All posts by Todd Totale

Husky – Forever So

HuskyForever So (Sub Pop)

Our favorite Seattle label is now making its way down under to find the next big thing up here. Husky represents their first signing from Melbourne, with the moniker actually the first name of the band’s guitar and vocalist.

The only “Husky” I knew growing up was the name of a JC Penny clothing line for fat kids. It didn’t last; who wants a tag on your jeans that scream “Feel free to bully my fat ass.”

I don’t know Husky Gawenda’s waist size, but I do know the kind of music he creates because it’s the same kind of music that Sub Pop has been pushing ever since they banked on Fleet Foxes. Maybe Poneman related to such lines as “I went walking in the woods today/I found a path/It led me astray.” (“The Woods”), imagining the big continent of Australia resembled the redwoods of the Northwest.

It’s not that I don’t subscribe to this kind of music. In fact, I’ve got a soft spot for anything remotely beautiful and sensitive within the confines of a folk-rock structure. Which is exactly what Husky delivers on Forever So. And depending on how cold and hard your own heart is, the results of Gawenda’s breathy croon can be a hit or miss affair.

“Hey man, do you want to hear a story about me?” begins “Animals & Freaks,” and before you’re given a chance to respond with the affirmative, Gawenda has already declared “Fuck you, I’m telling you my story anyway.” He’s assumed the role of an old man, telling you the tale of a chance encounter with a woman who he’s spent “three weeks in a cheap motel” before watching her depart with an eagle to go catch snakes in Mexico.

I swear to God I’m not making this up.

Yes, it’s the endlessly romantic and utterly unbelievable lyrics that make Forever So such an acquired taste. If only there were more moments like the wonderful opening “Tidal Wave,” which paints an account of a relationship within the claustrophobic cityscapes while Gawenda dreams of the day when it will all come tumbling down, leaving only him and his beau to enjoy the serenity of their love within the uncluttered landscape of natural beauty.

Now that’s more like it!

Sure, it’s a dynamic that may work better with members of the fairer sex, but it also demonstrates that there’s still a large proportion of empathetic types in this world that can relate to the sticky-sweet feelings that love provides. Forever So also shows that we’re still struggling to come up with the words to adequately describe those feelings.

Video: Husky – “The Woods”

Husky - The Woods [OFFICIAL VIDEO]

MP3: Husky – “Tidal Wave”

MP3: Husky – “History’s Door”

Audio: Husky – Forever So [FULL ALBUM STREAM]

Husky - Forever So [FULL ALBUM STREAM]

Christian Mistress – Possession

Christian MistressPossession (Relapse)

If memory serves, Girlschool was the only band of The New Wave of British Heavy Metal that featured women in the line-up.

I bring this up because you cannot get away from the fact that Olympia, Washington’s Christian Mistress conjures up the exact kind of feel that is reserved for those NWOBHM imports circa 1981 and they feature one member of the opposite sex in a role that’s typically reserved for some homely piece of sausage.

Christine Davis is the lead singer of Christian Mistress, and from now until the moment the band breaks up, you’ll be reminded of the fact that she’s a woman in every single media mention. Those comments will usually be followed up with some passive-aggressive response on how gender doesn’t matter in genres like this.

The fact is, it does kind of matter. It’s a distraction to the band because all of that focus on Ms. Davis undermines how shit hot the band really is. The musicianship taking place behind this woman should be satisfactory enough because they’re awfully good and they staunchly adhere to the NWOBHM school of awesomeness.

Guitarists Oscar Sparbel and Ryan McClain channel the dueling guitar masters of the late 70s/early 80s (think Glen and KK or Adrian and Dave) with such fluidity that you’ll be looking for a Christian Mistress patch to put on your faded jean jacket, provided it still fits.

And now that I’ve already succumbed to the cheap tactic of pointing out the lack of a penis on Christine Davis, let’s be completely honest by admitting that she’s probably the weakest part of Christian Mistress’ sophomore release, Possession.

Her voice is gruff, smoky, and it offers a certain degree of novelty to the proceedings. But beyond that, her chops are pretty limited in range, becoming a bit samey after a few spins and offering little in terms of emotion. And that’s kind of important when you’re dealing with matters of possession, pentagrams and all things dark.

The production is straight-up documentary style, hinting that the members have spent a few hours in the woodshed, carving out their craft and making sure the performances are presented with legitimacy.

