There's nothing better than receiving promo cd's in the mail for reviews. After all it keeps you on your toes and up with the current scene. More than often new recordings tend to slip through the fingers though, listened to once or twice, reviewed, then never to see a CD player ever again...I've wondered to myself why this is. Why the new Aftermath CD 'Natural Destruction' seemed such a labour to listen to, let alone review. Why the latest Saracen release 'Red Sky' appeared on the surface to be so well crafted and listenable, yet hasn't graced my cd tray ever since I reviewed it. Why? Because they're just not good enough.
It's hard to find flaw with the songs and musicianship of such albums. There's an abundance of melody and stunning playing from all involved, but at the end of the day it's all rather boring. No sooner has the review been written and 'Michael Bolton' finds its way back into my player and listened to for the 2000th time. And even on the 2000th listen its more enjoyable than Aftermath, Saracen, M.O.D. or Praying Mantis. Most albums from the seventies and 80's are. As much as I want the current crop of hard rockers, AOR punsters and heavy metal acts to exceed or at least match the legends of yesteryear, it seems they can't. And looking at that list, three of those acts were in their prime during the 80's at various points. Aftermath are merely impersonating their heroes (Poison, Skid Row etc) and not doing so very well, simply because it's been done before and vastly better.
The 70's and 80's had an undefinable spirit. Back then it was possible for nearly any kind of band to obtain some kind of record deal. Take a look at the coverof Rupert Holmes 'Adventure', and imagine a guy as ordinary looking as that getting a solo deal from a major now. But that all died when grunge hit the scene and overnight the industry became close minded. Heavy metal, hard rock and AOR were banished almost instantly, as if they never existed. Yet for twenty years they were responsible for musics greatest moments, but the close mindedness that came with grunge was a contridiction, as people everywhere were told to be open minded and accept them as the new saviours of rock. Yet writers everywhere became close minded and wrote scathing words about their one time favourites, Kerrang! and Metal Hammer chief offenders. This type of bias hurt future hard rock bands who previously were being signed like fish out of water. In a nutshell that's why Aftermath seem so redundant. Their form of rock is so dead in the mainstream that it's hard to make it sound as polished as an act from 1988 with major label backing.
But it's not just pretenders like Aftermath. Even seasoned pro's like Iron Maiden, once metals biggest act, are a pale shadow of their former selves. When the classic 1982-89 lineup (plus Janick Gers) reformed in 1999 every man and his dog reckoned Maiden would reclaim their no 1 status. But they lost it a more than a decade ago to Metallica, who retain the title. Maiden's comeback album 'Brave New World' failed to move me ath the time and still does. When I reviewed it at the time I wrote 'this won't be the first Maiden album I reach for when listening to one of their cd's.' How true those words have rung. Three years later and on the verge of their latest studio release, 'BNW' has been lucky to be listened to more than a few times by yours truly. I knew the magic was not there, and time has increased that thought. Going through the motions repeatedly, a slow intro, fast section, keyboards etc just dashes any hope that Maiden could in a last ditch attempt record a thirty minute CD of anthems akin to 1990's 'No Prayer For The Dying'.
The hardest thing is trying not to sound like a miserable old git, pining for the old days, but does todays AOR really match up to anything from 1980-89? You could cite a one time giant like Journey and their horrendous sales for 'Arrival' as proof. It's doubtful whether it has even gone gold. Yet in 1996 with Steve Perry they were still platinum and top three on Billboard. The truth is, as good as Steve Augeri appears, Journey are irrelevant and unlikely to record anything like 'Escape' or 'Frontiers' again. I'm not stupid enough to suggest that there aren't good album still been released on a frequent basis, but when to my ears its by old timers like Rose Tattoo and not Biloxi or something, I know there's a problem.
It gets infuriating listening to something new and not hearing the magic, that x-factor which lets you know it has staying power. Hearing a supposed current death metal god like Amon Amarth and feeling nothing, means they have failed. Then to play old Slayer and be blown away by that intangible wall of noise, raw and uncontrived is surely a sign that better days have passed. All I can do is hope that something arrives in the mail that gives me that feeling of excitement again. Heartland did last year. Manowar didn't. Xinema raised my eyebrows briefly, although Mouth Of Clay shut them rather quickly. Pagan's Mind and their excellent 'Celestial Experience' is proof that metal can flourish given a fresh approach, something that Bon Jovi wouldn't know anything about.
Who knows what the future holds. It's all rather worrying when all you think about is the next AC/DC album. Invaraibly give me Aftermath or Lebocat anyday over some faceless, packaged pop punk bullshit like Good Charlotte and their fake rebellion. When I see that I'm thankful that there are still hard rockers willing to give it a go. That's rebellion playing such an abused style of rock. It just falls on deaf ears too often. It leaves me cold. Wrabit on the other hand? Where's my copy of 'Tracks'...........