Monday, September 28, 2015

The Greatest Album Is ... Piece Of Mind

Every band that has been around for a while and released great records runs into this debate; what is their greatest album? The greatest album is… is a column dedicated to tackling that age old question. What is the greatest album recorded by Iron Maiden? Join with us now as the question is answered and arguments are made that the greatest Iron Maiden album is Piece Of Mind.

It would be easy to argue that any of the big four Iron Maiden albums released in the 80s (Number of the Beast, Piece of Mind, Powerslave, Seventh Son of a Seventh Son) deserve the title of greatest. However, when played consecutively, one album does rise above the others. The reason Piece of Mind comes out on top is due to the overall strength of every song on the album. There isn’t a bad one, or even a semi-bad one, to be found. Every song on Piece of Mind is a masterpiece.

The record launches at a galloping pace with the double bass kicking of (newest member at the time) Nicko McBrain pounding the drums for “Where Eagles Dare” and just unleashes a force of amazing from there. The slower, daunting pace of “Revelations” follows and eventually gives way to “Flight of Icarus.” Those three songs are the best combined opening of any Iron Maiden album ever recorded. The placement of the tracks to kick off the record is absolutely brilliant.

Piece of Mind is stupendous in every aspect. As with most Iron Maiden albums, the music is heavily layered and intricate. It can take several listens to pick out all the little nuances contained in each song. Guitar solos, bass solos, drum solos, sound effects, and the voice of Bruce Dickinson fill Piece of Mind with glorious treats for the ears. Piece of Mind found Iron Maiden hitting their stride in the world of progressive heavy metal. It was the first of many albums to feature the core lineup of Dickinson, Harris, Murray, Smith, and McBrain. And while Clive Burr was a terrific drummer in his own right, Nicko McBrain brought an element to the band that had been absent on previous albums. His ability behind the kit is superb. The fills placed into the drumming had never been achieved on prior Maiden records, and it is most evident on the opening track “Where Eagles Dare.” McBrain is a master of his craft and he was the final missing piece that catapulted the band from hard rock heroes to international superstars.

Iron Maiden even included a little tongue-in-cheek jab at their critics with the hidden message that appears just before “Still Life.” At the time there were several critics who accused Maiden of being worshippers of Satan, and who had clearly not listened to their music before making that blanket accusation. The message can only be understood when played backwards, and it was far from satanic. Nicko McBrain was reciting an English comedy routine and it was captured on tape during the recording of the album. The decision was made to put it on the record backwards for a good laugh at the expense of the “idiotic” critics who did not understand the band.

The song “Still Life” itself is one of the greatest underrated gems in Iron Maiden’s entire catalog. It is an outstanding song that never got the recognition it deserves. The song centers on a man’s obsession with spirits in a pool of water that eventually overtake him. There are suggestions that the song was based on a short story, “The Inhabitant of the Lake” by Ramsey Campbell. While this is not mentioned in the linear notes, it has become generally accepted by fans over the years. Steve Harris has gone on record to say that “Still Life” in its simplest form is a song about the fear of drowning.

Rife with nine absolutely amazing songs, Piece Of Mind is a brilliant album and the best work that Iron Maiden has ever created. The band was in full force, and the addition of Nicko McBrain behind the drum kit completed what would become the most successful and talented lineup that Maiden had. They would stay together for three more albums before Adrian Smith would leave the band. It would be the most successful period of Iron Maiden’s career and it all started with the finest gem they ever made.

The greatest Iron Maiden album is…Piece of Mind.

Vital Statistics
Released: May 28, 1983
Produced by Martin Birch
RIAA Sales: Platinum
Peak Position on US Charts: 14
Rated Greatest Metal Album Of All Time By Kerrang! In 1983
A farcical hidden message was contained at the beginning of “Still Life.” This was in response to the many rumors that Iron Maiden was Satanic.
This is the first Iron Maiden album with drummer Nicko McBrain

Flight Of Icarus
The Trooper

Track Listing
Where Eagles Dare
Flight Of Icarus
Die With Your Boots On
The Trooper
Still Life
Quest For Fire
Sun And Steel
To Tame A Land

Band Members
Bruce Dickinson – Vocals
Dave Murray – Guitars
Adrian Smith – Guitars
Steve Harris – Bass Guitar
Nicko McBrain - Drums 

Monday, September 21, 2015

Concert Review: AC/DC - August 26, 2015

The first concert I ever saw was AC/DC. It was an experience that I have never forgotten. I have seen the band perform live a couple of times since and have always loved their brand of entertainment. AC/DC is full of energy and the crowd reaction to them is infectious. The band has never disappointed and always brings their best to the stage. So when the opportunity to see them live for their Rock Or Bust tour came up, I knew I was going.

