HUMANOID Accept (Napalm)  ****

This is the Teutonic rockers’ 17th album overall and 6th since a spectacular return to form with 2010’s Blood Of The Nations, and their best since that record.  Hard charging and riff-powered, Humanoid is more of what has made the band’s late career run a thing of beauty.  Although guitarist Wolf Hoffmann is now the band’s sole remaining original member, there’s plenty here to sink your teeth into.

It’s tempting to get into the inner squabbles that led to Hoffmann being the last man standing, but let’s just say it’s down to the ever popular ‘creative differences’.  Wolf has a clear vision of where he wants the band to go, and his iron grip hasn’t always been popular.  Original bassist Peter Baltes, who left in 2018, said “we used to go up as a band, as friends and stuff, and then these things change business-wise and music-wise” in Metal Global last fall. “Then it seems like somebody wants all the influence.(An obvious jab at Hoffmann) Once you’re not involved anymore in the decision making, what’s the point?”

Accept 2024 is still a vital band, and Humanoid finds them firing on all cylinders.  Wolf does all the guitar playing in the studio- he once told me it’s just easier than having another player duplicate or match his parts- so the classic Accept sound and groove is still very much intact.  Mark Tornillo is still the vocalist, as he has been since the group’s unlikely 2010 resurrection.  His gruff, raspy style is as unique as Udo Dirkshneider’s but he’s hardly a copycat. Current members also include Uwe Luis on rhythm guitar, Christopher Williams on drums, Martin Molnik on bass and Philip Shouse on guitar, with the producer once again being Andy Sneap..

Although Humanoid doesn’t deviate significantly from the classic Accept sound it is a step above and apart from the records that followed Blood Of The Nations like Stalingrad, Blind Rage, The Rise Of Chaos and Too Mean To Die, which have a sort of ‘samey’ quality to them, some of which must be laid at producer Sneap’s feet, but I do like the dry, hard quality he brings to whatever he touches and this album has a variety of infectious rock grooves on display.

Is it fair to say that over the years Accept has essentially become The Wolf Hoffmann Show?  Probably… but he knows what he wants and what works for his band, and that works for me too.

HOT TRACKS:  Unbreakable, The Reckoning, Mind Games

HELL FIRE and DAMNATION Saxon (Silver Lining Music) *****

I read an article last week about a handful of older bands issuing outstanding late-career records.  Those mentioned include Judas Priest’s Invincible Shield,  Accept’s Humanoid (just reviewed) and Saxon’s Hell Fire & Damnation, all of which have 2 things in common; they’re British metal bands, and all 3 of these were produced by Andy Sneap- who also happens to be a touring guitarist for Priest.  I waffled on Saxon because over the years I’ve found their stuff inconsistent, but that article tipped the balance for me- and I’m sure glad it did. Great songs and tight playing making HF&D the best thing I’ve heard from them since possiblyy 1983’s Power & The Glory.

I daresay singer Biff Byford at 73 sounds better than he ever has, the twin guitar attack of Doug Scarratt and Brian Tatler is quite meaty and very reminiscent of classic-era Judas Priest, and the rhythmic relationship between drummer Nigel Glockler and bassist Nibbs Carter is rock solid.  There’s a consistency to the songwriting on Hell Fire & Damnation that makes it a thrilling listen, and you can’t say that about all of their records.  They seem to have taken a page from Iron Maiden’s playbook too in examining a variety of historical situations here with songs like Madame Guillotine, Kubla Khan & The Merchants Of Venice and Witches Of Salem.  They even pay tribute to an era of broadcasting I was too young to take part in with Pirate Of The Airwaves.  This song and the movie Pirate Radio (known as The Boat The Rocked in the UK) sure make me wish I had been a part of it.

Sneap’s astute bulldozer production and the way he pushes Byford on vocals makes Hell Fire & Damnation an exceptional display of heavy metal.  I’ve been gun-shy with this band, my last Saxon disc was 2015’s Battering Ram which, even though Sneap also produced, I found to be rather generic sounding at the time… but in light of my re-discovery of the band here, I’m going to have to go back and give it a fresh spin, then consider whether or not to get my hands on the couple of records released between here and there.  I like Hell Fire & Damnation so much it genuinely surprised me; gotta love it when that happens.

HOT TRACKS:  Pirates Of The Airwaves, Hell Fire & Damnation, 1066

ROOM WITH A VU VOL 1 E.P. Speedfossil (Sonic Escort Records) *****+

This is some catchy-as-hell pop/rock music, not unlike classic Cars stuff.  Speedfossil is a Boston power pop artist, the creation of singer/songwriter Garret Vandermolen, and this is his 4th collection of songs.  Feel like jumping off a bridge?  Put this on and you’ll change your mind about taking that leap.

Clever lyrics and a shimmery pop/rock vibe make Room With A VU damn near effervescent.  Over 4 days last year, Garret worked with engineer/ co-producer David Minehan at his Boston based Wooly Mammoth Studios to lay down these 5 tracks, the first time they’d worked together in 25 years.  Also heard here are Michael Scotti (Bass, vocals), Dan Jordan (guitar, vocals), and Chris Walsh (drums), all of whom have joined Garret on stage for various Speedfossil gigs since 2016.  As always Garret handles vocals, guitars, keys and some percussion.

Speedfossil has been described as ‘Randy Newman meets Husker Du’, and who wouldn’t want to give a listen to that?  Room With A Vu Vol.1 is the first in a series of EP’s that will feature songs all recorded in the same studio with the same producer.  The concept is to present the songs to the band, work quickly, then record them all in a short period of time. Vol.2  is expected sometime this fall, and if the songs hare half as entertaining as these 5, we’re in for a real treat.

HOT TRACKS:  Sweetheart, She’s Doing Fine


THE BLUES IS BACK Karen Lawrence (independent) ****+

Lawrence has a voice tailor made to sing the blues, and her new album is as deep as the ocean.  The Blues Is Back is a tour de force when it comes to her singing and writing as she inhabits every lyric and melody line with self-assurance and truth. This is real deal blues.

Lawrence has a decades-long career that includes lead vocal and writing credits on Jeff Beck’s Beckology and composing the theme song for the movie The Eyes Of Laura Mars, Prisoner , which was recorded by Barbara Streisand.  The Blues Is Back is no vanity project for a fading star, Karen brings all of her considerable musical skill to bear on these 10 songs.  Not only is she possessed of the kind of voice that can reach in and give your heart a good squeeze, the production on this disc is absolutely immaculate; we have Tony Saracene to thank for that, who presided over the sessions for this album at Aransas Music Emporium in Aransas, Texas, along with Ms. Lawrence.  Too many people involved to list the musicians here but Karen, aside from singing, also plays some guitar and contributes on keyboards.

Tom O’Connor of Rock & Blues Muse says “with her peerless voice she turns a simple tune into a big, towering bonfire of a torch song. (Her) voice plays like an instrument itself, always adding more color to a phrase than most would not dare attempt and makes it sound as natural as breathing”, couldn’t have put it better myself.  I don’t know if calling someone ‘a singer’s singer’ is a thing, but that’s what Karen Lawrence is.  After a long, hard day The Blues Is Back’s sultry magic lifted me out of a dark funk and gave me a reason to smile and nod my head again.

Lawrence’s career includes some startling pop music as well as some great rock & roll with her old band 1994, but when she tells us The Blues Is Back you can take that to the bank.  What more can I say? This is a gem of an album with the steam to make many “best of” lists at the end of the year, regardless of genre.  Man, I gotta spin this again before bed tonight.

HOT TRACKS:  Takeaway, Made To Move, The Blues Is Back


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