As some of you might know, I write a column, under the guise of Marty Dodge, for Blogcritics. Of late I have done a whole heck of a lot of reviews. Below please find a few highlights from my most recent listens. So here in no particular order are my faves.

Blueganu: Running with the Herd

Tongue-firmly in cheek for most of this stuff but it just washes over you like a pleasant shower. It’s blues-folky rock that just puts a smile on your face no matter how grumpy you might be. This lot even get a way with a twee entitled/lyrical “Sugar” with its infectious tune and cheery lyrics. There are odes to Memphis on here, “Take Me Back To Memphis,” and the mountains, “Man of the Mountains,” naturally.

This is not the music for racing down the motorway but a disc for when the weather outside is rubbish, you got a glass of jack in your hand, and you just want to listen to some aural fun. Imagine a less stoned Grateful Dead and a less pretentious Fish with a dash of ole’ school blues. And I would be shirking my duties if I did not say the playing on here is first rate.

Megadeth: United Abominations

Dave Mustaine is back with his all new Megadeth and what a difference it makes. While their last album was decent this is excellent in extremis. This is by far the best thing Mustaine has been associated with in over a decade, if not more ( I liked his Dan Huff produced output. It just wasn’t Megadeth). The sober, mildly religious Mustaine, who seems to have used Alice Cooper as a template, is just as opinionated as ever while being far more focused. The title track is a screed against the UN that hits all the right buttons and makes all the right points. The spoken word parts are quite poignant as are his observations on jihadism on “Amerikistan.”

There is a new version of “A Tout Le Monde” featuring Lacuna Coil’s lead siren Cristina Scabbia. He rants against the state of the world in all his norm. Mustaine even quotes 24’s hero Jack. If you thought Megadeth was a spent force in metal… think again. Metallica can only hope they produce anything this good with their next release. Has Mustaine had the last and best laugh?

Alabama Thunderpussy: Open Fire

Losing your lead singer for any band is a tough thing but for AT it seems to have taken a bit of wind out of their sales. While Kyle Thomas has a good voice it seems to be a bit the same throughout the CD. There is not the variety needed in today’s metal world. This is a good album, no doubt, but it seems to be a bit transitional as the band gets used to their new reality.

It lacks a certain fire and pathos to makes you stand up and say “yeah!” Never the less, if you like a combo of Molley Hatchet and Metallica this lot produces some decent redneck metal. Tracks like “Whiskey War” and the title track emphasize the point. This is pretty good album, just not as good as you would expect from such a band. Think of it this way though, this lot were doing it long before supergroup upstarts “Hell Yeah.”

Guy, McCoy and Torme: Bitter & Twisted

A supergroup of sorts, this lot has played with far more people than this column has room to list. Their resumes would make most musicians weep with frustration. There are a couple bands that have clearly influenced the sound on here however… those being Ozzy and Desperado. There is a strong hint of the attitude of Ted Nugent on this album as well, which is a very good thing indeed. There is also a Thin Lizzy vibe here because of the hint of Irish. Two of this lot met while in Gillan.

If you like your hard rock with lots of whiskey and grit then this is album for you. Just take a listen to “Rocky Road (from Dublin)” or the title track. This is cracking heavy rock, played with talent, ability, and a dose of attitude… what else do you need really?

Kamelot: Ghost Opera

The first thing that struck my wife and I about this one is it sounds a lot like a very heavy version of Phantom of the Opera, the musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber. Now it might shock many to hear this but I find this no bad thing. If symphonic metal bands can be operatic and musical, but leave off the heavy cheese, then by all means do so. Kamelot are quite a stunning band, it has to be said, using all elements to create a wonderful collection of tracks.

As with their past they use female vocal dueting when it fits. I predict this album will eventually be done in its entirety live. It flows together as if it’s a concept album while at the same time having songs that stand perfectly alone. There are no stand-out tracks on here. It’s all very good, catchy, powerful, heavy and symphonic in its entirety. While retaining its power metal styling one still finds oneself, and any other singers in the room, singing along on the second chorus during the first listen. This is, by far, Kamelot’s most consistent release and marks a new high for the band that improves with every release.

Don Mancuso: D Drive

You might not have heard of him but the likes of Lou Gramm of Foreigner and Phil Naro of Talas were willing to come along to sing for him and co-write the tunes. The music on here is bluesy hard rock with a smirk and swagger. Just listen to “Down, Rotten and Dirty” or “Can’t Dig Your Way Out.” Some would say this has an 80’s rock pop feel to it. Think Poison with some talent or Tesla at their best.