The lyrics provide a bit of a challenge as they try to match wits with the darkness the rest of the band’s creative fuel. Stray from the music and you’ll stumble on lines like “Eternity is a long time…but it’s all in your mind” and wonder how Christian Mistress can get away with such nonsense.

It’s the interplay between McClain and Sparbel that manages to lift Possession from the dead-weight of its own ridiculousness, providing the record with its true emotional content, its historical accuracy and ultimately, the record’s real voice.

Video: Christian Mistress – “Pentagram and Crucifix”

CHRISTIAN MISTRESS - "Pentagram and Crucifix" (Official Music Video)

Full album stream: Christian Mistress – Possession

Testament – Dark Roots Of Earth

TestamentDark Roots Of Earth (Nuclear Blast)

To be honest, I would rather see Testament included in the “Big 4” line-up than Anthrax. The lineage is there and, most importantly, the band has parlayed its third decade into an example that even headliners Metallica should have considered well before the submission that was Death Magnetic.

But as much as I liked Testament’s The Formation Of Damnation, there’s very little on the band’s newest album in four years--Dark Roots Of Earth— that would indicate that the time in between was spent on forging ahead on lyrical matters to match the top-notch thrash delivery.

The theme of war is packed within Dark Roots Of Earth, but good luck finding anything beyond clichés like “sea of rage,” “crimson rain,” and “raining seas of crimson rage.” Ok, I made the last one up, but just watch Billy use it for a line in Testament’s next release.

“True American Hate” sounds nothing more than a ready-made soundtrack for aggro meatsticks who view war as nothing more than video games with little consequence. The inspiration, claims vocalist Chuck Billy, came after seeing video of Middle Easterners burning the American Flag.

It would take Billy just a few seconds of research to discover the similarities between our endless occupation and that of his own well-documented Native American heritage. It’s not a matter of being on the right side of politics either, but to sum up a gut-check reaction to a video specifically choreographed to rile up Americans is just plain lazy.

Almost as embarrassing is the ballad “Cold Embrace,” which was evidently included as some kind of way to break up the record’s non-stop brutal delivery. It certainly wasn’t included to feature Billy’s thin vocal style and he sings some bullshit about a mythical sleeping beauty.

If there’s anything, or anyone, that can save Darks Roots Of Earth from the weight of its hokey hawkish celebration of war, it’s guitarist Alex Skolnick’s incredible soloing. It manages to save the record during points where you become absolutely numb to the countless mentions of “hate,” dim-witted references to “liberty” and “freedom,” and confusing allusions to the American war-machine, which seem to support and criticize it simultaneously.

Dark Roots Of Earth is a lowest common denominator metal record that places fans in the unfortunate position of having to defend Testament’s narrow-minded jingoism instead of celebrating their unquestionable abilities as one of thrash’s elder statesmen.

On second thought, let’s put Overkill on the Big 4 line-up instead.

Video: Testament – “Native Blood”

TESTAMENT - Native Blood (OFFICIAL MUSIC VIDEO)

Video: Testament – “True American Hate”

TESTAMENT - True American Hate (OFFICIAL LYRICS)

Ethan Daniel Davidson – Silvertooth

Ethan Daniel DavidsonSilvertooth (Seedsman Company)

If what you read on the internets is true, then we’re raising our musically-inclined youth on a culture of immediate gratification without a hint of what it really takes to barely make a dent in today’s music industry. A quick litmus test may be to introduce every sing-for-your-supper contestant on The Voice or American Idol to Ethan Daniel Davidson, a journeyman whose last tour touched over 900 shows and yet you still have no idea who he is.

So the choice to pause and make roots and babies is not surprising, just as is the decision after years of normalcy to return to the studio out of the basic need to create again. You can take the guitar away from an artist, but they’ll eventually end up in a pawn shop eyeballing those cheap Korean models under the pretense that it’ll just be confined to “around the house.”

Davidson may be returning to the long grind of unadorned and under-appreciated touring again with Silvertooth–his first record in seven years–but the songs within it reflect that he hasn’t forgotten the draw of traditional music during that time, picking up on the dustbowl vibe like he just got off the road yesterday. “I’ve measured so many miles between who I am and who I might have been,” he sings on “Your Old Key,” but it sure feels like he’s a work-in-progress while understanding full well that his passion often builds a wide gulf between the relationships that we should be fostering.

