February 24, 2017

2Pac - Me Against The World (1995) ☠

Country: U.S.A.
Genre: Hip-Hop
Style: Gangsta Rap, G-Funk, Conscious
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© 1995 Interscope Records
AllMusic Review by Steve Huey
Recorded following his near-fatal shooting in New York, and released while he was in prison, Me Against the World is the point where 2Pac really became a legendary figure. Having stared death in the face and survived, he was a changed man on record, displaying a new confessional bent and a consistent emotional depth. By and large, this isn't the sort of material that made him a gangsta icon; this is 2Pac the soul-baring artist, the foundation of the immense respect he commanded in the hip-hop community. It's his most thematically consistent, least-self-contradicting work, full of genuine reflection about how he's gotten where he is -- and dread of the consequences. Even the more combative tracks ("Me Against the World," "Fuck the World") acknowledge the high-risk life he's living, and pause to wonder how things ever went this far. He battles occasional self-loathing, is haunted by the friends he's already lost to violence, and can't escape the desperate paranoia that his own death isn't far in the future. These tracks -- most notably "So Many Tears," "Lord Knows," and "Death Around the Corner" -- are all the more powerful in hindsight with the chilling knowledge that he was right. Even romance takes on a new meaning as an escape from the hellish pressure of everyday life ("Temptations," "Can U Get Away"), and when that's not available, getting high or drunk is almost a necessity. He longs for the innocence of childhood ("Young Niggaz," "Old School"), and remembers how quickly it disappeared, yet he still pays loving, clear-eyed tribute to his drug-addicted mother on the touching "Dear Mama." Overall, Me Against the World paints a bleak, nihilistic picture, but there's such an honest, self-revealing quality to it that it can't help conveying a certain hope simply through its humanity. It's the best place to go to understand why 2Pac is so revered; it may not be his definitive album, but it just might be his best.

2Pac - 2Pacalypse Now (1991)

Country: U.S.A
Genre: Hip-Hop
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© 1991 Interscope Records
AllMusic Review by Marisa Brown
When 2Pac's full-length debut, 2Pacalypse Now, came out in 1991, it didn't have the same immediate impact, didn't instantly throw him into the upper echelons of rap's elite, as Nas', Jay-Z's, or even his biggest rival, Notorious B.I.G.'s did, but the album certainly set him up for his illustrious and sadly short-lived career. Part of its initial problem, what held it back from extensive radio play, is that there's not an obvious single. The closest thing to it, and what ended up being the best-known track from 2Pacalypse Now, is "Brenda's Got a Baby," which discusses teenage pregnancy in true Pac fashion, sympathetically explaining a situation without condoning it, but it doesn't even have a hook, and most of the other pieces follow suit, more poetry than song. The album is significantly more political than the rapper's subsequent releases, showing an intelligent, talented, and angry young man (he was only 20 when it came out) who wanted desperately to express and reveal the problems in the urban black community, from racism to police brutality to the seemingly near impossibility of escaping from the ghetto. He pays tribute to artists like KRS-One, N.W.A, and Public Enemy, all of whom he also considered to be provoking discussion and reaction, but he also has cleanly carved out an image for himself: articulate and smart, not overtly boastful, and concerned about societal problems, both small and large (and though he discusses these less and less as career progresses, he never leaves them behind). Yes, the edges of 2Pacalypse Now can be a bit rough, yes the beats aren't always outstanding, and yes, the MC's flow can be a little choppy, even for him, but it's still a great look at what 2Pac could offer, and a must-have for any fan of his, or hip-hop in general.

2Pac - The Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory (1996)

Country: U.S.A
Genre: Hip-Hop
Style: Gangsta Rap
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© 1996 Death Row Records
AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Everything about The Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory smacks of exploitation. Released only eight weeks after Tupac Shakur died from gunshot wounds, Death Row released this posthumous album under the name of Makaveli, a pseudonym derived from the Italian politician Niccolo Machiavelli, who faked his own death and reappeared seven days later to take revenge on his enemies. Naturally, the appearance of Don Killuminati so shortly after Tupac's death led many conspiracy theorists to surmise the rapper was still alive, but it was all part of a calculated marketing strategy by Death Row -- the label needed something to sustain interest in the album, since the music here is so shoddy. All Eyez on Me proved that Tupac was continuing to grow as a musician and a human being, but Don Killuminati erases that image by concentrating on nothing but tired G-funk beats and back-biting East Coast/West Coast rivalries. Tupac himself sounds uninterested in the music, which makes the conventional, unimaginative music all the more listless. If he had survived to complete Don Killuminati, it is possible that the record could have become something worthwhile, but the overall quality of the material suggests that the album would have been a disappointment no matter what circumstances it appeared under.