“Wait till the Sun goes Down” sounds a bit like Foreigner if they were jamming with Collins-era Genesis at their least cheesy. It’s good to hear Gramm cranking it out after his health problems. This is a great sleeper of an album that, like many such outings, will get under your skin and stay there. Oh yes, Mancuso plays with some bloke named Hendrix who is the brother of that Hendrix. Well worth seeking out this hidden gem.

Sirrah: Acme & Did Tomorrow Come…

Re-releases by Metal Mind of Polish band Sirrah’s late 90s releases, there is a difference between them. The band has ceased to be but these are two examples of Polish metal’s rise post-Communism. Acme is textured with female vocals and is a far more trad metal style while Did Tomorrow Come is far more experimental and drifts into electronica/goth metal territory. As a result the second album is a bit less focused than the first one.

Members of these bands have gone onto to greater things such as The Man Called Tea. It might interest some to know that the latter album has retained its previous title with the MFN change dropped. Not exactly essential, that is for sure, but an interesting insight into the Polish metal scene.

Ghost in the Machine: The One Within

With a name like Ghost in the Machine, you would not be shocked to hear this lot do electronic goth now would you? Not another bunch of Trent Reznor inspired wanna-bes, this lot strives to do something different with the genre. It’s very much catchy and dance oriented; you can truly imagine the goth kids dancing madly to this at your local goth club. True, their predecessors on the dark edge are hinted at but then so are bands like Dead or Alive and even a hint of Erasure’s dead cert catchiness.

The band has licensed music to the Sci-Fi channel, MTV, Nike, VHA, and Spike TV so you may have already heard from them. Then, of course, they end the trip into their world with a frankly bizarre, but truly great, cover of “Sharp Dressed Man” by those Texan bearded blues goons ZZ Top. If you thought that electro-goth had hit the buffers in terms of originality think again. Think Ghost in the Machine.

John Wetton: Agenda & Amata

This pair of Wetton re-releases comes via Metal Mind Poland more renowned for the series of Roadrunner thrash/speed/death metal releases I have been working through of late. This two CDs are a more mellow affair especially Amata which features as acoustic performance of a mixture of Wetton’s solo material, a few Asia hits and some King Crimson as well. Its a laid back affair with a three piece band. As you might expect there is a bit of doubling up between these two CDs, Agenda has 13 tracks with a full electrified band. On this one you have Wetton playing all the Asia hits in their full glory including “Heat of the Moment,” “Smile has left your Eyes,” and “Sole Survivor.”

Both of these CDs are cracking examples of Wetton’s talent and show him in full solo flow. What with Asia’s full original line-up reunion, there is a bit of good timing about these releases. A Wetton live CD for whichever mood you are in — how convenient.

Marillion: Somewhere Else

This is one of those CDs that I didn’t want to write a review for because it meant I would not be able to listen to it as much. Somewhere Else is a wonderful collection of tracks that does not outstay its welcome, as is common with so many prog/neo-prog releases. This is mostly rather mellow stuff but no complete background tunes. There is a level of talent here that is quite stunning as there is nothing even close to being considered a duff track. It’s laid-back but full of nuance and imagery. Steve Hogarth is sounding better than ever, as is the rest of the band.

I shall not bother to mention any of the ten tracks on here as they are all great. If you are a Marillion fan its essential. If you like prog, it is close enough. If you just like finely crafted music played by talented musicians, you should probably get yourself a copy post haste.

Rush: Snakes & Arrows

Rush return with their best album since Power Windows is the short review of this CD. Forget all the naysayers — this is a great album from a band back at their creative best. Neil Peart seems to have worked through all his troubles and is back on cracking form. There is not a duff track on this here CD. I can’t get enough of this CD and will be taking it on honeymoon with me. Thirteen tracks of absolute prog perfection. Geddy Lee’s voice has lost none of its power, quirkiness and majesty. This is probably a bit short for some of you readers. When its this good there is no need for long-winded gushing. If you have ever liked Rush, get this CD. If you claim to like good heavy rock…well you know the score.