Silvertooth puts Davidson’s voice and acoustic guitar unadorned in a very analog way, leaving producer Warren DeFever with a clean palate to color in with atmospheric tones, N’awlins dirge horns and a bed of reverb to lay down in when it gets dark enough. It’s a haunting approach at times, but nothing that listeners haven’t heard before. I was reminded of Grant Lee Buffalo’s Mighty Joe Moon after my initial listen.

And that was enough to warrant a second helping for me.

Throughout the effort, Davidson sweetens the mix with memorable lines like “You always feel the gavel/But you never see the judge” (Ain’t The Man I Used To Be) giving the illusion of his influences at nearly every turn. Unfortunately, the limits of his own voice prevent at least a distinction of putting Davidson into a category all of his own, which means that he’s probably looking at another never-ending schedule where his material will be given away more than it’s actually heard.

The more things change, as they say, but Silvertooth is unquestionably good enough to wish Ethan Daniel Davidson safe travels while he brings his own life lessons to a plywood stage near you.

Audio: Ethan Daniel Davidson – “The Dogs Howl, The Caravan Moves On”

The Chuck Dukowski Sextet – Haunted; OFF! – Off!

The Chuck Dukowski SextetHaunted (Org Music)

OFF!Off! (Vice)

The importance of L.A.’s punk pioneers Black Flag cannot be understated. Even if history only confirms one album, Damaged, as the band’s crowning achievement, you have to consider the band beyond anything committed to magnetic tape. From their grueling tour schedule, to the D.I.Y. ethos of their label SST Records, to their dangerous encounters with the Los Angeles Police Department, Black Flag is a band that could never be duplicated in today’s world. Not that you’d want to, based on their numerous war stories.

Because of this, the members of Black Flag’s continual line-up changes deserve a bit of respect in their post Flag offerings, regardless of how important their career changes were.

For Black Flag’s first vocalist, Keith Morris, that respect was secured with the Circle Jerks, another prominent SoCal punk rock band that continues to inspire and be revered even in the new century.

For Black Flag’s original bassist and occasional wordsmith Chuck Dukowski, the ability to say something nice about his work after Flag becomes a bit of a stretch. After researching and re-listening to Duke’s work in such forgotten SST releases by SWA and October Faction, the best thing that can be said is to leave well enough alone.

It may surprise some that we can now consider both of these alumni as legitimate members of the post-millennium music scene, not just card-carrying SST members looking to cash in on a bit of nostalgia, although both men have participated in at least some kind of reunion effort of their former glories.

Dukowski’s current gig centers around a band that bares his name: the Chuck Dukowski Sextet. The CD6 features Chuck’s wife Lora on vocals, an artist who not only delivers stunning visual pieces (check out the band’s album covers) but also a surprisingly awesome vocal take on the Dukowski penned Flag classic “My War” from the band’s debut album, Eat My Life.

They included the cover on a split 7” they did with Mike Watt’s Missingmen project last Spring. The effort was released on their new record label Org Records as a way to remind listeners of Dukowski’s lineage, a promotional tactic that must have worked since it certainly put the CD6 on my radar.

Keith Morris’ latest band, OFF!, also took flight after a bit of reminiscing and the subsequent falling out between band members trying to revisit old tunes while trying to ignore old personality clashes.

When Morris’ Circle Jerks decided to give it another go, the members found a huge gulf between the idea to make the band just another nostalgia act or to take things a step further by incorporating new songs into the mix. When some members were unable to devote the time necessary to work on new material and when some voiced concern over producer Dimitri Coats’ own work demands, Morris put the Circle Jerks on hiatus and continued to work on the songs that he and Coats had started.

Off! just released their debut album over the summer, and it’s hard to find fault with Morris’ decision or with Coats work ethic and guitar work either.

Off! screams by at barely a quarter-hour, with every second sounding like it’s the most important thing in the world, even when the subject matter obviously isn’t.