It was my buddy Rick that talked me into getting the floor seats. I would have been quiet content with a seat in the 200s or 300s, but when I asked Rick what he wanted to do, he insisted that we go for the best available. “This may be the last time they tour,” he reasoned. It didn’t take much to convince me, I was in, and when tickets went on sale, we got our floor seats.

In the parking lot, pre-show, we made new friends of the people around us, some who had come as far as four hours away to see their rock heroes perform. These people were having a blast and were extremely excited to see AC/DC. We talked for a while about past concerts, their trip to the stadium, and how many times we’ve seen the band. Drinks and good cheer was exchanged all around. And then it was time to head inside.

We entered the stadium and found our seats with enough time to see some of the opening act. I don’t remember the group name, but I do remember that they were decent and could hold their own. I wouldn’t run out and buy their music, but they weren’t horrible to listen to. However, I wanted AC/DC to take the stage.

When the sun dipped down and the stars came out, the lights went dark and the crowd roared. The opening notes of “Rock Or Bust” filled the air and we were underway. AC/DC was back in New Jersey and conquering the near sold out crowd.

I am a big fan of the band’s latest album, so I was happy to hear “Rock Or Bust” open the show. I was also hopeful that we might hear a lot more from that album. Rock Or Bust is a solid album that fits in well with the rest of the band’s back catalog and there are quite a few bright spot songs. Unfortunately, at least to me, AC/DC stuck to their usual format and only played three songs from the new album. When a band has such a vast catalog to go through, I guess that’s understandable. 

AC/DC put on their usual kick ass performance. Angus was as fantastic as always, Brian Johnson sounded great, and the addition of Chris Slade behind the drum kit was a nice one. He was the drummer for the band 25 years ago when I saw my very first concert, so I hold a special place in my musical heart for him. And while it was sad to not see Malcom on stage, the Young nephew filled in just fine. Musically the band was in total synch and sounded as terrific as ever.

Age is starting to catch up with them however. Angus’ run around the stage and epileptic guitar solos are a little less intense. He no longer drops his shorts and flashes the crowd, which I guess is a good thing. Brian Johnson did not swing from the “Hell’s Bells” bell. Little things like that were noticeable enough to make me realize the band is getting on in years and perhaps this really could be their final tour.

The highlight of the night came in the form of a rare, unexpected treat from Back In Black. “Have A Drink On Me” was performed and I went wild. It is one of my all time favorite AC/DC songs, and also one that I never thought I would hear in concert. Seeing it performed live was the ultimate highlight of my night.

Elder statesmen as they may be, AC/DC still puts on a loud, raucous, entertaining rock concert. They performed for well over two hours and did their best to keep everyone in the stadium involved and happy. If this is truly the last time that I will be able to see the band in concert, then they left me on a high note. What more can you ask for?

Rock Or Bust
Shoot To Thrill
Hell Ain’t A Bad Place To Be
Back In Black
Play Ball
Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap
High Voltage
Rock And Roll Train
Hells Bells
Baptism By Fire
You Shook Me All Night Long
Sin City
Shot Down In Flames
Have A Drink On Me
Whole Lotta Rosie
Let There Be Rock
Highway To Hell
For Those About To Rock We Salute You

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Taste Of Chaos Featuring Jimmy Eat World, The Used, And The All American Rejects

I certainly wouldn’t mind living on the west coast this October. The weather is beautiful, the people are much more laid back, and there is a great little concert taking place in San Bernardino on October 3rd. The Used, Jimmy Eat World, All American Rejects, Mark Hoppus, and Story Of The Year along with several other bands playing an all day festival. This sounds like my kind of day! If you live in the area, or plan to be in the area, I implore you to check out the concert for yourself.Visit for more information.

