Saturday, January 14, 2012

Heavy Music...

... also known as the blog post that will make my friends call me a Buttrocker (again).

Time to delve into my Mp3 player again and see what sonic wonderment it may contain...

Fates Warning:

I had the pleasure of seeing Fates Warning twice when they toured with Dream Theater back in 1994-ish. I had gone more for Dream Theater and came out with a preference for Fates Warning. I had seen them in Seattle and liked the performance so much that I spent my lunch money for the next two weeks, lied, cheated and stole in order to make it to their show in Portland. Okay, it was more like sweet-talked, begged and skipped school, but...

I had liked Fates Warning prior to seeing them live. Afterwards, I sought out a bunch of their back catalog, in the end settling on the first two CD's of theirs that I had purchased.

Early Fates Warning featured John Arch on vocals. I personally don't care as much for Arch's voice, but it's a relative thing. I like a few songs off this...
... but it's not one of my favorites. I would recommend "The Apparition," "Kyrie Eleison," and "Orphan Gypsy" as highlights on The Spectre Within. You can listen to song samples and download tracks here.

Parallels is probably the first Fates Warning album that received a lot of commercial attention.  Tracks such as "Point of View," "Eye to Eye" and "We Only Say Goodbye" have catchier hooks than some of the earlier releases. New vocalist Ray Alder has a much more appropriate voice for the material in my opinion. The music and vocals flow together smoothly as if they were one and the same. MGX refers to them as "musically perfect." I agree. While not my favorite band (as if I could choose just one), they are one almost every playlist and Mp3 player you'll ever catch me with.
You can check out sound samples and purchase downloads from Parallels here.

My favorite of all the Fates Warning releases is Inside Out. "Monument" is an amazing track and I could easily leave my description of Inside Out at that. Every single track on this is golden. I used to take a radio boombox with CD player into my photography class at school and listen to this while processing prints every day. Inside Out is like a loyal friend to me.
You can listen to sound samples and purchase tracks from Inside Out here. I dare you... download just one. Any one. Pick a title that sounds cool. Buy the track. You'll like it. Well, if you like what I like, you'll like it.

Fates Warning - Monument (from Inside Out).

If you've listen to some sample tracks and still need a good starting point, Chasing Time is a good place to start. Chasing Time is a compilation of tracks from their back catalog up until Inside Out.
You can listen to sound samples or purchase tracks from Chasing Time here.


Florida speed metal band Savatage beget Trans-Siberian Orchestra. Maybe you knew that, but I doubt it. Savatage was another band I randomly found in my early teens. I think I picked up Streets: A Rock Opera because I had been so enthralled with Queensryche's Operation: Mindcrime that I wanted to check out another metal concept album.

I'm going to explore the career of Savatage in a slighty different manner, by discussing their records in the order in which I purchased them.

Streets: A Rock Opera turned out to be a totally different animal when it comes to concept albums than Operation: Mindcrime. Streets tells the story of successful musician turned drug addict turned drug dealer and deals with misery and redemption. The album is great listened to straight through, but not all of the tracks are good as stand-alones. Some of the lyrics seem contrived, gimmicky and/or dated. But for an overall sonic experience, Streets is a good listen.
Tracks like "Can You Hear Me Now," "New York City Don't Mean Nothing," and "If I Go Away" are worthy listens. You can check out sound samples and purchase tracks here.

My next Savatage purchase was Edge of Thorns, which featured a change of vocalists from Jon Oliva, one of the founders of the band to Zak Stevens who is a slightly more polished vocalist. Sadly, this is the last release that guitarist and band co-founder Criss Oliva appears on. Criss Oliva was killed in an accident in 1993 when his vehicle was hit by a drunk driver.
"Conversation Piece" is my personal favorite track on the record. Lyrics: "Pieces of myself, cut off in desparation, as offerings to thee. I keep them on a shelf, they're good for conversation, over a cup of tea..." Okay, so reading them, they aren't nearly as endearing as when hearing them. Some people take the lyrics of this literally to assume that it is about a man mutilating himself over a lost love. Personally, I think it's better when not taken literally, as a descriptive about how love and relationships can tear us apart. "Follow Me," "Lights Out," and "All That I Bleed" are other highlight tracks on this one. You can hear sound samples from Edge of Thorns and purchase tracks here. 

Gutter Ballet is the release that came previous to Streets: A Rock Opera. Gutter Ballet has a similar sound to Streets, though slightly less refined. I always got the impression that this album was a practice run for Streets, as it has a very loose concept album feel to it. Gutter Ballet also features Jon Oliva on vocals, as do the rest of the Savatage records I'll mention for the remainder of this post.

Highlighted tracks on Gutter Ballet are: "Gutter Ballet," "Of Rage and War," "When The Crowds Are Gone," and "Summer's Rain." You can listen to sound samples and purchase tracks here.

Hall of the Mountain King comes next. This record is a classic, so if you were old enough to rock out in 1984-ish, you may have heard this. If not, here's a chance to check it out.
All tracks on this are tops, so if you like early 80's power metal, a'la Iron Maiden, you should snag this at the first opportunity. If you are still doubting, you can find the sound samples and purchase tracks here.

