Sunday, November 20, 2016

Metallica- Hardwired...To Self-Destruct album review

 Metallica - Self-Destruct
Hardwired...To Self-Destruct
Rating: **** (3.75)

Eight years have passed since Metallica released Death Magnetic in 2008. However, the band hasn’t been inactive since then. In 2011, the band collaborated with the late Lou Reed- which resulted in the infamous Lulu. The project was universally hated by Metallica fans, some even going as far as sending Reed death threats. Metallica tried to keep fans happy with the Beyond Magnetic EP later that year and in 2013 with the 3D concert film Through the Never. This was all fine and dandy for fans but what we really wanted was a brand new studio album. In this year of 2016, Metallica have finally done just that. The album, Hardwired…To Self-Destruct, is the band’s tenth album. So after these last eight years, was it worth the wait? While it isn’t an instant classic, Hardwired…To Self-Destruct is still worth a listen.

            Hardwired is a two-disc set consisting of twelve songs in total, with six songs on each disc. In total, the album’s run time is some 77 minutes. This makes it the band’s second longest album- their longest being 1996’s Load, which was 79 minutes. However, Load able to fit on one disc. The choice to have the album on two discs instead of one is strange. Still, this has no impact on the music. It’s just something that sticks out.

            The first disc opens up with an onslaught of thrash metal in the form of the title track. As the lead single off the album, it’s an incredibly speedy track with the band firing on all cylinders. As most fans should know, Metallica were heavily influenced by the heaviness of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal bands and the velocity and speed of punk rock music. With that in mind, the band proudly shows the former in some of these songs. The commanding “Atlas, Rise!” and the slow but melodic “Halo on Fire” feature some impressive Maiden-like guitar work. “Now That We’re Dead” and “Dream No More” are also good. The former has a cool prowling feel while the latter sees the band dabbling in sludge metal. However, it’s “Moth Into Flame” that impresses me the most. Musically, it’s another head-bangin’ tune. Lyrically, however, the song is semi-autobiographical, about the ups and downs of fame. “Sold your soul/Built a higher wall” sings James Hetfield. “Yesterday/Now you’re thrown away.”    

            The second disc, as much as I hate to say, is where the album starts to derail. “Confusion” has a great militant opening but doesn’t go anywhere else while “Here Comes Revenge” and “Am I Savage?” are just very plain. “ManUNkind” isn’t the strongest track lyrically. Musically, however, it’s Sabbath-esque in its timing and feel- which I like. “Murder One”- the band’s tribute to the late Lemmy Kilmister of Motorhead- is just okay. Motorhead were a huge influence on Metallica and Lemmy was very supportive of Metallica. It just seems fitting that the band pay tribute to their mentor. You also have give the band credit for writing an actual song, whereas most people would decide to do a cover song. The second disc closes out with the balls-to-the-wall thrash metal of “Spit Out the Bone.” It’s easily the strongest song from the second disc, as it is relentlessly fast and brutal- closing the album on a high note.

            Despite its drawbacks, Hardwired…To Self-Destruct is a decent album from Metallica. While I find myself preferring Death Magnetic, Hardwired is a decent follow up. However on the production side, Hardwired sounds much better. At this point in their career, I think Metallica don’t have to impress us anymore. Their best albums came out in the 1980s. The albums that came afterwards have been hit or miss. I think what matters now is that they‘re happy doing what they do. Their new material? You can take it or leave it. So is Hardwired a groundbreaking album? No. Is it worth listening to? Sure, why not? It doesn’t hurt to. 

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Q&A with Lucifer's Friend

A year or two ago, German hard rockers Lucifer's Friend quietly reunited. Last year, the band performed a few shows and now in this year of 2016, the band has released a brand new studio album- Too Late to Hate- their first album in decades.

If you haven't heard of Lucifer's Friend, you're not alone: the band never toured the US but managed to have some success elsewhere during the 1970s and 1980s. Some fans of UK prog rockers Uriah Heep might be familiar with Lucifer's Friend, since LF's singer John Lawton replaced Heep's original lead singer David Byron from 1976 to 1979. In a way, Lucifer's Friend have a cult following amongst longtime rock music fans.