Friday, September 11, 2015

CD Review: Pop Evil - Up

It’s not really a secret that I am biased when it comes to Pop Evil. I’ve been a fan of the band since their beginning. I am one of the proud few who saw them perform with both original guitarist Tony Greve and original drummer Dylan Allison. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting most of the band members and I’ve written glowing reviews for each of their previous albums. It is obvious that I am a huge fan.

And it is being such a fan that makes me a harder critic on this band then I would be on others. I expect more from my favorites and I expect them to deliver their best with every single effort. Thankfully, with Pop Evil, their best is all they know how to give. Every album this group releases is better than the previous and once again, Pop Evil’s latest disc just so happens to be their best disc.

With their last release, Onyx, Pop Evil was at a dark period in their career and also at a crossroads. There was a chip on their shoulder as they felt they had something to prove. This time around the band is much more comfortable in their own skin. They have come to the end of their journey of discovery. And in finding who they truly are, they have delivered a masterpiece.

The band has evolved over the years and the evolution is evident on Up. Leigh Kakaty’s voice sounds more magnificent than ever before. Stronger, harder, and more soul sweeping, Kakaty does some of his best work for this album. Matt DiRito was able to show off his songwriting abilities with authority. He has more prominence on this record including a nice bass intro groove on “If Only For Now” and “Lux,” as well as an exceptional, albeit short, instrumental in “…” (Yes, that is the actual name of the song). And Nick Fueling really shines. No longer in the shadow of Tony Greve, and no longer in doubt amongst the fans, Fueling shows that he is exceptional in his own way.

Lead track “Footsteps” gets Up started on a high note. A mid-tempo rocker with life, “Footsteps” is not the hardest album opener that Pop Evil has ever recorded, but it is the perfect opener for Up. The eerie, dark opening guitar notes immediately let the listener know that this is an all new, all different Pop Evil. That message is great news, because this version of Pop Evil is the best one yet. The anthem chanting chorus of “I take these footsteps, go higher! Go higher!” will create a magnificent sing along in concert.

“Take It All” is not only the best song on Up, it just may be the best song that Pop evil has ever recorded. The music is extremely powerful, the lyrics make a statement, and the overall intensity is extraordinary. “Take It All” is hard rock with an edge. This is a song that will hook the listener on first play.  And while the song is short, it packs quite the punch. Heavy guitars, growling, demanding vocals, and a perfect rhythm section solidify “Take It All.” This song is pure ecstasy for the ears and a finer Pop Evil song is hard to come by.

Rhythmic, soothing, peaceful, and brilliant, “If Only For Now” is the first ballad on Up and it is a tremendous song. This work of art showcases all of the extreme effort the band has put into honing their song crafting skills. A perfect blend of bass, acoustic, and electric guitars highlight this lovely ballad. The poetic lyrics paint a perfect picture and Kakaty’s voice is akin to a cool gentle rain on a warm summer afternoon ---refreshing and enjoyable. While previous Pop Evil ballads have been much beloved by their fan base, “If Only For Now” has the makings of a mega-smash and may quickly become the fans favorite Pop Evil ballad.

Nick Fueling’s acoustic guitar picking on “Seattle Rain” is just brilliant and makes the song. “Seattle Rain” is the truest example of the evolution of Pop Evil. Starting with just Fueling’s acoustic guitar and Kakaty’s voice, this slow moving ballad captures the ear’s attention immediately. By the time the rest of the band kicks in on the second verse, it is painfully obvious that “Seattle Rain” is destined for greatness. The song is a pure masterpiece that shows the maturity of this tremendous group.  

Hard work combined with a level of comfort amongst all band members has really paid off for Pop Evil. Up is the greatest album the band has released in their career so far. And with each album they deliver, the band only gets stronger and more talented. The future for Pop Evil is as a bright as the sun, and I’m curious to see what amazing magnificence they deliver next. If they continue in the same vein they have already, Pop Evil is going to be the biggest band that ever existed before their career is over. They certainly are one of the most talented, and with Up they have released the greatest album of the summer.

