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CD Reviews – May 2014

PROGMIUM – PROJECT DIAGNOSIS (The Project Diagnosis Foundation) Every so often, we are reminded that music can be a therapeutic and healing force. The band project Progmium is the culmination of Hollidaysburg-based lyricist Tim Surkovich’s therapeutic journey through the adversity of being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, and the Project Diagnosis CD musically documents that journey. Seventy-five percent of proceeds from sales of the disc go to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. Conceived during sleepless nights after learning he was stricken with MS, Surkovich wrote lyrics about his struggle, and assembled the cast of singer Randy Sciarrillo, lead guitarist/keyboardist J. Luis Morales, bassist Rob Cunningham and drummer/keyboardist Dave Shaffer to bring his song ideas to life. Surkovich and Progmium crafted a modern progressive rock opera over Project Diagnosis’ dozen tracks, generating a style and sound often reminiscent of Dream Theater, Pink Floyd and Queensryche’s peak Operation: Mindcrime/Empire period. The arrangements vary from full-bodied rockers to sullen introspective journeys, often bridged together with mood-setting interludes. After the brief intro “Through My Eyes” sets the tone of one of Surkovich’s many middle-of-the-night lyric-writing sessions, the driving rocker “Invincible” describes what he thought he was prior to the diagnosis; a former high school football player and band member, an active “man made of steel.” But that reality changes with “Numb,” about awakening with one side of his body numb; the first attack of multiple sclerosis. “Diagnosis” documents Surkovich’s thoughts and emotions as he is informed of his debilitating condition, and “Denial” describes his struggles with coming to grips with his situation. Clocking in at more than nine minutes, “The Beast Within” reveals the double-edged sword that was Surkovich’s initial steroid treatments – and their undesirable side effects. The acoustic-driven ballad “Glimmer of Hope” depicts how modern medicine can provide light at the end of the tunnel. The brute-force “Rejected” boils over with Surkovich’s frustration over what MS has done to his life, before the somber “Alone” accepts that new life’s reality. The uplifting “As I Am” takes stock of loved ones’ support through the ordeal, before “Take Up the Fight” offers a message of hope to anybody else dealing with a chronic illness or other adversity. The songs are well-crafted and hook-laden, and Progmium delivers them with heart and soul; Sciarrillo packs emotion into his vocals, and the rest of the group tightly executes the detailed arrangements. Produced by the band and Shaffer, Project Diagnosis sounds full and powerful, with the band’s components sounding clear and distinct. Project Diagnosis is an engaging, electrifying listen; a well-compiled documentation of one man’s ordeal with multiple sclerosis. Hopefully, this CD will enlighten listeners to the realities of this chronic illness, while financially assisting in the quest to someday find a cure. (The CD can be purchased through the website www.progmium.com.)

 

INSIDE OUT – UNBREAKABLE (no label) Formed in 1990, Johnstown’s Inside Out released two impressive full-length, hard-rocking CDs during their initial lineup’s run on regional stages; their self-titled 1993 debut album and the 1996 follow-up, Seasons. But while founding guitarist-turned-singer Tim Frick has kept a version of Inside Out operational on area stages continuously since then, a succession of personnel moves (especially guitarists) and evolving recording technologies delayed a third album into an 18-year stretch, save for a 1990 cassette single and some teaser demos. But if you believe the adage that the best things in life are worth the wait, the long-awaited third Inside Out disc, Unbreakable, is a powerful, rewarding listen. Perhaps it was the lengthy distillation and stage-seasoning process for many of the disc’s 14 songs, coupled with Inside Out’s unwavering knack for hook-laden melodies, alluring dark-toned lyrics and tight and powerful execution; but Unbreakable stands tall as an impressive, cohesive set from start to end. The group’s style and sound have evolved from the 1980s-flavored melodic hard rock of the first two discs. The current line-up of Frick, bassist Larry Philip, drummer Mark Gindlesperger, and guitarists Kolt Green and Jay Snyder ride the borderline between classic-styled and modern heavy rock; the melodies are rooted in the classic 1980s and 1990s tradition, delivered with a contemporary abrasiveness and edge. Charging out the gate, “Demons Inside” gets down to business and announces the brute-force arrival of the current mach edition of Inside Out. It kicks off a succession of infectious, sturdy rockers including the regaining control ode “Taking My Life,” the give-it-all-themed “Sacrifice,” the introspective “Inside Of Me,” the evil-toned “Devil’s in Your Soul,” the disco beat-driven “Love/Hate” and the throw-caution-to-the-wind “Giving Myself Away.” Inside Out slows it down twice on the disc, both impressively; the darkly erotic “Vampire Eyes” (a hit at live shows and on regional radio) and the plea for forgiveness “Say.” The group throws in an acoustic-laced pop rocker in “Heaven,” and closes the disc with their stormy, nearly eight-minute title song epic “Unbreakable.” Tim Frick has evolved into a masterful frontman, conveying emotional intensity in each song; and his surrounding cast packs power into the song arrangements with thundering rhythms and stinging guitarwork. The production and mix sound full and balanced, giving the group’s attack full bite while serving the melodies. It took 18 years, but Unbreakable delivers the goods as a premium, hard-rocking set, as well as a statement of Inside Out’s undying resolve. Bottom line…Unbreakable was worth the wait. (The CD can be obtained through Inside Out’s website, www.insideoutrocks.com.)