Lucifer's Friend were together from 1970 to 1981. During that time, the band released eight studio albums. The band reunited as Lucifer's Friend II in 1994, which resulted in a ninth studio album- Sumo Grip. Now with their newest album, Lucifer's Friend are back. While reunited, the band's line up is slightly different. The original band consisted of singer John Lawton, guitarist Peter Hesslein, bassist Dieter Horns, drummer Joachim "Addi" Reitenbach and keyboardist Peter Hect. Lawton, Hesslein and Horns have all reunited and are joined by drummer Stephan Eggart and keyboardist Jogi Wichmann.

I was able to conduct an email interview with the guys in Lucifer's Friend. In it, the band talked about their influences, their history and their future.

1.      How has the reunion of Lucifer’s Friend been? What’s been the reaction from audiences and fans?

John: The reunion has been good. It’s been a while since we last played together and of course we are all a lot older…wiser I hope J. The reaction from fans and the audiences we have played too, have been exceptionally good.

Dieter: John started it….the fans worldwide were happy

2.      What inspired you or made you want to make a new studio album? When did you start writing for the album?

Peter: Since the release of AWAKENING, we had put together lots of new ideas and after the positive reaction of the music press, we decided to put together a new album

John: I think after writing 4 new tracks for the AWAKENING album, the momentum was there to do some more. Peter has always been a prolific writer even in the days we were not performing together, so he presented me with quite a selection of new ideas which culminated in the new studio album TOO LATE TO HATE.

3.      Okay- I want to go to the beginning of Lucifer’s Friend’s history now. Growing up, what were your music influences and what made you want to go into music?

John: My own influences in the early days were probably the early Blues singers like John Lee Hooker, Robert Johnson and then came Elvis which turned me on to Rock n Roll all these artists drew me into music and of course singing. I had been an altar boy in the church at  an early age and a member of the choir, so that kind of paved the way.

Peter: I had an uncle who played a bit of guitar and from the age of 10 I was allowed to play around on it, from that moment on knew it was my instrument. My early influences were the Beatles and Elvis.

Dieter: Yeah the same for me, but I moved on to the bass guitar and pretty much the same influences.

4.      Specifically for John, Peter and Dieter- when did you all meet each other, along with Peter Hecht and Addi?

John:  I first met the guys in Hamburg in 1970. They were looking for an English singer to front the music they had written and me returning to settle in Hamburg after a couple of stints in the Top Ten Club with other bands, was in the right place at the right time.

5.      Looking online, I’m reading the band formed in 1968 or 1969. It’s also known that the band’s original name was Asterix and you released an album under that name. Then there’s the two albums by Electric Food. Wikipedia lists a bunch of groups from before then but I want to know from you: how many bands were there before Electric Food and Asterix?

Dieter: Quite a few J but only local bands like the GIANTS and GERMAN BONDS and we did do some recordings but really for ourselves, but we did record some stuff under different
names all in the name of studio work.

6.      How did you come up with the name Lucifer’s Friend?

Peter: The name LUCIFER'S FRIEND was originally a track on the 1st album, but the producer Herbert Hildebrand liked the name because to him it might concern the bad things that people go through unconsciously in their daily lives….

7.      The debut album from Lucifer’s Friend is a great heavy psych record. I love the distortion and fuzziness of the production. The first song, “Ride the Sky,” was a bit of hit single for you guys. What was the song writing process like for that one?

Dieter: We had been writing some new material in between recording ASTERIX which to our minds was very heavy and dark compared to that. A good friend of ours (John O’Brian Docker) came up with lyrics that seemed to fit exactly to our ideas. RIDE THE SKY was complete except for the lyrics which John Lawton came up with….yeah it created a bit of a stir at that time J

8.      I’ m also curious about “In the Time of Job When Mammon Was a Yippie.” It has some great guitar work and the song title is pretty trippy too. Is there any story behind writing that one?

Dieter:  We had the riff and the basic structure….and along came O’Brian Docker with another great lyric….We did spend a lot of time in the rehearsal room working the songs out, because studio time is expensive.