Ryo’s Rating: 8.5 (out of 10)

Track List
In Disarray
Take It All
Ghost of the Muskegon
If Only For Now
Ways To Get High
Dead In The Water
Seattle Rain
Til Kingdom Come

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Reflections On...(Music From) The Elder

This recollection is more of a reflection on my journey to owning (Music From) The Elder and less about the actual album itself. And although it’s been ridiculed and despised by some, (Music From) The Elder is not a horrible record. And it certainly isn’t a dud. It was just extremely different from anything else the band ever attempted. Unmasked is a dud. Possibly the worst KISS album ever recorded. (Music From) The Elder is not a bad record. It’s just not what KISS fans expected from a KISS record. Thus, it did not sell well and became one of the hardest KISS albums to find for a long period of time. KISS practically disavowed knowledge of the album’s existence until the mid-90s when they revived “A World Without Heroes” for their Unplugged performance. That only helped to make this one of the hardest KISS albums to own.

Allow me to put you in the proper state of mind. I was a freshman in high school from autumn of 1987 to spring of 1988. This was long before the Internet was a thing. Computers were something old people used at work, maybe, and IPods, cell phones, and all the conveniences of modern technology had yet to become mainstream, or in some cases, to even be invented. So, when you wanted an album, or a song, a child of the 80s would have to either buy the album at a record store, or wait to hear it on the radio. There was no instant gratification, no you tube video to play, and stealing music was called shoplifting. You went to prison for that.

As a high school freshman, I was really getting into KISS. I was learning their catalog, spending my allowance on a lot of the early albums, and borrowing records and cassettes from my friends to fill the remaining holes in my collection. KISS was probably the first band that I set the goal of owning every album ever released in my personal collection. When one is young with limited income, one has to find innovative ways to achieve a goal like this. Yard sales and the “used” section of several local record shops were my favorite places to visit. I would spend hours scouring for the missing albums from my collection. And Wikipedia wasn’t available to confirm the albums the band had released, so I had to rely on friend’s knowledge and information found in LP sleeves and at record stores.

Thus, when rumors of the hardest to obtain KISS album arose, I was all ears. Friends had spoken of this Holy Grail called The Elder. We didn’t even know the full title was (Music From) The Elder. Stories about the record circulated amongst my inner circle and we talked to other die hard KISS fans, but no one had heard this album in its entirety. Almost no one had even heard a song from it. All that was known about this rarity was that the album completely flopped. Some fans would even whisper that it was the reason Ace left the band. My long term goal was to obtain a copy of the entire album. Endless searching through record stores had yielded no results. No store carried this record, despite having almost the entire KISS back catalog. It was as if this album was never actually recorded. There were times when I doubted the authenticity of this record. Was there really an album called The Elder? How come I had never seen it anywhere? This had to be a myth!

I remember a friend of a friend had a copy of one song from the album. The song was “The Odyssey” and the word in the hallways proclaimed that it was unlike any KISS song ever recorded. It was such a vast departure from the hard rock sound the band was known for, that a fan wouldn’t even recognize it as a KISS song. This, of course, perked my interest and I had to hear this song. After learning the one lone song was actually obtainable within my circle, I set out to work on getting a copy. I begged my friend to put the song on a blank cassette for me. I pleaded that it be dubbed for me so that I could hear this elusive, mind altering, KISS song. I had to know what it sounded like. In short, I desperately needed to hear this so called “Odyssey” just to know it was real. And while certain parts of my memory from 1988 are fuzzy, I believe that it cost me 2 blanks (plus the one that the song was recorded on) to actually obtain the record. Blank tapes were like gold to music loving kids back then, and the going price for almost any album was either a blank, or to dub a copy of a different album for that person. Since this was a rare gem of a song, and I had no rare KISS to offer in return, the price was higher than average. I happily paid the penance. I did not care. No price was too high. I was finally going to own a song from the rarest of all KISS albums.

It took about a week, but one morning in school, my friend passed me back “the tape.” I put it in my pocket and could not wait to get home to listen to it. I was yearning to know what this song sounded like. I practically skipped home from school that afternoon, giddy with jubilant excitement. I was going to hear a song from The Elder. As soon as I got through my front door, I flung my books down, pulled out the cassette tape, and ran into my room. I closed the door, popped open the cassette drawer on my boom box, and slipped in the tape. Mere moments later, the opening notes of “The Odyssey” filled my room.