Papa Roach - Getting Away With Murder (2006)

Country: U.S.A
Genre: Alternative Rock, Alternative Metal
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© 2004 Geffen Records
AllMusic Review by Johnny Loftus
Howard Benson, Chris Lord-Alge, Papa Roach. It's gotten to the point where you can fill in the last name with another combo of mascara-eyed angry men jockeying for position in the bubbling ooze of the post-rap-rock (yes, that's a term) universe. Producer Benson and mixer Lord-Alge are professionals both, masters of compression and punching up the radio mix. This is what they offer Papa Roach -- a promise that the band's Getting Away with Murder will sound both raging and properly marketable. To that end, "Not Listening" rewrites the 2001 Roach hit "Last Resort" without the rap, while the big title-track single is built around a mechanistic Korn bass throb and a carnival funhouse lead guitar line. (The better to scare you with, see.) On the latter, Jacoby Shaddix (the name change still stands) incorporates the affected whisper, the vengeful yell, and the vague lyrical cocktail of depression and S&M ("I'm a glutton for your punishment/You're the master/And I'm waiting for disaster"). Fill in the bruised blanks. His railing against alcoholism in the bashing, amplified rocker "Be Free" (as well as throughout the album) does seem genuine. But still, it's off-putting how much Shaddix sounds like Trent Reznor. Seriously, where's Papa Roach inside Getting Away with Murder's production and brand positioning? "Scars" is a midtempo power ballad of sorts, again about the ills of drinking; with tweaking it would fit on a Good Charlotte album. Album opener "Blood" (Empty Promises)" does suggest the harder screeds of 2002's lovehatetragedy, but it doesn't go far enough, and that tense edge is dulled by repetitive glowering ("I lit my pain on fire/And watched it all burn down!") and muddled genre posturing once the album fully starts. With Getting Away with Murder, Papa Roach offer fans of this sound an appropriately hard (yet painstakingly layered -- thanks Howard and Chris!) punch in the face. But there's a hollow sound as the bones collapse, because all that's supporting it is expensive art direction and a big scaffold of clichés. If your scream sounds like everyone else's, does anyone really hear it?

Pagan Altar - Lords of Hypocrisy (2002) ☠

Country: United Kingdom
Genre: Doom Metal
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© 2002 Oracle Records
Review by Adam for MetalReviews.com
The New Wave of British Heavy Metal forever changed the landscape of metal music. Its heyday in the late 70's and early 80's gave rise to some of the biggest names in metal history. Yet for every success story from this era, there is a band who faded into obscurity. For every Iron Maiden, there is a Satan. One of the bands who falls into the latter category of criminally unknown is Pagan Altar. Though they formed in 1978, their first release was 20 years later in Volume 1, a collection of widely bootlegged tracks from their early years. Since that time, their brand of traditional and bluesy doom had been building an underground fanbase. I cannot tell you why this band went unnoticed by the majority of the metal community for so long, but I can tell you that you would be hard pressed to find a traditional doom band in the vein of Black Sabbath that is as consistently kickass as Pagan Altar. If you, like many, are new to this band, their second full-length The Lords of Hypocrisy is as good a place to start as any.
Since inception, Pagan Altar has been the brainchild of founding relatives Terry and Alan Jones. Other members have come and gone (alot, in fact), but Terry's nasally vocals and Alan's wonderful array of riffs have always been the soul of the band. The title track on The Lords of Hypocrisy is prime evidence. After a cryptic organ intro, Alan swoops in with a breathtaking riff that will burrow its way into your head and stay there for days. Seriously, if this riff doesn't have you nodding your head, you have problems. The production is vintage sounding enough that if I told you this album was released in 1984 instead of 2004, you would have no reason to doubt me if you had no prior knowledge. As I said before, Terry's vocals are nasal sounding and unique if nothing else. I suspect this will be the main complaint for first time listeners. If you are one of these, give them some time. I was not crazy about the vocals the first time I heard them, but over time I have come to appreciate what they bring to the overall sound. They fit very well with the aura of this band, and while they don't stand out, they also don't detract from Alan's superb riffing, which should be the focal point anyway.
The Lords of Hypocrisy contains music composed in the earlier years of the band, and is said to be the completion of a long planned concept album lyrically dealing with mankind's inhumanity to itself. The band's official biography on their website contains the full story on the frustrating process of recording the album and is an interesting read for fans. Since these songs are not really new, anyone lucky enough to catch one of Pagan Altar's legendary live shows many moons ago will likely recognize many of the songs. I can only imagine witnessing firsthand the epic track Armageddon accompanied by the stage props and atmostphere used by the band (hooded monk robes, coffins, and altars to name a few). To date the longest track put to record by Pagan Altar, Armageddon contains many instances of wonderfully composed back and forth between Terry and Alan. Vocal passages are soon countered by a searing guitar lead from Alan's seemingly endless supply. Not many bands can claim the audible chemistry found on this album as a weapon in their arsenal, and it shines brightly here.
I do not intend to bore you with my prolonged gushing over the quality of the guitar work on this album, as I could go on for awhile. Every song, aside from the short and strange acoustic segue track The Devil Came Down to Brockley, has multiple memorable guitar lines. The last track I do want to highlight is The Masquerade. Building in crescendo-esque fashion off of an acoustic intro, Alan unleashes perhaps his best solo around the halfway point, setting the table for a second half which takes a heavier and more guitar oriented doom approach as the smooth guitar riffs weave in and out effortlessly.
Pagan Altar may have finally begun to get some much needed exposure in doom circles within the last decade, but there are still far too many in the metal community who know little or nothing of this band. If you can manage to find any of their albums for a relatively reasonable price, be sure to check them out, particularly if you are a fan of old Black Sabbath or Witchfinder General. Hopefully, the future will see Pagan Altar obtain the notoriety they deserved almost 30 years ago.