Don’t think that Off! is riddled with greasy kid stuff, but there are moments where Morris is able to channel his younger angst. Most notable is “I Got News For You” where the Keith takes a haymaker towards Black Flag and SST founder Greg Ginn. Ginn is pretty notorious for questionable payment practices, and Morris may be the first SST alumni to publicly call him out via a 45-second song, even one that hijacks a line or two from Flag’s “You Bet I’ve Got Something Against You.” “We trudged through sludge and piss/Were never paid for this!” he screams, while Coats does an incredible job of being able to alternate between Ginn’s free jazz chaos and punchy Stooge riffs.

Haunted is the latest offering from the Chuck Dukowski Sextet, and while it’s nowhere near the intensity level of Off’s pace, it’s closer to SST Record’s spirit with its unpredictable tangents.

As with the band’s previous records, the weakest link is vocalist Lora Norton who struggles with pitch, delivery, and a general sense of identity. Usually, she remains in a comfort range of a slow burn stoner, somewhat resembling Opal’s Kendra Smith, without the mystery or consistency.

It’s a family affair for the CD6, and thankfully Norton’s son Milo Gonzalez has shaped up to be a pretty passionate guitarist, giving Haunted its moments of much needed power. With a bit more work and a bit more attention at figuring out exactly what kind of band they want to be, the CD6 remain in this weird purgatory of notable potential with some members clearly dragging their feet on the band’s overall forward movement.

Gonzalez seems stifled with his mother on board as he conjures up visions of Witch Mountain with his axe and wah-wah pedal while Nora plays passive/aggressive with her delivery, stubbornly  keeping Haunted tethered to the ground while the kid sounds like he’s ready to take off.

The worst offender is the eight-minute (that’s half of Off’s entire total time, if you’re keeping track) “A Thing,” which drags on and on like it’s trying to compete as some weak V.U. cover, complete with the obligatory drone violin.

For now, the CD6’s best work remains confined to that out-of-this world “My War” cover, which is unfortunately ironic as the band is clearly trying to branch out from Dukowski’s own past.

And maybe that’s the problem: the CD6 are simply thinking too hard at trying to find themselves, when all they need to do is to try and find the same kind of passion that Morris was clearly able to conjure up in short order with Off!

Audio: Chuck Dukowski Sextet — “All Is One”

Video: OFF! – “Wiped Out”

MP3: OFF! – “King Kong Brigade” (via Magnet)

Beachwood Sparks – The Tarnished Gold

Beachwood SparksThe Tarnished Gold (Sub Pop)

After a decade long hiatus between studio albums, Beachwood Sparks returns with The Tarnished Gold, their latest attempt at channeling the ghosts of Laurel Canyon. Their country rock is tightly packaged through campfire picked guitars and a slue of pedal steels, just the way it should be. The arrangements are stacked on a wide pallet of psychedelic parlor tricks to make everything sound like it’s passed through a lysergic filter. The Tarnished Gold also features Beachwood Sparks’ most endearing feature: highly articulate harmonies that are a welcome addition when they’re presented.

It’s intriguing enough to warrant another listen, but the longer I spent in the band’s high altitude, the more I kept wondering if there was anything more to Beachwood Sparks than feeling lightheaded.

Those aforementioned harmonies are plenty nifty, but with lines like “A honeybee in a field of flower/Came to me in my darkest hour” (“Talk About Lonesome”) you have to wonder, “It took a decade to come up with that?” The lazy songwriting gets to the point where there are moments of unintentional parody, and it’s at this point that I gave up on trying to piece together anything more than “talented musicians” to Beachwood Sparks’ redeeming values.

Beyond the musical chops, I can’t tell you many other reasons why we needed to wait ten years for this understated yawner or why this band’s reunion is anything beyond the kick of confidence that came from having one of their songs featured on the cult hit, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World.

“Forget the song/That I’ve been singing” they sing on the opening track, and before the end of The Tarnished Gold, you’ve done exactly that.

Video: Beachwood Sparks – “Forget The Song”

Beachwood Sparks - Forget The Song [OFFICIAL VIDEO]

MP3: Beachwood Sparks – “Forget The Song”

MP3: Beachwood Sparks – “Sparks Fly Again”

Lost Classic: The Lovin’ Spoonful – Hums Of The Lovin’ Spoonful

The Lovin’ SpoonfulHums Of The Lovin’ Spoonful Kama Sutra)

The Lovin’ Spoonful’s third record was one of those albums that suddenly found its way into my childhood collection, presumably a hand-me-down offering from my father when he figured out that the more time I spent dwelling in front of a record player was less time spent bugging him.