9.      At the time of its release, how was the debut album received? How much touring was done for it? 
John:  I think the album was well received, especially as it was a “German Band” and we were basically the first heavy metal band to come from the “fatherland” J. The problem with
touring especially in those days was the lack of money. The record company was reluctant to put funds behind the band and we all had other incomes from other musical projects which kind of took priority…..looking back, we should have persevered

10.  I’m not finding anything on tour dates from back in 1970s. As whole in the band’s original run, how much did you tour and where? Did you tour the US at all?
John: The same answer as above. No we never toured in the USA.

11.  Listening to the albums that follow the debut album, it’s pretty cool that they are all different in sound- while still maintaining some of the heavy psych sounds. Where The Groupies Kill the Blues was slightly more prog rock while Banquet is pleasantly jazzy. For the albums that followed the debut, did you always go into the studio with the intention of making a different album each time?

Peter: We never set out to record in a different style everytime….it just depended on the style of the individual songs we were writing at the time. However we did set out to record BANQUET the way it was intended….

12.  Going back to Banquet, you got to work with a 30 piece band. What inspired the jazz fusion direction of that album? It’s a great album with some strong production.  

Dieter: At that time we were prepared for everything: Rock, Tamla, Fusion Jazz and Classic. That is the result.

John: This is my all time favourite LF album…great playing from all the guys, such a joy to record. A lot of work went into this album, especially rehearsal time.

13.  For John: In 1976/77, you joined Uriah Heep as their new lead singer, replacing original singer David Byron. Can you remember what your audition was like for Heep or how the band got in touch with you? I’ve read they auditioned people such as David Coverdale.

John: Ken Hensley called me out of the blue. The band had heard tapes of my vocals with LF and other projects that I had done and I suppose they considered my vocals fitting to their future plans. To do the audition, I literally had to go out and buy the “Best Of” album to familiarize myself with bands material. However after doing a couple of numbers I got the job.

Side note: While waiting for the answers to the questions, I came across an interview Ken Hensley gave on the Inside Uriah Heep DVDs. According to Hensley, Deep Purple bassist Roger Glover had recommended Lawton to the band.

14.  For John: Being a Heep fan, I do enjoy the three albums you made with them- especially Firefly. I am curious to know: did you ever get to meet David Byron?
John: No I never got to meet him personally…he was at the first gig I did with the band in London and we did kind of walk past each other with a nod of the head and a quick Hi L

15.  For Peter and Dieter: Lucifer’s Friend went on with singer Mike Starrs for two more albums (Good Time Warrior and Sneak Me In). What was that time like when Mike was in the band? How did the fans respond to Mike as the new singer?

Dieter: Could anyone replace John Lawton? No. But we found a new way playing live. Mike was perfect as a musician and a friend to us. Everybody cancelled their jobs and we were making records and going on tours. [We were] supports to Manfred Manns, Van Halen and Scorpions. See Rockpalast: The fans liked it.

Side note: For those unaware, Rockpalast was a German concert show and venue. During their time with Mike Starrs, Lucifer’s Friend played there. You can find the concert on CD and maybe some videos on YouTube.

16.  For John: What do you think of the music Lucifer’s Friend released with Mike?

John: The guys in the band as musicians would be good regardless of who the singer was J. Hey Mike was and still is a good singer. I think the band went slightly poppy at that time, but hey they are always good.

17.  How did the band reunite in 1981 with John back in the group? What events led up to it?

Peter: A combination of a few things….we (LF) had played on John’s solo album HEARTBEAT and we talked about doing another LUCIFERS album, we had new material so we said “why not?” It was also the 1st time that we had recorded outside of Germany, which was a good experience for us.

18.  After releasing Mean Machine in 1981, the band broke up. What were the reasons behind it? Also, how successful would you say the band was during its original run?
John: Firstly, the band never really broke up….yes we went off and did different things, but we never said “Okay let’s call it a day.”  In the time that Mike was the singer, the band toured quite a lot together with Van Halen, Manfred Mann so it was good to get the band name out there.

19.  What were each of you doing after the band broke up…..

Peter: I was touring a lot with the James Last Orchestra together with Peter Hecht and Herbert Bornhold, the drummer with LF. Dieter was playing with a party band and playing bass in the Orchestra for the musical CATS in Hamburg. As John says, we really never broke up. We took some “time out” J

Side note: When Lucifer’s Friend reunited in 1994, Lawton and Hesslein were the only members from the original line-up present. When the band released Sumo Grip in 1994, the album was released under a new name- Lucifer’s Friend II.