Ice Cube - The Predator (1992)

Country: U.S.A
Genre: Hip-Hop
Style: Gangsta Rap
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© 1992 Priority Records
AllMusic Review by Jason Birchmeier
Released in the aftermath of the 1991 L.A. riots, The Predator radiates tension. Ice Cube infuses nearly every song, and certainly every interlude, with the hostile mood of the era. Even the album's most laid-back moment, "It Was a Good Day," emits a quiet sense of violent anxiety. Granted, Ice Cube's previous albums had been far from gentle, but they were filled with a different kind of rage. On both AmeriKKKa's Most Wanted (1990) and Death Certificate (1991), he took aim at society in general: women, whites, Koreans, even his former group members in N.W.A. Here, Ice Cube is more focused. He found a relevant episode to magnify with the riots, and he doesn't hold back, beginning with the absolutely crushing "When Will They Shoot?" The song's wall of stomping sound sets the dire tone of The Predator and is immediately followed by "I'm Scared," one of the many disturbing interludes comprised of news commentary related to the riots. It's only during the aforementioned "It Was a Good Day" that Ice Cube somewhat alleviates this album's smothering tension. It's a truly beautiful moment, a career highlight for sure. However, the next song, "We Had to Tear This Mothafucka Up," eclipses the relief with yet more calamity. By the time you get to the album-concluding "Say Hi to the Bad Guy" and its mockery of policeman, hopelessness prevails. The Predator is a grim album, for sure, more so than anything Ice Cube would ever again record. In fact, the darkness is so pervasive that the wit of previous albums is absolutely gone. Besides the halfhearted wit of "Gangsta's Fairytale, Pt. 2," you won't find any humor here, just tension. Given this, it's not one of Ice Cube's more accessible albums despite boasting a few of his biggest hits. It is his most serious album, though, as well as his last important album of the '90s.

Ice Cube - War & Peace: Vol. 2 (The Peace Disc) (2000)

*Canadian release. Contains 1 extra track.

