THE ULTIMATE COLLECTION Black Sabbath (Warner) ****
A compilation to mark the end of their final tour. Do I already have every song by the original lineup? Yes. On vinyl and CD? Yes. Did I really have to buy it? Of course- without it, my collection would be incomplete.
Black Sabbath arguably invented heavy metal, building on Tony Iommi’s leviathan riffs- there’s no need to go into their history here- anybody who cares already knows who they are and what they’ve done. In the broad history of the group, this is their 5th official greatest hits CD by my count; We Sold Our Souls For Rock & Roll is a best of the original group’s first 6 records- Greatest Hits1970-1978 is the best of the original lineup, celebrating their induction into the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame. The Sabbath Stones, an import on the now defunct IRS label, gathers the best of the Tony Martin-era lineup, with a track each from the Dio and Gillan eras, plus a bonus track I’d never heard before, Loser Gets It All. Finally, there is The Dio Years; a disc that celebrates the best of that particular lineup, including 3 excellent new tracks recorded just for that release, leading to their reformation as Heaven & Hell, until RJD’s untimely death in 2010.
Other than plugging a hole on my CD shelf, what makes The Ultimate Collection worthwhile? It benefits from the original band’s catalogue having been re-mastered and sounds exquisite. Then there’s the track listing- 31 songs over 2 discs selected by the band members themselves, or so I’ve heard. Of course you get the well known stuff like Paranoid and Iron Man, but for each of those you also get some cool album cuts like Spiral Architect off of Sabbath Bloody Sabbath or A Hard Road from Never Say Die.
The Ultimate Collection was released to capitalize on Black Sabbath’s final world tour, perhaps aimed at those in the audience who didn’t already own every record, and that’s fair enough. But what elevates this above your average cash grab hits collection is that it truly does represent who Ozzy, Tony, Geezer and Bill were as a band. The songs aren’t sequenced chronologically either, but as a fan might while doing up discs for the car or to give to a friend to turn them on to the band. The Ultimate Collection is the best representation of the classic Sabbath lineup to date, and I’m damn glad to have it- just have to track down the vinyl version now.
DISC ONE: Never Say Die, Rat Salad, Spiral Architect
DISC TWO: A Hard Road, Snowblind, Into The Void
INFINITE Deep Purple (Ear Music/ Edel) *****
Deep Purple is back with their 20th studio album, their 3rd since 2005 and second in a row to be handled by legendary producer Bob Ezrin. Apparently, they have no intention of going quietly into that good night, choosing instead releasing their most potent collection of songs since 1996’s Purpendicular.
Purple of the 1970’s was truly fearless. Their records began registering with the public in a big way starting in 1970 with In Rock and, with mercurial and superbly talented guitarist Ritchie Blackmore at the helm their live shows were legendary. Every show was a potential train wreck in the making as all 5 members dashed hell-bent for leather to the edge of musical insanity, nearly always being able to snatch it back and hold it before disaster struck. Led Zeppelin had nothing on these guys.
The group just described no longer exists as such, having endured many personnel changes with the current lineup of Gillan, Glover, Paice, Morse and Airey being the longest lasting of them all. Then there’s the march of time; at 63, guitarist Steve Morse is the youngest member, with the rest of the guys within spitting distance of 70. They’re making music now that is substantially different from records like Machine Head, yet it is still unmistakably Deep Purple. As Mark Taylor noted in his review of the album for metaltalk.net, “the band have been traveling in a different direction for the past two decades on an expedition that knows no boundaries.” They’ve never made the same album twice, and that’s impressive.
Infinite starts with Time For Bedlam and Gillan’s unmistakable voice, sounding like a 16th century monk, intoning “Descending the cold steps of the institution for the politically insane/ never to be seen again/ saying farewell to daylight” before taking off into a mid-tempo gallop- surely a reaction to the political climate of these days, particularly Trump’s America. The guys are in peak form; Paice is a rock drummer with jazz chops (a hero of mine), Roger Glover’s bass lines are muscular yet understated, Morse is more adventurous on guitar and, on his 4th album with the band keyboardist Don Airey (Sabbath, Ozzy, Rainbow) finally seems comfortable in Jon Lord’s shadow. Singer Ian Gillan has lost much of his range from the glory days but, playing to his current strengths, is still a fine vocalist.
Infinite is a musically thrilling album, but one that casual listeners looking for flashes of the band’s storied past will find challenging. If you’re open to it, this is a disc that gives up more and takes you deeper with each listen. I saw Roger Glover say in a You Tube interview that he thinks the band has another album in them still, I hope he’s right- this is bloody excellent!
ESSENTIALS: Time For Bedlam, Birds Of Prey, Roadhouse Blues (yes, the Doors song)
MONARCH Chris Antonik (independent) **** ½
Antonik’s 3rd album is a powerful and gutsy statement, lyrically and musically. Created during the emotional confusion that comes with a marriage blowing apart, Monarch speaks of regret, healing and forgiveness in deeply personal ways. “The theme (of this album) is forgiveness” Chris told me in a facebook message, “and it touches on my divorce. It’s a heavy closer to a trilogy, but about moving on.”
