Album Review: Alice in Chains- “The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here.”

Writers tend to used a lot of recycled adjectives when discussing the music of Alice in Chains: grungy, grimy, sludgy, dark, harmonic…etc.  And it’s safe to say that all these overused, yet appropriate words still apply to the band’s newest material (and then some).

The Seattle legends have continued their post-90s “comeback” with a logical and bold next step in “The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here.”

If 2009’s “Black Gives Way to Blue” was Alice in Chains’ healing process for their tragic past, then consider “The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here” their first post-therapy breakthrough.  The album is far from nostalgic, but still manages to pay homage to the band’s roots.  Fans will find moments to reminisce the days of “Dirt” and “Facelift.”

New and old fans alike will mutually enjoy the pulsating palm mutes of “Hollow,” the bellowing main riff of “Stone,” and the chaotic arrangement of “Phantom Limb,” among many others.

Content-wise, Jerry Cantrell and company- at times- venture into territory never explored in-depth on past albums.  The best example of this is the album’s  title track, a tell-it-like-it-is evaluation of the overly-religious.   Cantrell’s songwriting also soars on the acoustic/electric balancing act of “Voices,” a song seemingly about helplessness and confusion that plays like “No Excuses” with attitude.

In general, the album succeeds in building an overall sense of thought-provoking emotion and anxiety, all while maintaining a confident, triumphant tone.  No song ever comes off as out-of-place or forced.

“The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here” is the quintessential modern Alice in Chains experience: rough, loud, beautiful, and more ambitious than ever.

All in all:

Standout Tracks: “Hollow,” “Stone,” “Voices,” “The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here,” “Low Ceiling,” “Scalpel,” Phantom Limb”

Alice in Chains- “The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here:” 5/5

Song Review: Stone Temple Pilots- “Out of Time”

It’s been a confusing and pressing time for Stone Temple Pilots.  The band recently fired (and brought legal action against) their centerpiece lead singer, Scott Weiland and- to the surprise of many- quickly replaced him with Linkin Park’s Chester Bennington- an odd front man choice for a grunge-inspired alternative rock act.

Then, to make matters even more bizarre, the band’s remaining members went ahead and recorded brand new material with Bennington.  This has sparked a firestorm of various opinions within STP’s fanbase.

It’s interesting (to say the least), it’s- for some- tough to swallow, but regardless of how you perceive it, here it is:  “Out of Time.”

The song’s opening is pleasing- jamming onward with a bubbling Deleo brothers riff that seems to re-visit the momentum ignited on 2010’s self-titled effort.

However, Bennington’s contributions to the track quickly distort this euphoria.  Clearly, he has studied Weiland’s vocal mannerisms and phrasing to a T.  The result is something undeniably artificial.  This sticks out like cancer when plastered atop the song’s impressive instrumental coagulation.

Though the remaining members of STP were probably justified in firing Weiland and are brilliant musicians in their own regard, their decision to continue the band in its current state was an unwise one.

“Out of Time” is not a bad song, but it’s hard to listen to without imagining the perfection that could have been reached with Weiland on vocals.   Some will be able to look past this, but either way, Stone Temple Pilots have inevitably stained their consistency and legacy as a band.

Stone Temple Pilots- “Out of Time:” 2.5/5

Music Video Spotlight: Foo Fighters- “Big Me”

It’s clear that the Foo Fighters are currently one of the most dominant rock acts in the world.  They carry a reputation for several things:  blistering live performances, brilliant songwriting, a carefree approach to the creative process, and most notably- their iconic music videos.

“Big Me,” a song from the band’s1995 self-titled debut album, is one of the most beloved deep gems of their entire catalog.  This is mainly attributed to its hilarious music video.

The video is an all-out parody of 90s Mentos commercials, in which characters would endure some sort of problem or set-back, only to have it solved after popping in a mentos:

These commercials are parodied three times in the video- and each one includes an early Foos line-up playing essential characters.  In one, the band portrays an exceptionally strong group of painters, who lift and move a car for a woman who’s been parked in.  In another, they are shown as soccer players who become inconveniently separated by a limo.  Finally, they play themselves during a live performance- during which an aspiring young musician sneaks past security in order to play on stage with them.

In all of these scenarios, the character in peril has his or her problems solved by eating “Footos (“the fresh fighter,”)” an ingeniously-named knock off of Mentos (as well as its signature catchphrase- “the fresh maker.”)  Each problem’s solution is capitalized on with a slew of exaggerated happy faces from all involved- as shown below:

The “Big Me” video is perfect parody at its finest.  It brilliantly captures the aesthetic of vintage mentos commercials, and then accurately satirizes every little ridiculous detail.

The video’s cleverness and humor make it a staple of alternative rock history.