Country: U.S.A
Genre: Hip-Hop
Style: Gangsta Rap
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© 2000 Virgin Music Canada/Priority Records
AllMusic Review by Jason Birchmeier
The second volume of Ice Cube's War & Peace album finds the multi-talented veteran MC evolving beyond a mere gangsta rap artist. Of course, Ice Cube doesn't admit his maturity, starting the album off with an excellent song titled "Hello" featuring MC Ren and Dr. Dre. The Dre-produced song has the ex-NWA members rapping "I started this gangsta ****/and this is the ************ thanks I get?" and reinstating their thug stance. Besides this opening song, Cube also is heard later on the album rapping to "keep in gangsta," yet for as much as Cube flexes about being hard, he has actually evolved into a wiser, more composed artist than the hate-fueled gangsta found on his early albums. Some of the songs on War & Peace, Vol. 2 such as "Record Company Pimpin'" reflect the deep insight he is easily capable of injecting into his lyrics. Unfortunately, for every contemplative moment on this album, there are also plenty of songs such as "Can You Bounce?" and "Hello" that reduce themselves to simple, lucid attempts at hit singles. These songs -- along with the slightly more thought-out, radio-friendly "Until We Rich" -- are wonderful songs, rich in hooks and full of strong beats, but they don't really fit in with the rest of the album. The fact that Ice Cube churned out two albums of content during his lengthy absence from the rap world in the late '90s makes the two volumes of War & Peace overly eclectic. What made albums such as Straight Outta Compton and AmeriKKKa's Most Wanted such strong albums were consistency; Dr. Dre and the Bomb Squad, respectively, were able to map out an overall musical feel for these albums with their signature styles and unique motifs. Instead of having a fully realized sound such as the aforementioned albums, the revolving door of production on War & Peace that includes Dr. Dre, Puff Daddy, and One Eye for One Eye among others makes this album sound very undeceive in terms of style. Cube's rapping sounds great with plenty of ideas that extend outside of simple gangsta motifs and slick rhymes full of wit; however, the constant changes in the album from hook-laden hits to denser, message-filled songs and from stark, minimal beats to up-tempo dance-rap make this a sometimes brilliant yet ultimately spotty, multi-dimensional album that needs more focus.

Gravediggaz - 6 Feet Deep (1994)

Country: U.S.A
Genre: Hip-Hop
Style: Horrorcore
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© 1994 Gee Street/Island Records
AllMusic Review by Stanton Swihart
6 Feet Deep is a sick joke. A lethally great and a ghoulishly comical one, but a deranged and sadistic prank nonetheless. Eschatological, gruesome, paranoid, and obsessed with death (both imposing and experiencing it), the debut from eeeeevil supergroup Gravediggaz lands somewhere in the nexus at which the bizarro universe of legendary producer Prince Paul -- who oversees the whole project while wearing the mask and wielding the shovel of the Undertaker for the occasion -- crashes headlong into RZA's dingy, farcical New York City, a haunted, inverse Oz where graffiti meets science fiction meets splatter flick in an unholy alliance that finds Freddy Krueger fiendishly pursuing the turf gangs out of Walter Hill's The Warriors down 125th and Elm Streets. Throw in a few crazed variations on Medieval torture techniques, a few too many midnight kung-fu screenings, and a few fantasies of bodily damage so giddily, demonically cartoonish that they would make Wile E. Coyote lick his lips with mischievous envy, and you have this brilliantly strange, whimsically jagged horror film in song (critics unofficially dubbed the style horrorcore) with its maimed and gnawed tongue firmly planted in cheek. If you can stomach the buckets of lyrical blood spilled herein, there is no end to the gory highlights, from the running-in-place nightmare of "Nowhere to Run, Nowhere to Hide" to the psychotically nauseous angel-dust high of "Defective Trip (Trippin')" to the willfully objectionable "1-800 Suicide" and self-destructive "Bang Your Head," all of them terribly catchy. As a bonus, 6 Feet Deep is sure to offend the sensibilities of all middle-aged family-values crusaders and conservative-type politicians -- vampires of a different sort -- who aren't in on the joke. Overseas, the album was titled Niggamortis. With its combined allusion to mortality and example of wicked wordplay, it would have been even more apropos. Whatever it goes by, though, the album can be resurrected again and again without losing any of its devilishly good potency.