It’s true: at a very young age, I was enraptured by the hypnotizing 33 1/3 revolutions per minutes and would absorb every detail of each platter that mattered in my donated collection.

Hums Of The Lovin’ Spoonful was one of those records that mattered, only to be neglected and forgotten for many years afterwards, in many ways, the same way that public perception of the Spoonful themselves has followed.

Because, unless you’re the 13th Floor Elevators and have a bullshit patent on an “electric jug,” there’s not a lot of creative empathy if you call yourselves a jug band and play something referred to as “good time music.”

Hums is the record that actually attempts to demonstrate a wide diversity of styles, and most of the time it finds the band doing exactly that. From traditional folk, straight up rock, and even a legitimate attempt at country music, the Lovin’ Spoonful cram it all into this record, the last offering from the original line-up and their most compelling.

Spoonful vocalist John Sebastian pens all of the material, but the unsung hero is guitarist Zal Yanovsky who bounces between styles and genres so effortlessly that you’ll understand why R.E.M.’s Peter Buck is such an outspoken fan.

“Summer In The City” is the big hit that everyone’s familiar with, but Hums provided a pair of additional Top 10 hits with the gentle “Rain On The Roof” and that aforementioned attempt at country, “Nashville Cats,”  pre-dating The Byrds own foray into country music by a year or two.

“Nashville Cats” is such a convincing workout that even Flatt & Scruggs borrowed it for their own while Johnny Cash took a swipe at Hums’ “Darlin’ Companion” for his At San Quentin release.

With tack pianos, slide whistles, and a Jews harp in the mix, Hums Of The Lovin’ Spoonful is indeed good time music, but in the most inspirational way. It’s the sound of young men fully realizing the plethora of great music available to them, while trying to replicate the same sounds with respect and maturity.

The fact that their youth is reflected in their execution--the band is clearly having fun here--should not be a deterrent in discovering this forgotten gem. Hums Of The Lovin’ Spoonful plays like the unintentional classic record that it is, a collection of empathetic renditions of the music that inspired the band members, while inspiring a young boy in front of a record player who’s discovering music for the first time himself.

Video: The Lovin’ Spoonful – “Nashville Cats”

The Lovin' Spoonful - Nashville Cats

Video: The Lovin’ Spoonful – “Rain On The Roof”

Rush – Clockwork Angels

RushClockwork Angels (Anthem)

Prior to the release of Rush’s twentieth album, Clockwork Angels, the band had an opportunity to visit with Pete Townshend after receiving the Governor-General Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Performing Arts.

The formal gathering provided the Canadian trio with some face time with one of their acknowledged heroes after the event, and the conversation eventually led to the “What’s next?” question. When Rush responded that they were putting the finishing touches on a new album, Townshend scoffed, hinting that the format that he helped secure as a legitimate art form with Tommy has evolved into a seemingly extinct outlet.

“Waste of time, making albums these days.” He pointed out rather correctly, and even the band was forced to admit that maybe so, but they had to.

You could look at their response as yet another example of a band from a different era failing to acknowledge modern realities. Or you could accept the fact that Rush has operated exclusively in their own reality for four decades now, navigating trends and genres in a silo of loyal fans who appreciate the independent spirit of this band’s history.

A big part of that history happened with their 1974 release, 2112, a record that found them at the end of a record deal after three consecutive commercial failures to their resume. By all means, 2112 should have been the band’s clear bend towards their label’s desire to have a hit record. Instead, it’s a record in which half of it is devoted to a concept corny enough to alienate the placid record buyers it was trying to capture.

As we know now, 2112 became an enormous record for the band, inexplicably connecting them with an audience who appreciated their excessive tendencies and geeky excursions. It also became the record that fueled their fans’ future expectations, the benchmark for new conceptual meanderings.

With Clockwork Angels, they’ve returned to idea of a concept album once again, even coyly putting the hands of a clock on the album’s cover, that--if you consider the hands in military time--clearly spell out 21:12.

To be honest, I don’t have the patience to figure out what the concept is, exactly; all I know is that I think I heard a few songs reference timepieces and that the performances within the record’s hour-long running time are probably the best thing they’ve done since Signals.

It’s also the most varied, alternating between complex arrangements and textures that effectively demonstrate a wide pallet of sounds that could only come from a band that’s spent a great deal of their existence continually trying to move forward.