For all of Savatage's early catalog, the one I recommend you save for the very last purchase is Fight for the Rock. 1986 was a weird year for metal bands and Savatage's 1986 release did not escape said weirdness. My gut feeling is that there was some record label meddling going on with a lot of bands at that point.
The album cover, the album title and song titles all scream out to me, "Record exec is crying about how we need to be more commercial!" Tracks include "Crying For Love," "Fight for the Rock," and "She's Only Rock and Roll." If you're brave enough to check them out, you can find the sound samples and purchase tracks here. Bottom line: buy any Savatage album you like, but leave Fight for the Rock for last.


Speaking of bands that released a rather weird album in 1986, there's Queensryche. I figure enough people are semi-familiar with them and don't need a big review with each CD. Therefore, I'm going to save my typing fingers a bit and only rate the Queensryche albums I own.

Note: I was the uncool, non-preppy one of my friends when I got into Queensryche. The QueenScreech and QueensRetch jokes still ring in my ears. Yes, I am a Buttrocker. Next.

Queensryche's 4-song EP was originally released on 206 Records back when I was, oh, three years old. The version you find for download now has a ton of bonus tracks and I'm not sure how many of those you really need, as they are tracks you can get on other albums. Like this one, but 4 songs is just too short.
You can listen to sound samples and purchase tracks here.

The Warning: Best album cover ever! I had a birthday cake one year with this on it, thanks Grandma Martin! Now there's cool grandparents who'll go find a place to make a custom album cover cake for you!

"Roads to Madness" is the best song in the world. Too damn long for radio airplay with an explosive ending too difficult to pull off live, "Roads" rocks. "NM156" is another classic: "One-world government has outlawed war among nations; Now social control requires population termination..." Lyrically and sonically, The Warning is one of my favorite albums of all time.

Rage for Order was just another victim of 1986 weirdness. The music industry must have been having some crappy growing pains at this point. Queensryche put out a pretty awesome, original album as expected. The big-haired vampire look they sport in publicity photos for this album, on the other hand, was obviously concocted by the record company. If you're a fan, you know all about how the blue-ringed album covers have collector's value. I love this one as well. Tracks like "Walk in the Shadows," "I Will Remember," "Neue Regel," and "London" make this a sonic treat. You can hear sound samples and purchase tracks here.

Operation: Mindcrime. Brilliant. Nothing else needs to be said. If you haven't heard anything off this record, you either live under a rock, or you're laughing and calling me a Buttrocker right now! If you are living under a rock currently, you can hear sound samples and purchase tracks here.

Empire. More commercial. Not on the top of my list, but not at the bottom either. I like it, but I tend to skip tracks on this one a lot. "Silent Lucidity," I've heard you so much, you are dead to me. You've heard it, but in case you live under an even bigger rock, you can hear sound samples and purchase tracks here.
Promised Land. Sonically amazing. I got to attend a preview party for this one at the Museum of Flight in Seattle back in the day. Got to shake hands with the band and get autographs afterward. The line was so long, they shut the power off on us to try and get us all to leave. Didn't work. Geoff Tate won points from me for being really cool. As my cousin and I were some of the last in the line, I said something to Tate about it being a long night for him and he replied to me how he was having fun drinking beers and shaking hands. What a good sport. Some celebs really hate their fans. I'm glad that not all of them are like that.
Back to Promised Land. I love this album to death now, but there have been times when I was totally lukewarm to it. I guess it was because a lot of it was fairly downbeat and not as agressive as Mindcrime, nor as commerical as Empire. The more I listened, the more it grew on me. "Promised Land" is the most amazing track. If you can find a live version, you won't regret it. You can check out sound samples and purchase tracks here.
Hear in the Now Frontier. I think I actually hated this one when it came out. If Promised Land was slightly eccentric next to Empire, HITNF was the crazy cat lady of Queensryche's catalog. HITNF requires a few listens and an occasional skipped track, but it's definitely one that will grow on you. Highlights include: "You," "Some People Fly," "sp00l" and "Hit the Black." You can listen to sound samples and purchase tracks here.

Q2K. Commercial, no Chris DeGarmo. I'm actually indifferent to this release. I like it enough to own it, but it's never something that I absolutely have to listen to above everything else in my collection. Heck, I think I skip the tracks from this one pretty often on my Mp3 player. Don't want to knock it too much, if you like Empire above all else in the Queensryche catalog, you should get Q2K. Either way, you should check out the sound samples and purchase tracks here. It seems that there are a couple tracks for download here that I don't have. Guess I'll have to suck it up and get them on payday.

That's where I'm going to end my foray into the world of Queensryche. I think I bought Tribe and Operation:Mindcrime 2 and never even listened to them. At some point, Queensryche lost me and I'm unsure of how or why. I still give them props for their earlier works and will always love them. But it might take some convincing to get me to check out any of their more recent stuff. I have a couple of their live albums that I didn't mention here. Live albums are one of those things: you either love them or hate them. It takes a pretty, pretty darn well done live version to get me interested. Very few bands sound like their recorded works live.

Thanks for following me into Buttrocker Canyon. Don't hike in Chelan Gorge, you will drown when they let the dam out!

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