February 23, 2017

Pentagram - First Daze Here: The Vintage Collection (2002) ☠

Country: U.S.A
Genre: Doom Metal, Psychedelic Rock
Style: Traditional Doom
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© 2002 Relapse Records
AllMusic Review by Eduardo Rivadavia
Ever wonder how it felt for blues historians to uncover the lost 78s containing Robert Johnson's timeless Depression-era recordings? Well, if there's a heavy metal equivalent to this experience, then First Daze Here may well be it. Yet another Pentagram collection gradually unearthing this once amazingly obscure band's rare singles and even rarer studio recordings, it's not the most comprehensive, nor is it definitive, but it boasts the best selection and certainly the best sound quality. Most of these tracks were recorded between 1973 and 1974 at various low-budget sessions in the Washington, D.C., area by the group's original lineup, and digital remastering has done wonders to resurrect their original power and appeal. What most people don't know is that Pentagram's early work was hardly dominated by the Sabbath-heavy proto-metal which would characterize their mid-'80s releases. Rather, while this was certainly a core component of the band's sound (see "When the Screams Come" and "Review Your Choices"), their love for the '60s-based psychedelic hard rock of Blue Cheer was just as pronounced, especially on offerings like "Lazylady," "Hurricane," and "Last Days Here." Barnstorming opener "Forever My Queen" is probably their best-known early single, and with reason, as it remains a career high watermark; but it's long-forgotten gems like "Living in a Ram's Head" and the awesome "Be Forewarned" (later given a more traditionally metallic treatment in the early '90s) which will prove especially thrilling to fans of the '70s' sonic aesthetic. For them, as well as most serious metal historians, this is an essential purchase.

Pentagram - First Daze Here Too: The Vintage Collection (2006)

*2 disc set.

Country: U.S.A
Genre: Doom Metal, Psychedelic Rock
Style: Traditional Doom
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© 2006 Relapse Records
Review by Keith Bergman for Blabbermouth.net
So you're telling me that we're supposed to shell out money for another odds-and-sods collection of demos from this seminal doom rock band? That disc one, the only seven decently recorded tracks here, contains two covers and a well-loved but already-released gem? And that in the liner notes, drummer/band historian Geof O' Keefe spells out, in blunt and forthright terms, why the band never made it big in the 1970s?
Yes, yes, and yes. PENTAGRAM is one of those bands whose near-mythical past and scattershot body of work ensures lots of those twists and turns in the discography that so delight and frustrate record collector nerds. Relapse is remedying the situation, slowly but surely, with this series of albums compiling demo versions of many songs laid down by the band's '70s lineup. Most of these songs were never properly cut in a studio, which makes their demos — rough and raw as they may be — well worth release and collection by the faithful.
The seven tracks on disc one will satisfy any denim-swaddled doom freak — even the ones where O'Keefe admits (in the liner notes) that the band was blatantly trying to appeal to the record labels. "Teaser" finds the band writing some frankly pandering lyrics and adding a little cock-rock swagger to their sound, but they put it over — it's no worse than your average THIN LIZZY radio rocker, and it ends up being pretty damned catchy. Their cover of ROLLING STONES chestnut "Under My Thumb" is a relatively sedate cut, but they kick the hell out of THE YARDBIRDS' "Little Games". And "Wheel of Fortune" is one of those "worth the price of admission" cuts, opening the album with a ferocious roar that reminds you why PENTAGRAM was so damn cool to begin with, and had all the ingredients to become hard rock icons on the level of a SABBATH or PRIEST.
Disc two archives rehearsal demos — stuff never intended for release at the time, literally the sound of the band evolving in their practice space. Hell, you want lo-fi? Vocalist Bobby Liebling never owned a real PA system, according to O'Keefe, and often plugged his mic into a spare guitar amp! The results can drag a bit (as anyone who's sat through someone else's band practice can well imagine) — but there are some amazing songs here, and if this is the only way we can get 'em in their original form, I'll take them.
O'Keefe's liner notes beg one question — when is this poor S.O.B. gonna write a book? Taking an unflinching look at where the band stumbled on their vain quest for the big time, he documents studio squabbles with BLUE ÖYSTER CULT producer Sandy Krugman and a disastrous audition in a friend's living room in front of Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley. He also casts an unsentimental eye on the band's own songs (calling Liebling's work on one track "amazing. Dumb, but amazing") and admits when they were writing with one eye on the brass ring.
Overall, fans couldn't ask for a better, more exhaustive document of unearthed treasures. Casual fans should start with the first disc in this collection, by all means — it hangs together better, and is about as close to a best-of as PENTAGRAM can achieve, given the limits of the '70s lineup's source material. But for the diehard denizens of the ram's head, reviews are moot — there's only the freaked-out doom rock eccentricity of PENTAGRAM, and every crumb from their table is well worth collecting and enjoying. One of the all-time underrated, unfairly-passed-over rock and roll bands, well deserving of the cult that's sprung up around them since those relatively innocent days.

Battle Beast - Bringer of Pain (Limited Edition) (2017)

*European limited edition release. Contains 3 bonus tracks.