John: The reason [why we changed the name] was because [Dieter] Horns & [Peter] Hecht were not on the album (their choice). They objected to using the LF name as normal, but legally they had no standing when we put a "II" to the name. Any animosity has long since been forgotten, by the way…

Side note: Playing keyboards on Sumo Grip was Jogi Wichmann. Wichmann was brought back for the current line-up to replace Peter Hect once again.Side note: When Lucifer’s Friend reunited in 1994, Lawton and Hesslein were the only members from the original line-up present. When the band released Sumo Grip in 1994, the album was released under a new name- Lucifer’s Friend II.

John: The reason [why we changed the name] was because [Dieter] Horns & [Peter] Hecht were not on the album (their choice). They objected to using the LF name as normal, but legally they had no standing when we put a "II" to the name. Any animosity has long since been forgotten, by the way…

Side note: Playing keyboards on Sumo Grip was Jogi Wichmann. Wichmann was brought back for the current line-up to replace Peter Hect once again.

20.  For Jogi: It was in 1994 when you joined the reunited band. Can you remember how you came to join the band and were you aware of the band or even a fan?

Jogi: Peter asked me if I had pleasure and time to work at the new LF-Album. I have met Peter with some studio-jobs in Hamburg in 1985. Also I´ve joined his Club-Band “Bonds” for some gigs. In 1988 we even spent a summer holiday with our families in Tunesia.  He was the guy who led me in the history of LF. I knew the titles of LF not very well except “Ride the Sky”.  After his request I listened to the first album. I was very impressed. The mixture of Rock, Prog, Jazz und Classic – wonderful, like me 70´s heroes Keith Emerson, Jan Hammer and Chick Corea.

21.  Unfortunately, original drummer Joachim “Addi” Reitenbach passed away. Would anyone in the band know what year he passed and how he passed?

John: We are sorry to say it was drugs and alcohol related. Very sad, he was a good drummer and a good friend

22.   What led to the reunion that’s happening right now?

Stephan: I think the band had got offers to play some live shows. So the idea was to record some new songs to make a best of album plus new tracks to show that Lucifer´s Friend is back to the present.

23.  For Stephan: How did you get to become the drummer for Lucifer’s Friend? Prior to joining the band, had you heard of them and/or were you a fan of their music?

Stephan: I heard of them by Peter Hesslein. I met him in 2002 when I joined the James Last Orchestra where Peter was playing since decades. So there he told me lots of stories from his band and the 70s during all the touring that we did with JL. But it was a big surprise when Peter called me in 2014 to ask if I would like to become a Lucifer’s Friend. He told me about their plans for the Awakening CD and some Live Shows. For sure I said yes. What an honor to play with these legendary guys who created and played all this fantastic music. And they still are on fire!

24.  It’s hard for people who might be interested in the band today to find your music on CD or vinyl. I notice that a few albums have popped up on iTunes here and there- including The Awakening set from last year (along with Banquet and Mind Exploding). Would you be open to having your other albums up for digital download or reissued?

John: Yes of course, but there have been some re-issues and remastered albums in the last few years. But of course these days it’s mostly downloads.

25.  What’s your favorite song to play live and is there a song you would like to play live

Stephan: So much great stuff: I the time of Job, Keep going, Ride the Sky… What I miss: Toxic Shadows (I think Jack White loves this tune also)

Dieter: Ride The Sky…Cool Hand Killer…

Peter: Ride The Sky…Burning Ships and anything from the new album TOO LATE TO HATE

26.  Now with the new album Too Late to Hate coming out, what’s next for Lucifer’s Friend come 2017?

John: We start at the end of January with some gigs in Germany, and then we are talking about recording another new album in spring. We are looking at touring next year and already have festivals booked for the summer period.

To read my review on Lucifer Friend's new album, click here.
If you would like to learn more about the band, click here to visit their official website. 