Album Review: Volbeat- “Outlaw Gentlemen and Shady Ladies”

Lately, Volbeat have been setting the bar high for modern hard rock- bringing a heavy and experimental, yet radio-friendly sound to a genre desperately in need of some variety.

Now, the genre-mixing virtuosos from Denmark are back with what is likely their best album to date.

“Outlaw Gentlemen and Shady Ladies,” the follow up to 2009’s successful “Beyond Heaven/Above Hell,” carries the band into a zone of noticeable focus and further experimentation.  “Lets Shake Some Dust” sets up listeners with western-style twangs and harmonica chugs that brilliantly foreshadow “The Lonesome Rider,” a later song that takes this style choice and runs with it in the most beautiful way possible.

The remainder of the album is the full package:  solid track after solid track, with very little dead space.  The infectious hooks of “Lola Montez,” an impressive cover of Young the Giant’s “My Body,” and a vicious collaboration with King Diamond on “Room 24” stand as some of the album’s major knock-out moments.

The album occasionally rings with a tone reminiscent of past Volbeat records, but for the most part, it is a total game-changer for the band.

Volbeat have, once again, done little to disappoint listeners.  “OutLaw Gentlemen and Shady Ladies” is just the next step in an uncontrollable creative ascent.

All in all:

Standout Tracks:  “Cape of Our Hero,” “The Nameless One,” “Room 24,” “Lola Montez,” “My Body,” “The Lonesome Rider,” “Our Loved Ones”

Volbeat- “Outlaw Gentlemen and Shady Ladies:” 4.5/5

Album Review: Device (Self-titled Debut)

An brief glance at “Device’s” opening tracks shows a collection of songs that sound all too familiar. Heavy, chopping guitars, angry lyrics, and tribal-esque chants and growls?…Surely this must be a new Disturbed album.

Nope, it’s not.  It’s only when the whistling synthesizers of “Villify” kick in that it becomes clear this is actually something different.  Device, David Draiman’s first project since Disturbed began its hiatus, grinds through songs slightly in the same vein as Nine Inch Nails or Marylin Manson.  Songs like “War of Lies,” “Haze,” and “Hunted” find Draiman plastered atop a factory of crunchy guitars and industrial-inspired loops and beats.

A closer look at the album reveals some memorable collaborations with other musicians.  Lzzy Hale plays Lita Ford on a beautiful, stand-out cover of “Close My Eyes Forever,” while Serj Tankian’s rebellious vocals provide extra edge to “Out of Line.

Other notable guests include Avenged Sevenfold’s M. Shadows, Black Sabbath’s Geezer Butler, and Rage Against the Machine’s Tom Morello, all of which pair very well with Draiman.  Shadows and Draiman’s combined vocals, in particular, are a match made in hard rock heaven.

It is pretty hard to listen to Dramain’s commanding, blast-beat style vocals without immediately thinking of Disturbed.  The vocalist is guilty of occasionally using recycled hooks from the “Believe” and “Indestructible” sessions, but he does take periodic strides outside of his comfort zone.

“Device” toes the line between expected and experimental more than it runs past it, but it still stands as a strong sampling of what is currently a growing thought-pool of potential.

All in all:

Standout Tracks:  “Villify,” “Haze,” “Close My Eyes Forever,” “Out of Line,” “Opinion”

Device- “Device:” 3.5/5

Song Review: Volbeat- “The Hangman’s Body Count”

Volbeat have always been about pushing the boundaries on what is considered conventional for a major rock band, blending inventive metal riffs with just about every genre imaginable.

Where their latest single, “The Hangman’s Body Count” is concerned, however, the band takes a much more straightforward hard rock approach, using shifting time signatures and impressive lead guitar solos to keep things as fresh as possible.  Michael Poulsen keeps his James Hetfield/Johnny Cash hybrid vocals on a leash, but he still manages to whip up some pretty catchy hooks.

“The Hangman’s Body Count” isn’t the most astounding of Volbeat’s singles, but it is still a solid effort that will certainly please the band’s fans.

Volbeat- “The Hangman’s Body Count:” 3/5

Song Review: Alice in Chains- “Stone”

Lately, a considerable portion of Alice in Chains’ fans have remained skeptical about the band continuing onward without the late, great Layne Staley.

But if there was ever a time to leave the past in the past, that time is now.  And “Stone” is one of the main reasons why.

The successor to the chart-topping hit, “Hollow,” “Stone” kicks off with a thundering bass line before segueing into one slimy three-ton behemoth of a guitar riff.

The beauty of the song is that while it does evoke fond memories of “Dirt” and “Facelift,” it stands as its own unique piece of Alice in Chains material.  The band’s trademark mucky guitars are complimented with a crisp, modern sound that packs an unbelievable punch.

If “Stone” does not get your blood boiling for Chains’ upcoming album “The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here,” there is a strong chance you may not have a pulse.

Alice in Chains- “Stone:” 5/5