Country: Finland
Language: English
Genre: Heavy Metal
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© 2017 Nuclear Blast Records
Review by Luke Smith for Metalwani.com
Battle Beast have returned to the scene with their fourth studio album, ‘The Bringer of Pain, the follow up to 2015’s Unholy Saviour’, and the first release since Anton Kabanen – the group’s main songwriter – left the band. I for one was interested in seeing how they did without him…and it didn’t end well.
The opening track “Straight to the Heart” came in screaming with Noora Louhimo, and some lovely sounding synth keyboards, although it’s not until the chorus where Noora unleashes the full power of her vocals. The song has a good, high-tempo with new guitarist Joona Björkroth inserting a nice solo in the middle of the track that keeps the pace up. Noora is the stand-out performer on this track, and throughout the whole song she shows the extent of her vocal range. It’s a strong opening, but then we can’t expect any less from this band.
Next up was “The Bringer of Pain”. A much faster tempo is the most noteworthy feature of this song, but it gives it a blink-and-you-miss-it quality to the track. It’s short, sharp and keeps the album moving along nicely, but there’s nothing particularly impressive about the titular track of the album.
“King for a Day” was the first single from this album, and right from the start you can see why they chose this song to introduce their new work to us. Although it’s not as high-tempo as the first two tracks of the album, it’s actually nicer to listen to; there’s a story being told with the lyrics of this song, which have a distinct political overtone. The whole band seems to really come together on this track, with some impressive backing vocals complimenting everything very well. It’s a very well rounded song, which really shows what the Battle Beast are capable of, and if you enjoy the song as much as I do you’ll be listening to it on repeat for a while. Full review here.....

Da Nayborhoodz - Afta Dark... Illa Than Expected (1995)

Country: U.S.A
Genre: Hip-Hop
Style: Gangsta Rap, Ragga, G-Funk
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© 1995 React Recordings
*No professional reviews for this release.

Ice Cube - Death Certificate (1991)

Country: U.S.A
Genre: Hip-Hop
Style: Gangsta Rap
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© 1991 Priority Records
AllMusic Review by David Jeffries
If Ice Cube's debut was a shocking attack that proved the N.W.A legacy would be stronger divided, his sophomore effort was a new kind of superstar pulling off the miraculous, a follow-up that equals its classic predecessor and tops it in some people's books. With a million copies of Death Certificate preordered, Cube was no longer the rock critics' darling. A million people listening was dangerous, especially since he was now slithering his influence into the suburbs. If the black rage didn't get you, the misogyny of "I'm gonna do my thing, with your daughter" probably would. Here, one of rap's greatest storytellers is able to draw hatred in under a minute with the short and direct "Black Korea," an angry protest song concerning Korean grocers that got him dubbed "racist" and "Ice KKKube" by some. The track is an extreme representation of how a much sharper and cutting this album is when compared with his debut, and even though the intro announces the full-length is divided into a "Death Side" and "Life Side," both are equally bleak. With the CD format, the two sides are indistinguishable and run over the listener with fast tales of drug dealing, drive-by shootings, and women who go from "Ms. Thing to Ms. Gonorrhea." This would be numbing if it weren't for the rapper's amazing lyrics, ground-shaking delivery, and insight like when "A Bird in the Hand" deals with the irony of selling crap to buy diapers ("Gotta serve you food that might give you cancer/Cuz my son doesn't take no for answer"). A bit of sweet relief comes with the brightness of the great single "Steady Mobbin'" and with the nostalgia and slow tempo of "Doing Dumb Shit." "True to the Game" ("Ain't that a bitch/They hate to see a young nigga rich") is arguably the quintessential Cube track and if all this weren't enough already, the N.W.A diss "No Vaseline" hangs off the album like a crowd-pleasing, Brick-sampling encore. Although next year's Predator would be a bigger hit, Death Certificate brings to a close the man's trilogy of perfect albums that began with N.W.A's Compton and explodes into a supernova right here.

Papa Roach - Lovehatetragedy (2002) ☠

Country: U.S.A
Genre: Alternative Metal
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© 2002 DreamWorks
AllMusic Review by Robert L. Doerschuk
Within the context of its times, lovehatetragedy is a gamble of sorts, as Papa Roach abandons their affiliation with rock/rap fusion (except for one highly effective moment on "She Loves Me Not") and hies back to their original pure metal- and punk-inflected hard rock stance. Lead singer Coby Dick certifies the change by reverting to his birth name, Jacoby Shaddix, but in other respects his performance sticks to its formula of gut-busting delivery and lyrics whose candor can get a little embarrassing. (On "Decompression Period," for instance, he essentially tells his band as well as his beleaguered wife that he's sick of being around them.) A few tracks, most notably "Singular Indestructible Droid," struggle toward metaphor, with mixed results. What can't be denied is that Shaddix's woes connect directly to a large and equally confused audience, and that nobody this side of Kurt Cobain communicates them with as much power. As always, his message rides a turbulent current of guitar/bass riffs whose militaristic precision only enhances their intensity.