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Lucifer's Friend- Too Late To Hate album review

Lucifer's Friend
Too Late To Hate
Rating: ****

This year of 2016 could very well be the Year of the Reunion. People from Axl and Slash to Glenn Danzig and Jerry Only have surprised music fans- each performing for the first time in decades. For the guys in Lucifer’s Friend, this is the year in which they release a new studio album. Compared to the aforementioned names, Lucifer’s Friend are the easily the lesser known band. As a result, their new album will probably fly under the radar- which is a shame: the band’s new album, Too Late to Hate, is a surprisingly strong reunion album from the 1970s hard rockers. Having reunited two years ago, the reunited band has been playing several shows in Sweden and Germany before the release of the new album. Too Late to Hate is also the first album to be released under the Lucifer’s Friend name since 1981’s Mean Machine- making it their first in 35 years.

            Lucifer’s Friend were formed sometime in 1969 in Germany. The band’s original line up consisted of singer John Lawton, guitarist Peter Hesslein, bassist Dieter Horns, drummer Joachim “Addi” Reitenbach and keyboardist Peter Hect. The band’s proto-metal debut album was released in 1970, featuring the hit single “Ride the Sky.” While the band are often categorized as a hard rock/heavy metal band, the band tried something different album after album- whether it be progressive rock or even jazz fusion. The band went through several line-up changes, the most notable change being in 1977 when Lawton left to join UK prog-rockers Uriah Heep- replacing original singer David Byron. Lawton would go on to make three albums with Heep while Lucifer’s Friend made two albums with another lead singer, Mike Starrs. Sometime after leaving Heep, Lawton rejoined Lucifer’s Friend in 1981 for one more album before the band broke up. While Too Late to Hate is the first Lucifer’s Friend studio album in 35 years, Lawton and Hesslein did release an album as Lucifer’s Friend II in 1994 called Sumo Grip. This reunited version of Lucifer’s Friend consists of three of the five original members: Lawton, Hesslein and Horns. Hect decided to not participate in the new band while Reitenbach passed away a few years ago. Taking over the spots are drummer Stephan Eggart and keyboardist Jogi Wichmann.

            So compared to the previous Lucifer’s Friend albums, how does Too Late to Hate size up? It’s really hard to say in terms of the sound since it has been decades since they last recorded something. As expected with modern day albums, the production is loud. However, this doesn’t affect the album too much. If I had to put my finger on it, I’d say most of the songs on here sound like they could’ve been on earlier albums the band made- just with an updated production. The opening track, “Demolition Man,” is a straight up hard rocker with a slick guitar riff and strong vocals from Lawton. However, the song is almost overpowered by somewhat out-of-place and distracting synthesizers and/or pianos. On a first listen, this is the case for a few of the songs. Still, this doesn’t hurt the album. In fact on repeated listens, I’ve come to enjoy songs like “Demolition Man,” along with “Straight for the Heart” and “Tell Me Why.” The former is a guitar heavy tribal-sounding rocker while the latter has a pleasantly fuzzy/buzzing tone- thanks in part to Hesslein. Speaking of which, Hesslein’s guitar work here is impressive. With that, this provides for some of the album’s heavier tunes. “Jokers & Fools” is lead by a chugging guitar riff while the throw-down rocking “Don’t Talk To Strangers” has Zeppelin-esque riff that could make Jimmy Page jealous! If there was one song that sounded the closest to old-school Lucifer’s Friend, it would have to be the hard-hitting “Sea of Promises” as it has a balance of everything great. The band leaves time for some slower tunes such as the dramatic “When Children Cry” and the bluesy “This Time.” With these slower songs, singer John Lawton is really able to showcase his vocals. At 70 years old, Lawton’s vocals are still in good shape- which is saying a lot. While a little lower and fragile, I’d say Lawton’s voice is still strong. Throughout the entire album, Lawton gives a strong performance. The album closes on a high with the anthem-driven “Brothers Without a Name.”

            Overall, Too Late to Hate is a very good album from Lucifer’s Friend. While three or four of their previous albums might be better than this, it doesn’t really matter: for a band that hasn’t made a full length album in decades, this sounds good. If you’re new to Lucifer’s Friend, I wouldn’t start out with this album. Unfortunately, the earlier Lucifer’s Friend albums are not easy to find and sell for high prices. Luckily, a few have made their way to digital music stores. Last year, the band released a compilation entitled The Awakening- a collection of ten classic and four new studio tracks. If you’re interested in listening to the band, that’s not a bad place to start. As for those who own or have owned any of the music by Lucifer’s Friend, this is worth checking out.