Battlelore: Evernight

With a name like Battlelore, you would be expecting Dragonforce clones right? Well in this case you would be wrong. They do straight ahead heads-down metal with touches of power metal but with a female lead singer twist. For once, the person hitting those high notes should actually be doing it. The band base a lot of their lyrics on Lord of the Rings and Viking Metal, however unlike, say, Rhapsody, it never tips over into farce. “Summon the Wolves” is just great metal with its keyboards/guitars. Battlelore use male death metal growls as a clever counter to the lovely voice of their lead singer.

Just when you thought you were in a mellow bit, heavy vocals come along to kick yer arse. It adds up to something quite special and is a great addition to the female fronted metal brigade.

Elis: Griefshire

Great German female-led metal with a tragic twist that has nothing to do with the name. Sabine Dunser, lead vocalist, who has the voice to propel them to the heights of Within Temptation and Nightwish, died recently of sudden illness. The album is dedicated to her memory and is a fitting memorial to the talent that was Sabine. This is a quality goth female-led power metal to rival the above mentioned bands. To demonstrate the full breath of her and the band’s talent the bonus track is a cracking cover of “Heaven and Hell” by Dio-era Black Sabbath.

Some of the tracks on here are in German, which almost adds to the nuance and mystery of the music on offer. The cover looks ominous and some of the music has a sense of foreboding. It is a great shame Sabine has died and she is a great loss to metal in general and female-voiced specifically. “Pheonix from the Ashes” is quite powerful, it has to be said, followed by the excellent “How Long.” This is a great disc from a talented band who has suffered a great loss.

Beatallica: Sgt. Hetfield’s Motorbreath Pub Band

The lark is Beatles tracks played by Metallica. The daft thing is that it works rather well and the band have got Metallica down to a tee. Thirteen tracks of sublime daftness done rather well. Will you be playing this CD lots? I rather doubt it, but its the absolute perfect choice when you have a bunch of mates round and drunk off your gord. My fave tracks are “Sandman” (think “Taxman”) and the absolutely bloody brilliant “Ktulu (He’s So Heavy).”

Yet again we are presented with a novelty act that should not last the course of a full CD and still be funny, but it works. So impressed was the actor, Perry Benson, that he tried to pinch my copy of the CD. It shouldn’t work but it does…’nuff said. And boy will it annoy your favorite Beatles fan-freak.

Stryper: Live in Puerto Rico Greatest Hits DVD

Despite their multi-platinum career Stryper, especially in their bumblebee striped 80s heyday, have come in for a lot of stick. Their naff outfits, on their sleeve Christianity and bible tossing didn’t endear them to many, but it cannot be denied that they are a talented bunch who can write a cracking catchy tune when they want to… just check out “Honestly” or “Always there for You” if you need proof. Even “To Hell with Devil” has got enough balls to satisfy the average hard-rocker. It could be argued that the subtle Christian approach of Kings X or Trouble might have been better for cred. Never the less you can’t argue with success. Oh yes, I have met them and they are thoroughly nice blokes all around.

This “greatest hits” gig was recorded in Puerto Rico in 2004 in front of a rather keen audience. There are fourteen tracks on here, thirteen of their own and “Winter Wonderland”. What is odd is that their biggest hit is on here but only in less than perfect archival footage from 1989. That aside this is a pretty good package, bereft of liner notes though it might be, and a must for any Stryper fan. I thoroughly enjoyed the 72 minutes of material on here and am not ashamed to say it. Take it from this heretic, there is talent in between all those yellow and black stripes.

Damn Yankees: Uprising Live DVD

Now this lot I have always adored since their debut CD. They combine talents of some of the best bands of their genres from the 80s in the form of Ted Nugent, Jack ‘Night Ranger’ Blades and Tommy ‘Styx” Shaw. Damn Yankees are a slicker paired down version of all those bands and are truly a supergroup. Take out the pomp of it all and just go for blues-soaked heavy rock of the heartland. All their big hits are on here including “High Enough”, “Where you Goin’ Now” and “Coming of Age”. As would expect with such an outing you get some stuff for their pasts as well. The band banter in between the tracks shows a bit into how this lot of giant talents manage to produce anything without killing each other. There is even a bit of insight into how they manage those close harmonies. This was originally released in ’92 on VHS and the DVD version suffers from none of the bad conversion problems that happens so often when using archive material.

One can always hope that the Damn Yankee machine will come back, especially with Blades and Shaw working together again. Until that happens this is a fitting testament to a cracking rock supergroup. Great stuff and well worth the price of admission.

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