Papa Roach - Old Friends From Young Years (1997)

Country: U.S.A
Genre: Nü-Metal
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© 1997 Onion Hardcore/B Squared Records
AllMusic Review by Jason D. Taylor
Papa Roach's first full-length album, Old Friends from Young Years, documents a band in their formative years, and although it saw limited release and has since become a collector's item of sorts, it contains some of the group's best material. Having been recorded by the band themselves, one should not be surprised at its rudimentary production, yet the scratchy recording allows one to envision the band in a live setting much better than the more streamlined production of Infest. Frontman Coby Dick relies on a scattershot rap approach heavily doused in hardcore intensity, spitting lyrics with vehement fury before lapsing into subdued spoken word/singing. Amidst street-smart rap lingo, Dick exudes emotion when contemplating life ("Orange Drive Palms"), spousal abuse ("Liquid Diet"), drugs ("829"), and a variety of other personal topics. Musically Papa Roach is captured here with a much more underground hardcore approach that relies solely on crunchy guitars and blistering drums, which may surprise those more accustomed to Papa Roach's later, more accessible mainstream rock style. Old Friends from Young Years also contains what may possibly be the most infamous Papa Roach song with "Peewagon," a song which deals with the inability to control one's bladder and a song that the band later refused to play at live shows despite fan encouragement. While nothing on this album is written as well or as slick as the band's Infest material, it remains earlier fans' favorite from the band and gives newcomers a chance to understand why Papa Roach was considered one of the independent scene's top contenders long before Dreamworks signed them.

Papa Roach - Infest (2000) ☠

Country: U.S.A
Genre: Nü-Metal, Alternative Metal
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© 2000 DreamWorks
AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Papa Roach's debut album Infest quietly became a Top 20 hit in the first half of 2000, slipping underneath the radar of most pop critics and fans. It's easy to see why the pop elite passed them by, since the quartet just isn't hip, and since they are pushing an amalgam of every heavy sound that was popular in the late '90s. Basically, Infest is pitched somewhere between the classic grunge/industrial of the early '90s with hints of late-'90s behemoths like Korn and Limp Bizkit. There's singing, but it's balanced by rapping, and the heavy riffs are run through effects boxes that give it the controlled distortion common to alt-metal; it's loud, but you can hear each note being articulated. Lyrically, there's a lot of angst here, directed at everyone from parents and society to themselves. Strangely, each member thanks their families and God in the liner notes, but that's sort of beside the point, since this has the form and feeling of angst-ridden, post-grunge, rap-riddled alt-metal. Is it good? Well, if you're not into this stuff, this won't change your mind, but the band does work up some energy, sounds pretty muscular on most of the album, and has some good hooks, even if they tend to overplay their hand by throwing too many hooks into the riffs or screaming just a bit to much. Still, that's par for the course with alt-metal. So, it winds up that Papa Roach doesn't really distinguish itself from the pack in terms of sound, but they do stand out in terms of capability and consistency. Infest is a pretty solid alt-metal record, circa 2000, both for better and worse. It's a little generic, yes, but as far as the genre goes, it's not bad.

February 20, 2017

Madonna - Madonna (1983)