NAILDRIVER – THE WHITE DEVIL CHRONICLES VOLUME 1 (no label) Altoona’s Naildriver doesn’t mince words or riffs on their first official EP offering, The White Devil Chronicles Volume 1, as they loudly and proudly put pedal to the metal. Naildriver brings brute-force, modern thrash metal over the disc’s five tracks; paced by Kevin Siegel’s precision rapid fire drum thunder and Scott Bush’s quaking low-end bass rumble, both laying the foundation for the snarling twin-edged guitar attack of lead axe Scott Botteicher and rhythm guitarist Todd Dale. These backdrops serve as the launching pad for the Phil Anselmo-informed Doberman snarl of lead throat man Matt Watson. Watson’s over-the-top delivery drives home the intense rage of “Hypocrite’s Anthem,” an impassioned, high-velocity condemnation of the Westboro Baptist Church and its agenda-serving protests. Watson turns introspective with his anger on the bracing disc-opener “Enemy,” exploring how such internal anger should be channeled. Naildriver takes listeners inside the mixed martial arts octagon on the bold and volatile “Seal the Exits,” and the disc-closer “Executioner” unapologetically levies the final penalty. Naildriver shows a darker flavor on “Phoenix,” ushered in by a piano prelude by the disc’s engineer and co-producer Dave Villani; here Watson explores temptation and the struggle between good and evil, with Villani’s dark mid-song organ interlude providing extra color and depth. Naildriver’s agitated performances attack from start to end. The guitars snarl, and Botteicher’s scorching guitar leads slice with surgical precision. Watson rages with savage abandon; his rapid fire bark shows no mercy. The mix and production enable Naildriver’s attack to authoritatively pound, rip and tear; the sound is clean and razor sharp. The White Devil Chronicles Volume 1 offers power metal that connects with the jaw from the get-go; Naildriver’s heavy-hitting calling card will make fans of the metal arts eager for more where this came from. (The CD can be purchased through Naildriver’s website,www.naildrivermetal.com.)

 

RODGER DELANY – MOMENT OF TRUTH (no label) Simplicity can often be the best approach. On Moment of Truth, the first full-length solo CD by Philadelphia/South Jersey-based singer/songwriter Rodger Delany, it’s often the songs with the simplest, stripped-down arrangements that yield the greatest impact. Through the disc’s 16 tracks, Delany utilizes mostly simple arrangements of acoustic guitar, piano, harmonica and voice to convey his myriad of thoughts and emotions. This enables Delany’s raw voice to directly communicate the emotion behind his compositions, and the intensity of his guitar picking and strumming to compliment that emotion. His bare-bones style frequently hints at Harvest/After the Gold Rush-era Neil Young, as well as the more stripped-down sides of Tom Petty and Bruce Springsteen. On the title track and album-opener, “Moment of Truth,” Delany shares his point of self-realization, while his sullen tone on “New” reveals his coming to grips with getting older. His gentle guitar and vocal tone express humble, heartfelt appreciation on “So Proud of You,” and his contrite tone admits vulnerability on “Catch Me When I Fall.” On the other end of the emotional spectrum, stormy relationship issues bare their fangs on Delany’s angrier rants, “Blind,” ”Without You” and “Second Guessed.” Delany throws a twist into the presentation with three piano numbers; his ode of longing “Coming Home,” the remorseful “Mischief” and the appreciative “Still Love America,” which closes the disc. Delany’s presentation is honest and from the gut; his words are delivered like he would express if he were seated next to you at a bar or café. The production and mix are appropriately simple, letting Delany’s minimalist performances do the talking with few, if any, major studio enhancements. For fans of basic, heartfelt emotion and music that gets directly to the point, Rodger Delany bares his soul on Moment of Truth, a moment of true person-to-person musical power. (To obtain the CD, visit Rodger Delany’s website, www.rodgerdelany.com.)

LADY BEAST – LADY BEAST (Inferno Records) For those who long for the sound of classic ‘80s-styled heavy metal, Pittsburgh’s Lady Beast offers hope in the form of their self-titled debut CD. Formed five years ago, Lady Beast’s sound is entrenched heavily in the tradition of the early ‘80s New Wave of British Heavy Metal; informed by elements of Judas Priest, Iron Maiden and Saxon (and to this reviewer’s ears, an obscure ‘80s-era Belgian metal band called Acid, I digress). Rampaging, rapid fire rhythms from bassist Greg Colaizzi and drummer Adam Ramage anchor Lady Beast’s attack, topped with snarling power chords from rhythm guitarist Chris “Twiz” Tritschler and searing solo work from lead guitarist Tommy Kinnett. With a confident style reminiscent of the late Ronnie James Dio, Deborah Levine displays her own brand of power and might on the vocal front; boldly singing out odes to warriors, battles, ambitions and honor. Each of the disc’s eight tracks (plus bonus track) attacks from the get-go and hits quick, jarring the listener into full attention. Opening the disc, the group’s title track and mission statement “Lady Beast” sets the ground rules, with Levine proclaiming “I set the bar, the stakes are high.” Lady Beast genuflects to the metal gods with “Metal Rules,” proclaiming devotion to metal music, its majesty and imagery. Battle themes prevail on “Lost Boys” and “Armor,” while honor and ambition shape the words of “Birthrite” and “Hot Pursuit.” The closest thing to a love song here is “When Desire Is Stronger Than Fear,” a hard-hitting pledge of devotion. Lady Beast closes their official set with the hopeful “Go For the Bait,” before slamming an exclamation point on the disc with their charging bonus track “Ram It Down.” The performances are brisk and go-for-broke, as Lady Beast floors the accelerator and never looks back. Levine’s voice proudly rides atop the mix with strength and range, and the mix allows Lady Beast’s attack to bare full teeth with minimal studio polish. This is old-school-styled metal the way it felt in 1982; Lady Beast’s tenacity and enthusiasm makes it vibrant again in the current age, and this disc should provide an ideal soundtrack for “upping the irons” everywhere. (The digital album can be obtained through the group’s Bandcamp page, www.ladybeast.bandcamp.com. The CD can be obtained through www.inferno-records.net.)

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