Whether or not you’ve personally been a part of this journey isn’t relevant. Those of us who’ve had a relationship with Rush at some point in our life will find Clockwork Angels to be not only a continuation of the band’s recent upswing, but one of the premier entries in what’s not only been a long, storied career, but a somewhat choppy one at that.

The band wisely chose to work with producer Nick Raskulinecz again after giving the band a flattering mix for Snakes & Arrows. His role is vastly expanded here, giving Clockwork Angels a perfect blend of the band’s progressive background with their more recognizable synthesizer years, all while making sure that the material has a distinctively modern sound, capable of scaring off any younger contenders trying to surpass these elder statesmen.

They do it by not just focusing on the complexities of their craft, but in casting a wide net over its very definitions. Guitarist Alex Lifeson channels his best Robert Fripp at points where atmosphere and texture rule over guitar worship soloing. The acoustic moments are compelling, and when the material calls for a bit of big power chords, Lifeson responds with memorable attacks and distinctive tones.

Geddy Lee’s vocals are more palatable than they’ve ever been, with hints of emotional qualities that were not present when his voice was more of a distraction than an instrument. And speaking of, his bass duties are pushed up high in the mix, suggesting that he’s never stopped building his low-end craft even when his hands left the fretboard for the keyboard.

Drummer and lyricist Neil Peart also deliver some of the best work of his career, with the words providing evidence of added focus and his drumming showing signs of intentional spontaneity. Credit Raskulinecz here too, as the pair purposely avoided unnecessary exposure to the songs so that when the time came for Peart to perform the rhythm tracks, he was only familiar with the song’s outline, approaching it with only a basic notion of how he would address each fill or tempo change.

Clockwork Angels‘ most telling moment may come with its title track, beginning with progressive layer of atmospheres before turning into churning bit of double-timed frenzy. The trick goes back and forth, until it turns into an acoustic Zeppelin shuffle right around the five-minute mark. It’s well thought-out, expertly delivered, and it suggests that not only are Rush still trying to deliver career triumph to us, they may still be able to accomplish it.

“All the journeys of this great adventure,” Geddy sings, looking back on the band’s history and noting the struggles of their early years with “It didn’t always feel that way.” As the track progresses, Lee finally admits, “I wish that I could live it all again,” while the band performs as if the last four decades haven’t slowed them down a bit.

Waste of time? Judging from Townshend’s twilight output, maybe. But for the members of Rush, Clockwork Angels is a late career triumph that sounds like the band’s time was put to excellent use.

Video: Rush – “Headlong Flight”

RUSH - Headlong Flight (LYRIC VIDEO)

Accept – Stalingrad

AcceptStalingrad (Nuclear Blast)

To admit to liking the German heavy metal band Accept requires an understanding that you’ll always end up defending the ridiculous video for the band’s biggest stateside song, 1983’s “Balls To The Wall.” If the image of a short, chubby vocalist with short-cropped blonde hair and a penchant for camouflage isn’t enough to put your infatuation through easy ridicule, then the image of a dummy version of Udo Dirkschneider actually riding a wrecking ball as it slams into a fake wall of bricks should surely do the trick.

I make no effort to defend that video, only offering that the riff on “Balls To The Wall” is so awesome that most guitarists would gladly give their left testicle to come up with a guitar part as spectacular. I’d also add that Sebastian Bach was spot on when he declared “Udo Dirkschneider” as the most metal name in rock music.

Accept circa 2012 is not the same band as it was thirty years ago during the heyday when they could afford things like Styrofoam bricks, stuffed Udos and videos recorded in bullet time. Hell, Udo isn’t even in the band anymore and only two of the band’s original line up remains active: guitarist Wolf Hoffman and bassist Peter Baltes.

To put it bluntly, why should you even give a shit about Accept circa 2012? For most of you, you probably shouldn’t, but for anyone else who can appreciate the beauty of metal’s adhesion to the riff itself and admire the sheer power of a male chorus chanting in an ominous Wagnerian manner such phrases as “Hellfire!” “Hung, Drawn and Quartered!” and “Stalingrad!” then Accept’s 13th offering is worth considering.