Country: U.S.A
Genre: Pop
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© 1983 Sire Records
AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Although she never left it behind, it's been easy to overlook that Madonna began her career as a disco diva in an era that didn't have disco divas. It was an era where disco was anathema to the mainstream pop, and she had a huge role in popularizing dance music as a popular music again, crashing through the door Michael Jackson opened with Thriller. Certainly, her undeniable charisma, chutzpah, and sex appeal had a lot to do with that -- it always did, throughout her career -- but she wouldn't have broken through if the music wasn't so good. And her eponymous debut isn't simply good, it set the standard for dance-pop for the next 20 years. Why did it do so? Because it cleverly incorporated great pop songs with stylish, state-of-the-art beats, and it shrewdly walked a line between being a rush of sound and a showcase for a dynamic lead singer. This is music where all of the elements may not particularly impressive on their own -- the arrangement, synth, and drum programming are fairly rudimentary; Madonna's singing isn't particularly strong; the songs, while hooky and memorable, couldn't necessarily hold up on their own without the production -- but taken together, it's utterly irresistible. And that's the hallmark of dance-pop: every element blends together into an intoxicating sound, where the hooks and rhythms are so hooky, the shallowness is something to celebrate. And there are some great songs here, whether it's the effervescent "Lucky Star," "Borderline," and "Holiday" or the darker, carnal urgency of "Burning Up" and "Physical Attraction." And if Madonna would later sing better, she illustrates here that a good voice is secondary to dance-pop. What's really necessary is personality, since that sells a song where there are no instruments that sound real. Here, Madonna is on fire, and that's the reason why it launched her career, launched dance-pop, and remains a terrific, nearly timeless, listen.

Madonna - Like a Virgin (1984) ☠

Country: U.S.A
Genre: Pop
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© 1984 Sire Records
Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine for Allmusic.com

Madonna had hits with her first album, even reaching the Top Ten twice with "Borderline" and "Lucky Star," but she didn't become a superstar, an icon, until her second album, Like a Virgin. She saw the opening for this kind of explosion and seized it, bringing in former Chic guitarist Nile Rodgers in as a producer, to help her expand her sound, and then carefully constructed her image as an ironic, ferociously sexy Boy Toy; the Steven Meisel-shot cover, capturing her as a buxom bride with a Boy Toy belt buckle on the front, and dressing after a night of passion, was as key to her reinvention as the music itself. Yet, there's no discounting the best songs on the record, the moments when her grand concepts are married to music that transcends the mere classification of dance-pop. These, of course, are "Material Girl" and "Like a Virgin," the two songs that made her an icon, and the two songs that remain definitive statements. They overshadow the rest of the record, not just because they are a perfect match of theme and sound, but because the rest of the album vacillates wildly in terms of quality. The other two singles, "Angel" and "Dress You Up," are excellent standard-issue dance-pop, and there are other moments that work well ("Over and Over," "Stay," the earnest cover of Rose Royce's "Love Don't Live Here"), but overall, it adds up to less than the sum of its parts -- partially because the singles are so good, but also because on the first album, she stunned with style and a certain joy. Here, the calculation is apparent, and while that's part of Madonna's essence -- even something that makes her fun -- it throws the record's balance off a little too much for it to be consistent, even if it justifiably made her a star.

Rhymester - Respect リスペクト (1999)

Country: Japan
Language: Japanese
Genre: Hip-Hop
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© 1999 Next Level Recordings
*No professional reviews available for this release.

Creedence Clearwater Revival - Creedence Clearwater Revival (1968)

Country: U.S.A.
Genre: Classic Rock
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© 1968-1987 Fantasy Records

Released in the summer of 1968 -- a year after the summer of love, but still in the thick of the Age of Aquarius - Creedence Clearwater Revival's self-titled debut album was gloriously out-of-step with the times, teeming with John Fogerty's Americana fascinations. While many of Fogerty's obsessions and CCR's signatures are in place -- weird blues ("I Put a Spell on You"), Stax R&B (Wilson Pickett's "Ninety-Nine and a Half"), rockabilly ("Susie Q"), winding instrumental interplay, the swamp sound, and songs for "The Working Man" -- the band was still finding their way. Out of all their records (discounting Mardi Gras), this is the one that sounds the most like its era, thanks to the wordless vocal harmonies toward the end of "Susie Q," the backward guitars on "Gloomy," and the directionless, awkward jamming that concludes "Walking on the Water." Still, the band's sound is vibrant, with gutsy arrangements that borrow equally from Sun, Stax, and the swamp. Fogerty's songwriting is a little tentative. Not for nothing were two of the three singles pulled from the album covers (Dale Hawkins' "Susie Q," Screamin' Jay Hawkins' "I Put a Spell on You") -- he wasn't an accomplished tunesmith yet. Though "The Working Man" isn't bad, the true exception is that third single, "Porterville," an exceptional song with great hooks, an underlying sense of menace, and the first inkling of the working-class rage that fueled such landmarks as "Fortunate Son." It's the song that points the way to the breakthrough of Bayou Country, but the rest of the album shouldn't be dismissed, because judged simply against the rock & roll of its time, it rises above its peers.