and their use in movies. Selling over 100 million albums, Backstreet Boys are one of the many bands who lay claim to the title "best selling band of all time" and frankly I’d prefer their teenage warblings to the elevator music of The Eagles any day of the week.

DNA is the ninth studio album for the band, released 23 years after their self-titled debut. After years of touring on the nostalgia circuit, you might expect re-heated versions of hits like Everybody and I Want It That Way, but the quintet defy expectations and produce a weight of distinctly modern pop. There’s not a lot of depth or meaning from the lyrics but, then again, this isn’t the Dead Kennedys.

The decision not to write any of the tracks on DNA seems to have worked out well for the band, as contemporary producers like Stuart Crichton introduce an electronic dance music flavour to the Boys still-youthful harmonies. First single, Don’t Go Breaking My Heart (not a cover of the Elton John/Kiki Dee song, unfortunately) shows that Kevin, Howie, AJ, Nick and Brian have barely lost a step vocally, even as headwear becomes essential to cover receding hairlines.

If you were a fan of Backstreet Boys in the '90s, you might be pleasantly surprised by DNA.

Standout tracks: Don’t Go Breaking My Heart, Breathe, Chances

Sample lyric: “If that was paradise, can somebody take me back?” (Breathe)

Verdict: 6/10 — better than expected, but still not great.

Ch...check it out

Nathan Seeckts: Old Blood

Inspired by artists like Bruce Springsteen, Steve Earle and Jason Isbell, Australian singer/songwriter Nathan Seeckts started out his showbiz life as a bit-part actor in shows like Neighbours, Stingers and Blue Heelers, but music was his true passion. Exploring the genres of blues, folk, country and Americana, Seeckts started performing in public in 2010, releasing three solo EPs over the next few years. He toured extensively, playing festivals from Queenscliff to Tamworth, and supporting artists like Archie Roach, Tex Perkins and You Am I.

Old Blood is the first single from Seeckts upcoming album, The Heart of The City, due for release late March. Sung from the perspective of an ageing country musician, the track is a lament for a life poorly lived, chasing dreams of stardom as the world passed him by. It’s a remarkably mature track for an artist of Seeckt’s relatively tender years, and demonstrates a deep understanding of human nature and the pitfalls of life as a performing artist.

Sample lyric: “You make it in your hometown, you think that you’re a star.”

Verdict: 7/10 — a big voice with something to say; definitely one to watch

Books by John Turnbull are available on Amazon and Kindle, including supernatural thriller Damnation’s Flame; action/romance Reaper, black comedy City Boy and travel guidebook Bar Trek: EuropeDamnation's Flame by John Turnbull is also available in paperback in the IA store HERE (free postage).

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