Engineered by Jeremy Darby (U2, Pink Floyd) and co-produced by Antonik and Ted Onyszczak, Monarch’s sound is muscular and punchy, just as an emotional set of songs like this need to be. It’s quite a band he has in the studio with him too; Chuck Keeping (Big Wreck) on drums, Guenther Kapelle (Wild T & The Spirit) on bass, Jesse O’Brien Colin James) on keys, plus Samantha Martin and Delta Sugar on harmony vocals- a perfect storm of musical talent to make this the album it has become.
I’d Burn It All Down (For You), the ballsy, swaggering rocker powered by overdriven drums that opens the disc is dedicated to Chris’s “two beautiful children”, according to the liner notes, which contain observations on many of the songs. On songs like Gold Star, Antonik plays some of his most inspired leads, really tearing into the fret-board, and Love, Bettike is an emotional slow blues, inspired by an encounter Chris had while touring California in 2015- the story is in the booklet. The emotional heart of Monarch, I think, is the song Forgiveness Is Free; “I remember the day that you shot me down/ with words like bullets, round after round/ well you hurt me so bad, but you didn’t get the best of me/ while you cost me so much, my forgiveness is free”. Having been through a couple of divorces myself, I know exactly what he means.
Monarch is a modern blues album that doesn’t pull any punches, and its ultimate message is of hope and forgiveness. It’s a musically satisfying adventure that, in the years ahead, Chris Antonik’s fans will look back and say “Yeah- he really nailed it.” GREAT stuff.
ESSENTIALS: I’d Burn It All Down (For You), Love Bettike, A Slip In The Rain
CHANGE MY GAME Thorbjorn Risager & The Black Tornado (Ruf) *****
This is their follow-up to 2014’s game changing 9th studio album, Too Many Roads. Risager and his 7 piece band were showered with acclaim on that disc by many (including myself) and they’d better be ready for ebullient praise on Change My Game because it’s a terrific record.
Not counting the live album that came in between, the progression from Too Many Roads to Change My Game is palpable. The group continues to dodge media pigeonholes and break down the boundaries of the blues genre, their confidence to experiment growing with each year they spend on the road. As good as the previous disc was, this one is more fully realized. Risager’s voice is deep and rich, as recognizable is Otis or Sam, and his lyrics are poetic and evocative. The Black Tornado’s performance is skilled and exciting throughout as well- what more could we ask for?
Change My Game is a blues album like anything ZZ Top does is blues, but such a definition is too narrow to be considered accurate. With this one Risager has finally achieved the studio sound he’s been chasing with the entire band deciding to self produce and mix it. Lots of cool stuff here from ballads like I Used To Love You (the first single, it also kicks off the disc) to ballsy guitar driven rockers like Dreamland which follows on the album, immediately setting up the parameters in which this album operates, with soul as the undercurrent throughout. Rather than depending on technology (although you’ll hear a few synth stabs and whatnot), Change My Game is powered by human chemistry and emotion, these 8 people communing to create something greater than themselves.
With some records you can marvel at production tricks or dazzling virtuosity, but Change My Game’s gift is fine songs delivered with a gritty reality and muscular playing that give the album real heft. I’m planning a road trip to British Columbia in late May, and you can bet the rent that this album will be at the top of my play list.
ESSENTIALS: Train, I Used To Love You, Dreamland
APOCALIPSTICK The Harpoonist & The Axe Murderer (independent0 *** ¾
This is my 3rd album by this Vancouver-based duo, and the beauty of first putting on a new album from The Harpoonist & The Axe Murderer is you’re never sure exactly what you’ll be hearing- but it’s a safe bet it will be something pretty heckin’ cool. That was the case with Checkered Past in 2013 and A Real Fine Mess the following year, both nominated for and winning some groovy awards. Apocalipstick will be an attention-getter too.
Known primarily as a blues unit, H&AM delve deeper into psychedelia on the new record, no doubt inspired by the desperation of the times we live in. Take the song Get Ready, for example, which kicks off the album; “Get ready for the hard times/ get ready for the heavy load/ get ready for the who knows what”. “Ben Rogers first sang (it) to us by the piano in the basement of my home” says singer and harmonica player Shawn Hall. “It was instantly familiar to us and embodied this loose campfire-like group vocal thing, which carried right into the recording sessions. The beauty of the song is the impression of hopefulness it leaves you while layered in a bed of chaos.” All of which sums up the spirit of Apocalipstick.
This disc is a righteous blend of rocking out balanced with quieter moments, like the song Treat Me Kind. You’ll hear blues currents and maybe some country touches mixed in with the occasional taste of island riddims- seemingly a chaotic blend, but when you listen with the right ears, it all makes a perfect sort of sense unto itself. From personal relationships to the end of the world as we know it Shawn Hall, Matthew Rogers and the list of guests that helped them realize their vision here have delivered a coherent and occasionally thought provoking piece of work- nicely done, lads!
ESSENTIALS: Save me From Another Day, Get Ready, Treat Me Kind