Stalingrad is the second record featuring former TT Quick vocalist Mark Tornillo as frontman. Tornillo possesses a larynx scraping vocal style that resembles Dirkschneider, but certain performances also demonstrate a greater range that’s similar to legendary British vocalist Graham Bonnet.

That’s fine for when the band makes a go of all the Accept songs that most fans will end up wanting during the subsequent tour, but it does nothing for the sake of the band’s relevance, seemingly two decades beyond their welcome.

Remarkably, guitarist Wolf Hoffman has put together a line-up and a set of songs that defy the perception of Accept beating a dead horse, making Stalingrad a legitimate contender in the metal community and a source of inspiration to anyone who isn’t quite ready to let their dreams die.

Hoffman unleashes 11 tracks of uncompromising Flying V action, and he does it with such ferocity that it sounds too good to be a second wind. He also catches everyone off guard with an entire concept album about the battle of Stalingrad that’s as heavy as the subject matter.

Utilizing the same epic approach found in many Power Metal bands, Accept is distinctively European even with Tornillo’s New Jersey heritage as the voice of their recent insurgence.

Much of the Stalingrad’s success comes at the hands of producer Andy Sneap, who presents each member with stunning clarity. He lent the same skills to Testament’s The Formation of Damnation and Megadeth’s recent releases, proving that he’s clearly adept at bringing old metal bands into the sonic landscape of the twenty-first century while retaining certain highlights of their catalog.

With Stalingrad, he’s helped renew Accept’s good fortunes, streamlining all of their talents into one tight package that suggests the band’s metal heart transplant is an overwhelming success.

Video: 15-second German TV ad

ACCEPT - "Stalingrad" - TV spot - Germany 2012

Audio: Accept – “Stalingrad”

ACCEPT - Stalingrad (OFFICIAL SONG)

Spiritualized – Sweet Heart Sweet Light

SpiritualizedSweet Heart Sweet Light (Fat Possum)

Within the first measures of Spiritualized’s eighth album, head Spaceman Jason Pierce continues his journey away from the minimalist leanings that he’s examined for the last pair of records, and back to the orchestrated grandeur of his revered back catalog.

While all of that may sound like a reprise of his past--which it most definitely is--what’s completely unexpected is the perfect balance that Pierce and company find between the grand stage and two-bedroom apartment. The one where the second bedroom houses all of the pawnshop gear and magnetic tape instead of a rent-contributing roommate.

A Theremin enters into the mix about thirty seconds into Sweet Heart Sweet Light, signaling that after nearly ten years of stripping down the mix, Pierce seems like fashioning up something big for this release. By the end of the record, even the traces of a musical saw seem perfectly fitting and admirably well thought out.

It’s not only one of the best albums you’ll hear all year, it ranks as one of the best in Pierce’s already impressive catalog. Entering his third decade in rock music, Pierce has packed Sweet Heart Sweet Light with beautifully simple arrangements with a sharper bite to his lyrics, some that see a somewhat compelling return to the misery that his distinctive monotone voice can wrap itself around so organically.

By the end of “Hey Jane,” the first song on the eleven track release, the band has already delivered a late career utter masterpiece of a song, complete with an inspired “Hey Jude” coda that gives the album its title.

He’s lifting a bit from his Spacemen 3 past on “Get What You Deserve,” but then, about four minutes into the track, the stereo begins to separate into a wider channel, leaving the main vocal track barking up the middle. By the fifth minute, everything is overcome with guitar distortion and vintage effect pedals while beautiful strings surround the outer ear.

By the end of the song, you’ve forgotten all about the clever allusions to the Spaceman’s past and begin caring about what is in store for us next in his future.

Quite simply, it’s a perfect blend of Pierce’s roots and the unbridled ambition of his revered late 90’s period.

When you get to “I Am What I Am,” with its Sunday go to meetin’ gospel chorus bouncing over Pierce’s deadpanned delivery, it becomes clear that there really isn’t a dud to be found on Sweet Heart Sweet Light. There’s just plenty of additional evidence what some of us have considered for some time now: that Jason Pierce is one the genre’s most vital contributors and to be able to continue to release records like this-clearly equipped for greatness and longevity-then we owe it to him to acknowledge how sweet it is to still have him around.

Video: Spiritualized – “Hey Jane”

Spiritualized, Hey Jane

Video: Spiritualized – “Little Girl”

Spiritualized - "Little Girl" (Official Video)