At first I thought I was had. Someone was pulling my leg. This really wasn’t a KISS song and some idiot was having a good long chuckle at the expense of one Ryo Vie. I was actually angry that I had been ripped off. But I listened to the entire track anyway. When it was finished, I was still filled with doubt. But I remembered all of the legends that I had heard; how the songs from The Elder would sound like no KISS album ever. I then reasoned that if they could record a song like “She’s So European,” then Kiss could put this out too. I rewound the tape and listened to it a second time. Then a third. By that time, I was pretty sure it was Paul Stanley’s voice I was hearing, but still wouldn’t bet money on it. How could this actually be a KISS song? It was no longer a wonder why fans couldn’t find this record.

Even after my uncertainty surrounding “The Odyssey,” I still wanted to own the entire record. I had to have it for the completist in me. A few months went by and during regular visits to record stores I would always search in vain. Then, in the spring of my freshman year, I met John. He was a friend’s boyfriend (my best friend’s, ex-girlfriend’s, new boyfriend if you really want to be drama specific) and when I first met him, I wasn’t overly thrilled. He was quiet, shy, and he was dating my best friend’s ex. How much could I like the guy?

Then I heard that he was a KISS fan and a huge one at that. Immediately I steered the conversation to The Elder that long lost rare gem that only the best of the best could own. “I have a copy of that,” he said. My entire world stopped spinning. Had I just heard that correctly? Was there really a person standing in front of me that had a copy of The Elder? Was it truly possible? Did this kid really have the world’s most coveted KISS album?

I slowly composed myself, thinking of what to say next. I didn’t want to seem overly needy or anxious, but there was no way this guy was leaving my line of vision until he had agreed to make a copy for me. I carefully plotted my next question, wondering how to precisely craft my next few sentences. “What do you mean you have a copy of that?” I asked. “Like, the actual record?”

John nodded. “Yes, I have a copy. Not the original, but I have a copy of it in my collection.”

I paused. My heart pounded so hard in my chest he must have heard it. And I honestly didn’t care if he did. This kid had The Elder. “So…how would I be able to get a copy?” I asked.

John, sensing a fellow Kiss fan, and wanting to fit in with new friends, volunteered his time. “Come on over one day and bring a blank. I can make you a copy.”

Had that just happened? He offered to make me a copy and the only cost was to spend a couple hours at his house. That was definitely a price I could handle. I nodded in return. “Let’s set it up.” I was in all my glory. I was actually going to own a copy of The Elder. The music gods were rewarding my patience and diligence. Praise be to rock and roll!

We did set it up and less than a week later I was at John’s house after school. He really was a big KISS fan. His room was filled with posters of the band and right above his bed, mounted to the wall, was a cassette rack filled with every KISS album ever recorded in order of release date. I thought that was pretty awesome and made a mental note to do the same thing in my room.

As we made a copy of the album, we talked KISS and we talked The Elder. Even John didn’t know the full title of the album was (Music From) The Elder. He wasn’t even sure about the title of all the songs. He confirmed that all of the songs were on the cassette, but he didn’t know each title, as the copy given to him did not contain the song names. He took his best guess on each song, thus “Just A Boy” was titled “I’m No Hero,” and “The Oath” became “Power And Glory.” We just didn’t know any better.

John was very knowledgeable about the band, their history, and their music. He was a huge fan, much like me, and we spent the next couple of hours sharing our love for the band. He showed me his KISS magazine collection as well as the other KISS memorabilia he owned. He also shared his goal of owning every KISS album on vinyl and cassette, a lofty goal that I admired. By the time our afternoon was finished, I had a deeper appreciation for John and a copy of The Elder in my hands. Life could not get much better than that.

Needless to say, I played that cassette tape a lot over the next few months. Just knowing that I could was a treat. And while it never became my favorite KISS album, it grew on me over time. I did come to enjoy most of the songs and some of them even became favorites of mine, especially “I,” which I’ve always felt that KISS needs to bring out in concert.

A few years later, CDs became all the rage and bands started to re-release their entire catalogs in this new, portable, high quality format. KISS was one of the bands to do this, and as part of the re-release, (Music From) The Elder became available wherever records and tapes were sold. I purchased my own copy, but it wasn’t as magical as getting a copy from a fellow fan my freshman year of high school. I still play the album every once in a while, and I still think there are a lot of good songs on there that KISS should revisit. I was extremely excited when they performed “A World Without Heroes” as part of the unplugged set, but still hold out hope to hear other songs from that album in concert. It may never happen, but when it comes to KISS, I am a patient man, and perhaps the rock gods will reward my patience once again.